Christmas Stories in the Bible, Part 2

Paul has the clearest “Christmas story” in Galatians 4:4-5, but he mentions snippets of the story in six other letters, Romans, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, and 2 Timothy. In this post I’ll cover all of these together topically.

Messiah. Paul’s most common addition to the name Jesus is “Christ,” the Greek version of Messiah. Christ is not a last name, but a descriptor of who Jesus is, the promised Messiah whom Jews were waiting for. Paul refers to the Old Testament promises in the prophets in Romans 1:2 and 3:21.

God’s Son. In Romans 1:3 Paul speaks of “the gospel concerning his Son.” “Son” and “Son of God” are favorite ways Paul refers to Jesus (17 times) and his pre-existent relationship with the Father.

Descended from David and Abraham. Paul refers to earthly lineage of Jesus several times. In Romans 1:3 Jesus was “descended from David according to the flesh.” Later in Romans 9:5 Paul says Jesus is descended from the patriarchs, and then in 15:12 quotes Isaiah 11:10, “The root of Jesse will come …” Galatians 3:16 refers to Jesus as the seed of Abraham, and in 2 Timothy 2:8 Paul calls Jesus, “the seed of David.”

Heaven to earth. Several times Paul refers to descent of Jesus from God to human existence. Romans 8:3 says “God, by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” The divine and human nature of Jesus is clear here. Though subtle, 2 Cor 8:9 refers to the incarnation: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Philippians 2:6-7 is similar: “Though he (Jesus) was in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God something to be held on to, but he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in the likeness of a human.” Colossians 1:15 and 19 affirm that Jesus did not stop being God: “he is the image of the unseen God … in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Finally, Paul writes to Timothy that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” (1 Tim 1:15), that “he was revealed in the flesh,” (1 Tim 3:16, cf. 2 Tim 1:9-10).

All in all Paul shows clear knowledge of the story of Jesus’s birth and the theology of the incarnation, even though Paul’s primary focus throughout his letters is on the cross and resurrection. What he says about the incarnation of Jesus is very consistent with the stories in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 as well as other versions of the Christmas story I will discuss from John, Hebrews, and Revelation.

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