The Birth of Jesus:
Comparing the Gospel Infancy Narratives by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
Introduction to Matthew 1–2 and Luke 1–2:
The birth of Jesus is narrated at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, but is not mentioned in Mark, and alluded to very differently in John. Although the story may seem familiar, a close analysis shows that there are many significant differences between the Matthean and Lukan accounts, with hardly anything in common between them. The following are the only commonalities, and even these contain significant differences in the details:
Common Elements in Both Infancy Narratives:
Main characters: Mary, Joseph, Jesus
Supporting characters: Angels, Holy Spirit
Titles attributed to Jesus: Christ, son of David
Heritage: children of Abraham/Israel, house of David
Place names: Nazareth in Galilee, Bethlehem in Judea
Historical period: during the reign of King Herod
See below for Raymond Brown's list of eleven shared points.
Hebrew Scriptures are fulfilled (1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18, 23)
Holy Spirit is at work (1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25-27)
* Son of David, son of Abraham (1:1-17)
* Legal son of Joseph, but child of the Holy Spirit (1:18-25)
* Son of God, son of Mary by the Holy Spirit (1:26-38)
* Heir to David's throne, over the house of Judah (1:32-33; 2:4)
* Messiah (1:1, 16-18; 2:4)
* Jesus: "For he will save his people from their sins" (1:21, 25)
* Emmanuel: "God with us" (1:23)
* King of the Jews (2:2)
* "A ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel" (2:6)
* Nazorean (2:23)
* Jesus (1:31; 2:21)
* Son of the Most High; Son of God (1:32, 35)
* He will be great, holy, full of wisdom and grace (1:32, 35; 2:40)
"Of his kingdom there will be no end" (1:33)
* A Savior is born... who is Messiah and Lord (2:11, 26)
* A light for revelation to Gentiles and for glory to Israel (2:32)
Men: King David, Joseph of Nazareth, Magi from the East,
King Herod, chief priests & scribes, Ethnarch Archelaus
Women: Virgin Mary of Nazareth, Elizabeth, Anna Poor & Aged: Shepherds, Zechariah, Simeon
[King] David = 14 (DVD = 4+6+4);
three groups of 14 generations in genealogy; focus on royalty
70 weeks from Gabriel's first Annunciation to Presentation in Temple?
related to 70-week prophecy by angel Gabriel in Daniel 9:24-27?
Old Testament Quotations and Allusions in Matthew's Infancy Narrative:
Old Testament Texts
Matt 1:3b-6a - [direct quotation of ten generations from Perez to David]
Ruth 4:18-22 - [ten generations from Perez to David]
Matt 1:22-23 - All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."
Isaiah 7:14 - "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel." Isaiah 8:8b, 10 - "It [the Assyrian army ] will sweep on into Judah as a flood, and, pouring over, it will reach up to the neck; and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel... / Take counsel together, but it shall be brought to naught; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us."
Matt 2:2 - [Magi ask Herod]: "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." (cf. 2:8)
Numbers 24:17-19 - "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near-- a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the borderlands of Moab, and the territory of all the Shethites. / Edom will become a possession, Seir a possession of its enemies, while Israel does valiantly. / One out of Jacob shall rule, and destroy the survivors of Ir."
Matt 2:5-6 - [scribes tell King Herod where the Messiah will be born]: "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: / 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
Micah 5:2 - "But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days."
Matt 2:11b - Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Isaiah 60:3, 6 - "Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn... A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD."
Matt 2:14-15 - Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, / and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son."
Hosea 11:1 - "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son."
Matt 2:17-18 - Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: / "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."
Jeremiah 31:15 - "Thus says the LORD: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more."
Matt 2:23 - There [in Galilee] he [Joseph] made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He will be called a Nazorean."
Isaiah 11:1 - "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch (nezer) shall grow out of his roots."
What does Mark's Gospel Say about Jesus' Heritage?
The Gospel according to Mark does not contain a narrative of Jesus' birth, but it does make a few brief references to his family heritage:
Mark's Gospel does not directly tell us where Jesus was born, and it never mentions the town Bethlehem;
Several times it calls him "Jesus of Nazareth" (1:24; 10:47; 16:6) or "the Nazarene" (14:67).
These references do not necessarily imply that Jesus was born there, but at least indicate that he grew up in the town of Nazareth in Galilee (cf. 1:9).
Mark's Gospel says nothing about who Jesus' earthly father was, nor does it ever mention Joseph by name;
In contrast, Jesus several times refers to God as his "Father" (8:38; 14:36; see also 11:25; 13:32).
Only once does Mark's Gospel mention the name of Jesus' mother, calling him "the son of Mary" (6:3).
His mother is referred to in only one other pericope, when she (along with his "brothers and sisters") comes to see Jesus while he is preaching in Capernaum (3:31-35).
Although Mark tells us that Jesus had "brothers and sisters" (3:31-32), and even names four of his "brothers" (6:3; James, Joses, Judas, and Simon), it never specifies if these were older or younger siblings, nor whether these were children of his own mother and/or father, or other close relatives (using "brother/sister" in an extended sense for what we might call "cousins," as was common in ancient Jewish culture).
At the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, Mark's Gospel mentions the presence of a certain "Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses" (15:40; cfr. 15:47; 16:1); some scholars argue that these references are to Mary, the mother of Jesus, while other scholars believe it refers to another Mary (since these were all very common names at the time).
Mark mentions Jesus' occupation only once, calling him a "carpenter" (6:3; the Greek word τέκτων/tekton could also mean "craftsman" or "construction worker").
In contrast, Matthew's Gospel only calls Jesus "the carpenter's son" (Matt 13:55), while Luke and John say nothing about what occupation Jesus had before beginning his public ministry.
Johannine References to Jesus' Heritage and Birth:
Although the Fourth Gospel does not contain a narrative of Jesus' birth, it does mention his "coming into the world" and "becoming flesh" (Latin: incarnatus est), as well as several debates about his heritage (Is he Judean or Galilean? human or divine?):
The Incarnation: "The Word Made Flesh"
"The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,
who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth." (1:9-14)
The Ancestry of Jesus: Son of Joseph or Son of God?
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth."
Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!"
Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you."
Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (1:45-49; cf. 6:42)
The Messiah's Origin: Known or Unknown? From Bethlehem or Galilee?
Now some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, "Is not this the man whom they are trying to kill?
And here he is, speaking openly, but they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah? Yet we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from."
Then Jesus cried out as he was teaching in the temple, "You know me, and you know where I am from.
I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me." (7:25-29)
When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, "This is really the prophet."
Others said, "This is the Messiah." But some asked, "Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he?
Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?" (7:40-42; cf. 7:52)
"Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going." (8:14)
[Pharisees]: " We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man [Jesus], we do not know where he comes from."
The [formerly-blind] man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes." (9:29-30)
[Jewish authorities to Pilate]: "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God."
Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever.
He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. (19:7-9)
Use of the Infancy Narratives in the Lectionary for Mass: