Jesus’ Birth and Early Childhood, Lk 2 and Matt 2

This lesson is on the birth and early childhood of Jesus Christ from Matt 2 and Lk 2.  There is often confusion about the timing of the events recorded in these two gospels.  Some of this confusion stems from the Christmas traditions, like nativity scenes and Christmas carols.  Here’s the account of Jesus’ birth and early childhood:

Let’s look first in Luke’s gospel.  Luke begins with Caesar’s decree to tax the world, Lk 2:1.  Everyone had to go to the city of his family to be taxed, Lk 2:3.  So, Joseph took Mary from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judaea, Lk 2:4-5.  

While in Bethlehem, Jesus was born.  Everything from Lk 2:7 through Lk 2:20 takes place on the day of Jesus’ birth: his birth, 2:7, the manger, 2:7, the shepherds and the angel’s appearance and proclamation, 2:8-12, the proclamation of the heavenly host, 2:13-14, the shepherds going to Bethlehem to see Jesus, 2:15-16 (notice that he is “the babe”), and the shepherds’ proclamation, 2:17-20.

On the eighth day after Jesus’ birth, he was circumcised, Lk 2:21; according to the law in Lev 12:3.  

Thirty-three days later, Mary’s purification was complete, LK 2:22, according to the law in Lev 12:4, and they brought Jesus to Jerusalem.  This is when Mary offered her sacrifice, Lk 2:24, according to the law in Lev 12:8.

In Lk 2:25-35, in the temple in Jerusalem, Simeon sees Jesus, takes him up in his arms, prophesies concerning him, and then prophesies concerning Mary.  Then in Lk 2:36-38, Anna the prophetess comes in and gives thanks unto the Lord.

Between Lk 2:38 and Lk 2:39, the events of Matt 2 take place.  So, Matthew records information about the early childhood of Jesus Christ following what Luke records in his gospel.  Their accounts are supplemental.

Matthew’s gospel begins with the wise men coming to Herod from the east, Matt 2:1, asking where they could find the King of the Jews who had been born, Matt 2:2.  They had seen his star in the east, Matt 2:2.  Herod asked the chief priests and scribes where Christ should be born, Matt 2:3-4.  They replied, “in Bethlehem of Judaea,” according Micah’s prophecy in Mic 5:2; Matt 2:5-6.

Herod asked the wise men “what time the star appeared,” Matt 2:7.  This way he could establish the time of Jesus’ birth.  Then he sent them to Bethlehem with instructions to return to him after they had found Jesus, Matt 2:8.

The wise men continued to follow the star “till it came and stood over where the young child was,” Matt 2:9-10.  Notice that Jesus, here, is called “the young child” and not “the babe.”  This is because Jesus was no longer a newborn and was no longer in the manger.  He was “in the house,” Matt 2:11, where they presented their gifts.  Afterwards, they didn’t return to Herod but “departed into their own country another way,” Matt 2:12.

Joseph was warned by the angel of the Lord to “flee into Egypt,” Matt 2:13, where he remained until the death of Herod, Matt 2:14, fulfilling the prophecy of Hos 11:1, Matt 2:15.

When the wise men didn’t return to Herod, he decided to kill “all the children that in were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men,” Matt 2:16.  Once again, since Herod killed the children up to two years old, it is certain that Jesus was a young child and not a newborn when the wise men arrived.  Herod’s slaughter fulfilled Jer 31:15, Matt 2:17-18.

After Herod’s death, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him to return to Israel, which he did, Matt 2:19-21.  However, when he heard that Archelaus, Herod’s son, reigned in Judaea, he was afraid to go there.  God warned him in a dream to go, instead, to Galilee, Matt 2:22.

So, he “came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth,” Matt 2:23.  And this is where we return to Luke’s gospel and find the parallel account in Lk 2:39.

Conclusion: here’s the summary of both accounts together:

  • Joseph and Mary travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Lk 2:1-6
  • Jesus in born in Bethlehem, Lk 2:7
  • The shepherds come to see the babe, Lk 2:8-20
  • One the eighth day, Jesus is circumcised, Lk 2:21
  • Thirty-three days later, Mary offers her offering in the temple, Lk 2:22-24
  • Simeon and Anna see Jesus, Lk 2:25-38
  • Later, the wise men come to Jerusalem and then go to Bethlehem, Matt 2:1-10
  • They see the young child in the house and offer gifts and depart, Matt 2:11-12
  • Joseph, Mary, and Jesus go to Egypt, Matt 2:13-15
  • Herod slaughters the children in Bethlehem, Matt 2:16-18
  • Herod dies and Joseph, Mary, and Jesus return to Israel, Matt 2:19-21
  • Joseph, Mary, and Jesus go to Nazareth in Galilee, Matt 2:22-23, Lk 2:39