Stories We Listen To – Your Story, My Story, His Story:
Metanarratives and the Christian Life
Whether we are aware of it or not, stories we listen are influencing the how we think, how we see or perceived everyday things and how we develop our values. When we hear the word ‘story’, we usually think of fiction as stories in books or movies. Sociologists and philosophers had long understood that stories or narratives may are not just fiction but the determining factor in how we live our lives. The stories that we listen to have the ability to shape our reality. These reality-shaping stories are also known as worldview.
We have been studying the Gospel according to Matthew. We have studied the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1:1-17. We have seen that the genealogy was divided into three section of fourteen generations each; from Abraham to David, David to the Exile, and Exile to Jesus. Since the number seven is a very special number in Jewish numerology (indicates completeness and perfection), each section is 2 x 7 which makes fourteen. This implies that the generations from Jesus onward is the seventh of the sevens generation, making it a very special generation. Matthew proceeds to tell us how special this generation is by telling us the story of the birth of Jesus Christ (Matt.1:18-25).
Before we examine the story itself, we shall look at some of the stories Matthew’s listeners are hearing. The prevailing stories/worldview according to Scot McKnight in his book Kingdom Conspiracy (2014) during the time of Jesus are:
- The eschatological battle of God in the Psalms of Solomon
- The Maccabean and Zealot strategy of holy warfare
- The Essene strategy of holy withdrawal
- The Pharisee push for great zeal for Torah obedience
- The Sadducee strategy of realism by cooperating with Rome
Note about extra biblical writings, bible and Jewish History:
Pseudepigrapha (also Anglicized as “pseudepigraph” or “pseudepigraphs”) are falsely attributed works, texts whose claimed author is represented by a separate author, or a work “whose real author attributed it to a figure of the past”. The word pseudepigrapha (from the Greek: ψευδής, pseudes, “false” and ἐπιγραφή, epigraphē, “name” or “inscription” or “ascription”; thus when taken together it means “false superscription or title”) is the plural of “pseudepigraphon” (sometimes Latinized as “pseudepigraphum”).
Pseudepigraphy covers the false ascription of names of authors to works, even to authentic works that make no such claim within their text. Thus a widely accepted but incorrect attribution of authorship may make a completely authentic text pseudepigraphical. Assessing the actual writer of a text locates questions of pseudepigraphical attribution within the discipline of literary criticism.
In Old Testament biblical studies, the term Pseudepigrapha typically refers to an assorted collection of Jewish religious works thought to be written c 300 BC to 300 AD. They are distinguished by Protestants from the Deuterocanonical (Catholic and Orthodox) or Apocrypha (Protestant), the books that appear in the Septuagint and Vulgate but not in the Hebrew Bible or in Protestant Bibles. Catholics distinguish only between the deuterocanonical and all the other books, that are called biblical Apocrypha, a name that is also used for the pseudepigrapha in the Catholic usage. In addition, two books considered canonical in the Tewahedo churches, viz. 1 Enoch and Jubilees, are categorized as “pseudepigrapha” from the point of view of the Chalcedonian churches.
- 3 Maccabees
- 4 Maccabees
- Assumption of Moses
- Ethiopic Book of Enoch (1 Enoch)
- Slavonic Book of Enoch (2 Enoch)
- Book of Jubilees
- Greek Apocalypse of Baruch (3 Baruch)
- Letter of Aristeas
- Life of Adam and Eve
- Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah
- Psalms of Solomon
- Sibylline Oracles
- Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch)
- Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
One of the Pseudepigrapha, the Psalms of Solomon is a group of eighteen psalms (religious songs or poems) that are not part of any scriptural canon (they are, however, found in copies of the Peshitta and the Septuagint). The 17th of the 18 Psalms is similar to Psalm 72 which has traditionally been attributed to Solomon, and hence may be the reason that the Psalms of Solomon have their name. An alternate view is that the psalms were so highly regarded that Solomon’s name was attached to it to keep them from being ignored or forgotten.
The Psalms of Solomon were referenced in Early Christian writings, but lost to modern scholars until a Greek manuscript was rediscovered in the 17th century. There are currently eight known 11th- to 15th-century manuscripts of a Greek translation from a lost Hebrew or Aramaic original, probably dating from the 1st or 2nd century BCE. However, though now a collection, they were originally separate, written by different people in different periods.
Politically, the Psalms of Solomon are anti-Maccabee, and some psalms in the collection show a clear awareness of the Roman conquest of Jerusalem under Pompey in 63 BCE, metaphorically treating him as a dragon who had been sent by God to punish the Maccabees. Some of the psalms are messianic, in the Jewish sense (clearly referring to a mortal that happens to be divinely assisted, much like Moses), but the majority are concerned less with the world at large, and more with individual behaviour, expressing a belief that repentance for unintended sins will return them to God’s favour.
- The Septuagint
The Septuagint /ˈsɛptjuːəˌdʒɪnt/, /ˈsɛptuːəˌdʒɪnt/, /ˌsɛpˈtuːədʒɪnt/, /ˈsɛptʃuːəˌdʒɪnt/, from the Latin word septuaginta (meaning seventy), is a translation of the Hebrew Bible and some related texts into Koine Greek. As the primary Greek translation of the Old Testament, it is also called the Greek Old Testament. This translation is quoted in the New Testament, particularly in the Pauline epistles, and also by the Apostolic Fathers and later Greek Church Fathers. The title (Greek: Ἡ μετάφρασις τῶν Ἑβδομήκοντα) and its Roman numeral acronym LXX refer to legendary seventy Jewish scholars who solely translated the Five Books Of Moses as early as the late 2nd century BCE. This translation is not extant, except as rare fragments. The traditional story is that Ptolemy II sponsored the translation of the Torah (Pentateuch, Five Books Of Moses). Subsequently, the Greek translation was in circulation among the Alexandrian Jews who were not fluent in Hebrew but fluent in Koine Greek, which was the lingua franca of Alexandria, Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean at the time.
- The Vulgate
The Vulgate (/ˈvʌlɡeɪt, -ɡɪt/) is a late fourth-century Latin translation of the Bible that became, during the 16th century, the Catholic Church’s officially promulgated Latin version of the Bible. The translation was largely the work of St. Jerome, who, in 382, was commissioned by Pope Damasus I to revise the Vetus Latina (“Old Latin”) collection of Biblical texts in Latin then in use by the Church. Once published, it was widely adopted and eventually eclipsed the Vetus Latina and, by the 13th century, was known as the “versio vulgata” (the “version commonly-used”) or, more simply, in Latin as vulgata or in Greek as βουλγάτα (“Vulgate”). It was made the Catholic Church’s official Latin Bible as a consequence of the Council of Trent (1545–63).
- The Deuterocanonical Books (Apocrypha)
Deuterocanonical books is a term used since the 16th century in the Catholic Church and Eastern Christianity to describe certain books and passages of the Christian Old Testament that are not part of the current Hebrew Bible. The term is used in contrast to the protocanonical books, which are contained in the Hebrew Bible. This distinction had previously contributed to debate in the early Church about whether they should be classified as canonical texts. The term is used as a matter of convenience by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and other Churches to refer to books of their Old Testament which are not part of the Masoretic Text. The deuterocanonical books are considered canonical by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and the Church of the East, but are considered non-canonical by most Protestants. The word deuterocanonical comes from the Greek meaning ‘belonging to the second canon’.
The Catholic deuterocanonical scriptural texts are:
- Additions to Esther (Vulgate Esther 10:4-16:24)
- Wisdom (or Wisdom of Solomon)
- Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira (or Sirach or Ecclesiasticus)
- Baruch, including the Letter of Jeremiah (Additions to Jeremiah in the Septuagint)
- Additions to Daniel:
- Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children (Vulgate Daniel 3:24-90)
- Susanna (Vulgate Daniel 13, Septuagint prologue)
- Bel and the Dragon (Vulgate Daniel 14, Septuagint epilogue)
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
The death of Alexander the Great of Greece in 323 BCE led to the breakup of the Greek empire as three of his generals fought for supremacy and divided the Middle East among themselves. Ptolemy secured control of Egypt and the Land of Israel. Seleucus grabbed Syria and Asia Minor, and Antigonus took Greece.
The Land of Israel was thus sandwiched between two of the rivals and, for the next 125 years, Seleucids and Ptolemies battled for this prize. The former finally won in 198 B.C. when Antiochus III defeated the Egyptians and incorporated Judea into his empire. Initially, he continued to allow the Jews autonomy, but after a stinging defeat at the hands of the Romans he began a program of Hellenization that threatened to force the Jews to abandon their monotheism for the Greeks’ paganism. Antiochus backed down in the face of Jewish opposition to his effort to introduce idols in their temples, but his son, Antiochus IV, who inherited the throne in 176 B.C. resumed his father’s original policy without excepting the Jews. A brief Jewish rebellion only hardened his views and led him to outlaw central tenets of Judaism such as the Sabbath and circumcision, and defile the holy Temple by erecting an altar to the god Zeus, allowing the sacrifice of pigs, and opening the shrine to non-Jews.
5.1 The Jewish Hammer
Though many Jews had been seduced by the virtues of Hellenism, the extreme measures adopted by Antiochus helped unite the people. When a Greek official tried to force a priest named Mattathias to make a sacrifice to a pagan god, the Jew murdered the man. Predictably, Antiochus began reprisals, but in 167 BCE the Jews rose up behind Mattathias and his five sons and fought for their liberation.
The family of Mattathias became known as the Maccabees, from the Hebrew word for “hammer,” because they were said to strike hammer blows against their enemies. Jews refer to the Maccabees, but the family is more commonly known as the Hasmoneans.
Like other rulers before him, Antiochus underestimated the will and strength of his Jewish adversaries and sent a small force to put down the rebellion. When that was annihilated, he led a more powerful army into battle only to be defeated. In 164 BCE, Jerusalem was recaptured by the Maccabees and the Temple purified, an event that gave birth to the holiday of Chanukah.
5.2 Jews Regain Their Independence
It took more than two decades of fighting before the Maccabees forced the Seleucids to retreat from the Land of Israel. By this time Antiochus had died and his successor agreed to the Jews’ demand for independence. In the year 142 BCE, after more than 500 years of subjugation, the Jews were again masters of their own fate.
When Mattathias died, the revolt was led by his son Judas, or Judah Maccabee, as he is often called. By the end of the war, Simon was the only one of the five sons of Mattathias to survive and he ushered in an 80-year period of Jewish independence in Judea, as the Land of Israel was now called. The kingdom regained boundaries not far short of Solomon’s realm and Jewish life flourished.
The Hasmoneans claimed not only the throne of Judah, but also the post of High Priest. This assertion of religious authority conflicted with the tradition of the priests coming from the descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron and the tribe of Levi.
It did not take long for rival factions to develop and threaten the unity of the kingdom. Ultimately, internal divisions and the appearance of yet another imperial power were to put an end to Jewish independence in the Land of Israel for nearly two centuries.
Sources: Mitchell G. Bard,The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict. 4th Edition. NY: Alpha Books, 2008.
The most important Macabbee/Hasmonean during Jesus’ time is Herod the Great.
What is the story/worldview of Matthew 1: 18-25?
Matthew 1:18–25 (NIV84)
The Birth of Jesus Christ
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
- Meaning of the name Jesus
The word Jesus used in the English New Testament comes from the Latin form of the Greek name Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous), a rendition of the Hebrew Yeshua (ישוע), related to the name Joshua. The name is thus related to the Hebrew consonantal verb root verb y-š-ʕ (to rescue or deliver) and the Hebrew noun yešuaʕ (deliverance).
In the New Testament, in Luke 1:31 an angel tells Mary to name her child Jesus, and in Matthew 1:21 an angel tells Joseph to name the child Jesus during Joseph’s first dream. Matthew 1:21 indicates the salvific implications of the name Jesus when the angel instructs Joseph: “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”. It is the only place in the New Testament where “saves his people” appears with “sins”. Matthew 1:21 provides the beginnings of the Christology of the name Jesus. At once it achieves the two goals of affirming Jesus as the savior and emphasizing that the name was not selected at random, but based on a Heavenly command.
2.1 Regarding Jesus’ birth
Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Micah 5:2: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
Question: “Is ‘virgin’ or ‘young woman’ the correct translation of Isaiah 7:14?”
Answer: Isaiah 7:14 reads, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Quoting Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23 reads, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us.'” Christians point to this “virgin birth” as evidence of Messianic prophecy fulfilled by Jesus. Is this a valid example of fulfilled prophecy? Is Isaiah 7:14 predicting the virgin birth of Jesus? Is “virgin” even the proper translation of the Hebrew word used in Isaiah 7:14?
The Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14 is “almah,” and its inherent meaning is “young woman.” “Almah” can mean “virgin,” as young unmarried women in ancient Hebrew culture were assumed to be virgins. Again, though, the word does not necessarily imply virginity. “Almah” occurs seven times in the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:8; Psalm 68:25; Proverbs 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3; 6:8; Isaiah 7:14). None of these instances demands the meaning “virgin,” but neither do they deny the possible meaning of “virgin.” There is no conclusive argument for “almah” in Isaiah 7:14 being either “young woman” or “virgin.” However, it is interesting to note, that in the 3rd century B.C., when a panel of Hebrew scholars and Jewish rabbis began the process of translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, they used the specific Greek word for virgin, “parthenos,” not the more generic Greek word for “young woman.” The Septuagint translators, 200+ years before the birth of Christ, and with no inherent belief in a “virgin birth,” translated “almah” in Isaiah 7:14 as “virgin,” not “young woman.” This gives evidence that “virgin” is a possible, even likely, meaning of the term.
With all that said, even if the meaning “virgin” is ascribed to “almah” in Isaiah 7:14, does that make Isaiah 7:14 a Messianic prophecy about Jesus, as Matthew 1:23 claims? In the context of Isaiah chapter 7, the Aramites and Israelites were seeking to conquer Jerusalem, and King Ahaz was fearful. The Prophet Isaiah approaches King Ahaz and declares that Aram and Israel would not be successful in conquering Jerusalem (verses 7-9). The Lord offers Ahaz the opportunity to receive a sign (verse 10), but Ahaz refuses to put God to the test (verse 11). God responds by giving the sign Ahaz should look for, “the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son…but before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.” In this prophecy, God is essentially saying that within a few years’ time, Israel and Aram will be destroyed. At first glace, Isaiah 7:14 has no connection with a promised virgin birth of the Messiah. However, the Apostle Matthew, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, connects the virgin birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:23) with the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. Therefore, Isaiah 7:14 should be understood as being a “double prophecy,” referring primarily to the situation King Ahaz was facing, but secondarily to the coming Messiah who would be the ultimate deliverer.
2.2 Concerning Jesus’ ministry and death
Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Psalm 22:16-18: “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”
Likely the clearest prophecy about Jesus is the entire 53rd chapter of Isaiah. Isaiah 53:3-7 is especially unmistakable: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
What are some of the stories/worldviews we listen to today?
- Moral relativism
- Scientific naturalism
- New Age
- Postmodern tribalism
- Salvation by therapy
Steve Wilkens and Mark Stanford, Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories that Shape Our Lives (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009)
I will add two more
How do these stories/worldviews affect our lives as Christians?
Monash Medical Student CG
Berea, 13 March 2015