Posted by: edhensley | December 24, 2009

Contradictions in the Christmas Stories

Matthew 1

The Genealogy of Jesus

1A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:

2Abraham was the father of Isaac,

16and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

17Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.

The Birth of Jesus Christ

18This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23″The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” —which means, “God with us.”

24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Matthew 2

The Visit of the Magi

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5″In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6″ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for out of you will come a ruler

who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'”

7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

The Escape to Egypt

13When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16When 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. 17Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18″A voice is heard in Ramah,

weeping and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children

and refusing to be comforted,

because they are no more.”

The Return to Nazareth

19After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Luke 2

The Birth of Jesus

1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register.

4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14″Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Jesus Presented in the Temple

21On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

22When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29″Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

you now dismiss[d] your servant in peace.

30For my eyes have seen your salvation,

31which you have prepared in the sight of all people,

32a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel.”

33The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.[e] She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Luke 3

23Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, 24 the son of Heli, the son of Matthat,


These two stories contain many internal contradictions (they conflict with each other) and external contradictions (they conflict with know facts of history). I will demonstrate these contradictions to my Christian friends in the hope that they will become enlightened this holiday season.

As Dr. Bart Ehrman notes in his books, most Christians do not believe in a gospel, but rather they believe in a “super gospel.”  The Christmas story is an example of a story from a “super gospel.”  There is no gospel in the New Testament where both wise men and shepherds visit Jesus. The wise men visit in Matthew and the shepherds visit in Luke. By combining these two separate stories, Christians create a “super story.”  The authors of Matthew and Luke probably never imagined that their two books would be placed next to each other (and Mark and John) in a single collection of books. Each author took existing legends of Jesus and adapted the legends for their particular agendas.


As previously noted (, the genealogies of Jesus are completely different. In Matthew, Jacob is the father of Joseph, but in Luke, Heli is the father of Joseph. The lists from David to Joseph are completely different.

Jesus is not Immanuel

Matthew 1:22 says the parents will name the baby Immanuel in fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. That verse, however is not a messianic prophecy but mentions a baby as a sign for Ahaz. Furthermore the Hebrew Masoretic text and most translations of the bible indicate that the virgin whill call the baby Immanuel. Mary does not do that, and nowhere in the New Testament is Jesus ever called Immanuel.  Please see the followig post for more information on that topic:

Herod (reign ended 4 BC) and Quirinius (reign started 6 AD) never reigned at the same time

Matthew claims Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod. Luke claims Jesus was born while Quirinius was governor of Assyria. However, Herod died 10 years before Quirinius became governor. Either Matthew or Luke is wrong on this issue, or they are both wrong. Only one the is certain: the Bible contains an error regarding the year Jesus was born.

Massacre of the Innocents not recorded in history

Matthew claims Herod killed all boys near Bethlehem who were 2 or under. No other gospel makes this claim. There is no evidence outside the Bible of any atrocity like this. Historians recorded many things about Herod. We know he was born around 74 BC, that he died in 4 BC, and that he expanded the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem (destroyed in 70 AD but 4 walls, including the famous wailing wall, exit today). It is recorded that he improved water sources, built water supplies, built Massada and Herodium, leased copper mines, killed his wife and two sons, and did much else. The massacre of the innocents is missing from any historical record. There are many amazing stories in the bible that are not recorded in historical records.

The senseless census is not recorded in history

There is a historical census recorded during the time of Quirinius.  However, that census and no other Roman census ever required anyone to return to their ancestral homes. If you think about it, why would anyone care where your ancestors lived 1000 years ago?

Luke has no Trip to Egypt, Matthew has no trip to Jerusalem

In Matthew, Jesus is born in Bethlehem, they flee immediately to Egypt, and upon their return from Egypt they travel directly to Nazareth to avoid the son of Herod.

In Luke, Mary and Joseph start in Nazareth, travel to Bethlehem for a census, go to Jerusalem, and then return to their home town of Nazareth.

Many apologists try to create a super story in which they combine the travel of the two stories above into one journey. This is impossible. Luke specifically mentions circumcision on the eighth day and the required purification time. This refers to Leviticus 12, which states when a boy is born the mother is unclean for 7 days, the foreskin is removed on the 8th day, and she must not touch holy objects for 33 days (if Jesus were a girl, Mary would be unclean for 14 days and could not touch holy objects for 66 days).  Luke 39 notes that when this 33 day period was complete they returned to Galilee.  A trip to Egypt is not mentioned at all!



  1. There are no contradictions in the two stories. the chronology goes something like this.
    1.Mary became pregnant and married Joseph.
    2.They traveled to Bethlehem where she gave birth,
    3 Jesus was taken to the temple. (Jerusalem is only a short distance from Bethlehem)
    4. Matthew Chapter 2 clearly states that after Jesus was born the magi came to Herod.
    5, The magi then had to search for the child. This would have taken some time to find him.
    6 Magi gave expensive gifts to the child.
    7 Joseph is warned in a dream to flee. He goes to Egypt where he would be safe from Herod. He could have used the gifts given by the magi to fund the trip.
    8. After a period of time, Herod realizes the Magi are not returning. He orders male children under 2 to be slaughtered.
    9.Herod dies.
    10. Joseph, Mary, return with Jesus to their hometown Of Nazareth.

    Nowhere do these accounts contradict each other. Matthew and Luke tell the story differently, add different details, but do not conflict.

    In regards to the genealogies, Every man has two of them. In Luke where it says Joseph (the supposed father of Jesus) was son of Heli, Son could easily have meant “son in law.” In the Paternal society they lived in it would not be a stretch that they would not name the mother in the genealogy.

    In regards to the children being slaughtered, you make much of the fact that there is no evidence to verify this story. You say much is known of Herod. Part of what is known about Herod is how ruthless he was when he felt his throne was threatened. A messianic child would have been such a threat. So we know it was in character for him to do such a thing. Perhaps much is known about Herod, but I would assume that much more is not known than is known. I am sure many events were not recorded in a time when most people were not educated enough to write and who knows what lies beneath the many feet of sand and dirt that have accumulated in two thousand years.

    You point out some discrepancies about what is known of history and the story. I would point out that history is a book not finished. What we know tomorrow will be different than what we know today. We are only a scroll, clay tablet, old coin away from revising dates and whatever else we think we know. Let’s look at what the story got right. Herod did rule at that time. Quirinius was governor of Syria at a time close to this. Bethlehem was a city of Judah. The writers certainly knew the customs and practices of the Jews at the time.

    In conclusion, while the story is not proven by history, you cannot truthfully say the story is proven false either. I don’t expect to convince you. You either believe or you don’t. For those who believe you have offered nothing to change that belief.

    • Your chronology is not found in the bible. You have created a super gospel, the Gospel of Tommy Harris.
      Step number 2 (they traveled to Bethlehem) is contradicted by Matthew 2, which has them starting in Bethlehem.
      Step 10 (the RETURNED to their HOMETOWN of Nazareth) is contradicted by Matthew 2:22-23, in which Joseph goes to Nazareth (for the first time in this gospel) after being warned in a dream: “Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” By the way, there is no prophecy in the Old Testament or in an apocryphal literature that says Jesus would be called a Nazarene.
      Step 4 (after Jesus was born the Magi came to Herod) is contradicted by Luke 2:2 that says Jesus was born while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Historical records prove that Herod’s reign ended in 4 BCE and Quirinius did not become governor of Syria until 6 CE.
      Step 7 is contradicted by Luke 2:22-39 “When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord… When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.” The purification rites are performed 40 days after the birth. That is why this event is celebrated (in different ways) by the Catholic and Orthodox churches on February 2 (40 days after the birth). So according to Luke, 40 days after the birth, Jesus goes to Nazareth, not Egypt.

      Matthew has the starting in Bethlehem, moving to Egypt, and ending in Nazareth, with no mention of Egypt.
      Luke has the story starting in Nazareth, moving to Bethlehem, them moving back to Nazareth.

      There are more contradictions, but I have shown the biblical account contains contradictions, despite your attempts at apologies.

      You are correct in that you can not show the story to be historical. This is because amazing events such as the star of Bethlehem, Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, the Jerusalem zombies of Matthew 27, the trial and crucifixion of Jesus are not found in the writings of any historians of his age, including Epictetus, Pomponius Mela, Martial, Juvenal, Senecca the Younger, Gallio, Senecca the Elder, Pliny the Elder, Plutarch, Justus of Tiberias (Jewish), Philo of Alexandria (Jewish), Nicolaus of Damascus (Jewish) and more.

      You point out a few things that are right (Herod did exist, Bethlehem did exist, etc) and base that as your STANDARD for determining EVENTS! What nonsense! By that low of a standard, everything in the Koran must be true because those places and people existed. Spiderman must exist, because New York City exists! What low standards you have!!!!!!

  2. By your reasoning every eyewitness to every event would see the exact same thing and would tell the exact same story. That is what you demand from the Bible. If both stories were identical you be shouting collusion or you would say one copied the other. If two modern authors pen biographies of Barack Obama, I’ll bet they wouldn’t read the same, and you wouldn’t expect them to. Each would tell the life story differently. When the authors did their research they would interviewed different people and would ask different questions. One author might focus on his soft human side. Another may focus on his tough political side. Was the man kind and compassionate or was he a ruthless politician? One book said he was and the other said he wasn’t. If one book said he vacationed in Hawaii but the other writer never mentioned the vacation, by the standards you hold, the vacation never happened because the other writer said nothing about it.
    From your point of view, both books must be lies because they appear to contradict. Of course, another more reasonable conclusion is that Barack Obama’s life is more complicated than either author could portray completely. Perhaps it wasn’t their purpose to tell every detail. Perhaps the stories were written in a condensed form.
    Common sense would say that a more complete portrait of the man could be obtained by combining the the two books together. But I guess we can’t do that because that would be a super story.

    In regards to the historians you mentioned, I doubt the crucifixion of a Jewish messianic figure in Israel would have been of much importance to them. Besides, historians don’t record all events. So a dozen or so historians didn’t record the Bible events. Go to the library and pick out a dozen modern historians and see how many world events are not mentioned by them. Most world events would not be mentioned because it is a big world and they only focus on things that are important to them and the narrow audiences they are targeting. I may hold a low standard but you hold an unrealistic standard that no book could keep.

    As for the Koran, I place no judgement on the book from a historical perspective. I have enough respect for others not to trash their Holy books because my beliefs are different than thier’s. You, I am sure, would accuse Christians of intolerance. How tolerant are you of religious people?

    • If one news article said Tommy Harris wrote this blog while Barak Obama was president, and another news article said that Tommy Harris wrote this blog while Bill Clinton was president, could both be correct? Obviously not. It can be stated as a fact that at least one of those statements is in error. Likewise, it can be stated as a FACT that the bible contains errors. It is not just small differences in details, but major factual errors of time and place.

      As for other any book, historians and others have the right to analyze it for consistency, errors, etc, whether or not that book is the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, Scientology, or The Protocols of the Elers of Zion. It is not wrong for anyone to claim any of those books (and others, religious or non-religious) contain errors. This is not being intolerant, this is being accurate.

  3. the bible is true the contradiction are can be solved

    • The bible is false and the contradictions can not be solved.

  4. can any one tell me where to find the verse that stats “do not bring a tree in to your house, nail it to the floor and decorate with gold and silver”. i read it along time ago but cant findit now.

  5. Creating a super Gospel story certainly has its dangers. The temptation to ignore details that don’t fit with each other is almost unbearable. We can’t stop thinking about the “super crib” scene either. We all know what it looks like! Shepherds on one side magi on the other. Big star on top. This scene never happened! Matthew does not have his wise men come to a manger – they arrive at a house!

    My other point is this
    Both Matthew and luke have a problem to solve and they do it in different ways. The problem is that Jesus was known to come from Nazareth but the Jews knew the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

    Matthew’s answer:
    Mary & Joseph lived in Bethlehem but moved later to Nazareth.

    Lukes’s answer:
    The family always lived in Nazareth but went to Bethlehem for the birth.

    Two perfectly reasonable explanations but two completely different stories.

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