Dating the Birth of Jesus

 Dating the Birth of Jesus Christ


The date of Jesus' birth is related to that of Herod the Great's death.  When the wise men were on their way to honor Jesus, they stopped to make inquiry of Herod concerning the birth of the new king. Obviously Herod was not yet dead, but by our system of denoting time, Herod died in 4 B.C., and this is a firm date.  Dionysius Exiguus made a mistake in calculating the division of time at Jesus' birth, and the calendar has continued in use, but Jesus' birth is known to have been at least before April of 4 B.C.


One might hope for further help from the dating of Augustus' first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  But here also the secular records leave many blanks.  That censuses were taken in the provinces is fully established.  Later they were to be fourteen years apart, but when they were begun in Syria is not recorded.


One might observe that an early census based on the fourteen year cycle should have taken place in Syria in 8/7 B.C. But since this is the first census in this province, it may well have been a year or two late.  Under such circumstances the years 6-4 B.C. would be highly possible for the time of Jesus' birth.


That Saturinus is listed as governor of Syria 9-6 B.C. and Varus 6-4 B.C. does not rule out the possibility of Quirinius being the next governor, nor does it preclude the possibility of Quirinius being a special imperial legate sent for the particular task of conducting the census while another official occupied the normal office of governor.  The word used by Luke for "governed" is quite general and need not be restricted to one office.


Lewis A. Foster

Professor of New Testament, Cincinnati Christian Seminary