New Evidence Shows Luke Didn’t Just Invent The Census In The Christmas Story

Christmas is less than a month away and that means there is a fair amount of discussion in the media and popular culture about the birth of Jesus Christ in a manger in Bethlehem.

Critics have long delighted to point out that the census that plays a key role in Luke’s Gospel account of His birth never really happened. Here’s how Luke put it:

“In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria,” Luke 2:1-2 tells us.

“And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child,” Luke continues in verses 3-6.

“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn,” Luke says in verses 7-8.

That in a nutshell is the Christmas story that until recent decades in America was well-known to virtually everybody in this country, Europe and much of the rest of the world.

But since the days of “Higher Critics” like Rudolph Bultmann, numerous critics have argued no census was taken that required people to return to their places of birth, so therefore Luke must have made up the whole thing and that means his Gospel — and by extension the other three as well — cannot be trusted as reliable.

But critics have long argued no such census was taken, so therefore Luke must have made up the whole thing and that means his Gospel — and by extension the other three as well — cannot be trusted as reliable.

But guess what? As Tent-Making Christianity’s Drew Covert puts it,  archeology has uncovered solid evidence that in fact Luke got it right and his Gospel can be trusted as a credible source about the birth of Jesus.

“Historians have long questioned the idea of people returning to their ancestral home to register for a census.  Even by our own modern standards, this seems ludicrous,” Covert writes.

“Can you imagine everyone in a country returning to where they were born to complete a census? It would be sheer chaos.  Surely, they claim, this was just a literary device used by Luke to get Jesus’ birth in the correct city to fulfill Old Testament prophesies,” Covert said.

But something found in Egypt puts the issue in an entirely new perspective. So before you conclude Christmas is a nice fable but no more than that, check out the rest of Covert’s post.

By the way, that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem was predicted hundreds of years beforehand by the prophet Micah in the second verse of the fifth chapter of the Old Testament book bearing his name.

Photo by Walter Chávez on Unsplash

Mark Tapscott is HillFaith’s editor, IT jockey, spiritual guide, chief bottle washer and overall Jack-of-All-Trades. Email him at mark.tapscott@gmail.com

Author: Mark Tapscott

Follower of Christ, devoted husband of Claudia, doting father and grandfather, conservative lover of liberty, journalist and First Amendment fanatic, former Hill and Reagan aide, vintage Formula Ford racer, Okie by birth/Texan by blood/proud of both, resident of Maryland.

4 thoughts on “New Evidence Shows Luke Didn’t Just Invent The Census In The Christmas Story”

  1. But since the days of “Higher Critics” like Rudolph Bultmann, numerous critics have argued no census was taken that required people to return to their places of birth, so therefore Luke must have made up the whole thing and that means his Gospel — and by extension the other three as well — cannot be trusted as reliable.

    This was always one of the more stupid arguments made by Bultmann…

    Luke 1:1-4
    For as much as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a narration of the things that have been accomplished among us; According as they have delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word: It seemed good to me also, having diligently attained to all things from the beginning, to write to thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mayest know the verity of those words in which thou hast been instructed.

    Luke’s express purpose in writing his gospel is to write an orderly and accurate account of the historical events pertaining to Jesus Christ so that his target audience, first century AD Christians including whoever Theophilus may have been, would be reassured that their beliefs about Christ were true.

    So if he makes up events or details that everyone living in the Roman Empire knows are not true, he actually accomplishes the exact opposite of his goal. He introduces doubts about his credibility, and his claims about Jesus and his resurrection from the dead become suspect. That at least some censuses conducted by officials in the Roman Empire required people to return to their place of birth to be enrolled MUST be a historical fact. Because if it wasn’t historical fact, Luke’s Gospel would not have been considered credible and it would have been discarded long ago and regarded like the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel according to Pontius Pilate.

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  2. Everett, here’s the link to the Tent-Making Christianity article referenced above: http://tentmakingchristianity.com/did-the-census-described-by-luke-actually-happen/

    And for additional material, J. Warner Wallace’s “How Ancient Eyewitness Testimony Became the New Testament Gospel Record” here: https://crossexamined.org/how-ancient-eyewitness-testimony-became-the-new-testament-gospel-record/

    And see Evan Minton’s “Resolving Christmas Conundrums” here: https://crossexamined.org/resolving-christmas-conundrums/

    These sources barely skim the surface of the historical, archeological and logical evidences for the reliability of Luke’s Christmas account specifically and more generally of the Bible as authoritative history. You would also find “More Than A Carpenter” by Josh and Sean McDowell to be invaluable in sorting out the conflicting claims about Jesus. Email me your snail mail address and I will happily send you a copy of it at no cost to you.

    And Merry Christmas!

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