This is probably a very common question, but concerning the census of Quirinius during the birth of Jesus. Luke does not use the term Legatus for Quirinius or Pontius Pilate, so how can we be sure that Quirinius was not being mentioned as governor? Was Quirinius translated as a governor due to his superior position of Consul when he was campaigning in Syria? In addition maybe the verse meant he was governing in Syria, rather than the governor of Syria. Thanks


This is not exactly a “very common” question, but it is something that has come up at the web site a couple of times.  Skeptics want to claim that there are historical errors all over the Bible.  Of course, this is very hard to prove because the Bible is fantastically accurate as a historical document.  Therefore, they look for details which can be interpreted as errors.  My experience with looking into these alleged examples of historical errors is that they are minor in the first place, and that, in the second place, they can be understood in a way so that they are in fact not even errors.

Of course, this applies to the issue of Quirinius.  The relevant passage is Luke 2:2.  The information we have from Roman sources puts this Quirinius as governor of Syria in about 12 BC (sorry, I am doing this from memory here in Brazil without my resources, so the date is approximate).  Obviously, Jesus was not born in 12 BC,  His birth was in either 6 or 5 BC, based on the other details we have.  Critics call this an error.  The additional information we have is that at the time Jesus was born, Quirinius was back in the Eastern Mediterranean area, serving as a legate (a position higher than a governor) fighting against tribes in Cilicia, which would include Syria.  It is possible he was temporarily appointed as governor of Syria, but we do not happen to have that information recorded.  It is also possible that as legate he had authority to govern the whole area, so he is described as governor, but this was not his technical title.  We know relatively little details of the time, so it is hard to be sure.  As a near contemporary and a careful historian, it would be wise to take Luke himself as a reliable source, as he obviously knew more of the times than we do.  To automatically dismiss him is an obvious error.

I believe that Luke 2:2 is not an historical error.  The ironic thing is that those who claim the Bible has many historical errors and is full of fables and stories are left with very small details such as this as their only examples of historical “errors” when in fact we do not even know if it is an error.  Quite likely it is not.  You would think these critics would notice how small an example they are left with.  You would think they would notice that this implies that the Bible is either completely accurate or at least essentially accurate.  But, they seem to not notice this.

In summary, I believe your interpretation of the events in question is correct.

John Oakes

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