Come Follow Me: Matthew 2, Luke 2
For the 2011 Sunday School lessons, I wrote this post on the birth of Christ, and how it tied to Adam and Eve.
Christ and Creation
After reading the link, I want to add to the concept of Christ's birth being tied to the Creation.
The Bible has several Creation stories, the most common ones in Genesis 1 and 2. Isaiah, Proverbs and Psalms also mention important issues of Creation, not mentioned in Genesis. Then, for Latter-day Saints, we also have still more versions of Creation in the Books of Moses and Abraham, and in the temple. There are similarities and big differences in these stories, suggesting that while some events (such as Adam and Eve) are historical, some events in the Creation may be parable - a method through which God can teach us about his power and our relationship to Him.
One of the keys of Creation is God's overcoming Chaos, and introducing Order into the World being created. Matter is eternal, and so God did not create things ex nihilo (from nothing). Rather he formed the chaos around him to create the world. In so doing, God fought the Chaos of water and darkness. Darkness was put into abeyance by creating Light, the sun, moon and stars. The waters were tamed by two things, creating land, and conquering the great sea dragon, Leviathan/Rahab (Isaiah 51, Psalms 74), who represented Chaos. In Revelation, Satan would be described as a sea dragon, inflicting chaos on the world until chained at the Millennium.
How does this tie to Christ? Jesus, born to a mortal woman and being the Son of God, was the pure essence of Order. He would be Emmanuel, "God with us." While the earth laid in apostasy for ages and Satan chained the souls of men to death and hell, Christ came to bring new order. Through his mission, he would heal those suffering from the chaos of illness, injury, hunger, and sin. Through his atonement and resurrection, he would defeat the chaos of death and hell. Satan's claim on the body, spirit and soul of each person ever born, would be denied by the triumphant Christ.
And with the Second Coming, Christ will again return to restore order on a chaotic world. Satan, the god of Chaos, will be bound. All mankind will be resurrected. All but the sons of perdition will obtain a kingdom of glory and order.
Two Birth Stories
Scholars differ as to whether the four gospels, as we now have them, were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I believe the gospels were written by these early Church leaders. That said, none were around when Jesus was born, and only John was present at Jesus' baptism. Mark was converted as a young man just prior to Jesus' death, and Luke was a gentile convert of Paul (probably baptized around 50 AD). So, all of the writers must have used at least some oral histories to explain some of the events in their accounts. Luke's account would have been entirely based on oral histories he had heard from others.
So, why two different birth stories? Luke has the angel Gabriel, shepherds, and a chorus of angels. Matthew tells us about the wise men, a star, King Herod's hatred, and escape into Egypt.
Some possibilities are these:
First, two oral histories were passed on to two different areas. Matthew focused his gospel for the Jews. Seeing a battle between magi from Babylon (where many Jews still lived) and wicked Jewish King Herod, sets the stage for his battle between the false kings of the world, and the true King of Israel (remember, in Matthew 1, Jesus' genealogy was already presented as a proof that Christ was the genuine royal article.).
Second, Luke wrote his gospel to the Gentiles. Reading about a few magi seeing a child, would not be as impressive to Greeks and Romans, as would angels proclaiming divine kingship of Jesus, among other miracles.
Each oral history focused on events most important to their listeners. Oral histories sometimes were imperfect, but the concept of historicity was different then, than it is now. The Bible has history in it, but the historicity (factual part of history) sometimes may be adapted by the writer to prove his point, whether it is the Creation story or the birth of Christ. For Christians, the actual historicity of Christ's birth cannot be proven, but it can be believed, because there are various accounts and witnesses, even if they are occasionally in conflict in their stories. There's nothing wrong with a Christmas movie showing both shepherds and wise men, as long as we understand these are actually two separate oral histories provided by two different disciples, possibly decades and a thousand miles apart from one another.
The world does not believe in miracles. It refuses to recognize the virgin birth, believing Jesus was actually born of Joseph, and his disciples later invented the virgin birth to change the narrative. Of course, these same people believe that Jesus faked his own death and resurrection.
The traditional Christian world struggles to remain faithful to the miracles of Jesus' life. Many Christians now only see him as a teacher of righteousness, but not one who would raise the dead and be the Judge of the earth.
For Latter-day Saints, we can see the wisdom in God to provide the Restoration of the Gospel when he did. Joseph Smith was called as a prophet just prior to new concepts that radicals would twist to deny the Christ, miracles, and an after-life.
With the Book of Mormon, we have Nephi's witness of the virgin Mary, symbolized by the Tree of Life, giving birth to the fruit of eternal life, Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon testifies of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and continued work as Redeemer and Judge of the earth. It testifies of many of the events given in the Gospels of the New Testament. This tells me that I can have faith in the teachings and stories of the Gospels, even if some are given imperfectly, due to oral histories being passed down.
Secondly, the witness of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon and many others, who have seen Jesus Christ, is a testimony to me that these things, if not perfectly historical, are still true. Because of this, we can believe the writings of the New Testament, because modern prophets quote from them and bear witness of the truth of these things.