Unit 04 – The Early Years Of Jesus

04.03 The Births Of John The Baptist And Jesus

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Unit 04

The Early Years Of Jesus

 

Chapter 03

The Births Of John The Baptist And Jesus

 

 

04.03.00.A. MARY VISITS ELIZABETH. Artwork by William Hole of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art, 1876. (2)

04.03.00.A. MARY VISITS ELIZABETH. Artwork by William Hole of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art, 1876.  The style of clothing worn by women in Jerusalem was distinctly different from those in Galilee. Mary (right) is shown in a holiday dress of a Nazarene while her cousin Elizabeth is shown in a common dress of Jerusalem and Bethlehem areas.



04.03.01 THE BIRTH OF JOHN FORETOLD

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04.03.01 Lk. 1:5-17 (c. 6-4 B.C.) Zechariah in the Temple

 

THE BIRTH OF JOHN FORETOLD

 5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of Abijah’s division named Zechariah. His wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.       6 Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years.

 8 When his division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 it happened that he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10  At the hour of incense the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and overcome with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.  14 There will be joy and delight for you, and many will rejoice at his birth.   15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord and will never drink wine or beer. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. 16 He will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.”

 

For more than four hundred years there was not a single voice from heaven; not by angel; not by prophet. Then an angel broke the silence and continued the sequence of Malachi 4:5-6. The sole purpose of John was the fulfillment of this passage.  A number of Old Testament prophets were born under difficult circumstances, such as to elderly parents because the woman was barren,[1] meaning infertile.[2] In such cases the child was recognized as having a divine calling. It was a pattern repeated a number of times in Jewish history.  So the miraculous birth of John to an elderly couple was likewise seen as a clear indication their son would be a prophet.  People did not forget him and, therefore, as he approached the age of 30, an anxious audience was waiting to hear him speak.

John and his father Zachariah were descendants of Aaron.  Every male descendant of Aaron was automatically qualified to be a priest. The problem arose in that since fifteen centuries had passed from the time of Aaron, that there were too many qualified priests for temple service. Therefore, they were divided into twenty-four clans or groups, known as “courses,” of approximately five hundred men each,[3] who took turns serving in the temple.  This also permitted them time to work at home in whatever careers or occupations they had. It has been estimated that about half the courses lived in Jericho,[4] so they would have traveled the road of the Good Samaritan parable.

John’s father Zachariah (a/k/a Zecharias)[5] was a member of the course of Abijah (Neh. 12:12; 1 Ch. 24:10).[6] These courses were also known as “houses” or “families.”[7]  The name of the course, or group of men, that Zacharias belonged received its name from a priest who originally had it hundreds of years earlier, a descendant of Eleazar and of Aaron (1 Ch. 24:2-3).  This established John as a descendant of Aaron in the tribe of Levi.  His mother Elizabeth was also from the same tribe.  Clearly, John was of priestly stock and the miracle of his birth did not go unnoticed by the temple elite. In this cultural context, he was a speaking voice before he was born — saying that God was going to do something profound. They wondered what it could be.

“In days of King Herod of Judah.”  Since there was no universal calendar at this time, it was common practice to index major events to the year of the reign of a king.  Luke made a general statement indicating that these events occurred during the reign of King Herod of Judah.

Herod was given his title by the Roman senate in 40 B.C., but he had to fight a formidable Zealot revolt for three years before he could enjoy his throne. Hence, his reign is generally recognized as being from 37 to 4 B.C.  He remained a vassal of Rome, even though the title would imply he was an autonomous monarch.[8] The phrase “the Great” was added in later years because of his incredible architectural construction achievements. Unfortunately, he was a tyrant whose evil reign created another dark and disastrous time in the history of the Jews as well as for his family. 

“A priest of Abijah’s division.” As stated previously, the college of temple priests was divided into twenty-four courses (1 Ch. 24:7-18). Each group officiated in the temple twice a year, eight days at a time, from one Sabbath to another, every six months. On the Feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, all twenty-four courses functioned together in the temple.[9] One of the priestly duties was to praise God throughout the temple services.[10]  The course of Abijah (Gk. Abia)[11] to which Zechariah belonged was the eighth course. This tradition originated with King David,[12] and is an important clue in calculating the birth dates of John the Baptist and Jesus.

Some critics have questioned the Jewish tradition of courses that ministered in the temple, in spite of overwhelming evidence in various Jewish writings.  Then on June 11, 2011, archaeologists uncovered the ossuary of Miriam who was connected to the family of Caiaphas and in the Ma’aziah priestly course.[13]

“Zechariah … Elizabeth.”  The name “Zechariah,” a/k/a Zacharias, means “the Lord remembers,” and “Elizabeth” means, “the oath or covenant of God.”[14]  Together their names announced, “The Lord remembers the covenant of God,” which was literally fulfilled in their son John.  They were righteous before God and, while unable to conceive a child, continued to demonstrate holy faith in their functions in life and in the temple. They continued to believe in the promises of God and when they were well into their old age, an angel appeared to them and said, “Your prayers have been heard” (Lk. 1:13). John, whose name means “the grace of God,” or “the Lord is merciful” was the answer to those prayers.[15]

 

04.03.01.A. THE BURIAL OSSUARY OF MIRIAM

04.03.01.A. THE BURIAL OSSUARY OF MIRIAMAn ossuary, or bone box, discovered in 2011, has the inscription that identified the deceased as “Miriam daughter of Yeshua son of Caiapha.”  It also identified Caiaphas family as belonging to the Ma’aziah priestly family who lived in the village of Beth Imri.  Associated Press Photo.

 

The significance of this ossuary is that it is the first reference to the Ma’aziah course in an epigraphic find from the Second Temple Period, which was the last of the priestly courses that served in the first temple.[16]  The list of courses was formulated during King David’s reign and appears in I Chronicles 24:18. Zechariah not only served in the temple, but did so with some characters of less than favorable reputation.

“He was chosen by lot.”  There were four lots drawn every day to determine who would minister that day and what they would do.  These drawings are as follows:[17]

  1. Before sunrise a lot was drawn that would designate the priests who were to clean the altar and prepare the fire.
  1. The second lot was for the priest who was to offer the sacrifice, clean the menorah (sometimes called a candlestick), and clean the altar of incense.
  1. The third lot was drawn to determine which priest would burn the incense. Zechariah had drawn the third lot and entered the sanctuary of the Lord to burn the incense.
  1. The final lot was drawn appointing those who were to place the sacrifice and meat-offering upon the altar. This priest would also pour out the drink-offering.

 

Since there were an estimated 20,000 priests who were divided into the twenty-four courses, it is highly doubtful that any priest had his name drawn by lot more than once.[18]

Scholars have asked an interesting question concerning this family: How old was Zechariah at this time?  The issue is because the Bible suggests that Zechariah and Elizabeth were elderly parents to John the Baptist.  However, priests served in the temple for only a twenty year period – from the age of thirty to fifty. Others say that at the age of fifty they were still rendered fit to serve unless there was a physical defect, such as defect in the voice.[19]  However, just as Annas was referred to as the “High Priest” after he officially retired, so Zechariah and other priests could have been called “priest” after they retired.

“To enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense.” All services in the temple were performed according to a precise plan.  Step by step, everything was in order and on time.  The ritual was as follows:[20]

  1. The priest, in this case, Zechariah, and his assistants, the Levites, first went to the altar of burnt-offering.
  1. He took some coals from that altar to be carried to the altar of incense.
  1. As they marched from the altar of burnt offering and went into the court from the Holy Place, they struck a large instrument known as the Magrephah. This summoned all the ministers to their assigned places.
  1. He ascended the steps into the Holy Place to pray and to drop incense on the hot coals.
  1. At the same time a signal was given from another priest to the people who withdrew from the inner court and knelt down before the Lord.
  1. The burning incense created a fine aroma of smoke. There was complete silence and reverence as the clouds of incense rose.
  1. It was probably at this time that an angel came to Zechariah and informed him that the Lord had heard his prayer.

 

To be chosen by lot was the culmination of excitement in the life of a priest; a day every priest prayed for. Many waited and waited all their lives to be chosen, but since there were so many of them, most never had the opportunity to serve in this honored capacity. Twice a day, morning and evening a lamb was sacrificed along with a meal offering of flour and olive oil and a drink offering of wine.[21]  Before the first sacrifice and after the evening sacrifice, incense was burned so that the sacrifices might ascend to God engulfed in a sweet aroma. This is what Zechariah was doing when he encountered an incredible heavenly creature.

“He was startled and overcome with fear.” It would seem reasonable that one would be startled and fearful at the unexpected sight of an angel.  The moment fear gripped him; he no doubt thought he was ceremonially unclean for the most honored duty of his lifetime. He was near the Holy of Holies[22] making an incense offering, and he remembered that when the sons of Aaron[23] made an improper offering, they were instantly killed (Lev. 10:1-3).  There was also a common belief that prior to the death of a priest, an angel would appear at his right side.  To say that Zechariah was startled and gripped with fear is an incredible understatement – for a moment he was probably emotionally paralyzed!  Some translations read, “He thought he was about to die!” Little wonder then, that he was startled and most certainly, somewhat troubled, thinking that his day of death had arrived.[24]

“Your prayer has been heard.” Twice a day, morning and afternoon, eighteen prayers were prayed in the temple. These prayers were called in Hebrew Amidah which means standing because they were prayed while the worshiper was standing.[25] One of those prayers was that Elijah would come as prophesied in Malachi 4:5. Since Zechariah was to be the father of John the Baptist, a type of Elijah, scholars believe that the angel told Zechariah his prayer had been heard, meaning Elijah was about to come.[26] Little did Zechariah know that this “Elijah” would be his own son. Finally, in the technical aspects of Greek grammar, the aorist of heard suggests that past prayers were also heard, not only the one prayed that day.[27]

It should be noted, however, that not all scholars believe Zechariah prayed the “eighteen prayers.”[28]

Some believe Zechariah, like many other priests, prayed for the “Consolation of Israel” and “looked for Redemption.”[29]  In essence, they prayed for the long-awaited “Hope of Israel,” the messiah foretold by the prophets. Many of these older priests and Levites had seen the civil war of Hasmonean brothers, Aristobulus and Hyrcanus; the invasion of the Romans; three years of turmoil with the rise of Herod the Great to power; the Parthian invasion; and numerous Zealot riots and rebellions. Not only were they waiting for the messiah, but so were the Samaritans, the Romans, and many others.[30] Everyone was completely exhausted by the violence and impoverished living conditions.

“He will be great in the sight of the Lord.”   The word “great” was associated only with the Lord (YHWH).  Now an angel spoke to Zechariah and told him that his son would be “great.” This had a profound effect upon the elderly priest.  The life of the Baptist was already measured in terms of the greatness of the Lord.  Note that in Luke 1:32 Jesus is called “great.”

 

04.03.01.B. A TEMPLE INCENSE VESSEL

04.03.01.B. A TEMPLE INCENSE VESSEL.  This replica of a second temple incense vessel that may be similar to what Zechariah used when he had an angelic encounter. The incense was representative of the prayers of the people.  Photo courtesy of the Temple Treasures, Jerusalem.

 

“Will never drink wine or beer.”  Some other translations read that John the Baptizer was never to drink wine or any other fermented drink; a phrase that implies that he took the Nazarite vow.  A person taking this vow was not to partake of any alcoholic beverages, cut his hair, or touch a dead animal or person. The restrictions of this lifelong covenant is a reflection of the lifestyle and message of three significant Old Testament prophets, who had taken the same vow centuries earlier: Samson (Jg.13:4-7; 16:17), Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5), and Samuel (I Sam. 1:11).  It was Samuel, the first major prophet, who anointed the first king and John the Baptist who was the last prophet and baptized the eternal King.

The uncut hair was, without question, the most visible sign of the sacred and committed surrender to Jehovah; the untouched locks of hair symbolized the consecration of the reason and higher powers of God. His lifestyle, primitive garments and hair most certainly captured the attention of those who saw him and recognized a “holy man” in Nazarite dress. Since the institution of the vow had all but disappeared, John’s vow heightened everyone’s attention to his message. That said, there were two important aspects to the ministry of John that God had prepared beforehand.

  1. Several rabbis had given such predictive warnings of divine judgments during the Inter-Testamental Period, but they had not taken the Nazarite vow nor were they born of an unusual birth (late in the life of parents). So when John preached similar sermons predicting divine judgments upon a rebellious nation, his words were by no means new to the people. He caught the attention of everyone, even the historian Josephus.[31]
  1. The rabbis said that the messiah would not come until all Israel would repent for a single day. That proclamation is still made among orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jews today. So when John called the people to repent, the rabbis listened.[32]

 

“In the spirit and power of Elijah.” John lived and functioned as did the prophet Elijah, who preached repentance and holy living centuries earlier.  As such, he was the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Malachi (4:5-6; cf. Mt.17:10-13).  He gave strong allusions of being the prophet by his clothing, his diet, and declaring that he would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”[33]

Finally, on an interesting side note, because Mary and Elizabeth were cousins, Jesus and John the Baptist were second cousins. Family ties can be interesting.  Even among the disciples there were three pairs of brothers.[34]

 

[1]. Ryken, Wilhoit, and Longman, eds., “Barrenness.” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. 75.

 

[2]. There were four kinds of people that were considered as good as dead, and it was believed that in all four situations their situation was a divine judgment. They were the blind, the leper, the poor, and the childless.

[3]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 1:99.

 

[4]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:9.

 

[5]. The name Zechariah is sometimes spelled “Zacharias.” See Feinberg, “Zechariah.” 5:1043; Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 40.

[6]. The “Course of Abijah” had a tradition in Solomon’s Temple of which additional information is found in Josephus, Antiquities 7.14.7.

[7]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:86; Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:10-11.

 

[8]. De Vaux, Ancient Israel. 191.

[9]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:254; When priests and Levites served in the temple, they stayed in rooms within the temple buildings.  Otherwise, they lived in communities throughout the countryside. Deut. 16:16; Ex. 23:14-17; 34:20, 23-24; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:93.

 

[10]. Scholars believe the oldest extra-biblical description of temple worship is contained in Jesus ben Sirach’s praise of the high priest Simon the Just, who was probably the son of Onias II, in Ben Sirach 50:11-21.

 

[11]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:95.

 

[12]. Josephus, Antiquities 7.14.7.

 

[13]. The term “course” refers to a group of priests who served in the temple twice a year for two weeks each time. During the spring Passover and fall Tabernacles festivals all twenty-four courses, or groups, of priests were in service. Deut. 16:16; Ex. 23:14-17; 34:20, 23-24.

 

[14]. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 40; Geldenhuys, “Luke.” 3:107.

[15]. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 42.

[16]. See http://www.jpost.com/VideoArticles/Video/Article.aspx?id=227184. Michelle Morris. “2,000 Year Old Ossuary Authentic, Say Researchers.” Jerusalem Post. June 29, 2011.

 

[17]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:254.

 

[18]. The figure of 20,000 priests appears to be realistic although the population estimates given by Josephus appear to be highly exaggerated according to most scholars.

 

[19]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:22-23; Bemidbar Rab. 222.3.

 

[20]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:255; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:98.

 

[21]. Scott, Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. 151.

 

[22]. Only the high priest was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies, and that was only once a year. During the first temple period, the Ark of the Covenant was in the Holy of Holies, but it was removed when that temple was destroyed in 586 B.C. In the second temple, Josephus said it was completely empty (Wars 5.5.5) but the Mishnah (Yoma 5.2) says there was a stone in its place.

 

[23]. According to the Torah, all the sons of Levi were to be workers in the temple but only the sons of Aaron were to function as priests, ministering in the Levitical rituals.

 

[24]. Fruchtenbaum, Life of the Messiah. Tape 2, Side A; Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 3, page 2; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:3.

 

[25]. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 94; See the Eighteen Benedictions in Appendix 18. Some scholars believe that righteous priests prayed for the “consolation of Israel” (Lk. 2:25) and the “redemption of Israel” (Lk. 2:38).

 

[26]. Chumney, The Seven Festivals of the Messiah. 178-79.

 

[27]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:255.

 

[28]. Appendix 18.

 

[29]. Vine, “Comfort, Comforter, Comfortless.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:110.

 

[30]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:100.

 

[31]. Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.2.

 

[32]. Jerusalem Talmud, Tannith 64.1; Midrash on Song of Solomon 7.4; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:393, 405.

 

[33]. See the similarities between John the Baptist and Elijah as well as those of Jezebel and Herodias in 10.01.11 “Wanted to kill him.”

 

[34]. See 07.03.03.A for a listing of the disciples and the related comments.



04.03.02 ZECHARIAH MADE SPEECHLESS

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04.03.02 Lk. 1:18-25

 

ZECHARIAH MADE SPEECHLESS

 18 How can I know this?” Zechariah asked the angel. “For I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.”

 19 The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. 20 Now listen! You will become silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”

 21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them. Then they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept making signs to them and remained speechless. 23 When the days of his ministry were completed, he went back home.

 24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived and kept herself in seclusion for five months. She said, 25 “The Lord has done this for me. He has looked with favor in these days to take away my disgrace among the people.

 

When Luke wrote this gospel, he placed verses 6-25 in a chiastic outline that is “theme oriented” or better known as a thematic outline.[1]  The section above is a portion of that outline.

Just as every course had the opportunity to be in charge of the service once every six months, the head of every priestly family had the opportunity once in his life to enter the Holy Place of the temple. It was there where the altar of incense stood before the veil that concealed the Holy of Holies.  As previously stated, this event was highly anticipated by every priest and was considered to be the ultimate sacred event of his life.[2]  It was when Zechariah entered the Holy Place that he personally met an angel with whom he conversed.  The news of this encounter, underscored by the loss of his speech, sent shock waves throughout the temple.

“How can I know this?”  Zechariah was not the only one in biblical history to ask this question.  Abraham (Gen. 15:8), Gideon (Jg. 6:17), and Hezekiah (2 Kg. 20:8) had similar questions.  However, in this passage, Zechariah was punished for his doubt. Yet later Mary would ask the question, “How will this be?” but would not be punished.  Why the difference?  The answer is that Zachariah had prayed for a son (Lk. 1:13) but doubted when God answered him.  He had little or no faith associated with his prayers.  Mary, on the other hand, was faithful and did not doubt God. She merely questioned how it would happen, not if it would happen. The sign Zechariah requested was more than what he had expected.  He was stricken with the inability to speak; this authenticated the message and executed judgment upon him.

In the Old Testament several significant men were born under unusual circumstances and only by the intervention of God Himself.  They are Isaac (Gen. 21:1), Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25:21), Reuben (Gen. 29:31), Issachar (Gen. 30:17-18), Joseph (Gen. 30:22-24), Samuel (I Sam. 1:19), and Samson (Jg. 13:1-2).  Then, after four centuries of prophetic silence came the birth of John the Baptist (Lk. 1:57), but these simply built up to a crescendo of the astounding virgin birth of Jesus (Lk. 2:7).

“You will become silent and unable to speak.” For his lack of faith, Zechariah was struck with the temporary disability of muteness. Notice that the angel said it was for a limited time.  Otherwise he probably would have fallen into a depression believing that he was under a permanent damnation of God. People must have thought a number of things, such as entering his service defiled.  But the message was very specific. Since he could not speak, from that time onward, he could not perform any priestly duties in the temple until his speech returned.

“The people were waiting…amazed.”  The temple rituals were performed in a systematic manner.  It was the custom for the people to wait for their Aaronic blessing (Num. 6:24-26) which the priest would grant them at his exit. Since the performance of his work took longer than expected, the people probably wondered if he was dead, reflecting upon the story of the sons of Aaron when they erred in the performance of their priestly duties (Lev. 10:1-3). There was a belief that if the priest was unworthy or had committed a transgression, he could be killed. If this Talmudic tradition is true, it is understandable that the people waiting for Zechariah were not only worried, but were amazed when he did come.[3]

“To take away my disgrace among the people.” Infertility was considered to be a curse of God, a disgrace. It was commonly believed that if a woman could not give birth to children, divine  judgment was upon her. Some rabbis went so far as to say that a childless couple was to be lamented as one would lament the dead. The significance of being childless in old age cannot be understood or comprehended in the modern age. It is why Rachel said, “Give me children, or else I will die” (Gen. 30:1). The birth of a child removed reproach and the perceived divine curse. Furthermore, children were considered security for parents in their old age. This is still true in many Middle Eastern cultures today.

[1]. This is illustrated in Appendix 11.

 

[2]. Tenney, New Testament Times. 139.

[3]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:257. This writer questions if this belief was true at the time of Jesus, or if it is a later belief imposed upon first century temple history by Talmudic writers. The reason is that if God killed any priest who was impure, had committed a transgression, then how could the high priests Annas and Caiaphas have survived as long as they did. This writer believes that the people were amazed simply because Zechariah was in there for as long as he was, and that the belief of God killing an unworthy priest did not exist at this time. A similar legend says that the priest had a rope tied to his ankle so that if he would be struck down, other priests could pull his body out of the Holy Place.  There is no evidence of this in any Jewish writings.

 

 



04.03.03 Nazareth; MARY TOLD OF CONCEPTION

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04.03.03 Lk. 1:26-38 Angelic Encounter in Nazareth

 

MARY TOLD OF CONCEPTION

 26 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came to her and said, “Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was deeply troubled by this statement, wondering what kind of greeting this could be. 30 Then the angel told her:

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  31 Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call His name Jesus.   32 He will be great
and will be called the Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.  33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.

 34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this be, since I have not been intimate with a man?”

 35 The angel replied to her:

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.

 36 And consider your relative Elizabeth — even she has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called childless. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”

 38 I am the Lord’s slave,” said Mary. “May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.

“In the sixth month.” This was the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, a key point in determining the date when Jesus was born as is further described below.[1]

“The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth.” The gospel writers never recorded where Gabriel met Mary, yet at least one extra-biblical book indicates that she went to fill a pitcher with water, which would have been at the village well.

And Mary took the pitcher and went forth to fill it with water: and a voice saying “hail, you that are highly favored, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women.”

Protoevangelium of James 11:1[2]

 

Water wells were often the community meeting places and Nazareth had only one well. A similar setting is found in John 4 where Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the village well.  The patriarch Jacob met his wife Rachel at a village well. In Genesis 16:7, the angel found Hagar by a spring.  The apocryphal Gospel of Mary, also states that the angel met Mary by the well.[3]

 

“A virgin engaged to a man named Joseph.” To have been engaged or pledged to be married meant that a written legal contract was signed by the bride and groom.[4]  Such an agreement was known as a katuvah, or katubah and was almost always approved by both parents. Mary and Joseph would have had a katuvah, as it was the custom of the time that stated that they were committed to each other as much as a married couple would be, but they were not yet married. In fact, other cultures likewise had marital contracts. An example is as follows:

04.03.03.A. A SECOND CENTURY KATUVAH (3)

04.03.03.A. A SECOND CENTURY KATUVAH.  Wrapped in burlap, this katuvah from the year A.D. 128 was found in one of the many Judean caves.

According to the katuvah (above), the date has been reconciled to April 5, 128,[5] a contract of marriage was written in Greek by a certain Yehudah, who…

Gave into marriage his own daughter Shelamzion, virgin, to Yehudah, nicknamed Kimber, son of Hananiah [son of] Somalam, both of the village of En-gedi in Judea, dwelling there.

The bridegroom Yehudah agreed to give to Shelamzion, as security when the contract was signed,

All the property which he owns in the said village [En-gedi] as well as here and which he might acquire. 

Ketuvah Papyrus (2nd Century A.D.)

 

Unfortunately, so much of this katuvah had deteriorated over the centuries that the entire agreement could not be deciphered.

 

“You will call His name Jesus.” It was the custom to name the first-born son after his grandfather,[6] but this was not to be.  Rather, the common and shortened Hebrew name Yeshua, was to be given.  It was translated to Greek (Iesous 2424),[7]  then to Latin, then to English to what is today, Jesus.[8] In Hebrew, it is Joshua, from a more fully developed name, Yehoshuah.  Its meaning is savior or salvation, or the Lord saves, or Yeshua, meaning, Yahweh is salvation.[9] Joshua, the Old Testament counterpart, led the Israelites out of the desert and into a new life in the Promised Land. Likewise, Jesus came to save humanity and lead people out of the desert of sin and into new life in Him.[10]      

According to rabbinic tradition, it was understood that the name of the messiah was determined before the foundations of the world were laid.[11]  It should be noted that Luke took the verse, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,” directly from the third century (B.C.) Septuagint[12] translation of Isaiah 7:14.[13]  The reference to the messianic name of Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14 was never literally fulfilled until Jesus came.[14] Immanuel means God with us (Mt. 1:23) or God Himself,[15] which is precisely what Jesus was in human flesh. Since His death and resurrection, He has been correctly called “God with us.”[16]

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” The phrase “He will be great,” must have stunned Mary. Greatness in the Old Testament was always a reference to God,[17] never to a man.  It most certainly must have been perplexing to Mary and Joseph. The word “great” was associated only with the Lord (YHWH).  Previously the angel used the term when speaking to Zechariah (Lk. 1:15), and now Mary was also told her Son would be great.

Critics of Scripture have long said that the phrases “Son of the Most High” and “Son of God” have Greek origins.  Although they had no literary evidence, they concluded that these phrases were second or third century theological developments by church leaders who inserted them into the Scripture.  However, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeologists found a treasure of fifteen thousand literary fragments in Cave 4. Among them was Fragment 4Q246 that has an amazing parallel to Luke 1:32 and 35.  Since the fragmented papyrus is torn, it is not a complete reading.  There is, however, sufficient text to accurately reconstruct the original writing with the missing words in parentheses below:

[He] shall be great upon the earth.

O king, all [people] shall make [peace][18]

and all shall serve him.

He shall be called the Son of the [G]reat God,

and by his name shall he be hailed [as] the Son of God,

and they shall call him Son of the Most High.

Dead Sea Scroll Fragment, 4Q246[19]

 

The discovery of Dead Sea Scroll 4Q246 clearly demonstrates that the phrases critics questioned were of common usage among even the most religious Jews and reinforces the literal interpretation of the biblical event.  It is additional evidence that eliminates the argument that narratives of the Scriptures were enhanced by later editors.[20] Most noteworthy is the fact that the Essenes were a group of conservative Jews who passionately hated the Greek philosophy and culture.  They would have been the last people to take anything from the Greeks.  However, the mystery remains as to why the Essenes would have had a writing so close to Luke’s gospel when they considered themselves to be the most theologically and religiously pure.

The term “Holy Spirit” must be understood in the Jewish context because the full Christian understanding of it did not occur until after the ascension. In Jewish thought and philosophy the Holy Spirit had two primary functions.[21]

  1. To reveal divine truth to men, and
  1. To enable men to recognize and accept that truth.

For that reason, the angel said to Mary that “the power of the Most High” would overshadow her – because what was about to happen was beyond her understanding of the Holy Spirit.

“Your relative, Elizabeth.” The word “relative” in the Greek, sygenes (4773v), meaning, one in the same family, can also be translated as kinswoman,[22] although the latter phrase is out of use in modern English.  The word cousin used in some translations is far too restrictive, although it is included in the broader framework of kinswoman.[23] Mary’s family belonged to the tribe of Judah and Elizabeth’s to the tribe of Levi. Marriages between different tribes were customary.[24]

“I am the Lord’s slave.” This phrase was a common saying among Jews and early Christians.  The word slave can also be translated as servant.[25] The English word slave or servant is derived from the Greek term doulos.[26] A doulos was a common household slave, different from a prisoner in chains who was known as a desmios and forced into hard labor, such as an oarsman on a battleship. A slave or servant was the private property of another person who was free. Within the Jewish world, such captive people could participate in domestic worship and had to be treated humanely – a requirement of the Mosaic Law that greatly improved the life of a slave over what might have existed in neighboring cultures.[27] A slave or servant was one who was expected to be fully dedicated to his master.  The phrase “I am the Lord’s slave,” is a profession of dedication, to voluntarily serve God with the identical commitment as a servant would his earthly master. However, a kind master would also protect his servants and slaves.  In Matthew 20:26-27 Jesus spoke of a servant (diakonos) and slave (doulos) as the ideal example for those who would be great (megas) or first (protos) among His people.[28] Therefore, by proclaiming that she is the Lord’s slave, she is also placing herself completely under His Divine protection because she knows she will face many accusations and possible threats.

[1]. See 04.03.10.Q2 “When was Jesus born?”

[2]. The reader is reminded that quotations from non-biblical sources are not to be understood as being of equal authority with the biblical narratives.  See 01.02.04.

 

[3]. Achen, The Holy Land. 12.

[4]. The marital contract is further described in 04.03.03.A and 08.02.01.

 

[5]. The modern calendar did not exist at that time.

 

[6]. Gilmour, “Luke.” 8:44.

 

[7]. Vine, “Jesus.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:333.

 

[8]. Mills and Michael, Messiah and His Hebrew Alphabet. 7.

 

[9]. Hagner, “Matthew 1-13.” 19; Mills and Michael, Messiah and His Hebrew Alphabet. 7.

[10]. Grant. “Jesus Christ.” 2:869; Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 45.

[11]. Babylonian Talmud, Pesah 54a.

  1. Some two centuries before the birth of Jesus, the Jews in Egypt realized they needed to translate their Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, as they were losing their Hebrew tongue. This translation became known as the Septuagint (designated as LXX) and is frequently quoted by New Testament writers. See 02.02.25.

[13]. Hagner, “Matthew 1-13.” 19.

[14]. See Appendix 32 and Evans, Praying through the Names of God. 165-66.

 

[15]. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. 409-10.

[16]. Examples of other titles for Jesus are the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6); the head of the corner (Ps. 118:22; Lk. 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:7); The head of the body (Col. 1:18; 2:19); the head of the church (Eph. 1:22; 5:23); the firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:20); The firstborn from the dead (Col. 1:18); the captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10); the first and the last (Rev. 1:17); the firstbegotten (Heb. 1:6); and the firstborn (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 12:23).

[17]. Ps. 48:2, 86:10, 135:5, 145:3.

 

[18]. The bracketed words were inserted for clarification by Hershel Shenks, “An Unpublished Dead Sea Scroll Text Parallels Luke’s Infancy Narrative.” 24-25. News of this fragment was published in the academic journal, Biblical Archaeological Review in 1990, nearly forty years after its discovery. Yet its official translation remains unpublished as it supposedly challenges the position of scholars who publish such documents.

 

[19]. Shenks, “An Unpublished Dead Sea Scroll Text Parallels Luke’s Infancy Narrative.” 24.

 

[20]. Shenks, “An Unpublished Dead Sea Scroll Text Parallels Luke’s Infancy Narrative.” 24.

 

[21]. Barclay, “Mark.” 79-81.

 

[22]. Vine, “Cousin.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:135, and “Kin, Kinsfold, Kinsman, Kinswoman.” 2:342.

 

[23]. Douglas, “Cousin.” 1:326; Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:260.

[24]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:555.

 

[25]. Zerwick and Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament. 172.

 

[26]. Link and Tuente. “Slave, Servant, Captive, Prisoner, Freeman.” 3:589-91.

 

[27]. The Code of Hammurabi attempted to improve the lives of slaves by making certain humane provisions for them.  But it has been questioned how well these were enforced.

 

[28]. Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. 240-41.   

 



04.03.04 Village in Judah; MARY VISITS ELIZABETH

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 14, 2016  -  Comments Off on 04.03.04 Village in Judah; MARY VISITS ELIZABETH

04.03.04 Lk. 1:39-45 Village in Judah

 

MARY VISITS ELIZABETH

39 In those days Mary set out and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah 40 where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped inside her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.         42 Then she exclaimed with a loud cry:

You are the most blessed of women,
and your child will be blessed!

43 How could this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me! 45 She who has believed is blessed because what was spoken to her by the Lord will be fulfilled!”

 

“You are the most blessed of women.”  This phrase could also be translated to read “of all the women most blessed are you.”[1]  To the early Church fathers prior to the advent of Mariology doctrines, Mary was seen as a Second Eve. Unlike the first Eve who said, “No” to God’s commandment of obedience, the second “Eve” said “Yes.”  Similarly, just as the first Adam failed the test of sin, the “second Adam,” meaning Jesus, passed the test of sin and was sinless.

Mary, just as anyone else, had the freedom to obey or disobey God, and was herself in need of salvation (Rom. 3:23).[2]  There would have been no incarnation, if this young Jewish girl had not been obedient.  She was righteous, but not sinless.  Yet she is called “blessed” because she was chosen to carry the Christ-child.  God would never force His will upon anyone, for to do so would injure the image of God in which man was created.

Finally, imagine the elderly mute and deaf Zechariah living with two women who were divinely pregnant. Aside from the humor that must have existed, everyone in the small community knew that God’s hand was in this matter. Word of these events most certainly spread throughout the temple circles through the gossip grapevine.  The lives of the parents and the two small infant boys would be carefully observed. No wonder that years later when John and Jesus began to preach, both had waiting audiences.

 

04.03.04.Q1 Why was it important for Mary to visit Elizabeth?

 

04.03.04a (2)

 

While the specific reason is not given, understanding the cultural values of the time can frame out a relatively accurate answer. Mary was single and pregnant, and that situation had serious social consequences. Before the town elders of Nazareth had opportunity to judge her at the town gate (Deut. 22:15), she went to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth because their home provided her a protective environment. Since Zechariah was of a priestly line, his comments concerning her condition had greater authority than did her neighbors in Nazareth. Furthermore, his wife Elizabeth was also pregnant and, therefore, the three of them realized that God was about to do something incredibly profound.  Without the miraculous pregnancy of Elizabeth, Mary’s situation could have been dire.  She stayed for three months until John was born.

 

[1]. Zerwick, Analysis of the Greek New Testament. 173.

[2]. Roman Catholics, Egyptian Coptics, and Greek Orthodox may hold different viewpoints on the significance of the Virgin Mary, but they all believe in the salvation message of Jesus.



04.03.05 MARY GIVES PRAISE TO GOD

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 14, 2016  -  Comments Off on 04.03.05 MARY GIVES PRAISE TO GOD

04.03.05 Lk. 1:46-56

 

MARY GIVES PRAISE TO GOD. 

46 And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, (Ps. 34:3)
47 and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, (Ps. 35:9; 1 Sam. 2:1)
48 because He has looked with favor
on the humble condition of His slave.
Surely, from now on all generations
will call me blessed, (Gen. 30:13)
49 because the Mighty One
has done great things for me, (Ps. 71:19; 126:2-3)
and His name is holy.  (Ps. 111:9)
50 His mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear Him.  (Ps. 103:17)
51 He has done a mighty deed with His arm; (Ps. 98:1; 89:10; 118:15-16)
He has scattered the proud
because of the thoughts of their hearts; (Ex. 15:16; 1 Sam. 2:4)
52 He has toppled the mighty from their thrones
and exalted the lowly. (1 Sam. 2:8; Ps. 113:7)
53 He has satisfied the hungry with good things (1 Sam. 2:6)
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped His servant Israel, (Ps. 41:8)
mindful of His mercy, (Ps. 30:4; 97:12)                                                                            55 just as He spoke to our ancestors, (Micah 7:20)
to Abraham and his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary stayed with her about three months; then she returned to her home.

 

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”  The phrase in Latin is my soul megalyne, the Lord. It means to enlarge or to tell out.[1] The entire passage is known as The Song of Mary, or The Magnificat. Her words begin with a quiet mood and build to a crescendo.  She expresses her deepest thoughts and her heartfelt joy to God for selecting her to bring forth the Christ child.  Her words are reflective of twelve Old Testament passages and Hannah’s prayer of 1 Samuel 2:1-10.  This work has four strophes:[2]

  1. Her joy and gratitude,
  1. The gracious mercy of God to all who honor and love him,
  1. His special work for the peasants of this world, and
  1. His mercy to Israel.[3]

Her words were quite insightful, powerful, and characterized the nationalistic tenor and language of Psalms of Solomon 17-18 where a royal national political deliverer is anticipated. She reflected the national attitude of the expected messiah, not one who would suffer for the sins of humanity. Verses 46-55 have been recited throughout Church history by those who believed they were called to the ministry of prayer and intercession. Mary and Joseph were poor in economic terms, but were rich in the knowledge of God.

Finally, it is amazing that some scholars believe that girls were not educated in the Galilee region. When Mary praised God with her Magnificat, she referred to no less than twenty Old Testament references.[4]   This is a clear demonstration that she knew her Bible, and leaves modern scholars wonder how much more she knew at her young age.[5]

04.03.05a (2)

“He has done a mighty deed with his arm.”  How are the love, mercy, and majesty of God described?  The Jews ascribed to God positive human passions and physical actions.[6]

[1]. Liefeld, “Luke.” 8:35.

[2]. See “Strophe” in Appendix 26.

 

[3]. Liefeld, “Luke.” 8:835; Ellis, “Magnificat.” 2:936; Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 46-49.

[4]. It is doubtful that many seminary students today could do this without a computer or concordance. Mary was a well-educated teenaged girl.

 

[5]. See also the comments by the first century sage Ben Azzai, in 02.03.04 “Education” who encouraged education for all girls.

 

[6]. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. 877, 894.



04.03.06 JOHN THE BAPTIST IS BORN AND NAMED

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 14, 2016  -  Comments Off on 04.03.06 JOHN THE BAPTIST IS BORN AND NAMED

04.03.06 Lk. 1:57-66

 

JOHN THE BAPTIST IS BORN AND NAMED 

 

57 Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she had a son. 58 Then her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her His great mercy, and they rejoiced with her.

59 When they came to circumcise the child on the eighth day, they were going to name him Zechariah, after his father. 60 But his mother responded, “No! He will be called John.

61 Then they said to her, “None of your relatives has that name.” 62 So they motioned to his father to find out what he wanted him to be called. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote: HIS NAME IS JOHN.

And they were all amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came on all those who lived around them, and all these things were being talked about throughout the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard about him took it to heart, saying, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the Lord’s hand was with him.

 

“They rejoiced with her.”  The ancients believed leprosy and childlessness were curses from God. Those who had lived with either one had a heavy load of guilt, condemnation, social ridicule, and received neither compassion nor mercy from the religious establishment.  Consequently, there was immense joy.  Not only was a son born by a miracle, but the curse was lifted.

“They were going to name him.” Jewish boys were more likely to be named after a grandfather than their father.[1]  Obviously, there was great surprise when Elizabeth and Zechariah indicated the child’s name would be John. It was a breach of tradition, as no one in either Zechariah’s or Elizabeth’s families had that name.

Parents named their boys on the eighth day during the rite of circumcision. If he was also given a Greek or common name, that name was used in daily conversation. However, for all religious activities, only the Hebrew name was used. For example, if a young man’s name was Moshe, then his common name would be Moses or Philip.[2] Infant girls were given their names when they were weaned from their mother.[3]

Often there were more boys in a family than there were grandfathers after which to name them.  In such cases, boys were often named after heroes of the Bible or Maccabean Revolt. An example is Simon Peter: His father probably named him in honor of the high priest Simon who sacrificed his life during the Maccabean Revolt. But Zechariah did not follow that popular trend either, and therefore, those present were all the more astonished when he said, “He will be called John.” The name John is derived from Jehohanan, which means Jehovah’s gift or God is gracious.[4] John, the gospel writer never refers to the Baptist as John the Baptist as do the other gospel writers, but only as John.

“They motioned to his father.” Zechariah became both mute and deaf as evidence by their motions. Priests served between the ages of thirty and fifty and could retire.  But some scholars believe that some priests may have served longer unless they had a physical defect, such as a defect in the voice.[5]  Most certainly this physical condition would have limited his temple service in some manner.  Evidently the people made signs to him because he also had lost his hearing. In the phrase “unable to speak” the Greek word kophos is used for speak but it could also be translated to as deaf.[6] When Zechariah wrote on a tablet that the child’s name would be John, he was obedient to God and the judgment that had fallen upon him some nine months earlier was lifted.

Common writing tables consisted of a wooden board, approximately 8 by 10 inches or somewhat larger, that was coated with wax.  The board had a small frame — like a picture frame – so when new hot wax was poured upon it, it would be confined to the wooden surface. After it cooled, students could write on the wax-coated board with a sharp stylus (an instrument similar to a large nail). When the message was no longer needed, the wax was melted and, when it again hardened, it was ready for another message.[7]

04.03.06.A. A COMMON WRITING TABLET04.03.06.A. A COMMON WRITING TABLET. Tablets were constructed of a piece of wood and coated with wax. Writing was accomplished by scratching letters onto the wax surface with a stylus.  Photo courtesy of the Temple Institute, Jerusalem.

 

04.03.06.Q1  When was John the Baptist born and why is this date significant to the birth of Jesus (Lk. 1:57-66)?

Knowing the date of birth for John the Baptist provides the only significant clue in determining when Jesus was born.  According to Luke 1:5, Zechariah belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. In a tradition established by King David (1 Ch. 23:1-2 ff.), who divided the land into twenty-four divisions, each division sent a delegation to the temple to minister to the Lord and to the people. As previously stated, every division served for a one-week period, twice a year, but all divisions were required to come to Jerusalem for the Feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.[8]  

The divisions served in chronological order according to the weeks of the religious calendar.  The first division was that of Jehoiarib (1 Ch. 24:7a) who served in the first week of the first month (Nisan), the second division of Jedaiah (1 Ch. 24:7b) served in the second week, etc. Nisan is the first month of the religious calendar year, as established by God in Exodus 12:2 (while Tishrei is the first month of the secular calendar). Zachariah belonged to the division of Abijah, which was the eighth division in accordance to David’s directive (1 Ch. 24:10b).  Allowing for the weeks when all twenty-four divisions served, Zechariah and his division of Abijah would have served in the tenth week.  Calculating time for the elderly priest to return home, the two weeks of required separation (Lev. 12:5; 15:19, 24-25), and counting forward nine months would have placed the birth of John the Baptist during the Passover festival.  The significance of this timing lies in the fact that during the Passover ritual, each Jewish family had, as is done today, an empty seat at the table waiting for the coming of Elijah.[9]  Since all seven Jewish festivals (technically, these are festivals of God, not the Jews) and in some manner each one points to an aspect of the life and ministry of Jesus. This calculation makes logical sense.

 04.03.6a (2)

 

[1]. Gilmour, “Luke.” 8:44.

 

[2]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:553.

 

[3]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:560.

 

[4]. Barclay, “Luke.” 17.

 

[5]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:22-23; Bemidbar Rab. 222.3.

 

[6]. Liefeld, “Luke.” 835.

[7]. Millard, “Writing Tablets: Notepaper of the Roman World.” 40.

 

[8]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:254; When priests and Levites served in the temple, they stayed in rooms within the temple buildings.  Otherwise, they lived in communities throughout the countryside. Deut. 16:16; Ex. 23:14-17; 34:20, 23-24; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:93.

 

[9]. Chumney, The Seven Festivals of the Messiah. 178-81.

 



04.03.07 ZECHARIAH PROPHESIES OF JOHN’S MINISTRY

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 14, 2016  -  Comments Off on 04.03.07 ZECHARIAH PROPHESIES OF JOHN’S MINISTRY

04.03.07 Lk. 1:67-80

 

ZECHARIAH PROPHESIES OF JOHN’S MINISTRY

 

67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

68 Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has visited and provided redemption for His people.

69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, 70 just as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets in ancient times; 71 salvation from our enemies and from the clutches of those who hate us. 72 He has dealt mercifully with our fathers and remembered His holy covenant — 73 the oath that He swore to our father Abraham. He has given us the privilege, 74 since we have been rescued from our enemies’ clutches, to serve Him without fear 75 in holiness and righteousness in His
presence all our days. 76 And child, you will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, 77 to give His people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.

78 Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the Dawn from on high will visit us
79 to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. 80 The child grew up and became spiritually strong, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

 

The blessing or “Benedictus” of Zechariah (Lk. 1:67-69) had all six elements of the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:24-26. He realized that his infant son had a prophetic calling, the first in four centuries. His psalm, or “Benedictus” (Lk. 1:68-79) is a praise of God and consists primarily of a string of Old Testament phrases, followed by his poetic words.

Vs. 68                          Psalm 41:13; 119:19

Vs. 69                          Psalm 132:17

Vs. 70                          His own words

Vs. 71                          Psalm 106:10

Vs. 72-73                    Micah 7:20; Psalm 106:45; 105:8-9

Vs. 74-79                    His own words

 

But carefully woven into Zechariah’s blessing are references to the three most important covenants of the Bible.

  1. The Covenant of David is mentioned in Luke 1:69.
  1. The Covenant of Abraham is mentioned in Luke 1:73.
  1. The essence of the New Covenant is mentioned in Luke 1:78-79.

 

Zechariah then concluded with his own words[1] saying that his son would be the forerunner of Christ (Isa. 10:3; Mt. 11:10) by preaching repentance and salvation (Jn. 1:29; Lk. 3:3). His son would then introduce Jesus to the world (Num. 24:17; Mal 4:2), but it would take three decades before the evangelist would begin to fulfill Old Testament prophecies in his ministry throughout the desert and Jordan River Valley. Due to their advanced ages, Zechariah and Elizabeth probably never saw those prophecies fulfilled.

“Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit.”   This event obviously occurred during the Old Covenant /Old Testament Period. The Pentecost experience was more than three decades into the future.  Even though the gospels are a part of the New Testament book, all events prior to the resurrection of Jesus are within the Old Covenant Period.  Under this covenant, the Holy Spirit came upon selected individuals for specific ministries and for specific seasons. Other examples are Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Huldah (2 Kg. 22:14), John the Baptist (Lk. 1:15), Mary, the mother of Jesus (Lk. 1:35), Elizabeth (Lk. 1:41-42), Simeon (Lk. 2:25-26), and Anna the prophetess (Lk. 2:36-38).  Since the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is within all those who chose to place their faith in Christ Jesus and be obedient to Him.

“A horn of salvation.” A horn, such as a ram’s horn, was a universal symbol of supreme strength and authority for both the Jews and their Gentile neighbors (cf. Ps.18:2; 2 Sam. 22:3). In this case, the term salvation is derived from the Greek, soteris which means deliverance from enemies.[2] This is exemplified by the four horns on the temple altar upon which sacrifices were offered up to God.  However, in this context, holiness and power can refer only to Christ.[3]

“The Dawn from high.” Some translators have this passage read, “The rising sun.”  It is a phrase that refers to the Messiah in the Old Testament[4] who would be sent by God in heaven. Therefore, the word “Dawn” is capitalized.

 

04.03.07.Q1 Was there a connection between the family of John the Baptist and the Essene Community (re: Lk. 1:67-80)?

This question has been a subject of considerable debate among scholars. Zechariah, along with many other orthodox Jews, was opposed to the Sadducean corruption in the temple, yet performed his obligations to the best of his abilities.  Zechariah was of the clan of Abijah of the priestly Zadok family.  It was the Zadok forefathers of Zechariah and John the Baptist, who more than a century earlier, had established the separatist Essene movement with enclaves in the desert wilderness outside Damascus, in Qumran by the Dead Sea, and in a small section in western Jerusalem. Those living in Qumran are now credited for having written the world-famous Dead Sea Scrolls.

It would have been only natural for Zechariah’s extended family to care for young John when his elderly parents died, especially since the Essenes were known to take in orphans.  As the son of a priest, John was destined to become a priest and, as such, he learned of all the temple services, rituals, as well as the depth of corruption. He could have enjoyed life with flattering respect and envy along with a life of modest plenty.  But from birth he was on a mission and determined to fulfill it.

John’s strong childhood training in the Torah was reflected in his later years when he was preaching. He rejected the Essene theology of strong and legalistic ritual observances but preached a message of salvation and repentance.  Zechariah was most certainly looking for the coming of the messiah.  A careful examination of John’s words reveals that he was, in fact, looking forward to the coming of the political-messiah who would deliver the Jewish people from Roman oppression. His understanding of who the messiah would be and what he would do was very typical of the common Jew. Nonetheless, even though there is a historical and genealogical connection between John and the Essenes, as well as a mutual disgust for the temple leadership, there is no other known relationship between John and those who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

[1]. Martin, Worship in the Early Church. 44.

[2]. See also Lk. 1:71; Acts 7:25; Jund 25; Barclay, A New Testament Wordbook. 30-32.

[3]. See Appendix 6 concerning Old Testament sacrifices and Jesus.

 

[4]. Num. 24:17; Isa. 9:2; 60:1; Mal. 4:2; For more information on Jesus in the Old Testament, see the exhaustive studies by John Metzger, The Tri-Unity of God is Jewish and God in Eclipse.

 



04.03.08 JOSEPH IS TOLD OF MARY’S CONCEPTION

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 14, 2016  -  Comments Off on 04.03.08 JOSEPH IS TOLD OF MARY’S CONCEPTION

04.03.08 Mt. 1:18-25

 

JOSEPH IS TOLD OF MARY’S CONCEPTION

 

18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.

20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”

22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:   23 “See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated ‘God is with us.’ ”

24 When Joseph got up from sleeping, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her 25 but did not know her intimately until she gave birth to a son. And he named Him Jesus.

 

Words cannot express to the Western mind the trial and tribulation Joseph experienced when he discovered Mary was pregnant. Therefore, it was only fitting that God spoke to him in a dream, and did so several times. Furthermore, the general expectation of a messiah that everyone was talking about, and the incredible news that the elderly Elizabeth was pregnant, certainly added to the affirmation that God was about to do something significant. But a virgin birth was beyond anyone’s wildest expectation.

“Mary had been engaged to Joseph.” As previously stated, a pledge of marriage meant that a marriage contract was signed by the bride and bridegroom. The contract was known as a katuvah, and no respectable couple would have been pledged without one.

Marriages were generally arranged by fathers, but sometimes the bride was selected by the bridegroom, and on rare occasions the matchmaker was the groomsman (Shoshebhin).  A marriage began with a betrothal when the katuvah[1] was signed, which was followed by the wedding a year later.   The betrothal period was to test the bride’s fidelity, and the time needed for the bridegroom to build a home for his bride and prepare for the coming household.

“Not wanting to disgrace her publicly.” Another translation reads that Joseph did “not want to expose her to public disgrace.” It is often human nature to assume guilt when one is accused of a crime. In first century Judea, a pregnancy outside of marriage was a monumental disgrace and, with the exception of rape, the woman was always considered guilty by her family and community. If judicial action would be taken to enforce the terms of the katuvah, the disgrace would be compounded.

“He had considered.”  Most English translations use the word “considered” which fails to do justice to describe the emotions of Joseph. The original word is enthymeomai which has two definitions.

  1. The first definition is the one generally used in English translations – to ponder or to consider.
  1. The other meaning is to become very angry or to become very upset.[2]

 

To say that Joseph “pondered” or “considered” the situation is to say that he was not affected emotionally by Mary’s pregnancy. That obviously does not make sense – most certainly he and his family were incredibly upset.  One cannot imagine how angry he must have been. Yet he chose not to permit his anger lead him to a decision he would regret.  In spite of his emotional turmoil, he was just and kind in the decision he made, which is why the early church fathers referred to him as “Joseph the Just.”

“Joseph son of David.”  The term son in this phrase has a broader meaning than does its English translation. In this case it means any male descendant of David.  The humble Joseph of Nazareth was one of hundreds, if not thousands, of the descendants of King David.  Archaeological discoveries confirm the presence of Davidic families living in Jerusalem in the first century B.C.  An ossuary, or bone box, was discovered in 1971 with an inscription identifying the bones inside as a member of the royal Davidic lineage.[3] This demonstrates that the phrase “son of David” was a matter of pride and influence in first-century Judaism.

However, the phrase “son of David” also was a threatening term to the Romans who crushed the revolts of many messianic pretenders.[4] For that reason, decades after Jesus, Emperor Vespasian (reigned A.D. 69-79) searched for descendants of Jesus with the thought of killing all those who might continue the messianic ideals that gave birth to Christianity.  As a result, he found some children of Jesus’ half-brothers and, upon questioning them and seeing the roughness of their hands, realized these men were no threat and released them.[5] Not many years later, Emperors Domitian[6] and Trajan[7] were also concerned about the possible rise of a messianic figure from descendants of Mary and Joseph.

“Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”  The news of the pregnancy was shocking to Joseph and his family.  In a small village, such news was unheard of and was considered a curse upon a family for decades to come.  Joseph had the right to keep the dowry she brought into the relationship, and he also could make one of the following four choices:

  1. Marry her quickly and have everyone assume the child was an early delivery – except that would have broken the traditional one-year waiting period between betrothal and marriage, so the gossip would never end;
  1. Make a public confession of the pregnancy which would NOT have resulted in the bride being stoned to death (a Mosaic law that was seldom observed) because that would have caused the death of an unborn child. Or,
  1. Have a quiet divorce and send Mary into another village or city to have the child.[8] After all, one of the two most popular rabbis, Rabbi Hillel, had made divorce easier to obtain with the modern equivalent of “no-fault” divorce (the cause of later discussions by Jesus).[9]
  2. However, it was not until the angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph that he realized that he was to exercise a fourth choice – to marry her and be the legal father of the boy-child who would be known as “Immanuel” (fulfillment of Isa. 7:14).

 

Joseph had to choose between God’s mercy and his legal rights.  He chose God’s mercy and no doubt was frequently challenged later by the out-of-wedlock birth, even in distant Bethlehem.  While the consummation of a marriage typically occurred during the wedding feast, in this case, Mary and Joseph were married before Jesus was born, but the marriage was not consummated until after His birth (Mt. 1:24-25).[10] No doubt they reflected upon the pregnancy in light of a biblical prophecy concerning the Anointed One who was to be born in Bethlehem, not Nazareth.[11]

“All this took place to fulfill.”  The Jews were expecting a military-messiah who would deliver them from Roman oppression, but they needed to understand that Jesus was the Messiah who would deliver them from the oppression of sin.  Therefore, everyone naturally questioned whether Jesus was the one they were expecting.  For that reason, Matthew went to great lengths to explain that Jesus was the Messiah and the fulfillment of all Hebrew prophecies.[12]  Hence, this passage is the first of twelve in which he used the word fulfill which means to give complete meaning to.[13]

“The virgin will become pregnant.”  The virgin birth, or more correctly, the virgin conception of Jesus, and its reflection upon Isaiah 7:14 has been the subject of considerable debate.  More specifically, the issue has been whether the Hebrew word almah means virgin or a young maiden of marriageable age,[14] and the latter translation is used several times in the Old Testament.[15]  At the time of Isaiah and at the time of Jesus, a young maiden who was of marriageable age was also a virgin; the two phrases, virgin and young maiden, are synonymous. Those who insist on the virgin only definition fail to recognize the synonym within its cultural context. Therefore, Isaiah would not have been troubled by the use of either definition in his text. However, it was distinctively different from the Western culture of today where virginity is not always found in young unmarried men and women.[16]

It should be noted, however, that some 250 years earlier when Egyptian Jews translated their Bible into Greek, the word virgin of Isaiah 7:14 was translated into parthenos.[17] The apostle John used the same word, parthenos in reference to the celibate men of Revelation 14:4[18] which obviously could not refer to young women.

When Isaiah wrote this passage in 735 B.C., when Aram (Syria) and the ten tribes of Israel were united to defeat Ahaz, the king of Judah. The Lord God told Ahaz to ask for a sign (Isa. 7:11).  The sign was to be a confirmation that the pending invasion of the two kings would not occur (v. 7).  However, Ahaz did not want to test the Lord (v. 12), so God gave him a sign that a virgin would give birth to a child and his name would be “Immanuel” (v. 14).  Isaiah continued to be descriptive about the child and identified him as Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Isa. 8:1).  Within a short period, the prophecy was fulfilled. A young woman, who was a virgin when the prophecy was given, later married and gave birth to a son who was the subject of the prophecy and Ahaz was not defeated. Hence, Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled twice.[19]

By the first century, however, this prophetic narrative was no doubt forgotten and of no futuristic value, until Jesus was born.  Matthew then referenced Isaiah 14:7 as a Messianic prophecy and awakened the Jews to the words “virgin” and “Immanuel.”  Suddenly, they could see in this passage the hidden meaning, because in the divine plan of God, Jesus would be born of a virgin to break the chain of sin in humanity.[20]  Matthew understood the phrase, “The  virgin  shall be  with child,” to be a typological anticipation of Jesus in the same manner as the  birth  of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was a sign  that God (Isa. 8:1, 3) would  be  with  his people (which is the meaning of Immanuel) in  the  days of Isaiah. When Matthew wrote his gospel several decades after the crucifixion, he said that Jesus was with his people.  Therefore, the term “virgin” as used in Isaiah 7:14 clearly meant a “young woman of marriageable age.”[21]

Matthew chose his words carefully to create an escalation of a theme.[22] He made specific use of the word “fulfillment” of the virgin birth with a reflection on the miraculous births of other great prophets.  In essence, he said that what had occurred previously was a seemingly insignificant “type and shadow”[23] of a greater event to come.  He also used this literary tool in referring to the sign of a boy child to Ahaz with reference to the protection of God.  However, the escalation of a future climax was that Mary, a literal virgin, gave birth to Jesus, who was personally “God with us.” This was equally significant to Jesus, who affirmed Himself as the “Immanuel” when He said in his Great Commission that He would “be with you always” (Mt. 28:20).[24]

“They will name him Immanuel.” The name Immanuel, or Emmanuel, meaning God with us, is not found in the New Testament.[25]  Yet Jesus was God on earth and was with His people, or, with us. The fact that Immanuel does not appear in Scripture does not mean that there is an error. In ancient thinking there was no difference between a name, a word, or its definition. (See also “The virgin will become pregnant” above.)

“He married her but did not know her intimately until she gave birth to a son.” In Matthew 1:24-25 the word until indicates that only after the birth of Jesus did Mary and Joseph have a normal marital relationship. This opposes the late third century doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.[26] That doctrine states that the first wife of Joseph died and the children of that marriage became the step-siblings to Jesus. Various old church records have different names for her, including Melcha, Escha, and Salome – and are obviously not in agreement with each other.[27]  Furthermore, Matthew 13:55-56 and Mark 6:3 suggest that the brothers and sisters did originate from the marriage of Mary and Joseph.[28]

 

04.03.08.Q1 What wedding customs in Galilee shaped the betrothal of Mary and Joseph? 

In the Old Testament era of the judges and kings, parents frequently played the role of match-maker. By the first century, those who were getting married had a greater role in the decision. Customs varied from area to area, even the ritual in Galilee were different from those in Jerusalem. But some basics remained the same.

The minimum age for betrothal was twelve for girls and thirteen for boys, although the mid-­teens were preferred for girls and eighteen for boys.  The formality began when the young man came to the girl’s family and presented them with a formal, legally binding contract known as a katuvah.  This covenant contract stated the marriage proposal and the sum of money or other valuables he would pay to her parents to have her as his wife.  This payment was known as the “bride price.”[29] The purpose was to compensate the father for the loss of a worker in the family.  But more importantly, the “price” was to assure that his wife was costly and, therefore, she was to be cherished.[30] The katuvah also stated that the young man promised to honor, love, support, and care for her, providing all the necessities of life. If the terms of the contract were accepted by both families, it was signed and the couple celebrated by sharing a cup of wine together.  Only then was the covenant sealed and the couple considered betrothed.[31] Thereafter the bride wore a veil whenever in public which signified to any possible suitors that she had made a marriage commitment.  While in the ancient world women were often considered to be mere property, Judaism elevated them to a higher status.

Because a katuvah was a legal contract, a termination resulted by one spouse receiving a certificate of divorce from the other and each party was permitted to re-enter another betrothal.[32] The Talmud stated that, the bond, created by God is so strong that, after betrothal, a woman requires a divorce before she can marry another man.[33]  If there was a divorce or death, the tragic event was recorded in the genealogical records in the temple.

During the betrothal time, the bridegroom would “prepare a place for her” while the bride prepared herself for her bridegroom and new home. The new home was simply another room added onto the existing home of the groom’s family home.  Seldom did a young bridegroom build a single-family dwelling on a building lot away from his family.  While the young bridegroom constructed the room, there was plenty of help from family and friends and his father eventually declared its completion.

Jesus was born during the one-year period of Mary’s betrothal. After Jesus was born they had their wedding ceremony, after which the couple had a very short honeymoon. Then they returned, and with family and friends, they celebrated with a feast.[34]

The Jews were not alone in this practice; it was the cultural norm among many people groups in the ancient Middle East.  Centuries earlier the code of Hammurabi stated in Acts 159-160[35] that if a bridegroom broke the betrothal, the bride’s father retained the bride’s price (gift).  However, if the future father-in-law broke the covenant, he would have to pay double the bride price to the bridegroom. The legal codes of Lipit-Ishtar (No. 29) and Eshnunna (No. 25) had similar requirements.[36] These are mentioned because to the modern student, the cultural and religious norms tend to blend together at times.  One is not always certain if a belief or action is for religious or cultural reasons. Many of the daily activities of the average Jew were similar to those of Gentiles.  The important difference, of course, was the religious element and whatever influences that would have had upon daily life.

During the betrothal period the couple was considered to be husband and wife, although the wedding was still in the future. If either one died prior to the wedding the surviving partner would have been considered a virgin and as a widow or widower, and would be free to marry someone else.[37]

 

04.03.08.Q2 Why could Joseph not have stoned Mary to death (Deut. 22:23-24; Mt. 1:18-25)?

The Mosaic Law requires the stoning of an unfaithful man and woman (Deut. 22:23-24) and, as stated previously, but by the first century this punishment was seldom enforced among Jews.[38] By this time Jewish leaders differentiated between two types of adulterous women – the married woman and engaged virgin. According to the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 50a, the punishments were as follows:

  1. The adulterous married woman was sentenced to death by hanging
  1. The adulterous betrothed virgin was sentenced to death by stoning.

 

Granted, in either case the punishment was death. It was simply a matter of how the execution was to be performed. However, the Romans removed the authority for the Sanhedrin to exercise capital punishment in Judea.  The Babylonian comment could have been written for two reasons:

  1. For Jews living in the Diaspora who were not under the authority of the laws of Judea.
  1. To reflect the ideals of Judaism, not for the actual intended punishment.

 

Either way, if she was found guilty by the rabbinic court, the end was the same. Nonetheless, being unfaithful was one thing, but being pregnant and unfaithful was another. Joseph could not, would not, have stoned Mary for four reasons:

  1. As previously stated, the custom of stoning an adulterous woman was completely out of use by the first century in most areas where Jews lived. At a later time the scribes and Pharisees brought before Jesus a woman they accused of adultery. But that was only a hypothetical question, which leads to the second reason.
  2. Capital punishment was eliminated by the Romans under the reign of Herod the Great with the exception of Gentiles who entered restricted areas of the temple. Herod’s domain included the district of Galilee, but the legal authority of the Sanhedrin was limited to Judea.
  1. The stoning could not have been committed by Joseph, because the couple’s wedding had not yet taken place. Cultural rules required her father or older brother to carry out the death sentence. The same is true today among orthodox Muslims, where the family execution is known as an “honor killing” and is supported by Sharia Law. However, such an execution would have only occurred after a judicial action, not by a family in revenge.[39]
  1. But the most important reason is the fact that since Mary was pregnant, stoning her would have resulted in the death to an innocent child, which would have made the executioner guilty of the child’s murder.

 

Therefore, a divorce was Joseph’s only option until an angel directed him to do otherwise.[40] But a quiet divorce was an expensive option for Joseph because he would have been obligated to support her.  His decision to consider this, illustrates the fact that for Mary’s sake, he would take the expensive route rather than the socially honorable and economically affordable one.

 

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And this is why: during the previous two centuries, the Pharisees attempted to bring the people back to basic Torah instruction by emphasizing the kindness of God rather than legalistic attitudes. This was obviously contradictory to many of their other rules and contrary to what many students of the Bible learn today.  One of the reforms they instituted was that a husband had to pay support for the wife he divorced.[41]  Not all Pharisees agreed as there were many religious sects under the Pharisee umbrella. Amazingly, while they are justly criticized for their legalistic harshness, they should also be noted for some of their kind and responsible landmark decisions.[42]

In summary, if Joseph had accused Mary of adultery, a public divorce based on adultery would have cost him nothing. He would have saved his family’s honor, and kept her dowry. A quiet divorce would have cost him alimony payments. However, then he received a message from an angel and he chose to follow the difficult road of life that God had chosen for them.

 

04.03.08.Q3 Why do the gospels fail to call Jesus the “Prince of Peace?” as predicted in Isaiah 9:6 (see Mt. 1:18-25)?

Isaiah 9:6 refers to the Messiah as the “Prince of Peace,” yet nowhere is the title found in the gospels or in the New Testament. Jesus is, however, referred to as “the Prince of Life” (Acts 3:15), “a Prince and Savior” (Acts 5:31), and “Prince of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5).  The book of Isaiah is sometimes referred to as the “Gospel of the Old Testament,” because it contains so many prophecies of His first coming as well as His second. When Jesus was on earth He came as a servant and teacher.  When He returns He will rule the nations of the earth for a thousand years and, as such, then He will be the Prince of Peace.

In His first coming, Jesus taught the principles of the Kingdom of God, whereby men’s hearts can be changed and, consequently, they can obtain an inner peace that is beyond all human understanding. In His second coming, Jesus will rule this earth and institute international peace. He may not have received the official title of “Prince of Peace” by any New Testament writers, but those who accepted Him and allowed Him to transform their lives, certainly know Him as such. In Bible times, the definition of a word, phrase, or title was no different than the word, phrase, or title itself.

 

04.03.08.Q4 Can the concept of the virgin birth be supported historically (Mt. 1:18-25)?

Throughout Church history there has been unanimous agreement on this biblical subject.  Only on rare occasion did anyone challenge this basic doctrine, and those individuals were identified as heretics and quickly removed from Church. Only in modern times has it been controversial, and in some circles, popular, to challenge it. Yet, there are a number of non-Christian witnesses to the event. One of them is the Qu’ran, which reads as follows:

Jesus was of virgin birth and performed many miracles.  But those to whom he came as a Prophet rejected him, and plotted for his death.  Their plots failed for God’s plan is above man’s plots.

Qu’ran, Sura 3:35[43]

 

The virgin birth is also evidenced by the number of hostile witnesses who wrote against it.  If the birth was a myth, then the witnesses would have been dismissed as such. But so many believed it, so that about the year A.D. 180, Celsus, a Greek philosopher, vigorously attacked all aspects of Christianity and espoused the virtues of classical paganism in a writing titled On the True Doctrine.  He claimed that Jesus was not born of a virgin, but had a father by the name of Panthera.[44]

In the Greek, this name sounds nearly the same as the same word for “virgin” and, therefore, it was an insulting pun.  While his work has been lost in history, portions of it were preserved through the literary work of church father, Origen of Alexandria. In the year A.D. 248, Origen wrote a rebuttal entitled, Against (or Contra) Celsus. It is from this academic discussion that historians know that Celsus promoted philosophical hatred against the Christian faith.

Let us imagine what a Jew – let alone a philosopher – might put to Jesus: “Is it not true, good sir, that you fabricated the story of your birth from a virgin to quiet rumors about the true and unsavory circumstances of your origins? Is it not the case that far from being born in royal David’s city of Bethlehem, you were born in a poor country town and of a woman who earned her living by spinning?  Is it not the case that her deceit was discovered, that she was pregnant by a Roman soldier named Panthera she was driven away by her husband, the carpenter, and convicted of adultery?  Indeed, is it not so that in her disgrace, wandering far from home she gave birth to a male child in silence and humiliation? What more?  Is it not so that you hired yourself out as a workman in Egypt, learned magical crafts and gained something of a name for yourself which now you flaunt among your kinsmen?”

 Celsus, quoted by Origen in Contra Celsus 1.28-34[45]

 

Celsus claimed that there was an error by the gospel writers in writing the Greek word panthenos (meaning virgin), and what was meant was Parthera, a masculine name. His theory may have come from Jewish sources who also opposed the Christian movement because it was emptying synagogues and converting others into churches. Like Celsus, Jewish critics claimed that Jesus was not born of a virgin, but His mother was a prostitute and His true father was a Roman soldier known as Pandira or Parthera.[46]

Yet while the Jewish leadership looked upon Jesus with great disdain, some admired His ability to perform miracles. This is evidenced by two interesting accounts that happened later – possibly in the second or early third century.  In both stories someone was sick and someone else offered to pray in the name of Jesus, but it is a prayer in the name of Jesus, the son of Pandira, a/k/a the son of Parthera. These are examples of the unique healing power of Jesus – one is accepted, the other, denied.[47]

  1. Rabbi Joshua ben Levi had an ill grandchild with a life-threatening disease in the throat. Someone came and mumbled a prayer “In the name of Jesus, the son of Pandira” and the child was healed.
  1. A certain Rabbi Eliezer ben Damah was bitten by a poisonous snake and a Jacobus Capharsamensis came to visit him. Jacobus offered to pray a prayer of healing in the name of Jesus the son of Pandira, but Rabbi Ishmael denied the offer of prayer. Consequently, he died.

 

While these accounts occurred long after the resurrection of Jesus, they reflect three important insights:

  1. The power that was in the name of Jesus, even if He was incorrectly identified (“son of Pandira”).
  1. The power associated with the name of Jesus and how rabbis reacted to it.
  1. The on-going struggle the Jewish people had with the identity of Jesus.

 

The core issue was that the rabbis did not want to admit who Jesus was; certainly not that He was born of a virgin, even though He had demonstrated all the signs and wonders predicted in the Bible.

In the Babylonian Talmud, Jesus is described as a Balaam, one who deceived the Jewish people.  While the Talmud does not give proper names, it does record a story of a woman who “played harlot with carpenters.”[48]  The context of the account obviously reflects upon Mary and Joseph.  By stating this, the Talmud does provide witness of the dynamic impact Jesus had upon the Jewish community and their rejection of Him throughout history.[49]  On a side note, to use a name dignified someone, to speak of them without a name added insult.

In the Greek culture, with its cultural passion of sexual desires, the Athenians named their city’s patron goddess Athene, He Parthenos meaning “the Virgin.”[50]  Even within the pagan culture, the word was commonly understood to mean “virgin.”   While some critics have suggested that the virgin birth was invented by the Church, there are three distinct reasons that, when taken together, suggest otherwise and support the biblical account.

  1. The first century church believed in the historical virgin birth;
  1. There was no pre-Christian speculation that the Messiah would have been born as a virgin. Isaiah 7:14 was not recognized as a prophecy until after Jesus was born.[51]
  1. Since the messiah would be a son of David it was thought he would have to be naturally conceived. The idea of a virgin birth was a radically new concept within the Jewish community. No one writing a fictitious account would deliberately create an issue that would have caused criticism. Therefore, for church leaders to invent the idea of a virgin birth would have been an invitation for criticism.[52]

 

By the fifth or sixth century a Jewish writer picked up the heresy of Celsus and placed it in an anti-Christian book titled Toledot-Yeshu meaning Generations of Yeshua that was obviously written for a Jewish audience. The writer identified the Roman soldier as Yosef ben-Pandera (Jewish name?) and the factitious account became part of the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 104b, and Sanhedrin 67a, as well as the Tosefta Chullin 2:22-23.[53]

 

04.03.08.Q5 What is the significance of the virgin birth (Mt. 1:18-25)?

This is a theological question that is beyond the scope of this paper, but three brief answers are as follows:

  1. Throughout the Old Testament Period, the miraculous birth of a child to elderly parents was a well-established pattern that God used to announce that a special person was born – usually a prophet. The virgin birth of Jesus was the culmination of all the miraculous births recorded throughout Jewish history.
  1. The virgin birth is critical in that it broke the generational curse of sin that has plagued humanity since Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptations of Satan.[54] The basic understanding of sin is critical in order to comprehend the significance of what Jesus saved us from, as well as what He saved us to.[55] The absolute purity and holiness of Jesus could begin only with a virgin birth. Thus He did not receive the curse that had been transmitted from generation to generation since Adam. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were nothing less than a continuance of that purity and holiness.[56]
  1. Another reason for the virgin birth, one that is often overlooked, arises in Jeremiah 22:24-30. This passage pertains to the curse of Jechoniah, who is in the line of Joseph. Joseph could not have been the biological father of Jesus, because of two issues (mankind’s sin and the curse of Jechoniah), but he became the legal adopted father, or step-father of Jesus. According to rabbinic writings, Mary is referred to as “Miriam, the daughter of Heli” meaning the genealogy of Jesus was recognized as being through Mary and not Joseph.[57]

 

By a gracious and merciful God, we have Christ Jesus who bore our sins (past, present, and future) on the cross.  The parallel between Adam and Jesus in Romans 5:12-21, and to a lesser extent, in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 are important.  Every person who has ever lived has inherited a sin nature from Adam. But Jesus, born of a virgin, did not have that sin nature, although He had the opportunity and temptations to sin.  Yet He chose not to sin. By His sinless life, death, and resurrection, He not only brought salvation by which man would be saved from the consequences of sin, but also be saved to salvation with Himself.  This incredible gift of eternal life is available to anyone who accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior and commits their life to Him. Acceptance of the virgin birth as a historical fact is foundational in understanding who Jesus is and the development of one’s relationship with Him. It was through Eve, a virgin in the Garden of Eden, that death entered into the world.  Now through Mary, a virgin, life would enter into the world.

 

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Finally, there is a teaching that the blood of the unborn child comes from the father and, therefore, the transfer of sin was broken by the virgin birth.  However, modern science has proven this blood theory to be wrong.  As previously stated, Roman Catholics also grappled with the problem of the transfer of sin from the Virgin Mary to Christ Jesus.  They resolved the issue with the belief that she too was born of a virgin, so she too was pure and holy.  Protestants disagree because this does not reconcile with Scripture as Psalm 51:5 suggests states that the sinful nature is generational, passing from one generation to another at time of conception. The complete answer remains a divine mystery.  However, the miracle of Jesus is that He not only was born of a virgin, but He also received His human nature from His sanctified mother and, hence, her sinful nature did not enter Him.[58] Holiness is a work of the Holy Spirit, not the absence of a male sperm.

 

04.03.08.Q6 How does one explain other so-called virgin births in history?

Critics have long stated that the claim of a virgin birth was typical of the day; the early Church simply mimicked what existed in the neighboring pagan cultures.  The Egyptian pharaohs claimed it, as did Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, and Augustus Caesar even claimed to have walked on water.  Virgin births were associated with deity, meaning that those who claimed to have been born without an earthly father were, in fact, gods. However, when the so-called pagan virgin births are compared to the biblical account, the differences are profound. It leads the reader to conclude that critics simply cannot relate the birth of Jesus to any historical figure.

No pagan account credits the Holy Spirit, or any other spirit, for the conception. Rather, various kings and emperors claimed their virgin act was generally the result of the sexual action of a serpent. Because snakes shed their skin annually, they were symbolic of renewed life, rather than representative of Satan and death, which is a later Christian interpretation. Therefore, it was only natural that the ancients created a myth in which the symbol of renewed life was also the explanation of a new life conceived by a “virgin birth.”

For example, in the second century (A.D.), the Roman historian Suetonius wrote The Lives of the Caesars: the Deified Augustus in which he described the so-called virgin birth of Octavian, later known as Caesar Augustus. Suetonius said that he acquired his information from Asclepius of Mendes, who authored Theologumena (Discourse about the Gods).[59] Note the words of Octavian’s mother Attia:

Then a serpent glided up to her and shortly went away.  When she awoke she purified herself, as after the embraces of her husband, and at once there appeared on her body the mark in colors like a serpent, and she could never get rid of it; so that presently she ceased ever to go to the public baths.  In the tenth month after that Augustus was born and was therefore regarded as the son of Apollo.  

Suetonius, The Deified Augustus 94.4

 

Alexander the Great also claimed to have been born of a “virgin.” Whether his mother was a virgin at the time of her conception, or if she, after a normal marital relationship, conceived him by non-human means is unknown. Nonetheless, according to one myth, Alexander was conceived by a divine snake and another myth claimed the conception was by a lightning bolt. The Greek historian Plutarch[60] said the following of Alexander,

[2] … It is said that his father Philip fell in love with Olympias, Alexander’s mother, at the time when they were both initiated into the mysteries at Samothrace…. On the night before the marriage was consummated, the bride dreamed that there was a crash of thunder, that her womb was struck by a thunderbolt, and that there followed a blinding flash from which a great sheet of flame blazed up and spread far and wide before it finally died away …. [The soothsayer] Aristander of Telmessus … declared that the woman must be pregnant.  At another time a serpent was seen stretched out at Olympias’ side as she slept, and it was this more than anything else, we are told, which weakened Philip’s passion and cooled his affection for her, so that from that time on he seldom came to sleep with her. The reason for this may either have been that he was afraid she would cast some evil spell or charm upon him or else that he recoiled from her embrace because he believed that she was the consort of some higher being.

[3] … According to Eratosthenes, Olympias, when she sent Alexander on his way to lead his great expedition to the East, confided to him and to him alone the secret of his conception and urged him to show himself worthy of his divine parentage ….

Plutarch, Life of Alexander, Selections from Chapters 2 – 3[61]

 

History is filled with religious and political figures who claimed to have been born of a mortal woman and divine father. One critic stated how stupid other people’s myths are, implying that Christians are likewise as foolish for their belief.[62] Yet he fails to recognize that the biblical account is radically different from other accounts. Those who claim that the church fathers copied the virgin birth concept cannot explain the huge difference between the gospel account and pagan accounts. Therefore, it could not have been a “copycat” version.[63]

 

04.03.08.Q7 Could the idea of a virgin birth have been borrowed from pagan sources as critics claim (Mt. 1:18-25)?

Impossible! While this question has been answered to some degree in the preceding paragraphs,[64] the following is to be noted: Pagan mythologies, primarily those of the Babylonians, Greeks and Romans, were extremely hostile to Judaism. Therefore, no respectable Jew would ever have considered taking an element from a pagan religion, especially one as radical as a virgin birth. The concept of stealing such an idea would have caused riots in the synagogues.  Yet the Jews were known to acknowledge miraculous births to elderly parents, but a virgin birth was too close to paganism for them.  Another observation is that the gospels were written in a Jewish context, which included the firm belief that no mere human could be a god or be transformed into a god.  The Greeks, however, believed that certain individuals could be deified.

There are some noteworthy observations that have been made of legendary figures.  For example, concerning Alexander the Great, none of the legends and myths about him existed during or shortly after his life. Plutarch, who authored Life of Alexander, (see quotation above) lived some four centuries after the world conqueror died – which was more than sufficient time for fanciful stories to become touted as truth.  No ancient manuscripts written by eyewitnesses have been uncovered, whereas the gospels, which were written within three or four decades after Jesus, report numerous eyewitnesses  – a time far too short for any legends or myths to develop.  Furthermore, all but one of the apostles died a martyr’s death.  Would anyone die an agonizing death for a fanciful myth?  Their commitment to the truth until their dying day is a profound testimony to the accuracy of the four gospels.

Finally, it was common among non-Jewish cultures to freely borrow ideas and philosophies from each other.  Jewish people who did likewise became known as “Hellenized Jews” and were severely frowned upon by orthodox Jews who maintained the biblical command to “be a separate people.”   Later, the Apostle Paul gave similar instructions in Colossians 2:6-8 and 1 Timothy 6:20.  The suggestion that the church fathers borrowed pagan ideas and inserted them into the New Testament demonstrates gross ignorance of the first century Jewish culture and the passion for which the apostles lived and died.[65]

 

04.03.08c (2)

 

04.03.08.Q8 If Jesus was born of a virgin, why did the Apostle Paul refer to it only once (1 Cor. 15:8)?

He hardly mentioned it because it was an assumed historical fact. Everybody understood this to have occurred and there was no need to question it.  Even the pagans who lived in the Bethlehem area admitted the occurrence of the event.  The fact that the apostle was silent on the matter simply means that he had more important issues to discuss.  But an argument from silence is always a weak argument, especially in this case, when some of the original apostles were still alive.

Yet the Apostle Paul made a number of comments.

  1. He affirmed the Jesus connection to Abraham (Gal. 3:16)
  2. He affirmed the genealogy of David to Jesus (Rom. 1:3)
  3. He affirmed the true humanity and life of Jesus under the Law (Gal. 4:4)
  4. He affirmed many discussions of inter-personal issues, such as divorce (1 Cor. 7:10), made by Jesus.
  5. He affirmed the events of the Last Supper, (1 Cor. 11:23-26), and His death, burial, resurrection, and appearances after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3-8). In light of all that the apostle said and his purpose of writing, it is easy to understand why there was no need to discuss the birth of Jesus or anything else about His human paternity.
  6. However, Paul did make an interesting reference to the miraculous birth when he mentioned “one abnormally born” (see 1 Cor. 15:8 below).

In his second letter to the Corinthian church he recited a four-line hymn of the early church (15:3b-5), after which he added additional witnesses of the resurrected Jesus. In verse 8 he mentioned the unusual birth, an obvious reference to Jesus.

3a For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:

                 3b That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

                 4 that He was buried,

                 that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

                 5 And that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.

6 The He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time; most of them are still alive,

But some have fallen asleep.

7 Then He appeared to James,

then to all the apostles.

8 Last of all, as to one abnormally born, He also appeared to me.

            1 Corinthians 15:3-8

 

[1]. See “Katuvah” in Appendix 26.

 

[2]. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes. 44-45.

 

[3]. Barag and Flusser, “The Ossuary of Yehohanah.” 39-44.

 

[4]. A partial listing of an estimated 60 messianic pretenders is found in Appendix 25 “False Prophets, Rebels, Significant Events, And Rebellions That Impacted The First Century Jewish World.”

 

[5]. Eusebius 3.12., (Cruse 81).

[6]. Eusebius 3.19-20, (Cruse 84-85).

[7]. Eusebius 3:32, (Cruse 97-98).

[8]. For related divorce issues, see Josephus, Antiquities. 4.8.23; 15.8,10 and 18.9.6.

 

[9]. See 08.02.01-05, Marriage, Divorce, Oaths And Forgiveness.

 

[10]. Poor families had a one or two-day wedding feast, while wealthy families always had a seven-day feast. Mary and Joseph probably had a very quiet one or two day wedding feast.

[11]. Matthews, Manners and Customs. 225; Trutza, “Marriage.” 4:94-96; Maier, In the Fullness of Time. 21; See also Micah 5 and Gal. 4.

[12]. Matthew mentions the fulfillment of prophecies in 2:15, 17, 23; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:56; 27:9 many of which were prophesied in Psalm 2, 16, 22, 110, 118; Isaiah 7 9, 11, 53; Micah 5; and Zechariah 4, 6, 9, 14.

[13]. New International Version Study Bible footnote on Mt. 1:22.

[14]. Niessen. “The Virginity of Almah in Isaiah 7:14.” 134-35, 147.

 

[15]. Niessen. “The Virginity of Almah in Isaiah 7:14.” 141.

 

[16]. Vine, “Virgin.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 1:276-77; 2:661.

 

[17]. Johnson, “Matthew.” 7:255.

[18]. Bruce, Defense. 39.

[19]. Niessen. “The Virginity of Almah in Isaiah 7:14.” 134-41.

 

[20]. For an exhaustive study on the subject, see Almah – Virgin or Young Woman by George L. Lawlor.  His work includes a detailed review of the seven passages where the word almah is used in Gen. 24:43; Ex. 2:8; 1 Chron. 15:20; Ps. 46:1; 68:25; Prov. 30:19; Song of Sol. 1:3; 6:8; and Isa. 7:14.

[21]. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 54-55.

[22]. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 65.

[23]. See “type and shadow” in Appendix 26.

 

[24]. Franz. “Who is Immanuel?” 113-115.

 

[25]. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 55; Green, Interlinear Greek-English New Testament; Berry, Interlinear Literal Translation of the Greek New Testament.

 

[26]. The Apocryphal book titled the History of Joseph the Carpenter indicates in Ch. 11 that Joseph had four older sons and several daughters by a previous marriage.  This text is significant to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. See also Farrar, Life of Christ. 44.

[27]. Miller, The Jesus of the Bible. 42; This is evidence that some church records, especially after the age of Constantine, are at times unreliable.

 

[28]. Johnson, “Matthew.” 7:254.    

[29]. Lash, The Ancient Jewish Wedding. 6.

[30]. Roman, Jesus of Galilee. 246-47.

[31]. Matthews, Manners and Customs. 225; Trutza, “Marriage.” 4:94-96; Maier, In the Fullness of Time. 21; Lash, The Ancient Jewish Wedding. 7-10, 14.

[32]. Maier, In the Fullness of Time. 16-21; Trutza, “Marriage.” 4:94-96; Goldberg and Rayner, The Jewish People. 372-74; See also Deut. 24:1-4.

[33]. For further study, see the third division of the Mishnah is titled Nashim, (Women). The chapters include instruction pertaining the Ketuboth (Marriage Deeds), Nadarim (Vows), Gittin (Bills of Divorce), and Kiddushin (Betrothals).

[34]. Lash, The Ancient Jewish Wedding. 9.

[35]. Acts 159-160 is a reference to the legislative acts recorded in Hammurabi’s Code.

[36]. Wright and Thompson, “Marriage” 2:955.

[37]. Lash, The Ancient Jewish Wedding.  9-11.

[38]. The practice of killing a woman suspected of sexual activity prior to marriage was practiced among some pagan tribes, and still is practiced in many Muslim communities who call it “honor killing.”

 

[39]. This subject is explained in further detail in  08.02.07.Q1 “Did Moses quote Hammurabi, and if so, how does this affect the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:18?”

 

[40]. If the betrothal of a young girl was terminated, then she and her father received the bill of divorce. Mishnah, Gittin 6.2.

[41]. Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. 134-35.

 

[42]. See “Pharisees” 02.01.14.

 

[43]. Muhammad founded Islam in the 7th century A.D. and the Qu’ran (Koran) was compiled a century or two later. The more distant a literary work is from the time of its subject, the less reliable it is.  Nonetheless, the Koranic quotation is included anyway for the benefit of Muslim readers.

 

[44]. Barclay, “John.” 2:28.

 

[45]. Stein, R. Jesus the Messiah. 33.

[46]. See 04.03.08.Q4 Can the concept of the virgin birth be supported historically?

 

[47]. Adapted from Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:150.

 

[48]. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 106 a-b.

 

[49]. Stein, R. Jesus the Messiah. 33, 67.

[50]. Bruce, Answers to Questions. 39.

[51]. See an interesting parallel account in Shepherd, Massey H. “An Unpublished Dead Sea Scroll Text Parallels Luke’s Infancy Narrative.” Biblical Archaeology Review 16:2 (Mar/April, 1990). 24-26.

 

[52]. For further study, see 04.03.08.Q7 “How does one explain other so-called virgin births in history?”

 

[53]. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. 113. See also Herford, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash.

 

[54]. Critics have posed four questions: 1) Was Jesus born of a virgin? 2) Was Jesus the Son of God? 3) Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God? 4) Did He rise from the grave? To affirm negatively to one of more of these questions reflects a loss of faith and denial of who Jesus was in the first century and who He is today.

 

[55]. Marino, “The Origin, Nature, and Consequences of Sin.” 255-58.

[56]. See a King James Version or New American Standard Version of the Bible.

[57]. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 2, page 12.

 

[58]. Lawlor, Almah. 25-35.

[59].  Franz, http://www.lifeandland.org/2009/02/the-angelic-proclamation-to-the-shepherds-luke-28-15/. Retrieved July 22, 2015.

 

[60]. Plutarch a/k/a Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus, (A.D. 45-120) was a Greek historian, essayist and biographer who is known for two books, Parallel Lives which included the Life of Alexander, and Moralia. His few surviving works appear to have been written in Koine Greek, the common Greek language of the first century. See Warmington, ed. Plutarch’s Lives: Demosthenes and Cicero, Alexander and Caesar, Vol 7.

 

[61]. http://www.medmalexperts.com/POCM/pagan_ideas_virgin_birth.html Retrieved July 8, 2011. See Warmington, ed. Plutarch’s Lives: Demosthenes and Cicero, Alexander and Caesar, Vol 7.

 

[62]. http://www.medmalexperts.com/POCM/pagan_ideas_virgin_birth.html. Retrieved July 8, 2011.

 

[63]. For further study see Dewayne Bryant, “The Pagan Christ in the Popular Culture.” 45-47.

 

[64]. See 03.04.08.Q4

 

[65]. For further study on this subject, see Gregory A. Boyd. Jesus under Siege. Chapter 4.

 



04.03.09 Bethlehem (c. 6-5 B.C.); THE REGISTRATION (or Census)

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 14, 2016  -  2 Comments

04.03.09 Lk 2:1-3 Bethlehem (c. 6-5 B.C.)

 

THE REGISTRATION (or Census)   

 

1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire should be registered. 2 This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.     3 So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town.

“In those days … Caesar Augustus.” Luke linked the birth of Christ to both the reign of Caesar,[1] and the governor-general Cyrenius (spelled Quirinius in Latin) of Damascus, as well as to several historical events in Rome. This method of dating was common in the ancient world, as the modern calendar had not yet been developed. According to today’s calendar, Augustus was born in 63 B.C. and he reigned from 31 B.C. to A.D. 14.  He was the first Roman emperor who held sole power and, as such, expanded the empire to encircle the Mediterranean Sea.  He developed the Golden Age for literature, architecture, and military accomplishments.  He is credited with Pax Romana, meaning peace by the Roman military might, during which there were no major international conflicts for nearly a century although Jewish rebellions seemed to occur regularly. However, between the years 7 and 5 B.C., there was peace. But, to say that Roman peace existed in Judea and Galilee during the lifetime of Jesus – that is completely incorrect. Israel was the eastern frontier that faced the Parthians, and while the expanding Parthians were considered a threat to Roman security, the heavy military presence in Judea and Galilee deterred any potential military conflicts.  Augustus also streamlined the functions of government that gave local vassal rulers, such as Herod the Great, greater autonomy and provided procedures for provincials to claim redress of abuses by their rulers.  The Romans essentially had two goals: to collect taxes and maintain peace.  As long as their vassal kings accomplished these two goals, they were pleased.[2] However, the common people living under Roman rule became economic slaves.  Their huge tax contributions supported the military machine and the affluent lifestyle of the wealthy bureaucrats in Rome and in the provincial capitals. To insure the maximum taxation potential, a census was taken every fourteen years or more frequently when a new governor demanded it.

A census generally required two years to complete after a decree was issued.  All men between the ages of 15 and 60 were required to register at their ancestral village.[3]  However, one of the lingering mysteries is why the Jews had to return to their city of origin.  The Romans could not have cared less about the Jewish people or their history. The population count could have been taken wherever the Jewish people were residing permanently, rather than making them return to the tribal areas that were allotted to them some 1,500 years earlier.

The Jews always looked upon a census with fearful reservations. They remembered the census ordered by King David and the fatal results that followed (2 Sam. 24). They concluded, therefore, that another census could invoke the wrath of God upon the Roman Empire and they would be included in the divine wrath because they participated in it.[4]

The term “the whole empire” has been a point of debate. It literally means the inhabited land. The phrase originated with the Greeks meaning the entire region that they occupied. Later, the Romans adopted the same interpretation.  Some translations have the phrase the world or the whole world. These phrases do not mean the entire globe, but the entire Roman Empire which the Romans considered to be the world.[5] The phrase all the world, or orbis Romanus,[6] was a well-known phrase that meant the entire region under Roman domination.[7] Some scholars believe such a census did not take several years, but several decades.[8] It is amazing that, in secular academic circles, no one challenges the fact that there is not one shred of evidence concerning the census decree that Tiberius made. But in religious academia, the thought that Quirinius functioned as an unofficial governor when Jesus was born, is highly criticized even in light of the stone inscription.[9]

The Greek present tense of the wording of the phrase the whole empire, allows a census to have taken place throughout the empire, but not necessarily as a single census. Historians agree that there never was a single census that covered the entire empire. Residents were counted in several districts but not necessarily at the same time, followed by several other districts.[10]  Therefore, the census in question most certainly was not a single empire-wide counting of millions of people. It should be noted, that Tacitus twice said that during the entire reign of Tiberius, there was never a single census conducted throughout every district of the empire at the same time.  Rather, various sections were counted and, eventually, the “whole” empire was recorded.[11] Therefore, the conclusion to be made is that at the time of Emperor Augustus,

  1. Valuation censuses had been made in many provinces and
  1. These censuses took several years to complete.

It should also be noted that the first census appears to have been only in Judea, whereas the second included all three Jewish provinces. Even though these censuses were about a dozen years apart, in Roman thinking, these could have been part of the bigger valuation of counting the entire empire.

 

04.03.09a (2)

 

Finally, it must be noted that Herod the Great was still the ruler of the Holy Land, but Quirinius was his superior officer. Therefore, the census was probably taken as directed by Quirinius who may have authorized Herod to take the actual census.  However, on the other hand, when considering the wide spread corruption by Roman authorities, Quirinius may not have trusted him to count accurately or honestly.

 

04.03.09.Q1  What is the significance of Luke’s term, the “first registration” in Luke 2:2?

As stated above, critics have long pointed to Luke’s account as proof of error in Scripture. Luke carefully said it was the first registration or census while Quirinius was “governor,” which obviously implies a second census.[12] It is an important point because he took a second census about eleven years later in A.D. 6-9.[13]  It is easy to examine the second census and assume it was his only one.  If that were so, then there would not have been a need to identify the first one as the “first registration.”

04.03.09.A. A RELIEF STONE CARVING OF A ROMAN CENSUS (2)

04.03.09.A. A RELIEF STONE CARVING OF A ROMAN CENSUS.  There was hardly anything that the Romans did that caused deeper resentment than a census. In this relief carving, Jews line up under the watchful eye of Roman soldiers and officials. The population count was used to determine tax potential and the size of the Roman military needed in the event of a rebellion.

 

But there is an interesting point to consider: It was this same Publius Quirinius Varus, a/k/a Quirinius, not Herod the Great, who probably appointed Annas in A.D. 6, as the temple high priest – the same Annas who would later clash with Jesus.[14] As to Quirinius, his life was near an end. In A.D. 9, he was transferred to Europe as the Imperial Legate in Germany.  He crossed the Rhine River with three legions into Germania Magna, which had been occupied by Roman soldiers for the previous twenty years.  He was enticed by German tribesmen to enter the Teutoburgian Forest where he and the entire Roman regiment were slaughtered.[15] Only a few survivors returned to Rome to report of the legendary defeat.

04.03.09.B. ROMAN CENSUS EDICT IN EGYPT (Papyrus 904) (2)

04.03.09.B. ROMAN CENSUS EDICT IN EGYPT (Papyrus 904). Archaeologists have uncovered several ancient documents that refer to a census.  Shown here is an example of such a decree. It was issued in A.D. 104 in the village of Bacchias in Egypt. Photograph courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum Library.

 

A portion of the census edict above reads as follows:

Gaius Vibius Maximus, Praefect of Egypt, states: “The enrollment by household being held, it is necessary to notify all who, for any cause whatsoever, are outside their homes to return to their domestic hearths, that they may also accomplish the customary dispensation of enrollment and continue steadfastly in husbandry that belongs to them.”[16]     

Roman Census Edict in Egypt (Papyrus 904)

 

This public announcement, whose ending was lost, made specific reference to citizens returning to their village for the purpose of a customary dispensation census. While it requires people to return to their homes, it does not suggest the return to one’s ancient tribal home. That poses a problem for some scholars who believe that the Romans required the Jews to return to their own homes because they were sensitive to the Jewish faith.  There are two questions to be noted here:

  1. How or why would such a decree demonstrate sensitivity, when the Jews have a history of hating a census?
  1. Why did the Romans require the Egyptians to return to their homes? They certainly were not Jewish.

It must be noted that the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus and some 270 other documents found in Egypt indicate that a census was taken every fourteen years from 5/6 B.C. to A.D. 258.[17]  Fragments of various announcements discovered elsewhere also indicate the Roman custom of population counts at fourteen year intervals, although no discoveries have been made for the years A.D. 76 and 90.[18] The historian Suetonius noted that censuses in the years 28 B.C., 8 B.C. and A.D. 14 included Roman citizens.[19] On occasion, a census required women be counted with their husbands or fathers.

The combined taxes of its many provinces allowed the Roman emperors to give their people in Italy free “bread and circuses,” on a grand scale never seen before or since.  Nearly all construction projects were built by thousands of slaves from captured lands and the materials paid for by foreign tax revenue.[20]

When a decision was made to have a census taken, the public announcement was generally made in the month of Epeiph (late June) and the subjects had a year to be counted.  However, some historians believe it may have taken as long as three years to count the entire population of a given province or country. Those who failed to register could have up to a fourth of their possessions confiscated as a fine.  If they failed for two consecutive censuses, then they could lose up to half of their property.[21]

The census included a brief description of the husband, the age of his wife, and an inventory of their possessions, such as the number of flat-tailed sheep and camels, and their house. It had to be signed, under oath, by the individual submitting the document.  Likewise, a notice was given that punishment was to be meted out for those who provided false information.  The oath was especially offensive to an orthodox Jew, such as Joseph, as it contained wording whereby he had to swear to his truthfulness and allegiance to the Roman emperor or deity.[22] An example of an enrollment was found in Egypt that was written by a small Egyptian farmer.  The sworn letter was signed on July 24, A.D. 66, in which he said,

To Papiscus, former cosmetes of the city and now strategus of the Oxyrhynchite nome, and Ptolemaeus, royal scribe, and the writers of the nome, from Harmitsis, the son of Petosiris (the son of Petosiris), his mother being Didyme, the daughter of Diogenes, of the men of the village of Phthochis which is in the eastern toparchy.[23]  I enrolled in the present 12th year of Nero Claudius Augustus Germanicus Imperator, nigh unto that same Phthochis, of the young of the sheep that I have, twelve lambs. And now I enroll those that since have been born, for the present second enrollment; of the young of those same sheep seven lambs – there are seven lambs. And I swear by Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Imperator that I have kept nothing back.  Farewell.[24]

 

When Quirinius ordered a second census in A.D. 6, it generated a major controversy. There can be little question that paying taxes to a foreign pagan power and the requirement of swearing upon a pagan emperor or deity were major reasons why Judas of Galilee and his nationalistic followers revolted. This suggests that the special census that predated the birth of Jesus significantly increased social tensions – tensions that exploded into conflict during the second census.[25]

 

04.03.09.Q2 Did Luke make an error concerning Quirinius (Lk. 2:1-7)?

 Luke said that the birth of Jesus occurred when Augustus was emperor and Quirinius was governing Syria (Lk. 2:1-7).   However, the problem is the lack of evidence that Quirinius (46 B.C. – A.D. 9) was governor when Jesus was born (7-5 B.C.).  Critics have a legitimate reason to question this matter, but it can be addressed by examining the official of the office as well as one who functions temporarily without the official title.

According to two ancient historians, he was a special legate (diplomatic representative with military authority) charged by the Roman Senate to quell the Homonadensian Revolt in the Taurus Mountains in Asia Minor (now southeastern modern Turkey) which then was a part of Syria.[26]  In fact, Tertullian said that Sentius Saturninus ruled from 9-6 B.C. and Quinctilius Varus ruled from 7-4 B.C. (note the one-year overlap), so there is obviously doubt if Quintilius was the “official” governor at all.[27]

To add additional confusion, Josephus recorded Varus as reigning in A.D. 6.  The fact remains that Quirinius was not in the official position of governor, but functioned as governor as he was in charge of Syria’s defense and foreign policy under Varus. Since Galilee, Perea, and Judea were within Syria’s administrative district, Quirinius would have supervised the census and accompanying registration. Yet critics claim Luke make an error when he wrote the biblical account.  Amazingly, “the stones cried out” the truth concerning this issue.

In 1764, a fragmented stone inscription was discovered near Tivoli, twenty miles east of Rome. It is known as the Tibur Inscription or the Lapis Tiburtinus (CIL XIV 3613) and is now in the Vatican Museum.  This stone monument honored an official who had twice taken control of the affairs of Syria as the personal representative of Caesar Augustus.[28]  Due to the fact that only part of the entire inscription was found, the honored official cannot be identified. Many scholars believe this individual was Quirinius.  Then, in 1880, the other missing part of the Tibur Inscription was discovered as part of a tomb, but the name of the official remains unclear. Scholars believe that the inscription of both pieces reads as follows:

At Quirinius’s command I carried out a census in Apamea, a city of 117,000 inhabitants. Also at Quirinius’s command I marched against the Ituraeans and captured their fortress on the mountains of Lebanon.

Tibur Inscription[29]

 

Therefore, from archaeological discoveries, inscriptions written in stone begin to clarify the status of Quirinius at the time when Jesus was born. Luke did not make an error in his report, but that leads to the next question (04.03.09.Q3).

 

04.03.09.Q3  Why did Joseph have to return to Bethlehem for a Roman census?

When the Romans conducted a census, they cared little for the family or tribal affiliations of their subjects, but they did want peace. They were essentially interested in the tax potential and required military in the event of an uprising.  The question is of particular interest because, according to history, the Romans almost never required anyone to return to “each to his own town.”  There is no record of a Roman census anywhere else that required residents to return to their ancient tribal lands, except in Egypt (see 04.03.09.B). They could not have cared less about Jewish ancestral tribes or lands, yet Joseph had to return to his ancient home. However, if this was a Jewish census, then the question would be understandable since all Jews inherited land from the distribution during the days of Joshua. The following suggestions have been presented to explain his trip to Bethlehem.

  1. The Jews have always looked upon a census with disdain. When King David took a census, the wrath of God fell upon the nation. Neither Rome nor the Jewish leaders wanted another rebellion, so some scholars believe that the Sadducees, who were friends with the Romans, suggested that if everyone was required to return to their original tribal area, then a rebellion would be less likely.
  1. Another suggestion is that the census was for the purpose of taxing land products. Since Joseph’s family came from the tribe that settled in Bethlehem, he may have had vested interest in the land. Therefore, he would have been required to return to his hometown for the tax census.[30]

While the answer may never be fully known, what is known is that there was peace at the time of this census. But when Quirinius instituted another census in A.D. 6, it appears that he levied two kinds of taxes.[31]

  1. A property tax, or tributum soli or agri. This was a tax on agricultural or other products and could be paid in kind or in cash.
  1. A poll tax, or tributum capitis. This tax was an equal amount, that varied from region to region, that had to be paid by every qualified person – only children and old men were excluded (no mention of old women).

 

04.03.09d (2)

 

Since the second census appears to have been more extensive registration than the first, the result was a rebellion and discussions of it extended throughout the first century. The rebellion of the second census is well known, for even Luke wrote of in in Acts 5:37, “in the days of the census.” The obvious question then arises as to why he didn’t follow the advice of Jews as he had done previously? The mystery remains veiled.  Whether Quirinius was governor when Jesus was born is a moot point; he evidently was in a position of authority at the time. There are two concluding points to be considered:[32]

  1. At the command of Quirinius of Syria, the first census was taken while Herod the Great was still king. Rome knew all too well of Herod’s health issues, that he was a brutal dictator, and there was always imminent danger of a rebellion. They were not about to take any chances in this volatile part of the world. The death of Herod the Great and the rivalry of his sons that followed provided ample opportunity for another Jewish revolt.[33]
  2. The first census was taken before the more well-known census which was also issued by the same Quirinius.
  1. Augustus may have wanted the census to be taken gradually as not to stir an uprising.

 

04.03.09.Q4   Why was Quirinius appointed to the rulership position of the Roman district of Syria?              

The specific reasons for the appointment have been lost in history, but enough is known to reconstruct three reasons with a high degree of accuracy.

  1. The corruption in Syria was well established
  1. Rome was losing tax revenue from this area
  1. There were constant rumors of pending Jewish rebellions.[34] Impoverished Jews who could not pay their taxes had mortgaged their land to the tax collectors.[35] For this reason, Jesus alluded to the debtor, creditor and the prison in his teachings.[36] For example, a steward owes the king and the servant owes the steward (Lk. 7:41; Mt. 18:23).

Historians agree that the problems in Syria at the time go back to at least 57 B.C. when Gabinius was appointed to the office of governor-general or proconsul. Under his leadership (57-55 B.C.) corruption became paramount and did not dissipate upon his departure. Therefore, when Quirinius was installed as governor-general of Syria, corruption of the highest order was well established. For this reason, the Roman historian Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 B.C.), said,

Gabinius extorted, daily, an incalculable weight of gold from the well-stocked and rich treasures of Syria, and made war on the peaceful [people] that he might cast their ancient and hitherto untouched riches into the bottomless gulf of his own lusts.

Cicero, Pro Sestion, 100.43 

 

Elsewhere Cicero said,

In Syria his one employment was to make corrupt agreements with tyrant’s interested decisions, robberies, pillages, and massacres.

Cicero, De Provinciis Consularibus, 100.4

 

While Gabinius ruled five decades before Quirinius Varus and the birth of Jesus, his actions reflect the corrupted standard of government operation in Syria, of which the Jewish Promised Land was a district. The fact that the Persian Empire was a threat on the eastern front coupled with the corruption was a primary concern to Rome. Therefore, Quirinius was installed as a temporary ruler to take a census and straighten out the mess.

Justin Martyr said that Quirinius had been sent to Syria with the title of procurator at the time Jesus was born.[37] Scholars maintain that he was an interim “governor” and that the census was made when he was ruling or administrating his duties in Syria.  According to Roman governmental procedures, each province had its equestrian procurator, who in the eyes of the provincials was almost as important as the governor himself. Therefore, the title of “governor” would have been applied by the common people.[38]

It must be noted that while Quirinius’ command was the District of Syria, the three Jewish provinces within that district comprised only a small area of his responsibilities.  According to Tacitus, it was a common practice during the iron rule of Augustus that when a governor failed to perform as desired, a replacement was sent in to take a census and assume control.  Other provinces where Augustus exercised this action were in Gaul (27 B.C., 12 B.C.), Cyrene (7 B.C.), and Egypt (30 B.C., 9 B.C.). It has been well documented that a census was taken every fourteen years thereafter until about A.D. 270.[39] Therefore, many scholars believe that the 1764 discovery reveals that he was the Quirinius mentioned in the gospels.  If Saturninus ruled from 9-7 B.C., he did so inadequately and, therefore, Quirinius was ordered by Augustus to take temporary control. This theory is a very real possibility.[40]  As previously stated, when a new governor took command, one of his first priorities was to take a census to improve the revenue flow to Rome.  This is precisely what Augustus did in 30 B.C. when he took control of Egypt and initiated the “first census” shortly thereafter.[41]

In addition to the corruption issues in Syria, the domain of Herod the Great had its own unique set of problems. As previously stated, the Jewish land was subject to the Last Will and Testament of Herod.  The Roman puppet made three changes to this document in his last few years of life and each change had to be approved by Rome. Augustus was aware of Herod’s health problems as well as his reputation of being a brutal tyrant and taskmaster. These were the ideal ingredients for a peasant uprising, a potential rebellion the Parthians also recognized.[42] Therefore, a census in the Holy Land would inform Rome of the following:

  1. The number of men who could potentially rebel at the death of Herod – an important fact for any emperor to know.
  1. The tone of the political stability. This was not a numerical figure, but those taking the census could gage the feelings of the people in various communities concerning their hostility. This was as important as knowing the number of men who could potentially be in a revolt, especially, since by this time there were already a number of small revolts against the Romans.
  1. The potential maximum tax revenue of the region. Josephus said that the entire province of Judaea had to pay an annual tax of 600 talents.[43] Since he received his information from Nicholas of Damascus, the personal historian for Herod the Great, his information can be deemed to be highly accurate.[44] That was a huge amount and placed the Jewish people in economic slavery.[45]
  1. Since tax collectors not only cheated the peasant population, but also the government officials, a census could give an estimation of how honest they were. It was common knowledge among governors that at times the collectors had cheated them as well as merchants and peasants.[46]

According to Josephus, Herod found himself in serious disfavor with Rome as well as with his political allies in Syria.[47]  Herod was a puppet king under the direct control of the Roman governor Damascus. When Herod died, his kingdom was divided into four sections, one of which went to the acting Syrian governor. In this politically chaotic environment, scholars believe Quirinius established law and order – precisely what Rome needed.  This opinion has gained virtually total support by scholars when two other inscriptions were discovered in Pisidian Antioch, Syria, which stated a certain citizen served in the military under the reign of Quirinius at this time.  Both inscriptions honored the same citizen.[48]  Luke did not record the name of the official political governor of Syria, but rather, recorded the name of the acting governor who held temporary rulership.  He initiated the census and reported directly to the emperor himself. For this reason, Joseph had to take Mary and travel to his ancestral village of Bethlehem.[49]

[1]. The name “Caesar” was originally the family name of the Julian family. However, in short time it became equivalent to “the Emperor.” See Dunn, “Caesar, Consul, Governor.” 1:269-70. See Appendix 1 for dates of reign.

 

[2]. Connick, The Message and Meaning of the Bible. 112-24; Metzger, The New Testament. 30-32; Tenney, New Testament Times. 130-32.

[3]. Harrison, A Short Life of Christ. 36-37.

 

[4]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:556.

 

[5]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:266.

 

[6]. Schurer, A History of the Jewish People First Division, 2:112.

 

[7]. McDowell. “The Historical Reliability of the New Testament.” 48.

 

[8]. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 66 n17.

 

[9]. See also http://www.ibri.org/RRs/RR004/04census.htm. Retrieved June 6, 2015.

[10]. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. 15.

[11]. Tacitus, Annals 1.11 and Dio Cassius 53.30.2.

[12]. McDowell. “The Historical Reliability of the New Testament.” 47-48.

[13]. Josephus,  Antiquities. 18.2.1; Acts 5:37; Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:267. However, in the year A.D. 9 Quirinius was sent to Germany where he lost his life in battle.

 

[14]. Tenney, New Testament Times. 129.

[15].  See Strabo, Geography 12.6.5, and Tacitus, Annals 3.48; Keller, W. The Bible as History. 372; Stein, R. Jesus the Messiah. 54.

[16]. Deissmann, Light From the Ancient East 270-72; Wilson, Our Father Abraham. 46-48.

[17]. On the census in Roman Egypt, which was typical of the entire Near East, see S. L. Wallace, Taxation in Egypt from Augustus to Diocletian. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University. 1938, 96-115.

[18]. Deissmann, Light From the Ancient East 270-72; Blaiklock, “Census.” 1:771-72; See also Llewelyn, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity. 6:112-146 for other documents related to this subject.

[19]. Suetonius, Augustus 27.5.

[20]. Keller, W. The Bible as History. 357; Stein, R. Jesus the Messiah. 54-55.

[21]. Vardaman, Jerry. “The Roman Census.”  71.

[22]. Link and Tuente. “Swear, Oath.” 3:737-43. Josephus, Antiquities 3.16.10-11.

 

[23]. The word toparchy is translated as province in 1 Macc. 11:28.

 

[24]. This sworn document was found on a piece of parchment that was so narrow that it took 31 lines to write it.  See Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East. 172-74.

 

[25]. Vardaman, Jerry.  “The Roman Census.” 72-73.

[26]. Strabo, Geography 12.6.5; Tacitus, Annals 3.48; Stein, R. Jesus the Messiah. 54; Keller, W. The Bible as History. 358.

[27]. McDowell. “The Historical Reliability of the New Testament.” 48.

 

[28]. Tenney, New Testament Times. 137; Stein, R. Jesus the Messiah. 54.

[29]. Santala, The Messiah in the New Testament. 98. A complete translation is found in Caiger, Archaeology and the New Testament. 141. See also http://www.harrington-sites.com/Carrier.htm#Tiburtinus Retrieved Oct., 15, 2011; See also http://www.ibri.org/RRs/RR004/04census.htm. Retrieved June 6, 2015.

[30]. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 3, page 10.

 

[31]. Schurer, A History of the Jewish People First Division, 2:109-10.

 

[32]. Brindle. “The Census and Quirinius: Luke 2:2.” 52.

 

[33]. From the time the Romans came in 63 B.C. until the “First Revolt” that caused the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in A.D. 70, there were thirteen other revolts and many more riots.  See Appendix 25.

 

[34]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:281, 570-72.

 

[35]. For further study of loans, debts, and how first century Jewish courts ruled, see the Mishnah and the chapter titled Baba Bathra. See also Sanders, “Jesus in Historical Context.” 430.

 

[36]. See 02.03.03 “Economy” for a brief description of the condition of the economy during the ministry years of Jesus.

[37]. Justin Martyr, First Apology. Ch. 34.

 

[38]. The Cambridge Ancient History. Vol. X. 216.

 

[39]. Tacitus, Annals 2.42; Barclay, “Luke.” 20.

 

[40]. See also http://www.ibri.org/RRs/RR004/04census.htm. Retrieved June 6, 2015.

[41]. Santala, The Messiah in the New Testament. 97.

[42]. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. 22-23.

[43]. Josephus, Antiquities 17.11.4 (320)

 

[44]. Josephus, Antiquities 16.7.1 (183).

 

[45] The subject of high taxation that resulted in economic slavery is presented by Josephus, Antiquities 17.11.2 (307-308).  See also 02.03.03 “Economy” and 03.06.04 “4 B.C. The Death of Herod the Great.” See also Sanders. “Jesus in Historical Context.” 430.

[46]. See 06.03.11 for further information.

 

[47]. Josephus, Antiquities 16.9.3.

[48]. Harrison, A Short Life of Christ. 37.

[49]. Connick, The Message and Meaning of the Bible. 112-24; Metzger, The New Testament. 30-32; Tenney, New Testament Times. 130-32.



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