Bruce's article is also available HERE
This short article will focus upon the nativity and infancy stories of Jesus, using exclusively, the Bible. All quotes are taken from the New International Version for clarity of modern readers. The problem with the Bible is that it claims to be internally validated and modern inerrantists insist that it the absolute, error-free, inspired words of the living God. Even non literalist Christians must presuppose that certain aspects in the Bible are factual, or the basis of Christianity has no basis.
The following are what are considered fundamental events that this applies to:
- The physical birth of Jesus
- The physical existence of Jesus as a teacher/prophet
- The physical death of Jesus upon the cross
- The physical resurrection of Jesus
As this article is short, I am only addressing the nativity/infancy narratives. The only evidence attesting to the actual life and work of Jesus is contained entirely in the Gospels of the New Testament. No information that was contemporary of Jesus exists in any form, biblical or secular. What we do have are the four gospels, which were written years afterwards. The issue then is can a reasonable person accept with reasonable certainty of the historical existence of Jesus, based upon the accounts of the gospel?
My conclusion is that we cannot accept the gospel narratives as a reasonable basis for believing in the historical Jesus. To digress a bit, if Jesus actually lived and had the impact that Christianity claims he had on the secular and religious life of Judea there would have been contemporary records. Several contemporary authors in Judea wrote extensive works concerning the movements in Judea, geography, politics and other items. In none of these is the existence of Jesus even mentioned once, and he was supposed to had such an impact that the Jewish leaders and Romans jointly conspired to crucify him.
Now to get to the information attesting to his birth and the events following; If Jesus actually was born, the narratives surrounding him in the different gospel accounts should be substantially the same. I say substantially the same, because I am giving the human authors the benefit of the doubt on minor details. For instance, I could describe a trip that my family took to another city and talk about a stop at a gas station. My wife could also describe the trip and not mention the gas station. Both stories are true, one has minor differences that neither take away or add anything substantial to the story of the trip. Is this what we find in the nativity/infancy narratives in the gospels? No, it is not. what we do find are two mutually exclusive accounts. This leaves us with a few choices.
- One of the stories is fictional and the other is substantially accurate
- Both of the stories are incorrect about an actual event
- Both stories are fictional and were manufactured about a non-existent event
What is this event/ It is simply the alleged birth narratives about non other than Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God on Earth. Since the Bible claims that it is the actual words of an omniscient (all knowing) God, then this should be impossible. However, if the existence of Jesus and hence his birth are fictional accounts, written to justify a pre-held belief system by different people, then mutually exclusive accounts are explainable. but again, as this is the inerrant words of the living God, they must both be correct or none of it has any credibility.
of the four gospels, only Matthew and Luke deal at all with the nativity and infancy events. Mark and John are silent on the subject. Below is a table, showing the two narratives side by side.
|Matthew Ch. 2||Luke Ch.2||Comments|
|7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.|
8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.
9 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 over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
|8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night.|
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.
|In Matthew, it is magi (astrologers) that visit the Joseph family for mystical effects.|
In Luke it is shepherds and lots on angels, etc. for primitive special effects.
|11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.|
12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
|16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.|
17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,
18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
|In Matthew, the magi find Jesus and family in a house.|
In Luke, the shepherds find Jesus and family in a manger (barn).
This in and of itself means little, because the events could been on different days. However, only in the account in Matthew is the threat from Herod a concern.
|13 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.|
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,
15 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.
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.
|21 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.|
22 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
23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord),
24 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.
|Matthew tells that because of the murder of the innocents, Joseph, Mary and Jesus all hightail it to Egypt on the warning of and angel and don't return for years, until Herod is dead.|
In Luke; instead of doing the road trip to Egypt, Joseph, Mary and Jesus go instead to Jerusalem where they go through the ceremonial rituals at the temple. Jesus gets circumcised on his 8th day of life.
NOTE: the alleged prophecy from of calling my son out of Egypt is not a prophecy in the Tanach (Old Testament). It is rather a description concerning the Exodus of Israel from Egyptian slavery.
|19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt|
20 and said, Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead.
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee,
23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: He will be called a Nazarene.
|39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.|
40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.
|Here we get to a major problem.|
Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.
NOTE: The 23rd verse quotes a NON-EXISTENT verse from the Old Testament/Tanakh. "So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: He will be called a Nazarene."
It should also be noted that the town of Nazareth DID NOT even exist until the 2nd century A.D. Before that, the site where Nazareth has been since the 2nd century was a Jewish graveyard. It is a violation of Jewish law to have a graveyard inside a city. As an aside, modern archeology demonstrates the 2nd century foundation of Nazareth and the tourist places, supposedly Joseph and Son's Carpentry Shop and the house of Jesus are in caves, which were Jewish burial chambers. Jewish people have never lived in caves, in a town or a grave yard.
- The word of God is not inerrant, which is obvious from this one example.
- Jesus and family could not be in Egypt and Jerusalem/Nazareth at the same time.
- The Herodian Murder of the Innocents is likewise a fictional flourish, especially if Jesus didn't have to go to Egypt. But also because no contemporary Jewish or Roman historian even noted it.
- The prophecy fulfillment claimed by the Nazareth home is false, because no prophecy of that sort exists of the messiah or anyone being called a Nazarene.
- Since Nazareth did not exist until the 2nd century, when the gospels were being written, this also demonstrates conclusively that the Jesus myth is exactly that, a myth and not based upon reality.