The Christmas Story: The ‘stable’ Jesus was born in

Question 159, from Helen P, United Kingdom

Christmas cards and nativity scenes depict Mary and Joseph being turned away from the inn and seeking sanctuary in a stable, but I was told that Mary and Joseph stayed with ‘family’ and were downstairs with the animals which was quite normal for that time. Which is right?

One problem with harmonising the two nativity stories in Matthew and Luke is that there seems to be some disagreement over where the story begins. Matthew makes no reference to Nazareth until after the family return from Egypt when Joseph settles there for safety (Matthew chapter 2, verse 22-23). In chapter 1, verse 24, it says he (more…)

Discrepancies in the genealogies of Jesus

Question 158, from Tim, United Kingdom Tim wrote a very long question regarding the discrepancies between the genealogies listed for Jesus in both Matthew and Luke. Here’s a summary of his questions:

Why do the genealogies between David and Jesus differ so much? Why are there only 12 (or 13 if you count Jesus) generations after the exile in Matthew’s account, when the writer claims there are 14 in each era? How can the claim that one genealogy reflects Mary’s ancestry be supported? Are we told anywhere in the Bible that Mary is descended from David? Does this discrepancy cast doubt on the Bible as ‘the infallible Word of God’? (more…)

Possible occult origins of Christmas decorations

Question 157, from Samantha

Why do Christians have Christmas tree baubles when I’ve heard that they derive from “witch balls”?

Several pre-Christian traditions were reinvented, or ‘Christianised’ as Christmas was established. The date of Christmas was established as the 25 December, partly to supersede the Roman festival of Saturnalia1. And it is notable that even certain elements within the birth stories of Jesus contained in the gospels have parallels in pagan religion2. However, the link between Christmas tree baubles and so-called ‘witch balls’ is harder to prove. (more…)

Babylonian influences on Genesis

Question 156, from Ed, United Kingdom

I have a question about comparing the Babylonian ancient writings with the Bible. My theology lecturers suggest much of the beginning of Genesis is based upon these Babylonian writings. Does that undermine the creation story as a authority and does it have to suggest that Genesis cannot be interpreted literally?

There are definite similarities between some (not all) of the Babylonian creation stories found by archaeologists and the stories found in the first chapters of Genesis. However, there are also significant differences, and many of the ‘similarities’ claimed are theoretical at best. (more…)

God doing “evil”

Question 155, from Matt, United Kingdom

Does God have evil thoughts? [With reference to Exodus chapter 32, verse 14]

In this verse in Exodus, Moses appeals to Yahweh not to destroy the Israelites who had been practising idolatry. According to the text, Yahweh relents from destroying them. In some versions of the Bible this is described as “The LORD relented from the evil that he was about to do to his people.”

The idea that God can commit ‘evil’ is fairly nonsensical in many Christian theological viewpoints. God is often regarded as (more…)

Ghosts – a Christian response

Question 154, from Paul, United Kingdom

What is the Christian view of ghosts? Are they just demons trying to trick us and take our eyes off of God?

As inferred in previous articles on freelance theology, the general Christian view is that human beings are holistic and so body and spirit are interdependent – one cannot exist without the other. This is why there has always been an emphasis within Christian teaching on physical resurrection. The New Testament view on the afterlife seems to imply that there is no time-lag between death and resurrection/judgement day, from the point of view of the person who has died.

Strictly speaking, then, there is no room for ‘ghosts’ in the Christian view of life after death. However, there are a couple of interesting Biblical references to ghosts. Also (more…)

A theological challenge from Robbie Williams

Question 153, from Ian, United Kingdom

In his new song ‘Bodies’ Robbie Williams sings about Jesus and that “Jesus didn’t die for you.” What should Christians make of the song?

The interplay between Christianity and music is always interesting, with Jesus himself being increasingly mentioned by popular recording artists, in addition to Christian imagery and language like ‘Hallelujah’. In many ways, ‘Bodies’ does appear to be just another song using Christian images in its lyrics, but what Robbie Williams is saying about Jesus is worth analysing as Christians could use his statements as an interesting starting point in discussions about faith.

Helped by freelance theology

“I was preparing a session on self-harm for our youth group and my husband and I had tried desperately to find something in the Bible that we could use to present God’s view on self-harm. We didn’t have much luck. I googled ‘self-harm in the bible’ and freelance theology was the first site that came up. It was absolutely spot on, just what we needed. It gave us the bible reference we were looking for and explained it in such a simple way that we could pass it straight on to our young people without having to reword it. I will definitely be going back to freelance theology when I’m planning our next sessions.”
– Ruth, United Kingdom

Read the article Ruth found so helpful here:Self-harm in the Bible.

Divination in the Old Testament

Question 152, from Roger H, United Kingdom

Does ‘divination’ in Leviticus chapter19, verse 26 mean ‘Water divining’ or ‘Dousing’?

The Hebrew text makes no distinction about the means of divination – it just says ‘You shall not divine.’ The means by which you divine the future appears to be immaterial. The word used – ‘na-khash’ – can mean to ‘observe omens’ or ‘tell fortunes’. It can also be translated as something more mundane as to ‘learn by experience’.

Cain and Abel may have been twins

Question 151, from George P, USA
Genesis chapter 4, verses 1-2 records the birth of Cain and Abel. I notice there is only one conception but two births. Were they twins?

There is no real tradition in either Judaism or Christianity that Cain and Abel were twins. However, a direct translation of the original Hebrew text would read as follows:

“And the man knew Eve his wife. And she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have gotten a man of Yahweh.” And she continued [yacaph] to bear his brother Abel.”