RESPONDblogs: The Curious Case of Quirinius

census

In Luke’s Gospel we read that…

“At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.” Luke 2:1-3, NLT

Luke’s statement has caused problems for some people.

First of all – the historical evidence suggests that Quirinius did not begin to govern Syria until after the death of Herod in 4 BC. Now it is clear from the gospels that Herod was very much alive when Jesus was born. In that case – how can Quirinius be Governor BEFORE Jesus’ birth…if Herod was already dead when Quirinius was governor of Syria? That sounds like a circle that cannot be squared.

Second – there is internal and external Biblical evidence of a census called AFTER Quirinius took over Governorship… Luke records what might be this census that Quirinius conducted in the 6th century in Acts 5:37. But this census cannot be the same as the census mentioned in Luke chapter 2.

 

Does this confusion undermine the historical reliability of Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth? Does this point to Luke being guilty of sloppy history?

Well – this would be strange given the high standing Luke enjoys as a 1st century historian, and the meticulous detail we find in his Gospel and his later work on the history of the early Christian Church – the Acts of the Apostles.

Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy…this author should be placed along with the very greatest historians. – William Mitchell Ramsay

 

Ancient Near Eastern historians have made the following responses to the Quirinius census problems.

 

FIRST – these censuses did happen in these cultures at that time.

Ancient census forms have been discovered by archaeologists. An order dated AD 104 says…

“Gaius Vibius Maximum, Prefect of Egypt: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those who for any cause whatsoever are residing out of their provinces to RETURN TO THEIR OWN HOMES, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census…”

This manner of counting people might seem odd to our advanced, IT enabled 21st century society. But the Biblical + extra-Biblical evidence points to the ancient practice of census calling.

 

SECOND – there is evidence that there may have been more than one Syrian Governor named Quirinius.

King Herod is believed to have died in 4 BC. So Luke’s claim in chapter 2 implies that a census was called by Ceasar Augustus well before 4 BC.  If Quirinius didn’t begin ruling until AD 6…this seems like a big discrepancy on the dates recorded by Luke.

HOWEVER – John McRay, PHD and professor of New Testament and archaeology at Wheton College, says , “a coin [has been found ] with the name of Quirinius on it in very small writing. This [coin] places him as proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 BC until after the death of Herod….apparently there were two Quiriniuses.”

Names in the ancient world tended to be common…often lots of people shared the same name…so it is reasonable to assume that perhaps two separate people are being referred to here as Quirinius.

In this case, perhaps two censuses occurred – a 14 year gap was apparently typical. This would suggest that an earlier census took place under the earlier Quirinius.  And this is the census that Luke refers to in his gospel.

 

Who cares?

Luke claims to have personally interviewed the eyewitnesses to the birth…and death of Jesus of Nazareth. He claimed to have carefully investigated everything so that he could produce an orderly account about the certainty of what occurred. Luke is claiming to record what actually happened – so the details count.

The details count – and the words of Jesus have the power to change our lives forever.

“…this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.” Luke 15:24, NLT

RESPONDblogs: Can Anything Good Come from Nazareth?

nazareth

Someone challenged me recently about the historical accuracy of the accounts of the birth of Jesus. “There’s no evidence that a place called Nazareth even existed at that time in first century history!”, he said.

 

Well – strange as it may seem…he has got a point. Nazareth isn’t mentioned in the Old Testament, or the Jewish Talmud and it doesn’t crop up in Roman historian Josephus either. Frank Zindler has noted that it doesn’t get a mention in ancient history till about the 4th century. And skeptics have taken this fact – and turned it against the reliability of the Christian Gospels.

 

Yet – absence of evidence…is never evidence of absence.

 

Archaeology has allowed scholars to build up a profile of the town of Ancient Nazareth. It was…

“small…about sixty acres, with a maximum population of about 480 at the end of the first century.” – James Strange, University of South Florida

 

If Nazareth is not described in any historical documents before the 4th century – how does he know that? Archaeologists have found clues that allow a picture of Nazareth to form.

 

 

FIRST – when the Temple fell in AD70, priests were no longer needed there because it had been destroyed and so they were sent out to different towns and villages to minister there. Even as far north as Galilee.

Archaeologists have found a list written in Aramaic describing twenty-four families of priests that were relocated. And one of them was registered as having moved to Nazareth.

 

SECOND – archaeological digs have uncovered first century tombs in the vicinity of Nazareth. Jewish burials tended to happen outside of the town…and so these tombs would mark the outer limits of the town.

“From the tombs….it can be concluded that Nazareth was a strongly Jewish settlement in the Roman period.” – Jack Finegan, Professor Emeritus of New Testament History and Archaeology, Berkeley

 

THIRD – pre-Christian remains were found in 1955 under the Church of the Annunciation in present day Nazareth.

“Such findings suggest that Nazareth may have existed in Jesus’ time, but there is no doubt that it must have been a very small and insignificant place.” – Ian Wilson, Archaeologist

 

 

So what?

 

Well it demonstrates the historical underpinning of the Gospel accounts of Jesus. It is part of the mass of circumstantial evidence at our disposal today in the 21st century that allows our brain to say – okay. This New Testament document is historical – and I am going to read it as such.

 

You know – skepticism about Jesus isn’t just a 21st century phenomenon. John’s Gospel records that on one occasion, Philip went looking for Nathaniel and encouraged him to meet the

“…very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” John 1:45, NLT

And Nathaniel’s skeptical reply?

“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathaniel. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” John 1:46, NLT

 

Put your skeptical mind at ease. Come and meet Jesus in the New Testament Gospels, today.

RESPONDblogs: The People and Purpose Around the Virgin Birth

virgin_birth

The Gospels teach that Jesus of Nazareth had no ordinary life. And it started right from the point of his conception.

 

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18, NLT

 

Now  from our vantage point in the 21st Century, virgin births are no big deal. You don’t necessarily need a man…or a woman involved for conception to take place today! But we are talking the ancients here. We are referring to Jewish people who lived two thousand years ago without the benefits of modern medicine.

 

The Bible claims that God caused Mary to conceive for a purpose and a plan. And we can see the aftermath of that event in the people who dealt with it.

 

 

Jesus’ Home Town:

When Jesus began his public life, people that he had grown up with in his hometown were offended by him when he began teaching in the synagogue.

“He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.  Mark 6:3, NLT

It’s hard to impress the people who have known us all our lives, I guess.  Particularly in Jesus case – his teaching was revolutionary and it challenged the religious establishment. But all the hometown people saw when they looked at him, was the kid who they watch grow up with his brothers and his sisters.

 

They also saw something else. They called him “the Son of Mary.” This seems reasonable, given that Mary was his mother. Yet in a culture where children were named after their fathers, this would have been a real insult. But it points to the general sense of suspicion and doubt around his paternity…who was Jesus’ father?

 

On another occasion, Jesus was having a debate with the religious leaders around who they were following, what their spiritual heritage really was. And in the midst of this debate, they threw out the very personal and insulting barb at him,

“We aren’t illegitimate children!” John 8:41, NLT

Scandal gets around fast, right? Both of these barbed statements suggest that it was common knowledge that Jesus had been conceived before Mary and Joseph married.

 

 

Mary:

We’ve also got to ask the question – why did Mary suggest such an outlandish explanation for her pregnancy? She stuck to her guns, as it were. She had not had sex with a man yet. All the same – she was pregnant.

“But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” Luke 1:34, NLT.

If we put ourselves in Mary’s sandals, it would have been so much easier to choose a different story. Right? It would have been better to have concocted some sort of story that made her look innocent. Illegitimate children were frowned upon in her society, this situation stigmatized her. She could have eased the pressure she was feeling by claiming that someone had raped her, for example. But instead – she went with the most unlikely of explanations. Why? Because she hadn’t been raped. And Joseph had not pressurized her into sex before marriage.  Her story was true.

 

 

Joseph:

From Joseph’s perspective, he keenly felt the stigma that this situation would bring them as a family. This would have been one of the reasons why he found himself in this situation.

“Joseph, her fiance, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.” Matthew 1:19, NLT

It would be better for them both if the marriage did not go ahead. Their reputations might somehow be salvaged. His future might be rescued! Yet Joseph went on to marry Mary. Why would he do that? Because he believed the report that God had given him. Mary was still a virgin who was bearing in her womb the Son of God conceived by the Holy Spirit.

 

 

We see the evidence pointing to the virgin birth in the pages of the New Testament. But it seems to me that – if God was able to create the Universe out of nothing – as Genesis teaches – then creating one miraculous baby is no great shakes, right? But why did he do it?

 

Whenever he causes something out of the ordinary to occur – he has a reason and a purpose behind it. The virgin birth had an ultimate and life changing purpose behind it for you…and for me.

 

I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!   Luke 2:31-32, NLT

 

 

RESPONDblogs: Christianity Isn’t Based on Stolen Ideas

Mithra

David Robertson is in the midst of an informal debate. The discussion is around the topic “Why Christianity is Reasonable”, and David’s talking when suddenly a guy at the back of the crowd pipes up.

 

“Everything you’ve claimed that is unique about Jesus Christ can be found in pagan religions that are much much older. From resurrections to births on 25th December!”

 

Without missing a beat, David shoots back. “You sir are a great example of what is happening in this Wikipedia Generation!” Ouch. David then proceeds to explain why the man’s statement simply makes no historical sense.

 

I have friends online who regularly throw this claim at me – that Christianity is simply a rehash of older pagan ideas. Of course, Dan Brown popularized this years ago in the Da Vinci Code.

“by fusing pagan symbols, dates, and rituals into the growing Christian tradition there was created a kind of hybrid religion”.

This supposedly pre-Christian God Mithras was supposedly born on December 25th, later died, and rose again after three days.

 

It’s a great putdown to the keen yet uninformed Christian evangelist, isn’t it?

 

But it doesn’t take too long to become “informed” about the un-historic and manipulative nature of these claims. Professor Ronald Nash taught for 40 years on worldview, ethics and history. And his response to the “Christianity rehash” idea is stark.

 

1 – It is a logical fallacy to claim that – just because two things exist side by side – one MUST have caused the other.

2 – The alleged similarities between Christianity and Mithraism are exaggerated by the people who claim it. How? They exaggerate by using Christian language to refer to pagan rituals. Like for example a “Last supper” or “baptism” in Mithraism. The followers engaged in no such thing. The parallels are forced thru use of sloppy, modern language.

3 – The chronology is wrong. The sources of information about pagan mystery religions date to 400 years AFTER Christ. How can a practice – occurring hundreds of years after documented Christianity – affect Christianity? One would need a TARDIS to square that circle.

4 – The New Testament shows that Christian teaching comes originally from Judaism alone.  There was an intolerance to influence from Greek thinking.

“Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers[a] of this world, rather than from Christ.” Colossians 2:8, NLT

5 – Christianity was originally (and presented thru scripture today) as an exclusive faith. One gives one’s life to following Christ. However the pagan cults were non-exclusive. One could become initiated into the cult of Mithras, and treat it as an addition to ones existing belief system.

6 – Christianity is grounded on events of history. The mystery cults were essentially non-historical, based on myths and pictures. It is a mistake to assume the events described in the New Testament to by mythological. Similarly, it’s a mistake to assume the grounding of ancient mystery religions to be historical.

7 – The parallels that remain reflect the influence of Christianity on Paganism, not the other way round. Historical record shows pagan attempts around AD360 to counter the growing influence of Christianity in the Greco-Roman world by imitating certain parts of it….offering a pagan alternative, if you like.

 

More details here:   http://www.equip.org/PDF/DB109.pdf

 

 

You know, the internet is an echo chamber for memes and ideas. I for one would like  to do what I can to feed some reason into that noise. When you look at all the information – reason suggests that because Christianity is earlier, and a different order than Mithraism, the two cannot be related. Unless, of course, Mithraism sought to emulate parts of the established Christian tradition to gain converts.