The Berean Expositor
Volume 27 - Page 121 of 212
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sanction of the Roman People, that the Jews do use their own customs according to the
law of their fathers, as they used them in the time of Hyrcanus, the High Priest of the
Most High God" (Josephus Ant. 16:, 5: 2).
It is interesting to observe that the Greek words here are Theou hupsistou, "Most High
God", the same words as are used in the Septuagint version of Nebuchadnezzar's
ascription in Dan. 4:
The decree set in motion by Augustus, that sent every Jewish family back to the city
of their tribe, unwittingly brought about the fulfillment of the prophecy that the Messiah
should be born in Bethlehem, for Joseph would most certainly not have allowed his wife
to undertake the fatigue of such a journey, when she was within a few weeks of giving
birth to a child, unless there had been some such edict that could not be disobeyed.
The statement that this taxing took place when Cyrenius was governor of Syria
(Luke 2: 1) has caused a great deal of thought and criticism, and there have been many
who have set aside Luke's record as both unhistorical and impossible. Until recently the
critics have rejected Luke 2: 1 on four counts:
Augustus did not issue a decree for a census.
Under the Empire there was never any regular system of census.
Where there was a casual census, only the husband's presence was necessary.
And his presence was not required at his original home.
Luke implies by the word "first" that this census was the beginning of a series that
followed. Pliny, in his Natural History, 7: 48 (159), tells us that, during the census
taken under Claudius in A.D.48, a man living at Bologna entered his age as 150. This
excited the curiosity of Claudius, who investigated the records of previous enrolments
and corroborated the entry. This proves beyond question that there had been a series of
enrolments, and that they were accessible for investigation in A.D.48.
Tacitus also mentions a census in A.D.61 and we know that Vespasian and Titus
were Censors in A.D.73-74.
Clement of Alexandria says that Christ was born "in the 28th year, when first they
ordered enrolments to be made". Tertullian says that the Saviour was born when a census
was being made in Syria by Sentius Saturninus, and Josephus places the governorship of
Sentius as 8-6B.100:
Recent discoveries in Egypt have thrown more light upon Luke's statement, and
evidence is now available of a census system in operation in Egypt from A.D.90 to
A.D.258. In this system we find that every man had to return to his own home or
For example, an order issued in A.D.104 reads:
"That all who for any reason whatever are away from their own homes should return
to their homes to enroll themselves."