Friday, December 31, 2010

Luke 2:33

Today I'm starting a new category on this blog: "inept exegesis." I'll be using this category to discuss the legion of biblical passages that are abused by KJV-only advocates to prove that modern versions are corrupted and guilty of teaching false doctrine. (Sometime in the future I'll be starting a related category, "eisegesis," to cover texts abused in the KJV to prove that KJV-onlyism is actually taught in the Bible.)

Given that it's the season between Christmas and New Year's Day, it seems fitting to start a new topic with something seasonally appropriate.

Some KJV-onlyists like to argue that modern Bible versions deny, or at least cast in doubt, the fact that Jesus was born of a virgin. The proof-text for this shocking revelation is Luke 2:33. Contrast the readings of the KJV and NASB:

And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. (KJV, emphasis added)

And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. (NASB, emphasis added)

"There, you see?" they say. "modern Bibles call Joseph his 'father,' but the KJV simply calls him 'Joseph.' The modern versions are slyly trying to suggest that Jesus' real father was Joseph, but the KJV says no such thing and preserves both the virgin birth and the deity of Christ." Or, as the KJV-only site Scion of Zion writes,

The effect of changing “Joseph” to “father” will teach that Jesus had an earthly father which completely voids the cardinal doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ. If Joseph was the earthly father of the Lord Jesus, then He would have had to inherit the sin nature which was passed down from Adam. . . . By removing verses which support the virgin birth, it brings Jesus down to the level of just a human being. If Jesus was born with a sin nature, then He was an unqualified candidate for atonement for the sins of His people and therefore we Christians are still in our sins.1

The site further accuses the Gnostics of corrupting the text here (without any evidence, as is the custom with such claims).

Shocking! But not so fast.

As further biblical proofs for the superiority of the KJV (and, conversely, he corruption of the modern versions) get posted, you'll see that I continually harp on a partcular word, over and over again. That word? Context! The Bible is a very large book - three-quarters of a million words - and thus pulling little bits of it out of context can make it say nearly anything. By focusing on this particular turn of phrase, the KJV-onlyists ignore context and thus ignore the bigger picture of the Gospel narrative. They are frequently incapable, it seems, of seeing the forest for the trees.

The context of Luke 2:33, of course, is the greater section of Luke's Gospel that it is part of. Turn back only a page or two, and read Luke 1:26-38:

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God." And Mary said, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. (NASB, emphasis added)

In this excerpt, Mary is called a virgin three times (vv. 27, 34). Also, the miraculous nature of this birth is mentioned twice more: once in v. 35, where the angel tells Mary that Jesus' conception was by the Holy Spirit rather than a man, and again in v. 36, where Mary's pregnancy is compared with that of Elizabeth, in that both were supernaturally caused.

A little later in the Gospel, LUke records Jesus' genealogy, which he begins, "When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph. . . ." (LUke 3:23 NASB, emphasis added). Why would the author say that Joseph was supposed to be the father of Jesus, unless, in fact, he wasn't?

Finally, Matthew records the intent of Joseph to break his engagement upon discovering that his betrothed was already pregnant, and the angelic reassurance that her child was, in fact, divinely conceived. So Joseph "kept her a virgin" until Jesus had been born (Matt. 1:18-25 NASB).

This argument against the modern versions only works by isolating a single phrase from its greater literary context, thus giving the illusion that it says something other than it does. Worse, it insults the intelligence of readers, by implying that they cannot remember the miraculous story the had read only a few moments earlier!

There isn't a word in the English language for "husband of the mother of a supernaturally conceived child." So call Joseph Jesus' adoptive father, foster father, stepfather, or what you will. Joseph raised Jesus, loved him, cared for him, provided for him, and taught him a trade. He was popularly assumed to be Jesus' father. Aside from biology, Joseph was Jesus' father in any meaningful sense. There's no reason the Bible - having already clearly established the facts of Jesus' birth - shouldn't call him that as well.

Turning the tables

My last argument is a tu quoques. If it's a Bad Thing to call Joseph Jesus' father, then how will the KJV-onlyist deal with these verses in the KJV?

Now his parents< went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. (Luke 1:41 KJV, emphasis added)

"Parents" is a literal translation of the word Luke used, under inspiration, for Jesus' adult guardians. What is a parent? A father or mother. If the "perfect" KJV calls Mary and Joseph Jesus' "parents," and Joseph is not Jesus' father, then is the KJV saying that Jesus had two mothers?

And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. (Luke 1:48 KJV, emphasis added)

Well, there you have it. According to the KJV, even Mary herself regarded Joseph as Jesus' father. I have heard some KJV-onlyists claim that when Jesus replied, he "corrected" her on this point. I find this counter-argument completely specious. Remember what I said earlier about KJV-onlyism insulting people's intelligence. Here they insult not merely a random Bible reader, but the very mother of Jesus! Did she forget who the father was? Were an angelic visitor and a miraculous baby something that would easily slip her mind? On the contrary, we're told that Mary was a thoughtful woman who contemplated these significant events in her heart (Luke 2:19,51).

Mary wasn't making a mistake when she called Joseph Jesus' "father," simply because she wasn't talking about his genetic heritage. And when modern Bible versions call Joseph Jesus' father, neither are they.


1"Luke 2:33," Scion of Zion, (accessed December 31, 2010).

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