Differences In The Gospel Accounts

Q. Re: Matt 2:13 and Luke 2:39. I’ve been trying to work out the timing for these two accounts. Luke has Joseph taking his family back to Nazareth after dedicating Jesus and fulfilling the purification requirements for Mary. Matthew tells us they went to Egypt.

I understand there’s an argument for the Magi coming to Bethlehem as much as two years after the birth. Did they they go to Nazareth for a while after Jesus was born, but then returned to Bethlehem for some reason and stayed there until the Magi showed up. What am I missing?

A. The simplest explanation is that Luke skipped over the early part of the Lord’s life and picked up the narrative when the family returned to Nazareth. Luke also failed to mention the visit by the Magi and King Herod’s subsequent extermination order against the children of Bethlehem, two events that actually made the trip to Egypt necessary.

It’s important to remember that none of the gospels was intended to be a strictly historical account. Each one includes only those parts of the Lord’s life that would be important to its particular audience and would best make the point it was written to make. Matthew wrote to the Jews, showing that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the King of Israel. The visit by the Magi, Herod’s reaction, and the escape to Egypt were all important in that context, and fulfilled Messianic prophecy from the Old Testament.

Luke wrote to a Gentile audience portraying Jesus as the Son of Man, Savior of all mankind. Showing Jesus to be Israel’s king was not critical to his message so he didn’t include it. The only way to get the complete picture of the Lord’s ministry is to read all four gospels.

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