Challenging Christmas myths in mission and ministry

On this site, I have for several years been challenging various popular myths about Christmas—that Jesus was born in a stable, that he was born into a distinctively materially poor family, that the shepherds were despised outcasts, that swaddling had symbolic significance, and that Joseph and Mary were isolated and alone at Jesus’ birth.

Is this just an exercise in iconoclasm? James and Ian explore the issues here, what is involved in challenging these myths, and how they actually engage people afresh and help them encounter the real claims fo the Christmas narrative.


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149 thoughts on “Challenging Christmas myths in mission and ministry”

  1. Iconoclast, from the Greek, destroyer of the image.
    We are to look for reality, not the image, the reality which conveys the image. The reality, in an analogue film is found in the negative, not the developed photographic print which may have been manipulated. Even then the negative film may not reveal all there was to see, a selective composition, within a frame.
    In digital photograhy individual images may be stitched together to reveal a wider panorama.
    A recent example was in a photo gallery. Hadrian’s wall was pictured, from indidual stones in detail on the left of the frame, stretching out (individual images stitched together) over undulating terrain into the far distance. Magnificent detail, breadth and depth. Immersive.

    Reply
  2. Ian

    Is there a danger we create other myths the more we depend on external sources> Can we be sure these secondary sources have got it right?

    Reply
    • John – I’ll give my reply, which is – yes, of course, but the key word here is ‘rely’. That is why I personally look at Scripture, see what Scripture is saying – and only take on board any ‘external’ sources which corroborate what Scripture is saying and perhaps fill out a little where Scripture only gives the bare bones.

      Also, I believe that Scripture really ought to be bullet-proof, even in translation and even for somebody who knows absolutely nothing external to what Scripture gives us about life in the Roman Empire in the 1st century.

      Yesterday I gave you my take on the `no room at the inn’ passage and what the KJV communicated to me (namely, there existed an inn where they were housed, the ‘no room’ referred to no suitable crib, so they improvised). This hangs together and makes sense, even in the English translation – and makes more sense than suggesting that there wasn’t any inn at all and that the birth was in a stable.

      There is absolutely nothing in Luke’s text (or indeed in the remainder of scripture) suggesting that shepherds were outcasts as far as the Israelites were concerned (and – yes – I take your point that Saul made a derogatory reference to Jesse, but I don’t think it points to Jesse and his family being considered outcasts, rather that they’re not from the priestly caste or upper classes which might be expected to produce kings. Jesse might have held the same attitude towards a car mechanic or a carpenter).

      I’d never actually heard of the theories either that the swaddling clothes had some symbolic significance (if there is supposed to be symbolic significance then the authors of the gospels forgot to indicate this to us) or that Mary and Joseph were alone (again, if true, the authors of the gospels forgot to give us this information). In fact, let us suppose that Mary and Joseph were the sort of people who like their own company, who prefer to be alone, then the birth of Jesus must have been sheer murder for them with all these shepherds and magi, etc … coming to visit.

      I’m inclined to strongly agree with you that we’re in danger of creating other myths if we rely on external sources and scholarship which tries to discover (without reference to Scripture) what society was like back in 1st century Palestine. From what we’ve seen here over the last few weeks, I do have some concern that there may be an over-reliance on these external / secondary sources. Having said that, Ian Paul does seem to have got-it-right when it comes to the issues surrounding the birth of Jesus and therefore probably a good idea to use all the tools at our disposal to correct the errors that have crept in and taken over. Just as long as the starting point is what Scripture says – and what it doesn’t say.

      Reply
      • ‘Also, I believe that Scripture really ought to be bullet-proof, even in translation and even for somebody who knows absolutely nothing external to what Scripture gives us about life in the Roman Empire in the 1st century.’

        There is a well known saying: ‘a text without a context is a pretext’. When you remove Scripture from its historical context, you can end up making it mean almost anything.

        ‘there existed an inn where they were housed’. In which case, you are relying on an incorrect translation. That is simply not what the word kataluma means.

        Reply
        • Ian – well, then I wonder what you make of the Old Testament, since there seems to be absolutely no external evidence to back up Genesis, particularly the story of Joseph (where one might expect something), or the flight from Egypt in Exodus, or the battles fought in Joshua, or even about Israel during the time of the kings. Our only source for any of this seems to be Scripture itself.

          Yet – anyone who is being honest with both the text and themselves can build up a reasonable picture of what was going on in O.T. times – there is a huge amount of forensic detail within the Old Testament itself to help us build up a reasonably clear and coherent picture. As I understand it, next to nothing by way of external evidence. But I wouldn’t describe the picture that we build, from the text itself, as pretext.

          When it comes to the New Testament we do seem to have so much more in the way of external evidence.

          I accept that all the translators seem to have `got it wrong’ about ‘kataluma’- and this is a cause for concern for me.

          Reply
      • Jock, the word for “inn” in Luke 10.34 is “pandocheion”: the word “kataluma” in Luke 22.11 clearly means “guest room”, not “inn”, and this is the same word used in Luke 2.7, so following the author’s own usag, this is the likeliest meaning. Note also that Mary and Joseph had evidently been in Bethlehem for some unspecified time previously (v.6); it really strains credulity to think a couple would make a long journey by foot when the woman was very close to childbirth.
        But such is the power of the visual on our minds – that we believe Christmas cards (none this year, thank goodness!), catols and nativity plays before the sober picture of the gospels.

        Reply
  3. Have any of the back-to-scripture posts here on the Nativity questioned the time of year? Two historical reasons are advanced for midwinter (syncretism; a fitting time of year) and neither of them are good. Nor can much be made of Lewin’s 19th century argument based on which of the Levite priestly subtribes Zechariah belonged to (Abijah according to Luke), and the order of service of the subtribes in 1 Chronicles 24. I’d guess Tabernacles, in the autumn, since that is without doubt the time of year he will come again in glory, and his glory was visible all the time to those in the know. But guess it is; and if God regarded the time of year as important then He would have made sure it was clear in the gospel accounts.

    Reply
      • As Mary spoke the Magnificat to Elizabeth shortly after the angel Gabriel told her she would become pregnant with God’s son, she clearly knew she was miraculously pregnant (having presumably missed a period); there was scant delay between the Annunciation and Incarnation (Luke 1). Mary therefore conceived in the sixth month (Luke 1:26) of her cousin Elizabeth (cf 1:24) carrying John the Baptist, when Elizabeth was between 5 and 6 (lunar) months pregnant. Elizabeth had conceived after (meta) her husband Zechariah, a priest, returned from duty in the Temple; meta implies an association between the events, so Elizabeth probably had no menstruation after her husband’s return. As Mary’s pregnancy would last nine months, there were about 6+9=15 months from Zechariah’s duty to Jesus’ birth.

        Thomas Lewin (Fasti Sacri, 1865) noticed that Luke states which of the Levite priestly subtribes Zechariah belonged to (Abijah), and that 1 Chronicles 24 sets out the 24 subtribes, presumably in order of service (verse 19 is not explicit in Hebrew). Duty lasted one week (1 Chronicles 9:25). Josephus confirmed these details decades after Jesus (Antiquities of the Jews vol. 7, ch. 14, para 7). The rota was probably run through twice per year, plus the festivals; Zechariah’s service was during his subtribe’s turn (Luke 1:8). For a detailed discussion, and for many early-church references to the question of the date of the Nativity, see chapter 4 of Roger Beckwith’s book Calendar and Chronology, Jewish and Christian (2001). Lewin’s argument gives two windows for Christ’s nativity. As the Jewish year begins at Passover in the Old Testament, these windows are centred about late January and late July, with a few weeks’ uncertainty.

        There is a greater cause of uncertainty, though, in supposing that the rota was run through exactly twice a year so that the first subtribe was always on duty at the start of the year. Also, slippage occurs because of discrepancy between the lengths of the lunar and solar year; to keep the former tuned to the latter (unlike the Islamic calendar), the Jews added an extra month (known as a further Adar, named after the month of the year to which it was adjacent) every few years. Before the Jews gained such mathematical capability they presumably kept their lunar calendar tuned to the solar by starting the year at the next new moon after Jerusalem’s barley had reached the ‘Aviv’ stage; the first month, Aviv, was named after a young head of grain. (A sheaf of barley was waved during Passover: Leviticus 23:5-11.) Even if some tours of Temple duty of some subtribes were made longer, to ensure that the first subtribe always opened the year, we do not know whether Jesus’ miraculous conception or Virgin Birth took place in a year with an extra Adar month added.

        Why was the kataluma full? Two reasons are likely. One is relatives arriving for the census, for which people had to register in their ancestral town (Luke 2:1-3). This requirement is also in a papyrus edict of the Roman governor of Egypt Gaius Vibius Maximus in AD104. Roman officials would not have been present on the same day in all places as small as Bethlehem; presumably they moved around, and people had to register when the officials came through. In that case the kataluma was already full of other relatives registering. A midwinter nativity would then be unlikely, as travel was hard in winter with muddy roads; census officials probably moved at other times of year. Alternatively the kataluma was full because Jesus was born at one of the three annual pilgrimage festivals: Passover, Weeks, Tabernacles (which Joseph was required to attend). These festivals filled Jerusalem, and Bethlehem is only five miles away. Luke is not clear about the interval between Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem and Jesus’ birth, but Mary travelled even when pregnant, to be with the one man who trusted her; in Nazareth, she would have had no protector from derision for being pregnant.

        Some believers suggest that, as Messiah was expected at Tabernacles (as his brothers understood in John 7), which is the time of his second coming (Zechariah 14:16), his first coming must have been then. This is the harvest festival and the only one of the three major festivals yet to find fulfilment in Christ. On the other hand, Mary also travelled to Judea (where Elizabeth lived: Luke 1:39-40) at the start of her pregnancy, and back three months later (Luke 1:56), probably after Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist. Given the difficulty of winter travel this makes unlikely a winter Incarnation, and correspondingly an autumn Nativity. A woman would be unlikely to travel alone, and it is unusual that no travelling companion is mentioned; perhaps she travelled with male relatives heading to or from Jerusalem for a festival. Whatever, Colin Humphreys has argued from Matthew’s description of the aster (‘star’) of Bethlehem, and by comparing it with ancient descriptions of comets, that it was a comet. A suitable candidate exists in Chinese astronomical records in the spring of 5BC (The Star of Bethlehem, Tyndale Bulletin vol. 43.1, p.31-56; 1992). Was Jesus born at Passover, the freedom festival and also when new growth begins? The shepherds were on watch outside at night (Luke 2:8). Sheep can be outdoors all year in Bethlehem’s climate (they were in the 20th century), so this gives no clue about the timing. The sheep for sacrifice in the Temple came from Bethlehem, which is perhaps why John the Baptist prophetically calls Jesus the “lamb of God”. Why, though, were the shepherds watching their sheep at night? Were sheep destined for the Temple always watched? Or was it the lambing season, which for the Awassi sheep of Israel is December/January?

        A spring Nativity would mean a summer Incarnation. A spring Incarnation would mean a winter Nativity; a Talmudic tradition (about Moses, based loosely on Deut 31:2 & 32:48-50) has holy men dying on the day of their origin, but is that their birth or conception? Early in the 3rd century Hippolytus of Rome wrote (Commentary on Daniel, 4:23) that Jesus was born on December 25th, based likely on the view that he was conceived at Passover because he died on it, or that the world was created in that season. Augustine said as much 200 years later (De Trinitate IV.5), and Hippolytus’ contemporary Julius Africanus made an equivalent speculation in his Chronographiai (about 220AD; lost but deducible from Eusebius’ Chronicle). Tertullian also spoke of the event at that time of year (Against the Jews, 8), but lost Claudius’ reign from his chronology.

        We don’t know the year of Jesus’ birth, for King Herod sought to kill the baby Jesus yet our calendar impossibly has Herod die in 4 ‘BC’ (Before Christ). Even the time of year was soon lost, hence speculation about it two centuries later by Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, I) and later Christian writers. The earliest mention of a Christmas celebration – on December 25th, in fact – is in the Depositio Martirum of the ‘Chronograph of 354[AD]’, often taken to mean in 336AD because the chronograph gives nothing later. In this era Pope Julius I favoured that particular day, after Christianity ‘came out’ under Emperor Constantine. December 25th is the day which Emperor Aurelian, in AD274, associated with sol invictus, the sun god; Constantine was also tolerant to this cult. Under the Julian calendar of that era, this date was very close to the winter solstice. (The Julian calendar has drifted since; it is still used by the Russian Orthodox church, which now celebrates Christmas in January as a result.)

        A few centuries later, the church aimed to take over pagan festivals as a mission strategy. Pope Gregory commended this trick to Augustine of Canterbury’s mission to England in 601AD (his letter is in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, I.30).

        Since nobody thought the time of year worth stating in the New Testament, it matters little to God if the church knows it, or therefore if it celebrates it. Our choice of December 25th is based either on the pagan solstice celebration of sol invictus or an unlikely extrapolation from Deuteronomy 31 & 32. For 300 years after Christ the church had no festival of his birth, which explains why it forgot the time of year.

        Reply
        • Thanks. Having thought a lot (off and on) about the year of Christ’s birth, I came to the conclusion that he was very probably born in 4 BC. (I don’t think we can rely on comets.) The reasoning is: Christ’s earthly life ended in AD 30 (I won’t go into that). His ministry was approx. 2.5 years (John records three passovers), and Luke said that he began his ministry when he was ‘about thirty’. The crucial question is, what does ‘about’ signify? A lack of knowledge about which year, or ‘about’ as opposed to ‘exactly’? There are, as I recall, other biblical instances of the latter usage. Crucially, Mary was one of Luke’s sources, and she would have known her son’s age if it was not indeed common knowledge.

          We don’t know the year in which Herod died.

          I took an interest in the question because of its bearing on understanding Dan 9, but again I won’t go into that (<i<WtTF p 291).

          Reply
          • Steven: I’m engaging with the time of year, not the year itself except insofar as there appears to be only one candidate comet, which would obviously settle both, *if* the Star of Bethlehem was indeed a comet rather than something else, supernatural or not.

            Colin Humphreys has written a book about the year of the Crucifixion, The Mystery of the Last Supper. I am not committed to his solution but he discusses much of the relevant evidence and the various theories. I even knew a (different) scholar, fluent in ancient Greek, who claimed that the word for “approximately” in Luke’s “approximately 30 years old” actually meant “exactly 30 years old”. I’ve forgotten why, but the man was no crank and perhaps (koine) Greek scholars could help here.

          • Ian, I’d put it like this: December 25th was *suggested* by some Christians early in the 3rd century to have been the date of the Nativity, but there was no thought of a celebration; some decades later in AD274 Aurelian declared December 25th to be the day to celebrate Sol Invictus; some decades after *that*, after Constantine, we hear of Christmas celebrations on that day. I think all of those statements are contained in my long post (which I boiled down from an essay I wrote some years ago and dug out), and I don’t think I go beyond them. So are we actually disagreeing about anything?

        • The church has been woefully complicit in creating this sickly-sweet romanticized souffle that is Christmas. Parasitical accretions have attached like barnacles to its hull: commercialization, escapism and poor snivelling hedonism jostle for space, while any underlying truth is barely discernible. The whole charade is sinking under its own weight. Society is rapidly becoming disillusioned and the church has, yet again, chased the spirit of the age over the edge of a cliff. The sooner we return to Christmas as is was in 200AD, the better.

          Reply
  4. Interesting conversation, and I strongly approve the attempt to look at the Christmas narrative with fresh eyes. James remarks, “People are rather tired of the Christmas story.” This resonates with me. So too, “Jesus was born in the family home.” So too Ian’s remarks about recognising the cultural distance between then and now, and how this can (surprisingly) draw us closer to what was really going on.

    It’s hard to sing “Once in royal David’s city stood a lowly cattle shed”, and then be told, “But actually there was no cattle shed, his shelter was not a stable.” It takes courage to resist the enormous pressure to ask a congregation to distinguish between the sentimentality and what Luke is actually inviting us to contemplate. But one has got to try. Courage and truth-telling are important qualities of a Christian leader.

    Regarding not being able to bring a lamb, Lev 12:6 stipulates (like Ex 12:5) that the offering be a sheep or goat that is (lit.) the ‘son (ram) of a year’, meaning a year old. I don’t know how strictly that was understood, but it could be that not being able to bring such an offering had as much to do with time of year as affordability. There is a respectable view that Jesus was born in the autumn, some six months before lambs born the previous spring were a year old. Since Joseph was a craftsman, he presumably was as able as the next man to afford a lamb.

    Reply
      • Unlikely though since Luke’s readers would have no inclining about time of year but would readily identify doves with the offering of a family who could not afford a lamb.

        Reply
        • Unlikely though since Luke’s readers would have no inclining about time of year but would readily identify doves with the offering of a family who could not afford a lamb.

          What’s you evidence for that? If it was common practice for families of children born in autumn to give doves instead of a lamb because of the scarceness of lambs, would Luke’s readers not have been aware of that custom and therefore made the connection themselves, without Luke having to spell it out?

          Reply
      • Other aspects: (1a) the bloody business of childbirth made the woman unclean, and that uncleanness had to be atoned for by the shedding of animal blood, no less; (1b) the sacrifice was in the nature of a burnt offering and a sin offering, so the uncleanness was not merely ‘ritual’, and Mary was not considered immaculate; and (2) every firstborn belonged to God and therefore had to be bought back from him by a money payment (Ex 13:12, Num 18:16). I think Luke’s purpose is to remind us of these things. In these respects the nativity was no different from any nativity.

        It is as if in purifying her the Law was giving the mother a fresh start.

        Luke implicitly reminds us that all life comes from God, the giver of life.

        (As an aside, there was apparently no exemption of the 5 shekel payment on grounds of affordability!)

        Reply
  5. I notice Strongs allow’s for inn. Is not a guest room a kind of inn? Is the word not flexible enough to cover a range of places where someone may stay for a night? I accept it may not be the normal word for inn and is more likely to mean guest room.

    And are not animals kept in a downstairs room a kind of stable. Scottish black houses had something similar.

    Reply
  6. If is is only a story and if it is reduced to only historical sequential accuracy, why have Christmas at all.
    Our text for last Sunday’s communion service was Galatians 4:4-5.

    As for time of year accuracy, some Messianic Jews see the birth of Jesus at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles 15 Tishrei (Sept/Oct). It is linked with Luke 1:5 Zechariah being a priest in the division of Abijah.
    Israel at the time off Jesus was divided into 24 districts. Each district sent two representatives to officiate at the temple during weeks of the year.
    In 1 Chronicles 24 the first Division of priests would serve in the first week of the year, that us both the month of Nisan. ( first month in the religious calender, Exodus 12:2) and Tishrei ( first month of civil calander).
    1 Chronicles 24:10 Abijah was the the 8th division in line of the priests.
    The division or course of Abijah would minister during the 10th week of the year.
    In Luke 1:9-10 Zechariah burns incense, representing prayers of God’s people (Psalm 141:2; Revelation 8:3-4) one of the set 18 special prayers, said every day, was that Elijah would come…
    (There is more, but I’m on phone… But it continues…)
    Sukkot is also called the season of our joy (Luke 2:10) which is for all nations.

    Swaddling cloths …were also used as wicks to light the 16 vats of oil within the Court of Women during the Feast of Sukkot/Tabernacles…

    The feast of Tabernacles involves seasonal rains in Israel. Joel tells us that the former and latter rain would come in the first month.
    Hosea 6:3 the coming Messiah will be as the former and latter rain in earth
    Yeshua is the rain that came down from heaven as well as the fountain if ling water …
    And there is more, from The Seven Festivals of the Messiah, Edward Chimney.

    Reply
    • Ps 19. the sun is like a bridegroom rejoicing to run its course. Jesus birth must have been just before dawn while the morning stars were singing, when the foundation stone was laid…in a manger

      Reply
        • The course of the sun is Jesus story. It was given for signs and seasons. Sign: like a bridegroom running it’s course. Dawn= birth . Eclipse = death and Resurrection. Blood moon = the bride suffering. We are the stars that appear during the eclipse.
          A good symbolic picture of the nativity would be early dawn with the Morning Star surrounded by other stars standing over a crescent moon with an ox and an ass looking knowingly at the illuminated horizon. All set in a cucumber patch!

          Reply
      • the sun of righteousness who rises with healing on his wings. Mal 4

        (ESV) because of the tender mercy of our God,
        whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
        79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
        to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Lk 1

        These seem to metaphors of Christ as the light of salvation.

        Reply
        • That’s a good one. Thanks
          I was thinking the Bible is like a board game. All the squares, cards, pieces, all have a purpose. The game can only proceed if nothing is added or subtracted from what’s in 5he box.
          It can be played perfectly well by abiding by the rules. Question cards are answered within the game.
          Got to go. No more time. Happy Christmas

          Reply
  7. Ah, interesting point Steven about Jesus born before lambs were available. It could be suggested that Jesus was born just before the first lambs, (end of January here in England) so that He was the first Lamb of the season. This would be consistent with everything He did – first or early.

    Reply
      • I was listening to D.A. Carson yesterday (on Melchizedek). He pointed out how sometimes a blank in Biblical patterns encourages the bible reader to read the rythm and infer something from what is missing. Sorry for such a wooley description, I can’t listen to it all again right now. I think it is okay sometimes to extrapolate from silence. The Bible narrative employs ‘Selah’ moments as poetic devices so we can use our imagination. Noted earlier: Jesus turned 3 years into a more symbolic 3 and a half. The nativity story is full of blanks we try to fill. It is impossible for the human mind not to see patterns in chaos. I think it is this way intentionally. We should embrace the opportunity to unpack the gift.

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      • Ah, but he was not a yearling at birth was he. Am I right? Offerings were not made with their mothers’ milk.
        By ther time of His crucifixion He had become the perfect offering. A year symbolic of completion.

        Reply
          • I’m not sure if the passover lamb was a year old, I assume it was.
            I’m just trying to see Jesus birth as not only the firstborn lamb but the first lamb of the year, i.e. born at the beginning of the lambing season, at the beginning of the year, just when the day gets longer, say 25th December, just before or at dawn. Where is the morning star at this time of year?

  8. Animals were kept inside the 4 walls of a dwelling presumably for their own security ans for heating the house. The manger was filled every day? In which case Jesus was born after the animals had eaten, when the manger was free. Reminds me of the pecking order for who gets served first. In this case the owner, then the servants, then the slaves, then the animals and then, last but not least: Jesus.

    Reply
    • At the time of Jesus’ birth the shepherds were (famously) abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. So, they were not back in the house needing fodder from the manger.

      Reply
      • A home in Bethlehem had animals like donkeys and cows. I don’t think sheep were the sort of animal that ate from a manger except during lambing season. A farmer friend lets his sheep give birth under cover in February but the rest of the year they are outside. This raises the question of weather sheep were urban animals in C1. I think they were not and you are right to suppose they were on the hillside. Still the big question for me is why shepherds wash socks at night.

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  9. I think the offering of two doves has more to do symbolically with the covenant with Abraham. It take us back to the original promise. It restarts the covenant. The flaming pot might be Jesus coming to retify the covenant, to be flung down on the earth as in Revelation.

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  10. Has this strangely worded verse any messianic undertones.

    The ox knows its owner,
    and the donkey its master’s crib (Isa 1:3)

    Reply
    • strangely evocative of the nativity, and reading on:
      “Daughter Zion is left
          like a shelter in a vineyard,
      like a hut in a cucumber field,
          like a city under siege.”
      Herods plans to encircle Bethlehem?

      I know it cuts no mustard with many but to me these things work evocatively . thanks John

      Reply
      • In the first instance probably Jerusalem at the Assyrian attack. I am of tentatively of the view Jerusalem will be attacked at the end of history and the nation will be redeemed by the returning Christ (Zechariah 12-14). Zechariah and Daniel seem to point in that direction; Israel may well be the eschatological Israel composed of Jews and gentiles.

        Reply
        • My rule of thumb is to take all OT prophecy as pointing to Jesus birth, life , death, resurrection and ascension. Therefore mapping a prophecy about Jerusalem over our age is about, probably, the body of Christ , persecution, etc. But this is off topic. It’s a rule of thumb, I expect exceptions. It’s healthy too, mapping Daniel on Revelation is not. They look similar, like photos of two holidays. They can be sorted into similar piles but in the end they are about different events in different places at different times. Daniel= Jesus life on earth. Revelation= Jesus life in us.

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      • I know Steve. I just would appeal to you to try to make connections more transparent than tenuous otherwise it becomes as Geoff says just free association. Have you read some books on biblical theology for they are very good at taking a thread and tracing it though Scripture. You may enjoy them. What I like is that they are good at identifying associations that Scripture intends largely by contextualising them. I like connections but I ask myself if it is one the Bible itself is making.

        Anyway, perhaps you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I’ve got enough idiosyncrasies of my own without questioning those of others.; not least writing too many comments on Ian’s blog. The Lord sees our hearts which hopefully transcends our theology and anyway, I recently read a comment of yours which was a straightforward statement of bible truth so I know you can give those too. I appreciated it. And don’t take this comment too much to heart.

        Enjoy the Christmas break.

        God bless

        John

        Reply
  11. Can I say to all who regularly comment and to our host who bears with me well all things considered, I trust you will enjoy your holiday break and be invigorated in your Christian faith over the festive period.

    I will no doubt be commenting again over the week but I may have forgotten to pass on these wishes. As the other John says, may you prosper in body and soul.

    John

    Reply
      • Hello Steve,
        As you are diving into some of Carson’s work, you may be aware of this, described recently by a contributor to Think Theology, as the best talk heard on Melchizedeck.
        Why is it relevant to this article? Well, Carson writes, “Yet precisely because he is both king and priest, the figure of
        Melchizedek turns out to be one of the most instructive figures in
        the entire Bible for helping us put our Bibles together. He helps us
        see clearly who Jesus is.”

        It concerns the use of the Old Testament in the New, understanding and interpretation.

        The talk is, “Getting excited about Melchizedeck.”

        https://youtu.be/RY-qfjGaBpg

        And here is an essay of his which sets out in some exegetical depth the contents of the talk. It forms a chapter in a multi authored book;
        https://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-documents/carson/2013_melchizedek.pdf

        With apologies to our much imposed upon host, Ian.

        May we know Him more, for His Glory and our good.
        Yours in Christ, Geoff

        Reply
  12. When you two scholars talk about the ‘Truth’ of Luke’s Gospel narrative – which does not mention the minutiae of the events and circumstances of Jesus’ birth; are you saying that the other Gospel accounts are false? Or are you selecting your own ‘Truth’ narrative?

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    • Article written by Will Jones- a former contributor on this site,
      and quoted by Melvin Tinker in his book, Hideous Strength?Perhaps one and the same?
      What is reported is self indulgent, self glorifying, sickening, gut- wrenching out of control running amok, mockery in the name of… the Church of England, under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury? A negligent vacuity of leadership?
      Why is it that it takes outsiders to raise a fuss over this? While bishops huddle in dereliction.

      Reply
  13. The Orthodox position is that Jesus was born in a cave. Iconography explores that of course. And it is a deeply symbolic position. Underground is where God has to go. Compare also the harrowing of hell.
    The Nativity Grotto is perhaps the oldest place of Christian worship. Origen of Alexandria apparently wrote in the 3rd Century:

    “In Bethlehem the cave is pointed out where He was born, and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. And the rumor is in those places, and among foreigners of the Faith, that indeed Jesus was born in this cave who is worshiped and reverenced by the Christians”

    Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience.

    A very blessed Christmas to those who write and read here!

    Reply
    • The Orthodox position is that Jesus was born in a cave.

      And do you think that is correct?

      (Of course, given that Andrew Godsall denies the virgin brith by refusing to confirm that the Y-chromosomes in Jesus’s cells did not come from a human man*, I think we can guess that his answer will be ‘it doesn’t matter what really happened, because the gospels aren’t historical, they are works of “salvation history”’ and then he will refuse to define what he means by ‘salvation history’ but from the way he uses the term it will become clear he means ‘stuff people that didn’t happen but that people made up to try to express their views of God’ — he has already, for example, been explicit that he thinks the story about Jesus stilling the storm didn’t happen, but is fiction made up by the gospel writers**).

      * I don’t propose to go through this again, anyone interested can read the evidence at https://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/dear-richard-whither-the-church-of-england/#comment-406972 ff.

      ** Again, no point it repeating the discussion; it can all be found at https://www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/what-are-paul-bayes-goals-for-the-church-on-sexuality/comment-page-1/#comment-396187

      Reply
    • I don’t know if all Orthodox believe this but it is based on the 2nd century Protoevangelium of James, by an author who had never been to Palestine.
      What about the virginal conception of Christ, Andrew?
      Do you think that is true or mythical?

      Reply
      • James I believe the Creed.
        ….by the power of the Holy Spirit
        he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
        and was made man.

        I don’t think the incarnation is a conjuring trick with chromosomes, which is what some seem to believe.

        The Creeds sum it up rather well.

        Reply
  14. What I find odd about the Christmas Story is that no one recorded the date of this amazing event. Heavenly beings had announced to both Mary and Joseph that Mary would give birth to the Messiah, the savior of your people; Three kings visited his home when he was two years old; the ruler of your country massacred hundreds if not thousands of babies to get rid of your child; you and your family had to flee in the night to a foreign country to escape death…and yet…Mary forgot to tell anyone the date of birth of God come to earth! Or…she told the early Church and no one consider it important enough to record.

    Odd. Odd. Odd.

    This story (stories, actually, as they are completely different in Matthew and Luke except for the location of the birth) have all the characteristics of…legends.

    Reply
    • Why? Ancients had a different interest in chronology from us.

      Besides, Luke does at least three times. Have you not noticed that?

      No, they have all the hallmarks of ancient historiography. Luke in particular emphasises his research with eyewitnesses. Both these facts are well attested in the literature. Here is one discussion: https://wipfandstock.com/9781666731880/luke-among-the-ancient-historians/

      But you wouldn’t know that if you are not aware of ancient writing techniques.

      Reply
      • -Alexander the Great was born July 20th/21st, 356 BCE

        -Julius Caesar was born July 12th/13th, 100 BCE

        -Tiberius Caesar was born November 16, 42 BCE

        -Caesar Caligula was born August 31, 12 CE

        -Caesar Claudius was born August 1, 10 BCE

        -Caesar Nero was born December 15, 37 CE

        -Death of Caesar Augustus, 14 CE

        -The burning of Rome, July 18, 64 CE

        -The year of four Roman Emperors, 69 CE

        -The Destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, June 70 CE

        -Pompeii is destroyed by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, 79 CE

        Yet Christians don’t remember the day, month, or even the year of birth of the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Creator and Ruler of the universe.

        Why? Answer: Ancients had a different interest in chronology from us.

        Come on.

        Reply
        • Do you know Gary there is more evidence for Jesus than Alexander the Great. All evidence for Alexander comes 300 years after he died,

          Have you noticed there is no description of Jesus and no dates. Men make icons out of such things. Perhaps this is the reason.

          Reply
          • Incorrect. We have more sources taking about Jesus, but much less evidence.

            All, or almost all, historians believe the following are historical facts about Alexander the Great. Not only do we have manuscript evidence for these events but we also have archaeological evidence for many of them:

            01-Alexander the Great’s mother, Olympias, gave birth to him on either July 20 or 21, 356 BC.
            02-The Greek philosopher Aristotle served as Alexander’s tutor in his youth.
            03-Alexander fought his first war against Thracian rebels at the age of 16.
            04-His father King Philip of Macedonia died by assassination in 336 BC.
            05-Alexander began his campaign against the Persians in 334 BC.
            06-He reached Syria in 333 BC and Egypt in 332 BC.
            07-By 329 BC, Alexander had completed the conquest of Persia.
            08-In that same year, Alexander invaded India.
            09-Alexander returned to Persia from India in 324 BC.
            10-He finally died in Babylon a year later in 323 BC.

            What archaeological evidence is there of Jesus?? Please list the facts about Jesus of Nazareth that all, or almost all historians, agree upon.

        • “Come on”…. Presumably you, simply, don’t like the answer.

          Though thank you for linking everything to the Birth date of Jesus. And no, I don’t think it’s necessarily accurate… or that accurate actually matters.

          I’m 72… My actual birth date is irrelevant and it could be I’m just 72 or nearly 73. Either way.. I was born and am actually real… Honest.. 😉

          Reply
      • Sorry.

        “Besides, Luke does at least three times. Have you not noticed that?”

        Well, if that is true, why can’t Christians agree on at least the year of Jesus’ birth?? I ask all readers to google “date of Jesus’ birth”. What will you find, even if you only look at evangelical/conservative Protestant websites? You will only find guesses and approximations, such on this Christian site:

        https://www.bibleversestudy.com/luke/luke2-when-was-jesus-born.htm

        This Christian website needs multiple paragraphs and multiple (often conflicting) mathematical calculations to finally arrive at an approximate year of birth for Jesus: 8 BCE – 4 BCE. Come on. We know the exact day, month, and year of all the Roman emperors but Christians forgot the birthdate of the King of Kings. Jesus existed, yes, but the evidence strongly suggests that the Gospels’ birth narratives are legends.

        “But you wouldn’t know that if you are not aware of ancient writing techniques.”

        I don’t need to know anything about ancient writing techniques to take a position on this issue. Why? Like most university educated people in the world, I can appeal to majority expert opinion on this issue. And the majority of experts (historians, in this case) do not consider the birth narratives of Jesus found in the Gospels to be historical facts. Even among NT scholars, only evangelicals and conservative Protestants continue to insist that these two stories are historically reliable. Roman Catholic NT scholars, who believe in the supernatural, do not rule out the possibility that these stories are fictional/legendary (See my quote from Raymond Brown in another comment).

        Reply
        • I think you have shifted your ground. Your original point was What I find odd about the Christmas Story is that no one recorded the date of this amazing event, to which the answer is (as I explained in an earlier comment) Luke himself did. Ancient chroniclers did not use the BC/BCE system. Luke gave what he considered sufficient information in Luke 3:1 and 3:23.

          Reply
          • Then give us the date! If Luke gives us the date, give us the date, please. You can’t. Why? You know that there is a contradiction in the text. If Herod the Great was still alive, Quirinius would not yet be the governor of Syria…UNLESS… Quirinius was governor of Syria on a previous occasion, which the history books do not expressly record.
            Conservative Protestant apologists will insist on this missing Quirinius governorship to hold this tall tale together. Silly. Guesses and assumptions: the glue of traditional Christianity.

            Come on. If the early Christians believed, beginning the Day of Pentecost, that Jesus was God himself, the creator of the universe, come to earth to save humankind, they would have recorded his birthdate (and the dates of his death and resurrection). They didn’t!

            If these stories were part of the lore of another religion, you would not give them a second more of your time. They are clearly legends.

          • I’m sorry, you seem not to have engaged with the earlier comment I referred you to, nor with the one to which you have replied. (i) The date is 4 BC – see above, based on Luke 3:23 and chronological data in John’s gospel. (ii) Luke gave what he considered sufficient information in Luke 3:1 and 3:23. Luke 3:1, as you say, is now problematic because of lack of preserved information enabling us to infer an AD date for when John began prophesying, but Luke clearly understood himself to be giving contemporaries all the information they needed.

            Are you approaching the question with an open mind?

          • Please provide ONE public university history text which lists Jesus of Nazareth’s birth as 4BCE.

            Of course the people of the first century were not using BCE/CE dating. But they could recall what year of what emperor’s reign such and such an event occurred, and historians can extrapolate the BCE/CE date from this information. No respected non-evangelical, non-fundamentalist Protestant historian or scholar is going to claim that it is an historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth was born in 4 BCE. This is really silly, but prove me wrong. Show me a 4 BCE date (not with a “circa”) for Jesus’ birth in any public university world history textbook.

          • But they could recall what year of what emperor’s reign such and such an event occurred

            Indeed. And Luke includes exactly that information in Luke 3:1, doesn’t he?

          • Ok, so an anonymous first century author claims that “the Word” came to John the Baptist in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. Excellent. How can such a claim ever be confirmed??

            Now give me a quote for the date of Jesus’ birth. Give me a quote from any early Church Father; any early Christian who claims he or she had communicated with Mary, or James, or one of the Twelve, about the date of birth of God the Creator come to earth.

            I know that Christians think they can calculate a date from dates such as that above, but the fact that no public university history text book lists a firm date for Jesus of Nazareth’s birth shows just how shaky this evidence really is.

          • Ok, so an anonymous first century author claims that “the Word” came to John the Baptist in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. Excellent. How can such a claim ever be confirmed??

            You’ve moved the goalposts. First you claim that the gospels don’t include precise dates, and therefore are like legends; when it’s pointed out that they do contain precise dates, you complain that the thing that is precisely dated is unfalsifiable.

            No doubt if we were to continue you would just shift the goalposts again and again and again, so why bother?

          • My original argument was “What I find odd about the Christmas Story is that no one recorded the date of this amazing event. ”

            I never said that there are no dates in the Gospels. However, if there is clear indication of Jesus’ birth in the Gospels, one must just do a few calculations as you seem to suggest, why did the early Church not record the year of this event? Jesus of Nazareth was born in the ____ year of Emperor Augustus reign. Nope, no one did.

            This fact strongly suggests that the birth narratives are very likely legends. And this is not just my non-expert opinion. Even Roman Catholic scholars admit these stories are possibly fiction.

          • why did the early Church not record the year of this event?

            Because they recorded the far more important dates of His ministry and death instead. Obviously. Those are what really matter.

    • You need to read CS Lewis if you think they have the character of legend. They are evidentially based accounts of the historicity of the birth of Jesus.
      As for being completely different in Matthew and Luke, it seems that you have been very selective in your reading of Ian Paul’s articles and in your seeming misunderstanding of the four Gospels.

      Reply
      • I am not an expert. However, as a university educated person I respect and accept majority expert opinion on all issues about which I am not an expert. The majority of historians do not consider the birth narratives of Jesus to be historical facts. In fact, even many Christian NT scholars question the historicity of the two birth narratives. Here are two quotes from preeminent Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Brown:

        “Matthew and Luke give very different accounts of Jesus’ conception and birth. In times past we would have assumed that, because these infancy stories were recounted by inspired writers, both were accurate and had to be harmonized. Today, if the evidence is strong enough, we would be free to consider either or both of the narratives as not historical. Obviously this is a conclusion that should not be reached quickly; but we cannot deny a priori the possibility that, since there were no apostolic eyewitnesses for the events accompanying the birth of Jesus, traditions about that birth could have been produced by popular imagination.

        “The Gospels, then, are not simply factual reporting of what happened in Jesus’ ministry but are documents of faith written to show the significance of those events as seen with hindsight. …the fact that according to the Synoptic Gospels Jesus predicted his crucifixion and resurrection three times and in increasing detail does not necessarily mean that the historical Jesus had such exact foreknowledge of his future.”

        “This argument [that the continued survival of eyewitnesses would have prevented corruption of the historical Jesus Story] cannot be discounted as support for the general lines of Gospel historicity, but it will not hold for many details in the Gospel accounts. In our times, oral records we have seen a tremendous growth in the tradition about figures such as Pope John and John F. Kennedy within ten years after their death, so that one can speak of a difference between these men as they were in history and as they are in the popular evaluation.”

        —selected quotes by Raymond Brown in the Introduction of his book, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, p. 15-20 (copyright, 1973)

        Reply
        • Are you the Gary who hung around the net with other atheist skeptics, including Arkentatum, who sought to denounce Christianity at seeming every opportunity a few years ago- in fact who both. even made comments on this site?

          Reply
      • I’m always surprised when conservative Protestant Christians appeal to CS Lewis as an authority on the texts of the Christian Scriptures. CS Lewis was a writer. Period. That’s it. He considered himself a “lay theologian”. Do you know what we would call a “lay theologian” today? Answer: an apologist. That’s it.

        CS Lewis had zero formal training in New Testament Studies or even in theology! His opinions on the historicity of the birth narratives are of no more value than mine. Conservative Protestants really need to stop using CS Lewis as an authority.

        Reply
        • How amusing that you regard CS Lewis’s opinions on the historicity of the brith narratives as of no more value than yours, and you consider his views to be nonsense!

          Reply
          • Absolutely. My personal views and the personal views of every other non-expert are of no value whatsoever on the authorship and dating of any ancient text. Trust majority expert opinion, my friends!

          • Trust majority expert opinion, my friends!

            You can make ‘majority expert opinion’ be whatever you want it to be, if you carefully pick your experts to be people who already agree with you. But then you knew that.

          • No. One can find majority expert opinion on almost any issue, whether it be global warming, the age of the universe, covid 18, of the authorship of famous ancient text. Anyone who disagrees with this statement most likely does not have a public university education.

            Here is a collection of sources who confirm that most scholars doubt or at least question the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. Notice the first statement is by Anglican NT scholar, NT Wright:

            lutherwasnotbornagaincomdotwordpressdotcom, majority-of-scholars-agree-the-gospels-were-not-written-by-eyewitnesses/

          • One can find majority expert opinion on almost any issue, whether it be global warming, the age of the universe, covid 18, of the authorship of famous ancient text.

            And — by carefully picking the criteria by which you define an ‘expert’ so that it excludes anyone who disagrees with your pre-judged conclusion — you can make that ‘majority of expert opinion’ come out any way you like (eg, you can make it say that Britain is a systemically racist society simply by claiming that anyone who disagrees cannot be an ‘expert’).

          • You sound like someone who did not receive a public university education. Most modern educated people acknowledge the existence of majority expert opinion and respect and accept it.

            This is why educated non-Christians cannot have a rational discussion with evangelicals and fundamentalists Protestants: they do not accept or respect majority expert opinion, the foundation of every advanced, modern society.

          • You sound like someone who did not receive a public university education.

            Do I really. Of course whether I did or not is of no relevance to anything.

            Most modern educated people acknowledge the existence of majority expert opinion and respect and accept it.

            Even when the ‘experts’ keep getting things wrong?

            This is why educated non-Christians cannot have a rational discussion

            So stop posing, why don’t you?

    • This story (stories, actually, as they are completely different in Matthew and Luke except for the location of the birth) have all the characteristics of…legends.

      They don’t, though. Legends take place ‘once upon a time’, not at a specified time (‘ In the time of Herod king of Judea’) and with reference to specific historical events (‘In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken’); legends refer to legendary figures like King Arthur, not specified office-holders (‘This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria’); legends take place in vague geographic areas or in legendary major cities like Troy, not actually-existing minor towns like Nazareth and Bethlehem.

      Reply
      • That is a very common assertion/assumption by online conservative Protestant and evangelical apologists but it has no basis in fact. As NT scholar Raymond Brown is quoted above, rumors and legends about Pope John and John F. Kennedy were circulating within 10 years of their deaths.

        And the claim that first century Jews would never allow legendary material into their oral stories is pure nonsense. The Gospels themselves suggest legends quickly developed among first century Jews. Two examples: the rumors that John the Baptist was Elijah returned from the dead and the rumor that Herod and his court believed that Jesus was John the Baptist returned from the dead. People who believe in the supernatural, in particular, are easy prey to legends and gossip.

        Reply
        • As NT scholar Raymond Brown is quoted above, rumors and legends about Pope John and John F. Kennedy were circulating within 10 years of their deaths.

          Ah, I think you need to be more precise. When you wrote ‘ have all the characteristics of…legends’, I thought you meant ‘legends’ as in the stories of Greek gods, or the legends of Odysseus and Aeneas, or the Edda, or King Arthur. That is, totally made-up stories of legendary figures.

          But you seem to have meant instead, ‘apocryphal stories that attach to an actually existing historical figure’.

          Now these are very different genres. So could you just clarify: you are not suggesting that the gospel birth narratives read like Jesus was a legendary figure like Thor, or Helen of Troy, or Robin Hood; rather you are suggesting that Jesus was an actual historical figure like John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr, and that the birth narratives read like apocryphal stories told about a real person?

          Have I got that right?

          People who believe in the supernatural, in particular, are easy prey to legends and gossip.

          Superciliousness will not win you any friends, you know. And that’s not even true; plenty of devout materialists have proven themselves as gullible as any believer.

          Reply
          • Legend: A legend is a story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated. Most legends are presumed to have some basis in historical fact and tend to mention real people or events.

            I believe that there is sufficient evidence to believe that Jesus was a real person, had a reputation as an apocalyptic preacher and miracle healer, was crucified by Pontius Pilate, and sometime after his death, some of his followers sincerely believed that he appeared to them in some form or fashion. After that, all bets are off what is historical and what is legend in the Gospels.

          • Legend: A legend is a story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated.

            Not true. The labours of Heracles is a legend, but it’s not popularly regarded as historical. King Arthur is a legendary figure, but not regarded as historical. Et cetera et cetera.

            Most legends are presumed to have some basis in historical fact and tend to mention real people or events.

            Again nope; Heracles, Asgard, Atlantis, Robin Hood, all legends without any basis in historical fact.

            I believe that there is sufficient evidence to believe that Jesus was a real person, had a reputation as an apocalyptic preacher and miracle healer, was crucified by Pontius Pilate, and sometime after his death, some of his followers sincerely believed that he appeared to them in some form or fashion. After that, all bets are off what is historical and what is legend in the Gospels.

            Well, that’s an arguable point of view. Certainly more coherent than thinking that you can believe that Jesus was really resurrected while doubting the historicity of other records of miraculous happenings in the gospels, which some around here try to maintain.

            So, you’re wrong, but I respect your logical consistency.

    • Isn’t it strange Gary that you’re noticing what it doesn’t say and apparently not listening to what it does say. You’ve conveniently placed it in the category of legend while C S Lewis and Ian (and many others) deny it fits this genre.

      Luke and Matthew invite you to read their gospel as history. Structured history and edited history (both use at times different events) but history nevertheless. Even Bart Ehrman, no friend of evangelical Christianity, is certain Jesus existed. Matthew was probably written to a predominantly Jewish audience with the intention of introducing Jesus as Messiah. Luke possibly writes with his eye on a gentile audience… hence differences in material used.

      But for you Gary the question is, have you ever seriously looked at Jesus and asked yourself if he may be who he claims to be? I’d urge you to do so. If you have and you have dismissed him then you may be in a very precarious situation for those who give God up God in turn gives up.

      Reply
      • You are making assumptions, my friend. I never claimed to not believe in an historical Jesus. Again, as a university educated person, I respect and accept majority expert opinion. The majority of historians believe that Jesus existed, therefore I accept his historicity as fact. However, just because historians believe that Jesus was a real historical figure, does not mean that they believe all the stories about him found in the Gospels are historical facts.

        Please note that I never claimed to know that the two birth narratives ARE legends, I simply stated that they have “all the characteristics of legends”.

        “Luke and Matthew invite you to read their gospel as history.”

        Assumptions, assumptions, assumptions: the glue that holds together belief in the supernatural tales of Christianity. The authors of the Gospels, whom most scholars do not believe were eyewitnesses nor even the associates of eyewitnesses, specifically state that the purpose of their writing was “so that you might believe”. Most experts believe that the Gospels were written in the genre of Greco-Roman biography, a type of literature which allowed for extensive embellishments about the central character. So even if the authors were the traditional authors, we cannot know as fact they they were writing “history”. It is entirely possible that they were writing theological propaganda mixed with some basic historical facts. But that is the problem with ancient texts: deciphering fact from embellishment.

        Reply
        • Yep, I used to worry about conspiracy theories. JFK. Moon landings. Marylin Monro. Twin towers. Etc. Then I discovered they were all a sub set of the great conspiracy. America! It does not exist. It was invented by the returning Mayflower crew who sailed back to Dublin and set up shop in a village just to the north called Hollywood. It’s been churning out conspiracies ever since …bigger every year. It’s true. Don’t believe experts. I’ve never been to America and I don’t care what experts say.

          Reply
          • Strawman. My position is supported by majority scholarly opinion. Therefore it is rational and consistent with good critical thinking skills. Your depiction of my position is silly and irrational. Shame on you, my friend.

        • But have you seriously looked at Christ? Have you read the gospels to ‘see’. Jesus? Have you decided whether he is authentic and trustworthy? It is always Jesus that produces faith. Tom Holland’s book Dominion shows what a profound influence for good Christianity has had on the world. Jesus can’t be lightly dismissed nor can we hide from him behind pseudo-scholarly research. How many different scholars would you need to read before you were ‘sure’ the gospels are authentic accounts? I come back to my original point made in another comment box – Christians over the centuries have heard in the gospels the ring of truth and have found in Christ an authenticity, an ascendancy and a pull that has compelled faith. They have included many many scholars.

          At the risk of sounding cultic, there is a breed of scholar who is skeptical about the Bible. In many cases their lives will reveal why. Their academic kudos is likely to be higher than their evangelical counterpart because they fit in with the zeitgeist and the evangelical doesn’t. It doesn’t mean that they are right.

          They fit in the way you fit in with the world. Become a follower of Jesus and that will change.

          Reply
          • ” It is always Jesus that produces faith. …Become a follower of Jesus and that will change.”

            Imagine if I told you the following, my Christian friend: “I belong to religion Z. Our god’s name is X. The only way to truly know X is to believe in him by blind faith; to experience his presence within you in a mystical sense. Stop searching for him through historical evidence. Trying to understand X with historical evidence is not the way to find X.”

            You would tell me I am nuts.

            Just because Christianity has had some positive impact on the world is not proof that its supernatural claims are true. Just because a couple billion people believe the Christian supernatural tales does not make them true.

            Modern, educated people demand objective evidence, my friend. Promises of a subjective mystical experience is not going to cut it for most educated, western, non-Christians.

          • ‘Modern, educated people demand objective evidence, my friend. Promises of a subjective mystical experience is not going to cut it for most educated, western, non-Christians.’

            Yes, Gary, and that is what the mainstream of evangelicals and other orthodox Christians believe.

            This exchange needs to stop here for several reasons:

            1. I say very clearly in my policy that this is not a Reddit bulletin board for people to pursue their own agendas.

            2. You are interacting here with a small group of self-selected individuals who (for reasons I have not worked out) have made a hobby of commenting endlessly. I wish they wouldn’t.

            3. They are most not theologians, are mostly at one end of the spectrum of views, and are in no sense representative of mainstream evangelical views. Your attack on their views is like shooting fish in a barrel.

            4. You are firing out multiple questions like a machine gun without waiting for proper engagement with any one.

            5.You seem to enjoy scoring points over Christians who are less informed than you, either as a way of putting them down, or as a way of boosting your own self esteem. But it is a cheap way to score points.

            I do actually think the questions you ask are serious and important, and I would be quite interested in engaging with them in the new year.

            But not here, not now, and not in this format.

            OK?

          • Ian,

            The topic of your post is the embellishments (fiction) that have crept into the birth narratives over the last two thousand years. There was no inn keeper. There was no shed with cows and sheep. Jesus was not laid in a manger of straw. Matthew’s star was not hovering over Luke’s stable. Matthew’s wise men did not come to Luke’s inn to join the shepherds in worshipping the newborn king. Yet that is what this season’s Christmas plays will show, won’t they? The oral tradition of Jesus’ birth is still evolving!

            But what if the entire birth narratives are fiction? Many NT scholars, including Roman Catholic scholars who believe in the supernatural, believe that may well be the case. The fact that the Church did not record for posterity the date of this fantastical event is just one piece of evidence favoring that possibility.

            During the thirty to forty years before the Gospels were written, Christians were preaching that Jesus of Nazareth was the Jewish Messiah. Jews, I’m sure, laughed. “The Messiah will be from Bethlehem, not Nazareth, you crazy fools.” How did Christians, who sincerely and intensely believed that the resurrected Jesus was the Jewish Messiah deal with that apparent contradiction to their belief? “If Jesus had to have been born in Bethlehem to be the Messiah, it is POSSIBLE that Mary and Joseph made a trip to Bethlehem to visit relatives and Jesus was born there. That has to be it. We KNOW he is the Messiah, so there has to be some story of him being born in Bethlehem.” And from there, embellishments were added to the story each time it was retold until it arrived to the ears of the Evangelists decades later who wrote it down.

            Ian, could your faith withstand the possibility that the birth narratives of Jesus are 100% fiction? Would your belief that a man who lived and died 20 centuries ago is your eternal Lord and Savior survive knowing that he did not have a miraculous conception or birth?? His real father was just as human as yours?

            Your co-author of this podcast said, “The truth is really important to Christians. They are excited about the truth.” I hope that is true.

            I will not respond to anyone else’s comments but yours. If you do not respond to this comment our conversation will end.

          • Gary ‘There was no shed with cows and sheep. Jesus was not laid in a manger of straw. Matthew’s star was not hovering over Luke’s stable. Matthew’s wise men did not come to Luke’s inn to join the shepherds in worshipping the newborn king.’

            No, not at all. I think you need to read more carefully. The biblical account doesn’t mention a stable. But it does mention a feeding trough. It does mention a star, and the magi.

            Our discussion is about the traditional embellishments that have been added to the Christmas story—and how we need to get back the reliable biblical account.

            It is slightly odd that you did not notice that…?

          • But what if the entire birth narratives are fiction?

            What if 9/11 was an inside job? What if the CIA had JFK killed? What if Bill Gate has had nanobots injected into our blood?

            ’What if’ is a fun game, isn’t it?

          • ” we need to get back to the reliable biblical account.”

            Reliable? That is the big question, isn’t it, Ian. You assume these ancient tales are reliable and go from there. Why do you refuse to address the issue that the majority of scholars question the historicity of these two tales? That is my point. That doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t exist. I’m not a Jesus mythicist. It just means we don’t really know the circumstances of his birth. Was he fathered by a spirit or a human father??

            But I don’t think you or your readers are interested in discussing that possibility. Your ancient tales are too comforting to you to question their historicity. Merry Christmas.

          • NT Wright, Anglican New Testament scholar: “I don’t know who wrote the Gospels and neither does anyone else.”

            If scholars aren’t sure who wrote the Gospels, how can any rational person claim that the birth narratives about Jesus are “reliable biblical accounts”??

          • You assume these ancient tales are reliable and go from there.

            He doesn’t ‘assume’ the ancient tales are reliable. He considers the evidence carefully and comes to the conclusion that on balance the probability is that they are reliable.

            You disagree with his conclusion; fine. People often disagree with each other’s conclusions. But do him the respect of recognising that it is a conclusion, not an assumption.

          • To “S” and anyone else interested:

            I promised Ian I would only interact with him so as not to clog his posts with my skeptical comments. So if you would like to engage with me further on this topic, I would be honored. Please come to my blog where all comments, Christian and skeptic, are welcome.

            lutherwasnotbornagain dot wordpress dot com

            Happy Holidays.

  15. Which is why you are unlikely to arrive at saving faith through inductive reasoning. I’m sure proper historical studies are valid (though in the case of Jesus I wonder how far they’ll be from prejudice, scholars have prejudices too). There are scholars who believe there is good evidence that the gospels are historical in the sense of claiming to be histories of Jesus. Luke begins by making such a statement.

    The gospels are written as evangelistic tracts. They are presenting Jesus to you and inviting you to believe. I would ask if such a person could be invented. The gospels have the ring of truth. You need to look in the manger rather than spend years on fruitless enquiries. If the baby is not worth worshipping then you can look away. If he is worthy of trust then trust him.

    Reply
    • “Which is why you are unlikely to arrive at saving faith through inductive reasoning.”

      Thank you for your honest answer. I wish more Christians would drop the “historical evidence” facade and just admit that their belief is not based on reason , historical evidence, or critical thinking skills but on their subjective perception of the presence and activities of a 2,000 year old spirit living somewhere within their bodies.

      “There are scholars who believe there is good evidence that the gospels are historical in the sense of claiming to be histories of Jesus. ”

      Yes, and almost all of these scholars are evangelicals or conservative Protestants for whom the only authority upon which rest all the claims of Christianity are a collection of copies (no originals) of ancient middle eastern texts. Roman Catholics, for instance, do not need historically accurate ancient texts, to believe in the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus, or his bodily resurrection. They believe these stories are true primarily because they have faith in the testimony of the holy mother Church. Protestants have no Magisterium to appeal to.

      “I would ask if such a person could be invented.”

      A character who is the offspring of an invisible spirit and a virgin human female; a character who walks on water and turns water into wine; a character who undergoes a public execution accompanied by three hours of darkness (that no one recorded) but three days later exits his sealed tomb to eat a broiled fish lunch with his former fishing buddies??

      An invention, you ask? Absolutely! These are obvious legends. Tall tales.

      I believe Jesus of Nazareth existed, but during his lifetime he was a nobody. That is probably why not one contemporary non-Christian historian or author says one peep about him. He only became popular after somebody in Rome or Antioch wrote a best-seller about him (the Gospel of Mark)!

      Reply
  16. Are you the Gary, I asked about at 7:56 above. If I recall correctly, that Gary said he was a medic, who also maintained that he accepted majority expert opinion.
    Even though you evidentially would not if it contained a Christian supernatural component, such as incarnation.
    If you are not the same Gary your comments are similar if not precisely so in every particular.

    Reply
    • I am a physician, not a medic.

      If the majority of scientists concluded that their is sufficient scientific evidence to conclude that a spirit turned into a human being (incarnation), I would believe it. Absolutely. I would not believe it just because the majority of Christian theologians say so. Just as you would not believe that Mohammad flew in the skies above Jerusalem on a winged horse for a couple of hours just because the majority of Koran scholars say it was an historical event.

      Reply
      • Well,
        Gary. Evidence from your past engagements show that you do not enter into discussions in good faith, an open mind, but seek to attempt to defeat Christianity, for whatever driven purpose you may have.

        Reply
      • I presume (?) you put yourself in the “I’m a scientist” category. Then I guess you actually know that scientists, like lawyers, don’t necessarily agree on “things”. Progress builds on acceptance, testing, and rejecting theories. Zigzag not straight line…

        But just for record…. I’ve been a Christian leader covering 14 churches over nearly 40 years and others in retirement. It’s been/is heavy with scientists… Phds in physics, nuclear, chemistry , disease research , masses of actual medical Doctors (GPs by the dozen ), etc. you get the flow… who do “believe” and are not naive about some of the issues. Not that scientists have the monopoly on all things “true”.

        In the end it’s a balance of evidence and a step of faith. Other well educated people don’t agree with you…. You doth protest too much…

        Reply
  17. Hi Gary,
    Apologies for not engaging properly yesterday. It must have something to do with G&T.
    Physician you say? Great. You will know then that Jesus claimed to be the healer of the sick, the mender of the broken. He is therefore The Dr.
    Christians are those who claim to have seen the Dr. We are those waiting for the next stage on our pathway. Some are waiting for a taxi, some for another consultant, others for their meds. We are all on this pathway to healing. You must know then that if one misses an appointment for a blood test, a scan, etc, the chances of being taken seriously in future diminish. You can come in off the street and argue about anything you like to those of us willing to engage, but ultimately you have to get an appointment and see The Consultant yourself. I’m sure you can tell him a thing or two.

    Reply
  18. Hi Ian

    Thank you for bearing with my commenting. I can see that I have outstayed my welcome. I think I should bow out for some time. I shall find it difficult for I have benefitted from the stimulus.

    I value the work of those who engage in historical studies on Scripture, however, I doubt many come to faith via that route. Also, my impression of historiography is that it is heavily loaded on the side of unbelief trailing back to the C18 and is necessarily subjective, involving interpretation of materials. Bebbington said it tended to create a skeptical mindset. Historical studies create at best strong probabilities but not faith. That is why I say faith is born through looking at Christ.

    When we preach on a Sunday we do not engage in historical studies, we present Christ for it is Christ ding for our sins, buried and raised again that is the apostolic gospel.

    I appreciate your protection from Gary. However, before writing my comment I knew how he would respond. It is the sneer of someone who thinks he knows more than he does. He also was caricaturing my comment. It is not mystical in that involves reading the gospels and evaluating. In reading the gospels we do what Jesus invited his contemporaries to do – look a him, his words and his works – the things that witness to him.

    If someone like Gary is not prepared to do that I doubt if historical studies will change his attitude. He shows all the signs of a set mind unwilling to change.

    Regarding my credentials. I am certainly not a biblical scholar in any technical sense. I have no theology degree. However, I have read the Bible for over forty years. I have read a good number of mainstream theological texts and commentaries. I have been unable to keep up as I would like due to ill-health. I regard myself as a conservative evangelical which at one time was the only kind of evangelical there was. I belong to the stream of writers such as J I Packer, M Loyd-Jones, F F Bruce, S Ferguson, J R W Stott, J Piper, D A Carson, D Moo, T D Alexander, w Grudem, F Schaefer and G E Ladd. This list is simply to give a sense of my theological position. I’ve read lots of other writers too dipping into Michael Green, Steven Travis, and Tom Smail. I have read bits and pieces of Tom Wright. I disagree that I am unrepresentative of mainstream evangelical views.

    I have enjoyed reading and commenting on your blog because you come from a position that challenges my thinking. I comment hoping for interaction and iron sharpening iron. I do realize I comment too often. I apologize. Again, thank you for hosting the blog.

    Reply
    • I think I should bow out for some time.

      It can get very wearing having to make the exact same points over and over and over, can’t it? Goodness knows what it must be like to read.

      Reply
    • John,
      I thank you for your comments, and the thought you put into them, backed by years of faithful study and service of faith.
      It seems that some comments are more welcome than others. And that theologians are to be narrowly defined to the the university accredited, and only those are given house room or a place at the table, even if they are intrasigently liberal, as opposed to the sense that we are all theologians, even atheists, having a view of God.
      Gary is seemingly welcomed as some sort of higher or wiser theologian, theologian, though looking at his blog, he isn’t, but has marshalled his thoughts in opposition to Christ to support his rallying cry to “de-conversion.”
      And it seems that mainstream evangelicalism is not what it was or has been redefined through salami-slicing
      Although, I’m a member of an Anglican church, I find Anglicanism in general, is self absorbed, inward- looking, but I think that applies to most denominations. Your reading cross pollinates your Christianity.
      I love Gavin Ashenden’s self- description as a ” recovering academic.”
      As you exhort – look to Christ.
      For, “He shall hold you fast” by the Getty’s.
      “Before the Throne of God Above….”.
      Once again. Thank you.
      I thank Ian, who has a patience, beyond mine, though I’m not part of the targeted audience, it seems. Some blogs, disable all comment, some comments are time limited. Not being able to comment may or may not affect the number of visitors. It doesn’t stop me reading books – though I may, underline a scribble comments.

      Shalom. May the Prince of Peace reign in our lives.
      Yours in Christ,
      Geoff

      Reply
    • John
      I am perplexed as to why you feel you have ‘outstayed your welcome’? Having spent many years ‘at the feet’ of several of those you have highlighted above, I too would not be classified as mainstream and certainly not among those who maintain the tradition of ‘spiritualising’ the OT to make it coalesce with a preconceived picture of what I believe should be read contextually (and where appropriate -literally). For example in his treatment of the Song of Zechariah, the late Leon Morris (IVP ‘Commentary on Luke’s Gospel’), while acknowledging that the song has political content, maintains it ‘is *religious* rather than political’. What does he mean by *religious*? He doesn’t say! What, however it does is perpetuate the interior, pietistic world of much contemporary evangelicanism and thereby manufacturing a chasm between this and God’s activity in creation and even salvation.
      I should really be raising this issue in the context of the next post, but I don’t feel this is appropriate at this particular time. Nonetheless in this blessed season, while I shall continue” to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness”[Luke1: 74/75], I shall also engage in fervent prayer for the people of Ukraine (among others) to “experience salvation from their enemies” [Luke 1: 71] and – yes – even that He will “bring down rulers from their thrones [Luke 1:52].”
      Yes -I too at this late stage in my life continue to wear the mantle of outsider. So be it.
      Don’t yield John. You still have a role to play here .
      A blessed and peaceful Christmas to you-and to all!

      Reply

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