“Judah, the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar... Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth... David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife... and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah” (Matthew 1:3-16).
Ancient genealogies often did not include any mothers’ names. Fathers alone were sufficient to demonstrate someone’s lineage. So why do five mothers appear, nestled within the forty-two generations Matthew provides to connect Jesus with David and Abraham (cf. Matthew 1:1)? Some have suggested it was because the first four were Gentiles, for whom the Messiah came as well as for Jews. But Mary’s Jewish credentials were impeccable. Others suggest it was because of sexual sin on the part of all of them, but this requires disbelieving the story of the virginal conception and putting the worst possible spin on Ruth’s coming to Boaz in the middle of the night at the threshing floor, which was more likely her proposal of marriage. What all five did have in common, however, was the suspicion of illegitimate sexual behavior and the stigma attached to that, whether or not it was deserved. Tamar played the prostitute once, with Jacob, to raise up an heir. Rahab was a prostitute. Not all would have believed that Boaz and Ruth remained pure that night. Bathsheba was the victim of David’s adultery. And Mary’s story was far more incredible than Ruth’s in the minds of many.
I published a short article on Matthew 1 that includes this material, expanded, in the Biblical Theology Bulletin way back in 1991, so I will not elaborate it here. But what are we to make of this as part of the Christmas story, especially this time of year? The answer is clear, as all of his ministry would corroborate: Jesus is a Messiah for outcasts, whether or not they deserve the stigma others attach to them.
Growing up in a wonderful Christian home, I have almost exclusively happy memories of Christmastime. It was a family time, often involving relatives we saw only once or twice a year. It was a time filled with lots of “warm fuzzies.” Although my parents were very generous to a variety of poorer friends and in giving to charities that cared for the poor, Christmas was not a time during which we involved them in our lives.
My first three years of married life were also the first three in which neither my wife’s nor my families were with us at Christmas, because we had moved to Scotland for grad school. It was there that we first learned about celebrating the holiday with others who had no families accessible. In the years since, Christmas day gatherings have been very unpredictable—sometimes with extended family, sometimes just with a few close friends, sometimes with a big gathering of “castaways,” and sometimes mixing “castaways” with close friends—often an adventure, sometimes a challenge, and seldom a dull moment. One constant has been that my wife’s and my relatives have always remained far enough away that we have not automatically been with them at Christmastime. When we haven’t, we then ask, “Then who?” And we’ve asked that sometimes even when we have been with them, at least when it’s been on “our turf.”
What does your Christmas portend this year? If you have the choice, try to include some folks who can’t be guaranteed “warm fuzzies” at Christmas and try to give them some. They’re the kind of people who made it into Jesus’ genealogy. They’re the kind of people Matthew went out of his way to have us remember in his Christmas story.
Perhaps that’s part of what it means to wish each other a “Merry Christmas.”
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“Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ...” (KJV)
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ...” (NIV)
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ...” (RSV, ESV)
“Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (TNIV)
What’s in a word? In Elizabethan English, the word conversation could mean “conduct.” The Greek verb, politeuomai, in Philippians 1:27, has nothing whatsoever to do with speaking, per se, so the translators of the King James Version in 1611 were clearly talking about behavior when they penned, “only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.” Anybody who insists on reading an unrevised KJV today is highly unlikely to catch this nuance, unless someone has specifically taught them this, or they are avid readers of Shakespeare!
The majority of modern translations thus use words having to do with behavior, conduct, or manner of living. The old RSV spoke of one’s “manner of life,” and the ESV, which is an updating of the RSV, saw no need to change it here. The NIV speaks explicitly about conduct. The HCSB and NRSV likewise read “live your life in a manner...” while the NET and NASB mirror the NIV and use “conduct yourselves.”
But NLT, like the TNIV printed above, speaks of living “as citizens of heaven.” Where does this come from? The noun that is cognate to (i.e., from the same root as) politeuomai is politeuma and means citizenship. In Philippians 3:20, Paul uses this noun to declare explicitly that “our citizenship is in heaven, from which we eagerly await a Savior, Jesus Christ.” All of the versions I’ve mentioned so far use “citizenship” here except the RSV, which used “commonwealth” and the KJV which again used “conversation” in the old Elizabethan sense.
Is Paul already anticipating his discussion of 3:20 in 1:27? Is he investing a little extra meaning into the verb politeuomai in this earlier passage in Philippians than is usually implied by the term? The only other place the verb occurs in the New Testament is in Acts 23:1, in which Luke cites Paul affirming his good conduct throughout his life as a Christian. All the other occurrences in the Greek Bible (i.e., the Septuagint) come in the Apocrypha, once in the Additions to Esther and seven times in 2nd through 4th Maccabees, and never is the idea of citizenship present. Completely extra-biblical sources offer some support for the concept of citizenship, but it’s seldom the main point of the word.
What about “of heaven” in 1:27 in the NLT and TNIV? This expression corresponds to nothing in the Greek, even on the assumption that politeuomai does carry the sense of “live as citizens” here. But of course, Paul isn’t talking about following the laws of the Roman colony of Philippi, but of obeying God’s standards as revealed in the gospel, in God’s kingdom. And the affirmation that “our citizenship is in heaven” will explicitly appear in 3:20. So to clarify the distinction, translators who introduce citizenship into 1:27 have to go on and add something like “of heaven” to distinguish the two kinds of citizenship.
But then the danger is to view Paul’s command as ascetic, separatist, or otherworldly: “live as though you were already in heaven and not on earth” or something like that, which is not Paul’s point at all! Quite the opposite, Paul was very much talking about how to live on this earth, just not saying to follow merely human or secular standards of ethics. So the translations that speak only of good conduct in Philippians 1:27 are both the safest and the least confusing. Better to save citizenship in heaven for chapter 3.
It’s also another good reminder that, if you can’t read the Greek or Hebrew, always consult two or three translations, not just one. There is no translation anywhere that has always made the best choices in every passage!
Dr. Craig L. Blomberg serves as Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary.
"My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation." (James 3:1 KJV)
I suppose the only good thing about this translation of this verse is that it might have dissuaded a few antebellum Christians from becoming slaveowners if they were sitting on the fence!
The word rendered "masters" in Elizabethan English, however, is correctly rendered in all modern translations as "teachers." But of course that raises major questions for people like me. Did James really think that all teachers, or at least all teachers in the church would be condemned? Surely not. Lest there be any doubt at all, James includes himself as one of the teachers involved, but it would be strange theology (and history) that viewed James as condemning himself, especially when condemnation in the Bible usually refers to hell!
Again, modern translations rectify the problem by typically rendering the final words in accurate twentieth or twenty-first century English as "judged with stricter judgment" or "judged more strictly." But I'm still not entirely assuaged by being told that those who teach God's word will be judged more strictly, especially when I see some commentators still trying to relate this to degrees of reward in heaven. Of course, I decided a long time ago that Martin Luther had the better side of the Reformation-era debate over that disputed doctrine in denying differences in believers' status or state in heaven beyond the inevitable differences they would experience as they stood before God on Judgment Day. I even wrote an article published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society way back in 1992 to that effect (long before anybody made digital copies, I might add, just in case somebody might be hoping that I could e-mail them one).
But then what is the stricter judgment of which I should beware? The larger context of James 3:1-12 is all about the power of the tongue for both good and evil. Teachers in James' day, even more than in our own, relied on speech. In fact, what typically distinguished the teacher from other forms of leaders or speakers was that they were responsible for passing on a fixed body of catechetical tradition related to the subject at hand. Many times this information was carefully memorized and students were expected to memorize it as well. The rabbis often argued that until you had a passage of Scripture committed to memory you could not discuss it because you might misrepresent it. Ah, if we could reinstate that in our churches ... :-) But it won't happen, I know.
The point is that teachers were committed to a higher standard of accuracy than others because they were the bearers of the tradition. But teachers were also expected to practice what they preached. In ways not nearly as frequently true in our modern, Western world, students were meant to observe their teachers in every situation of life, so that they could learn how to act in all those situations, including those in which a person sinned and had to repent. So the second way in which teachers could incur stricter judgment was in the poor choice of words they spoke (or in the way they spoke them) in contexts outside of rote memorization. Teachers, both ancient and modern, inhabit settings in which they experience virtually every kind of temptation to speak sinfully: "arrogance and domination over students; anger and pettiness at contradiction or inattention; slander and meanness toward absent opponents; flattery of students for the sake of vainglory" (Luke Johnson, The Letter of James, 263).
Why are these sins more serious when committed by teachers rather than by other people? (1) More people may be affected. (2) A closer relationship of trust may be violated. (3) The very person who should be the student's best model fails in that capacity. (4) The resulting hurt may be greater. Apologies can be made and errors can be corrected but the damage from untruthful or unloving words may not be able to be fully eradicated. Forgiveness may, in some instances, come quickly, but trust always takes longer to be re-earned. The stricter judgment against which James warns may, therefore, at least in large part, have to do with negative consequences of the teachers' sins in this life.
This election campaign has involved some of the most vicious rhetoric I can recall in my lifetime. No, not primarily by the candidates, but often by Christian leaders and teachers anathematizing one of the candidates and anyone who would vote for them. The blogworld, on just about any topic, seems to bring out the worst in people, including Christian leaders and teachers, perhaps because of the impersonal and distance-creating nature of the medium. People say things and say them in ways they would never say to someone's face. E-mail and Facebook create the same temptations. The non-evangelical world already thinks far too many of us are far too combative. Let's take James 3:1 to heart and work hard at a much kinder, gentler character.
“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” (1 Cor. 7:10-11; TNIV)
The Denver Post had a cover story in its “Lifestyle” section recently on how older, long-married wives are increasingly divorcing their husbands. “Unhappiness, emotional estrangement and drifting apart are among the reasons more boomers are single than any previous cohort of 40-60 somethings” (Sheba R. Wheeler, “A gray area for women” [July 21, 2010], section D, page 1).
Debates over divorce and/or remarriage in Christian circles have tended to focus on the meanings of what have come to be known as Jesus’ exception clause (Matt. 19:9; divorce and remarriage can be considered in the case of adultery) and the Pauline privilege (1 Cor. 7:15-16; if a non-Christian partner wants to leave). Some Christian exegetes and/or therapists have argued for other similar worst-case scenarios to provide acceptable grounds for divorce—serious physical abuse, prolonged unrepentant addictions, life imprisonment, irreversible Alzheimer’s and the like.
Virtually no disagreement has existed, however, over the fact that, from a biblical perspective, mere “unhappiness, emotional estrangement and drifting apart” hardly qualify as acceptable reasons for divorce. All of these can be reversed if both partners make a good faith effort. But nothing in this newspaper article suggests these three reasons are limited to non-Christians, and personal experience shows that they are certainly not so limited.
One suburban Denver woman is quoted as saying, “The biggest thing was knowing I was approaching 50 and thinking I didn’t want to live the rest of my life married to someone I no longer loved” (section D, page 10). As is so endemic in our cultures and our churches, “love” is used here to describe a feeling. If you can fall in love, then you can fall out of love (or at least climb out of it)! If love, as in the Bible, is a choice, a commitment, then there is no falling. There is nothing that just happens to us outside of our control. Little wonder that cultures with arranged marriages (like many in biblical times) have microscopic divorce rates. The partners understand that it’s about how you behave toward one another, not about how you feel, that is most foundational to a marriage.
One might ask why this is “news” for the Denver Post. The article makes that answer clear also. Graying-haired men have been divorcing their wives in record numbers for some time now, often for “trophy wives”—noticeably younger, more attractive women who apparently care more about what their new, older partners can provide economically or socially in the short term than anything else, since second marriages on average dissolve faster than first ones. (Funny how in all the alleged interest in family values in the last presidential election, conservative Christians made next to nothing of the fact that this was precisely what the nominee of many of those voters’ choice had done years ago, whereas the other candidate had proved an exemplary husband and father. Guess the race really was about politics after all—which is probably what it should be—let’s just be honest about what we’re doing. But I digress.)
It’s not news either that most marriages that are going to end in divorce do so within their first eight years. What made this article worthy of publication was that the last bastion of faithfulness is falling. With younger men, younger women, and older men all leaving their spouses in record numbers for reasons far beyond anything remotely biblical, the only category of people left to join the bandwagon are older women. And now they have jumped on board.
It’s time to return to basics. Love is a commitment, not a feeling. Feelings follow from godly actions, not vice-versa. Wedding vows are promises: “till death do us part.” A divorcee by definition is a promise-breaker. Occasionally, it is impossible to keep promises no matter how much one wants to do so, because “it takes two to tango.” I cannot stay married if my spouse refuses to do so. But taking the initiative to divorce, and for no better reason than lack of personal fulfillment, simply cannot by any stretch of the Christian imagination ever be right.
I remember being shocked as a young adult by some Hollywood wedding (a true story) in which the traditional vows were replaced with promises to be faithful “until the death of love parts us.” That’s really what has become the norm today, even if we’re not honest enough to admit it. How many Christians getting married [now] would be prepared to go through with the wedding if those were the words they were told to repeat? Those who would be so prepared should save their money and skip the ceremony altogether. Especially for those already living together, wedding vows add nothing to what already exists unless they promise permanence. Might as well just keep “shacking up” with each other, to use some slang from my father’s lifetime, because it doesn’t take a promise to be faithful when good feelings are present. As C. S. Lewis put it years ago in objecting to shotgun weddings, why compound the sin of fornication with the sin of perjury? The whole point of wedding vows is to seal the relationship for the hard times.
Those who wouldn’t be prepared to have a wedding with such trivial promises need to think long and hard about what they are promising with the traditional vows. And keep thinking about it every week, month, and year of their lives thereafter.
The organization Bill McCartney founded had it right. It boils down to whether or not we are going to be promise keepers. And if I can’t trust someone in the most solemn pronouncement they will ever make in their lives, why should I trust them in anything else?
Dr. Craig L. Blomberg serves as Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary.
Dr. Craig L. Blomberg serves as Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary.
Dr. Blomberg completed his PhD in New Testament, specializing in the parables and the writings of Luke-Acts, at Aberdeen University in Scotland. He received an MA from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a BA from Augustana College. Before joining the faculty of Denver Seminary, he taught at Palm Beach Atlantic College and was a research fellow in Cambridge, England with Tyndale House.
In addition to writing numerous articles in professional journals, multi-author works and dictionaries or encyclopedias, he has authored or edited 20 books, including The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Interpreting the Parables, commentaries on Matthew, 1 Corinthians and James, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey, From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts through Revelation, Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions; Making Sense of the New Testament: Three Crucial Questions; Preaching the Parables; Contagious Holines: Jesus' Meals with Sinners; and Handbook of New Testament Exegesis.
For more, visit Denver Seminary.