bible blog 1142

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:

Obama moves towards diplomacy rather than war in Syria Barack Obama makes a televised address on Syria

Matthew 2:1-12

New English Translation (NET)

The Visit of the Wise Men

2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem saying, “Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him. After assembling all the chief priests and experts in the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they said, “for it is written this way by the prophet:

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are in no way least among the rulers of Judah,
for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod privately summoned the wise men and determined from them when the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and look carefully for the child. When you find him, inform me so that I can go and worship him as well.” After listening to the king they left, and once again the star they saw when it rose led them until it stopped above the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star they shouted joyfully. 11 As they came into the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their treasure boxes and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 After being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back by another route to their own country.

Philippians 2:1-11

New English Translation (NET)

Christian Unity and Christ’s Humility

2 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,

to be like Gods.....

to be like Gods…..

who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross!
As a result God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow
—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—
11 and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father

These are two attempts to tell the story of Jesus’ origin.  Paul is probably quoting a contemporary hymn about Christ, the language of which is wholly theological. It sees Jesus Christ as a being like Adam, the prototypical human made in the likeness of God. Unlike Adam who disobeyed because he wanted to be a God, Jesus Christ chooses the way of emptying himself of divine nature, assuming the form of a slave, capable of suffering as a mortal man, dying a shameful death on a cross. Because of his humility and obedience God raised him from death and made him the universal ruler of all other powers. This is not a historical story, bur rather a theological narrative which interprets the historical life and death of Jesus. Its theme of Jesus’ emptying himself of divine likeness is very influential in the development of Christian thinking in many eras including this century.

At first sight Matthew’s story may seem to be more historical. Here are familiar facts about Jesus’ birthplace, King Herod, wise men, stars and gifts. But in truth, although it may contain some “facts” it is just as much a theological interpretation as Philippians.

Matthew indicates the Jesus’ parents lived in Bethlehem whereas Luke thinks they were in Bethlehem for a census. Both cannot be true. It seems likely that both Gospel writers knew of evidence that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and had to guess why. As for wise men, they surely are based on the prophecy of Isaiah 60 “nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising.” They are mythical figures who represent the gentile nations, who by Matthew’s time formed the bulk of the Christian church. The story of Herod’s vicious opposition to Jesus has no historical basis. An atrocity such a Matthew alleges would have been recorded in list of Herod’s crimes but its is not. Herod too is a representative figure indicating the contrast between worldly power and the true kingship of Jesus.Bethlehem

Although Matthew’s story appears to contain facts, it scarcely gives us more information than St. Paul’s hymn.  The embedded facts are, probably: that Jesus was born at Bethlehem, (although this too may have been deduced from the quoted prophecy); that Mary was Jesus’ mother; that Herod was king at the time. But Matthew’s gospel mingles theology and history while Paul’s hymn does not.

Both passages are primary evidence of communities of people in the Roman Empire who believed that in the life and death of the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, God had acted in a way that affected the lives of all human beings. In Paul’s hymn, God’s action in Jesus is a humble and humbling renunciation of the privileges of divinity; in Matthew’s gospel, God acts in fulfillment of his promise that out of Israel would come the true king and saviour of all nations.

Learning to read the New Testament as evangelical preaching rather than history is a necessary skill for Christian believers and helpful to non-Christian readers as well.


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