Archive for category Biblical Scholarship
As Holy Week begins, I completed some reading this morning in the Gospel of John. I focused on the empty tomb pericope that features Mary Magdalene so prominently. “Magdalene” most likely ties this Mary to the town of Magdala, which was a “strongly Hellenized site . . . five kilometers northeast of Tiberias” (R. Riesner, 37–38, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels). Performing a search revealed that there are twelve explicit references in the New Testament to Mary Magdalene:
Gospel of Matthew (NET)
Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee . . . (Now Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there, opposite the tomb) (Matthew 27:56, 61).
Now after the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb (Matthew 28:1).
Gospel of Mark (NET)
There were also women, watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome (Mark 15:40).
Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was placed (Mark 15:47).
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought aromatic spices so that they might go and anoint him (Mark 16:1).
Early on the first day of the week, after he arose, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had driven out seven demons (Mark 16:9).
Gospel of Luke (NET)
. . . and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and disabilities: Mary (called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had gone out . . . (Luke 8:2).
Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles (Luke 24:10).
Gospel of John (NET)
Now standing beside Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25).
Now very early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance (John 20:1).
Mary Magdalene came and informed the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them what Jesus had said to her (John 20:18).
At times, people have confused Mary Magdalene with other women in the Gospels. In Luke 7, an unnamed woman enter’s a house where Jesus is located and anoints Jesus’ feet. In the pericope adulterae (John 7:53–8:11), Jesus forgives the sin of an unnamed woman caught in adultery.
However, Mark and Luke both inform us of Mary Magdalene’s connection to Jesus—he set her free from the possession of seven demons. She subsequently followed Jesus, even being one of the few present at his crucifixion and an eyewitness to his resurrection.
The Gospel of Philip
You can find out more about the history of the 1945 Nag Hammadi discovery and The Gospel of Philip here and especially here. Suffice it to say that these “other Gospels” (1) are not written by those whose names are attached to them, making them pseudepigrapha, (2) originate from the second century or later, and (3) were not received by the catholic (i.e., universal) church community not only because of their strange, sometimes unorthodox, and sometimes contra-apostolic depiction of Jesus of Nazareth, but also because of their divergent perspectives on the Old Testament, creation, and anthropology. However, I would like to focus on its references to Mary Magdalene. The first mention of this Mary in The Gospel of Philip is found in context with two other Marys:
Three women always walked with the master: Mary his mother, <his> sister, and Mary of Magdala, who is called his companion. For “Mary” is the name of his sister, his mother, and his companion.
The writing again refers to Mary Magdala as Jesus’ companion here,
Wisdom, who is called barren, is the mother of the angels.
The companion of the [savior] is Mary of Magdala. The [savior loved] her more than [all] the disciples, [and he] kissed her often on her [mouth].
The other [disciples] …said to him, “Why do you love her more than all of us?”
The savior answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her? If a blind person and one who can see are both in darkness, they are the same. When the light comes, one who can see will see the light, and the blind person will stay in darkness.”
[The brackets] typically identify places in the manuscript where the text is unknown due to some kind of injury.
From this, people have surmised from these sayings that Mary Magdalene was no mere disciple of Jesus, but that she was his wife.
The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Laid to Rest
In 2012 in Rome, Harvard University’s Dr. Karen L. King revealed a shocking document—a fourth century papyrus fragment—claiming the matrimony of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. With Dr. King’s credentials and backing, the fragment’s reveal sent shockwaves through academia and found its way into the public square as well. The Coptic text and a transcription is available through Harvard University.
Since then, the investigative reporting of Ariel Saber of The Atlantic has exposed the full origin story of The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fragment. The title “The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’ Wife” is followed by the subtitle,
A hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript suggests Christ was married. But believing its origin story—a real-life Da Vinci Code, involving a Harvard professor, a onetime Florida pornographer, and an escape from East Germany—requires a big leap of faith.
Saber’s work uncovered that the fragment is most likely a very recent forgery. Dr. Karen L. King agreed publicly following Saber’s published work. If you’re up for going further down the rabbit hole, you can find more related material via Dr. Mark Goodacre’s blog here and more recently here. Peter Gurry also commented on the matter in 2016 at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.
The Real Mary Magdalene Please Rise
While the story of this forged fragment made for great entertainment, perhaps a positive result may surface. Maybe we’ll allow the real Mary Magdalene to surface once again. Mary’s legacy has been clouded publicly ever since Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code in 2003.
Some have wondered why Mary Magdalene is not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. It seems that the apostles have no problem making mention of women who play a prominent role in the spread of the gospel—Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Lydia, Damaris, and a number of other women who are described as devout. One thought is that Mary Magdalene passed away shortly after the resurrection. This can’t be proven. We are never told anything about her age or her death.
We are told three things about this Mary that should stick with any of us who depend on the glorious salvation of Jesus. First, this Mary was set free by Jesus from the darkest kind of spiritual oppression. She was demon-possessed. Sevenfold. We learn from this Mary that Jesus is strong enough to break the bondage of the darkest sources of spiritual slavery.
Second, we find Mary following Jesus to a place where very few of his disciples dared to follow—the cross. I am truly amazed at this. Matthew, Mark, and John testify that Mary Magdalene joined a few other women at the crucifixion. Keep in mind that the other women seem to have been related to Jesus. Mary Magdalene was not. It appears that John the apostle was the only member of the twelve who dared identify himself with the Christ of the cross. While Jesus would continue his fellowship with the other ten disciples after the resurrection, Mary Magdalene was “ahead of the curve” when it came to denying oneself, counting the cost, and following Jesus wherever he went.
Lastly, Mark tells us that this Mary is the first to see the resurrected Jesus. Again, how amazing. Scholars have told us over and over again, that this element of the resurrection narrative—Mary, a woman, as the first eyewitness—is a criteria of the authenticity for the Gospels’ narratives. No first century author who wanted to be convincing and who wanted their movement to catch on would propose that there first eyewitness to the most important element of their story was . . . a woman. This would have been embarrassing, as indicated by the apostles’ reaction to the testimony of the women (Luke 24:10–11). The Gospel writers were clearly concerned with what really happened, with communicating a historical account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sure, they wrote to evangelize and to make more disciples, but they were not doing so by being irresponsible or deceptive about what really happened. Additionally, I can’t help but also think that Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene is a reward for her faithfulness to follow to the cross. After appearing to Mary, Jesus sent her to report to the disciples (John 20:17–18), and she proclaimed to them, “I have seen the Lord!” making her the first evangelist of the resurrection era.
This Holy Week, let’s lay to rest the Jesus-wife myth that has clouded Mary’s legacy and “resurrect” the real Mary Magdalene and her already impressive resume—a delivered, devoted, eyewitness, evangelist of Jesus Christ. Happy Holy Week.
In 1 Corinthians 15:3–8, we have what is perhaps the earliest, written claim for the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
(1 Corinthians 15:3–8 ESV)
Below, I have included my response to an article posted by Patheos blogger Adam Lee’s article “Paul’s Resurrection Creed” from March 11, 2009. You can read it here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/2009/03/pauls-resurrection-creed/. I have also included some video resources that may be helpful for you this Easter season. Christ is risen! Praise the Lord!
Thanks for the article. I have some objections to your points. Cards on the table, I am a Christian. I believe in the historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. You say,
First of all, the way Paul describes the disciples is strange.
I have to object to this. It is most likely that this creed is not originally Paul’s, but a creed that predates him and his writing of 1 Corinthians. If you notice in the Scripture quotation you’ve listed above, Paul states that he received this. The composition of 1 Corinthians dates back to 54 C.E., as Dr. Daniel B. Wallace (https://bible.org/gsearch?sear… and most NT scholars would acknowledge. Therefore, if the letter itself dates to 54 C.E. and if the creed of 1 Corinthians 15:3–8 precedes the Paul and his letter, then we are looking at an extremely early creed probably produced within the year of Jesus resurrection and ascension. This is not hard to imagine as it would have been sensical for the early Christians to formalize an oral creed concerning the bodily resurrection of Christ and pass it around as they met in the temple and from house to house. Some suggest Saul/Paul’s conversion took place as early as 33 C.E. I’ll concede that it could be that Paul received this as late as the mid-forties due to the record of his interaction with the apostles in Jerusalem.
Second, you seem to not understand the nature of a creed. A creed serves to summarize truth in a compact and memorable way so that they could be committed to memory and easily recited. They helped in a day when most people did not have a copy of the Scriptures and even if they did, they may not have been able to read it. A creed was accessible everyone.
Your assumption about Peter not being among them places emphasis wrongly. Peter is recognized as “a leader among the leaders” with regard to the apostles in the NT. It is isn’t at all odd that the creed mentions him separately. Besides, Luke 24:34 affirms an appearance to Simon Peter.
A word search in the Greek New Testament reveals that ο δωδεκα (“the twelve”) appears 36 times, almost always referring to “The Twelve” apostles. When referring to the apostles, this is a formal title. Even after Judas dies and is replaced by Matthias (Acts 1:26), “The Twelve” is still used in Acts 6:2 and Rev. 21:14. It is clear from context that Matthias meets the criteria employed to replace Judas,
Thus one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time the Lord Jesus associated with us, beginning from his baptism by John until the day he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness of his resurrection together with us.” So they proposed two candidates: Joseph called Barsabbas (also called Justus) and Matthias (Acts 1:21–23 NET).
It is clear from this that Paul’s use of “The Twelve” in the creed that he had received is not inaccurate as you suggest. If anything, it suggests that perhaps the creed was created after Matthias was selected. It also is not inaccurate because “The Twelve” including Matthias were all eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ.
I’ll concede that the mention of the apostles seems to be redundant, but redundancy does not an error make. There are optional, reasonable explanations without assuming error. For example, the word “apostle” means “sent one” in its informal meaning. Some readers of Scripture may apply this to someone like Barnabas, who doesn’t appear to be a Jerusalem Elder, but who also isn’t one of the formal apostolic group. Perhaps, the creed is simply being redundant or making reference to the multiple appearances to this group. Again, redundancy does not an error make.
Your comment about the women may be your weakest point. Much ink has been spilled on this, and I am surprised that you even bring it up. The historical Gospel record of women being the first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb and to the resurrected Jesus is a criteria of authenticity because of the embarrassing nature of such witnesses in the first century world. Luke points this out in 24:11. Women eyewitnesses were not considered trustworthy. If this is a false or made-up account in Luke 24 or John 20, there is no way such a made up story would list women as the first eyewitnesses. No one would take the story seriously. Yet, these weren’t the only appearances. There were multiple appearances as the creed records. The Gospel accounts are confirmed by the criteria of embarrassment, and the creed’s authenticity is confirmed by its emphasis on who would have been considered the major eyewitnesses at that time.
We do not have five hundred separate, notarized accounts. What we have is one person, Paul, who says that five hundred anonymous people saw Jesus, giving no further details about their identities or the circumstances of the seeing. By itself, this is not strong evidence, just as it would not be strong evidence if I gave you a piece of paper that said, “One thousand people saw me do a miracle.”
We do have the account of Luke which states that the resurrected Jesus appeared for forty days following his suffering. This is plenty of time for the creed’s proposition to have been realistically accomplished. No, you do not have the written accounts of 500 people, but you have the written accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul, and really all of the NT authors are writing from the belief of a resurrected Christ because there is no Christianity without a bodily, resurrected Christ. Further, would you believe it if there were more accounts than already recorded in the NT? Would it really persuade you? If you gave me a piece of paper that said 1000 people saw me perform a miracle, I would simply ask for the names of some of these people. This isn’t that hard, especially if the creed, as is likely, dates back to the mid-thirties to mid-forties. Further, you are forgetting that the historical record of Jesus performing miracles during his life is thorough. His miracles are one of the contributing factors leading to his trial and death by crucifixion.
Finally, your handling of the term οραω is simplistic. Again, the creed is created to be memorable, so the repetition of the verb is expected for purposes of memory and recitation. Further, the physical act of seeing with the eyes is not outside the lexical range of this Greek verb. It is an exegetical fallacy to say that a term must mean such and such with no attention to context. The context for the creed are the experiences recorded in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. Take the two the disciples on the road to Emmaus for instance. To argue that these men did not physically see Jesus makes the story absurd. They are literally traveling to a town; they’re walking and talking.
To suggest that the resurrected Jesus was to the early church merely a mythical figure, a figment of their own imaginations and hopes, couldn’t be more foreign to the records we have. It is a misrepresentation of the earliest records of the believers of Jesus Christ. They really believed him to have physically and historically resurrected. Had he not and if they still continued to desire to follow him after his death, it makes much more sense that they would have continued to proclaim him as returning at some point in the future as the redeemer of Israel from Roman oppression. But they are devastated by his death as the disciples on the road to Emmaus detail in Luke 24. They are returning home after the Passover pilgrimage. Everything is over for them until Christ appears to them—bodily resurrected.
You can continue to choose not to believe in the resurrection of Christ, but it is a bit disrespectful to suggest that what Paul, The Twelve, and the early Christians were really trying to say was that they wanted Jesus to be alive so badly that they imagined visions of such a reality. When the clearer explanation and intention of these early Christians is that he really did raise from the dead, making multiple appearances for 40 days.
Find out more about Easter and Jesus’ Resurrection here: http://www.exploregod.com/resurrection.
Habermas on the creed: http://youtu.be/7QDCnYwJv6M.
How Gospel Conversations with 7th Day Adventists Led to Research about Michael, the Archangel, as the Pre-Incarnate Christ and to . . . John Calvin? What?!
Three months ago, over a third of our church participated in Unlock 2013: Asking God to Open Hearts in DFW. I had the privilege and opportunity to lead this ministry and all of our Unlock Workers that consisted of an evening VBS, a free meal, prayer groups, sports camps, lots of organizing, administrating, and publishing, evangelism teams and prayer stations in the streets and parks of Dallas, and now – follow up for discipleship. We had over 620 gospel conversations with folks in Dallas, and we’re excited to evangelize more and become better equipped at discipleship. This whole thing launched out of a renewal that is taking place at our church to grow by worship, prayer, conversion/the new birth, and discipleship as opposed to the ever popular mantra of “Hey, come to our church because we now have the latest, biggest, and best programs.” We want to worship, pray, and proclaim the gospel and watch the Holy Spirit work in power.
As our teams were out in the streets and parks, some encountered 7th Day Adventists. Honestly, I did not know much about the Adventists. After having done some research, I will suggest that their openness to prophecy and the authority that they give to the writings of Ellen White are troubling. Also troubling is their inability to see that the Law was entirely fulfilled in Christ, including the Sabbath. Their position on the Sabbath leads them down strange roads as expressed in this recent article from Ted N. C. Wilson, the President of the Seventh Day Adventist Church: http://www.adventistworld.org/issue.php?issue=2013-1009&page=8.
During my research on the 7th Day Adventists, I came across a very interesting view on Michael, the Archangel, that I had never heard before. They believe that Michael, the Archangel is another title for Jesus Christ. Michael means “who is like God.” Archangel could mean, “highest ranked angel,” or “ruler of the angels,” or “chief of the messengers.” Context must help with the interpretation. Let me be entirely fair, they DO NOT believe that Jesus Christ is or ever has been an angel. They believe that Michael when mentioned in Scripture is NOT an angel, but it is Jesus Christ, the ruler of the angels. Now, whether or not such an interpretation is plausible will take more thought and work on my end. My initial judgment is that such a view is confusing rather than clear, and we do not ever have the New Testament writers clarifying this for us. In fact, Michael appears in the New Testament, and in my opinion, it becomes more clear in those passages, that Jesus Christ and Michael are two separate beings.
It is also very interesting that this study led me to a place, or a person rather, whom I did not at all expect to meet on this journey . . . John Calvin. One Adventist author referenced John Calvin’s commentary on Daniel in support of his view. I couldn’t believe it! I surely thought he was mistaken. So, I looked up the reference myself, and here is what I found:
Commenting on Daniel 10:13, Calvin writes, “He adds next, ‘Behold! Michael, one of the chief leaders or princes, came to strengthen me.’ Some think the word Michael represents Christ, and I do not object to this opinion. Clearly enough, if all angels keep watch over the faithful and elect, still Christ holds the first rank among them, because he is their head, and uses their ministry and assistance to defend all his people. But as this is not generally admitted, I leave it in doubt for the present, and shall say more on the subject in the twelfth chapter” (Calvin Commentaries: Daniel 7-12 & Hosea, XIII, page 253).
Commenting on Daniel 12:1, Calvin writes, “By Michael many agree in understanding Christ as the head of the Church. But if it seems better to understand Michael as the archangel, this sense will prove suitable, for under Christ as the head, angels are the guardians of the Church. Whichever be the true meaning, God was the preserver of his Church by the hand of his only-begotten Son, and because the angels are under the government of Christ, he might entrust this duty to Michael” (Calvin Commentaries: Daniel 7-12 & Hosea, XIII, page 368-69).
He seems uncertain about the whole thing really. Calvin also writes in his 65th lecture, which followed the above quotation, “As we stated yesterday, Michael may mean an angel; but I embrace the opinion of those who refer this to the person of Christ, because it suits the subject best to represent him as standing forward for the defence of his elect people” (Calvin Commentaries: Daniel 7012 & Hosea, XIII, page 369-70).
I could . . . not . . . believe it. It’s not that I sense orthodoxy is at stake if someone holds to such a view, especially as expressed here by Calvin. It’s just a thought that I had never heard of until recently, let alone a thought that I have entertained. Yet, many of us would identify the angel of the LORD in the Old Testament as the pre-incarnate Christ. I am not so sure about that now, but I once held to that with no problem at all, and I still don’t think such a belief is too big a deal.
My curiosity continued. I wanted to see if Calvin maintained this belief all the way through the New Testament. So, I picked up his commentary on Jude, where Michael is mentioned again. Here, Calvin’s tone was different on the matter,
However, when you read Calvin’s commentary on the epistle of Jude, he mentions no connection between Michael and Jesus Christ, and in fact, I would say that there is no way that Calvin sees Michael as another title for Jesus in Jude 9, “That Michael is introduced alone as disputing against Satan is not new. We know that myriads of angels are ever ready to render service to God; but he chooses this or that to do his business as he pleases. What Jude relates as having been said by Michael, is found also in the book of Zechariah, ‘Let God chide (or check) thee, Satan.’ (Zech. iii. 2.) And it is a comparison, as they say, between the greater and the less. Michael dared not to speak more severely against Satan (though a reprobate and condemned) than to deliver him to God to be restrained . . .” (Me commenting on Calvin Commentaries: Hebrews, I Peter, I John, James, II Peter, Jude, XXII, page 439).
So, it seems that something happened in Calvin’s understanding of Michael, the Archangel, between his writing on Daniel and his writing on Jude. I looked at Hebrews to see if he said anything about it on Hebrews 1, where Christ is taught to be superior to the angels, but I did not find anything. I have not yet checked his comments on Revelation 12, where Michael is mentioned once again. I am not sure what exactly catalyzed the turn around. An interesting ride though. Thanks Mr. Calvin.
*Update* I recently discovered – and I think that this was news to me – that John Calvin did not write a commentary on the Revelation of Jesus Christ to the Apostle John. Most with whom I have spoken or whom I have read state that he simply ran out of time in his life to write said commentary. This news then caused me to inquire as to what was the final word of John Calvin on the issue raised in this article; that is, which was written later—his commentary on Daniel or his commentary on Jude? One may assume that Calvin wrote his commentaries in order, working his way from the Old Testament into and through the New Testament. However, this is not what we find when we search the dates as recorded in Calvin’s commentaries. According to page lxxv in his introductory material to his lectures and commentary on the book of Daniel, Calvin signed a letter that included his provenance and the date, which were Geneva, August 19, 1561. He did the same for his commentary on the Catholic Epistles, which included the book of Jude. His provenance and the date for this writing were Geneva, Jan. 24, 1551. This means that what John Calvin wrote about Michael, the Archangel in Daniel CAME AFTER what he did or did not write about Michael, the Archangel in Jude. Therefore, the conclusion I think we must draw from the matter at hand is that John Calvin did indeed believe that “Michael, the Archangel” was another title for the second person of the Trinity. Calvin believed that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was also the “One like God” who is also the “Captain of the Angelic Messengers and Host.” Although, let it be clearly stated here that John Calvin DID NOT believe that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, was a created, angelic being, but rather the commander of the angels. In holding his position here, he does not succumb to the Arian heresy that “there was a time when the Son was not.” Calvin believed in the eternality of the Son, that he has no beginning and he shall have no end.
In my opinion, I think that Jude should be most informative to our understanding on this matter. First, it seems odd that after the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity such a title would continue to be employed. Second and more troubling, the Michael of Jude seems sheepish in his confrontation with Satan. If this is indeed an angel, I can completely understand his deflection to have the Lord rebuke Satan. However, it is difficult for me to comprehend a post-resurrection and ascension Christian writer reflecting on an event in the Old Testament in such a way that paints Jesus Christ in such a way. Now, I said difficult, not impossible. I can see how some may point out that (1) this is an event in the Old Testament and historically preceded the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension, and (2) we observe Jesus Christ, even in his incarnate state, in his encounters with Satan and with spiritual warfare appealing to the word of God and to the Father through prayer and fasting. This reveals the inner fellowship and relationship of the Triune God with a common mission and a common glory as well as the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus as the second Adam, as the faithful Man. So, it is not impossible for us to understand Michael in Jude the same way that Calvin understands Michael in Daniel. Thus, I conclude that — hey — I don’t like it. I don’t like the idea. Yet, I can understand how someone may arrive at such a position. I am not ready to embrace it, nor do I think that there is any benefit in embracing it. I still think that it breeds more confusion than help for whether “Michael, the Archangel” is another title for the second person of the Trinity or not, whether it is a title given to him to emphasize his leadership over the angelic host or not, it remains true regardless that all creation is under his authority. He has been given this by the Father, and a special title is not necessary for this truth to be true.
He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation,
for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him —
all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers —
all things were created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things
and all things are held together in him (Colossians 1:15–17).
Moreover, even the oracles are not only words put by God into the prophet’s mouth (Jer. 1:9), but also words carefully shaped and reshaped to convey a total message. The word of God with which these words are identified is, ultimately, the final message of the book as a whole (Andrew G. Shead in A Mouth Full of Fire: The Words of God in the Words of Jeremiah, 52.)
Interesting, I am still unsatisfied with the large gap between text critical approaches between the OT and the NT. Should varying quantities (and qualities) of manuscripts create such vast differences in approach to TC in the two testaments?
E.g., the traditional approach to NTTC focuses on the original text; the majority approach to OTTC focuses on the final form of the text received into the canon. These are vastly different approaches.
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
While perusing the Facebook newsfeed one day this December, I noticed a link that a friend had posted from Crossway Publishers that described a dramatic poetry reading from Pastor John Piper called The Innkeeper.1 As I listened, I began to realize where the story was headed, and I discovered two reactions in my soul—first, I was surprised that I had never considered the powerful implications behind the text of Matthew 2:16–18, which is quoted for you above; and second, I was determined to take a deeper look at this text, which has led to the writing of this article in the December 2012 edition of the ScoCaster.
Matthew 2:18 is the fourth2 Old Testament (OT) passage quoted in Matthew’s Gospel, which indicates that the writer establishes early on that he intends to interact heavily with the OT as he writes about the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah. I tend to agree with Blomberg and Hagner on the reason for Matthew’s oft quoting of the Old Testament, “Again, in Matthew’s perspective Jesus is understood as summarizing the whole experience of Israel as well as bringing it to fulfillment.”3 For example, the previous paragraph quotes Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Hosea is referring to Israel’s experience of the exodus out of Egypt. Like Israel, Jesus too would be called out of Egypt.
Moving to the primary text of this article, Matthew 2:16–18 paints a grim scene. As we recite Matthew’s telling of the Christmas story this year, we should not skip over this part. The passage can be divided into two parts: (1) The Wrath of Herod upon Bethlehem and (2) The Weeping of Rachel at Ramah.
The Wrath of Herod upon Bethlehem
Remember, Herod was not the the first to order the slaying of young Hebrews. Do you recall what happened in the days of Moses?4 Remember how Pharaoh ordered the Hebrew midwives to execute the male Hebrew children? The Hebrew midwives feared God (Ex. 1:17) and refused to obey the command of the king of Egypt. Though I am not sure that I can be certain, I wonder if the Hebrews in their oppression began to remember the promises of God to their fathers, believed that God may send a deliverer to them, and therefore, the midwives feared and obeyed God rather than Pharaoh because they were waiting for a deliverer? We do know that the people of Israel began crying out to God for help (Ex. 2:23–25). In the face of tragedy, God sovereignly raised up Moses in the midst of Egypt to deliver his people from bondage.
The wrath of Herod fueled by his wounded pride brought great tragedy upon the town of Bethlehem.Apparently, it took place nearly two years after Jesus was born. As indicated in 2:16, Herod had calculated the number of years based upon the previous information he had received from the magi, and in calculating the number, he calculated a raw expression of his rage. Every male child two years of age and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding region was mowed down to the grave by Herod’s soldiers. Can you imagine being a parent in Bethlehem at that time? No warning. No refuge. The life of your child taken away—and perhaps your own—because you were the town that made room for the Deliverer. A tender population of your town wiped out because you sovereignly became associated with the Son of God. Bethlehem was not a booming metropolis. Estimates during the reign of Herod suggest that approximately one thousand people populated the town, from which we may gather that possibly “twenty boys would be born in two years, and several of those would have died in infancy.”5 However, even though we are only talking about the slaying of a dozen or so young boys, the tremors of tragedy reach deep into the context of a small town. The whole town feels it, and whether directly or indirectly affected, such a thing became part of everyone’s story. The history books have no record of Herod’s attack upon the children of Bethlehem, but God did not forget and chose Matthew to remind us of the price Bethlehem paid for its association with the new born King.
The Weeping of Rachel at Ramah
While the life and experience of Jesus in Matthew seems to have some parallels with Moses’ day, Matthew 2:17 reveals to us that Matthew primarily has in mind the words of the prophet Jeremiah, which are then quoted in 2:18. Jeremiah 31:15 is the exact reference here. Remember, Jeremiah lived during the tragic days of the Babylonian captivity and the fall of Jerusalem. Besides a brief period of revival and reform under king Josiah, Jeremiah faithfully and painfully proclaimed the word of God to idolatrous Israel. However, Jeremiah 31 is a rare chapter filled primarily with hope of restoration following the captivity. In verse 15, the message of hope digresses for just a moment because the Lord hears the lament of Ramah, the weeping of Rachel as her children are led through the town into captivity. Ramah was a town located approximately 8km north of Jerusalem. Interestingly, Bethlehem was located about 7– 8km south of Jerusalem and was located along the same road,6 even so Matthew’s parallel between Ramah and Bethlehem is more than geographical—it is social, emotional, and theological. Blomberg further highlights the appropriateness of Matthew’s connection between Ramah and Bethlehem—they were both towns familiar with sadness and suffering.7 There is also one more thing that draws these two towns together—Rachel. Rachel was thought to have died and been buried near Ramah (1 Samuel 10:2) while Jacob and his family were on their way to Bethlehem (Genesis 35.16–21).8 Therefore, these two towns have a connection in biblical history, both being marked by the weeping Rachel, the mother of all Israel. Returning to Jeremiah 31, Rachel was heard weeping over her children as they were taken away into captivity to Babylon. She struggles to be comforted even by God’s promise to restore her children. Thus, Matthew once again sees Rachel weeping for her children in 2:16–18 when he compares the pain of the Babylonian captivity to the ruthless slaughter at Bethlehem. This is a fitting comparison, for where else could he have gone but to the darkest period in Israel’s history to describe the pain and mourning of the families of Bethlehem?
From Lament to Life
Just as there was suffering in the midst of the grand promise given by God and proclaimed through the prophet Jeremiah, there was suffering in the midst of the fulfillment of that promise when the Son of God became incarnate. Consider the words of comfort given by the Lord through the prophet Jeremiah to the weeping Rachel:
The LORD says to her,
“Stop crying! Do not shed any more tears!
For your heartfelt repentance will be rewarded. Your children will return from the land of the enemy.
I, the LORD, affirm it!
Indeed, there is hope for your posterity.
Your children will return to their own territory.
I, the LORD, affirm it!
I have indeed heard the people of Israel say mournfully, ‘We were like a calf untrained to the yoke.
You disciplined us and we learned from it.
Let us come back to you and we will do so,
for you are the LORD our God.
For after we turned away from you we repented. After we came to our senses we beat our breasts in sorrow. We are ashamed and humiliated
because of the disgraceful things we did previously.’ Indeed, the people of Israel are my dear children. They are the children I take delight in.
For even though I must often rebuke them,
I still remember them with fondness.
So I am deeply moved with pity for them
and will surely have compassion on them.
I, the LORD, affirm it!
The proclamation of hope and restoration is accompanied by the future repentance and turning of Rachel’s children back to the Lord. God sent them into exile due to their idolatry and rebellion against him. But what are we to make of Bethlehem? Why the slaughter? We know why Judah was taken away into Babylon. But why this tragedy upon Bethlehem? Ultimately, I don’t know. Evil happenings in our world escape the reaches of human reason much of the time. Yet, I do know that they do not escape the reach of my all-knowing God, and I do take comfort in him because of this.
I feel that there is also one other possible explanation (perhaps among many)9 that may speak to us about this tragedy in Bethlehem that accompanied the glory of the Lord’s birth. Bethlehem sovereignly became associated with the Messiah. Which causes us to ask, what does it mean to be sovereignly associated with the Messiah? What a wonderful thought for meditation this Christmas season. Listen to what Dale Allison writes,
Jesus is literally sympathetic; that is, he suffers along with others. His identity as God’s beloved Son (3:17; 11:25–30; 17:5) does not render him immune from agony or despair. He is, on the contrary, especially subject to misfortune and pain: in Matthew’s story, Jesus suffers far more than anyone else. The savior is the innocent victim writ large. Now for those who believe in him, there is surely something reassuring in this. One recalls Heb. 4:14–15 and 5:8, where Jesus learns through suffering and so can sympathize with human weakness. Suffering shared is more easily endured. And as in Hebrews, so in Matthew: the principle has become christological. It is not just that one does not suffer alone, but precisely that one suffers in the company of Jesus, God’s Son. This must mean that the divinity does not remain aloof from suffering, for God knows the Son (11:27) and the Son knows suffering. If the Son is a person of sorrows, acquainted with grief, his Father must likewise be likewise beset by grief and sorrow. This does not, to be sure, do anything to unravel the mystery of iniquity. It does, however, put God on the side of the hapless Rachel weeping for her children, and on the side of the disciples tossed grievously to and fro by persecution. And perhaps that thought matters far more than any rational apologetic.10
Matthew knew very well what it meant to be sovereignly associated with Messiah—it meant he would take a journey from lament into life. You see when Jesus called Matthew to follow him (see Matthew 9), he would have been best described as a publican thug, barred from the temple and the synagogue because of his sins and treason against his own people. However, there is good reason to think that at some point, Matthew developed a heart for God (how else did he know so much of the Old Testament?!). Yet, the religious scene of his day did not allow him to seek God. Then, Jesus comes along and says to him, “Follow me.” Matthew perhaps did not know what was in store for him at that point, but as he followed Jesus, he surely came to realize that to be associated with Jesus meant a life associated with Jesus’ suffering but also with his glory.
I suppose now that Rachel may still be weeping for her children to return to the Messiah. However, perhaps there is also hope stirring in her soul because from afar she saw the birth of a new covenant, she saw Messiah conquer the enemies of her soul, and now she awaits repentance and revival as God promised to her.
What is it to be associated with the Messiah this Christmas? Is it not to believe in him and be saved—the glory of salvation? And is it not to willingly suffer with him and for him in a dark and unbelieving world? Is it not as Paul said, “It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29)? At the close of The Innkeeper poem referred to above, the Lord Jesus responds to Jacob’s tears of sorrow and faithfulness with the following,
“I am the boy
That Herod wanted to destroy.
You gave my parents room to give Me life, and then God let me live, And took your wife. Ask me not why The one should live, another die. God’s ways are high, and you will know In time. But I have come to show You what the Lord prepared the night You made a place for heaven’s light. In two weeks they will crucify
My flesh. But mark this, Jacob, I Will rise in three days from the dead, And place my foot upon the head
Of him who has the power of death, And I will raise with life and breath Your wife and Ben and Joseph too And give them, Jacob, back to you With everything the world can store, And you will reign for evermore.”
This is the gift of candle three:
A Christ with tears in tragedy And life for all eternity.
May the love of Christ cause you to rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, and persist in prayer this Christmas and beyond as you follow Jesus to the cross and into glory.
1 You can find the dramatic reading of The Innkeeper on the web here: http://www.crossway.org/blog/ 2012/12/video-john-piper-reads-the-innkeeper/.
2 Craig L. Blomberg, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 8. John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men: How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness and What He Wants to Do with You, (Dallas: Thomas Nelson, 2002), 155– 56. MacArthur writes, “We know that Matthew knew the Old Testament very well, because his Gospel quotes the Old Testament ninety-nine times. That is more times than Mark, Luke, and John combined.”
3 Ibid., 10.
4 Read Exodus 1:1–2:10.
5 Richard Thomas France, “Herod and the Children of Bethlehem,” Novum Testamentum 21, no. 2 (1979): 98–120, ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed December 6, 2012). France does a wonderful job discussing the literary features and historicity of Matthew 2:16–18.
6 Craig L. Blomberg, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 9.
7 Ibid., 10. Also see Isaiah 10:29 and Hosea 5:8.
8 See also Ibid., 9.
9 See Dale C. Allison, Jr., Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 251–64. Allison wrestles with the problem of evil as it is represented in the Gospel according to Matthew. He thoroughly discusses how Matthew seems to attribute responsibility for evil happenings in the world to various sources or explanations.
10 Ibid., 264.
[The Union students] talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and with no evidence of any criteria . . . They are unfamiliar with event the most basic questions. They become intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases, laugh at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not even up to their level.
In New York they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 99].
Hhmm . . . I find it interesting that we interpret μονή in John 14:2 as “heavenly dwelling places” but certainly cannot do so in John 14:23 . . . maybe “the Father’s house” is the Church (cp. John 2:13–22 for a possible shift of the Father’s house away from the Temple to Christ’s Body) and the “many dwelling places” are Christians in the Church [I’m not the originator of this idea BTW, but I had not noticed the use of μονή before today]. In our eager anticipation of heaven, it is true that we devalue what God has given to us in the Church.
As ever, Bonhoeffer cagily maintained a certain distance. He wished to learn from the old master, but would preserve his intellectual independence. In the end he would not choose church history. He respected that field, as he demonstrated by mastering it, to Harnack’s delight, but he disagreed with Harneck that one must stop there. He believed that picking over the texts as they did, and going no further, left behind “rubble and fragments.” It was the God beyond the texts, the God who was their author and who spoke to mankind through them, that fired his interest [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 62].
By September he made his decision: he would write his doctoral dissertation under Seeberg after all, but it would be on a subject dogmatic and historical. He would write about the subject he had begun puzzling over in Rome, namely, What is the church? It was eventually titled Sanctorum Communio: A Dogmatic Inquiry into the Sociology of the Church. Bonhoeffer would identify the church as neither a historical entity nor an institution, but as “Christ existing as church-community.” It was a stunning debut [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 63]
I myself find the way such a decision comes about to be problematic. One thing is clear to me, however, that one personally – that is, consciously – has very little control over the ultimate yes or no, but rather that time decides everything. Maybe not with everybody, but in any event with me. Recently I have noticed again and again that all the decisions I had to make were not really my own decisions. Whenever there was a dilemma, I just left it in abeyance and – without really consciously dealing with it intensively – let it grow toward the clarity of a decision. But this clarity is not so much intellectual as it is instinctive. The decision is made; whether one can adequately justify it retrospectively is another question. “Thus” it happened that I went [to Barcelona] [brackets mine] [Metaxas in Bonhoeffer, 70].
I am about to dive into some interesting materials that have surfaced over the last couple of years regarding our understanding of creation and in particular our understanding of human origins and the historicity of Adam – the first man.
Peter Enns’ recent publication, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, is well circulated now and continuing to make waves. To Enns’ credit, he is forcing Christians to talk about tensions that have existed in the Church since Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of the Species. I have not yet read the book, so my comments will be minimal here in regard to critique. If you are interested in an audio/visual resource that will introduce you to some of Enns’ ideas, check out this video:
Enns’ proposal of Adam as the origin of Israel (as opposed to the origin of humanity) can certainly be biblically and theologically hypothesized; however, his position forces a complete overhaul of the Church’s historical doctrines of original sin, the image of God in humanity, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and even forces a fresh look at the meaning of the atonement. Further, I have heard said (or read it said) more than once that we learn a lot about the end from the beginning; therefore, our eschatology may even need to be reevaluated in light of Enns’ proposals.
I also plan to investigate the articles that have been gathered and published in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture, which is edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. Lastly, I want to watch a film that was recently released entitled From the Dust: Conversations in Creation.
Of course, I want to also study the Scriptures as I try to wrap my finite mind around what God is doing with what he has said in his general and specific revelation to us. My first stop is indicated by the title of this blog – Luke’s Adam. In his book, Enns spends most of his time discussing Paul’s Adam. He briefly comments on Luke 3:38 in the above lecture as well as in an endnote (#10) on page 150 of his book,
After Gen. 5:3, Adam us mentioned by name elsewhere in the Old Testament only as the first name in the genealogy in 1 Chron. 1:1 (see discussion in chap. 5). In the New Testament, Adam appears in two genealogies (Luke 3:38 and Jude 14), which will not be considered here, since our New Testament focus is Paul, and the issues raised by these genealogies add little to the conversation. Only Paul deals with Adam in detail, specifically in Rom. 5:12-21 and 1 Cor. 15:20-58 . . . The importance that Paul places on Adam relative to the apparent lack of emphasis elsewhere, especially in the Old Testament, seems a matter worth considering seriously, which we will do in part 2.
In one sense, Enns may be right. Luke’s mention of Adam or “the one man” may not contribute anything new to Paul’s articulation of Adam. However, I think Luke may have something to add to the conversation. As Enns mentions above, Luke 3:38 includes Adam as the starting point for the genealogy of Jesus Christ. It could be – as Enns highlights in the above video – that those mentioned from Adam to Abraham make up a consistent, Old Testament, theological genealogy for the nation of Israel. However, it could be that Luke is demonstrating that all people – both Jews and Gentiles – have a common ancestral origin. Therefore, Adam through Abraham is not merely the theological genealogy of Israel, but for the whole of humanity. This seems more consistent with Luke, who is extremely interested in all of humanity seeing the salvation of the Lord in Jesus Christ.
This particular notion is also expressed in Acts 17:26-27 where Luke has recorded Paul’s sermon at/to the Areopagus in Athens. Luke writes,
From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.
Paul as recorded by Luke here is much more physical and earthy in his description of the first man than Paul’s more spiritual expression in Romans 5:12. Neither Paul nor Luke’s focus here is to paint Adam as a metaphorical expression of the origin of the nation of Israel. The first man Acts 17:26-27 is the origin of all humans and every nation. The passage is so physically focused that we learn of God’s sovereign exertion something as earthy as divinely sanctioned territorial boundaries.
Thus, I think Luke’s record of Paul’s preaching in Athens needs some consideration in the discussion. I think all of us want to be better equipped to synthesize what we see in the general revelation of the creation and in the written revelation of the Scripture. So, my prayer is that we may proceed carefully,honestly, and humbly as the Church of God into our inquiries for the truth.
Today, I found myself with a particular interest in listening to Shane and Shane. I enjoy their music, especially the songs original to them because the lyrics and music are often so centered on the Christian’s unintelligible desire to . . . uh . . . well, it’s hard to put into words. It is what I imagine that Romans 8:26-30 is talking about when it speaks of the groaning of the Spirit inside the Christian. I’ll do my best to describe it. It is that deep longing to know God in his fullness, to know and love him and his plan, the fear that I won’t or can’t or may be distracted by things – even good things but lesser things – that will somehow replace the good longing for God. It is the desire that accompanies the new birth and the presence of the Spirit and causes a human to become a worshiper of God. It is the testimony of the Spirit that the revelation of God is true, that the gospel really is the hope of the world. It is the hatred of my flesh that limits my ability to experience God and at the same time the thankfulness for the Spirit who has caused me to begin to know God, my Creator and my Redeemer. It is that longing of a pastor who feels the weight of a burden from God but like Peter looks at the waves of the world and fears that he won’t be able to keep his gaze on the Lord let alone lead others in this tumultuous tempest, so in his desperation he cries out to God about his fears and his yearning. It is even the yearning of the scholarly heart that loves God, has been given gifts of knowledge and understanding, but fears being crushed by finite-ness, fears believing error, feels the burden of seeking truth at whatever the cost, and is weighed down by the calling to equip Christ’s Church knowing that suffering precedes glory in such an endeavor.
I love music. It moves and teaches us in ways that other ways of communication simply cannot. It’s able to say things otherwise incommunicable. Listen to this song, and let it minister to you today. Listen to it in a place where it’s just you and God listening in. Cry if you need to. Pray and worship God. There is a particular moment in the video in which I especially connect with the yearning of Shane and Shane (the one on the right, especially). Watch closely from 3:26-3:30 in the video. In that moment, he seems to come to a place where he’s got nothing left. He’s laid it all before God – he’s naked and needy before the Lord. All the emotions, knowledge, fears, burdens, callings, dreams, worries, etc have been exposed and humbly laid at God’s feet. There is nothing left to do but lean on the Lord, depend upon him, and worship.