Christmas Contradiction or Complement?: Comparing the Matthew 1:1- 2:23 and Luke 2:1-39 Christmas Stories

Guest Author: Richard Geer

There have been many commentaries on the supposed contradictions between Matthew and Luke’s differing accounts of Jesus early years, and most folks grew up with the famous amalgam of Mary, Joseph and infant Jesus in the manger.  The Shepherds and the Magi (Wise men) in the stable with the animals. All surrounding The Holy Family with the star of Bethlehem shining above that same stable. Wonderful scene and evoking many of my fondest childhood memories, but like the cute bathtub ark of Noah not a correct interpretation of the event in my opinion. The wise men were not at the manger, but a house the shepherds were at the manger not the house. John’s account although touching upon Christ’s eternal existence is not pertinent to the discussion of Christ’s incarnation at Bethlehem. Mark actually doesn’t speak at all of Christ’s birth and childhood, diving right into Christ’s ministry years.

Viewpoints

A. Comparison of The different genealogies in Matthew and Luke reveal different approaches to Christ’s early years and at first glance appear to be somewhat contradictory, but in closer examination we see that this is far from accurate. Matthew is communicating to the Jews and is desirous of revealing that Jesus is descended from David through Solomon. Thus showing Jesus’ connection as a royal son of David.  

His account goes in descending order from Abraham down to Joseph the supposed literal father of Jesus. All of the ancestors are described as direct descendants (begotten) until Joseph, but not Jesus. Joseph lineage is essential, however. Matthew begins his narrative starting with David and then jumps back to Abraham, the beginning of Israel as a nation. This is why I believe that Matthew is from the father’s (Joseph’s) royal lineage. Jesus being the legal son of Joseph would then be of the royal line, thus making Him a King descended directly from the house of David. Critical to being counted as Messiah, He must be considered a rightful king, the firstborn in the line of kings. Legally Jesus would be the firstborn and heir of Joseph, but not begotten son. Matthew is the most Jewish of the Gospels and the royal connection is a critical factor in his genealogical version.

So then I believe that Matthew’s gospel is from Joseph’s perspective.

B. Luke’s genealogical approach Starts earlier than Matthew’s but in reverse order. Starting with Joseph the husband of Mary, his genealogy ascends back to Adam bringing a more universal aspect to Messiah’s birth, which will ultimately cover not only natural Israel, but the future light to the gentiles Isaiah 9:1-2, 60:1-3 cf. with Simeon’s prophecy in Luke 3:29-32. Again perhaps why Luke considered it important to go back to the very beginning with Adam in his genealogical version.

So from Adam to Abraham there is no overlap and thus no contradiction. From Abraham to David the two accounts are identical. Thus no contradiction. After David however, the lineage descends from the non-royal line of Nathan. This is also critical as Messiah has to be from both the royal line and of the literal seed of David 2 Samuel 7:12-16, John 7:42, Romans 1:3.  This presents us with a difficulty as the royal seed was cast off with Jeconiah, the last true king of Israel, according to the Word of the Lord in Jeremiah 22:24-30.

 1. The problem is solved by the fact that Luke’s list is from the non-royal line of David, but his literal seed through Mary. Of course God had this covered from the events of the fall in Genesis 3:15. It is there said by God that the “seed of the woman” would bruise the serpents head. A veiled reference to the virgin birth as woman do not have seed they have eggs.

2. It seems as if there is room in Luke’s list for marriage to be a possible factor in lineage as opposed to begotten in Matthew. This is one of the possible explanations for the Shealtiel and Zerubbabel reconnect and overlap in the genealogies, after David, then being disconnected after that until Mary. There isn’t space to dwell on this for now, but it is an interesting side note that this overlap occurred after the Babylon captivity and during the building of the second temple.

So then I believe that Luke is from Mary’s perspective.

C. Mary receives the name to be given to the Child by the angel Gabriel. Luke 1:26-38. Joseph then receives the name of the Child later, and independently of Mary, in a dream, Matt 1:18-24. I believe that this is one more detail that confirms that Matthew is from Joseph’s viewpoint and Luke is from Mary’s.

How the 2 Scenarios Line Up Perfectly

A. Luke’s Account actually goes into some earlier events concerning John the Baptist conception and birth. Elizabeth pregnant 6 months before Mary. Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth etc.

B. Visitation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary. She is overshadowed by the power of God and becomes pregnant. This occurs 6 months into her cousin, Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist. Knowing when John was conceived after Zachariah’s term of service as priest in the division of Abijah and by comparing 1 Chronicles 24: 1-4, 28:11-13, Luke 1:26-38.  We surmise that Jesus was probably born in late Sept or early October not December, although it is then likely that December perhaps was the month when Jesus was conceived.

C.  Joseph’s dream after finding that Mary is already pregnant. Matt 1:18-24.   

D. Joseph and Mary come down from Nazareth to the town of Bethlehem to fulfill the decree of a census by Augustus Caesar. Joseph stays betrothed to Mary after his dream. Luke 2:1-7; Matt. 1:18-25.

E.  Jesus born in a stable in a manger with Mary and Joseph. Wise men are not here at this point neither is the star. Luke 2:6-7

F. Shepherds in the fields are visited by an angel of the Lord announcing the birth of Jesus. Then the heavenly host praising God in the Highest. They hasten to Bethlehem and see Joseph and Mary with the babe Jesus in the manger on the night of His birth. Luke 2:15-20.

G. Jesus presented at the temple in Jerusalem for circumcision the 8th day after birth. Prophecy of Anna and Simeon. A revelation to the gentiles Luke 2:29-38. They have remained in Bethlehem at this point.

H. Mary goes back over to the temple for her purification according to Mosaic Law, 40 days after the birth of Jesus. They offer up an offering of 2 turtle doves; not a lamb which would be the normal offering except in cases of extreme poverty.  Luke 2:22-24; Leviticus 12:6-8. This indicates that the Magi have still not arrived on the scene with their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and myrrh.  All gifts worthy of a king. Mary and Joseph are still in Bethlehem perhaps because of better opportunities for a carpenter. Only five miles from Jerusalem. Perhaps there might have been some remaining stigma in Nazareth, their old home town, for being an unmarried woman with child. But whatever the reason they are still in Bethlehem at this point in the narrative.

I. Still living in Bethlehem, but now living in a house, the Magi (Wise men) arrive. First in Jerusalem, then Bethlehem following the famous star. The Star leads them to the house where Joseph and Mary and Jesus are now residing. Jesus is now described as a young child not a babe or an infant. Matt. 2:1-12

J. Herod learns of the Wise men’s visit. He inquires of the priests and scribes as to where the Christ was to be born.  Informed that it would be in Bethlehem, according to Scripture. Micah 5:2  

K. Herod sends for the Wise men and deceitfully tells them to come back to him so that he might worship the child.

L. The Wise men are warned in a dream and leave in a different direction from Jerusalem and do not return to Herod. Joseph also warned in a dream flees to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. Matt. 2:13-18.  They now have money to do this after the gift of the Magi. Herod, angry at being deceived by the wise men begins slaughter of the infants up to 2 years of age. This gives a window for the appearance of the Magi, after the birth of Jesus. No earlier than 40 days, from the purification of Mary, and no later than 2 years based on the decree of Herod.

M. Herod dies. They return to Israel, probably after several months; up to a year, perhaps even longer. Instead of returning to Bethlehem, in Judea, they return to Nazareth in in the north of Israel, in the Galilean region. It may be fearing that Herod’s son, Archelaus, was as despotic as his father, persuaded them to not return to their house in Bethlehem. Matt. 2:19-23. Also, Jesus is now a young child and any stigma that may have been encountered in their old home has either been forgotten or become irrelevant.

N. Luke describes an event at the temple at 12 years of age, Matthew proceeds to the beginning of Jesus ministry when he was about 30 years of age according to Luke.

Conclusion

A. Although this may or may not answer all questions, I believe it creates a plausible and satisfactory explanation for the two differing accounts in Mathew and Luke, harmonizing beautifully with the gospel narratives.  It always seems remarkable to me that many like to find contradiction and error, when those in the early church and the apostles never saw a problem. I generally tend to ascribe this to either hubris or arrogance on the part of modern man who always think of themselves as superior to those that came before. I am of a mind that if there is a reasonable explanation for all facts, why find error and contradiction unless that is you’re a priori world view.   

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