Let’s do a short compare and contrast of Matthew and Luke on the story of the birth of Jesus. These are the only two Gospels that talk about the birth.
- Similarities. Jesus is born in Bethlehem; his mother Mary is a virgin; after his birth he is visited by a group of men (shepherds in Luke; wise men in Matthew) who have been alerted to his birth by a heavenly sign (an angel in Luke; a miraculous star on Matthew); eventually he is taken to Nazareth where he is raised.
- Differences (minor). Luke has shepherds. Matthew has wise men.
- Differences (Hmmm).
- Matthew has Jesus’ hometown as Bethlehem, not Nazareth. So there is no traveling to Bethlehem.
- Matthew has no census. Luke does.
- But Matthew has a flight to Egypt for two years. And after they return the magi come to worship. Not in Luke.
When doing these comparisons, it remains important to recognize that the authors of Matthew and Luke were not trying to write a historically-accurate account of the birth of Jesus. Their intent (70 years+ after the birth of Jesus) was to give a creative interpretation of the significance of Jesus to the world.
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Probable Answer: As usual, it’s a little complicated. The Gospels give different accounts on this. Luke says the Jewish religious authorities did it. Mark and John indicate the Romans did it. Matthew says the Jewish Sanhedrin arrested him, but ultimately the Romans carried out the crucifixion. Most Biblical scholars today believe the Romans did it for political reasons, at least according to Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman.
- If the Romans did it, why did they care? The Romans did not care if Jesus was offending the Jewish religious authorities. And Jesus merely taught about love and forgiveness and the coming Kingdom of Heaven, right? Well, yes. And it’s that last thing that may have caused the problem. Pilate and the Roman authorities did not like anyone saying they were ‘king’ of anything. Rome was in charge, not the Jews. And word got out that Jesus was touting himself as King.
- But did Jesus say this publicly? No. That’s where things get more interesting. Jesus knew that saying things like that in public might not go over well. But he did talk to his disciples about it. And this might be yet another explanation of the Judas betrayal story — Judas may have reported to the Romans about a coming kingdom with Jesus in charge.
- Then why did Luke write that it was the Jewish religious authorities?Remember that each of the Gospel writers had an agenda when they took the pen 30-50 years after Jesus’ death. Luke was a Gentile writing to a Gentile audience during a time of great political unrest between the Jewish people and the Roman government. And if you are trying to market to a Gentile audience and not offend those in authority, you place the responsibility for the death of your spiritual leader on someone else. Luke spends a lot of ink constructing a story where Pilate and Herod (son of THE Herod) both wash their hands of the situation, leaving the blame to the Jewish authorities.
Next week: Does Leviticus condemn Golden-doodles?
Question of the Week: Why did these Bible stories get written down in the first place?
- Creation Stories. The Israelites started putting together their written accounts during their exile after they were overthrown by the Babylonians. This was around 400-500 BCE. The Babylonians had a pretty violent creation story, involving their god Marduk ripping carcasses apart and using two pieces to form the earth. The Israelites did not want to embrace the same violent concept of creation. In fact, part of the process of keeping their tribe separate was to create a different creation story, one evolving from a basis of love and creativity.
- Exodus Stories. They also wrote down the Exodus story in this time period, which also happened a long time before the Babylonian exile. Note that the story of Moses and the Jewish nation in exile in Egypt was a parallel to the situation of the Jewish nation in Babylon.
- New Testament Stories. Turning to the New Testament (with the first books starting in around 50 CE with Paul’s letters), we find again the Jewish nation under the oppression of the Roman Empire. The New Testament was an attempt by the writers to instill a sense of dignity to their people, which again had been desecrated through the oppression of the Romans. This is what the gospel writers and Paul were both trying to do. Paul was all over the place in his letters, dealing with hair and women and who’s sleeping with who and all that. But then he throws in random comments such as “love is patient and kind.”
Research question the interns are working on: When was the last time God (or Yahweh) spoke directly to man? A recent lecture the Chief Editor was listening to said it was Job.