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Posts Tagged ‘John’

By Jay Rogers, from The Apologetics Group

The usual answer to this question is that it was adjusted, like many Church feast days, to coincide with the pagan feast days, this one being the winter solstice. This is a convenient explanation, but the exact date of December 25th is for another reason entirely. It was proposed by several of the church fathers beginning in the second century, far too early for the “pagan copycat” thesis to be valid. To explain how the church fathers arrived at this date, we need to examine first the date of John the Baptist’s conception as told in Luke.

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah (Luke 1:5).

According to 1 Chronicles 24:7-19, King David had divided the priests into 24 divisions who took turns serving in the Temple. During their service they lived in the Temple and were separated from their wives and children. Each order served for a period of eight days twice a year. The priests of the course of Abijah served during the 10th and 24th weeks of the Jewish year. Luke goes on to recount how the angel Gabriel appeared to Zecharias while he was serving in the Temple.

So it was that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:8-15).

Note here that “the whole multitude of the people” (i.e., the whole nation of Israel) was present outside the Temple. Some have attempted to reconstruct the weeks of service according to Josephus’ account in Antiquities 7:14:7, which relates that the first division, the division of Jehoiarib, was on duty when Jerusalem was destroyed on August 5, AD 70. Using this date as an anchor, the eighth division of Abijah would serve two times in the year, one of them being in late September. However, it is uncertain if these allotments began on exactly the same day of the year, since there would be four extra weeks to account for at the end of the year. But there were only two times in the year when the “whole multitude of the people” of Israel was required to be in Jerusalem worshiping at the Temple. These were the fall and spring feast days. John’s vision apparently occurred on one of the high feast days, the church fathers thought it was the Day of Atonement, and then John returned to his home immediately after that.

So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived (Luke 1:23, 24).

Since “the hill country of Judea,” where Elizabeth lived according to Luke 1:39;65, is no more than a day’s journey from Jerusalem, the conception of John the Baptist must have occurred soon after that. Several of the Church fathers noticed this correspondence and made the inference that John must have been conceived shortly after the Day of Atonement, which usually falls in September. In fact, the church father John Chrysostom thought that Zecharias was actually the Jewish High Priest because he was in the Holy Place on the Day of Atonement, which in 6 BC fell on September 22nd. So September 24th was calculated as the date of John’s conception. The birth of John occurred exactly nine months later on June 24th. Since Jesus was conceived six months after John, various dates around this time, December 25th, January 2nd and 6th were given by various church fathers and each of these have been celebrated as the Nativity of Jesus. In fact, the Eastern Orthodox Church has always used January 6th as the date of Christmas.

If John was conceived during one of the spring feasts — Passover or Pentecost, which were the other two times in the year when the “whole multitude of the people” of Israel was required to be in Jerusalem — then we would have winter birth for John and a summer birth for Jesus.

Notwithstanding, the Day of Atonement fits well as an anchor date because it points to a winter birthday for Christ. Josephus notes that Herod died shortly before the Passover in 4 BC, which began on April 11th of that year. This gives several months for the events surrounding the Nativity and fits the narrative accounts of both Matthew and Luke.

We should not be dogmatic about the exact day. However, we can use December 25th as the anchor date. This date helps explain several events recorded in the nativity accounts and is important for establishing a timeline that supports the historicity of the Gospels.

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JOHN 1:9-13

9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

There is an english saying, ‘call a spade, spade’ – I don’t recall if I have this in the Filipino vernacular but there are variations with the same thought. Simply put, it means that we should avoid euphemism, be straightforward, use blunt or plain language (i).  Consequently, ‘if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, swims like a duck, quack like a duck, then it must be a duck.’

Today, I went to visit my weblog; I opened the WordPress home page and typed Ralph Venning on the search box. I have a posted one of his quotes, clicked on my article and as soon as I was directed to my own post via this method, I saw that article titles were automatically generated at the bottom of the post. I blogged before cautioning everyone who might chance upon these links to be discerning and reject what is error-ridden. Then there is an article entitled “John MacArthur’s heresy on Predestination”. I proceeded to follow the link in order to get to the article (to view the full article, please click this link: http://onetruegod.wordpress.com/2008/08/28/john-macarthurs-heresy-on-predestination/) and after reading the post, I just sighed with dismay as the article began with this sentence, and I quote, “Pastor John MacArthur is a dangerous man, because he subtly has introduced many damnable heresies into the church—none more hideous than his denial of the redeeming power of the literal physical blood of Jesus Christ.” Then 2 sentences later, he wrote, “And to no surprise, as a Calvinist, MacArthur teaches that a lost sinner cannot be saved unless God first chooses him or her.”

Before I proceed, I must admit that such serious accusations exist on both camps – Calvinists and Arminians – and I pray that Christians from both sides of this theological divide would be more careful in pronouncing whether one is a heretic or not. It is good to question one’s stance on a doctrine but to call one as a heretic simply because he does not concur with another’s perception of what he thinks the Scripture says lacks the necessary care the Scripture itself demands.  Now, before I forget all together, I just want to be clear that someone is considered heretic if his doctrine does not conform, at the very least, to the essentials of Christianity. And one essential of the faith is that God saves by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. Whether one is a calvinist or arminian or an amyraldian, salvation by grace through faith in the biblical Jesus Christ is still the means with fruit that bears witness to the reality of that faith. James’ epistle to the church is clear about that, even Paul, when we read Ephesians 2:8-10 fully (yes, verse 10, which begins with ‘for’, cannot be divorced from verses 8-9).

Concerning  the article in focus, the original writer, David J. Stewart, responded to John MacArthur’s explanation of Acts 13:48 by firstly using John 1:12. It is from this context that I find it necessary to refresh myself on John 1:12 (and hopefully you, the reader of this blog) and see what the verse is really saying.

I took verses 9-12 because it forms a more coherent understanding of verse 12. Let us observe the following points:

  • (v.9) Referred to as the Word originally introduced in verse 1 and following, Jesus Christ is the One who brings the light of truth into a person originally in darkness. Everyone who has that light of truth did not receive it from anyone, nor can in himself generate that truth. Rather, Jesus is the sole source and giver of truth (light) and was announced to be coming into the world.
  • (v.10) Jesus came into the world that He has made, through His incarnation (taking human form through the virgin birth) but no one received Him for who He truly is – God who created all things.
  • (v.11) Jesus came to the nation of Israel who should have expected Him as they are the custodian of the oracles of God through the Law and the Prophets wherein His arrival have been announced in various ways over many centuries. But they, as a nation, did not welcome Him as they should have – the Messiah of the Lord. We can infer at this point, that their very rejection is the evidence proving that people born into the world are born with the darkness of the soul brought by the fall (from verse 9).
  • (v.12) Now there were some who received Him, as who He truly is – God and Messiah, and to these particular people, Jesus gave the ‘exousian’ (ESV uses ‘right’, KJV uses ‘power’) to become children of God. Dominion is also another meaning of exousian.
  • (v. 13) continued from verse 12, points to the supernatural means how one can have the ability to receive Jesus and obtain the right/power to become a child of God.

Now, David J. Steward pronounced that John MacArthur is wrong (and heretic) by teaching among other things that it is God who must choose first before one can choose to believe in Jesus Christ. Although there are numerous verses and pericopes that will support the fact of God’s predestinating work prior human response, let us be fair and contend with him by the particular verse he used – John 1:12.

Indeed if I look at verse 12, apart from the surrounding verses, I will have to arrive at the same conclusion that the right of becoming a child of God depended on my receiving and believing Jesus Christ. As most Arminians would argue, it’s the plain reading of the text. However, the verse is not the sole text of the chapter and context is primary in interpreting the text – this is where Arminians and Calvinists agree, theoretically. Actual application is, at times, found wanting.

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Notice however that verse 12 and 13 form a complete sentence. Here we observe the following:

  • The first half of the sentence (v.12) tell us that all who did receive and believed in Jesus – to these were given the right/power to become children.
  • The second half of the sentence (v.13) tells us something about those who did receive and believed in Jesus, and were given the right/power to become children – that they were not born (by the will) of man but born (by the will) of God.

Adding the second half of the sentence changes the perspective. You might say I am putting something into the verse to change that perspective. But that can also be said to those who would say that the person must choose first before they are saved (as the writer of the article said). His statement is, honestly speaking, a bit tricky and I will explain why hereunder with hopes that you can follow me.

  • For sure God requires, in fact He commands, a person to repent and believe in Jesus as a part of the process of salvation. Peter preached to the Jews and said that they have to repent and believe the Lord Jesus Christ in Acts 2 (also in Paul’s preaching in Acts 17).
  • If I were to be more meticulous about human actions concerning salvation, the chronology of the action verbs (received-believed) is illogical for both arminians and calvinist, because both groups demand that a person believes first then receives. The Greek sentence (verse 12) is odoi de elabon auton edoken autous exousian tekna theou genesthai tois pisteouosin eis to onoma auton oi [word for word: but as many as received him he gave to them the authority children of God to be, to those that believe on name his (i)]
  • Having said this, the second part of the sentence (v. 13) must contribute to the meaning and even the grammatical structure of the first half (v.12). This reveals that a person (who received and believed) is born of God not by man. This has nothing to do with physical birth. This must be spiritual in nature – that man cannot give birth to himself spiritually only God can.
  • But verse 12 is grammatically not an explicit command to the person to repent and believe – to think so is to import thoughts from other parts of the Scriptures and impose those thoughts into the verse. May I propose then that the verse can be rightly perceived as a statement of being – something that one already has ( the right given by Jesus) and the ensuing proof thereof (having received and believed in Him).
  • Now if man is by nature spiritually dead, how in the world can he trust Jesus without a prior spiritual work of God first happening – in this case, spiritual re-birth (born of God)? Unless this question is properly answered theologically by the Arminian, I certainly will argue for and in behalf of the Calvinist who says that God must choose the sinner first and give him spiritual birth before he can choose Jesus Christ. Further why would one spiritually dead person choose Jesus and another spiritual dead person does not – what does the first one have that the second one does not have?
  • The arminian will always say believe and then you will be born again while the calvinist will say that God will cause the new birth (born again) to happen first before a person believes.
  • In fact if I will simply get into the flow of thought of verses 9 to 13, it will naturally flow towards the fact that God must work His power in a spiritually dead man first to bring him to spiritual re-birth before this man will trust the Lord Jesus Christ.

David J. Stewart did not do his refutation by solely using the same verse that John MacArthur used (Acts 13:48). To prove Mr. MacArthur wrong, Mr. Steward should be able to exegete Acts 13:48 properly in order to argue against Mr. MacArthur’s position. Instead, Mr. Stewart imported John 1:12 which, in truth, is quite devastating to his arminian position.

When Mr. Stewart attempted to exegete Acts 13:48, he has made some serious errors through questions like: Do you think that God chooses evil men to kill the innocent? [He was refering to Hitler’s killing of the Jews based on his understanding of the word “ordained” used in both Acts 13:48 (tetagmenoi) and Romans 13:1 (tetagmenai)]? First error is he assumed that the Greek word used in both verses assumes that God cannot use evil men to accomplish His purpose. Second, he assumed that all Jews were innocent. Innocence does not mean sinlessness. Jesus was killed by evil men – a will of God to fulfill His glorious purpose, that is redemption. Through the hands of evil men was the Innocent One murdered on the cross. Much of Mr. Stewart’s arguments are weak at best, and lack understanding of the biblically revealed human condition at worst. I recommend one reads his article (linked above) with solid biblical backing in order to discern whether Mr. Stewart is right or wrong in his analogies and conclusions.

All of the above then would help me arrive in concluding that David J. Stewart is incorrect and John MacArthur has done his homework well albeit originally using a different verse. I would also conclude that Mr. Stewart is not careful in his exegesis of the John 1:12. And more importantly, I would conclude that Mr. Stewart did not exercise utmost caution and restraint before pronouncing that John MacArthur has been heretical in his views on predestination. Worse still, I believe Mr. Stewart has slandered Mr. MacArthur and needs to repent publicly as he publicly slandered Mr. MacArthur. And if I have insinuated or even remotely hinted that Mr. Steward is a slanderer, then yes he is….Just calling a spade, spade!

 

(i) World Wide Words: Spade; Michael Quinion writes on  international English words from a British viewpoint

(ii) Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, based on the Majority Text, by George Ricker Berry

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