Book review: The Case for Christmas

by Lee Strobel


This little book is excerpted from an earlier 1998 book by Lee Strobel: The Case for Christ. Like others of the series, Strobel’s MO is to interview other believing scholars and present his findings as a sort of scientific approach to uncovering the truth about Jesus.

Let me start by saying that I’ve never found much inspiration in Strobel’s “The Case for …” series. It feels to me like he demeans the beauty and mystery of Christianity by trying to bring it down to earth, proving the unprovable. But when I noticed this little book attempting to prove the Christmas story, my curiosity won out. There are many valid arguments against the two conflicting birth stories in the Bible, and nothing whatsoever that I could think of as evidence for treating them literally, so I couldn’t resist.

Strobel got on my wrong side right away with a blatant misquote of the Gospel of John:

John, who begins his gospel by eloquently affirming the incarnation—that is, “the Word,” or Jesus, “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” on the first Christmas.

At least Strobel knew where to drop the quotation marks! But the reference to “the first Christmas” is misleading and untrue to John’s Gospel. John wants nothing to do with the virgin birth, instead pointing out multiple times that Jesus’ father was Joseph. Conservative Christians may read the birth stories in Matthew and Luke, and then read the incarnation story in John, and naturally try to overlay the two, but this would insult John. John’s theology is one of eternal pre-existence, not of a miraculous birth, and John clearly describes the moment of incarnation at the Jordan river … not at birth.

Strobel never does provide proof of the virgin birth, but rather attempts an indirect route, disproving the debunkers. Luke tells the story of Jesus’ miraculous birth, so Strobel stokes Luke as a careful historian, pointing out many places where Luke has been proven accurate, and uses that to deflect a major problem in Luke’s report: That governor Quirinius and King Herod seem to serve simultaneously, though Herod died ten years before Quirinius arrived as governor. Strobel’s “proof” that Luke’s account is historical: a coin dated to 11 B.C., bearing Quirinius’s name. Perhaps there were two governor Quiriniuses? But the rumor is absolutely not true; there exists no such coin, and Strobel should have done his homework. Strobel also neglects to mention the obvious: we know precisely who governed Syria in the years surrounding Herod’s death. It was Quintilius.

Strobel jumps into the argument over whether Isaiah prophesied a virgin birth or whether the original Hebrew says only that a child will be born to a young woman. It’s a fun argument, but totally irrelevant, because just a few verses later, Isaiah makes it clear that he’s not predicting an event hundreds of years in the future, but in his own lifetime.

Strobel’s best attempt is to argue for an early writing of the Gospels and traditional authorship. Then he deduces that these authors surely would not misrepresent the story so quickly after Jesus lived, because there would be others around to correct them.  He manages to uncover one reasonable scholar (Blomberg) who agrees with this dating. The vast majority of Bible scholars do not.

Strobel concludes that everything in the scripture about the Messiah has been fulfilled, and this proves Jesus’ identity. I am growing so tired of hearing this. Any knowledgeable Jew would be totally baffled by this claim, because Jesus didn’t fulfill any of the prophecies important to them! He didn’t gather the Jews back to Jerusalem, he didn’t rebuild the Temple, he didn’t reestablish the Jews as God’s favored people, he didn’t bring world peace, he didn’t unite the entire world in worship of one God, the list goes on. Perhaps we believe Jesus will come back and do all these things someday, but can we quit saying Jesus fulfilled the prophecies? He most assuredly did not … not in the political way the Old Testament expected.

I’m starting to get argumentative, so this is probably a good place to close. Can we just leave things to faith which belong in the realm of faith?

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