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Gospel Of Luke

Gospel of Luke

The opening to the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke is familiar to many of us...

    And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. 1
In this passage from the Gospel of Luke, we learn of a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world will be taxed and everyone must return to their home city for a formal census. We also read that this concept of registration and taxation was first decreed when Quirinius (also known as Cyrenius) was governing Syria. Well, for centuries, this whole text was considered a fabrication, since there was no secular record of such a Roman census or that people had to return to their home cities. Also, the only record of Quirinius (Cyrenius) being "governor" of Syria was 6-7 AD (Josephus), much too late to coincide with the biblical record.

Guess what? Recent discoveries reveal that the Romans did have a regular enrollment of taxpayers and held a formal census every 14 years, beginning with the reign of Caesar Augustus. 2 In addition, an inscription and other archaeological evidence reveal that Quirinius was indeed "governing" Syria around 7 BC (although not with the official title of "governor", he was the military leader in the territory). 3 Finally, a papyrus discovered in Egypt generally discusses the system of Roman taxation, declaring the following: "Because of the approaching census it is necessary that all those residing for any cause away from their home should at once prepare to return to their own governments in order that they may complete the family registration of the enrollment..."4

I had to admit, Luke passed my notion of a "credibility test." In fact, his style was far from the religious fanaticism that I expected. Like me, his whole point for writing his accounts was to collect the evidence and present the historical "case" for Jesus and his teachings. For me, it was powerful that Luke writes his entire text as a research paper -- "an orderly account" -- for a Roman official named Theophilus. Here's the beginning of Luke's record:

    Having carefully investigated all of these accounts from the beginning, I have decided to write a careful summary for you, to reassure you of the truth of all you were taught.5
So, as an authoritative writer of history, Luke passed my test with flying colors. I wasn't ready to accept the theology of his Gospel account, but I wasn't really "testing" that yet. I was still checking out the authenticity and credibility of these guys...

After the Gospel of Luke, what was next on my list...?

Read What's Next Now!

1 Luke 2:1-3, The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
2 E. M. Blaiklock, "Quirinius," The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 5, Zondervan Publishing House, 1976, 6. See also,
3 Ronald Marchant, The Census of Quirinius: The Historicity of Luke 2:1-5, Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, Research Report #4, 1980, 4-6,
4 See: Cited in Maier, Fullness, 4, who is quoting from A. H. M. Jones, ed., A History of Rome through the Fifth Century, Harper and Row, 1970, II, 256f.
5 Luke 1:3-4, New Living Translation, Tyndale House Publishers, 1996.

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