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Topic: Is The Bible Full of Contradictions?

The Date and the Place of Jesus' Birth

by Darrel Cline

This is the third part of my response to an anonymous objector to Christianity who has set about to attempt to debunk its truth-claims by setting forth what he thinks are contradictions in its Source -- the Bible. So far, his research has been highly suspect and he comes across more as a scoffer than as a serious student of the facts of either the text or history. In this session I will consider his claims that Matthew and Luke were about 10 years apart on the time of the birth of Christ and that the claim that the reason He was born in Bethlehem is "absurd". The following is what our objector wrote: (I have interjected my responses in bold text within the text as it was sent to me.)


According to Matthew, Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1). According to Luke, Jesus was born during the first census in Israel, while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:2). This is impossible because Herod died in March of 4 BC and the census took place in 6 and 7 AD, about 10 years after Herod's death. Some Christians try to manipulate the text to mean this was the first census while Quirinius was governor and that the first census of Israel recorded by historians took place later. However, the literal meaning is "this was the first census taken, while Quirinius was governor..." In any event, Quirinius did not become governor of Syria until well after Herod's death.

Without going back over the foolishness of someone who lives 2000 years removed from the setting and the history charging Matthew and Luke with ignorance about historical facts that occurred within the realm of their experience and in their own lifetime, suffice it to say at this point that our poor student seems not to realize a basic point. Suppose he wrote of the recent political election and recorded certain things that occurred within the scope of his own experience and ability to validate and had, for some unknown reason, his writing preserved for 2000 years. Then, 2000 years later, someone decided he didn't know what he was talking about? Who would be more likely to be accurate? The person who recorded the events within his own time frame and experience, or the psuedo-historian who didn't even examine what evidence was available after the passing of 2000 years?

Beyond that, consider Luke's record (put Matthew on the back burner for now). In respect to the birth and life of Jesus, he makes multiple claims. In Luke 1:5, he put the conception of John the Baptizer into the reign of Herod. Since Jesus was conceived, according to Luke's record in 1:26, six months later, He also was conceived during the reign of Herod. Now, according to our objector, Herod died in 4 B.C. This means that Jesus was conceived prior to that death according to Luke's own record. Luke then goes on to explain how it came to be that Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem at the time Mary's Son was born. The political powers that be ordered a census that motivated Joseph to travel to Bethlehem. Now, just what are the chances that our Luke was so dumb that he didn't know that Herod died in 4 B.C. so he tied the conception of Jesus to Herod's reign and then tied His birth to events that are supposed to have been 10 or 11 years later? Good grief! Just how stupid does this anonymous writer of ours think Luke was? Luke was writing to a man who lived in the same time frame as Luke. There were few people during that time frame that didn't know the general timing of Herod's death, just as there are few adults in our day that are not aware of the general timing of the assassination of President Kennedy. Since he told the person to whom he was writing that he wanted him to know the exact truth about the things he had been taught (Luke 1:4), do you really think he would have made such a colossal blunder as to separate the conception from the birth by 10 or 11 years?

We are not through yet. According to Luke 3:1-2, John began his ministry in the fifteenth year of Tiberius. Because Luke wrote of a hegemony (3:1), we are confident that he was writing of A.D. 12 because Tiberius began his monarchy two years later in A.D. 14. Fifteen years from A.D. 12 would have been A.D. 27. Then, in Luke 3:23, Luke tells us that Jesus was about 30 years old at this time. The only way Jesus could have been about 30 in A.D. 27 was if He was born before Herod died in 4 B.C. So, again, what are the chances that Luke put the birth of Jesus in A.D. 7 so that He would have been about 20 years old? Also, what are the chances that there are some historical realities of which our objector is completely ignorant after 2000 years have passed? Is it at all possible that if he had been a contemporary of Luke and of Luke's reader, he would have understood Luke's words without the slightest hitch? One of the dangers of scoffing at the records of history after 2000 years have passed is that the scoffer makes a completely unwarranted assumption that what he has at hand is what is really true and what is recorded is suspect. Talk about turning knowledge on its head!

Now, we have said all of this without appealing to Matthew's record at all. The point? Matthew and Luke are not in disagreement. If anything, Luke is in disagreement with himself. But, even this possibility is a foolish assumption made by a 2000-years-later pseudo-scholar who thinks he knows how to translate Luke's Greek infallibly. He wrote '...the literal meaning is "this was the first census taken, while Quirinius was governor...' This is not the only possible way to translate Luke's words. Anyone who wishes to be fair with the Greek of Luke 2:2 will have to admit a certain amount of ambiguity. It has the latitude of being translated as our objector does, but it also has two or even three other possibilities that do not put Luke at odds with himself. Now, given the fact that the words are Luke's, how much confidence should we put in a 2000-years-later translator who makes his translation contradict Luke? Why not assume that Luke knew what he was saying and legitimately translate his words so that they are in harmony with what he was saying?

Then, our objector accuses biblical expositors with the words: "Some Christians try to manipulate the text to mean..." while he himself is blindly manipulating the text in order to make Luke contradict himself. He should take heed to Jesus' warning to take the log out of his own eyes before he tries to take the speck out of the eyes of others who see far more clearly than does he.

That brings us to the next objection.


Both Matthew and Luke say that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Matthew quotes Micah 5:2 to show that this was in fulfillment of prophecy. Actually, Matthew misquotes Micah (compare Micah 5:2 to Matthew 2:6). Although this misquote is rather insignificant, Matthew's poor understanding of Hebrew will have great significance later in his gospel. Luke has Mary and Joseph travelling from their home in Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea for the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:4).

Matthew, in contradiction to Luke, says that it was only after the birth of Jesus that Mary and Joseph resided in Nazareth, and then only because they were afraid to return to Judea (Matthew 2:21-23). In order to have Jesus born in Bethlehem, Luke says that everyone had to go to the city of their birth to register for the census. This is absurd, and would have caused a bureaucratic nightmare. The purpose of the Roman census was for taxation, and the Romans were interested in where the people lived and worked, not where they were born (which they could have found out by simply asking rather than causing thousands of people to travel).

There is, indeed, something absurd going on here, but it is not Matthew's record of events that took place 2000 years ago. It is, rather, the absurdity of a 21st century pseudo-scholar trying mightily to make the words of men, who were willing to die because of their confidence in the truth of what they wrote, contradict each other and themselves.

My first point is this: there is absolutely nothing in Matthew's record that says that Joseph and Mary did not originally dwell in Nazareth. His record picks up with the birth in Bethlehem and explains why Joseph went to Galilee and Nazareth rather than return to the environs of Jerusalem. There is absolutely nothing in his record that denies that Joseph and Mary were from Nazareth originally. No recorder of history, sacred or profane, records everything that is factually true. All record only the points salient to their purpose and perspective. A classic example is the four Gospel writers' accounts of the contents of the sign above Jesus' head on the cross. None of them quote everything the sign said; all of them quote portions of what it said. That one leaves out this wording and another leaves out that wording in no way creates a contradiction. It is selective recording and every bit of it is true. There is no rule for recording history that the recorder has to record every detail that comes to mind; he only has to truthfully record the details that he chooses to include in his record. Thus, since it was not germane to Matthew's record to tell us how Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus, and it was germane to Luke's, Matthew left out many facts of history that were not pertinent to his purpose and Luke put in many facts that were pertinent to his purpose. This does not create a contradiction except in the mind of the wilfully blind who refuses to allow others to do what he himself does as he selects words to write for his own purposes.

Then, the accusation that Luke's record of Rome's demands are absurd is itself absurd. Our latter day scholar no more knows what Rome wanted than the man in the moon knows what I want. For him to take his perspective of an absurdity in order to challenge a historical record is simply too filled with hubris to be able to answer. Who ever heard of a politician demanding an absurdity!

Now there is one further accusation that our pseudo-scholar puts forward in this brief paragraph...

He wrote,"Actually, Matthew misquotes Micah (compare Micah 5:2 to Matthew 2:6). Although this misquote is rather insignificant, Matthew's poor understanding of Hebrew will have great significance later in his gospel."

What shall we say to this? Well, the least we can say is that our objector is apparently incapable of reading with comprehension. Why do we say this? Because anyone who can read, can pick up a Bible and turn to Matthew 2 and discover that Matthew was not quoting Micah 5:2. Rather, he was quoting the scholars whom Herod had summoned. They said, in answer to his question as to where Messiah was to be born, that the prophet had identified Bethlehem. So, if our objector wishes to challenge anyone's knowledge of Hebrew, he will have to challenge the scholars of Israel, not Matthew. And, besides this rather obvious fact of the text, our objector is so busy objecting that he has not bothered to check out how the scholars of Israel used the Old Testament in their answer. They did not tell the king, "Well, king, it's like this: Micah said..." Rather, from their choice of words in comparison to Micah 5:1 in the Septuagint (the commonly used Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures in Herod's day) and in comparison to 2 Samuel 5:2 and 1 Chronicles 11:2 in the Septuagint, it is clear that these scholars had done something in their answer to the king that was relatively common in that day: they sewed several texts together that addressed both the prophesied origins and function of the promised Messiah. They did not claim to be quoting anyone; they were just giving the meaning of the Old Testament's teaching regarding the coming of Messiah.

So, rather than Matthew's quote of the scholars summoned by the king being an indictment of his stupidity in respect to the Hebrew language, our objector is simply revealing both his ignorance and his wilfulness in being a scoffer rather than a student of the text. To the impure, all things are impure. Once a scoffer, always a blind man (See Psalm 1:1)! It is rather amazing how the wisdom of God blocks those who think they see so that they cannot even read what is clearly before them. This ought to be a warning to us all to approach the Word of God with at least a modicum of humility or we will find Him humiliating us with the rather obviousness of our rebellion against Him.

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This is article #245.
If you wish, you may contact Darrel as darrelcline at this site.