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The infancy narratives of Jesus

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When we read the Gospels to try and garner information about the childhood of Jesus, only two Gospels shed light on the issue, the Gospel of Matthew, and the Gospel of Luke. The other two gospels, that of Mark and John, say nothing about Jesus’ childhood.

Now when it comes to the two accounts of Matthew and Luke, are they reliable, and can they be trusted? When looking through both accounts, what we find are inconsistencies, as well as contradictions between both accounts, throwing the historical reliability and truthfulness into question.

Let’s start off with Matthew, according to Matthew, Jesus was born in Bethlehem:

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 (Matthew 2:1)

According to Matthew, once king Herod found out about this, he wanted to kill Jesus, and so Jesus and his family had to flee from Bethlehem and into Egypt:

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him. When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” (Matthew 2:13-15)

Eventually Herod dies, and so Jesus and his family can return, but instead of returning to Bethlehem, they go to Nazareth because they’re in fear of Herod’s son who is now in power, and that he might want to finish what his father started:

Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. 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.” (Matthew 2:19-23)

So to summarize Matthew’s account:

-Jesus is born in Bethlehem

-Jesus and his parents are forced to flee Bethlehem because king Herod wants him dead

-Jesus and his parents flee to Egypt

-Jesus and his parents leave Egypt once king Herod died, but don’t go back to Bethlehem, and instead go to Nazareth as a precaution lest the new ruler, Herod’s son, seeks to finish what his father started.

Now let’s take a look at Luke’s version, and this is where the problems obviously come in, because both accounts are different as well as contradictory.

According to Luke, Joseph, and the pregnant Mary were already living in Nazareth, and moved to Bethlehem because of a census that was being carried out:

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. 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. (Luke 2:1-7)

So the first discrepancy to note between Luke and Matthew is that in Luke’s version, Joseph, and the pregnant Mary were already living in Nazareth, unlike Matthew’s version in which they began to live in Nazareth only after leaving Egypt and deciding to move to Nazareth.

Also according to Luke, once Jesus was born, his parents took him to Jerusalem to perform a sacrifice at the temple, and after they had done all the rites, and completed the census, they moved back to Nazareth:

So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit,filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. (Luke 2:39-40)

We now see the second discrepancy between Luke and Matthew, remember according to Matthew Jesus had to flee to Egypt because Herod wanted him dead, Luke mentions nothing about this. Secondly, according to Matthew, Jesus and his parents went to Nazareth and out of Egypt once Herod died, and the reason they went to Nazareth was because they were afraid of Herod’s son who was ruling, but Luke says nothing of this. Luke’s account makes it quite clear that there was no campaign by Herod to kill Jesus, and that Jesus and his parents were returning back to their village of Nazareth once they had completed everything, he doesn’t say they were going to Nazareth out of Egypt. In Luke’s account, there’s no indication at all that Jesus and his parents go to Nazareth in fear, or after being hunted down, or go to Nazareth to avoid living in Galilee in fear of Herod’s son, none of that happens.

We must also bear in mind that according to Luke, Joseph and Mary were originally living in Nazareth, and so they were returning back to their home, but for Matthew the reason why they went to Nazareth was not because they were originally living there, but because they didn’t want to go back to Bethlehem from Egypt in fear of Herod’s son that was now ruling that area. So the two are obviously very different.

So the two accounts we see are obviously different, with both authors saying something different, bringing their reliability into serious question.

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