How to Find Bible Contradictions in Jesus’ Birth Story

Why does the account of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Luke contradict the account in the Gospel of Matthew?

Compare the two passages to see this irreconcilable contradiction.

BOTH: Nazareth → Bethlehem

Both passages agree that Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. They don’t agree on where the Holy Family went after Bethlehem.

LUKE: Bethlehem → Nazareth

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Luke chapter 2 says that they made a brief trip from their home in Bethlehem to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the law of Moses, then returned immediately back to Nazareth from Bethlehem.

22 And when the days of their purification were completed according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb will be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

39 And when they had completed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.

 

MATTHEW: Bethlehem → Egypt → Nazareth

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Matthew chapter 2 says the Mary, Joseph, and Jesus left Bethlehem and went to Egypt until Herod was dead, then the Holy Family returned to Nazareth.

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem,

13 Now after they had gone away, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph, saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to seek the child to destroy him.” 14 So he got up and took the child and his mother during the night and went away to Egypt. 15 And he was there until the death of Herod…

19 Now after Herod had died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the life of the child are dead.” 21 So he got up and took the child and his mother and entered the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream, he took refuge in the regions of Galilee. 23 And he came and lived in a town called Nazareth, in order that what was said by the prophets would be fulfilled: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

The previous summary is inaccurate.

The differences between Matthew and Luke are not irreconcilable differences. They are actually complementary passages.

The Truth About Matthew’s Account

Actually, the Gospel of Matthew does not contain any mention of Joseph and Mary coming from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Matthew is silent on Nazareth until 2:23. However this is not a problem since Luke’s account includes the section.

Matthew does not say that Mary and Joseph did not come from Nazareth. If Matthew had said that Mary and Joseph came from their home in Jericho or some other city, there would be a real contradiction. Or if Matthew had said that Mary and Joseph had never been to Nazareth before, there would be a real contradiction. However, there is not a contradiction about something that was not said. Matthew simply doesn’t mention the location of Nazareth until after Egypt in 2:23.

Matthew’s silence on the Nazareth section does not prevent us from accepting the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem found in Luke.

Furthermore, Matthew does not contain the section about the shepherds and angels. There are no problems with this since the shepherds come from the Luke passage. Both accounts are needed to get the complete story.

Not documenting an event is not a denial of that event when it is documented by another historian.

The Truth About Luke’s Account

Actually, the Gospel of Luke does not contain any mention of Joseph and Mary returning from Jerusalem to Bethlehem before moving back home to Nazareth. However, we know that Bethlehem was their home away from home for the time while Mary was pregnant and when Jesus was delivered (Luke 2:4-6), and possibly up to two years after his birth (Matthew 2:16). So, we can be sure that they left the Temple in Jerusalem and returned to their house in Bethlehem before the journey back to Nazareth in Galilee. There is not a contradiction about something that was not said.

Furthermore, Luke does not mention the visit of the wise men and the slaughter of the children by angry king Herod. But, there are no problems since Matthew covers this section very well.

Another inaccuracy from the opening account is very subtle. I claim that Luke says the Holy Family returned immediately to Nazareth after fulfilling the legal rituals in Jerusalem. The Scripture says “they returned” not “they returned immediately without any trips to Egypt.” When we insert an extra word, we create a contradiction that isn’t really there.

But doesn’t Luke use chronological language here? Yes. He indicates that the move back to Galilee did not take place before the rituals in Jerusalem. We accept that the family did not go straight from Jerusalem to Nazareth even though Luke doesn’t include a section about Bethlehem between Jerusalem and Nazareth. We can’t know why. And therefore, we can’t know why Luke doesn’t tell us how long, days or years, between Jerusalem and Nazareth. If we accept Matthew’s account of Egypt, there was a pretty good gap of time not mentioned by Luke.

Luke’s silence on the Egypt passage isn’t proof that Egypt never happened. We accept Matthew’s account of the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem even though Luke is silent. We accept Matthew’s account of the wise men even though Luke is silent. We accept Matthew’s account of angry king Herod ordering the massacre of children even though Luke is silent. We accept Luke’s account of shepherds even though Matthew is silent. We accept Luke’s account of the Jerusalem visit even though Matthew is silent.

We need both Matthew’s account and Luke’s account to see a more complete history.

Each of these two historians had a perspective on the birth of Christ. We need to read both accounts. There is no contradiction if we don’t create one by adding phrases or presumptions that are not in the historical text.

COMBINED ACCOUNTS: Nazareth → Bethlehem → Jerusalem → Bethlehem → Egypt → Nazareth

 

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