Bible’s Christmas accounts ‘complementary’

By David Roach

A historian named Julius Africanus was among the first Christians to wonder why the stories of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke differ slightly.

Around the year 200, Julius apparently sought Jesus’ living relatives to ask them why the genealogies of Christ in the two Gospels aren’t exactly the same. Was one of the accounts in error?

Jesus’ ancient relatives explained, according to the third-century church historian Eusebius, that the lineage of Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father, included a Levirate marriage – the Old Testament practice by which the brother of a man who died childless would marry the widow and father a child who was legally considered the descendant of the deceased man. One of the Gospel genealogies apparently follows the biological line and the other the legal line, Eusebius reported.

Though the Levirate marriage explanation has been debated by scholars, at least one thing is certain: for the nearly 1,800 years since Julius’ inquiry, disciples and skeptics alike have continued to wonder why the Bible’s two accounts of Jesus’ birth report the story in slightly different ways. In response, three seminary professors have explained that the narratives do not contradict one another at any point and tell the story in different ways to highlight different aspects of Jesus’ person and work.

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Matthew and Luke “are complementary and make different points,” Bill Warren, director of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for New Testament Textual Studies, told Baptist Press in written comments.

“For example, in Matthew we can see the temptation of feeling threatened by Jesus and wanting to retain control even at the cost of doing ungodly things like Herod did. And we can see how we need to be sensitive to God’s leadership as the magi were, offering their best based on God’s message to them,” Warren said. In Luke’s account God first reveals His Son’s birth to “common folks, the shepherds. And God still uses common folks to carry His message forward.”

All professors at Southern Baptist Convention seminaries pledge their agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message, which states that the Bible has “truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter” and “is totally true and trustworthy.”

Conflicting stories?

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth is famous for its presentation of the wise men, or magi in Greek; King Herod’s murderous extermination of male children in Bethlehem; and the flight of Jesus and His parents to Egypt. Luke omits those details but reports the visit of shepherds following Jesus’ birth; Mary’s song of praise known as the “Magnificat,” named for the first word in the song’s Latin translation; and angels proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest.”

Theologically, Matthew highlights Jesus’ status as King of the Jews while Luke depicts Him as the Savior of all people regardless of their social standing…


The Pathway – Bible’s Christmas accounts ‘complementary’