J. Warner Wallace

Author, Cold-Case Christianity

Are the Birth Narratives in Luke and Matthew Late Additions?

Many critics, in an attempt to discredit the "virgin conception", have argued that the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are simply late additions that were not present in the first versions of the gospels. These claims are typically based on (1) Efforts to find stylistic differences between the birth narratives and the rest of the text, and (2) Efforts to find subject shifts that occur immediately after the birth narratives and the remainder of the text. But these approaches to the Gospels fails to demonstrate the birth narratives are late additions for the following reasons:

The Style Is Consistent with Luke's Approach
The argument based on stylistic differences is typically leveled against the Gospel of Luke. Critics claim that the Greek language used in the birth narrative section of Luke's gospel is far more Semitic than other sections. According to these skeptics, Luke’s early chapters read like chapters from the Old Testament (they sometimes compare Luke to the First Book of Macabees), and the content of this section includes Jewish customs and practices that are introduced without explanation. But the fact that this section of the Gospel is stylistically or linguistically different than other sections does not necessarily mean that it was a late addition. Luke told us he compiled the information for his Gospel from a number of divergent sources:

Luke 1:1-4
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

It shouldn't surprise us that Luke has assembled a series of eyewitness narratives from a number of different eyewitness sources to present us with the truth of the birth narrative. We should expect stylistic and linguistic differences within the Gospel of Luke for this reason. The Gospel of Luke is not a single narrative from one eyewitness. It is, instead, an historical biography compiled by Luke. In addition, it also shouldn't surprise us that the birth narratives of Luke and Matthew are far more "Hebraic" or "Semitic" than other sections, because both authors are trying to demonstrate the continuity between the Old Testament prophetic expectations of a Messiah and the appearance of Jesus as that Messiah.

The Manuscript Evidence Supports Authenticity
The argument of critics based on "content shifting" is typically leveled at both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. Critics argue that there are natural "breaks" in the content of these two gospels between the birth narratives and the following sections which contain the introductions to John the Baptist. As a result, they believe that Luke and Matthew's gospel originally began with the story of John the Baptist, just as did Mark's gospel. But this defies all the manuscript evidence available to us; there is absolutely no evidence that the Gospel of Matthew and Luke ever existed without the birth narratives. All manuscripts, translations, early Church documents and references to the Gospels, along with every historic, reliable witness testifies to the fact that the birth narratives are ancient and part of the original record. For this reason, most serious scholars are now skeptical regarding claims that the birth narratives are late additions.

The birth narrative of Jesus (including the description of the “virgin conception”) is not a late addition. In fact, Mark’s Gospel, although it does not contain details about the birth of Jesus, does contain references to the supernatural nature of Jesus’ lineage. The “virgin conception” of Jesus is an essential, reasonable truth claim of Christianity. It is not a piece of borrowed mythology, or a work of ancient fiction.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene

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About J. Warner Wallace

J. Warner Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective, adjunct professor of apologetics at Biola University, Christian case maker and author. J. Warner was a conscientious and vocal atheist through his undergraduate and graduate work in Design and Architecture (CSULB and UCLA); he always considered himself to be an “evidentialist”. His experience in law enforcement only served to strengthen his conviction that truth is tied directly to evidence. But at the age of thirty-five, J. Warner took a serious and expansive look at the evidence for the Christian Worldview and determined that Christianity was demonstrably true. After becoming a Christ follower in 1996, Jim continued to take an evidential approach to truth as he examined the Christian worldview. He eventually earned a Master’s Degree in Theological Studies from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. J. Warner served as a Youth Pastor for several years, then planted a church in 2006. Along the way, he created and built the Cold-Case Christianity website, blog and podcast as a place to post and talk about what he discovered related to the evidence supporting Christianity. Jim has appeared on television and radio, explaining the role that evidence plays in the Christian definition of “faith” and defending the historicity of Jesus, the reliability of the Bible and the truth of the Christian worldview. Jim also speaks at churches, retreats and camps as he seeks to help people become confident Christian case makers. J. Warner’s first book, Cold-Case Christianity, provides readers with ten principles of cold case investigations and utilizes these principles to examine the reliability of the gospel eyewitness accounts. In his second book, God’s Crime Scene, he investigates eight pieces of evidence in the universe to make the case for God’s existence. J. Warner’s professional investigative work has received national recognition; his cases have been featured more than any other detective on NBC’s Dateline, and his work has also appeared on CourtTV and Fox News. He also appears on television as an investigative consultant and had a role in God’s Not Dead 2, making the case for the historicity of Jesus. J. Warner was awarded the Police and Fire Medal of Valor “Sustained Superiority” Award for his continuing work on cold-case homicides. Relying on over two decades of investigative experience, J. Warner provides his readers and audiences with the tools they will need to investigate the claims of Christianity and make a convincing case for the truth of the Christian worldview. You can follow J. Warner Wallace on Twitter @JWarnerWallace

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