Foot Washing in the True Jesus Church

The cult, True Jesus Church, teaches its followers that foot washing is a sacrament. It is equally important as baptism and necessary in order to be saved. In an articled titled “Why Do I need To Receive Footwashing” the True Jesus Church responds with heretical brevity.

“If I do not wash you, you have no part with me,” Jesus said (Jn 13:8). Footwashing is not a symbolic ritual. It is a command from the Lord that you obey in order to have a part in His life.

Quoting John 13:8 in this way is deceptive, for it is a partial quotation. The first half of the verse indicates to the most cursory reader that Jesus is responding to a half-baked comment from Peter:

8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”

Had Jesus merely thrown out this sentence with no context whatsoever it may rightly be concluded that foot washing was a very important ritual which Christ had intended his followers to continue practicing. But even this verse is couched in a larger context. I quote John 13:6-11:

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

In context, Jesus and the disciples are preparing for the Passover meal. In the custom of their day a servant would normally wash the guest’s feet which were filthy from wearing sandals all day. Jesus, desiring to demonstrate humility and service, began to perform this lowly task (John 13:3-5). Simon Peter, who did not fully understand this act, objected (v. 6). Jesus explained that he would later come to realize what it meant (v. 7). Peter retorts that he would never allow Jesus to wash his feet (further demonstrating his lack of understanding at that time, v. 8a). Jesus replies that this act was important, he would not have a share with him otherwise (v. 8b). Peter must have been caught off guard for he replies that he would not only have Christ wash his feet, but also his hands and head (v. 9). Peter clearly went overboard this time, Jesus was demonstrating servant-leadership by a reversal of a custom that was prevalent in that society. The custom didn’t involve a full bath (as peter had just asked for), but simply the cleaning of feet which were dusty and dirty from walking around the desert during the day (v. 10). Remember that Judas was still present with the disciples (John 13:2) and Jesus was aware of this (v. 10-11).

The article continues,

God’s saving grace doesn’t end at baptism. His grace is a life-long gift. In order to participate in this lasting relationship, you need to accept footwashing from the Lord.

The True Jesus Church believes that the act of baptism enacts a “spiritual transformation”

The Bible calls baptism the “washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5) because it effects a spiritual transformation. When you are immersed in the living water, your sinful being dies and is buried, and you are clothed with a new life—the life of Jesus Christ (Col 2:11-13). [link]

Lest anyone think that they are not discussing the physical act of imersing one’s body into water, they add the following:

The moment you come up out of the water, you become a new being who has escaped the punishment of your sins and possesses the hope of eternal life. [link]

God’s “saving grace” is attained through baptism as well as through foot washing, according to True Jesus Church. Back to the foot washing article:

Like baptism, footwashing is a sacrament: a physical action the Lord commanded His believers to receive that carries the spiritual effect of salvation. Through baptism, the Lord Jesus cleanses us of all our past sins. Through footwashing, He prepares our feet to walk in the path that He has already laid: the way of righteousness that leads to His kingdom.

Here, Christ’s work on behalf of sinners is not sufficient to save. The True Jesus Church holds that each person must add their own ritual contribution to make salvation happen. A church strays into heresy whenever they teach that the spiritual realities of these symbols are the result of the work of human participants rather than the work of God.

In other words a legitimate Christian church could practice foot washing to represent their attitude of humility and desire to serve one another. This is not commanded or forbidden in the Bible. This would not be the same as saying that the physical act of foot washing is needed in order for God to prepare us to live righteously. God has given us his Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and enable us to repent and choose the right course of action in any given situation.

Apologetics On Twitter

Apologetics on Twitter Header

The following list contains twitter accounts that are managed by either individual apologists, groups of apologists, or ministries which engage in apologetics (whether as their primary or secondary mission). Please email me with any suggestions to improve this list.

The entries are listed by alphabetical order.

Albert MohlerAlbert Mohler

Albert Mohler is the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, author, radio host, and apologist.

Apologetics 315 - Brian AutenApologetics 315

Apologetics 315 is a popular apologetics blog, updated daily by Brian Auten. is an apologetics ministry which hosts a weekly radio program on KKLA (Los Angeles, CA).

Apologia New ZealandApologia New Zealand

ApologiaNZ is the twitter account for

Bible Answer ManBible Answer Man

The Bible Answer Man is a radio show hosted by Hank Hanegraaff, President of the Christian Research Institute.

Brett KunkleBrett Kunkle

Brett Kunkle is the Student Impact Director at Stand To Reason.

Biola ApologeticsBiola Apologetics

This is the twitter account for the Christian Apologetics Program at Biola University.

Christian Apologetics AllianceChristian Apologetics Alliance

The Christian Apologetics Alliance is a diverse group of apologists seeking to answer questions.

Christian Research InstituteChristian Research Institute

Founded by Walter Martin, the Christian Research Institute broadcasts the Bible Answer Man radio show, hosted by Hank Hanegraaff.

Clay JonesClay Jones

Clay Jones is an Associate Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Clay also manages

Dave SterrettDave Sterrett

Dave Sterrett is an author and lecturer on the credibility of Christ.

David Wood - Acts 17David Wood/Acts 17

David Wood is an apologist who specializes in apologetics to Islam. He regularly contributes to Answering Muslims.

Douglas GroothuisDouglas Groothuis

Doug Groothuis is a professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary.

Douglas WilsonDouglas Wilson

Doug Wilson is a pastor at Christ Church in Moscow, ID.

Glenn Hendrickson - Eye On ApologeticsEye On Apologetics

Eye On Apologetics is the website you are currently at. Please click around and enjoy!

Frank TurekFrank Turek

Frank Turek is president CrossExamined, an apologetic outreach ministry.

Greg West - The Poached EggGreg West/The Poached Egg

The Poached Egg is the Christian Worldview and Apologetics Network for Ratio Christi.

Hope's Reason: A Journal of ApologeticsHope’s Reason

Hope’s Reason is a peer-reviewed journal of apologetics. Past issues are free online.

Hank HanegraaffHank Hanegraaff

Hank Hanegraaff is the president of the Christian Research Institute.

J Warner Wallace - Cold Case ChristianityJ. Warner Wallace/Cold Case Christianity

J. Warner Wallace is a former atheist who used his job skills as a cold case detective to investigate the claims of Christianity.

James WhiteJames White

James White is President of Alpha & Omega Ministries. White is an avid debater, author, and elder at the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church.

Jonathan Morrow - Think ChristianityJonathan Morrow/Think Christianity

Think Christianity is an apologetics ministry founded by Jonathan Morrow.

Josh McDowellJosh McDowell

Josh McDowell is a well-known apologetics author and speaker.

K. Scott OliphintK. Scott Oliphint

K. Scott Oliphant is a professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Lee StrobelLee Strobel

Lee Strobel is professor at Houston Baptist University. He wrote the popular book The Case for Christ.

Lenny Esposito - Come ReasonLenny Esposito/Come Reason

Lenny Esposito is the President and founder of Come Reason Ministries.

Ligonier MinistriesLigonier Ministries

Ligonier Ministries (founded by R.C. Sproul) is a teaching ministry that emphasizes theology and apologetics.

Mary Jo Sharp - Confident ChristianityMary Jo Sharp

Mary Jo Sharp is an assistant professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University. She is also president of Confident Christianity.

Mike Felker - Apologetic FrontMike Felker/Apologetic Front

Mike Felker is a student who runs an apologetics website: The Apologetic Front. He also writes for CARM.

Mike LiconaMike Licona

Mike Licona is an associate professor of theology at Houston Baptist University, author, speaker, and debater.

Mikel Del Rosario - Apologetics GuyMikel Del Rosario/Apologetics Guy

Mikel Del Rosario is the Apologetics Guy.

Mormonism Research MinistryMormonism Research Ministry

The Mormonism Research Ministry is an apologetics ministry outreach to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Nabeel QureshiNabeel Qureshi

Nabeel Qureshi is a former Muslim who now speaks for RZIM. He is also an author and lecturer.

NOBTS ApologeticsNOBTS Apologetics

This is the twitter account for the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Institute for Christian Apologetics.

Norman GeislerNorman Geisler

Dr. Norman Geisler has written or contributed to over 70 books and countless articles in theology, philosophy, and apologetics.

Paul CopanPaul Copan

Paul Copan is a professor of philosophy and ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Ravi ZachariasRavi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias is the founder and president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. He helps “thinkers believe & believers think.”

Sam ShamounSam Shamoun

Sam Shamoun is a christian apologist who contributes to

Sean McDowellSean McDowell

Sean McDowell is teacher and speaker. He also runs Worldview Ministries.

Stand To ReasonStand To Reason

Stand to Reason is an apologetics ministry founded by Greg Koukl.

Tactical FaithTactical Faith

This is the twitter account for the Tactical Faith Ministry.

The Apologetic HubThe Apologetic Hub

The Apologetic Hub is a twitter account which tweets apologetic articles from various websites.

Truthbomb ApologeticsTruthbomb Apologetics

This is the twitter account for the Truthbomb Apologetics website.

William Lane Craig - Reasonable FaithWilliam Lane Craig/Reasonable Faith

Reasonable Faith is the apologetics ministry of Dr. William Lane Craig. Craig is also a Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology.

Wintery KnightWintery Knight

Wintery Knight is an apologetics/worldview blog that also comments on public policy.

VIDEO: Rob Bowmen Jr. Discusses the Trinity with Shawn McCraney

The discussion of the Trinity between Rob Bowmen and Shawn McCraney is available below (starting at about 18 minutes 55 seconds in).

Rob Bowman wrote a follow up on Facebook which I have reproduced below.

As announced yesterday, last night I was a guest on Shawn McCraney’s TV program “Heart of the Matter” to discuss the doctrine of the Trinity. In this post I’m going to review what has happened and give my take on where things stand at the moment.

Shawn is a former Mormon who became “born again” while he was still in the LDS Church. He eventually came out, went to pastoral training school, and began a teaching and evangelistic ministry focused on reaching Mormons. That ministry evolved into an informal church that is rather out of the mainstream of evangelical church practice. He published a book entitled “Born Again Mormon” that was later retitled “I Was a Born Again Mormon.” By all accounts Shawn’s ministry has been unusually successful not merely in drawing people out of Mormonism but in leading them to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and to experience the new birth in Christ.

During the past year or so, Shawn has offered up his own views on various doctrinal issues and spoken very critically of various evangelical doctrines and movements. This development came to a head a few weeks ago when he did a couple of programs disparaging the doctrine of the Trinity. Shawn referred to the doctrine as “garbage,” as a man-made doctrine defined as a way of controlling people, and argued that the doctrine is more likely to have originated in paganism from the triads of gods in ancient religions than from the Bible. His alternative explanation at least sounded like a form of modalism, although he insisted it was not.

After discussing the matter with my co-workers at the Institute for Religious Research, I emailed Shawn privately and expressed the desire to meet with him in order to get to know him personally and to discuss doctrine with him. Shawn responded very positively, welcomed the interaction, and we made arrangements. In the meantime, there were some swift and in some cases rather sharp responses to Shawn’s statements online, and this was followed up by a program last Thursday night in which Shawn and some of the local Christian ministry leaders who had criticized Shawn had an unfortunately vitriolic confrontation.

I flew from Grand Rapids to Salt Lake City on Monday and met with Shawn for four hours. We made a very good personal connection, frankly recognizing that we are in temperament and experience radically different kinds of men, and had a good, constructive first discussion of the doctrinal issues. Shawn invited me to be a guest on his program Tuesday night, which I did. We met again today for a few hours and talked some more. I was blessed to have an opportunity to present a solid if brief explanation of the biblical basis of the Trinity and to answer a number of Shawn’s objections in front of his audience. Afterwards I spoke with people in attendance for over an hour, and it appears that the event was helpful.

What was said on last night’s program is of course public knowledge. One thing I said at the end, in response to a caller’s question, is that I consider Shawn a brother in Christ. I stand by that statement, but I also don’t want to be misunderstood. Whether Shawn is a believer, and whether he is a sound teacher, are two different questions. Some of the things Shawn has been teaching are in error, and it is important that he come to see that and make the necessary corrections. As a teacher, he is answerable to God and is held to a stricter standard with regard to what he says than other believers (James 3:1). Some of the things he said can even be fairly labeled as heretical, though he has also said things that contradicted those seemingly heretical statements. My assessment is that Shawn’s theology is confused and otherwise lacking largely because he has never studied Christian theology at a serious level and because, probably in overreaction to the programmed instruction and extrabiblical texts imposed in Mormonism, he has tried to develop his understanding by reading only the Bible. Reading the Bible without studying works on Christian theology has certainly brought Shawn a lot closer to orthodox Christianity than he was as a Mormon, and it’s certainly a far better extreme. It is, however, an extreme that has kept him from benefiting from the wealth of Christian reflection and teaching on God’s word by those who have studied the Bible for centuries before Shawn or I came along. The result is that some of Shawn’s views are at least heterodox (other than the classical, orthodox Christian doctrines). That having been said, I consider him a brother in Christ because I see evidence that God dramatically changed his life, brought him out of Mormonism, and gave him a genuine appreciation of the grace freely bestowed through the gospel. While I don’t know definitively the state of anyone else’s soul, I am inclined to give someone the benefit of the doubt and to accept him as a brother unless forced to conclude otherwise. And I really do think Shawn is a Christian, saved by God’s grace, even though some of his doctrine is seriously flawed.

Theologically, Shawn’s thinking on the Trinity appears muddled. It is probably in flux, perhaps even more so after our discussions, which may be a step in the right direction. He has agreed that he needs to retract publicly and specifically some egregious critical remarks he made in recent weeks on the subject. His explanations at times seemed modalistic, but as we talked he backed away from those explanations, in particular his description of the Logos (Word) as one of many manifestations of God. Shawn rejects the eternal Sonship of Christ, preferring the formulation of the eternal Word. In this regard he is similar to Walter Martin, but unlike Martin, Shawn is uncomfortable designating the Word as a person. For that matter, he is uncomfortable using the term “persons” at all in reference to God, because of its association in Mormonism with physical human beings. Again, his own background and his focus on reaching Mormons have in his case led to some difficulty in coming to terms with orthodox Christian doctrine. This is a problem that I hope can be overcome as our dialogue continues. Meanwhile, at some point I do plan to make available in written form some responses to specific issues raised by Shawn regarding the Trinity, not to attack him personally but to provide substantive responses for the benefit of Shawn and others. I should mention that I have already told Shawn that I expected to do this, and he was supportive of me doing so.

I would appreciate the prayers of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for what follows. Please pray that Shawn will have constructive meetings with local Christian leaders, including some that have been legitimately concerned about his teachings, and that they will develop respect and trust. Please pray that future discussions between Shawn and me will be fruitful. Please also pray that Shawn will be successful going forward in acknowledging past errors and in developing a sound understanding of the theology of Scripture. All of this will be a process; it will not happen overnight. Please pray with me that everyone involved will listen to one another, be gracious and patient with one another, and be willing to learn and to change and even to repent where needed. And if you have some concerns or grievances with regards to anything I have said, please feel free to come to me with them.



Heart of the Matter HOTM Episode 383  Robert M. Bowman Jr.  - Director of Research, IRR 01

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Heart of the Matter HOTM Episode 383  Robert M. Bowman Jr.  - Director of Research, IRR 02

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Is Shawn McCraney a Modalist?

I wanted to title this post something along the lines of “links and videos that will provide the background to the difficulties that Shawn McCraney is facing over the charge of being a modalist” but that isn’t very catchy or succinct. I am friends with Rob Sivulka, fellow Biola alumni and president of Courageous Christians United (A song will play in a pop-up window when you open his site, be warned). I was turned on to this ongoing discussion by a blog he recently posted: Shawn McCraney is a Heretic and Needs Adult Supervision. His article, much like the title, is direct and pulls no punches.

Rob (and other Utah ministers) have been characterized as going out of their way to “attack” McCraney, however I do not believe this to be the case. Shawn hosts a free, internet-based show where he regularly discusses theological topics, especially as they relate to Mormonism. An evangelical hosting an apologetic/evangelistic outreach to Mormons would usually be right up Sivulka’s alley (Rob has been involved in missions activity in Utah for over 20 years), but theology matters. It matters when you witness to Mormons and it matters when you fellowship with other professing Christians. So when a professing Christian abandons a central theological tenant (God’s triune nature) it is no surprise that these men wanted to respond to it.

In Sivulka’s article Shawn is quoted and links are provided. I noticed that one of the links goes to a video that has since been set to private (the video settings are controlled by Heart of the Matter, i.e.  Shawn McCraney). The videos linked to are two shows about the trinity:

Episode 380 “God part 1″

Episode 381 “God part 2″

As of my posting this both videos are publicly viewable (I have copies for future reference should that ever change). To address the responses of Sivulka, McCraney hosted an “inquisition” episode which followed the following format. [Photo credit: James Thompson]

Inquisition 2014 Flyer - Heart of the Matter Shawn McCraney

Event Flyer (click to enlarge)

And the Video

I have read one well crafted account of the “Inquisition” by an attendee, Shawn McCraney is Probably Not A Heretic.

I personally threw in my 2 cents in a YouTube comment. An brief discussion ensued.

Tonight, a staunch defender of the Trinity, Rob Bowman, will be a guest on Heart of the Matter to discuss the trinity and modalism with McCraney, the event will be broadcasted online for free [event].

So, is Shawn McCraney a modalist? The evidence, in my opinion, seems to indicate that he is. As far back as 2012, forum postings on the HOTM website indicate that viewers were concerned that Shawn was teaching Modalism [read the forum post titled Shawn’s description of the Trinity] He does not like the word “trinity,” and has clear misgivings about aspects of the doctrine behind the word. I appreciate his openness to allow disagreement and dialog on his show, and my prayer is that clarity will be gained on all sides as a result of this ongoing dialog.

If McCraney is a modalist then he can not be a Christian. This is not a personal attack, it is the biblical result of denying God’s self-revelation about himself.  I sincerely hope that McCraney is not a modalist and wish him the best. I am praying for him and for those he is discussing the matter with.

UPDATE 2pm, 2/25/2014

I was directed to a post on Beggar’s Bread which is definitely worth checking out: The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part One)

Live-Streaming Tonight (2/25/14), Rob Bowman & Shawn McCraney Discuss Modalism and Trinity

Christian Apologist, Rob Bowman Jr., posted the following on his Facebook timeline this morning [link].

Rob Bowman and Shawn McCraney Discuss The Trinity

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The link he used leads to a flyer for the most recent online show (not tonight’s special episode).

Recently Shawn McCraney has come under some heat for shunning the use of the word “Trinity” and explaining God’s nature in a manner favorable to modalism. McCraney, a former Mormon, has hosted Heart of the Matter for eight years [About page].

Rob Bowman is the Director of Research at the Institute for Religious Research [Bio page]. Bowman wrote an excellent book [Why You Should Believe in the Trinity] defending the doctrine of the trinity against a widely circulated Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet.

The event will stream live at 8pm, Mountain Time. It will also be available on YouTube. To view live, visit HOTM Live. There is no charge.

New Book: The Watchtower and the Word, by Stephen Bedard

The Watchtower and the Word by Stephen J. Bedard

Click to view larger image.

One of my acquaintances from the time I spent as associate editor for Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics has published a new book on how to effectively engage a Jehovah’s Witness in meaningful conversation.

Although it is a response to What Does the Bible Really Teach? it really is a guide to having a good conversation with Jehovah’s Witnesses without getting sidetrack on the nonessential issues. (from

If you, like me, have had the opportunity to share the gospel with members of this cult you know how rewarding it can be. But due to our vast theological and hermeneutical differences, it is all too easy to become entangled in sub-discussions and rabbit-trails. In The Watchtower and the Word: A Guide to Conversations With Jehovah’s Witnesses, Stephen J. Bedard will help equip you with the skills to keep your conversation on topic.

The book is available at

Reply: Are Jesus’ Birth Narratives Contradictory?


This is my 2nd reply to twitter user @Apostate_Pastor. The background to this reply are these two articles (in order).

Alleged Bible Contradictions | Five Questions to Ask Before You Answer Objections

Reply: Are any Alleged Bible Contradictions Valid?

My Reply


After reading my reply you were kind enough to note that your 2nd tweet about those who “dismissively scoff at alleged bible contradictions” was not directed toward me. I am pleased to hear that. While their maturity can rightly be questioned, the harmony evident throughout scripture (upon which they base their faith, and through which they will grow toward a Christ-like maturity) is strong.

In reply to my last post you wrote the following

Reply 1 from Apostate_Pastor

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I appreciate your response and the clarification that you provided in the ensuing DM conversation on twitter.

Reply 2 from Apostate_Pastor

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I apologize for my delay in responding as quickly as I would have preferred. I do have a full time job and other time commitments outside of this website. I wrote the following 2 articles to help clear up the issue for you (or anyone else with similar questions).

Alleged Bible Contradictions | Interpretation, Consistency, and Worldview

Where did the Magi visit Mary, Joseph, and Jesus?

The first article touches on a few issues (hopefully with sufficient clarity). The part most relevant to our discussion is toward the beginning. If you have an interpretation of one passage which contradicts what another passage says (or your interpretation of what the other passage says) then you are not necessarily dealing with a Bible contradiction. This seems to be the case here as I offer a possible harmony of Matthew and Luke’s birth narratives in the second article.

Again, I thank you for you civil dialog thus far and pray that this response finds you well.


Where did the Magi visit Mary, Joseph, and Jesus?

Where did the Magi visit Mary, Joseph and Jesus Header

One allegation of contradiction in scripture is that there is a discrepancy between the chronologies of Matthew and Luke, specifically with regard to the visit of the Magi (or, the three wise men). We know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4-6); circumcised at 8 days old (Luke 2:21; cf. Leviticus 12:3); visited Jerusalem after the time of Mary’s purification; and returned to Nazareth at some point after the 41 days of Mary’s purification (Luke 2:22-23, 39; cf. Leviticus 12:3-4).

  • NOTE: Leviticus 12 stipulates 7 days of uncleanness + 1 day circumcision (the eighth day) + 33 more days of purification, 7+1+33=41. Some commentators take Leviticus 12:3 to be the first day of the remaining 33, rendering the time of purification as 40 days (7+33=40). While interesting to note, this difference has no relevant bearing on the question at hand.

Matthew compliments Luke’s account by shedding additional light on the move back to Nazareth. Matthew 2:1 notes that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but it does so in a parenthetical manner. The ESV reads “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea…” (emphasis mine), indicating that the events about to be described occurred at some point after Jesus’ birth, not before. It does not mean that these events occurred immediately after one another, only that one preceded the other.

At some point after Jesus’ birth, wise men visited Jerusalem looking for the king of the Jews (Matthew 2:2). This piqued Herod’s interest, and after some investigation it was determined that the birth place of the Messiah was Bethlehem (Matthew 2:3-6). He summons the wise men and enlists their service by way of deception. They find the Messiah by way of the star, present their gifts, and abandon their agreement with Herod because of a warning they received in a dream (Matthew 2:7-12).

After their departure from the family, Joseph is warned in a dream that he should take his family to Egypt for the child’s protection from Herod (Matthew 2:13). He does this, and remains there until Herod’s death. Once Herod realizes that the wise men had outwitted him, ruining his plans, he becomes furious and orders the murder of all Bethlehem male babies 2 years old or younger (Matthew 2:16). Matthew notes that this heinous action was foretold in one of Jeremiah’s prophecies (Matthew 2:17; cf. Jeremiah 31:15). After Herod’s death, Joseph is again visited by an angel asking him to return to Israel (Matthew 2:19-20). Joseph obeys (Matthew 2:21), but moves to Nazareth in Galilee due to the change in ruler and another dream (Matthew 2:22).


The situation we are facing is a matter of synthesizing two accounts of the same story. When assessing and attempting to harmonize these accounts the following must be taken into consideration.

Harmonious aspects of both accounts. Both Matthew and Luke agree on the details when their accounts overlap. For instance, both note that Jesus’ parents are Mary and Joseph (Matthew 2:11, 13; Luke 2:4-5). Both accounts agree that Jesus was born in the city of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4). Both accounts agree that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus eventually ended up back in Nazareth (Matthew 2:23; Luke 2:39).

Both accounts have details which the other does not mention. Unique to Matthew’s record is the story of Herod, the Magi, the trip to Egypt, the murder of the male infants in Bethlehem, and the circumstances surrounding the return from Egypt to Nazareth. Unique to Luke’s account are the details regarding the census, the relocation to Bethlehem, the Shepherds’ angelic encounter and visit to Jesus, and the trip to Jerusalem.

Neither Luke or Matthew attempt to present an exhaustive account. We all have questions about the historic details of Jesus’ infancy and childhood which will never go answered in this life. Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels in the middle of the first century, selecting the details which 1) were available to them, and 2) they believed to be relevant to those whom they knew would read/hear their gospels. Neither account is exhaustive and neither account pretends to be. The details which these men did include in their accounts are the details we have to consider when asking if the (above) charge of contradiction is accurate.

The issue of chronology. If we assume that Matthew and Luke’s intent was merely to present their readers with historical details in their successive order then we will become very frustrated with them. Parts of the gospels are arranged chronologically, and others are not. In some cases long sermons are summarized, in other cases events are grouped together because of theological considerations. If the writers claimed to be presenting us with strict chronologies then we would have grounds to object. But no such claim is made. In fact, it is anachronistic for us to impose our desire for a strict chronology on first century documents.

  • Matthew. Matthew uses words of succession as noted earlier by the use of “after” in 2:1. He also mentions the death of Herod twice. In Matthew 2:15, Jesus’ family remains in Egypt until Herod’s death. Then in 2:16 Herod is alive and ordering the infanticide of male babies. Then in 2:19, His death is recorded again, as it aligned with the timing of an angel’s appearance to Joseph. If Matthew had a strict chronology as his concern we could rightly cry “foul!” but that would be absurd. He is simply inserting the tragic murder of the Bethlehem babies into his narrative.
  • Luke. While Luke’s account of Jesus’ infancy is larger than Matthew’s it is interesting to note that his record of Jesus’ return to Nazareth is much shorter than Matthew’s. I noted that both men record that the family ended up in Nazareth, but the details of how that came to be are not Luke’s concern. In the next few verses he will summarize the remainder of Jesus’ childhood from arriving in Nazareth to him as a twelve year old boy. Those are very few words dedicated to a lot of time! Again, if it was Luke’s intention to present a strict chronology that would satisfy 21st century historians then he failed miserably. But, that is not the case.

Does Matthew say which town the Magi found Jesus in? Since Luke does not mention the Magi, Matthew must be examined if we are to find an answer to this question. In Matthew 2:9 we are told the following:

After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.

Matthew’s record (chronologically speaking) notes that these events occurred after Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1). Geographically speaking, it only says that they arrived in “ the place where the child was.” What is Bethlehem? Matthew does not say. Was it Nazareth? Matthew does not say.

A Possible Harmony

This section is titled a possible harmony because, lacking sufficient details to compile a chronology satisfactory to a 21st century historian, it is possible that another harmony may be produced which is both 1) internally consistent, as well as 2) incompatible with mine. Does this mean the Bible is contradictory? No, it means that there are multiple harmonious possibilities which do justice to both Matthew and Luke. If anything, it should make the Bible’s harmony seem even more likely to a skeptic.

Event Matthew Luke

Jesus is Born in

Matthew 2:1a Luke 2:4-6

The Shepherds encounter
angels & visit Jesus

Luke 2:8-20

Jesus is circumcised

Luke 2:21

After the time of
Mary’s purification, they travel to Jerusalem

Luke 2:22-38

They return to their
residence in Bethlehem (assumption)

An assumption which is not stated or contradicted by the text
of Matthew or Luke. See rationale below.

The Magi visit
Jerusalem, meet Herod, are sent to find Jesus

Matthew 2:1b-8

The Magi find Jesus and
return home another way

Matthew 2:9-12

Joseph is warned in a
dream/ flight to Egypt

Matthew 2:13-15

Herod realizes he was
tricked and orders the murder of the children

Matthew 2:16-18

Eventually, Herod dies
and an angel tells Joseph it is safe to return

Matthew 2:19-21

Joseph takes Mary and
Jesus to Nazareth

Matthew 2:22-23 —-

The assumption that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus returned to Bethlehem prior to the Magi’s visit is, admittedly, an assumption. I noted that, while it is not explicitly stated in Matthew or Luke, it does not contradict them either. In addition, I feel that this assumption is reasonable (within this harmony) because of the following reasons.

  • In Matthew’s gospel the record of Jesus’ family returning to Nazareth does not occur until after 1) the flight to Egypt and 2) Herod’s death.
  • Had the Magi visited prior to Mary’s purification she would likely have had better gifts to present than “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:24). (William Hendricksen, The Gospel of Matthew (Baker; Grand Rapids, MI:1973), 170.)
  • Because Joseph was of the house of David (Luke 2:4) he undoubtedly had relatives still living in Bethlehem. Hendricksen (ibid.) comments that it is conceivable that they may have stayed with family after Jesus’ birth.
  • In Matthew’s account of Herod’s research and dispatch of the Magi, he directs them to travel to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:8), based on Micah 5:2 (cited in Matthew 2:6). There is no explicit textual reason in Matthew to assume that they altered their destination from Bethlehem to Nazareth.
  • If the Magi visited Jesus’ family prior to their flight to Egypt, the gifts they presented them would have bankrolled the entire relocation (which, at the time, would have seemed to be an indefinite length) and the return to Israel. God provided for the protection of the infant Messiah, in part, through the Magi’s generous worship.