The nativity stories lack historical evidence but should be read as theology

This article is based on a recent interview with UCB Radio, where Jon the freelance theologian was asked about the historicity of the nativity stories recorded in the gospels.

Generally the consensus among New Testament scholars is that Mark was the first gospel to be written and Matthew and Luke were then written drawing heavily on Mark as source material. But Mark does not have any stories about Jesus’ birth. Instead it opens with John the Baptist announcing the imminent arrival of the Messiah.

If Matthew and Luke were written later, where did the ‘infancy narratives’ come from, and, more crucially, why do they differ on key details. (more…)

The Christmas Story: a round-up of answers to questions

Risking belief in Jesus by encouraging belief in Santa

This article is based on a recent interview with UCB Radio, where Jon the freelance theologian was asked whether Christian parents should encourage their children to believe in Father Christmas / Santa Claus.

A recent news story about a child’s letters to Santa being discovered 80 years later offers a great glimpse into childhood in the 1930s. The 5 year-old girl who wrote the letters asked for “nice toys and a hymn book”. How many kids would ask for a hymn book now? (In fact, who uses hymn books now that we have PowerPoint?)

But should Christian parents encourage their children to believe in Santa Claus? I think it’s a dangerous game to play. I recently read an atheist blogpost describing Santa as “the ultimate dry run” and encouraging their child to dismiss belief in God. It’s a thought-provoking read. (more…)

Creativity: theology meets anthropology

This post is based on a talk requested by a Christian creative group.

There are two key words I want to begin with – theology: the study of God, and anthropology: the study of humans (from the Greek word anthropos, meaning ‘Man’ as in humans).

I believe everybody is a theologian. We all have an idea of what God is like and would all explain God in different ways. We might use analogies or complicated technical terms or whatever. I think this applies to everyone, whether you are a Christian or not. Richard Dawkins described ‘God’ as a ‘Delusion’ – that’s a theological statement.

And likewise I think we are all anthropologists. We all have opinions about human beings. We might think people are basically good. Or we might think people are generally selfish. We might see humans as social animals, or individuals preoccupied with their own survival.

But we are all theologians and we are all anthropologists. (more…)

The ‘missing’ verse in Acts chapter 8

Question 215, from Mark, United Kingdom

Hey freelance theology. I just spotted there’s no Acts 8:37 in the New Living Translation, any thoughts?

Acts chapter 8 verse 37 is part of the conversation between the apostle Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch who is identified as a ‘God-fearer’, that is a non-Jew who believed in the Jewish God. When the eunuch asks if there is anything that would prevent him from being baptised, verse 37 says:

‘Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”’

Eunuchs were excluded from the Jewish religion of the time, so this verse shows that those people who were previously considered unable to fully be part of the chosen people were included in the fledgling church. However, this verse only appears in some manuscripts, (more…)

Two lessons from the life of Joseph

Adapted from a talk given at Glenwood Church on 30 August 2015.

I was talking about Joseph’s story with my wife, Cathy, and she said ‘What kind of person must Joseph have been? That all his brothers were willing to pretend he was dead? You’d think one of them would have said “Come on, he’s not that bad.” But no, they all went along with it.’

Joseph had eleven brothers. His father, Jacob, had two wives, Leah and Rachel – who were actually sisters. That’s a story in itself. But of the two sisters, Rachel only had two children – the eldest one being Joseph.

It does make you think. How annoying was Joseph. Ten older brothers and none of them could bear him? (more…)

What was manna? Did Jesus use mandrakes? Can Christians use hallucinogens?

Question 214, from RJ

A friend and I are doing a Bible study, and it has come up regarding what manna really is, and what mandrake was used for by Jesus. Also, have hallucinogens been used in any place by Godly characters in the Bible to achieve a better spiritual enlightenment?

We are not interested or remotely tempted to test this theory! We are just interested in knowing what the Bible says.

It is difficult to know what ‘manna’ actually was. Various theories have been proposed, for example, that it was a nutritious ‘crust’ that formed on the ground as the morning dew evaporated or it was some kind of fungus (see Exodus chapter 16, verse 14). It’s impossible to know as it was extremely perishable (Exodus chapter 16, verses 19-21) and no samples survive (although a portion was sealed in the Ark of the Covenant according to Exodus chapter 16, verse 34 and Hebrews chapter 9, verse 4). (more…)

Lessons from Abraham and decisions he made in times of weakness

This is a talk by Jon the freelance theologian, given at Glenwood Church, Cardiff on 2 August 2015

Coupland quote


The emphasis on demons and satan in the New Testament, compared to the Old Testament

Question 213, from Ben, United Kingdom

Why are demons and exorcisms so common in the Gospels but appear to be sparse or even non-present in the majority of other books in the Bible?

The development in Jewish thought of angelology and its counterpart, demonology, is of note. There are very few explicit references to satan* in the Old Testament. The most noteworthy passage where satan features by name is in the beginning of Job (chapters 1 and 2), which is thought because of the words used in the original Hebrew to be a later addition to Job’s story. The serpent in Genesis chapter 3 is never explicitly called satan in the text – this is a later interpretation applied by at least one New Testament writer (Revelation chapter 12, verse 9). (more…)

Philippians 4 – what we can learn from Euodia and Syntyche

This is based on a Sunday talk given at Glenwood Church in Cardiff in June 2015. (Listen to it here.)

Chapter 4 of the Letter to the Philippians opens with the Apostle Paul addressing a situation in the church in Philippi.

 “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

Euodia and Syntyche are mentioned once in the New Testament. This is it. (more…)