Help - I'm a bit confused on timelines between Luke and Matthew


Listening to the Gospel this morning - the presentation from Luke - I started wondering about the apparent contradiction between Matthew and Luke in this area.

Without getting into a lot of detail…the points are these…

  1. Luke tells us that Jesus is born, circumcised 8 days later and then presented at the temple - How long was the period of purification before this could happen?
  2. Then - again according to Luke - they returned to Nazareth.
  3. Matthew tells us that the Wise men found Jesus - apparently in Bethlehem and after they left the angel told Joseph to head for Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath.

I’m not looking for any in depth explanations - and I don’t really need all the particulars resolved…but It was something that sort of bothered me this morning so I thought I’d ask…

Any simple explanations - or timelines out there??




The Catena Aurea often explains timeline confusions concerning the gospels.

Try it online at:


It’s confusing.

Luke and Matthew are the only accounts we have.

You have to go outside of the Gospels and be a little bit creative to make sense of it all.

If you believe the Gospels are infallible, you have a problem.

Must be a ton of threads on this.


Okay - this is a timeline that I think would work: Jesus is born in Bethlehem; 8 days later, He is circumcised; 40 days after His birth (according to Jewish law), He is presented at the temple. Luke doesn’t say that the Holy Family returned immediately to Nazareth, just that they did return. This means that the Holy Family could have stayed in Bethlehem for a while - it would have actually been harder for them to go back to Nazareth with a nursing baby than to go to Bethlehem from Nazareth with Mary about to give birth. Jesus was probably about 2 years old when the magi showed up (this is shown by Herod ordering that all boys under 2 in Bethlehem be killed).


:thumbsup: This is the timeline i have imagined. Many assume that the wise men visited the newborn Jesus but then Herod would have only killed the newborns but he ordered the death of all under 2 years of age. Therefore the wise men were later.


maybe this simple chronology will help

God bless


I know you are not looking for in depth explanations, but I will provide some from my book that was released recently just incase you or others may want to look it over for answers. You can check it out here—side/dp/1494284170/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391426960&sr=8-1&keywords=john+litteral

The Magi and the Flight into Egypt.
Matt 2:1-20

McEvilly As regards the time of their visit, there is a diversity of opinion. The commonly received opinion in the Church, as indicated in her arrangement of the festivals of the Epiphany and Purification, would seem to be, that they came shortly after our Lord’s birth, before the Purification and Presentation in the Temple. This opinion is well founded on the words of St. Matthew in this verse, which clearly convey, that the Magi made their appearance at Jerusalem very soon after our Lord’s birth. “When Jesus was born, behold," etc. Others, however, fix the date of the arrival of the Magi after the Purification, and these differently assign different periods after it, more or less remote, according to the meaning attached by them to v. 16, and to the term of “two years and under" fixed on by Herod. The advocates of this opinion are chiefly influenced by the narrative of St. Luke (ii. 39) who states that our Lord and His parents returned to Nazareth immediately after His presentation, which took place, “according to the law of the Lord." This narrative they cannot reconcile in the supposition that the visit of the Magi took place before the presentation, with that of St. Matthew (v. 13), who states that our Lord and His parents set out for Egypt by divine admonition, immediately after the visit of the Magi. Hence, as our Lord could not be presented in the Temple at the appointed time, “according to the law of the Lord” (Luke ii. 39), if He left previously for Egypt, as St. Matthew says He did immediately after the departure of the Magi (v. 13), they conclude, that the visit of the Magi must be after the Purification and presentation in the Temple. The interval is more or less prolonged by the several advocates of the latter opinion. We need not however, depart from the commonly received opinion, which fixes the date of the visit of the Magi, before the presentation; and the apparent discrepancy in the narratives of both Evangelists may be reconciled, by supposing that after the visit of the Magi, our Lord was presented in the Temple; and having proceeded thence, to Nazareth, Joseph was there admonished in sleep, and proceeded at once from Nazareth to Egypt (see v. 13, Commentary on). The supposition that the visit of the Magi occurred, on the occasion of one of the annual visits Joseph and Mary were wont to make to Jerusalem, is utterly gratuitous. The sacred text says, they visited Jerusalem (Luke ii. 41). There is no mention of their having visited Bethlehem, which was out of the way, on their visit to Jerusalem. The difficulty founded on the term of two years fixed upon by Herod will be explained.


The Scenes at Bethlehem. The Presentation in the Temple
Luke 2:8-38

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.


**The Holy Family Returns to Nazareth

Luke 2:39-40 Matt 2:21-23**

McEvilly St. Luke passes over the flight into Egypt, the visit of the Magi, probably, because St. Matthew had already fully described these occurrences. Some say, they proceeded from Judea to Egypt, as it was to Judea Joseph afterwards was about returning from his exile. Others say, from Nazareth. Others, from Bethlehem, whether they went directly from the Temple, with the view of returning to Nazareth. Nothing certain is known regarding it.


Thanks everyone.



Jesus recapitulates the life of Israel in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew puts Jesus in the same places and situations as Israel but Jesus is successful where Israel had failed.

Jesus begins life in the land of Canaan in the same way that Israel began to exist in the land of Canaan through Abraham. Jesus flees to Egypt just like the sons of Abraham. Jesus begins his public ministry at the Jordan river opposite the city of Jericho - the exact same location where Israel crossed into the promised land. Jesus is tested 40 days in the desert just as Israel was tested 40 years in the desert.

The story goes on and on this way with Jesus reliving the same events and circumstances as Israel. This is why Matthew has Jesus beginning in the land of Canaan, going down the Egypt and starting his ministry, his conquest of sin and death at the Jordan river - it is the same thing Israel did.

The lives of Israel and Jesus parallel each other.



Luke 1:

9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified…12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

from Matt 2:

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

You will note that when the Magi visited Jesus, it was not at the manger, but the shepherds did see the baby Jesus at the manger.

The Magi saw Jesus in a house…not in the manger…as what v11 says. So some time had lapsed from being in the manger to being in the house. The lapsed time is said to be about two years since this is the age that Herod had babies slain.

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.


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