The Threefold Framework as Reflected in Scripture
THE ESSENTIAL burden of Scripture is the redemption of man. It is not surprising, therefore, that the threefold framework of which we have been speaking becomes more apparent in those portions of Scripture which relate most specifically to this theme of redemption. This will be evident at once from the five illustrations from Scripture given below. This threefold framework is a key that wonderfully opens up in an entirely new way the meaning of these familiar passages. Moreover, it will be clear also that the order of introduction of the leading characters in each example follows the same sequence: first Shem, then Ham, and finally Japheth.
As one studies these little cameos one further point is worth noting. It seems as though God was determined to preserve the trilogy, by introducing characters at the appropriate place who otherwise seem almost entirely incidental to the main thread of the biblical narrative at the time. I have in mind, for example, the “certain Greeks” who would see Jesus (Illustration No.3.), or the Ethiopian riding in his chariot (Illustration No.4), or Simon of Cyrene who was suddenly called upon to share the burden of the Cross (Illustration No.5). Here, then, are five such trilogies.
1. Abraham’s Three Wives
Abraham had three wives. The first was Sarah, a daughter of Shem (Genesis11:29). The second was Hagar, the Egyptian, a daughter of Ham (Genesis16:3). The third was Keturah (Genesis 25:1). According to Hebrew tradition (presumably based upon genealogical records preserved in the Temple prior to their destruction by fire in A.D. 70, records which were priceless to the Jewish people, particularly where
Abraham was concerned), Keturah (4) was descended in the line of Japheth.
It may be pointed out that in Genesis 10 the sons of Noah when grouped together are habitually put in the same order — Shem, Ham, and Japheth — although it is not absolutely certain that this is the order in which they were born. As will be seen with reference to Abraham’s wives, this order is preserved. The implication of Scripture seems to be that in Abraham, the father of the faithful and the father of many nations, the whole race was in a unique way united into a single family. The subsequent events of Hagar’s life in no way alter the fact that she had become a wife to Abraham.
2. The Three Synoptic Gospels
In the New Testament recognition of this threefold division is consistently accorded. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are termed synoptic because they deal with the events of our Lord’s life in a way quite distinct from the Gospel of John. It has always been recognized that these three Gospels form a mosaic.
It has been observed from the time of the earliest commentaries that Matthew presents a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ as King, and wrote his Gospel primarily with the Jewish people in mind. The opening genealogy traces this King, appropriately, back to David and to Abraham. His Gospel is full of references to the Old Testament and continually points out how this or that event was a fulfilment of prophecy. This was a message directed primarily to the children of Shem.
Remembering the order in which the sons of Noah are always given, one might logically expect that the second Gospel, Mark’s, was directed to the children of Ham. We believe that it is. In considering this aspect of the subject, it is very easy to introduce the ideal of racial superiority, for Mark wrote his Gospel with the clear intent of portraying our Lord as a Servant of mankind. In doing this, he may either be thought to have degraded the Lord to the level of a servant or elevated the servant to the position of God’s Anointed. The former view which seems the most obvious, is most false. One is reminded of Luther’s hymn, which points out that he who sweeps a floor as unto the Lord makes both the floor and the action “fine.” This is a wonderful truth. That the children of Ham have been servants
par excellence to mankind (5) — have in fact habitually served mankind better than they served themselves — is not to degrade them but to acknowledge a debt which we, with our ethnocentric pride, have been slow to admit. As we have already said, this is a point to be considered more fully.
That Mark wrote from this point of view seems clear. There is no genealogy of the Lord. A servant is known by his service, not by his pedigree. Mark is full of such phrases as immediately, straightway, forthwith, etc. This Man commanded power. It is a striking thing that the gods of Hamitic people on the whole were gods of power, whereas the God of Shem was pre-eminently moral, and the gods of Japheth were gods of illumination. Mark’s Gospel is a Gospel of doing, of ceaseless activity. There are some references to the sublime position of a servant which are not found in the other Gospels. (6) Here and there Mark refers to people as servants where the other Gospels omit the fact, and Mark himself is singled out elsewhere as of particular service to Paul.
Luke’s Gospel was clearly written for the Gentiles. It appears traditionally that the term Gentile was reserved for the children of Japheth. This is reflected in Genesis 10:5, which we shall examine a little more fully subsequently. In Genesis 9:27 the text reads, “God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem.” This occurred when the Jewish people committed national suicide by rejecting their King. The Kingdom was taken from them (Matthew 21:43) and the responsibility for its administration was given to Japheth. But this is a temporary arrangement, and when “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24) are fulfilled, the original division of responsibilities will be restored.
Luke wrote for these Gentiles. Being himself Greek, this was an appropriate divine appointment. In his Gospel, the genealogy of the Lord, quite properly, goes back to Adam, and the characteristic delineation of the Lord is as “Son of Man.”
6. Mark’s unique reference to the place of “service,” is found in Mark 10:44. He himself is referred to as a particularly valuable minister, by Paul in 2 Timothy 4:11.
It is also worthy of note that the name Japheth means “fair” or “light,” as the word Ham means “dark” (not necessarily black). The word Luke also means “fair” or “light.”
So we have three synoptic Gospels which, by many internal evidences far too numerous to enter into here, seem clearly to have been written under divine direction specifically for Shem, Ham, and Japheth – in this order. It is not certain, of course, that the actual text of each Gospel was completed in this chronological order, but the fact remains that God has seen to it that they should be preserved for us from the earliest times in the order in which we find them today. There is no direct evidence, as far as I know, that the writers or the receivers were conscious of this association, but the association surely is clear.
3. Those Seeking the Lord Jesus Christ
In the New Testament there were numerous instances of men being sought and found by the Lord. There are cases also of those who went in search of others to bring them to the Lord, such as when Andrew first found his brother Peter. These cases seem to be the result of the ordinary processes of daily association, though the results were always extraordinary. We can say this because we are given further information about what happened to these individuals.
But there were three delegations of people who came deliberately looking for the Lord and who, having found Him, disappear from view entirely and are never mentioned again. The first of these delegations was composed of shepherds, the second, the Wise Men, and the third, “certain Greeks.” It is quite obvious from the record that the first delegation represents the family of Shem, for they were Israelites. It is also quite clear that the third delegation represented Japheth, for they were Greeks. (7) The question remains as to the identity of the Magi.
We might be accused at once of bending the facts to suit the theory in this instance. However, these Wise Men have always been a subject of peculiar interest, partly because of the uncertainty surrounding their origin; consequently, very determined efforts have been made to identify them. Needless to say, imagination has supplied all kinds of fanciful details with respect to their subsequent fortunes. We can discount these and confine
ourselves to what may reasonably be deduced from details of the record, particularly the gifts they brought.
These gifts were gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It is almost certain that they came from Southern Arabia or even possibly the adjacent portions of Africa, namely, Ethiopia and Somaliland. That these areas were sources of supply and stimulated considerable trade via Southern Arabia up into Palestine and from there to the Mediterranean world is well known, constantly referred to by early historians and by the early Church Fathers. This led to the almost universal opinion that the Magi had come from Southern Arabia. Although it is commonly assumed that Arabs are Semites, this is only part of the truth; Southern Arabia was populated by people who were largely Hamitic in origin. This was particularly true of Hadramaut and Yemen. Elliot Smith pointed out that the peoples of Arabia conformed in all essentials to the so-called Mediterranean race. The earliest inhabitants of Mesopotamia, the Sumerians, are believed to have been members of this Mediterranean race. (8)
A few years ago, the Rev. Eric F. Bishop from the Newman School of Missions (Mount Tabor, Jerusalem) remarked regarding the Wise Men: (9)
Very few people have given much thought to Arabia as the home of the Magi, even though the Jewish magician whom Paul met in Cyprus (Acts 13:6-8) actually had an Arabic name – Elymas. . . . Furthermore, the world’s supply of incense comes from Southern Arabia and it is generally admitted that the best incense comes from Somaliland . . People coming from Arabia could not be described as coming “from the East,” some will argue. There are certain things that may be said in reply. First, several commentators take the phrase “from the East” with the noun rather than the verb. It was “Wise Men from the East” who came to Jerusalem, i.e., Oriental astrologers.
The point here is that the term “Wise Men from the East” had come by usage to stand for a certain type of astrologer whether he came literally from the East or not. To the Chinese, America is eastward, yet the educated Chinese would refer to its culture as Western Culture. The Chinese to us are still Orientals, i.e.,
9. Bishop, Eric F., The Palestinian Background of Christmas, Royal Army Chaplains’ Dept., Middle East Forces, Jerusalem, 1943, p.18.
“Men from the East,” though they almost certainly arrived in this country from the West! Bishop points out that when Clement of Rome wrote to the Corinthians sometime before the end of the first century and discussed with them the fable of the Phoenix, he happened to use two interesting phrases that bear upon this subject. He spoke of “the marvelous sign which is seen in the region of the East, that is, in the parts about Arabia” and then observes that “when the time of its dissolution approaches, the Phoenix makes for itself a coffin of frankincense, myrrh, and other spices.” Justin Martyr, who lived only forty miles from Bethlehem, mentions three times in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew that the Magi came from Arabia. Murray’s Bible Dictionary (10) says in this connection:
The Magi of Matthew 2 probably came from Yemen in South Arabia. The inhabitants of this region were brought much into contact with the Jews by trade, and were considerably influenced by Judaism. They seem in fact to ultimately have abandoned their original heathen religion for Judaism: for while Yemen inscriptions of 270 A.D. speak of the heathen deities of the land, those of 458 and 467 A.D. speak of One Rahman, a name which seems to be connected with the Hebrew Rahman, “the Compassionate One.”
The old heathen religion of Yemen included the worship of the sun and of the moon, a matter of some significance in the light of Matthew 2:2, 9, 10. The district was then rich in gold, frankincense, and myrrh (16 Strabo 4, 4). An inscription of Tiglath Pileser II (733 B.C.) mentions Saba, the Seba of Genesis 10:7 who was one of the sons of Cush, a Hamite. This district was part of Yemen and is listed by the King as paying tribute in gold, silver, and incense. In the Annals of Sargon (715 B.C.) Saba is again mentioned as paying tribute in the form of gold and spices.
It was the queen of this land, the Queen of Sheba, who visited Solomon bringing gifts of gold and spices (1 Kings 10:2,10). Himyaric inscriptions in Southern Arabia show that the early inhabitants of the region were not Semites, and their language is said to have affinities with certain Abyssinian tribes. This accords well with the traditions which associate the Ethiopian monarchy with Solomon via the Queen of Sheba who herself may have been black and very comely (Song of Solomon 1:5).
In a recent quarterly journal there is a note regarding the Queen of Sheba which bears on this: (11)
The latest American Archaeological Expedition in South Arabia has proved that King Solomon’s empire and the empire of the Queen of Sheba were coexistent, contrary to the theory held at present. According to Prof. W. F. Albright, the Expedition was the first to carry out a proper archaeological excavation in South Arabia, and established contrary to the hitherto accepted view, that the rule of the Kingdom of Sheba preceded that of other countries by many centuries
The Shebean Empire was a military and commercial one which extended not only to the coastal cities of Arabia but also to Ethiopia.
Hormuzd Rassam, writing in a paper presented before the Victoria Institute in London, remarked: (12)
There is one noticeable fact in the history of the Queen of Sheba, which proves more than anything else her sway extended to Ethiopia, and that is the possession of such a quantity of gold and spices (fragrant and aromatic), which could only be obtained in tropical climates (cf. Herodotus VI. 20).
Putting these fragments together, it seems not unreasonable to argue that the Wise Men were representatives of the family of Ham who brought their gifts from Southern Arabia and came to Jerusalem and Bethlehem along the so-called northern route, up from Jericho. They could return via Hebron and the southern end of the Dead Sea, thus going home by another way.
It should be pointed out that they “saw His star in the East,” a fact which indicates that for at least part of this journey they came from the west. It may also be noted in passing, though the point contributes little to the argument, that there are church windows in Europe which portray the Wise Men as Negroes.
It may be conceded then, whether as a coincidence or by divine providence, that three delegations did come to seek the Lord representing Shem, Ham, and Japheth in this order, and having come and established the record of their visit, are not again referred to in the New Testament. Yet this is not the end of the matter, for the Gospel was preached specifically to representatives of these branches of the race in the same order after the resurrection.
12. Rassam, Hormuzd, “On Biblical Lands: their Topography, Races, Religions, Languages, Customs,” Transactions of the Victoria Institute, vol.30, 1896, p.33.
4. The First Preaching of the Gospel
The Gospel was preached specifically to representatives of these branches of the race in the same order after the resurrection.
Once again, there is no doubt about the first and the last of the two branches to receive the Gospel. The message was first to “ye men of Israel” (Acts 2:22) and, subsequently, to the Centurion Cornelius of the Italian Band, a Roman and a child of Japheth (Acts 10:34). Between these two we have that incident of Philip telling the Gospel to an Ethiopian who gladly heard the message and believed (Acts 8:35).
Although a casual reading of Acts 2:9-11 might suggest that people of many races heard the Gospel at the time of Pentecost ï¿½ Parthians, Medes, Elamites and so forth – it is clear from verse 5 that these were Jewish people of the Dispersion. Yet proselytes are mentioned in verse 10. This might be taken to mean that when Peter preached his first sermon he preached to representatives of mankind. However, Scripture seems to make it clear that when Cornelius received the Gospel, the Gentiles were for the first time brought under the Covenant. It may be, therefore, that Acts 2:9-11 does refer only to Jewish people from these countries, who are distinguished in much the same way as German Jews from Canadian Jews. It must be admitted that the issue is not absolutely clear. There may have been converts to Judaism who were not Jews in the congregation who heard Peter proclaim the Gospel.
The case of the Ethiopian followed by the Italian Centurion seems to stand in a different context. These were individuals singled out, who were searching for the truth but were not in any sense proselytes.
5. Those Playing an Official Role in the Crucifixion
Each branch of the race took a specific part in the crucifixion.
The moral responsibility was accepted by Israel (Matthew 27:25); the physical burden of carrying the Cross was placed upon a Cyrenian, a child of Ham (Luke 23:26); the responsibility for execution was assumed by Japheth who, in the soldiers, completed the sentence which only the Roman authorities could perform (Matthew 27:26). As far as Semitic responsibility is concerned, the issue is clear. They said, “His blood be upon us and our children,” though afterwards they sought to unburden themselves of this responsibility (Acts 5:28). It should be stated here that Japheth also shared in this moral responsibility, though it seems that Pilate would have released Jesus if he could have found a
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way to do it without endangering his own position. Washing his hands did not relieve him of the moral responsibility, yet there is a sense in which he did not have the same kind of moral responsibility as that borne by the Jewish authorities. They set the stage and engineered the course of events, and Pilate found himself trapped. However, in Acts 4:27, Shem and Japheth are both held responsible. Ham is omitted, and what Scripture omits to say is as important as what it takes care to say. Simon of Cyrene was forced to do what he did, and his share in this ghastly undertaking was an involuntary one ï¿½ one might almost say a merciful one.
Who was Simon of Cyrene? F. F. Bruce points out that one of the leaders of the church at Antioch was a man named Simeon who bore the Latin name Niger meaning “Black man”, identified by some with Simon the Cyrenian who carried the Cross of Jesus. (13) In Acts 13:1, two people are mentioned together, Lucius of Cyrene and a man named Simeon Niger. Some commentators have suggested that the words of Cyrene in this verse are intended to be applied to both names, i.e., both to Lucius and to Simeon. The name Simeon is simply another form of Simon. In dealing with Simeon of Cyrene, Steven Trapnell makes the following observation: (14)
Cyrene was a colony founded by the Greeks on the coast of North Africa. It is possible that Simeon might have been a Jew who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover; but it seems more probable that this Cyrenian who carried the Cross of Christ was a Negro, coming as he did from North Africa. Such an honour and privilege, initially granted to only one man, was given not to a Jew but to a Gentile: not to a Judean but to a Cyrenian; not to a white man but to a Negro.
Steven Trapnell applies the term Gentile here in the same way that Jews themselves do, considering all non-Jews as Gentiles, not making any distinction between Hamites and Japhethites. However, carrying Christ’s cross is a servant task which, according to our thesis, belongs specifically to the Hamites. Thus all three families played a part in our Lord’s crucifixion, and again, the order is preserved – first Shem, then Ham, and finally Japheth.
There are one or two brief observations that it seems desirable to make at this juncture. First, when a new theory like this is proposed, the elaboration of it may appear to be stilted and artificial. But once the idea has been mulled over for a while, it begins to be a little more reasonable, and in the end
14. Trapnell, Steven, “Simon of Cyrene,” His, April, 1956, p.2.
may seem plain and obvious. My own impression is that Scripture is designed to teach this important truth: that God has never lost sight of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, nor ceased to work out His purposes, using certain unique qualities which it can be shown have, by and large, characterized their descendants. We shall return to this subsequently.
Secondly, it will be noted that in each of these last three trilogies, the part taken by a representative of one of the three branches of the race (not always the same branch) is often of an apparently incidental nature. The incidents of the Greeks, who desired to see Jesus, of Simeon of Cyrene who happened to be passing, and of the Ethiopian who seemed quite by chance to have met Philip — all these seem incidental to the main course of the narrative as a whole. They might, in fact, have been omitted from the New Testament without greatly affecting the story as a whole. However, “might” should perhaps be emphasized, because if our interpretation is correct, each of these incidents is an essential part of a theme recognizing the real existence of three distinct groups of people — Semites, Hamites, and Japhethites – each of whom singly, and all of whom together, play a fundamental part in fulfilling the purpose of God.
We turn now to the specific contributions of each of these families.