As we read* Luke 2:1-38 today, it’s amazing to think that this is not simply some fairy tale, it is true. There really was a boy named Jesus born to Joseph and Mary just over 2,000 years ago. Get in your DeLorean or TARDIS and go back to somewhere around 8-6BC and you’d see these events.
Most translations have something like the ESV:
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
That’s the first 7 verses of Luke 2, there’s a problem with this, however
Most believe that Herod (the Herod from Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth) died around 4BC, and Quirinius became governor of Syria around AD6-7, so it seems like there’s about a 10 year gap between Matthew 2 and Luke 2. There are several solutions which have been proposed to this dilemma, even that Quirinius was governor of Syria once before, however, I personally find the following much more compelling.
There were three major Roman Censuses around this time under Augustus: 28BC, 8BC, and AD14. That gets us started on finding a date for Joseph and Mary’s travels. Remember, this is a true story…
When you look at this phrase in Greek: “This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria” there are two key words in this passage
The word “first” is πρῶτος, think “prototype.” English and Greek do not correspond 1-to-1 and it’s always a judgment call when translating one word from one language into another. That said, πρῶτος is just as likely to be translated “before” rather than “first.”
Secondly, the word “was” is γἰνομαι, and is more often to be translated something like “became” rather than “was.”
So to put this all together, Luke 2:2 (I believe) would be more accurately translated “this was the registration before Quirinius became governor of Syria.”
So if you couple that translation, with the knowledge of the three censuses mentioned above, you come to a date around 8-7BC for the birth of Jesus.
Tomorrow I’ll note how this fits very well with Matthew 2.
Happy New Year! I hope to see you Sunday!
*Reading the NT in 2016 plan can be found here