As tent making Christians, you have probably noticed a trend that begins around this time and continues through Easter. There will inevitably be some exciting new find or theory about the “Real Jesus” or a writing that was suppressed by the early Church that gives dramatic new insights into His life. While most of these sensational stories are quickly refuted within their own discipline, the refutation never seems to make it back into the news. If you’re like me, you often get questions on these reports by unbelieving friends or family members
Keeping this in mind, I would like to take some time to look at the birth narrative that is presented in the Gospel of Luke this Christmas season. What information does Luke give of the account of Jesus’ birth, and how accurate is it? What can we know, and what is speculation? Did the original manger scene look anything like what is popularly represented in today’s culture?
Luke offers a unique perspective among the four Gospels. Luke tells us from the outset that he was not an eyewitness to the things he reported in his Gospel but was in fact relaying information from other eyewitnesses. Luke tends to anchor his account using historical persons and events. And while questions remain around some of the people and places mentioned, he remains accurate in his reporting. This accuracy led famed archeologist Sir William Ramsey to say:
“Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy … this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”
In the New Testament Gospels, there are two accounts of Jesus’ birth. One by Luke, the other by Matthew. Many of you are probably most familiar with Luke’s account over Matthew’s for one reason. It’s the version that Linus reads in “It’s Christmas Charlie Brown”. In the popular children’s cartoon, Charlie Brown becomes increasingly disillusioned with Christmas. The frustration reaches a breaking point at rehearsal for the school play, and he shouts out “Isn’t there anyone that can tell me what Christmas is all about?”. It’s at this point that the character Linus delivers the narrative given to us by Luke:
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace,
Good will toward men. (KJV)
For the remainder of the month leading up to Christmas, we’ll take a look at the account in Luke’s Gospel, look at some of the traditions around Christmas and even what we do and do not know about the birth of Christ. In my next post, I’ll begin in Luke Chapter 2 and discuss the census mentioned there and look at what we know about the figures Augustus and Quirinius mentioned in the text.