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A Return Visit to "Matthew's House"

By J. E. Choate

religion, articles, christianity

The most controversial article printed in a brotherhood paper during 1992, "Christmas at Matthew House," was carried in the November issue of Wineskins. At the best, it was a raw piece of religious journalism. A general brotherhood appraisal deemed it a blasphemous and sacrilegious attack on the virgin birth of Jesus and the moral character of Mary. The April 1993 issue of Wineskins attempted to put a good face on the matter in a published article titled "A Return Visit to Matthew's House." Nothing was explained, and the picture remains as murky as ever.

Readers of the first "Christmas at Matthew's House" will make of it what they will. Its author fictionizes the first chapter of Matthew and puts words in Matthew's mouth he never said, e.g., Matthew is a "sneaky" fellow who has a story to tell about the scandal of Mary's "immaculate conception." Before he does this, Matthew must remind us of other scandalous women whose names appear in Matthew's genealogy. Matthew first tells about Tamar who stalked her father-in-law, Judah, to arrange an adulterous (incestuous) assignation. Matthew addresses next a second "scarlet woman," Rahab, the "Jericho madam." He takes a sly approach to the story of Ruth: "Ruth ... dear sweet Ruth." He wants to know what Ruth was doing that night on the threshing floor at the feet of Boaz.

Matthew reaches the climax of his stories (according to Resner) which addresses the most infamous sexual mishap in Hebrew history - the scandal of David and Bathsheba. (The reader must keep in mind that such comments are the fictitious creations of the writer.) And of all people, the virgin Mary is described as another "sexually questionable woman." If this is not enough, Joseph is pictured as a cuckold who believes for the rest of his life Mary's story of the "immaculate conception."

The Purpose of Matthew's Genealogical Data

At the outset, this writer regards the Wineskins article as a silly piece of fiction outside its attack on the virgin birth of Jesus. It is not well-written and should not have been written at all. All biblical and family genealogies were lost in the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70). This was an incalculable and irreplaceable loss and is mourned to this day by the Jews. Matthew's genealogy has one purpose which is to trace the bloodline of Jesus from Abraham through David. The last thing Matthew had in mind was to dredge up scandalous stories about the women in Matthew's genealogy.

Matthew's account of the ancestry of Jesus was to establish his moral and legal status under Mosaic law. The Lucan account established the maternal ancestry of Jesus through Mary in order to undergird the virgin birth of Jesus. Citizenship today in Israel is granted only to those who can prove a Jewish mother. Brother Resner knows these things as well as 1, or better. What are his reasons for skirting obvious facts? The ultimate purpose of Matthew's genealogy is to depict Jesus as the messianic king, the son of David, whose personal history fulfills the revelations in the Old Testament.

True Stories of Four Women of the Bible

Aside from the lurid "tabloid" handling of these noble heroines of ancient Israel, let's look at the biblical facts. Facts are facts. As brother Keeble would say, "If you don't respect facts, they will knock you down."

Tamar is depicted in Wineskins as a sordid streetwalker dressed in red with fishnet stockings, and stalking her victim on high, spiked heels. Brother Resner, you shame the Holy Spirit and embarrass us with your so called "baby-boomer" rhetoric. The truth is that Scripture portrays Tamar as the faithful wife of two sons of Judah. Yet the Wineskins article depicts the sons dying in bed in the clutches of a "black widow" spider.

Rahab is portrayed as a prostitute in the land of promise. The truth is that Rahab came to be the honored savior of Israel with whom she identified and lived among with her family (Matt. 1:5; Heb. 11:31; James 2:25). Jewish history proves that repentance can work salvation no matter how great the sin. What possessed the editors of Wineskins to sully the honorable name of Rahab? I do not believe they did so out of a malicious intent, but what purpose is served with these outlandish, fictitious stories?

Ruth is portrayed in every mention of her name in Scripture as a noble and pious woman. Ruth was a Moabite, a descendent of the incestuous relationship between Lot and one of his daughters. The Wineskins article could have further embellished the story of Ruth by inserting this sordid misadventure.

Bathsheba was the lawfully-wedded wife of David when she gave birth to Solomon. Nathan defended and insured the right of Solomon to succeed David as king of Israel. Scripture does not paint Bathsheba as a "scarlet" women. Why would the Wineskins editors approve of such?

The virgin Mary. Brother Resner would have been well advised if he had related the virgin birth of Jesus with the same purpose in mind as that of Matthew. Mary would have been revered and the virgin birth of Jesus honored. Brother Resner alleges that he believes deeply in the virgin birth of Jesus. I would not think of disputing this. However, I am appalled by the manner in which Mary is portrayed. The Wineskins editors would have done a great service to Andre Resner and saved him from enormous embarrassment had his article never been printed.

The Levirate Marriage

In the Wineskins article, "Christmas at Matthew's House," and all that has been written about it, why has not some one addressed the levirate law of marriage as set forth in Deuteronomy 25:5-10? The cases of Tamar and Ruth are a part and parcel of the levirate law and traditions. A levirate marriage (yibbum) is the marriage with a widow whose husband has died without an offspring. The brother (levir) was obligated to raise up a firstborn male to continue the bloodline and to insure the family inheritance. The account concerning Judah and Tamar (Gen. 38) indicates the practice of the levirate law before the time of Moses.

When Tamar was convinced that Judah would not honor his obligation, she did not depend on public opinion but relied on her own wits. Tamar devised a stratagem to accomplish her purpose. Tamar is not blamed in Scripture for what she did; and neither did Judah who said, "She is more righteous than I." Tamar is honored in Scripture without exception, e.g.; it is said to Ruth, "Let thy house be as the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore unto Judah" (Ruth 4:12).

The circumstances surrounding Ruth and Boaz describe a levirate marriage. In this case, it also involved the redemption of a family inheritance of land. Both Naomi and Boaz were fully conversant with the law and traditions of a levirate marriage. Ruth was careful to follow precisely the procedural advice of Naomi to bring about the marriage. Boaz was careful to guard the reputation of Ruth throughout the maneuvers. Ruth, from start to finish, is portrayed as a gracious and virtuous woman. This is the true story of Ruth. She is not so portrayed in the Wineskins article which suggests an adulterous affair.

A Summary Appraisal

It would be a great wrong to stand idly by and to allow the Wineskins article to go unchallenged. To imply that Jesus was born of a woman of questionable character and to describe the afore-mentioned women in the same manner is blasphemous. Tamar acted within her rights under levirate law, and Rahab proved herself as a person of heroic character who risked her life to save Israel. The name of Ruth would be dishonored, and the repentance of David and Bathsheba would mean nothing in the context of the Wineskins presentation.

At no place did Matthew even remotely suggest a picture of Mary as anything other than a virtuous woman. If the case were otherwise, the virgin birth of Jesus would be compromised.

Footnotes to a "Return Visit"

Three short articles constitute a "Return Visit to Matthew's House," written to calm the storm of protest and exercise a measure of damage control. Brother Rideout views the first article as a "study guide." He advises us to track through the Scriptures which address the "scandalous women" in Matthew's genealogy. (My article is calculated to accomplish this. My observations are based upon Scripture and contemporary biblical scholarship) The Bible record is far different from brother Resner's fanciful, fictitious account and brother Rideout's good-intentioned glossary. Readers of Wineskins and Firm Foundation will form their own judgments. I have no more to say on this.

The second article was written by "Evelyn," who chose anonymity. She frowns upon the critics of Wineskins and indulges in criticism of her own. Who is "Evelyn"? What are her scholarly qualifications to address the complex problems presented in the "synoptic" Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and the Johannine writings? "Evelyn" would place the Firm Foundation, its writers, and others of like mind on a blacklist to warn off readers that facts and truth just could be learned. Obviously she approves of the bashing which the editors of Wineskins dish out. We would that "Edna," a fictitious name for the recipient of the anonymous "Evelyn's" letter, would read and interpret on her own.

Andre Resner's "Quick Note" addresses his storytelling use of a unique form of baby-boomer rhetoric. We provide brother Resner with a quick study in baby-boomer English, which is the common heritage of us all. In the first place, there is not a form of baby-boomer English exclusively used and understood by that large number of Americans born after World War II. New words constantly enter the English language. Twelve thousand new words are recorded (1986) in a supplement to Webster's Third International Dictionary. The Oxford Dictionary of New Words (1991) advises that boomer in U.S. slang is the short word for baby boomer. As a matter of fact, the baby boomers matured in the '70s and '80s. This is the generation who have come into positions of power and authority by right of passage from one generation to another.

To read about the baby boomers in Wineskins and other kindred places, one could be led to believe that our "New Age" liberal brethren invented them. The level of brother Resner's English is more akin to "gutter English" known by both the literate and illiterate. We would that Andre Resner, Michael Cope, Lynn Anderson, et al would learn that not everyone is amused with their "cute" rhetoric. What more need be said?

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Published November 1993