Luke 2: 1 – 21 The birth of Jesus
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news, that will cause great jpy for all the people. Today in the town of David a saviour has been bron to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in he manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
* * *
What a story!
The most important human in all history is born into poverty, to an unmarried mother. He is laid in the manger from which animals feed. Shepherds are given good news by an angel, and then see a host of angels praising God. The first sight of the new-born babe, the Messiah, is granted to people at the bottom of the social order.
St Luke writes this story as though he is aware that people will find it hard to believe, so he makes sure that the reader knows where the story is set, and when it happened. It’s in Bethlehem when Caesar Augustus ordered a census of the whole Roman world and when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So when was that exactly? If you look up “Census of Quirinius” in Wikipedia, you find this entry
The conclusion reached by Wikipedia is that St Luke must have made a mistake; there are just too many discrepancies with other sources for the chronology of the census.
I looked at some other articles. There are ways in which the discrepancies can be resolved, but they are hypothetical. They rely on possibilities rather than facts, for example that Quirinius was the officer responsible for a census in 6 BC. I couldn’t find any definitive answer. If you want to read some of the counter arguments, this link is helpful.
However, before spending much time on this, bear in mind that this has been a historical debate for at least two hundred years!
Does St Luke’s accuracy matter?
I think it does. He is describing events that are remarkable and miraculous. If we can’t trust him to be accurate in factual historical events, can we trust him to be accurate when it comes to the miraculous?
Thank you for the miraculous birth of Jesus. Thank you that your word gives us so many witnesses to Jesus. Thank you that the first to witness his birth were the poor and humble. Please help us to follow their example.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.