December 27, 2013

Would you worship a God who...?

Here's a gem from F.F. Bruce in his commentary on Hebrews 2:10:
There are many who are ready to tell us confidently what would and would not be worthy of God; but in fact the only way to discover what is a worthy thing for God to do is to consider what God has actually done. The person who says, "I could not have a high opinion of a God who would (or would not) do this or that," is not adding anything to our knowledge of God; he is simply telling us something about himself.
Having told us all about ourselves, Bruce goes on to talk about God:
We may be sure that all that God does is worthy of himself, but here our author singles out one of God's actions and tells us that it was a fitting thing for him to do. And what was that? It was his making Jesus, through his sufferings, perfectly qualified to be the Savior of his people. It is in the passion of our Lord that we see that we see very heart of God laid bare; nowhere is God more fully or more worthily revealed as God than when we see him "in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT).

December 16, 2013

Around the Links: The Virgin Birth (@LarryWHurtado @triablogue @ScotMcKnight @DouglasWils)

The doctrine of the virgin birth (or, more properly, the virginal conception) has had a little extra attention around the web in recent weeks. There are at least two reasons for this. First, it's nearly Christmas, which usually brings various posts defending or attacking the creedal claim that Jesus of Nazareth was "born of the Virgin Mary". Second, New Testament scholar (and my doctoral supervisor) Andrew T. Lincoln has just published his newest book, Born of a Virgin? Reconceiving Jesus in the Bible, Tradition, and Theology (Eerdmans, 2013). The book is already getting a lot of attention and, I suspect, will get even more in the weeks and months to come. Here are few interesting links to fill you in on what's being said about the virginal conception of Jesus in these days leading up to Christmas.
  • Heath Bradley has a favorable review of Lincoln's Born of a Virgin?, in which he summarizes the book's argument that multiple documents in the New Testament (Acts and Paul in particular) claim that Jesus' Davidic descent must have come through his father's line. Or, more briefly, if Jesus is not Joseph's son, neither is he descended from King David. The book further argues that the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke were never intended by their authors to make historical claims and are, instead, examples of conventional literary devices in ancient Greco-Roman biographies intended to communicate theological truth about Jesus. The most interesting part of Bradley's review was his discussion of the claim that, "one could arguably even be an 'inerrantist' and still embrace Lincoln's proposal." Also check out Bradley's follow-up post titled, "Why I Believe in the Virgin Birth".
  • As we expect, Larry Hurtado provides a thoughtful and judicious review.
  • Jason Engwer at Triablogue is unpersuaded. Here's his six-part review of Lincoln's book in which he explains why the evidence for the virgin birth outweighs the evidence against it.
  • Scot McKnight asks, "How Important is the Virginal Conception?"
  • Douglas Wilson raises the "Why?" question and argues that you need a virgin conception to have a sinless Savior.
If there's a good post that I've left off the list, be sure to share the link in a comment. Happy reading.

December 13, 2013

If Jesus isn't white, what does he look like?


You've probably heard by now that Fox News host Megyn Kelly has gotten herself into a bit of a racial controversy for claiming that Santa Claus and Jesus were both white. The comment came in an interview in which she was responding to this post by Aisha Harris at Slate. Check out the video above. You can hear Kelly's regrettable comment about Jesus shortly after the 1:45 mark.

Santa Must...?
Let's begin by getting the Santa nonsense out of the way. Who cares how Santa Claus is portrayed? He's imaginary, not real. So imagine him however you want - black, white, penguin, puppy - it doesn't matter. Sure he's loosely based on the 4th century figure of St. Nicholas, but let's not pretend that the the jolly ol' fellow doing photo sessions down at the local mall bears much resemblance to the heretic punching Nicholas of Nicaea. 

More Importantly
Much, much, much more importantly is the question of Jesus' ethnicity. Let me say emphatically that if there is one thing of which we can be absolutely certain, it is that Jesus of Nazareth - who ministered by the waters of the Sea of Galilee and traveled around Judea proclaiming the inauguration of the reign of God - was not white. He was a Semite, a Jew, a native of the Middle East. Like others in that region he would have had a dark or olive complexion. 

Back in 2002, Popular Mechanics ran a piece called "The Real Face of Jesus", in which they reported how they fed a lot of data on the physical characteristics of first century Jewish men (based on some well-preserved remains) into a computer in order to produce the image of what Jesus may have looked like. The result is the picture to the left. We do not, of course, know for sure what Jesus looked like, but this guy would have probably fit in nicely in Jerusalem in the first century. And I guarantee you that Jesus looked more like this than the weird illustrations in my kids' Bible story books. 

Jesus Then and Now
Now you may have noticed that the title of this post doesn't put the question of Jesus' skin color in the past tense, and this is what I'm really interested to get to. The question is not what did Jesus look like, but what does Jesus look like. The question of Jesus ethnicity is important not only because Jesus lived in Palestine in the first century, but also because Jesus was raised from the dead by the power of God and is alive even now. The Semitic Jesus who was born of Mary during the reign of Caesar Augustus is the same Jesus who now reigns over all creation. The question of Jesus' ethnicity matters not only for the sake of historical accuracy, but more importantly for the sake of knowing the one who loved us and gave himself for us, the one who even now makes intercession for us, the one who will come again to judge the living and the dead and whose kingdom will have no end. Jesus is a real person, and we need to do the best we can to think of him rightly. We don't get to remake him in whatever image suits our preferences. We need to reckon with the reality that right now, at this very moment, the one who is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty and who reigns over heaven and earth has Jewish skin, a Jewish body, and a Jewish face. 

It's almost Christmas, and the point of Christmas is not so much that Jesus is another year older. The point is the Incarnation, the reality that the eternal God who made all things has come down from heaven and taken on human flesh for us and for our salvation. The Jesus we worship and who reigns over all is the King of the Jews, the Son of David, the seed of Abraham. To borrow language that Paul picked up from Isaiah, he is the Root of Jesse sprung up, who has risen to rule over all the nations. In him the Gentiles will hope, and we do.