Luke’s Historical Blunder?

Speaking as an amateur in ancient history, I wanted to address a certain challenge to the Bible’s historical reliability.

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. (Luke 2:1-2 ESV)

This verse is commonly cited by people trying to show that the Bible is historically inaccurate.  The blunder is that Luke is talking about the time of Herod the Great, who died in about 4 B.C., but he’s saying that the registration under Quirinius happened during that time, when it actually happened in A.D. 6.  Oops!

Here’s the thing though, as Tim McGrew has pointed out, Luke is aware of both separate events.  He’s aware that Jesus was born in the days of Herod the Great (Luke 1:5), and he’s also aware of the census in A.D. 6.  Luke records a Pharisee named Gamaliel saying

 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.
(Acts 5:37 ESV)

This is talking about the A.D. 6 census, which Josephus informs us about

Now Cyrenius, a Roman senator, and one who had gone through other magistracies, and had passed through them till he had been consul, and one who, on other accounts, was of great dignity, came at this time into Syria, with a few others, being sent by Caesar to be a judge of that nation, and to take an account of their substance. . . Cyrenius came himself into Judea, which was now added to the province of Syria, to take an account of their substance, and to dispose of Archelaus’s money; but the Jews, although at the beginning they took the report of a taxation heinously, yet did they leave off any further opposition to it, by the persuasion of Joazar, who was the son of Beethus, and high priest; so they, being over-persuaded by Joazar’s words, gave an account of their estates, without any dispute about it. Yet was there one Judas, a Gaulonite, of a city whose name was Gamala, who, taking with him Sadduc, a Pharisee, became zealous to draw them to a revolt, who both said that this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery, and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty. . . (Antiquities of the Jews, 18.1)

(Cyrenius is another name for Quirinius and Judas the Gaulonite is the Judas of Galilee mentioned by Gamaliel.)

Considering the fact that Luke knows about these two events, it seems less likely to me that Luke would have made a huge blunder in Luke 2:1-2.  Isn’t it more reasonable to conclude that there is just information that we are missing?

This entry was posted in Apologetics, Church History, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s