Sorry, this post isn’t about the pessimism and critical irony that can sometimes mark how we engage in this time of year. When I use the phrase “biblical criticism”, I’m referring to (as Wikipedia says) the “[scholarly] study and investigation of biblical writings that seeks to make discerning judgments about these writings”.
Last year, I wrote about how the story of the Wise Men can inform our doctrine of the Bible. This Advent, I want to do a brief series where we use the tools of scholarly observation to look at each of the two Nativity compositions (yeah, only two out of four gospels have them) and see each of them on their own terms.
For millennia, the birth narratives of Jesus Christ in the Gospels have captivated readers both within and without the Christian faith. Their reading and meditation form the beginning of the Christian Church calendar, and their theological implications of Incarnation form the foundation of nearly all of the distinctives of the Christian faith.
And yet, “the Christmas story” as it is popularly thought of is a conflation and harmony of two very different presentations of these opening events of the Christian Messiah. Each of these stories in Matthew and Luke are written with particular purposes in mind that are unique to each.
In both gospels, the infancy narrative form essential foundations upon which the rest of these Gospels are built. It often does a great disservice to each of these stories to simply harmonize them as the Church often does. They are each a purposeful creation, crafted and fine-tuned for specific purposes to teach us specific things.
To simply combine them in the church’s collective imagination carries with it the possibility of blurring these otherwise distinct contours offered to us. Exploring these distinctive accounts as they exist in the canon is of utmost importance and carries with it such great potential.
So let’s explore some of that potential. I want to do a little series that pays some respect to these differences and see how they support the respective themes, styles, and purposes for which each of the Evangelists wrote their Gospels. And maybe in this, we’ll begin to see the distinctive ways in which God has moved among his people and moves among us today. Tomorrow, we begin with Matthew.
In the meantime, though, what are some of your favorite features of the Christmas Story? What has always lingered in your imagination? Between the Matthew and Luke Nativity stories, which is your favorite? Why? Feel free to drop your comment below.
[image credit: this post from the blog of my favorite Bible software, Logos.]