Last week we looked at the factual basis for the virgin birth; this week let’s go a little further into the Christmas story and explore another facet of the evidence supporting the historicity of these events.
Luke 2:1-21 (NIV): 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 joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born 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 favor 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 the 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.
This part of the Christmas story starts with a census being taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Publius Sulpicius Quirinius is known to have governed Syria during 6-9 A.D. Josephus records that a census taken in 6 A.D. sparked a violent Jewish revolt, this is also mentioned by Luke in Act 5:37. Quirinius oversaw this census and played a major role in putting down the rebellion. But this cannot be the census Luke is referring to here in the Christmas story because it occurred much too late to fit Luke’s chronology. Luke was far too meticulous in his recounting of events to be accused of such a chronological error.
And, indeed, archaeology has upheld Luke’s accuracy. A fragment of a stone tablet discovered near Rome in 1764 contains an inscription in honor of a Roman official who was twice governor of Syria during the reign of Augustus. The name of this official is not found, but details listed among his accomplishments could fit no one other than Quirinius. Thus, we conclude that Quirinius served as governor twice. And other ancient records mention a “first” census being ordered by Augustus in 8 B.C. Evidently, this earlier census was not carried out in the Palestinian region until 2-4 years later, perhaps due to political difficulties between Rome and Herod. But Luke does state in verse 2 that the events he recounts occurred at the time of the “first” census taken while Quirinius was governor (obviously indicating there were more than one). So Luke’s accurate rendering of these historic events is validated by the evidence and can be considered completely trustworthy.
So Luke’s telling of the Christmas story is reliable and I hope presenting this evidence helps you see that Christmas really is a celebration of true historical events. And, as such, should inspire us to pursue relationship with our Creator who loved us so much He sent His one and only Son to live among us, to die for us, and to be raised again that we might be reconciled to Him. Yes, Jesus truly is the reason for the season!
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