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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Dissecting the Christmas Story: Part 1

In reading the Gospels I have become increasingly fascinated with the names, places, dates, and history of the world surrounding Jesus. While I am by no means a historian or a scholar, for Christmas this year I wanted to put forth some interesting facts (a dissecting of the Gospel accounts) surrounding the birth of Christ.

Luke's Gospel is the best place to start for he says that, "having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first," he is writing "an orderly account." That is, Luke was painstakingly accurate -- down to the most minute detail, as one scholar says.

Adam Clark's Commentary says this of Luke's accuracy:
Having accurately traced up-entered into the very spirit of the work, and examined every thing to the bottom; in consequence of which investigation, I am completely convinced of the truth of the whole. Though God gives his Holy Spirit to all them who ask him, yet this gift was never designed to set aside the use of those faculties with which he has already endued the soul, and which are as truly his gifts as the Holy Spirit itself is. The nature of inspiration, in the case of St. Luke, we at once discover: he set himself, by impartial inquiry and diligent investigation, to find the whole truth, and to relate nothing but the truth; and the Spirit of God presided over and directed his inquiries, so that he discovered the whole truth, and was preserved from every particle of error.
For this reason, he includes many details not mentioned by the other Gospel authors that fill in the blanks to the story they convey collectively, especially concerning the birth of Jesus Christ.

He begins his account -- which is actually a letter to Theophilus containing a documented account of Jesus' life -- in this way:
Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

Who was Theophilus?

While seemingly inconsequential to the story of Christ's birth, Theophilus was at least living at a time in close proximity to the life of Christ (if he were not a contemporary), and he must have been an important figure, because Luke refers to him as "most excellent." Most commentators think he was a Greek or Roman official since Paul used the title when referring to Festus (Acts 26:25) and Felix (Acts 23:26; Acts 24:3) in Acts. Others say he was a Gentile convert. One explanation is "that Theophilus was a wealthy and influential man in the city of Antioch. There are second-century references to a man named Theophilus who was 'a great lord' and a leader in the city of Antioch during the time of Luke. Such a man would fit the description, as many scholars believe that Theophilus could have been a wealthy benefactor who supported Paul and Luke on their missionary journeys. That would account for Luke’s wanting to provide an orderly and detailed account of what had happened." Another source agrees:

In Luke's time it was not uncommon to address one's literary work to a person of prestige, either the patron who funded the enterprise or a civil official, accompanied by a short introduction explaining why the work was composed. We find similar prefaces in 2 Maccabees (2:19-31), Josephus' Antiquities (1. proem. 1-4) and Against Apion (1.1 1-5), Epistle to Aristeas (1-8), and Lucian's How to Write History (9, 39-40, 53-55).
By introducing his two books in this fashion, Luke consciously attempts to place his literary achievement with the framework of ancient literature. Accordingly, some scholars characterise Luke as writing "apologetic historiography" – i.e., that he is writing an apologia for Christianity destined for a wider audience.... Luke 1:3–4 suggest that Theophilus had received some instruction. Indeed, the whole rationale Luke supplies for writing his Gospel and Acts seems to suggest that Theophilus is a Christian believer who needed reassurance (1:4).
The best explanation which seems to fit the Biblical account, is the following:    
While I don't consider wikipedia to always be accurate, in listing several theories put forth as to who Theophilus was, it states,
A growing belief points to Theophilus ben Ananus, High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem from 37-41. In this tradition Theophilus would have been both a kohen and a Sadducee. That would make him the son of Annas and brother-in-law of Caiaphas, raised in the Jewish Temple. Adherents claim that Luke's Gospel was targeted at Sadducee readers. This might explain a few features of Luke. He begins the story with an account of Zacharias the righteous priest who had a Temple vision of an angel (1:5-25). Luke quickly moves to account Mary's purification (niddah), Jesus' Temple redemption (pidyon ha-ben) rituals (2:21-39), and then to Jesus' pilgrimage to the Temple when he was twelve (2:46), possibly implying his bar mitzvah. He makes no mention of Caiaphas' role in Jesus' crucifixion and emphasizes Jesus' literal resurrection (24:39), including an ascension into heaven as a realm of spiritual existence (24:52; Acts 1:1). Luke also seems to stress Jesus' arguments with the Sadducees on points like legal grounds for divorce, the existence of angels, spirits, and an afterlife (Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead). If this was the case then Luke is trying to use Jesus' rebuttals and teachings to break down Theophilus' Sadducean philosophy, maybe with the hope that Theophilus would use his influence to get the Sadducees to cease their persecution of the Christians.... Most, if not all, of the commentaries on the Gospel of Luke say the "Question about the Resurrection" pericope presented in Lk. 20:27-40 is the only account in Luke of Jesus confronting the Sadducees. It is true that Luke only mentions the Sadducees by name once but it is not true that this pericope is the only one concerning the Sadducees. The Parables about the Good Samaritan, the Unjust Steward, the Rich Man and Lazarus and the Wicked Tenants are directed to the Sadducees who controlled the temple establishment.... All of the New Testament passages concerning alms and almsgiving, except one in Matthew, are in Luke-Acts. Therefore, these parables may be about alms, almsgiving and the proper use of the wealth controlled by the temple authorities. Luke’s criticism focuses on the use of these temple resources by the religious aristocracy for their own selfish purposes. This means that the religious authorities controlled tremendous wealth that had been in times past properly distributed to the people as part of the institutional form of almsgiving. The priests in these parables are unfaithful, dishonest and disobedient because, inter alia, they have not invited the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind to the banquet table. Once the office of the High Priest became non-hereditary, and available to the highest bidder, the institutional role of almsgiving was abandoned or reduced as the purchaser had to recoup his purchase price. A minority view identifies Theophilus as a later high priest: Mattathias ben Theophilus who served from 65-66. Note that Luke refers to high priest Joseph ben Caiaphas simply as "Caiaphas". Thus, the reasoning goes, Luke used this pattern when addressing Theophilus. 

 Genealogy of Yohahanah’s family depicted by Barag and Flusser

On another page, it states most specifically who Theophilus was:
Theophilus was the High Priest in the Second Temple in Jerusalem from AD 37 to 41 according to Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews. He was a member of one of the wealthiest and most influential Jewish families in Iudaea Province during the 1st century. A growing but still uncommon belief points to this person as the person to whom the Gospel of Luke is addressed, but Theophilus is a common enough name that there are many other possibilities for the addressee of Luke's Gospel and Acts. 
Theophilus was the son of Annas and the brother of Eleazar, Jonathan, Matthias and Ananus, all of whom served as High Priests. He was also the brother-in-law of Joseph Caiaphas, the High Priest before whom Jesus appeared. In addition, his son Matthias served as the next to the last High Priest before the destruction of the Temple by the Romans.
Archeological evidence confirming the existence of Theophilus, as an ossuary has been discovered bearing the inscription, "Johanna granddaughter of Theophilus, the High Priest". The details of this ossuary have been published in the Israel Exploration Journal. Therefore Theophilus had at least one other son named Jonathan, father to Johanna. The name Johanna appears twice in the New Testament in the Gospel of Luke. First as one of women healed by Jesus who travels with Jesus and the disciples to Jerusalem. Her second appearance also in the Gospel of Luke is on Easter Sunday when she and other women visits the empty tomb. It is uncertain, however, whether the Johanna in the Gospel of Luke is the same Johanna as the one mentioned on the ossuary. According to Richard Bauckham, Johanna was "the fifth most popular woman's name in Jewish Palestine," and the Johanna of the Gospel of Luke was likely from Galilee, not from Jerusalem.
(Note: although wikipedia states that Johanna was probably not the same one mentioned in Luke, ther is some pretty good evidence in favor of her being so and still being related to Theophilus at this website.)

Photo Credit:  Antiquities.org. "Aramaic inscription: Yehohana/Yehohana daughter of Yehohanan/ son of Thophlos, the high priest. It's possible that Yehohana was the granddaughter of the high priest Theophilos (ca. 37-41 CE)."

Now that we know who Theophilus is lets move on to the story of Jesus birth.

Luke 1:5 "There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth."

Luke sets up his account as happening "in the days of Herod, the king of Judea." Matthew  2:1-3 confirms this point: "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.' When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him."

Which Herod was this and what was his concern with the "King of the Jews"?
According to Clark, "This was HEROD, improperly denominated the GREAT, the son of Antipater, an Idumean: he reigned 37 years in Judea, reckoning from the-time he was created-king of that country by the Romans. Our blessed Lord was born in the last year of his reign; and, at this time, the sceptre had literally departed from Judah, a foreigner being now upon the throne....." This is the same Herod who history reports killed many of his family members out of paranoa that they might have been plotting against him... it is no surprise, then, that he would also plot to kill Jesus as a baby.

The wise men who came to Herod called Jesus the "King of the Jews." In Matthew 1, Joseph's ancestry is given; in order to show Jesus' relation to his ancestor David, it points to "David the king," suggesting a kingly lineage. Thus, although Jesus did not label Himself the king of the Jews, He was a king. (When Pilate asked Him if He was the king of the Jews, He acknowledged that He was a king, but not "The King of the Jews," when He said, "You say that I am a king"... He was rightly one -- the "King of Kings and Lord of Lords.") Zechariah 9:9 contains a prophecy that was fulfilled near the end of Jesus life when He rode into Jerusalem: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey." As a king, Jesus was a threat to Herod the Great. This explains why he was so admant to destroy any child that might have been born in Bethlehem that could possibly take over the thrown. 1 Timothy 6:13-16 alludes to this when it says, "I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen."

Matthew 2 also mentions the "Star in the east"; While it is beyond the scope of this post to point out the origins of this star, it is interesting to compare this phrase to several prophecies concerning Jesus. The first is found in Balaam's blessing over Israel (Numbers 24:17): "I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, And batter the brow of Moab, And destroy all the sons of tumult." This coincides with Jacob's blessing over his son Judah in Genesis 49:10 "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people." Also, Jesus says concerning Himself in Revelation 22:16 "'I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.'" Zacharias may have also been referring to this when he prophesied and said that his son John would go the way before Jesus "To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; by which the Dayspring [Literally: a rising of light, i.e. dawn (figuratively); by implication, the east] from on high has visited us..." (Luke 1:77-78)

But returning to before Jesus' birth, to the scene of Zachariah in Luke 1, we see that Zachariah's division was Abijah.

What was Abijah's division?
Abijah was one of Eliezer's sons -- who was a son of Aaron, making Abijah Aaron's grandson. According to 1 Chronicles 24:8, Abijah's was the 8th of 24 divisions and "This was the schedule of their service for coming into the house of the LORD according to their ordinance by the hand of Aaron their father, as the LORD God of Israel had commanded him."

Also of note is that Elizabeth was "of the daughters of Aaron"; Adam Clark's Commentary states: "Of the daughters of Aaron: That is, she was of one of the sacerdotal families. This shows that John was most nobly descended: his father was a priest and his mother the daughter of a priest; and thus, both by father and mother, he descended from the family of Amram, of whom came Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, the most illustrious characters in the whole Jewish history."

Luke 1:8-10, 21 - "So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense.... And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple."

We've already established what Abijah's division was, so what is the "hour of incense"? Most commentators agree that the hour of incense coincides with the "hour of prayer" mentioned in Acts 3:1 "Now Peter and John went up to the temple at the hour of prayer." This is why verse 10 says, "And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense." The fact that they began to wonder what was taking him so long, suggests that Zachariah was in the temple for over an hour conversing with the angel and performing his duties. (According to Leviticus 16:17, while the priest was offering incense, no one else was allowed inside the temple.) Revelation 8:3-4 also makes the connection between incense and prayer: "Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand."

Luke 1:23 "And so it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house."

Commentators and scholars agree that, based upon 2 Kings 11:7; 2 Chronicles 23:8, each course ran for one week, from Sabbath to Sabbath.

In The Chronology of the Old Testament, Floyde Nolen Jones examines the course of Abijah in determining Jesus' birthdate. He says that not only did the course run for a week at a time, but it was also biannually. Therefore, the logical conclusion would be to figure out when the course of Abijah would have been officiating in the temple. While it is much to detailed to explain here, Jones (using computer calculations, the 4 B.C birthdate of Jesus, and counting backwards) comes up with two possible options for this course to have been officiating: either in "the Fall around the time of the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement" or "The 8th course would have fallen between Chisleu (modern = Kislev) 1-8 which is December 10-17 (Gregorian calendar) in the year BC 6." (While it is not the purpose of this essay to say whether or not Christ was born in December, I encourage you to read Jones' book; it has fascinating information in it regarding this and other issues!)

Two commentators bring out an interesting fact here which took place after Zachariah's encounter with the angel in the temple:

  • Barnes: "As soon as he had fulfilled the duties of the week. It might have been supposed that the extraordinary occurrence in the temple, together with his own calamity, would have induced him at once to leave this place and return home; but his duty was in the temple. His piety prompted him to remain there in the service of God. He was not unfitted for burning incense by his dumbness, and it was not proper for him to leave his post." 
  • The Fourfold Gospel: "They are said to have lasted from the evening of one Sabbath (Friday at sundown) to the morning of the next. Though doubtless chagrined at the punishment which had come upon him, the old priest remained at his post, and dwelt in the temple until his week was finished."

Luke 1:26-17 "Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary."

The six month refers to Elizabeth's sixth month of pregnancy. This can be seen when Mary asks "How can these things be...?" "And the angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.'"
Additionally, there are a few Messianic prophecies concerning this that are worth mentioning: Isaiah 9:6 says, "For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 7:14 states, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel."

Luke 1:46-49 "And Mary said: 'My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name.... He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever.' And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house. Now Elizabeth's full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son."

Mary obviously viewed her conception as a fulfillment of prophecy, as evidenced by the line "He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever." She was joyful in the midst of a customarily trying situation. The Jewish view is that Mary committed adultery with another man during her betrothal to Joseph (betrothal lasted longer than our modern engagement); and Jesus was considered an illegitimate child (see John 8:41; "we were not born of fornication" was a derogatory remark toward's Jesus' virgin birth). The Talmud demonstrates this Jewish view when it uses such phrases concerning Mary as "played the harlot with carpenters" (This view holds that Joseph was Jesus' biological father), and "As they say... 'this one strayed from her husband.'" [Source: The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, p 125, quoting the Talmud] Even Joseph thought this initially as evidenced by Matthew's account of the story (1:18-25): "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her
husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.' So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 'Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,' which is translated, "God with us." Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS." However, to dispel the notion that Jesus was born of fornication, let's take a quick look at Genesis 3:15. This passage describes a prophecy given to Adam concerning Jesus, that "the seed of the woman" would crush the head of the serpent. Notice that it doesn't say, "the seed of man," indicating a virgin birth. "Virgin" as it is used in Luke's Gospel, specifically refers to an unmarried woman who had not known a man -- exactly what Mary told the angel she was. For Mary to be considered a virgin and be with child according to the prophecies concerning Jesus, she would have to be pure. (Concerning Psalm 68:25, which uses the same Hebrew word for virgin that Luke uses to describe Mary, Richard Niessen states that the maidens "are certainly not harlots or impure women, but are chaste servants of God; hence they would be virgins.") This also coincides with Isaiah 7:14.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth until just before John's birth and then returned home. By this time, she would have been (noticably) 3 months pregnant. Yet Mary's prayer is interesting because it conveys one who is not bemoaning the reproach of man that she would certainly bear, but one who was thankful to God for choosing her -- as part of a fulfillment of prophecy -- for such an awesome task of giving birth to and raising the Son of God.

Luke 2:1-3 "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city."

Who was Quirinius? See this post for a a small treatment on who Quirinius was as well as when the census occurred. (You'll also find a few things mentioned there that would not fit into this post.)

Luke 2:4-7 "And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn."

"The time came for her to be delivered" indicates that it was 6 months after Mary's visit to Elizabeth that the census occurred.

The inn is most often pictured as a cave or stable with animals; however, Luke's uses the word 'Kataluma,' or guest-chamber here. When Luke tells Jesus' parable about the good Samaritan, he says that the man "brought him to an inn, and took care of him"; here, the word "inn" means "an all-receptive public lodging house". If Luke had meant that Joseph went to an inn along the way, he would have used the word for "public lodging," instead. (Interestingly, Jesus had His last Passover meal in a guest-chamber; see Matthew 14:14.) This suggests that in most houses of that time, the animals owned by the family were kept downstairs and a guestroom was upstairs. Joseph went to relatives in Bethlehem (who were of the house and lineage of David) during the census, but there was no room in the guestroom, so he went to the place where the animals were kept. One explanation is that Joseph's relatives may have shunned Mary because of her pregnancy, but this is uncertain since we know that Joseph was already married to Mary at this time (per Matthew's account) and we don't know how closely Joseph was related to the relatives at whose house he stayed. Another more probable explanation is found in Leviticus 12, which would have made Mary unclean, hence the need to stay in the animal's home downstairs.

In a post in The Guardian, Rev Paul, theologian and former Dean of Studies at St John’s theological college, Nottingham, states,
"The actual design of Palestinian homes (even to the present day) makes sense of the whole story," Paul writes. "Most families would live in a single-room house, with a lower compartment for animals to be brought in at night, and either a room at the back for visitors, or space on the roof. The family living area would usually have hollows in the ground, filled with straw, in the living area, where the animals would feed."
So Jesus would not have been born in a detached stable, but in the lower floor of a peasant house, where the animals were kept.
"This interpretation is hardly new. The earliest scholar to put it forward was the Spaniard Francisco Sánchez de las Brozas, in 1584. He was denounced to the inquisition for his pains and reprimanded by them, though not actually burned, tortured or imprisoned as might have happened to heretics."
There are a few interesting passages in Scripture in the Old Testament that demonstrate this fact:
The fact that the animals lived in the house is seen in 1 Samuel 28:24, when King Saul was housed in the guest room of the witch of Endor. It says, “the woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly slaughtered it” to feed her guest. She did not need to find the calf out in the field or even outside the house.
In another story Jephthah made his rash vow to sacrifice the first thing that “comes out of the doors of my house to meet me” (Judges 11:31). He expected an animal to be released in the early morning as usual, but tragically, his daughter came out first (vs. 34).

To give you an idea of what it would have looked like, below are a few artists' conception drawings based on this:

                                              Photo credit: Rit Meyer Archaeological Design; the "stable" is on the left

                                                           Photo credit: God's Kingdom Ministries    

                               And this gives you an idea of what the manger would look like:

Photo Credit: an actual stone manger (discovered in Megiddo) from page 1074 of the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary

 Biblical Archeology agrees:
However, in the one-room peasant homes of Palestine and Lebanon, the manger is built into the floor of the house. The standard one-room village home consists of a living area for the family (Arabic mastaba), mangers built into the floor for feeding the animals (mostly at night), and a small area approximately four feet lower than the living area into which the family cow or donkey is brought at night (Arabic ka’al-bayt). The text of the New Testament itself alludes to the one-room peasant home in Matthew 5:15 where it states that a lamp is put on a lampstand so that it “gives light to all who are in the house.” Obviously, the house must have one room if a single lamp shines on everyone in it. Furthermore, the one-room house with a lower end for the animals is presupposed in Luke 13:10–17. The family ox and/or donkey was brought into the house at night and taken out early each morning. Thus, everyone knew that every family with any animals carried out this simple domestic chore at the start of each new day. To leave the animals in the house during the day was socially and culturally unthinkable. All of this is presupposed by the text. Jesus knew the head of the synagogue had untied his animals that very morning and led them out of the house. With calm assurance Jesus could announce to his face that he did, in fact, lead his animals out that very morning, confident there would be no reply. Were animals kept in a separate stable, the head of the synagogue could have saved face by asserting firmly, “I never touch the animals on the Sabbath.” But if he tried to claim that he leaves the animals in the house all day, the people in the synagogue would ridicule him with laughter! In short, no one would believe him. Thus the debate ends simply, “As he said this, all his adversaries were put to shame” (v.17). Thus, in the case of Luke 2:7, any Palestinian reading the phrase, “She laid him in a manger,” would immediately assume that the birth took place in a private home, because he knows that mangers are built into the floor of the raised terrace of the peasant home....
'"No room in the inn"? It appears that it would be more accurate to translate Luke 2:7 as, "No room in the guest room."' - Gene Fackler
Bishop writes, “If kataluma means guest room in Mark and Luke at the end of the Lord’s life why not at the start in Bethlehem?
... if we assume the perspective of a Palestinian reader, the present form of the verse makes good sense. The author records, “And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger.” The (Palestinian) reader instinctively thinks, “Manger—oh—they are in the main family room. Why not the guest room?” The author instinctively replies, “Because there was no place for them in the guest room.” The reader concludes, “Ah, yes—well, the family room is more appropriate anyway.” Thus, with the translation “guest room,” all of the cultural, historical and linguistic pieces fall into place.
Either way, it was a humble place for Jesus to be born, to be in God and yet take on the from of man for our sake's so that we could be His!

"...who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:6-8).
"Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest,And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!' So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.' And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them" (Luke 2:8:20).

At a later time I plan to tackle the Star of Bethlehem as well as the aspect of Shepherds in the birth of Christ. For now, since this post has become quite long, I will end it here. Have a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Resurrection, the Cross, and Trusting Jesus: 3 free ebooks

If you haven't noticed, this blog has been on an extended hiatus.... I don't know how many of my readers are still here in this corner of the Internet, but I wanted to let you know that I am still here. Life has been a rollercoaster ride of the good, the bad, and... the busy. :) And while I do have some ideas for content for this blog,  the time to write it out has been challenging.

But on to the point of this post.... we all like freebies, right? And if you're a bookworm like me, you LOVE free books!!

I recently received a kindle fire and I've been searching for free books to upload to it. Some of  the books have been worthwhile, but I particularly love it when they are apologetics related. Below are three such books -- for free (for a limited time; please be sure that the price is still listed as free before purchasing)!

Did the Resurrection Happen... Really? by Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett

The Coffee House Chronicles are short, easily devoured novellas aimed at answering prevalent spiritual questions. Each book in the series tackles a long-contested question of the faith, and then answer these questions with truth through relationships and dialogue in each story.

In Did the Resurrection Happen, Really?: A Dialogue on Life, Death, and Hope, the college campus is rocked by a shooting spree that leaves nine students dead. Their up-close experience with mortality allies the coffee house discussion group together to really wrestle with the spiritual and eternal ramifications of whether or not Jesus rose from the dead.

The Truth Of the Cross by R.C. Sproul

Dr. R.C. Sproul surveys the great work accomplished by Jesus Christ through His crucifixion the redemption of God s people. Dr. Sproul considers the atonement from numerous angles and shows conclusively that the cross was absolutely necessary if anyone was to be saved. Opening the Scriptures, Dr. Sproul shows that God Himself provided salvation by sending Jesus Christ to die on the cross, and the cross was always God s intended method by which to bring salvation. The Truth of the Cross is an uncompromising reminder that the atonement of Christ is an absolutely essential doctrine of the Christian faith, one that should be studied and understood by all believers.

Why Trust Jesus?: An Honest Look At Doubts, Hurts, Desires, Gripes, Questions, and Pleasures by Dave Sterrett; forward by Dr. Norman Geisler

We are looking for relationships that are authentic and full of life, but we have many questions in regard to faith, reason, suffering and even the person of Jesus himself. Author and speaker Dave Sterrett helps us answer these and other questions:

-Why Should I Trust Jesus when So Many Other Spiritual Paths Exist?
The foundation of trusting in Jesus is that he is true. But if absolute truth does not exist, then to say that "Jesus is the Truth" is a meaningless statement. Many definitions of truth fail, but a good definition of truth is "that which corresponds to reality"; simply put, truth is "telling it like it is."

-Why Should I Trust Jesus When All I Need to do is Trust Myself?
Human knowledge is real, but it has its limitations. Jesus, however, is all-knowing. He knows everything about me. He knows everything about you. He knows what you are thinking. He knows what you are feeling. He understands you better than you understand yourself! This is one of the many good reasons for us to pray to the Father in the name of the Son.

-Why Should I Trust Jesus in the Midst of Suffering and Death?
The ultimate foundation of Christianity is a historical event: the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. A man who walked this earth in history claimed to be God, died on the cross, and bodily rose from the dead. 

Enjoy, and have a blessed Resurrection Day week! :)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

FREE ebook: SEAL of God by Chad Williams

In honor of Veteran's Day, Chad Williams, a former Navy SEAL, is offering his book, SEAL of God (ebook format),  FREE of charge on amazon! You may remember that I did a review of this book a few months back. It is an excellent read, and I highly recommend that you go download yourself copy. You can read my full review of the book here. And if you want a taste of what the book is about, you can listen to this interview with Chad done by The Poached Egg.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Reasonable Faith Launches New TV Program

Reasonable Faith is launching a new TV program on NRB Network! The program description is as follows:
Apologist and author Dr. William Lane Craig joins NRB's primetime lineup in Reasonable Faith! Each week, Dr. Craig will equip you with the tools needed to win skeptics and defend biblical truth with maximum effectiveness. Series premieres on Monday, Oct. 1 at 9p ET (re-airs at 1a ET). 
NRB Network already has several other good programs available from such Christian organizations as Answers In Genesis, Cross Examined (Frank Turek), and Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Now, Reasonable Faith is a delightful addition! Tune in, if you can, because this is sure to be a viewer-favorite program!


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Objections 101: Can God Make A Rock So Big He Can't Lift It?

Welcome to the first in the new series, Objections 101, where we will take a look at some misconceptions and objections commonly brought up by the skeptics. Today, we will take a look at the question, "Can God make a rock so big He can't lift it?"

Q. Can God Make A Rock So Big He Can't Lift It?

A. This is a common question that that skeptics bring up in order to suppress the idea that God may actually exist as the Theist claims and believes. It questions God's omnipotence by claiming that if He were all-powerful He could do anything -- even make a rock so large He couldn't lift it.

However, it is important to realize that there are some things that God cannot do: He can’t do anything contrary to His nature. Greg Koukl from Stand To Reason explains it very simply in the following video:

D. James Kennedy summed it up well in his book Skeptics Answered when he stated, "To me, this is like asking, 'Did you drive to work today or did you pack a lunch?' We are now in the territory of mind games, and generally the skeptic who asks this question is more concerned with creating confusion than in asking honest, searching questions about God. Still, it's provocative. The Bible says God can do all things and nothing is impossible for Him. If that is true, says this questioner, then can He make a rock so big He can't move it? The person has asked the question in such a way that God loses regardless of the answer given. The problem, then, is the question itself, which is designed to entrap. Furthermore, I think we should remember that just because God can do all things doesn't mean He will do them to prove His capabilities. God will never do anything contrary to His nature. He can't tell a lie. He can't sin, even though He is omnipotent. God can also choose to limit the power He expresses. In light of the immense, complex and powerful cosmos He created, are we not presumptuous to ask what He is capable of?"

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bill Nye Says Creationism Is Inappropriate For Children

I am a little behind on this, because I was busy with a project at the time of the video's posting. However, I feel it is important to address it now while people are still talking about it. In the following video, Bill Nye, also known as "the science guy," states that creationism is inappropriate for children, and that, "There's no evidence for it [creationism]."

I realize it's hard to condense one's thoughts and/or arguments into a two-minute video, but if Bill Nye is going to state that there is no evidence for creationism, then he should at least try to provide some evidence apart from the claim that "we need them [your children]," and that "creationism is not appropriate for" them.

Creationism is treated as an enemy of education. Why? "Because," as Ron Rhodes states, "Creationists want creationism taught in public schools as an alternative to evolution, creationists are caricatured as enemies of education because they want myth to be taught alongside the facts." It would seem, then, that Bill Nye's implications are eerily similar to the motive behind the establishment of our public school systems. Don't get me wrong, there are some good, Christian and secular public schools. But Dewey explains his main reason for setting up "progressive education systems" (as he called it) as follows: "Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming where everyone is interdependent." This is applicable, because it is the public schools that teach children evolution -- and, in many cases, that evolution is the only way to interpret the world, an idealogy to which Bill Nye agrees. J Dunphy stated, "I am convinced that the battle for humankind’s future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith: a religion of humanity that recognizes and respects the spark of what theologians call divinity in every human being. These teachers must embody the same selfless dedication as the most rabid fundamentalist preachers, for they will be ministers of another sort, utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to convey humanist values in whatever subject they teach, regardless of the educational level.... The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new –the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism..." (As a disclaimer, I will also say that many teachers in public schools do not share this agenda; they are just trying to do their job.) What better way to promote evolution than to teach it in the classroom? So, although, Bill Nye doesn't mention the classroom setting, I believe he has the same idea in mind.

But this provides a dilema for those like Bill Nye who believe in evolution: since many people do not believe in evolution (more than you would think), parents have begun to teach their children their views -- creationism -- at home. They recognize that creationism doesn't stunt American progress at all, even if it is in the minority of opinions; and to many, it actually makes better sense of explaining the world around us, emphasizing a Creator who is responsible for it all. "Creationists... are very happy to teach their kids about evolution and teach the problems with it; and teach their children how to think critically, and the difference between historical science and observational science. Isn't it interesting that Christians are not frightened to teach their children about evolution?" says Ken Ham, president of Answers In Genesis. (See the following video for more information...)


In fact, teaching both creationism and evolution side-by-side has even been known to encourage critical thinking in children:
“No teacher should be dismayed at efforts to present creation as an alternative to evolution in biology courses; indeed, at this moment creation is the only alternative to evolution. Not only is this worth mentioning, but a comparison of the two alternatives can be an excellent exercise in logic and reason. Our primary goal as educators should be to teach students to think and such a comparison, particularly because it concerns an issue in which many have special interests or are even emotionally involved, may accomplish that purpose better than most others.” ~ R.D. Alexander, Professor of Zoology at the University of Michigan, evolutionist; "Evolution versus Creationism: The Public Education Controversy," p. 91; as quoted in Duane T. Gish's book, "Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record."
This is why Nye stresses, "don't make your kids do it because we need them." But let me ask two questions: Who is "we"? And I always thought parents were entitled to teach their children their religious beliefs according our First Amendment rights. Bill Nye says to people who don't believe in evolution, "Why not?" But by the same standards, why doesn't Bill Nye believe in creationism? Apparently, it is because "There is no evidence for it" -- evidence that he doesn't even bother to provide for or against either side. But if Bill Nye, as an evolutionist, is entitled to his beliefs (and evolution and creationism are beliefs, or world views), certainly we creationists are entitled to ours and may teach it to our children if we so choose!

Furthermore, Bill Nye makes those who don't believe in evolution out to be... well, stupid. He states, "And I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that's completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that's fine, but don't make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems." Excuse me, "science guy," but there are plenty of scientifically literate voters, taxpayers, and engineers who, although they don't believe in evolution, are responsible, educated human beings. To say anything less is to be dishonest, or perhaps, blind to reality. What would the "founding fathers" of science such as Newton, Pasteur, and others who were all Christians who rejected evolution, think of such a statement? Many of the foundational principles and laws of science are dependent upon their discoveries... These were not inconsistent with what we observe in the universe, and they solved lots of problems with their discoveries. And, as many have already pointed out in the numerous responses that escalated concerning Bill Nye's statements, evolution has absolutely nothing to do with being a good taxpayer or voter or being a good engineer; these are not the result of some random processes... If they were, we would have some serious problems on our hands! Creationism is completely compatible with what we observe in the universe; and if Mr. Nye wants to imply that we are "bad" for being creationists and therefore can't be "good" at engineering, taxpaying, voting, etc. that is a logical fallacy!

Non-belief in evolution doesn't hold people back. It's just another -- and I believe, more accurate -- way to interpret the world. One does not simply look at his own a priori belief and say, "This is correct; that is wrong!" without examining both sides of the issue. And, even though Bill Nye is called the "science guy," I don't believe he has done this. Therefore, it is an unfair statement supported by no evidence.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Review: SEAL of God

I first learned of Chad Williams when I watched him debate an atheist during one of his street preaching events. Later, I found him through Ray Comfort’s ministry; he was always the one who would bring up the apologetics-related topics on their show, On The Box. Needless-to-say, I loved it! So when I heard that he was writing a book, I knew I had to read it. That book, SEAL of God, is an excellent read. It is the testimony of former Navy SEAL, Chad Williams, chronicling his life from before he met Christ to his unexpected encounter with Him, and his experiences in BUD/S SEAL training.

The book begins with stories from Chad’s “wild” side in his younger years. Always the adventure seeker, Chad chased every dream he had, and he was always in search of the next “thrill.” It was obvious that he was searching for something, though at the time, he didn’t know what that was. He finally decided that becoming a SEAL was the way to fill the void. A former Navy SEAL, Scott Helvenston, took Chad under his wing and began to prepare him for the grueling work he would encounter in SEAL training. But although Chad had made up his mind to become a SEAL, it was Scott’s sudden murder while on a mission in Iraq, which strengthened his resolve to enlist as a Navy SEAL in honor of his friend. The book follows many of his experiences in SEAL training, as well as his attitude and lifestyle before he met Christ.

Here is a brief synopsis of the book:

Just days before Chad Williams was scheduled to report for basic training at the Great Lakes naval base, he turned on the television and was greeted with the horrifying image of his mentor and training partner, US Navy SEAL Scott Helvenston, being brutally murdered in a premeditated ambush on the streets of Fallujah, Iraq.
Steeled in his resolve, Chad committed himself to completing the US military’s most difficult training to become a Navy SEAL – and avenge his friend’s death. One of only thirteen out of a class of 173 to make it straight through to graduation, Chad went on to serve o SEAL Teams 1 and 7, completing tours of duty in the Philippians, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and finally Iraq. There, Chad’s journey came full circle when his team was ambushed by enemy machine gunners – close to the same road where his hero had been killed five years earlier.
SEAL of God follows Chad’s extraordinary journey through twenty-five grueling weeks of BUD/S training and onto the hostile streets of Al Anbar Providence, Iraq, where he witnessed the horrors of war up close. Along the way, Chad shares his own radical conversion story and discovers the true meaning of ultimate sacrifice.

Chad had known that God was with him throughout the years, since he had witnessed some personal miracles early in his life. Still, he seemed to resist Him, even perusing alcohol a bit too much. For this reason, after many pages on his rebellious lifestyle and the dangers he encountered in SEAL training, it was refreshing to hear Chad’s testimony of how God met him when he was least expecting it. (You can listen to a short audio of Chad’s testimony here.) It was at one of Greg Laurie’s events that Chad knew that he was going “to do what that guy up there on the stage is doing.” (And if you know anything about his life apart from the book, you know that Chad is now ministering full time!) Of course, life as a Christian was not always easy for Chad, and the book tells of some of his struggles as a new-found Christian.

SEAL of God is a page-turner. Personally, I have never found books on military life to be an engaging read. However, I could not put this book down! It is written in a very easy-to-understand way, and it reads much like a novel, though it is actually the testimony of former SEAL Chad Williams.

At the end of the book, Chad does an great job of bringing the topic full circle as he explains that Jesus did for us what many military personnel do on a daily basis: He laid down His life for us! As such, while not strictly about apologetics, this book is an excellent evangelistic tool, especially for anyone who is familiar with military/SEAL life. SEAL of God is a book that I recommend to fans of Ray Comfort’s ministry and to those who have family in or retired from the military.

Disclaimer: I received this product free from Tyndale in exchange for a review. The opinions expressed in this article are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher or author.
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