Did Luke get the date of Jesus’ birth wrong?

This time last year I watched the film Gravity. The effects were spectacular, the photography breathtaking, the characterisations engaging, and the story held one’s attention throughout. It even raised some profound (religious?) questions about life, death and purpose. And yet, when I left the cinema, I could not decide whether I had enjoyed the film or not. For some reason, I felt detached and rather distracted from it, but I wasn’t sure why. Then I read the comments of some astronauts on how realistic a portrayal it was of life in space—and I realised what was distracting me. As great a story as it was, was it credible? There were a number of things about it which kept nagging at me as implausible, and this distracted from engaging with the story. (If you want to know, they were to do with whether different satellites were in synchronous orbit, whether you can see something clearly from a hundred miles away, and whether you could get there just by pointing and shooting.) This year I went to see Interstellar and was not bothered in the same way—the film has been commended for getting the science right.

OXYGEN ChristmasI think this is how a lot of people feel about the Christmas stories. They might be profound, they might be of great cultural significance, they might even point to religious truth—but are they really plausible?

Perhaps the greatest culprit in raising this question is Luke’s comment about the timing of Jesus’ birth. He appears to claim that Jesus was born in Bethlehem because Joseph had to travel there to take part in the census, which was taken during the time when Quirinius was governor of the Roman province of Syria, since this was his ancestral home.

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. (Luke 2.1–5)

There are a considerable number of apparent objections to this account; in scholarship there has been a long debate about this, and Howard Marshall (in his NIGTC commentary on Luke, p 99) decides that it is ‘inconclusive’. The objections are as follows:

1. When Augustus issued this degree, Judea was not part of the Roman province, but was a client kingdom ruled by Herod the Great. It would therefore not have been part of any Roman census.

2. Quirinius was governor of Syria from 6 to 12 AD, and not during the reign of Herod, who died in 4 BC, where both Luke and Matthew date the birth. The governor of Syria then was either C. Sentius Saturninus (9–6 BC) or possibly Quinctilius Varus (6–4 BC).

3. There is no record of Romans requiring people to return to their ancestral home; people were registered where they lived, not where their ancestors came from.

4. There would have been no need to take Mary with him; registration was by the male head of the house only.

This has led some sceptical commentators to conclude that Luke is flatly contradicting Matthew, and demonstrates that neither record is historically reliable.

There is no way to rescue the Gospels of Matthew and Luke from contradicting each other on this one point of historical fact. The contradiction is plain and irrefutable, and stands as proof of the fallibility of the Bible, as well as the falsehood of at least one of the two New Testament accounts of the birth of Jesus.

But there are some things to say immediately in response to this. First, Luke is not contradicting Matthew; they both agree that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great. In fact, considering that they tell very different stories, presumably drawing from very different sources (Matthew’s account focusses on the men, Luke’s on the women), the number of points of factual agreement are quite remarkable.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem            Matt 2:1                   Luke 2:2

In time of Herod (d. 4 BC)                Matt 2:1                  Luke 1:5

Mother: Mary                                  Matt 1:18                Luke 1:26

Father: Joseph (named the child)      Matt 1:18                 Luke 1:26

But not the biological father             Matt 1:16, 20, 22    Luke 1:34; 3:23

Brought up in Nazareth in Galilee     Matt 2:22-23           Luke 2:39

From the line of David                     Matt 1:1                 Luke 1:32

Secondly, as Marshall p 102 points out, women were quite often involved in taking of the census. He also comments that ‘it must be presumed that Joseph had some property in Bethlehem.’ In fact, Stephen Carlson has argued that Bethlehem was Joseph’s family home, not simply his ancestral home, and that he had come to Nazareth to be betrothed to Mary, and was bringing her back to the (initial) marital home in Bethlehem. Interestingly, this idea concurs exactly with Matthew’s account, which only mentions Bethlehem, and makes no mention of the journey to and from Nazareth.

Thirdly, it is perfectly possible that Herod ordered a local census to be taken, or that the Romans decided to intervene directly into matters of taxation. It has been argued that if this were the case, Josephus would surely have mentioned it, but this is an argument from silence. We simply do not have a complete historical record for the period.

But the significant problem remaining is that of the date of the census and the apparent impossibility of reconciling Herod’s reign and the period that Quirinius was governor of Syria. Josephus tells us (in Antiquities 17.355 & 18.1–2) that Quirinius took a census of Syria and Judea in 6/7 AD, in part as a way of consolidating Roman rule over Judea after Herod the Great’s son Archelaus was deposed and exiled. (Josephus argues that this led to the formation of the Zealot party, and was the incipient cause of the Jewish War 60 years later; taxation is a way of confirming the subjugation of a nation to its imperial rulers, hence the power of the question in Matt 22.17.) Luke appears to refer to this as ‘the’ census in Acts 5.37.

There are two main traditional arguments deployed in defence of Luke’s accuracy.

duumvir1a. There are three inscriptions which are often cited as suggesting that Quirinius was governor of Syria for two distinct periods: the Lapis Tiburtinus; the Lapis Venetus; and the Antioch Stones. You can read a transcript of all three here. William Ramsay was the first to put this interpretation on them in 1912, and you will find them cited often on apologetics websites. But I agree with the sceptical commentator who has collated them: they don’t really demonstrate any such thing. We know who the governors of Syria were at the time, and there is no known mechanism under Roman government by which Quirinius could really be described in these terms at the right time.

b. Could Luke 2.2 be translated as ‘this was the census before Quirinius was governor…’? Though this suggestion has some support, the grammar does not really allow for this, and it would suggest that Luke assumed his readers knew about another census, for which we have no other historical evidence.

But the debate does not stop there. We need to remember that the registration for a census, in the context of the first century, was a complex and protracted thing. Around the same time as Jesus’ birth in 6 BC, a census commenced in Gaul that took 40 years to complete. We know from Augustus himself (Res Gestae 2.8) that a census took place around the Empire somewhere around 10–9 BC, and that it was intended to repeat this every 14 years.

It is also worth noting that in comparing Luke with Josephus, we are not comparing a ‘religious’ text with a ‘historical’ one. On the one hand, Josephus had a clear motivation in writing his works, an apologetic for the antiquity and reasonableness of his native Jewish people. On the other, Luke appears to have been careful to observe the conventions of historiography of his day. (One of the oddest things about the atheist/sceptical arguments is the way that Josephus is taken as infallible.) In biblical scholarship over the last 200 years, Luke has often been criticised for being unhistorical—only for subsequent archaeology to confirm the accuracy of his record, in particular in relation to the names and titles of Roman officials.

• It was thought Luke was in error in mentioning ‘Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene’ (Luke 3.1) as there was no record of such a person—until an inscription was found near Damascus which speaks of “Freedman of Lysanias the tetrarch” dated to the right period.

• In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas go to ‘Iconium in Phrygia’, for which there was no archaeological evidence—until a monument was found in 1910 by Ramsay which confirmed this was the case.

P1020213• In Acts 17, the leaders of Thessalonica are called ‘politarchs’. It was thought that Luke had made this term up, until it was confirmed in inscription—19 in all, one of which can be seen in the museum in the modern city (my photo of it at left; you can see the word POLITARXOU across the middle).

• Luke’s references to ‘proconsul Sergius Paulus’ in Acts 13.7 and ‘Gallio was proconsul of Achaia’ in Acts 18.12 were both thought to be mistaken until confirmed by inscriptional evidence. The dating of the year in which Gallio was proconsul, 51/52, in fact now forms a major fixed point in confirming the chronology of Paul’s life and writings.

(This is not to say that there are no issues about the historicity of Luke-Acts. But it is perhaps worth noting that all the above arguments against Luke’s accuracy have been arguments from silence, and that not a single of the discoveries has actually proved Luke to be mistaken.)

On the other hand, we know from his two major works that Josephus was capable of changing his data to support his arguments. John Rhoads notes, in a recent article:

When reporting Archelaus’s symbolic dream, he reported that Archelaus saw 9 ears of corn representing 9 years of rule in J.W. 2.112–13 but 10 ears of corn representing 10 years of rule in Ant. 17.345–47. So, in one of these accounts, he changed the number of ears of corn and the number of years of rule from how they appeared in his source in order to match his reconstruction of events. So, indeed, it is quite possible that Josephus similarly changed the date for the census to match his reasonably reconstructed chronology of events.

As a result of this, and other analysis of Josephus’ account, Rhoads argues that of the two historical accounts, Luke’s is the more accurate, and Josephus is mistaken. He suggests that Quirinius did initiate the census during the reign of Herod; the possibility then arises that it was only completed when he had become governor (Legate) of Syria some years later.

Intriguingly, this ties in well with a quite separate argument about Luke’s language here. Marshall notes that ‘the form of the sentence is in any case odd’ (p 104); why say something was ‘first’ when there is nothing to compare it with? Stephen Carlson has looked even more closely, and also noted that the verb egeneto also seems strange; why suggest the census ‘became’ something, rather than that it simply ‘was’? Carlson suggests that prote, rather than ‘first’ numerically, should be read as ‘of most importance’—much as we might say ‘so-and-so is Arsenal’s Number One player.’ This would then give the translation as:

This registration became most prominent when Quirinius was governing Syria.


This [decree to get registered] became the/a most important registration when Quirinius was governing Syria.

In the end, the mystery of the conflict between Luke and Josephus remains unsolved and (as Marshall puts it) ‘can hardly be solved without the discovery of fresh evidence.’ But these arguments at least offer a plausible explanation—and when considering questions of history, proof is rarely possible, but plausibility is an important measure. It certainly offers no grounds to write off Luke’s account, think it unhistorical or a fabrication, or see it as in conflict with Matthew.

So, unlike my experience of watching Gravity, as we read the nativity accounts we can put our anxieties to rest—and can enjoy and engage in the narrative as we have it in Luke. And what is the point of mentioning Augustus, Quirinius and Herod—or for that matter Lysanias, Iconium, politarchs, Sergius Paulus, Gallio and all the others? Luke is making a very specific point—that this is not just a story about the Jews for the Jews, but in fact will touch and shake the whole world, including its rulers. And because of that, you and I are reading the story today.

(This is a repost from last Christmas.)

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36 thoughts on “Did Luke get the date of Jesus’ birth wrong?”

  1. Ian, both Luke and Josephus have agendas: Josephus’ is as you say; Luke’s is promoting Jesus as messiah.

    The ancient genre closest to Luke’s gospel is hagiography, not history: the norms of ancient history, such as existed, included identifying yourself (“Luke” is anonymous, attributed through later tradition) and, as Tacitus states, avoiding hearsay where possible (Luke was probably written between A.D. 75-90, based on oral tradition and earlier gospels).

    Moreover, due to your belief in biblical authority, was there any chance that you’d accept Luke got the date wrong? If not, your conclusion was set in advance, and this is more apologetic than historical analysis.

    • James, I don’t think the best scholarship supports many of your points here.

      I think you have a point about anonymity…and there is something interesting in the fact that so many of the NT documents are anonymous.

      But most scholars would agree with Richard Burridge’s argument that the gospels have all the marks of bioi, and that Luke-Acts generally has many features first-century historiography.

      As you know, there are very good arguments that Luke is based on eye-witness testimony, as he claims in Luke 1.

      Yes, I am open to Luke being wrong, as I explore in the post about error in the Bible. Are you open to him being right?

      • Sure, I’m open to an additional census having occurred in 5 B.C. or whenever, and Jesus of Nazareth in fact being Jesus of Bethlehem.

        Given the available evidence (anonymous texts based on, at best, multiple layers of hearsay, which contradict the best local history we have, and with a compelling motive to say that Jesus fulfilled prophecy in his location of birth) I don’t consider it close to being likely. Burridge is surely right that the gospels are biographies, but that’s hardly incompatible with their authors prioritizing theology over fact-checking.

        I think John’s Gospel said it best: what good thing ever came from Nazareth? Well, Jesus did, let’s not deny the place its most famous son!

        • James, I think you are continuing to make unwarranted assumptions. It is easily demonstrable that Josephus:

          . remoulds the OT narrative to suit his Hellenistic audience
          . adds long speeches to the OT for characters like Joseph, which clearly do not fit their context in the Hebrew scriptures
          . includes within his works frequent contradictions in names, numbers, and the order in which events are reported (there are six major examples of this)
          . in the words of one analysis, his ‘narrative is frequently confused, obscure, and contradictory.’

          From a historical view, then, it is odd to take Josephus as the standard of accuracy, and to measure Luke against him. None of these things can be said of Luke-Acts indisputably.

          • Ian, we all know that Josephus had biases, and could spin events to his agenda (as when he portrays himself delivering a homily to the folks he betrayed in Jerusalem). So we factor them into any analysis.

            Here, Josephus has no apparent motive to alter the census account; moreover, a census makes sense with the imposition of direct Roman rule. “Luke” by contrast had a compelling motive to make the census fit prophecy, and a census in which people traveled to the home of a distant ancestor, ordered by the Romans in a vassal state, is unprecedented.

            Josephus is here more credible.

            D’you have any examples of factual errors in Luke-Acts, BTW?

          • Again, I find this a slightly odd ‘post-hoc’ argument.

            Why did Luke need to ‘prove’ that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, when others did not?

            And if he did, why make up the story about the census to do so? In that case, he either knew it was wrong (which would be foolish) or came across a tradition that it was on the wrong date…a tradition for which we have absolutely no other evidence.

            He could quite easily have just said that Joseph was of the line of David and so married Mary there. Problem solved.

            Without a more substantial reason, and given Josephus’ not just twisting of things, but actual carelessness, I think writing off Luke in this way is not very persuasive historically.

  2. I wonder why Luke seems to tie the census to the history of Syria (or at least try to do so). Was it because Luke was from Antioch and had oral history of Quirinius and perhaps a census there.

    James, Luke’s style of self-reference is a combination of the style of ancient historians and Judeo-Christian humility. I have argued this on my blog, but a more detailed discussion, which comes to the same conclusion, can be found in Keener’s third volume of his Acts commentary p2363-2374.

    • Richard, that’s an interesting question. Is it about Syria, do you think, or simply about making a connection with a more widely-known event?

      Btw, I am very impressed you have got that far with Keener!

  3. Is Acts 6:36-37 accurate history or has Luke got mixed up? If he is mixed up on his facts there we have reason to think he might be mixed up over Quirinius.

    We all make mistakes. That Luke got a whole lot of other details impressively correct is not a reason to think that when it looks like he has made a mistake we should think he hasn’t.

    • There’s a good exploration of the issues in Witherington’s commentary, pp 238-239.

      He sets out four options (including the possibility that Luke is in error) but thinks the most likely is that either Josephus is wrong (see comment about about Josephus as historian), or that there was more than one Theudas. We know it was a common name, and Josephus mentions four Simons and three Judases who rebelled!

      But a more interesting point is perhaps that here Luke is recording the reported speech of someone else, and both are clearly operating within what was assumed to be common knowledge at the time. So the question is not really ‘Did Luke get his history right?’ but at the least ‘Did Luke report the speech correctly, did Gamaliel accurately represent common knowledge, and was common knowledge historically correct?’

      I think this puts the example quite a long way from Luke mentioning Quirinius.

      • (Re Acts 6 instead of Acts 5: Memo to self: never engage with scholarly debate via an iPad while looking up Scripture on a mobile phone!)

        I am always keen to find that Scripture is accurate on matters of fact so I am as keen as anyone to find that Luke was correct on Quirinius and Theudas.

        Nevertheless do we stretch our credibility as supporters of Luke’s historiographical expertise if we find ourselves straining to explain how he might be correct on each of these two matters. Quoting accurately an inaccurate speech … convoluting our understanding of grammar to reach a preferred conclusion while acknowledging other difficulties remain … etc

        Occam’s Razor suggests that it would be simpler to say that Luke is a remarkable and accurate historian in nearly every instance in which he offers facts about times, places, titles and customs but on a couple of matters is completely wrong.

        • Having explored this a little more, I don’t you are right here Peter.

          The kind of view you are espouses is, I think, quite well expressed by John Byron’s 2011 blog on this issue, which you can read here


          Look through, and see how often he says ‘We know from Josephus…’ I don’t think we ‘know’ any such things.

          Have a read of Shaye Cohen on how completely implausible and incoherent Josephus is on the story of Massada


          Basically, he spins a good yarn to make a point. Cohen’s book demonstrates the number and scale of contradictions and inconsistencies there are in Josephus, and these are beyond doubt. The only ‘inaccuracies’ we have in Acts are where they contradict other sources.

          I really like Richard Fellows’ comment on Byron:

          ‘We have good evidence that Luke was a resident of Antioch. If Luke’s intended audience was also in Syria, then the reference to Quirinius being Governor of Syria might well have served to tie the narrated events into historical events known particularly to the Syrian audience. In that case the time interval between the census in Judea and the census in Syria would matter less.

          ‘John, I do not share your assumptions about a dichotomy between history and theology. The argument that says that Luke is interested in theology therefore his work is not history – has never persuaded me.

          ‘I agree that the Quirinius problem and the Theudas problem are the strongest arguments against the historcity of Acts. However, we should not build too much on these two cases, since there are numerous cases where it can be shown that Luke IS being historical.

          ‘In his Act commentary Bock suggests that there may have been two Theudas’s. Here we must reckon with the possibility that the later Theudas took the name of the earlier Theudas. Also, since the name probably meant “gift of God”, it would be an appropriate name for these prophets to take. These points change the odds.’

          I particularly agree with the point about theology v history…which I try to capture a little in my final comment on the blog. Luke is using history to do theology, not distorting history to do theology—at least, that is what the evidence seems to point to.

          • I would distinguish, Ian, between strained explanations and unstrained explanations. As this discussion proceeds some lessening of strain seems to be taking place!

            Nevertheless our evaluation of Luke as an historian tends to make much of the points where he is corroborated on facts. It is understandable that we form such a liking for him that we then defend him when he is either not corroborated, possibly contradicted (re Quirinius, dates, censuses which did or did not happen) or apparently contradicted (re Theudas).

            But, I say again, some of the defences seem strained. I also wonder what a reader of Christian apologetics would make of our treatment of Josephus. As an external referee for the existence of Christ he has been often lauded. As an alternate historian to Luke we assert that he makes things up to suit his purposes.

          • Peter I like your distinction between strained and unstrained—it helps to point up the dynamic of the discussion.

            But I think it is also, from a historical point of view, possible to frame the discussion differently. The way I would like to approach it is by treating both Luke and Josephus as possible historical sources, and take them on their merits.

            I think the debate has been dogged by the approach that starts by assuming Josephus is reliable, and Luke has to match him or be judged wanting. Cohen appears to demonstrate this is not a good approach historically.

            But it does allow us to take Josephus seriously as a historical witness to Jesus, even if in other respects he is not reliable.

        • Thanks for citing me, Ian. My esteem for Act’s basic accuracy has grown considerably over the years. I now think Acts was written for the Aegean, but I still think Luke was a resident of Antioch.

          There is a lot of confusion in NT studies about the frequency of names. Most Jews in Palestine had names that were common and mostly Hebrew/Aramaic. “Theudas”, however, is rare, at least in that form. It is, presumed to be an abbreviated form of Theodorus and/or Theodotus, which were common names, but that is not very relevant.

          I wish NT Wright would stop using rhetorical tricks such as his “point” about the London Times. If he does not know that his point is logically flawed then he should not be in the business. If he does know, then it is even more troubling. He is caricaturing his opponents, which is disrespectful.

  4. Steve Walton comments on Facebook:

    Good discussion, Ian Paul. One qualification occurs to me. You write: ‘Could Luke 2.2 be translated as “this was the census before Quirinius was governor…”? Though this suggestion has some support, the grammar does not really allow for this’.

    The site you cite (see what I did there?) is pretty poor support for this point, and it’s better to read Tom Wright himself (who is no slouch when it comes to Greek grammar). Here he is from Who was Jesus (98-99):

    ‘…in the Greek of the time, as the standard major Greek lexicons point out, the word protos came sometimes to be used to mean ‘before’, when followed (as this is) by the genitive case. A good example is in John 1.15, where John the Baptist says of Jesus “he was before me”, with the Greek being again protos followed by the genitive of “me”.[18] I suggest, therefore, that actually the most natural reading of the verse is: “This census took place before the time when Quirinius was governor of Syria.:

    ‘This solves an otherwise odd problem: why should Luke say that Quirinius’ census was the first? Which later ones was he thinking of? This reading, of course, does not resolve all the difficulties. We don’t know, from other sources, of a census earlier than Quirinius’. But there are a great many things that we don’t know in ancient history. There are huge gaps in our records all over the place. Only those who imagine that one can study history by looking up back copies of the London Times or the Washington Post in a convenient library can make the mistake of arguing from silence in matters relating to the first century.

    ‘My guess is that Luke knew a tradition in which Jesus was born during some sort of census, and that Luke knew as well as we do that it couldn’t have been the one conducted under Quirinius, because by then Jesus was about ten years old. That is why he wrote that the census was the one before that conducted by Quirinius.’

  5. Fascinating discussion. I am riveted by the thought that Joseph travelled from Bethlehem to Nazareth for the betrothal, and was taking Mary back to Bethlehem. That would make a lot of sense but does it fully include the apparently clear assertion that he went to Bethlehem in order to register?

  6. I think you will see very clearly if you follow the Link below that Jesus was born in December, God’s wisdom, not man’s fleshy understanding is needed to know His Truth in all things.

    Proverbs 4:7 Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.

    Jesus Birthdate – https://freedomborn.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/jesus-christ-gods-great-gift-to-us/

    Christian Love in Christ Jesus – Anne

    • Thanks for the link…but your logic seems really odd. You claim that celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25th is God’s, not ‘man’s logic (though I note you are a woman!)—and yet you use exactly the same approach as I do, since the Bible does not give a date! This is in contrast to the date of Easter, which is given in the NT.

      So the question is not about God’s or human wisdom, but about whether your assumption that Zechariah was High Priest fits with the biblical text—and it doesn’t. You have to assume this, in an odd logical leap, against the evidence of the New Testament itself—which would surely have mentioned this fact.

      So I think I will stick with the Scriptural evidence and my original argument!

      • It seems Ian you don’t know much about Biblical terminology, when it refers to man it means mankind unless stated otherwise and we are all one in Christ Jesus, there is neither male or female, yes we are the same in Spirit although like The Godhead or Trinity as They are called today, our roles are different.

        As for Jesus being born of the 25th of December, the sequence of events I shared shows He was, you need to read again what was written and not by pass the the facts given which are confirmed in Scripture.

        What Scripture do you have Ian that confirms Jesus wasn’t born on the 25th of December?

        I hope you don’t mind me asking Ian but when did you ask for God’s wisdom and empowering and what motivated you to do so.

        Blessings – Anne.

        • ‘It seems Ian you don’t know much about Biblical terminology’. Golly, I had better ask for a refund on my PhD then. Actually, the Greek of the NT does not use ‘man’, but the word ‘person’ (anthropos, from which we get ‘anthropology’ not aner, from which when you add gyne for woman, we get ‘androgynous’)

          There is no Scripture which gives a date—which is my point. You cannot argue that this is God’s word rather than human logic; any date is going to be the result of deduction.

          My motivation? To pursue God’s truth. Yours?

          • Yes maybe you better ask for a refund Ian because man is used more than once by referring to their gender or role, such as we see below. Having degrees and awards and titles, does not mean you have God’s wisdom just man’s knowledge, understanding and logic, so when did you ask for and receive His wisdom and empowering? these are much better than any PhD.

            Galatians 3:28-29 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.(KJV)

            Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, Love your Wives, even as Christ also Loved the Church, and gave Himself for it;

            Matthew 21:40 When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?(KJV)

            I don’t argue Ian, I have no doubt it is God’s Truth that I share, not mans guess work, as you will see when I continue confirming Jesus’ Birthday as the 25th of December, until than seek the Lord not persons.

            Blessings – Anne

          • ‘Yes maybe you better ask for a refund Ian because man is used more than once by referring to their gender or role’. Yes, but there are other places where the KJV uses ‘man’ to translate the other Greek word (anthropos) which is not gender-specific.

            (You are aware that the Bible was not first written in English, I trust?)

            I hope and pray that God’s wisdom and empowering help you to understand the basics of grammar and language a little better.

          • Yes Ian, I’m aware how God’s inspired words in the Scriptures were recorded by man both in the Hebrew and in the Greek where it was all written in Upper case and there were no small particles either.

            Understanding the basics is human, but understanding the Supernatural through The Holy Spirit’s empowering is what is needed and it has no monetary cost either. 1Corinthians2:9-16

            By the way Ian, I’m Dyslectic, spelling, punctuation and grammar which keep changing as do words over time, are hard for me to comprehend but I can see outside the box which is a gift many don’t have.

            Blessings – Anne

  7. Dear Gill,

    Bear in mind that Jesus is probably a child rather than a baby when the wise men visit in Matthew’s gospel.

    The idea that Joseph came to Nazareth to meet Mary and go back to Bethlehem before Jesus is born is probably true. The idea that the census took several years and is not a one-day event is almost certainly true.

    Luke’s account and Matthew’s account are different but they also refer to different times. They are not the same event. For Matthew’s gospel I wouldn’t be surprise if Jesus was 4 or 5 years old.

    Neither are diaries in the modern sense, neither are historical accounts in the modern sense, they both recount who Jesus was rather than being historical.

    For Matthew’s gospel the story of the wise-men is arguably the introduction to Matthew’s gospel and in that one story by analogy and by opposites it foretells the entire contents of Matthew’s gospel. It might be true, it might not be historically true. the question is not relevant at all once you see the wise-men story being the introduction to the gospel and how Matthew is using it.

  8. Another helpful and thoughtful article, Ian.
    I too feel that too many people seek to find the easy way out by simply concluding that Luke got it wrong, something which I would regard as a rather ‘sloppy’ approach. I do think the key to the ‘problem’ possibly lies in getting to grips with understanding what the Greek text actually says. In this regard, I do find Carlson’s suggestion quite compelling. At the same time, though, whilst Craig Blomberg in his excellent book, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, also tends to be rather dismissive of Tom Wright’s ‘before’ argument, I do think this avenue merits further exploration.

    Ps In response to Clive’s point about the wise men, I think (as with Luke) it may be rather hasty to assume that Matthew’s theological emphases mean that he wasn’t at the same time writing history.

  9. Hello Ian, I have enjoyed reading your articles (Jesus not born in a manger, and did Luke get the time wrong). Spirit and Truth Fellowship International teaches this same information regarding the manger. Check it out here .. http://www.truthortradition.com/articles/retelling-the-christmas-story

    Also, regarding the timing of Luke, check out the book by Ernest L Martin, THE STAR THAT ASTONISHED THE WORLD. It addresses ALL these issues and more (I know you will like it). You can read the entire book online here… http://www.askelm.com/star/

    Also, there is only 1 author of the Bible (2Tim.3:16 “theopneustos”=God-Breathed)–Many writers (of which Luke is one) but only 1 author. The words in Luke 1:3 “..from the beginning..” are the one Greek word “anothen”. Anothen has more than one meaning (from the beginning, and “from above”), therefore the context must determine the correct meaning. It should be translated “from above”. Then it fits the local context AND the greater context of 2Tim.3:16. IMHO.

    I hope you enjoy checking out these things.
    Merry Christmas!
    Don Culp
    [email protected]

    • Thanks Don. I don’t actually agree with you that there is only ‘one author’ of the bible. You might, from a theological point of view, want to argue that there is a unified intention behind the biblical writings. But we use the word ‘author’ to mean the person who thought about then framed the actual words. This must refer to the human person, not the inspiring divine agency.

      Evangelicals get into a lot of problems by calling God ‘author’ and then trying to apply the disciplines of discerning human authors to this process.

  10. Are our pastors telling us the truth regarding the authorship of the Gospels and the evidence for the Resurrection?

    Is there really a “mountain of evidence” for the Resurrection as our pastors claim or is the belief in the Resurrection based on nothing more than assumptions, second century hearsay, superstitions, and giant leaps of faith?

    You MUST read this Christian pastor’s defense of the Resurrection and a review by one of his former parishioners, a man who lost his faith and is now a nonbeliever primarily due to the lack of good evidence for the Resurrection:

    —A Review of LCMS Pastor John Bombaro’s Defense of the Resurrection—

    (copy and paste this article title into your browser to find and read this fascinating review of the evidence for the Resurrection)

  11. My money is on Luke. His account of the angel appearing to Zechariah in the Temple includes the factoid that the angel appeared to the ‘right side of the altar of incense.’ (Luke 1:11) Here we have an other-worldly event and Luke bothers to include this minutiae. Its specificity almost intrudes upon the narrative. Luke appears to be a man who is bent on presenting an account that is factual to a fault.

    Moreover, deep in the ‘we’ passages of Acts, his account of the shipwreck of Paul in Acts 27 carries so much detail that one 19th Century expert has stated,” “No man not a sailor could have written a narrative of a sea voyage so consistent in all its parts, unless from observation.” (The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul.” James Smith)


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