Luke 2:2
(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
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(2) And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.—Here we come upon difficulties of another kind. Publicius Sulpicius Quirinus (“Cyrenius” is the Greek form of the last of the three names) was Consul B.C. 12, but he is not named as Governor of Syria till after the deposition of Archelaus, A.D. 6, and he was then conspicuous in carrying out a census which involved taxation in the modern sense; and this was the “taxing” referred to in Gamaliel’s speech (Acts 5:37) as having led to the revolt of Judas of Galilee. How are we to explain the statement of St. Luke so as to reconcile it with the facts of history? (1) The word translated “first” has been taken as if it meant “before,” as it is rendered in John 1:15; John 1:30. This cuts the knot of the difficulty, but it is hardly satisfactory. This construction is not found elsewhere in St. Luke, and his manner is to refer to contemporary events, not to subsequent ones. It is hardly natural to speak of one event simply as happening before another, with no hint as to the interval that separated them, when that interval included ten or twelve years. (2) Our knowledge of the governors of Syria at this period is imperfect. The dates of their appointments, so far as they go, are as follows:—

B.C. 9.—Sentius Saturninus.

B.C. 6.—T. Quintilius Varus.

A.D. 6.—P. Sulpicius Quirinus.

It was, however, part of the policy of Augustus that no governor of an imperial province should hold office for more than five or less than three years, and it is in the highest degree improbable that Varus (whom we find in A.D. 7 in command of the ill-fated expedition against the Germans) should have continued in office for the twelve years which the above dates suggest. One of the missing links is found in A. Volusius Saturninus, whose name appears on a coin of Antioch about A.D. 4 or 5. The fact that Quirinus appears as a rector, or special commissioner attached to Caius Cæsar, when he was sent to Armenia (Tac. Ann. iii. 48), at some period before A.D. 4, the year in which Caius died—probably between B.C. 4 and 1—shows that he was in the East at this time, and we may therefore fairly look on St. Luke as having supplied the missing link in the succession, or at least as confirming the statement that Quirinus was in some office of authority in the East, if not as præses, or proconsul then as quætor or Imperial Commissioner. Tacitus, however, records the fact that he triumphed over a Cilician tribe (the Homonadenses) after his consulship; and, as Cilicia was, at that time, attached to the province of Syria, it is probable that he was actually “governor” in the stricter sense of a term somewhat loosely used. St. Luke is, on this view, as accurate in his history here as he is proved to be in all other points where he comes in contact with the contemporary history of the empire, and the true meaning is found by emphasising the adjective, “This enrolment was the first under Quirinus’s government of Syria.” He expressly distinguishes it, i.e., from the more memorable “taxing” of which Gamaliel speaks (Acts 5:37). St. Luke, it may be noted, is the only New Testament writer who uses the word. Justin Martyr, it may be added, confidently appeals to Roman registers as confirming St. Luke’s statement that our Lord was born under Quirinus.

Luke 2:2. And this taxing (rather this enrolling) was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria — According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Cyrenius was not governor of Syria till ten or twelve years after our Saviour’s birth, after Archelaus was deposed, and the country brought under a Roman procurator; yet, according to our translation of Luke here, he was governor before the death of Herod, the father and predecessor of Archelaus, and in the same year when Christ was born. Now as, on the one hand, it cannot be supposed that a writer so accurate as Luke (were he considered only as a common historian) should make so gross a mistake as to confound the enrolment in the reign of Herod with that taxation under Cyrenius, which happened many years after; so, on the other hand, it is hard to conceive that Josephus should be mistaken in an affair of so public a nature, so important, and so recent when he wrote his history. To remove this difficulty, 1st, Some have supposed a corruption of the original text in Luke; and that, instead of Cyrenius, it ought to be read Saturninus, who, according to Josephus, was prefect of Syria within a year or two before Herod’s death. 2d, Others have thought it probable, that the original name in Luke was Quintilius; since Quintilius Varus succeeded Saturninus, and was in the province of Syria when Herod died. But all the Greek manuscripts remonstrate against both these solutions. Therefore, 3d, Mr. Whiston and Dr. Prideaux suppose, that the words of the preceding verse, In those days there went out a decree, &c., refer to the time of making the census; and the subsequent words, This enrolment was first made, &c., to the time of levying the tax. “When Judea,” says the latter, “was put under a Roman procurator, then taxes were first paid to the Romans — and Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, who is in Greek called Cyrenius, was governor of Syria: so that there were two distinct particular actions in this matter, done at two distinct and different times: the first was making the survey, and the second the levying the tax thereupon. And the first verse here is to be understood of the former, and the second only of the latter. And this reconciles that evangelist with Josephus; for it is manifest from that author, that Cyrenius was not governor of Syria, or any tax levied on Judea, till Archelaus was deposed. And therefore the making of the description cannot be that which was done while Cyrenius was governor of Syria; — but the levying the tax thereon certainly was.” In accordance with this interpretation of the passage, Dr. Campbell reads the verse, This first register took effect when Cyrenius was president of Syria, observing that, by this translation of the words, divers objections are obviated. “The register,” says he, “whatever was the intention of it, was made in Herod’s time, but had then little or no consequences. When, after the banishment of Archelaus, Judea was annexed to Syria, and converted into a province, the register of the inhabitants formerly taken served as a directory for laying on the census, to which the country was then subjected. Not but that there must have happened considerable changes on the people during that period. But the errors which these changes might occasion, could, with proper attention, be easily rectified. And thus it might be justly said, that an enrolment which had been made several years before, did not take effect, or produce consequences worthy of notice, till then.” Dr. Hammond and Dr. Lardner, however, give what many think a still easier solution of this difficulty, rendering the words thus: This was the first enrolment of Cyrenius, governor of Syria, supposing that Cyrenius (afterward governor of Syria, and at the time Luke wrote well known by that title) was employed in making the first enrolment of the inhabitants of Judea in the reign of Herod; to which purpose Dr. Hammond quotes Suidas as relating, on the authority of an ancient author, that “Cesar Augustus, desiring to know the strength and state of his dominions, sent twenty chosen men, one into one part, another into another, to take this account; and that Publius Sulpicius Quirinius had Syria for his province.” The reader will of course adopt the interpretation which he judges most probable.

2:1-7 The fulness of time was now come, when God would send forth his Son, made of a woman, and made under the law. The circumstances of his birth were very mean. Christ was born at an inn; he came into the world to sojourn here for awhile, as at an inn, and to teach us to do likewise. We are become by sin like an outcast infant, helpless and forlorn; and such a one was Christ. He well knew how unwilling we are to be meanly lodged, clothed, or fed; how we desire to have our children decorated and indulged; how apt the poor are to envy the rich, and how prone the rich to disdain the poor. But when we by faith view the Son of God being made man and lying in a manger, our vanity, ambition, and envy are checked. We cannot, with this object rightly before us, seek great things for ourselves or our children.And this taxing was first made ... - This verse has given as much perplexity, perhaps, as any one in the New Testament. The difficulty consists in the fact that "Cyrenius," or "Quirinius," was not governor of Syria until 12 or 15 years after the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born during the reign of Herod. At that time "Varus" was president of Syria. Herod was succeeded by "Archelaus," who reigned eight or nine years; and after he was removed, Judea was annexed to the province of Syria, and Cyrenius was sent as the governor (Josephus, "Ant.," b. xvii. 5). The difficulty has been to reconcile this account with that in Luke. Various attempts have been made to do this. The one that seems most satisfactory is that proposed by Dr. Lardner. According to his view, the passage here means, "This was the "first" census of Cyrenius, governor of Syria." It is called the "first" to distinguish it from one "afterward" taken by Cyrenius, Acts 5:37. It is said to be the census taken by "Cyrenius; governor of Syria; "not that he was "then" governor, but that it was taken by him who was afterward familiarly known as governor. "Cyrenius, governor of Syria," was the name by which the man was known when Luke wrote his gospel, and it was not improper to say that the taxing was made by Cyrenius, the governor of Syria," though he might not have been actually governor for many years afterward. Thus, Herodian says that to Marcus "the emperor" were born several daughters and two sons," though several of those children were born to him "before" he was emperor. Thus, it is not improper to say that General Washington saved Braddock's army, or was engaged in the old French war, though he was not actually made "general" until many years afterward. According to this Augustus sent Cyrenius, an active, enterprising man, to take the census. At that time he was a Roman senator. Afterward, he was made governor of the same country, and received the title which Luke gives him.

Syria - The region of country north of Palestine, and lying between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates. "Syria," called in the Hebrew "Aram," from a son of Shem Genesis 10:22, in its largest acceptation extended from the Mediterranean and the river Cydnus to the Euphrates, and from Mount Taurus on the north to Arabia and the border of Egypt on the south. It was divided into "Syria Palestina," including Canaan and Phoenicia; "Coele-Syria," the tract of country lying between two ridges of Mount Lebanon and Upper Syria. The last was known as "Syria" in the restricted sense, or as the term was commonly used.

The leading features in the physical aspect of Syria consist of the great mountainous chains of Lebanon, or Libanus and Anti-Libanus, extending from north to south, and the great desert lying on the southeast and east. The valleys are of great fertility, and yield abundance of grain, vines, mulberries, tobacco, olives, excellent fruits, as oranges, figs, pistachios, etc. The climate in the inhabited parts is exceedingly fine. Syria is inhabited by various descriptions of people, but Turks and Greeks form the basis of the population in the cities. The only tribes that can be considered as unique to Syria are the tenants of the heights of Lebanon. The most remarkable of these are the Druses and Maronites. The general language is Arabic; the soldiers and officers of government speak Turkish. Of the old Syriac language no traces now exist.

2. first … when Cyrenius, &c.—a very perplexing verse, inasmuch as Cyrenius, or Quirinus, appears not to have been governor of Syria for about ten years after the birth of Christ, and the "taxing" under his administration was what led to the insurrection mentioned in Ac 5:37. That there was a taxing, however, of the whole Roman Empire under Augustus, is now admitted by all; and candid critics, even of skeptical tendency, are ready to allow that there is not likely to be any real inaccuracy in the statement of our Evangelist. Many superior scholars would render the words thus, "This registration was previous to Cyrenius being governor of Syria"—as the word "first" is rendered in Joh 1:15; 15:18. In this case, of course, the difficulty vanishes. But it is perhaps better to suppose, with others, that the registration may have been ordered with a view to the taxation, about the time of our Lord's birth, though the taxing itself—an obnoxious measure in Palestine—was not carried out till the time of Quirinus. See Poole on "Luke 2:1"

And this taxing was first made,.... Or "this was the first enrolment, or taxing" in the Jewish nation; for there was another afterwards, when Judas the Galilean arose, and drew many after him, Acts 5:38.

When Cyrenius was governor of Syria; or "of Cyrenius" "governor of Syria"; that is, it was the first that he was, concerned in; who not now, but afterwards was governor of Syria; and because he had been so before Luke wrote this history, and this being a title of honour, and what might distinguish him from others of that name, it is given him; for as Tertullian says (c), Sentius Saturninus was now governor of Syria, when Cyrenius was sent into Judea, to make this register, or taxing; and which is manifestly distinguished from that, which was made during his being governor of Syria, when Archelaus was banished from Judea, ten or eleven years after Herod's death; which Josephus (d) gives an account of, and Luke refers to, in Acts 5:37. Moreover, the words will bear to be rendered thus, "and this tax, or enrolment, was made before Cyrenius was governor of Syria"; being used for as in John 1:15. This Cyrenius is the same whom the Romans call Quirinius, and Quirinus; a governor of Syria had great power in Judea, to which it was annexed, when Cyrenius was governor there. It is reported of R. Gamaliel, that he went to take a licence, , "from a governor of Syria" (e); i.e. to intercalate the year: and Syria was in many things like to the land of Judea, particularly as to tithes, and the keeping of the seventh year (f),

(c) Contr. Marcion, l. 4. c. 19. (d) Antiqu. l. 18. c. 1.((e) Misn. Ediot. c. 7. sect. 7. (f) T. Bab. Gittin. fol. 8. 1.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
Luke 2:2. In a critical respect no change is to be made. Lachmann has, indeed, struck out the article before ἀπογρ. (in which Wieseler, and now also Tischendorf agree with him), but the witnesses which omit it are only B D (the latter having ἐγένετο ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη), א (?) 131, Eus.; and how easily might , which in itself is superfluous (see Buttmann, neut. Gr. p. 105 [E. T. 221]; Bremi, ad Lys. Exc. II. p. 436 ff.), be merged in the last letter of αὕτη! If is not read, αὕτη is the subject, and ἀπογρ. πρ. is the predicate (this became the first ἀπογραφή). Beza, ed. 1, 2, 3, Pfaff, Valckenaer have declared the entire verse to be an interpolated scholion; but this is a violent suggestion opposed to all the evidence. Conjectures are given by Huetius: Κυϊντιλίου; Heumann: Κρονίου (= Saturnini); Valesius: Σατουρνίνου; Michaelis: πρώτη ἐγένετο πρὸ τῆς ἡγεμονεύοντος κ.τ.λ., al.; see Bowyer, Conject. I. p. 117 ff.

The observation contained in Luke 2:2, which, moreover, is not to be put in a parenthesis, is intended to tell the reader that this census was the first of those held under the presidency of Quirinius, and consequently to guard against confounding it with that which was held about eleven years later (Acts 5:37). The words signify: This census was the first while Quirinius was praeses of Syria.[36] There was known, namely, to the reader a second census of Quirinius (Acts, l.c.); but the one recorded at present was the first, which occurred under the Syrian presidency of this man.[37] It is true that history is at variance with this clear meaning of the words as they stand. For at the time of the birth of Jesus, according to the definite testimony of Tertullian (c. Marc. iv. 19), Q. Sentius Saturninus was governor of Syria; Publius Sulpicius Quirinius did not become so till about ten years later.[38] But this variance does not entitle us to have recourse to explanations inconsistent with linguistic usage or with the text. Explanations of this nature, which must, nevertheless, leave untouched the incorrect statement about the taxation as an imperial census, are (1) that of Herwart (Chronol. 241 f.), Bynaeus, Marck, Er. Schmid, Clericus, Keuchen, Perizonius (de Augustea orbis terrar. descript., Oxon. 1638), Ussher, Petavius, Calovius, Heumann, Storr, Süskind, and others, including Tholuck (Glaubwürdigk. d. evang. Gesch. p. 184), Huschke, Wieseler, who holds that πρώτη ἡγεμ. κ.τ.λ. means: sooner than Quirinius was praeses. Comp. also Bornemann, Schol. p. lxvi., and Ewald (Gesch. Chr. p. 140), who compares the Sanscrit and translates: “this taxation occurred much earlier (superlative) than when Quirinius ruled.” But instead of citing passages in which, as at John 1:15; John 15:18, πρῶτός τινος, according to the real meaning, is sooner than some one (Bernhardy, ad Dionys. Perieg. p. 770, and Eratosth. p. 122; Wesseling, ad Herod. ii. 2, Luke 9:27; Schaefer, ad Dion. Hal. c. v. p. 228; Fritzsche, ad Rom. II. p. 421), proofs ought to have been adduced for such a participial connection as in the passage before us; but certainly not Jeremiah 29:2, where ἐξελθόντος κ.τ.λ. is a genitive absolute, even apart from the fact that the use of ὕστερον there cannot vouch for our πρώτη. In a similarly erroneous manner Wieseler has adduced Soph. Ant. 637 f., 701 f., 703 f. Luke would have known how to express the meaning: sooner than, etc., simply, definitely, and accurately, by πρὸ τοῦ ἡγεμονεύειν κ.τ.λ. (comp. Luke 2:21; Luke 12:5; Acts 23:15), or by πρίν, or πρὶν ἤ.[39] (2) The expedient of Beza, Casaubon (Exercitatt. Antibaron. p. 126 f.), Jos. Scaliger (de emend, temp. 4, p. 417), Grotius, Wernsdorf (de censu, quem Caes. Oct. Aug. fecit, Viteb. 1720), Deyling (Obss. I. ed. 3, p. 242 f.), Nahmmacher (de Augusto ter censum agente, Helmst. 1758), Volborth (de censu Quir., Gott. 1785), Birch (de censu Quir., Havn. 1790), Sanclemente (de vulg. aerae Dionys. emend., Rom. 1793), Ideler (Handb. d. Chronol. II. p. 394), Münter, (Stern d. Weisen, p. 88 ff.), Neander, Hug (Gutacht), and others: that ἡγεμονεύοντ. is here to be taken in a wider meaning, and that Quirinius had held that first ἀπογραφή in Syria as extraordinary commissioner of the emperor, as to which appeal is made, partly in general to the imperial favour which Quirinius enjoyed, partly to Tac. Ann. iii. 48, according to which he was nearly about that time in the East with extraordinary commissions, partly to the analogy of the Gallic census held by Germanicus (Tac. Ann. i. 31), and so forth. This expedient would only be possible, if ἡγεμον. stood by itself in the passage, and not τῆς Συρίας beside it. And if ἡγεμον. were meant proleptically: under the subsequent praeses (Lardner in Bowyer, Conject. I. p. 120; Münter), Luke could hardly have proceeded more awkwardly than by thus omitting the point whereon his being understood depended (it must have been expressed in some such way as Κυρηνίου τοῦ ὕστερον ἡγεμ. τῆς Συρίας). (3) Gerlach thinks that at the time of Christ’s birth Varus, indeed, was ἡγεμών of Syria, but Quirinius was placed by his side as legatus Caesaris proconsulari potestate for the purpose of making war upon the Homonades, and had at that time—consequently likewise as ἡγεμών—undertaken the census, which, however, he brought to no right conclusion, and only carried out subsequently under his second praesidium. But granted that the Tiburtine inscription (see upon that subject Gerlach, p. 25, 39 ff.), which Huschke refers to Agrippa, Zumpt to Saturninus, is rightly referred, with Sanclemente, Nipperdey, Bergmann, and Gerlach, to Quirinius, and that a twofold legatio of the latter to Asia took place: how could Luke with his simple and plain words intend to designate that complicated historical relation and leave the reader to guess it? To the latter Quirinius presented himself only as ordinary and single praeses of Syria. Compare, moreover, what is said afterwards in opposition to von Gumpach. (4) At variance with the text is the expedient of Paulus, who substantially is followed by Gersdorf, Glöckler, Krabbe, Mack (Bericht üb. Strauss, krit. Bearb. d. Leb. J. p. 84 ff.), Hofmann, Weissag. u. Erf. II. p. 54, Ebrard, Lange, L. J. II. l, p. 94 (comp. also Tholuck, Glaubwürdigk. p. 184 ff., and Olshausen): that the word is to be accented as αὐτή (ipsa): the first recording itself took place while Quirinius, etc.; the issuing of the edict ensued at the time of the birth of Jesus, but the census itself did not occur till under Quirinius.[40] This is erroneous, as in fact Luke 2:3 relates the very carrying out[41] of the ἀπογράφεσθαι, and this Luke 2:3 ff. must be conceived as following immediately upon the edict. (5) Von Gumpach lays stress on ἐγένετο,[42] whereby he regards Luke as indicating that in Luke 2:1 he has spoken only of the placing on the register, and would not have the same confounded with the actual levying of taxation, which was not carried into execution until under Quirinius. Against this it may be urged that Luke would have known how to express the realization, as contrasted with what was intended, otherwise than by the simple ἐγένετο, or that he would at least have placed this word, and that with a more precise definition (ὌΝΤΩς ΔῈ ἘΓΈΝΕΤΟ, or the like), at the head of the sentence; as well as that he, in order to have the ἈΠΟΓΡΑΦΉ recognised as something different from and later than the mere registration, must have made use of another word, and not again of ἀπογραφή so similar to the ἈΠΟΓΡΆΦΕΣΘΑΙ. (6) Aberle seeks by learned combination to show that even before the death of Herod Quirinius had actually become praeses Syriae, but that as rector juventutis to the emperor’s grandson Caius, he was still temporarily detained in Rome by Augustus,[43] and his governorship remained virtually unknown in the east and west, but is to be assigned to the year 749. But while there is certain attestation that he was rector juventutis to Caius (Tacitus, Ann. iii. 48), in which post he was succeeded by Lollius (see Zumpt, p. 102), there is no evidence at all for the assumption of a contemporary praesidium Syriae, which he must have held nominally (thus somewhat like an episcopus in partibus). And how should this state of things, which had remained unknown and was only noticed by jurists and notaries for the sake of the dating of documents, have become known to Luke in particular, and have been left by him without any explanation, in such a way that from his words we can only understand the praeses Syriae in the primary and usual sense, according to which the praeses resides in his province and administers the same?

It is not to be inferred, moreover, from the ignorance which Luke betrays at Acts 5:36 ff., that the addition πρώτη proceeds not from Luke, but from an older Jewish-Christian writer (Köstlin, p. 245); for that ignorance concerned not the census of Quirinius, but the time of the insurrection of Theudas.

ἩΓΕΜΟΝ.] the general word for the post of a chief, here shown by the context (Τῆς ΣΥΡΊΑς) to be used of the provincial chief, praeses (proconsul). Comp. Joseph. Antt. xviii. 4. 2 : Συρίας τὴν ἡγεμονίαν ἔχων. In Luke 3:1, used of the Procurator.

ΚΥΡΗΝΊΟΥ] P. Sulpicius Quirinius previously in the year 742 consul, praeses of Syria in the years 6–11 after Christ, died in Rome in the year 21 after Christ. See Ewald, Gesch. Chr. p. 18 f.; Gerlach, l.c. His name is usually written Quirinus; by others (so Wetstein, Valckenaer, Ewald, Gerlach, al.), Quirinius. In the case of the Roman writers (especially Florus, iv. 12. 41; Tacitus, Ann. ii. 30, iii. 22. 48) the manuscripts vary; from a coin and inscription, which have Quirinus, nothing can be decided in view of the great doubt as to their genuineness.[44] But it is certain that among the Greeks (Strabo, xii. 6, p. 569; Josephus, Justin Martyr) the name is written with the termination ΙΟΣ; and, as this manner of writing is at all events decidedly correct in our passage (C D E F, etc., including א, likewise Eusebius, Chrysostom, etc.), whereas among the codices only B reads ΚΥΡΕΊΝΟΥ (hence Lachmann reads ΚΥΡΊΝΟΥ), the form Quirinius, which easily became confounded with the familiar Roman word Quirinus (= Quirinalis), is to be preferred. The confusion occurred the more easily, as Quirinus, Κυρῖνος (Plutarch), or Κυρίνος (Leon. Philippians 1) was also a Roman name. At all events, Luke himself had in his mind the name Quirinius.

[36] Not: it took place first, when,—came to be carried out not earlier than when Quirinius, etc. Lichtenstein, p. 81 f., comes ultimately to this meaning. How can this be expressed by πρώτη? Instead of πρώτη Luke must have written precisely the opposite, namely, ὕστερον, or ὕστερον δὴ ἐγένετο κ.τ.λ. Hofmann is similarly mistaken, Schriftbew. II. 1, p. 120 f.

[37] Quite definitely Justin also says, in agreement with Luke, that Christ was born ἐπὶ Κυρηνίου (Apol. i. 46), and even that His birth was to be seen ἐκ τῶν ἀπογραφῶν τῶν γενομένεν ἐπὶ Κυρηνίου τοῦ ὑμετέρου ἐν Ἰουδαίᾳ πρώτου γενομένου ἐπιτρόπου, Apol. i. 34; so that he in another erroneous manner (see Credner, Beitr. I. p. 230) makes the man to be Roman procurator in Judaea. This was Coponius, Joseph. Bell. ii. 8. 1.

[38] Between these two Quintilius Varus had been invested with this dignity, Joseph. Antt. xvii. 5. 2. But the position that Quirinius had not been already governor of Syria at an earlier date (according to Zumpt, from 4 to 1 before Christ) must be adhered to, according to all the accounts given of him by Josephus (especially Antt. xviii. 1. 1). Comp. Ewald, Gesch. Chr. p. 140 f. The words ITERVM. SYRIAM. of the Tiburtine inscription are of too uncertain interpretation, if the inscription applies to Quirinius, precisely to prove his twofold praesidium Syriae, since we know neither what stood after Syriam, etc., nor whether iterum is to be referred forward or backward. Comp. Strauss, p. 75. What still remains of the whole damaged inscription runs thus (according to Mommsen in Bergmann):—

[39] “Profecto mirandum est, homines eruditissimos in ejusmodi interpretationum ludibria a praejudicatis opinionibus perductos labi,” Valckenaer, p. 68.

[40] Glöckler, Krabbe, Mack, and Tholuck, however, do not hold the accentuation αὐτή requisite, and Köhler rejects it.

[41] Ebrard, p. 177, wishes to set aside this difficulty by the explanation that while an ἀπογράφεσθαι in the sense of a registration already occurred at the time of the birth of Jesus, Luke availed himself of the double meaning of ἀπογραφή, which also signifies the actual census, “in an easy and unrestrained manner” to set forth how the work begun in the registration was completed in the taxation of Quirinius. This is a makeshift, which imputes to Luke a very enigmatical and awkward use of the word ἀπογραφή.

[42] So also does Köhler, who besides, with Hofmann and Ebrard, lays stress on the fact that the passage runs not as ἡ πρώτη, but simply πρώτη. Luke is thus made to say: this taxation was completed as the first taxation, etc.; it was, namely, begun doubtless, but was soon stopped and was only carried out under Quirinius. Comp. already Calvin and Gerlach above. Nothing of this appears in the text, and the article with πρώτη would make no difference at all, since, as is well known, the ordinal numbers may stand with or without an article. (Poppo, ad Thucyd. ii. 70. 5, iv. 90. 3, Goth.).

[43] Varus having in the meanwhile continued still to exercise the powers of governor. As well according to Gerlach as according to Aberle, Varus is held to have already, at the time of Christ’s birth, filled the office of governor in Syria, which, moreover, Norisius, Cenotaph. Pis. II. p. 82 f., and others maintained. But this is at variance with Tertullian, l.c., comp. c. 7, where it can only he regarded as a very arbitrary assumption that Saturninus is no longer meant as governor.

[44] See Gerlach, p. 37, who cites another inscription, which actually reads Quirinio, from Marini, Act. II. 782.



svpplicationes. binas. ob. res. prosp

ipsi. ornamenta. trivmph

pro. consvl. asiam. provinciamop

divi. avgvsti. itervm. syriam. et. ph

See Bergmann, de inscript. Latina ad P. Sulp. Quir. Cos. a 742 ut videtur refer. 1851.


The statement of Luke, so far as it affirms that at the time of the birth of Christ an imperial census was taken, and that it was the first that was provincially carried out by the Syrian praeses Quirinius, is manifestly incorrect. For (1) the praesidium of Quirinius is placed about ten years too early; and (2) an imperial census, if such an one should have been held at all at the time of the birth of Jesus (which, however, cannot from other sources be proved, for the passages of Christian authors, Cassiodorus, var. iii. 52, Suidas, s.v. ἀπογραφή, plainly depend on the narrative of Luke, as also does the chronologically erroneous statement of Isidor. Orig. v. 36. 4), cannot have affected Palestine at all,[45] since it had not yet become a Roman province, which did not happen till 759. And, indeed, the ordaining of so abnormal and disturbing a measure in reference to Palestine—a measure, which assuredly would not be carried through without tumultuary resistance—would have been so uncommonly important for Jewish history, that Josephus would certainly not have passed it over in absolute silence (Antt. xvii. 1. 1 does not bear on it); especially as it was not the rex socius himself, Herod, but the Roman governor, who was, according to Luke (in opposition to Wieseler), the authority conducting it. But (3) the holding withal of a general census of the empire under Augustus is historically altogether unvouched for; it is a matter of history (see the Monum. Ancyran. in Wolf, ed. Sueton. II. p. 369 ff.; comp. Sueton. Aug. 27) that Augustus thrice, in 726, 746, and 767, held a census populi, i.e. a census of the Roman citizens, but not also of the whole provinces of the empire (see, in opposition to Huschke, Wieseler, p. 84 ff.). Should we, on the other hand, assume, with Wieseler, that the census had only the provinces in view and had been taken up in the different provinces in different years, and with the utmost indulgence to provincial peculiarities,—the object aimed at being the settling of an uniform system of taxation (comp. Savigny in the Zeitschr. für geschichtl. Rechtswiss. VI. p. 350),—the text of Luke would stand opposed to it. For, according to that text, (a) the whole Roman empire is subjected to a census; (b) this quite universal census is ordained at once in the edict, which, on Wieseler’s hypothesis of the gradual and indulgent mode of its execution by the politic Augustus, would have been imprudent; and (c) it is represented as an actual tax-census, as was the well-known (according to Luke, second) census Quirinii, in which case the alleged indulgence is imported.

[45] See Mommsen in Bergm. p. iv. ff.

Nevertheless, criticism pronounces judgment on itself, when it designates the whole account as to the census as an invention of legend (Strauss; comp. Kern, Urspr. des Evang. p. 113 ff.; Weisse, I. p. 236), or even of Luke (B. Bauer), which is made in order to bring Mary with Joseph to Bethlehem. Comp. the frivolous opinion of Eichthal, II. p. 184 f. What a strange and disproportionate machinery for this purpose! No; something of the nature of a census, and that by command of the emperor, must have taken place in the Roman empire[46]—a registration, as regards which it is quite an open question whether it was taken with or without a design to the future regulation of taxation, or merely had for its aim the levying of statistics. The consolidating aims of the government of Augustus, and, in reference to Palestine, the dependence of the vassal-king Herod, take away from it all historical improbability, even apart from the analogous measure—that had already preceded it—of the survey of the whole Roman empire instituted by Augustus (Frontinus in the Auct. rei agrar., ed. Goes. p. 109; Aethicus Ister, Cosmogr., ed Gronov. p. 26). Further, as Quirinius was not at that time praeses, he can only have acted in this statistical measure as extraordinary commissioner, which is the less improbable, because apart from this he was then in the East by order of the emperor (see above), and because the politic Augustus very naturally as to that business put more confidence in an approved impartial commissioner than in the reges socii themselves or in the interested proconsuls. And this action of Quirinius enables us to understand how tradition, in the gradual obscuring and mixing up of its recollections, should have made him praeses Syriae at that time, since he was so subsequently, and how the registration in question was made into a census, because subsequently he actually as Syrian governor[47] had charge of a census; and from this mixing up of times and matters resulted at the same time the designation of the ἀπογραφή as πρώτη, which occurred ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρίας Κυρηνίου. Thus Luke has narrated what actually happened in the erroneous form which it received from the tradition. But if we conceive of the ἀπογραφή as merely a revision of the genealogical family registers (Schleiermaeher, Olshausen, ed. 1, Bleek), which probably was ordained only by the spiritual authorities, and perhaps had reference merely to the family of David, it is no longer easy to see how Luke, or the source from which he drew, could make out of it something thoroughly and specifically different. According to Schweizer in the theol. Jahrb. 1847, p. 1 ff., Luke has really in the passage before us, at variance with Luke 3:1, made Jesus be born in the year of the taxing of Quirinius, Acts 5:37, and thus long after the death of Herod,—in spite of his own distinct statement, Luke 1:5!

The hypotheses, moreover, that Luke intended by the enrolment of Jesus (?) in the register of the Empire to point to the universal destination of the Redeemer (Wieseler; comp. Erasmus, Bengel, and already Theophylact and Euthymius Zigabenus), or to the coincidence of the birth of the Messiah and the redemption of Israel with the political bondage of the people (Ebrard), or to the manner in which Jesus in His mother’s womb was most surprisingly dealt with as a Roman subject (Hofmann), are purely arbitrary creations of that subjectivity, which has the utmost delight in discovering a mystical reference behind every simple historical statement.

[46] Possibly of the population, of the civil and military resources, of the finances, etc., as, according to Tacitus, Ann. i. 11, the Breviarium totius imperii (Sueton. Octav. 28, 101) of Augustus contained columns of that kind. See above on ver. 1.

[47] Aberle, indeed, calls this in question, holding that Quirinius was at the later census merely a simple Legatus Caesaris. Although Josephus does not expressly name him ἡγεμών, he is still, in Antt. xviii. 1. 1, sufficiently indicated as such. Comp. Hilgenfeld, p. 413 ff. Apart from this, the expression ἡγεμονεύοντος in the passage before us is only an erroneously anticipating reflex of that, which subsequently Quirinius was in fact, and notoriously, as respects his real census attended by consequences so grave.

Luke 2:2. This verse looks like a parenthetical explanation, and is actually bracketed in W.H[21] One could almost wish it had been omitted, or that there were reason to believe, as has been suggested by several writers, that it is a gloss that has found its way into the text, and that Lk. is not responsible for it—so much trouble has it given to commentators. Text and sense have alike been disputed.—αυτη has been taken as αὐτή = self, not αὕτη = illa, the same, to make room for a distinction between the decree and its execution or completion ten years after by Quirinius, so meeting difficulty No. 3. This device is now generally discarded. πρώτη has been taken as = προτέρα, meaning: this census took place before Quirinius was governor, a possible but very improbable rendering, not to say that one fails to see the object of such a statement. The true text is αὕτη ἀπογ. πρώτη ἐγέν., and the meaning: that census took place, as a first, when, etc. But why as a first? Because, reply many, there was a second, under the same Quirinius, ten years later, known to Lk. (Acts 5:37), disastrous in its consequence, and which he was anxious his readers should not confound with this one (so Hahn and others).—ἡγεμονεύοντος: this raises a question of fact. Was Quirinius governor then? He was, admittedly, governor of Syria ten years later, when he made the census referred to in Acts 5:37. Either there is a mistake here, or Quirinius was governor twice (so A. W. Zumpt, strenuously supported by Farrar, C. G. T., ad loc.), or at least present in Syria, at the time of Christ’s birth, in some capacity, say as a commissioner in connection with the census.

[21] Westcott and Hort.

2. this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria] Rather, this first enrolment took place (literally ‘took place as the first’) when Quirinus was governor of Syria. We are here met by an apparent error on which whole volumes have been written. Quirinus (or Quirinius, for the form of his name is not absolutely certain) was governor (Praeses, Legatus) of Syria in a. d. 6, ten years after this time, and he then carried out a census which led to the revolt of Judas of Galilee, as St Luke himself was aware (Acts 5:37). Hence it is asserted that St Luke made an error of ten years in the governorship of Quirinus, and the date of the census, which vitiates his historic authority. Two ways of obviating this difficulty may finally be rejected.

(α) One is to render the words ‘took place before (protç) Quirinus was governor.’ The translation is entirely untenable, and is not supported by protos mou ‘before me’ in John 1:30. And if this were the meaning the remark would be most unnecessary.

(β) Others would render the verb egeneto by ‘took effect:’—this enrolment was begun at this period (b. c. 4 of our vulgar era) by P. Sentius Saturninus, but not completed till the Procuratorship of Quirinus a. d. 6. But this is to give a strained meaning to the verb, as well as to take the ordinal (protç) as though it were an adverb (proton).

(γ) A third, and more tenable, view is to extend the meaning of hegemoneuontos ‘was governor’ to imply that Quirinus, though not actually Governor of Syria, yet might be called hegemon, either (i) as one of the twenty taxers or commissioners of Augustus, or (ii) as holding some procuratorial office (as Epitropos or joint Epitropos with Herod; comp. Jos. Antt. xv. 10. 3; B. J. i. 20. 4). It is, however, a strong objection to solution (i) that the commissioners were ἄριστοι, optimates or nobles, whereas Quirinus was a novus homo: and to (ii) that St Luke is remarkably accurate in his use of titles.

(δ) A fourth view, and one which I still hold to be the right solution, is that first developed by A. W. Zumpt (Das Geburtsjahr Christi, 1870), and never seriously refuted though often sneered at. It is that Quirinus was twice Governor of Syria, once in b. c. 4 when he began the census (which may have been ordered, as Tertullian says, by Varus, or by P. Sentius Saturninus); and once in a. d. 6 when he carried it to completion. It is certain that in a.u.c. 753 Quirinus conquered the Homonadenses in Cilicia, and was rector to Gaius Caesar. Now it is highly probable that these Homonadenses were at that time under the jurisdiction of the propraetor of the Imperial Province of Syria, an office which must in that case have been held by Quirinus between b. c. 4–b. c. 1. The indolence of Varus and his friendship with Archelaus may have furnished strong reasons for superseding him, and putting the diligent and trustworthy Quirinus in his place. Whichever of these latter views be accepted, one thing is certain, that no error is demonstrable, and that on independent historical grounds, as well as by his own proved accuracy in other instances, we have the strongest reason to admit the probability of St Luke’s reference.

Cyrenius] This is the Greek form of the name Quirinus, Orelli ad Tac. Ann. ii. 30. All that we know of him is that he was of obscure and provincial origin, and rose to the consulship by activity and military skill, afterwards earning a triumph for his successes in Cilicia. He was harsh, and avaricious, but a loyal soldier; and he was honoured with a public funeral in a. d. 21 (Tac. Ann. ii. 30, iii. 22, 48; Suet. Tib. 49, &c.).

Luke 2:2. Πρώτη, first) first in respect to the Jews, who had previously paid tribute without being entered [registered] in a census-roll.—ἡγεμονεύοντος) when P. Sulpicius Quirinus was governor of Syria. See Ord. Temp., p. 233 [Ed. ii., p. 203]. The terms ἡγεμὼν and ἡγεμονεύειν have a wide meaning, ch. Luke 3:1, Luke 21:12; Matthew 2:6.—τῆς Συρίας, of Syria) Judea was an appendage [a dependency attached] to Syria; so greatly reduced at that time was the power of Judea [which was now subject to the authority of the Romans, as formerly to that of the Chaldeans, the Persians, and the Greeks successively; yet, notwithstanding, Juda was still a peculiar tribe, שבט, distinct from the rest, and even still enjoyed the privilege of retaining its own magistrates, מחקקים. So the prophecy which Jacob had spoken, Genesis 49:10, was fulfilled.—V. g.]

Verse 2. - (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) Hostile criticism makes a still more direct attack upon the historical statement made by St. Luke here. Quirinius, it is well known, was governor (legatus or praeses) of Syria ten years later, and during his office a census or registration - with a view to taxation - which led to a popular disturbance, was made in his province. These critics say that St. Luke mentions, as taking place before the birth of Jesus, an event which really happened ten years after. Much historical vestigation has been made with a view to explain this difficulty. It has been now satisfactorily demonstrated that, strangely enough, this Quirinius - who ten years later was certainly governor (legatus) of Syria - at the time of the birth of the Savior held high office in Syria, either as praeses (governor) or quaestor (imperial commissioner). The Greek word rendered by the English "governor" would have been used for either of these important offices. On the whole question of these alleged historical inaccuracies of St. Luke, it may be observed:

(1) Strangely enough, none of the early opponents of Christianity, such as Celsus or Porphyry, impugn the accuracy of our evangelist here. Surely, if there had been so marked an error on the threshold of his Gospel, these distinguished adversaries of our faith, living comparatively soon after the events in question, would have been the first to hit so conspicuous a blot in the story they hated so well. And

(2) nothing is more improbable than that St. Luke, a man of education, and writing, too, evidently for people of thought and culture, would have ventured on a definite historical statement of this kind, which would, if wrong, have been so easily exposed, had he not previously thoroughly satisfied himself as to its complete accuracy. Generally, the above conclusions are now adopted, lately, amongst others, by Godet, Farrar, Plumptre, and Bishop Ellicott (in his Hulsean Lectures). Godet has an especially long and exhaustive note on this subject. The conclusions are mainly drawn from the researches of such scholars as Zumpt and Mommsen. Cyrenius; Latin, Quirinus. He is mentioned by the historians Tacitus and Suetonius. He appears to have been originally of humble birth, and, like so many of the soldiers of fortune of the empire, rose through his own merits to his great position. He was a gallant and true soldier, but withal self-seeking and harsh. For his Cilician victories the senate decreed him a triumph. He received the distinguished honor of a public funeral, A.D. 21 (Tac., 'Ann.,' 2:30; 3:22, 48; Suet., 'Tib.,' 49). Luke 2:2And this taxing was first made (αὕτη ἡ ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο)

Rather, this occurred as the first enrolment ; or, as Rev., this was the first enrolment made; with reference to a second enrolment which took place about eleven years later, and is referred to in Acts 5:37.

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