Most people familiar with the few details given in Scripture about the early life of Jesus are aware of the fact that following the visit from the wise men, Matthew indicates that Joseph and Mary took Jesus and fled to Egypt at the command of God (Matthew 2:13-14). Later, after Herod’s death, Jesus’ family departed Egypt for Nazareth where they made their home (Matthew 2:19-23). According to some, however, Luke’s account of the early life of Jesus contradicts Matthew’s (Wells, 2011; cf. Ehrman, 2005, p. 10). Luke indicates that after Jesus’ birth, and once Mary’s days of “purification according to the law of Moses were completed” (2:22), which would have been about six weeks after Jesus was born (Leviticus 12:3-4), Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:22-38). The inspired physician then writes: “So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth” (Luke 2:39, emp. added). Since Luke mentions nothing about Egypt, and Matthew says nothing about a trip to Nazareth soon after Jesus’ birth, allegedly either Matthew or Luke is mistaken.
The allegation that Matthew and Luke’s accounts are contradictory is actually based on an assumption: the skeptic assumes that Matthew and Luke each included all of the whereabouts of Jesus’ family during His early life. The fact is, however, such a conjecture cannot logically be upheld unless both of the inspired writers claimed to write exhaustive, chronological accounts of everything Jesus did. Neither writer made such a declaration (cf. John 21:25).
Could it be that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus “returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth” (Luke 2:39) before going to Egypt, and then after traveling to and from Egypt they returned to Nazareth again (Matthew 2:23)? The Holy Spirit certainly could have inspired Matthew to write his truthful account of some of the life of Christ without mentioning a brief “return” to Galilee. However, it is also very possible, and perhaps more likely, that Luke simply omitted Joseph, Mary, and Jesus’ trip to Egypt, which sequentially could be placed between Luke 2:38 and 2:39. Bible writers frequently moved from one subject to the next without intending to give every action that took place during a particular time or the exact order in which something was done or taught (cf. Luke 4:1-3; Matthew 4:1-11). Later, for example, in chapter 24, Luke omitted the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in Galilee, which both Matthew and John mentioned. The events that Luke recorded in the first 43 verses of chapter 24 all took place on the very day of Jesus’ resurrection. The final four verses of Luke 24 (vss. 50-53), however, took place more than five weeks later (see Acts 1:1-12). Yet Luke simply recorded the various events in chapter 24 (vss. 1-43,44-49,50-53) and connected them with the Greek conjunction de (“but” or “and”), which has no specific chronological implications. The same is true with the Greek conjunction kai, which Luke used in 2:39….
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