There are several details about the Christmas story that don’t exactly match up with… well the actual Christmas story. It makes for some interesting trivia during this time of the year, which could make you a hit at parties perhaps, but it is also symptomatic of our culture. Are we content to believe a tradition-filled caricature of the Bible, or are we interested in the real thing?
Take the 3 wise men for instance, or magi, or kings or whatever you want to call them. Their story is in Matthew chapter 2, and here we find one of the more glaring instances of tradition versus the Bible. We can start with the fact the Bible never said there were 3 wise men, but only that there were 3 separate gifts. The Bible never said they traveled on camels, ( John MacArthur’s research says they traveled on Persian steeds and with a sizable cavalry) and the Bible never said their names, or the color of their skin. In fact, the Bible never calls them kings, and we know from history the magi were advisers to kings, but likely not kings themselves.
Nevertheless we have an entire tradition about the magi, which is often assumed to come from the Bible, but doesn’t. Ironically, we even sometimes we try to prove the Bible to be false, or a myth by disproving things the Bible never said. A youtube video called Zeitgeist claimed that the Christian story was simply made up of earlier myths, which also included stories of 3 wise men and births of a Savior on December 25, etc… While the video is largely a hoax (those earlier religious myths did not make those claims either) it nevertheless convinced a lot of people who assume the Bible talks about things like 3 wise men, or December 25, or being born in a stable, when the Bible actually says nothing about these things.
How much do you think you know about the actual Christmas story?
DID THE WISE MEN SHOW UP ON THE NIGHT JESUS WAS BORN?
Those nativity scenes everyone wants to put up or take down always include the magi, but according to the Bible, they weren’t there when Jesus was born. Based on the time the star first appeared and the wise-men began their journey, the account says King Herod had every child 2 years and younger in Bethlehem killed. That indicates the wise men didn’t arrive until Jesus was possibly two years old, and sure enough, the account says they arrived at a “house” not a stable, with no mention of Jesus in a manger at all. Best guess? They saw the “star” when Jesus was born perhaps, but they didn’t arrive for a year or two.
DID THE ANGELS SING TO THE SHEPHERDS?
I don’t mean to shatter anyone’s Christmas story here. In fact, I may spoil a few Christmas hymns by mentioning this, but the Bible never actually said the angels sang. It says they shouted and spoke, but no mention of singing.
HOW MANY SHEPHERDS WERE THERE?
Doesn’t say. The shepherd were there the night he was born, unlike the wise men, but the Bible gives no clue regarding how many shepherds were in those fields, or how many of them went to see the Christ child in the manger.
DID MARY RIDE A DONKEY?
She does in every painting, and well, it’s possible, but it doesn’t say she did. I’m guessing she walked. I’ve been around pregnant women at that time of the pregnancy, and by that time, they’ll do anything to get the labor started…
WAS JESUS BORN ON DECEMBER 25?
Sorry Zeitgeist but the Bible doesn’t say this anywhere. Even the Pope recently said Jesus wasn’t born on December 25 most likely, and wasn’t born on AD1. The Bible is completely silent on both facts. Truth is, no one knows exactly when Jesus was born. Those who argue against the December 25 date say that shepherds wouldn’t have been out in the fields during that time of year, therefore Jesus was probably born in the spring perhaps, but not in late December. Those who argue for the December 25 date say that the fields around Bethlehem were used to raise sheep for the temple sacrifices and may have had shepherds in the fields year-round. No matter who is right, the Bible is silent.
The date of December 25 was reported to have been picked by church bishops in Rome during the 4th century. They chose the date, not because of archaeology or a belief that this was the actual date of Christs birth, but because they wanted to discourage the pagan celebrations on the winter solstice and turn it into a Christian celebration. Presto… now it’s a Christian holiday! And here at least, you might find a reason why December 25 has something in common with other religions, but not because the Christmas story said it. And like I mentioned, in almost all cases, none of the myths cited by Zeitgeist used December 25 either. At any rate, that date was chosen most likely because church bishops wanted people to quit worshiping the sun god, etc…
WAS JESUS BORN IN A BARN WITH ANIMALS AND A WOODEN MANGER?
I already gave this one away earlier, but the answer is… the Bible only says one thing: It says they placed Jesus in a manger. That’s it. And just so you know, a manger wasn’t usually made of wood. A manger was typically a hollowed out place in a rock that was used as a feed trough for the animals. So there may have been animals around although the Bible doesn’t mention any, and it’s possible the manger was in a stable, but usually you found them in a shelter like a small cave or a crude structure made out of the rock, -not a wooden building.
WAS THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM A REAL STAR OR SOME SORT OF COMET?
Probably neither. If you read the story in the Bible, the “star” had some characteristics that don’t fit a natural occurrence such as a star or a meteor or a comet. Specifically, Matthew described the star as appearing once to the wise men before they left for Jerusalem, and again after they had left Jerusalem for Bethlehem. After seeing the star “in the east,” the wise men traveled to Jerusalem and asked King Herod where the Messiah was to be born. Once there, the religious leaders in Jerusalem informed them that the Messiah was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem, and King Herod then asked them to go search for the child and let him know. (He was of course, intent on killing the child) It was only then, when the wise men had already started on their way to Bethlehem, a small town only about 6-7 miles from Jerusalem, that the star appeared a second time.
This time, the “star” moved across the sky leading them to Bethlehem. Now stars and comets DO move, but this one is described as stopping over the house where Jesus was. Stars and comets may very well be over head, but they cannot be said to be standing over a particular house since they are far too distant. Since this “star” could appear and move and stop over a house seemingly at will, then it was probably not a normal star, and was far lower to the ground than an astronomical event could be. Best guess? An angel. And one wonders if the first “appearance” which caused the wise men to decide to journey to Jerusalem, might have coincided with the angels appearing to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born.
IF NONE OF THESE THINGS ARE IN THE BIBLE, THEN WHY DO CHRISTIANS SING AND CELEBRATE LIKE THIS?
Good question. Is it just human nature to embellish? Is it our nature to create a story about God, or create our own religious beliefs, out of things that sound good to us, without regard to what actually may be true? This does seem to be common, and so it brings up a larger issue. Whether something sounds good to us or not, is irrelevant. The question is whether or not it’s true. Truth is not dependent on me “liking” or “disliking” it. It doesn’t matter if it makes for a good painting. Only the real facts, the real claims, and the real statements matter, and when you’re weighing what to believe about your own eternity, it’s wise to be careful with facts.
If my religion or doctrine sounds good to me and I can turn it into a nice painting, that in and of itself doesn’t make it true. That goes for any religion out there. Reincarnation may sound good, a space ship hiding behind the moon or Saturn may sound cool, and Jesus being born in a wooden barn with 3 wise men present along with 3 shepherds and a bunch of singing angels on December 25, may sound beautiful… but it doesn’t make it true.
So this begs the question. Do I really know the Bible, or God, like I think I do? Is there more to discover, more to see, and more to know? Maybe this December 25, we can start by picking up the Bible and reading the actual Christmas story, and then later, maybe we can keep reading? It’s possible that God has a few things He’d like to tell us, if we are ready to listen. Just sayin’.
post updated 12-19-12