The Magi and civil disobedience to unjust authority

By Simon Barrow
December 25, 2014

Thanks to Ekklesia's Australian associate, Doug Hynd, for pointing us in the direction of an intriguing piece about civil disobedience at the heart of the nativity story - and from an unexpected source.

This fits well with of Christmas and Advent emphasis on 'alterNATIVITY' - the theme of our seasonal reflections.

"Many Christians are still unsure about Civil Disobedience," writes Craig Greenfield. "That's why this Christmas season we need to learn wisdom and discernment from some of the first people who sought to worship Jesus: a trio of spiritual gurus from Asia. They were the first of many in the New Testament to refuse to obey the ruling authorities."

Greenfield points out that the Magi (popularly but wrongly identified as three in number, because of the gifts cited), after they had paid homage to the infant Christ, were "warned in a dream not to go back to Herod" and "returned to their country by another route" (Matthew 2.8, 12).

"God told them not to obey the ruling authority", he continues. "This was during a time when disobeying the King was a capital offence, punishable by death. It is the first recorded act of civil disobedience in the New Testament.

"Take a moment to reflect on the fact that obeying the King, whose word was the law of the land, would have meant the death of an infant. Later, it meant the death of hundreds of children.

"The law is not our ultimate moral guide. … Slavery was lawful. The holocaust was legal. Segregation was legally sanctioned. Simply put, the law does not dictate our ethics. God does. So it should not surprise us that the One we follow was executed as a criminal, and that there will be times we are called to break unjust laws.

"As St Augustine said, 'An unjust law is no law at all.' Christians cannot fulfill their role in life without coming into conflict with the world system."

Many thanks to Craig for this timely reflection.

* Read the post here: http://www.craiggreenfield.com/blog/wisemen

* More on Christmas: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/christmas

* 'How to remember war so as to invest in peace' (new Ekklesia research essay): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21205

* Christmas truce? Help make it permanent: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21032

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© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.