Conflicting Birth Accounts in the Gospels?

30 Dec

It is commonly believed among Bible scholars who trust Scripture is the word of God that, because Herod killed the children of Bethlehem from newborn up to two years of age, the Magi could not have come to Jerusalem, until Jesus was nearly two years old as well (Matthew 2:7, 16-18). However, this does not have to be so. According to Ezra 7:9 it took Ezra and his company exactly four months to travel from Babylon to Jerusalem, and it is implied that he made good time, because God was with him. However, the Magi might have made better time because Ezra could have had some aged people and the very young to care for. So if the Magi started out a few weeks before the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus on August 12, 3 BCE, they could have arrived in Jerusalem and found the child on October 22, 3 BCE, 40 days after Jesus’ birth, after a journey of about 3 months. Of course, being astrologers they could have anticipated the conjunction well in advance of this date and started their journey much earlier and arrived at Jerusalem at a slower pace.

As far as the two-year time period is concerned (Matthew 2:7-8; 16-18), the Magi may have mentioned the two comets appearing about the time of the Passover in both 4 & 5 BCE as the time they were alerted to look for signs of the birth of the Messiah. The Magi may have calculated the motion of the planets for the next few years and determined that Jupiter’s activity was highly significant concerning the Seventy Weeks Prophecy when it would travel through the constellation, Leo. On the other hand, if Simeon was one of the Magi (as I suggested in a previous post), he may have received his vision or dream that he would not die until the coming of the Messiah two years prior to Jesus’ birth. There is no reason why the Magi should have remained in the east for two years, if they knew the Messiah had been born already. If they desired to come and worship the one born King of the Jews, there is every reason to believe that they arrived in Jerusalem around the time of Jesus’ actual birth. Why would they wait for two years?

Some scholars see another contradiction between the birth accounts of Matthew and Luke. How could Joseph and Mary return to Nazareth after all things had been done in accordance with the Law, when Matthew says they actually went to Egypt? In fact, Matthew doesn’t mention their going to Nazareth, until they returned to Judea from Egypt. Matthew even implies that the only reason they traveled to Nazareth was because Archelaus reigned in Jerusalem in the place of his father, Herod. Due to implications of scandal surrounding Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph may have planned to stay in Judea, perhaps even in Bethlehem, and not return to Nazareth at all.

Nevertheless, there is no contradiction between the narratives. All Luke says is that after they had performed all things according to the Law, they returned to Galilee and Nazareth. How long after it doesn’t say. One may assume that it was immediately afterwards, but this is not necessarily so. Consider how Luke worded the conversion of Paul in Acts on his way to Damascus. After his conversion Paul got into trouble and some brethren let him down the wall during the night (Acts 9:25). The very next verse shows Paul in Jerusalem, but everyone was afraid of him and didn’t really believe he was a disciple (Acts 9:26). However, when Paul tells the story of his conversion in Galatians, the timeline is a little different than what one might expect from reading only Luke’s account in Acts. Paul wrote that actually it was 3 years after his conversion that he went up to Jerusalem (Galatians 1:16-18). It seems that Luke is apt to word matters for a smooth flow in his storyline, when he knows he is leaving out an additional incident that occurred within the timeline.

This is the language of Scripture; we find similar incidents in the Old Testament in Genesis, in the life of David and other places. The precedent is set in Acts and Galatians in the New Testament for Luke and Matthew to agree without any dissimilarity. May the Lord, our God, quicken his truth to our hearts, and may we submit to what the Spirit tells us.

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Posted by on December 30, 2009 in Christmas, Religion


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