The Christmas Story and the Biblical Text

Posted By on December 13, 2011

Anyone engaged in serious Bible study knows there are incongruities between the story as we have all seen it portrayed in church and TV and the details of the text. For example, the matter of the “three wise men” comes to mind right away. The text never says there were three wise men. That number is inferred from the three gifts given to Joseph and Mary. Oh well.

But still, every now and again, it’s nice to be reminded of the need to pay attention to the text. Helps to put the story in the right framework.

The Bible Places blog has an interesting summary of the “no room at the inn” issue. And that is juxtaposed with this short piece from our (Logos’) own Bible Study Magazine: “Away in a Manger, but not in a Barn,” by Gary Byers.


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12 Responses to “The Christmas Story and the Biblical Text”

  1. kennethos says:

    But….Mike…the next we know, you’ll be saying that Jesus wasn’t born on Dec. 25th! We can’t have THAT! 😉

  2. kennethos says:

    “the next *thing* we know”, sorry…

  3. str says:

    IMHO, the Bible Places blog article is abysmal.

    It might be right about “inn” vs. “guestroom” but goes on to vilify Joseph’s family and wrongfully calls Mary an “unwed mother” and transporst the unfounded idea that Joseph & Mary were somehow rejected at Betlehem.

    Worse, readers think is an “excellent analysis” and feel enlightened by it. Sad, actually

    • MSH says:

      well, Mary wasn’t married yet so far as we know (only betrothed). She apparently only married Joseph after the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:25 would have been their first sexual experience).

  4. Robert Morris says:

    Mike, you are my favorite teacher and I will buy anything with your name on it!! I love you and Logos. I don’t know Hebrew or Greek but with Logos I feel like I do! Now, through your study methods, my eyes are open to this world and I don’t like what I’m seeing at all! For example; Christmas… It’s not biblical and as a matter of fact it would have been condemned by the Apostles (2 thess 2:15)! I don’t have a problem with cultural traditions but when a person tries to mix cultural traditions (Christmas) with Faith through the Church…. they are introducing concepts of Christ that they WANT people to respect RELIGIOUSLY! If Faith comes “by” hearing and hearing “by” the word of God…then we can’t practice Christmas through the Church “by” Faith! And if the Church is doing something that has nothing to do with “faith” …why are we doing it??? Mike I say “the church” but I even have a problem with that concept based on how we mix church and state….forming some type of business structure… but that’s another subject..ha-ha! Help me with this please! I guess what I’m asking…how do you deal with it?

    • MSH says:

      On a personal level, I don’t worry about what church isn’t doing for me; in many cases in the past, I got little out of it but went for other reasons besides content. I tried (unsuccessfully) in some scenarios to remain incognito since the same cycle would repeat: I’d get asked to teach something, would agree, some would love it, others would think I have two heads, and some would complain (they were threatened or disturbed), I wouldn’t get asked again. But all in all, I was fine with that. My situation now is much better, since my pastor is an academic (former medical doctor) who enjoys thinking about the text and is not threatened. He encourages me to teach, and I do so from time to time. On a larger level, I try to remind myself that God has promised to preserve a remnant of believers. The American church has serious flaws and weaknesses, but there are real efforts to try and teach the text. Many pastors are poorly prepared and their minds haven’t been forced to become muscular. They are easy targets and get by on emotion and people skills. That worked better when people went to them reflexively as authority figures for answers to doctrinal questions (and presumed they were correct), but many now go to the internet or YouTube.

      • Robert Morris says:

        Thank you for responding so soon to my post :) I would have thought (since you are a real live “Bible Scholar” with all the trimmings) that churches all around the world would have you scheduled out to speak for decades at a time! I’ve would have never imagined that someone would dare try to silence you….interesting. But you have bought new peace to my heart when you said “I don’t worry about what church isn’t doing for me”. “I try to remind myself that God has promised to preserve a remnant of believers”… because I was about to give up! So, thank you Mr. Heiser for challenging my mind and bringing new encouragement to my heart. I have only a 6 grade education (I was in resource classes from the 6 grade to my 1st semester in 12th Grade) but you can probably tell that by my bad grammar and punctuation…ha-ha! My point is that because of you and your hard work through this web-site and Logos…you have helped me to enjoy the freedoms that I have in Jesus Christ through faith and about all……understanding! Hope to meet you one day ? your student Robert.

  5. jim says:

    Jesus spoke “Talitha cumi”
    I found the below info,

    “Although most scholars believe that the historical Jesus primarily spoke Aramaic,[1] some believe he also spoke Hebrew and Greek.[2] The towns of Nazareth and Capernaum, where Jesus lived, were primarily Aramaic-speaking communities, although Greek was widely spoken in the major cities of the Mediterranean Basin. Jesus may have also known enough Hebrew to discuss the Hebrew Bible, and he may have known Koine Greek through commerce in nearby Sepphoris.”

    How could Jesus read the Hebrew? Was it common for carpenters to read at all?

    • MSH says:

      I think the chances are reasonable that Jesus would have been trilingual. That argument is in part based on the NT — the gospel writers have him quoting the traditional Hebrew text in places, at other times the LXX, and of course Aramaic material. But, one could argue it was the gospel writers who knew the three languages, not Jesus. But think about that. What possible motive would they have had to think to themselves, “Hey. I think I’ll have Jesus use the LXX here, and in the next chapter I’ll have him using MT, and then sprinkle in a few Aramaic words.” Does that really make any sense? Why do that? It seems more reasonable that the gospel writers are remembering what Jesus said on various occasions, and those occasions had him using three languages that many people would have know (one was native, the other the international language, and the last, Hebrew, the primary language of the priestly class). We presume Jesus was a carpenter into adulthood, but does the text really give us that chronological fact? It’s probably a reasonable assumption, but it doesn’t tell us what else Jesus was doing, so to presume he never learned Hebrew (spoken or otherwise) is an argument from silence. There are other technical (linguistic/textual) reasons that argue in favor of his trilingualism, but this is the gist.

      General literacy was not uncommon, even many years before the first century (for example, there are many (as in hundreds) accounting receipts and brief letters known from ancient Israel many centuries before Jesus’ time that would have been written and read by your average merchant or soldier). You’ll find written epitaphs on ossuaries and tombstones as well, that sort of thing.

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