Could you make a good summary for the evidences to support the Luke 2
account of the census decreed by Caesar while Quirinius was ruling that
would have forced Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem from Nazareth? I have
read so much about the topic. I do see support that it could have
happened, however, there is a lot of controversy about it since some
people doubt Caesar’s decree would have been enforced at that time in
Palestine. Quirinius was shown to be governor at a later time in Syria
and Joseph would not have been forced to return to Nazareth. Since Time
and Newsweek have cover stories this week on the subject of Christ’s birth
with a very skeptical view of the historicity I feel it’s an extremely
First of all, the overall accuracy of Luke as an historian,
even in the smallest details, has been reinforced time and time again.
Below is an excerpt from my book “Reasons for Belief: A Handbook of
There is hardly a single historical detail in Luke or Acts which has not
been challenged for its accuracy by one skeptic or another. Luke?s
writings hold up just fine to the criticism.
For example, consider Luke 2:1-3.
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 his own town to register.
This is followed by the account of Mary and Joseph traveling to
Bethlehem. Critics have claimed that Caesar Augustus never issued such a
decree. They have also claimed there was no way people would have been
required to travel long distances to their home district for such a census
in any case. To top it off, critics said that Quirinius was not governor
of Syria at the time in question.
On all three points, archaeological discoveries have proven
Luke to be accurate. More recent archaeological discoveries have proven
that Augustus did in fact decree censuses every fourteen years. The first
census was in 23-22 BC. The second was in 9-8 BC. Being in the far
reaches of the empire, the census may not have reached Palestine until
seven or six BC, the latter being a probable date for the birth of
As to the need for Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem from Galilee, a
papyrus has been found in Egypt. On it is written; “Because of the
approaching census it is necessary that all those residing for any cause
away from their homes should at once prepare to return to their own
governments in order that they may complete the family registration of the
enrollment and that the tilled lands may retain those belonging to them.”
This papyrus provides astounding confirmation of Luke?s account of the
birth of Jesus. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the more
reliable source (the New Testament) confirms the accuracy of the less
reliable source (the papyrus found in Egypt).
As far as Quirinius is concerned, again historians doubted Luke because it
was known from the writings of Josephus that Quirinius was governor in
Syria after 6 AD, which is definitely too late for the birth of Jesus
Christ. This argument was eliminated when an inscription was found in
Antioch ascribing to Quirinius the governorship of Syria in 7 BC.
Apparently, Quirinius had two tours of duty in Syria, one from 12 to 6 BC
as governor, the other after 6 AD as an imperial legate.
or 6 BC.  John Elder, Prophets, Idols, and Diggers, (Bobbs Merrill Co., New
Youk, 1960), p. 159,160 and Joseph P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History,
(Scripture Press, Wheaton, Illinois), p 285.
It is my opinion that those who claim that the account of Luke
is dubious historically have to purposefully ignore the evidence. As far
as I know, every single time skeptics have attempted to disprove the
accuracy of Luke, they have been proven wrong, or at the very least, the
jury is still out. Luke was a very careful chronicler of events, down to
the smallest detail. Yes, there was a census in around 7-6 B.C. Yes,
Quirinius was governor at the right time. Yes, it makes sense that Joseph
and Mary had to go to Bethlehem, yes, yes, yes….. Some people doubt
that the decree found in Egypt applied to Palestine. That is true.
Before the decree was found, some doubted that Augustus ever ordered a
census! These skeptics keep shifting their criticisms. If I have to
choose between the skeptics (who have an extreme bias, and whose goal is
to prove the Bible to not be inspired) and Luke, the careful historian who
interviewed the people who were involved in the events, I will trust
Luke. If there was evidence that Luke was a shoddy historian, I would say
that the skeptics have a good reason to question the accuracy of his
statements, but the fact is that Luke was a great historian who, in
addition, was a disciple of Jesus. He would not lie.
By the way, I included references, and I invite you to check
out the primary sources for yourself.
Thanks for a good question!