People say that gift giving at Christmastime has no Biblical basis other than God’s gift of His son Jesus Christ. Consequently, there has been a sustained push from many Christian groups to reduce the importance of gift giving by elevating the message of Jesus’ birth instead. Some even go so far as to deny gift giving altogether as worldly and superfluous.
But with the help of astronomy and the book of Matthew, a very interesting lesson can be found. But first, we need to understand a few truths about the Bibles we read and love. First, we all need to understand that the Bible was not originally written in English. Even though, there are many people that truly believe that the King James Bible is the original Word of God, the truth is, the writers of the original letters wrote in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. English is a recent language derived from German roots. The Germanic language in Jesus’ time was spoken by Northern Barbarians separated from the Roman Empire by the Alps. The original, true, Word of God, is an Eastern collection of books and letters written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Latin and English are both later translations. Latin being authorized by the church and English being done by Protestants. Martin Luther translated the Bible into German against the wishes of the established church. So this is the truth about Bible translations, the next thing we need to consider are Bible versions.
Today, there are thousands of Bible versions. A version of the Bible is a difference in grammar or rhetoric that “updates and removes” archaic language. Versions are attempts to make the Bible accessible to more people, these may or may not attempt to retain the original intent and meanings of the message. Such versions may even skew the message to reflect an acceptable agenda. There is a Bible that is gayer, one that is more feminist, one that is directed to hippies, and many that are simplified to appeal to children. There are other versions that reflect the personal conclusions of the editors.
They include explanatory notes and lesson outlines that direct the reader to follow a progression of study that will result in a predetermined conclusion. These include the Thompson Chain Reference Bible, The Scofield Reference Bible, and more recently, Bibles from Kenneth Copeland, and Dr. David Jeremiah. The bottom line concerning versions is simply that these are all tools to help a believer understand God and all will have their own combination of strengths and faults. The true goal of all of these versions is to make God’s Word accessible. The weakness of all of these versions is to prevent the believer from learning how to study God’s Word directly to ascertain God’s original heart and intent. The believer is forced to accept the predetermined lessons from the editors because no real blueprint for self examination and self determination is given.
This author personally believes in direct and personal study of scripture. Appendix E of “Rules for Radical Christians” is the author’s list of keys to Scriptural understanding. All of these keys are known by the average Biblical scholar, but may not be known by the average believer. God’s will is for every believer to be able to understand His Word. For now however, let’s assume we all have at least a basic understanding of God’s Word. This means, God sent his son, Jesus to be born. In the book of Matthew, we can find the record of the wise men, or magi coming to see the young child in Bethlehem. This is the only place in the Bible where the wise men are mentioned. The shepherds were only mentioned in Luke. The books of Mark and John both begin with the record of John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism. So the traditional Christmas story we all know is based on a mashup of Matthew and Luke. No gifts are mentioned in the record of Luke and the shepherds so we will only consider the record in Matthew.
The entire record of the wise men are written in just twelve verses, (Matthew 2: 1 – 12). Tradition has included both the wise men and the shepherds present on Christmas day, which is the traditional birthday for Jesus. However, the shepherds found a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths in a manger of an inn’s stable. The wise men found a young child at a home with his parents. The two records cannot be the same day (or evening). There are at least five different suggested dates for Jesus birth ranging from April to December in the year and from 7 B.C.E. to 1 B.C.E. Most theologians agree that the accepted date of 25 December, 1 B.C.E. is wrong, but nobody can agree upon any other date either. Whatever you choose to believe is simply between you, God, and whatever your church chooses to teach. However, 25 December, 1 B.C.E. had an interesting star pattern in the night sky.
The first thing we need to know about dates and times in the Bible is Jewish reckoning versus Roman reckoning. Roman days begin and end at midnight. The Jewish day begins and ends at sunset of the previous day. So, December 25 for the Jews begin at sunset of December 24 for the western world. So with all this information, let’s look at Matthew 2: 8 – 10.
And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
The king was Herod in Jerusalem. When the wise men departed from Jerusalem to head to Bethlehem, they saw the star and it “went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.” The star that started their quest was ahead of them and above the place where Jesus was. Over the next few postings, we will consider what this star may be and possible candidates for this star.
Could there be a Biblical precedent for December 25 and gift giving? We have a right to ask these questions and consider any possible answer. We will look at the different candidates for the Christmas star.