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.