Unreal Birth Circumstances – Jesus of Nazareth


Circumstances of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth are no less than incredible. A three-way confluence of events from locations in Rome, Persia and Nazareth, hundred miles apart from each other and months in the making, culminated in a small town where none of the figures of the story lived.

Two Gospel accounts cover the Nativity story, Matthew and Luke, each complimenting the other with few overlapping details. According to Luke, Caesar Augustus issued a registration decree although the Roman story behind the story is not told.

Caesar Augustus was designated Pater Patrie of the Roman Empire, Father of the County, on February 5, 2 BC, by the Roman Senate. The achievement was one the 35 highlights in The Deeds of Divine Augustus listing the accomplishments of Caesar over his 25 years of rule.[1]

To honor Augustus in 2 BC, planning began for a special registration of the entire Roman Empire including the provinces, not just the typical census for citizens of Rome. Each registrant was expected to swear an oath of allegiance to Augustus.[2]

Logistics to execute this registration decree required considerable planning, time and resources, especially in a era without electricity, computers, phones, etc. Just the minimal time by horse to enact the announcement in far reaching provinces like Syria would take months.[3]

Meanwhile, Magi “from the East” (Persia, by reputation and historical context), according to Matthew, saw stellar and planetary alignments which signaled something exceptional was about to happen – the birth of a King of Judea. Not just any King – what they saw was so awe-inspiring, they were moved to act.

Believing wholeheartedly in their observations, they planned a journey that would cover hundreds of miles by camel in a quest to find this baby King. Much more than just a tribute visit, they intended to present the baby with precious gifts and worship him.

Greek text of Matthew uses the word proskynēsai or proskuneo translated as “worship.” The word means “to do reverence to;” “bow down or bow down before;” “kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one).”[4]

In another concurrent series of events, while the Magi were on their journey to Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary were busy going about their daily business. Preparing for the arrival of their new baby, they were planning his birth in Nazareth without any clue what was about to befall them.

Suddenly, everything changed – a praeco announced Augustus’ registration decree that compelled the betrothed couple to do the unthinkable. On short notice, an unplanned 90-mile trek on foot to register for the decree in Bethlehem was required in-spite-of Mary’s imminent childbirth.[5]

No one or thing trumped a decree by a Roman Caesar. Although it is not definitively stated that the decree had a deadline, Rome expected prompt compliance. Evidence of this urgency is seen by the immediate response of Joseph and Mary.

People were required to register in the home town of their family linage. In the case of Joseph and Mary, it was Bethlehem, the home town of King David who lived about a 1000 years earlier.

No doubt Mary would give birth before they returned to Nazareth where Mary should have been with her family and friends. Timing in this scenario is critical – if the praeco had announced the decree about two weeks earlier or later, Jesus would not have been born in Bethlehem.

Weary from the unplanned long trip from Nazareth, Joseph and Mary discovered that lodging accommodations in Bethlehem were full and they had to stay in a stable. As if this situation wasn’t challenging enough, Mary went into labor and was forced to give birth to Jesus using a manger for his crib.

According to Luke, the birth of Jesus was heralded by a host of angels. Shepherds left their flocks in the fields and went to Bethlehem to see this sight.

Not knowing their final destination, the Magi initially headed for Jerusalem, the government center of Judea. The city seemed to be a good place to get information and they went to the palace of Judea’s King Herod to ask him.

Arrival in Jerusalem by the Magi entourage was big news. It was not often that Magi visited Jerusalem being off the major trade routes and it likely caused a stir.[6] Further, the mystic Magi practices embraced by Hellenism were shunned by Judaism yet favored by the King.

Herod immediately granted the Magi access to his palace when the they arrived. The reigning King was informed of the news of the birth of a King of Judea, one with his own star – it was most shocking news.

At that point, Herod did not know any further details. However, it can be surmised that the King figured the Magi obviously knew something profound, both considering their reputation and the fact of their long journey to honor and worship this baby.[7]

After the Magi left the palace, the King summonsed the Jewish chief priests and scribes and asked if they knew where Christos was to be born. No ambiguity surrounded the question, the Jewish religion experts knew exactly what Herod was asking. They cited an ancient prophecy from Jewish prophet Micah who foretold the Messiah was to be born in “Bethlehem in land of Judah.[8]

Now that Herod believed he knew where the Christos was to be born, he planned to exchange that knowledge with the Magi to learn the exact location of the baby. The King secretly hailed the Magi to return back to the palace where they unwittingly agreed to the deal.

After leaving the palace, “his Star” reappeared at some point to the Magi and then stood over Bethlehem. The Magi were extremely excited and it corroborated the information given to them from Herod. Still not exactly sure of their final destination, they headed South toward the town just a short distance away.

Far off the path of a major trade route, unexpectedly the Magi from Persia arrived in Bethlehem. If their arrival was big news in Jerusalem, image what it was in the much smaller town. The Magi didn’t belong there, but the destination is where their quest took them.

In a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, finding the child would not have been difficult. The Magi found the new family, then presented the newborn with their precious gifts and worshiped him.

Not all the drama was finished. Warned in a dream, according to Matthew, the Magi did not return to Jerusalem to tell Herod where the Christos was located.

Once Herod realized he had been duped, he commanded that all the male babies in the Bethlehem area under 2 years of age to be killed. Actions taken by the King were consistent with his ruthless reputation.

Joseph and Mary with Jesus escaped the King’s horrific murders by hiding in Egypt until Herod died shortly thereafter. Historian Josephus describes in detail events that transpired during the final weeks leading up to the King’s death. Eventually Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth where they raised Jesus and his siblings.

Was it just a coincidence that a 3-way confluence of events culminating in Bethlehem involved a quest by Magi from Persia following only stellar signs; Caesar’s registration decree intended only to honor himself and Rome; and Joseph and Mary who were compelled by the decree to embark on a 90-mile trip from Nazareth when she was about to give birth? Or was it divine plan? 


Updated December 29, 2023.


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[1] Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. Associates for Scriptural Knowledge. 2003. Chapter 13. <http://askelm.com/star/star000.htm#_edn11>  Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the death of Herod.” 2015. Academia.edu. 2015. <http://www.academia.edu/2518046/Dating_the_death_of_Herod>  Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” 2018. Academia.edu. <http://web.archive.org/web/20220427180241/http://www.academia.edu/3184175/Dating_the_two_Censuses_of_Quirinius>  Jachowski, Raymond. Academa.Edu. “The Death of Herod the Great and the Latin Josephus: Re-Examining the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius.” n.d. <https://www.academia.edu/19833193/The_Death_of_Herod_the_Great_and_the_Latin_Josephus_Re_Examining_the_Twenty_Second_Year_of_Tiberius> “pater patriae.” Nova Roma. 2007. <www.novaroma.org/nr/Pater_Patriae_(Nova_Roma)>  Mosley, John.  “Common Errors in ‘Star of Bethlehem’ Planetarium Shows.” Reprinted from the Planetarian, Third Quarter 1981, International Planetarium Society, Inc. n.d. <http://www.ips-planetarium.org/?page=a_mosley1981>  Augustus. The Deeds of the Devine Augustus. #35.  Augustus, Caesar.  The Deeds of the Devine Augustus (Res gestae divi Augusti). #35. Trans. Thomas Bushnell. 1998. <http://classics.mit.edu/Augustus/deeds.html>  “pater patriae.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/pater-patriae>  confluence logo. Clipground.com. 2019. <https://clipground.com/images/confluence-logo-1.jpg>  Hochhalter, Howard. “The Star of Kings and the Magi.” 2023. video. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGTmwuqznec
[2] Gertoux, Gerard. “Herod the Great and Jesus.” Platner, Samuel Ball. A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. 1929. “Forum Augustum.” <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/Europe/Italy/Lazio/Roma/Rome/_Texts/PLATOP*/Forum_Augustum.html#Aedes_Martis_Ultoris>  CR “Temple of Mars Ultor, Rome.” World History Encyclopedia. n.d. <https://www.worldhistory.org/article/617/temple-of-mars-ultor-rome/>
Orbis. Stanford University. map calculator of the Roman world. n.d. <https://orbis.stanford.edu/> “Census.” <https://books.google.com/books?id=Cu89AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA403&lpg=PA403&dq=greek+word+for+census&source=bl&ots=LM1MjmCiJt&sig=1_yjJgyNxcCcSWZvf0QK69IJuMw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjx0oPA04DYAhXo6YMKHebvAEwQ6AEIejAK#v=onepage&q=census&f=false>  Livius, Titus. The History of Rome. Book 33, #28. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0144:book=33:chapter=28&highlight=crier>  Pliny the Elder.  The Natural History. 1.Dedication C. Plinius Secundus to His Friend Titus Vespasian. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0137:book=1:chapter=dedication&highlight=crier#note-link34>  Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” n.d. Academia.edu.  <http://www.academia.edu/3184175/Dating_the_two_Censuses_of_Quirinius>  Heinrich, Bill. Mysteries of the Messiah. 2016. “The Registration (Census).” <https://www.mysteriesofthemessiah.net/2016/01/04-03-09-bethlehem-c-6-5-b-c-the-registration-or-census/#_ftnref3>  Hochhalter. “The Star of Kings and the Magi.”
[3] Orbis. Stanford University. “Travel Time from Ancient Rome.” Brilliant Maps. 2023. <https://brilliantmaps.com/travel-time-rome/>
[4] Matthew 2:2. BibleHub.com. n.d. lexicon. <https://biblehub.com/lexicon/matthew/2-2.htm> Matthew 2:2 BibleHub.com. interlinear. n.d. <https://biblehub.com/interlinear/matthew/2-2.htm> Matthew 2:2. NetBible.net. “4352.” n.d. <https://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=2> “G4352. Greek Dictionary (Lexicon-Concordance). definitions. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/4352.html>
[5] Luke 2:4. Smallwood, E. Mary.  The Jews Under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletian. 2nd Ed. 1981. p 152. <https://books.google.com/books?id=jSYbpitEjggC&lpg=PA151&ots=VWqUOinty4&dq=census%20Syria%20Rome&pg=PP1#v=snippet&q=register&f=false>  Heinrich, Bill. Mysteries of the Messiah. 2016. <https://www.mysteriesofthemessiah.net/2016/01/04-03-09-bethlehem-c-6-5-b-c-the-registration-or-census/>  Smith, William; Wayte, William; Marindin, G.E., Ed. A Dictionary  of Greek and Roman Antiquities. 1890. “commentaries, #4;” “census.” <https://books.google.com/books?id=Cu89AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA403&lpg=PA403&dq=greek+word+for+census&source=bl&ots=LM1MjmCiJt&sig=1_yjJgyNxcCcSWZvf0QK69IJuMw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjx0oPA04DYAhXo6YMKHebvAEwQ6AEIejAK#v=onepage&q=register&f=false>  Hochhalter. “The Star of Kings and the Magi.”  Tarwacka, Anna. “The consequences of avoiding census in Roman law.” 2013. <https://www.academia.edu/5525859/The_consequences_of_avoiding_census_in_Roman_law>
[6] Matthew 2:3.  Strabo. Geography. Chapters II-III. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=1:chapter=2&highlight=magi> <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=15:chapter=3&highlight=magi>  Diogenes Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0258:book=1:chapter=prologue&highlight=magi>  Stillwell, Richard et. al. “Gaza Israel.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=gaza&highlight=caravan>
[7] Plato. Republic. Book 9, Section 572e. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0168:book=9:section=572e&highlight=magi>  “Daniel, Chief of Wise Men – a Hebrew Magi?” TheOdds.website. 2018, revised 2023. <https://theodds.website/daniel-chief-of-wise-men-a-hebrew-magi/>
[8] Matthew 2:4-6. Hochhalter. “The Star of Kings and the Magi.”

Matthew – Uniqueness Among the Gospels


Matthew’s Gospel is surrounded by many questions – who, when, what, how – making it a target rich environment for those who wish to challenge its credibility. Parallel passages, dates, authorship and variation from other Gospels are all called into question.

Much of the details of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth are found only in Matthew. Less than a third of Matthew’s content is common to Mark. Slightly more than a third of the content of Matthew is not in common with Luke … Matthew’s subject matter is in many ways unique.[1]

In the world of investigations, written statements that too closely resemble each other are immediately suspect of deception.[2] Variation actually enhances the authenticity and credibility of Matthew.

Truthful, credible statements are expected to be consistent with key evidence as well as with other witness statements, yet characteristic variation is most certainly expected. A basic investigative principal:  the more details, the harder to cover a deception; conversely, a deceptive statement lacks details making it more difficult to validate.

“There must, therefore, naturally arise great differences among writers, when they had no original records to lay for their foundation, which might at once inform those who had an inclination to learn, and contradict those that would tell lies…” – Josephus [3]

Distinct diversity from Luke can be seen immediately in Matthew with the genealogy of Jesus listed in reverse order along with some generational variations.[4] Three miracles and at least 10 parables found in Matthew do not appear in any other Gospel.[5]

P104 papyrus of Matthew

Joseph‘s personal circumstances are told only in Matthew such as his contemplation of divorcing Mary for becoming pregnant by another man. His mind was changed by an angel’s visitation message that Mary would fulfill the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy of a virgin birth and instructed to name the baby “Jesus.”

Any question about “Bethlehem of Judea” being the birthplace of the Messiah was addressed by Herod’s own Jewish religion experts. They cited the Micah 5:1/2 prophecy to answer the King’s question asking where Christos could be found.

Exclusive to Matthew are the unusual circumstances of the mystic Magitheir astronomy perspective; King Herod’s treachery and the King’s death shortly after the birth of Jesus. Details of Herod’s chaotic final days are described by historian Josephus.

Combined with Luke’s Nativity account, Matthew’s historical and astronomy attributions raises the bar of Gospel answerability to the highest degree. 

Established is a narrow timeline window for the birth of Jesus with five date markers – rules of Augustus, Herod, and Quirinius; a Roman Empire registration plus “his Star.” The Gospel also names secular historical figure Archelaus, Herod’s son, who ruled in Judea after the King died.[6]

Literary analysis and literary criticism are among important scientific methodologies used to assess credibility.[7] Integrity of the Gospel alone can be evaluated just based on assessing its content.

One of the most famous teachings of Jesus, unique to Matthew, is the famed “Sermon on the Mount” including nine verses of Beatitudes, all beginning with “Blessed are…” Covering 106 verses through three chapters, the sermon’s details required an eyewitness.[8]

Perhaps the biggest clue to the divine nature of Jesus is from his personal perspective as One who watched Jerusalem throughout its history.  The author of Luke chose to include Matthew’s quoted statement of Jesus in his own investigative report:[9]

MT 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (NKJV)

Moving to the crucifixion, burial and the Resurrection, Matthew solely recounts details surrounding the death of Jesus. Described by the Gospel are an earthquake, stones split in two, and tombs being opened with bodies coming back to life.[10]

Precluding several conspiracy claims, Matthew uniquely describes the chain of custody over the body of Jesus – the crucifixion; the burial by a member of the Jewish Council; the Jewish leadership’s request to Pilate to secure the tomb to prevent a false fulfillment of his prediction of a third-day Resurrection; up until the events of that Sunday morning. Uniquely the account uses the Greek word koustodia, a company of guards.

Morning of the Resurrection, Matthew includes the lone accounts of several key happenings with the angel rolling away the stone from the empty tomb; the earthquake; the proclamation of the angel presenting the empty tomb; the dereliction of the Guards and their report to the chief priests. Later that day, Matthew includes the resurrected appearance of Jesus to women of Galilee.[11]

Use of common reference materials evidenced by the parallel passages, sometimes verbatim, appears in all three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.[12] Parallel passages cited as alleged credibility issues can be attributed to legitimate literary protocols of the day.

Copying from another source to serve as a “witness” was a respected form of citation and corroboration. It was common practice to copy from another source, even verbatim, without a citation. Abuses of this practice by the Greeks were the focus of Josephus in his work, Against Apion.[13]

Authorship of Matthew is not claimed within the Gospel itself. Not penning a work was characteristic Jewish practice for reasons of humility, to avoid bringing fame or attention to the author. Examples of other Jewish works without authorship or a formal identify are the authors of books within the Old Testament, the Tenakh.[14]

Customarily Matthew is believed, based on sources who lived in very close time proximity, to have been written by one of the 12 Disciples of Jesus for whom the Gospel is named – an eyewitness account.[15] Other scholars and skeptics with differing views believe Matthew was written by someone else; is a collection of stories and oral traditions; or is even completely fictitious.[16]

Which was written first, Mark or Matthew, is debatable although clearly Matthew is much longer with much more detail. Many religion authorities believe Matthew was written sometime between 55-75 AD; others view the date range from 90-100 AD.[17]

Both timeframe possibilities are during the first century when some of the original Disciples were still alive as were probably some from the Sanhedrin who lived at the same time as Jesus of Nazareth. If any details of the information was found to be untrue, these contemporaries presented no evidence that refutes it.

Portions of Matthew were corroborated by the eyewitness account of John’s Gospel written independently from his prison cell; Luke’s investigative Gospel; and secular history.[18] Considering the customary literary protocols, the allegation of literary misconduct is rendered to be a non-issue.

What remains to assess the credibility of Matthew is its believability. Are the Gospel’s detailed accounts fabrications… or do the unique details in Matthew indicate truthfulness and credibility?


Updated December 20, 2023.

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[1] “Matthew.” Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. n.d. <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002400.html#T0002442>  “Luke.” Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. n.d. <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002300.html#T0002331> Carr. The Gospel Acco rding to Matthew, Volume I. pp XVIII – XIX.  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. p 32-33, 38-42. Sween, Don and Nancy. “Parable.” BibleReferenceGuide.com. n.d. <http://www.biblereferenceguide.com/keywords/parable.html>  Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark, 1902. p XVII, XXIV.  Fairchild, Mary. “37 Miracles of Jesus.” ThoughtCo. 2017. <https://www.thoughtco.com/miracles-of-jesus-700158Ryrie Study Bible.  Ed. Ryrie Charles C.  Trans. New American Standard. 1978. “The Miracles of Jesus.” Aune, Eilif Osten. “Synoptic Gospels.” Bible Basics. 2013. <www.bible-basics-layers-of-understanding.com/Synoptic-Gospels.html> “Matthew. Easton’s Bible Dictionary. 1897. <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002400.html#T0002443>  Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark, The Greek Text with Notes and Indices. p. XXIV.  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. p. 33 <https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=chi.090193322;view=1up;seq=25>
[2] Sapir, Avinoam. LSI Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation. Basics and advance courses. <http://www.lsiscan.com/id37.htm>  “Scientific Content Analysis (SCAN).” Personal Verification LTD. 2018. <http://www.verify.co.nz/scan.php>
[3] Josephus, Flavius. The Complete Works of Josephus. “Against Apion.” 1850. Book I.5. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[4] Matthew 1; Luke 3. Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies. Book III. Chapter I.1, IX, XXI.3. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. n.d.  <http://www.ccel.org/search/fulltext/Heresies>  “New Testament – Historical Books.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp ix, 39.  “PAPYRUS 104 P104 (P. Oxy. 4404) A Very Early Greek Fragment Copy of the Gospel of Matthew.” Christian Publishing House Blog. image. n.d. <https://christianpublishinghouse.co/2020/07/25/papyrus-104-p104-p-oxy-4404-a-very-early-greek-fragment-copy-of-the-gospel-of-matthew>
[5] Carr. The Gospel Accouding to Matthew. Volume I. pp XVIII – XIX.  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp 32-33. Gloag, The Synoptic Gospels. pp 38-42. Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of John.” F. 5.3.3.  2015. <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/John.htm>  Sween. “Parable.”  Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark. pp. XIX, XXIII. d<https://books.google.com/books?id=WcYUAAAAQAAJ&lpg=PA127&ots=f_TER300kY&dq=Seneca%20centurio%20supplicio%20pr%C3%A6positus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Luke.” Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary.  “Parable.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 2018. <http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/P/parable.html>  “The Parables of Jesus.” Ryrie Study Bible. “The Miracles of Jesus.” Ryrie Study Bible.  Fairchild, Mary. “37 Miracles of Jesus.” ThoughtCo. 2017. <https://www.thoughtco.com/miracles-of-jesus-700158>
[6] Matthew 2; CR Luke 1.
[7] Carr, Frazier. The Gospel Accouding to Matthew. Volume I. p XVIII – XIX.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=ZQAXAAAAYAAJ&dq=Swete%2C%20The%20Gospel%20According%20to%20St.%20Matthew&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=Swete,%20The%20Gospel%20According%20to%20St.%20Matthew&f=false>  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. p 5. <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595>  “Gospel of Matthew.” Theopedia.com. “Jesus.”  “The Book of Matthew.” Quartz Hill School of Theology. Mareghni, Pamela. “Different Approaches to Literary Criticism.” 2014. <http://web.archive.org/web/20140628042039/http://www.ehow.com/about_5385205_different-approaches-literary-criticism.html>  Preble, Laura. “Traditional Literary Criticism.” 2014. <http://www.ehow.com/info_8079187_approaches-literary-criticism.html>
[8] Matthew 5-7. CR Luke 6:20-22.
[9] Mathew 24; Luke 13:34.
[10] Matthew 27.
[11] Net.bible.org. Matthew 27:65. Greek text. “koustodia <2892>.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/2892.html>
[12] Fausset, Andrew R.  Fausset Bible Dictionary. 1878. “New Testament.”  <http://classic.studylight.org/dic/fbd/view.cgi?number=T2722>
[13] Josephus. Against Apion. Book I.1-2, 4-6, 10, 17, 19, 23, 26.  Josephus.  The Complete Works of Josephus. “Antiquities of the Jews.” 1850. “Preface.”  Reed, Annette Yoshiko.  Pseudepigraphy, Authorship, and ‘The Bible’ in Late Antiquity. 2008. p 478.  <http://www.academia.edu/1610659/_Pseudepigraphy_Authorship_and_the_Reception_of_the_Bible_in_Late_Antiquity>  “Custom Cheating and Plagiarism essay paper writing service.” ExclusivePapers.com. n.d. <http://exclusivepapers.com/essays/Informative/cheating-and-plagiarism.php>  Cummings, Michael J. “Did Shakespeare Plagiarize?” Cummings Study Guides. 2003. <http://cummingsstudyguides.net/xPlagiarism.html>
[14] Reed.  Pseudepigraphy, Authorship, and ‘The Bible’ in Late Antiquity. p 476-479.  “Hebrew Bible: Torah, Prophets and Writings.” MyJewishLearning.com. <https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hebrew-bible>  Benner, Jeff, Ancient Hebrew Research Center. 2018. “The Authors of the Torah.” <http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/articles_authors.html>
[15] Luke 13:34. Luke 13:34. Papias. “Papias.” Fragment I & VI. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.vii.html>  Gloag, Paton James. Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. p 168.  <https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=chi.090193322;view=1up;seq=25>  Irenaeus of Lyons.  Against Heresies. Book III, Chapter I.1, IX, XXI.3.  <http://www.ccel.org/search/fulltext/Heresies>  Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark, 1902. p XIX. <https://books.google.com/books?id=WcYUAAAAQAAJ&lpg=PA127&ots=f_TER300kY&dq=Seneca%20centurio%20supplicio%20pr%C3%A6positus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[16] Fausset, Andrew R.  Fausset Bible Dictionary. 1878. “Matthew, The Gospel According to.” <http://classic.studylight.org/dic/fbd/view.cgi?number=T2722>  Didymus, John Thomas. “The Biblical Evidence For a Conspiracy Theory of the Resurrection.”  2010.  <http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Biblical-Evidence-For-a-Conspiracy-Theory-of-the-Resurrection&id=4205050>  “New Testament – Historical Books.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11498-new-testament>  Smith, Ben C. The Synoptic Project. 2018. <http://www.textexcavation.com/synopticproject.html>  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp. 4-5, 48, 63-64, 106-108.  “Gospel of Matthew.” Theopedia.com.  “The Lives.” Quartz Hill School of Theology.  “New Testament – Historical Books.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11498-new-testament>  Kirby, Peter.  “Gospel of Matthew.”  EarlyChristianWritings.com. 2018. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/matthew.html>  Vick, Tristan D. “Dating the Gospels: Looking at the Historical Framework.”  Carr, A. The Gospel According to Matthew, Volume I. 1881. pp XVIII – XIX.  Smith, B. D. “The Gospel of Matthew.”
[17] “Gospel of Matthew.” Theopedia.com. n.d. <https://www.theopedia.com/gospel-of-matthew>  “The Lives.”  Quartz Hill School of Theology. n.d. <http://www.theology.edu/biblesurvey/matthew.htm> Vick, Tristan D. “Dating the Gospels: Looking at the Historical Framework.” Advocatus Atheist. 2010. <http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/2010/01/dating-gospels-looking-at-historical.html>  Shamoun, Sam. “The New Testament Documents and the Historicity of the Resurrection.” Answering-Islam.org. 2013.  <http://www.answering-islam.org/Shamoun/documents.htm>  Kirby, Peter. Index. EarlyChristianWritings.com. 2018. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/index.html> Smith, Barry. D. “The Gospel of Matthew.”  n.d. <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/Matt.htm>  Etinger, Judah. Foolish Faith. Chapter 6.  2012.  <http://www.foolishfaith.com/book_chap6_history.asp> Shamoun, Sam. “The New Testament Documents and the Historicity of the Resurrection.” 2013.  <http://www.answering-islam.org/Shamoun/documents.htm>
[18] Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of John.” “The Book of John.” Quartz Hill School of Theology. “Gospel of John.” Theopedia.com. “Gospel of John Commentary: Who Wrote the Gospel of John and How Historical Is It?” Biblical Archeology Society. 2019. https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/gospel-of-john-commentary-who-wrote-the-gospel-of-john-and-how-historical-is-it/>

Luke – the Investigative Reporter


P75, circa 175-225 AD.

For centuries many have endeavored to prove or disprove the Gospel of Luke’s account about the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Some have focused on the integrity of the content, others on the identity of the unnamed author. Debate will continue; however, there is substantial factors to consider.

Among the first to document the identity of the author of the Gospel was Irenaeus, a student of Polycarp who was in turn a pupil of John, one of the original 12 Disciples of Jesus.[1] Irenaeus identified the author as the Gentile doctor named Luke, the inseparable traveling companion of the Apostle Paul mentioned several times in New Testament books.[2] Logic is a big factor – educated as a doctor, a source just one generation removed from the Disciple John, how likely is it that Irenaeus was erroneous?

Credibility of a statement can be determined regardless of the identity of the author. In this case, the Gospel author’s first defining point of credibility is where his investigative letter is addressed to a specific person.

Named as Theophilus, this is the same person to whom was written the Book of Acts establishing both accountability and consistency. Josephus identified Theophilus as the next High Priest after Jonathan circa 37-40 AD.[3] The question is whether these are the same person?

Very clearly the author describes the basis of his investigation:

LK 1:1-4 “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (NIV)

Not himself an eyewitness, instead Luke identifies the sources of his investigation, noted as “many,” being original eyewitnesses and he personally investigated their validity. Evidence can be seen in the quotes and reference parallels found in the older Gospels of Matthew and Mark and corroborating information by John.

From a different perspective, the author’s omissions of certain witness accounts and miracles that are mentioned in the other Gospels.[4] Nearly half of Luke’s content is unique in which 6 miracles are reported, including the resurrection of a dead boy, and 15-17 parables (was it an illustration or a parable?).[5]

Included, too, are the exclusive accounts of the birth circumstances of John the Baptist; the identity of his father, Zachariah and mother, Elizabeth, and her role with Mary during their pregnancies; the angel Gabriel with his messages from God delivered separately to Zachariah and Mary, and Mary’s hymn of praise.

Found only in Luke and Acts are the two Greek words, apographo and apographe – a verb and a noun – cited as the motivation for Joseph to take his nearly 9-month pregnant wife, Mary, to Bethlehem 90 miles away. Neither Greek word translates to the equivalent English word of “census,” often imprecisely used in Matthew’s Christmas Nativity story.[6]

Seven government rulers are identified in Luke, all corroborated in secular history including Caesar Augustus , Tiberius Caesar, Judean King Herod, and Tetrarchs Herod and Philip.[7] Two “governors,” Quirinius and Pilate, were both identified using the exclusive Greek word hegemoneuo, meaning to act with authority as governors, though not necessarily official “governors.”[8]

Two specific crucifixion scenarios are found only in the Luke’s Gospel. Quoted is the conversation between the criminals being crucified with Jesus. Upon his death, distraught witnesses reacted by “beating their breasts” in severe mourning.

Distinctively identified and quoted are Resurrection witnesses. Most notable is Cleopas with his traveling partner heading home to Emmaus after being with some of the Disciples that weekend.[9] Unrecognized, Jesus joined them walking down the road and asked what they were discussing so intently. Cleopas is quoted explaining the sequence of events involving the encounter by the women of Galilee with angels at the empty tomb who proclaimed Jesus was alive and how the empty tomb was confirmed by other unnamed witnesses.[10]

Corroborating John’s eyewitness Gospel account of the gathering of Disciples and followers in the locked room that Sunday evening, Luke adds a distinguishing depiction of events. Cleopas and his partner had rejoined the gathering telling of their encounter with the resurrected Jesus and, in turn, they were told Jesus had also appeared to Simon (Peter).

Terrified is how the excited group encounter is described by Luke when Jesus suddenly appeared in the locked room. Thinking they were seeing a ghost, Jesus calmed their fears saying “Do you have anything here to eat?”[11] Jesus then ate some fish to prove he was not a ghost.

Omitted is key information which could otherwise enhance the Resurrection account if the author had chosen to do so. Missing is Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus and John running with Peter to see the empty tomb, both reported events by other Gospels that astounding morning. One possible reason for the omissions is revealed in Cleopas’ statement.

Cleopas ended his witness statement at the point when he departed for home that Sunday morning – before anyone had reported seeing the resurrected Jesus. Luke had to be aware of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with resurrected Jesus through his investigation, by knowing Paul, contacts with the Disciples and interviews of other witnesses.[12] The omission is a big clue.

Only twice in the entire Gospel of Luke is Mary Magdalene mentioned.[13] She is one of the three named women generally reported to have run back from the empty tomb to tell the Disciples of their experience. Just once previously in Luke, Mary Magdalene was identified as the one from whom Jesus expelled seven demons early in his ministry.

No statements are specifically attributed to Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of Luke and therein lies the potential reason for the omission. If Luke did not have direct access to her as an eyewitness source, then he chose not to include her secondhand account.

Likewise are similar reasons for not identifying the traveling partner of Cleopas and omitting John running with Peter to see the empty tomb – neither were available witnesses to the author. (In his own eyewitness Gospel, John identifies himself as the “other disciple” who joined the race to the tomb.)[14]

Forthright acknowledgements, exclusive specific details, omissions of information seen in other Gospels; corroboration by secular history; named witnesses; quotes; lack of personal opinions or injections; and ignored opportunities to embellish – all are hallmarks of a straightforward, true investigative report. What then do these characteristics say about the validity of Luke’s Gospel authorship and an investigative account?


Updated November 20, 2022.

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[1] Schaff, Philip. “Introductory Note to Irenæus Against Heresies.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. n.d. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005. <http://m.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.i.html Schaff, Philip. “Introduction Note to the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. n.d. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005. <http://m.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.iv.i.html Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies. Book III, Chapters I.1, X.1, XIII.3, XIV.1, XIV.1, XIV.2 quoting Luke 1:2, XIV.3, XV.1, 3, XXIII.1. Philip Schaf, ed. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005. <http://www.ccel.org/search/fulltext/Heresies
[2] Colossians 4; Philemon 1; 2 Titus 4. Irenaeus, Heresies. Book III, Chapter XIV.1.  Aherne Cornelius. “Gospel of Saint Luke.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 9. 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09420a.htm>
[3] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVIII, Chapter V.3, Book XX, Chapter VIII.5 & 7; Book XVII, Chapter IV.2; Book XVIII, Chapter V.3; Book XIX, Chapter VI.2; Book XX, Chapter IX.7. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. William Whitson. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  CR Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter IV.2.  “Theophilus.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14364-theophilus>
[4] Swete, Henry Barclay. The Gospel According to St. Mark,  pp. xxxvix – xl, LXX, LXXII, LXXIV-LXXV. 1902. <https://books.google.com/books?id=WcYUAAAAQAAJ&lpg=PA127&ots=f_TER300kY&dq=Seneca%20centurio%20supplicio%20pr%C3%A6positus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of Mark.”  Crandall University. n.d. <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/Mark.htm> “Introductions to Matthew.” Ryrie Study Bible. Ed. Ryrie Charles C.  Trans. New American Standard. 1978. “Introductions to Matthew.” Ryrie Study Bible. “Introduction to the Book of Mark.” Ryrie Study Bible. “Introduction to the Book of Luke.”&Ryrie Study Bible.  “New Testament.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11498-new-testament>  “gospel.” ReligionFacts.com. 2016. <http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/texts/gospels.htm>  Gloag, Paton J.  Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp 45, 204.. 1895. <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595>
[5] Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp 38-42. 1895. <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595> Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of John.”  F. 5.3.3.  Crandall University. 2015. <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/John.htm Sween, Don and Nancy. “Parable.” BibleReferenceGuide.com. n.d. <http://www.biblereferenceguide.com/keywords/parable.html Sween. “Parable.”  Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark, pp. LXXIV, 83. 1902. <https://books.google.com/books?id=WcYUAAAAQAAJ&lpg=PA127&ots=f_TER300kY&dq=Seneca%20centurio%20supplicio%20pr%C3%A6positus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Luke.” Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. 3rd Edition.  Christian Classics Ethereal Library. n.d. <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002300.html#T0002331>  “Parable.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.  2018. <http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/P/parable.html> “The Parables of Jesus.” Ryrie Study Bible. “The Miracles of Jesus.” Ryrie Study Bible. Fairchild, Mary. “37 Miracles of Jesus.” ThoughtCo. 2017. <https://www.thoughtco.com/miracles-of-jesus-700158
[6] Luke 2; Acts 5. Net.bible.org. Greek text. “aprographe <582>.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d.  <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/0582.html>  “apographo <583>.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/0583.html>  The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. 1850. <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=census&f=false>  Smith, William; Wayte, William; Marindin, G.E., Ed. A Dictionary  of Greek and Roman Antiquities. 1890. “apographe.” <https://books.google.com/books?id=Cu89AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA403&lpg=PA403&dq=greek+word+for+census&source=bl&ots=LM1MjmCiJt&sig=1_yjJgyNxcCcSWZvf0QK69IJuMw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjx0oPA04DYAhXo6YMKHebvAEwQ6AEIejAK#v=onepage&q=register&f=false>
[7] Luke 2, 3. Net.bible.org. Luke 2:1 footnote #5 and Greek text. “hegemoneuo <2230>” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. Josephus. Antiquities. Book VIII, Chapter XV; Book X, Chapter IV; Book XIV, Chapter IX, & XII; Book XVIII, Chapter VI.  Josephus, Flavius. The Life of Flavius Josephus. #9, 17. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. William Whitson. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book I, Chapter XXVII. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. William Whitson. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Josephus, Flavius.  Against Apion. Book II, #22. The Complete Works of Josephus.  Trans. William Whitson. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false> “Pontius Pilate.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2014. <http://www.livius.org/pi-pm/pilate/pilate01.htm> “legate.”  Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/legate-Roman-official>
[8] Net.bible.org. Luke 2:1 footnote #5 and Greek text. “hegemon <2232>.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible.  n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/2230.html>  Josephus. Antiquities. Book VIII, Chapter XV, Book X, Chapter IV; Book XIV, Chapter IX, X, XII; Book XVIII, Chapter VI; Book XX, Chapter XVIII.  Josephus. The Life of Flavius Josephus. #9, 17.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXVII.  Josephus. Against Apion. Book II, #22.
[9] John 19. Luke 24:18 footnote Ryrie Study Bible.  “Cleopas.” Bible-history.com. n.d. <http://www.bible-history.com/links.php?cat=43&sub=1173&cat_name=Bible+Names+A-G&subcat_name=Cleopas>
[10] Sapir, Avinoam. LSI Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation, Inc. n.d. <http://www.lsiscan.com/index.htm>  “SCAN – Scientific Content Analysis (Statement Analysis).” Advanced Polygraph. 2011. <http://www.advancedpolygraph.com.au/scan.htm>
[11] NET, NIV, NLT. Luke 24. CR Mark 16.
[12] 2 Timothy 4; Philemon 1; Colossians 4.
[13] Luke 8, 24.
[14] Luke 24; John 20. Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of John.”  Fonck, Leopold.  “Gospel of St. John.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia.  Volume 8. New York:  Robert Appleton Company.  1910. New Advent. 2014. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08438a.htm>  Kirby, Peter. “Gospel of John.” EarlyChristianWritings.com. 2014. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/john.html> “The Book of John.”  Quartz Hill School of Theology. 2017. <http://www.theology.edu/biblesurvey/john.htm>  “Gospel of John.”  Theopedia.com. Encyclopedia of biblical Christianity. n.d. <http://www.theopedia.com/Gospel_of_John>