Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Christian Sabbath

I've been derelict in my duties.  I had a friend ask me a full month ago about the Sabbath.  In fact I had two different friends ask me about the Sabbath, coming from different perspectives.  I should warn you, though this is a post about the Sabbath, it is also going to address some adult topics.  As such, if you are uncomfortable with adult topics, or if you have a child reading this with you, you may want to put this aside for a later time.

The first question I was asked was about the Sabbath in relation to the Old Testament Law.  Basically, my friend asked me, "Since we do not set aside the other commandments in the Ten Commandments, why do Christians not observe the Sabbath?"  This is an honest and fair question that many Christians ask, and many of them then find themselves in a situation where they make a point of observing the Sabbath, resting from work and the world and just spending time with family.  However, I'm going to argue that no Christian sets aside the Sabbath, we just aren't always aware that we are observing the Sabbath.

The answer to the question about the Sabbath can be found in examining the Christian response to the Law as a whole.  For instance, while it may certainly be said that Christians do not set aside the Ten Commandments, I would argue we also do not limit ourselves to the Ten Commandments.  Take the second commandment for instance, that we should make no idols or graven images, and we are not to bow down to any idols.  We do not stop at just this, but under the guidance of Christ we go further so as to say that God is spirit, and those who worship him must do so in spirit and in truth.  Likewise, where God says we shall not take his name in vain, the Christian goes even further and says that our words must be such that we take no oaths, for it is known by all that our "yes" is "yes" and our "no" is "no."  (Likewise, if we understand this passage to be about attempting to manipulate God and use his name for magical purposes, as was commonly done with the names of deities in the ancient world, the Christian recognizes our submissive relationship to God, and that he is our Lord, not just a tool for us to manipulate to get ahead in this world.)

So, how does this help us to address the Sabbath?  Well, just as we do not limit our ethics by the Law, so we also do not limit our response to the commandments by a simple wooden understanding of the text.  We take the command of God as being even more significant in light of Christ.  We don't do away with the Sabbath, but we live in light of a greater command because Christ has changed our lives and made the law more than it was to us in the past.

Consider what Paul says in Romans 5:1-9.  He notes that there are those in the church arguing over what can be eaten, which days should be recognized as holy days, and other problems.  What is Paul's response to this?  He says that we ought not judge one another over such matters because God himself is our judge, and he will determine what is right or wrong when we stand before him.  And God will, through the atoning work of our savior, make us to stand on that day.  That is a glorious truth!

So, what has this to do with the Sabbath?  Everything.  Paul informs us that when it comes to considering holy days we must be fully convinced in our own minds, and that this is not a subject to split and quarrel over.  We see Paul speak in this same way in Galatians 4 and Colossians 2.  In Galatians Paul says that the strict legal adherence to worship days and the law made him fear that his labor was in vain (because they were depending on their strict obedience to the Law to be their salvation).  In Colossians Paul says that we ought not concern ourselves over the judgment of others in regards to the what we eat or drink, or even in regards to the Sabbaths.

Does this mean that Christian sets aside the Sabbath?  No, in no way are we setting aside the Sabbath.  Rather, as Paul says in  Colossians, and as the writer of Hebrews sets as the focus of his book, the Law is a shadow, and Christ is the real thing.  Thus the Law is to point us to Christ, and in Christ finds its fulfillment.

The Sabbath is part of the law, and is fulfilled in Christ.  The point of the Sabbath, from what we see in Genesis 2 is that God rested on that day.  Thus, as God rested on the Sabbath, God set apart a day for the rest of the Israelites.  But why set apart a day of rest, and then set that as part of the Ten Commandments?  It would be one thing if this was included in the Law as given in Leviticus or Deuteronomy, but the Ten Commandments stand apart as what the rest of the Law will explain and expound upon.  To put the Sabbath as one of the commandments thus makes it stand out all the more, especially when you consider the context of the rest of the commandments.

The first commandment sets up God as the only God, the second says that God is not like anything on earth, and thus no image can reflect him so as to be an object of worship.  The third commandment admonishes us to remember the holiness of the name of God, and says that his name is uniquely sacred.  The fourth command says that we must remember the Sabbath, and keep it, for God himself set up the Sabbath.  The fifth to tenth commandments then instruct us on how our lives with our fellow man should be lived.

So, the fourth commandment is placed along with the rest of the commandments teaching us about our relationship with God.  Thus, I think the Sabbath is pointing to something more than just our need for a day of rest.  The fourth command is reminding us that God has rested from his work, and that we are called to rest, looking forward to the fact that one day we will be at rest with God.

For the Christian, the Sabbath becomes something more than it ever was in the past.  The Sabbath is our relationship with Christ, our rest from our works as we are objects of the New Creation.  As God rested when he finished the first creation, so we now are at rest in him as part of a New Creation completed in Christ.

Yet, here the great "already-not-yet" shows up once again.  Already, we are at rest, we are complete, we are perfect in Christ.  Yet, not yet do we see this completion, not  yet do we enjoy the rest we have.  Still we strive, living for the day we will be made perfect.

The Christian does not set aside the Sabbath, the Christian lives in the Sabbath.  Can we set aside a day to recognize that fact and rest on that day?  Absolutely.  Will setting aside that day result in our salvation?  No, for only Christ can save us, and only his blood atones for our sins.

If this doesn't convince you, so be it.  You be fully convinced in your mind about what the Sabbath means, and you live that out before God.  It is before God you will stand, not before me, and you must do what you are convinced in honoring to God.  This attitude doesn't mean to sin and appease the flesh, but to live under the graceful conviction of the Spirit, being guided and growing to full maturity in Christ.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Genealogy of Jesus

My father and my wife both do genealogy.  I find it interesting to hear about the various people I'm related to and to learn who I'm descended from in my family tree, but overall, as much as I love history, I don't really get terribly involved in genealogy.  Yet one thing remains true in my family tree, from the work both my wife and my father have done: every one of my ancestors has only and exactly two parents.  Now, this doesn't mean that I don't have polygamists, divorces, widows, or adoptions in my family tree, I certainly do.  Genetically though, all of my ancestors have only two parents, even if we aren't sure who those parents are.

I bring this up because when you look at the genealogy of Jesus, unless there is something seriously missing within the text, you would almost have to wonder how many parents Jesus had and how many parents each of those listed in the genealogies would have had.  For instance, Luke 3, in telling the story of Jesus ancestry, lists a different father for Joseph than Matthew 1 lists.  From Jesus' grandfather through several generations the lines are different, until we reach Zerubbabel and Shealtiel, then they differ again until we get to David, where they are the same until Abraham.  So, unless Jesus had two fathers named Joseph we run into a bit of a genealogical snag when we look at Matthew 1 and Luke 3.

However, what this presents is an opportunity to do further research.  One thing I have learned through talking with both my father and my wife is that we often find some tangles in our genealogy.  It isn't uncommon to find that one person who thought was the son of another person really wasn't related to him at all.  And sometimes you find that what appears to be conflicting information in the genealogy is really just a miscommunication or an error that crept in due to a lack of records.

In the case of Jesus' genealogy we have the records.  Both Matthew and Luke provide a record of the family line.  So, how do we reconcile the differences?

There are multiple theories offered to resolve the conflict, but before I get to the theories I want to pause to point out the wisdom of the past.  What I mean is that we aren't the first generation to read the bible.  In fact the bible wasn't originally written in English.  People have been reading the bible for thousands of years.  And, thousands of years ago, believe it or not, people were having children, and they understood how children came to be and that a child could only have one father and one mother.

My point is: the people who originally put the bible together, the church fathers, knew about the differences between Matthew and Luke.  The differences didn't bother them.  There was no great conspiracy to clean up the genealogies.  And from all the records we have, the differences in genealogy didn't seem to be a major problem for them in taking the bible to be true and accurate.

This alone does not resolve the problem, but it does council us not to think that the problem cannot be answered.  Even if we are not happy with the answers we currently have, we have reason to believe that those who originally handed the manuscripts down understood the differences and understood how the passages were reconciled.  It is possible that it was something that was so widely understood that there was never any thought given to needing to explain it.  Certainly the early opponents of Christianity could have made a big deal about the genealogies, and yet it doesn't appear that this was ever a problem in the earlier history of the church.

So, how do we explain it?  If it was something that the early church found easy to explain, shouldn't we understand that today?

Okay, there are two competing theories that I think are the best explanations for what we have going on in Matthew and Luke.  First, there is the levirate marriage possibility.  In this case the explanation issued is the Matthew is giving the physical ancestry of Jesus and Luke is giving the legal ancestry of Jesus.  This would have occurred because Joseph was the legal son of Heli but the physical son of Jacob.  It gets somewhat complicated to explain as we don't use the levirate method of marriage today (siblings across America are sighing with relief that they don't have to marry the siblings of their spouses), but, it is an actual possible explanation of the text and would have been a common enough practice in Jesus' time that people would have understood it without confusion.

The second possibility is that Matthew is tracing Jesus lineage through Joseph, but Luke is tracing his genealogy through Mary.  Now, the difficulty in this explanation is that the text does not say, "Jesus, son of Mary, daughter of..."  Yet, at the same time Luke does say, "Jesus, the son of Joseph, it was thought..."  Some scholars take this as a hint that Luke is giving the actual genealogy of Jesus through Mary because he wasn't really the son of Joseph biologically.

To add weight to this view we can also note that in Jesus time it was not uncommon for a son-in-law to simply be called a son.  This would be especially true in the case where a man had no sons of his own, so his son-in-law would be his legal heir, or in the case where a son-in-law lived under the roof of his father-in-law.  Either could be the case with Joseph and Eli.

In addition, the use of Joseph could be because it was improper to give the genealogy of the mother when noting ancestry.  Yet, as Mary was now under Joseph, Luke chose to give her ancestry as a more accurate account of Jesus' origin, and so listed Jesus as son of Joseph and Joseph as son of Eli because this would have been an accurate description of Joseph's relation because of his marriage to Mary.  Culturally it would have been very odd to give the genealogy of a woman, but that wouldn't be the only thing odd about the life of Christ.

Remember, the bible had a very high view of women, more so than the surrounding culture during the time it was written.  The bible had the women as the first witnesses of Christ's resurrection, which testimony would have been invalid in courts of the day.  The bible noted that there were wealthy women who supports Jesus' ministry.  The bible also records the names of women in the genealogy of Jesus.

There are other arguments for why Matthew and Luke may be different, but I think these two are the strongest contenders when you examine the evidence.  At the end of the day we cannot give an absolute answer, but we can be confident that the question is not without an answer.  Yes, believing that this conflict can be resolved takes faith, but if you want to argue about something as minor as Jesus' genealogy lets argue about something that requires real faith: the idea that a man died and rose again from the dead, and that this man was God incarnate, and that sinners are redeemed through his blood.

Is there a reasonable answer as to the differences between Matthew's and Luke's genealogies?  Yes, there are in fact at least a couple of reasonable answers.  Can I tell you, with certainty, which of those answers is the right answer?  No, I can't.  But, still we can hold that the bible is absolutely true in all it says, and this question is not the death knell of Christianity.