Realisation of an Unreasonable Hope: A Response to Visions of the Future

What is attractive about these two presentations of the future? What assumptions drive these two presentations of the future? What is wrong with these two presentations of the future? How much hope do they really provide, and how does the Bible’s hope for the future offer something better?

Yes, my response is just a tad sarcastic, and liberally peppered with rhetorical questions.

Why is the future always some dusky half-twilight? Paul McCartney is very idealistic, and tells us that we only need believe and we will achieve everything. It’s all down to us, and we own the future. Are the graphics some part of his subconscious telling him that it’s hopeless if it’s all down to us?

I’m a little concerned about there being a planet that close. Wouldn’t that cause some sort of serious geological disruption? Why is the sky so clear, if we’re as industrialised as all that? Why, if we have so much technology, are we incapable of making a holographic projector which doesn’t flicker?

In the second video, we’ve given up on this planet entirely, and we’re leaving cryogenically. I’m not sure why the people woke up before landing, rather than once they actually got to the planet, but the second video was more depressing than the first. Like my classmates, I was shocked by the image of the scanning of the wrist. As one said,

“I wonder if the producers realise that the scan of the wrist and/or hand for information that determines the outcome of your present life is actually prophesied in the Bible?”

Both videos seem to be trying to be optimistic and failing miserably. They’re trying to posit to us the idea that human achievement is infinite, and in the future, we’ll somehow be able to fix everything, start afresh, reach unimaginable heights of greatness. We’ll have all the technology we can, we’ll reach other planets, we’ll get through the wars and have peace.

To an extent, this is true. We will get through the wars and have peace, it’s just that that peace will be with God, after His triumph. It’s not all down to humans, and it never could be. And I think the makers of the videos realise this, because they portray a future of desolation just as much as they do a future of hope.

Something needs to change in this picture, because the one being presented doesn’t work. But only one thing need be added to make the hope plausible: God.

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The Problem of Clarity, and What it Means to Be a Christian

Read this article on what it means to be a Christian, and use the following questions to guide your discussion. Do you have any difficulties with this article? What do you agree with in this article? How does the author seek to convince you of his position? How do good works fit with genuine faith, and is this essential for being a Christian?

Isn’t it fascinating how a lack of clarity in terminology can have such effects on the understanding and even formation of a doctrine? In the article, we have two very important words which today are used with such a range of meaning that it is almost impossible to determine what exactly is meant by them: “Christian” and “salvation”.

In order to clarify the meaning of one, I must clarify the meaning of the other. “Salvation” is an ongoing process beginning with confession and justification and continuing through multiple steps, as discussed in my previous post (which isn’t posted here because it was overall convoluted, shoddy, and difficult to follow). One of these steps is “sanctification”, the process of becoming more like Christ – a process which might also be called “discipleship”. Since in the New Testament, the term “Christian” is used (only once, as far as I can recall, in Acts 26:28) to refer to a disciple of Christ, a “Christian” is then a person who has repented and been justified, the beginning of the process of salvation which continues with sanctification.

In common usage, however, “salvation” commonly refers only to the events of justification and adoption, which take place at belief and confession; while the author seems at least to understand “salvation” as a larger, ongoing work… at first (more on that later).

The author states, in rebuttal to some unknown and unnamed evangelists, that “confessing Jesus [saying a sinner’s prayer] does not make you a Christian” and nor will it “grant you eternal salvation”. In response to Romans 10:9-10 (“confess with your mouth and believe with your heart…”), he states Matthew 7:21-23 (“depart from me, I never knew thee…”).

I disagree with the author. Romans 10:9-10 is specifically two-parted – speaking with the mouth and believing with the heart. The persons condemned in Matthew 7:21-23 have done only the first of these, confessing Jesus outwardly but not inwardly. These are “mouth-Christians” who – I agree with the author – are not Christians. Romans 10:9-10 makes clear that both outward and inward confession of Jesus is required for “salvation” (adoption and justification) to occur, setting the confessor on the path of sanctification, part of the ongoing process of salvation.

The author also says that “confessing Christ is a result of salvation, not the cause of salvation”. I disagree, and say that it is both – the result of salvation (election and grace) and the cause of salvation (justification, then sanctification, then glorification). At first, the author seemed to be using “salvation” as a synonym for “adoption”, but here, he seems to be using it as a synonym for “election”!

The author also deals with works, juxtaposing the two passages of Galatians 2:16 (justification by faith, not by works) and James 2:17 (“faith without works is dead”). His explanation, while holding the unclarity typical of the entire article, seems to be heading towards the idea that Galatians refers to works as a means of justification, while James refers to works as evidence of sanctification.

In the second section of the article, the author explains that “there are five characteristics that are required for someone to rightly call themselves a Christian: repentance, faith, works, the Holy Spirit, and love. Lacking any of these will place that person outside of being a Christian.” Not only do I disagree with this last statement, but the author’s explanation of these five things is (typically) unclear, and his ordering of them could also be improved.

First, the author’s view of “faith” as a characteristic seems to include two parts: belief that one’s sins are forgiven, and belief in Christ’s work; and he states that the former comes from the latter. In this, I agree, and place “repentance” in the middle – thus, belief in the reality of Christ’s work, repentance of sins, and faith in the resultant forgiveness (in justification and in adoption).

Again, the author describes good works – and love – as evidence of one’s Christian-ness. “You cannot accept God without the Holy Spirit”, he says, and “you know someone has the Spirit of God when they have love”. To this first I would agree, insofar as we would be incapable of understanding – or following through on – anything without the help of the Spirit.

However, the author goes on to say, “genuine repentance, faith and good works come from the heart. The Holy Spirit is the one who changes the heart to have these desires in the first place. That is what is meant by being ‘born again’.” Perhaps it is merely my understanding of the term “born again”, but I disagree. To my understanding, being “born again” is what happens when one confesses and believes in Christ – namely, adoption into God’s family and regeneration into new life (represented for our tangible understanding in baptism). The Spirit may aide us in believe, in genuine repentance, and in perseverance through faith in forgiveness, but this aide does not constitute being “born again”, which is what God does in and for us – through Christ – after our repentance.

Overall, in dissection, there are few points in the article in which I disagree with the author. However, in putting them all together, we come up with some rather different pictures. Then again, as I’ve mentioned, his picture is rather unclear and I’m not entirely certain what it is. He uses copious quotes from the Bible in order to convince us of his position on each point, but does not put the points together very well.

Interfering Worldviews and Misused Languages: A Response to the “Alien Jesus” Hypothesis

A response to “Is Jesus Christ an Alien in the Bible?” The prompt: Use what you have learnt thus far in our study of logic to analyse the argument presented in this video. Four questions given for response.

What line of reasoning is immediately dismissed as incorrect?

The speaker immediately dismisses the idea of spiritual intervention as more plausible than one of scientific intervention. He characterises this by describing the immaculate conception and noting that while we today, with our modern, “enlightened” naturalistic worldview, find nothing implausible with the idea of artificial insemination, for the minds of the first century, with their more “primitive” supernatural worldview, the idea of spirits is more plausible than that of artificial insemination.

How does this force the listener to entertain the proposed perspective on Jesus?

The underlying assumption on the part of the speaker is that of a naturalistic worldview by which things may only be understood through direct experience, and nothing may be understood which is impossible for the one understanding it.

Because the listener, presumably, ascribes to the same modern, “enlightened” worldview of a naturalistic, material universe, he is therefore forced to accept the conclusion that any supernatural intervention is an implausible explanation and that, therefore, Jesus and His conception must be understood through science. Since only one possible explanation through science is offered, the listener is forced to entertain only that one.

What evidence does the speaker give for his position, and how credible is his use of it?

The primary evidence which the speaker gives for his position is direct quotes from Jesus himself. From an impartial perspective, the use of this is not credible in the least as, immediately before giving the quotes, he explains why the Gospel of John (his primary source of the quotes) is not a trustworthy source.

However, if one runs, as he suggests, with the assumption that the Gospel of John is indeed a trustworthy source, his use of it is definitely not credible.

His first mistake is in giving the quotes entirely out of context. Little more need be said about this mistake as I’m sure anyone who’s read a newspaper will understand how meanings can be twisted when words are taken out of context.

His two further mistakes, in my opinion, both come down to a lack of knowledge of the original language.

In the first point, the speaker’s argument relies heavily on the idea that when Jesus refers to “this world”, he is speaking of this planet, earth. However, in most (if not all) instances of this word, the original Greek is “kosmos”, which is defined by Liddell & Scott (considered the authoritative dictionary of Classical Greek) as meaning “the world or universe”, the third definition given, following the primary definition as “(good) order”. Greek has, in fact, a word which refers to the physical “earth” or ground, and that is “gaia”. If the writer, (assuming for a moment that these are not the true words of Jesus), had intended to convey the idea of Jesus leaving this planet, he would have used the term “gaia”, rather than “kosmos”, which refers to the universe at large – which would necessarily preclude the idea that Jesus was an alien from another planet in the universe.

In the second point, the speaker actually delves into the world of the original language with an argument about the root form of “name” used in John 13. His first mistake is almost laughable – he assumes that Hebrew is the language of the New Testament! (Although one must concede that Jesus would most probably have been speaking Aramaic, and the use of “kyrios” in the Septuagint is often used as an argument for Jesus’ divinity, it remains that the speaker is assuming Hebrew to be the original language of the Gospel of John).

The speaker posits that the Hebrew words “shem” (name, S-M), “shamayim” (heavens, S-M-Y-M), and “shema” (to hear, S-M-?) share the same root. While it is true that Hebrew is formed with triconsonantal roots which give the base meaning to words, I do not believe there is any basis for connecting “shamayim” with the other two, particularly as it is used in specific contrast with “mayim”, or “water”, in Genesis 1. However, by doing so, the speaker claims that the root consonants (presumably S-M, although this isn’t made explicit) carry the meaning of “upward” or “higher”, rather than of having to do with sound as is traditionally understood, and that the word “shem” would be better understood as meaning “rocket ship”!

(It probably doesn’t bear saying that the speaker’s very pronunciation of the word “shamayim” indicates he has little knowledge of the Hebrew language. I doubt you would find a Hebrew speaker who would believe for a moment that “shem” meant, or could mean, anything other than “name”.)

In summation, the evidence which the speaker uses for his presentation is incredible on three counts: that he has already discredited the source as trustworthy; that he uses the quotes out of context; and that he pays no attention to the original language of the documents.

How would you respond to this presentation?

While the most sensible course of action, as discussed in class, would be either to question the foundation and reliability of the speaker’s worldview, or to prompt him to follow the premise through to other aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry, my first inclination (as demonstrated above) is to discuss the language issues.

Additionally, I might question why he has taken, for the sake of the argument, just one book of the Bible as truth, but has apparently discredited the rest of it.

A Brief History of Christian Fasting

Adapted from paper presented for the “Spiritual Disciplimes” class at ACM in March 2016 (personal bits removed – and, indeed, rendered irrelevant by intervening events).

_______________________________

I worship in a tradition which has previously practiced fasting but has now mostly abandoned the practice to embrace silence, stillness, and contemplation in its place. I’m not the sort who’s ever had much of a problem with silence, stillness, and contemplation, so these things aren’t really a spiritual discipline for me – or, at least, not a new one, and part being alive is to grow and try new things.

Fasting in the Bible

In the Bible, fasting appears to have been used for a variety of reasons, including mourning[2], preparation for a physical battle[3] or spiritual trial[4], supplication[5], repentance[6], seeking guidance[7], reading the Scripture[8], or simply to draw nearer to God[9] or gain spiritual strength[10]. On many occasions, prayer is mentioned alongside fasting[11] or depicted with it[12].

At several points in the Bible[13], we see people fasting merely for appearances’ sake, to make themselves seem more spiritual; this was apparently such a problem that Jesus gave specific instructions about fasting so as to avoid it. In Matthew 6:16-18, the disciples are told not to go about fasting in an obvious way, but to do it in secret, maintaining a happy outward appearance.

From the Biblical record, we can see that there are a number of needs which fasting fulfils, listed above. While some of these probably seem to us today to be either irrelevant (preparation for a battle) or just a little odd and unnecessary (as mourning or as preparation for reading the Scripture), they are, for the most part, needs which Christians still have today – such as spiritual trials, repenting, and the need for spiritual strength or guidance.

Fasting in Historical Christianity

Fasting two days of the week quickly became the norm in early Christianity. The Didache, which was written sometime before the end of the second century[14], states that Christians should fast on Wednesday[15] and Friday[16], rather than on Monday and Thursday “with the hypocrites”[17] (presumably the Jews[18]). The Didache also links fasting and praying together in the single sentence[19], indicating that the two were viewed on a similar level.

The Rev’d Joseph Connolly, a Catholic priest[20], stated,

“Fasting is recommended by the scriptures and practised by the church as a means of atoning for sin and commending ourselves and our prayers to God. Hence the fast days of the Christian calendar and their connecting with times of prayer, such as Lent and Ember weeks[21] and the eves of the great feasts.”[22]

In both Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, the term “fast” now applies more commonly to what might better be known as “abstinence”. In Orthodox churches, a “plain fast” or a “strict fast” require abstinence from meat, eggs, dairy, fish, wine, and oil[23]. Some feast days require relaxed fasts which allow wine and oil and sometimes fish. In the Roman Catholic church, which has far fewer fast days than the Orthodox church, “fasting” is abstaining simply from meat[24], or from some other food, and the canon law states that works of charity or “exercises of piety” may be substituted for fast and abstinence observance[25]. In the West, it has become more popular for Catholics to abstain from activities, such as texting[26], or from treat foods only, such as chocolate, for Lent. Some Anglican churches recommend daily periods of contemplative prayer and self-examination in place of fasting[27].

Meanwhile, while the practice of fasting is falling prey to attempts to make it relevant by eliminating it in traditional churches, it has experienced something of a revival in Pentecostal churches. Pentecostal churches, leery of legalism, do not legislate any specific fast days and instead leave it up to “the leading of God”. However, many individuals within the Pentecostal movement have labelled different sorts of fast, including “normal fasts” (abstaining from all food but continuing to drink water), “water fasts” (abstaining from everything, including water), and “Daniel fasts” or “partial fasts” (abstaining from one or more items of food, typically meat and sweets)[28].

Fasting in the Modern Context

It is clear to see that fasting can be, has been, and is being adapted for the modern context. In the Bible, as well as in traditional churches, fasting has been very much a communal activity, as well as at times a private one. Today, we no longer live in close, closed communities of believers, whether Jewish or Christian, which can undertake fasting as a community event. Nor, probably, would many protestants want to do so, since faith in many protestant traditions is much more a personal affair than a community one.

Despite whatever postmodern reluctance we might have to avoid doing anything as a group, whether for legalism-avoiding reasons or for anything else, it is most assuredly ill-advised to go about fasting without letting anyone know, even if only for the health concerns, to say nothing of spiritual ones. For this reason it is important to find some way of treading a middle ground between individual, personal fasting behaviour, and the congregational fasting periods of history.

____________________________

[1] Thigpen, P., Soul Building, Discipleship Journal

[2] Judges 20:26, 1 Samuel 31:13, Samuel 1:11-12, 1 Kings 12:27, 1 Chronicles 10:12, Nehemiah 1:4, Esther 4:3, Psalm 69:10, Jeremiah 14:12, Joel 1:14

[3] 2 Chronicles 20:3, Esther 4:16, Matthew 4:2

[4] Acts 13:2-3, Acts 14:23

[5] Judges 20:26, Nehemiah 1:4, Jeremiah 14:12, Daniel 6:18, Daniel 9:3, Joel 1:14

[6] 1 Samuel 7:6, Psalm 35:13, Psalm 69:10, Daniel 9:3, Joel 2:12-15

[7] Ezra 8:21-9:5

[8] Nehemiah 9:1

[9] Psalm 35:13, Psalm 69:10, Psalm 109:24, 1 Corinthians 7:5

[10] Matthew 17:21 and Mark 9:29

[11] Daniel 9:3, Matthew 17:21, Mark 9:29, Luke 2:37, Acts 10:30, Acts 13:2-3, Acts 14:23, 1 Corinthians 7:5

[12] 1 Samuel 7:6, 2 Chronicles 20:3, Ezra 8:21-9:5, Nehemiah 9:1, Joel 1:14

[13] Isaiah 58:2-6, Zechariah 7:3-5, Luke 18:12

[14] van de Sandt, H & Flusser, D 2002, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity, Royal Van Gorcum, Assen, Nederlands., pg. 48b

[15] Interestingly, in the Gaelic language, which has no record for weekday names prior to the arrival of Christianity, Wednesday is called “Di-Ciad-Aoin”, meaning “day of the first fast”. Likewise, Friday is “Di-h-Aoine”, or “day of the fast”, leaving Thursday as “Di-Ardaoin”, a shortened form of “di-eadar-aoin” or “day between the fast”.

[16] The suggestion has been made that these days were chosen for the following reason: Wednesday because that is the day Judas betrayed Jesus, and Friday because it is the day on which Jesus was killed

[17] van de Sandt, H & Flusser, D 2002, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity, Royal Van Gorcum, Assen, Nederlands., pg. 12e, 8.1

[18] van de Sandt, H & Flusser, D 2002, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity, Royal Van Gorcum, Assen, Nederlands., pg. 292c

[19] van de Sandt, H & Flusser, D 2002, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity, Royal Van Gorcum, Assen, Nederlands., pg.s. 12e-13a, 8.1-8.3

[20] Hickerson, P, ‘Father Connolly, Severn pastor for 16 years, dies’, The Baltimore Sun, 7 March 1993, accessed 22 March 2016, <http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1993-03-07/news/1993066097_1_catholic-priest-roman-catholic-connolly&gt;.

[21] Weeks of dedicated prayer, vigil, and spiritual renewal, see Davies, JG (Ed.) 1972, A Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship, 5th edn, SCM Press Ltd, London., pgs. 168-169

[22] Davies, JG (Ed.) 1972, A Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship, 5th edn, SCM Press Ltd, London., pg. 180b

[23] Seraphim of Platina, F 2008, The Rule of Fasting in the Otrhodox Church, Orthodox Christian Information Centre, accessed 24 March 2016, <http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/father-seraphim-rose-fasting-rules.aspx&gt;.

[24] Canon 1251, Code of Canon Law, accessed 22 March 2016, < http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P4O.HTM&gt;

[25] Canon 1253, Code of Canon Law, accessed 22 March 2016, < http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P4O.HTM&gt;

[26] ‘To text is to sin’, NZ Herald,  8 March 2009, accessed 22 March 2016, < http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10560485&gt;

[27]  I can’t really provide a reference for this one, but if you want to check its veracity, feel free to contact Fr. Steve at Holy Innocents’ Anglican Belair.

[28] I don’t know that any of the sites I perused to find this out could be considered legitimate sources of authority, but they include, but are not limited to, such places as “Pentecostal Pioneers” <http://www.pentecostalpioneers.org/fasting.html&gt;, “Central Pentecostal Church” <http://cpchurch.ca/2013/01/03/fasting-not-just-another-diet/&gt;, and “The Apostolic Pentecostal Church” <http://theapc.org/the-foundation-of-fasting/.

Some further divide their fasts by length, exact things being abstained from, or reason. Elmer Towns, a Baptist writer, identifies fast types by  reason or aim, rather than length or abstinence, and lists nine different sorts of fast this way in his book Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough, 1st Indian edn, OM Books, Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India.

[29]  Towns, E. L. The Beginner’s Guide to Fasting, Regal Books, Ventura, California, USA.

A Brief Background on the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt

A paper presented for the “Bible Backgrounds” class at ACM in April 2016. Grade given: 70%, for not enough emphasis on the socio-theological concepts involved, and one incidental argumentum ex silencio (aka rampant speculation). 

“Now, when they [the wise men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod…

Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.”

Matthew 2:13-15a, 19-21[1]

 The above passages at the beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew are frequently read, but seldom seriously contemplated. In many Protestant churches, they form an interesting coda to the story of Jesus’ birth, the centrepiece of the Christmas season, paling in comparison to it. Even in many churches which retain the use of the lectionary, these verses are little more than bookends, the bread around the gory meat of the Gospel reading at Holy Innocents[2].

Like those churches reading the second half of Matthew 2, many commentary writers choose to focus on the dreadful act of Herod killing all the young children[3]. Yet others, when addressing this verse in particular, speak of the virtue of Joseph’s obedience, or the symbology of Jesus going to Egypt and being called out of it (which, in fairness, Matthew himself emphasises), or various other Old Testament allusions[4]. Yet another discusses how this passage speaks not of the deeds of Jesus, but of His Father’s divine protection over his life as an infant.

Few people, it seems, stop to question the details. Why Egypt? What would cause Joseph to think Egypt was a good place to take his wife and young stepson? Was it just blind obedience to the angel? Surely he had read Exodus, and knew that they had been delivered from the atrocities of Egypt?

Some commentaries do address these questions. The Baker Exegetical Commentary sheds a little light on the matter, saying, “Egypt was a natural place to flee to because Herod had no jurisdiction there and many Jews lived there.[5]” The Complete Biblical Library, however, does point out that the Egyptian border was some 200 miles (320km) away and adds, “it was not easy for Joseph to make this journey to Egypt.”[6]

Both commentaries go on to speculate the exact Old Testament parallel for which Matthew was aiming, but these few comments nevertheless prompt some sort of investigation into what has happened in the world to get to the point where Egypt seems a “natural place” to which Jews might flee.

The New American Commentary offers some explanation, telling us that “Egypt afforded a natural haven for first-century Jews. A large Jewish community had lived there for several centuries, and even from Old Testament times, Egypt had often provided a refuge when danger threatened Israel (e.g., 1 Kings 11:40; 2 Kings 25:26; Zechariah 10:10).[7][8]

So apparently there’s history of Egypt as a target for fleeing by the Jews. Jeroboam fled there back in the reign of Solomon[9], as did the general people in the face of attack by the Chaldeans[10] during Gedeliah’s governancy. Nevertheless, that’s only a few short verses, as compared to quite a good chunk of Exodus, and in neither instance is the act of fleeing to Egypt painted in very good light. At what point did a million Jews manage to settle in Egypt?

The Dictionary of New Testament Background explains that “the city of Alexandria had a cosmopolitan population, including Egyptians, Greeks and Jews… Large numbers of Palestinian Jews emigrated to Alexandria from its earliest times. Joseph records that Alexander himself encouraged Jews to settle in the new city “on terms of equality with the Greeks.” They were encouraged to stay there by the Ptolemies and were according considerable freedom… The Jews organised into their own civic group […] and were encouraged to maintain their cultural and religious customs… this community came to be one of the most influential in the Jewish Diaspora.[11] [12]

Russell, in his book regarding Judaism in the Greek world, agrees with this assessment, but goes on to note that “there were not a few among them, however, who were deeply influenced by their Greek environment, and so it is not surprising that in course of time there grew up in Egypt a type of Judaism marked by a fusion of Jewish and Greek ideas.”[13]

In fact, the community grew so Hellenised (culturally Greek) that they eventually no longer understood Hebrew, prompting the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek[14]. However, despite their apparent affluence and assimilation, by the time of Christ, the Jewish community in Alexandria, at least, and one might presume the rest of Egypt, was at tension with the Greco-Roman elite, in part due to just those attempts to Hellenise themselves[15].

So what are we to make of the events of Matthew 2:13-21, in light of this information? Are churches right to make mention of Jesus’ status as a refugee in a completely alien environment[16]? In exactly what sort of environment did our Lord spend His early years, anyway? Is there anything to this story other that fulfilling prophecies and types while staying alive through divine intervention?

One thing which must be understood is that Joseph was not taking Mary and Jesus to a completely foreign land. Whether they went to Alexandria or not, both Egypt and Galilee were Roman provinces with a largely Greek culture and government. Although Jesus might have been one of few children in the community to speak fluent Hebrew or Aramaic, they would most probably have been living in a Jewish community, perhaps even with relatives there.

Similarly, while the Complete Biblical Library is correct in stating that it is some five hundred kilometres[17] between Bethlehem and Egypt, the Expositor’s Commentary is also justified in describing Egypt as “nearby”, considering that they were neighbouring countries which had, for a time, shared a common jurisdiction, and between which, one presumes, there was a fairly decent road system and fairly regular traffic. Due to physical proximity and shared history, as well as a large Egyptian Jewish community, Egypt may also be described as being culturally close to first-century Judaea.

So while it might be easy for the casual pew-listener to be surprised to hear that Joseph took his family to Egypt, relying on only the most commonly-expounded Egypt-related Bible stories such as that of Moses, in fact a brief look at the history of the region and some closer study of political relations will reveal that Egypt, rather than being a strange place to go, was actually the most logical choice for relocation by a Jewish family in the first century.

_________________________________

[1] The Holy Bible, New King James Version, 2010, Reference edn, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Tennessee.

[2] Traditionally three to four days after Christmas, either the 28th or the 29th of December, often remembered on the Sunday after Christmas

[3] For example, The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, 1995, Vol VIII: Matthew and Mark, Abingdon Press, Tennessee, USA, pg. 148

[4] For example, Hagner, D, 1993, World Biblical Commentary: Matthew 1-13, Word Books, Texas, USA, pgs. 33-35

[5] Turner, D 2008, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, USA., pg. 89

[6] New Testament Study Bible: Matthew, 1986, The Complete Biblical Library, Missouri, USA

[7] Blomberg, C, 1992, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture: Matthew, Broadman Press, Tennessee, USA, pg. 66

[8] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Longman, T, and Garland, D 2010, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew & Mark, revised edn., Baker Zondervan, Grand Rapids, USA., pg. 188] also comments, saying that “[the population of nearby Egypt] included about a million Jews. Earlier generations of Israelites fleeing their homeland (1 Kings 11:40; Jeremiah 26:21-23, 43:7) had sought refuge in Egypt.”

[9] 1 Kings 11:40, as the commentaries keep pointing out

[10] 2 Kings 25:26 & Jeremiah 43:7, sometime after the fall of Judah to Babylon, along with a reluctant Jeremiah

[11] Dictionary of New Testament Background, 2000, InterVarsity Press, Illinois, USA, pg. 24

[12] The Complete Biblical Library [New Testament Study Bible: Matthew, 1986, The Complete Biblical Library, Missouri, USA] offers some additional details on Alexandria: “Since the time of Alexander the Great (Fourth Century B.C.) and the Ptolemies after him, many Jews had settled in Egypt. The largest colony of them occupied the northeast quarter of the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria. Alexandria was the second-largest city of the Roman Empire. By this time, it had also become the greatest centre of Greek culture in the world.”

[13] Russell, D 1967, ‘Ptolemies and Seleucids: Relations with the Jews’, The Jews from Alexander to Herod, Oxford University Press, London, UK., pgs. 18-19

[14] ‘Ptolemaic Egypt: Religion, Literature, Art’ 1984, in The Cambridge Ancient History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, vol. VII Part 1: The Hellenistic World, pg. 171

[15] ‘Egypt: Alexandria’, 1996, in The Cambridge Ancient History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, vol, XL The Augustan Empire, 43BC-AD69, pg. 701

[16] Payneham Road Uniting Church, past which I drive every day, has a large sign out the front stating boldly “Jesus was a Refugee”

[17] This is the straight-line distance between Bethlehem and Egypt; roughly 310 miles.