Q&A: Sojourn in Egypt II

Sojourn in Egypt II

Question

I came up with a scenario like that a while back. The problem comes when you compare Matt 2:3-6 with Luke 2:22-38. The events in the Matthew passage would have to have taken place long after those in the Luke passage. By that time, after all that went on in Luke, all the Jewish leaders and "all Jerusalem" should already have known that the Messiah had been born a long time ago. Any troubling of Jerusalem should have been over and done with when Jesus was presented in the temple shortly after His birth. In Matthew 2:5, the chief priests and scribes would not have had to refer to a prophecy to discern the location of Jesus birth; rather, they could have told Herod "Oh, yeah, our Messiah -- he was dedicated in the temple last year." The whole tenor of the Matthew passage indicates the Jewish leaders didn't have a clue as to what went on in Luke.

There's also the problem of why Mary and Joseph would make the 65-mile trek back to Bethlehem from Nazareth when Jesus was a few months old. In my scenario, I have them going to Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 2:4) around a year later, and going the extra 5 miles to Bethlehem to visit the people who had taken them in during the 40-day purification period after Jesus' birth. (Hopefully they hadn't had to stay in a filthy cave all that time, and Matthew notes they were in a house, not an inn, when the magi found them.)

One thing in favor of your/my explanation is Herod's ordering the killing of children as old as two years. The dumbest of Herod's grunts should have been able to tell the difference between a walking, talking two-year-old and a newborn. He was more likely looking for a one-year-old and "bracketed his shots" with respect to time to make sure he got him.

Another possible wrinkle is Archelaus (Matt 2:22). God warned Joseph not to go to Judea because of him, yet, per the NIV Study Bible, he reigned for ten years, from 4 B.C. to 6 A.D. That doesn't leave room for many yearly visits between Luke 2:41 and 2:42. Perhaps in later years Archelaus became too occupied with other evil deeds to worry about the threat of the Jewish Messiah?

Answer

I think you are right in noting that Matthew 2:3ff. assumes the ignorance of Israel's leaders concerning the events in Luke 2:22-38. I'm not sure this is a problem, though. It is not unreasonable to think that neither Simeon nor Anna was able to convince the nation's leadership of the truth that Jesus was the Messiah. After all, Jesus himself had enough trouble doing that even when he was performing miracles. Even John the Baptist, who received an explicit revelation from God that Jesus was the Messiah, was not entirely sure about the matter (Matt. 11:2-3), and Jesus attributed Peter's knowledge of him to divine gifting (Matt. 16:16-17). Perhaps the leadership simply chalked up Simeon's and Anna's testimonies to old age. It is also possible that Simeon died almost immediately thereafter, so that he may not have told many people at all. Then too, the leadership may have been skeptical that a no-name child from Nazareth was the Christ, since he was supposed to be a Davidic king.

The return trip to Bethlehem certainly would have been a major hassle, but as Luke 2:27 and 38 indicate, this may simply have been required of them. Without an option, they would not have been able to forsake the trip. Since we know that Joseph was a righteous man (Matt. 1:19), I expect that he was unwilling to act contrarily to the Law.

Regarding Archelaus and his reign until A.D. 6, Joseph feared to settle in Archelaus' territory (not just to visit, as I read Matt. 2:21-23), and that was most likely because he feared that Archelaus might strike out against Jesus. I doubt this would have been much of a problem during the annual feasts, though. Jesus was not required to attend these, so he may well have stayed in Egypt during the early years, and later in Nazareth. Even if he attended the feasts, in the confusion of the huge masses of Jewish men (certainly some with families) streaming to Jerusalem during the feasts, and Joseph, Mary and Jesus probably not being known by sight to many (especially the leadership), Jesus' near anonymity should have protected him rather well. If Joseph had lived in the area, he and Jesus would probably have come to the attention of Archelaus eventually, but one yearly visit probably did not afford much danger.

But of course, all of this is quite speculative. The Bible does not provide the details. I guess for my part I am comfortable just knowing that there are a number of different ways in which the fact may be reconciled, without having to be dogmatic about any of them.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.