“IS THERE A CHRISTMAS CONTRADICTION IN THE BIBLE?” #ChurchOfTheUndead
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IN THIS EPISODE: And if the birth of Christ is so important – why don’t the books of Mark and John cover the events? Is there a contradiction in the bible when it comes to Christmas?
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Darren Marlar is a licensed minister through the Universal Life Church: https://www.themonastery.org. Find his other podcast, Weird Darkness, in your favorite podcast app at https://weirddarkness.com/listen. “Church Of The Undead” theme music by Epidemic Sound.
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It’s Christmastime! At some point, we will hear the story of Jesus’ birth and His beautiful and humble beginnings. A story of wonder and compassion. One that evokes an emotional response begging for us to see our God in a whole new way, as a pure and innocent child. A child who enters this world with one purpose—to save the world!
While Luke 2 is often the “go-to” and universal Gospel to read during Christmas, it often alludes to endless questions as we seek to understand God’s overall message to us. This leads me to think, are there other accounts and Gospels that fill in missing pieces of this priceless story? Do different translations and various wordages offer a different perspective of the story?
And if the birth of Christ is so important – why don’t the books of Mark and John cover the events? Is there a contradiction in the bible when it comes to Christmas?
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Hello, Weirdos – I’m Pastor Darren – welcome to the Church of the Undead.
Here in the Church of the Undead I can share ideas which are relevant to those who suffer with depression, need some encouragement, and for those who love (or are just curious about) the God of the Bible. And it doesn’t matter if you are a Weirdo-in-Christ or just a Weirdo – everyone is welcome here at the Church of the Undead. And I use the word “undead” because here we are DEAD to sin and ALIVE in Christ! If you want to join this Weirdo congregation, just click that subscribe or follow button – and visit us online at WeirdDarkness.com/CHURCH.
Full disclosure – I might use the term “pastor” because I’ve branded this feature as a church – but I do not have a theology degree, nor did I ever go to Bible college. I’m just a guy who gave his life to Christ in 1989 and has tried to “walk the walk” every since – and has stumbled a lot along the way – because, like everybody else, I am an imperfect, heavily-flawed human being. So please don’t take what I say as gospel; dig into God’s word yourself for confirmation, inspiration, and revelation.
That being said, welcome to the Church of the Undead.
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God is always revealing Himself in new and mighty ways. When we seek and yearn for God with a willful mind and open heart, reaching for guidance found in His Word, we find Him. Matthew 7:7-8 states, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Luke chapter 2 is where we find the most well-known story of the birth of Christ. Let’s take a deeper look and see an underlying theme that may have been missed in years past. Maybe it will allow us to see our God in a new and beautiful way as well.
The accounts of Jesus’ birth story are found in both Luke and Matthew. Why not Mark or John? We’ll answer that question later, there is some speculation and many have a variety of views on this. But for now, let’s look at the timeline and understand who these four men were and how they came to know Jesus.
Matthew wrote the first Gospel in the book of the New Testament. He was the infamous tax collector who was well-educated and fit into the political circles at the time. In the very first chapters of Matthew, we are introduced to the genealogy of Jesus. His account was written for the Jewish people to proclaim that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah.
Mark, also known as John Mark, wrote the second Gospel and was much younger and most likely in His teens when He met and followed Jesus. His account was most likely written for the Gentiles because he assisted and traveled with Paul around Asia Minor to preach the good news of Jesus.
Luke, who wrote the third Gospel, was a physician by trade, making him most likely a trusted person and one many spoke to willingly. We see this in the up-close encounters he shares throughout his book. His audience was both Jews and Gentiles. However, the most profound fact is that he didn’t follow Jesus until “after” His death. In other words, Luke didn’t know Jesus personally. However, he did travel with Paul to preach the good news and relates the many stories he heard along the way in his account.
John, who wrote the final Gospel, was also referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 13:23) and was also the youngest of the disciples. His account was most likely written for the people of the world, for all. His purpose was to declare that Jesus is the way to the Father.
So, why Luke? Luke and Matthew present Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament and Savior to all people. Not that Mark and John didn’t mention those things, but their narrative was different. Mark tends to focus on Jesus’ death and his selfless sacrifice, while John focuses on Jesus being the Son of God and our eternal hope.
Luke 2 may quite possibly be the most-read chapter in the entire Bible. It is opened every year by churches around the world and shared with congregations, family, and friends. Some can even recite it by heart. But as a story is passed down over the generations and read time and time again, it often makes us wonder, are there any details we are missing?
The problem is that over time, we may tweak, add, or delete things that were never mentioned in Scripture. While Jesus’ birth story is unconventional at best, here are a few interesting tidbits that may surprise you, and may even cause you to reopen Luke 2 and rediscover it for yourself.
Luke speaks to eyewitnesses to figure out the exact timeline of when Jesus was born. Based on Luke 1:5, Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth was with child, John the Baptist, during the reign of Herod. This tells us Jesus was most likely born between 6 B.C. – 4 B.C. But why B.C.? Have we gotten the date wrong all this time? Well, yes, quite possibly.
Based on Scripture, scholars believe we have a generalization but not a precise timeline. With Jesus being born during a census, and the other details portrayed in the life of John the Baptist and Jesus’ later life, we can use the history of those events but can’t pinpoint the exact day or time.
This brings up another point. December 25th was never mentioned in the Bible either and is still a source of great debate. In other words, Jesus’ birthday was most likely not on December 25th. Reasons conclude that shepherds most likely wouldn’t have been in the fields in the cold month of December, censuses were generally not taken in the winter months, and patterns and star formations don’t line up to that timing.
The timing may not be exact, but we must realize that each Gospel account still shares the same story. What started as storytelling, being passed down to generations for centuries, was eventually captured in these writings and accounts with God’s authority and supervision. This tells us that God provided the words that we need to know in the confines of The Bible—the rest is history.
What about the other details?
Who were Mary and Joseph really? Mary was just a teenager, most likely around the age of 14 when she was arranged to be married to Joseph, who was roughly around the age of 30. It was customary at that time to pre-arrange marriage into certain families. Mary lived with her parents until the official cohabitation and consummation, which lasted roughly a year. Joseph was most likely preparing a house for them, known and seen as a humble but hard worker. There is not a lot of mention of Joseph in the Bible, not a word recorded by him in Scripture. However, his actions speak louder than words, and his character is portrayed throughout Matthew and Luke as faithful, law-abiding, and trusting in the Lord:
Matthew 1:19 = “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”
Matthew 2:13 = “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’”
Luke 1:27 = “to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”
Was Jesus really born in a stable? Or was it a cave? Maybe a barn? The only thing mentioned in Scripture is that there was no guest room for them in the inn. Rather, Jesus was placed in a manger, which is a food trough for animals.
Luke 2:7 = “and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”
With Joseph returning to his hometown, it is probable that he made an attempt to stay with relatives, but seeing that every guest room was full, they most likely stayed in a lower level of the home where the animals were kept.
What is the significance of the shepherds? We often picture shepherds as loving and nurturing, maybe because throughout Scripture, Jesus is referred to as the “Good Shepherd” (John 10:11,14). However, shepherds in that time were seen as anything but loving. Instead, they were viewed in the public eye as unclean and poor. Many times, their sheep wandered off and caused problems for others. They were actually considered the lowest in society. Yet, they are told by angels to go and visit the Messiah…
Luke 2:9-12 = “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
The symbolism here is stunning! God chose them first! He sure has a beautiful way of reminding us that His ways are not our ways and that He sees past our outward and inward appearances.
Why was Jesus wrapped in cloth? The angels told the shepherds that they must go visit a baby, wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger (Luke 2:12). This is significant because shepherds would often wrap newborn lambs in swaddling clothes after they were born to protect them. They needed to keep them unblemished to use them for temple sacrifices. This gave the shepherds a way of knowing just Who the Messiah was when they arrived. Once again, we see the symbolic nature here as Jesus being the Lamb of God.
This account of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2 is such a beautiful depiction of how God orchestras every detail and uses the “least” of these to fulfill a greater purpose. From the hidden fear that Mary must have had to the heartbreak Joseph must have felt upon hearing the news of Mary’s pregnancy, all the way to the confusion of the shepherds when the angels appeared, goes to show how unorthodox this story truly is. Yet, they all trusted God. They followed through with the plan and with humble hearts, they witnessed the greatest prophecy of mankind.
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Now back to the question from earlier… why do we not hear about the birth of Jesus in the gospels of Mark or John? Does that mean there is a contradiction in the bible?
“The Gospels’ different views might be hard to reconcile. But as a scholar of the New Testament, what I argue is that the Gospels offer an important insight into the Greco-Roman views of ethnic identity, including genealogies. Today, genealogies may bring more awareness of one’s family medical history or help uncover lost family members. In the Greco-Roman era, birth stories and genealogical claims were used to establish rights to rule and link individuals with purported ancestral grandeur.”
The author then quotes from another scholar who also holds a low view of inerrancy:
“The differences between Matthew and Luke are nearly impossible to reconcile, although they do share some similarities. John Meier, a scholar on the historical Jesus, explains that Jesus’ ‘birth at Bethlehem is to be taken not as a historical fact’ but as a ‘theological affirmation put into the form of an apparently historical narrative.’ In other words, the belief that Jesus was a descendant of King David led to the development of a story about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.”
Taking this last quote first, the two accounts are not “nearly impossible” to reconcile, especially when accurately viewed as sequential, not both describing the exact same event at the same time.
The two articles “Christmas Timeline of the Biblical Account” and “Popular Conservative Journalist Attacks Genesis and the Birth of Christ” (links to both of which I’ll include in the show description) clearly show that the accounts can easily be harmonized and that the Yahoo! news author is letting his preconceived biases slip.
Secondly, Matthew’s account stresses that Jesus was a descendant of King David, and since he was writing to a primarily Jewish audience, this is both accurate and also most appropriate. Luke, of course, does record Jesus’ genealogy through Mary’s line, so there is still a direct tie-in to David. But Luke’s genealogy goes not through Solomon but Nathan. However, contrary to the article writer’s claim, Matthew doesn’t just “develop his story” to fit the narrative of Jesus’ descent from David, he uses genealogies to document this and utilizes massive amounts of Old Testament prophecy to show that this is true, in addition to recording the actual events of Jesus’ birth.
But to look at the issue logically, let’s say (for the sake of argument) that you read two eyewitness account books on the history of the Battle of Midway (from WW2). Would you expect them to be identical? Of course not—one author may have been in the Navy and another in the Marines. They would have been attached to different squadrons and attacked different targets, or perhaps one was on the island of Midway when the attacks came, etc. Assuming they were both true and accurate, they would not contradict each other, but they would offer vastly different perspectives, timelines, and sequences of events due to their observations. One may not care to relate how many ships he hit or how many planes he downed but focuses more on overall strategic plans; whereas the other may go into intricate detail on those aspects. A ground-based observer may relate how the soldiers reacted to the initial assault and what plans were made next. It would be foolish (and extremely presumptive) to tell these two eyewitness authors that they “cannot get their story straight” and assume that one must be embellishing (or lying) because both accounts do not relate the exact same material. How much more foolish is it to assume that the Holy Spirit cannot tell an event from different perspectives through two different authors, especially when the events surrounding Jesus’ birth and the visit of the magi may be separated by anywhere from months to a year or so in time?
Another red-herring statement in the Yahoo! article is that “The Gospels of Mark and John reveal that they either had trouble linking Bethlehem with Jesus, did not know his birthplace, or were not concerned with this city.” First of all, Mark’s Gospelcommences with the ministry of Jesus, starting with his baptism by John the Baptist. John’s Gospel starts with Jesus as the preexistent Son of God who created all things “in the beginning,” but then quickly moves to Jesus’ baptism and first miracle. Both Mark and John are starting their Gospel accounts when Jesus was about thirty years old, so they are not concerned with relating the events of Jesus’ birth.
Again, for a comparative analogy, you could look at hundreds of books on Abraham Lincoln, and most will identify him as an Illinois senator who became president. Some may even mention his youth in Indiana. But only a select few even mention that he was born in Hodgenville, Kentucky. In fact, it is not uncommon to read accounts with this main intro text: “Lincoln was born in poverty in a log cabin and was raised on the frontier primarily in Indiana. He was self-educated and became a lawyer, Whig Party leader, Illinois state legislator, and U.S. Congressman from Illinois.” Yet Lincoln’s birthplace and his first six years were spent in Kentucky. Illinois may be called the “Land of Lincoln” but only because the time he spent in his birth state was short and not well-known to others. However, I’m not suggesting that the Gospel writers did not know Jesus was born in Bethlehem—Mark and John just saw no reason to mention it directly.
Also consider that Mark consistently relates accounts where people call Jesus “son of David” and in Mark 12:35–37, Jesus relates that although the Messiah is the son of David, David calls him “Lord” in Scripture, signifying that this son of David is God. And John (7:42) documents a debate where people argue concerning Jesus being from Galilee and not from Bethlehem. What is often mentioned here (as in the Yahoo! article) is that John does not correct this by editorially commenting on this point. But they miss the fact that he does do so in a very subtle way. In John 7:52, he records the Pharisees’ answer to Nicodemus: “They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.’” Yet they were wrong, because in 2 Kings 14:25, we read: “He [Jeroboam II] restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.” In this verse, John records their own statement and uses it against them as a mocking jab at the Pharisees who neglected to remember that Jonah was from Galilee (Gath-hepher is in western Galilee just a few miles north of Nazareth).
If they couldn’t be correct about where a prophet whose birthplace was recorded in their written Scripture was from, how could they be so sure Jesus was not born in Bethlehem but raised in Galilee? Ironically, who did Jesus link his prophetic ministry to the most? Jonah—as recorded in Matthew 12:39–41:
***But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”***
And again, in Luke 11:29–30:
***When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.”***
Non-believers (and sadly, even some believers) attempt to downplay divine inspiration and try to force a narrative of men concocting stories to develop their own ideology. But Scripture itself debunks this idea: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16) and “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
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The important thing, and the message God has for us in the Christmas story, is this: He is with us. He is for us. And He can use us to fulfill a plan so much greater than we can on our own.
As you read Luke 2 this year with your family or hear it in your Christmas Eve service, ponder the way God brought the Savior to this world. How His humble beginnings offer us a way to reflect on our own lives.
And if you’ve never heard a reading of Luke 2… well, you’re about to now… and it’s my honor to share it with you.
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Luke 2: 1-40…
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
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, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”, and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
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If you like what you heard, share this episode with others whom you think might also like it. Maybe the person you share it with will want to join this Weirdo congregation too! To join this Weirdo family yourself, find us on Facebook, listen to previous messages, even find out how to join me in my daily bible studies, visit WeirdDarkness.com/CHURCH. That’s WeirdDarkness.com/CHURCH. You can find the sources I used for this week’s message in the show notes. I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me, Weirdos. Until next time, Jesus loves you and so do I. God bless… and Merry Christmas!