What’s Wrong With This Picture?

The Original Christmas IQ Test  – Answer Key

You know what I like about this painting? What's not there. Even the simplest nativity scene has the holy family, with the baby in the manger. Some nativities have the holy family and shepherds. Typical nativity paintings and scenes also have an ox, an ass, sheep and goats, one to several angels, three kings, camels, and a star, plus or minus some camel drivers and the sponsor of the painting, not one of which is in the scripture passage that talks about the visit of the shepherds to the manger! The angels had already departed, the scholars hadn't arrived, the star was out east guiding the scholars, and the ox, ass, sheep, goats, and camel drivers are not reported. This painting of The Birth of Christ, by Johann Ludwig Lund, does have the star, but otherwise those who are named in scripture are in the picture, and those who aren't, aren't.

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Birth of Christ, by Lund
"Birth of Christ," by Lund,
from the Gamble family Bible,
now in the private collection of Regina Hunter.

Answer for January 2:  Only two of the Gospels record Jesus' birth: We find answers to these questions in the Christmas stories in Matthew and Luke, particularly if we are reading a good, modern translation with footnotes that refer us back to Isaiah, Micah, Leviticus, and Numbers.  Mark starts with "the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," i.e., with the beginning of Jesus' preaching.  John starts with The Beginning.  Neither of them mention Jesus' birth, and his mother, father, and ancestry are mentioned only in passing. Matthew begins with Jesus' genealogy and birth, and Luke sets the lives of Jesus and John the Baptist out in chronological order. So the correct answer is (F), only A and C.

Answer for January 1:  Okay, I'm going to take a little time here for some personal ranting.  Alert reader Jean J. recently called my attention to an extremely interesting article in the December 2008 issue of National Geographic.  Two things about the article raised my blood pressure.  One was the title, "The Real King Herod," like the Herod recorded in the Bible is not the real Herod.  It turns out that Herod was an astute politician and an excellent architect, or at least someone who employed excellent architects.  How about "The Herod We Never Knew"? 
The other was the statement that while Herod was indeed responsible for the murders of "children ... including three of his own sons, along with his wife, his mother-in-law, and numerous other members of his court," he was "almost certainly innocent" of the slaying of the babies in Bethlehem.  The author makes this astonishing acquittal on the grounds that there "is no report apart from Matthew's account." 
Excuse me?  We know from many extra-Biblical sources that Herod was a violent and murderous man, especially prone to killing anyone who might remotely interfere with his own power.  The massacre of the innocents would have been perfectly in character.  Furthermore, when Matthew wrote his book, there were plenty of people around who had been alive – probably many who lived in Bethlehem – during Herod's reign.  Do we think Matthew could have gotten away with making up this story if it hadn't happened?  Would the book have been accepted as scriptural if it contained deliberate falsifications?  Does this author really expect Roman historians to record the murder of a handful of babies in an obscure town in Judea? 
It boggles my mind – and frankly offends my sensibilities as a scientist – when people come up with "refutations" of scripture on the basis on no new evidence whatsoever.  If you want to go out and do some archaeology and discover facts that show Solomon's Temple to be less grand than is recorded in Kings and Chronicles, fine, I won't argue with you.  But to conclude that an event that was recorded within the lifetimes of people who were there is unhistorical simply because we have no other record of it strikes me as unscientific. 
So let's stick with what Matthew tells us about Herod: Jesus was probably (C) or (D) a year or two old when the wise men came to visit, and not a newborn.  Remember that we know for sure that Jesus was more than 40 days old, because the gifts of the magi would have put his parents into a higher tax bracket than is indicated by their offering for Mary and Jesus' purification.

Answer for December 31:  Guess what?  The songs are right! Just as the cards and the carols tell us, the wise men brought (D) gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus.  This second bit of evidence tells us that the wise men were not in Bethlehem within the first 40 days of Jesus' life on earth.  Remember the two young pigeons or pair of turtledoves that Joseph and Mary brought to the Temple?  If they had had gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they would have been wealthy enough to sacrifice a lamb and either one young pigeon or one turtledove.
Longstanding tradition has it that the wise men's gifts represent Jesus' kingship, his deity, and his suffering.  John Wesley says only that they probably represented the best gifts that their native lands had to offer.  Myrrh was worth more than its weight in gold and about five times as expensive as frankincense, and of course, gold is gold.
The gift of gold is self-explanatory.  Frankincense was typically offered as a whole or partial sacrifice to God or a pagan god, and it was and is also used in perfumes and aromatherapy.  Kohl – the black stuff Egyptians used to paint their eyes – was made from frankincense, and the pure material is edible and has been used in traditional medicine to promote digestion and healthy skin.  It is an aromatic resin from the frankincense tree, Boswellia sacra.
Myrrh is a bitter resin from the tree Commiphora myrrha.  It is also used in incense offerings and perfumes.  It is more especially associated with death – the Romans used it in funeral pyres to mask the scent of the burning corpse, and the early and medieval Church used it as incense at funerals.  It has also been used as an embalming treatment. 
By the way, the ancient tradition that there were three wise men undoubtedly comes from the Bible's statement that there were three gifts.  I suspect the tradition that they were kings comes from the lordly expense of these particular gifts.  Those among us who spend half the year's budget on Christmas presents can use Matthew 2:11 as justification.

Answer for December 30:  In Matthew 2:11b, we read Hallmark has almost singlehandedly created a number of holidays, but Christmas is not one of them.  Lewis and Clark were certainly celebrating something when they got to the Pacific, but it was their arrival, and not Christmas.  I'm sorry to say that the same 17th-century Puritan ancestors who gave us Thanksgiving outlawed all signs of a Christmas celebration.  Returning Crusaders brought with them many pieces of the true cross, fragments of Mary's mantle, etc., but no Christmas presents.  The feast day of St. Nicholas is December 6, and there may be some truth in the ancient legends that he gave anonymous gifts to the poor.  Nevertheless, the earliest documented Christmas gifts were given to the infant Jesus when he was about 2 years old, around (A) 2 BC.

Answer for December 29:  Matthew says that the wise men found Jesus in a (C) house. This is one of three bits of evidence that the wise men were not present at the manger along with the shepherds. Clearly enough time had passed for most of the people who had come in for the census to leave Bethlehem and for the housing crunch to let up.

Answer For December 26:   Merry Christmas!  Do you open your presents on Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, Boxing Day, or Epiphany?  Do you go to a children's service in the afternoon or a candlelight service at midnight?  Do you have Christmas dinner or Christmas breakfast?  Christmas customs are variable, but the one custom that all Christians have had in common for more than 2000 years is that we are seeking the Christ who was born king of the Jews.  The star led the wise men to (A) the child.

Answer for December 25:  In Matthew 2:5-6, we read The priests and scribes were reading from Micah 5: Herod's advisors knew where Jesus was because (D) they read it in the book of Micah.  Most Old Testament quotations in the New Testament are from the Greek Old Testament, called the Septuagint.  Matthew has a reputation for doing his own translations directly from the original Hebrew.  I looked this particular one up in the Septuagint, and Matthew's translation is quite a bit different.  That doesn't mean that either one is better or worse; they're just different.  It does show that his reputation is well deserved.
By the way, fellow-reader Vance B. points out that the wise men could have stopped for directions because one of them was "maybe a man of many married years that had finally gotten tired of hearing 'Why don't you stop and ask for directions!'  It is all about minimizing the pain." 

Answer for December 24:   They stopped (B) to ask for directions, which does slightly tend to suggest that at least one of the wise ones was a woman (tee hee).

Answer for December 23:  The number of wise men who came to see Jesus is not mentioned in the Bible, so the correct answer is (F), Who knows? In fact, we can't be certain that they were all men. The Greek word magoi, strictly speaking, could mean a mixed group of wise men and women. It means "wise ones," or "scholars." There aren't two separate words, "wise" and "men." Considering the prominence of Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna in the Christmas story, we would be unwise to rule women out altogether. By the way, have you ever read "The Other Wise Man," by Henry Van Dyke? Excellent Christmas reading; I recommend it.

Also, if Santa is getting desperate for last-minute gift ideas, today would be a great time to ask for a new Bible for Christmas – a different translation than the one you are used to reading. When you read a new translation, you will notice things you never saw before and get insights you never had before. Tell Santa you want a good, modern translation with study notes, and please not to get X, Where X is your current translation.

Answer for December 22:  According to Matthew, wise men arrived saying, Wise men saw the star in the east, so the correct answer is (F), None of the above.

Answer for December 19: The only king in the story is Herod, who lived in Jerusalem and said he would visit the baby but sent soldiers instead.  Wise men came looking for Jesus, so the correct answer is (A) None.

Answer for December 18:  Luke 2:34, 36, and 38 tell us that So (B) Simeon and Anna, two aged and holy people who spent most of their time in the Temple, immediately recognized the baby Jesus for who he was.  Score 2 for the geriatric set.

Answer for December 17:   According to Luke 2:22b, 24, After God saved the first-born of Israel from the terrible plague visited on Egypt, every first-born male of any species in Israel belonged to God.  First-born male clean animals could be sacrificed, but first-born male children had to be redeemed after a 40-day purification period.  Redemption prices were prescribed according to the Law and varied with the family's wealth.  The sacrifice of (E) two turtledoves shows that Joseph and Mary were poor in worldly goods at this time (Leviticus 12:8).
Has anybody ever seen a Christmas card of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus in the Temple?

Answer for December 16: The angels went back to heaven, and there is no mention of them again until after the visitors from the east arrived.  So (A) None.  All the paintings and Christmas cards with angels at the manger are ... beautiful.  But wrong, even so.

Answer for December 15:   A "heavenly host" is (E) an angel army, but that Christmas they were on a peaceful mission.  Good military tactics call for taking the high ground, assembling an overwhelming force, and instilling the opponent with awe.  The angels, being an army, did all of these.  They appeared above the shepherds, there was a multitude of them, and as I said the other day, angels are awesomely scary.  No wonder the shepherds were terrified!

By the way, paintings and Christmas cards that show the shepherds looking up at a star, with no angels in sight, are .... beautiful.  But wrong, even so.

Answer for December 12:   The angels sang (D), "Glory to God in the Highest" (that is, glory in the highest heaven, not the highest glory). The last part of the verse has undergone a change in translation in the past several decades. I've seen three basic ideas about what it says: Back in the old days when I worked, one of my tasks was to get compromise wording that really antagonistic groups could jointly endorse. One technique is to put a period after the part that everyone agrees on: "peace on earth." I'm pretty sure that if we could get that far, God would favor all of us, because all of us would please God.

Answer for December 11:   We had this verse last week, so this should have been an easy question!  The angel told the shepherds to look for a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The correct answer is (F), None of the above.
Here's the interesting thing. The shepherds had to be told to look for a baby in a manger. There was no star, no angel hovering above, no halos – just a baby in a manger. At other end of Jesus' life, the soldiers had to be told to watch for a kiss. There was no crown, no scepter, no halo – just a man in a garden. How humble Jesus is in approaching us! Here's what Paul says in Philippians 2:5-9:
(International Standard Version, courtesy of the ISV Foundation)

Answer for December 10:  Luke 2:2-9 tells us, (A) One angel spoke to the shepherds, and a multitude of angels sang. Just like Sunday mornings at St. John's!

Answer for December 9:   Clearly, (C) Gabriel was the angel who appeared to Zechariah and Mary.

Gabriel also appeared to Daniel (Daniel 8:16, 9:21). Gabriel seems to be the messenger that God sends when He wants to make sure you are listening, so if Gabriel shows up on your doorstep, pay attention! Also, be polite, because he's a bit short-tempered (Luke 1:20).

Answer for December 8:  Angels appeared on (F) six separate occasions in connection with Jesus' birth and infancy: to Zechariah, Luke 1:11 ff.; to Mary, Luke 1:26 ff.; to the shepherds, Luke 2:8 ff.; and three times to Joseph, Matthew 1:20, 2:13, and 2:19.

About the first thing an
angel ever says is, "Don't be afraid!"  Getting a visit from an angel is often terrifying.  That makes me think that angels must be scary to look at, and that is probably true, if the other descriptions we have of angelic beings are anything like accurate.  But Luke 2:9 gives us another insight.  In the presence of an angel, the glory of the Lord would illuminate me, and I suspect I would see a lot of things about myself that would terrify me.  Isn't it wonderful that the first message from God is, "Don't be afraid!"

Answer for December 7:  In the words of Psalms 139:6, The ox, the ass, the camels, the sheep and the goats are put into the paintings of the Baby Jesus and his parents to give the customer value for money by filling in the canvas.  The Christmas stories in the Bible do not mention any of them.  So the correct answer is (F) Who knows?

The Bible does mention animals in many other places.  Many of these animals are named only once or a few times, and translators and scholars often have difficulty knowing exactly what animal is intended.  Furthermore, the Hebrews didn't refer to groups of animals exactly the way we do, and that contributes to the difficulty of knowing what English word to use.  For example, Hebrew has a couple words that mean very roughly "small animals that move fast on short legs or no legs," often translated "creeping things," as in Genesis 1:24 and Leviticus 11:41 (two different words).  Here's a website for those of you who are curious about
Biblical animals.  I didn't see any obvious errors in this one, but you might want to take it with a grain of salt, nevertheless.

Answer for December 4:  According to Luke 2:7, 12, The Bible does not say where Jesus was born, although the although the manger of Luke 2:7, 12 implies that he was born in a stable. The Protevangelion says he was born in a cave, which is probably why the Church of the Nativity is built over a cave. So the correct answer is (F) Who knows? And remember all those Christmas cards with the Baby Jesus naked (except for a halo and a diaper or strategically placed leg)?  Nope.  He was swaddled.  "Swaddled"  means "wrapped up snug from head to toe."  I know this obscure fact because my own first-born son had to be swaddled to keep him from crying All. The. Time.

Answer for December 3:  The Bible does not say how Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem. The Protevangelion, a non-Biblical but very early book, says that Joseph saddled an ass for Mary. This is probably where all the pictures come from, but the correct answer is still (F), Who knows?

Answer for December 2:  In Luke 2:1, we read, Therefore, (D) Caesar Augustus told Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem.

By the way, this census was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:2). Quirinius was governor of Syria well after the death of King Herod (Matthew 2:1). This has led to two primary schools of thought: (1) Matthew was wrong about the date, and (2) Luke was wrong or careless about the date. Neither of these schools seems to notice that Luke also says Herod was King (Luke 1:5), so he has the same date as Matthew. Possibly he could have been careless about Quirinius. Since he makes a big point of having done careful research (Luke 1:3), however, I discount the idea of "carelessness."

A third school of thought, largely ignored by Schools 1 and 2 but apparently with some historical support outside the Bible, is that Quirinius was governor of Syria twice, once during and once well after the reign of Herod. John Wesley's idea is that if the plain meaning of scripture is reasonable, then we should accept the plain meaning. I go with School 3.

Answer for November 29:   When Joseph and Mary found out that Mary was pregnant, (B) Joseph wanted to break the engagement at first, and (C) Mary left town for three months. So the correct answer is (F) both B and C.

Answer for November 28:  In Luke 2:4, we read, In September my husband and I drove for three days to get to Union, Oregon.  We spent one day there, and then we turned right around and drove for three days to get home.  There was a Gambill family reunion in the ancestral family seat of Union, and I am of the house and family of Gambill, so we had to go there.  Joseph was from (C) Nazareth.  Only his ancestors were from Bethlehem, but he had to go there. 

Answer for November 27:  In Matthew 1:21, the angel tells Joseph,  
Remember that we have seen the formula "
He was named XX because YY" many times in the Old Testament.  We learned that XX invariably sounds like YY in Hebrew (but not in English).  "Jesus" is the Greek form of the Hebrew name "Joshua," which not only sounds like, but also means (depending on which dictionary I consult), "God is salvation," or  (D) "God saves."  Thanks be to God!

Answer for November 26:  In Isaiah 40:3-5, the prophet predicted that John would be (C) a voice in the wilderness. John was also Jesus' cousin (probably not a first cousin), beheaded by Herod, and born to a barren woman. The Sword of the Lord is the Bible.

Answer for November 25:  In Luke 1:16-17, the angel says to John's father:
In Luke 7:26-27, Jesus says to the crowd:
Jesus also identifies John as Elijah in Matt. 11:13-14, Matt 17:10-12, and parallel verses in Mark.  So, the OT figure with whom John is identified is (B) Elijah.

Answer for November 24:  In Luke 1:15, the angel says to Zechariah: 
Numbers 6:1-4 says, So (A) Yes, John the Baptist was a life-long Nazirite, dedicated to be God's holy person from the womb.  Most Nazirites took vows for a limited period.  Samson was another life-long Nazirite, although he didn't do as good a job as John at being holy.

Note on the Translations: I once mentioned to a new fellow reader that some of the scripture that week would be from Hunter’s Loose Translation of the Bible. She responded that she was liking Hunter’s Loose, and she is a pretty knowledgeable lady, so I was encouraged to do it again. You’ll probably notice that Hunter’s Loose doesn’t sound exactly like your Bible. This is because it is my translation – i.e., my reading, turned into real English – as opposed to my version, which would repeat the Greek almost word for word, but using English words. In fact, my translation isn’t all that loose, because during and after translating, I check continually against Strong’s Dictionary and several translations – KJV, ISV, ESV, CEV, God’s Word, Good News, and JPS (for the OT only). I occasionally check against another dictionary and other translations. I do try to give you the flavor of the original a little more than most of these. All readings in the Christmas IQ Test are from Hunter’s Loose Translation, unless otherwise noted.

Copyright 1993, 2008, 2009, 2017 by Regina L. Hunter.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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