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What follows is adapted from a blogpost of mine at this site some years back.
The earliest Christian communities varied substantially in their ideas about the birth of Christ. Here, I want to explore the implications of that fact for our understandings of the Christmas celebration.
Observation - Century - Crucifixion - Evidence - Stories
Let me begin with a familiar enough observation. Not until half a century after the Crucifixion can we find any recorded evidence of stories concerning Jesus’s birth, nor any reference to Bethlehem in that context. I stress recorded. The fact they were not written down or preserved does not mean they did not exist, but the fact is suggestive. Neither Mark nor John includes a birth story, and Mark shows no awareness of the birth occurring in Bethlehem (John does, obliquely – see 7.42). Paul says nothing to imply any special stories concerning the birth. Nor do any of the Epistles. Nor, as far as we can tell, did the hypothetical early gospel source Q. Our traditional Christmas stories come from Matthew and Luke, composed towards the end of the first century. And of course, no Biblical source places the birth in late December, a time when no sane shepherd would have ventured into the Galilean hills, unless he was on the run.
Arguing from silence can be risky, but the absence of birth stories suggests that many early communities did not attach any special weight to that event. That seems odd if they understood the birth as the moment of Incarnation.
Sake - Argument - Stories - Christ - Birth
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that we set aside the stories about Christ’s birth, but that we do preach his divinity or Sonship, for which those early believers were prepared to lay down their lives. So if Jesus was not divine from his birth, at what moment did he actually become divine? When did...
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