Newsweek magazine published an article by Bart Ehrman, What Do We Really Know About Jesus?, in which the author disputes the story of Christmas.
Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was a “Born Again” Christian turned liberal before converting to agnosticism.
Now he preaches from the pulpit of higher education sowing seeds of doubt in our otherwise faithful sons and daughters — leading many of them astray as they innocently succumb to Ehrman’s heretical persuasion.
Be mindful of God’s instruction:
Train up your child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it (Pr 22: 6).
Ehrman, like many of his institutional colleagues, refutes a whole index of Christian orthodoxy even disputing that Christ was born in Bethlehem (as we read from the Newsweek article):
Only in this Gospel (Luke) do Joseph and Mary make a trip from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to register for a census when “the whole world” had to be enrolled under Caesar Augustus. The whole world? Luke must mean “the whole Roman Empire.” But even that cannot be right, historically. We have good documentation about the reign of Caesar Augustus, and there never was a census of his entire empire. Let alone one in which people had to register in their ancestral home. In this account Joseph and Mary need to register in Bethlehem (which is why Jesus is born there) because Joseph is descended from King David, who came from Bethlehem.
Ehrman contends that the Gospel accounts recorded in Matthew and Luke are full of irreconcilable contradictions. It is hard to argue with a learned professor unless you are well enough studied to know that his contentions are false.
Archaeology discredits the assertion that there was no census under Caesar Augustus. Two unearthed bronze plaques titled the Acts of Augustus reveal that there were, in fact, three census registrations during the reign of Augustus (27 B.C. – 14 A.D.).
One need only refer to the writings of Roman historian Tacitus and Jewish historian Josephus to corroborate the historical account.
More contentious is Ehrman’s dismissal of the genealogies as recorded in Matthew and Luke. Here we need keen discernment of scriptural context and meaning. Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience while Luke was writing to a Gentile audience.
Luke’s genealogy traces backwards from Jesus to Adam for the purpose of conveying to the Gentiles that the Christ was born for all people. Matthew’s record goes forward from Abraham to Jesus for the purpose of revealing to the Jews that Christ was their Messiah born of the seed of David.
From Abraham to David, the gospel records concur; but after David the genealogies diverge substantially with only Zerubbabel and Shealtiel appearing in both lists. This should not sow doubt, however, but reveal a greater understanding of the inspired Word of God in context of the culture and age in which the Bible was written.
When we look carefully at the two genealogies it is markedly clear that Matthew is chronicling the life of Joseph while Luke is highlighting the ancestry of Mary. Indeed, the record splits at David with Matthew’s genealogy tracing forward through David’s son Solomon while Luke records the ancestry through David’s son Nathan. Clearly, there are two ancestral lines recorded — one for Joseph and the other for Mary thus proving that Jesus Christ had both legal claim and birthright to the throne of David.
That should be sufficient to end the discussion except that Joseph is listed in both records due only to Roman custom and tradition (remember that Luke is writing to Gentiles) that dictates the mother’s ancestry be traced through her husband (thus Luke writes):
… Jesus, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Heli (Mary’s father) … (Lk 3:23).
Luke is recognizing that Joseph — as was supposed — was not the biological father of Jesus, but the son-in-law of Mary’s father Eli for it was custom and tradition for a son-in-law to have the recognition and status of a natural son through whom the mother’s genealogy is recorded.
We might point out that Luke was a meticulous historian and keeper of records. It is absurd to suggest that he would author a Gospel account that was factually inconsistent, or even contradictory to the synoptic testimonies — or that the church fathers would canonize books that were so disagreeable with historical records.
Agnostics take issue with the lineage of Zerubbabel (son of Shealtiel) in that both names appear in the post-Davidic genealogies. Zerubbabel was the grandson of outcast Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) whom God placed a curse upon during the Babylonian exile — no man of his descendants will prosper, sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah (Jer 22:30).
How, then, is it possible that Christ has legal claim to the throne of David since Joseph was a descendant of the cursed Jeconiah? The simple answer is that Christ was not of the natural bloodline of Joseph by Jeconiah since He was miraculously conceived through the virgin Mary, but we then have the problem that Zerubbabel is also an ancestor of Mary.
The answer to that can be found in the Book of Haggai. The word of the LORD came to the prophet instructing him to tell Zerubbabel (who was governor of Judah upon the return from exile):
I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant, and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you (Hag 2:23).
The LORD explicitly conferred authority upon Zerubbabel, and renewed the covenant line of David which had been removed from Jeconiah, but now resumed through both Mary and Joseph thus confirming that the baby Jesus is the Christ of both Jew and Greek.
But how could the Messiah descend from an illegitimate ancestor? Recall that Judah had relations with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, who gave birth to Perez and Zerah (Genesis 38). Now look carefully at Matthew’s record:
Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king (Mt 1:3-6).
The law is given in Deuteronomy that no illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the LORD. That’s a pretty strong case that the agnostics lay charge against the authority of Jesus Christ. However, let’s examine the complete text:
No one of illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of his descendants, until the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the LORD (Dt 23:2).
Now scroll up and count the names in Matthew’s record and note how many generations passed from Perez to King David — ten generations. Our God is an awesome God — faithful and true.
One final thought to ponder is why did Newsweek publish a Christmas article written by an agnostic atheist unless to promote a secular agenda, and antagonize the faithful? We, of course, maintain that agnosticism is, in itself, a religion — certainly the religion of the world — and Newsweek (like its peers) bows to the world system.
Do you celebrate the worldview of Christmas (which even the pagans worship) or do you faithfully hold fast to the reason for the season?
Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Lk 2:10-11).
Suggested reading: Newsweek vs. the New Testament
(We love the tag line in the suggested reading: It is Newsweek, and not the New Testament, that is going out of print.)
Copyright © 2015 Messiah Gate