My conviction is that in a skeptical world, Christians need to do their homework, know their facts and have their story straight! This is especially true when it comes to Scripture. All believers should be studied up! It is incredibly important to me that when we speak about the Bible or related subjects, we speak as honestly and accurately as possible. For some reason, though, every year when Christmas rolls around, many believers seem to throw these principles out the window; even if only in the name of embracing Christmas traditions. In fact, being a minister, I've noticed that the Christmas story has become so commonplace and domesticated that when one tries to say something fresh about it, even if from an exegetical standpoint, peoples' feathers get ruffled.
However, ruffling some feathers in the name of truth is fine with me; passing on corrupted stories is not. Take for instance, the claim that so many commentators and preachers have made through the ages, that Jesus was born in a cave. Well, if we do our homework, we find out that this idea began about 90 years after Jesus' death. It can be found first in an early work titled the Protoevangelium of James, which ultimately, was a document voted down by the Early Church. Then, forty or fifty years later, a guy by the name of Justin comes along and what does he do? Of course, he writes the same thing! From there, the idea is passed on to Origen and can later be found in a book titled The Armenian Infancy Gospel.
In my research, then, I realized that in what seemed like no time, this idea of Jesus' birth in a cave moved from the second to the fourth century AD. It was in the fourth century that the emperor Constantine built a Church house over a selected cave, a cave he believed these "legends" attested to (and as we who are churchgoers know, once something is built, Christians immediately grow attached to it and never want to let go of it). Anyways, St. Jerome, a Latin speaking man, actually spent thirty years in part of this cave translating the Bible (see how it was becoming a fixture!) and in the sixth century, Justinian remodeled the cave and fixed it up rather nicely (can you say "tourist attraction"? this is done with much of what is uncovered in the Bible lands; if you've ever been, you know exactly what I'm talking about; in fact, the "cave" is still a tourist attraction). Years later, though, in the tenth century, the passing-it-on game continued and a guy by the name of Hrotswith of Gandersleim handed off the "birth cave" baton. A number of years later, Philip the Carthusian used this story and in the 1900's, Werner the Swiss did the same thing. And as you may be well aware of, sadly, there are many preachers today who are still saying this.
What we see happening here is simply the handing down of faulty information. Hopefully, you find this as problematic as I do. I think we must strive to remedy such problems. The world doubts Christians and their story enough, not having our facts straight only makes it worse. We must share our story carefully, accurately and truthfully.
So, if not in a cave, where was Jesus born? Well, that will be answered in my next post in this series! In the meantime, may you strive to get the story straight and not fall into the pit of placing Christmas traditions over Scriptural truths.