New Testament Christmas accounts are complimentary
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!