Defending Bible Inerrancy: Census during Quirinius

One of hotly debated topic against the Bible Inerrancy is the census of Quirinius. This is based on text in Luke 2:2 - This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Many historians question the accuracy of the entire gospel of Luke based on the above text. Quirinius became the governor of Syria in AD 6 and the census did take place during that time. But Jesus Christ was born before Herod’s death. Herod died on 4 BC. Hence there were more than ten years of difference between the actual census which took place in 6 AD and the birth of Jesus, which could be around 5 or 6 BC, before the death of Herod. Due to this gap, some section of the scholars believes there is a biblical error in the book of Luke.

About the Author :

Before we get into the actual issue, let's get some background on the author. Luke who was a physician by profession, great journalist and missionary companion to apostle Paul. The two books written by Luke ( Gospel of Luke and Acts) contribute 25% of the New Testament in size. The wealth of information he has shared about the cities they have visited during the missionary journey, route, port names, high officials they met, cultural background and weather patterns provide great authenticity to the book of Acts. The information he has provided mostly matched with historic and archaeological evidences. Hence it was largely accepted by scholars that Luke was an excellent journalist, who recorded the details with high accuracy and diligence.

The gospel of Luke was another book Luke wrote. This is the longest of the four Gospel. Unlike John and Matthew, Luke was not a disciple of Jesus Christ and hence he did not have the first-hand information. He was a travel companion like Mark. Scholars mostly agree that Mark wrote the first synoptic gospel, Luke and Matthew derived some of the content from the Gospel of Mark. Luke should have gathered the information from many sources apart from the gospel of Mark. He wrote the gospel of Luke around AD 62-65, by then the Gospel of Matthew and Mark was already written. Luke made this clear in the introduction of the Gospel of Luke.

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. – Luke 1: 1- 4

Above text confirms that Luke made a deep investigation on everything and wrote an orderly account on the life Jesus Christ. The above information provides the background about the author of the Gospel of Luke, mainly on his diligence, ability to collect accurate information and authenticity, which was already confirmed by many historians and archaeologists.
With this as background, let's get back to the core issue of “Census during the time of Quirinius”. Two are two issues raised by historians in Luke 2:2. One is the year of the census, which is not matching Jesus birth and secondly the position of Quirinius during the time of Jesus birth.

During the time of Augustus, the Romans carried out Census every 14 years. History provides evidence there was a census in AD 6. If we go back 14 years, the previous Census should have happened in 8 BC. This makes the census year much closer to the birth of Jesus. Augustus became the undisputed king after defeating the army of Mark Antony and Cleopatra in 27 BC. The census during his reign did happen on 8 BC, which matches Luke 2:2.

This was settled by Sir William Ramsay, a widely renowned Scottish scholar, Archaeologist and Nobel prize winner. According to Ramsay, Quirinius had his first term before 5 BC. His governorship in Syria around 6 AD was his second term. Luke does make it clear that there was two census during the Quirinius period and he was pointing towards the first census. Quirinius was always under the active service of Augustus in the region of Syria.

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