Friday, December 6, 2013

Day 2: Luke 2:2

 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) -Luke 2:2

This verse may seem of little importance, but it is one of the most hotly debated verses between Biblical scholars and archaeologists/historians in the Christmas story.  According to the accounts of Jesus' birth in the Bible (found in Luke and Matthew), at the time Jesus was born, Herod was king, Caesar Augustus had power to declare a census be taken and Quirinius was governor of Syria.  Biblical scholars, believing in the inerrancy of the Bible, take this to be exactly how the political structure of the time looked.

Archaeologists and historians say that this scenario is impossible.  They say based on ancient documents, there is no evidence of Caesar ever declaring a census be taken, they say that Quirinius could not have ruled the same time as Herod, and that Quirinius' rule was much later than Bible scholars believe was the time of Jesus' birth, which is commonly thought to be around 4BCE.  Furthermore, they say there would have been no reason for Joseph to travel back to Nazareth and there certainly was no reason for Mary to travel with him since women were not counted in the census.

So does that mean the Christmas story is wrong?  Was it just an elaborate allegory?  Was it fabricated to beef up the myth surrounding Jesus?  Should we as Christians believe something that modern researchers have so clearly decided is wrong?

People that know me personally know that I am definitely not anti-intellectual.  I have a lot of respect for mathematics and the sciences.  I believe that there is no need for theology and science, theology and reason, or theology and historical evidence to be divorced.  But as the secular studies of the world choose more and more to initiate this divorce between themselves and the theological studies, especially Christian studies, I find myself asking over and over again..."why does the theological view always have to be wrong?"  And why are we as Christians expected to take the word of secular archaeologists and historians over the word of theological archaeologists and historians?  What is it in our rational that puts more weight on secular experts than Christian ones?  Do both not have an agenda and a bias toward a certain outcome?

Christian experts in archaeology and history have offered up several possible explanations as to the seeming discrepancy.  First, in the original Greek, the phrase used to say "first census that took place while" can also just as accurately be translated to say "the census that took place before".  Second, there is much historical evidence that describes a governor that specifically lead only the military of the region during the time of Jesus' birth, while the other governor focused on social and economic issues.  This military leader is described in a way that suggests strongly that this man may have been Quirinius, thus meaning that Quirinius ruled as governor twice, the first time only in charge of the military and the second time as full governor.  Lastly, it is easy to refute the idea of the census not happening by simply asking if there could not have been some way that the documentation of that census was at some point lost or destroyed?  And since this census is not documented, how do we know whether the rules for it were different and required everyone to travel to their hometowns and made an effort to include women in the count? 

So, why bring this argument up in a discussion about Christmas?  This is the time of year when Christians are front and center in the attention of society in general.  Even when the spirituality of the season is stripped away, it is hard to ignore the fact that Jesus is the reason for the season.  People who don't attend church the rest of the year flood the pews for Christmas services.  And for non-believers, questions about why we would worship a guy that died 2000 years ago crop up around every corner.  When faced with these questions about whether or not our faith is ridiculous, are we really secure in the accuracy of what we believe or are we a little embarrassed to believe something that seems so far-fetched to an advanced society as we have today?

This is when we as Christians need to have a deep enough relationship with the Father and enough faith in what we believe to push back and say, "Why does the Bible have to be the source that is wrong?"  Can both we and secular proponents be intellectually honest enough to not discount each other's research and conclusions because they are from "the other team"?  During this season where more people than any other time of year focus on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let us be confident in the Holy record that the Father has provided for us.  Let us pray that God shows us how real and accurate His scripture is and how it takes just as much faith to believe in secular archaeology as it does biblical archaeology.  But most of all, let us remember that our focus should be on our risen King, on the eternal life we hope for and on the receiving the love the Lord lavishes on us and sharing it with a dark, scary and hopeless world.  Proving your position on a historical discrepancy won't save you, but God's love will.

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