How do you reconcile the accounts in Matthew and Luke regarding the
events immediately following the birth of Jesus? In Matthew, Jesus is
brought to Egypt from Bethlehem and then later to Nazareth after the death
of Herod. In Luke, from Bethlehem he is brought to Jerusalem and then
immediately to Nazareth. The way Matthew and Luke is written (or should I
say translated in English) it creates the impression that the events
narrated happened immediately after Bethlehem.

Matthew provides more information than Luke, but the two
accounts do not contradict one another. We can assume that Mary and
Joseph did many things which are not recorded in either account. For
example, Matthew says that the wise men came to see Jesus at the house
where they were living (Matthew 2:10), yet Matthew does not report the
move from the cave/stable where Jesus was born. Obviously, all the
authors of the gospels leave out huge amounts of information about
Jesus. When one reads any of the gospels, one gets the the impression
that it was a normal narrative technique at that time to report incidents
which were separated by a significant amount of time as if they were
successive events. For example, Mark often begins a new scene in Jesus
life with Then the… (ex Mark 10:35, Mark 12:18 and many others) implying
that the events followed immediately from one another when we know that
this is not literally true. It is worth bearing in mind this common mode
of communication at that time. Luke 2:39 is no exception to this rule.
The Greek text of this passage is very similar to the NIV translation. It
seems to our eyes to imply that the return to Galilee followed immediately
after finishing all the formal ceremonies. However, given the common mode
of narrative we find in the gospels, one should be hesitant assume that
nothing significant happened before the move to Galilee. When one reads
Matthew, one finds that Joseph and Mary fled for safety into Egypt for a
time before returning to Nazareth. There is no contradiction between the
two gospel accounts.

John Oakes

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