When was Jesus Born?

The Gospel of Luke records this…

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In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Luke 2:1-2 ESV

or does it??? 

We know about several historical items that help us to place the birth of Jesus.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we learn that Herod was a primary antagonist against baby Jesus, he died in 4BC, so Jesus had to have been born before then.

Matthew 2:16 tells us, according to the “Wise Men” Jesus would have been about 2 years old when Herod tried to kill him, so Jesus had to have been born in 6BC or earlier, and that’s only if Herod drops dead right after his order to kill the children.

But what about Luke? He says the “first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria” so that’s pretty specific, right?

Quirinius’ first registration was AD6-7, we know about this one. Something isn’t adding up…

We know of several Roman censuses under Augustus around this time, one of which was 8BC, and we know that he did tend to take these registrations about every 14 years (which matches the timing of the Quirinius registration we know of), and Tacitus confirms that people were sometimes required to return to their nation state of origin, as is the narrative in the Bible.

But this seems to be a gap, Matthew seems to place Jesus’ birth before AD6 (perhaps associated with the AD8 census), but Luke says it was AD6-7. So what’s the deal??? Who got it wrong? I think we did.

I believe this is a mistranslation. The KJV casts a long shadow over these more familiar passages.

The Greek word “first” πρῶτος is also frequently translated “before”

As well, the word “was” γἰνομαι can also be translated “became” in the Aorist tense.

This would render this verse:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the registration before Quirinius became governor of Syria.

Luke 2:1-2

It looks like Matthew and Luke are on the same page. There’s no conflict. We know Quirinius was governor from AD6-9, but some have pointed out a fragment that states this was when Quirinius held the office for a second time.

So, it could even be saying “this was the registration when Quirinus was first governor of Syria,” but I find the previous retranslation more convincing.

There you have it, there is no conflict, unless you want to see a conflict. There are at least two answers to this “problem.”

Jesus was born, I believe, in 8BC.

Some simple math also tells us he was crucified at the age of 37 in AD30, or when he was 40 years old in AD33.

But… this begins to get into tomorrow’s post…

About John Harris

χian, Jesus saves. μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, Pastor at Pleasant Heights, PhD (NT) candidate at Midwestern; forever Texan, μολὼν λαβέ; Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Allons-y
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