Was Jesus actually born into a ‘poor’ family?

It is fascinating to see the way that traditions have grown up around the celebration of Christmas, and how many of those traditions are not merely absent from the Bible, but in fact contradict not only the content of the Bible, but the heart of its message. Somehow, where the birth narratives in Scripture are all about something amazing that God has done, these Christmas traditions become moralistic tales about what we need to do.

As a result, the central message of the incarnation (and therefore of the Christmas season), that God has come to us, and this demands a response on our part to him (of repentance and faith) ends up becoming a morality tale. Instead of responding urgently to the coming of his kingdom into our lives, we just need to try harder and make some new New Year’s resolutions. It is, in effect, a secularising of the message.

And these traditions are very hard to dislodge! Traditional understanding has a deep grip on us—and this means we are deeply resistant to hearing the real challenge of God ‘tabernacling amongst us’ in the person of Jesus.

I therefore continue to seek to debunk these mythical traditions. One of the most deeply engrained is that Jesus was, unlike us, born as a poor boy into a poor family, so that we should feel sorry both for him and for the poor people around us. (Note that this message is addressed only to the comparatively wealthy!). This is a long read, but I hope you find it worthwhile, since it seeks to debunk not just this tradition about Christmas, but also a series of unrealistic and inattentive readings of the life of Jesus in the gospels.

Enjoy! (And if you enjoy, share it…!)

One of the repeated themes of short Christmas expositions is that, in the nativity story, we see God coming to the ‘poor’, and as a result the main message of Christmas is that we should pay particular attention to the ‘poor’. I put the term in inverted commas, because in both these contexts the term ‘poor’ has a specific meaning: the distinctively materially poor. Here is a good example:

This Christmas why not ask the gift to love the poor more deeply, with an abiding and deep affection? For poverty and neediness are an intrinsic aspect of the Infancy narratives. The first Christmas was anything but charming or sentimental. It is charged with homelessness, hardship, a lack of decent resources, disregard for human life (by Herod), and the flight of the Holy Family as refugees and aliens in a foreign land…

Yes,  Joseph and Mary are swept away from their resources, their family, extended family, and Joseph from his livelihood. They are swept downstream some 70 miles to the town of Bethlehem at a critical time for their family, the 9th month of Mary’s pregnancy. Could you walk 70 miles? And what if you were pregnant?

Homelessness awaited them…Off to the stinking stable, the dank cave. Poverty does stink, and leads to deep and dank places. We may sentimentalize the birth of Jesus among animals, but there was nothing cute about it…Yes, the wondrous mystery is that God so esteems poverty. But the disgrace of this remains at our door…So poverty is an overarching theme in the infancy narrative.

There are some basic errors of fact in this reflection, and lots of unwarranted suppositions, but they are very common in popular commentary. It is more like 100 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and it would be about five or six days walk. But if you lived in a culture where walking was the norm, this would not seem remarkable; it is only a challenge to a sofa-bound culture like ours. Observant Jews from the region would have made this journey at least three times a year for the pilgrim festivals and there is every likelihood that Joseph and Mary would have combined the two purposes in their trip. The journey was, read in context, comparatively unremarkable.

As far as I can see, there is nothing in the gospel accounts that suggests that Mary was on the verge of giving birth when they made the trip. And Luke specifically tells us that Joseph was returning to his ancestral home, so he was mostly likely returning to extended family, not leaving it. And, of course, Jesus wasn’t born in a stinking stable.

I recently got into a little Twitter spat on this issue, with my interlocutors objecting to my comment that material poverty isn’t a particular theme of the birth narratives, and I was accused of offering a ‘middle class’ reading of the texts. I actually think that the truth is exactly the opposite, and there are three elements to my further reflection on this.

The first is that, the simple answer to the question ‘Were Joseph and Mary poor’ is ‘Yes—because 2,000 years ago everyone was poor’. One thing that the kind of reading above fails to take into account is the very different world that the narratives are set in—and this difference has grown massively in the last 50 years. It might be argued that the top 1.5% elite in the Roman Empire (on which see below) were more materially wealthy than many in the modern world, but in regard to some import measures, such as infant mortality and general health, they would still have looked ‘poor’ compared with most people in the world today.

This graphic from the Brilliant Maps website illustrates the situation well. The accompanying article highlights some key markers which show how different life was then compared with now; the figures are disputed and some of the calculations are out of date, but they are based on some serious research.

What a difference 2,000 years makes. The map above shows the GDP per capita in 14AD of the various provinces of the Roman Empire in 1990 PPP Dollars. On average, the GDP per capita across the whole Empire, was only $570.

This would make the average Roman in 14AD poorer than the average citizen of every single one of the world’s countries in 2015…

According to the World Bank, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is currently the world’s poorest nation with GDP per capita in constant 1990 PPP dollars of $766 in 2012. This makes today’s average Congolese citizen about 34% richer than the average Roman in 14AD.

Life Expectancy in the Roman Empire has been estimated to have been as low as 25 years, due in part to extremely high infant mortality rates that might have been somewhere between 15-35%. Today, Sierra Leone has the world’s lowest life expectancy at 38 years and Afghanistan has the the worst infant mortality rate of somewhere between 14-19%.

Interestingly, the yawning chasm between the ancient and the contemporary world has only opened up relatively recently. The major impetus to the growth of wealth (and health) first in the West and then globally happened with the industrial revolution. There was a significant increase in the rate of GDP growth after the Second World War, and then a dramatic acceleration following the spread of Neo-liberal economics, where growth was based on borrowing rather than production, from the 1980s. We are dramatically further from the social and economic context of the first century than we were even in the 1960s. (The original of this graphic is interactive, so that you can see the exact years of particular growth and what specific GDP values were. Watching it as an animated unfolding video is particularly sobering.)

What was the reason for this comparative poverty for all?

The Roman world was pre-industrial. Its economy was fundamentally based in agriculture, and its population was largely rural. In modern terminology ‘the Roman economy was underdeveloped’.10 Life expectancy was low (life expectancy at birth was somewhere between twenty and thirty and probably closer to twenty).11 Nutritional deficiencies were widespread.12 But in none of these features was the Roman world clearly distinct from the Hellenistic world or from the world of the archaic and classical Greek city-state.

Poverty in this pre-industrial world was largely determined by access to land.13 Those who owned, or were able to secure the rental of, land could secure their subsistence provided that the area of land at their disposal was large enough, and the climatic conditions favourable enough. How large the plot of land needed to be has been much debated: it is clear that the productivity of land is directly related to the labour put into it – gardening is more productive per unit area than farming – but also that the law of diminishing returns applies – repeatedly doubling the number of gardeners does not repeatedly double the output of the garden.14 What counts as favourable climatic conditions depends upon the nature of the land (‘the grimness of the terrain’15) and the crops grown (barley can withstand drier conditions than wheat). What it is possible or reasonable to grow, however, will often, in turn, depend upon the relationship of the farmer to the market: farming régimes that optimise the yield of the land in calorific terms may not produce the kind of food a family needs to consume. In general large landowners do better than small out of drought conditions, but how badly the small farmer fares will depend upon access to the market.16 Many people, therefore, had reason to be anxious about food, but for those who had access to land the threat of hunger was episodic, not endemic…17

Times of dearth divided communities between those who had and those who had not managed to fill their storehouses. Those compelled to pay the soaring prices of foodstuffs in the market quickly found their conditions of life deteriorating as the need to secure food caused other economic activity to contract. It was in such times that individuals were no doubt tempted to sell themselves or their children into slavery – a practice legislated against by Solon in Athens but still encountered by Augustine.21

For those who were not able-bodied, all times were times of dearth. The disabled relied on the charity of their families, their friends, and ultimately of strangers. If they exhausted local charity and moved away to seek alms from larger pools of beneficence they risked finding themselves isolated from all with whom they had affective bonds. For such people, poverty was structural.

In many ways, later yearning for a return to the classical era was romantic nonsense. In his brilliant study Bearing False Witness, Rodney Stark exposes the lie embedded in the Enlightenment terminology of the medieval period as the ‘Dark Ages’. Compared with the Roman era, this was a time of enormous technological and artistic development, in which humanity made huge strides in health and wealth. He notes in chapter 4 (pp 77–81):

  • The development of technology to make use of wind and water power, where the Romans just depended on manual labour by slaves. (Note that the dismantling of Roman ideas of slavery with the growth of Christianity demanded innovative thinking.)
  • Revolutions in agriculture, including the development of the three-field system which left areas fallow that then became significantly more productive.
  • The invention of the heavy plough and the horse harness, which made more land productive.
  • Selective plant breeding in monasteries, leading to more productive and hardier strains, thus giving higher yields. (Monasteries became centres of learning and experimentation in all sorts of ways.)
  • The invention of chimneys, which allowed the heating of buildings without either letting the rain in or causing people to live in smokey interiors. (This is fascinating. Find any picture of a Roman city; what is missing? Chimneys on the roofs!)
  • The development of true sailing ships which improved trade. (Although the Roman Empire depended on sea power and sea trade for its wealth, as highlighted in Rev 18.17–19, their ships were primitive compared with mediaeval sailing vessels.)

All these had a huge impact on health, wealth and life expectancy—and were accompanied by enormous strides forward both in moral thinking and in other aspects of cultural life. Compared with the Middle Ages, life in the Roman Empire was brutish and short, and much, much poorer.

This then leads to a second question: even though people in the Roman period were poor compared with anything in the modern world, they were not all equally poor, so where did Joseph, Mary and Jesus fit into the hierarchy of poverty and wealth in the Roman world?

This has actually been a subject of considerable debate amongst scholars of the New Testament for some time, though not much of that debate has filtered through to popular discussion. The main protagonists include Steven Friesen, who is a Mennonite and a particular scholar of the Book of Revelation, Bruce Longenecker, who has written much on aspects of material culture, Peter Oakes from Manchester, and Roland Deines, a German scholar who was for several years based here in Nottingham.

Longenecker gives a good overview of the debate in chapter 3 of his 2010 volume of essays, Remember the Poor. His concern is to offer, in dialogue with others, a model for ‘scaling wealth and poverty’ which moves beyond a simplistic binary of ‘rich v poor’ that is based on actual evidence. He cites Steven Friesen’s ‘Poverty Scale’ published in 2004, which gives a helpful delineation of different socio-economic groups:

After some discussion, Longenecker offers this revised scale for urban dwellers in the Empire, switching to the language of ‘Economic Scale’:

There are a number of things to note about this—and of course the arguments about the research evidence are complex. Slaves are not included here as a separate group; they have been estimate to compromise between 15% and 40% of the population of the Empire at different times, but their wealth and welfare depended entirely on the household of which they were a part.

But there are two key things worth noting. First, although it has often been said ‘There was no middle class in the ancient world’, that is certainly true, both in terms of Marxist theories of class identity, and in term of the development of a post-industrial professional, non-manual, comparatively wealthy working group. However, as Longenecker points out (p 56) this is often taken to mean that there were no middling economic groups whose wealth sat between the elites and the ‘poor’—and this is not the case.

It also appears, from the texts of the NT, that many of Jesus’ followers belonged to these middling groups, both in the gospel accounts and later in the first and second centuries. When Mark tells us that James and John leave their father Zebedee ‘in the boat with the hired men’ (Mark 1.20) he puts them squarely in ES4. And as a tekton, a general builder (Matt 13.55, Mark 6.3), working with stone and wood (though not metal), it is more than likely that Joseph (and therefore Jesus) was in ES4 or ES5, so in economic terms above either 55% or 82% of the population not including slaves, across the Empire as a whole.

Roland Deines has a long and detailed consideration of these issues in his chapter ‘God and Mammon’ in the German volume Anthropologie und Ethik im Frühjudentum und im Neuen Testament (Anthropology and Ethics in Early Judaism and the New Testament) (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014). After noting the problems with simplistic claims that ‘Jesus associated with the poor’, he notes the complexities even with the kinds of economic scales proposed by Longenecker and others, particular in the context of rural Galilee. Nevertheless, there is plenty of evidence in the gospels that Jesus’ followers often belonged to this economic middle:

When Jesus commissioned the Twelve to spread the message of the kingdom of God he required them to go without provisions of any kind: according to Matthew and Luke they were not allowed a staff, a purse or any money, nor shoes (only Matthew) nor a second tunic, whereas in Mark the restrictions are less rigid; here Jesus allows them a staff and sandals (Mark 6:8f. par. Matt 10:9f.; Luke 9:3, cf. 10:4; 22:35). The point here is that such requirements only make sense if the disciples were able to provide themselves with these things; in other words, if they had more than one tunic etc. From Luke 22:36 it becomes clear that this requirement was not seen as a lasting one but as a symbolic one for this specific commissioning…

According to John 12:6; 13:29 the disciples had a shared purse which was administered by Judas Iscariot, which means that Jesus had money with him when he was on the way. (The possession of money is also presupposed in the reply of the disciples about buying food: Mark 6:37 par. Matt 14:15; Luke 9:13.) Although only mentioned by John, it is confirmed by Luke 8:2f. where three women out of many, Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Salome, were named who provided for Jesus and his disciples out of their means (cf. also Mark 15:40f.).

There is more evidence for this position between the rich and the very poor throughout the Gospels, and even a casual look at the people Jesus is associating with reveals that they are not the “destitute” in economic terms but people with at least some means and not bound in a daily struggle for survival, with some even having a certain surplus they can spend on things other than their own immediate subsistence.

  • Simon Peter owns a house (Mark 1:29 par. Matt 8:14; Luke 4:38) and a boat including fishing implements (Mark 1:16)…
  • Zebedee, the father of two of the disciples, also has a boat and even employs day-labourers (Mark 1:20); Jesus calls only the sons, not these hirelings, by the way. And in Luke 17:7, Jesus asks a non-specified audience what to say to a servant when he returns from the field to the house (Τίς δὲ ἐξ ὑμῶν δοῦλον ἔχων…). Even if this is merely an illustration for a teaching of Jesus and should not be read as a matter of fact, it is nevertheless worth recognizing that it is formulated from the perspective of the one who has a servant.
  • A similar picture emerges from the wider circle of disciples, like the many women who supported Jesus and the Twelve with their money (Luke 8:2f.); Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15:43, 46 par. Luke 23:50f., 53, Matt 27:57, 59f.; John 19:38, 40f.); and Nicodemus (John 3:1; 19:39).
  • Levi-Matthew, the tax-collector (Mark 2:13–17 par. Matt 9:9–13; Luke 5:27–32) is able to invite many into his house, which points to a certain standard of living, even if one should not assume that all tax-collectors are wealthy just because of their profession… (there follows two more pages of examples)

In conclusion, Jesus is not addressing directly the very rich nor the very poor (in economic terms). The really rich and the destitute are actually – with some notable exceptions – rather absent as real persons. Instead, they function as types against which the followers of Jesus have to learn how to follow him with regard to their possessions (pp 350–354).

All this makes perfect sense when you think about it; most of us find the teaching of Jesus relevant, engaging and practical. If he were primarily addressing either the rich elite or the destitute poor, then we would have more trouble making sense of it.

There are three qualifications to add to the above comments. First (as Deines explores) questions of economic wealth in the ancient world did not map onto social status in a simple way. In his NIC commentary on Luke, Joel Green offers a more complex diagram (p 60) of the interrelationship between wealth and status as a preface to his discussion of the birth narrative. When Mary, in the Magnificat, talks about God raising up the humble (and hungry) and putting down the mighty from their thrones, this is not simply a reference to economic status. She is testifying the grace of God which comes to us regardless of our worth, as estimated by the values of whatever culture we live in, and in striking contrast to expectations in the ancient world.

Secondly, much is often made of the observation from Luke 2.24 that Joseph and Mary offer the sacrifice for her purification after giving birth ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’. This is taken as an indication that they are ‘poor’, since in Lev 12.8 this offering is the alternative to bringing a ‘lamb’, and most modern translations say ‘If she cannot afford a lamb…’. In fact, the AV of Lev 12.8 follows more literally both the Hebrew and Greek which say ‘If her hand cannot find enough for a lamb’ by rendering the phrase as ‘If she is not able to bring a lamb…’ leaving open the possibility that there might be other reasons that a lamb is not available. (There is a parallel later in Lev 14.21, where poverty is explicitly a reason for an alternative offering, but that language is not used in Lev 12.8.)

Joel Green is right to express the significance here, not that Joseph and Mary were ‘poor’, but that ‘they were not wealthy’. This fits perfectly well with them being in group ES4 or ES5 in Longenecker’s scheme above—and in fact there might have been any number of reasons why a lamb was not available. Moreover, Luke makes nothing of this issue in the narrative, omitting even the reference to this being an alternative. Rather, the repeated emphasis of the narrative is that Joseph and Mary are pious, Torah-keeping Jews, who have been at every point obedient to the word of God both in the Torah and according to the angel’s message.

[Luke] presents Jesus’ family as obedient to the Lord, and unquestionably pious…Luke highlights not what they do, but why they do it…Mary and Joseph are willing supporters of God’s aims, certifying that Jesus will operate from within God’s purpose (pp 140–141).

Thirdly, outside this there is simply no suggestion that Joseph and Mary were distinctively materially poor, or that this formed any significant part of the birth narrative. When Paul says in 2 Cor 8.9 ‘that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich’, it is clear that ‘richness’ is a reference to his heavenly splendour, that ‘poverty’ is his becoming human, like us, and that in return our ‘richness’ is our inheritance in the kingdom of God. Paul is not here referring to distinctive material poverty but to our inheritance in Christ.

There is no doubt that a repeated teaching of Jesus, the New Testament, and the whole canon of Scripture is that we should care for others, and in particular care for the poor. This is found in any number of places in the Torah; it is a repeated theme of the denunciation of the people in the prophets; it is found clearly in the teaching of Jesus; it is repeated by Paul, and particularly by James. There is no question that concern for the poor is an integral part of Christian discipleship. But it is not true that distinctive material poverty is an ‘intrinsic part of the infancy narratives’.

In fact, when the birth and infancy narratives are read in this way, something rather shocking happens. God shows special favour to ‘the poor’, it is claimed, and as a result we should show special favour to the ‘poor’. This involves a two-fold move. First, the poor whom God visits are not us, and are not like us, but are quite distinct. Secondly, our charity to the poor finds its parallel in God’s beneficence, so that, in effect, we step into the role of God, whilst the poor are the benighted who benefit from our largess. It is this which is a thoroughly middle-class reading, where we take on the role of the rich and powerful who stoop in condescending grace to bestow our wealth on others.

The real story of the incarnation is quite the opposite. Joseph and Mary are not distinctive, but represent ordinary humanity, just like most of us. The only one who stoops in condescension is God, and he touches all humanity with his grace. The story is not in the first instance about anything that we should do (as if all gospels narratives were about us) but what God has done for us, and the invitation that we should receive this before anything else. We are not in the role of God; we are in the role of Joseph and Mary.

Jesus was not born in a stable, the shepherds were not despised outcasts, and Mary and Joseph were rather ordinary. Christmas is not about God coming to others, over there, for whom we ought to feel sorry, but to ordinary people like you and me. In the incarnation, Jesus embraced the poverty that every one of us experiences as a vulnerable, dependant human being. And if he came to us then, he will come to us again this year. ‘Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.’

(The picture at the top is “Christ in the House of His Parents” by Sir John Everett Millais.)

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95 thoughts on “Was Jesus actually born into a ‘poor’ family?”

  1. Based on the above chart, Jesus as a carpenter and son of a carpenter was basically in his childhood and as a man at or around subsistence level. Basically skilled working class or lower middle class in today’s terms, not wealthy and elite but not very poor either

        • He is the Good News message, God the Son made flesh; He by His Holy Spirit is His legacy. His life poured out, in totality.
          He is our Treaure in Heaven.
          Though He was rich in the ‘palace’ of heaven, humbled, emptied, himself, became ‘poor’, that we might become rich in Him.
          Praise his Holy Name, above all names: Jesus – for He shall save His people from their sins. Uncreated ‘light of the world,’ He comes, enters into our darkness.

  2. I would like to make one point of agreement, two of disagreement and raise a question.

    Assuredly Jesus was not born in a stable. Thank you for explaining it patiently. We can’t make this point too often.

    I am not convinced that “if her hand is not able to bring a lamb then she may bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons” (Leviticus 12:8) does not imply material poverty of Joseph and Mary. First, we are told that there might be any number of reasons why a lamb was not available, but we are not told a single one of them. Second – and most important – the material worth of two turtledoves or pigeons is substantially less than that of a lamb. This strongly suggests that poverty is the principal reason for the permission to bring birds. Third, the Old Testament is full of different ways to say the same thing (Hebrew parallelism), so I don’t see the difference from Lev 14:21 as significant. I have often thought that the Holy Spirit’s reason for Hebrew parallelism is that differnt people think in slightly different ways, and some might grasp a point from one way of explaining it, and others from a slightly different way.

    My other point of scepticism is slightly off-topic, but as the phrase “Dark Ages” is fashionably disparaged above as a description of Western Europe c.500-1000AD, what else would you call an era in which people were reduced to subsistence farming, goods not produced locally became scarce, the cities emptied and decayed, literacy plummeted and the pax Romana broke down? I accept that there was what economists call “creative destruction” allowing innovations to become accepted, but Creative is merely the adjective and Destruction is the Noun and has priority.

    My question: Why were the shepherds watching their flocks? Sheep can be outdoors all year in Bethlehem’s climate (as they were in the 20th century), so the shepherds’ watch does not settle the season. Sheep for sacrifice in the Temple came from Bethlehem, and Jesus is the sacrificial Passover lamb (which is perhaps why John the Baptist prophetically called Jesus the “lamb of God” in John 1:29). Why, though, were the shepherds takling turns to watch (evidently) their sheep at night? Were sheep bred for the Temple always watched? Were wolves or sheep-stealers known to be in the area? Was this the lambing season, which for the Awassi sheep kept in Israel is December/January?

    • “what else would you call an era in which people were reduced to subsistence farming, goods not produced locally became scarce, the cities emptied and decayed, literacy plummeted and the pax Romana broke down?”

      From the figures which Ian quotes, the majority of the population in the Roman Empire were subsistence farmers or below. The “pax romana” was a peace based on violence suppression of dissent.

      That the population became less urban, less literally ‘civilised’, might have improved the lot of the ordinary. The big problem with ancient cities was feeding the poulation. A factor in the expanding of Rome was to gain land which could grow grain to be sent to the centre. So, a reduction in the proportion of the population in towns means that those growing the crops have more for themselves.

      Culture did not disappear in the early middle ages, but became centered on the Church and in monasteries rather than cities. Consider such treasures as the Lindisfarne Gospels. These are not the product of dark times.

      It was also a time when the Gospel was spreading in Western Europe in a way it had not when the Romans held sway. Patrick went to Ireland. From there, it went to Iona. In my view it was the Celtic saints from Iona who really rooted the Gospel among the Anglo Saxons, but you might prefer Augustine coming from Rome. Then, from Britain, Boniface and others took it to the Germanic tribes (cutting down the sacred tree, which we now put up in our houses at this time of year…). Futher east, Cyril and Methodius took the Gospel to the Slavs in the 800’s.

      It is interesting that the Romano-British Christians of the 5th century had no impact on the invading Angles, Saxons and Jutes. But 4 centuries later, when the Norsemen arrived and started settling, they converted to Christ. It is said that the grandsons, if not the sons, of the invaders were becoming bishops and abbots.

      Our Western culture rediscovered Greece and Rome in the Renaissance – the rebirth – and fell in love with many aspects of their pagan culture. In this way the intervening period did seem ‘dark’.

      • Actually the collapse of the Roman empire in the west was pretty catastrophic at the level of material culture (roads, bridges, public buildings, aqueducts, use of bricks etc ) and literacy, although the Church stepped up to the plate to provide administrative support for the barbarian kingdoms. Rome itself and much of Italy were devastated by the Gothic Wars of the sixth century: the population of Rome had fallen to about 50,000 when Gregory sent Augustine in 597.
        Western Europe was in a parlous state in the 8th century when the Moorish invasions, but though most of the Iberian peninsula fell, the battle of Poitiers stopped the advance of Islam.

        • James

          This man does a very fine job of taking you on a virtual tour round Rome and other European cities from the pre-Roman to post-Roman eras and into the High Middle Ages. Here is his take on Rome c.600AD:


          We learn that it was in the preceding 50 years that the city of Rome itself ceased to be maintained, and the city emptied out. That is the background to Pope Gregory ‘the Great’, who was brought up in Rome at this time, and whose theology is gloomy to the point of being un-Christian.

          • The huge city of Rome depended on its dominance of territories for its food supply which came mainly by sea. When the rule of Rome collapsed, such a large population could not be supported.

            The obvious question is: why is the collapse of cities a bad thing? One could argue that it is the same social systems which enable cities as those which enable disparities of wealth.

          • David, that is a fascinating observation. It is certainly true that the growth of Rome, without modern infrastructure, was a powerful and destructive force in the empire.

      • Nobody was below the level of subsistence farming or they’d starve!

        Yes, the pax Romana was based on fear of what would happen if you rebelled. Whether that is better than endless tribal warfare is an aspect of a larger debate about colonialism. I like to start a discussion about it based on the outcome of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest and a comparison of (what is now) France and Germany. What have the Romans ever done for us…

        I am very much with the Celtic church as against the Roman view and Augustine of Canterbury. The wrong decision was reached at Whitby. It is Jack whith whom you might debate that, not me.

  3. A couple of comments. First, I agree that ‘the Dark Ages’ is something of a misnomer for the post-classical period, but with Anton I agree that there was significant cultural decline after the collapse of the Empire in the West. Roads certainly deteriorated, as did law and order, and basic Roman technologies like bricks were forgotten until about the 13th century (and concrete much longer).
    Second, on the relative wealth of Joseph’s family, there was a fascinating exchange between Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin of Texas and Bart Ehrmann in their debate last year:


    where Akin suggested that Joseph had two homes, one in Nazareth and a family one in Bethlehem. Ehrmann had never heard this idea before and deferred comment, but he did think that ‘tekton’ was a rather low-skilled trade and wouldn’t bring in much. Akin develops the idea on his website, along with saying that having two (humble) homes (in villages) didn’t indicate notable wealth but a mark of itinerant workers. Some people from migrant worker background commented on his site. The discussion comes after their addreeses when they Q & A each other.

  4. Thank you for all your Biblical teaching and insight.
    Pure speculation on my part but if an unusually high number descended onto Bethlehem and the lambing season was yet to start, would not the laws of economics dictate a temporary but significant spike in the price of a lamb which might have put it outside their ‘pilgrimage budget’ necessitating the cheaper option (which also may have been elevated in price)?

  5. I expect John got a lamb offered as a substitution for him, his father was a priest.
    It would have been interesting to know what prevented the same happening for Jesus. The lack of a lamb points to Jesus being The Lamb. This is an instance of the Old giving way to the New.

  6. You note that ‘poverty is relative’. I grew up in a poor working class inner city neighbourhood where no-one locked their doors as no-one had anything worth stealing but I did not feel poor.
    I was surprised you did not mention Jesus’ statement that ‘the poor you will always have with you…’ which is not a cry of inevitability but a reference back to Deut 15 where poverty is liked to disobeying God (missing out on his blessings) and selfishly hoarding what we have rather than sharing generously with those in need.

  7. “The invention of chimneys, which allowed the heating of buildings without either letting the rain in or causing people to live in smokey interiors. (This is fascinating. Find any picture of a Roman city; what is missing? Chimneys on the roofs!)”

    The converse of using the Bernoulli principle for ventilated heating is to use the same principle for ventilated cooling. The latter (e.g., Egyptian malqaf or windcatcher) pre-dates the Roman ‘invention’ by at least ~1300 years!

    Another one for the ‘myths debunked’ folder


  8. Coming from a pit and cotton spining town in the 40’s and 50’s we were all poor, but didn’t know it. Not until television came along when we saw how the other half lived did we heard the first ever calls for ” a living wage”
    We never thought that Jesus was poor,his dad was a carpenter, much in demand in the 50’s and well paid during the postwar house building boom.And Deciples who owned a boat!
    .Following on the churches became more political, Campaigning for the “poor” and the outward well being instead of repentance and faith whithin the soul and frequently, through a miss reading of the “rich young ruler,” in which point of fact was relying on his piety and riches for security, Jesus was calling him to rely completely on himsalf for salvation, through faith.

    I well remember one chap who testified back then,
    “Jesus turned water into wine but in our ‘ouse he turned beer into furniture.” Salvation is not a case of just change of circumstances but radically changing the life.
    It is possibly something our bishops might contemplate to their profit
    and ours.
    2 Cor 3:5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.
    Throughout the Old Testament, we see El Shaddai [The all sufficient One] reveal Himself in the lives of men and women: leaders, prophets, priests, and kings.
    Perhaps some will go away sorrowful because they have to much to loose, but to Jesus, with God ,all things are possible .

  9. Judging soley by the picture at the top of this piece, I would say the family were definitely poor.

    No-one but an idiot or a very poor person would work/present their family members to the world without something, even something basic, on their feet. No self-respecting carpenter in particular would work in a woodwork shop with nothing between the soles of his feet and the hasards of splinters, nails, falling timber, falling tools (if he doesn’t know how to hold them properly), not to mention poo from the mice or rats, hiding behind the unused timber. Madness, and he can’t afford protective clothing for his employees. I was apprenticed as a carpenter and joiner, I am speaking from experience here!

    Talking of employees, Joseph has to employ an elderly lady to help him out in the shop, along with child labour. Obviously, they come a bit cheaper at half a denarius each I expect.

    What is Mary doing in there anyway? I notice Mary has sandals on her feet, but her child has not! She breezes in, in her finery, sporting a nice blue outfit to complement her ginger hair, which Jesus seems to have taken after. I expect he looked exactly like her, as well meaning ladies used to say to my mother when I was small (she was the district midwife and knew most of the town). No sign of a cup of tea for the chaps, and the other laddie only has a bowl of water to drink, which he no doubt shares with the dog that is looking after the sheep in the background!

    Good to see ecology to the fore with the wind turbine on the top of the hill, but otherwise it seems a rum do all round if you ask me!

  10. Was Jesus and the Holy Family “poor”? Who knows? They certainly weren’t materially destitute, lacking basic needs such as food, water, hygiene, work and the opportunity to develop and grow culturally.

    When the Magi visit, Mary and Joseph are living in a house. The three Magi offered Jesus expensive gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but there’s no biblical evidence to indicate what they did with these items. (Matt. 2:11) They also had enough stability to travel as a family to Jerusalem for Passover (Luke Luke 2:41–51). Nazareth was located near a fairly bustling city which might have provided good work for craftsmen like carpenters (Matt. 2:11; Mark 6:3). Other than brief glimpses at the Holy Family’s financial circumstances, the Bible tells us very little.

    How we should look on Our Lord’s poverty referred to in Scripture (Phil 2:7; Heb 4:15

    By making himself poor, Jesus did not seek poverty for its own sake but, as Saint Paul says “that by his poverty you might become rich”. This is no mere play on words or a catch phrase. Rather, it sums up God’s logic, the logic of love, the logic of the incarnation and the cross. God did not let our salvation drop down from heaven, like someone who gives alms from their abundance out of a sense of altruism and piety. Christ’s love is different! When Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan and was baptized by John the Baptist, he did so not because he was in need of repentance, or conversion; he did it to be among people who need forgiveness, among us sinners, and to take upon himself the burden of our sins. In this way he chose to comfort us, to save us, to free us from our misery. It is striking that the Apostle states that we were set free, not by Christ’s riches but by his poverty. Yet Saint Paul is well aware of the “the unsearchable riches of Christ” ( Eph 3:8), that he is “heir of all things” ( Heb 1:2).

    What is this poverty by which Christ frees us and enriches us? It is his way of loving us, his way of being our neighbour, just as the Good Samaritan was neighbour to the man left half dead by the side of the road (cf. Lk 10:25ff ). What gives us true freedom, true salvation and true happiness is the compassion, tenderness and solidarity of his love. Christ’s poverty which enriches us is his taking flesh and bearing our weaknesses and sins as an expression of God’s infinite mercy to us. Christ’s poverty is the greatest treasure of all: Jesus’ wealth is that of his boundless confidence in God the Father, his constant trust, his desire always and only to do the Father’s will and give glory to him. Jesus is rich in the same way as a child who feels loved and who loves its parents, without doubting their love and tenderness for an instant. Jesus’ wealth lies in his being the Son; his unique relationship with the Father is the sovereign prerogative of this Messiah who is poor. When Jesus asks us to take up his “yoke which is easy”, he asks us to be enriched by his “poverty which is rich” and his “richness which is poor”, to share his filial and fraternal Spirit, to become sons and daughters in the Son, brothers and sisters in the firstborn brother (cf. Rom 8:29) …. there is only one real kind of poverty: not living as children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.

    By contrast, today, instead of poverty, our Western modern culture embraces a wholesale pursuit of material prosperity. In the secular society, lives are mortgaged in order to consume like the prosperous, to support an unsupportable level of consumption. Every appetite is catered to – food consumed, the size and finish of homes, the cars driven, the entertainment and thrills pursued, the alcohol and drugs consumed or the pornography viewed. Our “abundance” is twisted into irrational materialism.

    May God Bless Ian and all his readers this Christmas season.

    [Please note, this is a spontaneous, non-liturgical blessing offered as an intercessory prayer that all may come to God through Jesus Christ and conform their lives to His commands. It implies no endorsement of any irregular lifestyles or heretical beliefs! ]

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    • Oooh, you are awful, Jack! But we bless you.

      (Other blessings are available on request to pilgrims to our shrines in Wittenberg, Geneva and Martyrs Memorial, Belfast. Background checks will be required. Scan the QR code.)

    • Indeed, Jack.

      Following Christmas in 1565 the rector of St Stephen’s church in Cornhill in London, John Gough, of the Puritan movement within the Church of England, attacked the festival because Christmas had metaphorically become more “a feast of Bacchus than a true serving of the memory of Jesus Christ” at which people “do… what we lust, because it is Christmas”. And the Anglican Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was invented by a Bishop of Truro in 1880 in an effort to get people out of pubs on Christmas Eve. Plus ca change…

    • Jack, please see my reply to your comment of 3:236pm 21/12/2023 on the December 20th 2023 thread, about Gavin Ashenden’s latest comments.

  11. Preaching in a parish classed as an area of acute multiple disadvantage the idea that Jesus becomes poor and marginalised and is visited by marginalised shepherds resonate with parishioners who feel marginalised in our cities, outcasts where walls of multi-storied student and exclusive apartments separate them from the affluence of the city. It’s not a middle class “we need to care for the poor” (them) it’s a “Jesus is one of us” is visited by outcasts (like us).
    Obviously needs a rethink if we are not to further alienate the poor (who often feel alienated by the church) by making Jesus one of “them”.

    • The impression I get is that he was from what we would call today a working class family. I know plumbers and joiners can now earn a good living, but traditionally they have been viewed as working class, with specific skills. I dont see how that would alienate Jesus from the ‘poor’. Noone is saying he was a two-Jags Prescott!

  12. Thankyou H Jack for your detailed exposition of true riches.

    Speaking as one of the richest, blessed, happiest and emancipated of men, I can say, that a complete abandonment to God came to me at a very troubling crisis of faith time in my life, in my early 20’s under a tree in a garden with my Bible.
    My eyes were drawn to Psalm 91 and proved to be a prophetic word from God to me [later worked out in my life in the most extraordinary ways, especially the bit about angels!}
    91:1 He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
    91:2 I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
    91:3 Surely, he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.
    91:4 He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
    91:5 Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
    91:6 Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
    91:7 A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
    91:8 Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.
    91:9 Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
    91:10 There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
    91:11 For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
    91:12 They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
    91:13 Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.
    91:14 Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
    91:15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.
    91:16 With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.

    God did indeed show me the wonders and splendours of His Great Salvation and brought me into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.
    Since which time I have been almost daily “loaded with benefits”
    God’s poor are living on Benefits and handouts Psalm104:28 That [which]thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.
    I have known somewhat of the fellowship of His sufferings
    but even more so the power of His Resurrection; to the praise and glory of His Name!

    • Alan – thanks for this – yes, well, the bit about angels (Psalm 91:11-12) is used in an inspired way by Mendelssohn in his ‘Elijah’ (as is Psalm 91:7). Thank you for relating this – and the Scripture.

  13. Perhaps this post gives me the excuse to post the words of my favourite Christmas hymn (which also has a beautiful tune taken from a French folk melody):

    “Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
    All for love’s sake becamest poor;
    Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
    Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
    Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
    All for love’s sake becomes poor.
    Thou who art God beyond all praising,
    All for love’s sake becamest man;
    Stooping so low, but sinners raising
    Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
    Thou who art God beyond all praising,
    All for love’s sake becamest man.
    Thou who art love beyond all telling,
    Saviour and King, we worship thee.
    Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
    Make us what thou wouldst have us be.
    Thou who art love beyond all telling,
    Saviour and King, we worship thee.”

    (Excuse the reference to a stable!)

  14. Thank you for this article and the links to various scholars.

    I have a number of questions / challenges, not least as I think the models used are insufficient.

    First it is potentially as ideological a reading to assume Jesus was reasonably “like us”, the “middle-class” educated Westerners, and therefore “one of us” as it is ideological to make him among the poorer and therefore maybe – in his earthly life – not quite as like us.

    I suspect a Jewish tekton in Galilee was very dependent on what the wealthier would pay for his services or “government” work to help build new cities. Owning a boat and even having some hired hands likewise was not a secure lifestyle and of course no safety net – you are never far away from disaster. We know from many sources the vicissitudes of local tax-collectors and the bias of the courts against the poorer.

    Jesus did not live as we middle-class do, and while it is spiritually reassuring to claim he became one of us (of course he shared our humanity), we should also look at his consistent teaching and who he challenged.

    Jesus speaks welcomingly of the poor, those whose lives were lived with material insecurity, and he challenges those who had surplus, that they should give generously and sacrificially. This is consistent across the gospels (and Torah, prophets and NT).

    Paul lists the pleonektai (1 Cor 6:10)- “the ones desirous of having more” – in his list of those who will not inherit the Kingdom. Interestingly this group are seldom if ever preached about, while others in the list are singled out for constant mention!

    I suggest many of us reading and contributing to this blog are within or dangerously close to being within this group – those who have sufficient and more, yet grasp for more, or hold tight to what we have even though it is surplus.

    It is an unhelpful comment to suggest that a Christian message that promotes the wealthier giving more as gospel, implies that those who give somehow equate themselves with God’s generosity. Far from it, they should give motivated by the grace of God, understanding what God has given them, and hearing the challenge to work for justice and for others, to remember the orphans, aliens and widows, and to know the insidious grasp of Mammon and how it can stifle spiritual life.

    Jesus was not among the most destitute of his time – he was fortunate to have family support, even if it was crowded in the family home. [I fully agree that the Christmas message is not about a stable, animals, an overcrowded inn, and I doubt if Mary and Joseph had a donkey.] But Jesus was not born into material security nor was his own community one where there would be much surplus – though some wealthier followers did provide support to his peripatetic ministry. [I suspect he and the fishermen disciples may well have interspersed teaching tours with time back home not least earning money.]

    The physical birth of the human Jesus is of course to be “blended” with the incarnation of God coming into this world, once and for all, but God did so in the particular circumstances of the Near East in the time of the Roman Empire. We must interpret and translate this to whatever context we live in.

    As a middle-class reader, part of the minority in this world with surplus, and horribly immersed in a consumerist society, what does it mean for me not just to go to Bethlehem to see what has happened but to follow Jesus whose simplicity of life, whose absence of significant surplus, and whose emphasis on those outside the system, the poor, the beggars, the sick etc was consistent?

    It is more comfortable to claim a more universal incarnate Christ and to read selectively about the incarnate Jesus, and the prophets who went before him. We like Mary should ponder these things in our heart. May we then hear the angels, and be blessed with the gift of Jesus, our Christ.

    • Thanks for the engagement as ever Peter! But I wonder if you have somewhat misread the article?

      I begin by saying ‘Was Jesus poor? Yes—because everyone in the ancient world was poor in our terms’. I even put numbers to it. (I don’t understand your comments about the models being insufficient; I was citing the best academic research there is out there.)

      Was Jesus comparatively material poor in his world? All the evidence says no—and moreover, that is not what Paul means when he says ‘He who was rich became poor’.

      The poverty he assumed was the poverty of our humanity.

      And the main point here is that Christmas is not about what we ought to do, in the first instance, but about what God has done.

      Hope that helps to clarify…

    • Define ‘surplus’.

      You refer to Jesus’ ‘simplicity of life’. Well perhaps during his 3-year public ministry when he was effectively an itinerant preacher, but what about most of his life, ie the previous 34 years? It sounds like he lived like anyone else in his social position.

  15. Thanks Ian,
    May I reply even though I know blog conversations are never as helpful as face-to-face discussions.
    I think we are missing each other’s points. My comment about the models is that the comparative poverty (whether within the culture or between cultures) is important but misses the idea of uncertainty or surplus which may be a better way for us today in our culture to link with the world of Jesus, and even with others in our own culture. We who read and contribute are almost all I guess in the surplus group – look at our wardrobes for one. I am not denying the importance of the scholarship you quote though I wonder if any of the scholars have lived in a culture of real uncertainty and vagary. My own thinking was shaped and challenged by the poverty in South Africa and the disconnect of so many who were so much better off even though they claimed to be struggling.
    Likewise I think there is a big difference between the approach (common I find in the evangelical community, but also in the inherited scholarly consensus) that is suspicious of the idea of *all* readings being ideological, and even rather blind to the ideological shapers of their own traditions, and those who – using a phrase from Ched Myers – see theology in part as an exercise in ideological literacy, exposing not just the ideologies of others but genuinely being open to the ideological blinkers that we may have. Again, for me, I am grateful for my time spent in South Africa where this was an acute and immediate issue.
    I agree that Christmas is and should be primarily about what God has done, Hallelujah! – but the accounts in both Matthew and Luke implicitly ask the reader / hearer to consider their response, not just to the birth and its significance, but even more so to the challenge of John and then Jesus. I am sure we are in agreement that Christmas invites a response; we may differ in how that response is framed, depending on whether we do see a “bias to the poor” / “preferential option for the poor”(whatever that means exactly) or even, one step further, an epistemological privilege of the poor, by which I would mean, roughly, those who live with uncertainty, levels of exclusion from the structures, the vulnerable and those more at risk from the abuse of the powerful, or their neglect may have more profound insights and understanding.
    It is not binary but it is not far from a see-saw, crisis, judgment and it does not mean that God does not care for the “rich” or those in surplus, just that the challenge is different (not completely different).
    Not sure if this helps, and interested to know how you would understand the pleonektai (in our context) and the dearth of preaching on it.

    • Yes, the accounts ask for a response.

      But the response is NOT ‘Look, Jesus is so poor. You should care for the poor’ (aka 90% of stuff posted about now). It is ‘God himself is coming amongst us in grace and judgement. Repent and believe!’

      • God came amongst us principally in love and mercy to reveal His justice and judgement. Whatever the circumstances of the Holy Family and Jesus’ birth and later life, Scripture teaches us to care for the poor.

        Luke 14:12-14
        He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

        Luke 16:19-25
        There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

        Proverbs 14:31:
        “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God.”

        Leviticus 19:9-10 (NIV)
        “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.”

        Deuteronomy 15:7 (ESV)
        “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother.”

        Proverbs 31:8-9:
        “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

    • Try it out, Peter, based on the character of Herod along with the sin of covetness and desires in the wrong direction that function as idols in our lives.
      It may be contrasted with the vistors from the east, scholars of the day (and sure it is out of kilter with the liturgical year) who worshipped Jesus.
      Having a grandad who was a coal miner, and having been raised in the UK in early post WW2 in a working class community, I find it galling that you regularly harp on about social issues, particularly at this time of year. There is pride and covetness in poor communities which are as rigid and unacknowledged as they are in any other western or even universal class systems.
      Jesus ought to be the centre focus of worship and whole -Christian-life, including preaching.
      If anything, what is more noticeably absent even at this time of year is the eternal enormity of the incarnation of God, the Son and its irreducible necessity in life for all humanity (and creation). It is mostly focussed on Jesus
      I’ve read that on the inside of pulpits in Scotland there was a reminder to the preacher: “Sir, we would see Jesus” a reflection of a head and heart desire to be drawn to Jesus himself and into His presence.
      Worship Him.
      The invitation is to come to Jesus Himself to satisfy our deep needs, a hunger and thirst for, meaning, life itself, spiritual that underpin the material bodily and physical essential needs.
      Isaiah 55:1-2

      • CorrectionTo read: mostly focused on Jesus as a human baby and the surrounding scenes and trappings.
        (I recall being at one pre Christmas City Centre services targeting the general population when the main speaker, a Methodist minister of some national prominence emphasised that incarnation was to be ignored as it was a distraction from the central Christmas message.
        Distracted by that nonsense, I paid no heed to the rest of his central Christmas message.

        • Peter: no doubt there are greedy people in the world, but I wouldn’t say it was especially the case ib the evangelical church. Perhaps there are few evangelical Anglicans in Manchester? The Church of England is not an easy place there for evangelicals to flourish, given the liberalism of the ecclesiastical hierarchy there. In my own situation, I know that a handful of people are meeting a lot of the discretionary expenses of our church, including funding our youth worker and our children and family worker.
          These people earn well because they are highly productive people with their own businesses. They have not deprived others but have rather grown wealth. A problem I have with old school socialist types is their ignorance of real economics, and of how people can exit poverty. The simple fact is, there is much more wealth in toto today than ever before, and even the poor are much better off than in my poverty-stricken childhood (we lived on benefits throughout nearly all my childhood and adolescence).
          Yes, we lived with uncertainty and worry – a deserted mother in a working class family with five school age children. But at least our lives were not blighted by disability or alcoholism or drug addiction, and religious faith gave a degree of stability and direction to us. How much poverty in Britain today is connected to misuse of drugs and alcohol, and the breakdown or absence of stable
          marriage? When boys go off the rails, fail at school and get intl criminal or antisocial ways, family breakdown often lies at the heart of this.

          • Ok so James has ‘a problem’ and Geoff finds it ‘galling’. Please, people, read what Peter (and Ian) wrote again and think about it. Think about the scriptures that Happy Jack quoted (a few of many). Maybe try to find out what poverty is actually like in much of our world.

          • Bruce writes: “Try to find out what poverty is actually like in much of our world.”
            Did you actually read what I wrote? That my own childhood and adolescence was actual poverty, living on social security. There was no ‘surplus’ or luxuries, but regular anxiety over paying bills.
            Peter thinks people around him are ‘greedy’ (pleonektai) and possessive. I don’t doubt it. Alcohol is expensive and so is a ticket to a Manchester City match. Pop concerts are expensive, too. Are churchgoers in Manchester greedy and materialistic? Are there any churchgoers in Manchester?
            Manchester is a famously industrial city. It wasn’t always so. Does Peter actually know how wealth is generated and accumulated?
            I recommend he read Harvard economic historian David Landes, ‘The Wealth and Poverty of Nations’ for a true historical understanding of mercantilism and capitalism. Also Michael Novak to grasp how poor people may exit poverty in a generation, if the political, educational and financial structures are right.
            I have no experience of South Africa. My impression is that it is a place of growing insecurity, conflict and corruption, but I hope I am wrong. The Gospel truly lived does have the power to lift people out of poverty. Socialism claims to help the poor but it only immiserates them further. Freedom is one of the conditions of progress.

  16. Hello Bruce,
    Our church is part of Christians Against Poverty. Hampers and a Christmas day meal will be provided for them and migrants and we work with other churches providing clothing and food banks.
    What guests do get at Christmas is not separated from Christ and the Gospel message. He is central, unlike Christmas messages from politians devoid of Jesus. Only the Church has the gospel message of Christ: it is exclusive and unique to her.
    Would that we would see Jesus. He turned my life upside down, inside out, as he countinues to do with people around the world.
    If not now, then when?

  17. My comment about the pleonektai (1 Cor 6:10) was not a particular accusation of the greed of evangelicals, nor the people of Manchester. It is that Paul says such people are outside the Kingdom. The evangelical message has taken other groups from this list of “sinners”, notably two words that are translated into same-sex relationships, and made a lot of this. If we take this list seriously why do we not hear more about the sin of greed and grasping, and if that is measured more by our relative surplus, it could be a real challenge to many of us. I mentioned the evangelical group, because I am not aware that the more “liberal” voice pays much attention to any on this list (to be provocative)!
    Generous charity from individuals and from churches is estimable, but we should be doing more to try and change systemic and structural causes of poverty and exclusion – levelling up, may well mean some levelling down, not least when we realise that the wealthy over-use the world’s resources and contribute far more to global warming. There are not enough resources for the world’s population to live at the levels and luxuries of the minority. Christmas reminds us that Jesus was born into a “simpler” world, away from the luxury of the elite.
    This is not a call for Scrooges, but to learn a joyous simplicity and a greater freedom, and probably to grow communities that can model an alternative and celebrate it. Nor is it a call for tub-thumping accusations which can be shrill and hypocritical. But it does need to be part of our consistent message of seeking the Kingdom and Justice.
    We can only do this when we know the grace of God to us, and Jesus is central (crucial literally) to that and to our message. Incarnation was and is both for the whole world, but is found in the particular person of Jesus, and in the context of his life and death, which was a different context to ours.
    I am also very aware that not all “poor” people are good, and that poverty is complex, can be hidden, has multiple causes and impacts. The work of the early Methodists, of the Salvation Army etc in previous centuries did make a real difference to many lives in some of the poorest areas, as has the work of Base Ecclesial Communities and other churches in some of the poorest parts of the world. The earliest church was also noted for its commitment to the poor, and not just its own members.

    • I agree with your emphases, with one exception, which is not a matter of theology but of bad science and manipulated data. You say: “the wealthy over-use the world’s resources and contribute far more to global warming. There are not enough resources for the world’s population to live at the levels and luxuries of the minority.” I don’t regard being able to afford being warm in winter as a luxury.

    • Well, Peter, you certainly seemed to be accusing evangelicals of the kind of greed that sends people to hell. You wrote:
      “Paul lists the pleonektai (1 Cor 6:10)- “the ones desirous of having more” – in his list of those who will not inherit the Kingdom. Interestingly this group are seldom if ever preached about, while others in the list are singled out for constant mention! I suggest many of us reading and contributing to this blog are within or dangerously close to being within this group – those who have sufficient and more, yet grasp for more, or hold tight to what we have even though it is surplus.”
      That does sound like you’re talking about evangelicals who study hard, work hard, advance in their careers and save their earnings. Yet this is exactly what the Apostle Paul commends the Thessalonians and other Christians.
      If you wish to anathematise Bezos, Musk, Zuckerberg, Buffet etc in your sermons, feel free. But please understand some economics. Having “a surplus” is not evil; it is actually how civilisation has advanced in all ages and places, freeing people from the perpetual drudgery of subsistence agriculture and the danger of famine. It is also how we save for old age or infirmity and provide for our children. Do you think people should work less, earn less, save less?
      Defining greed – as opposed to actual sexual acts outside marriage (your coy reference to “same sex relationships”) is actually a pretty imprecise and subjective thing.
      Poor people in Britain are actually quite wealthy by global standards, and certainly compared to my childhood. Only massive public spending has made this possible.
      And it is very easy but pointless to say “we should be doing more to try and change systemic and structural causes of poverty and exclusion” without considering what we have always known about the causes of poverty: apart from chronic physical or mental illness that makes a person unable to work, poverty is caused by family breakdown (or failure to form proper families in the first place), by school failure, and the failure to settle into employment. When huge numbers of children in certain demographics are born out of wedlock, when drug taking is common, crime is glamourised and academic success is spurned, you have only a recipe for disaster. Think about what works!

      • Having “a surplus” is not evil; it is actually how civilisation has advanced in all ages and places, freeing people from the perpetual drudgery of subsistence agriculture and the danger of famine.

        It is having a surplus and re-investing it wisely that leads to improvement. The Spanish aristocracy simply blew the wealth they plundered from their Empire. But on top of re-investment there is something special about how Britain led the West out of the Malthusian trap by setting off the Industrial Revolution such that today even our poor have a better material standard of living than mediaeval kings. That is due, specifically, to universal sanitation, electricity, powered transport and modern medicine.

        At the same time we enjoy more freedom to choose and criticise our leaders than ever before. This combination of freedom and affluence is a remarkable achievement, recognised by hopeful migrants. But freedom and affluence require effort and foresight to maintain, and they have opponents within and without.

        • Have to agree with all that. As you say, the Spainish plundered their empire of its silver and gold. They did put something back – and we must always be grateful for men like Bartolome de las Casas – but too much of the effect of Spanish colonialism was very harmful for the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The Americans were also very harmful and duplicitous to the First Nations, and it’s hard to deny greed was an important motive in this. Gold and silver do this men. Which is why we need the Gospel.
          As well as the technological innovations you
          mentioned, Britain’s advance owed a lot to the
          invention of the joint stock company and a robust legal tradition centuries in the making.
          For a society to be free and prosperous virtue is a necessity, not an option.

          • Your last sentence is the deepest point – Yes, absolutely.

            I too have read Landes’ book and learnt from it. The factors that allowed Europe to reach take-off are tentatively identified in Eric Jones’ book “The European Miracle” and in various works of Alan Macfarlane, one of my favourite authors – an academic social anthropologist who trained as a historian.

            In North America, there is always going to be trouble when a farming community grows in a land of nomads and hunter-gatherers, no matter how well intentioned people might be.

    • Geoff, many of us might ‘hear’ something ‘like this at Christmas’. Fine, good evangelical stuff, completely ‘true’ (in a systematic theology sort of way).
      I think one of Peter’s points above was that many of us will NOT hear something like this:
      The thing is that no crucial aspect of Roger Carswell’s talk is excluded from the redletter lament. It’s just that the lament addresses our context so much more and at a greater theological depth. Sort of like Peter’s experience in South Africa, as anyone who has lived in parts of the world apart from Europe, UK, Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada has probably learned.
      May we all recognise Immanuel wherever we are.

      • Odd inversion of the word genocide, which means the deliberate killing of people because of their race, i.e. what Hamas committed on October 7th.
        Did this priest condemn the murder of 1200 Jews that day and the kidnapping of 200 others? If not, his words are a strange exercise in denial.
        Of course it is a strange and parlous thing to be a Palestinian Christian today. But that is because of Hamas, not Israel.

        • (Shaking head)…and there, James, is the sort of theology that finds its answers in a dictionary and is satisfied as long as it can blame something or someone, yes?

          • No.
            But if you understand what it is to be a Christian in a Muslim world, please comment. I don’t wonder that they are fearful and may not think that straight.

            But don’t go flinging the ‘genocide’ word around as this priest does. Hamas is a diabolical evil and the Americans want it gone, but Biden can’t say so openly because he needs the votes of Muslims in Michigan and Minnesota. It’s the same dilemma that the British Labour Party. Unlike Jeremy Corbyn, who never met a leftwing terrorist that he didn’t lke, Kier Starmer with his Jewish wife and children, probably isn’t a great fan of Hamas. But Labour gets 70% of the Muslim vote and wants to hang on to it.
            And these are the same realties for political “theology” as well.
            There isn’t “greater theological depth” in the “redletter comment”, there is the coopting of a frightened Christian minority by Islamic fundamentalism that wants to destroy Israel.

          • Bruce, you’re the one saying that it is acceptable to slaughter children and babies as long as they are ‘white’ ‘coloniser’ children. Who responds to Israeli reaction with ‘It is self-defense, we were told! (And I ask How?) ‘ to answer your question the government of Gaza has been consistently spending huge sums launching rockets at Israel and training soldiers to slaughter Israelites and have recently had a huge success where they slaughtered concert-goers, children and babies and Israel has responded by trying to put Hamas into a position where they can not repeat that success. And that says of the Jews that they are committing genocide and ‘Yet, the other side, despite a clear track record of misinformation, is almost always deemed infallible!’ I don’t think that you have any grounds to accuse other people of ‘is satisfied as long as it can blame something or someone, yes’

            I would suggest that everyone reads Bruce’s link to know what the Archbishop spent his big Christmas stage endorsing.

          • Kyle: ‘Bruce, you’re the one saying that it is acceptable to slaughter children and babies as long as they are ‘white’ ‘coloniser’ children.’ Actually I didn’t. And you, like all of us, are the one responsible for the inferences you draw. In this case your conclusion is simply wrong.
            If you go back in this thread my comments came out of what Peter Reiss said about who we Christians hear and how our experience informs the context that we use to understand and interpret what we take in. Arn’t we to hear and listen to what a Palestinian Christian says about the sad, sad situation in Israel and Gaza? Yet one of our first responses was on his use of the word ‘genocide’. (I guess we could possibly do the same with others’ use of ‘poverty’ in a situation where there is government assistance. … Just saying.) And then our discussion turns to the question of who is at fault. Isn’t this the same question that the disciples asked — ‘who sinned, this man or his parents…?’ Really? … when 1200 people have been murdered and 120 hostages taken on one side and 20,000+ people bombed on the other?
            Happy Jack, thank you for asking the questions you did. Unfortunately when we want answers that are either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ then these sorts of questions get ignored because they are too difficult. Pity … seems to turn Jesus being raised from the dead into a question of dead cells being resuscitated, rather than the beginning of new creation.

      • What is happening in Gaza is not genocide and should not be called as such. If it were genocide, why does Israel call civilians it has selected on the basis of sigint and tell them to get properties evacuated ahead of a strike? Israel has the artillery and jets to flatten the whole of Gaza in a week if it wanted. So it doesn’t want. So it isn’t genocide.

        Nor, I suggest, is it even revenge for October 7th. Israel is simply determined to make sure that Hamas can never repeat that action, in which more than 1200 Jewish women, men and children were killed, some women being gang-raped first and some babies beheaded, all on video which Hamas themselves uploaded.

        If Israel could kill every member of Hamas and then stop, that is what it would do. That is what it is doing its best to do. But it is prioritising the elimination of Hamas above the safety of civilians in Gaza. Fewer civilians would be killed if Hamas did not deliberately place its assets next to or beneath schools and hospitals.

        Here is some historical context. With the British proposing to quit Mandatory Palestine, a two-state solution was proposed at the United Nations in 1947. The Jews of Palestine accepted it; the Arabs did not. Skirmishing broke out between them and escalated to civil war. The Palestinian Arab leader Jamal Husseini told the UN Security Council during the fighting (on April 16th 1948): “The representative of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday… that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did not deny this. We told the whole world that we were going to fight.”

        The Gaza Strip remained in Arab hands until the 1967 war. After that, Israel built and ran modern infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza, and let Arabs living there cross the ‘green line’ and work in Israel. As a result the economy of Gaza (and the West Bank) grew rapidly between 1968 and 1980, by an annual average of 7% or 9% in real per capita GDP and GNP respectively. Life expectancy increased and infant mortality fell. These trends continued through the Yom Kippur war of 1973. In the six years from 1980/81, growth continued more slowly; real GNP per capita increased by a total of 12%, and real GDP per capita by 5% (World Bank figures). This period of peace, prosperity and cooperation ended with the first intifada (Arab uprising) from 1987.

        In 2005 Israel handed administration of the Gaza Strip to its Arabs, forcibly evacuating nearly 10,000 Jews from settler villages there, evidently because their collective security could no longer be guaranteed. In 2006 Hamas won power from Fatah in elections in the West Bank and Gaza, and the next year it forcibly gained control of Gaza. Rocket fire into Israel from Gaza prompted a three-week IDF search-and-destroy mission in 2008/9. A further IDF mission into Gaza took place in summer 2014 that destroyed more rocket launchers and a network of tunnels from Gaza with exits inside Israel. Further fighting between Israel and Hamas took place during 11 days in May 2021.

        Hamas’ charter is in English at


        It likens the Israelis to Nazis; asserts Jewish responsibility for the French Revolution, communist revolutions, the Balfour Declaration, both World Wars, the League of Nations and the UN; asserts the authenticity of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and quotes a hadith that Muslims should scour even behind trees and under stones to kill Jews. Part of Article 13 states that “so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement [i.e., Hamas]”.

        Where is Jesus in all this? Elsewhere. In the church era He does not go where He is not wanted. What do I pray for? Peace *and* justice; and where the two are incompatible I ask the Lord to take the balance into His own hands. In a fallen world I am not claiming that the outcome is necessarily what He would wish, but that is what I ask.

        • Anton, thank you for your summary of the facts. Educated people know – or used to know – these things, but my own work in education has reminded my of the levels of wilful ignorance and short attention spans out there, as well as outright denial of the facts of history.
          As you noted, life in Gaza pre-Hamas was generally peaceful and increasingly prosperous. Gaza could have become a significant Mediterranean tourist destination and perhaps reinvented itself as Dubai has in the Gulf. But it chose the path of fanaticism instead. It is a great tragedy that Egyptian control was not re-established.

        • @ Anton

          Yes, the war in just. Yes, Israel’s war objectives are justifiable. However, given the civilian deaths, despite Hamas hiding amongst the population, one has to now ask whether Israel is doing all it possibly can to minimise these deaths.

          There have now been to many “accidents” where non-combatants, some carrying white flags, even two Israeli hostages who came forward without upper clothing, to suggest a degree of recklessness and lack of discrimination in the way Israel is prosecuting this war.

          Is it proper to take out whole buildings where civilians are sheltering in order to kill a particular Hamas leader or a few Hamas terrorists?

          • I repeat, Jack: If Israel could kill every member of Hamas and then stop, that is what it would do. That is what it is doing its best to do (it even rings people up and tells them to get out of a particular area). But it is prioritising the elimination of Hamas above the safety of civilians in Gaza. Fewer civilians would be killed if Hamas did not deliberately place its assets next to or beneath schools and hospitals.

            You have a taste for abstract philosophising about situations which oftwen involve split-second decisions. Perhaps it is well that you are not in a position to impose your lofty conclusions.

          • Jack, these are all legitimate questions. It is still the case that Israel phones up the places it is going to destroy to give the people time to leave – a bewildering combination of modern technology, PR, Just War theory and old-fashioned explosives. I don’t know if the IDF has ethical monitors who can veto operations, but I know they do try to incorporate some kind of Thomistic Just War thinking in their training.
            Needless to say, such thinking is wholly absent from Hamas, who are the very definition of genocidal terrorists.
            In the West, we have got used to thinking of warfare as conventional battlefield scenarios (the Falklands war, Desert Storm), that it comes as a shock to us to be reminded that warfare still means the destruction of people’s homes and the deaths of non-combatants (Ukraine, Gaza, Yemen). We may have forgotten that the Allied air forces conducted terror bombing of German cities in the Second World War with the intent of killing vast numbers of civilians, and many were indeed vapourised by our actions.
            Your final question brings out the limitations of practical phronesis in a war that Israel rightly understands is one of existential significance. One can scarcely doubt what would happen if Hamas got hold of a nuclear bomb from the Iranians.
            These are the concrete questions that Bruce doesn’t seem to show much awareness of. Emoting is no substitute for thinking.

          • @ Anton

            Not “lofty conclusions” but Christian considerations. And HJ would not choose to become a military commander.

            There’s a concept of proportionality in waging a just war. This seeks to balance the predictable deaths of non-combatants against the significance of each intended military aim of particular actions. Otherwise, as you said, Israel could simply bomb the whole Gaza strip into oblivion.

            One cannot simply say Israel “is prioritising the elimination of Hamas above the safety of civilians in Gaza,” as if this gives them a blank cheque. The elimination of Hamas, notwithstanding the evil of their tactic of sheltering amongst civilians, has to be secured so far as is possible with the least civilian deaths, even if it means a longer war and potentially costs the lives of more Israeli troops. That’s why dropping the A bombs on Japan and bombing Dresden was immoral. And, btw, Israel claims to follow this war ethic.

            Quite apart from the morality, Israel are playing into Hamas’ hands. They want these deaths as propaganda and a way to inflame antisemitism worldwide and amongst other Arabs and Muslims- and they’re succeeding.

          • If you had been in a firefight then you would have a better moral basis for your pontifications, Jack. Hamas and the IDF are probably somewhat too busy to read Aquinas at present, and who anyway said he was the last word given that he wrote in the context of mediaeval warfare?

            One cannot simply say Israel “is prioritising the elimination of Hamas above the safety of civilians in Gaza,” as if this gives them a blank cheque.

            You are contradicting yourself, Jack. If the IDF thought it had a blank cheque then it would raze Gaza to the ground.

            The elimination of Hamas, notwithstanding the evil of their tactic of sheltering amongst civilians, has to be secured so far as is possible with the least civilian deaths, even if it means a longer war and potentially costs the lives of more Israeli troops.

            You are merely asserting your opinion here and pretending it is fact. Please ring up IDF HQ and tell them. Then ring Hamas and tell them that they were very naughty on October 7th.

            When the IDF says that it regrets civilian casualties in Gaza, do you believe them? Please include a clear Yes or No in any answer.

          • Israel are playing into Hamas’ hands. They want these deaths as propaganda and a way to inflame antisemitism worldwide and amongst other Arabs and Muslims- and they’re succeeding.

            I haven’t noticed anybody tearing up the Abraham Accords, and the Muslim world condemns Israel whatever it does, so why should Israel bother? The biggest problem is the danger to peaceable Jews in Western countries as a result of immigration policies which make me wonder whether, to my deep regret, Enoch Powell might yet be proven right.

        • @ Anton

          HJ cannot read the minds of the IDF, just comment on their actions.

          Sniper fire is not a “firefight”.

          And whether it’s Augustine, Aquinas or ‘international law’, it’s plain morality to seek to keep non-combatant deaths to a minimum and to factor this into planning specific military targets.

          • Yes, but how many enemy noncombatant lives should a commander regard as equivalent to one of his soldier’s lives? How does Aquinas state how to make this trade-off?

          • Anton

            That’s not the moral or international humanitarian law issue.
            Civilians are never legitimate targets and can never be directly attacked.

            If enemy forces take up positions amongst civilians, then these places become military objectives and can be lawfully bombed if the raid would yield a definite military advantage. This does not allow unlimited license to attack such places, or having a broad aim of wiping out Hamas.

            Under international humanitarian law, and basic morality, the “rule of proportionality” comes into play. Civilian deaths are not to be intended by the attacking party, even if they result from their actions. This prohibits an attack that may be expected to cause ‘collateral’ death or injury to civilians or the destruction of civilian structures (homes, hospitals, refugee camps) that would be disproportionate in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

            This requires those planning a military operation to undertake a good faith analysis to determine the effects of the attack on civilians and civilian objects, and a balancing of probabilities that take account of foreseeable civilian casualties and the relative importance of a particular military target. This cannot be quantified by stating any fixed number of civilians dead or injured for any one attack – it’s relational.

            How many innocent Palestinians is it acceptable to kill in an attempt to kill a Hamas leader or a small unit of Hamas fighters?

            HJ accepts war is uncertain so the actual number of civilian casualties may be greater or less than pre-attack analyses predict; so might the military advantage gained. But the lawfulness and morality of any attack must be based on an honest appreciation of the facts and circumstances known to military planners at the time. This all requires the attacking party to collect and evaluate of target intelligence.

            Can you say, hand on heart, you believe Israel is taking all feasible measures to avoid excessive deaths and damage in their bombing campaign?

            HJ is now moving from strong support for Israel on this into a more sceptical position. Clearly leaflet drops, phone calls and repeatedly moving civilians around has not worked in minimising deaths.

          • If enemy forces take up positions amongst civilians, then these places become military objectives and can be lawfully bombed if the raid would yield a definite military advantage… Under international humanitarian law, and basic morality, the “rule of proportionality” comes into play.

            How many time do I have to explain to you that international law is an incoherent concept driven by moralising internationalists? All you can do is try to hold a country to treaties it has signed.

            That is a general point, not specific to the present conflict. But it seems to me that you are being much too brief with your advice. Why not write a book about it and send a copy to the course directors at Sandhurst and West Point?

            Clearly leaflet drops, phone calls and repeatedly moving civilians around has not worked in minimising deaths.

            You have no idea what the casualty figures would be in the absence of those things, so you cannot say that with any authority.

            Can you say, hand on heart, you believe Israel is taking all feasible measures to avoid excessive deaths and damage in their bombing campaign?

            I have no idea. Have you not heard of the fog of war? Mistakes happen. Can you say that you believe Israel is *not* taking all feasible measures to avoid excessive deaths and damage in their bombing campaign?

          • Jack reveals that he, like me, has no experience of actual warfare and the life or death decisions that must be made under circumstances of great uncertainty and danger. Israel’s critics always hold it to a higher standard than the Arabs (the soft bigotry of low expectations) and then condemn Israel for failing to live up to it.
            The simple truth is that Hamas is a terrorist organisation thet has violated every law of war, including using hospitals and schools as human shields and bases for attacking Israeli civilians. Hamas makes no pretence even to try to follow a just war doctrine because it is animated by Islamist totalitarianism. The unspeakable sexual violence and bloodlust of October 7th was a sign that we are dealing with an enemy of irrational evil.
            Given this fact, the sooner this cancer is excised, the better for the people of Gaza. The principal danger to the world is that if Hamas is not removed, one day it will get its hands on a nuclear device from its Iranian sponsors. Much as I admire Aquinas and quote him in many contexts, there were some things even he didn’t anticipate in the 13th century.

  18. An interesting stream, theologies and ideals.
    One can give a list of biblical texts that reference poverty, by the same token one can easily give a list of prosperity texts [please note, I am not an advocate for the “prosperity gospel” which I think majors on temporal riches]
    To advocate for an ideal “Christian” response, or to blame secondary causes
    to me is a false dichotomy.
    That is not to denigrate the lived experience of poverty or oppression.
    Such is the lived experience of many Christians who like Paul was /are “daily accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Rom 8:35-36
    To Paul it was not a lament.
    On poverty and riches, it may do good to read God’s Curses and blessings in DEUT. 27:14 through to 29 v 1 noting that the curses are repeated again.

    There are three laws mentioned in the Bible. The written law, which cannot make anything perfect;
    the law of sin, which is inward and contrary to the former;
    and the Law of the Spirit of Life which makes perfect in God’s sight.

    The incarnation of the Christ child is not only the author of life coming
    But the incarnation of the very life itself.
    A life that had never been seen before or since, and a life not only given FOR us but wonder of wonders a life given TO us; it is not a life which can be copied or imitated by human effort.
    A life of great riches, splendour, satisfaction and fullness, it is a life predicated on the death of the self [Ego] and resurrection to newness of life.
    The “accuser of the brethren” has no place in this life.
    May it never be said of Jesus to us and to some “Religious” people
    “You have not got this life in you”.
    On the current war it is a very sad fact that the world cannot be made a better place, for as both Jesus and Paul both declare
    that “evil men will wax worse and worse,and perilous times will come.”
    Our only recourse is to Almighty God who [can] makes wars to cease to the ends of the earth.

    • Don’t try that with Jack! He has a shortcut on his computer (actually a mainframe in a bunker deep under St Peter’s) which will instantly upload 327 Papal Encyclicals infallibly and ineradicably into your hard drive, proving that Jack was, is and always will be completely correct, and that no Pope has ever erred, strayed, contradicted or passed port in the wrong direction after dinner.

      • Happy Jack herby declares, pronounces, and defines that on matters of faith and morals, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “The Pope is not an oracle; he is infallible in very rare situations, as we know,” and as Pope John XXIII once said, “I am only infallible if I speak infallibly but I shall never do that, so I am not infallible.”

        That said, one is forced to accept James proposition that he, Happy Jack, “was, is and always will be completely correct (on matters of faith and morals),” given his access to the treasury of Church teaching. He also anathematises the erroneous view that “no Pope has ever erred, strayed, contradicted or passed port in the wrong direction after dinner.”

        • I’ll give it a miss thanks.
          The first word and the last word belongs to the whole canon word, that testifies to the Word made flesh, in Holy Triunity, in Sovereignty, the the Name of Jesus, Name above all names, in transcendence, in immanence by Holy Spirit.
          It is a Name that invokes hatred and opposition ire, but only in whom new life (resurrection, eternal) birth, from above, is to be found, received, and to be indwelled by God hiimself, Holy Spirit, that we may be at one, in union with Him.
          Even as we live in a fallen/broken world at enmity to God.
          The escatalogical Kingdom of God has broken in the incarnation of Good the Son, the Promised Seed to be immediately met with hatred and opposition to kill him.
          As per CS Lewis, God has descended into enemy occupied territory, in Christ Jesus. All warfare has spiritual roots even under the guise of politics.
          I’ll not continue, thanks.

          Some practical good news: on Sunday we heard that two of our middle eastern group had been granted permission to remain. One read the nativity Bible passage, which would likely to result in imprisonment or death in her native Islamic land.
          Goodnight, Bruce.

          • I also heard some good news over the last week. A couple of past-students, now colleagues of mine reported on their teams’ real progress in translation and Scripture engagement projects in another unnamed land. Maybe, Geoff, there is more going on in God’s world than even you realise.

          • Well Bruce. That’s another incorrect presumption. Our church has mission partners working with Wycliffe Bible translators on the African Continent and our midweek group jas a team leader working in an Islamic country – has been for years. Another family in the Balklands. Another in z Spain.
            They all know the Good News of Jesus which they want to share.

  19. Thank you for so many great descriptions of the Christmas narrative. It brings it to life so much more richly. I do have a question about your statement, “ Christmas is not about God coming to others, over there, for whom we ought to feel sorry, but to ordinary people like you and me. “ It seems to me that the story is really much more all inclusive than “ordinary people” the most elite of the day – Herod, Wise men – are all being told of Jesus birth. How common would it have been for Herod to be told about a baby being born? Who else is in the storyline? What about Zechariah and Elizabeth? Within their social setting they were certainly more socially wealthy. It seems from the context of the extended story that this birth was a shockwave to all people – not to “people over there” and not to “just ordinary people.” It also wasn’t isolated to just the people locally as the wise men were led there from a long distance. Every single person should be able to associate with Jesus regardless of where they are in life, status, or any classification we try to assign. Jesus came for ALL people – they were all created by him and he loves them all.

  20. Hi Ian, thank you for your wonderful article and the genuiness of what it would have been like. The greatest tradition that truly escalates during Christmas is that God became a man.
    Not anointed and appointed a man !

    The use of Matt 1:22,23 fulfilling the prophet Isaiah’s prophecy (God visiting) as in Isaiah’s time, God fulfilling what he promised to King Ahaz and the threat to Judah.
    Luke 7:11-17 is great description of this especially verse 17.

    Reading the bible as your mantra suggests: is to Psephizo through the texts.

  21. Hello Greg,
    Didn’t Herod, when he heard of the birth (through foreign visitors of some importance and standing who “worshipped” Jesus) and found out (through being advised by the scripturally literate) where the Messiah-King was to be born, in stark contrast, wanted Jesus killed and ordered a slaughter to ensure it happened. (It didn’t, through God’s intervention in events.)
    If Love came down at Christmas time, and we love him because he first loved us, even while we were his enemies, not all receive, welcome, Him into our lives, to be in relationship in union with Him. Some respond in hatred, contempt, ridicule, with the icicles of indifference. Jesus himself said he would bring division, even within families, (even as Prince of Peace, manifested in his death and resurrection and complete on His return.) There are different soils on which the same Promised Good News – gospel seed lands.


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