Christmas Truth or Tradition #1
riding on a donkey in full-blown labor
Most of us who have grown up around the Christmas holiday have some idea about the story of Jesus’ birth. We’ve either watched a nativity play, seen the nativity decorations or perhaps received a nativity Christmas card. What if I told you some of our Christmas nativity traditions are not in the New Testament story of Jesus’ birth? I know shocking! What I am about to tell you feels a lot like dropping the Santa isn’t real truth bomb! (Oh did I just write that?)
Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to debunk some Christmas nativity traditions that are just that — traditions not Bible.
Christmas Tradition #1:
The Bible does not say Mary was in labor when she arrived in Bethlehem, nor that she came in on a donkey.
In Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-6 the Bible does tell us about Mary and the trip to Bethlehem. It says Mary was a pregnant virgin whose fiance, Joseph, was going to leave her when he found out she was pregnant. However, Joseph was visited by an angel and decided to marry Mary. The government had a census and Joseph had to take his fiance to his hometown — which was Bethlehem. Scripture says while they were there the time had come for the baby to be born. I know it makes for good TV, but a young woman in labor on the back of a donkey isn’t biblical. They were already in town and settled when Mary went into labor.
Where did the idea of active labor and a donkey start?
The idea comes from early church writings considered apocrypha, meaning doubtful authenticity although widely circulated as true. They are writings that did not make it into the canon of scripture. In James 17: The Infancy Gospel of James it mentions the donkey, labor, and even a cave (which we will address next week).
How did it make its way into our Christmas nativity?
While the Catholic Church has some books in their Bible called the Apocrypha or known as the Deuterocanonical books (meaning second canon) these books are not the early writings I linked to. That being said, first and second century Christian apologist, like Saint Justin Martyr, used some of these early writings as evidence to their teachings, and thus been carried down for centuries.
So there ya have it! We’ve dunked a nativity tradition over Holy Bible inscription. Don’t stress if little Billy is a donkey in this year’s Christmas play and don’t toss the donkey figurine from the family nativity. The notable parts of the nativity story aren’t the details we got wrong, but what actually went right. Jesus born in Bethlehem to a virgin fulfilled a prophecy given 700 years before his birth, now those are details worth focusing on! (Micha 5:2 and 2 Samuel 7:12-14)
Join me next week when we chat about where Jesus’ birth actually happened.
Your friend in faith
PS… Don’t take my word for it. Get in your Bible and research it yourself.
PSS… I am still learning and I have updated this blog to reflect so. It was brought to my attention that my writings implied the apocryphal teachings I referred to were found in the Catholic Bible today and they are not. The Deuterocanonical books were 7 books canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in the 1500’s which recognized them as a period in history. As I mentioned before the apocryphal teachings I linked to earlier in the blog are not those but they were used by early century apologists to prove their teachings. You can read more about these books in the Catholic Bible here.