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                           THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM: PART TWO

 

Was the star an angel?  

       Some believe the star that appeared to the Magi was an angel.  This perspective is largely based on the belief that a material star or planet would not act in the manner it is believed Matthew described in his account of the star's activity subsequent to the Magi leaving Jerusalem.  It is often believed Matthew is describing the star as appearing before the Magi as they left Jerusalem and literally guiding them to the location of the Christ child. Can it be conclusively demonstrated that this is what Matthew is describing? 

       In Matthew 2:9, it is recorded that “the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” (NIV). It is believed no normal star would act this way.  It is pointed out that stars move from east to west according to prescribed patterns. Bethlehem is south to southwest of Jerusalem. It is believed a normal star would not be moving from north to south.  The same would apply if it was to Nazareth the Magi traveled as Nazareth is due north of Jerusalem and would necessitate a material star moving south to north which stars don't do.  The perspective that the Magi traveled from Jerusalem to Nazareth will be addressed later in this series.

       So simply on the basis of the astronomical observation that material stars move from east to west and not north to south or south to north, some conclude the star that reappeared to the Magi as they were leaving Jerusalem was not a material star but an angel.

       Scriptural justification is given for seeing the star being an angel by pointing to passages that show stars are used to represent angels in the book of Revelation and a few other places in Scripture. Let's begin our examination of the Bethlehem star being an angel by looking at how the word star is used in Scripture.

       The words star or stars appear multiple times in the Biblical Scriptures and by context can be seen in most cases to be referring to the bright lights we see in the night sky. Where a star or stars are clearly seen as representing angels in Scripture, such representation is usually identified as such. We see this In Revelation 1:20.

       Revelation 1:20: The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

       Here in Revelation, stars are clearly identified as representing angels. In Matthew there is no such identification. Matthew doesn't say anything to suggest he is using the word star to represent an angel as we see in Revelation 1:20. 

       It must be noted that Matthew speaks of angels as angels in his general nativity narrative and not as stars. In Matthew 1:20, 2:13 and 2:19, he uses the Greek word for angel when speaking of an angel appearing to Joseph and directing him to do certain things relative to the Christ child. This being the case, it appears unlikely Matthew would switch gears and substitute the word star for angel in his nativity narrative when describing what the Magi encountered if indeed what the Magi encountered was an angel. You would think he would have used the Greek word for angel and not the Greek word for star to be consistent with his use of the word angel in describing the appearances to Joseph.

       Other than in the nativity narrative, Matthew uses the Greek word for star only one other time in his Gospel and that is in 24:29 were material stars are clearly in focus and not angels.  Matthew uses the Greek word for angel 17 other times in his Gospel and by context can be seen to always refer to angels as angels and not as stars.  In view of the manner in which Matthew consistently uses the Greek word for angel when speaking of angels, it may be unwarranted to conclude Matthew is using the Greek word for star as representing an angel in his nativity narrative. 

Did the star lead the Magi to Jerusalem?

        In Matthew 2:2, the Magi are seen as having traveled to Jerusalem from somewhere in the east to seek out “one who has been born king of the Jews.”  They said “we saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”  Nothing is said here about the star they saw being out in front as they traveled and literally leading them to Jerusalem.  They simply say that they had seen his star in the east.  The NET bible states it as, “For we saw his star when it rose." There are footnotes to this verse in the NET Bible that state: “in its rising,” referring to the astronomical significance of a star in a particular portion of the sky.”  These footnotes also indicate that the Greek word translated "east" is in the singular and is typically used of the rising of a star and as such should not normally be translated “in the east.” This leaves open the possibility that the star under consideration was not seen as rising in the east but was seen at some other point in time.

        Was the star an angel as opposed to an actual material star or planet?  As already pointed out, there is nothing in Scripture saying the star led them in some way in their journey to Jerusalem. Stars are seen as rising in the east and setting in the west every night due to the rotation of the earth relative to  stationary heavenly bodies. From their verbal communication with Herod as discussed below, it is apparent the Magi were traveling many weeks or months in their journey to Jerusalem. This means the star they saw, if it were a material star, would have risen and set many times during their journey.

       Therefore, it is unlikely they followed a specific star that was moving ahead of them in the night sky. The fact they had to stop in Jerusalem to inquire where the child was to be born shows a star was not leading them to the child's location. The star appears to simply be the sign whereby the Magi became aware of the birth of the King of the Jews.  Does this mean the star was an angel?

       It must be remembered that the Magi were astronomers/astrologers. This is the general consensus of those who have studied the etiology of the Greek word translated Magi. Therefore, these were men trained in making associations between celestial events and events on earth. They were able to associate seeing this star rising in the east with the birth of someone born King of the Jews.  It's apparent the star doesn’t appear to them again until they leave Jerusalem and travel to where the Christ child is located. 

Did the star lead the Magi from Jerusalem to the child's location?

        Matthew writes that the star “went before” the Magi after they left Jerusalem (Matthew 2:9 KJV, NKJV, ASV, RSV). The NIV renders this as "went ahead." This passage is sometimes seen to teach that the star appeared to the Magi as they were leaving Jerusalem and actually led them to the exact location where the Christ child was.  Since a material star doing such a thing appears improbable, it is concluded it must have been an angel that led the Magi. Let's examine this issue very carefully.

       The Greek word rendered "went before" is proago.  The Greek Lexicons define this word as to lead forward, go before and go in front of (See Thayer's and Bauer/Arndt/Gingrich Greek Lexicons). This word is made up of the Greek pro which has the general meaning of in front of or before and the Greek ago which means to go. Proago is used by New Testament writers in several ways and can be seen to mean something or someone leading others or something or someone having gone somewhere ahead of others and being there when others arrive.

       In Acts 16:30 it's recorded that the jailer brought (Greek proago) Paul and Silas out from the jail. In Mark 10:32 we see Jesus leading (Greek proago) the way to Jerusalem. These are examples of proago being used to show someone visibly leading others from point A to Point B.

       In Matthew 14:22 and Mark 6:45 we see Jesus directing His disciples to get into a boat and go ahead (Greek proago) of Him to Bethsaida where he would meet up with them later. This is an example of proago being used to show someone going ahead to a location where they will be later seen by someone else.  In Matthew 26:32 and Mark 14:28, Jesus instructs His disciples that after He is raised from the dead He will go ahead (Greek proago) of them to Galilee. In this case he is not in front of them physically leading them but telling them this is where He is going to be (Matthew 28:10). The Greek proage is being used  to show Jesus having gone ahead to a location where His disciples would see Him.

       In Matthew 28:7 and Mark 16:7, we see the angel telling the women that Jesus had risen from the dead and was going ahead of them (Greek proago) into Galilee.  Here Jesus is not visibly leading them to Galilee but is going ahead of them and will be there when they arrive.

       As can be seen, proago can be used to show someone or something leading others or how someone or something can go ahead to a location in advance of others arriving at such location. In view of this, it may be unwarranted to conclude in any absolute sense that a star was in some way out in front of the Magi leading them and they simply followed the  star to where the Christ child was staying. 

       While viewing the star as out in front leading the magi is certainly in line with how proago can be used in Scripture, it is plain that proago can also be used to show a star arriving at the location of the Christ child in advance of the Magi arriving at this location. It could be that when the Magi arrived in the vicinity of where the Christ child was, they at that point saw the star. Matthew 2:9-10 can certainly be read from such perspective.

       Matthew 2:9-10: After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead (Greek proago) of them until it stopped ("stood" in some translations) over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

        In view of the manner in which proago can be used to show someone or something going ahead to a location and being there when others arrive, Matthew 2:9-10 could easily be interpreted to mean the star established itself in a position over where Jesus was and when the Magi saw the star, they knew they had found the Christ child and were overjoyed because of this.  This is certainly as reasonable of an interpretation as seeing the star being followed as it leads the Magi from Jerusalem to where the Christ Child was.

       If the star under consideration was a material heavenly body, it moving into position over the location of the Christ Child in advance of the Magi's arrival is the only logical explanation as to the behavior of the star.  Since stars only move from east to west, it could not have been a material star if it had been our in front leading the Magi as they traveled from Jerusalem south to Bethlehem or north to Nazareth. Material stars don't travel north to south or south to north.  Since stars do travel from east to west, it is certainly possible some kind of heavenly body, in its moving from east to west, was positioned over the area where the Christ child was when the Magi arrived.  

       To insist that the star must have been an angel in order to act the way it did may be unwarranted. If the star was not in front leading the Magi but simply appeared over the location of the Christ child, a thing which Matthew's narrative certainly allows for, the behavior of the star doesn't appear as improbable.

        Matthew reports the star stopped or stood over the place where the child was.  This is often interpreted to mean the star stopped or stood over the exact house where Jesus was. However, Matthew doesn't say this.  He simply reports the star stopped or stood over the place where Jesus was.  The words "the place " is not in the Greek but is often  added by translators as the Greek for "over" is epano which according to Thayer's Greek Lexicon means "of place."  The Bauer/Arndt/Gingrich Greek Lexicon gives one meaning of epano as "over or above."  Some English translations simply render this passage as "over where Jesus was." The Greek word epano has a broad usage in the New Testament in describing everything from a very specific location to a broad area.  

       For example, In Matthew 28:2 we see the angel that rolled the stone away from Christ's tomb sitting on the stone. The Greek word rendered "on" is epano and in this case is associated with a very restricted location, namely the stone the angel was sitting on. In Luke 19:17, in the parable of the talents, the man who increased the ten talents given him to ten more was given rule over (Greek epano) ten cities, a very broad area. 

        Because epano can refer to a small or large area, it could be referring to the general place where Jesus was located and not necessarily the exact house where He was living at the time.

       Bethlehem is only around six miles south of Jerusalem.  If the star was an actual heavenly body such as the planet Jupiter, it could possibly be seen as standing over a particular area.  Dr. Martin writes that the planet Jupiter, due to retrograde motion, appeared to “stop” in the sky over Bethlehem as viewed from Jerusalem. Martin writes that Jupiter came to its normal stationary position at dawn on December 25th, 2 BC and the planet came to a stop in the constellation Virgo, the Virgin where it remained for nearly six days.

       A comet with a head pointing toward the earth, may be even more probable as it would be a smaller heavenly body that actually points in a certain direction. It is possible the Magi saw such heavenly body appearing over the region of Bethlehem as soon as they left Jerusalem and began to travel toward Bethlehem. If this is what took place, the star could be said to have led them to Bethlehem in so much that it stood over the city where the Child was thus confirming to the Magi that this is where the Christ child was located. This may be the reason for their expression of great joy.  Once they arrived in Bethlehem, they would have had to inquire as to the exact location of His residence. 

       This being said, to conclude an object as large as a star or planet could move into position to appear to be over the area where the child was living may still seem rather problematical. How could a star be seen to position itself over a specific location on planet earth?  This is a reasonable question.  

      The easy answer is that it wasn't a physical star the Magi saw but an angel that directed them to where Jesus was living. However, as already pointed out, the Greek of Matthew 2:2 indicates what the Magi initially saw was a rising star in the east, or as the Greek indicates, "a star in its raising."  This presents an equally reasonable question which is how does an angel appear as rising over the eastern horizon.

        Furthermore, if the star the Magi saw rising in the east was in its heliacal rising as some contend, it would not have been an angel. Such a star would have been a physical heavenly body of some kind rising in the predawn sky over the eastern horizon before it is obscured by the raising sun.  A star in its heliacal rising is a star having astronomical significance over and above other stars and would have impressed the Magi. It must be noted, however, that Matthew does not reveal the star was in its heliacal rising which makes this an unproven theory.    

Summery:

      When all is said and done, the most compelling reason to conclude the Magi were interacting with a material heavenly body of some kind and not an angel is the fact these men were astronomers/astrologers. When the Magi informed Herod they had seen a star in the east signaling the birth of the king of the Jews, it is unlikely they told Herod that what they saw in the east was an angel or that Herod would have interpreted what they saw to be an angel. It just doesn't fit the context of the time. 

       It was material objects called stars that were seen by the ancients as predicting or identifying events here on earth, not angels.  This being the case, it would appear much more consistent with who the Magi were to conclude that what they saw was a physical star like object of some sort as opposed to a non-physical entity such as an angel.

       Secondly, there is no Scriptural reason to believe Matthew is using the word star to represent something other than a star. He doesn't in any way associate his use of the word star with an angel as is done in other passages of Scripture were stars are plainly identified as representing angels when such is the case. The conclusion that the star was an angel is based not on any Scriptural evidence that it was but on the belief a material star would not act in the manner it is believed Matthew describes so it must have been an angel.  This is assuming the thing to be proved.

       It is assumed when Matthew says the star went ahead of the Magi, he is describing a star that was out in front of the Magi visibly leading and directing them from Jerusalem to the exact location where the Christ child was living. It is further assumed that a material star could not act in this way and therefore it must have been an angel. Both conclusions are unproven assumptions.  Since the Greek proago translated "went ahead" can mean the star could have already positioned itself over the place to where the Magi were headed before they arrived, one cannot assume that it is only the first option that Matthew is describing.

       Even if it could be conclusively demonstrated that a star was out in front of the Magi leading them to the Christ child, this would not prove the star was an angel. As some theologians have conjectured, God may have provided a special material heavenly body having special properties that the Magi interacted with on their journey to worship the newborn king. The bottom line is that the Scriptures don't identify the nature of the star so all attempts to do so is guesswork.    

Where did the Magi visit the Christ child?

        An issue related to the nature and activity of the star the Magi saw is the location of the Christ child at the time the Magi arrived to present their gifts.  While it is generally understood that the Magi visited the Christ child in Bethlehem, some have concluded it was to Nazareth the Magi traveled to worship the newborn king. This conclusion is based on Luke appearing to indicate Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned to Nazareth shortly after the birth in Bethlehem.  Let's explore this issue by first reviewing Matthew's account of this event.

        After King Herod learned that the Christ child was to be born in Bethlehem and found out from the Magi when the star appeared, he sent them to Bethlehem to search out the child and report back to him.  Matthew records that “they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped ("stood" in some translations) over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.”  Matthew writes that the star they had seen in the east now went ahead of them. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  The implication is that they had not seen this star since they left the east and they were now being reintroduced to it and that is why they were filled with joy.  At what point was it that they again saw the star?

        As discussed above, because Matthew says the star "went ahead (Greek proago) of them" some believe the star was visibly moving ahead of the Magi and the Magi followed the star to the place where the child was.   As already explained,, the phrase “went ahead” can mean something or someone having gone somewhere ahead of others and being there when others arrive. Therefore, it may be unwarranted to conclude the star was out in front of the Magi leading them and they simply followed the star to where the Christ child was staying.  Matthew does not say the Magi followed the star. 

       In view of how the Greek proago can be used to designate something or someone being at a location in advance of others arriving at that location, It may be the Magi first saw the star when it stopped or stood over the place where the child was and not that it led them to such place. If you allow the phrase"went ahead" to designate the star arriving at the location of the Christ child ahead of the Magi (which is certainly an allowable use of proago) you can easily see Matthew 2:9 showing the Magi first saw the star when it stood over the location of the Christ child.    

       Matthew 2:9-10 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east  went ahead of them until it stopped ("stood" in some translations) over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

       As pointed out above, It should be noted that Matthew reports the star stopped or stood over the place where the child was. The word "stood" may be the better rendering as the Greek word histeemi rendered "stopped" in the NIV and NET has the basic meaning of "to set or stand."  "To stand" is the common rendering of histeemi throughout the NT.

       Whether rendered stopped or stood, this is often interpreted to mean the star stopped or stood over the exact house where Jesus was. However, Matthew doesn't say this.  He simply reports the star stopped or stood over the place where Jesus was.  As already explained, Matthew could be referring to the general area where Jesus was located and not necessarily the exact house.

       Matthew then says, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”  It should be noted that Matthew doesn’t say where the house is located.  It’s generally assumed it is located in Bethlehem because that is where Herod sent the Magi.  He sent them there because he learned Bethlehem in the land of Judah is where the prophets said the Christ would be born. Was the child in Bethlehem when the Magi came to visit?  To begin answering this question we need to turn to Luke’s account of the birth.

Luke's Nativity Narrative:

       Luke's nativity narrative provides more information about events associated with the Birth of Jesus than what Matthew does.  Luke reveals Joseph and Mary were living in Nazareth when Mary became pregnant. He reports on their trip to Bethlehem in response to the census requirement and describes the manger birth.  He reports on the shepherds visiting the Christ child. Luke then jumps to reporting the circumcision of Jesus and his consecration at the temple after which he has them returning to Nazareth.  Luke does not record any of the events associated with the visit of the Magi as does Matthew. Matthew records nothing about Joseph and Mary traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem but does place the birth in Bethlehem.   

        Luke 2:21-24: On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."  

        Luke doesn’t mention the Magi event but shows that on the eight day the child was circumcised.  Luke proceeds to tell us that after Mary had completed her time of purification as required by the law, she and Joseph brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.  Leviticus 12 tells us that circumcision was to take place on the eight day after which there was a purification period of thirty-three days associated with giving birth to a male child. 

       So we know the child was at least forty-one days old (8+33=41) when brought to Jerusalem.  Luke tells us that after Joseph and Mary had done everything required of them by the law, they returned to Nazareth. Nazareth is where they were living prior to leaving for Bethlehem to fulfill the requirement that they return to their ancestral home to be counted for tax purposes.

        Luke 2:39-40: When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

       Now let’s return to Matthew’s account of the birth events.

        We find that after the Magi came to the house where the child was, they worshiped Him and presented him with gifts.  At some point after they had left Herod, they were warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod. Matthew's narrative doesn't reveal whether the Magi were warned before or after seeing the child. The flow of the narrative would indicate it was after they had seen the child.  At some point after the Magi departed, Joseph also had a dream in which he was warned to immediately flee to Egypt because Herod would seek to kill the child.  This warning directed to Joseph would appear to have occurred sometime after the Magi left and Herod came to realize the Magi were not returning to Jerusalem to advise him as to the whereabouts of the Christ child.

       Matthew 2:12-15:  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."

        It should be noted that Matthew records in 2:11 that the Magi visited the Christ child in a house.  Manger scenes often picture both the shepherds and the Magi visiting Jesus while in the manger.  While the manger where the Christ child was born could have been in a house, as animals were sometimes kept in the lower level of a house in first century dwellings, the house where the Magi came to see the child appears to be a different location from the place where the child was born.  The Greek word oikia, translated "house" in Matthew 2:11, has the general meaning of "family abode."  This Greek word appears 95 times in the NT and can be seen by context to always reflect this meaning.

        Luke records that because there was no room in the inn, the child was born in a manger.  Such manger could have been in the lower level of the inn but probably was separate from the inn. The Greek word katuluma, translated "inn" in Luke 2:7, means a "lodging place" or "guest chamber." This Greek word is used three times in the NT and by context can be seen as referring to a guest chamber. As such, it would be a temporary dwelling place. Since it is recorded that the Magi came to an oikias and not to a katuluma, it is more likely this was a different location from that where the Christ child was born.     

        In Luke’s account of the birth events, we see the child being circumcised the eight day and Mary fulfilling her purification period as required by the law.  Luke records that when they had done everything required by the law, they returned to Nazareth. There is no mention of a sojourn in Egypt. Luke's account gives no indication there was a space of time between the family fulfilling the requirements of the law and returning to Nazareth.  Luke simply has them returning to Nazareth from where they had originally come from. 

       Matthew, on the other hand, has them escaping to Egypt to avoid Herod having the child killed. Unlike Luke, Matthew says nothing about the trip to Jerusalem. After their stay in Egypt, Matthew has them heading back to the land of Israel and taking up residence in Nazareth of Galilee. It is generally assumed that it was from Bethlehem the family escaped to Egypt even though Luke has them returning to Nazareth shortly after the birth. Skeptics have had a field day with this in pointing out that the two accounts don’t match and appear contradictory.  How can this supposed contradiction be resolved? 

       Most Christians believe the Magi traveled to Bethlehem and it is from Bethlehem the family escaped to Egypt.  Commentators on the NT generally conclude that Luke simply didn't report on the Magi/Egypt event whereas Matthew did.  It is believed Luke reported on some of the family's activities subsequent to the birth of the Christ child and Matthew reported on other of the family's activities subsequent to the birth.

Selective reporting in the Gospels:

       In reading through the Gospels, it is apparent that decisions/choices had to be made as to what events in the life of Christ were to be written about. Such decisions/choices led to selective reporting of events in the life of Jesus. The writer of the fourth gospel reports there was a great deal that could have been written about the life of Christ

       John 21:25: Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

        Apparently, there was a lot of information available as to the life of Jesus. Choices had to be made as to what events in His life where reported on and what details of those events were included in such reports.  How authors of the Gospels decided what to include and exclude is unclear. The selection of material may have been directly facilitated by the Holy Spirit. Jesus had told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance all things He had told them (John 14:26).  Other dynamics may have been involved in determining what to include and exclude on the part of the authors of the Gospels.  

       Whatever the dynamics involved, the fact remains that the Gospel writers differ considerably as to what they wrote about events in the life of Jesus.   This difference in reporting is clearly seen in how events associated with the birth of Jesus were recorded.  Mark and the author of the fourth Gospel write nothing about the birth of Jesus. Luke and Matthew include the birth event in their Gospels but differ considerably in the details they report. 

       Luke records the travel of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem in response to the census requirement. Luke reports the manger birth, shepherds visiting the Christ Child and the trip to Jerusalem.  Luke also reports the family's return to Nazareth.   Luke records nothing about the Magi visit, the decree of Herod to have the children killed or the family's escape to Egypt. 

       Matthew reports on the Magi visit to see the Christ child, the degree of Herod to have the boys two years and younger killed in Bethlehem and its vicinity and the family escaping to Egypt to avoid Herod's degree and the family returning to Nazareth after leaving Egypt. Matthew says nothing about the trip to Bethlehem from Nazareth, the census requirement, the manger birth and the shepherds visiting the Christ child or the trip to Jerusalem to fulfill the requirements of the Law. Luke provides insight as to the protocol he used in writing his account of events in the life of Christ. 

       Luke 1:1-3: Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 

       Luke indicates that information about events in the life of Christ had been passed down by those who were eyewitnesses of such events and there were many who had undertaken to draw up an account of these events. We have four of those accounts in the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In reading through these accounts, it becomes obvious that each writer differs as to the events reported on and differs as to the details of such events.

       Since Luke records that he "carefully investigated everything from the beginning," you would think Luke would have been aware of the Magi/escape to Egypt event.  Yet he writes nothing about this event.  Matthew was a disciple of Jesus and would have had interaction with Jesus' mother and other family members. This being the case, you would think he had knowledge of all the events associated with the birth of Jesus. Yet, he only writes about the birth being in Bethlehem and the Magi visit, escape to Egypt and return to Nazareth events.

       In reporting the birth event, it is obvious that Matthew and Luke provide different details.  The only detail that Luke and Matthew both report on is the family returning to Nazareth. Luke appears to say the family returned to Nazareth right after traveling to Jerusalem to fulfill the requirements of the Law.  Matthew plainly says the family returned to Nazareth after leaving Egypt. Is Luke speaking of a different return to Nazareth than Matthew is? Are there two separate returns to Nazareth? 

      Luke plainly says the family went back to Nazareth after fulfilling the requirements of the Law.  This return to Nazareth would have been way before Herod's decree to kill the boys of Bethlehem necessitating the family's escape to Egypt.  How could they be seen as escaping to Egypt from Bethlehem as commonly believed if Luke has them returning to Nazareth less than two months after the birth.  The Magi visit appears to have occurred a good year to two years after the birth.  Would not this make the escape to Egypt to have been from Nazareth rather than Bethlehem? 

       Is there reason to believe Luke simply choose to shorten his account and not report the Magi/escape to Egypt event but go straight to reporting the family's return to Nazareth?  Is there a space of time between the Jerusalem event and the return to Nazareth that Luke doesn't account for while Matthew does account for it in reporting the Magi/escape to Egypt event?  Are there Scriptural examples of writers providing shorter accounts of events in the life of Christ while other writers provide greater detail of those same events?  Let's take a look.

Examples of selective reporting in the Gospels: 

       Example #1:  Matthew records a number of parables in Matthew 13 that Jesus spoke to the people while sitting in a boat.  After Jesus is finished speaking these parables, Matthew shows Jesus moving on from where He was and returning to His hometown (Matthew 13:53-54).  Matthew records no additional activity on the part of Jesus upon finishing speaking to the people from a boat and returning to has hometown.

       In Mark, chapter 4, Mark reports on Jesus speaking the same parables Matthew reported on and doing so under the same circumstances. He did so while sitting in a boat. The recorded activity of Jesus just prior to the giving of the parables is also the same in Matthew as in Mark.  All this strongly indicates Matthew and Mark are recording the same event. Yet we see quite a difference in what Matthew and Mark report as to Jesus' activity subsequent to His teaching from the boat.

       After Jesus is finished speaking the parables, Mark records that Jesus, on that same day when evening came, left in a boat to go across the lake to the other side. While on the boat a severe wind comes up threatening to swamp the boat.  However, Jesus calms the wind.  When He reaches the other side, he heals a man who was possessed by evil spirits and the spirits are allowed to possess a group of swine.  He then returns by boat to where he came from where He is met by a large crowd.  He then is seen as healing a woman who has an issue of blood.  Then it's recorded he raises from the dead the daughter of a ruler of the local synagogue (See Mark, chapters 4 and 5).

       Only after all this is accomplished does Mark show Jesus returning to His hometown (Mark 6:1).  Matthew records none of these events occurring before Jesus returns to his hometown. If one wasn't aware of Mark's account of Jesus doing all these other things before returning to His hometown, one could easily conclude from Matthew's account that Jesus simply returned to His hometown shortly after speaking the parables with no other events of any significance occurring. This is very similar to Luke saying Joseph, Mary and the Christ child returned to Nazareth upon leaving Jerusalem but failing to report the Magi and escape to Egypt events.

      Example #2:  Matthew records the women who visited the tomb after the resurrection of Jesus were instructed by an angel to tell the disciples Jesus has risen from the dead and is going ahead of them into Galilee where they will see Him. This appears to be a very straightforward statement about where Jesus could be seen subsequent to His resurrection.  Matthew goes on to record that the eleven see Jesus in Galilee.  He writes nothing about any appearance of Jesus to the disciples prior to them seeing Him in Galilee. 

        Mathew 28:7: go quickly and tell his disciples: `He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."

       Matthew 28:16-17: Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 

       If you carefully read Luke's and John’s report as to when Jesus first appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, you will find it to be in Jerusalem and not Galilee. Luke and John say nothing about Jesus meeting the disciples in Galilee.

       Luke tells the story that on the same day the empty tomb was discovered; two disciples of Jesus were walking to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. Luke records that Jesus joins them in their walk but they don’t recognize Him as being Jesus. To make a long story short, these two disciples finally come to realize it is Jesus they are talking to. They immediately return to Jerusalem to tell the eleven what they had just experienced.  While there visiting with the eleven, Jesus suddenly appears in their midst. 

       Luke 24:33-36: They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."

       This is still the first day of the week, the day the tomb was found to be empty. It is apparent the eleven had not gone to Galilee even though the women had earlier visited them with news of the empty tomb and the angelic message that Jesus is risen and is going ahead of them to Galilee.  Luke, however, shows Jesus appears to the eleven and those with them while they are still in Jerusalem.  John clearly shows Jesus appearing to the disciples the evening of the first day of the week with the same greeting of "Peace be unto you."

       If you only read Matthew, you would conclude that the first time the disciples saw Jesus after the resurrection is when they went to Galilee. The statement by the angel appears very straightforward.  Yet it's apparent Jesus appeared to the disciples prior to seeing them in Galilee, an event Matthew fails to mention. 

       In view of these selective accounts of events in the life of Christ, it is reasonable to conclude Luke simply choose not to include the Magi/Egypt event.  Such exclusion of information is certainly consistent with other such exclusions in Scripture. Selective writing about events in the life of Christ is common in the Gospels. 

       Matthew and Luke write about events associated with the birth of Jesus.  Mark and John say nothing about the birth.  Matthew, Mark and Luke record the transfiguration.  John doesn't mention it.  The feeding of the four thousand is recorded by Matthew and Mark but not Luke or John.  Matthew and Mark record Jesus healing a deaf and mute man.  Luke and John do not report this event.  Luke and Mark report Jesus casting out a demon from a man in a synagogue in Capernaum.  Matthew and John don't mention this event. Matthew reports Pilate washing his hands at the trial of Jesus and Pilate's wife having dreams about Jesus.  Mark, Luke and John do not mention these events in their reporting on the trial of Jesus. 

       In view of the selective reporting of events in the life of Christ, it is not unreasonable to conclude that Luke simply chose not to report the Magi visit and escape to and return from Egypt events.  He simply skipped to recording that the family went back to Nazareth after fulfilling the requirements of the law. Such return to Nazareth certainly harmonizes with Matthew's Gospel which shows the family returning to Nazareth after their stay in Egypt.  

       In Part Three of this series, we will discuss in greater depth the perspective that the Magi visited the Christ child in Nazareth and that it was from Nazareth the family escaped to Egypt.

        PART THREE