Posts Tagged Luke

As featured on the History Author Show: What does Christ have to do with Christmas Day?

24 December 2015


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The following article by Amanda Read was originally published in some form at The Washington Times Communities.

Christmas Day is acknowledged and celebrated internationally. But its significance is not widely understood. Many words have been spent to explain, justify, excuse, or debunk the holiday by turns, with frequent arguments hinging upon the fear of tainting Christianity with paganism.

Traditionally, Christmas has been celebrated as the birthday of Jesus Christ, even though many educated people know that a variety of factors indicate that He was not actually born at that time. How did the excitement around December 25th originate, then? Was it a pagan festival later co-opted by intellectually and spiritually lazy Christians for who-knows-what-reason? Does celebration on December 25th originate from nothing more than adaptations of winter solstice festivals?

It would certainly be easy to accept these notions and move on. But history has a goldmine of information beyond that, and it would be a shame to miss out on it this season. This article will be a brief introduction to a sadly forgotten Biblical heritage.

Luke records little details in his volume of the Gospel which indicate when the Messiah entered the world. Luke was a scientific-minded Greek physician who began his record with the story of the Angel Gabriel visiting an elderly Jewish priest. Luke doesn’t describe him as a generic priest, however – but rather specifically as Zacharias of the division of Abijah. This detail is a time-marker, because each priestly division had particular times of the year at which to serve.

It is probable that as part of the eighth priestly division (1 Chronicles 24:10), Zacharias was serving during the month of Sivan (May-June), and since Elizabeth apparently became pregnant with John the Baptist shortly afterward (following Shavuot/Pentecost), we can understand the significance of what Luke wrote next.

When Gabriel told Mary that she would conceive the Messiah as a virgin, he encouraged her with this piece of personal evidence: Elizabeth (her aged and previously barren cousin) was six months along with a baby herself. That means that the Annunciation and Mary’s subsequent conception of Jesus (or Yeshua) likely happened in December.

Thus, the Light of the World became incarnate most likely during the winter Feast of Dedication, also known as Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights. Although Hanukkah was a later Jewish festival that developed outside of the Torah, it has spiritual and political significance for believers and is mentioned in the Gospel (John 10:22).

The conception of Jesus Christ at Christmastime is a hypothesis further supported by the fact that nine months later is when the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot/Succoth) would take place. This occurred in autumn, a more reasonable time for the shepherds to be watching their flocks at night in those fields of Bethlehem that were acquired ages beforehand through the romance of Boaz and Ruth (King David’s great-grandparents).
Furthermore, since rabbinical evidence suggests that John the Baptist was born at Passover (Pesach) in the month of Nisan, it follows that Jesus Christ, who was six months younger, would be born six months later in the month of Tishri during Sukkot.

Sukkot was initiated in the Torah to commemorate the Israelites’ camping in sukkahs (booths) as they journeyed through the wilderness. But it was also a prophetic celebration that looked forward to the day when the Messiah “tabernacled among us” (John 1:14). Similarly, the feast of Passover is especially linked to milestones in Christ’s life – His crucifixion and resurrection.

Some Christians might find references to the Torah confusing and irrelevant because our Hebraic heritage is oftentimes mistakenly disregarded. However, Jesus Christ (the Greek variant of Yeshua Messiah) did not come to abolish the “Law or the Prophets,” but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). The New Testament is far easier to understand if it is read in the context of the Old Testament.

Both testaments are equally the Word of God and thus are written for all believers – and this offers insight into part of what sets the Bible apart from other religious writings. Despite its vast subject matter and timeframe, the entire Bible points to one character – Jesus – whom it defines as the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

We have now seen that there is evidence that the month of December was the time at which Christ’s life on Earth began – at conception. But what is so special about December 25th, precisely? Where did the tradition of celebrating Christ’s birth and giving gifts on this winter day originate?

Christian historian Sextus Julius Africanus (ca. A.D. 180 – ca. A.D. 250) is said to have been the first to claim that Jesus was born on the 25th of December. It turns out that Africanus might have had Jesus’ birthday confused with another prominent event in His life – the visit of the Magi, scholars and astronomers from Babylon who likely were intellectual descendants of the prophet Daniel.

How could following a star lead somebody to the location of the Christ child? In order to understand the star-gazing journey memorialized in Christmas songs and fashion, we have to once again look to the Old Testament.

The purpose of stars, planets, etc. was mentioned in the beginning – “for signs and for seasons and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14). The Scriptures say that the stars and constellations were named by the creator Yahweh, not by mankind (see Psalm 147:4, Job 9, Isaiah 40:26, and Amos 8) – although different cultures ascribe a variety of stories to these preformed patterns in the sky.

The heavens are telling the glory of GOD; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)

The actual Hebrew words in those sentences that are often translated as “declaring” or “telling” are çâphar (ספד) and nâgad (נגד). The meaning of çâphar is “to score with a mark as a tally or record, i.e. (by impl.) to inscribe, and also to enumerate; intens. to recount, i.e. celebrate:-commune, (ac-) count, declare, number, + penknife, reckon, scribe, shew forth, speak, talk, tell (out), writer” (Strong’s Concordance).

We now know that the heavens contain a system so mathematically precise that you can fast forward and rewind an image of its motions with modern software. Researching independently, Frederick A. Larson discovered that a peculiar astronomical event happened in years 3 and 2 B.C. (see The Star of Bethlehem DVD).

After examining the Biblical text and ancient astronomical records, Larson deduced that the brilliantly bright “Star of Bethlehem” must have been an extremely rare triple conjunction of the planet Jupiter with the star Regulus.

Sure enough, astronomical software reveals that in the months leading up to December 2 B.C., this mysterious regal sign in the sky can be seen moving westward, evidently at the time the Magi were traveling toward Israel.

On December 25th, 2 B.C., the star (via retrograde motion) stopped right above the little town of Bethlehem. By then the wise men were staying in Jerusalem (just five miles north of Bethlehem), having recently consulted with King Herod. Matthew wrote that when the star stopped over Bethlehem, the Magi rejoiced, paid a visit to Mary and Joseph’s house, and gave little Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:9-11).

Thus, practically speaking, December 25th, 2 B.C. might have been the “first Christmas” – a day of gift-giving in honor of the arrival of the Messiah. Whether or not you believe in celebrating Christmas, it is nice to know December 25th’s place in history!

When Does a Baby’s Life Begin According to the Bible?

4 December 2015

Q. Does the Bible say that human life doesn’t begin until a baby draws its first breath, as Kermit Gosnell and others have asserted?

A. No. The Bible describes humans as living beings in the womb.

“If breath is the biblical measure for life, then anyone on a ventilator is biblically dead,” Dan Arsenault, creator of the television show Church for Skeptics, remarks to Live Action News. He continues:

Presumably the life that God breathed into Adam is not the same as Adam breathing it back, nor is there any indication that God breathes equally on every person born. Life in the womb does not require breathing. Life outside the womb does. Since when is the function of lungs the measure of life? Why not a functioning heart, or kidneys? I’m guessing that neither of those were functioning in Adam before God put life into the clay He had molded, either.

Genesis 2:7 says, “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (NASB). The Hebrew word used for “breathed” is נָפַח naphach, which in Strong’s Concordance means:

a prim. root; to puff, in various applications (lit., to inflate, blow hard, scatter, kindle, expire; fig., to disesteem): – blow, breath, give up, cause to lose [life], seething, snuff.

Furthermore, the word translated as “breath” in that passage is נְשָׁמָה neshamah, among the definitions of which is “divine inspiration, intellect, soul, spirit.”

These obviously indicate that something different from natural inhaling was happening. Yahweh expired some of His very own divine nature into the first human being, and that nature has been imparted to all of Adam’s descendants in our DNA. In Psalm 139, David famously describes personhood in the womb.

Some have mistaken Exodus 21:22 for not equivocating abortion with murder. A closer look at the original wording, however, indicates that the topic in that part of the law is premature birth, not miscarriage.

And when men fight, and they strike a pregnant woman, and her child goes forth, and there is no injury, surely he shall be fined. As much as the husband of the woman shall put on him, even he shall give through the judges. But if injury occurs, you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, branding for branding, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Exodus 21:22-25, literal translation)

The keyword there is יָצָא yatsa, “to bring or go out.”

But if there is any remaining doubt concerning where Scripture stands on the personhood and beginning of human life, the first chapter of Luke removes it. Elizabeth, six months pregnant with John the Baptist, felt him leap within her womb in response to the voice of Mary, who had just conceived Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.

Note: This article is an expansion upon an article Amanda Read wrote for Live Action News on September 29th, 2015, titled, “Gosnell believes the Bible excuses his infanticide.”

Name That Disciple! Judas? Thaddeus? Lebbaeus?

20 May 2015

Q. Matthew 10:3 names a particular disciple Lebbaeus Thaddeus, while the corresponding passage of Luke 6:16 names him Judas of James. Is this the same person? If so, who is he?

A. Yes. Judas “Lebbaeus” Thaddeus.

The presence of a disciple among the original twelve who is listed by various names in two different Gospel introductions has made some wonder what reason there is to believe that he is the same person in each account. Perhaps the question should be instead, what reason is there to believe he isn’t the same person?

Judas-Not-Iscariot is referenced in Matthew 10:3, Luke 6:16, John 14:22, and Acts 1:13. The only time he appears with a name other than Judas is in Matthew, when it is specified that his surname is Thaddeus but he is called “Lebbaeus” (Λεββαῖος), which in Greek is a word that has Hebrew roots and means “near to my heart.” Some interpret this to actually mean “with heart,” as in courageous. Evidently this was Judas’ nickname. The additional title “of James” indicates that he was brother of a man named James.

How Did Judas Iscariot Die?

22 March 2011

Q. Did Judas die by hanging himself, or by falling over in a field and having his midsection burst open spilling his guts everywhere?
A. Judas died by hanging himself.

The death of history’s most infamous traitor has stirred up such postmortem word-of-mouth controversy that it could be considered the classic Bible contradiction – the crême de la crême challenge of anti-Bible poohbahs everywhere. It also reads like a classic suicide/crime scene mystery, so it is one of the most interesting to solve.
Matthew wrote out, simply enough, what happened to Judas:

“Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to that yourself!’ And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.” (NASB)
– Matthew 27:3-5

The apparent contradiction to this account was written by our historian friend Luke. In the text of a speech made by Peter, Luke inserted a peculiar parenthetical:

“‘Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.’
(Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood)…” (NASB)
– Acts 1:16-19

The more one reads that passage, the less likely it appears to be a contradiction about Judas’ death. Matthew said that Judas hanged himself, and there is no reason to believe that the book of Acts suggests otherwise. Just because Luke says that Judas fell headlong and burst open in the middle doesn’t mean that was how Judas died. The initial Bible scholar consensus was that Judas collapsed and split open after he hanged himself – perhaps he was hanging from a tree or post in the field and the rope eventually snapped (natural analysis), or maybe Satan slammed Judas’ body down when he left him (supernatural analysis). Matthew Henry pointed out as a historical anecdote that hanging plus disembowelment was since used (at least by the English) as punishment for treason.
As satisfying of an autopsy as that may be to some, I find that it may be irrelevant after closer examination of the text. Think like a detective, now…

Notice that Acts 1:18 says that the person who ended up getting their midsection split open acquired a field. Take another look at what Matthew recorded:

“Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to that yourself!’ And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.
The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.’ And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.” (NASB)
– Matthew 27:3-8

So Judas, our initial gut-busting suspect, was last seen throwing the blood money into the temple sanctuary and then later found strangled in an obvious (and successful) suicide attempt. It’s very unlikely that he took any time to shop for real estate, and he certainly wasn’t the one who bought the Potter’s Field.

It was the chief priests and elders who acquired the field!

With this knowledge, I’ve examined the verses in Acts 1 again and have colored red the pronouns referring to Judas Iscariot:

“‘Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.’ (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood)…” (NASB)

– Acts 1:16-19

The price of Judas’ wickedness – that is, the silver earned by Judas for turning Jesus in to the authorities – was used to fund the Pharisee burial-ground-for-strangers project (just when you thought priests couldn’t get any creepier…). But Judas himself had nothing to do with Hakeldama. The Greek word that is translated as “this man” in the NASB and KJV is houtos (ουτος), and the “includ. nom. masc. plur.” variation of that word in particular. This appears to be referring to the group of chief priests and elders that acquired the field. The Greek word translated there as “his” is autos (αυτου), which contains among its definitions “they, (these) things, this (man), those, together, very, which.”

Whoever happened to suffer that bizarre disemboweling experience, it most likely wasn’t Judas Iscariot.

Why do even translators have such a hard time figuring this out? Why didn’t Luke better clarify between Judas and the field buyers for our perturbed modern minds? When he was writing the Acts of the Apostles to Theophilus, what happened at Hakeldama was apparently common knowledge. Some English translators may have been confused because Luke added the historical anecdote about Hakeldama in the middle of Peter’s speech about Judas. The reason he added those details was probably to explain how Judas’ influence continued after his death (“By the way, some guy[s] acquired a field with the price of Judas’ wickedness”). The silver changed hands, but the curse upon it remained.

As is the usual case with “Bible Contradictions,” piddling over details that appear to conflict ends up obscuring the main (and highly consistent) point of the message. If we continue reading the Scriptures, it becomes apparent that the Field of Blood has prophetic significance. Matthew cited Old Testament prophecy regarding the Lord Jesus being valued at 30 pieces of silver, and how that same amount of silver would be used to buy the Potter’s Field.

“I said to them, ‘If it is good in your sight, give me my wages, but if not, never mind!’ So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. Then the LORD said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.’ So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the LORD.” (NASB)
– Zechariah 11:12-13

That was written some 500 years before the birth of Christ. Pretty wild, isn’t it?

Did the Women Find the Tomb of Jesus Opened or Closed?

22 March 2011

Q. When the women arrived at Jesus’ tomb, was the tomb opened or closed?
A. Opened.

The passages cited as contradictory are the following:

“Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it.” (NASB)
– Matthew 28:1-2

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” (NASB)
– Luke 24:1-3

Any confusion aroused in a reader of these passages comes from elementary misunderstanding of narrative. Notice that the verse in Matthew says a severe earthquake had occurred (past perfect tense). The stone was rolled away, but not right in front of the women visiting the tomb. They arrived after the fact, which is why they were so bewildered.
The other two gospel accounts support this record:

“They were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’ Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.” (NASB)
– Mark 16:3-4
“Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.” (NASB)
– John 20:1

You might wonder why Matthew 28:2 doesn’t appear to exercise past perfect tense in the King James Version. This is because our narrative culture has declined. We are not as accustomed to understanding the obvious inference in narrative as we should be. Many in the modern culture must have things spelled out for them. The New American Standard version has helped to better communicate the Bible as recorded in its original languages to contemporary English speakers.

On this website, I quote the Bible in NASB and have the RefTagger system set in KJV to familiarize readers with Tyndale’s superior language and help expand the mind.

What Did Paul’s Traveling Companions Hear on the Road to Damascus?

12 March 2011

Q. On the road to Damascus, did Paul’s traveling companions hear the voice that spoke to Paul?
A. Yes, but they could not understand what the voice was saying.

Saul of Tarsus (more commonly known by his legal Roman name, Paul) was a Pharisee who persecuted followers of Jesus Christ (who were known for awhile as those “belonging to the Way”) until he had a life changing experience on the road to Damascus. According to what Luke wrote in Acts, this is what happened:

“As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’

And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.’ The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice [footnote: Or sound] but seeing no one.” (NASB)
– Acts 9:3-7

Later we are told more specific details via the record of Paul’s statement to the people of Jerusalem:

“‘But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus at about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus he Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’

And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.’” (NASB)
– Acts 22:6-9

There are two different Greek words used in these passages. In Acts 9 and Acts 22, the word used to mean “sound” or voice” is phone (Φωνη), which can mean: “through the idea of disclosure; a tone (articulate, bestial or artificial); by impl. an address (for any purpose), saying or language: – noise, sound, voice.”

Colloquially speaking, it could easily be used to refer to both a sound that was heard but not comprehended (as in Acts 9) and an address to Paul that wasn’t received by others (Acts 22).

The scenario is quite easy to understand through a simple example: Occasionally one of my siblings will mutter something from the distance and although I can clearly hear their voice, I can’t “hear” what exactly they are saying.
Just consider how often somebody says something in the middle of a crowd and another person responds, “What?” Evidently they hear enough of the person’s voice to know that something is being said, but they don’t clearly understand what the message is.

Did the Temple Curtain Rip Before or After Jesus Died?

12 March 2011

Q. Did the temple curtain rip before or after Jesus died?
A. The instant He died.

The answer to “when” the temple curtain ripped is dependent upon the answer to “why” the temple curtain ripped. Exodus 26:33 describes the temple curtain in question as a veil put in place to partition the Holy of Holies from from the presence of sinners.

Before Jesus served as the ultimate sacrifice, human souls were unable to approach Yahweh directly through the holiest part of the temple due to their unrighteousness. As soon as the debt was paid in full, the veil was torn apart, symbolizing that believers were no longer separated from the throne of Yahweh because their sins were washed away. Messiah Yeshua became the permanent mediator – the High Priest – between sinful believers and the perfect God.
The author of Hebrews explains this as follows:

“Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place.

Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship, but into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance.

The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”
– Hebrews 9:1-12, NASB

The concept of being able to approach the divine without earthly mediation through priests was a bold and terrifying concept to ancient people, so the the record of the temple veil being torn in half is a powerful message.

If it would have made no sense for the temple veil to be torn in two before the Lamb of God was slain, then why do some of the gospels mention it before mentioning Christ’s death? Here is what they actually say:
“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.” (NASB)
– Matthew 27:50-51

“And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last. And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (NASB)
– Mark 15:37-38

“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last.” (NASB)
– Luke 23:44-46

The proximity to which the accounts of the temple veil being torn in two and Jesus breathing His last occur create a dramatic literary effect that emphasizes the precision and significance of the event.

The context of the message is also important. Luke mentioned the ripping of the temple veil and the death of Christ right after he recorded the interesting conversation that Christ had with the robbers being crucified on either side of Him (Luke 23:39-43). Jesus told the understanding thief that he would be saved.

But according to the Torah, how on earth would this be possible? The thief realized he was wrong and was prepared to repent and seek salvation when he was in the middle of being executed! He didn’t have time to make the proper sacrifices and get the high priest to intercede for him!

But Jesus told him he wasn’t doomed. The unblemished Lamb was being sacrificed right next to him. The temple veil was being torn in two.