Luke 2:1-2, When Was Jesus Born?

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.)

Today’s post is not meant to ridicule traditional Christian beliefs; it is to help reconcile followers of Christ, whether believers of the supernatural or not.

Do you think all Christians need to believe literally in the virgin birth? Can you fellowship with nonbelievers? I’d like to give one of many examples why liberal Christians and Jesus scholars have a hard time believing in the virgin birth, so that believers can begin to understand the complications nonbelievers struggle with.

Note that many early Christians didn’t believe in the virgin birth either. The early Jerusalem church (the Ebionite sect), headed by James, brother of Jesus, did not. Paul writes only that Jesus was “born of a woman, born under the law” and that he descended from David “according to the flesh,” while Mark portrays Jesus as estranged from his family, disowning mother and brothers, hardly an endorsement for the idea of Mary being informed by an angel of Jesus’s divinity. John insists that Jesus was never born, but existed before the creation. Only Matthew and Luke tell a story of Jesus’ birth, and these two stories contradict each other quite radically.

I present today’s verse as just one example. In Matthew’s rendition, Joseph and Mary flee Herod, who died in 4 BC. In Luke’s story, Joseph and Mary come to Bethlehem for a census overseen by governor Quirinius … but Quirinius did not govern before 6 AD. So, was Jesus born before 4 BC or after 6 AD?

This and other examples convince many that the birth narratives were written to honor Jesus in story, not to relate historical facts. You must decide for yourself; are one or both of the birth stories true or not? But I hope that, whatever you decide, it will not cause you to criticize those Christians who decide otherwise. May we all have a merry Christmas as brethren!

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