Saturday, December 15, 2012

Resources On Luke's Census

This is the time of year when critics of the census account in Luke 2 are most vocal. We've discussed the issue many times at this blog. See, for example, here. In that post and elsewhere, I've recommended some resources from scholars, like Darrell Bock and Stanley Porter. There's a lot of good material at other web sites as well. For example, run a search under the term "census" at the CADRE Comments blog. Also try it with the Hypotyposeis blog.

For example, Stephen Carlson (at the Hypotyposeis blog) argues for translating Luke 2:2 as "this became a very important registration when Quirinius was governing Syria". I don't know enough about Greek to render much of a judgment of Carlson's suggested translation. But if it's correct, it would overturn some of the objections that have been raised against Luke's account.

One of the good points made by Chris Price (under the screen name Layman) at the CADRE Comments blog is that Luke doesn't say that the census required people to go to the city of their ancestry. Rather, Luke 2:4 is commenting on Joseph in particular, not all census participants in general. A more general comment is made in verse 3, and that verse only says that each participant went to "his own city", without any mention of ancestry. Most likely, Joseph had a reason for going to an ancestral city (he owned property in Bethlehem, he wanted to be associated with that city more than Nazareth, etc.), even though the census didn't require going to the city of your ancestry. Some critics not only fault Luke for allegedly claiming that the census required you to return to the place of your ancestry, but even suggest that Luke was saying that you had to go to the place of your ancestry from something like a thousand years earlier. Thus, Joseph had to go to where David lived. But the passage doesn't seem to be referring to any ancestry requirement at all, much less one that was tied to a generation a thousand years removed. The problem is with an unreasonable interpretation that's being read into Luke rather than what Luke actually said.

1 comment:

  1. Greetings in Christ, Jason!

    “The context in world history is important for Luke.


    “There is much debate regarding the date of the census. According to Flavius Josephus, to whom we owe most of our knowledge of Jewish history around the time of Jesus, it took place in the year 6 A.D. under the governor Quirinius, and as it was ultimately a question of money, it led to the uprising of Judas the Galilean (cf. Acts 5:37). According to Josephus it was only then, and not before, that Quirinius was active in the region of Syria and Judea. Yet these claims in their turn are uncertain. At any rate, there are indications that Quirinius was already in the Emperor’s service in Syria around 9 B.C. So it is most illuminating when such scholars as Alois Stöger suggest that the ‘population census’ was a slow process in the conditions of the time, dragging on over several years. Moreover, it was implemented in two stages: firstly, registration of all land and property ownership, and then—in the second phase—determination of the payments that were due. The first stage would have taken place at the time of Jesus’ birth; the second, much more injurious for the people, was what provoked the uprising (cf. Stöger, Lukasevangelium, pp. 372f.).

    “Some have raised the further objection that there was no need, in a census of this kind, for each person to travel to his hometown (cf. Lk 2:3). But we also know from various (62) sources that those affected had to present themselves where they owned property. Accordingly, we may assume that Joseph, of the house of David, had property in Bethlehem, so that he had to go there for tax registration.

    “Regarding the details, the discussion could continue indefinitely. It is difficult to gain an insight into the daily life of a society so complex and so distant from our own as that of the Roman Empire. Yet the essential content of Luke’s narrative remains historically credible all the same: Luke set out, as he says in the prologue to his Gospel, ‘to write an orderly account’ (1:3). This he evidently did, making use of the means at his disposal. In any case, he was situated much closer to the sources and events than we could ever claim to be, despite all our historical scholarship” (Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, 58, 62-63).