The New Testament contains two Christmas stories, not one.
They appear in Matthew 1—2 and Luke 1—2. They have some points in common.
But there are many differences in their characters, plot, messages, and tone. Because there was no room in the inn, the baby Jesus is born in a stable and placed in a manger. His humble birth is celebrated by choirs of angels and shepherds, and he is given precious gifts by the mysterious Magi. This version freely blends material from the two biblical s.
The bible and the believer
It has become enshrined in Christmas carols and stable scenes as well as the liturgical cycle of readings during the Christmas season. My purpose here is not to criticize blending the two Christmas stories or to debate the historicity of the events they describe.
What I do want to show is that by harmonizing the two stories we may be missing points that were especially important for Matthew and Luke, respectively. I want also to suggest that appreciating each biblical separately might open up new perspectives on the infancy narratives for people today. Brettler, Peter Enns, and I explore how each of our religious traditions—Jewish, Evangelical, and Catholic—tries to bring together the modern historical-critical reading of the Bible and contemporary religious faith and practice.
There are, of course, many differences among us. But there are some principles we hold in common: the value of reading biblical texts in their original historical settings, the need for careful analysis of the literary dimensions of each text, and respect for what seems to have been the intentions of the original author.
Applying these principles to the two Christmas stories in the New Testament will reveal more clearly their historical ificance, distinctive literary character, and theological riches.
The bible story of christmas: scripture quotes of jesus' birth & prophecy
He was a Jewish Christian writing primarily for other Jewish Christians. He wanted to show that the legacy of biblical Israel was best fulfilled in the community formed around the memory of Jesus of Nazareth.
This setting helps to explain why Matthew told his Christmas story as he did. He begins with a genealogy that relates Jesus to Abraham and David, while including several women of dubious reputation who nonetheless highlight the new thing God was doing in Jesus. Guided by dreams like his biblical namesake, he is the divinely deated protector of Mary and her child Jesus. The Magi story in Matthew 2 is part of a larger sequence that involves danger for the newborn child and his parents. As a result the family flees to Egypt, while Herod orders the execution of all boys under two years old in the area of Bethlehem.
At each point in their itinerary, the family is guided by dreams and texts from the Jewish Scriptures. Thus he establishes the Jewish identity of Jesus, while foreshadowing the mystery of the cross and the inclusion of non-Jews in the church. The tone is serious, somber, and foreboding.
The christmas story
Luke wrote his Gospel about the same time as Matthew did but independentlyin the late first century CE. Also there are many characters besides Jesus: Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Mary, and Simeon and Anna, as well as various angels and shepherds. These figures represent the best in Jewish piety. Thus Luke creates an ideal picture of the Israel into which Jesus is born. In the gross structure of his infancy narrative, Luke seems intent on comparing John the Baptist and Jesus.
His point is that while John is great, Jesus is even greater. Luke portrays Jesus and his family as observant with regard to Jewish laws and customs.
The narratives are punctuated by triumphant songs of joy. They are well known by their traditional Latin titles: MagnificatBenedictusand Nunc dimittis I have shown one way to read the Christmas stories of Matthew and Luke. It is a way that respects their historical contexts, literary skills, and intentions.
We will only use your personal information to register you for OUPblog articles. Or subscribe to articles in the subject area by or RSS. As the Rev. They appear in Matthew: 1—2 and […]. Interesting article! I understand the economy of blending the two stories, but in doing so Christians open themselves to the supposed contradictions within a forced unification. I believe that in separating the stories, telling them independently, on each of their own merits, should be encouraged.
The angel gabriel visits mary
Luke says nothing about a donkey. During such a stay, he might have seen good reason for returning to his ancestral home. So, we find find the family, two years later as established members of the community of Bethlehem. Both stories can be told intact without having to push square pegs into round holes. Although Matthew […]. Where have you corrected that Matthew did not write any of it, as the NT was not even written, accepted by the majority that the NT was written between AD. I do not discount the existence of God.