The Gospel According to Luke – The Census and the Nativity

December 22, 2007

The study begins with the controversy regarding the census that sent Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem and the dating of the birth of Christ. The historical reading of the historian Josephus is that Herod died in 4 B.C. and thus it is logical for Christ’s birth to be sometime before that. Although some favor 6 B.C. as Christ’s birth year, modern readings of Josephus push his death up to around 1 B.C. and complicate the matter. Because "history is a history of fragments," both the issue of Christ’s birth year and the verification of Quirinius’ governorship during the census are more difficult to verify than many realize.

Luke 2:2 speaks of the census that compels Joseph to travel to Bethlehem as " the first census that took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria." After looking at the career of Quirinius and the writings of the Early Christian Tertullian, however, it appears that he was neither governor during the time that Luke dates the birth of Christ nor would Quirinius have authority to carry out a census within Herod’s territory. It seems Luke may be referring to a different census or that his definition of a census is different than that of the writers of history in his age. In the end, we have no sufficient evidence to either verify that Luke is historically correct in this or prove a clear contradiction against Luke’s depiction and dating of the census.

The rest of this session focuses on the Christmas story and on the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

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