The gospels attributed to Matthew and Luke narrate very different stories about the birth of Jesus. Matthew says that Jesus' family was from Bethlehem, that wise men brought gifts to their home, that they escaped to Egypt when Herod the Great ordered to kill all children under the age of three and that they moved to Nazareth because they could not go back to Bethlehem (no census or baby in a manger); Luke says that Jesus' family was from Nazareth, that they went to Bethlehem for the census of Quirinus (at least a decade after Herod the Great was no longer the ruler of Judea), and they went to Jerusalem after 41 days then Nazareth right after (no wise men, guiding star or mass killing).

Since the stories are incompatible, can we conclude that at least one of them was invented? How can we tell which is true, if any?

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    Also, this may help you: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/5645/… Jun 11 '15 at 13:41
  • We allow questions about contradictions, but you need to narrow it down to one at a time. If they stayed in Bethlehem for a couple of years then it would be no surprise that they describe different events. You make it sound like nothing that isn't in both gospels could be true, but that's not how historians work. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 11 '15 at 13:48
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    Rather than one story being invented, it's much more likely that one is a source for the other or there is an earlier source that we do not have. Differences like this doesn't inherently mean incompatibility, but rather different perspectives. The guy who wrote Luke saw it differently perhaps. This kind of thing is very common when people recount events.
    – frеdsbend
    Jun 11 '15 at 15:56
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    @HenriqueSousa I sympathize and generally agree that the birth stories of Jesus are probably exaggerated/fabricated because of the reasons you point out and that there's no external verification (one would expect commentary on the mass-murder of young boys). Once you reach 20 rep we can use the chat room where this would be on-topic to discuss this. That's only 2 upvotes on an answer or four on a question. Here's five rep to get you started ;)
    – frеdsbend
    Jun 11 '15 at 22:04
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    Where does Matthew say that Jesus' family was 'from Bethlehem' this seems like an assumption read into the text to me, Matthew simply tells us where Jesus was born, he doesn't tell us where Mary or Joseph were living prior to the birth of Jesus. Jul 6 '15 at 7:41

Uta Ranke-Heinemann says, in Putting Away Childish Things, page 7, that the nativity accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are, with respect to time, place, and circumstances, a collection of legends. She says (page 11) Luke wants to make the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem plausible by fabricating the story of the census. But since he handles the facts arbitrarily, the facts themselves refute him. For Matthew, Mary and Joseph do not live in Nazareth: they are in Bethlehem from the outset, so the author has an altogether different problem from Luke's. Matthew's "Jesus of Nazareth" somehow had to arrive in Nazareth from Bethlehem. This happened, says the Evangelist, so “that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, 'He shall be called a Nazarene’” ( Matthew 2:3).

Raymond E. Brown says, in An Introduction to the New Testament, page 114, Luke's infancy narrative is not only massively different from Matthew's, but also in details is virtually irreconcilable with it, for example about Joseph and Mary's home (in Bethlehem in Matthew 2:11 [house]: in Nazareth in Luke 2:4-7, with no home in Bethlehem) and about their travels after the birth of Jesus (to Egypt in Matt 2:14; to Jerusalem and Nazareth in Luke 2:22,39).

Ian Wilson discusses the discrepancies between the two infancy accounts, in Jesus: The Evidence, and says (page 46) that when Matthew tries to justify Jesus’ apparent divine parentage from Isaiah’s supposed prophecy: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son’ (Isaiah 7:14), this all too clearly reveals that whoever wrote at least this part of Matthew’s Gospel was no true Jew. And (page 47) he says the problem with Luke is that the first-ever census took place during Quirinius’ governorship, but this did not happen until 6 CE, the first year that Judea came under direct Roman control. Wilson infers that the Luke’s author may have been trying to make it appear that he knew more about Jesus’ birth than he actually did.

These are only a few of the respected New Testament scholars who have critically examined the gospel nativity stories. Their work can only lead to the inference that the infancy accounts were literary creations written to satisfy early Christians who wanted to know something about the early life of Jesus, although the evangelists had no historical information to work from. The stories are so different because each author was unaware of what the other evangelist was writing.

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    Please bear in mind that this site is about hermeneutics, not about whether the findings of biblical scholars challenge long-held beliefs. Jun 12 '15 at 8:58
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    Debate comments removed. +1 from me @DickHarfield -- it's too bad folks DV anything from a historical-critical perspective regardless of how well the answer is written (trust me, I get similar DVs)
    – Dan
    Jun 14 '15 at 5:23
  • If it's about hermeneutics then it should be pointed out that Luke records where Mary and Joseph were living prior to the birth and Jesus and Matthew Records where they were living after the birth - maybe it is because often historical-critical answers assume much and assert much and rarely interact or give any credit to what conservative scholarship says that they get DVs, I would expect the same if my more conservative answers do the same thing (and maybe they do) - just an observation and I haven't DVed this answer by the way :-) Jul 6 '15 at 8:18
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    @DickHarfield Textual criticism aside. this is where I part company with Modern Critical scholarship. In an attempt to 're-create' an account from 'unbiased' historical sources, they totally ignore the fact that those sources themselves are biased; being slanted from a pagan, agnostic, or antagonistic view. The writers of Matthew and Luke have different sources, but paint the same picture, albeit with some anomalies given from the points of perspective of those giving the accounts. The Early Church fathers reconciled these anomalies by different accounts; giving credence to the account(con.'t)
    – Tau
    Jul 6 '15 at 11:24
  • @DickHarfield itself, yet reconciling them with the details of the fulfillment of numerous prophecies which were fulfilled. Modernists, who've devalued any prophecy are attempting to 're-create' historical events based on their 'critical sources', error in judging 'anomalies' as reasons to discredit traditional sources, and instead impose their 'agnostic', post-modern worldview-discrediting the Scriptures themselves, reducing them to a collection of 'moral sayings', and taking away the very source of their impact, which is Divine inspiration,
    – Tau
    Jul 6 '15 at 11:40

The simple answer is, of course they are different, they are describing actions that happened on two separate occasions. One narrates from His birth until 40 days later; while the other tells of events that happened around the age of two. First you have to remember that there were no chapter and verse markers in the original Greek; you can’t always assume the books were divided at the correct places. Look at one of the most well-known passages in the Bible: Isaiah 53, almost every Bible teacher starts his study by saying, “Open your Bibles to Isaiah 52 verse 13,” because that is where the train-of-thought starts and continues on until the end of chapter 53. If you just start at the beginning of chapter 53, you will miss some very important prophecy and wisdom. One of the main things that throws people’s timing off in Jesus’ birth and early years is that in Matthew chapter 2 where the translators have rendered verse 1 as “Now when Jesus was born … etc.” it makes it sound like that which is stated next is happening at the same time. But when you look the verse up in the Greek, the word, “when” is not there.

Gr. transliteration: de Iēsous gennaō en Bēthleem Ioudaia en hēmera Hērōdēs basileus

Word-for-word trans: Now Jesus born in Bethlehem Judaea in days Herod king

Translators inserted two words, where there is only one in the Greek. If Matthew had intended to say “when,” he would have used the Greek – epan, such as where he uses it a few verses later:

And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when++ ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. [Matthew 2:8 KJV] ++(Greek – epan)

Verse one should be the statement:

Now Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king. (period)

Actually this should be the last verse of chapter one! The Greek – de translated as “now” is a conjunction (connecting word) that is elsewhere translated as “and”, “then”, “moreover”, etc. which ties it to the previous verse, Matthew 1:25:

Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS. Now, Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king. [Matthew 1:24-25 & 2:1a]

The Greek – de is used almost 3000 times in the New Testament, translated as over a dozen different words: but (1,237x), and (934x), now (166x), then (132x), also (18x), yet (16x), yea (13x), so (13x), moreover (13x), nevertheless (11x), for (4x), even (3x), misc (10x), not trans. (300x). The meaning selected seems rather arbitrary; just to connect two thoughts together. The emphasis is on the thoughts, not on the conjunction. Not the kind of word you want to base your whole belief system on. Context is extremely important; when a word has more than one meaning, a translator must make sure that the word he picks does not conflict with the rest of the passage. The New King James version, and several others, read: “Now after Jesus was born…etc.,” apparently trying to fix the previous mistranslation, but they are still adding an extra word where there is not one in the original. Chapter two should begin the narrative of the wise men’s visit, which occurred two years later:

Behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. [Matthew 2:1b, 2]

How do we know that this was two years later? One big hint is that in his gospel, Luke uses the Greek – brephos which means, “babe” or “infant”:

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe (Greek – brephos) wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. [Luke 2:12 KJV]

…while Matthew uses the Greek – paidion which means, “young child,” in his narrative,

And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; (Greek – paidion) and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. [Matthew 2:8 KJV]

And, as we will see, Herod came right out and asked the wise men, “How long ago did the star appear?” The answer to this question would establish the age of the new king:

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. [Matthew 2:7 KJV]

So you can see from the verse below that Herod knew that he was to looking for a two year-old in Bethlehem. But, then Herod used that knowledge to determine that if he wanted to get rid of the new king, he would have to kill all the children, that were two years old in Bethlehem, and just to make sure, he killed all of those that were younger also:

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. [Matthew 2:16 KJV]

Once you understand the fact that the wise men visited Jesus two years after His birth, and not in the manger, all the alleged “irreconcilable contradictions” disappear.

Here is a more complete timeline, some of this is from a Messianic-Jewish perspective, and includes a few Jewish celebrations and memorials, that in no way detract from the Christian message; we both use the same bible, and worship the same Messiah Jesus. The dates listed are from the Biblical-Hebrew calendar. The calendar year starts on the Passover month. Tishri is the seventh month. That coincides with our common September-October time of year.

Day 1 - Tishri 14 Daytime Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem from their home in Nazareth to register.

All went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, called Bethlehem; (as he was of the house and lineage of David:) [Luke 2:3,4]

Day 1 - Tishri 15 Evening (a new day starts at 6:00 in the evening for the Jews) Jesus is born in the manger in a booth (tabernacle) that Joseph has built, fulfilling the Feast of Tabernacles.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. [Luke 2:6,7]

Now, ++ Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king. [Matthew 2:1a] (++ The word “when” is not in the Greek)

Day 2 - Tishri 15 Night to Early morn. Shepherds see angels and come and find Jesus.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night . . . And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. [Luke 2:13, 15]

Day 8 - Tishri 22 Jewish celebration of Simchath Torah - Rejoicing over the Law - Family goes to a local Bethlehem Rabbi for Jesus' circumcision (A symbol of obedience to the Law).

And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Yehu’shua (Jesus), which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. [Luke 2:21]

Day 40 – Heshvan 25

On the 40th day (7 days plus 33 days = 40 days) they are in Jerusalem for Jesus’ presentation in the temple:

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled. [Leviticus 12:2-4 KJV]

They offer "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons" which is an alternate offering which can only be made by a poor family that cannot afford to offer a lamb:

And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtledoves, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean. [Leviticus 12:8 KJV]

And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (As it is written in the law of the Lord, every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. [Luke 2:22,23,24] [Leviticus 12:1-8]

If they had already received the gold from the wise men, they could have easily afforded a lamb. But they do not have it yet.

After day 40

Later, back home to Nazareth.

When they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. [Luke 2:39]

Sometime before the second year of Jesus life, they move to Bethlehem. After all, it is the city of their ancestors; there are probably relatives there. Or they could be feeling guilty for not living on the land that would be their portion (inheritance) as descendants of King David. Or maybe because all the prophecies at the temple made them think that, maybe, they were supposed to stay in Bethlehem, since that is where the Scriptures say that the Messiah was to be born. For whatever the reason, here they are in Bethlehem two years later, it is a perfectly logical occurrence. Joseph and Mary didn’t know that the wise men were coming; but God did! He made sure that they were there in Bethlehem with Jesus when the Magi arrived. God is the One who makes sure that all prophecies are fulfilled. In the same way that God compelled Caesar to require a census, which drew Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the first time; God drew them back to Bethlehem to receive the wise men.

Year 2

Wise men (not 3 kings) came to Jerusalem from the East (possibly Babylon, 900 miles away, that could be why it took two years to get there). The wise men follow star to Jerusalem and then to a house in Bethlehem (not a stable). They worship the young child++, Jesus, offer their gifts and then leave. Family flees to Egypt after a warning by an angel in a dream. Herod kills all babies in Bethlehem, 2 years old and under, according to the time determined from the wise men. [Matthew 2:7,11,13,16] (++Matthew uses the Greek Paidion = young child vs. Luke’s brephos = babe, infant) Shortly after Jesus' family journeys to Egypt, Herod dies, and his three sons take over the kingdom. The gold from the wise men probably came in very handy, so that this poor family could live in a foreign country for several years. Some time before 6 a.d. the family returns to Israel. They go back to Nazareth of Galilee because they are afraid to go back to their new house in Bethlehem because Herod's son, Archelaus, is reigning in Judea. (The Roman government deposed Archelaus in 6 a.d. because he was too oppressive even by Roman standards.)

But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. [Matthew 2:19-23 KJV]

They are still in Nazareth when Jesus is 12. [Luke 2:41-52] There is no reliable record of the time between ages 12 and about thirty, when He began His ministry.

In order for the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing to convince his unsuspecting listeners that there is a contradiction, they have to make many assumptions that are nowhere stated nor implied in the Bible: The passage in Matthew above:

…Does not say that they always lived in Bethlehem;

…Does not say that they had never lived in Nazareth before.

…Does not say that the wise men visited Jesus in a manger or a stable.

…Does not say that the wise men visited Jesus while He was an infant.

(Matthew specifically used the Greek word Paidion which means young child, not baby.)

When you study your Bible carefully and prayerfully, the Holy Spirit leads you to connect-the-dots, so to speak, to learn more of the truth of God’s Word. I’ve met many people who told me that they read the Bible from cover to cover and just don’t understand it. I have read the Bible about 30 times, in different versions, and am still learning new things. Read your Bible daily; the truth is there. Pray for wisdom, for discernment and for Jesus to open your spiritual eyes. Beware, there are people out there, some even claiming to be Christians (wolves–in-sheep’s-clothing), that will try to come between you and the belief that the Bible is the Word of God. Don’t let them. I used to think that people, who claimed that there is a contradiction between the two gospel narratives of Jesus birth and early years, were just ignorant. Well, there may be a few that are naïve, but most of the ones that I have met have an ulterior motive. I’ve had many discussions, on this subject, with some very intelligent gentlemen, who seemed to agree, to my face, that the timetable makes sense, and thank me for setting them straight. But the very next time I see them, they are holding up this, or some other contrived contradiction, to an unsuspecting audience, trying to shame them into doubting their Bibles because of “all” the so-called contradictions. There is none so blind as the one who refuses to see! I am sure that most of you have heard of C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel; they all used to be atheists or agnostics, who set out, independently, to find all the errors and contradictions that they could find in the Bible, to prove to those “unsophisticated Christians” how unreliable it is. They ended up becoming some of the Bible’s strongest defenders. There is power in the Word of God; don’t let it just sit on the shelf! It is your most powerful spiritual weapon; don’t leave home without it – don’t even get out of bed without it! If you are not reading your Bible daily; you are reading it weakly!

There is nothing the devil fears more than a faithful man who reads his Bible; believes it, and prays to God Almighty in the Name of Jesus Christ – Be That Man! God bless you all!

  • Welcome to BHSE! We're a little different here, if you visit our Site Directives it will assist you in asking and answering questions. Thank you!
    – Tau
    Jul 6 '15 at 12:05
  • I voted +1 to encourage you, you appear to have some skills which may prove beneficial to this site. However, your tone and demeanor need to change before this becomes the kind of answer we're looking for. If you remove the prescriptive(ie:'preachy') statements and just "state the facts", supporting your conclusions, your contributions will find a greater degree of acceptance. Thank you!
    – Tau
    Jul 6 '15 at 12:15
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    @tau Sorry about that, but when people refer to the Bible as, "legends, fabrications, irreconcilable, literary creations, non-historical, etc.," I don't hear facts, just opinions. The kind of opinions that could cause a weaker brother to stumble, if they are not refuted. When I answered this question, it had been posted for about two weeks without a response on this site. I will stick with the facts. It is actually, welcome back.Thanks. Jul 7 '15 at 4:28
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    I certainly encourage you to stay, but our Site Directives state that we are not a "Christian" site, therefore we allow other POV's as long as they "take the text seriously". I didn't believe the answer in question did, but we must maintain civility at all times, respecting the rights of others to express their views, and give the benefit of the doubt to those who disagree. On this site, the strength of our evidence outweighs the strength of our convictions.
    – Tau
    Jul 7 '15 at 6:52
  • I understand your rationalization, but it seems that you had to invent a narrative to fill in the blanks. Especially the part where they move from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Also, the widely accepted historical timeline is Herod the Great, then his death and, a few years later, the census of Quirinius -- which would put Luke after Matthew, not before. So you also have to invent another census before the known one. Also, do you have reason other than the dogma of Bible inerrancy to reconcile the two narratives? And does Matthew ever use a term for "baby" or Luke one for "infant"? Jul 14 '15 at 19:47

Since the stories are incompatible, can we conclude that at least one of them was invented? How can we tell which is true, if any?

I would like to challenge the assumption that the the two narratives of the birth of Jesus are incompatible.

Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Brown writes:

This leads us to the observation that the two narratives are not only different—they are contrary to each other in a number of details. According to Luke 1:26 and 2:39 Mary lives in Nazareth, and so the census of Augustus is invoked to explain how the child was born in Bethlehem, away from home. In Matthew there is no hint of a coming to Bethlehem, for Joseph and Mary are in a house at Bethlehem where seemingly Jesus was born (2:11). The only journey that Matthew has to explain is why the family went to Nazareth when they came from Egypt instead of returning to their native Bethlehem (2:22-23). A second difficulty is that Luke tells us that the family returned peaceably to Nazareth after the birth at Bethlehem (2:22,39); this is irreconcilable with Matthew's implication (2:16) that the child was almost two years old when the family fled from Bethlehem to Egypt and even older when the family came back from Egypt and moved to Nazareth. Of the options mentioned before we made the detailed comparison of the two narratives, one must be ruled out, i.e., that both accounts are completely historical. [Brown, Birth of the Messiah, p.46]

However breaking this paragraph down and examining point by point we soon realize that these alleged contradictions are not actually a contradiction, and as this paragraph lays out similar objections as the question our examination of it will (I trust) answer the question raised.

What is a contradiction

We need to begin by defining the contradiction, a contradiction is defined as:

1: act or an instance of contradicting 2 a: a proposition, statement, or phrase that asserts or implies both the truth and falsity of something b: a statement or phrase whose parts contradict each other 〈a round square is a contradiction in terms 3 a: logical incongruity b: a situation in which inherent factors, actions, or propositions are inconsistent or contrary to one another1

Contradictory is defined as

a proposition so related to another that if either of the two is true the other is false and if either is false the other must be true2

So, for the accounts of the birth of Jesus in Luke and Matthew to be contradictory we need to find states in those two accounts that cannot possibly be reconciled one to another.

With that definition in mind let's begin the examination of the accounts of the birth of Jesus in relation to the points raised in the question as explained by Brown in the quote above.

1. Where Mary and Joseph live

Brown states:

According to Luke 1:26 and 2:39 Mary lives in Nazareth, and so the census of Augustus is invoked to explain how the child was born in Bethlehem, away from home. In Matthew there is no hint of a coming to Bethlehem, for Joseph and Mary are in a house at Bethlehem where seemingly Jesus was born (2:11).

Luke 1:26 says:

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, (Luk 1:26 NKJ)

Notice that it is clear from Luk 1:31 that Mary has not yet conceived the child that is to be born. This puts this text at least 9 months prior to the birth account.

Considering Matt 2:11 we read:

And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Mat 2:11 NKJ)

This is a reference to the visit of the magi from the east, and considering that Herod determined from them when they first saw the star (2:7) and based upon that information he decided to kill every child aged two or under (2:16) it is entirely possible that at least two years had elapsed between these two texts.

Now, if Mary and Joseph had decided to stay in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus we would not expect them still be in the place where the animals lived.

Why might Mary and Joseph have decided to settle in Bethlehem?

Whilst this is purely conjecture, it does seem that Joseph and Mary were aware of who this child was (compare Matt 1:19-23 & Luke 1:31-35) and considering the apparently well known prophecy of Micah 5:2 maybe the thought they should settle in Bethlehem because that is where the Messiah was supposed to come from.

What about Luke 2:39?

Luke 2:39 So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.

Here it seems Brown assumes the return was immediately after the rituals were performed, but is that sound exegesis or is he reading something into the text? More conservative scholarship seems to have no trouble inserting a temporal space between Luke 2:38 and Luke 2:39.

Luke says nothing about the visit to Egypt, which according to Mt. 2:13ff. preceded the settlement in Nazareth (cf. Lagrange, 91f.).3


They returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. With this comment Luke prepared his readers for the following account in 2:41–52. Luke did not mention a visit to Egypt as we find in Matt 2:13–22, but such a visit would have to be placed between Luke 2:38 and 2:39.4

So, is this a contradiction?

In this writers opinion the answer is 'no'. Luke records where Mary and Joseph were living before the birth of Jesus and Matthew records where they were living after the birth of Jesus. 6 years I lived in a different city to where I live now. If someone was writing a biography of my life it would not be a contradiction for them to write that I was in Leeds when they refer to events of my life then and to say I am was in Cambridgeshire when they refer to my life now. For this to be considered a contradiction there would actually need to be a clear statement in Matthew's Gospel that makes it plain that Mary and Joseph lived in Bethlehem prior to the birth of Jesus and there is no such statement.

2) The Journey to Egypt

It is not possible to compare the accounts of the journey to Egypt because Matthew is the only Gospel that records it. Luke doesn't mention it. Luke mentions only that the family returned to Nazerath, he doesn't provide any detail of that journey, either in regards to when it began, where they set off from, where they went on the way (or out of the way) and how long the journey took. Notice that brown states that "Luke tells us that the family returned peaceably to Nazareth after the birth at Bethlehem (2:22,39)." but he does not explain where he gets the impression that the return was 'peaceable' from?

On this occasion it appears that he is concluding that just because Luke doesn't mention somethbing that Matthew does it must be a contradiction, however that doesn't fit with the dictionary definition of a contradiction. There are any number of reasons why one author might include something that another does not, either the one author might be ware of events that the other isn't, or one author might see a relevance to those events that the other doesn't and so include them whilst another skips past them. Pick two or three biographies of any person and you will find this sort of thing happening, authors focusing on different events.

Concluding thoughts

Historical critical scholars tend to read their assumptions into the text that contradictions are likely, whereas more conservative scholarship will look at the texts and believe that there are ways that apparent contradictions can be reconciled (they also are reading their assumptions into the text). That is to say we need to understand the presumptions of any scholar before we rightly evaluate there work. To rightly evaluate the work of any scholar we need to compare opposing opinions and reason through the matter for ourselves.

On this occasion and in regards to the birth narratives there are no genuine contradictions only silences in one or the other narratives. Nothing in Matthew's gospel precludes Mary and Joseph living in Nazareth prior to the birth of Jesus and nothing in Luke's gospel absolutely precludes Mary and Joseph first settling in Bethlehem, then fleeing to Egypt before returning and settling again in Nazareth.


1 Mish, F. C. (2003). Preface. Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.

2 Mish, F. C. (2003). Preface. Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.

3 Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Gospel of Luke: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 125). Exeter: Paternoster Press.

4Stein, R. H. (1992). Luke (Vol. 24, p. 118). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

  • Thank you for taking the time for refuting the previous claim. I normally don't DV them(if they offer clear convincing evidence for their argument) but I saw it as a blatant attempt to impose "Modern Critical scholarship" without concern for the text itself. Thank you!
    – Tau
    Jul 6 '15 at 12:00
  • Cultural information is useful here as well. It is actually traditional and to be expected that the wedding be held at the bride's home, in the Fall(harvest), and then they return to the home the groom had prepared during the betrothal period. So Matthew's narrative basically infers they would have been in Nazareth that Fall after Joseph is visited by the angel and decides to marry her.
    – Joshua
    Jul 7 '16 at 14:44

Each gospel writer put in those things which further and advance the conclusion to which he is heading toward. Of importance to Matthew is the royal line coming down from king David. Jesus must have a royal bloodline so David is mentioned 6 times in chap. 1. In MATT.1:1 David is mentioned before Abraham who fathered the nation of Israel. This shows Jesus Jewish line coming from Abraham and David shows Jesus royal line. Abraham shows he is Jewish completely and David connects him to the throne of Israel. So the title King of the Jews is most appropriate ! He came preaching the good news of the Kingdom. MATT.4:17 A kingdom has a king, a throne, a region , laws and subjects.That's where Matthews short genealogy ends. As for Luke his emphasis is on his humanity as Son of man. His humanity is high- lighted.Luke 1:80 Luke 19:10 post resurrection Luke 24:39.Luke's genealogy is also much longer than Matthews extending all the way down to Adam the first human.1 COR. 15:45 says Jesus is the last Adam. Humanity needed a human for a savior. O.T. refs. to his humanity PS.40:6-7 compare Heb.10:4-5 ! Luke pinpoints his intimate relation to us thru his humanity while MATT. points to his rule over us as King of kings.

  • Are you saying that we can conclude that each writer invented an account which promotes their christology? Jun 23 '15 at 19:38
  • There is no conflict between the two accounts.Matthew is writing to a predominantly Jewish base familiar with O.T. prophecy. that's why the Jul 24 '15 at 0:00
  • There is no conflict between the 2 accounts.Matthew is writing to a predominantly base familiar with O.T. prophecy. that is why the phrase that it might be fulfilled appears over and over again, He came to fulfill O.T. prophecy. Moreover HE is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic & Davidic Jul 24 '15 at 0:12
  • sorry i do not type fast enough. HE is the fullfillment of the Abrahamic & Davidic covenants. God told Abraham kings will come from you.HE PROMISED to David a royal line which would lead to the promised KING. Jul 24 '15 at 0:23

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NKJV)

When rightly divided, the two accounts do not conflict:

In those days it occurred that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole Roman empire should be registered. This was the first enrollment, and it was made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all the people were going to be registered, each to his own city or town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the town of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, To be enrolled with Mary, his espoused wife, who was about to become a mother. And while they were there, the time came for her delivery. (Luke 2:1-6 NKJV)

[Now] Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea...(Matthew 1:1a)

Shepherds visit - Luke 2:7-20

Circumcision - Luke 2:21

Presentation at Temple/Mary's Purification - Luke 2:22-38

So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. (Luke 2:39 NKJV)

At the next Passover the family journeys from to Jerusalem: His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. (Luke 2:41)

During that time - The Magi arrive in Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1b-12)

The Family Flees to Egypt - Matthew 2:13-15

Luke and Matthew share one fact: the birthplace of Bethlehem in Judea. Other than that, each records events which take place at different times:

  • Luke records the specifics of the birth, circumcision, and presentation at the Temple. After these, the family goes to Nazareth.
  • When the time for the Passover comes, the family goes to Jerusalem
  • The family stays in Bethlehem (7 miles from Jerusalem) where the magi from the East find them.

All details are in agreement. Moreover, details which appear to be in conflict are resolved:

  • Place they were staying. Luke - birth in a manger. Matthew - Passover in a house.
  • Others who came. Luke - shepherds at birth. Matthew - magi at Passover.

The events in Matthew most likely take place at the first Passover following the birth, but, since Herod kills all male children two and under it is possible it occurred at the time of the second Passover.

Also the birth events in Luke focus on a Savior Christ the Lord (2:11), the Consolation of Israel (2:25), the Lord's Christ (2:26), and Anna's witness to those looking for the redemption of Israel (2:38) and Matthew's focus is the King of the Jews (2:2).

There are additional aspects to demonstrate the two accounts have been intentionally divided:

  • Gender: Luke's perspective is Mary's account; Matthew's is Joseph's
  • Following the Sequence of Creation Genesis 2: Matthew's account (male) was written earliest; Luke's (female) was written later
  • Following the Sequence of the Fall Genesis 3: Luke's events (female) take place before Matthew's (male)

Their division is correct at every possible level. As a result the two can be "reconstructed" and made into a single account (as shown above). Thus the two birth accounts (male and female) can be made into one (Genesis 2:24).

Therefore, while the two accounts are completely different (except for the birthplace), the facts within each are in complete agreement. In human terms, this is only possible if the two writers collaborated. That is, if we suppose the two accounts were written by two different people at two different times, then the purposeful division of the material between the two means that either the two writers collaborated or the second completed what the first left out. However, what the first left out also had to be purposeful. In other words, the only way Luke can write about events in Mary's life is if Matthew leaves them out.

The better explanation to that the Scripture is inspired: Matthew was inspired to write first about details from the life of Joseph and Luke was inspired to write second about the events from the life of Mary.

  • Does your choice of believing that Jesus went to Egypt makes it more likely that he actually did go to Egypt? Jun 23 '15 at 19:31
  • Yes. Matthew records He was taken to Egypt by His parents. Jun 25 '15 at 5:54
  • 'Matthew' also says that they stayed in Bethlehem for 2 years, while 'Luke' says they stayed in Bethlehem for less than 2 months. How do you choose Matthew over Luke? So if another person (or dozens of others) choose to believe that Jesus did not go to Egypt, is it more likely then that he actually didn't go to Egypt? Or did he both go and didn't go to Egypt (AKA Jainism)? Jun 25 '15 at 16:34
  • First, if Jesus did not go to Egypt, then He is not the Messiah (Matthew 2:15 & Hosea 11:1). Second, no where does Matthew say they were in Bethlehem for 2 years. It says Herod killed all the children 2 years and younger based on the time he (Herod) had determined. Example, suppose Jesus is born in the 7th month; by the 9th month the family is back in Nazareth. The first month of the year they go to Jerusalem for the Passover. At that time the magi from the East arrive in Jerusalem and the family goes to Egypt. The 2 accounts can be reconciled into 1 without any conflicts. Jun 26 '15 at 2:58
  • But in order to avoid conflicts you had to invent a whole lot of stuff. Not to mention that you totally disregard why they wanted to return to Bethlehem in Matthew while their hometown was Nazareth (according to your rationalization). A few flaws with your invented rationalization: Herod waited for two years before ordering to kill the infants. That means the wise men would have reached Jesus' family around the time he was born, not years later. So Matthews does seem to imply that they stayed in Bethlehem for two years -- after all, it was their hometown. Jul 2 '15 at 16:50

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