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Gospels written from varied perspectives

Wednesday, December 26, 2018 - Updated: 3:31 pm

QUESTION: My concept of “Christmas” revolves around what I have read and heard all my life from the Bible. When I hear people say that “… none of that really happened in the way you think,” I am confused and wonder where the truth lies.

 

ANSWER: The New Testament authors were believers who had studied the Old Testament and knew it well. Most were Jewish and had spent many hours in a synagogue where they heard those Scriptures and believed in them.

What they heard and saw as they accompanied Jesus — or those who had done so — was experienced in the context of that experience of the Old Testament. Thus, the New Testament authors were not simply reporters, but believers who were writing documents informed by their own faith as well as the facts as they understood them.

The birth of Jesus is described in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The description found in Matthew is told through the eyes of Joseph (see Chapters 1 and 2). It is Joseph who is told that a son will be born with the power of the Most High, it is Joseph who is warned of the evil intent of Herod, and it is Joseph who is given the signal to return. Luke’s account, however, (see Chapters 1 and 2) is told through Mary’s eyes and is filled with the joyful accounts that only Mary would have known.

Incidentally, the birth of Jesus is not described in Mark’s Gospel because, being the shortest account, it was intended to give just the essentials of the message. When John’s Gospel deals with the birth of Jesus, his concern is with the existence of the Christ before his birth — a reflection on the relationship of the Christ to the eternal God.

Knowing the sources, we must deal with what they say. First, we should acknowledge that the inspired authors of Scripture were captivated by their message and were relating experiences that meant a great deal to them. In this light, details became less important than the essential message. Thus, regarding the essentials, there are no doubts — conception by the Holy Spirit; birth from the virgin, Mary; Jesus as the fulfillment of the Davidic promise; Jesus as Savior and sign of contradiction.

The details, however, diverge; not because they are untrue, but because they were seen by each author through a unique perspective. For example, only Matthew mentions the Magi. In doing so, Matthew never calls them kings (nor do translations: Greek “magoi,” Latin “magi”). They were seen to be astrologers or those known for their wisdom.

What about the star? Again, it is recorded only in Matthew’s account, and again is not made a matter of significance. The star is employed to explain the presence of astrologers. Its greater meaning, however, is found as an echo of the passage from the Book of Numbers that says, “... a star shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24:17).

Were there animals at the manger? Scripture does not record their presence. Yet, later reflection was mindful of the text from Isaiah (“an ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger,” 1:3). By means of these faith-filled experiences the very traditional picture of the Savior’s birth is formed.

 

Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.


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