Friday, July 24, 2009

Answering Objections About Jesus' Birth

“I didn’t know there was a controversy,” my wife said the other morning over coffee. “Most Christians don’t,” I replied. She had been editing this article, and I was dealing with the emotions of being critiqued. Appreciating her insights and yet wanting her to just say, “Good job. I like it.”
We were talking about the controversy over some of the facts of Jesus’ birth. First of all, in Luke’s Gospel it is written that Jesus was born during a census. He reports, “This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”[1] Critics argue that no record, other than the Bible, exists of a world-wide Roman census during Herod’s reign from 7 to 4 B.C. Secondly, Matthew’s Gospel dates Christ’s birth in reference to Herod. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Quirinius began to govern Syria from 6 A.D. That is an apparent ten year gap between what Luke and Matthew have written. On this basis, some say Luke is in error. I’ve looked at some of the criticism leveled on Luke and have some thoughts. Do you have your coffee ready?

A Question to Ask

Once when my friend was preaching a sermon in India, he said, “back during World War II, in the fifties…” Another friend and I looked at each other and tried to conceal our laughter. For the next week we ragged him about that gaffe. Obvious errors have a way of becoming public. If Luke was in error, then I wonder why the early church did not correct him? The census and name of the Governor would have been common knowledge in that day.

The Author

We know a little bit about Luke. He was a physician. We know he intended to write accurately. He opens his Gospel with “It seemed fitting for me … having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order… so that you may know the exact truth…”[2] He writes like someone who recognized the significance of what he was doing.

A portion of his other biblical writing, Acts, was once labeled as error. In Acts 14:6 Luke states that the city of Iconium was located outside of the province of Lycaonia. The Roman historian Cicero had written that it was part of Lycaonia. Both cannot be true. In 1910 Sir William Ramsay (right) found a monument that showed that Iconium was in Phrygia. So Luke got that one right.

The Census

Records show that Augustus considered census-taking as one of his important accomplishments. The issue is whether one occurred during Herod’s reign from 7 to 4 B.C., the time when Jesus was born. Critics say there is no record. Some Christian writers disagree. Let’s say it’s still controversial. I like what historian Edwin Yamauichi had to say. “…there are many things that occur only in a given text without corroborative evidence of other texts or inscriptions." That is true.

The Governor

The 10 year gap between Herod’s death (Matthew’s account) and Quirinius being Governor of Syria (Luke’s account) is also a controversy. Matthew and Luke are literally and figuratively on two different pages here it seems. Let’s consider some evidence.

The historian Josephus (below) writes that before 6 A.D., Quirinius was “… a Roman senator, and one who had gone through other magistracies, and had passed through them till he had been consul…” “Other magistracies” means other posts. It is known that Quirinius was in Syria and neighboring Cilicia from 12 B.C. onward. Writer John Ankerberg says, “… Quirinius had a government assignment in Syria between 12 B.C. to 2 B.C. He was responsible for reducing the number of rebellious mountaineers in the highlands of Pisidia. As such, he was a highly placed military figure in the Near East and highly trusted by Emperor Caesar Augustus.”[3]Quirinius was definitely around and he was in leadership during the time Luke speaks of.
So I’ve taken my wife’s editorial advice. I’ve rewritten this article. My coffee cup is empty, and it’s time to move on with the day. I believe there is a plausible explanation for what Luke has written. But even if we only have partial supporting evidence, would that mean the facts recorded about Jesus are untrue? I mean we know World War II didn’t happen in the fifties, but hey, it did happen!

[1] Luke 2:2 (New American Standard Bible)
[2] Luke 1:3 (NASB)
[3] John Ankerberg, “Was Luke Wrong about the Census Under Quirinius?”,

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Quotes of Note ... The Invisible World

“Spiritual warfare is learning to recognize the strategies, refusing to cooperate with them, and aggressively cutting off the schemes of the devil in Jesus’ name.” Dean Sherman

“those who protest that God cannot exist because there is too much evil evident in life… Evil exists; therefore, the Creator does not. That is categorically stated… If evil exists, one must assume that good exists in order to know the difference. If good exists, one must assume that a moral law exists by which to measure good and evil. But if a moral law exists, must not one posit an ultimate source of moral law, or at least an objective basis for a moral law? By an objective basis, I mean something that is transcendingly true at all times, regardless of whether I believed it or not.” Ravi Zacharias

“But the Devil is no big threat to God’s purposes; he is not even remotely comparable in power. He has been given a limited time before his final judgment to try to prove his case, just as all other moral beings who have chosen to live in rebellion against heaven.” W.A. Pratney

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I've served as a life-long missionary in Samoa, the Pacific region, India, and now in Pennsylvania. The Christian faith is reasonable and works in real life. It is true to the facts. Hope you enjoy some of the thoughts. I appreciate feedback.

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