• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

Do the “Infancy Narratives” of Matthew and Luke Contradict Each Other?

Magi

What do atheist skeptics and liberal Scripture scholars have in common? They both love to find alleged “contradictions” in Scripture. Though there are many of these alleged “contradictions,” one of the favorites of both of these camps is one that you can expect to find being re-hashed again and again on the Internet:—especially now that we are approaching Christmas—the “contradictions” found in what are commonly referred to as “the infancy narratives” of St. Matthew and St. Luke.

The late Fr. Raymond Brown, S.S., for example, who definitely made positive contributions to biblical study in the Church, also made some not-so-good contributions. In his book, The Birth of the Messiah, p. 46, for example, he flatly declares the two infancy narratives “are contrary to each other.”

Oy vey!

So What Gives?

The two “infancy narratives” are found in Luke 2:1-39 and Matthew 1:18-2:23. We’ll use St. Luke’s account as our beginning point of reference and from there we’ll move forward inserting the alleged “contradictions” as we go.

I’ll give you a very important pointer here at the outset for clarity’s sake: keep your eyes on the words I put in bold print as I lay out the narrative for St. Matthew and St. Luke's Gospels. These are the problem areas. And also keep in mind that these problems are not created by the texts of Scripture. They are created in the imaginations of those creating the so-called “contradictions.” Here we go:

According to St. Luke’s account, Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem because of the census called for by Caesar Augustus. It would be there that Mary “gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger…” (2:1-7) Are we good, so far?

Well, maybe not!

According to St. Matthew’s Gospel, there is no account of a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. And this is true. But skeptics claim St. Matthew portrays the Holy Family to have been living in Bethlehem, not Nazareth. There would have been no way for there to have even been a journey to Bethlehem if Matthew’s scenario were true. The Holy Family was already there!

Moreover, Jesus is not found in St. Luke’s “manger,” but Matthew 2:11 says the Wise Men found him in a “house” in Bethlehem where the Holy Family was not staying in the Inn—or more precisely, the manger attached to an Inn—that we find in Luke’s Gospel. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is depicted as being born in the family home of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem where they had lived all along, contradicting St. Luke’s account. Herein we find the first of these narratives’ supposed irreconcilable contradictions.

A Biblical Response:

There are two crucial assumptions made here that have nothing to do with the actual text of Scripture.

1. Because there is “no account of a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem” in St. Matthew’s Gospel, this does not mean St. Matthew’s Gospel excludes it as a possibility. It doesn’t. It just means St. Matthew chose not to mention it.

2. And this is the most crucial error that, when understood properly, will end up dispelling most of the misconstrued contradictions we find out and about in cyberspace. The assumption is made that St. Matthew’s recording of the Wise Men following the star leads them to the Holy Family at the time of Jesus’ actual birth, and in Bethlehem. But the text does not actually say this.

Let me explain.

First, let’s look at Matthew 2:1:

"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Wise Men from the East came to Jerusalem…"

Critics nearly unanimously interpret this to mean that St. Matthew is claiming the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem at the time Christ was born. The truth is: it doesn’t say that. It simply says Christ was born during the days of King Herod and that the Wise Men came in those days to see—as they themselves asked upon their arrival in Jerusalem—where they could find “he who has been born king of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2).Matthew 2:1-2 does not specify how much time had transpired since the actual birth of Jesus.

However, having said that, though Matthew 2:1-2 doesn’t specify the time of Christ’s birth, we do have clues elsewhere that indicate the Wise Men did not arrive at the time Christ was actually born; rather, one to as much as two years later.

Little Drummer Boy History

I know what you’re thinking. Or, at least, what you should be thinking. I love “The Little Drummer Boy,” too! (Yes, that was said “tongue and cheek,” folks!) My family and I watch it every year at Christmas! And multiple times (we have the DVD).

(It's great having young children in the house. It gives me an excuse to watch all those kid-oriented Christmas specials!)

But unfortunately, “The Little Drummer Boy,” as well as a whole slew of atheists and liberal theologians, has his (and their) time-line all wrong here. Perhaps there is a lesson here about getting one’s theology, or history, through children’s Claymation television shows?

At any rate, the Nativity is commonly portrayed with Magi, Shepherds, and yes, maybe even the little drummer boy, all together at the manger with the Holy Family and the new-born baby Jesus. But that is not the way the Bible portrays it.

First of all, when the Magi “saw his star” in the East that indicated the birth of the “king of the Jews,” it was only then that they began their journey to Israel, according to Matthew 2:2. And remember, this was before you could jump on a commuter jet. Coming from Persia, most likely, they would have had to travel around 970 miles to get to Jerusalem. At least, that’s the distance from modern Tehran, anyway. Even if you move eastward as far as modern Bagdad as their starting point, they would have still had to travel at least 500 miles.

Why is this significant?

Matthew 2:3-7 tells us that after the Wise Men arrived in Jerusalem and began asking about the location of  “he who has been born king of the Jews” (notice, they did not say “new-born king” as many assume, they said, “he who has been born king of the Jews…”), Herod was troubled, for obvious reasons. He was corrupt and didn’t want another “king” to threaten his position of power. So, after “assembling all of the chief priests, and scribes” (v. 4), and asking them where the Messiah was to be born, they informed him of Micah’s prophecy (Micah 5:2) that foretold Bethlehem as the birthplace of the coming king. Herod then decided to pretend he was interested in welcoming, and worshipping, this new “king of Israel” just as the Magi were. He really wanted to find out precisely where this king was located, so he could eliminate the threat… permanently.

But notice what Matthew 2:7 says:

"Then Herod summoned the Wise Men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared, and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”"

Herod wanted to know “when the star appeared” so he could know the approximate age of the child. This indicates that the star appeared to the Magi when Jesus was born, before their journey to Israel. This eliminates the possibility of the Magi meeting the shepherds and the Holy Family at the manger.

Moreover, after God warned the Magi “not to return to Herod” in Matthew 2:12, and Herod later realizes they were not coming back to give him his desired information about the location of Jesus, in 2:16, “in a rage” he determined to “kill all of the children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the Wise Men" (emphasis added).

Thus, if we allow for Herod hedging his bet to make sure he kills the right child, the information he garnered from the Magi would probably have placed the birth of Christ at about a year or so before the Magi’s arrival. Herod would probably want a cushion on each side of the approximate time of Christ’s birth.

Most importantly, this would indicate Christ would have been 1 to at most 2 years-old (though I would again say it would be unlikely Christ would have been a full two years-old) at the time the Wise Men arrived in Jerusalem to find the Christ-child. This would have been 1 to 2 years after the nativity of St. Luke’s Gospel.

Many will say at this point that a journey of 500 to 1,000 miles would not take that long. If you say the caravan of the Wise Men could travel about 5 to 10 miles per day, it would have taken anywhere from two to seven months of travel. This is true, but this does not take into account many variables. You didn’t just jump into a car or airplane and go. It would have taken time to plan the trip, gather supplies, security, etc. These and more contingencies are simply not revealed to us in the text. But we do get hints here about what Herod concluded from his personal interview of the Magi themselves. The text of Scripture indicates it was the Magi that revealed the time of Christ's birth to have been long before the Magi's arrival in Nazareth.

Check Your Assumptions at the Door

Once we get the above timeline right, the “contradictions” between “infancy narratives” are not so contradictory any longer. We are not going to get to all of the “contradictions” claimed, but as one other example, the claim is also made that when the Wise Men were sent to Bethlehem by Herod, then that would naturally have been where they ended up finding the Holy Family when they arrive at the place “where the child was” in Matthew 2:9. This is the foundation for the “contradiction” between St. Luke’s “manger” and St. Matthew’s “house,” and more. The problem is: the text doesn’t say the Wise Men actually found the Christ-child in Bethlehem. This is another non-biblical assumption.

In fact, Matthew 2:9 tells us that after Herod ordered the Magi to go to Bethlehem, it would be the miraculous star that would actually guide them to Christ. The text doesn’t explicitly say this, but we can reasonably assume the star would not lead them to the wrong location! If the Wise Men would have then headed to Bethlehem, the Holy Family would have been long gone. The star would have led them to Nazareth, where, St. Luke tells us, in 2:39, “[the Holy Family] returned,” but only after “they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord.”

Back to St. Luke’s Gospel

It is crucial to understand that other than the mention of Christ’s actual birth in Matthew 2:1, there is no overlap with Luke’s infancy narrative and Matthew’s. Here’s a time-line:

Matthew 2:1 mentions Christ’s actual birth in Bethlehem. This sole overlap parallels Luke 2:6-7.

But because we know St. Matthew’s Gospel then leaps forward to the story of the Magi, one to at most two years after Christ’s birth, the story of the shepherd and the angels finding Christ in Bethlehem in Luke 2:8-20, the circumcision of Christ while the Holy Family was still in Bethlehem in Luke 2:21, the “Presentation of the Lord” in the temple of Luke 2:22-36 (a six-mile trip that would take the better part of a day to walk), and the “return to Nazareth” of Luke 2:39, all happen within about 40 or so days after Christ’s birth, and long before the Magi arrive at Nazareth in search of the “king of Israel.”

With this in mind, we can now eliminate the above-mentioned “contradictions” quite easily:

1. The “home” in Matthew 2:11 does not conflict with the “manger” in Luke 2:7. The “home” was in Nazareth where the Holy Family had traveled well over a year before the coming of the Magi.

2. Matthew’s Gospel never actually says the “home” mentioned in 2:11 was in Bethlehem.

3. The Wise Men were “sent” to Bethlehem by Herod, but the text never says that is where they ended up. We know, in fact, they would have ended up in Nazareth where Christ actually was, not Bethlehem.

Another Assumption Exploded

As I said above, in this brief post, we are not going to eliminate all of the errors that are out there claiming contradictions between the infancy narratives. In fact, there are some who argue for contradictions even within the narratives themselves. But if you keep in mind the historical timeline laid out here, you can deal with most of the claimed anomalies.

Here is one final example:

Matthew 2:23 tells us the Holy Family never went to live in Nazareth until after the coming of the Magi and the flight into Egypt. It was only then, the text says, “[Joseph and the Holy Family] went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth.” Yet, St. Luke says, it was after the 40 days of purification after the birth of Christ that “[the Holy Family] returned into Galilee, to… Nazareth.”

Actually, Matthew 2:23 does not say the Holy Family “first” went to Nazareth after the flight into Egypt. That is another unbiblical assumption. After being warned by God to flee Herod’s wrath and travel to Egypt in Matthew 2:13-14, and then after being told by an angel of the Lord to return to Israel, in Matthew 2:20, it appears St. Joseph’s desire was to go back to his family’s native Bethlehem in Judea, but because Herod’s son, Archela’us, was reigning there, “he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream” he went to Nazareth instead (Matthew 2:22-23).

We have to remember that the inspired authors place emphases on particular aspects of the life of Christ and the Holy Family for particular theological reasons. St. Matthew is writing to a Jewish Christian community; thus, he emphasizes both Christ’s birth in Bethlehem to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy of Micah 5:2 (Matthew 2:5-6), and the fulfillment of the Oral Tradition, or word “spoken by the prophets,” that Christ would be “called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:23). St. Luke, the only inspired Evangelist who was also a Gentile, did not seem as interested in pointing those things out.

For St. Matthew’s purpose, it would not suffice for him to simply mention Jesus' brief sojourn in Bethlehem as an infant and toddler; he had to be raised in Nazareth in order to be “called a Nazarene.” Thus, the emphasis of St. Matthew is on Christ and the Holy Family coming to Nazareth where Christ would be raised in order to fulfill the prophecy “spoken by the prophets” (Matthew 2:23). But he never says this was the “first” time they had been there.

Final Thought

There is much more to be done here—multiple alleged “contradictions” to clear up. But to do that, we must establish a true context for Scripture free from assumptions that don’t jive with the entirety of the text.
 
 
Originally appeared at Catholic Answers. Used with permission.
(Image credit: Wikimedia)

Tim Staples

Written by

Tim Staples is Director of Apologetics and Evangelization at Catholic Answers. Raised a Southern Baptist, Tim fell away from faith during his childhood. He later joined the Marine Corps, and during his final year in the Marines, he began a two-year search for the truth. That eventually led to him converting to Catholicism in 1988. He spent the following six years in formation for the priesthood, earning a degree in philosophy from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. He then studied theology on a graduate level at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for two years. Realizing that his calling was not to the priesthood, Tim left the seminary in 1994 and has been working in Catholic apologetics and evangelization ever since.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Doug Shaver

    There is much more to be done here—multiple alleged “contradictions” to clear up. But to do that, we must establish a true context for Scripture free from assumptions that don’t jive with the entirety of the text.

    I will concede that the consistency of inconsistency of the narratives depends on the assumptions with which one reads them, and that if we assume inerrancy, then any apparent inconsistencies can be resolved.

    However, if I don't assume that both authors were incapable of error, then I cannot read both narratives and think that they originated as eyewitness accounts of something that happened in real history.

    • "I will concede that the consistency or inconsistency of the narratives depends on the assumptions with which one reads them..."

      Great! You're in agreement with Catholics.

      "However, if I don't assume that both authors were incapable of error..."

      Once again, Catholics agree. We don't assume this either. We don't maintain the biblical authors were infallible (i.e., incapable of error), only that the specific biblical texts they authored are inerrant (i.e., they don't contain errors.) This is a crucial distinction. From the Vatican II document "Dei Verbum":

      "Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully, and without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation." (DV, 11)

      "I cannot read the two narratives and think that both originated as eyewitness accounts of something that happened in real history."

      This is a vague and wide-sweeping assertion. Is there one specific reason, or biblical example, that most egregiously prevents you from accepting the infancy narratives as credible eyewitness accounts?

      • Seems like what you quoted from Dei Verbum doesn't establish inerrancy, since it described Scripture as "teaching ... without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of our salvation." Only certain truths, those selected by God to be put into Scripture and which are for the purpose of our salvation, are declared true.

        That doesn't affirm that the whole of scripture is utterly without error, just that Scripture teaches certain truths without error. The authors of Genesis, stated that God erected a solid dome (i.e., a firmament) over an earth they believed to be flat. Such statements about cosmology we would now take as errors. Or the statements that God killed the firstborn in Egypt or ordered genocides, which we (should) take as erroneous and read metaphorically.

        • Mike

          before you can establish error you have to establish intent: whas it meant to be interpreted literally as natural philosophy literally as historic event or metaphorically as natural philosophy or metaphorically/figuratively as historic event; then it seems to me you can establish error. The Catholic church teaches that absolutely NIL of "the Book" is meant to be taken as natural philosophy, nil, even though it may contain bits and pieces of things that would fall into the general category "science".

          • Mike:

            Yes, but whose intent? If it's the intent of the human authors, then there are clearly errors. The human author(s) of Genesis and Job taught the existence of solid dome (a firmament), even if the origins of the firmament. Assuming that Joshua is intended as a historical account, much of the account of the conquest likely never happened. Moreover, I don't think we would want to maintain that God ordered the Amalekite genocide, even if that is what the original human author intended (which is of course a historical-critical question).

          • Mike

            Again none of the books of "the book" were intended to be cosmological or "scientific" so if you have decided to interpret that passage through a modern scientific "lens" you are 100% likely to find all manner of error and inconsistency.

            If the passages in which God orders a genocide were written to be interpreted just as such then God did order the genocide. If you don't WANT to interpret that passage the way it was MEANT to be interpreted (if that is really how it was meant to be interpreted) then again that is your decision and if that is your decision you will find all manner of error and inconsistency.

            A liberal theologian may decide that God couldn't have possibly ordered a genocide or a conservative theologian may come to the same conclusion BUT if the consensus is the passage is not metaphor or whatever then there is alot of hard work ahead for both.

          • Mike:

            Let's take the example of God ordering genocide. My argument is that, assuming these passages were meant to be taken literally, God does not perpetrate evil, and genocide is evil. If the Scriptures portray God as genocidal, then that is a powerful reason to either a) reject the literal sense or, if one must accept the literal sense to be a Christian, b) reject Christianity.

            This is not an abstract debate. I think everyone would agree that praising Hitler for murdering millions of Jews makes the person praising Hitler complicit in some way in Hitler's evil actions. Likewise, anyone who praises an abortion clinic doctor is complicit, in some way, in the evil of abortion.

            If Christians really are to praise God for his actions in history, and those actions include genocide, then it seems Christians are complicit in some way in genocide. That's a truly weighty thing. If it comes down to a choice of being complicit in genocide (or infanticide) and rejecting Christianity, I'll take the latter path in a heartbeat. Maybe you can persuade me to do so.

          • Mike

            God is all good and there is no good apart from god defectus boni or however that goes is evil so evil does not exist on its own it is an absence of god. Good is not apart from God good IS god in the christian metaphysics so the euthyphro problem is resolved bc god is not "striving" to do good like the rest of us but is the source of goodness itself, this is why ppl say god is love. God can not do evil or be complicit in evil and genocide is evil. But let's say it was the way you take it, then there appears to be a contradiction: either God does evil or he isn't God. So the history has to be reconciled some how; i am not a theologian so i don't know how it has been interpreted in catholic tradition. But one was i can conceive of it is like this: the christian God is NOT another powerful being competing with thor or whatever he is the source of ALL morality itself indeed his right/wrong itself and if he is that then he must be allowed the "benefit of the doubt" that he will do something that appears 99.99999999999999999999999999% evil but may actually be for a Good reason. If you feel like scoffing at this point please do. It's a very difficult passage; it's related to the problem of evil which is 1 of only 2 good reasons to deny christianity, the other being everything seems to work well without him. W/o getting into the other parts of the bible which describe god as totally abhoring violence i think one can reconcile the genocide philosophically; emotionally i don't know. The other way to think about it is that God can indeed only he can truly perfectly administer justice and so maybe what he ordered was actually just. One more thing to add is that god also floods the world and casts out adam and eve so that could also be construed as evil and disproportionate.

            But these are just my "guesses"; i don't believe in christianity bc of a philosophical key it provides but because i WANT to be saved from the heat death of the universe, from my sins, from the decrepitude in this world from all the tears that we cry all our lives bc i want JUSTICE for the kids who are today starving to death etc etc...essentially the promise is too good not to believe; i know alot of atheists laugh at pascal's wager but i think it is one of the best arguments for god i've ever heard apparently pascal thought it was the best too (the other is the contingency arguement.)

        • "Only certain truths, those selected by God to be put into Scripture and which are for the purpose of our salvation, are declared true."

          That's not quite accurate, Thomas. I suggest you read this article for clarity: Is the Bible's inerrancy limited to matters pertaining to salvation?

          "That doesn't affirm that the whole of scripture is utterly without error, just that Scripture teaches certain truths without error."

          Agreed, as noted by my quoting the Dei Verbum excerpt above.

          "The authors of Genesis, stated that God erected a solid dome (i.e., a firmament) over an earth they believed to be flat. Such statements about cosmology we would now take as errors."

          Except for the fact that the Genesis author(s) was not making a cosmological claim--he was using figurative language to describe real primeval events. His description in Genesis is thus still true given that background.

          "Or the statements that God killed the firstborn in Egypt or ordered genocides, which we (should) take as erroneous and read metaphorically."

          It's by no means a consensus, and certainly not a magisterial teaching of the Church, that these specific passages should be treated metaphorically. There is a wide range of views on these "dark passages" that respect the biblical writings as inerrant and consistent with God's all-loving and all-powerful nature. For starters, I suggest you read this article by Dr. Matthew Ramage:

          https://strangenotions.com/violence-is-contrary-to-gods-nature/

          • Brandon:

            I think we're confusing two things here. The Genesis creation account is indeed mythical, but the objects it seeks to explain are not. One of those objects is the sky, which is believed to be a solid dome--not only in Genesis, but in Job and Isaiah as well. So while the origin of the sky is told in mythical terms, the assertions concerning the nature of the sky (i.e., a solid dome) was meant literally.

            As for the "dark passages" -- in which God is described as killing children or ordering genocides -- I'm aware there are elements of the Christian tradition that affirms those literally. Christians (including Aquinas) have supported murdering people for their beliefs. Even brilliant people can be complicit in grave evil. It would be possible to find apologists for infanticide or genocide in most traditions that go back a few centuries.

            I'm assuming, perhaps hastily, that no-one here believes that infanticide or genocide is anything but an evil. I'm also assuming that no-one here will affirm that God is evil, engages in evil actions, or orders evil actions. If you want to bite the bullet and defend infanticide and genocide, I will need auxiliary arguments to support that particular premise of my argument.

            Do I need to argue either a) that infanticide and genocide are intrinsic evils or b) that God is not evil and does not command evils?

      • David Nickol

        I hope the implication of Tim Staples's post and your comment here is not that Father Raymond Brown departed from established Catholic teaching in saying the following:

        This leads us to the observation that the two narratives are not only different—they are contrary to each other in a number of details. According to Luke 1:26 and 2:39 Mary lives and Nazareth, and so the census of Augustus is invoked to explain how the child was born in Bethlehem, away from home. In Matthew there is no hint of a coming to Bethlehem, for Joseph and Mary are in a house in Bethlehem where seemingly Jesus was born (2:11) The only journey that Matthew has to explain is why the family went to Nazareth when they came from Egypt instead of returning to their native Bethlehem (2:22-23). A second difficult is that Luke tells us that the family returned peaceably to Nazareth after the birth at Bethlehem (2:22.39); this is irreconcilable with Matthew's implication (2:16) that the child was almost two years old when the family fled from Bethlehem to Egypt and even older when the family came back from Egypt and moved to Nazareth. Of the options mentioned before we made the detailed comparison of the two narratives, one must be ruled out, i.e., that both accounts are completely historical. [Note: I have quoted the full paragraph from The Birth of the Messiah from which Tim Staples quoted only the five words I have boldfaced.]

        I suppose we can argue the details in the text that lead so many scholars (including highly respected Catholic scholars in good standing with the Catholic Church) to conclude the same thing as Raymond Brown. But my main point here is to correct what I believe to be a seriously misleading implication—that faithful Catholics must accept the historicity of both Matthew and Luke's infancy narratives and also accept some scheme such as Staples's to reconcile them. The passage you quoted from Dei Verbum does not bind Catholics to accepting that the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke are historical accounts by eyewitnesses that can be reconciled with each other as two sets of facts.

        I will go out on a limb here and say that the consensus view of Catholic biblical scholars is that the infancy narratives are primarily theological rather than historical, and can indeed be seen as "teaching solidly, faithfully, and without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation," to quote Dei Verbum.

        I am not quite sure what interest this challenge to "liberal" exegesis could possibly be to atheists. Anyone who reads Raymond Brown will find that although he may question the historicity of certain events recorded in the Bible, he never questions Catholic doctrine. What this post does is attempt to pit "conservative" Catholics against "liberal" Catholics by espousing a kind of Catholic biblical fundamentalism that is not endorsed by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

      • David Nickol

        We don't maintain the biblical authors were infallible (i.e., incapable of error), only that the specific biblical texts they authored are inerrant (i.e., they don't contain errors.) This is a crucial distinction.

        This appears to me to be a distinction without a difference. Despite the concept of the infallibility of the pope, it is not claimed that the pope is infallible. It is claimed that he speaks infallibly under extremely limited conditions and only on matters of faith and morals. Given the view of the Bible presented here, one could argue that the biblical authors were much closer to being truly infallible than the pope, since the pope is limited to quite rare pronouncements on faith and morals, the biblical authors (it is apparently being argued) could not make errors of historical fact when writing scripture! It is definitely not claimed that the pope is an infallible historian.

        • "This appears to me to be a distinction without a difference."

          I clearly noted the difference. Something or someone that is infallible cannot commit errors in the present or future (i.e., they are incapable of error).

          Something that is inerrant simply contains no errors in itself. It has no possibility to commit future error because it is inert.

          • David Nickol

            I clearly noted the difference. Something or someone that is infallible cannot commit errors in the present or future (i.e., they are incapable of error).

            Something that is inerrant simply contains no errors in itself. It has no possibility to commit future error because it is inert.

            Regarding the biblical authors, once again I would say this is a distinction without a difference, because they are dead! They cannot commit errors in the present or the future, but then again, neither can Pius XII, who made at least one infallible pronouncement.

            As a matter of semantics, I see the point of making a distinction between a text being inerrant and a pope being infallible, but in discussing the biblical authors, we are not discussing a text, we are discussing human individuals. I see not much distinction between saying the biblical authors were "infallible" and saying they were divinely inspired so that the text they wrote were "inerrant."

            Whatever terminology one wants to use, I don't see how this helps in evaluating Tim Staples's contention that Raymond Brown's conclusions about the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke are contrary to the Catholic faith, if that is what he intends to imply. It seems to me there is no explicit or implicit Magisterial teaching that states or even implies the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke are two historically accurate accounts, the facts of which can all be reconciled. If that is the intent of his post, I think it give a misleading impression of the Catholic faith. Raymond Brown was a faithful Catholic, and faithful Catholics are not departing from Catholicism if they agree with his opinions about the infancy narratives. Of course, no one is required to agree with Raymond Brown. Those who wish to believe that the infancy narratives contain more history than Brown believes are perfectly free to do so, and even to cry "oy vey!" when reading his work. But Catholic can react with an "oy vey!" to Tim Staples's post and be just as faithful to Church teaching as Staples is.

      • Doug Shaver

        We don't maintain the biblical authors were infallible (i.e., incapable of error), only that the specific biblical texts they authored are inerrant (i.e., they don't contain errors.) This is a crucial distinction.

        It can be crucial in some contexts. I don't think it helps you much in this one. If I read a document while assuming that the author did not make any mistakes, I am compelled to reach the same conclusions as I would when reading the document while assuming that the author could not have made any mistakes.

        Is there one specific reason, or biblical example, that most egregiously prevents you from accepting the infancy narratives as credible eyewitness accounts?

        I don't see why I need a reason. I do not presuppose, when reading any other narrative, that it originated with eyewitness accounts. If I come to believe that it originated as such, it is on the basis of compelling evidence. Why should I make an exception for these particular narratives?

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    I do not understand this impulse to malign "liberal Scripture scholars", nor can I fathom the glib association of the term "liberal" with such a complex and highly respected scholar as Raymond Brown. How does this further the cause of Christian unity? Would the substance of this article have been diminished if the polemical first three paragraphs had been removed?

    Catholic scripture scholars identify apparent contradictions in the texts because it is part of their job to apply historical-critical methods to their work. How can it possibly be fair to impute the motive that they 'love to find alleged “contradictions” in Scripture'?

    Pope Benedict XVI said that he "would be very happy if we had many exegetes like Father Brown". Divisive polemics that pit "conservative" against "liberal" within the Church only discourage the development a future generation of such talented and well-informed exegetes.

    If you have your own way of integrating the message of the Gospels, fine. Propose it. Argue for it. No need to impute and malign the motives of others who have given their lives to studying and understanding the texts.

    • Mike

      Agree but wouldn't you admit that liberal scholars really do spend most of their time trying to find contradiction? Do you remember when one of them said that the girl possessed by the devil was misunderstood by Paul and that clearly he just couldn't accept her 'diversity' and accepts her 'unique' gifts?

    • Mike

      Agree but wouldn't you admit that liberal scholars really do spend most of their time trying to find contradiction? Do you remember when one of them said that the girl possessed by the devil was misunderstood by Paul and that clearly he just couldn't accept her 'diversity' and accept her 'unique' gifts?

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Agree but wouldn't you admit that liberal scholars really do spend most of their time trying to find contradiction?

        I would not admit that, because I don't even accept the validity of the question. The term "liberal scholar" is a cheap label, possibly necessary as a shorthand in some conversation, but generally unhelpful. I have no idea who you are referring to when you talk about "liberal scholars", but many people use the term simply to mean "scholars whose conclusions I don't like". There are two basic types of scholars: good ones and bad ones. Raymond Brown was a good one.

        • Mike

          I know what you mean and i agree labeling can be precarious but i think that liberal scholars is not some slur; there are after all conservative theologians aren't there? HOWEVER where i get annoyed is when ppl say there are liberal/conservative cardinals when there aren't there are only Catholic priests etc. but i think when you speak of theologians it is not inappropriate to label KUNG a liberal.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Fr. Küng is indeed a liberal theologian, but his liberal theological interpretation of scripture is based on perfectly mainstream historical-critical scholarship. Despite employing the same methods as Küng, most other scholars are more cautious than he when it comes to drawing theological/doctrinal conclusions from the historical-critical exegesis of Scripture.

          • Mike

            I see your point and i agree with it although Kung was finally after some 30 years stripped of his licence to teach catholic theology (hasn't stopped him though) although i heard he's very sick right now.

            Whether liberal theologians "Look" for contradictions well that's a matter of opinion but i personally do believe it but ofcourse everyone of them would deny it vehemently; they are just dispassionate theologians who come to different conclusions.

      • Doug Shaver

        wouldn't you admit that liberal scholars really do spend most of their time trying to find contradiction?

        I wouldn't admit that. I've read quite a bit of their work, and I see no evidence in their writing that that is what they spend most of their time doing.

  • stahrwe

    It is clear from scripture that Luke was not an eyewitness, but, he interviewed those who were and wrote his error free account guided by the Holy Spirit. The genealogies in Luke and Matthew are those of Mary and Joseph respectively. Joseph's genealogy includes Jeconiah whose descendents were banned from ever being king of the Jews. So, why is his included? Because the right for daughters to inherit from a sonless father required that they marry within their tribe (see Numbers 36/37 daughters of Zelophehad). The Star seems only to have been visible to the Magi and for a time (as they approached Jerusalem) was hidden from their view. I wrote a book in 2008 explaining all of this including how the magi knew the significance of the Star, and what became of the Magi. As followers of Zoroaster the Magi had been awaiting their own Messiah - called a Sayoshant - through a series of events, the Magi realized that Zoroastrianism was a false religion.

    • Doug Shaver

      It is clear from scripture that Luke was not an eyewitness, but, he interviewed those who were and wrote his error free account guided by the Holy Spirit.

      None of that is clear except on a particular interpretation of scripture. Neither Luke's author nor any other NT writer states that he interviewed any eyewitnesses, that he wrote an error-free account, or that he was guided by the Holy Spirit.

  • I'm going to defer to mainstream historical scholars on this. They do not accept the nativity narratives as historical. I take them as a good reason to accept there was a historical Jesus, otherwise why make up such an implausible story, that would require the above apologetic, if you were not trying to explain why the Messiah, who everyone knew was from Galilee, was also born in the city of David?

    I mean just based on the ridiculous idea that the Romans made everyone go to the place of their birth for a census?

    • Doug Shaver

      I mean just based on the ridiculous idea that the Romans made everyone go to the place of their birth for a census?

      It's worse than that. According to the story, they didn't have to go their own birthplace, but the birthplace of their most famous ancestor.

      • William Davis

        Yeah, they were struggling to make that one work.

  • You have to understand that from an atheist point of view we don't get why there is any seeming disjunction between the Gospels at all. I mean, if these documents are meant to be something of value from Pure Being, why is it open to such criticism that most mainstream scholars find it to be invented?

    Two of the gospel writers leave this out completely! Paul never mentions it? If they can ignore it, surely we can.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Everything is ultimately from Pure Being, whether it is a human invention or not. The canon is set apart because of a perception by a believing community that the canon is "The Word of [Pure Being]", i.e. it reveals what Pure Being really is, in more or less the same sense that your words reveal who you are.

      Your words do not reveal who you are in a straightforward way. Your words do not provide CNN-style reportage of the events of your life, nor do they provide the A, C, G, T sequence of your genome, or anything like that (and if they did, they would reveal far less about you). Because I find you to be a thoughtful and insightful interlocutor, I am somewhat committed to discerning what your words mean. Even if something you said didn't make sense or appeared self-contradictory on first pass, I might go back to it a few times to try to figure it out. Conceivably, you might tell one story from your life multiple times, drawing out different and even apparently contradictory details in the different tellings. In that case, it would be premature of me to decide that one of those tellings was "wrong". I would strive to listen to everything that you had to say and not to pick and choose the words that simply confirmed my presuppositions about who you are.

      The commitment of the Church to the Bible is similar in kind (though exceeding in degree) to the commitment that I have to figuring out how your words reveal you. The Church has made enough sense of the Bible to know that no part of it should be ignored and to know that the bits that she can't make sense of are worth trying to figure out.

      • So what insight do you get from the nativity story that you find useful and why?

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          I am inclined to trust Raymond Brown on that question. If I may quote at length from his An Adult Christ at Christmas (bold emphasis mine, to draw out what I think is really the key point).

          Having discarded biographical completeness as the primary motive, we then have to ask why Matthew and Luke moved the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ from the baptism back to the conception ...

          In the ancient preaching the moment of God's revealing the christological identity of Jesus was the resurrection-exaltation ... Such a concentration on the resurrection as the christological moment was consonant with the earliest stage in gospel formation, which, as I mentioned above, centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

          As more attention was focused on Jesus' ministry and on his Galilean proclamation of the kingdom through words and mighty deeds, the emphasis on the resurrection as the moment when Jesus was "made Lord" and "begotten" or "designated" as God's Son was seen as inadequate. It did not do justice to the continuity between the Jesus of the ministry and the risen Lord. ... Thus, for the oldest written Gospel, Mark, the christological moment has moved from the resurrection to the baptism, where Jesus is designated by divine revelation as God's Son ...

          But this development in Christian understanding still left unsolved the question of whether the baptism was the moment when Jesus became God's Son. Was the heavenly voice adopting Jesus? Such a misunderstanding is ruled out by the prefixing of infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, narratives which make clear that Jesus was God's Son during his whole earthly life, from the moment of his conception through the Holy Spirit ... And so the story of Jesus' conception is no longer just an item of popular biography; it is the vehicle of the good news of salvation; in short, it is gospel.

          So to summarize in my own words, the resurrection is the center-point of reality, but one should not think of the resurrection as something that is separable from the historical, earthly life of the man named Jesus. I find the infancy narratives of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke to be great reminders / reflections on that point.

          • Too bad no one bothered to write down what Pure Being did when it was a human for thirty years. Presumably this would be very important as well. Though there are the infancy gospels. But these would be fantastical human invention I presume.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think it is misleading (even on Catholic teaching) to say that Pure Being "was a human for thirty years". Pure being is pure being. It never is, and never was, constrained to a single human being. The Catholic contention is rather that the logic of pure being was completely revealed through the life of a particular human.

            If I reveal to you the generating algorithm of a fractal, I haven't thereby taken you on a pictorial tour of the entire fractal (which would be impossible in a finite lifetime for any fractal with an infinite domain). I have nonetheless revealed to you the fundamental structure of the fractal.

            As for whether it is too bad that no one wrote things down while Jesus was alive, I would equivocate. I certainly would be extremely extremely eager to obtain extra-Biblical information about the life of Jesus, but I'm not so sure the satisfaction of that curiosity is really, as you say, "very important". We seem to have, in any case, portraits of the man that reveal what the Biblical authors thought was important about that man. I look at those portraits, and I can see how it makes sense to say that they reveal the structure of pure being. It's never enough in the sense of being completely satisfying, but it is, to borrow a metaphor from Pope Francis, enough of a "lamp to help us navigate through the darkness".

          • So is Jesus "a" being or pure being? He is not a part of God is he? He is wholly God. So is Yaweh and the Holy Spirit, or are these metaphors. It is all very confusing. Too bad no one (including Jesus) bothered to explain any of this clearly. But I guess he didn't want it to be easy?

            That is fine, the details of Jesus's place of birth were felt to be important enough to record but two saints. They also tend to explain how someone named Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem. Which would have been a question raised by the Jewish clergy be presumes when people started saying he was the Messiah. But, he never did anything remarkable in his teens?

            It is not credible to me I am afraid. Nor is it to mainstream historians.

          • Doug Shaver

            The church said the infancy gospels were human inventions, because they didn't say anything about Jesus that the church wanted to say about Jesus.

  • David Nickol

    I am very much out of sympathy with this quasi-fundamentalist approach to scripture, but I will say that one's interpretation of scripture depends very much on the attitude with which one approaches it. I have (buried somewhere too deep in my library to locate and quote examples from) a few books whose authors take preposterously trivial "discrepancies" among the Gospels and twist themselves into pretzels explaining them away. For example, in Matthew, Luke, and John, Jesus predicts Peter will deny him three times before the a cock crows. In Mark, however, Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him before the cock crows twice. Here, from a web site similar in spirit to the books I mention, is the explanation:

    If a cock crows a second time, then it has crowed once before. The problem is that in Mark, after Peter denies the Lord for the third time (Mark 14:71), immediately a cock crows a second time (v. 72). The other gospels tell us that after Peter's third denial a cock then crows. How do we reconcile this difficulty?

    Mark does not mention when the cock crowed the first time. Therefore, it is possible that after Peter's third denial, the cock then crowed twice; that is, two times in a row. This is logically possible.

    Those who approach the Bible as dyed-in-the-wool, literalist, fundamentalists will take such scriptural analysis seriously, while even Catholic "quasi-fundamentalists" will read it with amusement, just as "liberal" Catholic scholars will take less than seriously "quasi-fundamentalist" Catholics attempts to reconcile the irreconcilable (from the "liberal" point of view). And of course those who regard the Bible as a collection of ancient documents with no more claim to authority than any other ancient documents will view and interpret the Bible differently from "liberals."

    My point is that anyone who approaches the Bible (or the Koran, or any other work of scripture) with a particular religious attitude about how that text is to be interpreted can probably find a way to justify his or her own reading of the text. However, as I have said elsewhere, I do not believe the Catholic Church requires anyone to accept Tim Staples's viewpoint that the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke are historical accounts that can be reconciled as a single set of facts.

  • Mike O’Leary

    I'm no biblical scholar but I think if we look at the pieces in both Luke and Matthew's narrative (and completely ignore what is missing in each) then the two tales are vague enough in their descriptions that they can be cobbled together as a single tale as Tim Staples describes.But as others noted it's so very odd what each narrative ignores. Take a biography about John F. Kennedy focusing on his personal life. Even then there would be a mention of the Bay of Pigs and how it impacted his personal life. The Bible would have us believe that one author sees no importance in Jesus escaping for a year from a baby-Moses-like slaughtering spree, and another author doesn't care about either a supernatural event declaring Jesus the Messiah or a pronouncement of that by wizened men outside of Israel.

    and the fulfillment of the Oral Tradition, or word “spoken by the prophets,” that Christ would be “called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:23).

    It's interesting that Mr. Staples makes sure to note that this is an oral tradition since there are no written traditions which claimed Jesus would be called a Nazarene. I've seen where Nazarene came about due to a misunderstanding of the term Nazarite (which Jesus is not). Even if this was a real prophecy, considering that Matthew 21:5 tries to have Jesus ride a donkey and a colt, it would seem that the author of Matthew isn't above meeting truth sideways to fit in perceived prophetic necessities.

    • Mike O’Leary

      Somewhat related to this topic, has SN had an article tackling the 9 year difference between the death of Herod the Great and when Quirinius became governor of Syria? If not, it might be a subject worth discussing.

      • Doug Shaver

        This site does not have, so far as I have been able to discover, a good search function. For those interested in this particular topic, Richard Carrier has written what I regard as the most comprehensive summary of the pertinent arguments:
        http://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html

      • "Somewhat related to this topic, has SN had an article tackling the 9 year difference between the death of Herod the Great and when Quirinius became governor of Syria? If not, it might be a subject worth discussing."

        No, but we've scheduled an article on this exact topic for next Wednesday (December 17.) Stay tuned!

  • Loreen Lee

    I can't help but find a kind of 'irony' in this discussion, based on my interpretation that the argument involves such issues as 'witness' and 'empirical "evidence"'. In any case, in post-modern philosophy such searches into the past (as informed by the studies of anthropological research), would take into account the possibility that discussions that far back in time, might not presuppose the passion for detail that is found within current analysis of 'factual' material. In any case, it seems the jury is still 'out'.

    • Doug Shaver

      Which jury would that be, Loreen?

      • Loreen Lee

        More irony, Doug. And 'heaven' forbid. Analogy.

        • Doug Shaver

          I got it that you were making an analogy. I was hoping you would explain (a) what group of people you were comparing to a jury and (b) why I have any obligation to accept their collective judgment.

          • Loreen Lee

            The analogy: In a court of law, a jury is presented 'evidence' by 'witnesses' representing both the 'prosecution' and the 'defense'. In the argument whether or not there is or is not a God, it is, on the model of Dawkins etc. put forward .that there is no evidence.A separation is made between rationality and empiricism on this question that is 'unbridgeable'. And, yet is it not possible that 'theists' put forward the 'defense' that the material universe, itself, could/does constitute evidence. Within the thematics of the present debate. The 'jurors', that is, both those who support and those who contest the legitimacy of claims that Jesus is/was divine are also presented evidence from biblical sources who are witnesses. The 'jury is out' therefore just presents, ironically, the possibility that a final 'judgment' is not forthcoming: 'now or never', despite the detailed analysis, as the members of the jury who support the other side would put that analysis within an ontological context, and thus in a complete turn about of the orig8inal 'assumptions' could argue with their fellow jurors, that the truth is not totally a matter of 'evidence'. What a reversal!. The jury, thus, could thus continue to be 'out', i.e. still in discussion, possibly indefinitely. Hope this satisfies your question. The essential factor is that it is said as irony, and is thus meant to be taken 'in jest'..

          • Doug Shaver

            Thank you, Loreen. I appreciate your patience with me.

          • Loreen Lee

            No need to thank me. Having to defend myself in these com boxes forces me to clarify my 'thinking'. or 'meaning'. Indeed to better understand just what I am thinking. grin grin. I don't expect my answers are 'perfect', but the attempt at achieving some clarity is at the very least, a good exercise. Thanks Doug.

  • I liked the final few paragraphs at the end that discussed the differing audiences the gospel writers were aiming at. The way a person tells a story is going to be largely modified by ones own personal background and their targeted audience.

    I haven't heard much debate before about the differences and supposed contradictions between the two infancy narratives. With that said, I do know that the genealogies found within the two gospels are quite different, and there really isn't any evidence to support the idea that they are actual biological genealogies, yet these genealogies continue to be considered parts of inspired texts. I would contend that they are more spiritual genealogies than they are literal genealogies. So, even if there are some historical inaccuracies within the infancy narratives, that does not mean that the document is not inspired by God.

    • Doug Shaver

      I would contend that they are more spiritual genealogies than they are literal genealogies.

      According to Matthew, Joseph's father (Jesus' grandfather) was named Jacob. According to Luke, his name was Heli. What spiritual message do you find in that?

      • Hi Doug,

        I did a Bible study on the book of Matthew from Jeff Cavins and Sarah Christmyer’s “Matthew: The King and His Kingdom” from their series “The Great Adventure: A Journey Through the Bible,” and much of my response to your question comes from notes and handouts I got from that course. To clarify, simply because there is a lapse in the genealogy does not mean that there is necessarily a contradiction:

        “In the generations between David and Joseph, only two names appear in both of the lists [the genealogies found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke]. Many theories have been proposed to explain the discrepancy. Gaps in generations are common in ancient genealogies and sometimes two names may return to the same person. It may also be that one list reflects legal descent and the other, natural. (Note: As the adopted son of Joseph, Jesus would receive the same legal rights as any natural children.)”

        So, it could be that one genealogy is trying to convey legal descent and the other natural/biological descent, and even with that, it would not be out of the question for some names to be left out of the genealogies. As I did say though, I don’t believe that the purpose of these genealogies was to convey specific legal or ancestral facts, these genealogies were created to provide a message to God’s people. Yes, genealogies were extremely important for the Jewish people, but I think the author’s greater purpose was to convey God’s message.

        Example of spiritual implications found within Matthew’s genealogy:

        This genealogy—as to be expected—is dominated by men, yet there are four women who get mentioned in this genealogy:

        Tamar (Gen 38)- posed as harlot to bear Judah’s child.

        Rahab (Joshua 1:1-22 and 4:13-17)- She was also a harlot and helped shelter Israelite spies before their nation’s entrance into the promised land.

        Ruth (the book of Ruth)- a moabite woman who married an Israelite in Moab. After her husband’s death, she pledged to be faithful to her mother-in-law’s God and left with her for Israel. She eventually married her father-in-law’s next of kin, Boaz.

        Bathsheba/the wife of Uriah (2 Samuel 11)- Had an affair with King David, became pregnant, and after King David orchestrated the death of her husband, she married King David. The author’s opinion of Bathsheba is so disdainful that he will not mention her by name. He simply refers to her as “the wife of Uriah.”

        Spiritual implication: “The fact that these women were Gentile in origin, yet still became ancestresses of the Messiah, foreshadow the international scope of the Gospel.”
        Christ brings people of all backgrounds into His family.

        Now to your specific question concerning what would be the spiritual implications of the characters of Jacob and Heli as Jesus’s grandparents. I have no idea. These characters might have been known to the Jewish and/or Gentile people at the time when these gospel narratives were written and they very well might have had significant spiritual implications for that generation, but what those implications might have been have been lost with time. I suppose one could look at the name Jacob and look at it from the perspective that the Jacob of the old testament was the father of 12 tribes of Israel, but of course, this wouldn’t be the same Jacob that would be Jesus’s grandfather. Simply because we don’t know information about every single name—or the majority of the names for that matter—doesn’t mean they did not have a spiritual implication for some individuals at some time.

        That was pretty lengthy :P Take care.

        • Doug Shaver

          Simply because we don’t know information about every single name—or the majority of the names for that matter—doesn’t mean they did not have a spiritual implication for some individuals at some time.

          And so, if we did have all the information about those names that was available to Matthew and Luke, then we would see that the biological or legal facts about who was whose father were just irrelevant?

          • Not irrelevant, but not the most important.

          • Doug Shaver

            When I'm reading narratives of any kind, how do I distinguish, in general, between those in which the facts are most important and those in which the facts are less important?

          • I would analyze the intended genre of the document and also consider whether or not there are sub genres within the document. A particular document can have a mixture of fiction and nonfiction. I don't know if I would use the terminology of "fiction" and "nonfiction" to characterize the Bible because I believe that it is all true; however, there are things that one can consider to be actual historical events (e.g, the resurrection) and things that really aren't accurate from a strictly historical perspective found within the Bible (e.g., the genealogies as I have discussed or something like the seven days of creation found within the book of Genesis).

          • Doug Shaver

            What kind of genre are we talking about where we need not concern ourselves with the factual accuracy of an author's statements about a man's ancestry, but we'd better believe it when the author says the man rose from the dead?

          • Hi Doug,

            Hmmmm... I suppose if one were to try and narrow down things to a specific genre, much of the gospels would fall under narrative nonfiction, but then we have the reality that we're dealing with authors who were more concerned with conveying God's message than they were with conveying specific biographical information... or at least specific biographical information in the sense we have of it today... In regards to areas that were more concerned with conveying spiritual truths than they were with providing information concerning historical events such as ancestry, I'm not sure how I would label it in regards to a genre/sub genre. Is it true from a historical/scientific perspective? No. Is it true from a spiritual perspective and is it the word of God? Yes.

            I've read that some scholars would put the Gospels into the category of "Greco-Roman Biography" if that is of any assistance in providing a specific genre that one might put the gospels under.

          • Doug Shaver

            I've read that some scholars would put the Gospels into the category of "Greco-Roman Biography" if that is of any assistance in providing a specific genre that one might put the gospels under.

            I disagree with those scholars. I think their arguments assume their conclusion.

          • Take care :)

        • Doug Shaver

          To clarify, simply because there is a lapse in the genealogy does not mean that there is necessarily a contradiction:

          I'm not claiming that there is necessarily a contradiction. I am asking why I should regard it as highly improbable that there is a contradiction.

          • I don't believe you should waste time concerning the probability or improbability of there being some contradiction in the lineage because I don't believe the purpose of these genealogies was to create a literal biological or legal lineage. If there are some kinds of contradictions, I don't think it really matters. It was created more for drawing the individual closer to God in a spiritual sense. Ones thoughts on whether or not there is some contradiction in these lineages is pretty irrelevant to me. Take care.

          • Doug Shaver

            If there are some kinds of contradictions, I don't think it really matters.

            If I want to know what to believe, it matters to me a great deal. If two statements are contradictory, they can't both be true.

          • That depends upon whether or not we are supposed to look at something as a strictly historical or scientific document. In those cases, yes it would matter very much. If this is not meant to be read as a specifically historical or scientific document, then minor contradictions such as who was who within a genealogy are not going to be very relevant because those specific details are not going to affect the intention of the document.

          • Doug Shaver

            The books we're talking about say that a man returned to life three days after being executed by certain officials of the Roman empire. That looks like a historical statement to me.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    This harmonization makes Matthew out to be a very strange writer.

    The author of Matthew writes that King Herod sent the magi to Bethlehem, and never mentions that there was a 67 mile detour to Nazareth. This is quite an omission. I think the obvious indication of the text in Mathew is that the magi went to Bethlehem, where they were sent. To say otherwise requires a bit of an assumption, which I know Mr. Staples would want to avoid.

    Secondly, we have King Herod sending his people to kill the children of Bethlehem and the holy family runs away to Egypt.... but if they are living 67 miles away in Nazareth there's not really much of a need to run away. Again, the story makes much more sense if they are in Bethlehem.

    Thirdly, after Herod dies, the holy family tries to return to Judea... but why? If they live in Nazareth as Mr Staples claims, there is nothing there for them. There is no reason for them to "withdraw to the district of Galilee." They would just "Go to Galilee."

    I'll admit that this harmonization may solve any blatant contradictions. But, like most harmonizations, it does so at the expense of making the author into an improbably befuddled writer. I think it makes a whole lot more sense to simply view Matthew and Luke as two separate stories instead of trying to smash them together as we do in nativity plays and "The Little Drummer Boy".

  • Lazarus

    I somehow missed this article first time round, and learnt quite a lot.

    I know that apparent contradictions tend to be viewed as destroying the credibility of the authors, and in some circles even the entire NT, but as a trial lawyer I find these minor discrepancies as actually adding to the credibility of the story. Go and listen to a trial with many witnesses. People focus on different aspects of what they experienced, of what was important to them, and yet essentially give a true picture of what happened. Show me two or more witnesses whose stories are exactly the same and you will no doubt have collusion.

    • David Nickol

      It seems to me that Tim Staples "reconciles" Matthew and Luke by arguing that Matthew's account is not a "Christmas story." According to his interpretation, the only "Christmas story" we have is from Luke. Matthew's account begins as follows:

      When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

      However, according to Staples, the Magi have arrive from one to two years after the birth of Jesus (as recounted in Luke). So in Luke we get the story of the birth of Jesus, and Matthew's account is not the story of the birth of Jesus, but basically the story of the Magi and King Herod.

      According to Staples, the conventional view that Matthew and Luke are telling the story of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus is as mistaken as the Christmas cards which have the Magi (found only in Matthew) visiting the infant Jesus lying in a manger (found only in Luke). Matthew and Luke are not like two witnesses telling of the same events from different perspectives. They are telling entirely different stories (according to Staples) that occurred in two different places and separated by at least a year.

      • Lazarus

        Agreed, but of course if they are truly two different stories there can be no contradiction at all. I'm not entirely convinced that Staples has all of that correct, but I would need to do some further reading. One day - after the holidays - too much other accumulated reading to do.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    For the purpose of understanding apparent contradictions in gospel accounts, I think a great case study can be made by comparing the accounts of the Ascension in the Gospel of Luke versus in Acts of Apostles. This case study is interesting because, as far as anyone can tell, these two texts had the same author, "Luke". This one author dates the Ascension variously as occurring on Easter Sunday (in the Gospel of Luke) and 40 days after Easter Sunday (in Acts).

    Personally, I conclude that Luke (who was obviously a very careful author) and the editors who assembled the canon (who appear to have read very carefully what they were putting in there) simply did not prioritize what we would call accurate reportage. Luke was (or so I believe) responding to something that had actually happened in history, but his narrative efforts were directed toward what was most important, namely provoking a correct existential response to what had happened. With that end in mind, he rightly prioritized narrative flow (thus adapting to the two different narrative trajectories in the Gospel of Luke and Acts) over what we would call "accurate reporting". I am inclined to read the infancy narratives in the same light.

    To the extent that apologists try to position the gospels as modern day "accurate reporting", I think they are unwittingly accepting un-Christian terms of debate. To borrow loosely from N.T. Wright's ideas, this is too low a view of biblical inspiration, amounting as it does to assuming that God gave us the wrong sort of book, as if what He really wanted to give us was a modern historical account. The genre that God gave us is the correct genre, and that genre is certainly not "reporting" in the modern sense of the word.

    • Lazarus

      I've seen this argument used by several authors, and I think that it is totally accurate.
      One of the many reasons that I personally accept it is a rather unusual approach (and I am told by some that it is also an unacceptable approach) whereby it makes perfect sense when we remember a God that invites faith, friendship, trust - who does not compel it. If we had accurate news reportage, perfect in every way, corroborated with affidavits and cell phone videos, would it really be faith? I exaggerate slightly, but to me that option to disbelieve is an important one, one perfectly supported by the type of genre that you mention.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I would agree with that, as far as it goes, although I don't imagine (and you probably don't either) that it's just a matter of God thinking, "Jeez, if I give these guys too many details, that'll take all the fun out of this relationship. I better shroud a few key facts in the mists of history".

        I think of it more this way. To use the phrasing that Luke Breuer recently suggested, there is a key difference between "knowing about" someone / something on the one hand and "knowing" someone / something on the other hand. Roughly speaking, I would say that "reporting" is a good genre to use if you want the audience to "know about" a person (or event), whereas less restrictive, more narrative forms are better if you want the audience to really "know" the person (or event).

        For example, when my grandpa told me about the Battle of the Bulge (thankfully, he was injured early on, and so survived to tell the story), I didn't keep interrupting to ask about the precise body count or the temperature, or whatever. I didn't just want data about the Battle of the Bulge ; I wanted to know what it was like to be at the Battle of the Bulge. More than that, I wanted to know what happened in an intimate way that would actually define me and become a part of me (albeit I wanted all this inchoately, since I was young). You need to allow for a freer, more natural human story-telling format for that to work. This freer narrative format, as far as I can tell, has been the primary means, and the most effective means, by which humans have handed down real knowledge from one generation to the next since time immemorial. It's the information technology for which we are optimized. God, clever feller that he is, understands this.

  • David Nickol

    The late Fr. Raymond Brown, S.S., for example, who definitely made
    positive contributions to biblical study in the Church, also made some
    not-so-good contributions. In his book, The Birth of the Messiah, p. 46, for example, he flatly declares the two infancy narratives “are contrary to each other.”

    Allow me to make once more I point that I made when this article was posted originally. What Raymond Brown says on page 46 is the following:

    This leads us to the observation that the two narratives are not only different—they are contrary to each other in a number of details. . . .

    To "flatly declare" two narratives "are contrary to each other" is quite different from observing that they are different and contrary to each other in a number of details.

    Here is the rest of the quote from The Birth of the Messiah:

    . . . . According to Luke 1:26 and 2:39 Mary lives and Nazareth, and so the
    census of Augustus is invoked to explain how the child was born in
    Bethlehem, away from home. In Matthew there is no hint of a coming
    to Bethlehem, for Joseph and Mary are in a house in Bethlehem where
    seemingly Jesus was born (2:11) The only journey that Matthew has to
    explain is why the family went to Nazareth when they came from Egypt
    instead of returning to their native Bethlehem (2:22-23). A second
    difficult is that Luke tells us that the family returned peaceably to
    Nazareth after the birth at Bethlehem (2:22.39); this is irreconcilable
    with Matthew's implication (2:16) that the child was almost two years
    old when the family fled from Bethlehem to Egypt and even older when the
    family came back from Egypt and moved to Nazareth. Of the options
    mentioned before we made the detailed comparison of the two narratives,
    one must be ruled out, i.e., that both accounts are completely
    historical.

  • David Nickol

    It is interesting to note that we are frequently told on Strange Notions that Catholics are not biblical fundamentalists, and yet here we have an article that seems to insist the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke are both factual accounts, and all alleged contradictions can be reconciled. Is it the case that "Strange Notions Catholics" only disavow fundamentalist interpretations of the Old Testament but take the New Testament to be entirely factual?

    • Lazarus

      How does not being a fundamentalist exclude the acceptance of certain stories in the the Bible as factual? I am no one's idea of a fundamentalist but accept certain stories in the OT as significantly true and others not, and the same for the NT. I don't believe that for instance the infancy narratives are to be accepted in a literal manner, but I do accept the fact of the Resurrection as historically true.

      • David Nickol

        How does not being a fundamentalist exclude the acceptance of certain stories in the the Bible as factual?

        It doesn't at all. However, if there is anything in the New Testament that is taken to be heavily symbolic or theological, it is the infancy narratives. Here is a bit from my trusty Dictionary of the Bible by John L. McKenzie, S.J.

        The story of the Magi is primarily theological in interest and purpose. Jesus is presented as the King-Messiah of the Gentiles, recognized by the Gentiles but not by his own people, the Jews . . . . The presentation is compiled from a number of OT texts. The star is the star which rises from Jacob (Nm 24:17). The coming of the ruler of Judah is an echo of Gn 49:10. The birth of the messiah in Bethlehem is based upon Mi 5:1-3. The tribute from kings of Tarshish and the coastlands, the gifts of kings from Sheba and Seba, the worship of kings and the service of nations, and the gold from Sheba are promised the king of Judah in Ps 72:10 f, 15. In the restored messianic Jerusalem camels will come from Midian and Epha, and gold and frankincense will be brought from Sheba; cf Is 49:23. These allusions show that the account has been transformed by theological reflection on the OT (cf Midrash). The theme of Jesus as the Messiah accepted by the Gentiles and rejected by the Jews is basic in the entire NT, but especially in Mt. Particular details of the narrative, consequently, scarcely can be submitted to historical analysis. The star is evidently described as wonderful and lies beyond any astronomical investigation. The absence of the massacre of Bethlehem in Josephus should not be treated as inconsequential . . . .

        And yet the suggestion that the two accounts are not factual, or that they cannot be entirely reconciled, could apparently only come from an "atheist skeptic" or a "liberal Scriptural scholar."

        Exactly how does one define a "liberal" Scriptural scholar, anyway. It seems to me that a "liberal" Scriptural scholar is one who does not take everything in the New Testament as a factual, historical, journalistic account.

        • Lazarus

          As I have explained to William here I personally do not need much of the infancy narratives to be literal history for the sake of my faith. I find them to be incredibly (or is that a bad choice of words ;) ) rich sources of theological, even pedagogical, wisdom and inspiration.

          And "liberal" is often a veiled insult thrown around in religious circles to simply indicate that such recipient holds a contrary view to my own cherished one, and is therefore not to be trusted. Bishop Barron was criticized for being a "liberal" at a dinner party I attended a few weeks ago, which again reminded me what a loose term, even useless it really is. But, what do I know, I'm just a liberal Catholic ;)

    • Alexandra

      How are you defining "fundamentalist"?

      • David Nickol

        How are you defining "fundamentalist"?

        I am using fundamentalist rather loosely here to refer to the belief that the Gospels are basically historical accounts, and that alleged contradictions (such as in the infancy narratives) can be explained away. Although it is probably almost meaningless to talk of consensus in regard to biblical scholarship, I take something like the New American Bible to represent what might reasonably be considered a consensus view of contemporary Catholic biblical scholarship.

        Regarding the Magnificat in Luke, the NAB says:

        Because there is no specific connection of the canticle to the context
        of Mary’s pregnancy and her visit to Elizabeth, the Magnificat (with the
        possible exception of v 48) may have been a Jewish Christian hymn that Luke found appropriate at this point in his story.

        I think many here on Strange Notions would insist that the Magnificat consists of the actual words spoken spontaneously by Mary herself, going so far (perhaps) as to argue that she remembered decades later what had happened to her at the time and gave Luke (or someone whom Luke used as a source) an account to include in his Gospel. Now, of course, we can never know exactly what happened, but I would call it "fundamentalist" (loosely speaking) to rule out the possibility that the Magnificat was a hymn or a composition by Luke himself and to insist that the Magnificat gives us the actual words of Mary herself (although translated into Greek, of course).

        • Rob Abney

          David, have you spent much time around pregnant virgins? Would you be able to fathom that a young pious woman who was visited by an angel might spend all her time in prayer? And if she then encountered the spouse of a rabbi who was pregnant in her later years as foretold by that angel, that perhaps she would break out in song? And by her understanding of her role in the life of Jesus, that she might keep that special song in her memory for decades?
          I believe it could and did happen, count me as a fundamentalist.

          • David Nickol

            I believe it could and did happen, count me as a fundamentalist.

            Please note that I didn't say believing the Magnificat conveyed the actual words of Mary (in Greek translation) made someone a fundamentalist. Also note that I said I was using the word fundamentalist loosely. What I said was

            I would call it "fundamentalist" (loosely speaking) to rule out the possibility that the Magnificat was a hymn or a composition by Luke himself and to insist that the Magnificat gives us the actual words of Mary herself . . . .

            The New Jerome Biblical Commentary says

            These verses have many OT parallels, esp. the Song of Hannah in 1 Sam 2:1-11. They stem from a pre-Lucan Gk source. Luke has modified the reversal theology of this revolutionary canticle by creating v 48 and by situating in within the flow of his Gospel, which admonishes the rich to share their possession and which enjoins peace and love of enemies. . . .

            McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible says (in part):

            It is scarcely possible that the Magnificat is intended to be a literal report of the words of Mary; it is a song put in her mouth as apt to the situation, despite the fact that it makes no concrete reference to this situation and does not refer to the Messiah. Its position in the present context is to be attributed to the sources on which Luke drew for the infancy narratives. One cannot be certain that it was composed for this position by the author; the hypothesis seems more probable that it was an existing hymn which the author applied to this passage. The song was possibly a Jewish psalm adopted by the early Christian community. Israel is the speaker in the song; the early Christian Church identified itself as the new Israel.

            By the way, every source I have checked notes that some early Latin manuscripts attribute the Magnificat to Elizabeth instead of Mary, but all agree that the textual evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of Mary being the speaker.

            Now, you are perfectly free to disagree with all the sources I cite (all Catholic, by the way) and to believe that somehow Luke was able to record the actual words of Mary. However, if you insist that the sources must be wrong for the reason that the Bible is inerrant, and you insist that because the Bible attributed the Magnificat to Mary, then Mary herself necessarily spoke those very words (albeit in another language), then you are a "fundamentalist" (in the sense I choose to define the word).

          • Rob Abney

            "Now, you are perfectly free to disagree with all the sources I cite (all Catholic, by the way) and to believe that somehow Luke was able to record the actual words of Mary. However, if you insist that the sources must be wrong for the reason that the Bible is inerrant, and you insist that because the Bible attributed the Magnificat to Mary, then Mary herself necessarily spoke those very words (albeit in another language), then you are a "fundamentalist" (in the sense I choose to define the word)."

            A quick search of the New Jerome Biblical Commentary came up with this article from The Wanderer, with this quote "This 1,500-page work so undermines the teaching of Scripture that a logical person who accepted its conclusions would consider himself bound to reject the Catholic Church as a reliable guide to the Bible."

            The writer refers readers to Dei Verbum paragraph 19 (Vatican II). That's where I get my fundamentalism.

          • David Nickol

            An attack on the New Jerome Biblical Commentary by The Wanderer (via EWTN, no less) is hardly surprising! The Wanderer is a notoriously right-wing publication and is not even indexed (to the consternation of right-wingers) by the Catholic Library Association. So right-wing was the long-time editor of The Wanderer that he left to found a new paper (The Remnant) to oppose Vatican II. When I was in high school, one of the Christian Brothers who was the adviser to the school newspaper became a friend of my whole family, and I remember him being appalled by The Wanderer. Rely on Dei Verbum, by all means, but not on an article from The Wanderer.

            But I didn't site just one Catholic source. I cited three. The two others were Dictionary of the Bible and the New American Bible. (I do not understand why "conservative" Catholics mistrust the American Bishops and believe they have authorized a "heretical" Bible!) And you have ignored the very careful distinction I made. To repeat it again . . .

            I would call it "fundamentalist" (loosely speaking) to rule out the possibility that the Magnificat was a hymn or a composition by Luke himself and to insist that the Magnificat gives us the actual words of Mary herself . . . .

            So is it your position that the Magnificat is an accurate reporting of the very words of Mary because it is the nature of the Bible (as divinely inspired and "inerrant") that if it says, "Mary said . . . " then the words that follow are guaranteed to be the very words of Mary?

          • Rob Abney

            That seems like a valid point about The Wanderer.

            I mainly believe those to be the words of Mary because of who I know Mary to be, and I don't have a hard time believing that a young deeply pious woman would say that. She is the person most instrumental in the incarnation of Christ so she doesn't really require any embellishment. I also believe that the Church in continuity has always believed those to be words of Mary, the Church that recorded those words specifically so we could know Jesus.
            I do have faith in divine inspiration but I don't think that would rule out your version being true, meaning you could still say the truth was being conveyed.

            What happens if I accept your interpretation? It might lend credence to the popular song that is somewhat contrary to Catholic Mariology, Mary Did You Know?, because we believe Mary was saved by Jesus before he was born.

          • Is it important that the Gospel of Luke capture the words of Mary precisely? That is, if there is one single character that is off, does that mean Mary said "nothing like" what was recorded, or perhaps that it is "so distorted" that we can gain nothing of value? Or what if a synonymous way of saying the same thing were chosen, and that synonymous way recorded instead of the original?

            I ask the above because it seems like you are invalidly excluding the middle—the possibility that Mary spoke something which is well-captured by the words found in the Gospel of Luke.

          • David Nickol

            Is it important that the Gospel of Luke capture the words of Mary precisely?

            No, not at all. I don't think it is even important that the circumstances under which Mary recites the Magnificat (a visit to Elizabeth) actually happened, nor would it be important to me if Mary and Elizabeth were totally unrelated and never met each other. I think both the infancy narratives are theological.

            Based on what I have read, I don't think the Magnificat is word-for-word what Mary said (translated into Greek, of course) or even a version reconstructed from memory. It doesn't bother me what other people believe on this topic. Nobody knows for a fact how the Magnificat came to be written.

            However, I stick by what I said earlier. Those who believe the Magnificat must be an accurate (or at least well reconstructed) report of the words of Mary, and cannot be an early Christian hymn, or a Christianized Jewish hymn, are interpreting the Bible as something approximating "fundamentalists" (loosely described). They are much more conservative than contemporary mainstream Catholic biblical scholars.

          • However, I stick by what I said earlier. Those who believe the Magnificat must be an accurate (or at least well reconstructed) report of the words of Mary, and cannot be an early Christian hymn, or a Christianized Jewish hymn, are interpreting the Bible as something approximating "fundamentalists" (loosely described).

            Ok. But suppose that a Christian tells you that currently, she thinks there is a 99.99% probability that Mary responded to the news of her virgin pregnancy with all of the thoughts found in the Magnificat. Has she succeeded in no longer being a 'fundamentalist'?

          • David Nickol

            David, have you spent much time around pregnant virgins?

            I feel quite confident in saying that I have spent no less time around pregnant virgins than you have! My understanding of the psychology of pregnant virgins is, I believe, comparable to yours. :-)

            However, I am not basing my opinion on my speculations about what a pregnant virgin who was, 2000 years ago, visited by the Angel Gabriel would have said, or how well she would have remembered it decades later. I am basing my opinion on the work of biblical scholars who have intensively studied the text (and the texts in the Old Testament it parallels).

        • Jim the Scott

          > but I would call it "fundamentalist" (loosely speaking) to rule out the possibility that the Magnificat was a hymn or a composition by Luke himself.

          Except the NAB commentator you cite doesn't say Luke composed it but the author inserted a "Jewish Christian Hymn" which begs the question where did these Jewish Christians get this hymn from? Would not Mary have participated in the early Church and might she not have influenced the formation of the primitive liturgy?

          • David Nickol

            As I have tried to make clear, I would call it "fundamentalism" to rule out the possibility that Mary spoke the very words of the Magnificat based on a theory of the Bible that affirmed every biblical account to be factually, historically correct (and inerrant). I would not classify a person as a fundamentalist based solely on the fact that he or she believed the Magnificat to be the spontaneous words of Mary during her visit to Elizabeth. I would classify someone as a fundamentalist if he or she insisted the Magnificat had to be the very words of Mary, because everything in the Bible is accurately reported history, guaranteed by divine inspiration.

          • Jim the Scott

            >As I have tried to make clear, I would call it "fundamentalism" to rule out the possibility that Mary spoke the very words of the Magnificat based on a theory of the Bible that affirmed every biblical account to be factually, historically correct (and inerrant).

            Catholics believe in inerrancy as a dogma. Pius IX, St Pius X Pius XII and Vatican II all uphold this teaching. Anything the Bible teaches as a fact wither history, science or matters of Faith and morals is done without error. Now there is some ambiguity as to how to identify when the Bible is teaching in any of these areas but the dogma remains. Thus in your book all Catholics must be fundamentalists and it seems the only non-fundamentalist might be Unitarian Christian Deists who hold a purely naturalistic bible. Of course there is still the problem of God literally creating the Universe at the Beginning. Since the Deist has to take that part literally and can't have any other interpretation while remaining a Deist.

            > I would classify someone as a fundamentalist if he or she insisted the Magnificat had to be the very words of Mary, because everything in the Bible is accurately reported history, guaranteed by divine inspiration.

            But it is Catholic Dogma that when the Bible teaches history it does so without error & this is guaranteed by divine inspiration.

            Again my charge stands. Only a Unitarian Deist with a purely naturalistic Bible which records no supernatural events is a non-fundamnetalist in your book. That is the natural conclusion I draw from your views.

            I think the real problem here is you are equivocating between fundamentalist vs supernaturalist/religious.

            Certainly I am a supernaturalist/religious and read the Bible thru that lens even with generous allegory via the fact the Bible is not perspicuous. But I don't believe God in His Divine Nature has a literally foot or hand thus I am not a fundamentalist.

            Cheers again & I wish you a happy new year again. I enjoyed the debate.

            Peace.

          • David Nickol

            But it is Catholic Dogma that when the Bible teaches history it does so without error & this is guaranteed by divine inspiration.

            Is it your contention that in his Gospel, it was Luke's intention to teach history by giving a factual account of Mary's visit to Elizabeth and what Mary said during that visit? If so, would you say the New American Bible contradicts Catholic dogma by allowing for the possibility that the Magnificat was a Jewish Christian hymn and not the very words spoken by Mary?

            Would you say Pope Benedict XVI contradicts Catholic dogma by concluding (in the volume of Jesus of Nazareth that deals with Holy Week) that the Last Supper was not, as the Synoptics present it, a Passover Meal?

          • Jim the Scott

            >Is it your contention that in his Gospel, it was Luke's intention to teach history by giving a factual account of Mary's visit to Elizabeth and what Mary said during that visit?

            There is no compelling reason to read that text in any other manner.

            >If so, would you say the New American Bible contradicts Catholic dogma by allowing for the possibility that the Magnificat was a Jewish Christian hymn and not the very words spoken by Mary?

            Text says "Mary said" so it seems one must conclude Mary said the magnificat at some point in her life & if this was a Jewish Christian Hymn then where did the Jewish Christians get it originally? I don't see where the commentator who wrote the notes of the NAB excludes that possibility? You must simply get rid of this "Sola" mentality of your David. It's unseemly when taking to Catholics. The NAB notes alone don't constitute the whole of exegetical truth just as the Bible isn't the Sole rule of Faith.

            As for your used of the word "Dogma" you are not using it correctly either (unlike moi). But you are very well read & for that I salute you.

            >Would you say Pope Benedict XVI contradicts Catholic dogma by concluding (in the volume of Jesus of Nazareth that deals with Holy Week) that the Last Supper was not, as the Synoptics present it, a Passover Meal?

            Without a quote or a reference I can't make a judgement.

            But I do find Pope Benedict teaching this in 2007.

            http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/b16LordSup07.htm

            QUOTE"There is an apparent discrepancy in the Evangelists' accounts, between John's Gospel on the one hand, and what on the other Mathew, Mark and Luke tell us.

            According to John, Jesus died on the Cross at the very moment when the Passover lambs were being sacrificed in the temple. The death of Jesus and the sacrifice of the lambs coincided.

            However, this means that he must have died the day before Easter and could not, therefore, have celebrated the Passover meal in person — this, at any rate, is how it appears.

            According to the three Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper of Jesus was instead a Passover meal into whose traditional form he integrated the innovation of the gift of his Body and Blood.

            This contradiction seemed unsolvable until a few years ago. The majority of exegetes were of the opinion that John was reluctant to tell us the true historical date of Jesus' death, but rather chose a symbolic date to highlight the deeper truth: Jesus is the new, true Lamb who poured out his Blood for us all.

            In the meantime, the discovery of the [Dead Sea] Scrolls at Qumran has led us to a possible and convincing solution which, although it is not yet accepted by everyone, is a highly plausible hypothesis. We can now say that John's account is historically precise.

            Jesus truly shed his blood on the eve of Easter at the time of the immolation of the lambs.

            In all likelihood, however, he celebrated the Passover with his disciples in accordance with the Qumran calendar, hence, at least one day earlier; he celebrated it without a Iamb, like the Qumran community which did not recognize Herod's temple and was waiting for the new temple.

            Consequently, Jesus celebrated the Passover without a lamb — no, not without a lamb: instead of the lamb he gave himself, his Body and his Blood. Thus, he anticipated his death in a manner consistent with his words: "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord" (Jn 10:18)."END QUOTE

            Well it was not a Passover Seder in one sense but clearly it was a Passover seder in another. David you are a good guy but you really must watch the fallacies of equivocation.

            Cheers to you. I hope your New Year was festive.

          • David Nickol

            You must simply get rid of this "Sola" mentality of your David. It's unseemly when taking to Catholics.

            What an exceedingly odd comment.

            David you are a good guy but you really must watch the fallacies of equivocation.

            And another.

          • Jim the Scott

            I still have hope for you sir.

            Peace.

    • Jim the Scott

      So by your definition of a "fundamentalist" the Bible says there literally is a God and we theists believe in God thus we are fundamentalist for taking the bible literally here?

      Isn't that a little silly?

      Happy New Year BTW.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        This is not even remotely implied by what David wrote. What he wrote, and further painstakingly clarified, is that fundamentalism (according to his understanding of the word) consists of hermeneutic inflexibility, an unwillingness to update one's understanding of the text based on an evolving understanding of the context. On this understanding of fundamentalism (which, BTW, aligns with my own understanding), one could easily interpret many scriptural passages in a literal manner without succumbing to fundamentalism.

        • Jim the Scott

          Yes I know and as such I still find his statement that it is fundamentalist to " insist the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke are both factual accounts, and all alleged contradictions can be reconciled." to be a bit off in spite of his best intentions.

          That doesn't make one a fundamentalist , even in the most modest sense & I don't see how it displays hermeneutic inflexibility or a failure to update one's understanding of the text based on an evolving understanding of context?

          As you said one could easily interpret many scriptural passages in a literal manner without succumbing to fundamentalism.

          Unless what he really is doing is ad hoc defining any literal belief in supernatural evens found in the text to be fundamentalist.

          Am I a fundamentalist for taking the bible literally in believing in the resurrection on even his modest definition? David is kind of giving me the impression that there is an equivalence between belief in the supernatural and fundamentalism.
          As if the only non-fundamentalist Christian interpretation is a Unitarian Deist naturalist interpretation of Holy Writ.

          That is the vibe I am getting here.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Am I a fundamentalist for taking the bible literally in believing in the resurrection on even his modest definition?

            Certainly not. You are projecting viewpoints onto David that he simply never articulated. I wouldn't go off vibe. Let's respond to what others actually write.

          • Rob Abney

            He might be projecting viewpoints or maybe he is using other information he has about David besides just the words from this particular thread. I think in these ongoing dialogues we shouldn't make assumptions about others' viewpoints but we can't presume we don't know something about their motives and understanding of the subject.
            It is similar to how we should read the bible, it should be read in unity and context. If we look only at the words attributed to Mary in the Magnificat then we can come up with alternative understandings but if we consider what we know about her life, her purpose, and the tradition of the early church's understanding of her then it is easier to understand how she could have said that; and in fact it makes it harder to deny that she said it because it detracts from her.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I have no problem with your interpretation if you are putting it forward as one possible Catholic interpretation among many possible Catholic interpretations, but it is by no means a definitive Catholic interpretation, nor is it especially plausible in light of what we know about the early Church.

            We are instructed as Catholics to pay attention to the genre of scripture. The genre of the gospels is, as far as we can tell, that of Graeco-Roman biography or bioi. David's suggestion that the Magnificat comes from a pre-existing hymn and is used to situate Jesus's life within a larger Jewish narrative is not just "an alternative interpretation". It is entirely consistent with, if not highly likely in light of, what we know about the genre of the gospels.

            I have been reading David's comments for a long time. His agenda, as far as I can tell, includes a very sincere desire to teach Catholics about Catholicism.

          • Jim the Scott

            >David's suggestion that the Magnificat comes from a pre-existing hymn and is used to situate Jesus's life within a larger Jewish narrative is not just "an alternative interpretation". It is entirely consistent with, if not highly likely in light of, what we know about the genre of the gospels.

            Except logically even his citation of the NAB notes does mean the author of those notes has definitively ruled out or is definitively stating Mary had not literally uttered those words either at that specific point in time or some time in her life. After all if it came from a Jewish Christian Hymn then that begs the question where did these early Jewish Christians get it from? Would not the Mother of Jesus be active in the Early Church?

            Also I don't see how it is "fundamentalist" to claim Mary might have uttered this whole speech at that point when she visited her cousin?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            We are starting to beat a dead horse here, so let re-state my position (and David's as far as I can tell) one more time and then you can have the last word. There is a big difference between speculating about an interpretation that might be correct and insisting (to use David's original verb) on a particular literal interpretation manner in an intransigent manner. The former is just fine. The latter is often ingredient in both fideism and fundamentalism.

          • Lazarus

            The strongest argument for the absolute literal truth and verbatim accuracy of the Magnificat that I am aware of (at least by a serious author) is Mike Aquilina's argument that says :

            "The Magnificat, as Luke presents it, has the qualities of Greek poetry. Yet it also follows the form of Hebrew songs and poems. Some scholars believe the Church used the text as a Marian hymn for years before Luke set down his Gospel. The Church has continued to do so. As early as the time of St. Benedict (sixth century), it has been part of the daily Evening Prayer in Benedictine monasteries. In the Magnificat, Mary predicted, “All generations will call me blessed.” And St. Luke would not have narrated Mary’s words thus if they were not already true in his time. The Fathers represented the first generations to fulfill her prophecy. St. Jerome acclaimed her: “Holy Mary, blessed Mary, mother and virgin!” On the strength of the Magnificat, some of the Fathers referred to Mary as “The Prophetess.”

            And yet, even here, in this very conservative take, the option to accept the tradition as literally true or to accept the possibility that it may not be so is carefully left open. David's point is a simple and accurate one, no need to misunderstand him.

          • David Nickol

            My thanks to Jim and you for the above.

            I should have made it clear that in classifying someone as a "fundamentalist" (which, by the way, I would not consider an insult), the issue is not so much whether the person believed the Magnificat to be the very words of Mary upon her visit to Elizabeth, or believed the Magi followed a star to find the infant Jesus, or believed that the genealogies in Matthew and Luke could be reconciled, or believed the dating of the Last Supper by John did not conflict with the dating in the Synoptics. It would be a matter of what that person believed about the Bible that caused him or her to believe that these matters were accurate historical recordings of actual events. If a person believed that the four Gospels were factually, historically accurate accounts that were "inerrant" because the Gospel authors were prevented from making errors by the Holy Spirit, that person would be a fundamentalist. Why this should be a controversial statement, I don't know.

            Now, if someone believed Mary actually recited the words of the Magnificat and in some manner those words were somehow preserved or remembered and eventually recorded by Luke, that does not make the person a fundamentalist. What would make the person a fundamentalist is an insistence that the Magnificat as recorded by Luke had to be the very words of Mary, because the Bible is an accurate factual, historical account, and because Luke was under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and wouldn't (or even couldn't) have attributed words to Mary if Mary had not indeed said those words.

            It is still perfectly possible to believe that the Gospels are the inspired word of God without being a fundamentalist, and it is often pointed out here by people like Brandon himself and Ye Olde Statistician that Catholics are not fundamentalists.

            If someone wants to offer a better definition of biblical fundamentalism, by all means they should do so.

          • Lazarus

            I am comfortable with your definition of a "fundamentalist".

          • Rob Abney

            I don't think the term matters that much but I think the unintended consequence does, this is not a personal attack on you or David - I'm glad he facilitates such discussions.

            That Catholics can sit comfortably at their computers 2000 years later and say "that part doesn't really matter, what matters is that Jesus Christ is God", is the crux of the matter. We could never say with such assurance that Jesus is God if not for the previous such discussions such as the council of Ephesus. Nestorian only wanted to say that Jesus was divine and human, only when it was insisted that he is fully divine and fully human does it help us with our assurance today.
            If you are comfortable saying that maybe Mary didn't say those words then you might also be comfortable as The Scott alluded to, saying maybe Jesus wasn't actually on that cross.
            We can't take the previous theological battles for granted.
            This is not fundamentalism it is faith, faith that those words were true not added to embellish. Its also not just Mariology, it is Mariology that makes Christology possible.

          • Lazarus

            Now that does start going into fundamentalist country. It also explains why some Catholics are so uncomfortable with a mature outlook on their faith : they believe, unfortunately so, that any "concession", any "maybe" is a slippery slope into heresy. If we argue that "maybe" Mary did not say those words verbatim then maybe it follows that the crucifixion and resurrection did not happen. This is fundamentalist thinking.

            Some of us are more comfortable with that nuanced, I would say balanced, way of thinking about our faith. Personally I believe that the words of the Magnificat is most probably very accurate historically, as the first Christians would have had access to Mary herself. It would be strange if they did not have access to her words and thoughts. But that does not mean that we should insist on such belief in others. Other views, and there are several possibilities here, should also be countenanced without any cost to one's own faith. That is the mature and healthy way to faith, and that is the remarkably simple conclusion to be drawn from David's original statement.

            It is not so much about what we accept as part of our faith, it is what we allow others to accept, the leeway granted in that most inexact of disciplines : faith.

          • Rob Abney

            it is what we allow others to accept,

            I'm not sure how this discussion veers into the territory of forced acceptance.

            I'm saying that I believe Mary said those words because of so many other events that we know of from her life and Christ's life.

            You have now also said that you believe it.

            It is not maturity or nuance that is most important here, combatting the spread of error is important.

            And the error that I sense is the text-only criticism of the story. If we know our faith based only on words in the bible then of course we could change the words or change the origin of passages and such, but we must understand that this is not a bible-only issue, that's too reductionistic.

            In reality, I believe that the text-based criticism is the real fundamentalist approach, it says that we only use this small amount of information to make our assessment. From William's wiki info above "characterized by a markedly strict literalism as applied to certain specific scriptures".

            I hope I've articulated this sensibly, I appreciate your discussion of it.

          • Lazarus

            We can't expect New Year's discussions to be too rigorous ;)
            I do understand your points, thank you.

          • Jim the Scott

            I have just been dialoging with David & I refer you to my responses to him.

            As a Catholic I hate Fideism as that is a heresy condemned in the 19th Century by the First Vatican council under Pius IX. The Catholic view is more nuanced and can't be completely locked down into the neat categories of Theistic Liberalism vs Fundamentalism. I think we are a category all our own.

          • Jim the Scott

            PS. Happy New Year and God bless.

          • Lazarus

            The mystery is resolved ;).
            "Mary might have ..." means that you are not a "fundamentalist" by David's reckoning.

          • Jim the Scott

            We wil have to disagree but Happy New year to you.

          • Lazarus

            Thank you, Jim, and a Happy New Year to you and your family also.

          • Rob Abney

            suggestion that the Magnificat comes from a pre-existing hymn and is used to situate Jesus's life within a larger Jewish narrative is not just "an alternative interpretation"

            Are you saying it came from a Jewish hymn prior to Mary or from a hymn after Mary but prior to Luke's writing?
            In regards to teaching Catholics about Catholicism, how do either of those interpretations influence our theology as opposed to accepting the words as coming from Mary? I think it presents difficulties that cause changes in theology, but maybe you don't.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The important point to me is that Luke uses the story to develop his Christology. Whether he is also engaged in some form of journalism seems unimportant to me. Again, based on my understanding of the genre, it would be completely unsurprising to me if there were no journalistic content to this part of the story.

            More generally, it is my understanding that the claims that the Church made about Mary before the 19th century (so, excluding the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption) were fundamentally Christological claims, not Mariological claims.

          • Jim the Scott

            If Luke was inserting a Jewish Christian hymn with her actual words (i.e. Future generation shall call me blessed) according to the NAB commentaor that begs the question where did they get it from?

            Would not Mary have participated in the Early Church? Would her prayers not have influenced the early liturgy?

            That she didn't have to have said those words at that time is OK but I find idea they where pure interpolations to be unlikely.

          • Jim the Scott

            His definition of a fundamentalist (i.e. hermeneutic inflexibility, an unwillingness to update one's understanding of the text based on an evolving understanding of the context) I would not dispute. In fact taken at face value I might agree with it. But his application of it in this instance is clearly questionable.

  • neil_pogi
  • Lazarus

    On a less serious note, the picture used for this article reminds me of an incident a few years ago when a friend's little daughter, then four years old, saw the picture on a Christmas card we had lying on a table. She stared at it for a while, and then asked me "So why do those people have space helmets on? And some don't, why? And shouldn't the baby have one on too?" I tried to explain but I don't think I managed too well, especially at the same time trying to suppress a giggle fit.

    To which serious theological musings I must add "And what is wrong with that man's left leg?"

    Once you see the "space helmets" it can't be unseen.

    • OldSearcher

      I am almost as surprised as your friend's daughter. :-)

      I've been reviewing a number of classical "Adoration of the Magi" scenes. In all of them if San José and the Virgin Mary have an aureola, the Baby Jesus also has it.

      Any idea why in this image Baby Jesus has no aureola?

      • Lazarus

        My only (wild) guess would be that Jesus doesn't need to be depicted as holy?? But as you say, it seems to be inconsistent at best. I didn't notice it until the little lass pointed out the absence of the "space helmet". I'm sure Dan Brown would have some thoughts ;)

        • OldSearcher

          I have found this reference to that beautiful painting.

          It seems that it is attibuted to Giovanni di Francesco, a mid-fifteenth century Florentine painter.
          The issue of the "lost space helmet" remains a mistery ;-)
          Merry Christmas

          • Lazarus

            Thank you, that is beautiful.
            A mystery it is then ;)

            A merry and safe Christmas to you and your loved ones also.

        • OverlappingMagisteria

          Well, obviously since Jesus is God, he does not need a space helmet for protection like mere mortals do. He is immune to the alien flesh eating virus that arrived on the Christmas "star" (that was actually a meteorite). As you can see, one of the wise men un-wisely left his leg exposed and was affected.

          • OldSearcher

            Aha! So you are really Dan Brown and OverlappingMagisteria is just an alias. ;-)

          • Lazarus

            It's solved!!
            You have the movie rights, of course.

  • The idea that the wise men went to Nazareth seems a bit far fetched. Why would the Holy family have to flee if Herod's soldiers were heading for Bethlehem and they were in Nazareth? My feeling is Joseph's family was from Bethlehem. If he had to go there for a census he must have much more recent roots than there than King David. Still he was trying to stay at an inn so his connections there could not have been that close.

    Mary's from Nazareth. Luke says so. Luke likely got much of his information from Mary. Matthew likely went to Bethlehem and found out what he could there. I do think the time frame of the wise men was likely months and not days after the actual birth. Certainly the temple presentation would have been complete before they had to make plans to flee.

  • Sure, you can beleive what you want about these stories. Certainly theologians will disagree on what they mean. From a religious perspective, transubstantiation, resurrection, ascension into heaven all make sense.

    I'll defer to maintdtream historians on this, and they do not accept that any of the nativity stories are historical. Not just atheists, but Christian historians as well.

  • David Nickol

    One might wonder why God, who was guiding the Magi all the way from their home to the infant Jesus, did not warn them not to consult with Herod in Jerusalem in the first place, instead of merely warning them not to visit Herod on their way home. The alleged "Slaughter of the Innocents" (of which there is no historical record) could have been avoided.

    Also, although today every rational person believes astrology to be nonsense, why did God us astrology to alert the Magi and guide them to the infant Jesus? The Catechism says:

    2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

    Why didn't this apply to the Magi, who were magicians/astrologers?

    I confess I checked my horoscope today (in The Onion):

    You’ll discover the secret of fire this week—namely that it can make your ex-wife pay for everything she’s done to you.

    • Lazarus

      The Magi would have been used to employing astrology for guidance in important events. Surely it makes more sense for God to use a vehicle that the Magi was used to, and had faith in, to convey this message to them? On a figurative (or even literal level, I suppose) the story also tell us that God speaks to people where they are, making use of symbols and methods of communication that makes sense to those people at that time.

    • Jim the Scott

      Natural Astrology isn't condemned and to be fair the Magi where not trying to predict the future by following the star so I fail to see how article 2116 can be applied here.

      Merry Christmas.

  • Rob Abney

    I like the third infancy narrative also:
    A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars upon her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.

    Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron rod.

    ...And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But the dragon was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

    ...Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (Rev. 12:1-5, 7-9)

    From Msgr. Charles Pope, https://www.ncregister.com/blog/msgr-pope/christmas-isnt-candy-canes-its-d-day-in-the-war-against-satan

    • David Nickol

      My sources (NAB, New Jerome Biblical Commentary) do not associate the pregnant woman with the Virgin Mary (except the NJBC notes a traditional Catholic interpretation identifies the woman as Mary). The NAB says:

      [12:1] The woman adorned with the sun, the moon, and the stars (images taken from Gn 37:9–10) symbolizes God’s people in the Old and the New Testament. The Israel of old gave birth to the Messiah (Rev 12:5) and then became the new Israel, the church, which suffers persecution by the dragon (Rev 12:6, 13–17); cf. Is 50:1; 66:7; Jer 50:12. This corresponds to a widespread myth throughout the ancient world that a goddess pregnant with a savior was pursued by a horrible monster; by miraculous intervention, she bore a son who then killed the monster.

      The linked article quotes Revelation 12:2 (in a translation I can't identify) as follows:

      She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.

      As we have discussed previously, it is the Catholic belief that Mary was a virgin before, during, and after birth, and that she suffered no pain during the birth of Jesus. A woman's pain in childbirth is allegedly the consequence of Original Sin and the punishment imposed on all future women in Genesis as a result of Eve's sin. However, it is Catholic dogma that Mary was free from Original Sin. Consequently, it would seem inconsistent with the doctrine of the "virgin birth" (as opposed to the "virginal conception") to depict Mary suffering the pains of childbirth.

      Based on the above, I don't see how Revelation 12 qualifies as a Christmas story or a third "infancy narrative."

      • Rob Abney

        The virgin birth is Catholic dogma, but I don't think pain-free birth is. Besides it being troublesome to reconcile the way you presented it, is it a dogmatic contradiction?
        (also, did you finish Bergsma's book?, I'd like to know your thoughts, it has a nice chapter about the Book of Revelation)

        • David Nickol

          I think to be very precise, the "virginal conception" of Jesus is dogma (Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit), and the "virgin birth" (Mary miraculously remained a physically intact virgin throughout the birth process) seems also to be dogma (although some claim it can be interpreted as a theological rather than a medical truth). The conclusion that Mary did not suffer labor pains is a widely held Catholic belief based on the dogma of the miraculous birth, but it is not itself dogma.

          • Jim the Scott

            You forgot the tradition that Mary DID suffer labor pains at the foot of the cross.

  • Amrita Sharma

    According to St. Luke’s account, Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth
    to Bethlehem because of the census called for by Caesar Augustus. It
    would be there that Mary “gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped
    him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger…

    http://www.dua786.com/how-to-get-rid-of-your-girlfriend/