The Timing Of The Lord’s Birth

Q. A few months ago, a Muslim writer said the Bible should not be taken literally and that it is filled with errors. Here is his direct quote. “I’ll put it in the simplest way possible: the gospels are absolutely replete with historical errors and with contradictions. The gospel of Matthew says that Jesus was born in 4 B.C. The gospel of Luke says Jesus was born in 6

A. First of all, Muslims don’t believe the New Testament is the Word of God, and don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God, so everything they say has to be suspect.

Second, Matthew did not say Jesus was born in 4 BC and Luke did not say He was born in 6 AD. The 4 BC date has been assumed by scholars because of the tradition that King Herod died that year (Matt. 2:19), meaning that Jesus could not have been born later. But not everyone agrees. Some say Herod could have died as late as 1 BC.

Luke 2:2 says Jesus was born while Quirinius was governor of Syria, and specifies that it was during the first census he conducted. Quirinius served in the role of governor twice, first in a provisional status in 6-4 BC, while the actual governor, Quintilius Varus, was away at Rome, and then as the official governor in 6-9 AD. There was a census associated with each of these periods. Most Christian scholars believe the second census occurred too late to be considered in conjunction with the Lord’s birth, and therefore it had to have happened during the first census. Again this is an assumption, not the Word of God.

In summary, any conflict between the Matthew and Luke accounts is due to the differing opinions of scholars, not the Gospel writers themselves. They only said that Jesus was born while Herod was alive and at the time of the first census of Quirinius. Obviously, God could have preserved the actual time of His Son’s birth had He wanted to. The fact that He didn’t tells us the important thing is that He was born, which is something even the Muslim writer accepts.

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