The Virginity of Mary

How many objections can be raised about this story? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We’re looking at the Christmas story in Matthew and right now I’m going to be jumping ahead a little bit to look at the idea of Mary being a virgin before dealing with the response of Joseph. To begin with, the word for virgin in Matthew is “parthenos.” In the NT, this does refer to a virgin, but those who know the language better than I do tell me that this isn’t necessarily the case outside of the NT. Not being an expert on the area, I will not comment beyond that, though I do recommend that those interested check various commentaries. Some say that in Hebrew, “Betulah” unequivocally refers to a virgin, but this is not so as even a widow can be called a Betulah, such as Job 1:8. However, it could be the case that this refers to a woman pledged to be married and before the marriage can be consummated, something happens to the man in a plague. Almah, another word meanwhile in Hebrew, often refers to a maiden, and that is the word used in Isaiah 7:14.

In Isaiah, Ahaz is told to ask for a sign, and he does not. Interestingly, Isaiah does not give a prophecy then to Ahaz, but rather to the whole house of David. This indicates a far greater reach. There is something astounding about what is going to happen. Further, there is no present fulfillment that really matches. Yes. There was a child that was born shortly afterwards, but how is this child shown to be a fulfillment? The text never says so. The child’s name is a name of disaster rather than encouragement. The child’s mother is known whereas in the case of Isaiah the child’s mother is not known. The child is never called Immanuel. We can go on and on.

It could be that the child born in Isaiah, Maher, for short, does show a partial fulfillment, but there is another fulfillment. There will come a child who will be born and in his time, kings will be made desolate. This does happen in Jesus who by His coming and being made the King of the Jews and sitting on the throne of David renders any other claim of kingship by anyone else to be ineffective.

Did Matthew misquote this then? No. He saw Jesus as a fulfillment of what had been promised to the house of David and is entirely in line with the text.

Something else that can speak about this is that a virgin birth would not be made up. Now some say that there were virgin births in pagan mythology, but in many cases the women involved were not virgins but those that a god like Zeus seduced. Furthermore, what happens was a physical interaction between the god and the woman that would hardly be like what is described in the biblical text, which is Luke in this case.

It also would not benefit the church. Jesus would have been seen as illegitimate in the culture he lived in. It would not be seen as a good counter to that to say “He was virgin born!” Picture if you’re a skeptic of the NT. If you are and you are told that Jesus is virgin born, what’s your response?

“Yeah, right.”

Why think it was really different back then?

“Because everyone was gullible and didn’t know better.”

A thought like this always amazes me. We can say that we live in an age of science and know better. Little fact here. Even back then, everyone knew that it takes sex to make a baby and that is sex between a man and a woman. If someone thinks that this is not the case, then could they tell when it was in the history of science that it was established that it takes a man and a woman to make a baby? If it was not known before science, I’d really like to know about the scientist that established this mystery of pregnancy that no one else understood beforehand. Now I don’t doubt we know more about pregnancy than they did, but they certainly knew the basics!

So why did they say it?

Because they had to.

They had to?

Yes. They had to. They had to say what really happened even if it would bring disrepute.

What disrepute?

It would mean that Jesus not being the son of Joseph and Mary biologically would be stated upfront. It would mean that some would still see a relation to pagan stories and discount Jesus for the same reasons. It would mean that some would think that Mary was likely cozy with a Roman soldier beforehand and was making up a story and that if this is the kind of woman who is the mother of Jesus, then who needs Him? Either way, it would not win friends and influence people.

The main objection is still the objection of miracles. Of course, if one does not believe in miracles, one will not accept the virgin birth or more importantly, the resurrection. For the one skeptical of that, I recommend this.

I conclude that I have no reason to not accept the virgin birth due to believing in miracles and because of the criterion of embarrassment.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is Jesus Cursed?

Does Jeconiah cancel out Jesus automatically? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In looking at the genealogy of Jesus, we’ve been looking at the women. Now, let’s look at an objection. This will often come from Jewish people as well who will say that Jesus cannot be the Messiah because Jeconiah, also called Jehoiachin, is in his bloodline. Jehoiachin had a curse put on him. Let’s go to the 22nd chapter of Jeremiah and look at what it says.

“As surely as I live,” declares the Lord, “even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off. I will deliver you into the hands of those who want to kill you, those you fear—Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and the Babylonians. I will hurl you and the mother who gave you birth into another country, where neither of you was born, and there you both will die. You will never come back to the land you long to return to.”

Is this man Jehoiachin a despised, broken pot,
an object no one wants?
Why will he and his children be hurled out,
cast into a land they do not know?
O land, land, land,
hear the word of the Lord!
This is what the Lord says:
“Record this man as if childless,
a man who will not prosper in his lifetime,
for none of his offspring will prosper,
none will sit on the throne of David
or rule anymore in Judah.”

Ouch. If this is the case, then does Jesus have a strike against Him? How can he rule on the throne of David if He is a descendant of Jehoiachin?

Simple. This prophecy was given before the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon. Jehoiachin had been leading the people astray and God had pronounced his sentence. In fact, when Jehoiachin is captured by the king of Babylon, it is not a descendant of Jehoiachin that takes the throne but rather Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah, who is placed on the throne as the last king of Judah before Babylon conquers it.

In fact, if this is a permanent statement, the person who compiled Jeremiah must have been extremely ignorant since in the next chapter in verses 5 and 6 we read this:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.”

In other words, this is not the end. The situation is dire now, but it is not the end! God has not forgotten the covenant He made with His people. In fact, it would seem odd for a Jew to say that the God who gives prophecy is ignorant about what the future would be. Surely if a prophecy had been made to Judah, God would know what was going to happen and knew about Jehoiachin in advance.

If we needed further proof, we can always go to Haggai 2. In verses 20-23 we read the following:

The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21 “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. 22 I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.

“‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

Why is this significant? Because as we saw in the curse to Jehoiachin, God had compared him to a signet ring. Now the same comparison is being made to Zerubbabel, who according to Matthew is a descendant of Jehoiachin. In other words, God is showing that the curse is not eternal. It only applied to immediate descendants and thus, was indeed fulfilled.

So no, Jesus is not cursed and is still eligible to rule on the throne of David. God has not forsaken His covenant with David because of Jehoiachin.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

She Who Must Not Be Named

Why does Matthew not like her? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

The women in the genealogy of Jesus so far have been named, but when we come to verse 6, we meet an exception. We are told that David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.

Oh we’ve read that story several times! We all know that that woman is Bathsheba!

Do we?

It is my contention that Matthew did not think highly of Bathsheba. In fact, it could be the Old Testament writers didn’t either. The name Bathsheba could be a placeholder in fact. It literally means “Daughter of an oath.” What oath? We don’t know. This could be a name given to avoid giving her real name. She had to be addressed in some way. In fact, the entire account in 2 Samuel 11-12 is meant to be a shameful one. Let’s go back and look at it.

The writer starts off that saying it was spring when kings go off to war, since battle in the snowy conditions was much more difficult. Yet immediately, we see that David is not going to war. David sends out all the king’s men, but he himself stays behind in Jerusalem. The writer wants you to know that David is not where he is supposed to be. A king is meant to act likea king and David is not doing that. Will this lead to any sort of disaster on his part?

As the king is on the roof, he sees a woman bathing and notes how beautiful she is. This is Bathsheba. There were numerous places where a woman could have bathed and not been seen, and yet this woman chose to bathe near the king’s palace, where there would be several men who could see her. Matthew and the author of 2 Samuel likely see this the same way as not an innocent action. This is the case of someone trying to gain reputation using her body. Of course, in our modern world, we no longer have any idea what it would be like for a woman to use her body to try to get something and certainly not in the public eye.

David sends people to find out about her. Note this might sound private, but it is not. Privacy was not the norm in the ancient world. The right to privacy that we claim would make no sense to them. This would be the word that would be spreading all around the palace. Everyone would know “David wants to know about Bathsheba.” Word comes to him and he sends for her and Bathsheba dutifully comes to the king and does not have any problem with sleeping with him. (Strange that a woman who was concerned about monthly uncleanness would not mind that little weightier matter in the law about adultery)

David’s had his fun however. All is taken care of. Right?

Well, until word comes that the woman is pregnant. Note that this would have been a number of months later at least and no one has confronted David on this. David knows that this will lead to his shame if it is found that he committed adultery. What does he do? He orders Uriah to be brought back to the palace to see David with the hopes that he can entice Uriah to sleep with his own wife so everyone will think the baby belongs to Uriah. Note that Uriah is a gentile as well, a Hittite, and he is going to be acting more honorably to the God of Israel than the king is, something even more shameful to David.

The first night of his visit, Uriah refuses to go home to Bathsheba. What does he say to David when David asks why he didn’t?

““The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!””

Ouch! We can miss all that is said in here and see it as just a statement of facts, but Uriah has essentially slammed the king. Let’s look at the points.

First, the ark of Israel and Judah are staying in tents. That’s right. That which was to represent the manifest presence of God to the people is in a tent. Where is the king? He’s in a palace! The king should be out there with the ark and he is not. Why does the king get better treatment than the ark of God does?

Second, Joab is referred to as the commander of Uriah and not David. This is saying that Joab is playing the role of a real king going out and leading the people into battle. Why is David not being the king? In fact, these are camped in the open country. They are placing themselves in a position of danger. Why is the king not doing the same thing?

Therefore, Uriah will not enjoy the pleasures of home and at this point, it is quite likely that he knows all about what David has done and that David is trying to cover his own tail. Uriah is not going to do it. David tries again even getting Uriah drunk, and yet Uriah is more righteous when he’s drunk than David is when he’s sober.

David now has to try something else. He sends Uriah back with his own death warrant. At this point, David is endangering the army of Israel in a raid, all to cover his own sin. We say Uriah died, and rightly we do, but let’s be clear that the text tells us that some of the other men in the army died. There were other casualties to this action besides Uriah. In fact, David doesn’t really care about this. All that matters to him at the time is that Uriah is dead. David can take Bathsheba and no one will be the wiser.

David is fine with what has happened because no one exposes him. In the ancient world, there was not an internal conscience of guilt. Instead, your actions were shown to be right or wrong based on what others told you. That is why David is completely caught off-guard when Nathan confronts him on the matter and only then does he repent. Let’s be clear. This is something important about David that makes him a righteous man. When he’s called out, he does repent.

We know that the child born first to David and Bathsheba died, and that later there was a son born to them whom God loved and that one was named Solomon. As we see later in chapter 12, Joab continues attacking the city that they had been at war against and sends words to David to muster the troops for the final confrontation or else he will take over the city and name it after himself. In other words, Joab also wants David to act like a king as well.

Matthew refuses to name Bathsheba in his account. It is quite likely that he did this to remove honor from her. He sees her as one who vaunted herself to get into the royal family. Bathsheba must not be named and if a theory like this is correct (Which more can be found about this in “Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes”) then the writer of 2 Samuel had a similar position.

What can we get out of this for Christmas?

Most of us can look back at stupid decisions we’ve made in our lives. Note that God took no doubt a wicked act, what happened between David and Bathsheba, and stil used it in his plan of redemption. We know that God redeems us as sinners, but we do not realize often times that He also redeems our actions. Anything that we do, He will use towards His good. We should not see this as a license to sin, but we should not on the other hand view our sins as the end of everything. We can never ruin God’s plans by them and He has already taken them into account and will use them for good.

And let’s keep in mind that that good was once the birth of the Messiah.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Truth on Ruth

The third woman in the genealogy of Jesus? Let’s talk about her on Deeper Waters.

We’re looking at the Christmas story this month on Deeper Waters and right now we’re going through Matthew’s genealogy and looking at notable mentions in it. I’ve said that women seem to have a tendency to pop up in the genealogies, which is highly unusual for a genealogy of the time. The first and second one have both involved morally questionable situations, but when we get to this third one, she is definitely as pure as the driven snow.

One of my favorite ministries is the Ruth Institute, which is an excellent pro-marriage ministry, and a great place to go to if one wants to know why we should oppose redefining marriage. In talking with the founder of this group, I found that it was named the Ruth Institute because of the character of Ruth in the Bible. Ruth is one of those books not quoted in the Old Testament, but one that is extremely important. How come?

The story starts with a family that leaves Bethlehem and goes into Moabite territory due to a famine. While there, the sons marry two Moabite women. Shortly after that, all the men die. Naomi, the mother, hears that the famine has ended and starts heading back. Her two daughters-in-law come with her and she tells them to go back. One of them agrees but the other says:

“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

This is one determined woman and this is not a simple platitude. With this, she was abandoning her Moabite heritage and saying she wanted to be a part of the people of Israel. That also meant abandoning the religion and living in the service of the God of Israel. We may see this as a small change today as many people change their religions all the time, but in that day and age, your entire identity was being changed. This is no small gesture on Ruth’s part and we should not see it as such.

Ruth and Naomi come to Bethlehem then and in order for them to survive, sends Ruth out in the fields to glean. This was an allowable practice where someone was supposed to leave some food behind in a field so that the poor could come in and get what was left behind. Ruth gets noticed in the field of a man named Boaz. He makes sure she is well provided for. When Naomi finds out, she is overjoyed and says that God is to be praised because He has not forsaken the living or the dead. That is the most important line in Ruth. It is the central one and the rest of the story is built around it. The author of the account wants you to know that God has not forsaken those people who have died and is still fulfilling the covenant. This will become more apparent later on.

Naomi tells Ruth that Boaz is a kinsman-redeemer and thus is eligible to marry Ruth so she can be provided for. Naomi, a crafty mother-in-law, gives Ruth clear instructions. Take a good bath, put on the best perfume, and put on a really good outfit. Why? You are to go down and see Boaz and make an appeal to him to marry you. Ruth does this and she does it in a way that is not immoral at all. It was within the custom of the time. Boaz wakes up to find Ruth at his feet when she makes her request. He tells her there is a kinsman-redeemer closer than he and he must have a chance first, but if he does not accept, then Boaz will marry Ruth. Ruth spends the night at Boaz’s feet and leaves before anyone else wakes up. There is no reason to believe that any sexual activity took place that night.

When the morning comes, Boaz speaks to the other kinsman-redeemer, who is so unworthy in his actions that he is not even given a name in the book. All other individual characters, even those without dialogue, are named. This person is not. He refuses to marry into the family of Naomi and so loses his honor. Boaz takes it upon himself then to marry Ruth and he does so. The elders bless the union and pray that it be as bountiful as that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, a name we saw earlier in this blog.

So the family goes back to Bethlehem, (And yes, the Bethlehem Jesus was born at) and there they have a son whose name is Obed. Okay. A lot of you might not have heard of him. He is the father of a man named Jesse. Now the names are starting to seem familiar. Jesse is the father of David. Indeed, God has not forsaken the living or the dead. He has fulfilled His covenant to Israel in David and ultimately, by David’s son, the Christ.

Ruth is a figure that should be upheld and celebrated in the church today. It is also amazing that she is not just a woman and a gentile, but a Moabite, a distant cousin of Israel of whom they weren’t always on best terms. Deuteronomy 23 shows us that. For those concerned, David would qualify to enter the temple on two grounds. First, his father was an Israelite so he would be Israelite by descent. Second, Ruth had been accepted into the people of Israel and forsaken her Moabite heritage.

Ruth gets us from the time of Judges to the time of David with 1 Samuel filling in even more of the information, but though the book of Ruth is not explicitly cited in the NT, we dare not underestimate Ruth’s importance. God is still able to be the God of all who call on His name.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Woman In The Wall

Can there be a harlot in the genealogy of Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We’re looking at the Christmas story this month and going through the genealogy in Matthew. Our next stop is to look at the story of a woman that is also surprising to find mentioned specifically. Any time, Matthew could have left out these women, but he chose not to.

If you asked a lot of people for a favorite character in the Bible other than Jesus, you would get a lot of responses. For my wife, right there high up on the list would be Rahab. Rahab? Yep. Who was she? When the Israelites invaded Jericho, they sent spies to find out what was going on in the city beforehand. The spies went to a spot where a woman named Rahab was who was a prostitute. She had heard about what Israel’s God had done for them and responded favorably to the spies and hid them so that they would not be found. In return, they granted her and all those with her their lives.

The Israelites had gone to a place where people would be found. As it is today, a place of prostitution is a busy place as most men passing through an area wouldn’t mind getting a little bit of sex in on the way. The place was known enough that when soldiers from Jericho came through looking for the spies of Israel, they made sure to stop there. Rahab’s response showed her faithfulness to the God of Israel and her desire to be included amongst the people. After all, once her city was destroyed, where else could she go? This was a drastic act of faith on her part as she was abandoning her ways and lifestyle to be a part of Israel.

How is she seen in the New Testament? Quite favorably! When James writes his epistle. He gives two examples of faith. One of them is Abraham’s offer of Isaac, which would have been a defining story for the people of Israel and one that they would all have known about. If you wanted an Exhibit A for faith, you would always go to Abraham. Who is the other story? It’s the story of Rahab! This woman who was a prostitute is being put right alongside the very founder of the Jewish people! What greater compliment could be given to her?

What this means to us today is even more amazing I think than Tamar. Tamar was in a position where she could have thought she had to do what she did. Rahab was not. Rahab could have stayed a prostitute and blown off the people of Israel as if it was just a myth. She did not. She was ready to turn her life around and give herself over to the people of Israel and let their God be her God, something that we will see even more of with our next woman in the account. As a result, she was not only in the people of Israel, but she was included in the genealogy of Jesus Himself. She who had used sex so disgracefully in the past had sex used so wonderfully in her to bring about a child through whom would come about the very savior of the people. Matthew is not only reaching out to women here as being in the genealogy, but to a gentile as well!

This is why my wife likes Rahab so much. Rahab is a reminder that with all the screw-ups we’ve made in life, that when we come to God and seek to make Him to be our God, then we are capable of being used. Now since Jesus has come, you will not be used to bring about the lineage of the Messiah any more. That’s been done. You could be used to bring about the birth of Christ in the life of your fellow man. It does not matter if you were a prostitute before or anything else. You are not beyond redemption and not beyond leading someone else into redemption.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why Is Tamar There?

What is Tamar doing in the genealogy of Christ? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Tonight, I’d like to start looking at Christmas information and start with the genealogies of Christ. After all, around this time of year, Christians are asked a lot of questions about what we believe. The first place to start would be what we usually turn to at the beginning, and that is the book of Matthew, the first book of the New Testament. It starts off with a genealogy. What we’ll be looking at is a few of the unusual names in there.

First, why do these genealogies exist to begin with? I have a mother-in-law who enjoys doing genealogies and a cousin who does. Shortly after our wedding, my cousin gave me the Peters family genealogy. In there, I found information on myself and my parents of course, but then I was surprised to also find my wife was already included along with her family and her birthday. My cousin had really done his homework.

Genealogies were extremely important to Jews. You had to establish your pedigree in the ancient world. When Nathaniel says “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” he is speaking a common sentiment. When the Jews have a hatred of the Samaritans, they are also going along with this. Your origins story was extremely important, and this would have to be the most important story of all Matthew was writing. What were the origins of the Son of God?

As we go through the list, we find some names we don’t expect. The first one is Tamar. What is unusual about her?

To begin with, women were not usually in genealogies. This was about men. Matthew has a number of women in his which sets it out as unusual. This had to be a purposeful addition and since a writer would only want to include the most important information in a writing, there had to be some purposeful meaning behind what was said. Matthew wants us to know that Tamar is included in the lineage and not just Judah.

Establishing that Jesus is from the tribe of Judah is important since this is where the Messiah was to come from, but establishing Tamar was not. After all, we have no mention in this genealogy of Sarah, Rebekkah, or Leah, the respective wives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Jacob did have Rachel and two concubines, but Judah was born through Leah.) The first mention we have of a woman is Tamar.

Note that I said woman and not wife. Tamar was not a wife. In fact, she was the daughter-in-law of Judah. The story is found in Genesis 38. Tamar was the wife of Judah’s son and that son was wicked so God put him to death. History kept repeating and Tamar was doubtful she would get a child then since Judah was hesitant to give his youngest son to her. So what did Tamar do? She disguised herself as a prostitute and waited for Judah to come by. Judah falls for the ruse and in that encounter, Tamar gets pregnant. She gives birth to Perez and Zerah. Perez is the one through whom Jesus comes.

In some cases in history, genealogies are given flavor to make the person look good, such as saying that one is descended from the gods. Part of the authenticity of the account of Matthew is that it includes such a shameful event. Every Jew would recognize it immediately, yet Matthew includes it. Why? Because it would not be denied for one point. The way the Christians dealt with a number of scandals was to admit them. We will look more at this in our look at the virgin birth so put it in the back of your mind for now.

Not only that, that a person of shame is used in the account can show the way of God in using that which is shameful regularly to fulfill His purposes. Many people wonder how God could use them, and the genealogy can indicate to us that anyone can be used. Also, not only can we be used, but our sinful actions can be. We should not seek to sin, but when we do, it cannot overturn the purposes of God. By biblical standards, the action between Judah and Tamar was wicked, but the child does not bear the blame. The child was still used to bring about righteousness for all people.

We today should be thankful to see these people in the genealogy of Christ and it can remind us of how the accounts are authentic due to the criteria of embarrassment that Tamar brings.

In Christ,
Nick Peters