The Christ in Prophecy Journal

Quick Q&A: Was Quirinius Governor When Jesus Was Born?


Does the timing of the census ordered by Caesar Augustus during Quirinius’ governorship question the accuracy of the biblical account of the birth of Christ?

This question came in from Robert of Tennessee who wrote asking: “I saw a documentary on Smithsonian TV that said the First Century census ordered by Caesar Augustus didn’t really occur until 6 A.D., well after Jesus was born. Can you either dispute or confirm that?”

Quick Answer

In Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus Christ, chapter 2 verses 1-2 gives the reader a historical marker. The passage declares, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)”

According to Josephus’ Antiquities (18), Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was a well-known Roman military and political figure who was appointed to serve as governor of Syria — in 6 A.D. Jesus’ birth happened prior to the death of Herod the Great, and it was recorded that he died — in 4 B.C. If Quirinius was supposed to be the governor at the time of Jesus’ birth, then this late governorship in 6 A.D., some 10 years later, would seem to show a conflict within the biblical account.

According to the Archaeological Study Bible commentary (pg 1667), there are three possible explanations for this apparent contradiction:

1) The Lapis Tiburtinus fragment implies that Quirinius was governor of Syria twice, once during Jesus’ birth and then later again in 6 A.D.

2) Some Greek scholars believe a better translation of the original Greek should be, “This census was before the one made when Quirinius was governor.”

3) Though not much supported, the Early Church Father Tertullian believed Luke got his historical facts mixed up and should have written “Sentius Saturninus,” or that there was later corruption in the copying.

Regardless, we today are still missing the definitive archaeological piece to properly corroborate or not extra-biblically Luke’s statement. Does that mean that the Bible is in error here? No, for as archaeology has proven again and again, every spade turned over produces something that proves yet again the Bible’s account as historic and accurate.

That Quirinius had two separate terms in office is supported by the existing archaeological evidence. The Bible contains the greatest cache of historical documentation every made. And, God’s Word is divinely inspired. For these reasons and many more, believers in Christ can indeed take Luke’s statement that Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world while Quirinius was governor of Syria as historical fact. We therefore can continue to trust the Bible as our inerrant foundation for our Christian faith.

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ABOUT AUTHOR View all posts Author Website

Dr. Nathan E. Jones

As the Internet Evangelist at Lamb & Lion Ministries, Nathan reaches out to the over 4.5 billion people accessible over the Internet with the Good News of Jesus Christ. He also co-hosts the ministry's television program Christ in Prophecy and podcast The Truth Will Set You Free.

15 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • I don't care about these kind of arguments. They are a worthless distraction.

    I came to believe in Christ after reading the Word of God and I just believed it. I didn't have to check the Word of God vs. the written history of man.

    The written history of man has always been affected by the predjudices, politics and agenda of the history writer. The Word of God is not.

    I believe in Jesus as Savior. Period. I don't need to validate it against anything else.

  • Personally… I LOVE learning everything i possibly can … especially because it equips me to witness and to defend my faith.

  • Sorry to hear some of you have such a weak faith that you must have an outside source to prove to yourself that your beliefs are okay.


  • I trust in the Word of God. Too bad that isn't enough for some others.

    Hope their faith grows soon.


  • Um… my faith is unwavering in our Lord Jesus Christ. I like educating myself so i can meet people on their level and understanding where they are coming from so i can then explain my faith in a way they can relate to .. so dont be sad for me!! I grow from faith to faith all the time. I live it and love it!

  • Anonymous, proving the facts concerning key points of biblical truth with scientific or archaelogical evidence, aid in ministering to individuals who would otherwise dismiss the Bible as mere fiction! I am more than positive that your personal testimony, as well as mine, will reveal that we also required some convincing! None of us were born as believers in Christ we all had to make that decision for ourselves and we all were ignorant concerning the Word at one time and in most case still have much to learn!

    So before we pat ourselves on the backs and elevate ourselves above others we must also be willing to consider that maybe we are still babes while those that are mature acknowledge there is always areas in which to grow in knowledge and wisdom concerning our Lord! Believe me when I say, this is a self revelation for me, in seeing your reaction to others I have realized how poorly I have also treated my fellow brothers and sisters!

    For this, Anonymous I thank in the Lord and may he bless you also as you grow in maturity!

  • Rodny… i no u werent talking to me, but may i just say….. im touched by your words u posted from ur heart. ….. it reminds me to always remain humble before our dear Lord… ready to learn.. grow.. and help others to know him… thank you :):):) God Bless You…

  • Anon.. are u not the one who said… sorry some of u have such a weak faith? If so, sounds like an attack to me.. of course, i really am not bothered by the comment even though i dont agree because thats what people do on blogs! They talk and discuss differences!! Buck up!!

  • so without historical man made "history" written with political and predjudical spin you would not believe? faith alone isn't enough for you? you must rely on men to back up the Word of God?

  • I agree pride comes before fall. God knows our hearts and he knows whether we are weak or strong in faith, we still need to grow in Him. He knows exactly what each of us need but we ALL need to rely on His word that shall never pass away.

    Truth is a hardened heart could easily reject proof of Christ's life, death and ressurecrion especially. Heck, MANY will reject Him in the millenium.

    So let's not focus on ourselves but on our merciful Saviour and God who has transformed our sinful, unbelieving hearts by His righteousness. He's the author and perfector of our faith, we All stumble and are so weak and we all need to rely on His Spirit utterly.

  • Pride comes before destruction.
    A haughty spirit before a fall!Proverbs 18:16

    crunch – ow! 😉

  • I am the Robert of Tennessee who sent in the question. My faith is unwavering, I ask many questions of Dr. Dave and Nathan. God gives us great men and women for this express purpose. And I'm so glad I asked this question. It never fails, I learn something every time I send in a question. I am not questioning my faith, I'm putting on the whole armor of God, learning all I can. I love all of you dear brothers and sisters in Christ. I also love all those outside the fold and they have questions. I just want to be equipped to answer them.
    Now I know Quirinious was governor twice. gods Word never fails, even when we need men of God to fill in the things we can't figure out.


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