Question: Matthew says Christ’s birth was during the reign of Herod [the Great] (Matthew:2:1). Herod was murdered in 4 B.C., so Christ could not have been born any later than that. Yet Luke says that Jesus had just turned 30 years old in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar (Luke:3:1,23), who began to reign in A.D.14. So that would mean Jesus was 30 in A.D.29, and thus was born in 1 B.C. In a further contradiction, Luke puts Christ’s birth when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, but he didn’t take that office until A.D.6. If the Bible isn’t reliable in these matters, how can it be trusted about anything else?
Response: The seeming contradictions you mention (as well as several others) have been raised by a number of skeptics as “proof” that the Bible contains errors and thus cannot be God’s Word. One needs to remember that the Bible has been “proved” wrong many times on the basis of the then-available knowledge either of science or history. However, in 100 percent of the cases, when the true facts were at last uncovered, the Bible was vindicated and human ideas had to be adjusted. Such is the case here.
First of all, the dates you have relied upon from some secular source are by no means certain. Historians hold them in doubt. It would be foolish to throw away one’s confidence in the Bible on the basis of dates which are questionable. For example, Will Durant, in the index to his The Story of Civilization, Volume III, under Quirinius (another spelling for Luke’s Cyrenius) shows A.D.21 as the ending date but has a question mark for the beginning of his governorship over Syria. If Durant, one of the most highly respected of all historians, says the exact date is unknown, I’d be suspicious of a critic who, in order to “prove” the Bible wrong, states dogmatically that Quirinius began his reign in A.D.6! Moreover, other historians, such as A. W. Zumpt, are convinced that Quirinius was governor over Syria twice, the first time from 4 B.C. to A.D.1.
The seeming conflict with the date for the beginning of the reign of Tiberius Caesar is more than likely not a matter of error that some archaeological discovery could correct, but one of interpretation. Although Augustus Caesar died in A.D.14, which is therefore listed as the official date that Tiberius began to reign as Caesar in his place, in actual fact Tiberius had already begun to rule the empire some years before because Augustus was very elderly and in poor health. Will Durant puts this as early as A.D.9 when, he writes, “all Rome, which hated him…resigned itself to the fact that though Augustus was still prince, Tiberius had begun to rule” (p. 231). On that basis the fifteenth year of his reign would be A.D.24-25. If Jesus was born 4 B.C. just before Herod’s death, that would make him 29 years of age in A.D. 25 at the beginning of His ministry. Notice that Luke doesn’t say he was already 30, but that He “began to be about thirty years of age.” That could well be a late 29.