John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 7:41-43 Was Jesus Born In Bethlehem?

Others said, “He is the Christ.” Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.

//Two of the four Gospels, Matthew and Luke, provide birth stories for Jesus, and both describe Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. In Luke, Jesus’ parents travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a census,  and have the baby there. In Matthew, they appear to be living initially in Bethlehem, and only later settle in Nazareth. The two stories differ in other fundamental ways, but they agree on the most important point: Bethlehem.

A number of noted Historical Jesus scholars, however, insist that Jesus was more likely born in Nazareth. They find the two birth stories unconvincing, and suggest that both were crafted to explain how Jesus of Nazareth somehow fulfilled the prophetic expectation of birth in David’s city of Bethlehem. Jesus was, after all, the proclaimed Messiah, the warrior figure promised through the ages, with the blood of the Hebrew hero David surging through his veins.

Enter today’s verse. John’s Gospel disagrees, and points out that Jesus’ origins are in Galilee. The “people” are troubled, knowing Jesus’ true origins, and knowing he didn’t come from Bethlehem. This is one of many places where John contradicts the other Gospels, but this is one of the more serious contradictions. So implanted is the Bethlehem birth story among Christians today that we invariably read the Johannine verse sideways; we pity the poor “people” who didn’t know the truth: That Jesus really did hail from Bethlehem! But John provides absolutely no hint of irony or contradiction in his story, and instead bolsters his argument by having the Jews say they know Jesus’ Galilean origins!

The question is, why? Why does John take such pains to point out the fallacy of the Bethlehem birth? The answer, I believe, is rooted in John’s theology of the Messiah. John is simply not interested in a Davidic warrior-type Messiah. John repeatedly compares Jesus not to David, but to Moses. John’s Gospel, written some 20-30 years after Jerusalem was leveled by the Romans, has given up on a political uprising and the restoration of the Jewish nation; he is ready to move on with his life.

17 Comments

  1. I am from Milton-Freewater. But, I was born in Walla walla. How badly do some people want to find contradictions in the Bible? I am not sure about any need for the Bible to have to be perfect. But, I am sure about the need of some people to prove the Bible wrong.

  2. I think sometimes the proper question, how desperate is the need of some people to prove the Bible is everywhere in agreement? There are many differences between John and the Synoptics, not just in details but in theology; it’s sometimes hard to believe they are talking about the same Jesus. These differing opinions of the Bible’s writers are, however, what make it a rich and fascinating book.

    • Preetesh

      Well these differences completely negate the historical authenticity of the Bible . .. .you should understand this very important fact.. . In the end it boils down to what you are looking for — if you are looking for faith .. it doesn’t matter how many discrepancies exist in the bible .. however if you truly want to unveil the real Jesus then you need to extract what are the most likely events to happen . History speaking there can be only one true answer to all factual questions. . . different opinions as you put it don’t fit into this equation.

      • Lee Harmon

        I think we’re in agreement, Preetesh. I guess it depends on what events of history interest you: what Jesus actually said or did, or what the evangelists taught and wrote. The latter may be more important in regards to the development of Christianity.

  3. I was hopping to get to either post or agree with with the flip side also. (There is a need that gets just about crazy on both sides; One side feels it has to prove the Bible wrong. The other side feels it has to prove the Bible right.) In both regards it can get crazy. For me I just have faith. Faith does not require proof. This does not mean I do not get caught up in talking about proof either side might be bringing to the table. For me it is sad that people have such a need for proof.

  4. I think, from my perspective, “right and wrong” is not quite the issue. Better words are “consistent and inconsistent.” We are discussing whether or not Bible writers had differing opinions about Jesus.

  5. As you so clearly stated, that is your perspective. Perspective is what gives rise to an opinion. Everyone has a different perspective. That means that everyone has a different opinion. Therefore everyone including the Bible writers had different opinions. The better question would be: Do the Bible writers all describe the same man without contradiction? That will probably just come back to perspective and there are at least 4.

  6. There seems to be some real progress in this dialogue as two originally divergent views are settling in on some common ground that comes from shared ideas. That is always good to see, and is, I believe, the purpose of dialogue — to discover the truth with the help of other seekers.
    I liked The Dubious Disciple’s article. I would like to differ with him on one point at the end of it, however. He says that the Gospel of John was written 20 to 30 years after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (in 70 A.D.) and that he “has given up on a political uprising and the restoration of the Jewish nation…” While that has been the conventional wisdom over the years about John’s Gospel being written after the three Synoptic Gospels, I believe that more and more NT scholars are re-evaluating that conclusion these days. They are beginning to conclude that (except for the Prologue and conclusion) John’s Gospel was written at approximately the same time as Mark’s, and is therefore one of the first. He does have a different point of view and theology from the three Synoptics though. That’s for sure.

  7. Hey, thanks for contributing, Tom!

    I actually believe John evolved in stages, and that some of it does predate the war. More than any other Gospel, John contains evidence of pre-war knowledge of Jerusalem and the Galilee. You agree?

    I actually have a book coming out about John’s Gospel in January.

  8. To give a different prospective to the bible as wr know it today one must read the history of the compilation of the bible which took place during the Roman Byzantine era after the conversion to christianity of emperorConstsntone and his mother Hellen around 350ad.The aim and instruction to the church fathers/compilers of the bible from numerous msnuscripts was to find links to unite the people of his vast empire consisting of pagans jews of the mosaic faith and christians who also happened to hail previously from jews of the mosaic faith.Thus the introduction of old testament(Jewish mosaic teachings and prophets)into one book the bible.There are vast diffences between the two faiths eg.Jesus God the Father and the jewish Yahvev/Hashem.As far as Iam concerned Iam convinced that the gennealogy of Jesus descent according to Mathew is an obvious add on by the church compilers to link Jesus to David and many other additions and omissions during the period of compiletion which took about270years and many eccoumenical synods(conferences) to complete.The result is it failed to achieve its aim and only added cofusion to Christianity.Important to do research in the history of the compilation of the bible.

  9. Darrien

    The historical scholars could not have been that notable since you didn’t provide any name for them. You didn’t provide any sources either. This is effectively only your opinion.

  10. wayne wilson

    there is and has always been a bethlehem in galilee and 2 more in these regions

  11. Trevor smith

    Every one misses the point there is another bethlehem in galilee 7 kms from nazareth only the hometown of mary jesus mother there is a long large wall there that is associated with the birth in bible story and the pushing of the bethlehem in judea 159 kms away happened for commercial interests hotels restaurants souvenirs millions tourists spending money so no interest in the correct bethlehem so far away from jeruselum the gospel of john mentions galilee where this lesser known bethlehem is so close to marys nazareth home makes more logical sense for pregnant mary to be i am sure

  12. Trevor smith

    How many people are aware that so called virgin births were fairly common in that part of the world in those times the tradition was for the husband and wife to live apart for first 3 months of marriage those that broke tradition and a pregnancy happened the resulting childbirth was called a virgin birth and this is how the virgin birth story happened even some accounts of the event they were only betrothed not married not so relevant to the outcome

  13. Trevor smith

    Most bible stories can be relied on as based in truth its only the interpretations that can be misleading to the people of faith the first christian roman emperor constantine/s wife decided where jesus was born over 300 years after his birth as no agreement only arguements on the location was available to the faithful up to that time and the reason for this he was born in the bethlehem in galilee very close to nazareth marys his mothers home not in the bethlehem close to jeruselum but 159 kms away from nazareth marys home a big problem in those days for pregnant mary to get to where most christians have been misled to believe the birth took place financial interests in israels major tourist attraction has ensured this misinformation has continued for all these centuries the gospel of john confirms this mentioning galilee the other 2 gospels say bethlehem but do not say which bethlehem the large wall mentioned in the bible story is in bethlehem galilee but no such wall is to be found in the jeruselum bethlehem proof that christians have been misled even they say maybe a mistake about the wall no mistake go to bethlehem galilee and see for yourself i have seen it and saying the gospel of john is dubious feeds the faithfuls confusion on this birthplace matter and nazareth is now putting up birthplace claims also so stick to the bible story just interpretate it more thorougly and look at history concerning the wife off emperor constantine naming her chosen bithplace for jesus.

  14. Trevor smith

    Please study history to find that jesus birthplace was argued about for over 300 years in bethlehem near jeruselum after his birth till the wife of roman emperor constantine the first christian emperor decided to declare the present site in jeruselum and because of massive financial benefits from tourists has remained the most acclaimed site however nazareth marys home town also claims the birth site but the obvious winner is the other bethlehem only a short distance from nazareth there is the large and long wall there as in the bible story but not to be found at jeruselum site the gospel of john says galilee is where he was born and thats where this correct bethlehem is mary being pregnant not likely to be in jeruselum 159 kms away possibly bethlehem in galilee will be denied for financial reasons as the jeruselum site is israels largest tourist attraction and all the hotels tours souvenir industries restaurants catering doesnt exist in galilee so the bible is correct only interpretations arr wrong the enlightened faithful will know the truth so go visit the wall in galilee the actual birth site has a two lane bitumen road on it now the wall has a path beside it all made in roman times rural setting all pleasant to visit

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