Jesus’ Scandalous Family History

I was reminded this week that where we come from matters. While having lunch with a friend we were discussing our backgrounds…where we grew up, what we enjoyed doing as kids, and we found some common ground that we didn’t know we had. Where we come from matters.

Matthew starts his gospel off with a genealogy of Jesus that tells the reader where he came from. In the genealogy we learn that Jesus came from the lineage of many great names that the Jewish world would remember: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Solomon. Matthew also includes the names of some Gentiles, some women, and some rather scandalous events that occurred. “Zerah (whose mother was Tamar)” was born as a result of her grandfather sleeping with a prostitute who just happened to be his own daughter-in-law. The child born of this sinful act wound up being an ancestor of Jesus (Gen. 38).

Rahab was a prostitute that helped save two Israelite spies as they entered the city of Jericho. The Israelites spared her and her family for her kindness, and she wound up marrying a guy named Salmon, with whom she had Boaz. Boaz eventually married a gentile woman named Ruth and the two of them had children and grandchildren, one of whom was King David. (Joshua 2, Ruth 4). King David committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba, had her husband killed, and the two of them had a child named Solomon, also an ancestor of Jesus (2 Sam. 11).

There are other names we could mention, but Matthew does something here that is highly unusual. We think of genealogies as being fixed…we trace our ancestors generation by generation. Matthew doesn’t. He includes three people from the same generation, as well as leaves a few generations out in order to provide for us these specific names so we would know where Jesus came from. But he does something else amazing as well that we miss with our english eyes.

The number 7 in scripture indicates perfection, completeness, and God’s involvement (think about creation). Ray Vander Laan points out that when you look at Matthew’s genealogy in Greek, here’s what you find:

The number of words in Jesus’ genealogy is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words that begin with a vowel is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words that begin with a consonant is evenly divisible by 7. The number of letters used is evenly divisible by 7. The number of vowels used is evenly divisible by 7. The number of consonants used is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words that occur more than once is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words that occur only once is evenly divisible by 7. The number of nouns is evenly divisible by 7. The number of non-nouns is evenly divisible by 7. The number of proper names is evenly divisible by 7. The number of male names is evenly divisible by 7. The number of female names is evenly divisible by 7. The number of words beginning with each letter of the alphabet is evenly divisible by 7. If you add up the value of all the letters (because they used letters for numbers) it is evenly divisible by 7.

Even though some of the readers of Matthew’s gospel may have turned up their noses at the genealogy of Jesus, Matthew is telling us it was perfect, and orchestrated perfectly by God.

Where we come from is important, and God has put you in this world in just a way that you too can do something great in His Kingdom. We look at the dark spots in our backgrounds as an obstacle, but God uses those dark spots to save the world. Where we come from is important, but God’s more interested in where we’re going.

Can We Trust The Bible?

When I was little I remember my grandmother teaching my cousins and me a game called “Telephone.” Someone comes up with a sentence and whispers it into the ear of the person next to them. This continues being passed through several silly, giggling child-interpreters until it reaches the original person. Everyone gets a huge laugh because what started as “The gray goose flies at night,” turns into “My granny has an overbite.”

Tweet: People struggle with the Bible because they believe it was passed down like a game of Telephone. The truth is far more stunning!

“The Bible can’t be trusted. It was copied by hand so many times that it must be full of mistakes. After thousands of years of errors we simply can’t trust what’s there!” The problem with this argument is the assumption that the Bible was copied much like you or I would scribble notes during a lecture, which is simply untrue.

Ancient scribes dedicated their lives to copying the Bible by hand, letter for letter, word for word, line for line. And this is very important to understand. Men who dedicated themselves to this artform had the scriptures memorized, as well as having a multitude of very early copies from which to work. Over 24,000 of these ancient copies remain from the New Testament alone, far more than any other writing of its age!

The scribes worked meticulously copying each and every detail of the text. It was then checked for accuracy by line. The chief scribes (who had the text memorized) knew exactly how many letters and words should be in each line of text for a particular book. If the copy in question didn’t match up, it was not corrected…it was destroyed. They held the text in such high esteem that they would rather destroy an expensive parchment and throw away the work rather than have one mistake come through their work.

That being said, not every scribe worked so perfectly. We do have “textual variants” within the scriptures. Most of these are sequence variations. In the book The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, Dr. Bruce Metzger describes it this way. “…it makes a whale of a difference in English if you say ‘Dog bites man’ or ‘Man bites dog’ – sequence matters in English. But in Greek it doesn’t.” Greek is an inflected language, and no matter what order you place the words, the meaning still comes across the same. The meaning isn’t changed in the slightest, but this counts as a textual variant. And if 10 copies of this same variant exist, then scholars count that as 10 textual variants even though they are the same variant (confusing, I know.)

Can the Bible be trusted? Strobel quotes scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix’s conclusion: “The New Testament, then, has not only survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity, but it has survived in a purer form than any other great book-a form that is 99.5 percent pure.”

God has preserved His word for us in a fully trustworthy form. All we have to do now is read it!

Want to know more about the Bible? Try these other posts:
The Problem with The Bible
Where Do I Start? – Part 1
Where Do I Start? – Part 2

Life Back Then

This was posted by John Mark Hicks this morning on Facebook. I thought it was too good to not share. We get to take a look into the early life of the church!

Letter of Mathetes to Diognetus (probably around 130-150 A.D.)

“Christians are indistinguishable from other people either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life….With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign…And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through…Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country….They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all people….A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult.”

1 Peter 2:12, “Conduct yourselves honorably among the nations, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.”

Where Do I Start? – Part 2

From time to time people tell me they want to start reading the Bible, and they almost always share the same question… “Where do I start?” Last week we looked the way the Old Testament is organized, the purpose of the writings, and the topics covered. This week we’ll focus on the New Testament.

The first four books of the New Testament make up The Gospels (“gospel” means “good news.”) These books cover the life of Jesus, but they aren’t biographies you and I are used to. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the “synoptic gospels” because they are so similar in the content the events they cover, but each writer arranges the events in a different order so the story had the greatest impact on their original audience (very common to the writing style of the time.) John uses a different approach than the others for the same reason. All four books give us the details of Jesus’ ministry on the earth.

The book of Acts is written by Luke, the same man that wrote the Gospel of Luke. It’s a continuation of the Jesus story and it includes details about Jesus’ last days on earth, then covers the beginnings and spread of the first church. We see events and history recorded about the other writers of the New Testament, as well as read many stories of how early Christians cared for one another and were so dedicated to Christ that they were willing to face death because of their faith.

The Pauline Epistles is a fancy way of saying “Paul’s Letters.” These were letters written by Paul, an apostle that we first meet in Acts, to various churches that he worked with in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, Thessalonica, two letters to a young preacher named Timothy, and a letter written to a man named Philemon.

The General Letters function much the same way as Paul’s letters, they just weren’t written by Paul. These writings include an anonymous letter called Hebrews, a letter from James, the earthly brother of Jesus, two letters from the apostle Peter, and three from the apostle John.

The final book in the New Testament is the book of Revelation where the apostle John recounts a vision that he had from God. He writes specific warnings from Jesus for seven churches in Asia, as well as a very apocalyptic description of God’s ultimate victory over evil, as well as a beautiful description of Heaven.

Hopefully these past two posts have given you some insight into the organization of the writings contained in the Bible. “So where do I start?”  Well, it depends. If you have never read the Bible before, I always recommend The Gospel of John near the beginning of the New Testament. John does a fantastic job of sharing the life of Jesus with his readers.

If you’re looking for specific answers to questions you have, you can use this summary to look on your own, do a search on BibleGateway, or you can always email me.

Next time we’ll discuss if the Bible can be trusted.

 

Where Do I Start?

From time to time people tell me they want to start reading the Bible, and they almost always share the same question… “Where do I start?”

Last week we talked about how the Bible isn’t just another book. It’s really a collection of writings, and those writings are organized a certain way within the book. Most books are sequential, or chronological in nature. The Bible doesn’t work that way. It’s grouped by type. Let me show you what I mean. We’ll begin with the Old Testament.

The first five books of the Bible make up The Law of Moses (also known as the Pentateuch or the Torah.) These books were compiled and written by Moses and incorporate the earliest history of the Israelites, as well as the books of the law of the covenant between God and his people (such as the 10 commandments.)

The History of Israel is recorded in the next twelve books from Joshua to Esther. Within these writings you can learn about the history of God’s interaction with the Israelites. From entering the promised land, to great battles. Most people know these writings through stories they were taught in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School growing up.

Poetry and Wisdom Literature makes up the next 5 books from Job through Song of Songs. In this section you will find beautiful writings of people who are struggling with God and the pain of this world, songs of praise for God, a graphic description of a man’s love for his wife, and a collection of wise sayings.

The Major Prophets are known as such because their prophecies played a major part in the life of Israel. Many of these writings are quoted by the writers of the New Testament. These books from Isaiah through Daniel foretell of the coming of the Messiah, and include many warnings and depictions of the captivities and destruction that Israel would face in the future because of their disobedience to God.

In a similar way, The Minor Prophets from Hosea through Malachi describe more minor events and prophecies from the history of Israel. These books aren’t any less important, but are more specific in their writings and application. The well known story of Jonah is found here, as well as the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile.

If you are interested in the history of Israel, studying the long anticipated coming of the Messiah, or want to read some beautiful poetry, you can find what you are looking for in the Old Testament. Click Here to read part two about the New Testament.

The Problem with The Bible

The Bible is not a book.

No, I’m not suffering from a head injury. The Bible is not a book…at least when compared to most people’s definition of books.

If you or I were to sit down and write a book, we’d start at the beginning and write in a linear manner. We’d start at the beginning of our thought, then proceed until we had a completed book. We would proofread our work, and go back and make changes if necessary. We would ask our friends to make suggestions and make changes where we thought improvements could be made. We might even reorder some of the chapters to make the book flow better. But in the end, the book would be written by one person.

Occasionally authors will work together to write a book. They will decide which parts each will write, and will work as a team to reach the finished product. Lots of planning and lots of communication between the authors will lead to a cohesive final product.

That’s not how the Bible was written at all! And that’s the problem. We look at the Bible often as just another book. The problem is we don’t really understand how we got it, and what difference it makes. Let me show you a bit of what I mean.

The Bible is a collection of writings. This is why we call the individual sections of the Bible “books.” Although, that’s sort of a misnomer as it’s made up of historical accounts, poetry, wisdom literature such as Proverbs, as well as letters sent between writers and Christians as a means of encouragement and instruction.

The Bible was written by more than 40 people, most of whom never knew or conversed with each other. It was written over the span of about 1,600 years, in at least 3 languages, on 3 continents, and somehow has a unifying theme that ties everything together. Every part of every section relates to another, all telling the story of God’s love for his creation, and His perfect plan to save the people from their sins.

No book has faced more persecution, scrutiny, and attempted destruction than the Bible, yet it is available today in nearly every language, in thousands of translations, in paper and digital copy, for very little or no cost to its readers. There’s no way that this is possible without the Spirit of God being the influence and inspiration behind every word recorded, and without His provision to ensure you have the ability to own one.

And sadly most people never bother to read it.

The Bible is not a book. It’s the Word of God. A book informs, the Bible is designed to transform. And if we fail to realize the difference, we’ll miss out on an amazing gift that our God has created just for our benefit. It’s time to start reading!

But how? Where do I start? What should I be looking for? We’ll discuss that next time. I’m beginning a series of posts on the history, and delivery of the Bible into our hands as we have it today. I hope you’ll follow along!

The Cost of Freedom

Today (Monday) marked the 154th anniversary of the final day of battle at Gettysburg. The battle lasted three days and the combined casualties were in excess of 46,000 men. So many lives were lost, or forever changed by the events that happened during that battle. All for the cost of freedom.

Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy. That number is staggering, and to think that these casualties took place during one battle in a multi-year, multi-continent war is just hard to believe.

According to one article I read, the combined total number of American casualties in all wars since its inception is around 2.9 million troops. That’s 2.9 million brave men and women who were willing to put their lives in harm’s way for the cost of our freedom. Praise God for our freedom.

While all of those lives are valuable, and have played a key role in where we are today, there is one life that stands out above the rest. One life that was given for all people, in all times, and in all nations.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. – John 3:16-17 NLT

This Independence Day, let us remember and celebrate the freedom that God has given our nation. Let us be thankful for the multitude of men and women who have been willing to sacrifice their lives for our earthly freedom. But let us never forget Jesus, the only life that can give us eternal freedom. May Christ our Savior be praised this day, and every day!