Question:A lot of anti-Christian biblical skeptics often use this objection to the Bible:

“The Bible tells the story of Jesus being born when Herod was king (Matthew) and traveling to Bethlehem (Luke) for the census as if the two accounts were compatible but, they are actually ten years apart. Luke has Jesus born at the time of the census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. This census was recorded by the Romans as occurring in AD 6. Matthew has Herod the Great
still alive. Both Roman and Jewish records show that Herod died in 4 BC.”

How can this objection be answered/refuted?


This is is a common criticism of the accuracy of the Bible.  It sounds like a good example of a biblical inaccuracy if you only listen to the critics.  However, these folks conveniently fail to notice a few facts.

First of all there is the fact that Luke is a fantastically careful and accurate historian.  He gets dozens of cities in the right place, titles of the rulers correct, and an almost unlimited number of historical details correct.  In one case, he got the title of an Asian leader right when Cicero gets it wrong.  Based on the reliability of Luke, we would be wise to give him the benefit of the doubt and ask how we might see that he may be accurate.

If we do this, we will not be disappoined.  First of all, from records we know that Augustus ordered the taking of censuses every twelve years.  One of these was in 8 BC.   The other two were 20 BC and 6 AD.   Probably it took 2-3 years for one fo these censuses to complete.  Almost certainly th3 8 BC census was the one which sent Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem which was the  prophesied birthplace of Jesus (Micah 5:2).  Most likely, the birth of Jesus was in 6 BC, although 5 BC is also possible.  Herod died in 4 BC, so the timing is just right.  The date of  0 BC was set several hundred years later, so you should NOT assume Jesus was born at that time (actually, there was no 0 BC!).

Now, about Quirinius.  It is true, and we can confirm this from Roman records, that Quirinius was governor of Syria in AD 6.   This does not disprove Luke.  I lived in San Diego 1986-1992, after which I left.  Does that prove that I do not live in San Diego now?   I moved back in 2000.  There is no proof to date that Quirinius was governor of Syria in 6 BC but we know that he was a military governor in Cilicia, the province next to Syria starting in 8 BC.   Given the broad powers of Roman consuls, it is possible that he was considered “governor” of Syria by virtue of his military overlordship.  It is also possible he was actually appointed a temporary governor of Syria, but we do not have proof of that, so that would be a bit speculative.  Well, actually, it would not necessarily be speculative at all.  The most reliable historical document we have from the Roman Empire at this time mentions this governorship.  I am talking about the New Testament.  It is ironic that skeptics automatically give other sources the benefit of the doubt but they always assume the Bible is wrong, unless it is proved correct.  This blatant double standard is not the result of evidence, but because of a prejudice on the part of skeptics.

I hope this helps.

John Oakes


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