Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem: Fact or Fiction?
According to the world’s most celebrated atheist, Richard Dawkins, “the gospels are ancient fiction” (2006, p. 97). They “[a]ll have the status of legends, as factually dubious as the stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table”—full of “invented, made-up fiction” (pp. 96-97). Dawkins wonders why the “many unsophisticated Christians...who take the Bible very seriously indeed as a literal and accurate record of history and hence as evidence supporting their religious beliefs,” do not “notice those glaring contradictions” in the gospel accounts? (p. 94). What kind of “contradictions,” exactly? Consider the very first one that he mentions, regarding Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.
Supposedly, Matthew, Luke, and John give conflicting information about where Jesus was born. Dawkins wrote:
A good example of the colouring by religious agendas is the whole heart-warming legend of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.... John’s gospel specifically remarks that his followers were surprised that he was not born in Bethlehem.... Matthew and Luke handle the problem differently, by deciding that Jesus must have been born in Bethlehem after all (p. 93, emp. in orig.).
Exactly where did the apostle John indicate that Jesus was “not born in Bethlehem?” Dawkins quoted from John 7:41-42, wherein the apostle recounts how, “Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” (KJV, emp. added). Does this passage teach that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem? Not at all. John merely pointed out that some in the crowd who were listening to Jesus asked if the Messiah would come from Galilee or Bethlehem? These individuals knew that Jesus had grown up in Galilee (just as all of the gospel accounts teach: Matthew 2:22-23; Mark 1:24; 10:47; Luke 2:39-40; 4:16; John 1:45-46; 7:27). This group simply made the assumption that, because Jesus had grown up in Galilee, he was born in Galilee. But, that simply was not true (Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4). These individuals were ignorant of the place of Jesus’ birth.
Similarly, Richard Dawkins is ignorant of what constitutes a genuine contradiction, if he actually believes that this statement in John’s gospel account really contradicts what Matthew and Luke wrote. Were John to write that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, or that Jesus was born in Galilee, only then would there be a contradiction. But John never wrote that he believed that Jesus was born in Galilee rather than Bethlehem. The apostle merely reported how some of those who listened to Jesus imagined that He was born in Galilee.
Dawkins, Richard (2006), The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin).