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D.[1.1.4] was at the time hailed as God's revenge for executing John, and since people would be calling up the most recent crime of Herod as the cause of his military defeat, John's execution must not have been long before this, certainly some years after 28 A. So when Luke says Jesus was "about" thirty, he could mean any age between 27.5 and 32.5, although, from ignorance of the actual year the ministry started, Luke could be in error by an even wider margin. On the other hand, if Jesus began his ministry shortly after John's death, and John was killed within a year of the military defeat that was thought to have avenged his execution (which is a more reasonable conjecture than any greater span of time between the war and John's death), then Jesus would have begun his ministry in 34 or 35 A. There are two problems with such an argument: first, an author who knew Jesus was born during a particular census could still err in describing that census, so such errors would not discredit the entire account.[1.1.5] Second, Luke's errors are not that grievous to begin with. Sherwin-White has suggested that the fact that there was never in that period a single census of the whole Roman Empire actually confirms rather than refutes the reliability of Luke, since it would betray Luke's or his source's (imperfect) acquaintance with imperial decrees: for it was the standard of the day to preface specific decrees with the general idea behind them, and thus Luke (or his source) could have mistaken a preface for the decree itself, a mistake that one imagines could only be made by someone who had at least glanced at an actual census decree.[1.2] But such an error could simply reflect a common belief among many Jews, due to the usual course of erroneous transmission of popular news, or could have been made, for all we know, by someone a hundred times removed from Luke's immediate source, based on entirely different censuses.The first "mistake" lies in claiming that the census was of "all that was inhabited," when we know in fact that it was only of Syria and Judaea (and there was no such thing as a universal census at all until many decades after Jesus died, see below). Another possible source of such an error could be the assumption that the first universal census, conducted by Vespasian and Titus in 74 A. (which would be fresh in everyone's memory for the remainder of that century), was "typical" when in fact it was not.Each will be addressed here in a separate box, which can be skipped if desired since they aren't essential to the issue of when Jesus was born. Such an interpretation does not solve the many problems created by Luke 2:2 anyway--for it essentially trades a contradiction between Luke and Matthew for a contradiction within Luke.Luke gives us another precise date when he sets the beginning of John's ministry to 28 A. (3.1), and this has caused some confusion, though for no good reason. It is more likely that Luke had in mind the passing of some years between the two inaugurations, than that he got major public facts wrong.The second paragraph of the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy expands Luke 2:2 by saying "in the 309th year of the Era of Alexander, Augustus put forth an edict." The Era of Alexander began in 336/335 B. C., exactly the time when provincial censuses begin (though not in all provinces: see How Often Was the Census Held? Luke could not have meant Jesus was born in 28 or 27 B. (for all the reasons given throughout this survey below, and because this early date doesn't work in Matthew's narrative, either).
and ), it would be reasonable to assume that Luke has in mind that John was nearly twelve when Jesus was born (since "in those days" from vv. ).[1.1.2] This would easily rescue Luke from charges of chronological error, since he reports that John's birth was foretold in a vision "in the days of Herod king of Judaea" (1.5), and if John was born around then, it would be an error to have Jesus born around the same time if Herod the Great were meant, since he was long dead by the time the census occurs.
Before you dismiss, please consider making a donation. It is beyond reasonable dispute that Luke dates the birth of Jesus to 6 A. It is equally indisputable that Matthew dates the birth of Jesus to 6 B. It was originally written in 1999 and was revised in 2000 to make it more readable and complete, and to take into account new claims and scholarship; two more revisions of the text were made in 2001, and another in 2006, in conjunction with a much shorter summary being built by the editors of the new Errancy Wiki. Was Quirinius Sharing Command with a Previous Governor? The Gospel of Luke claims (2.1-2) that Jesus was born during a census that we know from the historian Josephus took place after Herod the Great died, and after his successor, Archelaus, was deposed. C., and the sequence is indisputable, Luke and Matthew contradict each other.
Some small additions were then made in 2011 to keep pace with recent publications. But Matthew claims (2.1-3) that Jesus was born when Herod the Great was still alive--possibly two years before he died (2:7-16). Luke 2.1-2 says that "It happened in those days that a decree was issued by Caesar Augustus that a census be taken of all that was inhabited. Then, eight days later, he is circumcised (), and after the 40th day (; cf.
On the other hand, there might be no mistake at all: the phrase is pasan tên oikoumenên, "all of the inhabited," where the adjective "inhabited" implies some noun in the feminine, such as "land" or "region," but usually referring to "the whole world." However, this idiom was used not only to refer to the whole Roman Empire, but to regions like "the whole Greek world," and thus may have been meant here as simply the whole Jewish world, or, even more likely, to the whole of Syria (which then included Judaea)--for "Syria" is also a feminine noun.
Another reasonable possibility is that Augustus did issue a decree that all provinces be assessed, but without ordering that it all happen at once.