Christmas Facts

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Tuesday, December 25, 2018 1 comments

by Steve Risner

Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Last Thursday, I released a blog post about the origins of some of our more popular or well known Christmas holiday traditions. You can read that here. Today, I wanted to look at some of the historical facts that some skeptics take issue with – things like the census that Luke reported and who was governor at the time of Christ's birth. Also, what was the star that led the wise men to Bethlehem? Why are there differences in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke? Some of these alleged issues have been covered literally for hundreds of years while others have found a more contemporary response. Either way, we can trust the Gospel story as it's written in the 4 books dedicated to the life of Christ we find in the Bible and, specifically for today's writing, the 2 Gospels that give us details of the birth of Jesus.

Read Luke 2 here.

For Bible believers, it's accepted that the Bible is very likely accurate in all it records (with a few exceptions that can be traced back to copying errors and are of no consequence at all). Luke is considered by many to be a top rate historian who was very concerned with accurately recording things in an orderly fashion so the reader may know the account is true. He didn't take things lightly and he interviewed those who were there (or he himself was there) for his historical account of the life of Jesus and the early church. It's unlikely Luke would include something of minute detail if it was not correct since he was primarily concerned with accuracy and orderliness. Let's look at some alleged issues.

The census that had Joseph take his pregnant soon-to-be-wife to Bethlehem is an area history has an issue with. It's one of the toughest to answer satisfactorily, but I'm okay with unanswered questions. There are certainly some things from God's Word that we're not 100% clear on, but none of these things are of major importance from a theological stand point. They are the details. We, as believers, must be united on the essentials but allow freedom in those things that are more preferential than essential. If we stand united on the important stuff, we'll make a great deal of headway for the Kingdom. But this issue does have some options as for an answer. The issue here is that Quirinius wasn't governor of the area when Jesus was born nor did he have a census taken during the time generally accepted as the time Christ was born—about 4 BC. His census was done around 6 AD. He also claims that Herod the Great was ruling at the time. Herod died probably early in 1 BC. Many suggest it was 4 BC, but more recently that has been questioned for various reasons. It seems to make more sense it was 1 BC. So this means we cannot assume the census spoken of was done in 6 AD and this was the census Luke wrote about for the time of Christ's birth. Early church father Tertullian indicates that Saturninus was in charge during Christ's birth, as Roman records seem to indicate as well.

There are several explanations that have been put forth for this issue. One is that Quirinius was put in charge of the census only during the time Saturninus was over the area. Another is that Quirinius finished the census, which was first imposed by Augustus over the Roman world, going from province to province. The Jews may have been allowed to use their “own town” as the text suggests rather than their Roman town. This has historical support. But it is possible the Quirinius is credited with the census because he, in fact, finished it. Another possible explanation is that Quirinius had some other official position that put him in a leadership role at the time. The text uses words that can indicate governor but also other positions are possible. There is historical documentation that indicates an official around this time held office twice. That could well have been Quirinius.

Still another possible explanation is the text itself. Reading ancient Greek can be tricky. It's possible the text doesn't say it occurred during the reign of Quirinius but prior to the reign of Quirinius or prior to the census of Quirinius. We need to understand how the grammar works here. The census of Augustus was not a one time, empire-wide event but multiple events over a longer time period. Luke indicates this with his use of the present tense in reference to Augustus's census of the world (the Roman world that is). It was ongoing. Then he hones in on the area known as Syria. It's also likely from the text that Luke is referring to one of two censuses that took place near that time. He indicates it was the first census, rather than the more commonly referred to one of 6 AD. Any of these, or some other explanation, could adequately deal with the skeptic's complaint. Some other historical documents may be found to further confirm the accuracy of Luke's narrative.

Let’s look at another question. Joseph should not have had to go to Bethlehem but to his current home town, and Mary should not have been required to accompany him at all since she wouldn't need to register. This is not so. There Egyptian records that indicate Rome frequently allowed local cultural traditions to be used during certain things. There is no reason to suggest it wasn't okay in this instance. In Jewish culture, property (which Joseph may likely have owned in the area of Bethlehem since his family was from the area) was passed down through the father. This would have demanded Joseph go to his own town and register. Why did his pregnant fiance join him? A couple good reasons, I think: 1) she was about to give birth and wanted to be with Joseph at the time, and 2) she and Joseph were aware of the Messianic prophecies indicating where Jesus would be born. They knew the child she carried was the prophesied Messiah, so she needed to get him to Bethlehem. Watching the Lord work out the details that not only allowed for her to be in Bethlehem but even required her to be there was probably a faith builder for the couple.

What was the star the Magi saw? I don't know. Many have suggested a few different things that, to me, don't follow. A common thought is a conjunction of multiple planets that made some sort of super star in the night sky. Another is the idea that a comet may have been in the sky, leading the wise men on their journey. Still another possible explanation is a supernova—an exploding star. None of these work for me. The star rested over a house and led the men on their journey. A conjunction of planets or exploding star in the sky wouldn't lead them. A comet wouldn't lead them. It's likely it was a supernatural event, like the pillar of fire at night and pillar of cloud during the day that led the Hebrews as they left Egypt. The text seems to tell us that only the Magi saw the star and that it led them from Jerusalem to Bethlehem which is north to south. Normal objects in the sky travel from east to west.

The apparent differences in the genealogies of Jesus from Matthew to Luke are very simple to address. Luke was referencing Jesus’s mother's lineage while Matthew was highlighting Joseph's—Jesus’s legal father. However, Mary's lineage through David was not cursed while Joseph's was. Christ could not have been the King if his real father was Joseph due to Jehoiachin. The grammar used in Luke's list indicates he was giving us Mary's line up until Joseph, who was indicated by the text as the son-in-law.

I'm sure there are other issues skeptics have, but that's what they do: they seek out reasons to not believe rather than accepting the obviousness of the accuracy and authority of the Bible to proclaim God's Word to us. This Christmas, praise Him for His amazing acts. He became flesh and dwelt among us. Christ's birth is, in my opinion, the second greatest event in the history of the universe only topped by the Resurrection. Celebrate and worship Him! Rest in the facts of the day—Jesus was born! God sent us the greatest gift of all—that of His Son. God is with us.

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Dinger said...

Hello Steve,

I've read several of your posts and they stay the course, which is highly commendable, not influenced by the fakery and revisionism that persistently attacks Christianity and its history for deliberate and nefarious reasons. Well done!

I study the work of many, including esteemed historians and have established that none consider that it was actually a census that was ordered by Augustus Caesar, but rather a requirement for citizens to register their names, in order that he may accept the title of "Father of His Nation the Roman Empire". Not only Joseph but Mary as well, had to register. It was a requirement that any who were descendants of a royal household, (in their case both descendants of the royal House of David), must register, men and women alike in such a case. Obviously, the reason for that was to keep tabs on those from a royal lineage, who might entertain the idea of overthrowing the Roman appointed ruler, who was Herod at the time.

These historians are quite definite in their assertion that it was not a census, but a registration for this purpose. If we look at Luke's words, he does not use the word "census" but simply refers to a "registration".

On another point, Biblical historians, to name just one, Barry Setterfield, also an astronomer-scientist, whom I respect, states that the original text of Matthew does not in fact use the word "Magi" but "Magoi" and explains that the two are different religions. The Magoi were of the Zorastorian sect, the national religion of Persia at the time. He states that the Magoi were at the same time Persian astronomer-priests who counselled Kings and who studied, taught and researched astronomy at an academy of great learning near Babylon in Saveh.

Conversely, the word "Magi" is associated with Greco-Roman paganism and translates to mean "Magic" or "Magician" and engaged in astrology - forbidden by Judaism. These discrepancies may appear to be small, but almost certainly are deliberately crept into the narrative for nefarious and sinister reasons, similar to the pagan holiday nonsense regarding the date of the 25th December, in order to discredit the history and factual foundations of Christianity.

Equally as frustrating is the new trend of publishing in English and widely disseminating apocryphal texts. For example, the "Revelation of the Magi", clearly designated by the Church as apocryphal for good reason - it's author and source cannot be verified, yet it is written in the first person, supposedly by one of the Magoi. Such influential men as the Magoi from the Court of Persia, would surely not refer to themselves as "Magi" and would surely put their name to such a document, but yet the author failed to. For these reasons it appears to be a fake.

The Australian ABC, (equivalent to Britain's BBC), ran a series on the translation of that document and lampooned Christians for "making up fairy tales" because the text places "Shir" in China, although Shir or Shur is clearly defined in Biblical texts as East of the Nile and South of the Dead Sea. The non-believers had a field day with that, failing to acknowledge the location of Biblical Shir and also failing to acknowledge that the text is not recognised by the Christian Churches for good reason. It's authorship cannot be verified or dated.

Nothing is beneath them, all too happy to ignore accredited, historically authenticated ancient writings, while trumpeting unaccredited, unauthenticated texts written by God only knows whom.

Keep up the good work.