2) Jesus’ birth narrative

Matthew’s Account

Jesus is unremarkably born a house in Bethlehem – in a plain reading of Matthew, this seems to be where Joseph and Mary are from. No remarkable journey; no census.

The magi come to pay their respect and in there search for the King of the Jews, they tip off Herod who then seeks to destroy this threat. Joseph and Mary flee Israel into Egypt until they hear of Herod’s death. They then return to Israel. Only then, when they heard that Archelaus was now ruling the Bethlehem region do they decide to flee to Galilee and settle in Nazareth.

Luke’s Account

Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem from Nazareth due to a census that is being taken. There they find no room for them and end up staying in a barn. After 8 days Jesus is circumcised and after they ‘perform everything according to the law’, they return to Galilee. We are told that every year the family traveled to Jerusalem for passover and on his twelfth year he gets left behind. This seems to preclude Matthew’s exodus to Egypt.


Though these two accounts have been [successfully] merged together by conservative theologians. This is done as a need of the doctrine of inerrancy rather then because the two are a natural fit. A plain reading using the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings comes to very different conclusions. It seems that Matthew and Luke come up with two completely different versions of the birth narrative in order to further agendas that show Jesus fulfilling certain prophetic utterances.

These two narratives do not nicely fit together. Matthew’s account implies us that the young family only moves and settles in Galilee after they return from exile. Luke’s account tells us they originate from Galilee and that they return there after the birth and circumcision is completed. Obviously these two stories have been mashed together in a way that suits inerrant/literal believers’ needs, but I argue that by doing so we no longer have the stories that the authors’ intended. We now have a non-biblical(not found in the scriptures), hybrid story created for the sole purpose to make the scriptures inerrant.

There is also the problems with the Massacre of the Innocents and the census. The date of Jesus’ birth according to the account in Matthew would be around 4 BCE – calculated by reign of Herod, Archelaus and Herod Antipas. The birth of Jesus is a decade later around 6 CE  according to Luke’s account – calculated by the census (Quirinius did not even get into office until 4-5 CE). Of course, conservative, inerrant scholars have had to fix this, so they now claim that Quirinius was in office twice and that there were two censuses. Again, this does not come from a plain reading of scripture  or a plain reading of history but is required by the doctrine of inerrancy.