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The flight to Egypt Matthew v Luke

It is often claimed that the Bible has contradictions. One such “contradiction” is the flight to Egypt “discrepancy” between the birth narrative given in Matthew and in Luke.

Matthew records that after Jesus was born, Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt to evade King Herod as he, wanting to kill the newborn “king” Jesus, had ordered the death of all the children. After the death of King Herod, they return to their home town of Nazareth.


This story is found in chapter 2 of Matthew’s Gospel.


However in the gospel of Luke, there is no record of a flight to Egypt and after a brief visit to the temple in Jerusalem the family return to Nazareth. It is claimed that there is no room to fit a flight to Egypt in the narrative of Luke.

So it is claimed that there is a contradiction between the 2 accounts.

First before we even begin to dissect the text, it is important here that we define the term contradiction.

a combination of statements, ideas, or features which are opposed to one another.

“the proposed new system suffers from a set of internal contradictions”

Both accounts of the story include information that is not included in the other or we could say that each account omits information that is included in the other.


However it is not in fact contradictory to omit or add information. It would only be a contradiction should one account include a piece of information that directly opposes the other.

It is not a contradiction if I say that I woke up, ate breakfast and went to work. Yet in another account of the SAME events I state I woke up, I had a shower, got dressed and went to work.

Both of these convey the events correctly, however in one I have simply added information or it could be I have omitted information in the other. BOTH of these accounts are completely correct and non contradictory. When correlated we can easily see that I Woke up, I had a shower, got dressed, ate breakfast and went to work. In fact the events between my waking and going to work can in fact be shown to be in a completely different chronological order and still not create a contradiction. It is the waking up and going to work that are the set parameters here.  


Luke makes no mention of the flight to Egypt. His account therefore does not directly contradict Matthew, in fact it CANNOT directly contradict Matthew because Luke’s account neither denies or affirms the flight to Egypt.


So rather the contradiction has to be asserted. The text has to be read and interpreted in such a way as to create the contradiction that does not directly exist. BUT of course Luke DOES say that after they had performed all the things according to the law they returned to Galilee


Luke 2- 39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.


And so it is the interpretation of this verse, by the insertion of the word “immediately” into the silence of Luke regarding the flight to Egypt on which the assertion of the contradiction is made. There is of course no immediately in the verse. BUT  it can most certainly be argued that “immediately” is what is being implied. This however is again nothing more than assertion based on the silence of Luke regarding the flight to Egypt. It is in all essence an argument from silence. It must be stated again that an omission or an addition of information does not automatically make a contradiction.


It is just as possible that rather than the interpretation of this verse and the inserted word “immediately” the verse could be interpreted very differently by the inserted word being “eventually” or words “sometime after”. There is no specific time frame being referenced by Luke at all. In order to insist that we interpret the verse to mean immediately and that we cannot use the interpretation eventually or sometime after it would have to be shown that the interpretation eventually or sometime after cannot be correct. The burden of proof therefore is on the assertion that the interpretation must be and can only be immediately. The simple assertion that immediately is the correct implication therefore is not adequate and more evidence would need to be presented in order to support this claim of a contradiction.


So which is the correct interpretation of the meaning in Luke.

Selective information

It is not unique in biographical writings or indeed Biblical writings for information recorded to be selective.

Luke HIMSELF does this when he records the details of Paul’s conversion in Acts.9

Luke records Paul having Gone from Damascus to Jerusalem.  


Acts 9-26 And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.

It must be kept in mind that it was Paul who gave the record of his conversion to Luke.

YET Paul states that it was 3 YEARS AFTER his conversion that he finally went to Jerusalem. He had gone to Arabia first.  


Galatians 1-17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. 18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.


Luke does not contradict Paul in any way he simply leaves out the information regarding Paul going to Arabia. Luke selects the information that he wishes to record.

We must also note that after Luke has the family return to Nazareth the next piece of information that Luke records is the family back at Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 years old.

Luke 2- 41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.


If we hold that Luke has the family return to Nazareth immediately after Jesus is born because he must record all the information in chronological order as it happened and must record all events ,  then we must ask why there are 12 years between one piece of information that Luke presents and the next. Surely there is some inconstancy in the requirement here.


Matthew incidently makes no mention of this.

Matthew himself also makes no mention of the visit of the Shepherds in his account which Luke does.


Luke 2- 8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

This is clearly an omission on the part of Matthew or an addition by Luke. Neither again however contradict the other.

We must remember that both Matthew and Luke wrote their gospel under the inspiration of the holy spirit. Information that was recorded in one account and not the other may have been important in the account of the one recalling it and not in the other.

Let’s have a look at what the texts actually say.


BOTH have Jesus being born in Bethlehem. This is the first parameter.

Luke 2-  3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)5To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Matthew 2- 1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

Luke includes points of information that Matthew does not or Matthew omits them. One of those points is the fact that the family had come from Nazareth.

Luke then has Jesus being presented at the temple in Jerusalem 8 days after his birth


Luke 2- 21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;


The account of Matthew does not include this information. Matthew either felt that for his rendition of the story the information was not required or Luke felt that for his it was.

It’s important to notice that whereas Luke tells the story from before the birth, as having the family go to Bethlehem from Nazareth,  Matthew’s account actually starts after Jesus had already been born.

The wise men had come to JERUSALEM to worship Jesus


Matthew 2- 1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.


This is a clear indication right from the beginning that Matthew and Luke, while they are recording the birth of Jesus are NOT in anyway simply retelling the story in the EXACT same way or recording the exact same events. Already information is being presented by one that is not presented by the other. While the birth of Jesus is obviously the main issue here, they are telling the story from 2 different perspectives with different objectives and with different pieces of information relevant to the way in which they wish to recall the story.


We are then told by Matthew that Herod, after hearing about the birth of Jesus  demands to know WHERE Jesus was to be born.


Matthew 2-  4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.


The Magi tell him that he WAS to be born in Bethlehem.


Matthew 2-  5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,


Herod tells them to go to BETHLEHEM and search for the child.

Matthew 2- 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.


But Luke says Jesus was not in Bethlehem he had been taken by Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem.


However if we read the account in Matthew carefully there is actually NO indication that the Magi did in fact go to Bethlehem. It does not in fact actually have to be interpreted as such.


Matthew 2- 9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.


Bethlehem was only where Jesus was to be BORN. There is no biblical reason for Jesus to have had to have stayed in Bethlehem after his birth. Rather they continued to follow the star which went before them and led them to where Jesus was, in Jerusalem. The important piece of information here is that the wise men had come to JERUSALEM asking “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?”. Now they knew he was to be born in Bethlehem as this is exactly what they told Herod. So if they knew he was to be born in Bethlehem and they believed he was in Bethlehem why were they in Jerusalem asking where he was? They had followed the star and it had led them to Jerusalem where Jesus now was.  

Also important here is to notice that the magi came where Jesus was they came into the HOUSE.


Matthew 2- 11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.


The word that Matthew uses is the Greek Οἰκία oikia,  house or dwelling

Whereas when Luke records the birth of Jesus he was laid in a manger because there was no room at the INN.


Luke 2- 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.


Inn being the Greek Κατάλυμα kataluma a lodging.

These are not the same place of reference. The Magi did not go to the same place as where Jesus was born.


It is now important to note that unlike what is commonly told, the Magi did NOT come to Jesus a few days after his birth.  What we actually see is that is was likely that the Magi had come some 1 and a half, to even 2 years AFTER Jesus had been born.


After giving their gift to the child the Magi left, but Matthew then records that having been warned not to go back to Herod, the magi went back to their own country another way.


Matthew 2- 12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.


This is when Matthew records that the family fled into Egypt due to Herod wanting to kill Jesus.


Matthew 2- 13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: 15And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

Notice that we are told TWICE in the narrative that herod had DILIGENTLY inquired as to when Jesus was born.


Matthew 2- 7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

Matthew 2- 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.


Matthew records that Herod killed all the children 2 years and under. Very clearly Herod killed the children that could have been the child Jesus. It is therefore logical to assume that there had been a period of around but no more than 2 years between when the Magi had stated that the star had appeared and when Herod ordered the killing.


But if Jesus was not in Bethlehem rather he was in Jerusalem, where he had been since his 8th day,  and herod killed the children of Bethlehem why would Joseph have needed to take Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod. Notice that Matthew very clearly states Bethlehem AND all the coasts thereof.


The Greek words translated coasts is ὅριον Horion which means boundary, region, vicinity of.

Bethlehem is just 9 km from Jerusalem.


Even the NIV uses vicinity

Matthew 2- 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.


I must point out that even though I do feel that the text better suits Joseph, Mary and Jesus having been in Jerusalem since they had presented the baby Jesus at the Temple, there is every possibility that during those 2 years before the Magi arrived that they had simply returned to Bethlehem. It is possible that seeing this was their hometown they had gone to stay there after Jesus was born and he was presented at the temple in Jerusalem.  If this was the case then we could easily say that Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem, they followed the star and it took them to where Jesus was in Bethlehem. By this time the family were staying in a home in Bethlehem. After they leave Herod kills all the children under the age of 2 in Bethlehem.


Although there is no record of this return to Bethlehem in Matthew, as we have seen an omission of the information would not mean that this did not occur and would still fit within the overall narrative.  


Matthew then, after the death of Herod,  has Joseph taking Jesus to Nazareth.

Matthew 2- 19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. 21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.


The return to Nazareth being the second parameter.


What we will see here is that rather than heading to Nazareth the family was actually going back to Judea until they heard of the reign of Archelaus. It is for this reason that they turned and went back to the city, Nazareth,  that they had previously lived before the birth of Jesus.


And so the account of Matthew has Joseph, Mary and Jesus,  just as in Luke, in Nazareth.


The parameters of both Matthew and Luke are Jesus being Born in Bethlehem and finally ending up in Nazareth. Each gospel records different events that happened between these 2 parameters.

There is no contradiction here, just an interpreted and asserted one.


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