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Putting Christ in Christmas:

Loving Jesus, Jerusalem vs. Bethlehem, the Star and the Magi,
Wonderful Counselor, the Genealogy of Christ, et al.

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Question #1:  

Hi Bob,

Thank you for your helpful, cordial reply. I read all of the epistemology of faith posting.

My question now is: how do/can I know if I really do love Jesus or for that matter, that I love God?


Response #1: 

I am happy to hear this was of some help to you. As to your latest question, while God "is love" and His love is perfect, love for Christians, is, like faith, a variable virtue, and it is in the development of the key virtues that we can measure our progress in the Christian life. Faith corresponds to the truth we learn so as to grow. Hope corresponds to the confidence we have in the Lord as we apply that truth in the crucible of life. Love corresponds to our sharing of truth and its power with other Christians through the ministries to which we are separately and severally called (see the links: "Imitating Christ" for the progression of the virtues, and "The Judgment and Reward of the Church" for how these virtues correspond to our eternal rewards):

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep".
John 21:17 NIV

The measure of love our Lord adduces here is seen in the commitment a person has to doing what the Lord wants that person to do (cf. 1Jn.5:3). Just as our faith is measured by our works of faith (Jas.2:18-26), so love is measured by the dedication we actually deploy toward our dear Lord and His Body the Church. This manifestation of love comes out in all sorts of ways, of course, but as in any relationship, love can grow or decay, and it is not the momentary protestation of love, it is not a temporary emotional demonstration which constitutes true love. No, it is the consistent, dedicated, disciplined practice of acting in love which constitutes true love. Anyone can say "I love you". Only those who truly do love will have something to show for that love over time in the genuine care, concern, and attention they demonstrate to the object of their love. The blessed thing about love and particularly Christian love is that acts of love not only foster love but are part and parcel of the motivation of love behind the acts it inspires. We serve Jesus because we love Him; and our service is the demonstration of the love we feel.

Let me add quickly here that by "service" I do not at all mean what is often traditionally understood by that word. If we truly do love Jesus Christ more than our lives, then we will take the time and the effort – as you are doing – to find out what it is He really esteems (instead of falling in behind a traditional approach). Just as many Pharisees gave much money to their religion but did not love Jesus a whit, so many traditional "manifestations" of Christianity may not in fact have anything to do with a genuine love of Jesus Christ. It is possible to join and serve a church, to give a great deal of money, to work hard for the group, to say all the right things, be all the right places, make all the right signs – and yet not even be saved.

If we love someone, truly love them, then we will want to get to know as much about them as we can, we will want to get to know what really pleases them and do the best we can to do so. This is the way it is in Christianity too – true Christianity. If we really love Jesus then we will set ourselves to 1) growing up in/by the faith and knowledge of Him; 2) walking in this world in a way pleasing to Him; 3) feeding His sheep as we participate in the proper function of the Body according as we have been individually called and gifted. In other words, if we really do love Jesus, then He will lead us forward on the path of spiritual growth, progress and production – and it will be that very growth, progress and production which will be the proof of our love, not only here and now, but when we stand before Him on that great day of days.

Please feel free to write me back about any of the above. Here are some links which may also be helpful to you:

The Process of Spiritual Growth

Faith and Spiritual Growth

In Jesus Christ our all in all,

Bob L.

Question #2:  

Dear Bob,

I was just wanting to ask real quick: I have the right point of view, right? Our relationships with our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, shouldn't get in the way of our spiritual growth. I'm not saying this should be used as an excuse to treat anyone as second-class or anything, or to carelessly throw away relationships, nothing like that at all. I'm only asking, we're free to love (say our wives?) with all of our hearts, so long as God still comes first, right? The marriage covenant is a man and woman becoming one under God.

Response #2: 

It sounds to me as if you have it right. Here is what I read on the subject of marriage:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Ephesians 5:25 NIV

That is a pretty high standard – in fact there is no higher one. It seems to me that if a husband loves Christ with a perfect love, he will be fulfilling the verse above in a perfect way in loving his wife sacrificially in the manner of our Lord. The only reason for conflict between the two loves is that we are not perfect and those we love are not perfect, but we are certainly called to strive for perfection in our love for the Lord and in our love for our wives.

All relationships take hard work to maintain and improve – that is certainly true of every marriage and most importantly of our relationship with our dear Lord Jesus.

Keep fighting the fight of faith day by day as long as it is called today and you won't go wrong.

Yours in Jesus Christ the Head of the Church He loved and died for,

Bob L.

Question #3:   

Hello--Long time, no write, relatively speaking! I was wondering if you could answer a puzzle for me. Please look up 2 Kings 14:20 for me....how can Jerusalem be called the "city of David" when I thought Bethlehem was the city of David? Were these guys buried between Jerusalem and Bethlehem? I know the latter is about 6 miles from Jerusalem.

I noticed in the Book of Mormon that it says that Jesus will be born "at Jerusalem, which is the land of our forefathers." Now, 2 Kings 14:20 says sort of the same thing. I am debating Mormons on CARM and they told me that the descendants of the Israelites that came to America before Christ was born would be unfamiliar with the area around Jerusalem and its environs, but would know Jerusalem itself, so Joseph Smith put down "Jerusalem," instead. I find that a silly argument, since they supposedly knew about David and that HE had come from Bethlehem. Another Mormon said that saying someone came from Jerusalem is the same as saying that he is from Judah, that Jerusalem represented all of Judah, including Bethlehem. Another said that it meant Jesus was born outside the gates of Jerusalem....what, did Mary give birth out in the open, in front of the gates of Jerusalem???

I don't know if you know anything about Mormonism, but it is a cult from the pit of hell--all cults are, anyway. But Mormonism is among the worst. Anyway, the Book of Mormon is full of errors and contradictions and preposterous stuff, if you haven't read any of it. Twain called it "chloroform in print" and said that if one took away all of the "and it came to pass"es, it would be just a pamphlet. He was exaggerating--but not by much.

Anyway, could you clear up this discrepancy for me, please? Thanks, as always. God bless.

Response #3: 

Jerusalem is – I believe always – meant when "the city of David" is mentioned in scripture. Bethlehem was apparently the city of his birth and patrimony (the key point for the Joseph in regard to the tax issue). David was (probably) born in Bethlehem but ruled from Jerusalem: and the exact same thing is true of his greater Son our Lord: born in Bethlehem; will rule from Jerusalem. Here is what I have written about this previously (at the link: Jerusalem and Bethlehem); and see also "Bethlehem: The place of the birth of Christ"):

Without exception (if my quick perusal is correct), the exact phrase "the City of David" in scripture always refers to Jerusalem, and sometimes specifically, to the old city, that is, the southern slope of the hill of Ophel south of the temple mount on the ridge bounded by the Kidron valley and the Tyropoean valley (southeast of the present day "Old City"). Luke 2:4 in regard to Bethlehem speaks of "David's city" or, more literally, "[a] city of David" (there is no definite article present in the Greek), while John 7:42 mentions "Bethlehem, the town where David lived". It seems to me that both gospel writers understood and actually reflect in the Greek that Jerusalem is "the City of David" proper, but that Bethlehem was most certainly the town of his lineage and inheritance (cf. 1Sam.20:6 NIV: "David earnestly asked my permission to hurry to Bethlehem, his hometown").

I don't think this means much for Mormonism, one way or the other (but that's just my opinion).

Keep fighting the good fight of faith and truth,

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #4:   


Here is what the Book of Mormon says:

"And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem, which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a Son, yea, even the Son of God."

I don't think I sent that part to you. Micah said the Messiah would be born at Bethlehem Ephrata, which leaves no room for doubt. Wouldn't it be a mistake to say Jesus was born "at Jerusalem"?

So, Bethlehem was A city of David? But not THE city of David? Still, though the Book of Mormon calls Jerusalem the City of David, it still says Jesus was born "at Jerusalem". Which is totally false!

Response #4: 

Yes, Bethlehem and Jerusalem are obviously two different places. Here is what I read in the gospels:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.
Mathew 2:1 NIV

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
Luke 2:4-6 NIV

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.
Luke 2:22 NIV

The record is very clear. Jesus was born in Bethlehem which is David's "hometown" but not really a city; Jerusalem is the "city of David" because he captured it and established it as his capital city.

My guess is that Joseph Smith didn't bother reading over the gospels carefully before he made up this part, and that such is the source of this obvious incompatibility with actual scripture.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #5: 

Hi--Thanks for your help. Could you look at this and tell me what you think, and if it justifies the Book of Mormon saying Jesus was born "at Jerusalem"? I have of course, heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but wonder how acquainted you are with the scholars and their works:

The usage of the term "land of Jerusalem" and "at Jerusalem" to indicate Bethlehem actually turns out to be a evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls is a book that some call "Pseudo-Jeremiah." In this book (4Q385), it reads "...Jeremiah the Prophet before the Lord [...who] were taken captive from the land of Jerusalem." Robert Eisenmann and Michael Wise, authors of The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered," show that the name "Jerusalem" was an ancient equivalent for Yehud, or "Judah." So, they are arguing that all of Judah could be represented by the word "Jerusalem." Eisenmann and Wise are not LDS. (You can download their text from Google). There is a passage from El-Amarna 290 that speaks of "a town of the land of Jerusalem" named B t-Lahmi, which is the Canaanite equivalent of the Hebrew name rendered "Beth-lehem" in English Bibles.Thus even in ancient times the city of Bethlehem was itself considered to be part of the "land of Jerusalem." These El Amarna tablets date to the 13th century B.C.

How accurate is all this, anyway? How accurate is the idea that "all of Judah could be represented by the word "Jerusalem"?

Thanks for your help.

Response #5: 

I am not familiar with these two individuals but I don't think that makes much difference. Here is my take on the below:

1) In the Bible, Jerusalem and Bethlehem are two different places.

2) Geographically, Jerusalem and Bethlehem are two different places.

3) In modern usage, Jerusalem and Bethlehem are still two different places.

4) Neither of these two extra-biblical sources actually equates Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

5) Even if they did, they are extra biblical and of no authority for people of faith.

6) The phrase "land of Jerusalem" would only be germane to this argument if the book of Mormon actually said that Christ was born "in the land of Jerusalem" (it says "at Jerusalem"). Referencing an entire country by its capital city is nothing unique then or now, but no one who does this will be in any doubt about the actual distinction between the two. That is especially clear in this case where "at Jerusalem" clearly refers to the city and "in the land of Jerusalem" clearly refers to the area governed by the city. Christ was born in the land of Judah, but "at Bethlehem". If some later Jewish usage calls Judah "the land of Jerusalem" that would still be something quite different from "at Jerusalem [itself]". Reading the first quote below carefully, I am sure that Eisenmann and Wise would be quite surprised that anyone was taking their words to mean that Jerusalem and Bethlehem could refer to the same place, and would in fact vigorously deny that such was the case. In the case of the second quote, the Amarna letters are Egyptian correspondence to non-Hebrew recipients dated by most to precede the traditional date of Jewish occupation of Jerusalem by many centuries. They therefore form a very poor parallel to making this sort of argument. Even so, read carefully, this non-Hebrew source actually distinguishes the two by using both names: note that the book of Mormon does not say "in a town of the land of Jerusalem" (which could be Bethlehem) but actually says "at Jerusalem" (which has to be Jerusalem the town and not Bethlehem).

7) The entire argument is based on claiming that "at Jerusalem, which is the land of our forefathers" means that in the book of Mormon Jerusalem = the land of Judah/Israel. Allow me to point out this makes no sense in English, the language of the book of Mormon. If a person is born in Peru, we do not say "at Peru" but "in Peru" – and we never have said it that way (even in Joseph Smith's day). When we use the preposition "at", we mean a distinct location like a town or city and definitely not an entire land or country. So I think the real problem for those who want to defend the book as not being wrong in this instance is to convince the rest of us that "at Jerusalem" can possibly mean something other than what it would be taken to mean by any native English speaker then or now.

8) Finally, the "rules" for this sort of thing are that one has to show that the Bible says something consistent with one's extra-canonical book, not that secular sources agree with the extra-canonical book (so what?). And I am curious as to why anyone of the Mormon persuasion would care what the Bible has to say. After all, John wrote Revelation in the last half of the first century and was given to include the following verse:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.
Revelation 22:18 NIV

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #6: 

Thanks for your reply. So, wrote that you are not familiar with Eisenmann and Wise, but have you ever heard of their book The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered? I seem to remember hearing about that book, years ago. But I understand what you are writing. Mormons just don't want to admit that there are errors in the Book of Mormon, because they deem it inspired by God. Only Satan could have inspired such a wretched book. At one point, it has a decapitated corpse staggering to its feet, struggling to breathe! And it has so many "and it came to pass"es in it, that if you took those out, it would make a pamphlet!

Thanks again.

Response #6: 

Good words! On reflection I have heard of the book and have used the on-line version before (here is a link to the page whence this reference comes: Pseudo-Jeremiah). As I say, I don't take issue with Eisenmann and Wise. Their point seems to be that at the time of the final capture of the city in time of Bar-Kochba revolt (132–136 A.D.), "Judah" consisted of little more than the city of Jerusalem proper. I should also point out that a fair reading of the actual text here could be "from the territory of Jerusalem" as well. In any case, this is not what the book of Mormon says or clearly means, so the appeal to extra-biblical sources is beside the point in any case – just a smokescreen to becloud the issue that it is wrong about where Jesus was born.

Yours in Jesus our Lord,

Bob L.

Question #7:  

Could you please clarify:

Isaiah 9:6: For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

I assume the first verses of chapter 9 refer to the coming of our Lord - why is He then called the 'Eternal Father'? Is it do to with the fact that all the creation was created through Him?

Response #7: 

I translate the Hebrew phrase here "Father of Eternity". This refers to our Lord Jesus in the sense of Him being the One who brings on eternity by fulfilling the Plan of God. "Originator of Eternity" or "Begetter of Eternity" would perhaps avoid possible confusion, but all of these titles refer to the Messiah, our dear Lord Jesus.

Question #8: 

You wrote about the first advent and the birth of Christ: Jesus came when "the right time was at hand": Mark 1:15. Other versions say: 'the time is fulfilled' (NASB) - why do you use a slightly different rendering?

Response #8: 

I translate it this way to bring out the fact that Greek uses the word kairos here, "an opportune time", rather than the more common word for "time proper", namely, chronos (cf. "chronology"). The distinction in scripture calls attention to the importance of this particular time and event which is lost by translating simply as "time" as in the case of the NASB and other versions.

Question #9:  

You wrote about the first advent and the birth of Christ: Scripture calls this time the "conjunction of the Ages" (Heb.9:26; cf. Rom.5:6; Gal.4:4; 1Tim.2:6; Tit.1:3; Heb.1:1-2; 1Pet.1:20).

In some of these passages expressions like 'last days' or 'end of times' are used, could you explain them? Is the meaning of these supposed to be 'in the most recent' (but 'end of times' doesn't fit here), or were the days of Jesus' first advent considered to be close to the end of the world?

Response #9: 

For these comparison passages I have (all NIV): Rom.5:6: "at just the right time"; Gal.4:4: "when the time had fully come"; 1Tim.2:6: "in its proper time"; Tit.1:3: "at his appointed season"; Heb.1:1-2: "in these last days"; 1Pet.1:20: "in these last times". The first four I think require no explanation, but as to the last two, this notion of the first advent being "the end" goes back to the Day of the Lord Paradigm (see the link). From the Old Testament perspective, "the end" was one solid thing, "one day" (i.e., the Day of the Lord which starts with the Tribulation as it's "eve" and continues through the 2nd advent into the Millennium and into eternity thereafter). With the benefit of the progressive revelation in the New Testament we now understand the chronological distinctions between, for example, the first and second advents (see the link: "Prophetic Foreshortening"). After all, everyone at the time imagined that when the Messiah came, that would be "it".

Question #10:  

You wrote of our Lord's birth: Instead of being revealed to His countrymen, His coming was made known to foreigners.

Do you mean our Lord's ministry in general, or just the moment of His birth (and, for example, the Magi coming to pay tribute)?

Response #10: 

Yes, I have the Magi in mind. They came from a great distance after they recognized and responded to a sign fulfilling biblical prophecy – while the rulers of His own people who were only a few miles away in Jerusalem paid no attention.

Question #11:  

It is assumed in the tradition in which I've been brought (how many more myths are there to be debunked?) that the Magi arrive right after Jesus' birth. I assume that the temporal sequence of the events that you propose can be defended through the following:

a) the chief priests and scribes gathered, knowing that Messiah has been born (Matt.2:4);

b) Herod called the Magi and met them (verse 7).

I assume both of these events could only have taken place given enough time after the birth of our Lord, hence proving false the view that the Magi arrive right after the birth. Please correct me where needed. Also, how did the Magi know about the birth of the Messiah? They are 'from the east' - can they be considered believers? Did they know the scriptures?

Response #11: 

Yes, I agree completely with this synopsis (for the details please see the link: "The events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ", and "Mary, Joseph, Jesus and Nazareth". The Magi saw the astronomical anomaly prophesied as a sign of the Messiah in Numbers 24:17, and immediately journeyed to Palestine, a trip of many days at least. I do think it likely that they were believers, men who in the tradition of Daniel had paid close attention to the Old Testament scriptures . . . and had believed them. After all, they act on them and come to find the Messiah . . . and then worship Him as God incarnate.

Question #12:  

You wrote: Being born in Bethlehem was thus a prerequisite for anyone claiming a share in the Davidic line, especially for anyone who claimed to be the Messiah. Was it a biblical condition that one claiming a share in particular line needed to be born in the city of the original king? Also, why was Bethlehem the city of David?

Response #12: 

To be the Messiah King a person would have to be of the line of David (e.g., Ps.110); Bethlehem was David's hometown (1Sam.20:6; Lk.2:4; Jn.7:42). That is why Joseph who was also of the kingly line was hurrying to Bethlehem to pay his taxes – that was his place of inheritance (as it was also for Mary). This is also why the "chief priests and teachers of the law" tell Herod that Bethlehem will be the Messiah's birthplace (Matt.2:4-6). We are blessed to know these things, but Jesus' contemporaries who were not interested in scripture got much of it wrong:

On hearing his words, some of the people said, "Surely this man is the Prophet." Others said, "He is the Christ." Still others asked, "How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?" Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.
John 7:40-43 NIV

Question #13:   

You wrote of the proposed date of Christ's birth in 2 B.C.: Secondly, it allows for a crucifixion date of 33 A.D., by far the most likely date when independently derived. Since you proposed December 2BC as a date of Christ's birth, wouldn't his date make Him close to, or just older than, 34?

Response #13: 

There is no "year zero" in our BC/AD system. So Jesus turned "1" in Dec. 1 B.C. and "2" in Dec. 1 A.D., and would not have turned 34 until Dec. 33 B.C. – but He was crucified in March/April.

Question #14:   

In regard to the census mentioned in Luke 2:2, you wrote: Augustus devotes considerable space to his work in census matters (CIL v.3, in loc., para.8). I'm not familiar with this type of referencing - could you please clarify it?

Response #14: 

The purpose here, of course, it to show that Luke is often mistranslated on this point (the verse actually says "before Quirinius was governor" not "while"). The CIL is the abbreviation for the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, the massive set of books started by T. Mommsen (see the link) which contain nearly all of the most important Latin inscriptions so far discovered. But there are many editions of Augustus' Res Gestae – which is the key document where Augustus mentions his pride in his census-taking, and that is proof that the census of Luke could easily have taken place in 2 B.C. (see the link for an English translation).

Question #15: 

You wrote: Furthermore, if Mary no less than Joseph had reason to register for the census in Bethlehem, it would explain why Joseph felt it necessary to take her along, even though her pregnancy was by that time very far advanced.

Am I correct to assume that the point you make here about Mary having to register for census confirms her inheritance?

Response #15: 

Yes, that is the point. Both families hailed from Bethlehem originally (see the link: "The Census").

Question #16: 

I've got a question regarding your graph showing the early travels of Jesus, Joseph and Mary. In travel number 4 you say that the travel from Nazareth back to Bethlehem was deduced from Matt 2:1-12. Could you please clarify it? I thought the events from Matt 2:1-12 relate to the same travel that was described in Luke 2:4-20, the first travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Response #16: 

This must be so because they are in Bethlehem when they are told to flee to Egypt (Matt.2:13), but this event has to have happened subsequent to Luke 2:39 (which follows immediately after their being in Jerusalem). The sequence given on the chart, therefore, is the only one which all of the scriptural information we have.

Question #17:  

On my prior question regarding your graph showing the early travels of Jesus, Joseph and Mary, yes, I understand it now. But having understood this, I came across other problems when trying to put all these travels and gospel accounts together:

a) Matthew 2:1-2 says: Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him."

Response #17: 

a) Scripture doesn't say, but I would imagine that the "star" which the Magi saw and realized was the Messiah's sign only appeared at our Lord's birth. They probably came from Babylon, and a journey from there to Judea would take some time. So a rough "guesstimate" would be something like between a month and three months. This would certainly allow for that visit to take place after the return to Bethlehem from Nazareth (i.e., after leg #4 on the chart). This would also mean that the Magi's gifts provided the family the resources they needed to make the trip to Egypt. Matthew, after all, says that the family is now residing in a "house", whereas originally they were temporarily in an "inn". See the link: "The star and the Magi"

Question #18: 

b) Another problem is that I don't know why would the star appear some time after the birth? It seems logical for it to appear immediately after birth? Or did it appear immediately upon birth, but was only spotted later? The star might not have been spotted straight away and the traveling took enough time to permit the other travels - is that how it likely occurred? What is your estimation of the time that passed since birth until the arrival of the Magi?

Response #18: 

b) The appearance of the star right after Christ's birth would be necessary for the Magi to see it and make their journey. This is a divine sign, of course, rather than a physical "star" in our modern sense of the word, and it moves to guide the Magi to their destination. Matthew 2:9 seems to indicate that the star was not visible the entire time, but that the Magi saw it and departed, and then it appeared to them again after they had told Herod about it, actually moving in the sky and guiding them to the correct place in Bethlehem – and to Christ's exact location at that.

Question #19:  

c) You previously wrote: Wherever specifically in the east the Magi had come from, it is virtually certain that their journey and their preparations for it must have taken many months at least. Since the time needed for preparation that you provide here is quite long, I just wanted to ask - why do you think it might have taken them months to prepare and complete the journey? The logistics of the ancient world certainly played a part here, what other factors would you consider?

Response #19: 

c) The distance from Babylon to Bethlehem is over 500 miles as the crow flies, and much longer if the more northerly route which avoids some of the worst desert is taken. The standard distance per day for infantry movements of the time was 25 miles per day. Mounted individuals could cover twice that distance. So a week or so to assemble provisions, transport, and some sort of protection, then three or so weeks to make the journey, seems a reasonable time frame.

Question #20:  

With regard to the Magi, you wrote: This would also mean that the Magi provided the family the resources they needed to make the trip to Egypt. Matthew, after all, says that the family is now residing in a "house", whereas originally they were temporarily in an "inn". When you say that the family resided in the house, I take it you make reference to the fact that they have by then moved south again, rather than referring to the house being built or bought thanks to the gifts from the Magi (which they received having already been living in the house)? Secondly, when you say that "Matthew 2:9 seems to indicate that the star was not visible the entire time", how do we know that it wasn't visible all the time from these verses? Could you clarify?

Response #20: 

If the star were visible at the time the Magi went to king Herod, they wouldn't have needed to make that visit at all. After all, later, they are led by the star to the precise destination – which means they not only saw it but that it appeared directly in front of them and directed them to Bethlehem, moving in front of them – and to the precise home wherein Joseph, Mary and Jesus were residing. Also, if the star were that clearly visible to those in Jerusalem and for that long a time, it would certainly not have been the surprise to them which it clearly was when the Magi informed them that such a phenomenon had appeared. In the ancient world, since the calendar and almost all activities were more directly dependent upon the interpretation of celestial signs than is the case today, and since most people were very observant of them (having no electric lights to dim the view of the night sky and spending much more time outside in any case and as a result), they would have noticed this particular star for sure – had it been visible throughout that whole period. There are many examples in ancient literature of far less dramatic anomalies causing great interest.

Question #21:  

Hello Dr. Luginbill,

How are you? I pray that all is well with you and your family. I have three questions. The first one concerns one of the Lord's names. When listing some of Jesus' titles or names in Isaiah 9:6, most translations present the words "Wonderful" and "Counselor" as one title: "Wonderful Counselor." A couple of the translations, like the KJV and the ASV, separate the two words with a comma, thus making two titles: Wonderful and Counselor. Which do you think is correct?

One of the more controversial passages in the book of Haggai is 2:6,7. The King James Version reads:

"For thus saith the Lord of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts."

The ASV translates "desire" as "precious things"; others suggest "treasures," etc. (RSV).

Here is the question. Did Haggai refer to Christ as the"desire" of the nations? I believe it does.

Finally, how do you interpret Matthew 28:24, which reads:

"Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather." (ESV)

Response #21: 

Good to hear from you. As to your questions:

1) I translate this phrase "He whose counsel is wondrous". Given the nature of Hebrew diction, separating the two elements here is almost certainly wrong for a number of reasons: a) all of the other three of the four sets are composed of dual attributes (i.e., "Mighty God", "the Father of Eternity", "the Prince of Prosperity"), making it unlikely that here alone we have two single appellations; b) it is doubtful if the noun "wonder" / pele' is even capable of being used as a title; this is difficult even in English, which is why versions which take the route say "Wonder-ful" (translating as an adjective rather than a noun); c) if pele' were to be taken on its own, then yoetz would be rather unremarkable for this context as it means merely "he who gives counsel" – but all of the other titles express an above and beyond significance; d) finally, the flow of the language in the Hebrew (not to mention the [late/Masoretic accentuation) argues for taking the terms as part of a unit rather than separately. My guess is that if Handel's Messiah were interpreted correctly, fewer versions would be going this route (I'm not sure why the KJV did; but it has many quirks, after all).

2) M.F. Unger (Commentary on the Old Testament), whose opinion I esteem, certainly agrees with you that this passage is Messianic, and it is fair to say that such has been the standard orthodox view of Haggai 2:6-7. In this case, "desire" or chemdah will be considered objective rather than subjective: i.e., Christ is the Object of the desire of us all, the "One we desire" (rather than desire springing from the subject here).

3) This is an analogy to the second advent. Just as vultures/eagles gather around a corpse/body, so the Church in resurrection will gather in the heavens unto Christ who died for us (please see the link where this passage is discussed in that context: "The Resurrection of the Lamb's Bride" in CT 5). As I say in a footnote in that context: "The connection in the following passages between the analogy of eagles or "vultures" attracted by a body and the communion metaphor is surely deliberate; cf. Job 39:27-30.".

I hope all is well with you and yours. We greatly appreciate your prayers!

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #22:  

Could you please clarify:

. . . and [they] came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: "He shall be called a Nazarene."
Matthew 2:23 (NASB)

Whose prophecy does Matthew have in mind here?

Response #22: 

It refers to the Branch prophecy (primarily Isaiah 11:1): netser is the Hebrew word. The transliteration may explained by the fact that the Greek's zeta is the closest thing to the Hebrew tsadeh, accounting for the slight difference in spelling here.

Question #23:   

Even with my very limited knowledge it is clear enough that the degree to which people read and understand the Bible is very poor, but the 'classic' cultural representation of our Lord includes a long hair - I take it this is incorrect then?

Response #23: 

I believe it is incorrect. Apart from popular paintings which have reinforced this false view, the initial idea seems to stem from incorrectly appreciated what the statement in Matthew 2:23 that He would be "a Nazarene" means. It means that Jesus would grow up in Nazareth, something entirely different from being a "nazirite" (for whom there did exist the requirement of long hair while keeping the vow). Please see the link:  Jesus was not a Nazarite.

Question #24:   

If Jesus is David's literal "son" as a direct descendant through the mother of His humanity (Luke's genealogy: Lk.3:23-38) (as you write), why then in Luke does it say 'the son of Joseph'?

Response #24: 

The NIV has (correctly) for Luke 3:23: "He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph" (emphasis added). Jesus was his heir but not his biological son.

Here are some links on this subject:

"Trophies of Grace" in the Genealogies of Christ

The Son of David (including a discussion of the genealogies)

The Place of Christ's Birth (including a discussion of the genealogies)

Question #25: 

You wrote: As we have already seen, the genealogies in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38 serve slightly different purposes, with Matthew's genealogy giving Jesus' legal line (through His "step-father", Joseph), and Luke giving Jesus' blood line (traced from Mary all the way back to Adam in order to demonstrate beyond any question Jesus' true humanity). I'm unclear on this point - both genealogies seem to track to Joseph:

Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary

Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph

Response #25: 

Matthew 1:16 says "Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary from whom (i.e., Mary) Jesus who is called "Christ" was born. The "whom" in Greek is feminine so it has to refer to Mary, and cannot refer to Joseph. Therefore Matthew has to be giving Joseph's line, not Mary's line. Luke 3:23 on the other hand says "being, it was supposed, the son of Joseph" – i.e., He was not the son of Joseph but is the Son of God. Also, the two genealogies are different. Matthew 1:16 which clearly gives Joseph's line of descent makes Jacob Joseph's father and Matthan his grandfather, but in Luke chapter three we find that Eli (aka Heli) is the parent in question's father and Matthat the grandfather (the last being similar but different from Mathan in Matthew, with two letters different in Greek: Μαθθὰτ vs. Ματθὰν), and the two lines are different back to king David. So if one genealogy is clearly that of Joseph – as the Matthew genealogy must certainly be based upon the Greek grammar, then the only other possibility for the Luke genealogy is that this is Mary's family line, not Joseph's.

How this can be is a little easier to see in Greek than in overly literal translations. Directly after saying that Joseph was not Jesus' real father, we find "of Eli" (or "of Heli"). I would expand the translation in this way: "being, it was supposed, the son of Joseph, [but really of the line] of Eli, [Mary's father], of Matthat. . ." It should be remembered, moreover, that Jesus' birth was absolutely unique in the history of the world, so that, obviously, there was no genealogical convention for stating His lineage. A legal line going back from Joseph makes sense – and that is qualified by showing at the very end of Matthew's list that Joseph is only the husband of the one "from whom [fem. = Mary] Jesus was born"; and a biological line makes sense too, but this was not run through the mother in Jesus' day, and Jesus had no paternal human lineage, being virgin born. The result is that Luke qualifies Mary's line in his own way to make sure that the reader understands that Joseph is not involved: "being supposedly the son of Joseph, but really born in the line of Eli (Heli) [Mary's father]". Luke wrote after Matthew's gospel had been in circulation for some time (as much as ca. a decade later) so that for all Christians of that day the difference in the two genealogies coupled with the fact that Matthew's was clearly the legal lineage of Joseph meant that this new genealogy would no doubt automatically be seen as Mary's line, with the entire phrase "being supposedly the son of Joseph" to be taken as a parenthesis (something, as I say, which is easier to construe in the Greek, especially reading from a Matthew-first perspective).

Question #26: 

A couple more questions regarding the genealogy of our Lord:

a) You wrote: The "whom" in Greek is feminine so it has to refer to Mary, not Joseph. Therefore Matthew has to be giving Joseph's line, not Mary's line.

I can't understand - if the 'whom' refers to Mary, why is it an argument that Matthew gives Joseph's line?

Response #26: 

Matthew 1:16 says "Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary-from-whom[=Mary] Jesus, the One who is named "the Christ", was born. If Matthew had given Mary's line, obviously, Joseph would not have been in that line since he is not Mary's father. This line gives father/son, father son, all the way back to David, but it ends with Joseph as the last one "born" in the line. So on the one hand the switch to the feminine relative pronoun shows that Jesus was not born of Joseph but of Mary, and on the other hand the line has to be Joseph's line since he is the one who is begotten of Jacob in verse sixteen. This genealogy says nothing about Mary's line. It only makes the point, very clearly in the Greek, that Jesus was "of Mary" whose husband was Joseph whose genealogy precedes the description of Jesus.

Question #27:  

b) Regarding Luke 3:23, you wrote: How this can be is a little easier to see in Greek than in overly literal translations. Directly after saying that Joseph was not Jesus' real father, we find "of Eli" (or "of Heli"). I would expand the translation in this way: "being, it was supposed, the son of Joseph, [but really of the line] of Eli, [Mary's father], of Matthat. . ." Could you explain why it says 'as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli', instead of 'the daughter of Eli', if it's Mary's lineage that's being discussed here?

Response #27: 

The Greek here, as properly reflected in this regard in all English translations I know of, has "the son . . . of Joseph", but that is the only time the word "son" actually appears in the Greek in this genealogy. It actually says, "being the son, it was supposed, of Joseph . . . of Eli, of / of / of / of, etc. Translations put "son" in repeatedly to smooth things out, but in this case, depending how it is set up, that can be misleading (if one is led to think of Eli being Joseph's father instead of Mary's father – and we know from Matthew that Jacob was Joseph's father). Saying "daughter" here then switching back to "son" would have made the issue more clear, I suppose, but that is not consistent with genealogical formulae in Greek or Hebrew, so Luke wrote it the way he wrote it (and left us to figure it out with the help of the Spirit). For a parallel of a Jewish woman's "genealogy" being that of her husband consider the case of the prophetess, Hulda (2Chron.34:22).

Question #28: 

Hi Bob,

Thank you for your generous instruction. I do have another question.

As what we know of Bible doctrine increases, it can be seen that we are better able to tidy up the Bible passages which have been handed down to us through the hands of fallen mankind and bring them into more correctness with what we know more definitely to be established as true. Sort of like the guiding of the preaching of Apollos.

The trinity is such a doctrine which has been definitely established. My question is: Is there any translation you know of which has correctly translated the mechanics of the birth of Christ into an understandable conformity with what we know to be true. As it now reads in all the ones I have checked, it might as well say that Mary was with child of Jesus; which I understand is actually taught in Jesus-only churches.

We know that Mary was with child obviously thorough the person of the Father, which we now definitely understand to be a separate and indivisible person from the Holy Spirit, which, when it was written, was not understood with today's clarity; somewhat like Jesus expanding our understanding of the meaning of the Law.

Do you correct the translation of the passage that Mary was with child of the Father? I'm looking for a translation that does.

Thank you,

Response #28: 

You are most welcome. Jesus most certainly is "the Son of the Father". However, as to your question, here is what I say in BB 4A under "The conception of Jesus' physical body and the fact of the virgin birth" (and please see the link for the full story):

Without divine agency, virgin conception is, of course, an impossibility. Mary was therefore not rebuked for her questioning of the angel on this point (Lk.1:34), whereas Zechariah was (since in his case, the miracle was not only precedented but also fell within normal human parameters: compare Lk.1:18-20 with Gen.18:10-14). Unlike any other human being before or since, the engendering of our Lord's human body came about not through the agency of any created thing, not through any man or any angel, but through the Creator Himself, specifically, the Holy Spirit.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened in this way. While His mother, Mary, was engaged to Joseph, [and] before the two of them had come together [as man and wife], she was found to be pregnant from the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:18

"Joseph, son of David, don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For that which has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit".
Matthew 1:20b

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. For this very reason that which is going to be born [of you] will be called holy, [the] Son of God".
Luke 1:35

The Father is, however, the Father of the Son:

For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father"? Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son"?
Hebrews 1:5 NIV

Thus the eternal relationship is what is key, not the physical circumstances of the birth of our Lord's humanity, as miraculous and important as those were. This is certainly good news for all of us who were born physically destined to die but have been reborn as children of God "children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God" (Jn.1:13 NIV).

Please do feel free to write back about any of the above.

In Jesus our dear Lord, the Son of God,

Bob L.

Question #29:  

Good evening Dr.

I hope you are well.

Dr., Who did Jesus die for?

Response #29: 

Good to hear from you!

As to your question, Jesus died for the sins of every single human being who has ever lived or will so that all may be saved. That is true regardless of the fact that so few have deigned to take up this extraordinary Gift of gifts. The doctrine is called "unlimited atonement" (see the link).

Here's wishing you and your family a wonderful Christmas and a very happy 2013!

In Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #30:  

Dear Professor,

Another set of questions.

You wrote: After the forty days of separation and purification mandated for women upon the birth of a first born son were completed (Lk.2:22; cf. Lev.12:1-4), the family made the short journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem in order to present the required sin offering for Mary (Lev.12:6-8; cf. Lev.5:7; 5:11). Since the sin offering for Mary is not in itself described, I take it we can assume that with the godly attitude of both Mary and Joseph all these offerings and requirements of the Law were fulfilled? Maybe including Luke 2:39 would help getting across all the points you make in the paragraph: "When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord".

Response #30: 


You've been busy! Well, let's get to it:

On your first question, this is a nice point – addition made. Thanks!

Question #31:  

Could you please clarify Micah 5:2-5a:

(2) But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, too small to be numbered among the clans of Judah, from you I will bring forth the One who is to rule over Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, even from the days of eternity. (3) For He will give them over until the time when she who is about to give birth gives birth (i.e., His mother, Mary: the first advent), and the rest of His brothers return to the sons of Israel (i.e., Jewish repentance at the second advent). (4) Then He (i.e., the Messiah) will arise and will shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the Name of the Lord His God. And they will dwell [in peace], for then He will be great to the ends of the earth. (5) And He will be their peace.

What is meant by 'For He will give them over until the time when she who is about to give birth gives birth'? Also, could you explain why you link 'the rest of His brothers return to the sons of Israel (i.e., Jewish repentance at the second advent)' to the second advent?

Response #31: 

Jewish humiliation will continue, so Micah tells his audience, until the raising up of the Messiah (which, prophetically, only is completely fulfilled at the Second Advent, but spiritually is fulfilled at the cross during the First Advent). As to the second question, during the Tribulation there will be a great Jewish revival led by (resuscitated) Moses and Elijah and the 144,000. They are the believing part of Israel, though disregarded during the Tribulation, to whom the rest of true Israel "returns" when they repent at seeing Christ's second coming and thus join their now resurrected countrymen in their faith in Jesus.

Question #32:  

You wrote: Jesus is also the prophetic "greater Son" of David, the Messiah, the promised coming King who would provide the ultimate fulfillment of the promises made to David by the Lord, the "Davidic Covenant" (Ps.89:13-37). Regarding the 'Davidic Covenant' - I assume David is speaking of himself in the third person in these passages (Ps.89:13-37)? With regard to the 'ultimate fulfillment of the promises made to David by the Lord' do you refer to the last verses - 36 and 37 ('His descendants'), or to this passage as a whole?

Response #32: 

David is quoting the Lord. The eternal aspects throughout are speaking about the Messiah.

Question #33:   

You wrote: As hinted at above, our Lord probably prepared for this ministry on the home-front on the one hand by taking steps to ensure Mary's well-being, and on the other the family business was no doubt set on a stable footing sufficient for the following three and a half years.

Do we know what the business was, how did our Lord work before He started His ministry?

Response #33: 

The tradition, of course, is "carpentry", but scripture only says that Joseph was a tekton, or "artisan" or "craftsman", and this could refer to any type of manual trade such as Paul's "tent making" for example (see Q/A #2 in "Christology Questions").

Question #34:   

In writing about the prophecies of our Lord's first coming, I have some questions about what you wrote:

a) His incarnation foretold:

For a Star will march forth from Jacob, and a [Ruler's] scepter [will arise] from Israel.
Numbers 24:17b (Matt.2:1-13; cf. Gen.49:8-12; Deut.33:7; Lk.1:78; Rev.12:5)

Could you please explain the inclusion of Deuteronomy 33:7 there?

Response #34: 

Our Lord stems from Judah and so Deut.33:7 is Messianic. Here we see the second advent ("bring him to his people" NIV), the supernatural power of the Messiah ("With his own hands he defends his cause" NIV), and His special relationship with the Father ("be His help against His foes" NIV), all of which are analogous to and supportive of the themes in this heading.

Question #35: 

b) His suffering foretold:

"And I shall place hostility between you and the woman, that is, between your seed and her Seed. He will attack you head-on, but you will attack Him from behind" (lit., "crush His heal", a reference to the cross).
Genesis 3:15

Can you explain why is the attack from behind, the 'crushing of His heal', a reference to the cross? Is it to do with the feet of our Lord being nailed to the cross?

Response #35: 

I think rather the reference is to deception and stealthy attack. Both the devil (cf. the three temptations of Christ in the wilderness) and his minions (cf. the lies told about Him by witnesses whose "testimony did not agree") never dared to attack Christ directly or with the truth. See also the link "the maternal origin of antichrist" where this passage is considered in comparison with Genesis 49:16-18.

Question #36: 

c) regarding His resurrection:

[The Lord] will restore us, [Israel], after two days (i.e., after the Church age), and will raise us up on the third day (i.e., the Millennium), that we may live in His presence (i.e., with the Messiah, who personifies this prophecy in His resurrection on the third day).
Hosea 6:2 (cf. Lk.24:46; 1Cor.15:4)

Could you please clarify why the 'two days' relates to the Church age and the third day to the Millennium? I'm aware that you probably discuss it in one of your studies, so you can just send me a link or provide a very brief explanation.

Response #36: 

This is a prophecy related to the Seven Days of Human History (see the link). Human history lasts seven thousand years, two millennia of which are the Age of the Gentiles, two the Age of Israel, two the Church, and one the Millennium (patterned on the model of the seven Genesis days of restoration).

Question #37:  

d) His second advent foretold:

(1) Why are the nations forming into a mob and the peoples [of the earth] grumbling idly. (2) The kings of the earth are assembling and its princes are gathering together – against the Lord and His Anointed One, (3) [saying] "Let us pull off Their chains, and cast Their cords from us!"
Psalm 2:1-3

Could you explain how this passage relates to the second advent?

I know that I come back to some questions - it's just that sometimes clarification is more than just one step process, although thanks to your inspiring knowledge and detailed replying it often is. Bible is slowly becoming clearer, and as it's becoming clearer, all in it is more and more a cohesive entity (which I know it is anyway, I'm just not always able to see it), and this is the best thing of all.

I pray for you and your ministry daily, that God may give you all that you need in order to fulfill His will in this life.

In our Lord,

Response #37: 

The picture of the nations of the world gathering to rebel against the Messiah is certainly partially fulfilled at the Second Advent (and much of the rest of the Psalm also has that meaning). As you no doubt know from other things you have read at the site, in my view the primary and final fulfillment of the passage will take place during the Gog-Magog rebellion described in Revelation chapter twenty (the Messiah is described as already enthroned at the point of the rebellion here, after all). That it is legitimate to take this passage as applying to other things as well may be seen from Acts 4:25-27, and more particularly in respect to your question to Revelation 11:18 and 19:19 where the Psalm while not quoted directly is certainly being alluded to in respect to the Second Advent.

Sorry this took so long! Things are, as I may have mentioned, "getting interesting" here. Thanks so much for your prayers, my friend!

In Name of dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

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