Professor Norman Arnesen served at Bethany College of the Assemblies
of God and established an educational ministry for pastors and church
leaders in South Africa. His New Testament lectures have offered students
an in-depth look at life in the time of Christ. He recently spoke with
Scott Harrup, associate editor, about the historical context of the
Evangel: Describe the world scene into which Jesus was born.
The inter-testamental period was a very devastating time for the Jews.
They were under the severe administration of the Romans. They were looking
for someone to deliver them from Roman occupation. The religious world
of that day was not at its peak for the Jews. The political times were
against them. Historically, it is one of the dark periods of Jewish
history. They hoped for a political deliverer to free them from Roman
bondage, not realizing the spiritual dimension. Politically, economically,
religiously, almost every dimension of life caused the Jews and other
peoples to anticipate the need for a deliverer.
Evangel: In some ways, perhaps, that mirrors the world in turmoil
Arnesen: It does. In many ways, lifes circumstances are
more like the first century than at any time between the first century
and today. There is economic chaos around the world. There is political
instability. Religiously, people have been looking for answers and a
sense of direction for the future. In some ways, I believe the events
of today are anticipating the second coming of Christ just as world
events anticipated His first coming.
Evangel: What was life like for Joseph and Mary?
Arnesen: Joseph was apparently somewhat older than Mary, who
was most likely in her teen-age years. He would have been more of a
mechanical type of person used to working with slide rules, if you will.
She was more the romantic. Joseph had to deal with perhaps the most
unbelievable story ever told. In some ways, he had to have more faith
than anyone in the Christmas story. Mary would, of course, know the
facts of what happened to her, but Joseph would always have to believe
the facts based on what Mary and the angel said. Then, making the journey
to Bethlehem was long and difficult with her pregnancy. Finding lodging
and going through the birth was difficult in the extreme.
Evangel: People probably have an idealized picture of the manger
scene. What were the real conditions?
Arnesen: Well, even in a "hotel," the conditions would not have
been that great for the birth of Christ. There would have been a leering,
jeering crowd watching. Where they had the birth was apparently in a
cave or where animals were kept under a house. That was anything but
romantic or appealing. It was a very dirty, makeshift place a
difficult place to bring a child into the world. And it was a world
where no one expected the Messiah and everyone was far more concerned
with freedom and prosperity than any womans pregnancy or the birth
of any child.
Evangel: You wrote an article, "The Trouble With Christmas," dealing
with Herods slaughter of the children. How can that narrative
fit into the overall picture of Gods love?
Arnesen: It was the reaction of a wicked king, Herod. It fit
in the overall picture as a representation of evil at its worst, with
God making a beachhead in this very negative scene to bring forth the
Christ child and ultimately, the Easter story. In the midst of Herods
hatred, God brings forth light. Through the article I wanted to remind
people that their view of Christmas as nothing but beautiful scenes
was not complete. These were very evil times.
Evangel: Christmas is really about Immanuel, "God with us." What
has the Lord done in your life?
Arnesen: Hes been very faithful. Hes carried me
through numbers of illnesses when I was close to death. I feel God still
has a purpose for me because Hes brought me back from those difficult
times. I was able to teach at Bethany for about 32 years and then spent
about seven years training pastors in Africa. Ive had a very fulfilled
life, and the Lord has been very faithful through it all.
Evangel: Anything else?
Arnesen: The Incarnation, the coming of Christ into the world
at that time, was the supreme event in all of history. Supreme, when
connected with Christs death on the cross and His resurrection.