Harmonization of Jesus' birth and infancy

Matthew's account: Matthew 1:18-2:23

Luke's account: Luke 1:26-56, 2:1-40


A possible harmonization of events:

Joseph and Mary were an engaged couple living in the town of Nazareth in Galilee (Lk 1:26-27). The angel Gabriel visited Mary and told her she would become pregnant via the Holy Spirit and would give birth to Jesus (Lk 1:26-38). When she became pregnant, Joseph decided to divorce her (i.e. break off their betrothal) quietly, but after being told by an angel that she was still a virgin (Mt 1:18-21), he went ahead and married her. However, they didn't consummate the marriage until after Jesus was born (Mt 1:24-25).

Caesar Augustus then decreed that a census be taken, for which everyone had to return to their town of origin (Lk 2:1-3). Joseph was a descendant of David (Mt 1:6-16, Lk 2:4), whose hometown was Bethlehem (1 Sam 16:1-13), so he and Mary went to Bethlehem to register (Lk 2:4-5). (Possibly, Joseph could have grown up in Bethlehem or have had relatives there as well.) While they were in Bethlehem, Jesus was born, presumably in a barn or animal shelter (Mt 2:1, Lk 2:6-7).

An angel proclaimed Jesus' birth to nearby shepherds, who went to visit him (Lk 2:8-20). Eight days after his birth, Jesus was circumcised (Lk 2:21). Mary and Joseph remained in Bethlehem for at least 40 days (7 days uncleanliness + 33 days purification - Lev 12:1-4) after his birth. As people returned home from the census, there would have been room for them to stay at a real inn or in someone's home. After the 40 days, they went to the temple in Jerusalem (Lk 2:22-38) in accordance with the Jewish Law (Lev 12). This would make sense as Bethlehem is fairly close to Jerusalem; Nazareth was a lot further away. Possibly, they returned to Bethlehem after visiting the temple.

While the family was in Bethlehem, the Magi followed a star to Jerusalem, spoke to Herod about Jesus, and followed the star to the house where Jesus was (Mt 2:1-12). Their visit could have been before or after the family's trip to Jerusalem. After they left (and presumably after the visit to the temple), Joseph was warned to move the family to Egypt to avoid Herod (Mt 2:13-15). Herod meanwhile ordered the death of all boys in Bethlehem age 2 and under (Mt 2:16-18). When Herod died, Joseph was told by an angel to return to Israel (i.e. the general region, which included both Judea and Galilee) but was later warned to avoid Judea (Mt 2:19-22), so the family resettled in Nazareth (Mt 2:22-23, Lk 2:39).

When did Mary and Joseph get married?

Matthew 1:24-25 says that Joseph married Mary prior to Jesus' birth, yet Luke describes Mary as "pledged to be married" to Joseph when they traveled to Bethlehem (Lk 2:5), using the same word (mnesteuo) used to describe their status in Matthew 1:18 and Luke 1:27. Luke may have chosen to describe them as betrothed rather than married since they did not consummate the marriage until after Jesus was born (though they were ceremonially married).


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