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Our readers asked:

Are the infancy narratives really the true story of Jesus’ birth or did the gospel writers invent them?

Joe Paprocki Answers:

As Catholics, we don’t believe that ANYTHING in the Bible is invented. Rather, everything in the Bible is inspired. In other words, God is the author of the Bible and human authors wrote the Scriptures down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

With that in mind, the Catechism (#115-117) teaches us to recognize that the Bible works on 2 levels: the literal and the spiritual. This means that, even when events described in the Bible may not be intended to be understood literally, they nonetheless teach spiritual truth.

Of course, your question is asking whether or not the infancy narratives (found only in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels) are factual (can be taken literally as historical accounts) or figurative. First, we need to recognize that the Gospels as a whole are not intended to be historical biographies but rather, are theological narratives or “portraits” as Fr. Donald Senior describes them (Jesus: A Gospel Portrait). The infancy narratives do not attempt to give us a historical account of Jesus’ birth but rather, they answer the theological question of “who is Jesus of Nazareth?” This does not mean that the infancy narratives do not contain some history in the sense that we understand history today. We do know historically that Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod. On the other hand, we are unable to verify historically that Joseph and Mary migrated to Bethlehem because of a census.

There are many elements of the infancy narratives that we are unable to verify historically. This does not make them unhistorical but rather unverifiable historically speaking, leaving the door open for the possibility that they are based on historical events. The authors wove history and theology together to present us with proclamations of faith rather than with news accounts. Historically speaking, we do not know all of the “facts” surrounding Jesus’ birth. However, the infancy narratives teach us the absolute truth about the identity of Jesus of Nazareth.

 
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The Author : Joe Paprocki
Joe Paprocki, D.Min., is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. He has over 30 years of experience in pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Joe is the author of numerous books on pastoral ministry and catechesis, including The Bible Blueprint, Living the Mass, and bestsellers The Catechist's Toolbox and A Well-Built Faith (all from Loyola Press).
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • mike

    Anne–
    Sorry to hear of your difficulty in conceiving. I’m going to say that God isn’t rewarding your friend’s daughter–nor is God punishing you by your struggle to conceive–rather these are functions of basic biology. Some folks are simply more fertile than others.

    Because of that we do have the opportunity here to think more deeply about where God calls us to be. Perhaps your friend’s daughter might need someone to adopt her baby as she is a mere teen? Perhaps you’re called to adoption as Pat suggests. Perhaps you might want to pray about where God may be leading you and what life has to offer if you can’t have a child and know that having a child isn’t the only way to be life-giving to others and to consider what other ways there are to be a life-giving person!

    I too, have faced the same burden and I know how sad it is to be so disappointed. Many people I know have adopted and then found themselves pregnant soon after! So perhaps there may be more in store than what meets the eye. Know of our prayers today.
    I’m going to copy this thread and place it in a more appropriate place on the site later in the week.

  • Pat

    I remember my parish priest telling myself and others at Mass that “it is an imperfect world”. I believe that he is right. I am an adopted child whose parents were unable to adopt another child after my sister (also adopted). The only thing that I can counsel is this – It takes three people to concieve a child – a male, a female, and God Himself. Keep on praying; He will answer your prayers. Also, think of adopting…there are a lot of children that need you. My mom and dad were unable to have children..and I am soooo happy that they decided to adopt me and my sister. Perhaps God might be asking you to consider adoption.

  • Anne

    Why would God answer a wicked prayer? A relative of mine has for the past few years admitted to me that she encourages her teenage daughter to have sex so that she could become a grandmother. She said she prays for it to happen. She loves children and feels lost now that her own have grown. I have been praying for the past few years that God would lead her to understand this requests was not only selfish, but against what God expects from us. I receive a call this morning from her that she is rejoicing because God has answered her prayers. Her 18 yr. old unwed daughter is pregnant. AND she is rejoicing! I have to admit I felt hurt, not only because she obviously still doesn’t see the wrong in this. But a part of me feels rejected by God because my husband & I have been trying to conceive for the past 8 years with no luck. We have prayed for a child in our lives. We both have no children from previous marriages and relationships. I had always decided to wait until marriage, which I know was the right thing to do. Yet, in some small way, I feel punished. And my teenage relative is rewarded for her promiscuous lifestyle. Her mother, rewarded for unGodly requests. Why is this? What possible message could God be sending me?

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