Do the Christmas stories in Matthew 2 and Luke 2 contradict each other?December 21, 2022
A question that people often ask is how the visit of the wise men in Matthew 2 fits in with story of Luke 2? You will recall that the wise men came to Jerusalem asking about the impending birth of the “king of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2). Herod got wind of this and enlisted the wise men to go to Bethlehem, find this child, and then report back to him. The wise men went to Bethlehem and found the baby Jesus with his mother Mary in what Matthew calls a “house” (2:11). They then left town without reporting back to Herod.
Some have insisted that Matthew is describing events that occurred two years after the birth of Jesus, two years later than what we read about in Luke 2. They argue, for example, that Luke uses a word to describe Jesus (brephos; 2:12) that refers to a new-born baby whereas Matthew uses a word (pais; 2:11) that describes a child of at least a year old or more.
But the fact is that we cannot make such a rigid distinction between these terms, as they are often used interchangeably (see Luke 1:59, 66, 76; 2:17, 27; John 16:21; Heb. 11:23 where pais is used of an infant; and 2 Tim. 3:15 where brephos is used of a young child). They also point out that in Matthew’s story the wise men come to a “house”, not a stable or cave. But if you were Mary and Joseph wouldn’t you have immediately moved from a stable to a house as soon as one became available?
And then it is argued that Herod had all the male children from two years old and down killed. Yes, but that was simply to make sure that he actually got Jesus. Remember that Herod had asked the wise men when they first saw the star in the east (2:7). The fact that he then had all killed who were two years or younger indicates that the star appeared to the Magi some two years before they arrived in Jerusalem. I could also reverse the argument. People say, “If Herod knew that Jesus was a newborn infant, why did he kill the two-year-olds?” I respond by asking, “If Herod knew that Jesus was a two-year-old, why did he kill the newborn infants?”
Bottom line: the events of Matthew 2 and those of Luke 2 all could easily have occurred in the same time frame, within months of each other. However, it is true that our nativity scenes are probably inaccurate. Whereas the shepherds visited Jesus while he was still in the stable, the wise men visited him after he had been moved into a house.