Do Luke's and Matthew's nativity stories contradict one another

Historian and New Testament scholar, Bart D. Ehrman, made a list of what he believes to be contradictions between Matthew’s and Luke’s nativity account. How should we respond to them?

  • The genealogies. Both Matthew and Luke give Joseph’s genealogy. And they are different genealogies. It’s easy to see. Simply read Matthew 1 and Luke 3, and ask who Joseph’s father is. And grand-father. And great-grand-father. And great-great-grand-father. They are different, all the way back to David. And it’s not that one is giving Mary’s genealogy and the other Joseph’s. They both claim to be Joseph’s, explicitly.
  • The home town. As I showed in my previous post at length, in Matthew Joseph and Mary come from and are resident in Bethlehem. They relocate to Nazareth only a couple of years after Jesus’ birth, because of the dicey political situation in Judea (where Bethlehem is). Luke is even more crystal clear: they are from Nazareth and only happen to be in Bethlehem because of that census under Caesar Augustus in which “all the world” had to be registered. After they did their duty, both political and religious, they returned home.
  • The aftermath. Luke is clear that Joseph and Mary returned home immediately after they fulfilled what the law requires of a woman who has given birth. This is a reference to Leviticus 12. Thirty-two days after giving birth, the woman has to perform a sacrifice in the Temple for ritual cleansing. Mary does. They go home. But Matthew has them still in Bethlehem until the wise men arrive months, or up to two years, later, and then they don’t move to Nazareth but flee to Egypt. If Matthew’s right that they went to Egypt, Luke can scarcely be right that they returned right away to Nazareth.
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Tiny details that are irrelevant unless one wants to focus on them.
The story is that Jesus was born, saviour.

U know i’ve heard arguments that the first 3 gospels are so similar they were using the same sources. Now this argument says that it’s too different. You can’t win


I would say Ehrman is being very Catholic in this blog. Quoting from his last few sentences could be a Catholic narrative as well.

And you are making the mistake of assuming that both accounts are historically accurate. They’re not accurate and they’re not saying the same thing. It’s the discrepancies that show that, and that open up avenues for proper interpretation.


It seems that people often forget that there’s a “Catholic Answers” main webpage and not just this forum.

I suggest searching on there, since this topic has been treated and answered literally hundreds of times.


Also, i noticed Ehrman only spoke about the “contradictions” in the new testament. Lets not forget about these historically inaccurate spots in the OT as well like the creation stories in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.

These are more than tiny details.

Only for “bible only” theology. These are the proof texts one could use to show the importance of [T]ridition.


I have my theories on these two.

As far as I know Matthew specifies that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not that Mary and Joseph were living there. I will concede that without Luke I would assume they were living there, but I don’t think it’s explicitly stated.

And again he specifies that Herod sent the wise men to Bethlehem, not that the star lead them there.

My theory is that the star lead them to Nazareth. And given that all boys under were killed they arrived after the Presentation.

Again not how I’d read it without Luke, but I don’t see anything contridictiory to it.

With the geneologies we know that Matthew skipped generations. We also know that, smong the Jews Levitical Marriage was practised. I’m not sure abouf gentiles, but if not I can see Lukes as biological and Matthews as legal.

Also, if a man had only daughters a son in law could be recorded as a son.

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Roman Catholic teaching a century ago used to be intolerable of any idea that makes the Bible fallible. Apparently that changed in the 20th century. Oh well, that teaching probably “evolved”.

Jesus being from the seed of David and being born in Bethlehem are not tiny details. The Old Testament says the Messiah will be of the line of David and be born in David’s city, Bethlehem. If Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem then one of the prophecies about the Messiah was not fulfilled. Further, Jesus wouldn’t have the right to the throne of Israel if he wasn’t from David and therefore wouldn’t be the Messiah.

This ignores the fact that both genealogies were likely condensed, which was acceptable practice in the first century Roman world, so he is imposing a modern view upon an ancient historical practice. Not really a fair characterization here. Also, it was common for the same person to be known by more than one name in scripture (Peter/Simon; Matthew/Levi; Abraham/Abram; Jacob/Israel, are some examples). Again, he is imposing modern culture and historical methods, rather than viewing the text as acceptable given First Century practices.

Not really sure where he is getting this. Matthew casually mentions that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but does not address where Joseph and Mary are from. This detail was not mentioned in Matthew, so Ehrman is making an assumption the text doesn’t support in Matthew. Whereas Luke makes it more clear that Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, relocated to Bethlehem for the census, then eventually returned home. Ehrman seems to be assuming that both are attempting to provide an exhaustive chronology of Jesus entire life, which isn’t true. They are providing a narrative of Jesus life that demonstrates who Jesus is for the benefit of particular audiences. Naturally, they select the material that supports the theological points they are trying to demonstrate, this doesn’t mean they are in conflict, only that they are selecting material that is relevant to the particular points they are trying to make about Christ.

Matthew doesn’t state how long Mary and Joseph dwelt in Bethlehem, again he is making assumptions. We don’t know how soon after Christ’s birth the wise men appear, nor do we know how long after the incident with the wise men that Herod killed the children of Bethlehem. Lots of assumptions that Ehrman is making here. Similarly, Luke doesn’t speak of the flight to Egypt, but he also doesn’t give a detailed chronology of Christ’s early life, so it is a stretch to say he is in conflict with Matthew’s testimony.


Your author’s version is not correct. Luke 1:26 records that Gabriel was sent from God “to a town of Galilee called Nazareth to a virgin named Mary.” And chapter 2:4 tells us that “Joseph also went from Galilee out of the town of Nazareth into Judea to the town of David, which is called Bethlehem.”

Furthermore, note that Mary’s destination, Elizabeth’s home village in the “hill country of Judea,” is traditionally identified as Ein Karem, on the western outskirts of Jerusalem. The village of Nazareth, Mary’s home town was 91 miles as the crow flies from the home of Elizabeth. The most she could have traversed in one day is 9 to 10 miles, so we are talking about a ten-day journey at the very least.

We also read that “Joseph also went from Galilee out of the town of Nazareth” … to register with Mary his wife. Lk. 2:4

I personally toured the Holy Land and also visited Joseph and Mary’s home in Cairo, Egypt, which is still available for tourist visitations. So we have, not only the written word, but the actual traditional sites that retell history.

Ironically, I just wrote a paper on the Gospel According to Matthew…forgive me for being so bold, here is an excerpt which I think addresses the OP’s concerns"

Although there are differences in all four gospels, it is important to acknowledge that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are revealing the same truth of the incarnation, where God became man, and who defeated sin and death through his own death and his resurrection. It is this truth found in all four gospels that offer all of mankind the hope of eternal life with God.

Matthew’s gospel is part of the triad of gospels known as the synoptic gospels, which include not just Matthew’s, but the gospels according to St. Luke and St. Mark. The three presented the human life of Jesus, from his public ministry through his death, pointing to and culminating with the undeniable fact of his divinity proven by his resurrection and ascension.

This view has come to be known by theologians as Low Christology, whereas my John, from the very prologue of his gospel, concentrated on the divinity of Christ (to be classified as High Christology) , although John does also provide a compelling narrative to the life of Jesus .

It should be noted with clarity that Low or High when used referring to Christology are not qualitative adjectives. Low Christology is not inferior to High Christology; High Christology is not superior to Low Christology. They are just different theological approaches. In the end, all four gospels clearly reveal the full human nature (sin, of course excluded) as well as the full divine nature of Jesus Christ.

People often look to the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and in the Luke’s writing, to contemplate the joys and mysteries of the incarnation, which is Christmas. But, liturgically, Christmas (the Nativity of Our Lord ), is the very fulfillment of the liturgical season of Advent , with its hopes for the coming Messiah . John captures the good news of the incarnation (the Christmas message) in a single verse (John 1:14), “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as the only-begotten Son from the Father.”

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Both gospels tell us that Jesus is descended from David and both corroborate the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The details you bring up may concern you but not many others as you can see by the few responses on this thread.

Well to start with Matthew was there Luke wasn’t . Luke got his gospel I think from Peter and its obvious from Luke’s Gospel that he must of spoken to Mary because she is the only one who could tell him what happened which is backed up by the story of the The Black Madonna of Częstochowa which Luke apparently painted when he was visiting her on a table made by Jesus - also seeing the stories were not changed to reflect each other shows there is no fix in it - its two different people telling their version of what happened or what they were told happened. You could say Luke got his account right from Mary. How else could Luke have written his Gospel it would have to be what others told him.

Bet some would like to remove Luke’s Gospel but they can’t because you would have to throw out Acts too because he wrote it. You might say the beginning of Luke’s Gospel is Mary’s account of what happened - it could not of come from anyone else.

Why do you offer the overly long Google redirect URL rather than the direct URL?

As to the questions, there isn’t really a lack of explanations for these things. Heck, St. Augustine addressed this in his book “The Harmony of the Gospels” (see specifically the initial chapters of Book II for treatment on the nativity). But more contemporary explanations can be found:

Obviously, there are more contemporary resources concerning these things. Indeed, Catholic Answers itself has them. (Genealogies) (Birth Narratives in General)

CA is hardly the only place; other sites also offer information on this sort of thing. For example, see here.

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They don’t since-

The Nativity story in Luke talks about the birth of Christ.

The Nativity story in Matthew talks about the genealogy of Jesus and the visit of the wisemen/Magi mainly.

They say Jesus was like two when the wisemen came.

Andrew of Crete,argues that these genealogy differences were due too natural descent and Legal descent in Jewish law. Joseph was legally the son of Heli. But was fathered by Jacob his half brother; who followed the Jewish law in raising seed for his dead half brother. So both genealogies are true, just different perspectives. Mary shared this ancestry; again Jewish law required marriage within tribal bounds.

Wider than Heaven

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