New Tes­ta­ment Christ­mas ac­counts are com­pli­men­tary

Siloam Springs Herald Leader - - OPINION -

I ap­pre­ci­ated the let­ter sent by Oren Piper high­light­ing many of the dis­tinc­tives con­cern­ing the Christ­mas ac­counts in Luke and Matthew. How­ever, most

New Tes­ta­ment schol­ars re­gard these ac­counts not as “con­tra­dic­tory” as Mr. Piper as­serts, but com­ple­men­tary and dis­tinc­tive and for sev­eral good rea­sons. All four uniquely in­spired canon­i­cal ac­counts of the Gospel had dis­tinc­tive au­di­ences and a par­tic­u­lar time and pur­pose for these God-breathed works.

Luke’s ac­count, along with Acts, was writ­ten be­fore the fall of Jerusalem (mid to late ‘60s) for a par­tic­u­lar Gen­tile per­son with a dis­tinc­tive ti­tle, the “ex­cel­lent Theophilus,” a Gen­tile cu­ri­ous about Je­sus and the growth of the early Church. Luke, as a Chris­tian Gen­tile and once Jewish pros­e­lyte, was the per­fect per­son to do the re­search. Luke’s “com­fort zone” was wider than the typ­i­cal Jewish man of the first cen­tury, es­pe­cially when it came to en­gag­ing women and non-Jews. Thus, Luke’s ac­count of the Gospel car­ries within it a sense of depth that comes from his in­ter­views with key eye­wit­nesses to Je­sus’ earthly life, and this in­cludes Mary and her fam­ily. Luke has other dis­tinc­tives, too. The story-parables of Je­sus, like the “Good Samar­i­tan” and the “Prodi­gal Son,” are only found in

Luke. Gen­tiles, with no back­ground in Jewish faith, loved and learned best by sto­ries. Also, Luke is very con­scious about his two­vol­ume work in­clud­ing Acts, so Luke men­tions the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Je­sus far more ex­plic­itly than the other three ac­counts of the Gospel.

On the other hand, Matthew’s ac­count was writ­ten shortly af­ter the dev­as­ta­tion of Jerusalem in AD 70 and is a thor­oughly Jewish-cen­tric ac­count of Je­sus’ earthly life. Matthew, as a Jewish Chris­tian and one of Je­sus’ first dis­ci­ples, didn’t need to in­ter­view peo­ple be­cause he was an eye­wit­ness him­self. Matthew writes to the beloved Jewish com­mu­nity reel­ing from the de­struc­tion of the Tem­ple, the sac­ri­fi­cial sys­tem and the loss of Jerusalem. Matthew’s ac­count of the Gospel cen­ters around the king­dom of Heaven that is “not of this world” and from be­gin­ning to end in­vites Jews to cen­ter their faith on the per­son of Je­sus, the Mes­siah, not a place. And Jews lis­tened best to men, thus the Joseph side of the Christ­mas story, and they love ser­mons — thus “The Ser­mon on the Mount” is only in Matthew. So, be­tween Luke and Matthew, we have the full story of Je­sus’ birth. Re­joice!

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