Infancy Narrative Harmony Question


#1

I’ve searched around and I’ve never seen anyone address this question before. I just asked on the radio program and Mark Brumly was stumped.

Here goes:

Most folks know there is a time gap between Luke’s infancy narrative and Matthew’s infancy narrative. We know this because the Magi don’t set out to see Jesus until after His birth [Matthew 2:1] . Also, Herod discerns the age of Jesus to be 2 years. [Matt 2:16]

So this explains why certain discrepencies can exist between the two narratives. Some people ask, “Why were they in a house?” “Did they go to the Temple or flee to Egypt?” But these are resolved by the fact that they are two years apart.

HOWEVER, if you look at Luke 2:39, you’ll see that after the Holy Family took the 40-day old Jesus to the Temple, they returned home to Nazareth.

"When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” – Luke 2:39

THEN, in Matthew’s Gospel (2 years later) the Magi find the Holy Family in a house in Bethlehem. Matthew 2:11 reads:

“And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.”

My question was…“What’s that about? Why does it say in Luke that they went home to Nazareth and the Magi find them in Bethlehem?”

Do any of the fine people here wish to take that up?


#2

Most people don’t realise that there are discrepancies, if you read the gospels side-by-side. It may upset Bible literalists.

I am not qualified to answer your question, but am looking forward to an explanation.


#3

I think that the ‘discrepancies’ arise because of some assumptions you’re making that aren’t necessarily warranted…

This is your first assumption. Matthew 2:1 says that they arrived after his birth, not that they set out after his birth. This is important when it comes to Herod and his mathematical reckoning…

Also, Herod discerns the age of Jesus to be 2 years. [Matt 2:16]

No, he doesn’t. Matthew 2:16 says that his calculation was based on the story he received from the Magi. (See Mt 2:7 – the Magi told him, in secret, about the time of the rising of the star.) So, then Herod said, “OK–he’s no older than two years old, since that’s when they saw his star start to rise. Make no mistake; leave no stone unturned; kill every boy two years old and younger. That’ll be certain to include this kid!”

HOWEVER, if you look at Luke 2:39, you’ll see that after the Holy Family took the 40-day old Jesus to the Temple, they returned home to Nazareth.

Without reference to time, Luke affirms that they returned to live in Nazareth. Yes.

THEN, in Matthew’s Gospel (2 years later) the Magi find the Holy Family in a house in Bethlehem.

Again, isn’t that an assumption you’re reading into the text? How do we know that it’s “2 years later”? Matthew doesn’t tell us that…!

My question was…“What’s that about? Why does it say in Luke that they went home to Nazareth and the Magi find them in Bethlehem?”

I don’t think you’ve established that the Magi show up two years later… :shrug:


#4

All that is materially necessary for this quandary is that the Magi show up after Luke 2:39. For Luke 2:39 says they went back to Nazareth, but the Magi met them in Bethlehem.

If they showed up before Luke 2:39, you have a different quandary regarding the interaction of their visit to the temple vs. their flight to Egypt.

I believe my assumptions regarding the specifics of the timing are correct. But the question is not strictly dependent upon that.


#5

The Bible is true for faith and morals, not to a Bulova watch. Dont lose the scripture message analyzing a document written from word of mouth history . Things happen in God"s time which we don’t understand.


#6

hadulzo makes an excellent point, that Scripture isn’t a newspaper account of the exact historical events on an exact timeline. That’s not the way ancient writers wrote. They weren’t establishing evidence or creating a timeline to prove that it all happened in a court of law.

Anyone who tries to reconcile every event in the Bible with every other event will drive themselves crazy and waste a lot of time. God is trying to teach us something much deeper.

-Tim-


#7

Neither contradict the revelation of God’s salvation plan, so I’m going to sleep well tonight without giving it a second thought!


#8

Have you demonstrated that this is the case, though? I don’t think you have. :shrug:

For Luke 2:39 says they went back to Nazareth, but the Magi met them in Bethlehem.

Does Luke say that they went back immediately to Nazareth? Does Luke suggest that nothing happened to them between the time they were in Bethlehem and the time they went back to Nazareth? Nope. Think about it: suppose I went to my friend’s place to watch a football game, then went to the store, then went home. Then, when someone reports what I did, they say, “he watched the game; later, he went home.” Does that report mean that I didn’t go to the store? Nope… it just means that the report doesn’t mention anything between ‘game’ and ‘home.’

If they showed up before Luke 2:39, you have a different quandary regarding the interaction of their visit to the temple vs. their flight to Egypt.

No, not a quandary… just different timing.

I believe my assumptions regarding the specifics of the timing are correct.

Wait… seriously? You said that the magi left after Jesus was born: I showed you that the gospel doesn’t say that. You said that Herod put His age at two: I showed you that the gospel doesn’t imply that – and that it shows something different. You asserted that the visitation happened when Jesus was two – the gospel doesn’t say that, either.

And this leads you to believe that your assumptions are correct? Riiiiight…

But the question is not strictly dependent upon that.

No – but it is dependent on this chain of ‘facts’ that you’ve strung together; without this (easily disputed) chain, you don’t have the ‘quandary’ you assert. :shrug:

You’re just asserting that there’s no possible harmonization, right? So, all we need is a counter-example of a possible harmonization. OK – let’s see what the gospels say:

Matthew:
(Mt - Implicitly) Magi leave their lands, having seen the star.
(Mt 2:1) Jesus is born.
(Mt 2:2) When Jesus was born, the magi arrive in Jerusalem.
(Mt 2:7) Herod gets the Magi to tell him when the star appeared.
(Mt 2:9) The Magi set out for Bethlehem.
(Mt 2:11) The Magi arrive at “the house” and see Mary & Jesus.
(Mt 2:13) Joseph takes Mary & Jesus and goes to Egypt.
(Mt 2:14) Herod waits for the Magi, but they never show up.
(Mt 2:14) Herod orders the massacre of all boys two and under.
(Mt 2:19) After Herod’s death, Joseph returns to Israel.
(Mt 2:20) Joseph goes to Nazareth.

Luke:
(Lk 2:4) Joseph goes from Nazareth to Bethlehem
(Lk 2:7) Mary gives birth to Jesus.
(Lk 2:8) Eight days later, He is circumsized & given the name ‘Jesus’.
(Lk 2:21) No less than 40 days after His birth, the Holy Family goes to Jerusalem for Mary’s purification.
(Lk 2:39) At some unspecified time, the Holy Family returns to Nazareth.

All we need is a plausible harmonization, right? Ok… hold onto your hat… here we go:

(Mt - Implicitly) Magi leave their lands, having seen the star.
(Lk 2:4) Joseph goes from Nazareth to Bethlehem
(Mt 2:1 & Lk 2:7) Jesus is born.
As early as this point: Lk 2:8 – Jesus’ circumcision
As early as this point: Lk 2:21 – trip to Jerusalem for purification. (If it happens here, then they make the six-mile return trip to Bethlehem.)
(Mt 2:2) When Jesus was born, the magi arrive in Jerusalem.
(Mt 2:7) Herod gets the Magi to tell him when the star appeared.
(Mt 2:9) The Magi set out for Bethlehem.
(Mt 2:11) The Magi arrive at “the house” and see Mary & Jesus.
As late as this point: Lk 2:8 – Jesus’ circumcision
As late as this point: Lk 2:21 – trip to Jerusalem for purification. (If it happens here, then either they return to Bethlehem or go straight to Egypt – none of the gospels specify their route.)
(Mt 2:13) Joseph takes Mary & Jesus and goes to Egypt.
(Mt 2:14) Herod waits for the Magi, but they never show up.
(Mt 2:14) Herod orders the massacre of all boys two and under.
(Mt 2:19) After Herod’s death, Joseph returns to Israel.
(Lk 2:39, Mt 2:20) Joseph goes to Nazareth.

Wow. That was hard. :rolleyes:

Now: even if the Magi don’t leave until they see the star (which the text does not state), all that has to happen is that the Holy Family stay around Bethlehem long enough for the Magi to show up. In the meantime, they go to Jerusalem for the purification (and, presumably, return to Bethlehem.)

You make the presumption that Jesus was two at the time of the visit of the Magi only because of Herod’s order. If the order was to kill all boys of the age of two, you might have a reasonable shot of making your case. However, that wasn’t the order: it was “all boys two and younger.” In other words, Herod is being safe and making sure that the boy-king doesn’t escape. By setting a two-year time frame, he expects he’ll kill the boy. Even so, the population of Bethlehem is small enough that we’re likely only talking about a ‘massacre’ of six or seven children. Still horrific, but if you’re hoping that the boy won’t slip through your grasp, you estimate up or down for ‘insurance’ – after all, that’ll only change the number of murders by two or three.

So, it’s your presumptions, and not the Gospel accounts themselves, that lead to this “quandary” that you posit.


#9

Well, even with the differences in detail both Matthew and Luke agree on at least four things: (1) Jesus’ parents were named Mary and Joseph, but (2) Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father; and that (3) Jesus was born in Bethlehem (even if they differ on the details as to why He was born there), but (4) was reared in Nazareth (something all the four gospels agree on). Now some people will doubt the historicity of (3), because in their opinion it’s too convenient that a descendant of David will have been born in David’s native town. (Plus there’s the whole issue of the supposed census - which in Luke’s gospel is the reason why the Holy Family was in Bethlehem in the first place.) But other scholars will warn against summarily pigeonholing this detail as ‘theological’ rather than ‘historical’: Joseph and Mary could very well have ended up in Bethlehem of Judaea just in time for Jesus’ birth for some reason or another, even if the gospels confuse some of the minor details (i.e. the census of Quirinius) and choose to describe the events in a more religious/symbolic sort of way.


#10

I am not proposing the texts are in an irreconcilable contradiction. I am saying that there is a quandary.

I found this issue while doing a project that draws out the movements of the Holy Family on a map. I came up with a couple solutions on my own, but wanted to see what other knowledgeable folks had to offer.

So I appreciate your thoughts. Although I wish the answers would be phrased as one might talk to a person who is merely trying to come to a better understanding of the narrative.


#11

Fair enough. I was frustrated that, without comment or reason, you merely disregarded my responses to your presumptions with “nah… my assumptions are right”. It led me to understand that you weren’t “merely trying to come to a better understanding,” but that you were asserting you were right and the Scripture accounts were flawed… :wink:

I am not proposing the texts are in an irreconcilable contradiction. I am saying that there is a quandary.

It doesn’t seem like there’s a quandary, though. I’ve provided one plausible harmonization that accounts for your presumptions and proceeds nevertheless. :shrug:

Seriously, though … your assumptions seem to be the source of your problem. The “Jesus was two at the time of the Magi’s visit” seems to be the reason you perceive a dilemma…


#12

There is an excellent essay in the Ignatius Study Bible which offers that the census of Quirinius, or “enrollment” was actually a call for all to swear an oath of allegiance to the emperor.

“The Jewish historian Josephus recounts that during the last years of Herod’s rule, Judea was required to swear and oath of loyalty to Caesar. Archeological evidence confirms that the same type of oath was sworn elsewhere in the empire around 3 B.C… This might well mean that the registration described in Lk 2:1 involved an oath of allegiance sworn to the emperor, not a census taken for the purpose of taxation.”

It goes on to discuss the role of Quirinius - that he was both provincial legate of Syria but earlier had been a procurator in Judea, and discusses the various local and regional census’.

The essay is fascinating and offers what seems to me to be a very reasonable solution. See if you can get your hands on a copy or send me a PM. I’d love to hear what you think.

-Tim-


#13

Gorgias,

As I said up above, the core of the quandary is in Luke 2:39. The idea that Jesus was about two years old when the Magi arrived is not materially necessary for the quandary. All that is needed is for the magi to arrive after the purification.

That text says, or seems to say, that the Holy Family went from the Temple in Jerusalem directly to Nazareth. So the question is: If the Magi arrived after the purification, why did they find the Holy Family in Bethlehem and not in Nazareth?

The notion that Jesus was two when the Magi arrived actually makes the quandary easier to solve, since that allows ample time for the Holy Family to pack their bags and return to Bethlehem.

Now, one could propose that the Magi arrived prior to the purification – during the first 40 days of Jesus’ life. This would seem to present us with another question: How does the flight to Egypt interact with the trip to the Temple? For the text of Matthew seems to indicate that Joseph was warned to flee Bethlehem immediately upon the departure of the Magi. This wouldn’t seem to allow for a trip into Jerusalem.

The harmonization you proposed doesn’t seem to incorporate the data of Luke 2:39, which seems to say they went from the Temple to Nazareth. So I’d ask you to reevaluate your answer in light of that. OR if you think your proposed harmonization DOES comport with Luke 2:39, I’d like an explanation of that.

In either case, I am duly chastised for exploring this matter.


#14

Jesus born December 25th. Magi arrive January 5th. Twelve days.


#15

The reason the “two year” argument falls over is that the Magi did not know how old the child was when they met with Herod. They only knew that he had been born. They never returned to advise Herod so Herod had no idea how old the child was. Nobody knew.

Two years is just a buffer zone expanded by Herods paranoia.


#16

Looks like my question was taken up by a pro: catholic.com/blog/tim-staples/do-the-infancy-narratives-of-matthew-and-luke-contradict-each-other

Thanks for all the … ummm… help, I guess,


#17

Guess what? The original Eastern date for the Nativity of Jesus is January 6th - December 25th was at first purely a Western (Roman?) thing. On January 6th, most Eastern Christians originally celebrated all the events in Jesus’ early life (from His nativity up to His baptism, even up to the wedding at Cana). Then starting from the 5th century the idea of keeping a separate commemoration for Jesus’ birth on December 25th spread through most of the East as well. That only left the Armenian Church to continue commemorating the Nativity on January 6th. Meanwhile, the West also got the January 6th feast - but since they already had a separate date commemorating Jesus’ birth, they decided to just commemorate some other event on this date.

I’m just overgeneralizing here, note: at first Christians didn’t even agree on whether it was proper to commemorate birthdays or not.


#18

My friend, December 25th is the most fitting date for the Nativity, but in a different calendrical system. (25th Chislev). January 6th or January 5th-6th evening morning does not appear to be a date pulled out of thin air. So Epiphany makes perfect sense.

When it is considered that a significant event happened when Jesus was twelve years old, it makes sense that a significant event happened when Jesus was twelve days old. So while there was a certain amount of historical gelling, the equilibrium is very convincing.


#19

One thing also that I find interesting is that when the Holy Family fled to and dwelt in Egypt, John (the Baptist) who was 6 months older than Jesus, also fell within the 2 year time-frame, and so he spent his early years across the Jordan where he had been fled by his mother, and was therefore used to the sojourner lifestyle he lived during the years of his ministry.


#20

You get what you pay for, I guess… ? :shrug:

In any case, I’ve already explained that I misinterpreted your attitude as coming from a different perspective on the reliability of the Gospels (people who claim ‘contradictions’ in the Scriptures do tend to be critical of them, you know). If it seriously would make you feel better, I could apologize… :wink:

Staples gives a somewhat different interpretation, but it follows along the same lines our commentary here has, though, I think: you were making assumptions that aren’t warranted, based on what the texts actually say.

I’m glad you found an explanation – or at least, a ‘pro’ – whose explanation satisfies you! :thumbsup:


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