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Questions and Answers Series

  1. December 2012: Where in Bethlehem was Jesus Born? Answer
  2. September 2013: What happens to a baby when he or she dies? Answer
  3. November 2013: Where did Cain get his wife? Answer
  4. December 2013: Why are the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 different?  And what is a genealogy anyway? Answer
  5. May 2014: What does Scripture say we should believe about it? Answer
  6. August 2014: Did the real Noah act as he was depicted in the recently released movie by Paramount Pictures? Answer

December 2012

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.  So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.  Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.  So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. ~ Luke 2:1-7 (NKJV)

This Month’s Question: Where in Bethlehem was Jesus Born?

Answer: Most of us have heard the story of an innkeeper who didn’t have any room in his hotel.  Joseph and Mary came knocking at the door of his inn and, even though he didn’t have any vacancies, he gave the young couple shelter in a stable.  Depending on how the story is told the innkeeper is either made to look compassionate (by mercifully giving the very pregnant Mary at least some shelter) or he is made out to be a scrooge.  How could a man send a woman out to a barn to give birth?  However, it may surprise some people to learn that the Bible mentions neither the innkeeper nor a stable.  All we find in the Bible is a manger (or a feeding trough) and an inn (a Greek word that can also be translated as a guest room).  So where in Bethlehem was Jesus born?  There are two options.  Most of us are very familiar with the first: it’s the one used in practically all of our nativity plays.  The inn is seen as a hotel and the hotel was full because besides Joseph and Mary all the other descendants of David were also in Bethlehem to get registered to pay their taxes.  As a small town, Bethlehem could not handle such a large influx of people.  We are not told how the drama of Joseph and Mary’s situation played out, but inevitably the couple had to seek shelter elsewhere.  But rather than stumbling upon a wooden barn, church fathers such as Justin Martyr and Origen of Alexandria said as early as the second and third centuries that this shelter was a cave.  A cave that doubled as a stable for animals (hence the presence of a manger).  The Church of the Nativity stands over that cave today.  This is the first option of where in Bethlehem Jesus was born.

However, most people do not know that there is an equally probable second option.  The Greek word used for “inn” back in Luke 2:7 can refer to a public lodging place, but that is not how it is used elsewhere in the New Testament.  The Greek word used in Luke 2:7 is only used two other times: once in Mark 14:14 and once in Luke 22:11.  In both of those places it is translated as the “guest room” where Jesus would eat the Passover with His disciples before His crucifixion.  Mark 14:15 and Luke 22:12 describe this particular guest room as a large furnished upper room.  This is significant based on what both the Bible and archaeology tell us about ancient Israelite houses.  Houses in and around ancient Israel were typically two or more stories and the uppermost story often contained a guest room or a guest chamber.  Even the extremely impoverished (those who stayed in only one story dwellings) would set up tents for their guests on the tops of their flat roofs.  Biblical evidence for multi-story houses with an upper guest room can be found in 1 Kings 17:19 and Acts 20:8.  So given the New Testament use of this Greek word, coupled with what the Old Testament, New Testament, and archaeology tell us about ancient Israelite houses, it may be that instead of Joseph and Mary not having room in the inn, their real situation was that they didn’t have room in the guest chamber of their relatives in Bethlehem.  There was no room in the upper guest room.  So where could Joseph and Mary go?  Downstairs.  Why would there be a manger (a feeding trough for animals) downstairs?  Well what else does the Bible and archaeology tell us about ancient Israelite houses?  Because most Israelites had two story houses, but often not enough means to build other structures like barns, animals were often brought into the first story of a house at night.  This would protect the animals from the elements and from theft.  This may sound strange to our ears, but this still happens today in places like Germany and Austria.  Therefore the second equally probable (but lesser known) option to the question of “Where in Bethlehem was Jesus born?” is this: There was no room for Joseph and Mary in their relatives’ guest chamber upstairs so they had to go downstairs with the animals who were brought in for the night.  Then after Mary gave birth to Jesus she laid him in a feeding trough that was down there.

Which option is correct is impossible to prove this side of heaven, but it’s a fun thing to think about as we write our Christmas plays and get ready to celebrate our Savior’s birth.

September 2013

The Bible is very clear that the only way a person can be saved from sin and have death give way to the resurrection and have hell replaced with heaven is to repent of our sins and trust in Jesus Christ (see John 14:6; Acts 3:19; Romans 6:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Hebrews 12:22-23).  In an earlier newsletter I addressed questions about how this truth applies itself in the Old Testament and in other cultures around the world, but there was another aspect I did not address.  So let’s get to it.

This Month’s Question: What happens to a baby when he or she dies?

Answer: For years Baptists have addressed this question by appealing to something called the age of accountability.  The idea goes like this: If a child dies before reaching a certain age God understands that they were never mature enough to make a decision to turn from their sins and follow Him.  Therefore God still extends His grace to them.  Of course the next question is: What is the age of accountability?  To this a varying number of years have been proposed.

The problem with this whole approach is that it’s much more speculative than Biblical.  The Bible never talks about an “age of accountability” and it definitely doesn’t give an age for it.  This approach also fails to deal with those born with mental handicaps that grow up to have a physical age much greater than their mental age.  So what happens to those who die without ever having enough understanding to make a decision to live for Jesus?

In 2 Samuel 12 we are told that David and Bathsheba’s first child (who appears to have still been an infant) got very sick.  David lay down on the ground praying long and hard for his son, not even stopping to eat, but the child still died.  However, when David was informed that his child had died he got up; cleaned himself up, changed his clothes, went to the house of the LORD for worship, and then came home and ate.  Now those who watched David pray so long and hard while his child was still alive were surprised that David did not continue to fast and pray after finding out the child died.  This is how David responded to his servants. 2 Samuel 12:22-23 (NKJV):

And he said, "While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’  But now he is dead; why should I fast?  Can I bring him back again?  I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me."

David quit fasting and praying for the child after the he died, because the chance for the child’s healing had expired.  But all was not lost.  David could go on.  He could worship the LORD in His house and just live life.  How could he rebound so quickly?  Because David knew that he would one day go to his son in heaven.  It was true that David’s son would not return to him in this life (and that was still a sad fact), but the hope of going to see him in heaven is what allowed David to move on and not drown in the depths of despair.

So while the Bible doesn’t teach anything about an “age of accountability,” it does teach that God extends His grace to those who were never mentally able to understand it and that is a very comforting thing to know.

November 2013

This Month’s Question: Where did Cain get his wife?

Answer:  This question comes from Genesis 4:17 where it says Adam and Eve’s son Cain got married and had a son.  So who was Cain’s wife?  Some people have said that God created other people besides Adam and Eve and Cain obtained a wife from them, but this idea is contrary to Scripture.  Genesis 3:20 says Eve was the “mother of all living.”  Acts 17:26 also tells us that God made “from one” man/blood “every nation of men.”  So the Bible is clear that Adam and Eve are the common ancestors of every human being who ever has and ever will live.  Luke 3 even traces the human genealogy of Jesus Christ all the way back to Adam.  So where did Cain get his wife?  The answer comes from Genesis 4:25 – 5:5.  In Genesis 5:4 specifically we are told that Adam and Eve “had sons and daughters.”  We know three of those sons were Cain, Abel, and Seth.  We also know that Adam and Eve had at least two daughters since the word “daughters” is plural.  This means Adam and Eve had a minimum of five children and they could have had even more.  Indeed Genesis 4:13-15 states that Cain worried about people killing him because he killed Abel.  So given all the data, the Bible gives us an answer to our question: Cain married one of his sisters.

Now many people have rejected this answer because God forbids incest in Leviticus 18:9.  But people who reject this answer usually forget that God’s command outlawing incest was not given until about 2,500 years later during the time of Moses.  We must also remember that if everyone is descended from Adam and Eve (just like the Bible teaches) then everyone who has ever has or ever will get married has or will marry a relative (it’s just usually a more distant one).

While the Bible doesn’t specifically tell us why marriage between close relatives was acceptable at first, but later became outlawed from the time of Moses and beyond, science gives us some good clues.  Today the human genome contains mistakes.  Different people usually have different mistakes in their genetic code, but close relatives often have the same mistakes.  When different people (with different genetic mistakes) get married and have kids the good genes from one parent often make up for the bad genes from the other parent.  However, if both parents have the same genetic mistake the child will inevitably get it as well (usually at the detriment of their overall health).  Today incestual relationships often produce children with serious genetic diseases.

So let’s look at these facts from a Biblical perspective.  God created Adam and Eve to be “very good.”  Originally they had the ability to not sin and die according to Genesis 1 and 2.  This means that in the beginning their genetic makeup was perfect (having absolutely no mistakes).  But after sin and death entered the picture in Genesis 3 the human genome was cursed along with the rest of creation and so mistakes that were not present in the beginning began to appear.  By the time of Moses these genetic mistakes were becoming such a big problem that God forbid marriage between close relatives in order to reduce the risk of children inheriting serious genetic diseases.

And so the Bible has an answer to this common question and objection.

December 2013

This Month’s Question: It’s Christmas time again and so this month we will tackle a Christmas conundrum: Why are the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 different?  And what is a genealogy anyway?

Answer:  A genealogy is a family history.  Like any other human being Jesus Christ (who is both fully God and fully Man) has a family history.  Matthew 1 and Luke 3 contain two similar (yet different) genealogies of Jesus.  Many of the differences are easily explainable.  Matthew’s genealogy starts with Abraham, goes to David, and eventually works its way down to Jesus.  Luke’s genealogy is backwards.  It starts with Jesus, goes to David, then goes back to Abraham, and then goes even farther all the way back to Adam.

Besides having a different arrangement Matthew’s genealogy is also much more selective than Luke’s.  Matthew not only skips the generations between Adam and Terah, he also skips several generations between Abraham and Jesus (evidence that Matthew skipped generations can be seen in places like 2 Chronicles 3:10-16).  However, the skipping of generations does not mean Matthew is in error.  In that culture generations were sometimes skipped in a genealogy for the purpose of abbreviation.  Matthew’s abbreviation is also part of the reason why his line from David to Jesus is so much shorter than Luke’s.

However the number of generations between David and Jesus isn’t the major issue.  The real question is why is Matthew and Luke’s genealogy between David and Jesus so different in terms of names?  When you compare the two genealogies between David and Joseph (Christ’s adoptive father) only two names (Shealtiel and Zerubbabel) are the same.  So why the big difference?  It appears that Matthew traces Christ’s genealogy through Joseph while Luke traces it through Joseph’s wife Mary.  Women’s names rarely appear in ancient genealogies and in Luke Joseph’s name stands in the place of his wife.  The Greek text supports this interpretation because Joseph’s name is the only name in the genealogy that appears without an article.  This indicates that Joseph is a parenthetical insert.  It is also possible that Mary’s father Eli/Heli did not have a biological son and so he adopted Joseph as his own after the two were married.  Either way once we understand Matthew is tracing Christ’s genealogy through Joseph and Luke is tracing it through Joseph’s wife a lot of things start making sense.  Joseph was descended from David’s son Solomon while Mary was descended from David’s son Nathan (2 Samuel 5:13-14).  This explains why most of the names between David and Jesus are different in the two genealogies.  Two of the names that are the same in both lists (Shealtiel and Zerubbabel) are most likely two completely different sets of people who happen to share the same name.

Realizing Matthew gives Joseph’s genealogy while Luke gives Joseph’s wife also solves a separate issue in regards to Jesus’ kingship.  In 2 Samuel 7:16-17 God tells Nathan the prophet (not the same as David’s son Nathan) to tell David that God has given David and his family the right to rule forever.  But in Jeremiah 22:28-30 one of David’s descendants (through Solomon) is cursed.  Because of his sin Coniah (also known as Jeconiah or Jehoiachin) has the promise of kingship taken away from his descendants; and Matthew 1:11 says Joseph is one of Jeconiah’s descendants!  However, Joseph is Christ’s adopted (not biological) father so Coniah’s curse does not apply to Him.  At the same time Jesus’ right to kingship (through David’s son Nathan) still does apply.

And so these Christmas conundrums are solved.

May 2014

This Month’s Question: What does Scripture say we should believe about it?

Answer:  There are actually quite a few things the Bible says about itself. First, the Bible claims to be inspired. This means that every word in the Bible comes from God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Second, the Bible claims to be infallible. This means that the Bible cannot fail to accomplish God’s purposes. Isaiah 55:11 says, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” Third, the Bible claims to be inerrant. This means that in the original manuscripts the Bible is totally true and trustworthy in every area to which it speaks. Psalm 119:160 says, “The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.” Fourth, the Bible claims to be authoritative. This means obeying or disobeying the Bible is equivalent to obeying or disobeying God because the Bible comes from God. 2 Peter 1:20-21 says, “knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” Fifth, the Bible claims to be clear. This means that its teachings are able to be understood by those who read it as they earnestly seek God and His will. Psalm 119:130 says, “The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple.” Sixth, the Bible claims to be efficacious. This means that the Bible has the power to produce faith. Romans 10:17 says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Seventh, the Bible claims to be sufficient. This means it tells us everything we need to know about how to be saved and how to live for the LORD. Psalm 19:7 says, “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.” Eighth, the Bible claims to be necessary. This means that the Bible is essential for determining right faith and practice. Romans 7:7 says, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet."” Ninth and lastly,  the Bible claims to be eternal. This means that like God His Word is everlasting. 1 Peter 1:25 says, “’But the word of the LORD endures forever.’ Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.”

These nine aspects of the Bible: inspiration, infallibility, inerrancy, authority, clarity, efficacy, sufficiency, necessity, and eternality explain why all Christians should have a very high view of Scripture.

People may attack some or all of these aspects of Scripture, but Scripture always wins. Be sure to come out on Sunday nights as I am beginning a new series specifically designed to defend the sufficiency of Scripture. 

August 2014

This Month’s Question: Did the real Noah act as he was depicted in the recently released movie by Paramount Pictures?

Answer: Darren Aronofsky’s Noah has very little in common with the real historical Noah described in the Bible.  Consider this:

Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations.  Noah walked with God. – Genesis 6:9 (NKJV)

In the Bible the real Noah is called “just” or righteous meaning his conduct and character were both morally upright.  The real Noah is also said to have been “perfect in his generations.”  This does not mean Noah was sinless (Genesis 9:20-21 speaks of how Noah committed the sin of drunkenness) it simply means Noah was blameless overall when compared with other people from his time.  The Bible also says the real Noah “walked with God” which simply means he lived for God.  None of these traits are fully captured in Russell Crowe’s portrayal.

In the movie being released on home video both God and Noah are shown as caring little for humanity.  Indeed Noah nearly murders his own granddaughters at God’s command!  Yet both God and Noah show compassion in the face of terrible judgment as we read that God: did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; - 2 Peter 2:5 (NKJV)

God graciously saves Noah and his family so that humanity is not completely wiped out.  More than that God even has Noah preach to the wicked beforehand encouraging them to repent and be saved by entering the ark God instructed Noah to prepare.  Both the one true God and the real Noah demonstrate care for the lives of other human beings.  Sadly only Noah, Noah’s wife, Noah’s three sons, and Noah’s son’s wives boarded God’s ark of salvation.  The rest of humanity kept living in rebellion against God despite being warned of the consequences for doing so.  In the end they were justly judged.  Neither God nor Noah are at fault for the flood’s astronomical death toll (whose countless victims are still being found in rock layers laid down by water all over the world).  The real culprit is stubborn human sinfulness.

We see the same thing today.  Like the people in Noah’s day people in the modern world stubbornly hold on to their sins.  We love our sins and we live for our sins even though they will eventually kill us.  But God the Father has graciously given us the gift of His Son Jesus Christ so that death can be conquered in eternal life (Romans 6:23).  So you must make a decision.  Will you turn from your sins and live for Jesus Christ so that you can live forever or will you refuse and let sin’s consequences of death and hell swallow you up?