The Christmas Story (VII). Luke: Gabriel, Zacharias/Elizabeth, and John

[Part 6 is here. Part 8 is here.]

Matthew doesn’t tell anything about John’s nativity. He pops onto the scene baptizing. He’s part of the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry. John (the Evangelist) puts him in his Gospel in a very weird way. He’s talking about Jesus existing before creation and all of a sudden he inserts the Baptist into the narrative. It’s a powerful part of the message for him.
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They Have Their Reward

In Matthew 6, there are several behaviors called out as public displays of righteousness:

  • Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them (v. 1)
  • And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. (v. 5)
  • Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. (v.16)

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The Christmas Story (VI). Luke and the Roman World

[Part 5 is here., Part 7 is here.]
Matthew sees things in terms of God’s plan, and the last times are at hand. He sees parallels between the birth of Jesus and the Christological events of his death. Matthew has these very dramatic Jewish motifs that are quite characteristic. Stars, the quaking earth, darkness, turmoil in the elements, angels and the intervention of God. Luke contrasts with this. His is a global view, one that extends to the world as he understood it. He’s not much interested in the kinds of events Matthew emphasizes. He knows the Roman empire as the boundary of the known world and that’s where his story takes us. The (Luke’s) Gospel and Acts were probably in a fluid state after being written ca. 90AD and there is manuscript as well as historical evidence for this. Indeed, it is not until the turn of the third century (200 AD) that the New Testament texts settle into a more fixed state. The key here was the attitude of Christians about these texts and their status compared to the Hebrew Bible.[1]

Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome were raised by a wolf. Some people say Romulus killed his brother, but we know he hid out and later worked at Hogwarts.

Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome were raised by a wolf. Some people say Romulus killed his brother, but we know he hid out and later worked at Hogwarts.

Luke’s structure is tripartite. Part one is the story of Israel, the Law and the Prophets. Part two is the life of Jesus–the Gospel of Luke. Part three is the story of how the message moves out into the gentile world by direction of the Spirit–Acts.
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The Christmas Story (V). Matthew: A Wicked King.

[Part 4 is here. Part 6 is here.]

One of the things about Matthew and the other gospels is their very essential orality. Meaning that, at least in part, they arise out of a naturally fluid oral tradition. Christians were rather late in taking up the pen. It’s useful in dealing with these texts to remember that they developed out of preaching.[1] For example: Herod. A Herod appears at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, and there is a Herod at the end of the Gospel. It seems hard to believe that people who heard the Christian preachers understood that they were two different people. The Herodian family is complicated, mostly because of all the wives. Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Archelaus, Herod Agrippa, people would not have understood the distinctions, and I suspect that most people still don’t who hear or read the accounts.[2] Matthew and Luke have this theme of a Herod as antagonist either to Jesus himself, or to Christians. Matthew has this at the birth of Jesus (Herod the Great), Luke has another Herod at the trial of Jesus, Herod is trying to kill Jesus, and in Acts another Herod kills James the apostle, the brother of John, and another Herod shows up in Paul’s trial.
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The Christmas Story (II). Matthew’s Genealogy.

In a lot of the posts in this series, I’ll quote from the Revised Standard Version (RSV). It’s still a very good translation and a great study Bible. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is also quite good. One of the things no one thought about in producing the RSV was inclusive language. the NRSV rectifies that, but it may go too far in representing some passages as inclusive, when they are intentionally not. Anyway, the RSV is online and free, it’s nearly always superior to the King James Version (KJV) [see also here] and I’ll point out a few places where that’s important for the story of Jesus’ birth as I go along. (Sometimes I use the New English Translation (NET) also free online, and the English Standard Version (ESV) a few times. As I often tell my wife, I like to do different things.)
[Part 1 is here. Part 3 is here.]
Matthew’s two chapters begin with the phrase (RSV) “The book of the genesis of Jesus Christ, the son of David, and the son of Abraham.” Matthew knows what he is going to write in his Gospel, and this introduction is perspicacious. Two things: people at the time (ca. 70AD+) will not likely read this, they will hear it, and it is written in Greek.[1] Matthew begins with the word “genesis” (in Greek) and that’s the same Greek word for the first book of the Hebrew Bible, and this is styled as a New Genesis. There is a new creation, a new “God’s people” if you will, and the colophon above has things in a new order. Jesus comes first, then Abraham. And of course, David. The kingdom is always in view. And it’s clear that for Matthew, the Christmas story begins with Abraham. Right away you can feel the tension over Jew and Gentile, and what it means for a gentile to become a Christian.
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The Christmas Story (I). Introduction.

This begins a series of posts on Jesus’ birth, and how the New Testament tells that story. The Twelve Days of Christmas, New Testament style. Your December bedtime reading fodder. No guarantee of twelve installments however. See you every evening for the next 12? days.
[Part 2 is here.]
The canonical Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John make up about 40% of the New Testament. That 40% amounts to about ninety chapters. Of those ~ninety, four discuss the birth and childhood of Jesus. This is a tiny section of the New Testament, but it has had an enormous effect on human culture and of course, Mormonism is a subset of that culture. Whatever one thinks about the commercialization of Christmas, it cannot be denied that Christmas and the Christmas story stand at the center of much of religious consciousness.
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Priesthood

Once upon a time, Judaism and Christianity were one. That is, Christians were seen as a Jewish sect. You can see this in Luke’s account of what Paul says at Rome, Acts 28. The Jewish community there (it was pretty important, some Jewish high priests ended up there) speak about the believers in Jesus as a sect, a division of Jews.[1] While Paul does a lot among Gentiles, it’s mainly because he can’t get Jews in the diaspora to listen to him. And of course then he grows angry over Jerusalem Jews coming into to his Gentile branches and breaking the rules agreed to about preaching to Gentiles—a long story I won’t engage here.
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Footnote 2 #ldsconf

By small and simple things are great things brought to pass. – Alma 37:6

There was a small, tiny really, and simple footnote in the October 2015 conference talks that were just released in print form that succeeded in taking my breath away. It was in Elder Maynes talk: “The Joy of Living a Christ-Centered Life” footnote 2.

2. Matthew 13:44 (Revised Standard Version).

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The Gift of Faith (Elder Andersen, Priesthood Session) #ldsconf

Elder Neil L. Andersen, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (source: http://tinyurl.com/od5vv2v)

Elder Neil L. Andersen, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (source: http://tinyurl.com/od5vv2v)

Faith, or lack of it, is a rather divisive issue and always has been. An Oxford-educated, well spoken LDS friend of mine, for example, frequently directly engages Richard Dawkins and a number of his new atheist “groupies” in massive twitter brawls. These forays into the twitter badlands are, however, defensive, as he responds to the criticisms of religion and faith that constantly emanate from those quarters. These dust-ups are not merely a product of our “secular” age in which secular society derides religious people and their faith. The twitter angle is. And there’s no mass murder associated with it in this situation, which makes it very different from previous ages of time. Things are much better now; virtually every aspect of human existence is exponentially better than at any other time in all of recorded history. For example, in this situation, the new atheists can deride, criticize, and mock without burning at the stake, and religious people can believe without being rounded up into concentration camps or murdered in killing fields. [Read more…]

At the Feet of Christ

We’re glad to feature another guest post by Ashley Mae Hoiland. See her first post here.

When I was in high school, I was compelled by internal forces to spend a good amount of time celebrating birthdays of people I hardly knew. I spent many nights baking cookies, painting small cards with notes and putting together assortments of birthday packages from treasures I found in my room. Like my mom, I remember dates and people very well, and I was astute in garnering birthday knowledge from kids across the social spectrum.

The only problem was that I would often get too shy to actually deliver the gifts in person, so I also spent a lot of time devising plans to leave the goods on desks before class, strung up to lockers and given through another friend. I was dogged in my efforts, despite the uncomfortable position it often put me in. A lot of these kids I didn’t know well: many of them were the social hang-ups, the kids who did not climb the rungs of high school sociality with ease. For some reason I still cannot fully explain, I felt responsible for helping them to know that someone was celebrating their birthday.

I laugh when I tell these stories now, but partly, I am entirely intent on returning to this place of intuition—this place where I did not question the absurdity of what the spirit compelled me to do, and because I didn’t question, my life was replete was quiet moments of connection and joy that would have otherwise not have happened. [Read more…]

Rules & Relationships

It is common for westerners in India to be amazed at the utter chaos and yet the seemingly laissez-faire attitude of the Indian drivers.  One of our Indian drivers remarked about the traffic:  “In India, nothing is impossible because I-M-Possible.”  He chortled over his cleverness, and repeated that saying many times in our nine day trip. [Read more…]

Mormon Lectionary Project: The Book of Mormon

It’s not often that an angel chooses the lectionary scriptures for the day, but that’s exactly what Moroni did when he appeared to Joseph Smith three times during the night of September 21-22, 1823. In addition to instructions about where to find the plates that would become the Book of Mormon, Joseph reports that Moroni’s visit consisted largely of the angel’s reciting scriptural texts focused on the dawning of a messianic age when the wolf will lie down with the lamb (Isaiah), when God will, through prophetic calling (Acts) and the spirit of Elijah (Malachi), gather his scattered people (Isaiah) and pour out spiritual gifts on them (Joel) before judging the earth (all of them). [Read more…]

It’s a Good Story

I know that the story told in this Youtube video is true. My talented brother-in-law, Gregory Welch, prepared this video and released it today. [Read more…]

Gospel Topics Essays Lessons: Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham

For the last several months, my ward has had monthly priesthood lessons on the Gospel Topics essays that the church has released over the last year or so. I teach in Primary, so I haven’t been to most of them. A friend taught the Race and the Priesthood essay in June, though, and invited me to his class; he did an excellent job, and it was well-received.

And then, three weeks ago, he asked if I’d teach a class. My topics? Book of Mormon and DNA Studies, Book of Mormon Translation, and Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham. (If only the class had been two Sundays later … ) [Read more…]

Intertemporal Mormonism

J. Wellington Wimpy understood the time value of money

J. Wellington Wimpy understood the time value of money

The last couple days, I’ve been thinking about intertemporality in the church. In particular, I’ve been thinking about how we see the value of current revelation vis-à-vis both past and future revelation.

Partly, I think, this interests me as an expansion of my professional interests. In my world, we think a lot about the time value of money. In a nutshell, the time value of money holds that, as long as you can earn a positive rate of interest, a dollar today is more valuable than a dollar a year from now, so if you have a choice between earning a dollar today and earning a dollar in a year, you should choose the dollar today.[fn1] [Read more…]

Why I Use Other Bible Translations in Gospel Doctrine

I routinely give some version of this spiel both when I teach Gospel Doctrine and in the hallway conversations that follow. Several friends have suggested that I blog it, so here goes. I’m aiming for brevity rather than thoroughness, since the point of the spiel is to give people in class who might be wondering why I tend not to use the KJV a short and accessible argument explaining my reasons. Even though we’re currently doing the New Testament, I’ll also include my bit on the Old. [Read more…]

The God Eaters

Ronan’s post on transubstantiation (which fittingly identified a “bridge” that Mormonism, as the Restoration, can build between the Catholic and reformed perspectives on the meaning of John 6:51-58) got me thinking about one of Heinrich Heine‘s “historical” poems in his Romanzero, a collection of poems divided into three books, published in 1851. [Read more…]

Corpus Christi

One of the traps into which religion can fall is that it often makes the thing into the thing signified. There is “God” — theological debates, Del Parson paintings, doctrinal pronouncements, even the scriptures — and there is “God above God,” the noumenal thing that is never quite the phenomenal thing.  [Read more…]

Trinity Sunday

This post is a slightly revised version of last year’s Trinity Sunday post. For more recent BCC discussion of the Trinity, start with J. Stapley’s “Mormon Jesus?”, which links to other posts by BCC authors.

Early in the Book of Mormon, Nephi receives some information that seems to have been all at once exciting, shocking, and confusing. After Nephi affirms his belief in Lehi’s vision of the tree, the Spirit who had carried him away responds with praise: “Hosanna to the Lord, the Most High God; for he is God over all the earth, even above all.” Then comes the intriguing part: “And blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God.”

This is intriguing not only because Nephi has not affirmed any such belief, but more profoundly because the text has not hitherto mentioned any such Son (except when the narrator Nephi, writing 40 years after the fact, attributes his father’s vision to “faith on the Son of God” [1 Ne. 10:17]). The book opens with Lehi, likewise carried away by the Spirit, seeing God enthroned (1 Ne. 1:8), after which he sees “One descending out of the midst of heaven” and “twelve others following him” (1 Ne. 1:9-10). While we are justified in understanding this “One” as Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon does not at this point identify him as God’s Son; nor does it clarify the relationship between this One and God at all. [Read more…]

Writing and Revelation

My wife and I recently watched “The Words,” a movie with nested stories about writers. It featured a trope that occurs fairly regularly in movies about writing: the all-night burst of inspiration that produces Deeply Moving Prose, usually after the person doing the writing has gone through a prolonged period of emotional difficulty. The desired effect of this trope is to imbue the writing with a kind of mystical power—an effect that these movies usually augment by keeping said Deeply Moving Prose more or less sealed off from the viewers, Hitchcock-style, because it’s easier to imagine Deeply Moving Prose than it is to produce it (which may explain the irony that most movies about writing, including this one, are badly written). [Read more…]

Review: Volume 23 of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies

JBMScoverFINAL_FullThere’s a huge, but underexplored, problem with the Book of Mormon: it don’t get no respect.

Richard Bushman bemoans the fact that the Book of Mormon can’t get a toehold in cultural history classes or the Harvard Divinity School, because the world outside of Mormonism gets stuck on its origins. The angelic delivery, the miraculous translation, heck, the gold plates mean must be a hoax. And, as a hoax, they don’t even get to the point where they confront the text.[fn1]  [Read more…]

The Genesis Fall Stories #ldsconf

In his conference talk, Elder Holland set out to preach Jesus as one who can save us from the Fall. I was very grateful to hear such a sermon on Easter Sunday. To make his point about Jesus, Elder Holland insisted on the need to believe in a literal Adam and Eve who fell in the Garden of Eden so that Jesus could become, as Paul would have him, a second Adam who brings life after the first brought death. I’m not going to argue about whether we need to take the story of Adam and Eve literally or not (even though I don’t think we do); rather, I aim to show how Genesis offers a second perspective on the Fall, one in addition to the familiar story of Adam and Eve. [Read more…]

(Mis)reading Scripture

book-of-mormon-and-bibleA seemingly evergreen issue in the bloggernacle: what do we do about prooftexting? On the one hand, it allows us to apply scripture to ourselves. On the other, it suggests that scripture, as written, is not up to the task of explicating the gospel and, instead, must be stretched and tortured to tell us what we need to know.[fn1]

An example: at church last year, discussion briefly turned to what we do when traditional Mormon readings of scripture turn out to be significant misreadings.[fn2] It came up in the context of God commanding Ezekiel to combine the stick of Joseph with the stick of Judah. The Gospel Doctrine manual explains that the stick of Judah is the Bible and the stick of Joseph is the Book of Mormon.  [Read more…]

Lent II

Psalm 121, BCP Psalter, Coverdale, 1662, St Paul’s Cathedral Choir

* * *

For the high born, whose name and social position — and wealth — often stems directly from his or her birth, the doctrine that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) is a troubling proposition. This certainly seems to have been the case with the Pharisee Nicodemus, a “ruler of the Jews” (John 3:1) and a “master of Israel” (John 3:10), who flirted with Christian discipleship during Christ’s ministry. Will I lose my name, my status, my wealth if I am thus “born again”? These considerations perhaps reveal Nicodemus’ question to Jesus — “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4) — as a sincere concern rather than the smart-alecky provocation visible in some popular versions of the story. [Read more…]

How to be Good Enough

There is something I want everyone to understand (assuming I’m right (if I’m not right, hopefully people will forget that this blogpost ever happened). Life is a frame job. You are bound to fail. [Read more…]

A Religion of Peace?

This guest post is by long-time friend of the blog Michael Austin.

I read the Qur’an often because it speaks peace to my soul.

I know that sounds kooky, but I promise I’m not a hippie or anything. I don’t burn incense or wear sandals. I wouldn’t even call it a spiritual experience. It’s more like a calming effect. I love to read the text, and I love to listen to the recitations of a talented qāri’ (which I am doing even as I write). It’s not the meaning of the words that does the peace-speaking; it’s the words themselves. I have long been deeply affected by the way that the Qur’an represents the voice of God. [Read more…]

Thoughts on the first week of New Testament study

Sermon on the MountI’m looking forward to studying and teaching the New Testament this year in Gospel Doctrine. (And thanks Kevin and RJH for helping me with my lesson this week.) I’ve taught the other books a couple times, but never the New Testament, so I’m not as familiar with it as I should be. This year is my chance to figure out some stuff I’ve had on the back burner for a long time. I plan on spending this year learning and reading and talking about Christ, and letting his words sink in and challenge me to rethink things.

Because the teachings of Christ are a lot more difficult and radical than we give them credit for. There’s friction in his words, and there are calls to action. The same guy who said “My yoke is easy” also told a certain ruler to give away everything and follow him. I don’t imagine it was any easier for the fishermen to leave their nets than it would be for us to leave ours.

[Read more…]

Five Blessings from Reading (Really Reading) the Five Books of Moses

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

A few months ago, I began reading the Old Testament, a book of scripture which I have never before been able to read all the way through (the closest I ever came was 25 years ago while on my mission in South Korea; reading from Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version of the Bible, I made it all the way through Jeremiah, at which point I simply couldn’t take it any more and gave up). This reading, once I determined that I was going to do it right, involved my trusty Revised English Bible (my favorite translation out of the four or so I own) and Robert Alter’s wonderful translations and commentary. Just before Christmas I finished working through his largest chunk of the Old Testament, The Five Books of Moses, and I figured I ought to be able to come with at five statements of gratitude for my reading of this, the oldest and most foundational text of the whole Western religious and philosophical tradition. [Read more…]

The love of many shall wax cold – Libertarianism and apocalypse

Dissolution seems to be our most recent zeitgeist. With the recent referendums in Spain and the UK, the strife in Ukraine, and the increasingly schismatic politics in the US, it seems that long-held social ties and traditions hold less value than in the past. We seem more and more capable of drifting away from one another.

I have a tendency to see the rise of modern conservative libertarianism as concurrent with this trend. [Read more…]

Book Review: The Miracles of Jesus, by Eric D. Huntsman

A Book Review by Michael Austin*.

Miracles of Jesus, complete, 5-27-14.pdfThe Miracles of Jesus
Eric D. Huntsman**
Deseret Books, 2014
$25.99
Hardcover
164 pages
ISBN: 9781609079161
(Click on each spread to enlarge.)

OK, I’m just going to admit it: I was a little bit skeptical when I first got Eric D. Huntsman’s newest book, The Miracles of Jesus, and saw that it was a glossy, gorgeously illustrated book fit as much for framing as for reading. High production values in books make me nervous, as I always wonder what they are hiding. And then there is the fact that it is published by Deseret Book — the official publishing arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Official publishing arms make me even more nervous, as I usually have a pretty good idea what they are hiding. All I needed was a third strike to set it aside and move on to the next book in my pile. [Read more…]

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