5. The Birth of Jesus
1In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.a 2This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city.
4And Joseph went up from Galilee from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be enrolled, with Mary, who was with child.
6And so it was that while they were there the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7And she gave birth to her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths,b and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
21And at the end of eight days when he was circumcised he was called Joshua (Jesus),c the name given by the angel.
(Lk. 2:1–7, 21)
a “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.”—Dated papyri in Egypt tell of a 14-year cycle of census inaugurated by the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus (27 BC–AD 14), and record one in AD 20. Counting back 14 years, we come to AD 6, the date of the preceding census; this census is referred to in Acts 5:37. Counting back 14 more years (and remembering that instead of starting at year zero our calendar begins at Jan. 1, AD 1), we come to the first census, the one originally decreed by Caesar Augustus, at 8 BC. This was the census attended by Joseph and Mary. However, because of Jewish opposition to “being numbered” (and paying taxes to Rome), Herod is thought to have been slow in instituting this first census of the Roman world. (Master Study Bible, p. 1330) But it is not likely that Herod would have long delayed this census of “all the world,” which was decreed by the Emperor himself. If we assume that Herod held the census the next year, we can date Jesus' birth at 7 BC.
This date of 7 BC is also consistent with two other recorded events associated with Jesus' birth. Herod (Ch. 7, fn. a), who was alive at the time of Jesus' birth, died in 4 BC. (Ch. 9, fn. b) Also, the three extraordinary conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn, which would explain the new “star” in the sky noticed by the Magi (Ch. 7, fn. b), took place in 7 BC.
The modern calendar is based on calculations made by Dionysus Exegines, a Roman abbot who lived over 500 years after the time of Jesus. Because of insufficient historical data, the monk erred in fixing the time of birth and this error persists in our calendar to this day.
b “swaddling cloths,”—Narrow strips of cloth wrapped around an infant to restrict movement.
c “Joshua (Jesus),”—Joshua is the English form and Jesus the contracted Greek form of the Hebrew Yehoshua. (See Ch. 2, fn. a.)
Lk. 2:5 Mary, who / Mary, his betrothed, who (RSV)
Lk. 2:6 And so it was that while (KJV) / And while (RSV) • the days were accomplished that she should be (KJV) / the time came for her to be (RSV)
Lk. 2:21 called Joshua (Jesus), the (Ch. 2, fn. a) / called Jesus, the (RSV) • angel. / angel before he was conceived in the womb. (RSV) (122:7,8/1350–1)