Do the two accounts of the Nativity in the Bible contradict each other?

Many skeptics and opposers of the Word of God insist on the idea that the two accounts of the Nativity in the Bible (specifically Matthew 2 and Luke 2:1-40) contradict each other. We shall see if this is so.

First thing’s first, though. Even if Matthew mentions events that Luke doesn’t mention (and vice versa), this doesn’t mean that Matthew and Luke contradict each other by not mentioning every single detail in their books. It’s not wrong if Luke did not write about the murder of boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity, and it’s also not wrong if Matthew did not write about the circumcision of Jesus. Each writer wrote according to what he was inspired by God to write, and this was done without them contradicting each other in any way.

Yet, many make claims that the two Nativity accounts contradict each other. What we should ask ourselves, however, is whether or not we can harmonize them together. If we can, there is no contradiction. If we can’t (and we, thus, conclude that it is impossible for them to be harmonized together), then we should have a reason to be worried. For the Word of God must not be in error by contradicting itself (as God does not commit errors and mistakes).

So let’s see if there is a harmony between the two Nativity accounts (specifically Matthew 2 and Luke 2:1-40).

In Matthew 2, we read that, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Magi from the east came to visit Him. After they left, Joseph was warned in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and escape with them to Egypt (since Herod’s intention was to kill the child Jesus). They stayed in Egypt for a time until Joseph was told in a dream to take his family back to Israel (since those who had tried to kill the child were dead). Instead of going back to Bethlehem (where Jesus was born), they ended up in Nazareth, a town in Galilee.

Now let’s see what Luke says.

In Luke 2:1-40, Joseph and Mary (expecting a child) went up from the town of Nazareth to the town of Bethlehem. There, Mary gave birth to the child. Angels appeared to a group of shepherds nearby, and the shepherds were told about a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. The shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw the truth of what the angels had told them. After seeing the child, the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God. On the eighth day, the child was circumcised and given the name Jesus. And after some time, Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. There, they encountered both Simeon and Anna. When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they went back to Nazareth. And the child, Jesus, grew and became strong, filled with wisdom and grace.

Upon first glance, they do appear to contradict each other. Matthew seems to say that Jesus was taken to Egypt a few days after His birth. Yet, Luke says that, days after Jesus’ birth, He was taken to Jerusalem and then back to Nazareth. Luke 2:39 makes it clear that Joseph and his family went back to Nazareth right after they had done everything required by the Law of God. Matthew, on the other hand, seems to have Jesus taken from Bethlehem right to Egypt and then, after a time, to Nazareth (back in Israel). So there does seem to be a contradiction. And to make it worse, Matthew 2 makes it sound like the first time Joseph and his family lived in Nazareth was after returning from Egypt, while Luke says they had been living in Nazareth before Jesus was born.

Are the skeptics right? Do the Nativity accounts contradict each other?

Here’s one erroneous assumption the skeptics make. They assume that the Magi came to visit Jesus only a few days after His birth. This is a big assumption because nowhere in Matthew does it say that this is so.

Matthew 2:1 says that the Magi came to visit Jesus after His birth, but it does not say when exactly. In fact, upon reading Matthew 2 carefully, we see that Herod 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 (Matthew 2:16).

Ask yourself this question. Why would Herod order the killing of boys who were, at most, two years old if only a short number of days had passed since Jesus’ birth?

The fact is that the events described in Matthew 2 happened after the events described in Luke 2:1-40 (or, for the sake of accuracy, Luke 2:1-39). That’s how both accounts fit together.

Therefore, contrary to what tradition says, the Magi did not visit Jesus around the same time that the shepherds did. There was a considerable amount of time between the visit of the shepherds and the visit of the Magi. It’s no surprise if the Magi paid Jesus a visit around a year after His birth.

In other words, there was more than enough time for the events in Luke 2:1-39 to occur before the eventual arrival of the Magi.

If that is so, why then does Luke 2:39 say that they went to Nazareth, not back to Bethlehem? How can you say that the events in Matthew 2 happened after the events in Luke 2:1-39 when Luke 2:39 says they never went back to Bethlehem?

Notice above how another assumption was forced into the text of Luke 2. Luke 2 doesn’t say that they never went back to live in Bethlehem. While it does say that they went back to Nazareth, it doesn’t say that they immediately went there right after the events in Jerusalem.

You see, Luke, inspired by God, skipped most of the events described in Matthew 2 and went straight to the moment when Joseph and his family went back to Nazareth. Luke 2:39 is important because it shows us how the prophecies were fulfilled concerning the Messiah being called a Nazarene. So, in short, Luke 2:39 does not say what skeptics think it says.

People who have a problem with this explanation ought to read Luke 7:1 for an idea of how unfamiliar they really are with the style of writing back then. In Luke 7:1, it says that when Jesus had finished saying all that He said in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. Note that, in order to enter Capernaum, you first have to walk towards it. Once you reach Capernaum, then you can enter it. So there was a process Jesus had to do before He could enter Capernaum. Yet, Luke 7:1 skips this process and goes straight to the moment when Jesus entered Capernaum. Thus, Luke 7:1 doesn’t say that Jesus immediately entered Capernaum right after He finished saying what He said in the hearing of the people. After reading this, go back to Luke 2:39, and you’ll see how much sense the explanation in the paragraph above makes.

One more question, then.

Why does Matthew 2 make it sound like the first time Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth was after returning from Egypt?

The answer is that Matthew 2 doesn’t say such a thing. Matthew 2:23 doesn’t introduce us to Nazareth for the assumed reason that Joseph and Mary had never lived there before the escape to Egypt. It introduces us to Nazareth simply because it’s the first time it’s introduced in Matthew.

If you find this answer hard to believe, then let me show you something interesting from Luke 4.

In Luke 4:23, Jesus (while in Nazareth) mentions Capernaum, implying that He had been there before. Later on, in Luke 4:31, we see Capernaum being introduced as one of the towns in Galilee. This is after Jesus had already mentioned Capernaum in Luke 4:23.

Therefore, the introduction of a town in the Bible does not indicate that it is being visited for the first time.

And so, the Word of God (once again) answers all critics and skeptics and shows them how the Word of God does not contradict itself.

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3 Responses to Do the two accounts of the Nativity in the Bible contradict each other?

  1. SALPY says:

    Halleluyah and God bless you.

  2. People who have a problem with this explanation ought to read Luke 7:1 for an idea of how unfamiliar they really are with the style of writing back then. In Luke 7:1, it says that when Jesus had finished saying all that He said in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. Note that, in order to enter Capernaum, you first have to walk towards it. Once you reach Capernaum, then you can enter it. So there was a process Jesus had to do before He could enter Capernaum. Yet, Luke 7:1 skips this process and goes straight to the moment when Jesus entered Capernaum. Thus, Luke 7:1 doesn’t say that Jesus immediately entered Capernaum right after He finished saying what He said in the hearing of the people. After reading this, go back to Luke 2:39, and you’ll see how much sense the explanation in the paragraph above makes.

    Yes, indeed, the Gospel writers are not supposed to write every detail in the life of Jesus. He could have passed from somewhere and done something else before getting to Capernaum, and yet Luke is not obliged to write about all that.

    And the difference in the details that each Gospel writer gives is another strength for the Bible, as it proves that the writers didn’t sit and try to copy from each other. As each wrote his Book independently and yet with agreement with the other writer, then it is clear that there is one Author behind all the Books of the Bible, and that Author is the Holy Spirit.

    Now your example from Luke 7:1 is good. And in fact the authors of the Gospel accounts often make omissions and sometimes they don’t give precise details about secondary matters. And we usually collect the more complete information by comparing the different accounts of the same event. Let me give you a simple example that shows you what I am saying:

    You know about the miracle in which the Lord fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. This account is detailed in the four accounts of the Gospel. In Luke 9, Luke does not tell us what happened immediately after that event, but he tells us where that event happened; he says that it happened in a city called Bethsaida (cf. Luke 9:10). Matthew tells us that the event happened in a secluded place (cf. Matthew 14:13), and that after that event Jesus made His disciples go to the other side of the sea, and that they arrived to Gennesaret (cf. Matthew 14:34). Mark tells us that the same event happened in a secluded place (cf. Mark 6:32), and that after that event Jesus made His disciples go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida(cf. Mark 6:45)!! But then Mark tells us that they arrived to Gennesaret (cf. Mark 6:53)!! And what about John? Well, John tells us that this event happened on the other side of the Sea of Galilee (cf. John 6:1), and that after that event the disciples went in a boat to Capernaum (cf. John 6:17, 24)!!

    Be careless about the truth, and have an agenda against the Word of God, and you will consider it more than enough to cast a quick glance at these passages and conclude that they contain an obvious contradiction. You won’t study deeper to understand that just as Luke says Jesus made that miracle in Bethsaida, but in Bethsaida Julias that was a desert place at that time, and not in Bethsaida of Galilee to which Mark says the disciples went!! And you won’t go deeper to understand that the disciples would first go to Bethsaida of Galilee, take a boat from there, and continue to Capernaum, just as John says!! Bethsaida of Galilee was close to Bethsaida Julias. And most probably the strong wind made them decide to go directly to Capernaum instead of passing to Bethsaida of Galilee, as they were late. It is clear that they had in mind to reach Capernaum after going to Bethsaida of Galilee. But as the wind made them be late, so after Jesus made the wind cease, they went directly to Capernaum. That’s what the comparison of the texts makes us understand. But why do the writers tell us that they arrived to Gennesaret? Because Capernaum was in a region called Gennesaret. That simple!

    You see how the writers of the Gospel accounts did not make an effort to explain to us these details, as their purpose was not to teach us geography, but to tell us the spiritual truths contained in the Gospel accounts.

    May the Lord give us to do a more detailed study about what I explained above. Amen!

    Grace be with you!
    Disciple of Jesus Christ

  3. soldierofChrist777 says:

    That’s true. The main aim of the Gospel writers was not to teach us everything to do with history or geography. The Gospel books aren’t even close to a full biography of Jesus Christ! The main purpose, as Disciple of Jesus Christ said, was to let us know about all the essential points concerning the spiritual truths that are necessary for our salvation (and for our sanctification). And spiritual truths are what the Bible is full of! In this Bible, one can know how bad as sinners we really are, how to be saved by God through Jesus Christ despite our sins, and what to learn from God through Jesus so that we may be able to apply in our lives whatever we learn from Him, helping others and glorifying God in the process.
    Skeptics who focus too much on trying to find so-called “historical/geographical errors” or “contradictions” (concerning historical events) in the Bible really miss the point of the Bible! It is neither a history book nor a geography book nor a general science book. It is more like God’s love letter to the whole world.
    As our readers should know, there are several links here that explain to us how much God loves us and what He did for us so that we wouldn’t have to be punished for our own sins. Always feel free to check them out.
    May the Lord bless us all.

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