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

 

The Star of Bethlehem

Matthew 2:1,2

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, saying, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star at its rising and have come to worship him.”

Matthew tells us that after Jesus’ birth, magoi (magicians or astologers?) from the anatolon (east) had seen an astera at its anatole (rising in the east) and came to Jerusalem in order to proskynesai (worship) the one who was born basileus ton Ioudaion (king of the Jews). Gentile magicians desired to offer divine worship to the king of the Jews.

How long after the birth of Jesus? The text indicates it was 2 years.

Matthew 2:7,16

Then Herod secretly summoned the wise men and determined precisely from them the time when the star appeared.

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been deceived by the wise men, became very angry, and he sent soldiers and executed all the children in Bethlehem and in all the region around it from the age of two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined precisely from the wise men. Then what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled, saying,

Josephus the historian records the death of Herod the Great which is placed on our modern calendar at 4 BCE. So the sighting of the star which is linked to the birth of the king would be 6 BCE or 7 BCE.

The implication here is that the magoi attached the star sighting to the prophecy of Balaam.

Numbers 24:17

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star will go out from Jacob, and a scepter will rise from Israel; it will crush the foreheads of Moab and destroy all the children of Seth.

There is no way for us to know what method the magoi used to bridge their astronomy and astrology. Something about this heavenly manifestation gave instructions to the magoi. These instructions pointed the magoi to the Scriptures. This “star” was not merely a physical astronomical object. If that were so, the wise men could never have known specific information about the newly-born king.

The text does not say that the Bethlehem Star guided the magoi to Jerusalem. The magoi went to Jerusalem because they expected to find a king there. Their arrival in Jerusalem indicates that the magoi were not familiar with Micah but were familiar with Psalm 2.

Psalm 2:6-8

“But as for me, I have set my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” I will tell the decree; Yahweh said to me: “You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask from me and I will make the nations your heritage, and your possession the ends of the earth.

Jerusalem sat on the mountain where the begotten son of YHWH would be established as king. The magoi expected to worship (proskynesai) this child. We see the divinity and kingship of Jesus in both Psalm 2 and Matthew 2. Furthermore, the magoi brought treasures that reiterated their expectation to see a king who was God.

Matthew 2:9-11

After they listened to the king, they went out, and behold, the star which they had seen at its rising led them until it came and stood above the place where the child was. Now when they saw the star, they rejoiced with very great joy. And when they came into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. And opening their treasure boxes, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

I am only aware of one other place in Scripture that the three gifts come together. The altar of incense was covered with gold, anointed with sacred oil containing myrrh (smyrna), and upon which sacred incense that included frankincense (libanos) was burned. This holy altar was reserved exclusively for the worship of the one true God. See Exodus 30:22-38 and Exodus 37:24-29.

John 1:14

And the Word became flesh and took up residence among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and truth.

When the magoi left Jerusalem, they encountered a source of joy as the astera appeared again. This time the star led them (proegen – preceded) and stood above (estathe epano) where the child was. Again, this type of specific information cannot be derived from observing an astronomical object, a star or a comet or a constellation, from 4.2465 light-years away. This astera was providing location information within a very short distance and traveling with a specific motion that is not possible for simple stars or comets. This supernatural star belongs in the same category as the mysterious seven stars in the hand of Christ in the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:16, 20; 2:1; 3:1). The Star of Bethlehem was a living being that could light the way and provide a specific message of guidance.

Revelation 1:20

“As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

How to Find the Innkeeper in the Christmas Story

Luke 2:4-7

So Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, to be registered together with Mary, who was legally promised in marriage to him and was pregnant. And it happened that while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

What was the inn?

The inn was a guest room in the house. This southern residence in Bethlehem belonged to Joseph and likely belonged to his father Jacob before him. Joseph was living and working up north in Nazareth in Galilee.[a]Some teachers believe that Joseph was a craftsman working on the city of Sepphoris (which Herod the Great was rebuilding) and staying nearby in Nazareth. Bethlehem is in Judea in the south, 70 miles south of Nazareth. The winding mountainous roads would make the trip something like 100 miles. If they travelled 20 miles per day, the trip would take five days.

When Joseph arrived to his Bethlehem home, it was not empty. Wise Joseph did not leave the family home abandoned and unmanaged. Other family members were already staying there or living there while Joseph was away.

Who was the Pandocheus?

However, if the Bethlehem house belonged to Joseph, and the guest chamber/κατάλυμα was already full, then Joseph clearly had a host who managed the house and residents while he was away in Nazareth. This host person is the equivalent of an innkeeper/πανδοχεύς, one who receives all.

So, deduced from Scripture, there was an “innkeeper/host” necessary because of Joseph’s absence when he was in Nazareth.

Notes[+]

How to Ruin Christmas

Strip the nativity Bible narratives of all human traditions that have been added to the birth of Jesus.

  • Luke 2:4-7. Mary did not ride a donkey to Bethlehem.
  • Luke 2:9-15. There is no “innkeeper[a]However, if the house belonged to Joseph, and the guest chamber/κατάλυμα was already full, then Joseph clearly had a host who managed the house and residents while he was away in Nazareth. … Continue reading(and “inn” is a poor translation of the word for an “upper room”).
  • Matthew 2:9-11. The star was capable of standing still above a single house as a supernatural guiding light, not a giant incandescent body like our sun.
  • Matthew 2:9-11. We don’t know how many wise men. Three types of gifts are given.
  • Matthew 2:9-11. The wise men were not at the manger with the shepherds.
  • Matthew 2:11. The wise men visited a house, not a barn or stable.
  • Luke 2:9-15. There was no angel at the manger.
  • Luke 2:9-15. There was no angelic choir or singing to the shepherds.
  • Luke 2:16. There is no mention of a stable or barn. (Mangers were common features found inside houses.)
  • Luke 2:9-15. There were no animals at the birth of Jesus.
  • Luke 2:9-15. There was no drummer boy… or even a shepherd “boy.”
  • Luke 2:9-15. There were no talking animals not even at midnight.
  • There is no Santa Claus, Rudolph, or Frosty. No Christmas tree or Christmas stockings. There is no gift exchange.

Be divisive and argumentative about Christmas traditions.

…if you have no interest in bringing others to Christ, no interest in being a peacemaker, but only want to prove your own arrogance.

Here is advice from 2 Timothy 2:

Make every effort to present yourself approved to God, a worker having no need to be ashamed, guiding the word of truth along a straight path. But avoid pointless chatter, for it will progress to greater ungodliness…

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.

God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. [b]2 Timothy 2:15,16,23-26

We have many extra-biblical traditions every day of the year, not just at Christmas. We have birthday traditions, graduation traditions, sports traditions, family traditions, wedding traditions, and so on. Perhaps a person can consider human traditions as decorations or adornments that are useful for celebration without elevating those traditions as if they were the central truth.

Notes[+]