God new evidence

GOD: new evidence


The Census by Quirinius

(Unwrapped: the Truth about Christmas #18)

What's in the series?      Previous: Born in Bethlehem       Next: Born in a Stable?

Luke says that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem because of a census called by the Roman governor Quirinius. But there is no other record of a census in Judea at that time, and Quirinius was not appointed governor until 6 AD, years after Jesus was born.

There is a huge amount that we do not know about the ancient world. Historians say that we have less than one percent of the things that were written at the time. So 99 percent of the evidence has gone missing.

Luke specifically mentions that this was the first census. Maybe he knew that there was a later census – perhaps the better known one in 6 A.D. So it is possible that Luke is talking about an earlier census, at the time of Jesus's birth, but the evidence for it has been lost.

We just do not know the answer about Luke's census. But as we have seen earlier, Luke is a careful historian. Where we can check his account against other sources, it checks out. So does it not make sense to give him the benefit of the doubt here where we can not check?

Did people have to go home for the census?

It is sometimes claimed that there is no historical evidence that the Romans required people to go to their home towns for a census. This is not quite right:

In AD 104, the Roman Prefect of Egypt, Gaius Vivius Maximus, issed an edict saying:

'Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those who for any cause whatsoever are residing out of their provinces to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments.'

So there is clear historical evidence that the Romans could require people to return to their homes for a census.

To find out more read Luke 1:5-2:30.

Here is a longer article about the census and other questions, and another much more detailed article here.

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Peter S Williams

‘Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, and delicately balanced to provide exactly the conditions required to support life. In the absence of an absurdly improbable accident, the observations of modern science seem to suggest an underlying, one might say, supernatural plan.’
- Nobel Prize-winning scientist Arno Penzias