…and this week we’re going to take apart the nativity story and show you why there is no possible way any of it could be true even when peppered with a few somewhat true but still misguided details. It amazes me that the same issues that exist in the Apocryphal books that kept them out of canon were largely ignored when deciding which of the gospels were going to make the cut, but here I go again trying to apply logic to religion. Before we get into any of that…
Love, guns, tornadoes and more round out this week's CBB with a couple bonus rounds including a surprise moment of reason from an unlikely source and some astoundingly good news for humanity from our friends at Pew Research.
Because of course: we have a pastor in Tennessee giving away two AR-15s the Sunday before Christmas. Just in time for gift-giving!
“Todd Holmes, pastor of The River of Tri-Cities Church in Johnson City in the far eastern corner of Tennessee, announced the giveaway in a video on the church’s Instagram page while wearing a shirt that used various weapons to spell the word “love.”
This has prompted criticism from people who question how giving away guns promotes the message of the Gospel.
A Twitter user who said he messaged the church “to see if it was a joke” posted a screenshot of the response he said he got.
“I don’t use guns to bring people in,” the response reads. “. . . This is for our church family, who appreciates it. Not sure who sent the post to you but I guarantee you that it was not one of our church people. It was just a hater who likes to promote division. Have a merry Christmas!”
Um dude, it's all over the freakin internet rn...
This Sunday’s giveaway is at least the third firearm giveaway the church has hosted this year. The church also gave away a 12-gauge shotgun on Father’s Day and a rifle on Independence Day.
The tornado that ravaged several states earlier this week also managed to damage the Global Vision Bible Church, pastored by hate-preacher Greg Locke. It damaged it to the tune of about 100,000 dollars, destroying stages and screens and chairs. It would figure that a guy who regularly screams at his congregation about COVID being a hoax and not to get vaccinated, would also not prepare for a tornado, especially since his church is held in a CIRCUS TENT!
Of course, cue the pleas for sympathy, and the martyr posturing. But he's still gonna preach next Sunday! He's convinced that God will move mightily in his church. “We will not let a destroyed tent stop what the Lord is doing!”
Seems to me that what the Lord was doing was....destroying your tent? If I were still a believer, I'd be wondering if God was trying to tell me something.
My next two stories contain good news, in a rare change of pace:
While the current Supreme Court of the United States is a trashfire in many respects, they did manage one excellent decision this week: The U.S. Supreme Court has turned away a challenge to New York state's vaccine mandate for health care workers — a mandate that provides no exceptions for religious objectors. The vote was 6-3. The ruling majority included the Court's 3 liberal judges along with 3 conservative judges. This is the second request for a challenge for a vaccine mandate that the Supreme Court has turned away.
The mandates are a way to make more people get the vaccine in order to stop new cases and also to hopefully head off new variants. “In its brief, the state noted that the COVID-19 vaccination rules are the same as preexisting vaccine requirements for measles and rubella that have been in effect for decades.”
“The state agreed that where possible, federal law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for religious objectors, but it noted that does not require employers to offer objectors their preferred accommodation — namely a blanket religious exemption allowing them to continue working at their current positions unvaccinated.”
According to the most recent Pew Research Survey, a record number of americans have no religious affiliation. This is a continued push away from organized religion; a trend we've been seeing for a few years now. To give a baseline, in 2007 the “nones” were at 16%, and in 2014 they were at 22%--and now the “nones” are at 29%.
The amounts of people identifying as “Christian” went from 78% to 63% in the same time frame. Today, 24% of U.S. adults describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Protestants, down 6 percentage points since 2007. During the same period, there also has been a 6-point decline in the share of adults who are Protestant but not born-again or evangelical (from 22% to 16%).
Other information shows that Belief in God is also on the decline, for instance the number of Americans who pray daily is at 45%, down from 58% in 2007. Telephone surveys conducted in 2017 and 2019 found fewer U.S. adults saying religion is “very important” in their lives compared with previous telephone polls. And the 2021 survey finds that 41% of U.S. adults now say religion is “very important” in their lives, 4 points lower than the 2020 survey and substantially lower than all of the Center’s earlier readings on this question.
12/26: Living Unbound in 2022
01/02: Unbound At the Movies: Saved!
Here are just a few of the movies we're looking at for Unbound at the Movies in 2022:
The Life of Pi
MNS' The Village
Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier
Leap of Faith
The Last Temptation Of Christ
First, let me go right on record with this: society, for reasons unknown, seems to have no trouble believing that Jesus, at some time, existed. In fact, most treat it as a given. Even news sources speak of Jesus as an actual human who actually lived and actually died. My 10th grade secular social studies book stated as fact that Jesus lived but ended his story with his execution.
The problem is that even secular society looks at this one source, the bible, a religious text with clearly flawed accounts of many, many, many things as they relate just to history, as an authority worthy of just accepting as truth. They take the bible at face value and choose to blindly believe that Jesus was a real person. By all credible accounts, he was not. And if he was anything at all, either “he” was an amalgam of a bunch of religious nutters of the day OR he was one very visible rabble-rouser whose story got heavily inflated over time. I personally think it's option A – the council of Nicaea did its homework and constructed an avatar that a lot of people were likely to relate to and listen to. I have no concrete proof, but it's the most likely scenario I've considered.
There is, to this day, no credible account by any historian that documents anything that happens in the gospels and you would think choirs of angels and a dude healing lepers left and right would have gotten someone's attention if it was all actually happening. But even the two Gospels that deal with Jesus' birth tell astoundingly different stories anyway. Matthew doesn't mention shepherds and Luke doesn't mention magi, just for starters. There are all kinds of accounts of other legit historical events and figures that have their place smack dab in the middle of Jesus' story, and yet not a single one includes him in its account.
So tonight, we want to take a little time and dissect the story of the nativity and show how the details range from highly improbable to downright impossible, and at the end I'm going to deliver a brief message of hope for the season that revolves around things that are real, not simply imagined.
Matthew Vs. Luke
Let's have a look at how this story pans out in each telling:
(Thanks to ChurchOfTruth.org for the timelines)
This is the nativity story according to Matthew 1:18-2:23:
Joseph and Mary already in Bethlehem; no explanation
An angel appears to reassure Joseph and tell him to marry Mary, which he does
Jesus is born in a home Bethlehem
Around two years later, a few astrologers see his star. They inform Herod
The magi find Jesus in Bethlehem and come bearing gifts
Joseph is warned in a dream to flee to Egypt to save Jesus from Herod's massacre
Said massacre commences
Herod dies. Joseph is again told in a dream about it and takes his family back to Bethlehem
Joseph is afraid to go to Judea, and instead makes his home with Mary, Jesus, and his eventual family with Mary, in Nazareth, in Galilee.
This is the nativity story according to Luke 2:
A census requires Joseph and Mary to travel from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem because Joseph is of the line of David
Jesus is born in Bethlehem
As there is “no room in the inn”; Mary places Jesus in a manger
Angels appear to nearby shepherds and tell them of the birth of the christ child
The shepherds visit the family
After about a month or so, Jesus is taken to Simeon in the temple in Jerusalem, most likely for his bris
Simeon and Anna laud Jesus
Joseph and Mary return home to Nazareth with Jesus.
Only two of the synoptic gospels even mention the birth of Jesus. The writer of Mark basically decided that the details of Jesus' childhood were inconsequential enough to just skip over. When the scene opens in Mark's gospel, John the Baptist is already heralding the coming of the messiah and Jesus is about 30.
Matthew and Luke both provide details of Christ's nativity. Matthew attempts to make the whole thing legit by starting out tracing Jesus' lineage. I love how even in this context, the spotlight is on the men. This is actually Joseph's line that we're seeing. Since Mary and Joseph were not related, the entire timeline is pointless. If you're going to recount a genealogy, the genes need to be present. In Jesus' case, the family tree is short – Mary is his mother and God, by way of the Holy Spirit is his father. That's the entire line. If the writer of this account wanted it to be legit, he would have traced Mary's lineage because she's the only one with blood ties to Jesus...
I do think that this was more of a ploy to set up details about a few prophecies and tie Jesus to them. I think that's alluded to in Mt. 1:17. Easy to do when you have the source material and then just have to write the “fulfillments” into the narrative.
Luke has an angel dealing with Mary. Matthew has an angel dealing with Joseph. In Matthew, the angel is charged with making sure Joseph doesn't abandon Mary. In Luke, the angel shows up to both tell Mary what's about to happen and pretend to get consent. She's told that she's going to have this baby and agrees, not that I really think she was given a choice.
Now, to piece together the entire story you basically have to make a patchwork quilt of all the details in Matthew and Luke. And that is assuming you think that every detail is correct but just not reported by both parties. Both of these writers had very different agendas. Matthew wanted to show Jesus as the tragic hero, literally persecuted from birth. Luke wanted to portray him as a figure of majesty, worthy of reverence and veneration. I see Matthew in a very Boubille/Schoenberg (Les Miserables) kind of light while Luke is a lot more Andrew Lloyd Weber in the delivery.
Matthew again tries to lend credibility to his story by citing a prophecy about a baby born in Bethlehem who would rise to power as a great ruler. Um... did he? I mean, he's called king of kings and lord of lords but he never had any earthly authority that wasn't bestowed – or thrust – upon him by the people.
But king Herod took it seriously and he really is the only one who matters since he's the one that manages to further the narrative at that point. But that's far enough ahead into the story to just leave that right there. We're talking in very specific terms right now about the details of Jesus' birth. In Matthew 1, we get the genealogy and Joseph's convo with the angel. In chapter 2, Jesus is already born and being visited by the Magi. We will get to them in a few but let's back up a little first and look at what this story looks like from Luke's perspective.
Luke has the good taste to start out by telling the audience that he didn't actually witness any of this and that his account was a collection of details from largely oral tradition. I'm not sure why anyone who ever played the game “Telephone” would even want to read further. A story can change drastically going through just three people. Imagine the contamination that had already occurred by the time this was written...
And just a quick note about Theophilus here: he probably wasn't a person. The word simply means “lover of god” which has led many exegetical scholars to believe that this text was aimed at a Greek audience who had already decided to believe the messaging going in. The “(familial) lovers of god” wanted the entire story so this guy decided to give them one.
Elizabeth and Mary (two miracle babies – why?)
But now lets dig into some of the details of the story. I'm going to try to follow the timeline in the synoptics and point out a few things along the way.
So as I already mentioned, Matthew has an angel deal with Joseph, Luke has one approaching Mary. There is nothing in the narrative where they compare notes and talk to each-other about their celestial visitors. The angel who visits Mary tells her that Elizabeth is also six months pregnant so Mary visits Elizabeth for about 3 months. It's sort of implied that Mary hung around long enough to be her midwife and stayed until things were settled with li'l Johnny (Elizabeth's son was John the Baptist and Zechariah basically pronounces him as prophet).
So far, there's nothing too strange going on here by biblical standards, aside from the fact that it's all fiction.
Here's where things start to turn dicey...
Luke 2:1-3 tells us that...
1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
So let's deal with this for a minute...
Was there actually a census? In a word, yes, but the timeline is a little off. There was a census conducted by the Roman empire around that time, but it actually happened nine years after Herod's death. If that was the case, how did Herod send his unwitting sooth-saying henchmen to find the Christ child in Mt. 2:7 and 8? It was cited as an approximate historical marker that people would be able to relate to. Most wouldn't put all the details together or even be able to read the accounts for themselves so it was a safe piece of real history to write all the fiction around. At the time, who ever thought that the story would ever be contested?
Of course, evangelicals and their ilk have their workarounds, none of them valid. From the Census of Quirinius Wikipedia entry:
Some conservative Christians have argued that Quirinius may have had an earlier and historically unattested term as governor of Syria, or that he previously held other senior positions which may have led him to be involved in the affairs of Judea during Herod's reign, or that the passage should be interpreted in some other fashion; Luke 2:2 in the English Standard Version, for example, has a footnote which offers, "This was the registration before" Quirinius was governor of Syria as an alternate translation, but this is not in the text of any major English translation.”
I love that last part... I especially love how it's stated as fact. The registration before Quirinius was governor. Well, that fixes everything! Pffft...
Let's cut right to the chase: the purpose of a census in the Roman empire was about one thing and one thing only: determining rates of taxation. No one gave a rat's ass who was from whose line and who was a nine-hundred times removed relative of who... and yet, we have this as the explanation of the census:
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David) (Luke 2:4)
That would never have mattered to the Roman Empire. They flat out didn't care who anyone's great,great,great,great..... grandfather was. Not even a little. And, seriously, how would Joseph have been able to trace his roots back so many generations? The ChurchOfTruth.org says it really well:
HOW did Joseph know that he should return to the city of David, Bethlehem? How did Joseph know that he was of the lineage of David? Joseph is the 28th generation after David. Do you know who your grandfather 28 generations ago was? How did Joseph know? Why did he go to the city of his great *28th grandfather and not to the city of his great * 42nd grandfather, Abraham? Why stop at the middle of the generations? All the Romans cared about was getting their tax from the citizenry. Only the Jews cared about where ancestors lived and only if it related to their super hero, David – who was one of history’s most detestable men.
Why was it important to the writer of Luke's gospel to mention Joseph's alleged ancestry? Because it made the point (badly and in grievous error) that Jesus was a descendant of David, which fulfilled another prophecy as delivered by the Angel to Mary in Luke 1:32 and 33:
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
But allow me once again to address the herd of stampeding wild elephants in the room: If Joseph was a descendant of David, that did not make Jesus part of the line of David because Jesus shared ZERO percent DNA with Joseph. ZERO. PERCENT. But this was a so male-centric society that I'm sure it flat out didn't occur to them that Joseph didn't sire Jesus or they knew and didn't care.
And to make the matter certain, here are a few scholarly thoughts on this from Rabbi Tovia Singer:
Mary’s genealogy is completely irrelevant to Jesus’ supposed lineage to King David. Nowhere in the New Testament is Mary’s genealogy recorded. Matrilineal ancestry is irrelevant to tribe identification. Both the first chapter of Matthew and the third chapter of Luke contain a putative genealogy of Joseph alone. Although these two genealogies completely contradict each other, neither suggests that Mary was a descendant of king of David. Joseph’s genealogy is irrelevant to Jesus because according to two out of four Gospels... Joseph was not Jesus’ father.
[and it's those two Gospels that the vast majority of Christians side with when deciding what they're going to believe about Jesus]
Nowhere in the third Gospel, or in the entire New Testament, for that matter, is there a claim that Mary was a descendant of the House of David. On the contrary, Luke plainly asserts that it is Joseph who was from the House of David, not Mary.
Amazing. In just the first few verses the narrative completely unravels itself, and yet... two thousand years later, so few people have managed to examine this one detail – and it's a big one – that the entire story just keeps going and going and going....
You know who could have fulfilled the angel's prophecy? Jesus' brothers. Yep. Far more likely. They were descendants of David. Fun fact: most evangelicals are aware and believe that Jesus had half-siblings and yet hardly any of them have given this much thought either.
The New Testament names four male half-siblings in Joseph's genealogy: James the Just, Joses, Simon, and Jude. Any one of them could have been the subject of the prophecy.... but Jesus flat out could not.
No Room At the Inn
No, the Bethlehem holiday inn wasn't full, and no, Jesus wasn't born “where ox and ass [were] teeming,” and there was no evil innkeeper turning an infant out into the cold. Not even in the Bible.
Let's look first at the no room at the inn statement in Luke 2:7. This guy says it better than I can so I'm going to let him:
This is from a blogger named Todd Bolen – a theist and seemingly evangelical – who actually gets this right. Thanks, by the way, for exegeting this for me...
In the typical Christmas pageant, one of the children will be cast as the heartless innkeeper who refuses lodging to Joseph and pregnant Mary. Most know that there is no innkeeper mentioned in the Bible, but fewer are aware that there is not even an inn described. The view that Joseph and Mary simply arrived late to Bethlehem and accommodations at the local hotel were full is incorrect. The word translated as “inn” is the word kataluma, which is used elsewhere by Luke and translated as “guest chamber” or “upper room” (Luke 22:11; cf. Mark 14:14). When Luke wants to speak of a paid establishment (i.e., an inn), he uses a different Greek word, pandocheion, as in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:34). Unfortunately, of the dozens of English translations that I’ve checked, all translate kataluma as “inn” in Luke 2:7 and not as “guest room.”
The result of this mistranslation leads to a different understanding of the story. It’s not that Joseph and Mary were late to town, but it’s that they were rejected by their family. Clearly they had family members in town, as that was the reason they returned to Bethlehem for the census. That there was no room in the guest chamber for a pregnant woman indicates that they chose not to make room for this unwedded mother. The birth of Jesus in a room where animals lived suggests shame and
The Timing of the Magi's Visit
The star announced that Jesus had been born. Even in Bible college they taught us that the Magi couldn't have possibly made their way to Jesus until Jesus was already at least two years old (and probably older) and likely living in a house. They weren't gathered 'round the manger, they weren't kings, and the Bible never says how many there were. Placing the magi at the birth of Jesus also presents a contradiction with Herod's decree. Herod knew the timeline which is why he ordered all male children in the vicinity of Bethlehem two years old and younger to be slaughtered upon being told of the existence – not coming, existence – of the christ child and that he was in Bethlehem. Why kill two-year-olds if you're after an infant?
Joseph And Mary Were not alone
They were likely part of a large caravan of relatives making their way “home” to register for the census so this notion of Mary being led solely by Joseph riding a donkey is ridiculous if people were actually traveling for a census (I'm playing devil's advocate of course). It would be wall-to-wall people with various degrees of shared DNA. The themes of bleakness and isolation that are perpetuated mostly in popular carols and contemporary works of art couldn't have it more backwards. Most of the reason why Joseph and Mary couldn't get accommodations is that with so many relatives descending upon their own preference was given to family members without blights on their souls. The shame of being unwed at the time of conception, again, didn't bode well for them. Not everybody believes in inseminating deities, after all.
The Worst Problem? They're almost always depicted as WHITE...
every damn Christmas cantata across the Bible Belt
Jesus and his cast of enigmatically-European-named-but-genaologically-middle-eastern characters is almost always portrayed as pasty white people for the same reason Rufus gives in Dogma: making Jesus or anything associated with him ethnically accurate presents a detriment to the message. Because how could the King of Kings and Lord of Lords be anything but white, right? It's amazing how far back this bullshit actually goes...
The Cavalcade of Contradictions
There are so many contradictions in the nativity story between gospels it's absolutely shameful that more people don't notice or flat out don't care. This whole thing is very Life of Pi: choose your better story. Or just combine them. Pi liked to do that with his religions, too – combine the parts of all of them that he liked and shun the rest. That's what most people do with this. But I promised contradictions and contradictions I shall now deliver, courtesy of TheChurchOfTruth.org!
Matthew: Jesus was born under the reign of Herod who died in 4 BC.
Luke: Jesus was born after Cyrenius instituted the tax (6 AD) that Caesar Augustus decreed
Matthew: has wise men from the East bring gifts
Luke: has shepherds abiding in the field, no gifts
Matthew: A star leads the wise men to the house in which Jesus is born.
Luke: An angel of the Lord points the shepherds to the city of David, where Jesus is born in a manger
Matthew: Joseph and Mary are already in Bethlehem, then Jesus is born
Luke: Joseph must return to his forefather’s homeland in order to be taxed.
Matthew: King Herod decrees that all children 2 and under living in Bethlehem and and in all the coasts thereof be murdered.
Luke: No mention of King Herod or the massive infanticide.
Matthew: Immediately after birth, Joseph, Mary and Jesus flee to Egypt to escape King Herod’s decree.
Luke: While still in Bethlehem, Jesus is circumcised 8 days after his birth, after the circumcision Mary spends 8 days being “purified” and a pair of Turtledoves are sacrificed, all according to the Law as presented by Moses (and important only to Jews – no one else gives a hoot). Then, at least 16 days after the birth of Jesus, they all went to Nazareth.
And let’s keep in mind that this is the very beginning of the story. There are contradictions, disagreements, and so many holes in the narrative, I have to wonder how it ever made it past the Council of Nicea. But it did. And it made it much further.
But people will always pick and choose what they want to believe. They will always gravitate and cling to the Best Story. And even with all the exalted language in the first couple chapters of Jesus’ story, I don’t see the overlying message of hope that so many people do here. I see a group of people testing the waters. I see deception and maybe even the bronze age equivalent of split testing to see which version attracts more believers. Do people prefer shepherds or magi? Do they want an unassuming savior or one heralded by angels and announced with fanfare? Will they listen if we say he’s from an important bloodline or does that not matter? Do we need “alternate facts” in the narrative to attract a wider demo?
I don’t rightly know why there are so many contradictions and disparities between books that were both deemed to be God-breathed when entered into the Canon, but I do know what I learned in grade school: on a true/false test, if any part of the statement is false, it’s all false. And there are loads of statements in these accounts that are contradictory. Someone had to be right and someone had to be wrong. It makes no sense that things like angels singing to shepherds would be noticed by one writer and not the other. Neither, in my opinion, would have considered an event like that too trivial to mention. And then there’s the issue of the virgin birth only being acknowledged by two out of four gospels. This is THE thing that most people’s faith hinges upon, and if you follow the narrative through all four gospels, there is only a 50/50 chance that a virgin birth occurred. Mark and John don’t mention it or even consider it.
So I promised a message of hope at the end and here it is: there are plenty of us out there who are considering everything we brought to the table tonight and many beyond Shelle and me out there making sure people know just how convoluted this story actually is. If there is a glimmer of hope in all of this it lies in people who are committed to the truth continuing to seek it and posit it in contexts like these. And there are clear disparities between the truth and the story of Christ’s nativity. It’s a fun story to write a holiday around, but that’s all it is - religious myth designed to elicit emotional responses in the hearer. And different things get different people’s attention.
If you’ve listened this far, it’s safe to say we have your attention so, here’s your takeaway for this episode: Don’t base your life or beliefs on things that even the people asking you to believe it can’t agree upon. Don’t waste your time spending years in church or in environments that perpetuate the notion of Christ’s divinity based on such a shaky and disjointed narrative.
Ask questions. Seek the truth wherever it leads and stop following the lead of other people whose only agenda is to keep you shackled to your faith for the rest of your life. Use your intellect to examine the things you believe absent of emotion and you will find it harder to keep swallowing the lies your religion has told you.
Purpose to enjoy the Christmas season for all the magnificent secularness it offers. Enjoy the nativity story from the standpoint of fiction. It’s OK. Just don’t keep trying to find truth in it because it simply isn’t there. And once you get ok with that idea, you’ll be one step further toward getting and staying Unbound.