How long did the baby Jesus stay in the manger in the stable?

Q. The date of the birth of Jesus is supposed to be 25th December, in a stable. How long did the family stay in that stable, that is, when did Jesus leave his manager crib and move to other accommodation?

First, Jesus was actually most likely born in the spring, not the winter. Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem specifically to register for a Roman census. The Roman government would not have required its citizens to travel en masse back to their home towns in winter, when travel was difficult or impossible under the conditions of the time. The return of good weather in the spring is when the census would most likely have been held. However, the Christian church decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25 because of the symbolism of light coming into the world around the time of the winter solstice.

Second, since their trip to Bethlehem was for the census, Joseph and Mary would not have been planning to stay there very long. They probably would have wanted to visit with family for a while, since that was the town Joseph was originally from, but then they would have returned to their lives in Nazareth. Their trip back was likely delayed when Mary gave birth to Jesus, but even so, they would have traveled back to Nazareth as soon as mother and child could do that safely. So I would say they were in the stable (which was the only accommodation available to them, since so many others had also come to Bethlehem to register) probably not for more than a week. That would be my estimate, anyway.

The marvel is that the Son of God willingly was born into such a rough and improvised setting when he came to earth to be our Savior. Hallelujah!

Is Jesus equal to the other two persons of the Trinity?

Q. If Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, isn’t he then equal to both the Creator and the Holy Spirit?

The answer to your question is yes, with a couple of qualifications.

First—and I don’t think this is what you were saying, but just to be clear—it is not the case that Jesus was a human being who somehow became divine and was welcomed into the Godhead. Rather, the second person of the Trinity came to earth as a genuine human being in order to become our Savior. To put this in theological terms, we should have an incarnational Christology, not an adoptionist Christology.

Second, since all three persons of the Trinity are involved in every action of the Godhead, we do not distinguish the persons of the Trinity by their activity. The Son and the Spirit are the Creator just as much as the Father. (At the beginning of Genesis, we see the Father creating by speaking, that is, by the Word, as the Spirit hovers over the unformed creation. So they are all involved. John tells similarly us at the beginning of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”)

Rather, we distinguish the persons of the Trinity by their relationship to one another. The Son is begotten by the Father, but he is eternally begotten, meaning, in the classic phrase, “there was not when he was not.” How this works is a mystery, but it is part of the larger mystery of the Trinity, in which three are one.

The Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. Christians are generally agreed about this; the only disagreement is a historical one about how the Nicene Creed was changed in the Western church to say about the Spirit “who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” rather than just “who proceeds from the Father,” which was the original reading. The Eastern church was in agreement with the doctrine, but it felt that only an ecumenical council (that is, a council of the whole church) could change a creed that such a council had created in the first place. The Western church, for its part, felt that the pope had the authority to add the words “and the Son.”

But that is a matter of how doctrine is to be expressed authoritatively that the larger church is still working out. As I said, there is no general disagreement about how the Spirit relates to the Father and the Son.

So, to summarize, yes, Jesus, the Son, as the second person of the Trinity is equal in power, glory, dignity, and divinity to both the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is marvelous to consider how a person who was so fully God was willing to come to earth in human form, share our experience here, and become our Savior. As the book of Hebrews says about Jesus, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”

This is the marvel that we celebrate at Christmas time.

 

How old was Joseph when he married and when he died?

Q. We don’t hear much about Joseph in the Bible. Do we know how old he was when Mary and he married? How old was he when he died, how did he die, and how old was Jesus when he died?

We don’t have exact answers to any of these questions because, as you say, we don’t hear much about Joseph in the Bible.

We do know that in New Testament times, Jewish women often married in their mid-teens, while Jewish men married when they were a bit older, perhaps around twenty, once they had become somewhat established and could support a wife. So if Joseph and Mary’s experience was typical for the period, he might have been just out of his teens when he married her, and she was likely still a teenager.

We know from the gospels that Joseph was at least still alive when Jesus was twelve years old. Luke tells us how Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to Jerusalem at that age, where he spoke with the teachers of the law in the temple. But Joseph seems to have died by the time Jesus was 30 and began his ministry. The gospels portray Jesus interacting with his mother and brothers at several points during his ministry, but never with Joseph.

We know nothing about how Joseph died, or how old he was when he died, except that if he married at around age 20, and had died by the time Jesus was 30, then he would like have died before age 50. So he would have lived a little shorter time than the average for a man in the Roman Empire, which was the mid-50s. But whether he died of illness or an accident or some other cause, we just don’t know.

So the primary picture we have of Joseph comes from the time around the birth of Jesus. What stays in our minds is that he was a righteous man, unwilling for Mary to experience public disgrace, and that he accepted the challenging role of being the adoptive earthly father of the Son of God. Perhaps it’s best that we think of him mostly in that light.

Why does Jesus sometimes seem to give certain disciples special treatment?

Q. Jesus has Peter, James, and John join Him to observe the Transfiguration. Why only these three? And, elsewhere Jesus seems to choose only certain disciples to reveal truth to and not others. So, how can we understand this? Obviously, it’s not favoritism, but maybe cliques are not all bad?

You’re right that Jesus allowed Peter, James, and John to see some parts of his ministry firsthand that the other disciples didn’t get to see. According to Mark, for example, Jesus brought only the three of them with him not just to the mountain of the Transfiguration, but also to the home of Jairus, whose daughter he raised from the dead, and apart with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Mark also specifies that it was Peter, James, and John who asked Jesus what he meant about the temple being destroyed, prompting what is known as the Olivet Discourse (Jesus’ long teaching about the signs of the end).

You’re also right that different disciples seems to be singled out at other times for teaching and attention. According to John, for example, before Jesus fed the five thousand, he asked Philip where they could get bread to feed the large crowd. John explains that Jesus “asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” We should understand the word “test” in the sense of “challenge”; it wasn’t the case that Philip had to give a good answer or he couldn’t be a disciple any more! Rather, Jesus saw a “teachable moment” and made use of it for Philip’s advantage.

I also agree with you that this isn’t favoritism. Rather, Jesus chose to make an effective and strategic investment in specific disciples at specific times for their development as his followers and as future leaders. It’s generally accepted that someone can only have a deep influence on two or three other people at a given time. But they can have a strong influence on about a further dozen people. We see this illustrated and perhaps modeled for us in the example of Jesus.

I’m not sure I’d use the word clique, since that word tends to have a negative connotation. People in a clique are more opposed to including others than they should be. Let’s just say that Jesus shows us how to be intentional in our discipleship of others by recognizing where and how we can invest most effectively.

Did Joseph and Mary take Jesus to Egypt because they could blend in there?

Q. Is there any truth in saying that Joseph took Mary and the young child to Egypt, since Herod was searching for him, because they would have been able to fit in there without being detected, based on the color of their skin? Some people think so.

I think the main reason that Joseph and Mary went to Egypt as a place where Jesus would be safe from Herod is that there was already a large Jewish community there, particularly in the city of Alexandria, and so they would have been able to find housing and work within that community, or at least with its help, for as long as they needed to stay. (Please see my fuller comments in this post: Where did Jesus live in Egypt?)

In terms of skin color, really anyone who went to Egypt at this time would have “fit in,” because people had long been coming there from Sub-Saharan Africa, farther west in northern Africa, and the Middle East, and so it was a place where people of many different skin colors lived together and interacted. The Egyptians, really like all ethnic groups, had a variety of skin tones themselves. So Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, whatever their own skin color was, would have blended in not because they looked like everybody else, but because nobody looked quite like anybody else, and so nobody stood out.

(As for what skin tone Joseph, Mary, and Jesus might actually have had, for one possibility, please see the icon I use as an illustration for this post: How long did Jesus live in Egypt? But of course no one knows for certain. First-century Jews themselves had a variety of skin tones. But I think this is good; we can all imagine Jesus looking a lot like us, and this helps us understand that he came to this world and became human like us in order to be our Savior.)

 

Why did Jesus have to die in such a torturous manner?

Q. One month before my 90-year-old aunt passed away, she asked me a question, “Why did Jesus have to die in such a torturous manner? The harshest way to die during his time was crucifixion. This has bothered me since I was a young girl.” I have the same question myself. Please share your thoughts, thank you.

I can understand your aunt’s concern and yours. Crucifixion was not just the harshest way to die during the time of Jesus; it was one of the cruelest and most protracted and painful forms of execution ever invented. It was first introduced by the Persians and then developed in other cultures. The Romans had turned it into a process that could involve days of unspeakable suffering before death finally came.

I don’t feel that I can answer your question in terms of purpose, that is, why God would have wanted Jesus to die that way. I can’t imagine that this was something that God wanted, intended, or made happen, even though God did send Jesus into the world at a time when crucifixion was practiced, knowing that he would be “delivered into the hands of men.” From such questions I think we can only step back in mystery.

But I believe there is an answer to your question in terms of result. After Jesus had suffered some of the worst things human beings have ever conceived of doing to one another, he still said, “Father, forgive them.” Such a statement would certainly have been meaningful if he had said it just before being executed in a way that, while nevertheless horrible, did not involve protracted torture, such as by a firing squad. But it is deeply meaningful in the context of crucifixion. There can be no doubt about the love of God that came to earth in Christ Jesus if, after suffering on the cross to the point of death, Jesus still forgave and asked the Father to forgive. So while we may always wonder why Jesus had to die that way, we can worship and adore him as the Savior who endured such things and still never ceased to love the people of this world who had done those things to him.

Meditating on the sufferings of Jesus is a time-honored spiritual practice. Reflecting on all that he suffered for us, and the love that this demonstrated, increases our devotion to him and helps us forsake the sins for which he died. It ultimately enables us to rejoice, even as we empathize tearfully with his sufferings, at the greatness of our salvation and of our Savior.

The great hymn writers give us exemplary models of this practice. An unknown German writer offered us this reflection, which has been translated into English as “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”:

What thou, my Lord, has suffered was all for sinners’ gain;
mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ‘Tis I deserve thy place;
look on me with thy favor, vouchsafe to me thy grace.

Another hymn by an unknown writer, translated into English as “The Strife is O’er, the Battle Done,” shares a similar reflection:

The powers of death have done their worst,
but Christ their legions has dispersed.
Let shouts of holy joy outburst.
Alleluia!

I believe your aunt was meditating on the sufferings of Jesus in the last days of her life. While she may not have gotten an answer to her specific question, it seems she certainly got a deeper and deeper appreciation for all that Jesus had done for her on the cross. And not long after she shared her question with you, she met him face to face, risen from the dead and alive forever, and she saw in his eyes the same love for her that he had demonstrated in his death on earth.

Who sent the Wise Men to find where Jesus was?

Q. Who sent the Wise Men to find where Jesus was?

It appears that no one actually “sent” the Wise Men to find Jesus. When they arrived in Herod’s court, they told him, “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Apparently the Wise Men had some expectation of the Jewish Messiah or “king of the Jews,” and they were watching for signs of his birth. I discuss that further in this post:

Why would the Magi have wanted to worship the king of the Jews?

Was Jesus “deeply moved” or “furious” at the tomb of Lazarus?

Q. In Nancy Pearcey’s new book Love Thy Body, she states that though many English translations say that Jesus was “deeply moved and troubled” at the tomb of Lazarus, the original Greek actually means that he expressed “furious indignation.” Pearcey then quotes Os Guinness as saying that Jesus was outraged because “evil is not normal” and that the death of Lazarus was contrary to the good and beautiful world God had originally created. What are your thoughts on this?

I have not yet read Love Thy Body, and I also have not yet read The Dust of Death, which is the book by Os Guiness that she is quoting from, so nothing I say here should be taken as an informed comment on the overall argument of either of those books. I can, however, offer my thoughts about the translation of the Greek expression that’s used to describe Jesus’ reaction at the tomb of Lazarus.

First let me quote Pearcey more fully, relying on a citation I have found online: “Why did Jesus weep at the tomb of Lazarus even though he knew he was about to raise him from the dead? Because ‘the beautiful body was split apart.’ The text says twice that Jesus was ‘deeply moved in spirit and troubled’ (John 11:33, 38). In the original Greek, this phrase actually means furious indignation. It was used, for example, of war horses rearing up just before charging into battle. Os Guinness, formerly at L’Abri, explains that standing before the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus ‘is outraged. Why? Evil is not normal.’ The world was created good and beautiful, but now ‘he’d entered his Father’s world that had become ruined and broken. And his reaction? He was furious.’ Jesus wept at the pain and sorrow caused by the enemy invasion that had devastated his beautiful creation. Christians are never admonished to accept death as a natural part of creation.”

To assess these claims, let us explore the use of the Greek verb embrimáomai, which is the term that Pearcey says indicates “furious indignation.” It is true that it has a literal meaning of “snort”; it’s used in plays by Aeschylus and Lucian to describe the snorting of horses. However, we need to recognize that words have figurative as well as literal meanings. In linguistics it’s known as the “root fallacy” to hold that words carry their original, literal meanings with them everywhere they go. They don’t.

For example, this same verb is used in the two following accounts:

Two blind men call out to Jesus, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” He touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” (Matthew 9:29–30)

A leper comes to Jesus and asks to be made clean. He reached out his hand and touched the man. … Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. (Mark 1:41–44)

Clearly the meaning in these two passages is not that Jesus was feeling furious indignation. Rather, he was “admonishing urgently,” which Lidell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon lists as another, figurative meaning of embrimáomai.

Another use of the verb in the gospels, however, does come closer to the meaning of anger:

A woman anoints Jesus with a jar of expensive perfume. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. (Mark 14:4–5)

So we see that the term can have the meaning of anger and indignation, but that this has to be determined from the context. So what about the context at the tomb of Lazarus? Two things there indicate that Jesus probably was not “furious,” but “deeply moved” (as many English versions put it; Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament lists this as a further meaning of the word). First, Jesus wept. And second, the text says that the strong emotion being reported was internal, “in his spirit.” One would expect “furious indignation” to have primarily an external expression instead.

So I think we need to conclude that embrimáomai is used figuratively in the gospels to indicate strong emotion, but that we need to determine from the context whether this is anger, urgency, or grief. One further observation is that even if Jesus actually was “furious” at the tomb of Lazarus (and the context suggests otherwise), the text itself would not be telling us why this was the case. Pearcey and Guiness would be supplying their own theological rationale for this, but many other explanations could also be offered. Nothing in the account intrinsically rules out death having a place in how God works in the world.

Personally I find that the following quotation, taken from a longer meditation that has been making the rounds recently on social media, captures very well what Jesus was actually doing at the tomb of Lazarus:

”He cried. He knew Lazarus was dead before he got the news, but still, he cried. He knew Lazarus would be alive again in moments, but still, he cried. … He wept because knowing the end of the story doesn’t mean you can’t cry at the sad parts.”

James Tissot, “Jesus Wept” (Brooklyn Museum)

From where did Jesus and his parents flee to Egypt?

Q. From where did Jesus and his parents flee to Egypt? According to Luke, the family went back to Nazareth after Jesus was presented to God in the temple.

Thank you for your question. I discuss it in this earlier post:

Why do Matthew and Luke seem to disagree about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth?

How old was Jesus at his presentation at the temple?

Q. How old was Jesus at his presentation at the temple?

Since Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph offered “a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons,'” we know that Mary was performing the ceremony for purification after childbirth, as described in Leviticus. There we read, “A woman who . . . gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days . . . On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified. . . . When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. . . But if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering.

So we know from this that Jesus was 7 + 33 = 40 days old at the time of this ceremony. (We know that the eighth day after birth is the first of the following 33 days because the account also says that after the birth of a daughter a mother waits twice as long, specifically 14 + 66 = 80 days.)

It’s interesting to compare Mary’s 40 days of waiting to dedicate Jesus, during which she no doubt continued to “treasure up” all the events surrounding his birth and “ponder them in her heart,” with Jesus’ 40 days of testing in the wilderness as he prepared to take on his role as the Messiah. In fact, for Jesus himself this time right after his birth was 40 initial days of waiting to assume a life dedicated to God.

Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, 12th century cloisonné enamel icon from Georgia.