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Christian Life and Doctrine

  January 2004, No 1

Greetings [first name], may you and all your loved ones have a happy new year.

TRADITIONS


Where Jesus Was Born

Does the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem mark the actual birthplace of Jesus Christ? Early tradition states that the place of Jesus' birth was a cave where animals were sheltered. Christian writes Justin Martyr (c. 100-165) and Origen (185-254) both mention a cave as Jesus' birthplace

Fourth-century Christians Eusebius (a church historian) and Jerome (translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible) provide evidence that the grotto in Bethlehem, under the Church of the Nativity, was identified as Jesus' birthcave from an early date. They tell us that the Roman emperor Hadrian (117-138) profaned the site by building a shrine and planting a grove of trees over the cave in honor of the Roman god Adonis. Hadrian believed he could destroy the Christian faith by dishonoring its holy sites. But he achieved just the opposite, helping to preserve knowledge of the traditional location of Jesus' birthplace.

About 330, Emperor Constantine reclaimed the cave for Christians by ordering the pagan shrine and grove removed, and building a church above the grotto. The church was rebuilt by Justinian in the sixth century after an earthquake. The present fortresslike church is a Crusader-period restoration of the earlier structures.

There appears little reason to doubt the tradition that Jesus' birth took place in the Bethlehem grotto.



THEOLOGY

More Than Ten

The Ten Commandments (or Decalogue) were written by God on tablets of stone and given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. They formed the core of the old covenant (Exodus 34:28), summing up the responsibilities of those who related to God through that ancient agreement.

For Christians, the old covenant is obsolete (Hebrew 8:13). The administration of the old covenant has yielded to the new covenant administration of redemption. The law of Moses has been transformed and has become the commandments of Jesus Christ.

Believers who are under the new covenant are in Christ. Christians who yield their lives to the Holy Spirit are empowered to do the will of God (Romans 8:5-15).This does not mean Christians are left without clear guidelines for godly conduct

The New Testament contains specific commandments that define what is expected of those who relate to God through the new covenant established by Jesus Christ. Notice Galatians 5:19-21. In just three verses Christians are given 14 commandments to follow. For emphasis and by way of contrast consider this restatement of them in Ten Commandment style:

1. Do not commit sexual immorality.
2. Do not engage in impurity and debauchery.
3. Do not practice idolatry.
4. Do not practice witchcraft.
5. Do not hate others.
6. Do not sow discord.
7. Do not be jealous.
8. Do not give yourself over to fits of rage.
9. Do not have selfish ambition.
10. Do not cause dissensions.
11. Do not be a part of factions.
12. Do not envy.
13. Do not become intoxicated.
14. Do not engage in orgies.

Other New Testament sin lists can be found in Mark 7:21-22; Romans 1:29-32; 13:8-14; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:3-5; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; and Revelation 22:15.



BOOK REVIEW

Jesus, Paul and the Law

It was once generally assumed that when Paul denounced the "works of the law" in the book of Galatians (New King James Version), he was attacking the Jews' attempt to earn God's grace by doing meritorious religious works. But to accept this view any longer, insists James D.G. Dunn, Professor of Divinity at the University of Durham, England, is to "Set the whole exegetical endeavor off on the wrong track" (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990).

"Works of the law" was a somewhat restricted phrase, in Dunn's view. It referred to those regulations that marked out the Jews' self-identity or distinctiveness as God's people.

Of course, the entire Mosaic system served this end. However, it seems that specific regulations had come to serve as boundary markers between those inside the law (the Jews) and those outside the law (the gentiles). Among the most prominent were circumcision, food laws, the Sabbath and festivals.

These observances became focal issues because they were the most obvious identity markers of Jewishness. But to demand the observance of such practices was to tacitly claim that God's grace was confined to Jews, or proselytes of Judaism. In the words of Dunn: "These works of the law in effect imprison God's righteousness within a racial and national, that is, fleshly framework."

If Christians try to mark out their covenant status by doing the works of the law, then the work of Christ becomes irrelevant. For this reason, Dunn points out, the apostle Paul insisted that Christians are identified by the faith and love of Christ.



INTERNATIONAL BIBLE STUDIES

Living Wisely

Key verse: "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom."----James 3:13 New International Version

Lesson Scripture: James 3 THE APOSTLE JAMES gives good, solid advice for Christian living in his epistle. He starts with the need to accept trials as necessary part of gaining the crown of life. He reminds us that we will need patience in all of our trials, and that we should seek for wisdom from the giver of every good and perfect gift in full assurance of faith. Now he advises us on how we should live wisely and well by controlling a small, but unruly, member of the body----the tongue.

He uses many effective illustrations on how we can control our bodies by control of the tongue. One is the bit put in the horse's mouth to enable the rider to steer the body of the horse. Another is the rudder of a larger ship correctly, can steer us in the right direction. If not James reminds us that we can praise God, and curse men who are in God's image. The tongue can be destructive, and James uses the illustration of a spark burning up a large forest.

He says, "The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell." (vs 6) James is reminding us how destructive the tongue can be. When we use slander, and speak evil of someone, even by insinuations or hints, we destroy character, and this is a good picture of the tongue setting 'on fire.' It is interesting to note that James says 'it [the tongue] is set on fire of hell.' The word translated hell is not the usual hades in the Greek, but rather the word gehenna. This is a word associated with the second death or complete destruction. The warning is that such destructive use of the tongue could lead to second death.

In beginning his lesson on the tongue, James says, "Do not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive a severer judgment." (vs. 1, Wilson's Emphatic Diaglott) The elders, or teachers of the church, are like the tongues, or spokesmen, of the church. It is important that their knowledge should be imparted with the Spirit of Christ. Hence, these warnings and advice for wise living by the Apostle James apply not only to members of the church, but to its elders as well.

His concluding remarks that bitter envyings and strife are an expression of wisdom that is "sensual" and "devilish," that does not come from above----from God. (vss. 4-16) Rather, "the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality seek to express God's wisdom, we can be assured that we are living wisely.

In God's kingdom there will be consistency, as the new body which people will receive will control the tongue. James asks, "Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh." (James 3:11,12) So also shall the words of our Key Verse be applied by all who live wisely.





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