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I had the privilege in 2014 of giving the Hayward Lectures at Acadia Divinity School in Nova Scotia. While there I met a young scholar who is working on various topics in the Gospels. His name is Danny Zacharias. He had recently finished a project on the question of why Matthew (ch. 1) and Luke (ch 3) have different names in their genealogies of Jesus. Some point to this as a contradiction which cannot be solved, thus undermining the reliability of the Gospel accounts. Others see the differences as a matter of purpose and focus. Matthew starts with Abraham and moves forward to Jesus to show that Jesus is the true son of Abraham, the embodiment of Israel. Luke starts with Jesus and moves back through Abraham to Adam, demonstrating that Jesus is the Savior of all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. One traditional “answer” has been that Matthew has Joseph’s genealogy while Luke records Mary’s. Not all, of course, think this is the case.
Dr. Zacharias offers an intriguing approach to the question. Here is a link to a brief video he did a few years back:
I think you may find it helpful. If so, please let him know.
I remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Potts, opening a vein when anyone wrote “Xmas” instead of “Christmas.” She felt there was a war on Christmas and that people who abbreviated the name of the holiday were trying to take Christ out of Christmas. I suppose that is true for some people, but when you look into the real story of “Xmas” you realize that something else is at work.
The story begins with the Ten Commandments. One of those commandments says, “Do not take the name of the LORD in vain.” The name by the way is not “LORD,” that was a respectful translation or substitute for the name. In Hebrew THE NAME is four letters, yodh-he-vav-he. The technical term for the name is the tetragrammaton (literally, “the four letters”). Scholars today think the name may have been pronounced—when it was pronounced—Yahweh or Yahveh. But we aren’t sure. This was the covenant name of God, the name revealed to Moses and Israel at Mt. Sinai.
Under the influence of the commandment about the misuse of God’s name, the faithful spoke it less and less. By the time of Jesus speaking the name was considered blasphemous in almost every circumstance. The rabbis made their mark by building a hedge about the law. If you never spoke God’s name, you could never be guilty of taking the name in vain. It was a way of safeguarding the name. Even when reading Scripture in the synagogue, a substitute word was used. In Aramaic-speaking synagogues the readers said “Adonai.” In Greek-speaking synagogues they said “kyrios.” Both mean something like “Lord” or “Master.”
The Dead Sea Scrolls provide good evidence for how the name of God was written in the centuries and decades leading up to the New Testament era. In many of the biblical scrolls the name of God is written in paleo-Hebrew script. That would be like shifting to a Gothic font when writing the name of God. In other scrolls the name is not written at all; it is represented by four, thick dots written in the center of the line. In yet other scrolls where the name of God should be there is a blank in the line just large enough for the tetragrammaton. Scholars theorize that the blank was left by a junior scribe and would have been filled in later by a senior scribe who had permission to write the name. Where there is a blank in the line, we think the senior scholar never got around to writing the divine name in the blank. These were some of the ways the faithful showed respect for the name of God.
Early Christians developed their own way of signaling respect for the names and titles associated with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Copying the New Testament books in Greek, they abbreviated the names (usually first letter and last letter) and placed a line above those letters. You can see this in the picture. Scholars refer to these as nomina sacra (Latin for “sacred names”). Copyists continued to write sacred names this way for centuries. It remains a common practice still among artists who create the icons used in the eastern churches. Many names and titles were written this way including “God,” “Father,” “Jesus,” “Son of God,” “Son of Man,” “Christ,” “Lord,” “Holy Spirit.” For our purposes note the nomen sacrum for “Christ;” it was written XC. Now remember these are letters from the Greek alphabet not our Latinized version. It is not “X” (eks) the 24th letter of our English alphabet but the Greek letter “Chi,” the first letter of the title “Christ.”
Earliest versions of writing Christmas as “Xmas” in English go back to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (about 1100). This predates the rise of secularism by over 600 years. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the use of “X-“ for “Christ” as early as 1485. In one manuscript (1551) Christmas is written as “X’temmas.” English writers from Lord Byron (1811) to Samuel Coleridge (1801) to Lewis Carroll (1864) used the spelling we are familiar with today, “Xmas.”
The origin of “Xmas” does not lie in secularists who are trying to take Christ out of Christmas, but in ancient scribal practices adopted to safeguard the divine name and signal respect for it. The “X” in “Xmas” is not the English letter (eks) as in “X marks the spot,” but it is the initial Greek letter “Chi” (X), the first letter of the title “Christ.” No doubt some people today use the abbreviated form to disregard the Christian focus of the holy-day, but the background tells a different story, a story of faithful men and women showing the deep respect they have for Jesus at this time of year.
Merry Christmas or should I say “Merry Xmas”!
Recently I heard a college administrator say that in 15-20 years we will not recognize higher education. He may be correct. Given the number of changes in the past ten years and the kind of changes that are coming, how colleges and universities educate those who matriculate is likely to shift in ways we cannot now imagine. As an analogy consider this: who could have imagined 20 years ago that in our hands we can hold a device that links us to the Internet and nearly every person on the planet (those with technology)? The computing power in each smart phone was unthinkable 20 years ago.
That leads me to college and university libraries. Will we need them? Many college administrators are answering “no” and beginning to scale back the resources allocated to providing students with a library. Not that they will go away completely; but they are likely to become unrecognizable compared to libraries in the past.
Libraries after all are expensive to build and maintain. The space required to house books, journals and other resources costs a great deal. The staff needed to run the library too is costly, especially if the library is open the kind of hours students want to use it. 9 am to 5 pm just won’t cut it. Then there are the books and journals themselves. They are expensive to acquire, process and keep on the shelves. The amount of material being published these days is off the charts. If you take a single discipline and consider what is published annually, it could well run into thousands of books and journals. Multiply that times all the disciplines offered in most major universities (often 50 or more), and you see that maintaining an up-to-date library for students and community is a daunting proposition.
So why go to the expense and effort when 99% of the knowledge and information in the world is available on the Internet? All you need is a laptop and/or a smart phone and access to the World Wide Web, and you can research nearly any question. At least that is how some people are thinking about it these days. Make sure every student has access to these devices and you don’t really need a library card or a library for that matter. Vendors are making available every book published in digital format. The same is true for most of the best journals. If they are not available today, they will be by 2020. You don’t need a book to view an ancient manuscript. The Dead Sea Scrolls are just a few clicks away. You don’t need a CD to listen to Bach. It’s available on the World Wide Web. What we need is a device and access. Perhaps that is how college and university libraries will morph. They will become portals to all the knowledge in the world. Publishers, libraries, museums, and other educational resources will figure out ways to monetize their collections—they already have.
So library space could be reallocated to other purposes necessary for the “modern” university. Library staff would become technology experts and be available for consultation with students and faculty. Those who can’t make the change will be retired early or made redundant. After a while attrition will do its deed. Millions of dollars could be re-routed for other necessities: student services, satellite campuses, distance education, or purposes we can’t imagine today. Students wouldn’t need to get dressed and go to the library; they could sit in their pajamas and surf the NET from the comfort of their dorms. Instead of sitting at a library table they could enjoy a good cup of coffee or tea in their favorite shop as they access the world. Think of the time and effort saved. No more walking or driving to the library. We can save a buck and save the planet all in one day.
Now, before I put my cards on the table, what do you think? In the future will colleges and universities need a library?