Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Friday, December 21, 2007

    Archbishop of Canterbury's Comments on Nativity

    No one denies differences in some of the details between what has come to be known and recognized as the modern nativity and what actually occurred in Bethelem at the time of Christ's birth. Not only is it common in art for various elements of a certain story or occurance to be brought together but it's also not uncommon for some details to be added or distorted over time and tradition. However, that does not deny either the existence, reality or events of the actual occurance.

    For example, while some may think of three wise men, the Bible no where suggests that the number was three, but rather says that three gifts were presented (gold, frankincense, and myrrh). While in the current nativity, the number of wise men is often represented as three, that does not deny the presence of those who came from the east to visit the Christchild. Similar points can be made concerning all the rest of the details the media is perhaps trying to hype. It would be like suggesting that just because some details in pictures of George Washington differ from picture to picture, then George Washington and the things he did ... did not occur. Surely, anyone with common sense can understand the issues here.


    August said...

    I guess the point is where one draws the line. It is fine to question unScriptural tradition, but then one also should not go so far as to question what is clearly written in a historical context.

    In my opinion, the archbishop went too far.

    swordbearer said...


    I think you have summed it up WELL...only I'm waiting to hear more clarification from the archbishop as to what he was really intending to say. I recognize that on a radio broadcast, especially when one is put on the spot, one might say some things they would put otherwise if they had time to think before they speak. I think the choice of "legend" was a poor choice of words, especially when many will attempt to apply the word "legend" not just to the "unScriptural tradition" but to "what is clearly written in a historical context." If the archbishop intended to do that (to call things found in Scripture "legend"), then I will be the first to argue against his position.

    While I did not take the time to read his statements in detail, there are many things that could be said from a simple reading. First, while he points out that it is nowhere said that the wise men were kings, one can point out that certainly they were men of great learning and of some degree of wealth, flexibility and influence, not to mention men with insight and faith. At the same time, as he points out many suggest there were "three" wise men. Whereas I would agree with him the text no where suggest the number, it does mention the number of gifts... which I suppose is probably how the number three enterred in... one for each of the gifts. If one wanted to argue, what number should artists have chosen - five, six, seventeen, seventy-seven, etc.? Certainly one could understand why "three' might on one level have appropriately been chosen, though sound exegetes recognize the difference.

    As to the question of whether the archbishop goes further than this, I'll have to read it more carefully. Quite frankly, as there are liberals with voices in in similar positions that do not hold to the inerrancy of Scripture, it would not surprise me to find some (or even him, though I do not know him) who would go further,... but as we agree on, their questioning what is revealed in Scripture would not change the truth, and while it may give some people without solid ground to argue, it would not hold weight against those who hold to the clear teaching of Scripture.

    I was in a hurry... trying to get out the door to take my kids to see Alvin and the chipmunks, but saw the second headline and wanted to put out an initial statement clarifying that "unScriptural tradition" does not negate the truth of Scripture.

    August said...

    The feeling I was left with after reading his comments was that he was basically saying that most of the nativity is legend, and that the only thing we can be factually sure of was that Mary and Joseph were Jesus' parents. He does commit to a virgin birth, although he leaves it open-ended as seemingly non-essential doctrine, baulks at the star of Bethlehem and rightfully questions the interpretation of the "wise men"/"kings".

    I will add that it may be an uncharitable reading from my side, but it does not seem to be the kind of message I would want my denominational leader to give on the eve of Christmas.

    Puritan Lad said...

    This is basically recycled moralism, the attempt to wash our own filthy rags and present them to our Lord. “Just do good and go to heaven, regardless of what you believe.” Such an approach does not take seriously God’s hatred for sin, and thus offers no real solutions for it. Consider this quote from John Owen.

    “Take heed of them who would rob you of the Deity of Christ. If there were no more grace for me than what can be treasured up in a mere man, I should rejoice if my portion might be under rocks and mountains, forever hidden from the wrath of Almighty God.”

    Doctrine matters.

    swordbearer said...


    With a little closer read, I think you're right.