Harmonizing the Infancy Narratives

The birth of Jesus in Matthew chapter 2 and in Luke chapter 2 seem to clash. But they can be harmonized into a into a seamless narrative!



Mary lived in Nazareth where she was visited by the angel. Gabriel informed her that God’s son would be conceived in her womb.

Shortly thereafter she left to spend three months with her elderly cousin, Elizabeth in the hill country of Judah. Elizabeth was also pregnant with her first child. After Elizabeth’s child, John the Baptist, was born Mary returned to Galilee.

While Mary was away, Joseph, the man to whom she was betrothed, was visited by an angel who informed him that Mary was with child. It was a child who was conceived by the Holy Spirit. It was a child who would Save the World, and should be named accordingly: Jesus.

Joseph took Mary into his home. Later on in her pregnancy, the Roman ruler of the land announced that all people were to partake in a census. Every man must report to the place of his birth. Joseph was of the lineage of David. The city of David was Bethlehem.

A direct route from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been nearly 70 miles. However, between Nazareth, in the country of Galilee, and Bethlehem, in the country of Judea, lay the gentile country of Samaria. Samaria was far too dangerous for Jewish people to travel through.

So Joseph and Mary would have circumnavigate Samaria, perhaps adding half again the length to the trip. Assuming that one could walk/ride (on a donkey) about ten miles per day, their trip would have taken nearly ten days.

Imagine a young woman in her third trimester of pregnancy, walking through the desert in the heat of the day and sleeping in the cold outdoors of the autumn desert, with no bed and no pillow.

When they arrived in Bethlehem, the city was bustling with travelers, all arriving there for the census. There were no rooms available to house all of the travelers. After ten days of sleeping on the desert floor, the couple found shelter from the cold evenings and hard ground in a stable. This is the location chosen by God the Father for the birth of his only begotten Son.

That night, shepherds in the pastures surrounding Bethlehem were treated to a choir of angels announcing the birth of God’s Son. In amazement, the shepherds left their flocks and went into the city to find the babe and pay him homage.

On the night Jesus was born, a star rose in the sky. This star marked the birth of a new ruler.

Wise men, also called Magi (due to their knowledge of “magic”), who lived in the Middle East, perhaps in Mesopotamia (Iraq of today), saw the star. They prepared to leave immediately on the month-long trip across the Sinai peninsula to pay homage to the newborn King.

They traveled with a caravan of camels across the 550 miles of desert separating Baghdad from Jerusalem. They traveled by night to follow the star, for its location in the sky was directly above the location of the birth of the new ruler.

Eight days after the baby was born, following Jewish tradition, Joseph circumcised the child and named him: Jesus.

Jewish law also required that mothers bearing sons should bring an offering to the Temple and be purified forty days after the birth. The Temple was located in Jerusalem. It was an eight-hour walk from Bethlehem.

Because of the long trip between Nazareth and Judea, Mary and Joseph would have stayed in Bethlehem the full 40 days following Jesus’ birth. They likely did not stay in the stable where Jesus was born for the entire time, but were able to find a house to reside in for those forty days.

Toward the end of the 40 days, the Magi would have been finishing their month-long journey. They stopped in Jerusalem, the capital city of Judea, to ask Herod the ruler where the newborn King was, so they could pay him homage.

Herod, knowing nothing of a new King, was understandable distressed with the news. After consulting the Jewish scribes, he learned that their Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. He asked the Magi to find the new King, and bring word back to him regarding the whereabouts of the babe, so that he (Herod), might also pay his respects. The Magi would have arrived in Bethlehem within days of the Holy Family’s departure for the Temple.

The Magi paid homage to the baby and offered gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. When they left, they returned to Mesopotamia via a different route to avoid seeing King Herod in Jerusalem.

At this time, Mary and Joseph traveled to Jerusalem with Jesus to fulfill the Mosaic Law in the Temple. Two separate people in the Temple knew through divine revelation, that the baby held by Mary was the Messiah.

Without telling anyone of the holiness of their son, many people were aware of his “messianic-ness”. This had to comfort the couple.

Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, the shepherds, the Wise men, and now Simeon and the prophetess Anna, all recognized Jesus as the Savior.

After fulfilling the requirements of the Law at the Temple, the Holy Family left Jerusalem to go home to Nazareth. By this time, Herod knew the wise men had deceived him.

To protect his own ego, Herod sent out a decree that all boys younger than two years of age in the vicinity should be killed.

Joseph was warned of this in a dream and was told to leave immediately for Egypt. He woke the sleeping mother and child and they went out for the safety of Egypt.

Several years later, after the death of Herod, Joseph was told in another dream that it was safe for the family to return to Galilee.


Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.


Author: todd

At Explore the Faith, I share insights into the Bible and theological writings. If you like what I write, become my partner by donating. Help me reach the world for the Lord Jesus Christ.