Christmas and Genesis
First published: 25 December 2007 (GMT+10)
Re-featured on homepage: 25 December 2011 (GMT+10)
We at CMI wish all our readers and supporters a safe and blessed Christmas and New Year festive season. But what does CMI have to do with Christmas? How does Genesis relate to a birthday?
The whole point is that the One whose birth is celebrated at Christmas was none other than the One who brought the whole universe into existence! Our Creator took on the nature of one of His creatures, a helpless infant. Think about the movie producers Alfred Hitchcock and M. Night Shyamalan: in their movies, they would make an entrance in the movies they created.
But Christmas is no movie: it happened in history: God, the Creator, became flesh, the Incarnation. World leader in sickle cell anemia research, Dr Felix Konotey-Ahulu (left), in an interview in Creation magazine, pointed out the significance:
‘The baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas is the Creator of the world! See John 1:1–5, especially v. 3: “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” The world, you see, is no cosmic accident. This world was created by the Triune God, and through this Lord Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem.’
Right back in the early days of the Christian Church, Melito, Bishop of Sardis, gave an amazing Passover sermon in AD ~170 that expresses that astounding event (see below).
Melito’s Passover Sermon (see main text)
And so he was lifted up upon a tree and an inscription was attached indicating who was being killed. Who was it? It is a grievous thing to tell, but a most fearful thing to refrain from telling. But listen, as you tremble before him on whose account the earth trembled!
He who hung the earth in place is hanged.
He who fixed the heavens in place is fixed in place.
He who made all things fast is made fast on a tree.
The Sovereign is insulted.
God is murdered.
The King of Israel is destroyed by an Israelite hand.
This is the One who made the heavens and the earth,
and formed mankind in the beginning,
The One proclaimed by the Law and the Prophets,
The One enfleshed in a virgin,
The One hanged on a tree,
The One buried in the earth,
The One raised from the dead and who went up into the heights of heaven,
The One sitting at the right hand of the Father,
The One having all authority to judge and save,
Through Whom the Father made the things which exist from the beginning of time.
This One is ‘the Alpha and the Omega’,
This One is ‘the beginning and the end’
The beginning indescribable and the end incomprehensible.
This One is the Christ.
This One is the King.
This One is Jesus.
This One is the Leader.
This One is the Lord.
This One is the One who rose from the dead.
This One is the One sitting on the right hand of the Father.
He bears the Father and is borne by the Father.
‘To him be the glory and the power forever. Amen.’
Jesus: the pre-existent one; the Word
At Christmas, churches often read the early chapters of the Gospels. It is the Gospel of John which goes back the furthest. While Matthew and Luke tell us about the conception and birth of the One, John 1 goes back way further to before He was conceived. In fact, it reaches back even further than Genesis, as shown above. Genesis 1 is the account of the creation of the space-time universe, but John 1 tells us that Jesus and the Father existed before creation, before time, in eternity past. Indeed, as above, Genesis 1:1 really takes over at John 1:3.
John calls Jesus the ‘Word’, or in Greek, the logos. Why? This comes from the Jewish concept of the memra. This teaching can be found in the Targums, Aramaic paraphrases of the Old Testament.1 Where the Old Testament says something is done by God, the Targums often said it was done by the memra of God. The Rabbis never tried to explain the paradox, because the OT also sometimes describes several personages simultaneously as the LORD (YHWH) who is one (e.g. Genesis 19:24, Isaiah 48:16). They taught six things about this memra, and John 1 identifies Jesus of Nazareth as the embodiment of all aspects of the memra:2
Sometimes with God, sometimes the same as God
In the beginning, was the word, the word was with God (John 1:1).
Agent of creation
All things were made by or through him, and without him was not anything made that had been made (John 1:3)
Agent of salvation
But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name. (John 1:12)
Agent of revelation
No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:18)
Means by which God became visible (called a theophany)
And the word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)
Means by which He made His covenants
The Law was given by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. (John 1:17).
CMI is not claiming that Jesus was born on 25 December. Fact is, we don’t know which day He arrived. But a common argument against 25 December is that shepherds would not have been watching their flocks by night in December because it would be too cold. But those who make that claim clearly have never been to Bethlehem. Just because shepherds in Europe and North America are indoors in December, it doesn’t follow that shepherds in Bethlehem are also indoors. They are indeed to be found watching their flocks by night.2 Indeed, it’s a very good time, because the heavy winter rains make the grass especially lush.
The proto-Gospel of Genesis 3:15: God would come as a seed of a woman
After Adam and Eve fell into sin, God pronounced judgment on them. But along with judgment, God provided an escape. He made this intriguing promise to Eve in Genesis 3:15 (addressing the serpent):
‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’
Many have interpreted the seed in this verse as the Messiah, including the Jewish Targums, hence the Talmudic expression ‘heels of the Messiah’.3 This verse hints at the Virginal Conception prophesied in Isaiah 7:14, as the Messiah is called the seed of the woman, contrary to the normal biblical practice of referring to the father rather than the mother of a child (cf. Genesis chapters 5 and 11, 1 Chr. chapters 1–9). The early church called this passage the Protevangelion, the first mention of the Gospel in the Bible.
But there was a very interesting sequel. When Eve bore Cain, she said something so apparently out of the ordinary that many Bible translators can’t believe she said it. The Hebrew literally says, ‘I have gotten a man: the LORD (YHWH)’, or ‘I have received a man, namely Jehovah’, as Martin Luther put it.4 The Hebrew Christian scholar Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum believes that Eve’s actual statement shows that she understood that the seed would be both God and man, but she was grossly mistaken in believing that Cain was the seed in question.5,6 Rather, the seed of the woman would be born about 4000 years later, to the virgin Mary in Bethlehem. I.e. Eve’s theology was accurate; it was only her application that was faulty. See below for Fruchtenbaum’s support for this.
Fruchtenbaum supports the interpretation referred to in the main text (that Eve believed she was giving birth to the promised divine seed) by pointing out that the word YHWH is preceded by the untranslated accusative particle את (et), which marks the object of the verb, in this case ‘gotten’.7 Genesis 4:1 reads, ‘And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man: the LORD (YHWH/Yahweh/Jehovah).’ Compare the last few words of this, and the Hebrew, with the account of Abel’s birth in the next verse:
‘… and said, I have gotten a man: YHWH’
וַתּאמֶר קָנִיתִי אִישׁ אֶת־יהוה׃
‘And she again bare his brother: Abel.’
וַתּסֶף לָלֶדֶת אֶת־אָחִיו אֶת־הָבֶל
There is no doubt that brother and Abel are one and the same. But the same exact Hebrew construction implies that likewise, man and the LORD were one and the same.
The Midrash Rabbah also cites Rabbi Akiba, admitting that the Hebrew construction would seem to imply that Eve thought she was begetting YHWH, which created interpretive difficulties for them, so the translation ‘with the help of the Lord’ is required8—as the NASB also renders it.
The Jerusalem Targum reads: ‘I have gotten a man: the angel of Jehovah’, while the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan says: I have gotten for a man the angel of Jehovah’.9 The Targums often substituted ‘Angel of God’ or ‘Word of God’ for ‘God’.
Why did Jesus have to be born? The Genesis connection
In chapter 3 of his Gospel, Luke traces Jesus’ human lineage from Mary all the way back up to Adam. There is not the slightest hint of a break showing where historical characters end and mythical figures begin—all are treated as equally historical; none are mythical. This includes Adam himself, who was created directly by God, not through a long line of ape-like ancestors or pond scum (Luke 3:38).
So why is it so important that Jesus, the ‘last Adam’ is a descendant of a real first man, Adam (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:45)? This common descent from a real Adam is also vital for the Atonement. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah as literally the ‘Kinsman-Redeemer’, i.e. one who is related by blood to those he redeems (Isaiah 59:20, which uses the same Hebrew word גואל (gôēl) as is used to describe Boaz in relation to Naomi in Ruth 2:20, 3:1–4:17). The book of Hebrews also explains how Jesus took upon Himself the nature of a man to save mankind, but not angels (Hebrews 2:11–18). So only Adam’s descendants can be saved, because only thus can they be related by blood to the Last Adam.
So if anyone thinks that Genesis history doesn’t matter, then ask how they should preach to the Australian Aborigines. If they have really been here for 40,000 years (according to carbon-14 dating that old-earthers accept), then how could they come from Adam, and how could they be related to Christ, so how can they be saved? Indeed, a compromising clergyman of Darwin’s day, Charles Kingsley, claimed that Aborigines had not evolved enough to preach the gospel to them!
Every Christmas season, we see assorted misotheists offended by nativity scenes and demanding their removal. Ironically, when it comes to pornography, many of these same misotheists tell objectors, ‘just look the other way’ or ‘change the channel’. And instead of our Christmas greeting at the top, some (with tongue firmly in cheek) advised us to send the following:
It is notable that some are rebelling against this politically correct nonsense. Even the usually anti-Christian BBC reported in British MP Says Christianity Crucial to UK Sikh Official Agrees:
‘MP Mark Pritchard has warned the government not to ‘surrender’ the UK’s Christian heritage and Community cohesion minister Parmjit Dhanda, a Sikh, agrees.
‘Dhanda, claiming the government admires the work of faith-based groups said:
“I fully recognize the full historical and cultural significance [of Christianity] in our country. We should all be aware of that and celebrate that. The Christian tradition has had a significant impact on the way these freedoms have been shaped.”
‘According to a BBC report, during a current debate, Pritchard said most Christians in the U.K. feel like they are not getting a fair hearing, adding that it was ‘time for the dragon of political correctness to be slain.’
An interesting sequel to this was none other than Clinton Richard Dawkins, one of the most vitriolic misotheists of our time, claiming that he was a Cultural Christian :
‘He told the BBC’s “Have Your Say” that he did not want to “purge” the UK of its Christian heritage. …
Prof Dawkins, who has frequently spoken out against creationism and religious fundamentalism, replied:
“I’m not one of those who wants to stop Christian traditions. This is historically a Christian country. I’m a cultural Christian in the same way many of my friends call themselves cultural Jews or cultural Muslims.
“So, yes, I like singing carols along with everybody else. I’m not one of those who wants to purge our society of our Christian history.
“If there’s any threat these sorts of things, I think you will find it comes from rival religions and not from atheists.”’
But as shown above, it really is often atheists who want to expunge all traces of Christianity from society. Also, the Daily Telegraph reported in School nativity plays under threat:
Terence Copley, Professor of Educational Studies at Oxford University, said the idea that the nativity could offend other faiths was ‘crazy’.
‘I have never met a single Jew, Muslim, Sikh or Buddhist who has objected to the commemoration and celebration of the birth of Jesus,’ he said. ‘In Islam, he is a prophet and his birth is described in the Koran. It is not other religions that are pushing for this at all.
‘If we avoid Christmas we are pandering to a secular minority and allowing the event to become all about commercialism, presents and self-indulgence.
‘There’s nothing wrong with a bit of self-indulgence but if we don’t teach about Christmas and deal with it confidently, not just in RE, we are failing in our duty as educators.’
Furthermore, atheists are the ones at the forefront of opposition whose birth we celebrate.
- Aramaic paraphrases of the OT originating in the last few centuries BC, and committed to writing about AD 500. See F.F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments, p. 133, Fleming H. Revell Co., Westwood, Revelation Ed. 1963. Return to Text.
- Fruchtenbaum, A., The life of Christ from a Jewish Perspective, (audio) Ariel Ministries, 22 July 2003. Return to Text.
- Fruchtenbaum, A.G., Apologia 2(3):54–58, 1993. Return to Text.
- Luther, cited in: Hamilton, V.P., The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17, in: Harrison, R.K., Genesis Ed., New International Commentary on the Old Testament, p. 221, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, p. 221, 1990. Return to Text.
- See Sarfati, J., The Virginal Conception of Christ, Apologia 3(2):4–11, 1994.Return to Text.
- See also Kaiser, Walter, Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology, p. 37, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1978. Return to Text.
- Fruchtenbaum, A.G., Messianic Christology, pp. 15–16, Ariel Ministries, Tustin, CA, USA, 1998. Return to Text.
- Cited in Fruchtenbaum, Ref. 7, p. 15. Return to Text.
- Cited in Fruchtenbaum, Ref. 7, p. 16. Return to Text.