Accounts of Jesus’ Birth and their Differences

Accounts of Jesus’ Birth and their Differences

One interesting area of study is the difference in the accounts of Jesus’ birth, as described by Matthew and Luke. The reason that the two versions are different is that they were written for different audiences. Matthew was a Jew, and he presents Jesus as the New Moses. Consider the parallels:

1) In Genesis 37:5-9, 28, Joseph was taken to Egypt because of his dreams, which ultimately led to deliverance by Moses. In Matthew 1:20-23, 2:13, and 2:19-20, Joseph takes his family to Egypt because of his dreams.

2) Joseph is the son of Jacob in Genesis 37:1-3. Jesus’ father, Joseph, is the son of Jacob Matthew 1:16.

3) The Pharaoh of Egypt orders the killing of male Hebrew babies before the exodus in Exodus 1:15-16. Herod the Great orders the killing of Hebrew boy babies in Bethlehem in Matthew 2:16.

4) Joseph sends for his family to come to the land of Goshen to survive a famine and set the stage for their deliverance. In Matthew 2:13-14, Joseph takes his family to Egypt to save the child, Jesus.

5) Moses led the Hebrew people out of bondage in Egypt to the land God promised Abraham in Exodus 14, Deuteronomy 34, and Genesis 17:6. Jesus returned from Egypt to live in Nazareth in Matthew 2:19-23.

Matthew is a Jew writing for a Jewish audience and showing that Jesus had significance for the Jews and the gentiles. Luke is a Greek and is writing for a Gentile audience. Luke begins by relating Jesus to John the Baptist, with John being the herald of Jesus in Luke 1:76-77. In 2:1-5, Luke tells us about the census under Quirinius to explain how Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem. Luke then presents a different emphasis than Matthew:

1) Angels take the news of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in Luke 2:8-12.

2) Angels participate in heaven’s jubilation in Luke 2:13-14.

3) The shepherds visit the family and are the first evangelists in Luke 2:16-18.

4) Jesus is taken to Jerusalem and presented at the temple. There He is proclaimed “a light for the Gentiles and a glory for Israel” in Luke 2:28-32.

5) The childhood of Jesus at the age of 12 returning to Jerusalem in Luke 2:40-52. The re-connection with his cousin, John, in Luke 3.

The two accounts of Jesus’ birth remarkably complement each other. Those who try to find contradictions between Matthew and Luke are not considering who wrote the accounts, to whom they were directed, why they were written, and how the readers would understand them. The gospels of Mark and John were written for different purposes and do not tell about the birth of Jesus. 

Much of the Christmas narrative we hear at this time of year is not even in the Bible, and it is speculation about what might have happened. Reread the accounts, thinking about the purpose of the narratives and to whom they were written. You grow when you stick to the accounts of Jesus’ birth in the Bible and ignore the later embellishments.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

The Bible’s Human Authors

Bibles Human Authors

As we have pointed out before, the followers of Christ spoke Aramaic rather than Greek. The reason for this is that Aramaic was the language of the common people, and Christ dealt with the common people. The better-educated intellectuals of that day spoke Greek. Why then are the New Testament manuscripts written in Greek? Atheists have maintained that the Bible’s human authors were people other than the apostles and eyewitnesses, and they wrote the manuscripts at a later time.

Atheist scholar Bart Ehrman wrote, “It seems unlikely that the uneducated, lower-class, illiterate disciples of Jesus played the decisive role in the literary compositions that have come down through history under their names.” (From Ehrman’s book The followers of Jesus in history and Legend, page 45.)

Jesus and the Church of the first century indeed reached out to the common people. Christianity was not and is not a faith just for intellectuals. Paul certainly handled the academics, as demonstrated in Acts 17, when he carried on the debate with the Epicureans and Stoics in Athens. However, the claim that intellectuals wrote the scriptures later because the early Christians were too ignorant is an uninformed position.

Matthew the tax collector wrote the book of Mathew (Mathew 10:3). Tax collectors were not uneducated people, and the masses did not like them. The Romans required tax collectors to be fluent in several languages. They used a wax-covered wooden tablet called a pinax to record notes, which were then transcribed to papyrus. Luke was a physician, according to Colossians 4:14, and physicians were trained to pull eyewitness accounts into a coherent report as Luke did. (See Luke 1:1-4.) Paul certainly was capable of writing in Greek. Galatians 6:11 and Philemon 1:19-21 indicates Paul could do his own writing, but scribes sometimes wrote for individuals. Paul mentions that in Romans 16:22 and Peter in 1 Peter 5:12.

It is strange that atheists would attempt to denigrate the apostles’ intelligence and writing capacity when people living at that time did not choose to do so. The complaint about the Bible’s human authors was about their message of love and forgiveness free of greed and control. That problem still exists today. We can know the Bible is the word of God and came from God due to its message, not because of the academic pedigree of its human authors.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Genealogies of Christ

Genealogies of Christ
Skeptics have criticized the biblical accounts of the ancestry of Jesus. The problem is that Matthew 1:1-17 gives 42 ancestors of Jesus and Luke 3:23-37 has over 50. In addition to that, there are some differences in individuals in the genealogies. How can there be those differences in the genealogies of Christ?

The answer to that question is that Matthew gives the line of Joseph, the legal line. Luke gives the line of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Matthew is a Jewish writer and Jews regarded only the male line of descent. Joseph had to be a descendant of David, or the Jews would not have recognized the genealogy as a fulfillment of the prophecies that Christ would be the Son of David.

Luke was a Gentile writing for Gentiles. He was more particular to give the line that shows that Jesus is indeed the Son of David. So why does Matthew 1:16 say that Jacob was the father of Joseph while Luke 3:23 says that Joseph was the son of Heli? If Mary was the daughter of Heli, especially if an heiress, Joseph, by marriage, would become the “son of Heli.” That there is no contradiction between the two genealogies of Jesus is shown by the fact that the Jews who best understood their genealogies never changed it.

We have said that to take the Bible literally means to look at who wrote it, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people it was written to would have understood it. The genealogies of Christ are a classic example of why we must do that.
–John N. Clayton