What Year Was Jesus Born?
Question: Matthew says Christ’s birth was during the reign of Herod [the Great] (Matthew:2:1). Herod died, by all accounts, in 4 BC, 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 AD 14. So that would mean Jesus was 30 in AD 29? and thus was born in 1 BC, three years after Herod’s death, thoroughly destroying Matthew’s timing! In a further contradiction, Luke puts Christ’s birth when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, but he didn’t take that office until AD 6. Episcopalian Bishop John S. Spong of Newark, New Jersey, says that such contradictions prove the Bible isn’t reliable. I believe the Bible is true. Can you help me?
Response: The seeming contradictions you mention (as well as many others) have been eagerly (in .fact, too eagerly) 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 “proven” wrong many times on the basis of then-available knowledge either of science or history. However, in every case, when all the facts were at last uncovered, the Bible was vindicated and the critics were red-faced. It is the same here.
Quirinius—Cyrenius Was Govenor of Syria Twice
First of all, the dates that Bishop Spong and other critics use in this presumed refutation were never by any means certain. Historians did not accept them. It would be foolish to throw away one’s confidence in the Bible on the basis of dates that are questionable at best. For example, Will Durant, in The Story of Civilization, Volume III, indicated that he did not know when Quirinius (another spelling for Luke’s Cyrenius) began his governorship over Syria. If Durant, one of the most highly respected of all historians, said the exact date was unknown, I would be suspicious of a critic who, in order to “prove” the Bible wrong, states dogmatically that Quirinius began his reign in AD 6!
Furthermore, on the basis of new evidence since Durant wrote his history, as already noted, other historians such as A. W. Zumpt are convinced that Quirinius was governor over Syria twice, the first time from at least as early as 4 BC. That governorship ended in AD 1. John Elder believes Quirinius’ first time as governor began as early as 7 BC. Christ’s birth, of course, had to be no later than 4 BC, which would have been when Quirinius was governor the first time, exactly as Luke states.
As for Tiberius Caesar—Most Interesting!
As for the alleged problem with the date of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, the historical evidence for its resolution has been well-known for many years. Yes, Augustus Caesar died in AD 14, and that date is therefore generally listed as the official beginning of the reign of his successor, Tiberius Caesar. However, the skeptics are so eager to find a flaw in the Bible that they fail to dig deeply enough to discover the perfectly sound reason for an earlier date.
In actual fact, Tiberius, though technically not yet the Caesar, had already begun to rule the empire some years before Augustus’ death, because the latter was elderly and in poor health. Rebellions had cost the lives of those possible successors closest to Augustus. Left without either aide or successor, Augustus had in AD 2 adopted Tiberius as his son and coregent. Subsequently, Tiberius had been sent out by Augustus to put down the rebellions and had done a masterful job. Will Durant writes:
When he [Tiberius] returned in AD 9, after five years of arduous and successful campaigning, all Rome, which hated him for his stern puritanism, resigned itself to the fact that though Augustus was still prince, Tiberius had begun to rule.
Counting his rule as having actually begun in AD 9, “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” (Luke:3:1) would be AD 24–25. If Jesus was born 4 or 5 BC, just before Herod’s death and during the first governorship of Cyrenius over Syria, that would make Him 29 years of age in AD 24–25, at the beginning of His ministry. Notice that Luke says that He “began to be about thirty years of age.” Of course, if He was born in 6 BC, He would have been 30 sometime during AD 24. We don’t have precise dates, but what we know certainly confirms the accuracy of Luke’s testimony.
The above demonstrates once again how mistaken and deceitfully biased are the wishful criticisms of the supposed scholars such as those of the Jesus Seminar (and apostate religious leaders such as Bishop Spong) who claim that the New Testament cannot be relied upon because it was not written until centuries after the time of Jesus. In fact, the dating Luke gives, which archaeological discoveries took years to verify, could not possibly have been known and recorded with such precision even decades, much less centuries, later, as the critics insist. It could only have been known to eyewitnesses on the scene at the time, which the Bible writers claim to have been.
— An excerpt from In Defense of the Faith (pp. 91-94) by Dave Hunt
Why Did God Allow Seeming Contradictions?
Question: You Christians seem to have a way of somehow coming up with a “reconciliation” of whatever contradictions and inconsistencies “unbelievers” are able to discover in the Bible. However, no matter how con-vincing the “reconciliation” may seem to be, I am left with a question: Why should there be so many problems that you have to work so hard to solve? It seems to me that the very fact that there are so many inconsistencies (even if you supposedly solved every one) is in itself ev-idence that the Bible is badly flawed and therefore could not possibly be God’s Word.
Response: On the contrary—the many seeming contradictions and inconsistencies constitute a very convincing proof of the reliability of the Bible. If three witnesses who claimed to have seen an accident each described it in exactly the same language, word for word, one would have good reason to suspect collusion and to throw out their testimony. However, if each described it in his own words and from his own perspective, one would tend to believe them. Moreover, if there seemed to be some conflict in their testimonies, but if that conflict were resolved by probing deeper into the incident, that would add significantly to the trustworthiness of their testimony. So it is with the seeming contradictions in the Bible.
Irwin Linton, in A Lawyer Examines the Bible, puts it well: “The frank and artless narratives of the Bible are so obviously indifferent to the appearance of consistency, and show so clearly that irregularity which is the sure mark of honest handwork in the Oriental rug and of spontaneity in human testimony, that they have often lured opponents into attempts at destructive cross-examination which have only brought the Bible’s truth and consistency into clearer light.”
One of the Bible’s great strengths, then, is the reinforcing power of apparent inconsistencies, which, in the reconciling, prove the truthfulness of the narrative.
William Paley draws attention to this fact in his writings:
Now, in historical researches, a reconciled inconsistency becomes a positive argument. First, because an impostor generally guards against the appearance of inconsistency; and secondly, because when apparent inconsistencies are found, it is seldom that anything but truth renders them capable of reconciliation.
The existence of the difficulty proves the absence of that caution which usually accompanies the consciousness of fraud; and the solution proves that it is not the collusion of fortuitous propositions which we have to deal with, but that a thread of truth winds through the whole, which preserves every circumstance in its place.
— An excerpt from In Defense of the Faith (pp. 94-95) by Dave Hunt