Answering The Atheist
February 5, 2006 / Volume 6, Issue 6
THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
Where did Joseph and Mary live before the birth of Jesus? Luke 2:1-7 indicates they lived in Nazareth and traveled to Bethlehem because of a census, but Matthew 2:1-2, 11, 22-23 indicates they lived in a house in Bethlehem and moved to Nazareth after returning from Egypt. Is there a contradiction?
Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, and journeyed to Bethlehem due to the decree by Caesar Augustus (Lk 2:1-5). While there were in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus (Lk 2:6-7). Matthew's account does not give the details of how Joseph and Mary came to be in Bethlehem, but begins with his birth (Mt 2:1-2). It is the questioner's assumption that the house spoken of (Mt 2:11) was located in Bethlehem. The text does not say so.
Returning to the account given in Luke's gospel again, the shepherds immediately come to worship Jesus (Lk 2:8-20). After 8 days, Jesus was circumcised, according to the Law (Lk 2:21). Then, after Mary's days of purification were complete (40 days), they made sacrifice at the Temple, according to the Law (Lk 2:22-38; Lev 12:1-4). Once these things were accomplished, they returned to Nazareth of Galilee (Lk 2:39).
Then, we must come back to Matthew's account, and now, the magi who came from the East find the Lord. Not in the stable in which He had been born, but in the house (Mt 2:11). What house? Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem just over 40 days. Surely they didn't buy a house while there. They returned to Nazareth after her days of purification, to their house in Nazareth. There, the magi found them.
The magi were warned by God not to return to Herod (Mt 2:12), and thus returned to their own country in a different way (ie. directly from Galilee eastward, rather than to Jerusalem first). Joseph also was warned by God of the coming actions of Herod, and thus fled with his family southward, even to Egypt (Mt 2:13-18). After time, when Herod was dead, it was told to Joseph, and he came back to the land of Israel (Mt 2:19-21). It seems that he would have chosen to dwell in Judaea then, but finding Archelaus reigning in his father's stead, he chose rather to return to Nazareth of Galilee (Mt 2:22-23).
There is no contradiction.
This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible