Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas: The Birth of Christ?

"She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus,
for he will save His people from their sins."
Matthew 1:21

When was Jesus born? Far too many Christians, when they celebrate the Christmas holiday, have erroneous and bankrupt theology (what they believe) concerning the event of Jesus' birth. For starters, many actually think that Jesus was born on December 25th. But more than that, these people get their erroneous theology from songs and dramatizations—not from the Bible.

Who Saw Jesus as a Baby?
The Bible informs us that "there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:8). They were told that they would "find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12). So they made their way to Bethlehem "in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger" (Luke 2:16). After all of this transpired, they "went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them" (Luke 2:20). That is the end of Luke's account of the birth of Christ Jesus. Were there any other people present after His birth when He was laid in a manger? Nope.

When Did the Wise Men See Jesus?
The Bible informs us that "magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem" (Matt. 2:1) looking for the Christ. There are two things to make note of here. First, they came from the east. How many days do you suppose it would take for them to travel from the east to their destination? Second, they arrived in Jerusalem—not Bethlehem. We are told that "Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared" (Matt. 2:7), and then he "sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi" (Matt. 2:16). The magi continued following the star "until it came and stood over the place where the child was" (Matt. 2:9). The Bible informs us that "After coming into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother" (Matt. 2:11). Jesus was not lying in a manger when the wise men first saw Him; He was living in a house. He was no longer a baby; He was a child around two years old.

How Many Wise Men Were There?
We have already established that there were no wise men at the birth of Christ. But how many wise men saw Jesus when He was a child? We do not know. The Bible does not tell us. It uses the word in plural, so we know there were at least two of them, but there could have been as many as fifty. We do not know for sure. The only information that appears in three are the gifts that were presented to Jesus: "gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (Matt. 2:11). So you can toss out that song, We Three Kings.

When Was Jesus Born?
Dates for the birth of Jesus often hover around the period of 7-4 B.C. By the 4th century A.D., historians and theologians were celebrating a winter Christmas. It was not until 525 A.D. when the year of Jesus' birth was fixed by Dionysius Exiguus, who determined that Jesus was born 8 days before New Year's Day in 1 A.D. However, he was totally, utterly, and completely wrong.

According to Colin J. Humphreys in "The Star of Bethlehem—a Comet in 5 BC—and the Date of the Birth of Christ," from Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 32, 389-407 (1991), Jesus was probably born in 5 B.C., at the time the Chinese recorded a major, new, slow-moving comet—a "sui-hsing," or star with a sweeping tail in the Capricorn region of the sky. This is the comet Humphreys believes was called the Star of Bethlehem.

Assuming the Star of Bethlehem was a comet, there were 3 possible years: 12, 5, and 4 B.C. By using the one relevant, fixed date in the Gospels, the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar (28/29 A.D.), at which time Jesus is described as being "about thirty" (Luke 3:23), 12 B.C. is too early for the date of His birth, since by 28 A.D. he would have been 40 years old. Herod the Great is generally assumed to have died in the spring of 4 B.C., but was alive when Jesus was born, which makes 4 B.C. unlikely (although possible). In addition, the Chinese do not describe the comet of 4 B.C. This leaves 5 B.C., the date Humphreys prefers. The Chinese say the comet appeared between March 9 and April 6 and lasted over 70 days (Makes sense when you consider that the magi followed it from the east, which would have been a journey of several says.).

The best known censuses of Augustus occurred in 28 and 8 B.C. and 14 A.D. However, these were for Roman citizens only. Luke 2:2 and Jewish historian Josephus refer to another census, one that was "during the governing of Syria by Quirinius" (Luke 2:2 [or Cyrenius, KJV; Gr.: Kyrenios]). This was not that census that taxed the Jews of the area, because it was later than the probable birth date of Jesus, but was likely a census for pledging allegiance to the Caesar, which Josephus dates to a year before the death of King Herod (Ant. XVII.ii.4). In addition, it is possible to translate the passage in Luke 2:2 to say it happened "before the governing of Syria by Quirinius." From all these figures, Humphreys deduces that Jesus was born between March 9 and May 4, 5 B.C. This period has the added virtue of including the year's Passover, a most propitious time for the birth of a Messiah.

Replacing "Christ" with an "X"
While December 25th has absolutely nothing to do with Christ Jesus or His birth, Christians often get upset over the fact that so many people replace the "Christ" in Christmas with an "X." Is this something we should be making a stink about, even if we choose to celebrate the birth of our Saviour on this date? Not really, and here is why. The word "Christ" in the Greek is Christos (Χριστος), which means "anointed one," and refers to the event of Jesus' baptism (Matt. 3:16-17; Mark 1:10-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34). The Χ is the Greek letter chi. Thus, Xmas is not directly a way of secularizing the holiday (although in English we read it as an X, to cross something out, rather than the initial of the word Christos). However, Christmas was a pagan holiday long before is was "Christianized," and since it has absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Christ Jesus whatsoever, the secularizing of it really is not a big issue.

Since Christ has nothing to do with Christmas in the first place, the bandwagon crusade for "Keep Christ in Christmas" is rather shallow, empty, and vain. Let the heathen have their distorted pagan holiday where they worship their fictitious god, Satan Claus—er, I mean, Santa Claus. Think about it: Santa is depicted as being omniscient (all-knowing, knowing whether you have been bad or nice) and practically omnipotent (all-powerful; being able to get in and out of any house in order to leave gifts) and omnipresent (being everywhere at once; he can travel the entire world of 7 billion people in a single night).

If we Christians truly want a holiday specifically for remembering and celebrating Jesus' birth while also worshiping our Saviour, let us pick a date between March 9 and April 6 and petition our governments for it to be recognized as a national holiday. Let the heathen have Christmas and let us adopt a date of our own that is closer to the actual time when Jesus was born in order for us to celebrate His birth. Since there are no holidays in March (at least for Canadians), how about March 23rd? The precise middle between March 9 and April 6.

Where Does Your Christmas Theology Come From?
Here are some questions to find out how well you actually know your Bible and whether your theology comes directly from the Bible or from errors contained in songs and dramatizations.
  1. When Mary became pregnant, Mary and Joseph were:
    1. Married
    2. Engaged
    3. Just friends
    4. None of the above
  2. When Mary became pregnant,
    1. Joseph married her
    2. Joseph wanted to dissolve their relationship
    3. Mary left Nazareth for a while
    4. An angel told them to go to Bethlehem
    5. Both B and C
    6. Both B and D
  3. Who directed Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem?
    1. Herod
    2. Caesar
    3. An angel
    4. The IRS
  4. Joseph’s family was from
    1. Jerusalem
    2. Bethlehem
    3. Nazareth
    4. Singapore
  5. For the journey to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph
    1. Walked
    2. Joseph walked and Mary rode a donkey
    3. Took a bus
    4. The Bible does not say
  6. Who told Joseph to name the baby Jesus?
    1. Mary
    2. The chief priests and scribes
    3. An angel of the Lord
    4. Herod the king
  7. What did the innkeeper say to Mary and Joseph?
    1. There is no room in the inn
    2. I have a stable out back where you can stay
    3. Both A and B
    4. None of the above
  8. The baby Jesus was born in a
    1. Cave
    2. Barn
    3. Manger
    4. Who knows?
  9. What animals were present at Jesus’ birth?
    1. Cows, sheep and camels
    2. Cows, sheep and donkeys
    3. Lions, tigers and bears
    4. None of the above
  10. What is a manger anyway?
    1. A small barn
    2. A feeding trough
    3. A place to store hay
    4. A Greek term for a nursery
  11. When did the baby Jesus cry?
    1. When he saw the wise men
    2. Whenever babies usually cry
    3. When the cattle started lowing
    4. No crying he makes
  12. How many angels spoke to the shepherds?
    1. A multitude
    2. One
    3. Two – Gabriel and Michael
    4. Who knows?
  13. What sign were the shepherds told to look for?
    1. A star over the stable
    2. A barn outlined in Christmas lights
    3. A baby in a manger
    4. Both A and C
  14. Just what is a ‘heavenly host’?
    1. An angelic choir
    2. The welcoming angel in heaven
    3. An army of angels
    4. None of the above
  15. What song did the angels sing?
    1. O Little Town of Bethlehem
    2. Handel’s Messiah
    3. Glory to God in the Highest
    4. None of the above
  16. Who saw the star over Bethlehem?
    1. Mary and Joseph
    2. The wise men
    3. The shepherds
    4. Both A and C
    5. None of the above
  17. How many wise men came to see Jesus?
    1. One
    2. Three
    3. Twelve
    4. The Bible does not say
  18. What in the world are Magi?
    1. Eastern kings
    2. Astrologers
    3. Magicians
    4. None of the above
  19. When the wise men brought their gifts to Jesus, they found him in
    1. A manger
    2. A church
    3. A house
    4. None of the above
  20. Christmas has always been observed
    1. On December 25
    2. At Grandma’s house
    3. On January 17
    4. None of the above
The answers are as follows: (1) b; (2) e; (3) b; (4) b; (5) d; (6) c; (7) d; (8) d; (9) d; (10) b; (11) b; (12) b; (13) c; (14) c; (15) d; (16) e; (17) d; (18) b; (19) c; (20) d.