Before 4 BC
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, …
Matthew 2:1  NASB

5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
Luke 1:5  NASB


After 6 AD
1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.
2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem …

Luke 2:1-4  NASB

SAB Contradiction 248


Jesus’ birth date
The SAB critic has pulled a new Bible Contradiction out of his hat: when was Jesus born? In 4 BC or 6 AD? We would of course expect the year 1, the beginning of the era according to the birth of Christ. However it was pretty late when the Christian counting was introduced which resulted in an inaccuracy. Historical studies pointed out that Herod the Great died about 4 BC.

What is the rabbit Bible critics conjure up out of their hat concerning the date of Jesus’ birth? (We should not imagine that the SAB critic is the first to come up with this accusation. It is an old and persistent deceit.) They claim that the time of the census under Quirinius in the Bible contradicts the real historical time about that census being in 6 AD. However we will see that the Bible gives two census and not one.


History about Quirinius
We know from Flavius Josephus that after the death of Archelaüs in 6 AD Quirinius (or Cyrenius), being the Roman governor of Syria, organised a census in Judea:

“ … Cyrenius came himself into Judea, which was now added to the province of Syria, to take an account of their substance, and to dispose of Archelaus’ money; but the Jews, although at the beginning they took the report of a taxation heinously, yet did they leave off any farther opposition to it, …: yet there was one Judas, a Gaulonite, … became zealous  to draw them to a revolt, …, and this bold attempt proceeded to a great height.” (Antiquities XVIII, I, 2-3, 6; in: The works of Josephus, W. Whiston, Hendrickson Publishers, 1987)

From this information of Josephus we know indeed that there was a census in the year 6 AD with a serious revolt connected with it. And from this revolt the party of the Zealots came into being of which this Judas was the founder.


Two census
However this was not the same census as the one at the end of Herod’s reign. About that, ten years earlier, we get from Luke 2:1-4 totally different features:
– It was under the reign of Herod the Great and not after the reign of his son Archelaus.
– Luke speaks clearly about the first census which implied a latter second census (2:2).
– … everyone was on his way to register. Luke gives a description of a peaceful census without  an accompanying revolt.
– it was a registration of man and not of properties. Just as every Jew had to pay one price: “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax. And they brought Him a denarius.” Matthew 22:19 This was the Roman denarius with the image of the Roman emperor and apparently there was a general obligation to pay.

The second census was an instrument for the Romans to get more money from the rich if they knew their properties and that brought revolt.
In the Bible it is Gamaliel who refers to the second census and the revolt of it (Acts 5:37): “After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered.”


Sufficiency of Biblical data
In the past not infrequently one has tried to handle the historical data we know about Quirinius to prove that he represented the Roman power in Syria during different periods. A noble approach, but it is quite difficult to handle the extra biblical data as they are not at all clear. E.g. Wikipedia – Quirinius: “From 12 – 1 BC, he led a campaign against the Homonadenses, a tribe based in the mountainous region of Galatia and Cilicia, around 5 – 3 BC, probably as legate of Galatia.” The use of the word probably is much too weak to conclude that Quirinius wasn’t governor of Syria-Cilicia around 5 – 3 BC, the time of the first census under Herod (according to clear Biblical information). 
The Biblical data (in combination with Josephus) are enough to settle the matter: it is absolutely improper to claim a Bible Contradiction here.


No Bible Contradiction


Additional Note
In 525 the monk Dionysius Exiguus came with a new method to define the counting of years. Pope John I had asked him to figure out the days of Easter for some decades. At that time there existed a common counting since emperor Diocletian the greatest persecutor of Christians ever and Dionysius Exiguus had the feeling that it was not proper to point the dates of Easter since Diocletian and he started to count from Jesus’ birth. Unfortunately he made some mistakes which came to light through historical studies in the last ages. Jesus’ birth was at least 4 BC, the year of Herod’s death.