Another Interpretation of Jesus' Birth

Piecing together the writings of Matthew and Luke

At this time of the year, the birth of Jesus is foremost on everyone's mind. But what do we really know of this blessed event? Excluding the prophecies and genealogy, there are only 164 verses in the Bible that tell us the entire story of Jesus' birth. This world-changing event is only mentioned in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Who were these two men who knew so much about this miraculous birth?

After reading the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke, one can easily discern the different events of the same story. The events are not contradictory as they appear at first glance, but are two sources telling their own version. The events must be pieced together to create a complete picture. The details of the events that are written had to come from sources who were eye witnesses of the events encompassing the birth. Further observation reveals that Matthew tells the story from Joseph's view, while Luke tells the story from Mary's view. How did these two men know Mary and Joseph so intimately?

Joseph and Mary were both descendants of King David through different lines of genealogy. Scholars have determined that Joseph had a brother, Alpheus, who had two sons, Matthew and James. Matthew would begin with the historical account of Joseph's genealogy because he was proud to descend from that same family tree. Luke, trying to give a complete history to his friend, Theophilous, gives a genealogy through the line of Mary because that is where he received his information.

Matthew begins the story of Jesus' birth by simply stating facts that Joseph would know. Joseph and Mary were engaged, Mary became pregnant and Joseph had in mind to divorce her quietly. Then the angel appeared to Joseph and explained the source of Mary's child. He was no longer afraid to take Mary as his wife, but it was too late. Their marriage didn't take place until three months after the angel visited Joseph. How do we know this? Because Luke tells us Mary went to visit Elizabeth for three months.

Next Matthew tells us Mary gave birth in Bethlehem of Judea. What happened those nine months Mary was pregnant? We must look to Luke for that story.

Luke begins with Gabriel visiting Zechariah as he offers the incense in the temple. Next, Gabriel appears to Mary in the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy. Luke doesn't simply tell us an angel visited Mary and she became pregnant. Every detail, even the conversation, is recorded. The minutest detail of this visit is described as only Mary would know.

Luke says Mary hurried to Judea where she encountered a glorious reunion with Elizabeth and Zechariah. She hurried because she was escaping Joseph's disbelief which could have resulted in her being stoned to death for adultery. Typically Elizabeth would have been a gentle spirited woman, but at the appearance of Mary, Luke says "in a loud voice she exclaimed". Then Luke records Mary's song of praise. Only Mary would have known these details.

Was Mary present when John the Baptist was born? Why would God send Mary to Elizabeth's if it wasn't to learn everything she could about the birthing process? God knew where Mary was going to be when she gave birth to His son. He wanted to prepare Mary for her own experience. The scripture says the angel visited Mary "in the sixth month (of Elizabeth's pregnancy)" and "Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months." Putting this amount of time together, Mary could have easily stayed until after the circumcision. Additionally, from scripture we can surmise that Mary was present when Zechariah wrote "His name is John" on the tablet. Mary would have also known of Zechariah's song of praise.

Luke tells nothing of Joseph's awakening by the angel or the marriage. They were probably married in a simple family ceremony shortly after Mary returned from visiting Elizabeth. Luke then goes into great detail of Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem to participate in the census. A mother-to-be would have remembered the frantic search for a room as the pain of her labor began. She would have remembered wrapping the baby in swaddling clothes and laying him in the only cradle available—the manger Joseph wiped clean and filled with hay. Mary would have cherished the shepherds kneeling to worship her son. Luke tells us Mary treasured up and pondered these events in her heart.

The circumcision and the presentation in the temple is only mentioned in Luke. Why was this event important to Mary? It also ended the period of her purification. Once Mary had completed the required sacrifices, she and Joseph could consummate their marriage. Mary was excited to finally become a wife in every sense of the word.

Joseph and Mary were surprised at the greeting from Simeon and Anna as they entered the temple courts. Mary would remember the words spoken about her son and the prophecy Simeon had for her also. Luke is the only gospel who tells us of this important event.

When the requirements by law were completed, Mary and Joseph were eager to get home. Luke does not even mention the visit of the Magi or the escape to Egypt. From Luke's account, it appears they immediately returned to their own home in Nazareth. Luke lost contact with Mary before the visit of the Magi.

Matthew is the one who tells us they were visited by Magi. How do we know the visit happened after the presentation? Mary and Joseph could only afford to offer two doves, the sacrifice of the poor, for Jesus' redemption. They did not have enough money to purchase the lamb of the more wealthy. If the Magi had presented them with their exquisite gifts before the presentation in the temple, Mary would have purchased a more worthy sacrifice for God's son.

Where did the Magi visit? Matthew says they followed the star to Bethlehem. Obviously, they visited Mary and Jesus in Bethlehem and it was at least forty-one days after the birth. After the visit, Mary and Joseph couldn't wait to go home to tell their families all that had happened. Instead, Matthew tells us Joseph, being warned by an angel, hurried his family to Egypt. Matthew is the only gospel who tells of this important event.

If Jesus was only around forty-two days old when the Magi visited, why did Herod decree that all males two years old and under be killed? The Magi told Herod they were not sure when the star first appeared. They only knew they saw it in the sky and had been following it for around six weeks. With this information, Herod wanted to be certain to kill the new king. At the age of two, Jewish children are weaned from their mothers and are no longer considered babies. All Herod knew for certain was that a new king had been born and he was no more than two years old. Therefore, to be safe, he killed all males two years old and under

It is uncertain which gospel was written first, but most scholars seem to think Luke was written around 65 A.D. and Matthew was written around 80 A.D. Each one wrote what they knew to be true as directed by God. Looking at the two gospels, one might think they are contradictory, but when pieced together, they give a complete picture of the entire birth beginning with the angel visiting Zechariah and ending with Joseph and his family returning to their home in Nazareth. The story spans approximately two and a half years.