What Year Was Jesus Born?

Michael A. Rydelnik
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Matthew makes it clear that the Lord Jesus was born while Herod ruled. He died in 4 BC, so most Bible students surmise that the Lord Jesus was born a year or two earlier, sometime between 6 BC and early 4 BC. Matthew and Luke both place the birth of the Lord Jesus near the end of the reign of Herod. So the Lord Jesus was born sometime between 6 and 4 BC.

Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, records that Quirinius became governor after the Romans removed Herod’s son, Archelaus, as king in AD 6, and he carried out a census (or registration) of his entire domain early in his governorship (see Luke 2:1–3). On the surface this appears to contradict Matthew’s account. A good explanation is to translate Luke 2:2 in a slightly different way. The key word is proton, translated “first,” as in “This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” When this word is used adverbially, it can mean “before.” That’s the way it was used in John 15:18, when the Lord Jesus said that the world “hated me first.”

Luke’s point was that the Lord Jesus was born during a census, requiring Joseph and Mary to travel to their familial town; but this census is not to be confused with the more well-known census conducted ten years later by Quirinius. Luke’s desire to be precise (see Luke 1:3–4) caused him to differentiate the census at the birth of Jesus from the later one.

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