New Testament

The Real Christmas Story

Reprinted from reality is not optional (also see Jason Staples on related issues:

christmas

Everyone knows the story of the birth of Jesus: Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, they checked all the hotels but all rooms were sold out, they then came across kindly strangers who offered to allow them to stay in their barn, and there Mary gave birth to Jesus. Shepherds and wise men both converged on the scene to celebrate. It is a nice story, but almost everything about it is false.

The birth account of Jesus is found in only two of the Gospels (Matthew and Luke). Those two accounts are very divergent in themselves. They almost replicate no information between each other. They do fit together, however, if they are understood as they are written.

According to the book of Luke, Joseph and Mary were living in Nazareth when they decide to travel to Bethlehem for a Roman census. While in Bethlehem, Mary gives birth to Jesus. The text of Luke says that Mary wrapped Jesus in cloth and placed him in an animal feeding trough because there was no room for them in the inn:

Luk 2:7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Modern readers are quick to think that the word “inn” means a hotel, like Holiday Inn or the Marriot Inn. But this is not the word being used. That meaning does not make sense in context either. Joseph is traveling to a city from which he has relatives. He stays in this city for some time, waiting for the census to be accomplished. It is supposed he checks for motel rooms, and after not finding any he decides to sleep in a barn for weeks until Mary gives birth. That is not how the story goes.

Instead “inn” is the word for guestroom. In Luke 22:11, this “guestroom” is used for the place of the house where Jesus has his last supper. Guestroom was a part of any house reserved for guests. When Luke 2:7 says that there was no room in the guestroom, Joseph is at a relative’s house. Every Christmas all of America experiences the same thing: too many relatives are staying in one location and not everyone gets the nice bed. Joseph and Mary never checked for a hotel, instead their extended family called dibs on the nice places to sleep at a relative’s house. It is that or because they were expecting the birth they wanted more floor space for convenience. In this case, the relocation would be voluntary.

Furthermore, Joseph and Mary were not forced outside to have Jesus in a barn. In the modern world we think of great red barns when we think of farmers. The animals live in nice pens, and the farmer sleeps in some sort of white farmhouse. But in ancient times, farmers lived with their animals. Animals provided warmth at night. And rural peasants could not necessarily afford a second structure dedicated just to animals. The farmer lived where they worked and worked where they lived.

Part of the Joseph’s relative’s house was reserved for animals. It is this part of the house in which Mary gave birth. The text points to this. It says “Mary laid Jesus in a manger [animal feeding trough] because there was no room in the guestroom”. Mary had to relocate to a different part of the house to have Jesus. The nearest place to lay a newborn baby was a small structure filled with hay: the manger.

After Mary gives birth, Luke describes how shepherds come and worship him. There is no mention of the wise men so common to modern depictions. And there is a good reason for this: the wise men did not visit for another year or so. Matthew’s account does not detail the birth of Christ, but instead events soon after.

When the wise men first come to Judea, this is to find the already born “King of the Jews”. The star apparently appeared as Jesus was being born and it takes the wise men quite some time to travel to Jesus’ location. The text refers to Jesus as a “young child” several times. This is the same word for when the young children approached Jesus in his later ministry. Young child meant anything from toddler to teenager.

This is the age of Jesus when he met the wise men. The text does not talk about the shepherds or the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. All of these things are assumed to be in the past. Jesus was born long before, and seems to have continued living in Bethlehem for several years before he moved to Egypt (fleeing those who wish to harm him).

Because Jesus was born at the appearance of the star, this is why Herod kills all children less than 2 years of age. Herod wanted to kill his rival “King of the Jews” who had already been born sometime before. They were seeking a child aged between a newborn and a toddler.

The last misunderstanding is commonly known. Although various renditions of Jesus’ encounter with the wise men show only three wise men, the precise number of wise men is unknown. It is just assumed that there are three wise men because they present three types of gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

In Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, three wise men are shown offering the gifts. The mother of Brian shows hesitance at the myrrh but accepts the frankincense and gold. In ancient times, all three of these gifts were valuable commodities. Each wise man might have presented a little from one or more categories (along with unnamed presents) or multiple wise men might have presented duplicate gifts (no one has ever complained about getting two or more gifts of cash for Christmas). The number of gifts does not limit the number of wise men.

Compounding the problem, in later accounts the three wise men are named and given backstories (Melchior, Jaspar, and Balthazar). This helped cement the image of three wise men in Christmas stories. But the names and number of wise men can most definitely be described as later embellishments of the account in Matthew.

The Real Story

If the accounts in both Matthew and Luke are correct, Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem for a census. They stay with a relative for a time, but because too many people were staying over (or Mary needed more birthing space) they sleep with the animals in the main part of the house. When Mary finally gives birth to Jesus they place Jesus in a feeding trough as shepherds come to worship. Joseph decides to stay with his relatives for some time in Bethlehem, and within a couple of years a group of wise men appear to worship and give gifts. Joseph is then warned that Herod wishes to harm Jesus, and Joseph moves to Egypt (financed by the wise men). It doesn’t make for a good Hollywood depiction of Jesus’ birth, but that is how the text reads.

Rice on God’s Methodology

From The Openness of God:

These incidents indicate that human intercession can influence God’s actions. They show that God’s intentions are not absolute and invariant; he does not unilaterally and irrevocably decide what to do. When God deliberates, he evidently takes a variety of things into account, including human attitudes and responses. Once he formulates his plans, they are still open to revision. This appears to be true of even the most emphatic assurances on God’s part.

Mcmahon on Being Dragged – John 6:44

Excerpt:

Our passage in John 6 contrasts the first and third of the above designated groups. Jesus was explaining to the Jews who rejected Him that their refusal to believe in Him stemmed from their basic refusal to trust in God (in whom they falsely claimed to trust); that those who, in contrast, were now turning and following Him were the true believers in God, the true Jews. That’s what He means when he says that “everyone who listens to and learns from the Father comes to Me.” He isn’t talking about unbelieving Gentiles being regenerated (without even realizing that’s happened) and believing on Christ because they’re elect. He’s talking about Jewish people who were in personal relationship with God believing on Jesus because through their existing faith they recognize His divine origin. This model is not directly applicable to the human race in general today.

For PDF, click here.

Apologetics Thursday – God Counts Hairs

By Christopher Fisher

In a 2007 debate, Gene Cook condescendingly asks Bob Enyart about how God gains His knowledge.

Cook: Ok, the Bible says that God knows the very number of hairs on a man’s head. How does God know this?
Enyart: Because He can count… so that’s present knowledge…
Cook: In order for God to have a running knowledge of how many hairs are on Gene Cook’s head does He have to recount them everyday.
Enyart: Well He counted it at some point, right?…
Cook: But it changes every day.
Enyart: God is a mathematician, and if He cares God can watch every atom throughout the entire universe simultaneously. He is capable. So it is not like it would tax God’s CPU to look down and see “is a sparrow is going to die” or “how many hairs are on your head.”

To Gene Cook, if God knows the number of hairs on someone’s head, that number must be foreknown from all eternity. But the Bible describes how God gains this knowledge much like Enyart describes and not at all as Cook assumes:

Mat 10:30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

The translators of the KJV and NKJV use an archaic word “numbered” instead of the more colloquial term “counted”. Matthew 10:30 is saying that each man’s head is counted for hair. The same word is using in Revelation for counting:

Rev 7:9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;

The Greek is arithmeo from where the English word “arithmetic” is derived. In Revelation, no one can count the multitude. In Matthew 10, God counts our hair. Counting is the method of gaining the information.

When Calvinists want to claim God predestines the future, one of the first places to which they turn is Isaiah 40-48. These verses were written to convince Israel that God is powerful and capable. Embeded in these verses is another “counting” verse:

Isa 40:12 Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?

This verse is often ignored by Classical theists. But the message is clear. God knows the volume of water by counting. God knows the length of the sky by measuring. God knows the volume of dust by calculating. God knows the weight of the mountains by weighing.

These verses point to the operative nature of how God knows information. Isaiah was communicating to the Jews, explaining how mighty God is. Isaiah does not turn to pagan concepts such as “fatalistic foreknowledge” or “inherent knowledge”. Those methodologies are foreign to Israel’s concept of God. Instead Isaiah appeals to God’s ability to perform and accomplish things that no man possibly could. That is the thrust of Isaiah. God knows things and can make His will a reality through His power. When Classical theists assume otherwise, they are discarding the normal Biblical language about God.

Apologetics Thursday – How God Names Babies

In Bruce Ware’s God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism, Ware is giving evidence that God knows the future when as a side note he writes:

Even more remarkable is the prediction of a future king to whom God gave the name Cyrus nearly 200 years before his parents gave him that exact name.

Ware, here, is perplexed that God could know a name of a baby 200 years in advance. In Ware’s mind, there is no other way to know the name of a future baby than to meticulously see the entire future.

In real life, there are plenty of ways to ensure a baby is named what you desire. You could pay the parents. You could threaten the parents. You could convince the parents. You could publish a popular nickname for someone, supplanting their given name. The possibilities are endless. God is powerful, ensuring a name of a future baby does not seem as impressive as Ware would have us believe. The text itself is found deep in a long series of chapters proclaiming God’s power (Isaiah 40-48). In the text, the author stresses the point God knows what will happen because God is powerful and He will bring it to past. The text is the exact opposite of Ware’s understanding: that God knows what will happen because He mystically sees the future. That the text stresses God’s power as the mechanism makes it antithetical to the knowledge mechanism. It is evidence against the Augustinian view of God!

But all this aside, Ware ignores very similar events in the Bible: the naming of both Jesus and John the Baptist.

Jesus’ naming was easy. God sends an angel to Mary and the angel tells Mary what to name Jesus:

Mat 1:21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Being told by an angel what to name her child is convincing enough for Mary. Mary promptly names her child “Jesus”. Could Cyrus’ parents have had an angelic visit? If God controlled all things, as some Calvinists claim, why would God have to convince Mary in the first place? Mary had a free choice as to naming Jesus and chose the name provided by God.

Another naming story occurs in the person of John the Baptist. In Luke 1, a priest named Zacharias encounters an angel. The angel prophecies that Zacharias would have a son and call his name John:

Luk 1:13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.

Zacharias waxes skeptical. He does not believe he will have a son. Zacharias points out he is old. The angel responds by striking Zacharias mute until the things that are prophesied are completed:

Luk 1:18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”
Luk 1:19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.
Luk 1:20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

Not only was Zacharias struck mute but he was also given an implicit threat. Zacharias would have the child, but would only be granted the ability to speak once the child was properly named. This is precisely what happens:

Luk 1:24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived…

Luk 1:57 Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son.
Luk 1:58 When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.
Luk 1:59 So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias.
Luk 1:60 His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.”
Luk 1:61 But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.”
Luk 1:62 So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.
Luk 1:63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled.
Luk 1:64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God.

Notice that it is exactly after the moment that Zacharias names John that he is allowed to speak again. Zacharias had already been proven wrong about his wife getting pregnant. For at least 9 months, Zacharias sat mute contemplating the angel’s words. When the angel stated “these things take place”, the angel was including the naming of John the Baptist. Implicit in Zacharias’ mind was that if he deviated from the angel’s instruction then he would not be granted voice. In other words, God coerced Zacharias into naming his son “John”.

God did not force Zacharias’ mouth to say “John”, and Zacharias could have still named John something else (presumably). But Zacharias weighed his options and preferred naming his son sensibly. God used power to fulfill His will.

This is how God can easily deal with an uncooperative agent. Because God is powerful, He can capture fleeing prophets in the mouths of fish and polymorph arrogant kings into wild beasts. What Calvinism does is downplay God’s power. God can only know things because He mystically sees the future, but that is not at all how the Bible depicts God. God knows things because He is powerful to achieve them. God can make these things happen in spite of human free will. When Ware assumes otherwise, he demeans God.

God-is-open

Apologetics Thursday – Ware Misses God’s Will

By Christopher Fisher

In Their God is Too Small by Bruce Ware, Ware quotes John Sanders:

It is God’s desire that we enter into a give-and-take relationship of love, and this is not accomplished by God’s forcing his blueprint on us. Rather, God wants us to go through life together with him, making decisions together. Together we decide the actual course of my life. God’s will for my life does not reside in a list of specific activities but in a personal relationship. As lover and friend, God works with us wherever we go and whatever we do. To a large extent our future is open and we are to determine what it will be in dialogue with God.

Ware replies:

REAL FATHERI mean no disrespect when I ask, Whom should I believe: Jesus, or John Sanders? The contrast is that glaring. For Jesus, prayer with the Father was never a matter of deciding the actual course of his life together in dialogue with the Father. As he instructed his disciples to pray, “your will be done,” so he lived his life. Recall that Jesus said, over and again, things like, “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me” (John 8:28), and, “I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:29). From beginning to end, Jesus sought to accomplish what his Father had sent him to do. Even in the garden, facing the biggest test of faith imaginable, Jesus prayed, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

In Ware’s rush to mock Sanders, he commits several logical errors. The primary error is that God’s will necessarily means some sort of minutely detailed overall plan. When Jesus prayed “not my will but yours be done” this is not “let your meticulous control over every facet of my life be done”. This is, in context, about one event: the crucifixion. Note that Jesus willed to not be crucified. Jesus literally asks to be let out of the task: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me”. Jesus is probing God for a way to fulfill God’s plan for redemption through another means than crucifixion. Jesus thought that he could influence God and that the future was not set in stone. Jesus then lets it be known that God should default to God’s original plan. This would be like me telling my children, “Please come watch a movie with me, but if you do not want to then you do not have to.” It is a relational statement (!), deferring preference to the other party. Jesus thought his petition could influence God. What does Ware think Jesus is communicating to God?

Likewise, when Jesus tells the disciples to pray that “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” this implies that God’s will is not being done on earth. People are rebellious. Jesus came to preach repentance. John the Baptist came to “prepare the way of the Lord”. God’s will is that people act righteously. Submitting to God’s will does not mean letting God control every flick of every eyelash. God is not interested in micromanaging. God gives overall direction. Ware commits the logical fallacy of Equivocation. Ware just assumes he knows what “God’s will” is and that God wills certain events in every person’s life.

In reality, Sanders is correct. God enters into a “give-and-take relationship of love”. God does not plan who we will marry or what house to buy. Those are things we can decide with God. There are limitless possibilities under God’s will. Submitting to God’ will in no sense is incompadible with a “give-and-take relationship.” God just wills that people act righteously, and there is countless ways in which to do that.

Here is Paul, telling us the will of God:

1Th 4:3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:
1Th 4:4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;
1Th 4:5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:
1Th 4:6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.
1Th 4:7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.

Jim Shares His Testimony

On Facebook Group Open Theism, Moral Government Theology, Pentecostal, Jim gives us his testimony:

I pondered this debate for 15 years before I made up my mind, but I can tell you this, the day I decided my position, was the day I saw the negative affects that the Platonic and Hellenistic view of God had on theology.

Years ago, Harry Conn had been talking to some friends of mine and told them that the word grieved in Genesis 6 meant grief that was so strong that one could not catch there breath. I was so touched by this, I decided to go and study it. I went to a local Theological Seminary and began combing through the commentaries. After my 5th strait commentary that said this passage could not possibly mean what it say, because God does not have emotion, something clicked in my mind. These men were not studying scripture to allow it to shape there beliefs, they were approaching the scripture with their theological presuppositions and conforming it to what they “knew” to be true.

These men had a list of presuppositions that were so clearly fixed in their minds that blinded them to the true testimony of scripture, and these positions were all related. They were all philosophical in nature. They had a list of attributes that defined what must first be true about God for Him to be God, and they all emanated from a Platonic view of God.

It was at that point that I realized that I had a choice to make. I could continue to allow the majority of Christendom (the “orthodox”), shape what I believe, or I could prayerfully lay everything I believed at the feet of Jesus and begin studying God’s word again. This time, allowing His testimony of Himself to shape my belief. I do not claim to have everything right, but I know that when I face Him, I will do so having done my best to conform what I believe to His word, and not to have conformed His word to what I believe.

god is open open theism

I Am Who I Am – Paul

Craig Fisher recounts the time Paul uttered the words that Jesus was nearly stoned for saying:

God, perhaps himself irritated at Moses’ desire for a more useful name, says “I AM WHO I AM.” (אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה) To understand this statement, it helps to understand how others have used it in scripture. Paul, after explaining his own unworthiness, uses the same words in Greek to explain to the Corinthians his apostleship:

1Co 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am

Paul is saying he knows that he is not worthy of this apostleship. In his checkered past, he has persecuted Christians, but God transformed him into an apostle, preaching the good news to all who would receive him. When Paul says “I am who I am”, he means “what you see is what you get”, nothing more or less. Paul is not claiming to be an immutable, simple and incorruptible god, a claim made by leading Calvinists.

For context, click here.

Brown’s Overview of Romans 9

Except from Taylor Brown on his series “Why I Am a Free-Will Theist”:

1. Romans 9 is About the Corporate Nation of Israel, NOT the Salvation or Damnation of Individuals

The background context of Romans is that a rift occurred between the Jewish and Gentile Christians in the Roman church. The Gentiles were claiming that God had abandoned the Jews since so few of them had come to believe in Jesus as Messiah. This understandably made the Jewish Christians a little angry. As a result, Paul took it upon himself to write a letter to the church in Rome to help settle the dispute. The section of his letter we now know as Romans 9 was meant specifically to address the claim that God had abandoned Israel in favor of the Gentiles. The whole section of Romans 9-11 is Paul’s emphatic argument against such a notion.

For full post, click here.