“How Many Bethlehem Children Were Killed by Herod?”

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I was reading your Christmas Quiz and I wondered if you had researched the number of children killed by Herod? Matthew doesn’t mention the gender. Would these be Joseph and Mary’s nephews and/or nieces, or distant relations? How long were Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem? Would they have known some of these children? Did Jesus ever go back to Bethlehem to minister?

We do not know the number of infant boys killed as a result of Herod’s order. Scholars estimate that it was probably no more than a dozen (because Bethlehem’s population was small and the order only concerned infant boys age two and under). Note that Matthew 2:16 does specifically mention “boys” or “males.”

We simply are not given enough information to know much about these children. We don’t know if any of them were related to Joseph and Mary or not. Although they may have known many of these other children and their families, we are not provided with all the details about this event that we might like. In fact, as far as I know, Matthew is the only author who records this event. His account is all the information we possess. It seems possible (maybe even probable) that the family was in Bethlehem for quite some time before fleeing to Egypt (Matt. 2:13). According to Matthew, the family was in a “house” when the wise men arrived (2:11) and Jesus is called a “child” (Gr. paidion), instead of “baby” (Gr. brephos, Luke 2:12. In addition, Herod inquires about the precise time at which the magi saw the star (Matt. 2:7), and this becomes the basis for Herod’s killing all the male children two years old and under (2:16). Hence, the family may have been there nearly two years by the time they fled to Egypt. Of course, we really just don’t know all the details about the timing of these events. But I’m somewhat inclined to think they may have been in Bethlehem long enough to get to know many of their neighbors—particularly those who had children roughly the same age as Jesus.

Concerning your final question, we are just never told whether or not Jesus returned to Bethlehem. The Bible is simply silent about this, so far as I can tell.

Shalom in Christ,

Michael Gleghorn

© 2010 Probe Ministries

Dr. Michael Gleghorn

Dr. Michael Gleghorn is a research associate with Probe Ministries. He earned a B.A. in psychology from Baylor University, a Th.M. in systematic theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Theological Studies (also from Dallas Theological Seminary). Before coming on staff with Probe, Michael taught history and theology at Christway Academy in Duncanville, Texas. Michael and his wife Hannah have two children: Arianna and Josiah. As a family, they attend Frisco Bible Church, where Michael and Hannah are involved in various ministries. His personal website is michaelgleghorn.com.

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