Come Follow Me - Matthew 1; Luke 1
Something different we find in this manual than in previous Sunday School manuals, is it asks lots of questions. We need to do ourselves the favor of not skipping over them, These and other questions we bring up ourselves are important in the learning process. It forces us to get out of our comfort zone, to expand our pondering and learning, and increase our faith.
The earliest manuscripts for the Gospels are decades after Jesus' death. Thee earliest fragment for Mark is dated about 80AD, with Matthew, Luke and John fragments appearing in the 2nd century. The two earliest fragments of Luke are fragmentary and do not include the first two chapters. We do not know if this is because that part of the fragments decayed, or if it wasn't originally included. Meanwhile, Mark does not have a birth story, but begins with Jesus' baptism.
Possible reasons are available for these possible concerns. First, anciently most stories were passed down from generation to generation via oral history. Until Paul wrote his letters, it doesn't seem that early Christians were interested in writing the Christian history. Jesus' baptism was likely the most important beginning event for Christian teaching, as it announced the beginning of his mission and showed us the path to follow Jesus.
Only later, when Gnostic Christianity emerged, do we see the importance of a birth story. Many Gnostic sects believed that Jesus and Christ were two separate beings. Jesus was mortal, and Christ divine. Their belief was that Jesus was a regular person, until at baptism the Holy Ghost placed the divine Christ into him. This led to an interpretation of God's voice in some Luke manuscripts saying, "Thou art my son, today I have begotten thee." Then, upon the cross, Christ leaves Jesus to die alone (My God, why hast thou forsaken me?).
Because of such apostate beliefs, it was necessary for early Christians to write down their oral birth stories of Jesus, to prove he was both human and divine from the very beginning.
We see similar actions like this in the Restoration. In the early years of the Church, the focus was on preaching the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Few ever taught the First Vision, as an official version had not been written down. Earlier written versions, such as the 1832 version, focused more on Joseph Smith's receiving personal forgiveness for sins, and avoided controversial statements (such as seeing God and Jesus) because such had caused him great grief in the past. However, in 1838, there was a need to have an official version of the Vision, to establish the very beginning of the Restoration prior to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Unlike Joseph's earlier version, this one focused on things important to the Church, not just the personal concerns of a teenager.
So, why do we have two different and sometimes conflicting stories in Matthew and Luke? First, remember that neither Matthew nor Luke were present at the birth of Jesus. In fact, Luke was a Gentile convert of Paul, so his story comes to us decades after Jesus' death. Clearly, they both relied on oral tradition to develop their stories. They took the best information available to them, clearly from two different memory sources
In providing genealogies for Jesus, they also sought to establish his right to be King of Israel. This establishes the case for Jesus to be who he claimed he was as Messiah and Son of God, just as the First Vision establishes Joseph Smith's claim to be a modern day prophet.
What can we learn from Matthew 1 and Luke 1?
The manual sets up some excellent questions and points to consider. Ponder them and write down your impressions.
Elizabeth's barrenness reminds us of similar stories in the Old Testament. The mothers of Samuel and Samson were both elderly women. In giving birth to special children anointed of God for a purpose, they were able to do great things. As Judges, Samson defeated Philistines and Samuel united the kingdoms under Saul and David. From these stories, we see the future roles of Jesus. Samson defeated his enemies, even in his weakness and apparent defeat. With Samuel, we see Jesus as the head of a nation and priesthood. Samuel stood between God and Israel in all things. He was judge, priest and kingmaker.
Jesus, although beaten, wounded and crucified, would overcome the enemies Death and Hell. He is High Priest, Judge and King of Kings.
Mary and Elizabeth were normal women. Neither came from royalty. Both would become widows. For Jesus, mothers and widows held a very special place. We can imagine them being the role models that would have Jesus condemn the Pharisees and Sadducees for stealing the houses of the widows and enriching themselves on the backs of the poor.