IS JESUS OUR “KINSMAN-REDEEMER”? Christmas Follies from Creation Ministries International

IS JESUS OUR “KINSMAN-REDEEMER”? Christmas Follies from Creation Ministries International

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© 2020, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.

Introduction

While Creation Ministries International (CMI) is very good on their core competency – scientific creationism – when it comes to other matters, they are less than stellar.  Their Christmas Eve article this year[1] contains four plain errors, of varying degrees of importance.  We discuss them below.

Quirinius and the Census

One of the most common attacks on the historical reliability of the Gospel books is the alleged contradiction between Matthew and Luke regarding the time at which Jesus was born.  According to Matthew, Jesus was born before the death of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1-3, 16) while Luke tells us that that Jesus was born in Bethlehem while His parents were there to be registered in response to a decree issued by Caesar Augustus, and this “first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria” (Luke 2:2).  Secular historians tell us that Herod died in 4 BC while the census conducted while Quirinius was governing Syria took place in AD 6, and these dates are “historically unassailable.[2]

How does CMI respond to this claim?  They say, “The Greek wording suggests that this was a census before the famous one under Governor Quirinius (cf. Acts 5:37),” directing the reader to a previous article discussing this.[3]

There is a problem here, however; despite CMI’s confident assertions, Daniel Wallace, who is repeatedly referenced by CMI writers as their preferred expert on textual criticism,[4]

Πρώτη is sometimes regarded as adverbial: “this census took place before Quirinius was governor of Syria.”  The advantage of this approach is that it eludes the historical problem of Quirinius’ governorship overlapping the reign of Herod.  However … it erroneously presupposes that αὕτη modifies ἀπογραφὴ … But since the construction is anarthrous, such a view is almost impossible (because when a demonstrative functions attributively to a noun, the noun is almost always articular).[5]

According to Wallace, then, the Greek grammar does not allow this phrase to be translated “This census took place before Quirinius was governor of Syria.

There is a delicious irony here.  In fact, the construction is not anarthrous; the article ἡ is present between αὑτη and ἀπογραφη in 99.4% of the Greek manuscripts, including Codex Sinaiticus, which does make CMI’s translation possible[6] – but those who uncritically accept the Griesbachian/Westcott-Hort approach to textual criticism,[7] and that includes CMI[8] – must consider the construction anarthrous and so cannot appeal to this proposed solution.

In fact, the solution to the alleged problem is simple.  Those who bother to check the actual primary sources will discover that Herod died in 1 BC, which places Jesus’ birth in 3-2 BC, and there is no Roman record identifying the governor of Syria at that time and no reason that it could not have been Quirinius.  So there is no actual contradiction between Matthew and Luke.[9]

Is Jesus Our Kinsman-Redeemer?

According to CMI,

In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah calls the coming Messiah a “Kinsman-Redeemer” (Isaiah 59:20). This meant that the Messiah must be a blood-relative of those He redeems. So it was necessary for Jesus to be born into the human race, via physical descent from Mary, a descendant of Adam … angels themselves that sinned cannot be saved through the death of Christ (Hebrews 2:16), because they are not Adam’s descendants.

This is not the first time that CMI has asserted the Jesus is our “Kinsman-Redeemer” and so must be our blood-relative.  They have made this claim in dozens of articles dating back to at least as far as 2005[10];  indeed, they repeat it in the article posted the day after the one in question:

Jesus is thus related to every human being—so He can be our foretold Kinsman-Redeemer (Isaiah 59:20).[11]

The main proponent seems to be CMI Chief Scientist Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, who gives a detailed explanation in an article from 2006:

However, the basis of Christ’s atonement is that He came directly down from Heaven (John 6:38,41,42,50,51,58) to take on the nature of the one who sinned … This is to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah as literally the ‘Kinsman-Redeemer’, i.e. one who is related by blood to those he redeems (Isaiah 59:20, which uses the same Hebrew word גוֹאל (gôēl) as is used to describe Boaz in relation to Naomi in Ruth 2:20, 3:1–4:17). So only Adam’s descendants can be saved, because only thus can they be related by blood to the Last Adam.[12]

This is not even remotely correct.   גוֹאל (gōēl) does not mean “kinsman-redeemer,” not literally and not at all.  It means “redeemer,” nothing more and nothing less, as the CMI functionaries could have discovered by checking HALOT[13] (p. 169) or DCH[14] (p. 59)[15].  They could also have looked at how the word is used throughout Isaiah, viz. 41:14; 43:1,14; 44:6,24; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7,26; 54:5,8; 59:20, 60:16; and 63:16.  If they did that, they would discover that the gōēl in every passage other than 59:20 is the LORD God.  Does anyone want to argue that the God qua God is related by blood to human beings?  If not, then it is glaringly obvious that gōēl is not a “kinsman-redeemer” but simply a redeemer.  The promised Messiah in Isaiah 59:20 is a redeemer, not a “kinsman-redeemer,” which makes CMI’s claim and all of the implications they drew from it flat-out wrong; gōēl does not mean “kinsman-redeemer.”  Yet they have been repeating this error for at least fifteen years!

The Star of Bethlehem

The most serious error committed by CMI in this article concerns the star of Bethlehem, which is mentioned four times in Matthew 2:1-10:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?  For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.

What was this star?  CMI asserts that

The light led them to a house in Bethlehem where the infant Jesus now was. Stars, a conjunction of planets (formerly ‘wandering star’), or a comet, don’t normally move like that, and certainly don’t illuminate just one particular house. Therefore it is more likely that the light that the wise men saw and followed was the glory of God, sometimes called the Shekinah glory or a divine visitation of the presence of God. This was “the glory of the Lord” that had appeared to the shepherds.[16]

Here, too, this is a claim that CMI has made repeatedly in the past[17], and it is surprising, to say the least.  In all four places, the word translated as “star” is ἀστήρ (astēr), which means – you guessed it – “star.  BDAG defines it as “a luminous body (other than the sun) visible in the sky; star, single star, planet,[18] and EDNT defines it as “star.[19]

Now, since every word of Scripture is God-breathed, we must accept that what the magoi saw in the East, and what reappeared to them and led them to house in which Jesus was was indeed a star.  To be sure, it was a miracle – the star certainly did not act as a star normally does – but it was, the text tells us, a star.[20]  So why does CMI, which claims to believe that “The Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant throughout. Its assertions are factually true in all the original autographs,[21] so cavalierly proclaim that what the Bible explicitly says is a star is not a star?  This is problematic.

There is a certain chutzpah in saying, as David Catchpoole does in another CMI article (following Don DeYoung in yet another CMI article), that

the star referred to in Matthew 2:9–10 was the ‘Shekinah glory’—not what modern astronomy calls a ‘star’.[22]

It is not “modern astronomy” calling it a star; it is the word of God calling it a star!  How dare CMI deny what God affirms?

We note, also, that “Shekinah glory” appears nowhere in the Bible; it is a concept from rabbinic literature and Jewish occultism,[23] which is no acceptable basis for one’s theology.   And, certainly, denying the meaning of a word God used four times in nine verses is very, very wrong.

The Gifts of the Magi

According to CMI,

When the wise men saw the child Jesus, they worshipped Him and gave Him costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold was a symbol of Jesus’ kingship. Frankincense was incense used by the priests in the worship of God and so represented homage to the Christ-child as God, as well as being a symbol of Jesus’ priesthood. Myrrh was oil used to embalm bodies for burial and so was a symbol of Jesus’ future suffering and death.

Interestingly while this claim is completely consistent with stanzas 2-4 of the Christmas carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” it is not consistent with the facts of history.  Actually,

the wise men’s gifts (gold, incense and myrrh) were the most valuable, transportable and marketable items of the day, ideal for sustaining Mary and Joseph in another country (v.14).  Myrrh is probably to be identified with labdanum, an aromatic gum exuded from the leaves of the cistus rose.  Its oil was used in beauty treatments and was sometimes mixed with wine and drank to relieve pain.[24]

The gifts of the magoi, then, were selected because they were valuable, portable, and marketable, and not to make some sort of arcane theological points.  But it gets worse; the “wise men” were μάγοι (magoi, singular μάγος magos), a term that originally referred to “a religious caste among the Persians … devoted to astrology, divination, and the interpretation of dreams,[25] and by Jesus’ time was “applied generally to fortune tellers and to the exponents of esoteric religious cults throughout the Mediterranean world.[26]

Yet CMI is suggesting that these pagan astrologers[27] understood not only that the one born is “king of Jews,” as the Bible tells us, but also understood that the human baby was actually God – something it took His own disciples a long time to realize!  And that this God would suffer and die!  This is simply beyond the bounds of credibility, and CMI needs to rethink it carefully.

Life lesson: Base your exegesis on the Bible, not on a Christmas carol written in 1857.

Conclusion

We have to conclude, then, that, while we appreciate CMI’s salutary work on scientific creationism, we hope that they will confine themselves to that field in the future.  It seems to me we would all be better off if they did that.  New Year’s resolution, anyone?


Endnotes

[1] Grigg, Russell, “Christmas-Why?”  Reposted on December 24, 2020. At https://creation.com/christmas-why.  (Originally posted on December 25, 2015 and reposted on December 25, 2019.)  Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes in our article is from Grigg, “Christmas-Why?”

[2] Tobin, Paul. The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager: A Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible and the Historical Jesus. Bedfordshire, England: Authors OnLine Ltd, 2009, pp. 336, 345.  (Bolding added.)

[3] Sarfati, Jonathan, “The Census of Quirinius: Did Luke get it wrong?” Posted on December 29, 2011. At https://creation.com/quirinius-census-luke

[4] See Tors, John. “Creation Ministries and the Three-Headed Monster: Why the Monster Wins” at https://truthinmydays.com/creation-ministries-international-and-the-three-headed-monster-why-the-monster-wins/.

[5] Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996,, pp. 305, 304.  The quote is combined from Wallace’s explanation as to why the passage cannot be translated as “this census was before the census which Quirinius, governor of Syria, made” or as “this census took place before Quirinius was governor of Syria.”

[6] The proposed solution is still next to impossible due to the separation between πρωτη and κυρηνιου.

[7] See Tors, John. “A Primer on New Testament Textual Criticism (in Manageable Bite-Sized Chunks)” at https://truthinmydays.com/a-primer-on-new-testament-textual-criticism-in-manageable-bite-sized-chunks/.

[8] See, inter alia, Cosner, Lita, “The ‘gender neutral’ Bible: Emasculating Scripture for political correctness.” Posted on September 10, 2009. At http://creation.com/gender-neutral-bible-translations

[9] For details, see our three-part article, Tors, John. “Is Luke Wrong About the Date of Jesus’ Birth? A Case Study in How to Do Serious Evangelical Apologetics” at https://truthinmydays.com/is-luke-wrong-about-the-date-of-jesus-birth-a-case-study-in-how-to-do-serious-evangelical-apologetics-part-1.

[10] This can be seen by search for “redeemer” on the creation.com website.

[11] Cosner, Lita, “Jesus’ family tree.” Posted on December 25, 2020. At https://creation.com/family-tree-of-jesus

[12] Sarfati, Jonathan, “Evolutionary theologian thinks aliens would have more advanced religion.” Posted on February 8, 2006. At https://creation.com/evolutionary-theologian-thinks-aliens-would-have-more-advanced-religion-mark-worthing

[13] Koehler, Ludwig, Walter Baumgartner, and Johann J. Stamm. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament.  Translated and edited under the supervision of Mervyn E. J. Richardson. 2 vols. Leiden: Brill, 2001.

[14] Clines, David J. A., ed. The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2009.

[15] Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament.  Oxford: Clarendon, 1907 (BDB) is definitely out of date on this one.

[16] Bolding added.

[17] This can be seen by searching for “shekinah” on the creation.com website.

[18]Bauer, Walter, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. (BDAG) Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 145

[19] Balz, Hort and Schneider, Gerhard. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. Volume 1. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990, p. 173

[20] In other words, it was a celestial ball of glowing gas giving off radiant energy, some of it in the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum.  God no doubt made it very much smaller than a normal star, and contained its energy and moved it by His own miraculous power.  Certainly we know more details about stars today than was known in the first century AD, but they were known to be specific created bodies in the heavens and were not confused with “shekinah glory.”  “Shekinah glory” is not an attested meaning within the semantic range of ἀστήρ, and certainly the Holy Spirit inspiring Scripture would not make such a mistake.

[21] “What We Believe.” Posted at https://creation.com/what-we-believe.

[22] Catchpoole. David. “Creation clock.” Posted at https://creation.com/creation-clock: “Note that the star referred to in Matthew 2:9–10 was the ‘Shekinah glory’—not what modern astronomy calls a ‘star’. See DeYoung, D., “What was the Star of Bethlehem?, <creation.com/starbeth>.”

[23] McNamara, Martin. ed.. Targum and Testament Revisited: Aramaic Paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible: A Light on the New Testament. 2nd ed.. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010;  Dan, Joseph. Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 46

[24] Garrett, Dr. Duane A. gen.ed. Archaeological Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010, p. 1326

[25] ibid.

[26] ibid.  Myrrh could be wrapped with dead bodies (John 19:39), perhaps to cover the smell of the rotting flesh, but that was certainly not its primary use.  In the other fifteen times it occurs in the Bible, it is used for other things.

[27] There is no reason to believe Sarfati’s fanciful suggestion in his answers to comments on the article that “The Magi were probably true believers in the one true God.”  He asks, “Where does it say that the magoi practised astrology?”  Hmm, could it be in the God-breathed choice of the word μάγοι to identify them, the word actually meaning “wise man and priest, who was expert in astrology, interpretation of dreams and various other occult arts” (BDAG, p.608)?”  Sarfati also asks, “Where is any condemnation for these men who came to worship the promised King of the Jews?”  Perhaps in the same place that every time a Roman centurion appears in the Gospel accounts, he is explicitly condemned for believing in, and sacrificing to, Roman gods?  Oh, wait; that doesn’t happen.  Finally, Sarfati claims that “Somehow, they understood that this babe was worthy of worship. Astrologers would not.”  Aside from the fact that Sarfati has no way of knowing what astrologer would have thought of worshipping a king, a not unknown phenomenon in the ancient world, this seems to be a curious test for being a true believer in the one true God, given that neither the shepherds who came to Jesus on the night of His birth, nor Simeon, nor Anna in the temple worshipped the babe.

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