Christians love to hear and tell the traditional Christmas story. The birth of Jesus includes Mary and Joseph seeking shelter on a winter night, no room in the inn, a baby born in a stable, and angels visiting lowly shepherds nearby.
But our modern telling of the account in Luke 2:1-20 embraces critical flaws, according to Kenneth E. Bailey, who spent 40 years teaching the New Testament in the Middle East and who authored Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels.
According to Bailey, a careful reading of the text, along with an understanding of Jewish culture, illuminate five biblical truths that challenge our Westernized version of the Christmas story:
1. Joseph was returning to the village of his origin. Simply entering Bethlehem and telling people, “I am Joseph, son of Heli, son of Matthat, the son of Levi” instantly would have opened most homes to him.
Fifth in a series of short answers to questions about the New Testament
Consider Matt. 4:23-24: Jesus was going all over Galilee … and healing every disease … So they brought Him all those who were afflicted … And He healed them.
Did Jesus really go all over Galilee and heal every disease? Jesus probably didn’t cover every square inch of the region but no doubt cut a wide path through it. As His fame spread, people flocked to Him so that even if Jesus didn’t personally visit every village in Galilee, people from every village probably visited Him. Insofar as His healing powers are concerned, the words “every disease” may be translated “every kind of disease.”
Finally, was every person in Galilee afflicted with a disease brought to Jesus at that time? Probably not, since Jesus continued to encounter the infirm and healed them. No doubt Matthew is using hyperbole to illustrate the large number of sick brought to Jesus and the wide variety of illnesses He cured. Jesus will fully and finally eradicate every illness — and every other effect of the Fall — in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21:3-4).