(An updated take on this article can be read here)
How many people realise or know that the ‘Nativity Story’ in the New Testament of the Bible is neither complete nor consistent across the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)? When asked, many believe that the ‘Story’ played out through Nativity plays is indeed how it is in the Bible. When they find out that this is not the case, many are truly shocked.
To show how the various takes on the ‘Nativity Story’ have been weaved together from the different Gospels – including where it is not even mentioned – each version of the ‘Story’ is set out below (note – the numbers at the start of the lines correspond to the verse of that particular chapter):
The Gospel of Matthew
18 -Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit;
19 – and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
20 – But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit;
21 – she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
22 – All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 – “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife.
1 – Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,
2 – “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”
3 – When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;
4 – and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
5 – They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet:
6 – `And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.'”
7 – Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared;
8 – and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
9 – When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was.
10 – When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy;
11 – and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
12 – And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
The Gospel of Mark
No reference to the Nativity story
The Gospel of Luke
26 – In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,
27 – to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 – And he came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
29 – But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.
30 – And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
31 – And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
32 – He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
33 – and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 – And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”
35 – And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
36 – And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.
37 – For with God nothing will be impossible.”
38 – And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
1 – In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.
2 – This was the first enrollment, when Quirin’i-us was governor of Syria.
3 – And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city.
4 – And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,
5 – to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
6 – And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered.
7 – And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 – And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 – And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.
10 – And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people;
11 – for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 – And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 – And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”
15 – When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
16 – And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17 – And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child;
18 – and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
19 – But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.
20 – And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The Gospel of John
No reference to the Nativity story
Few realise that half of the Gospels offer not even the slightest reference to the birth of Jesus or the Nativity story: a story that so many of us think we know (see the findings from Theos, here or my previous post about these findings, here).
This is not to suggest that a lack of understanding lessens the validity of the Story in any way. But it does emphasise how what we think we know – that can be something quite different from the texts, soucres or truth even – can become accepted and digested without question over time.
“Open your eyes on Saviour’s Day…”
‘The 12 Posts of Xmas’ are a series of posts that will be published between 1 December and 25 December 2008. From tales of woe through humour to mere rants, each post is based around a classic Christmas song – however tenuous that may be…!!!
Everything on this site by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. www.chris-allen.co.uk