When Jesus was "presented" in Jerusalem by Mary and Joseph, the sacrifice made was "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons":

Luke 2: 22 When the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), 24 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.”

But in Matthew when the Magi found Jesus:

Matthew 2: 11 They came into the house and saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Opening their treasures, they offered to him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Why such an offering when they were given such gifts?

  • Perhaps the gifts of the Magi served to "tide them over" while Joseph looked for work in an unfamiliar city. In other words, they may have sold the gifts on the open market. Perhaps eBay! (a joke) Mar 1, 2014 at 22:01
  • The question is very unclear and confusing. How are the two gifts related? Are you suggesting that they should have offered the gold silver of Magi in the temple offering then you need to mention that clearly; someone edit it plz. Then what makes you think they should offer their whole wealth in the temple when the offering is specific ritual one of the birds for consecration? Nobody offers gold and silver when the ritual requires animal sacrifice.
    – Michael16
    Jul 28, 2021 at 12:10

7 Answers 7


The wise men came after baby Jesus was presented in the temple.

If you see a harmony of the Gospels, like Study Resources :: Harmony of the Gospels, you will find that the wise men came long after Jesus was presented in the temple.

Presentation in the temple

A woman who bore a son was ceremonially unclean for forty days (twice that if she bore a daughter Leviticus 12:2-5), that is, she was not permitted to go to the temple or to engage in religious services with the congregation.

Luke 2:22-24 (NASB)
22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD"), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, "A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS."

The wise men from the East

The wise men saw the star in the east, then went to Jerusalem, they asked, were sent, and finally arrived. So, that took time, possibly up to two years.

Matthew 2:16 (NASB)
Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.

On the other hand, the Mary's offering indicates that she and Joseph were poor. Joseph and Mary were very pious Jews so as not lied in his offering.

Matthew 1:19 (NASB)
And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.

Luke 2:38 (NASB)
And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

  • Excellent answer - to me, this provides a very clear link between the text and cultural history +1
    – user3376
    Mar 1, 2014 at 11:10
  • Mary was the only child of a wealthy man. (And because she was a daughter she could only inherit(land) if she married a man from the same tribe. Thats why she marries Joseph.) So it’s doubtful that they were poor.
    – grammaplow
    Apr 5, 2023 at 20:05

The wisemen were not at the manger and Jesus' birth. They came later and found Mary and the baby in a home. At the time of his presentation at the temple, Mary and Joseph had not received the gift from the wiseman. It was probably within two years of his birth that the wiseman found him as Harod killed all the babies, 2 years and under around Bethlehem. When Jesus was presented at the temple, Mary and Joseph did not bring a lamb but two turtle doves and pigeons. This was a poor sacrifice but when they could afford at the time. The gift of the wisemen, given after this event, probably financed their flee into Egypt by night.

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    – ThaddeusB
    Nov 10, 2015 at 15:36
  • This is a nice answer, but more supporting material would have been appreciated (e.g. church tradition, commentaries, etc)
    – Robert
    Jul 29, 2021 at 21:36

Why would Mary and Joseph offer “turtle doves” in Luke 2:24?

God showed consideration for the poor,the poor could offer birds instead of the more costly sheep as a sacrificial offering.

Leviticus 12:8 (NASB)

8 "But if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, the one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean."

The sacrificial offering were presented after the purification period of 40 days.

Leviticus 12:1-4 (NASB)

Laws of Motherhood

‘When a woman [a]gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of [b]her menstruation she shall be unclean. 3 On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 4 Then she shall remain in the blood of her purification for thirty-three days; she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are completed."

But in Matthew when the Magi found Jesus,

They came into the house and found the young child ,then about two years old and offered to him gifts.

Matthew 2: 11 They came into the house and saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Opening their treasures, they offered to him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2:16 (NASB)

Herod Slaughters Babies

16" Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi."


Only the very poor were permitted to offer two doves or pigeons when presenting a newly born son at the temple, as Joseph and Mary do in Luke 2:22. On the other hand, the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh would have made them quite rich. There are two possible reasons that Joseph and Mary only offered pigeons or doves. Either the magi had not yet brought their valuable gifts to Bethlehem, or the two nativity stories are independent accounts in which at least some details are not entirely historical.

A problem with the first option is that we are told the young family left Jerusalem after the presentation at the temple, returning to Nazareth and apparently never returning to Bethlehem, which indeed they had no reason to do. Implicitly, they remained in Nazareth, because we are told they travelled to Jerusalem each year for the Passover:

Luke 2:39-41: And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.

Raymond E. Brown, in An Introduction to the New Testament, page 114, provides support for the second option, because he says Luke's infancy narrative is massively different from Matthew's and in details is virtually irreconcilable with it. There is no suggestion that the young couple had ever lived in Nazareth; in fact, quite the opposite. On returning from presumably a few years in Egypt, Joseph and Mary head back to their house in Bethlehem but, being warned by an angel, turn aside and travel to Galilee, which is beyond the reach of Archelaus. In Galilee, they went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, a decision that Matthew says explains why Jesus is called a Nazarene:

Matthew 2:22-24: 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.

In Matthew's account, the flight to Egypt was sudden and unexpected, so Joseph and Mary had no chance to present Jesus at the temple and make the offerings appropriate to their new economic status, and in any case they now knew that Jerusalem would be too dangerous a place to take Jesus.

  • @RevelationLad If they had relatives in B, they would not have needed to look for a place in an inn and end up staying in a stable. According to Matt they could not have gone to Jerusalem for the remaining years of Herod's life or the 6 years that Archelaus ruled Judea. And according to Matt 2:22-23 they had never previously been to Nazareth. Nov 26, 2016 at 19:59
  • @RevelationLad Please join me on chat Nov 26, 2016 at 23:01

As Paul Vargas states in his answer, there is no conflict with either account if the gifts were received after the presentation in the Temple.

Another detail in Matthew seemingly at odds with Luke is the place at which the gifts were received:

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7 ESV)

And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11 ESV) .

The differences can easily be reconciled. Since they were poor at the time of presentation and not staying in a house, the gifts were received after the birth and presentation, as Paul Vargas shows. Placing the Magi with the couple at the time of birth is a Christmas tradition not supported by Scripture.

After the presentation the family returned to Nazareth. We are told that within a year of the birth they traveled back to the area of the birth to observe the Passover:

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. (Luke 2:41 ESV)

Travelers to Jerusalem at the time of Passover would need to find lodging. Joseph's family lived in Bethlehem, about 5 miles south of Jerusalem. Luke's birth account also states shepherds, Simeon, and Anna were witnesses to the fact the Christ had been born. In particular Luke states:

And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. (Luke 2:17-18 ESV)

Whatever stigma Mary's pregnancy initially brought within Joseph's family would be tempered by this testimony. So the next year when the family traveled to Jerusalem to observe the Passover, they were welcomed to stay with family. And it was at this time the Magi came and presented their gifts.

Once the truth of the annual observance of the Passover is accepted, all of the conflicts are resolved. Luke is describing birth events and Matthew is describing events which occurred at the time of Passover. The only uncertainty is whether it was the Passover in the first or second year of birth. If the star appeared at the time of birth it could be the second year; if the star appeared at the time of conception it would be the first year.

My preference is to place Jesus' exodus to Egypt at the time of His first Passover.

  • "In the inn" is not exactly a wrong translation in King James but probably not correct either. Joseph and Mary would have stayed with relatives in their upper room (Greek: kataluma) but others were there already due to the taxation and temporary migration of people. This word is translated as "upper room" in other places. Greek "pandocheion" is more properly translated "inn" and does occur in the New Testament. acts242study.com/no-room-in-the-inn
    – wberry
    May 10, 2021 at 14:10
  • @wberry Thank you. The main point is they were not with Joseph's family at the time of birth but were (or at least could be based on the different word) at the time of the magi. May 10, 2021 at 14:48
  • It is plausible that they stayed at the same house the entire time they were in Bethlehem. Due to the laws of niddah uncleanness, staying in the livestock cave next to the house may even have been their idea, or common courtesy, to avoid making the entire home and its inhabitants unclean. The magi found them after the niddah and the child's dedication, by which time there was no longer any reason of uncleanness for Mary to stay out of the house itself. Either before or just after the magi found them, they returned to Nazareth. In Nazareth Joseph was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt.
    – wberry
    May 11, 2021 at 8:12
  • Just because Herod ordered all boys age 2 and under to be killed in Bethlehem, we should not assume the young Messiah was over one year old. Herod wanted to be sure. Also, from the book of Ezra we know that travel from Babylon to Judea was possible even for a large procession within six months' time. A smaller party of travelers, not so laden with treasure and livestock, and possibly coming from as near a place as Petra, could plausibly arrive in just over one month, just after the child's dedication at the Temple.
    – wberry
    May 11, 2021 at 8:22

Emphasis mine:

And when they were 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 unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
-- Matthew 2:11 (KJV)

The gifts weren't for Mary and Joseph. They were for Jesus. If Mary and Joseph had have exchanged them for money, then they would have stolen what belonged to their son.

Mary and Joseph were poor. Jesus was rich. Now, you can speculate all you want about what Jesus did with his riches, but if you believe he was a man of his word, then there will be no question that he used them to accomplish his task of meeting the needs of the world.

He certainly didn't invest them in real-estate, since he said, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." -- Matthew 8:20 (KJV)


The Magi is perhaps a parable to explain or denote the uniqueness of the birth of Jesus. While all the responses are not clicking well enough with each other and what the bible says, the bible is full of parables throughout. Who would really know whatever happened in that time? And to flee to Egypt, the family didn't really need to much money, but gathering whatever value they had in hand, including the life skills the parents could have provided the living on the way. Even the godly baby could have behaved right for each moment....


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