The Census And Quirinius: Luke 2:2 -- By: Wayne A. Brindle

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 027:1 (Mar 1984)
Article: The Census And Quirinius: Luke 2:2
Author: Wayne A. Brindle

The Census And Quirinius: Luke 2:2

Wayne Brindle*

“There is one name that has caused more controversy than any other of the Roman phenomena in the New Testament, that of Quirinius, the governor of Syria,” says Sherwin-White.1 He appears in the birth narrative of Luke: “Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:1–2 NASB). The context suggests that Jesus was born in the midst of this census.

Certain other facts must be taken into account. Luke himself dates the birth of John the Baptist during the reign of Herod, king of Judea (1:5). Matthew states even more specifically that Jesus was born shortly before the death of Herod (Matthew 2). Finegan reasons that Herod died between March 12 and April 11, 4 B.C.2 Hoehner narrows the date to the period of March 29 to April 11, 4 B.C.3 Jesus was thus born during or before the month of March, 4 B.C. (perhaps even during December, 5 B.C.). The census of Luke 2:1–2, therefore, probably took place during the year 5 B.C. in Judea.

Many questions have arisen since the early nineteenth century concerning this census and its connection with Quirinius. The problem is that Quirinius, as far as is known, governed Syria only during A.D. 6-7, and not at all in 5 B.C. Why then does Luke say that Jesus was born during a census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria?

According to Hayles,

it has been maintained by several scholars that this story is either fiction or a blunder; that the circumstances connected with it, which Luke relates, are contrary to history; and, in short, that the story is unhistorical and impossible, not in one way merely, but in several. It is urged that a general census of the Empire is a fabrication, that the local one under Herod an impossibility, that the enrollment requiring a return to one’s own city quite improbable, and that any association of Quirinius with a census this early is completely anachronistic.4

These objections to the veracity of Luke’s account were set forth dramatically in Emil Shürer’s political history of Palestine toward the end of the nineteenth

*Wayne Brindle is assistant professor of religion at Liberty Baptist Coll...

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