Events around the birth of Jesus

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Jul 06

Events around the birth of Jesus

We are given quite a bit of detail surrounding the birth and early life of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew (Matthew 1:18-2:23) and Luke (Luke 2:1-52), but there is little overlap in the details given.  Putting the two together as a parallel record can help us understand when various events took place.

In the table below, you will find one possible harmonisation of the two records.  I believe that this is the simplest harmonisation possible within the constraints of statements which appear to specify an order.

There are a few details which help us to determine the order of events:

  • Luke 2:5 tells us that Joseph and Mary were still betrothed when they left Nazareth for Bethlehem.
  • Matthew 1:24-25 tell us that Joseph and Mary were married before Jesus was born.
  • Matthew 2:12-14 suggests that an angel told Joseph to escape to Egypt shortly after the wise men left.
  • Luke 2:24 tells us of the offering made after the birth of Jesus.  It was the offering required of people who were poor (Leviticus 12:8), which probably would not have been appropriate if this had happened after the wise men had given their valuable presents.

Based on these touchpoints, we can give a quick summary of the order of events around the birth of Jesus:

  • Mary and Joseph leave Nazareth betrothed
  • Mary and Joseph marry on the way to Bethlehem or after arriving in Bethlehem
  • Jesus is born
  • Shepherds visit Jesus that night
  • Jesus is circumcised and named on the 8th day
  • Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple on the 40th day (Leviticus 12:2-4)
  • Wise men visit
  • Joseph and Mary take Jesus to Egypt
  • Herod kills all the male children in Bethlehem

Harmony of the gospel records

The text in the table below is taken from the World English Bible (WEB) which has been released into the public domain.

Matthew 1 Luke 2
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was like this;
1 Now in those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. 2 This was the first enrollment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to enroll themselves, everyone to his own city. 4 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 family of David;
for after his mother, Mary, was engaged to Joseph, before they came together, she was found pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 5 to enroll himself with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him as wife, being pregnant.
19 Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, intended to put her away secretly. 20 But when he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take to yourself Mary, your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She shall give birth to a son. You shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who shall save his people from their sins.” 

22 Now all this has happened, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, 

23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child,
and shall give birth to a son.
They shall call his name Immanuel”;
which is, being interpreted, “God with us.”

24 Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took his wife to himself

25 and didn’t know her sexually until she had given birth to her firstborn son. 6 While they were there, the day had come for her to give birth. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a feeding trough, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 There were shepherds in the same country staying in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. 9 Behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all the people. 11 For there is born to you, this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This is the sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a feeding trough.” 13 Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army praising God, and saying, 

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
on earth peace, good will toward men.”

15 When the angels went away from them into the sky, the shepherds said one to another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem, now, and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 They came with haste, and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby was lying in the feeding trough. 17 When they saw it, they publicized widely the saying which was spoken to them about this child. 18 All who heard it wondered at the things which were spoken to them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, just as it was told them.

He named him Jesus.  21 When eight days were fulfilled for the circumcision of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 
36 There was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (she was of a great age, having lived with a husband seven years from her virginity, 37 and she had been a widow for about eighty-four years), who didn’t depart from the temple, worshiping with fastings and petitions night and day. 38 Coming up at that very hour, she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of him to all those who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem.
39 When they had accomplished all things that were according to the law of the Lord,
Matthew 2
1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is he who is born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he asked them where the Christ would be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is written through the prophet, 

6 ‘You Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are in no way least among the princes of Judah:
for out of you shall come a governor,
who shall shepherd my people, Israel.’”

7 Then Herod secretly called the wise men, and learned from them exactly what time the star appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and search diligently for the young child. When you have found him, bring me word, so that I also may come and worship him.” 

9 They, having heard the king, went their way; and behold, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, until it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 They came into the house and saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Opening their treasures, they offered to him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Being warned in a dream that they shouldn’t return to Herod, they went back to their own country another way. 

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.” 

14 He arose and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt, 15 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.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent out, and killed all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding countryside, from two years old and under, according to the exact time which he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, 

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
lamentation, weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she wouldn’t be comforted,
because they are no more.”

19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, 20 “Arise and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel, for those who sought the young child’s life are dead.” 

21 He arose and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in the place of his father, Herod, he was afraid to go there.

Being warned in a dream, he withdrew into the region of Galilee, 23 and came and lived in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.” they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.
40 The child was growing, and was becoming strong in spirit, being filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.
41 His parents went every year to Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover. 

42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast, 43 and when they had fulfilled the days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. Joseph and his mother didn’t know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the company, they went a day’s journey, and they looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances. 45 When they didn’t find him, they returned to Jerusalem, looking for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions. 47 All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When they saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us this way? Behold, your father and I were anxiously looking for you.” 

49 He said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 They didn’t understand the saying which he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth. He was subject to them, and his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

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