Here is another illustration of how the Comparative Method works with Luke, as described in my textbook on the New Testament. A personal anecdote. It was precisely the differences between Matthew and Luke in the birth narratives that led me to formulate the comparative method. Unlike the other methods I discuss in my book, this is one that is not widely discussed in scholarship. In fact, I had never heard of it until, well, I came up with it. But it occurred to me while thinking of the birth narratives (and genealogies) that it didn’t *matter* if Matthew and Luke had the same source for their narrative. If they did have, one could do redaction criticism on them; but they don’t have. Does that mean comparing their two accounts cannot yield results? I decided that in fact interesting results *did* matter. Their similarities and differences were important in and of themselves, and that this could be formulated into a method of study. (It may be that others had come up with a similar approach before: I simply had never heard of it when I was writing my book back in the mid 90s)
Luke’s Birth Narrative in Comparative Perspective
The two lengthy chapters that begin Luke’s account contain stories relating the births of Jesus and his predecessor, John the Baptist. By beginning with a birth narrative, Luke has an obvious point of contact with Matthew. Mark, it will be recalled, begins with Jesus as an adult.
There are some very broad and basic similarities between the birth narratives of Matthew and of Luke. In both, for example, Jesus is born in the city of Bethlehem, to a virgin named Mary, who is betrothed to a man named Joseph. But for most readers what is far more striking is the difference between the details of these accounts. Indeed, none of the specific stories of Luke’s narrative occurs in Matthew, just as none of Matthew’s appears here. You can see this easily enough for yourself: simply make a list of everything that happens in Luke and a separate list of everything that happens in Matthew, and compare your lists. In one of them you will find the shepherds, in the other the magi, one describes the journey to Bethlehem, the other the ght to Egypt; one records an angel’s words to Mary, the other the angelic words to Joseph; and so forth. These are two discrete narratives; the Christmas story recounted every December is a conflation of the two.
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