The Birth of Jesus

The gospels seemed to have been formed “backwards.” The initial preaching of the apostles was Christ Crucified and Risen. This is clear from Acts 2:23, 32, 3:14, 10:37-41, and 1 Cor 15:3-5. The teaching of Jesus (didache) was added to the “passion” of Jesus (kerygma). The last (canonical) stage of the development was to include a prologue concerning the origins of Jesus – was he simply a man?  Matthew and Luke include miraculous birth stories, John has a theological prologue announcing that Jesus is the Word who was with God from the beginning since he is God.  Notice the development taking mark as the earliest of the Gospels – there is no birth narrative and virtually nothing about his family history. The earlier one goes into the traditions of concerning Jesus, the less about Jesus’ birth we find.

One might extend this another step historically and include the infancy narratives that are created well after the end of the apostolic era. These apocryphal stories are much more fanciful and creative – and far less historically reliable. On the other hand, there are much more theological presentations of Jesus as well in the writings of the church fathers, in these Jesus becomes the Christ of theology.

Why were the infancy narratives written in the first place? Crossan thought the question should not be what Matthew and Luke tell us about the birth of Jesus, but “why they tell us anything at all?”  What would motivate the gospel writer to include an explanation of the birth of Jesus? Raymond Brown suggested three reasons (Birth of the Messiah, 29).

The most simple explaination for the birth narratives is curiosity.  Since Mark did not have many biographical details that people always seem to want to know about, the later gospels were interested in filling-in that gap.

Apologetic. One possible motivation for Luke’s presentation of John the Baptist’s birth along side Jesus’ birth is to show the superiority of Jesus over John, perhaps to answer non-Christian disciples of John (similar to those we meet in Acts 19) There is an apologetic value of the birth narrative when presenting the Gospel to skeptical Jews as well, helping to explain how the Messiah (who as to be born in Judean Bethlehem) ended up to be a native of Galilee. There is also the charge made by early Judaism that Jesus as of illegitimate birth, answer by both evangelists by the explanation of a virgin birth.

There are obvious theological motives as well. The genealogy in Matthew connects Jesus to David, Moses, Joseph, and the other great men in the history of Israel. Like Moses he survives the slaughter of children by a pagan ruler, and like Moses he goes to the mountain to dispense the Law (Matthew 5-7). There is a developing Christology in the four Gospels, Mark tells us that Jesus is already the Son of God at the baptism.  In the next two gospels (Matthew and Luke are chronological about the same time), Jesus is God from the moment of his conception, and in John he is God from the very beginning.  In fact, John tells us Jesus  is equal with God from  eternity since he is the creator (John 1:1).

I would add a fourth motivation for Matthew and Luke including the birth narratives.  More than Mark, these two gospels are interested in showing that Jesus fulfilled prophecy, beginning with his birth.  Readers familiar with the Old Testament know than God has done a number of miracles to bring special individuals into the world – Isaac and Samuel are examples of children born to elderly or barren parents.  Jesus is the ultimate “miracle child” since he was born from a virgin.

All of this highlights the uniqueness of Jesus at the very beginning of the story.  What might be a few other motives for the writers of the gospels to include the story of Jesus’ birth?  Or to think of it the other way, why did Mark and John omit the brith of Jesus?

22 thoughts on “The Birth of Jesus

  1. Here is a quote taken from my own blog, which I think applies here…

    “Theology may be defined as “Revelation upon the divine revelation given and received, which yields the truth of God in the form of precise language, with truths related to truths”. But we are to preach Christ – not theological systems as such, but – Christ crucified! (1 Cor. 2: 2) St. Paul does not mean a dead Christ, as if he had begun his thinking at Bethlehem and moved on to Calvary. He begins from the present moment and looking back through the Resurrection to the cross. His crucified Christ is the living Christ, still bearing the marks of the cross, as the perfect tense suggests. Always our task is therefore to relate theology to our preaching and teaching of Christ! The trained mind and the warm heart together read what cold scholarship so easily can miss. So we can always know: “Your life has been hidden (and therefore is now invisible) with Christ in God.” ( Col. 3:3) But He is Lord of History, in control of events, master of all that is.”

    “The non-theological christ is popular; he wins votes; but he is not mighty; he does not win souls; he does not break men into small pieces and create them anew.” ~ P.T. Forsyth

    • I am afraid that I do not understand what your statements have to do with the birth of Jesus?

      • It appears you have not read Phil’s blog piece? …

        “The gospels seemed to have been formed “backwards.” The initial preaching of the apostles was Christ Crucified and Risen. This is clear from Acts 2:23, 32, 3:14, 10:37-41, and 1 Cor 15:3-5.”

  2. I think the birth of Jesus has been almost removed from some biblical history and teachings. Because only two of the gospels (Matthew and Luke) talk about the birth where John and Mark do not, it makes it less credible almost. Where Luke 2 gives us the story of everything that happened and is quoted at Christmas time, it has become a story less and less told. Because so many Christian are focused on the gospel and the story of Jesus when he was alive and teaching we have forgotten the beginning. I believe because of how our society has developed there is less and less of a “shock and awe” affect the story once had. Now in our society women can bear children without having a man (because of donation) and now science is trying to develop cloning and stem cell research. Which is taking away the beauty of life I believe, but not only that it is taking a main point of the gospel story and making it less important.

    My question is SHOULD we place an importance on the amazing birth of Jesus, (I think yes) but if we do then how can we credit it, if only 2 out of the 4 gospels tell the story. I know that it was an amazing story and an amazing part of history for Christian’s; but why should we place it as important? I have always had this awed view of Jesus’s birth, and I plan on continuing my fear in God because of his miraculous birth, but how can I defend my faith and my view when people question why it was not important enough for the other two to write about it.

  3. When talking about the gospels and what is and what isn’t written in each one, it is important to remember that the author of each one had theological goals and themes. “Yet while Matthew and Luke clearly utilize Old Testament themes and motifs and have theological goals in crafting their narratives, there is no evidence of wholesale creation of material” (Strauss 412). Perhaps the reason Mark and John do not have accounts of the birth of Jesus is because it did not necessarily fit the themes and the certain theology that they were expressing.

    I also think that without an account of Jesus’ birth, there would be many curiosities and questions that might become a distraction. I think there could be potential for people to have tried to make up how Jesus came to earth, and that could have been a hindrance. I think another reason is to follow the narrative story. For example, we are given the account of the first Adam being created in Genesis 1:7. If we follow that story and fast forward , it makes sense to put in the birth of Jesus as the “second Adam”. 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” I think it is helpful to see how the birth of Christ has fulfilled prophecies and added to the story God has written.

  4. The view of which Matthew and Luke are being written from is very important. There is family lineage tied into their perspectives (Joseph and Mary) so they story of Jesus’ birth makes sense to be a part of it. The themes, as Josh stated, would also be important to consider. Is the specific gospel more of a narrative or a detailed account of what happened during Jesus’ life and ministry and how involved was the author during this time, are important questions to ask.

    An account of Jesus’ birth is something that is necessary because it allows there to be some concrete evidence to the birth of a savior. There is such a uniqueness to His birth that it adds to Jesus’ glory. I believe that because he was such a “miracle” or special birth, that he puts emphasis on loving children. I believe that gives some credibility to the story of His birth.

  5. The birth narrative shows the real “humanity” of Jesus. Given the life he led for those 3 years of Ministry people may have thought he just appeared out of nowhere and began working miracles. Matthew and Luke show that Jesus indeed was born (although miraculously) and that he began his earthly life like everyone else thus displaying his humanity. His birth was to lead to the claim of the “God-man”. Where humanity and heaven were to meet. Matthew and Luke show the “practical” side of the human birth but John showed the supernatural distinctive that Jesus indeed was with God from the beginning.

  6. Personally, I believe that we as Christians have slowly but surely forgotten the great significance and the divine nature of the birth of Jesus. While the death and resurrection of Jesus signify the conquering of sin and death as well as redemption and forgiveness of sins, we often forget where it all began in the little town of Bethlehem. While we are so thankful and humbled, rightfully so, by Jesus’ death in our place and resurrection in order to fully unite us with Him one day, I fear that idea envelops our minds to the extent that we forget the theological importance of his birth as well. Without that crucial element, Jesus would have never been fully human as well as fully God. It was necessary that He come down and be born of a human. The divine nature of the birth is the fact that although he was born of a human mother, he was born of a virgin. This virgin birth fulfilled many prophesies in the Old Testament, one being Isaiah 7:14. Although I have read through the entire Bible and heard the gospel stories over and over, I honestly had never noticed that only Matthew and Luke recount the birth of Jesus. This is extremely confusing to me as to why the other two gospels would leave out the birth of Jesus, which leads me to understand why the birth of Jesus is questioned in regards to its historical reliability. While it is clear that each of the gospels have unique historical and theological motives, I would assume that the most important theological and historical elements would be included in all four gospels. Although the gospel of John is almost completely unique when compared to the three synoptic gospels, it includes all of the crucial elements of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Why then do both Mark and John leave out the birth of Jesus? Both gospels clearly claim that He is the Son of God, but why leave out his first coming to the earth? Strauss mentions in Four Portraits, One Jesus, “…all four Gospels link the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with the appearance of John the Baptist” (426). Yet, didn’t his ministry begin when he came to earth and was born, fulfilling the many prophecies in the Old Testament that a Savior would be born of a virgin and would be the Messiah? I am stumped as to why it the birth is excluded from two gospels. Any thoughts from anyone else?

    • I think it would be very helpful if you went back over Philips blog, I think it is important to get his point, as to the “apologetical” and “theological” points. And of course the Four Gospels (four views), make or show One Christ! And here the Church is always “in Christ. He is the Head, we the members. And btw, it is here (as to the birth of Christ) that Mary the Virgin, and Mother of the Incarnate Christ, that “she” is really part of the mystery, itself. She is always an elect vessel for the Incarnation! This is important in our understanding of the Salvation History of God, (Genesis 3:15). In the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, Mary is called the “Theotokos” (God-bearer). Of course this properly countered Nestorius and Nestorianism!

    • I think I may have a possible answer for your question. PLong mentions the idea that the Gospels seemed to have been formed “backwards”. This would imply that the birth of Jesus would have been one of the last details gathered. With that, we have learned in class the good possibility that Mark was the first Gospel written. If his was the first, then there is a good possibility that he did not have that information when it was written. Then Luke and Matthew were written later and were able to add more details. Luke even mentions that he does research before writing the book. Also as we learned in class, John is the last Gospel and very unique compared to the other Gospels and may have purposely omitted it because Luke and Matthew already had it covered well. Also a reason John may have omitted it is that, as far as I am aware, Jesus never mentions anything about the significance of him being born of a virgin. Thus John may have omitted it because He saw other things more significant and Luke and Matthew already wrote about it. That is my best guess to help unstump you.

      One of the most interesting motives I see in including Jesus’ birth and youth in the Gospels is its parallel to Moses. Wright mentions quite a few times in his book Simply Jesus that Jesus was bringing a “new Exodus”. PLong mentions some of the parallels, “Like Moses he survives the slaughter of children by a pagan ruler, and like Moses he goes to the mountain to dispense the Law (Matthew 5-7).” I would be interested to see if there are more parallels with Moses in Jesus’ birth, youth, and life in general. The Jews were looking for the “new Exodus” to rescue them from foreign dominion and return them to their former glory. Jesus brought a “new Exodus” but in a way they never expected.

  7. I think the significance of Jesus’s birth is essential to why God sent him to earth to save us. The importance of the story of how Jesus came to be born of a virgin is something that should not be overlooked. The fact that God sent Jesus to be born of Mary is significant to the reasons of why Jesus was holy and perfect. I think that sometimes people forget about the history of how Jesus was sent here and how Jesus could be fully man and fully God.
    I think Matthew and Luke had good points as to why they told the story of Jesus’s birth. I think they wanted to get the history and the wonderful story out to those who read it to so they can remember how Christ came to be and how his story began. In my personal opinion, the birth of Jesus is important because we get to see how God sent his one and only son to be born, to learn how he grew up to be the Son of God who then died and rose again. Learning the history and the testimony of Christ is huge and not something to be forgotten.

    • Not only does the birth of Jesus serve for historical and theological purposes, it fulfills prophesy and show’s true characteristics of who Jesus is. The historical and theological significance of the account of the birth of Jesus provide solutions for curiosity, skepticism of validity in terms of the miraculous birth, and ancestry of Jesus. Personally it’s interesting to acknowledge the way Jesus came to earth and how he left. “She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). Jesus was probably born in a cave-like shelter that is used for animals and placed in a trough which is used for feeding animals. The King of all kings being born in these conditions is an excellent and praiseworthy example of humility. Jesus Christ the Messiah pursued humility in his public ministry as well, entering Jerusalem via cult and eventually becoming obedient to death on a cross.

      I agree with Josh when stating,” When talking about the gospels and what is and what isn’t written in each one, it is important to remember that the author of each one had theological goals and themes”. Each author had a purpose and vision of what they wanted to accomplish with their gospel. If they all covered everything Jesus ever did, our class would probably have to meet a lot longer than one semester. Also it’s very possible that Luke and Matthew had different sources that Mark and John. It’s accepted among scholars that Mark was the first gospel written. Therefore he may have not had the same access to sources as Matthew and Luke. As for John, he already is the author of a a gospel that is different from the others. His stands out between the four of them, telling different stories and accomplishing different things. Therefore he may have had the same approach pertaining to an account of Jesus because Luke had already covered the lists of Joseph’s actual physical descendants and Matthew the royal and legal genealogy (Strauss 414).

  8. Like Erika stated above,the significance of Jesus’ birth is essential. As Christians we must understand that he was born from the virgin Mary, lived his life without sin, and was the savior. The birth of him is important to each of us because he was 100 percent human and 100 percent God. With out his birth many people would question this, The birth shows his humanity and how he was just like everyone else, but him being born of a virgin shows how he is different. The importance of his birth is huge, but it was only in two of the four gospels is a questions i will always wonder.

  9. Another reason perhaps that the Birth of Jesus is recorded is because of the fact that it is a miracle. In the Gospels, we have 2 accounts of the birth narrative, and besides a small look at Jesus’ childhood in one story in which he teaches in the temple at a young age we skip right to his adulthood. It is when we pick up in his adulthood that he himself starts to actually start preforming miracles. The people of Israel were very interested in miracles and signs of God, and as the Gospel writers were Jewish themselves, they I’m sure took miracles to be very noteworthy (who wouldn’t). It does seem interesting that we skip most of Jesus’ life up to the point where he started to preform miracles. So the fact that the virgin birth was a miracle in itself, is a good reason the authors would have found it important to mention.

    As to why Mark and John chose to omit the birth narrative, one reason might have been that they simply did not know anything about it. Or perhaps, as the main goal of all the writers was to tell the story of the event of Christ’s death and resurrection, they didn’t feel the need to address the birth story. As It seems that they are also trying to prove to the reader that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, I would more likely lean toward the fact that they didn’t know.

  10. I find it interesting that the birth of Jesus is not in the all four gospels. However, if Mark and John did not know much about it maybe they did not feel comfortable writing about like they did. Maybe Mark wanted to focus more on the life and death of Christ since his book is known as “the gospel of the suffering of Son of God” and the “most dramatic,” (Strauss, 24). John focused more of things that non of the other Gospels did and was the most theological. John wrote “The Gospel of the divine Son who reveals the Father,” (Strauss, 24). John and Mark both focus more on the life of Christ and not how he came about. Matthew and Luke however seemed to focus more on the Miracle of Jesus and the Gospel of the Savior for all people. Matthew and Luke seemed to want to amaze people more with their miracles and therefore maybe they were just more likely to write about that part of Jesus’ story then John and Mark.

  11. The birth of Jesus is important for several reasons. First, in order to understand who Jesus is and the importance of his life we need to know the full story! Strauss mentions on page 415 that a virgin must give birth to Jesus and it is a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. If Matthew and Luke did not include the birth of Jesus then we wouldn’t know if the scripture was fulfilled. A second reason why the birth of Jesus was mentioned could be to show the link between Jesus and David’s line. A third reason is that a lot of questions would be raised because Jesus is the son of God. People would want proof that Jesus is fulfilling the scripture. The question I have is why is Jesus birth, teachings, death, and resurrection all mentioned in the Bible but not his childhood?

  12. The birth of Jesus may be more important than we often realize. The story and account of the virgin birth not only displays the power of God, it explains the divinity of Jesus. While some of the gospel writers did not choose to place importance or emphasis on Jesus’ birth, others did for good reason! The account of Christ’s birth does give historical background to Jesus Himself. It aids us in understanding where He was coming from, why He said some of the things He said, and why certain people might have been skeptical of Him and His claims. And why I don’t fully understand why some of the gospel writers left out Jesus’ birth altogether, I do know it must have been for good theological and/or literary reason. I find Christ’s birth to be an essential part of the salvation story and amazing insight for those wanting to know more about the Savior we love, follow, and serve.

  13. The birth story of Christ is very important because it really adds to the point of Christ being this lowly man who came to bear the sins of humanity. The fact that people thought that he was going to be a king who came to conquer by the sword, and act kingly, but he came as a baby, who grew to be a carpenter. He was born in a stable, in a manger. In all he did and was, he was the opposite of what he was expected to be. I believe this is why the two Gospels that mentioned him, did so. They knew that this was a key part to the story.

  14. Stories make the world go ’round. That said, what does it take to have a story? An introduction, rising action and climax followed by the falling action. So, what’s a story without the introduction? I believe that regardless of the fact that Jesus’ birth is only mentioned in 2 out of 4 gospels shouldn’t discredit the importance of it one bit. The story of Jesus Christ is a beautiful one. Every part of His story is awe-inspiring and humbling. So why not place much importance on all aspects of it? Why not focus on His birth, life, death and resurrection? As PLong stated, “Jesus is the ultimate “miracle child” since he was born from a virgin”. Had it not been for that miraculous birth, would He have captivated so many eyes since the beginning? More than likely, but adding this miraculous event makes Him and His story all the more glorious and all knowing since the birth set the world up perfectly for His arrival.

  15. The birth of Jesus is something that is important not only to prophecy, but something important is the beauty and awesomeness of the Christmas story. It gives the Christians of today a story to celebrate and find joy in. The Virgin birth is also of vital importance, and refutes the claims that Jesus was just a man. There is beauty in the visits of the angels that both Mary and Joseph experienced. In the gospel of Luke, things are examined in a historical fashion, putting in the Christmas story not only shows attention to detail, but a desire to know the truth. Another motive on why Jesus birth was included in the gospels was to remind the early Christians, that although Jesus was God’s son he was also a man. They knew about the massacre of the Jewish children, and the explanation on how Jesus survived is remarkable. It would have been an encouragement for them to know his background so that he was not shrouded in mystery. They could relate to the place where he was born, and the fact that he was one of them. Everything in the bible is important, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) The last reason the birth of Jesus was in the Gospels was because God intended it to be as is everything in the Bible.

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