Monday, December 19, 2022

Matthew, Luke but not Q on the first Christmas [Updated]

Prompted by a nifty Venn diagram I saw on Twitter, I thought about composing a Venn diagram to illustrate this post. But they turn out to be a bit time consuming to draw and to type text into, so I will stick to text only!

So, here's a thing about the canonical gospels, they are very interesting on the origin of Jesus Christ.

Mark simply introduces Jesus as a fully adult person.

Matthew begins with a genealogy (which (likely) later Luke will only partially replicate when he gives his own genealogy) and that genealogy goes all the way back to Abraham.

Luke begins with the story of the conception of John the Baptist, as a preluded to the story of the conception of Jesus. Only later, chapter 3, does his genealogy appear, and that goes all the way back to Adam.

The origin of Jesus is pushed even further back in John's Gospel, to the time before time (1:1-3). John shows no interest in telling the story of Jesus birth as an historical, personal, familial stort. Nevertheless, John shows great interest in the theology of the birth: the Word became flesh (1:14).

So, noting these major differences across the four accounts, we are left with observations about the minor differences and similarities between Matthew and Luke's accounts of the birth of Jesus.

One way to set down our observations, prompted by the Venn diagram I saw, is this:

What do Matthew, Luke and the cultural Christmas of the West have in common?

Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem

What do Matthew and the cultural Christmas of the West have in common?

Sages from the East, a guiding star, gifts.

What do Luke and the cultural Christmas of the West have in common?

Inn [not actually an inn, but a lodging, possibly with relative], stable [not actually mentioned in Luke], manger, shepherds from nearby fields, angels.

What does the cultural Christmas of the West have which Luke does not have?

Innkeeper [so, update, add here "inn" and "stable"]

What do John and the cultural Christmas of the West have in common?

Nothing. Not even the innkeeper :)

What do Matthew and Luke have in common?

Jesus, Mary as his mother who conceives him through the power of God and not through male sperm, Joseph as her husband or husband to be but is not Jesus' biological father, Bethlehem as place of birth, Nazareth as place of upbringing.

What are key differences between Matthew and Luke?


Matthew locates the birth historically in the reign of King Herod over Palestine (a province of Rome).

Luke locates the birth historically in the reign of Caesar Augustus over the whole Roman empire.

Perspective and divine communication

Matthew tells the story from Joseph's point of view, and God communicates with Joseph through dreams.

Luke tells the story from Mary's point of view, and God communicates with Mary (and other figures in the story) through angels.


 Matthew tells us that the chief act of visitation of the newborn baby is a group of Eastern sages who are guided astrologically to the birthplace. Symbolically, this group represent the world beyond the Jews, an expanded world which Jesus has come to save.

Luke tells us that the chief act of visitation of the newborn baby is a group of shepherds, from nearby, aroused from slumber and alerted to the birth by an angelic choir. Symbolically, this group represents the harmony and normality of the world Jesus enters. While Jesus will disrupt the world somewhat, essentially his coming as "Saviour, Messiah and Lord" (2:11) is not a threat to the peace of the Roman empire (and nor is the movement he inspires).


Matthew has no account of Jesus being presented in the Temple in Jerusalem as a baby, or making a pilgrimage there as a near pubescent boy.

Luke accounts for both visits (2:22-51).

Geography: resolution of a conundrum

Matthew and Luke agree on two geographical facts of Jesus' life: he is born in Bethlehem, he grows up in Nazareth. How to account for being in one place and then in another?

Matthew explains the relationship of Nazareth to Bethlehem in terms of a need to flee to Egypt, and, on return to Palestine, a need to be in a different town to Bethlehem, so Nazareth is where the Holy Family settles.

Luke explains the relationship of Nazareth to Bethlehem in terms of Nazareth as home to Joseph and Mary but a journey to Bethlehem is required by virtue of a census. There is no need to flee Herod's troops in Luke's telling so, instead of Matthew's urgent escape to Egypt, the Holy Family return in quietness to Nazareth.

Now there are many intriguing things here in this verbalised Venn diagram of overlaps and differences, and I am not going to cover them all!

One is that, when New Testament scholars talk abou a document called Q (short for Quelle, or "source"), they refer to a hypothetical document which included all the common material between Matthew and Luke which is not also found in Mark's Gospel; except, if you look up what scholars propose as the contents of Q, you will rarely, if ever, find the Lukan-Matthean common elements in the birth story of Jesus listed or cited.

There is no Christmas in Q but there ought to be.

Another intriguing element is whether Luke knew Matthew or Matthew knew Luke or each is independent of one another.

In favout of independence are the significant variations in the stories each tells. It certainly looks like, with both knowing bare facts such as Mary, Joseph, Mary a virgin, birth in Bethlehem, upbringing in Nazareth, each tells a story of the birth of Jesus and immediate and subsequent events independently of each other. One would have to favour the hypothesis of independence.

Yet, and yet ... (here only discussing the possibility of Luke knowing Matthew's Gospel), is it possible that the differences arise precisely because Luke both knows Matthew and for apologetic and theological reasons wants to tell the story differently?

Consider, for example, the "coincidence" that Matthew and Luke both have a significant visitation to the baby. Sages are different to shepherds but both turn up prompted by communication from beyond themselves. There are theological reasons (alluded to above) for one telling of sages and the other of shepherds.

Consider also the "coincidence" that both Matthew and Luke have to work hard to explain the discrepancy between Bethlehem as the place of birth and Nazareth as the place of upbringing. Matthew gets the Holy Family from Bethlehem to Nazareth both plausibly (to avoid Herodian danger that won't go away) and circuitously (via Egypt, but in accordance with prophecy). 

If Luke knows Matthew, and does not want to bother with the Herodian threats to Jesus' in his early life, then his story tackles the geographical discrepancy from a reverse perspective. Joseph and Mary are residents of Nazareth so there is a need to explain how they ended up in Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. 

So Luke tells of a census and its requirements for Joseph to register in Bethlehem - but look up any decent sized commentary on the early verses of Luke 2 and you will see considerable stretching and straining to align what Luke says (e.g. about Quirinius) with what we think we know about censuses and Syrian governors  and registration requirements around the 4 BC (+/-) time of Jesus' birth.

Does Luke know Matthew's story of the birth of Jesus and choose to tell it differently rather than independently?

Likely we will never know this side of glory!

Postscript: if Matthew and Luke are different, are they also contradictory? Obviously there is a long answer to this question which discusses each and every detail of difference and then draws a conclusion. A short answer is "not necessarily" because we could posit that Luke tells a story in Luke 2:1-40 which takes place before the sages visit (and omits any reference to the trip to Egypt which is consequential on their encounter with Herod) and Matthew 2 on the sages and the trip to Egypt, despite being the next verses after the birth at the end of Matthew 1, is a later set of events rather than something that takes place in the first weeks after the birth.


Anonymous said...

Peter, there is no inn in Luke - "kataluma" does not mean "inn" (for which Like uses an entirely different word) it means "guest room" in a private home, as Kenneth Bailey ("Poet and Peasant") showed many years ago, and Ian Paul and Stephen Carlson have amplified many times. Bethlehem was Joseph's home town and he was staying with his family. Anybody who understands Middle Eastern hospitality- let alone how families work - gets this.
You are right about Q, though - I checked the copy on my bookshelf and could find nothing about Christmas there.
In despair I checked out my Protevangelium of James - and I couldn't find an inn (or innkeeper) there either, just a cave!

So this Christmas there is no room at the inn and no room for the inn.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Father Ron said...

Perhaps, Dear Bishop Peter; this whole question of literal divergence between stories about the Incarnation and early life of Jesus should warn us all about the difference between history and myth. The whole of Scripture has to be read and understood in the spirit of mystical revelation - no less the birth and infancy narratives of Jesus, than that of the creation of the world in the Old Testament. There is only so far that historians can go in the discovery of literal truth of the events from the first to the second Testaments of the Scriptures, and scholars have spent centuries over this task - without any definitive account of the actual historicity of many of the events described therein.

What we Christian do know (or, can know, if we are truly open to it) is the Good News of divine intervention at the time of Jesus' Incarnation in the womb of Mary, his mother - an event which brought together the hopes and prophecies of 'God's Chosen People', the Jews, through whom God chose to present God's-Self as both Son of God and son of man. How the process worked is still a matter of faith, rather than scholarly insistence on Biblical inerrancy. It is almost as though God has arranged it this way, so that human scholarship alone is not sufficient to discover the TRUTH about the great Mystery of God's Salvation.
"The Spirit will lead you into ALL the TRUTH" - Jesus (an ongoing word of God in our world)

The miracles of Jesus were not subject to the parameters of scientific understanding. Nor is the Mystery of Christ confined to the natural understanding of the human mind. This is why, some people - even the best of our scientific and scholarly community - are unable to plumb the depths of 'the mind of God' - without the aid of the Holy Spirit's wisdom.
"My ways are not your ways; nor your thoughts my thoughts" - (The Lord of Hosts).

"Christus natus est. Alleluia!"

Doug said...

Sometime back in another virtual life, I remember talking about the question of a common source / tradition behind both M and L's infancy stories, which is the only viable possibility, I think, for Q-theorists. At the very least, it shows that Q / 2DH can't be a simple single sayings source. Since, in the end, I find both Farrer-Goulder-Goodacre and Matthean Posteriority have more problems than some version of (complex or chaotic) Q, I am intrigued by the question of how early some version of a virginal conception tradition might be.

Tim Chesterton said...

'What do Luke and the cultural Christmas of the West have in common?

Inn, stable, manger, shepherds from nearby fields, angels.'

Actually, a stable is not mentioned. Only a manger.

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you for corrections above!
I have lightly updated the post :)

See also:

Anonymous said...

Along with above cited Psephizo piece, Ian Paul publishes an annual piece "Jesus wasn't born in a stable" and reminds readers that keeping a donkey insude an ordinary house, on a lower level dirt floor, was the common practice for centuries in the Middle East. There is no inn, no innkeeper and no stable in Luke's account. Nor were shepherds the social reprobates in the first century that some "engaged" preaching has claimed them to be in recent years. The Good Shepherd himself spoke warmly of shepherds in his parables,

The myth of the stable is a painful one for Franciscans, since Francis created the first crib tableau in 1223. Perhaps the 800th anniversary will be the time to issue an historic apology, since it is a popular custom today to apologise for things other people did hundreds of years ago. (Still waiting for an apology for the Norman invasion,)

The word "contradiction" has to be carefully defined. Contradictions can be formal, verbal or substantial. Only the last touches on truth. Two witnesses can say quite different things and both be telling the truth,

Q is a hypothesis that should have been dumped long ago, along with "Fruehkatholizismus" and "messianic secret". Doug asks "how early some version of the virginal conception tradition " might be. Why "tradition"? How many tradents do you need? The "tradition" of my birth goes back to the other person who was there. If Luke-Acts was written before the Neronian persecution (there is no evidence it is later, only hypotheses), then Mary and the family of Jesus are the sources. Richard Bauckham has reminded us not just of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses for the synoptic tradition but the role of Jesus's wider family in the first generation church in Jerusalem (and Galilee as well).

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Mark Murphy said...

I tautoko your comments, Father Ron.

"...Alleluia, Alleluia sounds through the earth and skies".

Mark Murphy said...

But if there was no stable, no friendly innkeeper, no rough diamond would we get the sumptuous, luminous nativity scenes of the medieval and early modern painters.

How would medieval folks be supported to find Jesus right beside them?

People, we're allowed to translate/incarnate/improvise the Christian story into our culture now!

Father Ron said...

"The myth of the stable is a painful one for Franciscans, since Francis created the first crib tableau in 1223. Perhaps the 800th anniversary will be the time to issue an historic apology, since it is a popular custom today to apologise for things other people did hundreds of years ago. (Still waiting for an apology for the Norman invasion,)" - William

Well, William, I for one, as a former Franciscan Brother, do not concur with your desire for an 'Apology' for the representation of the stable initiated by Blessed Francis of Assisi. He, as a person of his day, was content to follow one of the strands of scripture - not from the Gospel of Luke, obviously - that so beautifully described a humble (if 'mythical') situation of the possibility of how the Church down the ages of Christian thought, has perceived the mystical event of the Incarnation of Jesus.

This 'Ignatian' style of a lively imagination peppers the whole of the scriptures, helping us all to imagine - in our own experience - the humble nature of Christ entering into our common human space. After all, parts of the Church still idolise the Creation stories in Genesis - without too much of a struggle for the historical origins. Balance is the remedy for our treatment of biblical authenticity.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, I thought it was only Americans who didn't get irony. One of the staples of British humour, a gentle irony laced with self-deprecation has indigenised in the Pacific's triple star and is instinctively understood by all kiwis. Yeah, right.
The ox that knoweth his owner and the ass his master's crib but Israel doth not are from Isaiah 1.3. The medieval imagination had a wonderful capacity to combine texts from everywhere in the canon (and a few outside it, like the Sistine Chapel's Sybil) since all the Old Testament was understood prophetically or anagogically. But they were still capable of historical realism in approaching Scripture. Look at the sober exegesis of Francis's near contempoarary Thomas Aquinas.
By all means preach about the humility of Christ who was rich but for our sake became poor. But his humility consisted not in being born in a non-existent stable while a non-existent ox looked on, because of a non-existent hard hearted innkeeper of a non-existent inn. Christ's poverty was not the circumstances of his birth (which materially were quite ordinary in first century Judea and took place in an ordinary Judean home with Joseph's female relatives helping the mother give birth) but consisted rather in his Incarnation and undergoing crucifixion for our sins.
A lively imagination is a lovely thing, essentially for poets, but it's a two-edged sword if you're attempting history rather than poetry (or worse, contemporary ideological politics, which is now debasing New Zealand's school curriculum). Luke was writing history, and if you accept the existence of angels (I do), Luke 2 was written to answer Theophilus's historical questions, and reading him as he intended is how we honour the evangelist.

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Mark Murphy said...

Hi William,

Ignoring the fact the we never agree on anything, I'm impressed with your knowledge of scripture and biblical languages. What's your training, background? What's your spiritual journey been?

Understanding our contexts can often help in the meeting of differences.

Kia mākinakina ki uta


Anonymous said...


Ms Liz said...

I'd love to know something of your story William and haven't asked.. I thought I was the only one at ADU who didn't know! You've mentioned Italy, I travelled there a few decades ago and it was incredible - very fond memories of visiting Assisi, and the island of Torcello (Venice).

Anonymous said...

Hello, Liz
I first studied biblical languages at Knox College Dunedin, a liberal Presbyterian place that rather bewildered me as a (still) young student but set me on a lifelong journey of trying to understand the protean character of liberal theology and its often conflictual relationship with orthodoxy and the Bible. In later years I found the work of the English Anglican scholar Tony Thiselton very helpful in untangling the roots of liberal Protestantism, especially the influence of Kant and the European Enlightenment. You cannot understand German theology (and its impact on the Anglo world) without considering the impact of idealist and romantic philosophy on Lutheranism. The same goes for modern Old Testament study, which really began in Germany.
At the same time, it is often forgotten how influential English Deism was on the development of radical New Testament studies in Germany (Reimarus, Lessing, Strauss etc.)
I've been fortunate in being able to visit a good deal of Italy, and I think of Rome for all its noise and traffic chaos, as my favourite city, not just for its place in the Christian world but also antiquity (I taught Latin for some years) - but anywhere in Italy is wonderful. Assisi is beautiful and so is the Umbrian town if Gubbio where, we are told, Francis converted the wolf that was attacking the townfolk. There is a statue of this famous act of canine obedience training in the town centre.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Ms Liz said...

Thanks William! Anthony Thiselton - not a name I'd come across, so now that you've mentioned him, I have the kindle version of 'Doubt, Faith & Certainty' which I very much look forward to reading.

We briefly visited the hill town of Orvieto and came away with a hand-painted coffee set - large ceramic tray, espresso cups/saucers, sugar-pot and lid. Nigel and I carried it all in our backpacks until we returned to the UK (and we still have the set with us here).

I found the wolf story on a Franciscan blog and their final paragraph seemed so very fitting for Christmas, "In part, what the story of Francis and the wolf reveals to us is that St. Francis—as a follower of Christ, the Messiah foretold by Isaiah—is helping to bring about the same peace and reconciliation in this world. This peace, harmony and reconciliation is not only meant to exist between God and humans, but also between God and the whole family of creation! We, too, can be instruments of this peace."

Pax et bonum!

MarcA said...

True. David Brown. Theology and Imagination.

Anonymous said...

Good to see from the Christmas Quiz of blogger John Sandeman recognition that Jesus was not born in a stable but a "kataluma", the guest room in a private home.
Ian Paul's re-education campaign has spread down under!
Does this mean farewell to those memorable Christmas cribs down under, complete with hay bales, merinos and shepherds dressed like Fred Dagg?
Will there be no Bush Christmas for the Sandeman family? What would Chips Rafferty say?

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Mark Murphy said...

I'm not sure what important spiritual issue is at stake in terms of whether Jesus was born in a private guesthouse, a manger, or an Air b'n'b.

As the Catholic church has taught for centuries, the literal/historical sense of scripture is important but just *one of four* traditional ways in which we have made fuller sense of the written word....the others being the metaphorical, the moral, and the contemplative senses of scripture.

So manger away!

It seems to me that much modern theology has become fixated on the literal/historical level, cue modern fundamentalism *and* secularism.

As radical Protestants have practiced, and as Father Ron has continually reminded us, we ultimately make sense of the Word through the Spirit.

Even if we could find out for sure what the historical Jesus was born into, it's too late: he's already being born again... a basement in Zaporizhzhia, in a maternity ward in Starship Hospital, and into a sparrow peaking it's head above roses in Ōhinetahi Valley, Waitaha/Canterbury.

Love and light everyone, and a special thanks to Peter our generous host and provocateur.


Anonymous said...

Why stop at a sparrow? Because you like them?
What about the worm that sparrow eats?
Why not in the uncountable trillions of SARS-Cov-2 viruses?
This is the difference between Christianity and Hinduism. The Word became a human being once and once only, in one place and at one time. The scandal of particularity. There is no reincarnation in Christianity and humans are uniquely made in the "imago Dei". If Christ is formed within us, as St Paul reminds us, this is a supernatural work, not a natural one.
I recommend everyone read C. S. Lewis's "The Weight of Glory" (or listen to it on YouTube) - I read or listen to it every year and think it one of the finest sermons ever written on the significance of human beings "sub specie aeternitatis" - in the light of our eternal destiny. The ending is particularly powerful.
As for the Bible, it isn't a twistable wax nose that can mean anything we want it to just by invoking "the Spirit". The Holy Spirit is God, not the zeitgeist of Hegelian fantasy or the anthropological psychology of Jungianism (the usual default eligion of TEC).
Over the years I watched the Rev Professor Lloyd Geering, pardon, SIR Lloyd Geering, drift evermore from liberalism to scepticism into atheism and even hatred of Christianity (and now into climate despair). I wondered at Knox College (where Geering had been Principal) how that could happen. Later I realised, as the Cumaean Sybil warned Aeneas, "Facilis descensus Averno" but the way up much harder.
The Scottish Episcopal bishop Richard Holloway took the same path, from traditional Anglo-Catholic to liberal doubter and celebrated hero of the sexual liberationists to atheist, and all within twenty years.
And so I resolved not to listen to the tune these pied pipers played.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

David Wilson said...

One point of disagreement I have is that Luke portrays that at the start of chapter 2 Nazareth is the home of Joseph. Clearly, chapter 1 has Nazareth as the home of Mary. But 2:3,4 imply to me that Joseph was going to his "own town" - which means where he lived. In 2:39 Joseph and Mary go to Nazareth which is (now?) their "own town". The "own town" of a couple is presumably the "own town" of the man. If the "own town" was not where one lived but one's "ancestral" town, then why has Joseph's "own town" now switched to Nazareth from Bethlehem?

We know from Matthew why J&M on their return from Egypt did not return to Bethlehem, which they would have done if there had been no threat or warning.

In 2:5 Mary is his 'betrothed', i.e. on the journey they are not yet married. Under what circumstances could a man and woman not yet married travel together (with or without donkey)? The answer is in the journey from the bride's home to the groom's home for the completion of the nuptuals.

Then, we come to 2:6 which starts with the Greek word 'egeneto'. This is often used in narrative to start a new section. This suggests to me that we have no idea of the time interval between the journey in 2:4,5 and the birth of Jesus in 2:6.

So, not only no inn which has a 'no vacancies' sign, no desperate Joseph trying to find a place for his wife to give birth.

Ms Liz said...

"The Weight of Glory" by C. S. Lewis (recommended above by William)
pdf here:

Mark Murphy said...

"All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being." - St John the Evangelist


"Here, in time, we are celebrating the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity, because this same birth is now born in time, in human nature. St. Augustine says, “What does it avail me that this birth is always happening, if it does not happen in me? That it should happen in me is what matters.” We shall therefore speak of this birth, of how it may take place in us." —Meister Eckhart


"In God the Son is constantly born and will constantly be born.” - Meister Eckhart.


"I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me." - words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.


"What does God do all day long? God gives birth. From all eternity God lies on a maternity bed giving birth." - Meister Eckhart.


"Split a piece of wood and I am there.
Lift a stone and you will find me." - words atributed to Jesus from the Gospel of Thomas.

Ms Liz said...

From the only sermon I've heard by Peter Matheson, 25 Oct 2020. He was talking about when he began his ministry back in the 1960s:

"As a member of the Iona Community I felt we were in the advance
guard of reform. We wanted to break with sentimental patterns of piety, to
get into social justice, to reach out to our Anglican and Roman Catholic
colleagues, to renew theology by discarding pre-scientific ways of thought.
Virgin Birth, Resurrection could no longer be understood literally. And we
should be honest with folk that these old ways were done for ever."

I was pretty shocked to hear this and wondered how one can have faith at all if one doesn't understand a literal Resurrection. At the time I was in the early stages of re-connecting again with spiritual things.

In the end I resolved not to engage at all with this kind of thinking.

But.. at this point I'd like to read something about where such thinking came from, where it's developed and by who, what it's influenced.

What search terms would I use to find info? And any recommendations for a good informative overview I can read?

Anonymous said...

Mark (and Meister Eckhart) writes as a poet and William writes as a scholar and they need each other - and we need both!

Anonymous said...

Liz, I guess Peter Matheson and others like him are a product of the scientific age that refuses to believe what they can’t understand, which I think is human arrogance! They forget the first person to doubt the virgin birth was the virgin herself and the first people to doubt the resurrection were the disciples. Even among the original believers there was doubt about the resurrection which Paul roundly rejects in 1 Corinthians 15. Like Mary, we can say, ‘How can this be?’ and surrender in worship of the mystery of God’s ways or refuse to accept that they are beyond our understanding. As Jesus said more than once, ‘Everything is possible with God!’

Ms Liz said...

Thanks Moya, that's a very good chapter to be reminded of!

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas, Liz and Moya!

About Peter Matheson himself, I know less than I would like. Serious historical research on the old C18-20 liberal tradition is far behind the fascinating scholarship on the sources and evolution of C17-21 evangelicalism.

(Did you know that this began in Central Europe after the Thirty Years War ended in 1648? Skip to page 455 of this-- Read on to the end. You won't believe your eyes.)

Here up yonder-- it was different across the pond-- any of the original liberal theology that survived Karl Barth and *neo-orthodoxy* to 1960 was about to be superseded by *religionless christianity*, liberation theologies, Barthianism, paleo-orthodoxy, the Yale and Duke waves of post-liberalism, and lately the refutation of von Harnack's historiography.

The old liberalism reposes in a big white room inside a glass case with a label identifying it for visitors. Of course, if you want to buy an *I'm a liberal theologian* tee-shirt in the gift shop, nobody will stop you. Cranky haters will be grateful to have a hate-object.

But after the original German liberal theologians supported first the Great War and then the Third Reich, their romantic paradigm has seemed rather a bad idea. Mass Experience --> Nationalism/Populism/Progress --> Eugenics, War, Death Camps, etc. Where some hear soaring poetry, others understandably hear the cries of burning children. We have moved on.

Anonymous said...

On the actual Resurrection, everyone today reads N T Wright (2003) The Resurrection of the Son of God. All 2819 pages.

Or: N T Wright (2019) Jesus, Skepticism, and the Problem of History. A brisk 705 pages.

Belief in that actual Resurrection is more an ethical than a cognitive problem. Some have always thought, as Moya does, that if God is the Creator then he can do anything. Alvin Plantinga has shown that this is not quite the case with respect to evil, but it should still be true with respect to God's own identity.

Martin Luther pointed out that simple belief that the Resurrection happened as history (as one might believe that All Blacks won an important rugby match in 2015) is not faith. Taking the Resurrection as a power and a sign that one lives by is more than suspending disbelief in an irregularity. What more is it?

Rudolf Bultmann, a colleague of Martin Heidegger, proposed that the Resurrection could be effectually presented in a demythologised substitute for those who do not think in the biblical imaginary. Bultmann said that Jesus had risen into the *kerygma* in that by his living power one could be addressed, as the apostles had been, with a *word of address* that reordered one's life as it had reordered theirs. (Compare this to Bonhoeffer's famous saying, "When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.") In his view, that substitute would more or less disrupt one's sense of self-in-world or it would not in fact be a substitute. If one saw the face of Jesus in a sunset or a can-opener, that would be marvelous indeed, but absent his claim on one's being, the bare experience would not be the kerygma witnessed by the apostles.

So my grandfather believed in the Resurrection event, but anyway preached as Bultmannian a kerygma as he could put into words. Jesus himself supplied many of them in the Sermon on the Mount: "when I was" in prison, naked, hungry, thirsty... His rural congregation in the mountain South was for Civil Rights amid Jim Crow and pacifist during the Vietnam War, so the intended resonance was likely heard.

Which is finally to say that the Resurrection is similar to the Ascension. It is not a test of one's will to believe that Jesus could fly but a sign that the Head that makes members his Body continues to direct us.

Hopefully, this has given Liz some keywords to search.


Ms Liz said...

Merry Christmas Bowman, and thanks for the link. The story of the beginnings of modern revivalism and its development from turmoil in Europe is fascinating.. all new learning for me. The "Paracelsian vital elements of salt, quicksilver and sulphur" had me scratching my head! I'll keep the pdf on file, it's a curious history. I was especially surprised at the really early charismatic influences. It's the first time I can recall coming across the phrase, "the radical mysticism of evangelicalism". Lol :D

Mark Murphy said...

Hi Liz

Adding my 2 cents, off the top of my head....


1. theological liberalism (which Bowman traces here in pithy and expansive ways), which is quite dated now,

then there's

2. political liberalism (which is related but quite distinct from theological liberalism),

and then there's

3. a more general, 'modernization' of church theology and structures....a sort of zeitgeist change that Vatican II described memorably as opening the windows of the church to the currents of the wider world...."aggiornamento" - "bringing up to date", "updating".... with a confidence and curiosity that the Spirit is at work outside the church in interesting ways, as well as the confidence that Christian theology and spirituality can survive, become better through, and vitally contribute to such a dialogue....

and I suppose there's also

4. The social/civil society effects of theological liberalism and modernization in terms of building socially-engaged initiatives and NGOs etc...

Personally, I think that (3) is the most interesting, impactful, and ongoingly relevant. It's more interesting to be stimulated into theological dialogue by, say, our new knowledge of the human microbiome, quantum physics and dark matter, the startling insights of contemporary depth psychology, our clinical knowledge of what trauma does to a person's emotional and spiritual attachments, or an increased engagement with mātauranga Māori,

than adopting the ideas of theological liberalism's so-called descendents (I'm not sure this is historically true as polemically so), such as Lloyd Geering, who I personally find rather dry and bleak, or John Shelby Spong, who I personally don't find very spiritually and intellectually stimulating.

If you're really up for a detailed read, I'd recommend John Macquarrie's Twentieth Century Religious Thought, or his Principles of Christian Theology. These are not as new and as up to date as some other books, but I find them useful as I really trust Macquarrie's balance and I suppose his theological instincts and values are close to my own. (Macquarrie was a Heidegger and Buber scholar and theology don at Oxford, who started out as a Scottish Presbyterian, shuffled into more fullness and ordination in the Anglican Church, and spent time living and teaching in North America too. You might find him quite useful on 'everyday deatails' of Anglicanism - like succinctly and wiseky explaining what sacraments are and aren't).

Anonymous said...


The Resurrection half of my last comment is missing, but this should still make a little sense and more if that shows up.

Paul Tillich, the last of the old liberal systematicians in the mainstream of church life, propounded a *Protestant Principle* that, because we have the treasure of the gospel in earthen vessels, the Body is liable to corruption in the present aeon. Conversely, the medieval papacy was desperately corrupt in many ways, but even pretty good popes were unable to right what doctrinally can absolutely never be wrong. In that sense, recent popes have been much better Protestants than oh Julius II.


Obviously Tillich's principle is a Western one. The Orthodox have never doubted that patriarchs could be scoundrels, bishops secret informants, and your priest after your daughter.

There was no Reformation in the East because spiritual authority there flows to saints with charisma, not administrators with boxes on charts. The Orthodox themselves attribute this to a more robust theology of the Holy Spirit, particularly after the decisive clash in Byzantium between St Symeon the New Theologian and merely canonical theologians close to the patriarch and emperor.

On the ground, all Orthodox fast and monasticism is woven into the fabric of diocesan life alongside parishes. After you rob a bank, you confess this to a monastic you trust; if necessary, s/he assigns your canonical absolution to a priest that s/he trusts.


God the Creator spins a kaleidoscope for love of all that he has not yet created. So the godling of Progress as humans imagine that is impossible. And churches-- our churches at least-- even when as earnest and honest as can be, will sometimes lag behind his creations.

If the lag is doctrinal, then the liberal thing to do is to rely on one's experience, at least until better doctrine catches up to God's work. Not a few pre-Reformation saints were *mazewsy prophets* of this type. Think of Meister Eckhart as recognizing that ideas of the Beguines (esp Marguerite Porete) in Paris were at least a temporary response to the hole in the church that yawned as the Black Death swept across the Rhineland.

If the lag is organisational, then the evangelical thing to do is to connect with others directly around the gospel. Again, the profusion of pre-Reformation religious orders shows that evangelical principle at work. So closer to home did Wesley's *connexion* in a Church of England that had not come to grips with the new labouring class.

As long as God creates, the Body in the West will occasionally need liberals or evangelicals or both. But neither is in itself the catholic Church, and neither has a permanent form.


If the West better recognised the Holy Spirit, would liberalism and evangelicalism fade away forever? So some have said. But that is more than we can discuss today.


Ms Liz said...

Thanks so much Mark! ~very kind of you to take the time to share this, it's of far more value than 2c :)

Anonymous said...

Yah, Liz, your father's evangelicalism was a long way from the source. Nearly all of it now is.

In my Virginia childhood, evangelicalism spoke Anglican in the English tidewater counties but Pietism up in the German enclaves of the mountains. The former was sturdier, the latter more mystical.


Ms Liz said...

Well this is a revelation, BW. Thank you. There was a distinct difference between the church where I grew up (rural and a long way from the city, economically depressed region) and the same denomination in Auckland where I moved in the early 1980s - the city church was becoming increasingly charismatic. Must've been around the same time that John Wimber was active.. yep.. "Vineyard's first impact in New Zealand came when John Wimber held a "Signs, Wonders and Church Growth" conference in 1986, which had a significant effect on many denominations in this country." ~from a Vineyard website

Anonymous said...

Nearer our own time, Liz, you might keep your eyes open for a little book by David Hempton called Evangelical Disenchantment. In a series of biographical chapters about lapsed evangelicals, Hempton explores and analyzes the way a certain Victorian rigour drove creatives (eg George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy, Vincent van Gogh, James Baldwin) out of the movement.


Anonymous said...

Liz and Moya, the second half of my 7:24 seems unlikely to appear on your screen. There were a few ideas and several links.

On the Resurrection, everyone now reads as much as they can of N T Wright's massive Resurrection of the Son of God. He resituates the idea of *resurrection* back in its C1 context, explains why Jesus's resurrection in the middle of history startled the apostles, and shows that only this event could have caused the formation and spread of the early Body.

One can see that the event happened even without *eyes of faith*. The resurrection as bare event, like the assassination of Julius Caesar event, is demonstrable to anyone. Disbelief in that is either rejection of historical reasoning as such, or selective rejection of that particular conclusion.

Selective rejection is usually motivated by avoidance of the personal consequences of accepting the Judaic metaphysic in terms of which resurrection makes sense. One might prefer to believe that persons are illusions, that materialism explains everything, etc. Which is to say that the event itself is not the actual sticking point.

But Martin Luther, for example, denies that historical knowing about the event as one knows that the All Blacks won a match in 2015 is saving faith. Yes, he says, it is in the creed-- so do by all means believe it-- but the opinion is not an end in itself.

What *more* is wanted? We could discuss that, of course.

In your searches you will find that Rudolf Bultmann suggested that modern people in the West's materialistic culture could have saving faith in the Resurrection if they had that *more* even without the prior historical knowledge.

To his (somewhat Barthian, somewhat Heideggerian) mind, this *more* is openness to being reconstituted by the Word of God. The formulation of this that you will see is: Jesus has risen into the *kerygma* of the Church.

From that point, Bultmann goes on to say that preachers in the materialistic West should be *demythologizing* the Bible into *kerygma* that is (a) not hindered by miraculous language, and (b) calling listeners into new lives.

Anonymous said...

Four thoughts.

First, Bultmann's is a preaching theology. In itself, it has no direct implications for ethics, liturgics, ecclesiology, spirituality, etc nor for theology proper. But see below.

Second, Bultmann was critical of earlier liberal theology, but was still limited by its incomprehension of the thought world of Jesus and the apostles. Tragically, a hermeneutic for understanding them through their own Judaic worldview was not available in early C20 Germany.

Third, although motivated by a high modern view of societies in the West, it makes sense anywhere. A preacher addressing the apostles beside the empty tomb could have done no better than to preach the *kerygma* that called them to lives in YHWH that would have been very different if Jesus's body was still in it. Jesus, in fact, did that.

That is, nobody would have stood there adducing reasons why what they could see was real, just as in the Roman forum nobody was standing there explaining to onlookers that yes they could be sure that senators were stabbing Caesar. Preaching Jesus's past by repeating mere history is not preaching the risen Lord.

Fourth, on an ecclesial level, what we believe about the *more* is much of our understanding of Jesus's rule of his Body today. Conversely, assumptions about *how* churches should decide things always imply some view of what Resurrection faith is. It is not unusual for persons to be deeply inconsistent about this.


Ms Liz said...

Thanks for your generosity in response Bowman, it's always appreciated I assure you! I made a start last night by reading 'Enchantment and Disenchantment in the Evangelical Tradition' per Harvard Divinity Bulletin Winter 2008, by David Hempton re George Eliot. On the strength of that I'm thinking I might buy the kindle version of the book you mentioned. Working through the rest will take me a while, and I need to think about how to structure my learning and reading in 2023 and make a system of basic note-taking. And I want to go back over the ADU posts since I started here so that I can pick up on things I still need to pay more attention to. Learning, learning, learning. All good.

Ms Liz said...

Amazing reading I happened upon tonight, via "Plough"

The Mystery of Christmas
By Edith Stein

~Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to Christianity who was later executed in the Auschwitz concentration camp, gave the talk from which this reading is taken in 1931.

"Trust in God will remain unshakably firm only if it is willing to accept from the Father’s hand anything and everything. He is the only one who knows what is good for us. And if, sometime, need and want are more in order than a pleasantly comfortable living, or misfortune and humiliation rather than honor and prestige, one must be prepared for that as well. If this can be done, one can freely live for the present and for the future."


Anonymous said...

Liz. you may recall that Mark commented not so long ago on a book arguing that patience was the quintessential virtue of early Christians, and that this nurtured the pragmatic creativity that won over the Roman Empire from the bottom up--

I have quibbles with the argument and the book. They rely overmuch on African fathers, engage Stoicism too little, and single out patience where other dogmas eg participation in Christ also mattered. But as far as they go neither is wrong-headed, and both displace some unhelpful wishcasting about the future of churches.

Obviously, faith in the first article of the creed must result in a trust in providence that is very different from ordinary pagan resignation to fate. And although other stories can also be told, this patience under God probably did help the wealthy to find their commonality with the poor and presumably did inform the works of mercy of the extensive diaconate around early bishops. In those ways, at least, it helped Christians to weave a new social fabric in the divided, violent, impoverished cities around the Mediterranean.

At least at first, conversion to Christ was a transition from life embedded in the old pagan society to life in a new fabric of relationships participating in Christ. The teachings, example, and presence of Jesus informed a radically new ethos that changed persons in ways that wove them together into something new. Only at a later stage did conversion take place in a more or less christianised version of the ancient society, and at that stage the newer fabric lived on in the experimental and expansive monastic movement that coexisted alongside it.

For some of us, the present applications are: (a) churches thrive when an ethos from Jesus gathers souls into an alternate and transformative fabric of relationships, and (b) churches grow as that distinct fabric solves problems for itself that also matter to the wider society. Evangelism that is just chaplaincy to those remaining in secularised relationships and institutions has its own justifications, but the health and growth of churches is not among them.

That Topic has meant somewhat different things to those of different ages. Old people think of it as a controversy about the direction of denominations on a map drawn in the C19-20. But as years go by it will more and more look like the first disagreement about strategy between conscientious chaplains to secular society and restless pioneers of a more independent Way. That Topic was a subtopic of the Grand Topic.


Ms Liz said...

BW, just found we're going out and I want to quickly leave a question re your last two paragraphs 7:02. I'm having trouble understanding. In my background it was.. this is what the Bible says re That Topic (relevant verses quoted).. and so that was received as the final word on the matter. Not sure where people like that fit in to your description. When you say, "conscientious chaplains to secular society" I'm not clear who you're referencing.. sorry.. if you perhaps would explain, it'd help me.

Anonymous said...

"In my background it was.. this is what the Bible says re That Topic (relevant verses quoted).. and so that was received as the final word on the matter. Not sure where people like that fit in to your description."

Let's discuss the people you know first.

Persons who regard the Six Texts as "the final word on the matter" no matter what the wider society or the lawful state say are among the "restless pioneers of a more independent Way." They are restless enough to leave mainstream churches to pioneer life in what they know will be a small religious minority. They care a lot about having a God-given personal practice-- a Way-- that makes intuitive sense to them and does not require further human validation. With concerns like those, it is not surprising that, much as a bartender's copy of The Rules According to Hoyle is a discussion-stopper for contentious card games, so they must view the Bible as a discussion-stopper for unsettled churches.

As you know, there have been disciples who were similarly unyielding about what the Bible says about pacifism, works of mercy, the light within, Left Behind, racial justice, etc. This adamantine will has little to do with homosexuality per se and much to do with what Eugene H Peterson called A Long Obedience In The Same Direction. Serious disciples are not fidgets.

Those of this sort do not change their minds. They cannot conceive of an obligation even to consider doing so. Because religion is our most basic story about reality, it may change other opinions over time, but no opinions about superficial things can change it. If others change their minds about God, then their faith was unsound. Who can believe them?

So there is never any chance that they will agree to believe something new about gay sex or the nature of marriage or the wording of prayers just to go along with a government decree or a church working group. To the contrary, when these authorities fail to secure stability for the life of faith, they dissolve.

What does change the minds of these soldiers of the Lord? Sometimes, more trust. A few have stretched their trust in the Bible to cover not so modern churches close to scripture. When I was very young, souls like that were drawn to Anglicanism. When waves of change began crashing on Dover Beach, a few turned to Orthodoxy. Now, as our bartender might also have a Guinness Book of World Records and a dictionary, they too will have more discussion-stoppers at their fingertips for more byzantine unsettling.

Anonymous said...

"When you say, 'conscientious chaplains to secular society' I'm not clear who you're referencing."

I reference herewith-- Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer (1972).

"The many who call themselves father or who allow themselves to be called father, from the Holy Father to the many father abbots, to the thousands of "priest-fathers" trying to hand over some good news, should know that the last one to be listened to is the father. We are facing a generation which has parents but no fathers, a generation in which everyone who claims authority-- because he is older, more mature, more intelligent or more powerful-- is suspect from the very beginning."

Henri Nouwen interrupted the cocktail parties of a thousand rectories with the news that the young adults of 1972 (the elders now of 2022) were deaf to the impersonal authority of modern ministers because they were justifiably suspicious of authority itself. On the other panel of his diptych, his divinity students at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard were just such sceptical souls but were nevertheless seeking an honest way to share Jesus with souls who need him.

Nouwen's bestselling prescription, in this and in the score of books that followed it, was that postmoderns who do not listen to authority will still listen to authenticity. So ministers who can no longer help them as superiors can nevertheless do so as wounded peers sharing from experience the Jesus who was able to heal.

To speak as a beggar telling others where to find bread, ministers can cultivate the spiritual disciplines that expose their vulnerability to God's transformative love. As a Dutch Catholic priest, he wrote several books to reintroduce traditional spiritual practices, and as a pastoral psychologist he wrote others probing anguish and renewal in himself and others.

Although Nouwen acknowledged homosexual inclinations to close friends, he did not build his private or public identity on them. He is buried in the churchyard of St John's Anglican Church, Richmond Hill, Canada.


Ms Liz said...

Oh my, BW! These, 11:34/11:35 are such an *awesome* read. You've woven these different perspectives that I've experienced (and found so contradictory and confusing) from my early life until now - i.e. 'soldiers of the Lord' versus TEC experience with 'wounded peers'.. you've woven them into a bigger picture where I feel less 'lost' and more aware of how those different influences relate. Reading through, I was like, yes! yes! yes! For me, with the rather odd life journey I've had, these insights are jewels, Aladdin's Cave stuff. I'm feeling so grateful!