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Q: #601. Did Mary and Joseph spend more time in Bethlehem, or Nazareth in (Matthew Chapters 1 & 2) and (Luke Chapters 1 & 2)? A timeline of Mary and Joseph's travels.

     A: In this study, we are going to look at all of the travels of Mary and Joseph that are found in Matthew Chapters 1 & 2, and Luke Chapters 1 & 2. In particular, we are going to focus on what happened after Jesus was born in Bethlehem. After He was born, did Mary and Joseph find a place to live, and remain in Bethlehem for several years, or did they return to their home in Nazareth shortly after Jesus was born? 

     There are two views regarding this, and we will look at evidence for both. However, since this study is looking at ALL of the travels of Mary and Joseph, we are going to begin by summarizing the travels that both views agree on.

***Note: For the sake of space, I am leaving out a “lot” of details here. I would urge you to read chapters 1 & 2 in Matthew and Luke before going forward. You can also find my expository teaching on these chapters here.

(Original Location) The angel Gabriel visits Mary in NAZARETH in (Lk 1:26-38), and tells her that through the Holy Spirit she would become pregnant, and give birth to Jesus.

(Travel #1.) Immediately afterwards (“with haste”), Mary goes to “a city of Judah” (likely Hebron) to visit Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-55), and stays with her “three months.”

(Travel #2.) Mary leaves from visiting Elizabeth, and returns to Nazareth (Lk 1:56). Shortly after her return, Joseph finds out Mary is pregnant, and makes the decision to divorce her (“put her away”). However, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream, tells him the child was “conceived by the Holy Spirit,” and to not divorce Mary (Mt 1:18-25).

(Travel #3.) Mary and Joseph leave Nazareth, and go to Bethlehem (their ancestral home) “to be registered” in the census that Caesar Augustus has required for everyone. When they arrive, “there is no room for them in the inn,” so they find shelter in a cave (likely not a “stable,” as is often taught), and in that cave, Mary gives birth to Jesus. (Lk 2:1-7). Afterwards, an angel appears to shepherds in the fields, tells them to go to Jesus, and they do so (Lk 2:8-20). 

(Possible Travel #4.) (Lk 2:21) Eight days later, after the shepherds leave, Jesus is circumcised. Mary and Joseph “may” have traveled to the Temple in Jerusalem to have this circumcision done, and then returned to Bethlehem, but we aren’t told where it was done. (It “could” have been in Bethlehem.)

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***It is from this point going forward that it gets complicated!!***

     After Jesus is circumcised, the next thing we see is Mary and Joseph traveling to the Temple in Jerusalem (Lk 2:22-24). They do so for two reasons: (#1.) To “consecrate Jesus (as firstborn) to the Lord” (as required by Old Testament law: Ex 13:2,12-15, Ex 22:29, Ex 34:19, Num 18:15-16). (#2.) To offer a “purification sacrifice” to the Lord (Lk 2:22-24).

***Note: The “purification” ritual after giving birth was commanded by God in Leviticus Chapter 12. After giving birth to a son, God said that a woman was ceremonially unclean for 40 days, or 80 days after giving birth to a daughter (Lev 12:2-5). After that, she was to “bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting.” After the priest “offered it before the Lord, and made atonement for her, she would be clean from her flow of blood” (Lev 12:6-7). 

     After this is accomplished in the Temple, we are told in (Lk 2:39)(NKJV), “So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.”

     This seems pretty clear, right? They did the things the “law” required (the consecration of Jesus, and the purification sacrifice for Mary), and then they went back to where they had originally come from: Nazareth. Well… THIS is where the “debate” begins! A “vast” majority of scholars believe that (Lk 2:39-40) fits after the events that occur in (Mt 2:1-18). In other words, in their view, after the events in (Lk 2:22-38), Mary and Joseph returned to Bethlehem, rather than Nazareth.

     I’ll be honest here. I have been TORN between these two views as I have exposited chapters 1 & 2 in Matthew and Luke! I have long believed the “traditional” view that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem, and after Mary gave birth to Jesus, they remained there for a long period of time. BUT, as I have “deeply” studied these verses again, I have definitely found “solid” evidence for the “Nazareth view” as well. SO, what I am going to do is present “both” views, and the evidence for them being possible, and I will leave it for you to make your own conclusions. I am beginning with the evidence for the “Nazareth view.” (The order of travels for #1-4 are above, so we begin with #5.)

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     NAZARETH VIEW

(Travel #5.) “Most” who hold the “Nazareth view” believe that after their 40 days in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph left to go to the Temple in Jerusalem to consecrate Jesus, and make the purification offering for Mary (Lk 2:22-28).

(Travel #6.) Afterwards, as (Lk 2:39) says, they left Jerusalem, and “returned to Nazareth.”

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(MY OPINION!) I begin (Travel #5.) with “most,” because if the “Nazareth view” is true,  I have several questions that most don’t ask. “Where did Mary and Joseph stay for the 40 days after Jesus was born, before going to Jerusalem? Did they stay in the cave? Did they finally get into the “inn,” or find a house (or room in a house) to rent for a month (“or more,” see “Important Detail Note” below)?” If they did, how could they afford it since they were poor?

     Keeping these “questions” in mind, I personally believe that Mary and Joseph stayed in the cave for the 8 days leading up to Jesus’ circumcision. However, after this, I think it is “possible” that after Jesus’ circumcision, Mary and Joseph “may” have “returned” home to Nazareth for about a month, and then returned to Jerusalem to consecrate Jesus, and offer the purification sacrifice for Mary (this travel is not mentioned in Scripture). Because Mary and Joseph had “houses” in Nazareth (Lk 1:28,56), they could live there for free, thereby eliminating the need for them to “find a place to live in Bethlehem,” and come up with the money to pay for it. (This could also fit well with [Lk 2:39] saying Mary and Joseph “returned” to Nazareth, perhaps indicating that they had just left there to come to Jerusalem.) (***Note: If my “possible” theory here is true, this would add another “Travel” for them.)

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(Important Detail) “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem… wise men from the East… saw His star in the East,” and traveled to Jerusalem looking for “He who has been born King of the Jews” so they could “worship Him” (Mt 2:1-2). These “wise men” came from somewhere near Babylon (Baghdad in Iraq today), which was around 1000 miles away from Bethlehem. Therefore, this journey likely took several months.

*** Note: Keeping this in mind, if Mary and Joseph went back to Bethlehem (the “Bethlehem view”), rather than Nazareth after the consecration of Jesus, and the purification of Mary, they would have been paying an innkeeper, or rent on a house for an even longer period of time! And, they would have been away from their homes in Nazareth for that long too!

     Since prophecy (Mic 5:2) said that “the Christ” (the “King of the Jews” – Mt 2:2) would be born in Bethlehem (Mt 2:6), it was assumed that “the Christ” (Jesus, along with Mary and Joseph) would “still” be in Bethlehem. Therefore, Herod “sent them (the “wise men”) to Bethlehem” (Mt 2:8). However, following the star, the wise men were instead led to Nazareth (Mt 2:9-10). (***Note: It seems more logical that the star led them to a place 80 miles distant: Nazareth, rather than a place only 5 miles away: Bethlehem.) After finding the “house” where Jesus was, they worshipped Him, and presented their gifts to Him (Mt 2:11). Then, as the “wise men” were going to “return to Herod” to report that they had found Jesus (as Herod had asked them to do: Mt 2:8), they were “divinely warned in a dream” not to do that. Therefore, they “departed for their own country another way” (Mt 2:12). 

***Note: “Another way” – The “wise men” certainly went from Jerusalem to Nazareth on the same road that Mary, Joseph, and everyone else used. After their time with Jesus had finished in Nazareth, they were going to use this same road to travel back to Jerusalem, and report to Herod. After reporting to Herod, the wise men were going to leave Jerusalem, and begin the 1000 mile journey back to their home in Babylon on the same road they had originally come in on. However, after they were “divinely warned” not to “return to Herod,” they instead had to cut over (“another way”) to the road that led back to Babylon from Nazareth. (Look at a Biblical map to see what I am talking about.)

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(Travel #7.) After the “wise men” leave Nazareth, “an angel of the Lord” tells Joseph in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and “flee to Egypt” because “Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him” (Mt 2:13). Joseph “arose,” and “took them by night” (Mt 2:14) out of Nazareth.

***Note: After they safely arrive in Egypt, Herod realizes that “he was deceived by the wise men” (they did not report back to him). Still assuming “the Christ” is somewhere in Bethlehem, he orders “all male children two years old and under in Bethlehem and its districts to be put to death” (Mt 2:16-18).

(Travel #8.) Herod dies shortly after this, and “an angel of the Lord” appears to Joseph in a dream again, and says, “Arise, take the young Child and his mother, and go to the LAND OF ISRAEL, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead” (Mt 2:20). Joseph does this in (Mt 2:21).

(Mt 2:21-23)(NKJV) However, when he “came into the LAND OF ISRAEL… he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, (and) he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. (23) And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.””

     Why did I capitalize “LAND OF ISRAEL?” Because there are two interesting things to consider here. What was the “Land of Israel?”

#1. Historically, after the reign of Solomon in the Old Testament, the land that belonged to the Jews was divided into “two “kingdoms:” the “Northern Kingdom,” and the “Southern Kingdom.” The “Northern” was called “Israel,” and the “Southern” was called “Judah.” Nazareth was a city in “Israel,” and Bethlehem was a city in “Judah.” So… when God said to go to the “LAND OF ISRAEL,” was He asking them to go back to Nazareth, which was in Israel in the “Northern Kingdom?”

(OR)

#2. Could God have been referring to the “geographic location” called “Israel,” meaning “all” of the land that He had given to the Jews in the Old Testament (the “Promised Land”)? All of this land (including Judah, and its cities Bethlehem and Jerusalem) was sometimes referred to as “Israel” in the Old Testament (i.e. Ex 6:6-8, 2 Kin 5:2, Ezek 40:2) (as it still is today). So… when God said to go to the “LAND OF ISRAEL,” was He asking them to go back to Bethlehem, which was a part of “all” of the land that belonged to the Jews?

***Note: Arguing for point #2. (and the “Bethlehem View”), it is worth noting that when you look at a Biblical map, you will see that when Mary and Joseph would have first “come into the land of Israel” (from Egypt), and learned about Archelaus, they would have been nowhere near the land of the “Northern Kingdom.” Therefore, it seems very likely that the “land of Israel” spoken of here is the wider meaning of “all” the land belonging to the Jews.

***Note: Arguing for point #1. (and the “Nazareth View”), it is possible that when God said to “go to the land of Israel,”  He meant the land of the “Northern Kingdom.” But, when it says that they learned about Archelaus upon entering the “land of Israel,” this use could be the “wider meaning of “all” the land belonging to the Jews. In other words, the “land of Israel” could be used “both” ways.

***Note: For those who would argue that since Archelaus was ruling in Bethlehem, and Mary and Joseph turned away from it, this must mean they were headed “back” to Bethlehem, where they had previously lived, I would counter by saying that: “Yes, they “likely” were headed to Bethlehem, but they could have been going back to Nazareth “by way” of Bethlehem.”

***Note: (Mt 2:23) is also a strong argument for the “Nazareth View,” because Matthew says it was prophesied that Jesus would “be called a Nazarene.” It should be noted that there is no “clear” Old Testament prophecy that says this, therefore, scholars debate its meaning. However, when in doubt, I usually go with the most “literal” meaning first, and by this it would likely to refer to Jesus growing up in Nazareth. Knowing this, would God have told Joseph and Mary to return to their “house” in Bethlehem, and raise Jesus there, when He knew it would not fulfill this prophecy?

***One More Note (lots of Notes!): When (Mt 2:22) says that Joseph “turned aside into the region of Galilee,” “Galilee” was a “region” in the “land of Israel” (in the “Northern Kingdom”), and Nazareth was a city in Galilee. When you look at a Biblical map, most scholars believe there are only two possible routes that Joseph could have used to “turn aside into the region of Galilee:” #1. By going north along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and then turning east towards Galilee (somewhere near Caesarea). #2. By going east (south of Judah), crossing Dead Sea into the land of Perea, going north paralleling the Jordan River until they approached the Sea Of Galilee, and then going west by again crossing the Jordan Sea, and entering Galilee.

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     BETHLEHEM VIEW

     While I have touched on a number of things related to this view above, here is a short recap.

***Note: Those who hold the “Bethlehem view” believe that shortly after Jesus’ birth (perhaps after his circumcision 8 days later), Mary and Joseph found a place to live in Bethlehem. Three possibilities are offered for where this was: 1. They were finally able to get into the inn. 2. They were taken in by family. 3. They found a house (or room in a house) to rent. They stayed in this “house” during the time that Mary was considered unclean, and left from this “house” to travel to Jerusalem

(Travel #5.) After Mary’s 40 days of “uncleanness,” Mary and Joseph travel from their house in Bethlehem to the Temple in Jerusalem to consecrate Jesus, and make the purification offering for Mary (Lk 2:22-28).

(Travel #6.) Afterwards, Mary and Joseph return to their “house” in Bethlehem.

(Travel #7.) The “wise men” travel to Jerusalem, see Herod, leave Jerusalem, and follow the star to Bethlehem, where they find the “house” Jesus is living in. After worshipping Jesus, and presenting their gifts to Him, they leave (Mt 2:11). After they leave, “an angel of the Lord” tells Joseph in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and “flee to Egypt” because “Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him” (Mt 2:13). Joseph “arose,” and “took them by night” (Mt 2:14) out of Bethlehem.

***Note: After they safely arrive in Egypt, Herod realizes that “he was deceived by the wise men” (they did not report back to him, and tell him the “exact” location of Jesus). Therefore, knowing that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were in Bethlehem, but not knowing “exactly” where, Herod orders “all male children two years old and under in Bethlehem AND its districts to be put to death (Mt 2:16-18).

***Note: In relation to this, there are “three” strong arguments in favor of Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt from Bethlehem, rather than Nazareth. #1. Why would Mary and Joseph need to “flee” from Nazareth, since it was about 80 miles from “Bethlehem and its districts,” and therefore likely far enough away to be safe from Herod’s decree? #2. If Mary and Joseph “were” in Nazareth, why wouldn’t the “angel” have told them to flee north to the safety of Syria (“Damascus”), which was about 250 miles closer than Egypt? #3. Tradition, and the Bible tell us that Egypt was a place that people fled to from Jerusalem and Bethlehem when in trouble (see: 1 Kin 11:17, 1 Kin 11:40, Jer 26:21, Jer 43:4-7).

(Travel #8.) Herod dies shortly after this, and “an angel of the Lord” appears to Joseph in a dream again, and says, “Arise, take the young Child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead” (Mt 2:20). Joseph leaves Egypt, and heads towards Bethlehem (Mt 2:21), returning to the place they had come to Egypt from. However, before he gets there, God warns him in a dream to avoid Bethlehem, and instead to “turn aside into the region of Galilee.” Joseph does this, thus bringing us back to (Lk 2:39-40), “And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. (40) And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.”

     So, that is it. I hope I did not lose you. I did my very best to order this in the right way, and make it flow smoothly. You have all of the information I could find, and I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

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