The Differences Between Matthew and Luke in the Nativity Story

Matthew vs. Luke has been a topic of discussion for years. So why are there differences if they write about the same stories?

By Carmen Slabbert
Edited by Taj Schlebusch

Published November 16, 2021.

Matthew vs. Luke has been a topic of discussion for years. The gospel of Matthew is different from the gospel of Luke, yet it is confusing people.

Matthew was a Jew writing to other Jews, seeking to provide evidence that Jesus is the Messiah. Matthew uses pain to explain that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy. Matthew writes as a disciple of Jesus, who observed the events.

Luke was a physician accompanying Paul on his journeys. He did not experience the events himself but researched them before writing. Luke was writing to the Greeks.

With all the similarities and differences between Matthew and Luke with the Nativity story, it becomes clear that the books had different authors. The Nativity story that most of us grew up with combines Matthew and Luke's version.

How are the Matthew and Luke Narratives Different?

Where They Lived

  • Matthew – They lived in Bethlehem.
  • Luke – They lived in Nazareth and traveled to Bethlehem.

Timeline of Their Lives

  • Matthew – Jesus was born during the rule of King Herod.
  • Luke – Jesus was born after the death of King Herod.

Announcement of Jesus' Birth

  • Matthew – Joseph got the birth announcement from an unnamed angel in his dreams.
  • Luke – Mary got the birth announcement from the angel Gabriel.

Location of Jesus' Birth

  • Matthew – Jesus was born in a house in Bethlehem.
  • Luke – Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem.

Visitors of Baby Jesus

  • Matthew – The Magi visited Jesus.
  • Luke – The shepherds saw Jesus.

The Circumcision of Baby Jesus

  • Matthew – Does not mention the circumcision at all.
  • Luke – Jesus was circumcised as a child.

Why Are the Differences Significant to the Bible?

When looking at the Bible, we need to remember the time and setting the books were written and that the times were different from today. Even though Matthew witnessed most of the encounters, he could only write about the birth of Jesus from what was told to him by the other people in the community, and the same goes for Luke. Both of them came from different backgrounds and heard the stories differently.

The differences between the two narratives are significant to the Bible. Reading about the different perspectives of the authors helps put the puzzle together, showing the bigger picture.