The Chronological Gospel –

Birth Announcements and Early Lives of Jesus and John the Baptist

John 1:1-5, 9-14, The Word active in creation enters the world
Luke 1:5-25, John the Baptist’s birth is foretold (Judea)
Luke 1:26-38, Jesus’ birth is foretold (Nazareth in Galilee)
Luke 1:39-56, Mary visits Elizabeth
Luke 1:57-80, The birth and early life of John (Judea)

Matthew 1:18-24, Luke 2:1-3, Joseph (Nazareth in Galilee)
Matthew 1:1-17, Joseph’s ancestry according to Matthew
Luke 3:23b-38, Joseph’s ancestry according to Luke
Galatians 4:4-5, Luke 2:1-20, The birth of Jesus (Bethlehem in Judea)
Luke 2:21-38, Circumcision and presentation in the Temple (Jerusalem)
Matthew 2:1-18, Visit of the magi and its aftermath (Jerusalem, Bethlehem)
Matthew 2:19-23, Luke 2:40-52, Jesus’ childhood (Egypt, Nazareth, Jerusalem)

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The Nativity, by Gustave Doré. Click to enlarge. See below for provenance.
John 1:1-5, 9-14, The Word active in creation enters the world (2/3/14)

My favorite read of 2013 was A Harmony of the Four Gospels, by Orville E. Daniel (1987). Dr. Daniel readily admitted that scholars cannot determine an exact chronology of Jesus’ ministry using the four Gospels. That was not the goal of any of the Gospel writers. Nevertheless, Dr. Daniel presented his best guess, in order to give us “a complete connected account of the life of Christ.” He included every detail available in any of the Gospels (and in fact he included the complete texts of all four in his book), while at the same time giving us an easy-to-read, chronologically arranged story. I thought this was so great that we’re going to do the same thing here, with two differences.

First, our email format doesn’t lend itself to repeatedly switching back and forth between books in order to pick up a word or phrase unique to one gospel or another. I’m going to give you the major story line with the fewest switches possible. This will result in the loss of a tiny detail here and there. Second, I didn’t always agree with Dr. Daniel’s arrangement, so I moved a few things around. If you like the overall idea and gain new insights into Jesus’ life and ministry, as I did, Dr. Daniel gets the credit. If you think the chronology is wrong, I get the blame. John begins at the real beginning.

Luke 1:5-25, John the Baptist’s birth is foretold (Judea) (2/4/14)

If you live in New Mexico long enough, you learn that Navajo children are “born to” their mother’s clan and take her clan name and “born for” their father’s clan. Traditional Navajos (which is not the same as “old” Navajos) introduce themselves by giving you the clans they are born to and for. Notice that the first thing we learn about John the Baptist is that his father was a priest (therefore of the tribe of Aaron) who was in the order – much like a clan – of Abijah, and that his mother was also of the tribe of Aaron. In the normal course of events, John would have grown up to be a priest, because that is what men of the tribe of Aaron did. Gabriel arrives, however, to tell Zechariah that God has bigger plans for this special baby, who is to be named John.

Luke 1:26-38, Jesus’ birth is foretold (Nazareth in Galilee) (2/5/14)

Six months after the angel visited John’s father-to-be Zechariah, he also visited Jesus’ mother-to-be, Mary. We don’t know where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived, although we do know that Zechariah was in Jerusalem when Gabriel came to him. Mary lived in Nazareth, in Galilee, which is near the center of C3 on our map of the Holy Land found here. You might as well bookmark the map right now, because we’re going to be referring to it a lot.

Luke 1:39-56, Mary visits Elizabeth (2/6/14)

We don’t know exactly what the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth was. Three common English translations are cousin, kinswoman, and relative. Whatever they were to each other, Mary must have felt close to Elizabeth, because the first thing Mary did when she heard Gabriel’s news was to go and spend three months with Elizabeth. Think how happy they must have been together: two kinswomen, one old and one young, who were each to bear a special child from God!

Luke 1:57-80, The birth and early life of John (Judea) (2/7/14)

In due time, John was born. Zechariah still hadn’t been able to say a word. When the relatives and neighbors get together to name the baby, they plan to call him Zechariah, after his dad. Elizabeth, his mom, says they’re going to call him John, which means, “God has been gracious.” Zechariah agrees and his tongue is loosened. Zechariah begins to prophesy, announcing first that the Messiah is on the way right now and second that the baby John will be his mighty prophet.

Notice especially that John grew up in the wilderness of Judea. This is an important explanation for something we’ll read in a few days.

Matthew 1:18-24, Luke 2:1-3, Joseph (Nazareth in Galilee) (2/10/14)

We don’t know much about Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus (although we’ll learn something very important tomorrow and the next day – stay tuned). We learn right away that Joseph was kind-hearted, that angels appeared to him several times, and that he paid attention to what they told him. Another point is that we know exactly when Joseph was alive: during the reign of Caesar Augustus and the governorship of Quirinius in Syria. This information and other similar dates from Luke place Jesus’ birth around 5 BC.

Matthew 1:1-17, Joseph’s ancestry according to Matthew (2/11/14)

Matthew was writing for Jewish Christians and potential Jewish converts, who were well aware that the Messiah had to be a direct descendant of King David, a descendant of Abraham. Therefore Matthew begins with the legal genealogy of Jesus, tracing him back through Joseph to David and then to Abraham. Another of Matthew’s major concerns is that Jesus was the rightful king of Israel, and most of the genealogy we see in Matthew agrees with the royal genealogies in the Old Testament.

Matthew makes a point that there are three sets of 14 generations. Why? Because 14 is 2 times 7, and 7 symbolizes perfection. You have to count David twice to come up with 14, but that’s okay: it’s symbolic. It symbolizes that God sent his son at the perfect time.

Luke 3:23b-38, Joseph’s ancestry according to Luke (2/12/14)

Luke’s gospel was written primarily for Gentile Christians and potential Gentile converts, so it’s probably not a coincidence that his version of Jesus’ genealogy goes back to King David and then on through Abraham to Adam, the father of all mankind. No one knows why his genealogy differs in places from Matthew’s. Much ink has been spilled. I think the major ideas are (1) different names are used for the same people, (2) they show legal descent vs. blood descent (i.e., adoption somewhere along the line), and (3) Luke gives Mary’s genealogy, and Joseph was the son-in-law of Heli.

Galatians 4:4-5, Luke 2:1-20, The birth of Jesus (Bethlehem in Judea) (2/13/14)

So. God had been working on his plan for salvation of humanity and the universe for a few thousand years, and it was time for the Messiah. The first important thing about the Messiah was that he had to be a descendant of David’s royal line (e.g., 2 Samuel 7:12), and both Matthew and Luke trace Jesus’ lineage back to David.

The second important thing about the Messiah was that he had to be born in David’s own hometown, Bethlehem in Judea (e.g., Micah 5:2-4). Now, Joseph and Mary both lived in Nazareth, which is quite a long walk north of Bethlehem. God arranged that the Messiah would be born at exactly the right time and in exactly the place he was supposed to be born. See what Paul says: “when the time was fully come, God sent forth His Son.” I had not noticed before that Luke also comments on the time: “Just at this time an edict was issued.” And what was the effect of the edict? To ensure that Jesus, the Messiah, was born in Bethlehem. No matter where we stand on Joseph’s lineage as Jesus’ lineage, we have to admit that if Joseph hadn’t been a descendant of David, Jesus would have been born in Nazareth.

Luke 2:21-38, Circumcision and presentation in the Temple (Jerusalem) (2/14/14)

We all know by now that the magi were not present at the manger on the night of Jesus’ birth. My own opinion is that they didn’t show up for at least six weeks. For one thing, when Joseph and Mary took the baby to Jerusalem for the purification, the offering that they gave was a pair of turtledoves, which was an option only for those too poor to afford a turtledove and a lamb (Leviticus 12:6-8). Although we don’t know what happened to the gifts that the magi brought, they are nowhere in evidence at the time of Mary’s purification.

Matthew 2:1-18, Visit of the magi and its aftermath (Jerusalem, Bethlehem) (2/17/14)

When Jesus was just a baby – we aren’t sure of his age, but older than 40 days and younger than two years – some scholars from the East arrived in Jerusalem looking for him. King Herod was alarmed. He didn’t have any new babies, so a newborn king must be destined to take away Herod’s throne. A fundamentally evil man, he took steps to ensure that this didn’t happen. An angel was sent to intervene, and Herod’s steps were unsuccessful. Thus Jesus spent part of his very early childhood in Egypt.

By the way, the Jews outside of Judea – and there were many – mostly spoke Greek, not Aramaic. Jesus probably learned to talk in a Greek-speaking or bilingual community. People who think that Jesus spoke only Aramaic are, in my opinion, mistaken. They neglect to notice that Jesus learned to talk in Egypt and Nazareth, where the predominant language was Greek.

Matthew 2:19-23, Luke 2:40-52, Jesus’ childhood (Egypt, Nazareth in B.C. 4, Jerusalem) (2/18/14)

When Joseph returned from Egypt with his family, he thought it would be safer to go back to Nazareth than to settle permanently in Bethlehem, his ancestral city. From Nazareth they traveled annually to Jerusalem for the Passover, a trip of about 60 or 70 miles – probably three or four days on foot. When Jesus was getting old enough that he didn’t have to be watched every minute, Joseph and Mary were on their way home to Nazareth with their family and friends, and they didn’t immediately notice that Jesus wasn’t with them.

Now, in my experience, kids always have an explanation for why they are doing what they are doing and not what they were told to be doing. It’s not surprising that Jesus had an explanation. The idea that he had to be about his father’s business in the Temple in Jerusalem, and not in the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth, was a little surprising to Mary and Joseph.

More of The Chronological Gospel

Birth Announcements and Early Lives of Jesus and John the Baptist
Early Ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist
Jesus’ Early Ministry
Jesus’ Galilean Ministry
Sabbath Controversies
The Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Plain
John the Baptist
Signs and Parables
Miracles and Mission Trips
Bread of Life
Miracles and Meanings
Transfiguration and Teachings
To Jerusalem for the Festival of Tabernacles
Some Results of Luke’s Research
More of Luke’s Research
On the Road Again
The Raising of Lazarus
Holy Week: Palm Sunday and Monday
Holy Week: Tuesday, Parables and Questions
Holy Week: Wednesday Part 1, Discussions
Holy Week: Wednesday Part 2, Be Ready!
Holy Week: Thursday Part 1, Jesus' Celebration of the Passover
Holy Week: Thursday Part 2, Jesus' Farewell Discourse
Holy Week: Friday Part 1, Jesus' Arrest and Two Informal Trials
Holy Week: Friday Part 2, More Trials
Holy Week: Friday, Part 3, and Saturday, Jesus' Death and Burial
The Empty Tomb
Final Appearances of Jesus Prior to Pentecost

Copyright 2014 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.

"The Nativity" by Gustave Doré is from the Thomas family Bible, now in a private collection of a family member.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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