In two previous posts I’ve detailed what happens in Luke’s version of Jesus’ birth and then in Matthew’s. I will assume those two previous posts in the comments that I want to make in this one. The problem people have with reading these two accounts, usually, is the problem they have reading the Gospels (and the Bible as a whole) generally. Or at least this has been my experience. It’s the problem of assuming that one account is basically saying the same thing as some other account.
People do that with the Bible all the time. With the New Testament, people tend to read Matthew as if he’s saying the same thing as Mark; John as if it’s the same thing as Luke; Paul’s letters as if, at heart, they’re the same thing as James; Revelation as if it’s the same thing as John. And on and on and on.
One of the most important tasks I have as an undergraduate teacher of the New Testament is to get students to see that each of these authors – and indeed, each of the books of the New Testament – has to be read on its own to see what its message is. The message of Mark may be different from John; Matthew may be different from Paul; Acts may be different from James; and so on and on. Even when two authors are talking about the same subject – in fact, *especially* when they are – they may be saying very different things about it.
This is why it is so important to introduce students (not to mention their parents!) to the discrepancies of the Bible. Many of my students never really get the point of why we talk about discrepancies. They think the *point* is that we can then come away from the Bible and say, “So, it’s full of contradictions!” And the subsidiary point then is, they think, “Therefore we cannot trust it.”
In fact, for me, neither one of these is the point. The point is rather this:
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