Month: December 2014

Nations and cultures are more diverse than merely “secular vs religious”

There is a broad spectrum of religious/secular nations and cultures, its impertinent to brush all with the same brush.

• Y-AXIS TOP: (Secular values) less preference on religion and traditional authority, and are more accepting of abortion and divorce.

• Y-AXIS BOTTOM: (Traditional values) religion, traditional family values, parent-child ties, and nationalism. Those with these values tend to reject abortion, gay equality, and divorce.

• X-AXIS LEFT: (Survival values) emphasize economic and physical security and are linked with ethnocentrism and low levels of tolerance for outsiders.

• X-AXIS RIGHT: (Self-expression values) give high priority to growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians, and gender equality.



Marcus Borg argues that Lukes Nativity was written to replace Caesar Augustus, the other “son of God”

Biblical scholars argue that Lukes story of the Nativity was specifically fashioned to present Jesus as a replacement of Ceasar Augustus:


“In Luke’s birth story, the key to seeing its political meaning is Roman imperial theology, which includes the divine conception of Caesar Augustus, the greatest of the Roman emperors and ruler when Jesus was born. He was conceived by the god Apollo in the womb of his mother Atia. His titles included “Son of God,” “Lord,” “Savior,” bringer of “peace on earth.” Inscribed on coins and temples, the public media of the day, they continued to be used by most emperors after Augustus.”

“Thus there was already a “Son of God,” “Lord,” and peace-bringing “Savior” in the world in which Jesus lived and in which early Christianity emerged. Roman imperial theology is the historical context for understanding the use of this language.”

“Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth… deliberately counters and challenges Roman imperial theology. It includes divine conception, and thus Jesus, not Caesar, is the “Son of God.” Early Christians saw in Jesus the alternative to an imperial world based on injustice and violence.” (1)

Marcus Borg, world renowned scholar, former president of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars.

When was Jesus born?

Scholars don’t really know when Jesus was born, in part because the earliest Gospels and stories about Jesus were completely silent about his birth. Mark’s Gospel, the earliest written, mentions nothing. Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, the first writings to even mention Jesus’ birth, were written some 80-90 years after the fact, and don’t mention a date.

To make matters more difficult, for the first few hundred years the church forbid the celebration of birthdays. One of the earliest academics and theologians in the church, Origen of Alexandria (c.185-c.254) “preached that it would be wrong to honor Christ in the same way Pharaoh and Herod were honored because birthdays were for pagan gods.” 1

So when was Jesus born?

Joseph A. Fitzmyer – Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America writes: “Though the year [of Jesus birth] is not reckoned with certainty, the birth did not occur in AD 1. The Christian era, supposed to have its starting point in the year of Jesus birth, is based on a miscalculation introduced in 533 by Dionysius Exiguus.”

Fitzmyer makes his guess at the birth of Jesus occurred as September 11, 3 BC.

Others have a different perspective: “Lacking any scriptural pointers to Jesus’ birthday, early Christian teachers suggested dates all over the calendar. Clement… picked November 18. Hippolytus… figured Christ must have been born on a Wednesday. An anonymous document believed to have been written in North Africa around A.D. 243, placed Jesus’ birth on March 28.”


1. Addison G. Wright, Roland E. Murphy, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “A History of Israel” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1990, p. 1247.) Other scholars place their guesses between 7 BCE and 3 BCE.

2. Jeffery Sheler, U.S. News & World Report, “In Search of Christmas,” Dec. 23, 1996, p. 58

Why would God tarry with salvific news to people he loves?

The traditional Christian narrative is composed of two parts.

A. The beautiful idea that God loves the whole world, loves every person equally, wants no one to perish, and came down on Christmas to accomplish this.

B. The strange idea that God ignored almost everyone on the planet for up to 75% of the last 6,000 -8,000 years and had a relationship with only one tiny people group.

If these two parts are both true (and quite frankly A, I like, but B makes no sense), then:

  1. Why would God ignore 99% of the people groups of the world for over 4000 years? (Much longer if we look at historical dating, not young-earth-creationist dating) Why reject the people of North/South America? The large civilizations of Egypt, China, India? The vast tribal regions of Africa, Europe, nomadic Asia, and so forth? Why would God wait as billions of people who were born at the wrong time/place lived their horrid, short, ugly lives and died, never revealing that he loves them?
  2. Why would God, who loves each person equally, withhold from most of them a chance to hear the Gospel and believe? Traditional theology states that “whoever does not believe stands condemned already” and if we take that literally, every non-Jew who lived before the time of Jesus did not believe, and are condemned. Why would God chose to open the doors of salvation to all people so late in the game?
  3. Why would God’s method of communicating such profoundly important news take such a long time? It took Christianity 279 years to grow to 3 million people, Mormonism grew to 15 million in only 184 years. Christianity only spread outside of Europe/America in the last few hundred years. Why would God allow hundreds of generations of Americans, Chinese, Africans, Japanese, Pacific Islanders, Aborigines and etc, to die without hearing the good news, *after* it was already revealed in the Roman empire and in Europe?

Matthew misinterprets Isaiahs prophecy to refer to a future virgin birth

Matthews famous prophecy that a virgin shall conceive a son was taken wholly out of context and breaks every rule of biblical hermeneutics.


“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (Mat 1:22-23)


The original passage in Isaiah is NOT about a global savior 500 years into the distant future, but about the destruction of two nations in Isaiahs own time. Aram (Syria) and Israel were planning to invade Judea, but Isaiah tells King Ahaz that God will protect Judea from this invasion, and destroy the invaders (Isaiah 7:5-9). As a sign of God’s swift destruction of these two nations:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for BEFORE the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.”

A few verses later Isaiah impregnates a young woman, she bears a child, and right after this happens Syria is attacked (Isaiah 8:3-5). Prophecy fulfilled, hundreds of years before the era of Jesus.


For the record, conservative biblical scholars are aware of this, and the those who are conservative generally excuse Matthew by saying he was using a literary construct called ‘midrash’ which is basically taking a few words or phrases from a passage that is clear, and pulling out some secret meaning.

For example, if I say “Tomorrow we will vote for a new president, and he will be a great man, I’m sure he will serve our country well for 4 years”  A person using ‘midrash’ could rip the phrase “he will be a great man” out of the whole narrative and say “this speaks of my child, and he will be great man, and he will one day be the ruler of the whole world.” Today if someone uses an intepretive framework like ‘midrash’ they fail seminary and are called heretics for twisting the scripture to make it mean whatever they want. But Matthew gets a pass.

Conservative Christians waged the first “war on Christmas”

The American Puritans, a group of conservative Protestant Christians who were very dominant in Americas early history (and can be considered spiritual precursors to today’s Evangelicals) banned the celebration of Christmas in the 17th century.

Here is the actual law:

“Such festivals [are] superstitiously kept… to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court… that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, by feasting, or any other way, every such person, so offending, shall pay… five shilling as a fine.” (1)

Here is an ancient public notice that calls Christmas a “satanical practice.”


The Puritans in America were not alone, for example, a leading Puritan in England, “Oliver Cromwell preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event” (2)

The celebration of Christmas we are used to is rather new. Then “in 1851, Pastor Henry Schwan of Cleveland OH appears to have been the person responsible for decorating the first Christmas tree in an American church. His parishioners condemned the idea as a Pagan practice; some even threatened the pastor with harm” (2)

There are two very different Nativity stories

The “Nativity Story” we are so familiar with is really two separate stories that have been woven together to make a “third.”

When you look at each tale individually you will note that both are rather different, containing mostly unique elements that are not shared by the other. In fact, many (but certainly not all) academic biblical scholars would argue that they are so different they are impossible to reconcile.

It is because of differences like these that Raymond Brown, a leading Catholic New Testament scholar admits that of the options we have, “one must be ruled out… [that is] that both accounts are completely historical.1

Why is this the case? E. P. Sanders, a widely respected New Testament scholar says this is because “on many points, especially about Jesus’ early life, the evangelists were ignorant… they simply did not know, and, guided by rumor, hope or supposition, did the best they could.2
nativity comparison



1. Brown, Raymond, ‘The Birth of The Messiah,’ p 25

2. W.D Davies and E. P. Sanders, ‘Jesus from the Jewish point of view’, in The Cambridge History of Judaism ed William Horbury, vol 3: the Early Roman Period, 1984.