Like many Christians, I was taught the Bible through instruction, stories, skits, and songs. My teachers and leaders did a great job in trying to help us learn more about God, Jesus, and faith, but questions weren’t encouraged, especially questions with no easy answers. Then, I graduated college, left a college ministry, began going to more progressive churches, then the kind of Church that doesn’t meet in a building, but in open fields or with friends gathered around a table in community. It’s been here in these outlets that I’ve taken a more critical look at the Bible.
I still remember sitting down at my friend’s kitchen table two years ago, sharing that, “I don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve anymore.” Whew. It felt so good to say. I felt like I was getting a dirty secret off my chest. I felt invigorated. He smiled. “I haven’t believed that for a long time,” he replied. I talked about my other frustrations with the Bible, like how could a loving God wipe the Earth clean from people because S/He was sick of them? He pointed out that almost every major religion- Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, for some examples- has a flood story.
One reason why some people are afraid to question is that often, one question leads to many. And when you get to challenging all that you’ve been taught, for some people that brings up feelings of disloyalty or shame.
I’ve moved on from shame and have now fallen in love with questions. Questions give way to freedom. Questions help me wrestle, scramble, muse, fall deep into the enclaves of wonder, reminding me I will never, ever have it all figured out. Well-known pastor Rob Bell shared in his book Velvet Elvis, “Questions aren’t scary. What’s scary is when people don’t have any.” I can’t agree more.
So naturally, I’ve found myself questioning again. I was taught to believe that Jesus was born from virgins: Mary and Joseph. And like many Christians, I didn’t question it. That is, until recently. A couple weeks ago, I was talking with a dear friend about my frustration over a verse in the Bible that stated because a woman from a long, long time ago ate a piece of fruit, God punished women with excruciating birth pains. Apparently, this painful birthing predicament is also the same act that will save women. The more we talked, the more I grew to believe that the Bible was indeed written by men (literally, men, since women did not receive the education men did) and that if I lived some thousands of years ago, and didn’t understand how humans were made, maybe I would try to explain why women give birth through some story like that too.
And then my friend said it, said the thought that got me questioning all I’ve been taught to believe, all over again. She laughed, “Yeah, it’s just like Jesus being born of a virgin.”
Her point was that people living in that timeframe didn’t have reproductive education, therefore if a couple accidentally became pregnant, and sex before marriage was disdainful, then maybe that’s where the fable of Jesus’ virgin birth came about.
So if Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin, would that make a difference?
Would it make a difference in the lives Jesus touched? The outcasts that Jesus dined with? The poor in spirit that Jesus comforted?
Might it make the Bible not so volatile as to personally be freed from having to believe every bit of it tit-for-tat, line-by-(sometimes angering) line?
Might it put less emphasis on shaming “purity culture” and instead shed light on that, while perhaps not ideal, God can redeem all things, including the stigma of children born out of wed-lock? (For an excellent post in this, see Melanie Springer’s “I Wasn’t Planned, But Am Loved“)
Was the point that Jesus was born of a virgin, or was the point that Jesus’ life would change the world as we know it?
Arguing over whether or not a sexual encounter led to Jesus’ birth is not the point I’m trying to make.
All I’m saying is, isn’t there more than one way to read sacred text when we consider the time frame and potential biases in which this text was written?
Perhaps not everything is literal.
We can think about the context in which passages were written and ask ourselves, “What knowledge did people have at the time?” “If I were a first century Christian, how would I understand this?” (For more on this, check out “Questions for Exegesis“)
If you come away with different beliefs than what was taught to you, that’s ok. Because if “the word became flesh,” isn’t it more important to show the love of Jesus with our actions than nailing down the “right” verbiage?
It words and doctrine bear truth and meaning to you, I have not come to take them away.
All that matters is if you are finding God in this journey.
That you discover wrestling and questioning are holy acts of necessity.
That Jesus redeems all brokenness, even “taboo” out-of-wedlock pregnancy.