The Scenes at Bethlehem. The Presentation in the Temple
St. Augustine With respect to the city of Bethlehem, Matthew and Luke are at one. But Luke explains in what way and for what reason Joseph and Mary came to it; whereas Matthew gives no such explanation. On the other hand, while Luke is silent on the subject of the journey of the magi from the east, Matthew furnishes an account of it. That narrative he constructs as follows, in immediate connection with what he has already offered: Behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him. Now, when Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled. (Mt 2:1-3) And in this manner the account goes on, down to the passage where of these magi it is written that, “being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.” (Mt 2:12) This entire section is omitted by Luke, just as Matthew fails to mention some other circumstances which are mentioned by Luke: as, for example, that the Lord was laid in a manger; and that an angel announced His birth to the shepherds; and that there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God; and that the shepherds came and saw that that was true which the angel had announced to them; and that on the day of His circumcision He received His name; as also the incidents reported by the same Luke to have occurred after the days of the purification of Mary were fulfilled,—namely, their taking Him to Jerusalem, and the words spoken in the temple by Simeon or Anna concerning Him, when, filled with the Holy Ghost, they recognized Him. Of all these things Matthew says nothing. Hence, a subject which deserves inquiry is the question concerning the precise time when these events took place which are omitted by Matthew and given by Luke, and those, on the other hand, which have been omitted by Luke and given by Matthew. For after his account of the return of the magi who had come from the east to their own country, Matthew proceeds to tell us how Joseph was warned by an angel to flee into Egypt with the young child, to prevent His being put to death by Herod; and then how Herod failed to find Him, but slew the children from two years old and under; thereafter, how, when Herod was dead, Joseph returned from Egypt, and, on hearing that Archelaus reigned in Judaea instead of his father Herod, went to reside with the boy in Galilee, at the city Nazareth. All these facts, again, are passed over by Luke. Nothing, however, like a want of harmony can be made out between the two writers merely on the ground that the latter states what the former omits, or that the former mentions what the latter leaves unnoticed. But the real question is as to the exact period at which these things could have taken place which Matthew has linked on to his narrative; to wit, the departure of the family into Egypt, and their return from it after Herod’s death, and their residence at that time in the town of Nazareth, the very place to which Luke tells us that they went back after they had performed in the temple all things regarding the boy according to the law of the Lord. Here, accordingly, we have to take notice of a fact which will also hold good for other like cases, and which will secure our minds against similar agitation or disturbance in subsequent instances. I refer to the circumstance that each evangelist constructs his own particular narrative on a kind of plan which gives it the appearance of being the complete and orderly record of the events in their succession. For, preserving a simple silence on the subject of those incidents of which he intends to give no account, he then connects those which he does wish to relate with what he has been immediately recounting, in such a manner as to make the recital seem continuous. At the same time, when one of them mentions facts of which the other has given no notice, the order of narrative, if carefully considered, will be found to indicate the point at which the writer by whom the omissions are made has taken the leap in his account, and thus has attached the facts, which it was his purpose to introduce, in such a manner to the preceding context as to give the appearance of a connected series, in which the one incident follows immediately on the other, without the interposition of anything else. On this principle, therefore, we understand that where he tells us how the wise men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and how they went back to their own country by another way, Matthew has simply omitted all that Luke has related respecting all that happened to the Lord in the temple, and all that was said by Simeon and Anna; while, on the other hand, Luke has omitted in the same place all notice of the journey into Egypt, which is given by Matthew, and has introduced the return to the city of Nazareth as if it were immediately consecutive.