The Religious A priori



Luke the Historian

New Advent Cathloic Encyclopedia

Very few writers have ever had their accuracy put to such a severe test as St. Luke, on account of the wide field covered by his writings, and the consequent liability (humanly speaking) of making mistakes; and on account of the fierce attacks to which he has been subjected. It was the fashion, during the nineteenth century, with German rationalists and their imitators, to ridicule the "blunders" of Luke, but that is all being rapidly changed by the recent progress of archæological research. Harnack does not hesitate to say that these attacks were shameful, and calculated to bring discredit, not on the Evangelist, but upon his critics, and Ramsay is but voicing the opinion of the best modern scholars when he calls St. Luke a great and accurate historian. Very few have done so much as this latter writer, in his numerous works and in his articles in "The Expositor", to vindicate the extreme accuracy of St. Luke. Wherever archæology has afforded the means of testing St. Luke's statements, they have been found to be correct; and this gives confidence that he is equally reliable where no such corroboration is as yet available. For some of the details see ACTS OF THE APOSTLES, where a very full bibliography is given.

One of the great archeaologits of the 19th century and early 20th, Sir William Ramsay, who spent 15 years attempting to undermine Luke's credentials as a historian, and to refute the reliability of the New Testament, finally concluded: "Luke is a historian of the first rank . . . This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians. "

[most of these quotations are from F.F. Bruce's book The New Testament Documents, Are They Reliable?

The Infant Narratives

Luke and Matthew share much of the material of the infant narrative, but Luke sheds more historical light on the subject. Many skeptics are always quite to argue that there is no histiorcal record of the Census which brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. But actually there is. "Sir William Ramsay showed that, based upon the word used in Luke, Cesar Agustus laid down the requirements for an on going census not one massive poll taking. That the machinery for such an undertaking was in opporation at the time is found in the Works of Clement of Alexadria (155-220)." (Harrison P22) Evidence from Egypt shows an on going census at the time of Christ's birth whith 14 year intervals for enrollment. Birth records from the early second cnetury in Egypt indicate that the census was still in opporation and it gives us a look at the method used for organization of the census. [R.K. Harrison, Archeaology of the New Testament New York: Association Press, 1964, 23]


"That the machinery for such an administrative percedure was in fact opprative seems clearly indicated in the writtings of Clement of Alexandria (155-202) who recorded that it commenced with the census that was in progress at the time when Christ was born. Documentary evidence form Egypt consisting of actual census reports for enrolements in AD 90, 104, 118, 132, and suceeding years is now to hand, and it is an accredited fact that in the latter empire there was a 14 year interval between enrolments." [Harrison, p.23]

New Advent (Ibid.)

No portion of the New Testament has been so fiercely attacked as Luke, ii, 1-5. Schürer has brought together, under six heads, a formidable array of all the objections that can he urged against it. There is not space to refute them here; but Ramsay in his "Was Christ born in Bethlehem?" has shown that they all fall to the ground:--

(1) St. Luke does not assert that a census took place all over the Roman Empire before the death of Herod, but that a decision emanated from Augustus that regular census were to be made. Whether they were carried out in general, or not, was no concern of St. Luke's. If history does not prove the existence of such a decree it certainly proves nothing against it. It was thought for a long time that the system of Indictions was inaugurated under the early Roman emperors, it is now known that they owe their origin to Constantine the Great (the first taking place fifteen years after his victory of 312), and this in spite of the fact that history knew nothing of the matter.

Kenyon holds that it is very probable that Pope Damasus ordered the Vulgate to be regarded as the only authoritative edition of the Latin Bible; but it would be difficult to Prove it historically. If "history knows nothing" of the census in Palestine before 4 B.C. neither did it know anything of the fact that under the Romans in Egypt regular personal census were held every fourteen years, at least from A.D. 20 till the time of Constantine. Many of these census papers have been discovered, and they were called apograthai, the name used by St. Luke. They were made without any reference to property or taxation. The head of the household gave his name and age, the name and age of his wife, children, and slaves. He mentioned how many were included in the previous census, and how many born since that time. Valuation returns were made every year. The fourteen years' cycle did not originate in Egypt (they had a different system before 19 B.C.), but most probably owed its origin to Augustus, 8 B.C., the fourteenth year of his tribunitia potestas, which was a great year in Rome, and is called the year I in some inscriptions. Apart from St. Luke and Josephus, history is equally ignorant of the second enrolling in Palestine, A.D. 6. So many discoveries about ancient times, concerning which history has been silent, have been made during the last thirty years that it is surprising modern authors should brush aside a statement of St. Luke's, a respectable first-century writer, with a mere appeal to the silence of history on the matter.

(2) Fisrt census in Palestine used Jewish methods

The first census in Palestine, as described by St. Luke, was not made according to Roman, but Jewish, methods. St. Luke, who travelled so much, could not be ignorant of the Roman system, and his description deliberately excludes it. The Romans did not run counter to the feelings of provincials more than they could help. Jews, who were proud of being able to prove their descent, would have no objection to the enrolling described in Luke, ii. Schürer's arguments are vitiated throughout by the supposition that the census mentioned by St. Luke could be made only for taxation purposes. His discussion of imperial taxation learned but beside the mark (cf. the practice in Egypt). It was to the advantage of Augustus to know the number of possible enemies in Palestine, in case of revolt.

(3) King Herod was not as independent as he is described for controversial purposes.

A few years before Herod's death Augustus wrote to him. Josephus, "Ant.", XVI, ix., 3, has: "Cæsar [Augustus] . . . grew very angry, and wrote to Herod sharply. The sum of his epistle was this, that whereas of old he used him as a friend, he should now use him as his subject." It was after this that Herod was asked to number his people. That some such enrolling took place we gather from a passing remark of Josephus, "Ant.", XVII, ii, 4, "Accordingly, when all the people of the Jews gave assurance of their good will to Cæsar [Augustus], and to the king's [Herod's] government, these very men [the Pharisees] did not swear, being above six thousand." The best scholars think they were asked to swear allegiance to Augustus. (4) It is said there was no room for Quirinius, in Syria, before the death of Herod in 4 B.C. C. Sentius Saturninus was governor there from 9-6 B.C.; and Quintilius Varus, from 6 B.C. till after the death of Herod. But in turbulent provinces there were sometimes times two Roman officials of equal standing. In the time of Caligula the administration of Africa was divided in such a way that the military power, with the foreign policy, was under the control of the lieutenant of the emperor, who could be called a hegemon (as in St. Luke), while the internal affairs were under the ordinary proconsul.

The same position was held by Vespasian when he conducted the war in Palestine, which belonged to the province of Syria--a province governed by an officer of equal rank. Josephus speaks of Volumnius as being Kaisaros hegemon, together with C. Sentius Saturninus, in Syria (9-6 B.C.): "There was a hearing before Saturninus and Volumnius, who were then the presidents of Syria" (Ant., XVI, ix, 1). He is called procurator in "Bel. Jud.", I, xxvii, 1, 2. Corbulo commanded the armies of Syria against the Parthians, while Quadratus and Gallus were successively governors of Syria. Though Josephus speaks of Gallus, he knows nothing of Corbulo; but he was there nevertheless (Mommsen, "Röm. Gesch.", V, 382). A similar position to that of Corbulo must have been held by Quirinius for a few years between 7 and 4 B.C. The best treatment of the subject is that by Ramsay "Was Christ Born in Bethlehem?" See also the valuable essays of two Catholic writers: Marucchi in "Il Bessarione" (Rome, 1897); Bour, "L'lnscription de Quirinius et le Recensement de S. Luc" (Rome, 1897). Vigouroux, "Le N. T. et les Découvertes Modernes" (Paris, 1890), has a good deal of useful information. It has been suggested that Quirinius is a copyist's error for Quintilius (Varus).

Quarinius Govenor of Syria

"Earlier scholars objected that a census held by Qurinias could not have occurred in the time of Herod, since Quritinias had not them become govenor of Syria. However it is clear from contemporary inscriptions that Quarinias exercised some kind of executive power on two distinct occasions in Syria. One of these source found at Antioch in Pisidia spoke of P. Sulpicius Qurarinias dummvir waging a campaign in Syria about 10 BC.* in his capacity of Chief Magistrate, while a second inscritiption attested to his prominence in the imperial army in 6 BC.* It should be noticed that Luke does not say that Quarinius held the census himself, but only that it was conducted at the time that he was Legate...ON this basis W.M. Calder concluded that Quarinius had held two govenorships in Syria. F.F. Burce followed Ramsay in maintianing a date for the first of these between 10 and 7 BC and commented:

"There is evidence that Quarinias held such a post at an earlier time,proabably between 10 BC and 7 BC when as extradinary imperial legate in the provience of Syrio-Cilicia for military purposes, he commanded an explidition against the Homanadenses, a Moutin Tribe of Asia Minor."

*[See also A Robertson Luke the Historian in the Light of Research p.128 BRD p285, and William Ramsay Journal of Roman Sutidies, (1917) VII p.271 {Harrison,Archaeology and The New Testament,p.25]

Ramsey discoverd inscritions

Anckerberg Institute: Norman Geislere

William Ramsay discovered several inscriptions that indicated that Quirinius was governor of Syria on two occasions, the first time several years prior to A.D. 6. According to the very papers that recorded the censuses, (see Ramsay, Was Christ Born in Bethlehem?) there was in fact a census between 10 and 5 B.C. Periodic registrations took place every fourteen years. Because of this regular pattern of census taking, any such action was regarded as the general policy of Augustus, even though a local census may have been instigated by a local governor. Therefore, Luke recognizes the census as stemming from the decree of Augustus

mark McFall

"Did Luke Make a Histoircal Mistaek?"

As most of you already know Jesus was not born between 1 B.C. and 1 A.D. as our dating system should indicate because of mistakes made, as long ago as the sixth century, in calculating the extent of the Christian era. The best evidence for the date of Christ’s birth points toward 5 B.C. just before Herods death in 4 B.C., as Matthew indicates "in the days of Herod". But one may ask, is their any historical references outside the Bible that might give us a clue to what’s going on here. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus writing in 70 -93 A.D tells us that a man called Quirinius was indeed sent to Syria and Judea to take a census just after the beginning of the Christian era:

"Moreover, Cyrenius (ie. is an Anglicized form of the Greek rendering "Quirinius") came himself into Judea, which was now added to the province of Syria, to take an account of their substance, and to dispose of Archeiaus’s money;"(1)

It should be noted that this census was part of the clearing-up operation after Herod the Greats son Archelaus had been deposed. It must have been in the year A.D.6 or 7, and could not have been before the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C., roughly 10 years before. For a long time this evidence (coming from the Jewish historian Josephus) was the only reference, outside the Bible confirming the governorship of Syria by Quirinius.(2) However, in the year 1764 an inscription known as the Lapis Tiburtinus was found in Rome. Though not giving the name "Quirinius," contains information that many scholars acknowledge could apply only to Quirinius.(3) It contains the statement that on going to Syria he became governor (or, legate) for "the second time". On the basis of inscriptions found in Antioch containing the Quirinius name, many historians acknowledge that Quirinius was also governor of Syria in the B.C. period. It is also interesting that abundant papyrological evidence from Egypt has established the 14 year cycle of the census in that province, that fixes A.D. 20 as a census year. This fixes Quirinius later census in A.D. 6, and demands 9 or 8 B.C. for an earlier occasion, or at least 7 or 6 B.C. if account of political and practical impediments were not apparent today.

A number of scholars have argued the problem as we have presented it simply does not exist. They point out that it is possible from a grammatical point of view to translate Luke 2:2 as:

"This census took place before Quirinius was governing Syria."

In this case, the Greek word translated "first" (protos) is translated as a comparative, "before". Because of the awkward construction of the sentence, this seems possible.(4) Some notable New Testament scholars have supported this, and continue to do so.(5) This explanation of the matter is by no means universally held.(6) Many scholars are in fact inclined to dismiss the information given in Luke 2:2 as erroneous. This seems to be the easy way out of the problem. In fact in other places in his Gospel and the book of Acts, Luke is concerned with people and events in the Roman Empire. In this area Luke shows himself to be a very trustworthy historian.


Christian Classics Etherial Library

Here, then, is a matter for investigation, and, if possible, elucidation. No evidence has been adduced against the genuineness of the verse in Luke, or of the reading "Quirinius" in that passage. Nor does any suspicion of error attach to the statements of Josephus which fix the date of the administrations of Saturninus and Varus and of Quirinius, a decade later, when Judas of Galilee revolted. As to Luke's statement that the enrolment, which was being conducted at the time of Christ's birth, took place "when Quirinius was governor of Syria," Mommsen and Sch?for example, have expressed the opinion that the evangelist erred. But this summary dismissal of Luke's testimony as erroneous has not been deemed wholly satisfactory by scholars, for Luke shows himself well informed on historical matters and his accuracy has been vindicated in many other instances. Moved by considerations of this kind Zumpt, in the "middle of the last century, having found reason to believe that Quirinius held the office of legate of Syria in 3-2 B.C. in succession to Varus, gave Was his opinion that the first enrolment began indeed during the administration of Saturninus, but was completed during the first governorship of Quirinius, 3-2 B.C. In principle this is the theory of Ramsay also. His modification consists in that he does not regard Quirinius as sole legate for Syria and successor to Varus (as do Zumpt, Mommsen, and Sch? but as a legate for a special purpose, who was associated with the legate appointed for the general administration. And Ramsay elaborates the theory of Zumpt in that he offers an explanation for the delay in completing the census, his explanation being the same as that given long ago by Hales. It is known that under the Roman government a periodic enumeration of households was conducted in Egypt every fourteen years, reckoned from 23 B.C., the imperial year of Augustus. Professor Ramsay finds evidence of an enrolment in Syria, too, according to the fourteen-year cycle; Tertullian referring to one during the governorship of Saturninus, Josephus to one in 6 A.D., and Tacitus to one in 34 A.D.

Thus an enrolment was due in Syria in the year 8 B.C. and made; but in Herod's kingdom it was probably delayed for some time, for Herod had gotten himself into trouble with Augustus. With. the consent of Saturninus, governor of Syria, Herod had marched an army into Arabia to redress certain wrongs which he had received (Ant., XVI., ix. 2). This proceeding was misrepresented to the emperor, who notified Herod, probably in the year 8 B.C., that henceforth he would treat him as a subject. Some time afterward the whole nation of the Jews, except 6,000 Pharisees, took an oath of fidelity to Caesar and the king jointly (Ant., XVII, ii. 4). Obviously the two acts, the oath and the enrolment, form part of the new policy of Augustus toward Herod. The date of the enrolment and the oath may be the year 6 B.C.; for Herod would have had little difficulty in obtaining leave from Saturninus to postpone the numbering until the embassy, which, after Augustus announced the change of policy toward him, he was sending to Rome to seek a reconciliation with the emperor and a restoration of the old order, should return and report the result of its efforts. Herod was finally obliged to order the census, and it was probably taken in the summer of the year 6 B.C., when Quirinius was a special legatos Aogusti to Syria, invested with the command of the army and entrusted with its foreign affairs, such as the relations between its several states and Rome, particularly where tension existed and military intervention might be necessary. Quirinius stood in exactly the same relation to Varus, the governor of Syria, as at a later time Vespasian did to Mucianus. Vespasian conducted the war in Palestine while Mucianus was governor of Syria; and Vespasian was Legatus Augusti, holding precisely 376

Slaughter of the Innocents

Sketpics argue that the mention of this slaughter is never made in extra Biblical history, therefore, Luke just made it up. As usually, the skeptics have no done their research. There are allusions to this even, or others like it, in Jewish literatuer. IF this is not direct documentation, it as least proves that such events could and be overlooked. So many such things happened in Herod's reign, why single out that one? New Advent Christian Encyclopedia: "The later Jewish writings show traces of acquaintance with the murder of the Holy Innocents (Wagenseil, "Confut. Libr.Toldoth", 15; Eisenmenger op. cit., I, 116; Schottgen, op. cit., II, 667),"

The Greek Liturgy asserts that Herod killed 14,000 boys (ton hagion id chiliadon Nepion), the Syrians speak of 64,000, many medieval authors of 144,000, according to Apoc., xiv, 3. Modern writers reduce the number considerably, since Bethlehem was a rather small town. Knabenbauer brings it down to fifteen or twenty (Evang. S. Matt., I, 104), Bisping to ten or twelve (Evang. S. Matt.), Kellner to about six (Christus and seine Apostel, Freiburg, 1908); cf. "Anzeiger kath. Geistlichk. Deutschl.", 15 Febr., 1909, p. 32. This cruel deed of Herod is not mentioned by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, although he relates quite a number of atrocities committed by the king during the last years of his reign. The number of these children was so small that this crime appeared insignificant amongst the other misdeeds of Herod. Macrobius (Saturn., IV, xiv, de Augusto et jocis ejus) relates that when Augustus heard that amongst the boys of two years and under Herod's own son also had been massacred, he said: "It is better to be Herod's hog [ous], than his son [houios]," alluding to the Jewish law of not eating, and consequently not killing, swine. The Middle Ages gave faith to this story; Abelard inserted it in his hymn for the feast of Holy Innocents:(Ibid)

Historical evidence for the Gospel

Robert Jones

Luke (2:1-3) identifies the following as an historical event occurring at the time of the birth of Jesus:

"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.) And everyone went to his own town to register." (NIV)

Many skeptics have doubted the veracity of this statement, given that the only census known by a Quirinius until recently was one dated by Josephus as A.D. 6. (Jesus couldn't have been born later than 4 B.C., because that was the year that Herod the Great died). So, Luke must have been wrong, either about the census, or about Jesus being born when Herod the Great was still alive, right? Wrong!

"Jerry Vardaman has discovered the name of Quirinius on a coin in micrographic letters, placing him as proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 B.C. until the death of Herod." (McRay, p. 154)

Further evidence indicates that it is very possible that a census could have been ongoing in Israel at the time of Jesus' birth - it was just a different census (and probably a different Quirinius) than mentioned by the Josephus.

Note also that Luke was aware of the later (6 A.D.) census, which he refers to in Acts 5:37 as "the" census, as opposed to "a" census in Luke 2:1-3).

Look, what if Luke was mistaken? When if the got the facts muddaled to the extent that he's off by two years at the most? The typical atheist slippery slope would reaosn that he must be wrong about everyting else, loaves and fishes,empty tomb, Bible "totally unrelaible" yada yada. But I show above Joesphus was mistaken about a fact of history, it is also known that he was mistaken about the year the Roamns left Massada, and he was suppossed to be with them! Yet they would enver conclude that Josephus was a bad historian.So what is the big deal if Luke if off by a year?

Officals and titles

Stephen Neil makes the point that Luke get's all of the titles correct in Acts, all the minor officials in every little localities, even titles which were thought previously to have been wrong archaeology has proven Luke right. He also is right about the invidividuals who inhabited offices during the time of the book of Acts.

Just to give a few examples. The pool of Bethseda in Luke where the angle "troubled the waters" for healing, and Jesus healed the lame man and told him to take up his bed and walk, has been discovered beneath the Church of ST. Anne. There is a pool at the bottom of a flight of stairs and an ancient fresco with a picture of an angel troubling the waters. (Bruce, 94). In Romans 16:23 Paul sends greetings from Erastus the city treasurer. IN Corinth an inscription has been found which mentions Erastus (ibid. 95) Harnack and others attest to Lukes accuracy in terms of the ship wreck on Malta, the flavor and historicity of the cities he speaks of the, the time period and all other verifiable elements of this nature.

"Sir William Ramsay who devoted many fruitful years to the Archaeology of Asia Minor testifies to Lukes intimate and accurate acquaintance and the Greek East at the time with which his writings deal." (Bruce 90). Ramsay began as a Tubingen liberal, believing Luke to be a second century production with no validity. By the end of his life he was so persuaded of the truth and validity of Luke that he gave up scholarship and became an Evangelist and apologist using arguments based upon the discoveries he had made. (Ibid). It cannot be claimed that he was not an "objective" scholar, as he is one of the greats of the field. Dr. Henry J.Cadbury delivered the Lowell lectures in 1953 and produced a work on the Book of Acts in which he hailed Luke as a first rate historian (Ibid.).

Neil thinks that one of the most impressive aspects of Luke as an historian is that he always gets the titles write. Many of the titles of local offcials which Luke provides us with were not validated until modern times.

"The writter of Acts knew the correct titles and used them with varying percision. In the words of Ramsey: 'the officials with whom Paul and his compainions were brought into contact are those who would be there. Every person is found just where he ought to be; procounsuls in senatorial provences, asiarchs in Ephesus, strategoi in Philippi, politarchs in Thessolonica, magicians and soothsayers everywhere.' The Most remarkable of these titles is Politarch the ruler of the city used in Acts 17:6...previously this word had been completely unknown except for this passage in Acts. It has now been found in 19 inscriptions dating from he second century..." (Stephen Neil, The Interpriation of the New Testament:1861-1961, London: Oxford Univesity press, 1964, p.143).

Neil argues that titles are the hardest things to get right, modern Frnech writters never get English titles right, and this is something that would easily and surely betray an anacrinism (147).Historians of the modern day judge Luke a superb historian.

I saw an atheist website where they said that this is a "fundie" argument and that it's a stupid arugment and only the "fundies" would care about it. But this is shows typical atheist ignorance. Neil is far from being a fundie. He one was one of the major scholars of the late 20th century.

It is true that Luke could have made up the events of Jesus' ministry and just used factual information to write the narrative. But it is obsurd to think that Luke would trapse all over Palestine to learn the little obscure titles of minor officials, because he is right about the exact people in authority at the time and the exact titles they held. This is clearly the work of an eye witness not merely a ficutional writter.


Helms argues that Luke was a woman from Corinth. But the arguments he makes could just as easily be used to argue for Lukan authorship:

All of these arguments amount to saying Luke is concerned for women in a way that most men in the ancient world are not.

*Luke uses words such as women and womb more times than the other Gospels (Helms p.65)

*Only Luke is interested in Mary's inner life (2:18, 34, 51)

*Luke gives us the famous lines rejoying in pregnancy--something most men woudln't think about doing.(1:42-46)

*ONly author to mention fetal quickening and mention it as a sympotom of the Holy Spirit coming into the womb 1:42)

*Implies that Jesus' female companions outnumbered his male companions (8:2)

Many other firsts for Luke in relation to women, such as women being first at the tomb, first european christian is a woman and so on.

These arguments don't prove that Luke was a woman to any degree. They can also be accounted for by Luke being a physician, which would make him more aware of the physiology of pregnancy, and the chruch tradition that says that Luke used Mary the mother of Jesus as a source for his reserarch. This would make him aware of her inner feelings, and if he was moved by her story would be sensitive to it. And that might make him more senstive to the woman as a whole.

there are better arguments for the author of Luke as a Physician.

Next: John

The Religious A priori