Gospel Records of Jesus’ Birth

Question: How did the Gospel writers get records of Jesus' birth? I understand how the Gospels record writings of things Christ did or things he taught the disciples and all his followers. I know how these are first hand accounts or taken from those who had first hand accounts. My question is, there are many events in Scripture where no one was present to witness the event, such as the Annunciation but especially the Magnificat, the Visitation, what Elizabeth said, the birth of Jesus, etc. So, where did the knowledge of these events and the actual quotations come from?

Discussion: To backtrack a bit for the benefit of other readers, Bible scholars generally agree that the book of Mark gives us our oldest Gospel and the primary source for many eye-witness accounts. Other Gospel writers probably drew from that material then added their own encounters, but as you mentioned, none of them — not even Mark — could have witnessed some of the events, such as Jesus' birth. However, Mary would have.

 In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1 verse 3 tells us the physician had been "investigating everything accurately anew," which indicates that Luke took the diagnostic approach of a well-trained doctor. In addition, Luke seems to have taken on a role similar to that of today's  investigative reporter. Very likely, his work included careful note-taking of the questions he posed or conversations he had with reliable eye witnesses. Surely, too, at some point in time, Luke would have wanted to interview Jesus' Mother.

Not only did Mary know her Son better than anyone else on earth could, she was with Jesus at every major event in his life. When other followers ran away and hid, she stood at the foot of the cross with no apparent concern for her own life. Mary was there. She was focused. She was spirit-filled and brave — from the moment of Jesus' conception to his ascension into heaven, but most certainly at his birth and other events you mentioned.

Because of her faith, strength, and character, Mary would have made the ideal eye-witness on whom Luke could rely to present an accurate account of the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. In our search for the truth, we, too, can rely on Jesus' Mother and the guidance of the Holy Spirit who filled her very being with the Lord. So, as we prepare for the New Year, let's consider Mary our example for giving ourselves more fully to God. For instance, we might begin thinking and praying about ways to answer this important question: "Remember The Sabbath?" Lord willing, we'll have opportunity to discuss that topic in the next Bible Talk.

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  • Guest

    No wonder the Archbishop of Canterbury wants to call the Nativity in Matthew and Luke a "legend" – what Mr. Shea today calls a Pious Fantasy.  If you take these accounts seriously as the inspired inerrant word of God, you are in a world of hurt as a Protestant.  The accounts leave you no choice but to kneel at the Blessed Mother's feet to honor, venerate, and love her.  

    By the way I apologize to my real Protestant brothers and sisters for implying in the above paragraph that the Archbishop is a Protestant.  My understanding is that you can not be a Protestant unless you are a Christian….. that makes it kind of dicey for the Archbishop. 

  • Guest

    "Bible scholars generally agree that the book of Mark gives us our oldest Gospel and the primary source for many eye-witness accounts. Other Gospel writers probably drew from that material then added their own encounters"

    I wonder why then is St. Matthew's gospel always the first book of the NT. St. Matthew was one of the twelve Apostles, so is it just an honor? 

    But then St. John's gospel wouldn't be fourth. St. Mark was not one of the twelve, nor was St. Luke.  We know St. John (who was one of the twelve) wrote his gospel as an old man and it is evident in the text of John that he assumed his readers had knowledge of the other gospels.

    Interesting, too, that although gospels of Ss. Matthew, Luke and John are all longer than St. Mark's, when the same events are compared, the account in St. Mark's gospel is usually longer than in the others. 

    I don't claim to be a bible scholar, and I am certain it does not matter as much as the truth of the gospel message, but it is interesting. And interesting that we seem to be constantly trying to find new ways of showing the old ways are wrong.

    The rationale of the comparatively new scholarly agreement does not seem (to me, anyway) to be iron clad, nor is it necessarily more reliable than the centuries-old tradition that St. Matthew's gospel was first. 


  • Guest

    "Bible scholars generally…"

    Some time ago in one of Karl Keating's e-letters (available on Catholic Answers website), he referred to a website which discusses the authors and time frame of writing of the four Gospels and their order. This website, http://www.churchinhistory.org, provides a well developed and logical alternative to the present scholarly viewpoint on the priority of Mark's Gospel. I present this because the order of priority of the Gospels is not absolutely settled by modern biblical scholarship, but there are reasonable alternative explanations.

    Peace and blessings to all.

    submitted by Daniel J. Bauer

  • Guest

    Thank you, Daniel J. Bauer, for your contribution to understanding the questions and issues raised in this article.  I wasn't aware that there was an ongoing discussion on this topic.

    To PTR, perhaps one answer to your questions is the same as the one to the question of when Jesus was born: WHO CARES?!  (Before you scratch my eyes out, look at the rest of the answer!)  The important information is not when He was born, or who wrote which book first, but that He was born at all, and that the Gospel writers were given the gift of the Holy Spirit to write!  Without Emmanuel and those gifted enough to tell us about Him, we'd have nothing. 

    And, finally, Mary: I know you were concentrating on Mary and Luke's probable role in "telling her side of the story", but there's also the aspect of each generation's having to memorize their unique ancestry to "prove" that they were Jewish.  Because of the various conquests of Israel, 'returnees' had to be able to identify who their ancestors were.  If they couldn't trace their line accurately back to Jacob's 12 sons, they were not accepted by their contemporaries as "real" Jews.  Written records were only kept for kings and assorted "big wigs".  Jesus' "brothers" (cousins, step-siblings, or whatever they were) would also have known the "family history" and could have verified Mary's account, including the "stories" about His birth and events following.  (Not to take away Mary's veracity, but in those days women couldn't even give legal testimony, much less 'remember' family history.)

  • Guest


    Amen on the actions of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the writers of all sacred scripture.  And, as I say, it does not matter as much as the truth of the gospel message. And, as Mr. Bauer put very well, the issue is not settled.

    But an all caps "WHO CARES?" seems a bit cavalier.

    Apparently the biblical scholars care. So does Ms. Harwell Sayler, since she mentioned it, even though it does not seem central to her answer to the question. 

    And I care as well in a general way. I care that we, the great unwashed, so often seem to have this scholarship, or the theory of the Q, or whatever, pointed out to us by the very smart people.

    A few years ago when The Da Vinci Code was popular, I remember being surprised by some very smart Catholics whom I respected saying who cares?  So what? What does it matter?

    Well, to paraphrase CS Lewis, if the story of Christianity is not true then it does not matter very much at all.  If it is true, nothing is more important.

    Again, I am no bible scholar, but neither am I willing to uncritically accept modern scholars newest versions of second-guessing ancient wisdom on the scriptures.


    I didn't mean to stir the soup so hard. Sorry.

  • Guest

    Dearest PTR: you probably will never see this, but I'm going to respond anyway.  Please don't apologize: if you don't 'stir the soup', it'll boil over!

    Seriously, you're right, of course, that these matters are all desperately important.  And, on the other hand, they are not important at all.  After more than half a lifetime of filling my poor swiss-cheese brain with 'facts', I've fallen into the "who cares" camp.  I think we are wasting our time on trying to "prove"–to ourselves or anyone else–the credibility of what we believe.  After all, we are not called to "assent" but to "believe" (mind vs heart).

    What was my ultimate metanoia on this was a 'joke' I read once.  An elderly (Protestant) lady was praising God–quite loudly–for having saved the Israelites by drowning Pharoh and his army in the Red Sea.  Some person with a head-ful of facts and a stone heart informed her that the "Red Sea" was really the "Reed Sea" and wasn't any deeper than a tablespoon-ful of water.  Without missing a beat, the little old lady began praising God…..loudly.  Thoroughly disgusted, the scolar demanded to know what she was praising God for now!  Her answer: that God had drowned Pharoh and his whole army in a tablespoon of water!

    So, it struck me: it isn't the "facts" that matter.  What matters is that it really happened–however it happened–and God is deserving of praise.  It all depends on how you look at it, yes?