Sunday, December 24, 2023

Jesus Wasn’t Born in a Stable

I found this article called Jesus Wasn't Born in a Stable by Ian Paul interesting, and seems his ideals seem to be very plausible. He says,

It would be unthinkable that Joseph, returning to his place of ancestral origins, would not have been received by family members, even if they were not close relatives.
Many, like Joseph and Mary, have travelled to Bethlehem, and the family guest room is already full, probably with other relatives who arrived earlier. So Joseph and Mary must stay with the family itself, in the main room of the house, and there Mary gives birth. The most natural place to lay the baby is in the hay-filled depressions at the lower end of the house where the animals are fed. The idea that they were in a stable, away from others, alone and outcast, is grammatically and culturally implausible.
Read the entire article to get the gist of what he is saying.

We cannot be certain about where Jesus was born, as there is no definitive documentary or archaeological evidence dating from that time. One thing is clear. The gospels do not mention a “stable”. Luke refers to a “manger” (phatne) which is a feeding trough for animals.

I presume that rich people would have had a separate room to keep their animals, but poorer people would not. Until recent times, it has always been common for people to keep their animals in the room where they lived for the warmth that they provided, and more important to ensure that they did not get stolen. Most would have only a few sheep, or a cow, or donkey, so they would fit in their home.

Luke 13:15 is interesting as Jesus said that it was normal for people to untie an ox or donkey on the Sabbath and take it out to water. He used the same word as in Luke 2:7. The common practice is to translate “phatne” as “stall” in Luke 13:15, but that is incorrect. Jesus was referring to a manger, which is a feeding trough.

Jesus said the animal was tied up. If an animal was in a separate room, it would not need to be tied up, but if it was in the family living room it would need to be tied up, so it did not tread on people who are sleeping on the floor. If it was in a separate room, it would be possible to provide a large water trough that did not need to be filled each day, so it could be left in the room on a cold Sabbath day. However, if the animal was tied up in the family living area, it would need to be taken out each day to get water, and to defecate. Thus, Jesus’ parable suggests that it was common for people to keep animals in their houses.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Not Rome

Christians often blandly use Romans 13:1 as a slogan for political power, assuming it settles the issue, without considering what Paul actually said in his letter.

A well-known theologian recently gave a slightly more sophisticated version of their argument,

Biblical political theology is predicated on the fact that the one God who made the world wants the world to be wisely ordered, and to be wisely ordered through human government. So even people who would be seen as a bad ruler would have a God-given job which must be honoured. Even a cruel, wicked, stupid government has a role that is God-given.
This type of political theology, which is very common, is used to interpret Romans 13 and claim that Paul was authenticating the authority of the Roman emperor. The evil man Nero was probably emperor at the time when Paul was writing, so if he was God's servant, we must submit to every political power. The implication is that God gave the Roman emperor authority so that he could bring order to the earth. Therefore, all Christians should submit to him, even if he often does evil things. The same principle is applied to all rulers. We are required to submit to rulers, even when they do evil, because they are carrying out a God-given rule.

This logic is flawed. Firstly, God never said that he was appointing rulers to ensure that his creation was wisely ordered. He gave responsibility for caring for the world to all humans. And he gave the law for the specific purpose of maintaining order on the earth (1 Tim 1:8-11). The idea that God appointed kings, presidents and other rulers to ensure that the world is wisely ordered is simply not true. In fact, they have been the main cause of disorder (1 Sam 8). Therefore, the claim that they have a God-given role that should be honoured is incorrect.

More important, even a cursory reading of the words that Paul wrote in Romans 13 shows that they are not a description of the Roman Empire. Rome did not do what Paul claimed that good judges would do.

The idea that Rome was interested in order and peace is a myth. The Caesars wanted control. They expanded the area under their area, so they could extract food and other resources and bring them back to Rome.

Roman soldiers were not scattered around the world to protect the people of the nations from trouble. They were there to keep people under control, and they were ruthless in putting down all opposition. Roman soldiers were cruel and heartless in dealing with ordinary people. They would defend countries against invading armies, not for their protection, but to ensure that another empire did not get control of their resources.

Paul was able to travel fairly freely around the Roman empire, but that was not the result of Roman efforts to spread peace. It was an accidental consequence of their attempts to expand the areas they controlled.

If Paul was claiming in Romans 13 that political power could bring peace and order in the world, he was certainly not talking about the Roman emperor.

Paul was not describing the Roman justice system when he wrote in Romans 13:3-5.

Worldly rulers (archon) cause no fear for the good way, but only for those choosing the bad option. So, if you don't want to be afraid of his authority, be doing good and you will be commended. For you who are into the good, it can be God's servant. But if you do bad, be afraid. A ruler does not carry the sword for no purpose; it is a servant of God making right in anger to the one committing evil. Out of necessity, order yourselves under it; not just to avoid its anger, but due to common awareness.
The Romans were not interested in providing justice for the ordinary people. Roman law provided some protections for the noble families who controlled Rome, but even that was quite capricious. A nobleman could be up one day, and down the next. Most ordinary people got no justice at all. Roman justice was used to enslave people and extract wealth for the benefit of the Empire. Beatings for trivial things were frequent and crucifixions were common for people who had done very little wrong. Even a Roman soldier would be lucky to get justice, if their commanding officer took a snitch against them.

Paul was not thinking about Rome when he said that people who do right have nothing to fear. Good people had very good reasons to fear the Roman authorities. Paul was able to appeal to Caesar because he was a Roman citizen. That put him into an elite group. Ordinary people could not make that appeal. And the appeal did not seem to work for Paul, because he died in Rome, despite a representative of Rome recognising that he was innocent. King Agrippa said,

They began talking to one another, saying, "This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment." And Agrippa said to Festus, "This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar" (Acts 26:31-32).
This was not justice. True justice would have set Paul free once it was understood that he had not committed a crime. But Agrippa and Festus wanted to protect their own reputation, so they were scared to do the just thing and set him free.

Paul's statement about good people having nothing to fear does not fit with Jesus' treatment by Pilate. He agreed that Jesus was innocent, but he had him flogged and crucified anyway, because he was scared the Jewish power brokers would report him to Rome. Jesus was killed by Roman justice, like many others of his countrymen, so it could not be said that good people had nothing to fear from Roman justice. Paul knew what happened to Jesus and many other disciples, so he was clearly not writing about Roman justice in his letter to the Romans.

When Paul spoke about giving money to those we owe, he was not writing about Rome.

Pay back debts to everyone. If you owe a tax, pay the tax; if an excise duty is owed, then pay it. Respect those worthy of respect. Only honour those worthy of honour (Rom 13:7).
Paul was not saying that people should pay taxes to Rome in return for the services that Rome provided them. He did not see Rome as a service provider. Rome was not committed to providing services for ordinary people. Any benefits that fell to ordinary people were a mistake.

The Roman tax system was not set up to raise money to support ordinary people in the way that modern people think about taxes. It was an extraction system designed to seize as much wealth as possible from subservient peoples. Rome-appointed tax farmers would take as much as they could get, leaving their victims with almost nothing to live on. Roman soldiers would wreck the house of anyone thought to be hiding grain or gold. Romans 13:6-7 is not a description of the Roman tax system.

When Paul wrote Romans 13, he was clearly not thinking about the Roman Empire. He must have been thinking about something quite different, so this passage cannot be used to demand submission to all political power.

This is explained further in Understanding Romans 13.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Romans 13

I have just completed some corrections and added some new insights to my study of Romans 13

The full article can be read at Understanding Romans 13 on Substack

The same article is available on Kingdom Watcher at Understanding Romans 13.

For more on related passages that deal with submission, see Submission to Political Power.

I describe God’s alternative to human political power in my book called Government of God.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Flesh and Spirit

We live in a world that is both physical and spiritual. We tend to be most aware of the physical world because we can see and touch it with our five senses. We think with our brains, so our intellectual life is an aspect of the physical world. However, the spiritual world is equally important.

When God created Adam, he formed him physically, and then breathed on him (spiritised him) so he would be a “living being” (Gen 2:7). As a “living being”, he moved in both the physical and spiritual world. If we think of our ability to live in the physical world as being “in the flesh”, then he was living in the flesh and the spirit.

When Adam and Eve rejected God, they lost their ability to function in the spiritual world. They began to live “in their flesh” only, most aware of the physical world around them. Entities from the spiritual world could influence them, but they were often not aware of it. They were not fully aware of God’s presence around them and within them, sustaining their lives. They were stuck in the physical world. This is what Paul meant by being “in the flesh”.

Flesh refers to our physical bodies, including our brains, which are made of flesh and blood. This is why our intellectual life is “in the flesh”. Adam and Eve were living in a world that is both physical and spiritual, but as people “in the flesh,” they were not fully aware and responsive to the spiritual world, both good and bad.

We inherit our life from our parents, who were “in the flesh”, and going back far enough, they inherited “flesh” but not “Spirit” from Adam and Eve. We are born “in the flesh”, with the ability to function in the physical world, but with minimal ability to function in the spiritual world. That is why we are all dominated by Sin and Death (Rom 6,7) and the other spiritual powers of evil that attack us.

Our problem in life comes from the way that we are born. We inherit from Adam and Eve the status of being “in the flesh” and not attentive to the spiritual world. That is why we need to be born again of the Spirit. Just as God breathed on Adam and he became a living being, when we trust in Jesus, the Holy Spirit moves on us to make us true “living beings” who can function in both the physical and spiritual worlds.

When we are born again of the Spirit, we change from being in the flesh only (operating in the spiritual world only) to being “in the flesh and the Spirit”. This ability to function in both the physical and spiritual world enables us to live to our full potential as true living beings. Jesus defeated the spiritual powers of evil on the cross, which equips those who walk in both “the flesh and the Spirit” to escape from their grip.

More at The Flesh.