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The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke
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The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke


Yale University Press 1993

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In some ways the narratives of Jesus’ birth and infancy are the last frontiers to be crossed in the critical approach to the Gospels. For some, the stories of Jesus’ birth are given dubious historical value. For others, the popular character of these narratives—the exotic magi, birth star, angelic messengers, and so on—renders them as legends unworthy to be a vehicle of the pure Gospel message. Still others deem them simple Christian folklore devoid of any real theology—only written for romantics or the naïve. Yet each Christmas, Christian clergy and the people to whom they minister must continue to face them. According to Raymond Brown, introductory materials on the New Testament in general and the Gospels in particular gives the infancy narratives short shrift, disproportionate to their role in Christian theology, art, and poetic imagination. Perhaps the most visible sign of this neglect is the absence of a major modern commentary which treats the two infancy narratives together. It was from this felt need that efforts for a new commentary were undertaken. In The Birth of the Messiah, Raymond Brown is interested in the role the infancy narratives played in the early Christian understanding of Jesus. By treating the two narratives together in the same volume, Brown points out their common tendencies and emphases. By giving them two distinct treatments, however, he also shows how each fits within the theological framework of its respective Gospel, and thus offers us reasons for the differences between the infancy narratives. The Birth of the Messiah, Brown contends that the infancy narratives are, indeed, worthy vehicles of the Gospel messages. In fact, they contain the Gospel message in miniature. On a deeper level, this commentary reflects the instinct recognizing the infancy narratives as the essence of the Good News—namely, that God has made himself present to us in the life of the Messiah who walked the earth.