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Was Jesus Really Born in Bethlehem? (Part 2)

In the first part of this series, we looked at the proposition that some theologians believe that the four accounts about Christ’s birth contradict each other. We showed that the Bible does not contain errors, and that the gospel accounts complement, rather than contradict each other.

While different scholars may have their own, and varied views, on the matter about Jesus’ birth, the Church of God, historically, has explained that the Bible interprets the Bible in all matters!

And so, let us look at the two different writings in Matthew and Luke and see where they have the same information and are in complete agreement.

  1. Mary was a virgin

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin, as we read in Matthew 1:18, 23 and 25:

 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit… Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name “Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”’… [Joseph] did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.”

The word “virgin” is only mentioned in verse 23, but the other two verses, quoted above, contain the phrases: “Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together” and that Joseph “did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.”

In Luke 1:26-27, we read: “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”

We will discuss the biblical claim of the “Virgin Birth” in more detail in the next Q&A.

  1. Nazareth was the city where Joseph and Mary lived

 As mentioned above in Luke 1:26-27, we read that Nazareth was where Mary and Joseph lived.

Also, in Luke 2:39, as referenced in subheading No. 4 below, we read that “they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.”  See also Matthew 2:23.

  1. Jesus was born in Bethlehem

 In the book of Matthew 2:1, we read a clear statement of fact: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.”

We further read in Luke 2:4-7: “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.  So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Both accounts agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Also, the prophecy of Micah confirms this fact, where we read in Micah 5:2: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.”

  1. They returned to Nazareth after Jesus’ Birth

Matthew 2:23 says: “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’”

Luke 2:39 says: “So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.”

In passing, much confusion exists about the statement in Matthew that Jesus was called a Nazarene. In our Q&A, titled “Is the Shroud of Turin Authentic?,” we wrote:

“… we are told that a man is not to wear ‘long hair,’ and that even nature teaches us that wearing long hair is a ‘dishonor’ to a man…

“…  the Old Testament permitted a man on special occasions to wear long hair. This exception is set forth in Numbers 6, known as ‘the Law of the Nazarite.’ Men were permitted to make a temporary ‘Nazarite vow’ to God. During the time of their vow, a Nazarite was not to cut his hair, but let ‘the locks of the hair of his head grow’ (verse 5). In addition, he was not to touch a dead person, eat any fresh grapes or raisins, or drink anything made from grapes, including wine. This law was inseparably connected with the ritual law of sacrifices: At the end of the separation, the Nazarite had to bring several offerings, and he had to go through additional rituals before the priest.

“Jesus, however, was not a Nazarite. He grew up in the city of Nazareth and was therefore called a ‘Nazarene’ (Matthew 2:23) — which is of course quite different from being a Nazarite.

“Since we have no record of a written Old Testament prophecy regarding to Christ being called a Nazarene, we conclude that Matthew is referring here to an oral prophecy (He specifically states that this had been ‘spoken’ of Jesus.) However, in Isaiah 11:1, Christ is called the ‘Branch,’ in Hebrew ‘nezer.’ This Hebrew word is very similar to the Hebrew word for Nazarene. It has therefore been suggested that Jews at the time of Jesus might have understood this verse to refer to someone from Nazareth.

“In any event, Christ was not a Nazarite, because He did many things which were prohibited for Nazarites.”

So, we see, that both Matthew and Luke confirm Jesus grew up in Nazareth.

However, there are events that are exclusively written in just one of the gospel accounts, as a study of the harmony of the gospels will show.

Only in the book of Matthew do we read about the visit of the magi (Matthew 2:1-12) and the flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15).

Only in the book of Luke do we read about the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-7); the visit of the shepherds (Luke 2:8-17); Christ’s presentation in the temple (Luke 2:22-24) and the words of Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38).

Does this mean that there are errors in these accounts?   We must remember that none of these events are mentioned in either the book of Mark or John.  If we honestly and carefully put all of this information together, there are no contradictions, just accounts that focus on different things that happened.

There are two verses at the end of the book of John which are very telling: “This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.  And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen” (John 21:24-25).

This clearly reveals that only so much about Jesus was written and much more was not recorded in the Bible.   Therefore, we have a lot of information about the Savior of mankind, recorded in different biblical books, but it is only a small amount that could have been recorded.   But God decided, directed and inspired the writers of the gospel accounts what needed to be recorded for posterity. The information that we have is sufficient to reveal God’s Master Plan for Salvation which shows that God’s faithful and loyal people can enter the Kingdom of God at Christ’s return.

Other areas of dispute in the article originally referred to at the beginning of this Q&A was that of the alleged differences between the events of Matthew 2 where the wise men from the east visited the “young Child” (Matthew 2:1-12) and where Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus fled to Egypt on the instruction of the angel of the LORD (Matthew 2:13-15).

In Luke 2, we find recorded the visit of the shepherds who were told by an angel: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12), and the journey that Joseph and Mary made to Jerusalem “to present Him at the temple in Jerusalem to the Lord” (Luke 2:22 and 39).

In Matthew 2, we read that the wise men “came into the house and saw the young Child with Mary” (verse 11).  In Luke 2, the shepherds saw a “Babe” (not a young Child) lying in a manger.   These two events were obviously quite a time apart.

There are those who see that these events are contradictory when, in fact, they are complementary.  Just because one writer gives one account and another writer gives different information, pertaining to a different time, doesn’t mean that either is in error.

The shepherds saw Christ just after He was born; He was circumcised in Jerusalem, and Simeon (Luke 2:25-32) and Anna (Luke 2:36-38) saw Him in the Temple at Jerusalem.  Much later, the wise men saw the Child and after Herod realised that the wise men had not returned to give him any news, it was then that Joseph was told to flee into Egypt.   We then read about the massacre of all male children under the age of two years taking place.  The fact that it was all male children under the age of two gives us an understanding that Jesus could have been up to two years old when this happened. In fact, we read that Herod ordered the massacre and “put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16).

In our Q&A on the wise men in Matthew 2, we quote the Bible Encyclopaedia as follows:

“[Regarding the] Magi who worshipped Jesus [the word] translated ‘wise men’ is the Greek word magos. This is the same as magus, an old Persian word equivalent to the chakam of the Old Testament (above). Magi is the plural of magus… There is no indication that they practiced sorcery or claimed magical powers. Their recorded conduct is sincere and worshipful. They appear to have researched the Old Testament and believed its prophecies about the Messiah… The record does not specifically say that there were three, or that they were kings… but there was obvious wealth involved… These magi did not arrive until possibly almost two years after Christ’s birth, certainly sometime after his presentation in the Temple (Luke 2:22-39)… There is no mention of camels or any mode of transportation in the biblical record. There is also no mention of their names…”

After the massacre, Herod died and Joseph was told to go back to the land of Israel, and the family then dwelt in Nazareth (compare Matthew 2:19-23).

Regarding the reporting of events, one internet writer opined that “When one reads any of the gospels, one gets the impression that it was a normal narrative technique at that time to report incidents which were separated by a significant amount of time as if they were successive events.”

The events in Matthew 2 and Luke 2 are complementary, and must be true because if they are not, then the Bible has errors, but we know that this is not so.   If the Bible had errors, then it could not be trusted.   But that is not the case, and the Bible is the Word of God that we can truly rely on!

(To Be Continued)

Lead Writers: Brian Gale (United Kingdom) and Norbert Link