The Date and Pharaoh of the Exodus?

Have you ever wondered how the details of the Exodus as described in the Bible line up with other historical accounts of the Pharaohs and the building of the pyramids?  When did the Exodus actually occur? These kinds of questions are often asked.  There has been much study and scholarship on early Egyptian history that help us to see how biblical accounts do indeed match up with other historical findings.

To give you an example, we provide you an article from BibleMesh’s The Biblical Story Course on “The Date of the Exodus.”

Synopsis
Because scholars disagree over the date of the Exodus and the identity of the pharaoh, some question the reliability of the story. But the leading theories concerning the Exodus are perfectly compatible with the biblical account.

Date of the Exodus
Virtually all study Bibles, biblical commentaries, and Bible encyclopedias discuss the question of when the Exodus occurred and who was Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus. Though some favor an “early date,” namely 1446 B.C., others suggest a later date, 1290 B.C. or 1260 B.C.[i] In the final analysis, none of the arguments on either side is decisive. Either theory could be true.

Those favoring the early date appeal to 1 Kings 6:1 and Judges 11:26, which name spans of time since Exodus-era events. These scholars also point to archaeological findings at Jericho in Palestine and Amarna and Thebes in southern Egypt.

Those who choose the later date think that reference to the Egyptian cities of Pithom and Raamses in Exodus 1:11 is crucial. They also treat a key number symbolically and argue that the earlier date would have put Israelites in conflict with Egyptians in Canaan, but Joshua and Judges make no mention of this.

Identifying Pharaoh
Since Exodus does not specify Pharaoh by any name other than his official title, identifying the ruler of Egypt at this critical juncture relies almost entirely on the dating issue. Those who hold to the earlier date (1446 B.C.) often argue for Amenhotep II. He was known for his military excursions, including campaigns into Canaan, but after 1446 B.C, his military activities in the area abruptly ceased, consistent with the Egyptian army’s Red Sea disaster. Also, his oldest son did not inherit the throne as would have been customary; he would have been a victim of the horrifying tenth plague.

The later date for the Exodus suggests Raamses II (Raamses the Great). He ruled Egypt from 1279-1213 B.C., gaining fame for his military excursions. But he is particularly renowned for his great building projects, which could easily have included the work mentioned in Exodus 1:11. While some argue that Pharaoh must have died in the Red Sea with his army, the Bible does not say this explicitly, so Raamses could have lived many more years, matching the dates attributed to his reign.

Influence on the Biblical Story
Though the Exodus account makes reference to two Egyptian cities, it does not go into much detail concerning this nation and its rulers. Instead, the work of God and His servant Moses is central – and not the work of Pharaoh. The same was true in Genesis, where Joseph was named, but not his Egyptian ruler.

Not surprisingly, no clear Egyptian record of the enslavement and Exodus can be found, for it was a matter of great national humiliation. In a land where the ruler enjoyed divine status, a story showing that he had feet of clay was not likely to endure.

BibleMesh
As Creator and Lord of the universe, God could have made His holy book, the Bible, a million pages long, for He knew every detail about everything. But He was quite selective. What He supplied in Exodus, in the Gospels – indeed, in all 66 books – was no more and no less than what the reader needs to know. Many questions remain open, but they are secondary. Everything in Exodus is essential; and everything in Exodus is true. It is God’s Word, and when He speaks, He does not mislead.

For Further Study
Ian Shaw, ed., The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); John D. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997); Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008); S. R. K. Glanville, ed., The Legacy of Egypt (Oxford: Clarendon, 1942).

 


[i] See, for example, The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan); ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 33-34; The Apologetics Study Bible (Nashville: Holman, 2007), 83-85; R. Alan Cole, Exodus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 40-43; W. H. Shea, “Date of the Exodus,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 230-238.

When Was Jesus Born?

Almost universally today, Christians throughout the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25. Why do Christians celebrate on this day and is it a good idea to do so?

To begin with, nowhere in the Gospels is there any clear indication of the time of year Jesus was born. Perhaps the most specific time marker in Scripture is the statement in Luke 2:2 that Jesus was born during a census while Quirinius was governor of Syria. But we don’t know precisely what year that census occurred, much less what month. Furthermore, the few other clues that are there do not necessarily point toward a December date. For example, some have suggested that the presence of the shepherds sleeping with their flocks at night is unlikely to have occurred in December, since, even in Palestine, it is a cold time of year. In fact, for roughly three hundred years after Jesus was born no one celebrated His birth on December 25. When some Christians, such as Clement of Alexandria, first began trying to figure out the date of His birth much later, they tended to put it sometime in the spring, not the winter, but even then it there was no consensus on the right date.

When, then, did Christians begin celebrating Christmas on December 25? The answer is we don’t know exactly, though it was definitely sometime in the fourth century and in the city of Rome. The earliest records we have for a celebration on December 25 date from this time and come from the imperial capital. From Rome the celebration gradually spread eastward throughout the Roman Empire. Evidence that it was a recent innovation is that in the year 386 the renowned preacher John Chrysostom pointed out in a Christmas sermon that the festival of Christmas was less than ten years old in Antioch, but had already become very popular. The celebration must have deeply resonated with already existing Christian devotion, for it spread further until it reached the furthest corners of the Christian Church.

Some have attempted to argue that the Christian festival of Christmas on December 25 has pagan roots because the birthday of Sol Invictus (“Invincible Sun”) was celebrated on the same day. This charge is true insofar as Sol Invictus was indeed celebrated on this day. However, the truth of the matter is that we simply don’t know whether the birth of Jesus or the birth of Sol Invictus was the earlier celebration, since the first clear evidence for both celebrations comes from the same time period. The first calendar to record Jesus’ birth as December 25 dates from the year 354, and it likewise preserves the first clear reference to the celebration of the birth of Sol Invictus on the same day. We likely will never know whether the Christians borrowed from the pagans or vice versa, but in the end it matters little for Christian theology and worship.

So does it matter what day you celebrate Christmas or even if you celebrate it at all? Well, in one sense the answer is no, since Christians seem to have gotten by perfectly fine for the first three hundred years without knowing or being too concerned about when Jesus was born. However, in another sense, celebrating Jesus’ birth serves the important purpose of sanctifying the calendar. In classical Rome the year was full of festivals, nearly all of which were tied to the worship of pagan gods. When Christians began trying to reshape the imagination of believers throughout the Empire, they realized that they had to come up with their own calendar to mark the important points in the year. Celebrations such as Christmas on December 25, Epiphany on January 6, and Lent in the spring were intended to remind Christians that the most important events in all of human history had occurred in the 33-year span of Jesus’ life. Henceforth, even the calendar would become an instrument for proclaiming the good news of the birth, death, and resurrection of the Son of God. And that is a message that never grows old, but deserves to be retold with each new year.

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Note: This article was originally published on the BibleMesh Blog on December 13, 2012.

Was Jesus Omniscient During His Earthly Life?

The short answer to this question is an unequivocal yes. But a longer answer may be more helpful in processing the biblical data. That’s because Scripture, at first blush, appears to make contradictory statements about Jesus’ knowledge. On one hand, He knew people’s thoughts (Mark 2:8), was able to distinguish true believers from non-believers (John 6:64), knew “from the beginning” Judas would betray Him (John 6:64), and in fact knew “all things” (John 16:30). On the other hand, He “increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52) and did not know the day or hour of His second coming (Mark 13:32). How do we put these statements together? How can one who knows all things also not know the time of His return? How can one who knows all things also increase in wisdom?

BiblepagesThe answer lies in a doctrine articulated some 1,500 years ago at a gathering of Christian leaders known as the Council of Chalcedon. That meeting yielded a now-famous statement declaring Jesus to possess “two natures . . . the property of each nature being preserved and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons.” In other words, Jesus possessed (and continues to possess) both a divine nature and a human nature. But He doesn’t somehow have a split personality or, like the Trinity, possess distinct persons who interact with one another within the same essence. No, the single, unified person of Jesus is both fully God and fully human.

Scripture, while making it “perfectly evident that only one person is intended,”[1] makes some statements that seem to apply specifically to one nature or the other. For instance, Romans 1:3-4 says Jesus “was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness.” Similarly, Philippians 2:6-8 says He “was in the form of God” and also was “found in human form.” Someone might be tempted to ask, “Which is it? Was Jesus in the form of God or in human form? Was He descended from David or the Son of God?” But the doctrine of His two natures in one person allows us to respond, “It’s both.”

This truth is instructive when it comes to understanding Christ’s knowledge. Statements of omniscience during His earthly ministry reference His divine nature while statements of limited knowledge reference His human nature. Theologian Wayne Grudem explained it this way: “Jesus learned things and had limited knowledge with respect to His human nature but was always omniscient with respect to His divine nature, and therefore he was able any time to ‘call to mind’ whatever information would be needed for His ministry.”[2]

If this seems confusing or even fanciful, consider an analogy: You and I have a body and a soul yet within one undivided person. The body is material, with all the properties of physical matter and, in itself, none of the properties of an immaterial soul. The soul, on the other hand, is non-physical and has properties like eternality, consciousness, and intelligence. Some statements predicated of a single, undivided person are made with singular reference to either body or soul. For instance, “Bob got burned” references Bob’s body while “Bob is intelligent” references his soul. “Bob craves pizza” references his body while “Bob is morally virtuous” references his soul. At times, statements about Bob may appear contradictory because of his body-soul union within one person. For instance, “Bob is eternal” yet “Bob will die and decay.” Obviously, analogies have limits, but you get the point.[3]

If the interplay between Christ’s omniscience and His limited knowledge still seems a bit fuzzy to you, don’t worry. As with, many of the Bible’s great doctrines, our job is to trust God, and then give praise for “the depth of the riches and wisdom of God,” whose judgments ultimately are “unsearchable” and whose ways are “inscrutable” (Romans 10:33).

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Endnotes

[1] Louis Berkhoff, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1938), 323.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 561.

[3] This analogy is drawn from Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, [1871]), 378-80.

Was Jesus Born on December 25?

It has been common since at least the time of the Puritans to claim Christians began celebrating Christ’s birth on December 25 in an effort to change the emphasis of a day associated with a pagan festival—much like some Christians today hold “fall festivals” in lieu of Halloween. American Puritan Increase Mather, for instance, said “the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that Christ was born that month but because the heathen’s Saturnalia was at that time kept MaryJospehin Rome, and they were willing to have those pagan holidays metamorphosed into Christian.”[1] But a group of contemporary scholars, drawing on ancient writings from as early as the second century, suggests that December 25 is well within the realm of possibility as the real date.

Holding a pagan festival December 25 may have originated with the Roman emperor Aurelian, who in AD 274, built a temple and established games every four years to honor the pagan sun god to whom he attributed military victories. An ancient calendar for the year AD 354 notes such games on December 25 in celebration of the “birthday of the inconquerable sun” (Sol Invictus). [2] The timing made good sense, for, with the winter solstice, the sun had just hit its “low water mark” in the northern hemisphere. The days were short, the weather cold, the leaves fallen, the crops idle—a perfect time for superstitious people to schedule a hopeful rally for the return of summer.

This sort of thing had been going in Rome since centuries-ago BC in the form of winter-solstice parties for Saturn, the god associated with agriculture and light, parties characterized by candles and gift giving. Some suggest other pagans throughout Europe employed evergreens and yule logs in their own December observances, hoping to stimulate the restoration of greenery and warmth. But all these similarities could be coincidental. Or, to put it otherwise, December might have been both the real birth month for Jesus and the time of traditional solstice observances, supplanted by Christmas, albeit with some of the accoutrements retained. (Similarly, Jesus’ resurrection could have been in the spring, happening to coincide with fertility festivals—hence, the tradition of Easter eggs.)

The same codex (book) containing the aforementioned calendar also marks Christ’s birthday on December 25 in a section likely dating to AD 336—the earliest undisputed evidence Christians commemorated the nativity on that date. Some have concluded from the notation of both holidays in the same codex that the celebration of Christ’s birth on that date derived from the celebration of Sol Invictus’s birth as an effort to Christianize the pagan holiday.[3] But if Roman Christians were seeking to supplant the festival of Sol Invictus with Christmas, it’s fair to ask why they would have continued to note the former. It seems reasonable to say that an effort to change the significance of December 25 would have dropped the reference to the pagan observance.

Further, writings of church fathers before AD 274 mention the celebration of Christmas on December 25. Most manuscripts of a commentary on Daniel likely written between AD 202 and 211 by Hippolytus of Rome state, “The first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, was December 25, a Wednesday.” The Greek scholar who translated Hipploytus’ commentary into English believes the reference to December 25 was part of the original rendering.[4] Similarly, Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215) seemed to situate Christ’s birth in late fall or early winter in his Stromata.[5] Two centuries later, Augustine and Jerome both reported tradition placed Christ’s birth on December 25.[6]

Finally, a Christian tradition likely dating to at least the second century held Jesus died on the same date He was conceived, March 25. Adding nine months to that date would place His birth around December 25. Among the church fathers to advocate a March 25 conception date were Julius Africanus (160-240) and Gregory Thaumaturgus (c. 213-270).[7]

Of course, we cannot know the date of Jesus’ birth with certainty, and it’s not critical that we do as we follow the discussion through the years. Some have argued shepherds would not have kept watch over their flocks by night (Luke 2:8) during the winter months, and therefore Jesus could not have been born on December 25. But that argument is inconclusive.[8] And claims to know the date of Jesus’ conception seem dubious. And again, some Christian holidays did, in fact, assume dates previously reserved for pagan festivals.[9] Still, the evidence gives ample reason to question the common claim that the exact date of December 25 was devoted to a pagan festival before it marked a Christian holiday.

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Endnotes

[1] Lenny Esposito, “No, Christmas Is Not Based on a Pagan Holiday,” Come Reason Ministries Website, December 16, 2015, http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2015/12/no-christmas-is-not-based-on-pagan.html (accessed December 19, 2015).

[2] Kurt M. Simmons, “The Origins of Christmas and the Date of Christ’s Birth,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 58/2 (2015): 301.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Thomas Schmidt, “Hippolytus and the Original Date of Christmas,” Chronicon Blog, November 21, 2010, http://web.archive.org/web/20130303163053/http:/chronicon.net/blog/chronology/hippolytus-and-the-original-date-of-christmas (accessed December 19, 2015). Schmidt notes that “most scholars believe that the date of December 25 was added by a later scribe and that Hippolytus did not record it himself.”

[5] Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 1.21.145-146.

[6] Augustine, Sermon 202; Jerome, Homily 88: On the Nativity of Christ, as cited in Simmons, “The Origins of Christmas and the Date of Christ’s Birth,” 310n26.

[7] Ibid., 303-310.

[8] Andras Kostenberger and Alexander Stewart, The First Days of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 146.

[9] Simmons, “The Origins of Christmas and the Date of Christ’s Birth,” 301.

Does Christ’s Resurrection Benefit Us Now?

Clouds and sunAs Christians prepare to celebrate Easter, much of our focus will be on the glorious reality that Christ’s resurrection from the dead was the precursor to the future bodily resurrection of all His followers. Indeed, Jesus is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). We must never forget or downplay this truth. But Christians also should not downplay the tandem truth that Christ’s resurrection brings numerous benefits during this life. Here are several:

Christ’s resurrection frees His people from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). This is a present benefit of the promise of future resurrection, allowing us to confess with Paul, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

The resurrection allows believers to experience Christ’s personal presence. After Jesus charged His followers to “make disciples of all nations,” He promised, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). There is a tangible friendship with Christ that only His followers know—a friendship not possible with a dead man. This personal fellowship is the subject of much Christian hymnody. For example, “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own.”

The resurrection enables believers to overcome the power of sin. We were “dead in trespasses and sins,” captives to our own selfish desires (Ephesians 2:1-3). But God “made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4). As Paul writes elsewhere, we are “united with him in a resurrection like his … so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:5-6). The resurrection displays the magnitude of power available to Christians in their struggle against sin (Romans 8:11).

The resurrection motivates us to turn away from sin (Colossians 3:1). Because God regards Christians as united with Christ in His resurrection, we should act like people who are spiritually alive and “put to death therefore what is earthly in [us]: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” (Colossians 3:5).

The resurrection inspires endurance amid persecution. Revelation 7 pictures the risen Lord as a shepherd to those who have endured persecution for their faith. “He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eye” (Revelation 7:17). This promise is for Christian martyrs in Iran and Nigeria as much as it is for the preacher in Indiana who is ridiculed for affirming traditional marriage and the student at a secular university who is belittled for challenging Darwinism.

The resurrection lends credibility to the entire New Testament. In order to be regarded as New Testament Scripture, the early church required that a book be written or endorsed by an apostle. One criterion of an apostle was that he had personally seen Jesus following the resurrection. Had these men lied about seeing Jesus, all of their moral teachings would have been compromised. But because they had truly seen Christ, they could pronounce, “Thus saith the risen Lord.”

In a similar vein, the resurrection lends credibility to Old Testament prophecy. As Peter said after quoting a prophecy of David, “He foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ” (Acts 2:31).

This Easter don’t overlook the resurrection’s importance here and now. As John Stott wrote, “the new resurrection life of Christ … begins now and will be completed on the day of resurrection.” And life is worth the living just because He lives.

What Is the Role of Faith in Salvation?

In reading Luke’s Gospel recently, a phrase stood out that Jesus repeated on four occasions: “Your faith has saved you” (Luke 7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42). Three times He spoke it to someone who had received physical healing and once to a sinful woman who received forgiveness after anointing His feet with her tears along with expensive ointment. faithVarious translations of Scripture render some of the four occurrences as “your faith has made you well,” but it is always the same Greek construction: “Your faith has saved you.” And in each instance, Luke seems to have eternal salvation in view, not just physical healing. When examined carefully, this one phrase tells us much about the role of faith in salvation.

It rules out the doctrines of religious pluralism and inclusivism. Both popular today, pluralism teaches that faith in any sort of deity will save. It’s not so much the object of the faith that’s important, but the sincerity. Inclusivism teaches that Jesus is the only person who can secure eternal salvation for humans, but in order to be saved explicit faith in Him is not required. Acting in faith on whatever spiritual knowledge one has is sufficient to be saved, according to the inclusivist. In contrast to both of these doctrines, the saving faith described in these four passages was intentionally and explicitly directed at Jesus.

It rules out “word of faith” theology’s teaching that a person’s words literally construct the fabric of reality. According to word of faith teachers, physical healing and financial prosperity are always God’s will for believers and are in a sense created by the believing words of anyone willing to claim these blessings. Of course, God does grant physical healing and wealth at times. But these passages from Luke demonstrate that Jesus brings about deliverance from danger and affliction, not faith itself. There was no forgiveness for the sinful woman in Luke 7 until Jesus pronounced it, and there was no healing for the blind beggar in Luke 18 until Jesus decreed it. The initiative and power that brings about salvation of various sorts is His, not that of the person exercising faith.

It rules out a form of hyper-Calvinism that insists no human action is involved in salvation. While Jesus is indeed the “founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), and while every aspect of salvation is “the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9), the salvation described in Luke was not accomplished apart from human faith. Though Jesus enacted the deliverance, “your faith” was an essential component of the transaction in all four passages.

The correct view of faith’s role in salvation—as illustrated by these four passages in Luke—is that trust in Jesus’ ability to deliver us from the ruinous effects of our sin is essential for rescue from condemnation. Jesus is the object of our faith. And He is the initiator of the saving power, not the one exercising faith or even the faith itself. Still, salvation does not occur apart from faith.

Other passages in the New Testament confirm this reality. For instance, “By grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). “Without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17).

As the Westminster Divines well put it more than three centuries ago, “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification.”