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TIME AND NEWSWEEK ATTACK
A sermon preached on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2004
"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).
This Christmas Newsweek offered a cover story on "The Birth of Jesus - Faith and History: How the Story of Christmas Came to Be" (December 13, 2004, pp. 49-58). The article is typical, the sort of thing they put out every year. It's an all-out attack on the Biblical message of Christ's birth. A group of liberal scholars are trotted out to attack the Christmas story.
The article begins with a poll that shows 82 percent of the American people believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Seventy-nine percent believe in the virgin birth, and just under seventy percent think the Christmas story is accurate. But the Newsweek article does not focus on the millions of people who believe what the Bible says about the first Christmas. No conservative scholar is quoted in defence of the New Testament narratives.
Instead of quoting scholars from among the teeming masses of people who believe in the virgin birth (79 percent of all Americans), Newsweek focuses its comments on "Others, though…fewer in number" who cast doubts on the birth of Christ (ibid., p. 51). Then the article says, "To many [about 21 percent] Christmas is a fairy tale" (ibid.). The rest of the article focuses on the ideas of the comparatively small group of liberals who think that way, that the birth of Christ is "a fairy tale."
Newsweek denies that Isaiah 7:14 prophesied the virgin birth of our Lord. The article says, "A problem with this elegant passage from Isaiah is that it may have long been mistranslated and misinterpreted" (ibid., p. 55). Those of us who have studied Isaiah 7:14 for many years disagree. The Hebrew word "almah" was not mistranslated in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Septuagint was published about 300 years before Christ. It is a translation from Hebrew to Greek by the Jewish scholars of that day. The fact that Jewish scholars translated "almah" as "virgin" in the Septuagint is a strong argument for this being the correct translation. Dr. John Blanchard points out that "we can hardly accuse them [the Jewish translators] of manipulating their translation to accommodate the birth of Jesus" (John Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists? Evangelical Press, 2000, p. 565). Dr. Gleason L. Archer, a noted Biblical scholar, said, "In the seven occurrences of 'Alma' throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the word never refers to a maiden who has lost her virginity but only to one who is in fact unmarried and chaste - as in Genesis 24:43, where Rebekah the virgin (betulah) is also referred to as an almah. By Hebrew usage, then, this word is…the equivalent to the idea of 'virgin'" (Gleason L. Archer, Ph.D., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan Publishing House, 1982, p. 568). Dr. Archer held a Ph.D. from Harvard Graduate School. He was also a graduate [B.A.] from Princeton Theological Seminary, and was long a professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois. Dr. Archer said that Almah is the equivalent of virgin, and the Septuagint was correct to translate it as "virgin."
"Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).
The great Hebrew scholar John Gill said, "Not only the Evangelist Matthew renders the word a virgin; but the Septuagint interpreters, who were Jews, so rendered the word hundreds of years before [Matthew]" (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the Old Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume I, p. 42).
Dr. Henry M. Morris said, "Many critics have argued that the Hebrew word means simply 'young, unmarried woman,' rather than 'virgin,' and some [modern] translations have translated it as such. This is nothing but a device to avoid the miracle of Christ's virgin birth. The word is used [seven times] in the Old Testament and in all instances the context favors its rendering as 'virgin'" (Henry M. Morris, Ph.D., The Defender's Study Bible, World Publishing, 1995, p. 725).
"Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).
By the way, how would this be a "sign" if she were merely a young unmarried woman? Dr. Morris says, "Conception by a 'young unmarried woman' would hardly be a sign of anything except sin, for such events occur frequently" (ibid.). Conception in the womb of a virgin would, on the other hand, indeed be a sign, "a mighty act of creation by God Himself" (Morris, ibid.). One more thing - if it were an unmarried young woman who got pregnant, she would have been stoned to death under Jewish Law, not a sign from God to the nation Israel!
So, we leave these "fewer in number" liberal scholars grumbling that "Christmas is a fairy tale" (Newsweek, ibid., p. 51). Poor fellows. They are so bogged down by rationalistic humanism that they don't see the truth when it stares them in the face. Like Pilate, they say, "What is truth?" and go right on attacking and mutilating the Christmas story. Jesus said to one such Bible scholar,
"Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again"
Time also gave Jesus a "Christmas present" by attacking His nativity (Time, December 13, 2004, pp. 49-61). Again, a group of hard-core liberal scholars was trotted out to debunk the story of Christ's birth. In this article they use "redaction criticism" to undermine the Christmas accounts in Matthew and Luke.
A lot of attention in the article is focused on a quotation from Celsus, a pagan writer who lived 180 years after Christ's birth. Celsus was against the Christians because they met secretly and did not worship the Roman emperor. He wrote strongly against the incarnation of God as a human being, in the person of Christ. Celsus was against the incarnation through the virgin birth because he felt that this made Jesus greater than Caesar. His attacks on Christianity were forerunners of most of the objections of modern liberals.
Though [his] arguments against Christianity were weak and superficial, Origen [a defender of Christianity] thought they were important enough to answer them…the principal charges Celsus brought against Christians were: the Christians were members of illegal secret associations; they were rebellious against the state; Christ was not divine; the incarnation [God in human flesh] is absurd; the miracles were mere tricks; Jewish converts to Christianity were renegades; Christianity did not improve upon Judaism; Christians lack unity among themselves…Christian eschatology [doctrine of prophecy] is irrational and incredible (Elgin S. Moyer, Who Was Who in Church History, Keats Publishing Company, 1974, p. 80).
Time said, "Was the story of the virginal conception told to hide Jesus' illegitimacy? As startling as that allegation is for many, it dates from…the second century" (ibid., pages 54-55). Then Time glowingly quotes Celsus as their source for this "startling" information. Celsus said,
It was Jesus himself who fabricated the story that he had been born of a virgin. In fact, however, his mother was a poor country woman who earned her living by spinning. She had been driven out by her carpenter-husband when she was convicted of adultery with a soldier named Panthera. She then wandered about and secretly gave birth to Jesus. Later, because he [Jesus] was poor, he hired himself out in Egypt where he became adept in magical powers. Puffed up by these, he claimed for himself the title of God (Time, ibid., page 55).
Time considers this quotation a strong proof against the Christmas story. The writings of Celsus are quoted as a reliable source that all God's children, at least in the "blue states," should take as gospel truth. But you and I should realize that Celsus was a superstitious pagan who worshipped the emperor and other pagan deities. He saw Jesus as a rival to his own religion of idol worship. Furthermore, Celsus lived 180 years after the birth of Christ. That's a long time. That's like someone today writing about an event that happened in 1824. Celsus never went to Jerusalem. Celsus never spoke with any people associated with the early church. In short, Celsus did no research, did not travel to the area where Jesus lived, and did not interview any Christian scholars of his day. Thus, his writings are simply a diatribe against Christianity, written by a man who believed in the magical powers of idols and in emperor worship. But we should remember the reason Time endorses Celsus. Time and Newsweek, conditioned by the Enlightenment, think "Christmas is a fairy tale" (Newsweek, p. 51).
Time and Newsweek always write about Christianity as if it were an "outsider's" religion. Their audience is always secularist. They are always explaining this strange religion of Christianity to secularists. They're not playing to Peoria, or Dallas, or even Chicago - or to any of "The Passion of the Christ's" huge audience. No, they are writing to a different audience, their friends in Massachusetts, or in the most elite section of Northern California. They write about Christianity from the standpoint of W. C. Fields, the famous alcoholic, agnostic comedian. Someone came into Fields' room abruptly and caught him with a Martini in one hand and a Bible in the other - and asked him why he was reading the Scriptures. Fields replied, "Just looking for loopholes. Just looking for loopholes."
I could go on and answer the other points raised by these
articles, but why bother? This is Christmas Eve. We are here in church to celebrate the birth of our Saviour. Let Time and Newsweek,
and their sad little group of friends, say "Bah! Humbug! Christmas is humbug!"
if they wish. It only hurts them. We know they are wrong. We know
they have no message of hope. We know that "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14).
And we know that our message brings joy to those who have an open heart - while
their message only brings sadness and despair. We sing, "Joy to the
World! The Lord is come!" They have nothing to sing about. And
that's the saddest part of all.
(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: John 1:1-14.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
"What Child Is This?" (by William C. Dix, 1837-1898).