Tuesday, December 8, 2009

NT Pod 19: Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem?

Episode 19 of the NT Pod asks "Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem?"

It is a little over ten minutes long. Feel free to leave your comments below.

NT Pod Episode 19: Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem? (mp3)

Programme Notes (NT Blog)

Key texts: Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 2:1-20; John 7:40-43; Micah 5:2

Thanks to Ram2000, Me and You, for the opening theme, released under a Creative Commons agreement.


  1. Mark, thanks for a well constructed and very educational summary. I've responded in some detail on my blog to why, in the end, I come down on the other side of the fence, but I'm recommending this post to my preaching students.

  2. With the grain, against the grain - interesting. Is this the idea too that things that seem embarrassing or counter-intuitive will be more likely to be true?

  3. Mark with all due respect you have just called God a liar, as it is God who stands behind the text. And i'm sure at one stage in the past pod cast you have spoken of how Luke had spoken to Marry, which interestingly enough would have been about where she gave birth to Christ. I am struggling to see a logical argument. Keep up the thought provoking work. But please re frame from calling God a liar. Hope you have a Merry Christmas.

  4. Thanks, Doug. Yes, Crystal.

    Andrew, the podcast takes an historical approach to the text which means that one approaches the text as an historian. I think it shows respect to the text to treat it seriously rather than to give it a kind of exempt status. I don't recall having said that "Luke had spoken to Marry".

  5. My apologise with regard to "Luke spoke to Marry" comment, I had assumed that I had heard it from your pod cast, I must have read it or heard it else where.
    I know that you were taking a historical approach, the problem with it is that its not a neutral way of studying the scriptures as peoples underlying presuppositions will still come to the for front.
    The reason I take issue with your findings is because I think that we can take a historical approach which finds the scriptures to be true. Also if your findings are right then the Jews were right have Jesus crucified by the Romans as Jesus was not the Christ.

  6. Another fine podcast, Mark. It is really quite wonderful how you are able to summarize the scholarly debate in about 10 short minutes. As someone who has done academic study of the Bible and is now in parish ministry I enjoy these concise refreshers. You always leave me wanting more!

    Father Dan

  7. Thanks, Father Dan. I hope to have another one along soon.

  8. Very nice Mark. I share your skepsis concerning Jesus' alleged birth in Bethlehem. If he wasn't born in Bethlehem must we assume he was born in Nazareth? I have my doubts. Doesn't Luke mention the sect of the Nazarenes in Acts 24:5? Don't Epiphanius and Jerome discuss precisely such a sect of the Nazarenes? I can almost imagine an early Gospel source (or Mark if you don't believe in a pre-synoptic Gospel) linking Jesus with Nazareth precisely because early Christians were called Nazarenes (after all, the Micah text had not yet been applied to Jesus). Alternatively, could it be that early Christians were called Nazarenes because it was believed that Jesus was from Nazareth? I think I prefer the former, but my thoughts are dominated by doubt. Perhaps you can take my doubts away and give me a convincing argument for Jesus' birth in Nazareth. :)

    Anway, thanks again for a great pod!

    Richard James Godijn

  9. Great podcast! Love your book, The Case Against Q, too. I would like to add one thought if I may.

    I think John 7:40-43 needs to be seen in its context before it can be used to indicate whether or not John knew and or denied the tradition placing Jesus birth in Bethlehem. The issue in John 7:40-43 and then extending on until verse 52 is whether or not Jesus can be someone great (the Son of David and or (the) prophet) since he comes from Galilee. While on the surface the charachters in the story suggest or aruge that he can't, John ironically indicates the opposite through an allusion to Isaiah 9:1-7. Galilee is only mentioned a few times in the Hebrew scriptures. One of which is this passage. Isaiah 9:1-7 prophecies that a light will dawn in the dark land of Galilee - a son will be given to sit on David's throne. It's interesting to note that the next verse after John 7:52 has Jesus proclaiming Himself the light of the world (8:12), John 7:53-8:11 being a later addition. Thus John 7:40-43 and its context is a subtle criticism of the crowd's lack of knowledge and not an endorsement of their denial.

  10. Thanks, logosmadeflesh, for the encouragement and also for the helpful comments.

  11. You mentioned the reference in Romans to Jesus being "of the seed of David." You might also consider the comment in Hebrews 7:14: "It is evident that our Lord is descended from Judah." I don't personally believe that Luke was familiar with Matthew. And if I'm right about that then we can say that there are at least three independent witnesses to Jesus being born in Judah (Mt, Lk, Heb), four if we count Romans and five if we count John.

  12. Thanks, Michael. Good points, but hope that one day I can persuade you about Luke's familiarity with Matthew.

  13. I think I follow you. Matthew's presentation of the birth narrative is just a little too neat of a Christmas package to be historical.

    I do wonder, however, what you would have Matthew do if the Bethlehem account is historical? Would he not present his material in a similar fashion? If so how do we tell the difference?

    Your conclusion s based on an assumption that cannot be proven either way