In this episode Kurt talks about different objections to Christmas. He is joined by Ted Wright, the former Executive Director of Cross Examined and the Founder and Director of a new project called Epic Archeology.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill, where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. Today is Christmas Eve so we’re doing a Christmas themed show. Today we’re talking about objections to Christmas and there are a number of different objections to Christmas and I’ve categorized them as best as I can. Some of them I have called cultural objections and the other ones are textual or you might say historical questions and so the cultural ones might be objections that you hear about, say, the pagan origins of Christmas, like the Christmas tree, or you might even place in here sort of the myths. Is Jesus a copycat of pagan origins? Historical-textual objections would be, say, the census of I think I’m pronouncing it correctly, Quirinius, and so we’re going to be looking at that objection as well and even if you’re unfamiliar with what that objection is, we’re going to be talking about that so I’m glad that you’re listening to today’s episode and if you’re listening live now either through Facebook Live here or through our web site, you can give us a call. I’d love to get your comments or your questions. The number for that is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. We have a few brief announcements before we get rolling into our show today. As we’ve announced on the past few episodes, Defenders Media presently has a matching grant opportunity available through the end of the year so if you’ve considered supporting our ministry, you like what you’re hearing right now. Go ahead and you can go to our web site. You can either go to Veracityhill.com or Defendersmedia.com and you can donate to the work that we’re doing here and your donation will be doubled so if you donate $10, we will get $20. It’s really just a great opportunity to contribute at this time to what we’re doing and of course although we’d love to have your one-time donation, monthly donors are even better because they help with budgeting and what not. That makes it a heck of a lot easier, so we’ve got that. Also, if you’re a newer listener, I don’t know if you knew this, but you can text in to our show so all you need to do is text the word VERACITY to the number 555-888, and once you do that you’ll be signed up to our list. It’s totally free. We send out a text every so often, not quite every week, about say the show topic or the guest that’s coming on and you can even reply back to those and let me know what you think. Give me some of your comments or questions if you have show topic requests or guest requests, I’d be happy to take those, so it’s just a great opportunity for us to engage with one another and it’s anonymous because those numbers come in and I don’t know who you are so if you’ve got something that you want to tell me, you don’t want me to know who you are, that’s a great way for doing that. If it’s easier you can also write in on our web site too so there’s a contact from there. Just a good opportunity to get in touch with me.
There’s another thing I want to mention here, sort of a piece of news that I read about studying the sky, astronomy, the stars in the universe. There was a recent discovery that there are two trillion observable galaxies in the cosmos and you might say “Oh, well sure there was a lot.” Well previous estimates headed at 200 billion galaxies. 200 billion galaxies in the cosmos, but The Atlantic just came out with an article this week and I think they’re calling it so many galaxies here, the universe just got ten times more interesting because of course 200 billion times ten is two trillion and so the headline here is “New research estimates there are two trillion galaxies in the observable region of the cosmos, an order of magnitude more than previously thought.” And that is very fascinating because it has led even the New Testament critic Bart Ehrman, he has made a post here on Facebook, a lengthy post about how much awe he is in, even though he’s not a believer as he states, he said he quoted Psalm 8 to his wife because of just how great of magnitude the cosmos is, how amazing is it that who are we but humans on this small little planet in a galaxy with two trillion other galaxies. It’s just amazing to think about that, how small we are. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this on the show or not. I think it’d be rather cool if we found alien life on other planets someday. It probably will not happen in the next couple hundred years, but I think it would be cool if that were to happen and to see about their views, their worldviews, what they’re like. Do they believe in a divine creator? Has that divine creator entered into the course of their history? I think that’d be very fascinating to see what we’ve discovered there. Maybe it’ll happen. Maybe it won’t. There are some Christians that are ardently anti alien life and I’m not convinced perhaps why we ought to be. Sure it would open up new theological doors for what does that mean for say the atoning work of Christ.
Alright. So here we are talking about objections to Christmas and there are three things I really want to talk about today. The Christmas pagan origins, was Jesus from pagan origins, and then also I want to get to the historical objection about the census of Quirinius and so first let me talk about the Christmas pagan origins. There are some people on the internet that believe that when Christians have a Christmas tree, we are, what is happening is we have stolen this idea from pagan religions and we are then worshiping the tree. Now there is even a basis to this and it comes from Jeremiah 10. So here’s what it says.
“Hear what the Lord says to you people of Israel. This is what the Lord says. ‘Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the heavens. Though the nations are terrified by them for the practices of the peoples are worthless. They cut a tree out of the forest and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold. They fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.’ “
So here you have the explicit reference in Jeremiah 10 about the adornment of trees. Right? Cutting down the tree and adorning it with silver and gold and so this seems to be a basis for not having Christmas trees. Right? Here it is in the text. It says “Don’t do this.” There’s a big problem with this though. When we look at this in context and this principle applies to other objections to the pagan origins of Christmas shall we say and it’s this. Keep reading in context. When we read Jeremiah 10 continue to verse 5.
“Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, their idols cannot speak. They must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them. They can do no harm nor can they do any good.”
So here we have in Jeremiah 10, we have this talk of not cutting down a tree, not adorning it, but in context, it’s about idol worshiping. The belief that there was a presence of the deity in the idol. Okay? Now when Christians have a Christmas tree in their house, it is not a form of idol worship. It is a symbol of hope. If we do think that it’s a form of worship we really need to ask ourselves certain questions like, “Are we really singing songs to the Christmas tree?” “Do we think the Christmas tree has powers that can somehow be beneficial to us?” Maybe there’s that one holiday song. “Oh Christmas tree. Oh Christmas tree.” Right? But that’s even still a song about the tree. It’s not necessarily a song to the tree and this is different than idol worship. Surely it is different than idol worship and so that’s why the Christmas tree is not one of those origins. Now to help me talk about pagan origins of Christmas and maybe as we get into Jesus mythicism, but especially because he’s an archaeology, especially I have invited my friend Ted Wright to join me here on our show today and before we bring Ted on, we’ve got just an announcement from Defenders Media, so we have been looking for new regional associates and I got in contact with Ted and we had this great opportunity that we were discussing about the ministry work that he’s about to embark upon so as I bring him in here I hope, Ted. Can you hear me? I know we had the technical difficulties but are you here now?
Ted: Yes. I can hear you great Kurt.
Kurt: Wonderful. Awesome. Cool. I’m glad you were able to stick in the queue there. So Ted, thanks for joining me on the show today. Tell me a little bit about Epic Archaeology. Right now you’re in a time of transition, but you have in mind here that you want to, and we’re going to be working with you to start up this web site called Epic Archaeology. What is that going to be all about?
Ted: Absolutely. It’s great to be with you today Kurt. Thanks so much for having me on board. Yeah. I’ve had this dream with me for awhile, my undergraduate classes kind of started me on this journey and I personally have always been interested in history and archaeology and especially as it relates to the Bible and so I’ve sort of over the years of being a professor and working a ministry like CrossExamined, things like that, got a vision for having a place where I could go and just get good solid historical information on the archaeology and the historical background of the Bible and like many people who read the Bible, things like that, a lot of people get National Geographic and they’ll get these other magazines things like that. I’ve always kind of wanted to have a kind of web site or a resource that basically at least the quality of National Geographic that’s going to provide top rate research on archaeology as it relates to the Bible, and not only just the Bible but also to other areas around the world of what archaeologists call World Archaeology, so archaeology as it relates to the Mayans, the Inca, you know, things like that. What is more of a conservative Christian understanding of these cultures and how they fit into the greater context of archaeology, because archaeology is this huge broad subject and biblical archaeology is just one part of it. Think about it. I really think all of history is epic, it’s amazing. When I speak around the world. I’ve spoken and taught all over. I’ve been in Norway, Denmark, Italy, and other places and in all of this, there is a universal fascination with the past. Most people are interested in their past so epicarchaeology.org is going to be a web site. It’s going to be a resource not just for biblical archaeology but also archaeology of other cultures so I’m just going to, all of this is just to totally build it up, but we’re going to be launching it very soon and we’ve got a great partnership with you guys at Defenders Media.
Kurt: Yeah. Yeah. Awesome. I’m excited as well and looking forward to the vast resources that you have. Your area of expertise is one that is not so common in apologetics. We’ve got, there are relatively speaking more philosophers and even say New Testament scholars, but you are in a sense an archaeologist and so that’s really a needed area. There are so many objections based on corroborating the Biblical text, both Old and New and so that’s one of your areas of expertise so very much looking forward to working with you. So happy about that.
Ted: Absolutely. I am too.
Kurt: So let’s get back to the discussion here. I had just talked about sort of the Christmas origins, the supposed pagan origins regarding the Christmas tree and how some people think it’s sort of worshiping. Before we get to the next segment on Jesus as pagan origins, have you in your experience talked to people that say having a Christmas tree is just pagan worship?
Ted: Oh yeah. Yeah. I mean, I don’t mean to be disparaging for people who hold that view, I don’t mean to be insulting, but honestly Kurt, my view on it is people, those kinds of folks who really are kind of turned off by the Christmas tree or the same folks who think we should be reading King James Only Bible.
Kurt: Right. Yeah.
Ted: I don’t mean that in a mean way. They’re just uninformed. They just don’t understand, James White several years ago wrote one of the absolute best books on the subject, The King James Only Debate. There’s a lot of misinformation that goes on and really the core has to do with not understanding history, not understanding the historical record. You mentioned it earlier. You were talking about the passage there, was it Jeremiah?
Kurt: That’s right. Jeremiah 10.
Ted: Yeah. The thing is, you nailed it right on the head when you talked about it. Context. When I taught Old Testament Survey and sometimes I’d fill in for my colleague Tom Howe in hermeneutics class. The three most important rules in Biblical exegesis of course are context, context, context. The people who want to make the claim that Christians who have a Christmas tree are somehow pagan or whatever, they have to prove, they have to show how in Jeremiah that passage is talking about a Christmas tree because it absolutely is not. It was talking about the pagan practices that were going on in the Near East 3,000 years ago so there’s no such thing, there was not a Christmas story back then so they have to show how that relates. Maybe there’s some principles that are involved and certainly there are always people who sort of get more wrapped up into the side things of Christmas and not the true story. That’s true of anything. Any kind of religion or anything, you’re always going to have people who abuse and don’t really focus on the correct things, but by and large I think it is perfectly okay to have a Christmas tree. In fact, I would even say this. I don’t know how much you know about Saint Patrick, the saint that was able to bring the Gospel message to Ireland. It’s the great story about Saint Patrick about some of the church fathers or Eusebius or things like that, he sometimes would use pagan things to illustrate and to enhance the Christmas story, or not the Christmas story, the Gospel. He would use the shamrock to talk about the Trinity and so I would say and obviously I think that’s the practice of using trees, I think it was either in Germany or Norway or one of the Scandinavian countries, so there’s certainly I’m sure that there’s some connections there in Druidism and paganism and things like that.
Kurt: But they’re just symbols to us.
Ted: Exactly. Exactly. It’s a symbol and it was a symbol of eternal life, everlasting life, the evergreen, and a lot of trees have stars on them that point to the Christmas star or they have an angel on them to refer to the angel on the night that Christ was born so it’s how it’s used.
Kurt: That’s right. It’s how it’s used. That’s a great principle. I’ve told some people it’s all about marketing. So suppose let’s say there’s no basis in the text for it. There’s nothing wrong about taking a symbol and Christianizing it because in a sense, we try to do that all the time. Even today we’re trying to do that with movies. Right? Christian film makers try to make overtly Christian movies and sadly they tend to be very poorly done and cheesy, bad acting, but still, they’re trying. Right? They’re trying to do marketing and so in the same sense at the very least it’s all just a marketing game and so that doesn’t mean it’s therefore inherently wrong. Right? Like God says we can’t do that.
Ted: Exactly. I totally agree.
Kurt: So for anybody out there that might be thinking it does seem wrong, what are the reasons why? Ask yourself what are the reasons why? Do you really think Christians are worshiping a tree and hopefully you’ll see that we really aren’t and there’s nothing wrong with having that symbol, and Ted, as you pointed out, using this symbol to teach people about what the symbol is about and so that’s really the important point there. So Ted, we’ve got to move along here. I want to touch on and really we could just do a series of shows on this topic alone and we’re covering a number of issues sort of shotgun style here, but Jesus mythicism. Maybe for those of you who are listening and you haven’t heard this term before, what is Jesus mythicism? Well, Jesus mythicism is the theory that Jesus did not actually exist. That he is a copycat off of other pagan religions such as Horus or Osiris or Mithras, and that really he’s just a myth. Now the reigning principle, and Ted I’m sure you’ll speak maybe a little bit to this, the reigning principle that I have for people are primary sources. Look at these people in context. There’s a lot going around on the internet and the Zeitgeist film was very much a catalyst for bringing this into peoples’ minds that Jesus is just a myth. He didn’t really actually exist, so again the ruling principle is primary sources because a lot of things can be asserted, but that doesn’t mean they’re supported with evidence. A lot of things can be stated, but that doesn’t mean that there’s evidence. So if you know someone on Facebook who might be sharing a meme, if you’ve got a family member who thinks this and says Jesus is just like those guys, ask them for proof. So Ted, you go ahead. Give me some of your thoughts and I’ve got a chart here where I’m gonna explain some differences from primary sources, but go ahead Ted. What are your thoughts on this?
Ted: Oh man. It’s like Dinesh D’Souza said one time in a debate. He said “I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony. Where do I begin?” There’s so much stuff that I mean it’s like, okay, this is a softball, not to be cocky or anything truly, but it comes back to just bumper sticker theology. People will hear something and they’ll go “Oh well Jesus is like Mithra or like Horus or whatever” and they’ll hear a statement and they’ll be like a knee jerk thing, but what is sad Kurt is that it has absolutely no basis in reality, in history. In fact, there’s a discipline in history, the technical term for doing academic history is called historiography which has to do with how do we record history. How do historians work? I give a talk where we talk about this and I sort of boil them down into what I call them, you mentioned earlier primary sources and there are three primary sources when trying to reconstruct the past. There’s eyewitnesses. You have to have an eyewitness because honestly you have to have someone who witnessed it, who saw it and you have to have, number two, historical records, and then the third thing for primary sources is archaeological data and in many cases, in history, in most cases in ancient history, the eyewitnesses have already passed on, so you can’t interview the eyewitness, so what we have left are historical records and we have the archaeological data so now we’re left with, and there is a great amount of historical information out there, but not everything that’s written about on a document means it’s historically accurate, so archaeology is sort of the way that we can ascertain or adjudicate between historical documents to see whether or not these historical sources are accurate or not and basically an archaeological artifact can either confirm or deny, a historical artifact, document, or it can be inconclusive, but as far as the mythicism goes, there’s a couple of things I’d like to mention Kurt. One, first I’ll say this and then I’ll jump over to one specific myth that mythicists want to claim. First is, it’s really just sort of cuts the knees out from under the historical mythicists folks and that is that whenever you hear the claim, “There’s no evidence of Jesus’s historicity,” well there’s a little problem with that and it has to do with primary sources and these sources Kurt, these are not necessarily, in fact all of them are non-New Testament. They’re non-New Testament sources for the life of Jesus and they come from Jewish and Greco-Roman sources that speak of Jesus and also events surrounding His life and ministry so all these sources I’m going to mention here in just a moment are all again, they’re non-New Testament sources and all of these sources mention Jesus and they talk specifically about His life so they don’t have an agenda. They’re just mentioning this historical person, this historical Jesus so obviously many people have heard of Flavius Josephus, the Babylonian Talmud, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, the Roman writer, Mara Ben-Serapion, Suetonius, the Roman writer, Thallus, Lucian, Phlegon, and Celsus, just to mention a few and if you were to reconstruct just from those historical sources alone, these are all again non-Christian sources, you would basically come to the conclusion, and these are all facts that you can glean from these historical sources. #1, that Jesus lived during the reign of Tiberius Caesar. That he lived a virtuous life. That he was a wonder worker. That he had a brother named James. That He claimed to be the Messiah. That He was crucified under Pontius Pilate. That He was crucified on the eve of the Passover. That there was darkness and an earthquake that occurred when He died. These are all in these non-Christian sources. His disciples believed that He rose from the dead. Now again, this is not affirming that they believed it, but it’s saying that’s what His disciples believed. His disciples were willing to die for the belief and they also affirmed Christianity spread as far as Rome and that Christian disciples denied the Roman gods and worshipped Jesus as God. These are just a few of the historical things that you can learn about Jesus just from non-Christian sources alone. Then I’ll just mention, earlier I mentioned the mythicists try to talk about Jesus and Horus. Well just to kind of go through a list here, one of the things that, Horus was an Egyptian god that dates all the way back to the time of ancient Egypt, and you see this on the internet a lot and you see it on bumper stickers, just people who want to easily dismiss the Christian claim or the Christmas story so let’s kind of go through a list here. Horus was born of the virgin Isis on December 25th in a cave. A star in the east announced his birth. This is again according to the mythicists.
Kurt: Right. Right.
Ted: That he had an earthly father named Set which translated to Joseph. This was of course Horus supposedly. He was baptized by Anup the Baptizer. He had twelve disciples who performed miracles such as walking on water. He raised El-Azarus. He gave a sermon on the mount. He was crucified between two thieves. He was buried for three days and then was resurrected. He was called KRST or Christ, the anointed one, the way, the truth, and the life. He was also called the Son of Man and the Messiah. These are all claimed to be true about Horus, but there’s one little problem with that Kurt. Not one of those claims is supported by the Egyptian evidence. In fact all Egyptologists would deny every single one of those. There’s actually a good video, I don’t know if you ever posted it, but I’ll be glad to post it on the Facebook live feed for those who are interested in it. It is a YouTube kind of summary of those claims and the evidence contrary to it, again the bottom line is that all of these claims where they’re saying Jesus is basically just being borrowed from Horus because all these things were written about by Horus thousands of years before Jesus was born, but again the problem is in the Egyptian records, the Egyptian records themselves do not bear this out. Horus was not born in a cave. He was born in a swamp, just to name a few. There’s no evidence of him being baptized. There’s no evidence of miracles. There’s no evidence of a sermon on the mount. The whole idea about December 25th is also problematic because there was no such thing as December 25th back then. In fact, that date even in the Christian scholarship, scholars, New Testament scholars are divided on the exact birthday of Christ. Most scholars I read and where I sort of lean as an archaeologist is that December 25th, obviously that date was not, you didn’t use it during the time of Jesus’s birth but was sort of calculated based on astronomy, based on astronomical calculations, is really the time in which the three magi came to visit Jesus after His birth in Bethlehem, so that has to do not with Jesus’s birth but when the magi came. He was probably about a year or two old at the time.
Kurt: Right. A lot of people get that messed up.
Ted: Yes. So none of these claims, none of these claims hold any water when you really dig down into them and obviously many people may be aware, hieroglyphics was not really, people that know how to read hieroglyphics, for thousands of years it was a lost are until the French scholar Champollion deciphered the Rosetta Stone and then taught everyone how to read hieroglyphics and then it was a whole huge cascade of scholarship that kind of came out and as when we begin to uncover Egyptian texts on temple walls and palace walls and things like that you could see the Egyptian evidence really kind of melting away that these things just don’t really hold any water.
Kurt: Right. Exactly. Like I said, you’ve got to get to the primary text. Ted. I know you listed a few. I’ve got a couple here just from this great chart that I found, so regarding the virgin birth, so Osiris, and sometimes it’s said that these guys are also born of virgins supposedly, so regarding the birth of Osiris, well he was born of an adulterous affair between different gods. Regarding Horus, Isis and Osiris, first, two unborn gods had intercourse in their mothers’ womb. Second, Isis has intercourse with Osiris’s dead body. Three, Isis is impregnated by Osiris after his death. Four, Isis impregnated by a flash of lightning. So you have different accounts here and of course they’re not virgin births. Lastly Mithras sprang forth from a rock near a river bed so to say that he’s born of a virgin, we’re not talking about the same thing here, so it’s really key to get to the primary sources and that’s really how we can handle the Jesus pagan origins or the Jesus mythicism out there today.
Kurt: So with that I want to play this six minute or so clip with Dr. Bart Ehrman who is a New Testament critic. He’s a skeptic. He’s not a believer, but he does believe that Jesus is a historical figure so go ahead and sit back and listen to this interview that Ehrman has with a Jesus mythicist.
Kurt: Alright. So that’s Dr. Bart Ehrman talking with a Jesus skeptic, Jesus mythicist, and so just very fascinating how prepared Dr. Ehrman was to handle those objections and he even wrote a book just on that topic because he had begun encountering not scholars but rather just people who began to question him about this and so now if you ever find in your research or if you are just willing to admit for the sake of argument that there is some correlation, Ted, I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but I’ve seen a video with Dr. Mike Licona who talks about this and in logic, this is also a fallacy, when there’s a lack of evidence, but just because there may be a correlation doesn’t mean that there’s a causation. So Ted I’m wondering, have you heard of the 1898 novel by Morgan Robertson? This is what’s called The Wreck of the Titan and this is a fictional novel about an ocean liner which sinks in the north Atlantic after striking, Ted, an iceberg.
Kurt: 1898. Right?
Ted: Sounds familiar.
Kurt: Yeah. Sounds familiar. The ocean liner’s named the Titan. It sinks after hitting an iceberg.
Ted: Question. Sorry to interrupt you Kurt. Was Leonardo DiCaprio on that ship?
Kurt: Yeah. Right. So surely the Titanic didn’t actually exist because it’s just a copycat off of the Titan. Right? This is a perfect example where just because there’s a correlation of propositions, I don’t want to say facts because that might confuse things.
Ted: Correct. And that also assumes if there is in fact a correlation and in some cases sometimes that will be the case but as I mentioned earlier with Horus, what appears to be a correlation actually is not upon closer examination of the actual primary sources, but yes,
Kurt: So I’m saying.
Ted: And I’ve heard Mike talk about that.
Kurt: Even if there were correlation, but there’s not, but even if there were, that doesn’t mean there’s a causal relationship, just like we see here with The Wreck of The Titan and the actual sinking of the Titanic. Even the names of the ocean liners are so similar. The Titan and the Titanic. That’s just astounding. So that’s really fascinating that something you can keep in your arsenal if you encounter someone who brings about this Jesus Mythicism, but okay, so we’ve got to move along. We’ve got to take a short break here Ted. I appreciate you sticking with me thus far and we’ll catch you back after this short break from a word from our sponsors.
Kurt: Alright. Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors and now is the time of the show that we like to call Rapid Questions. I’m here with Ted Wright and we’re discussing various objections to Christmas and before we get into the next segment on sort of historical or textual objections of which we’re going to at least focus on one, we’ve got a round of Rapid Questions and this is a segment of the show where we ask short light-hearted questions and looking for fast responses so Ted, are you ready?
Ted: Yes. I’m ready.
Kurt: Okay. We’ve got a minute here and we’re going to start the clock and get going right away. What’s your clothing store of choice?
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Kurt: What song is playing on the radio these days?
Ted: I don’t know.
Kurt: Where would you like to live?
Kurt: Favorite sport.
Kurt: What fruit would you say your head is shaped like?
Kurt: Have you ever planked?
Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Kurt: That’s a shame. Have you ever driven on the other side of the road?
Ted: Yes. Many times.
Kurt: What’s the wrong thing you’d be sure to keep with you if you were stranded on an island?
Kurt: Hokey Pokey, Electric Slide, or the Macarena?
Kurt: If you were a baseball pitch, which one would you be?
Ted: I don’t watch baseball. I don’t know.
Kurt: Alright. Thanks so much for playing Rapid Questions. So Norway? What attracts you to Norway?
Ted: Oh wow. If you had ever been there you would know. It’s absolutely the most beautiful place. I’ve been there twice and it’s such a beautiful place.
Kurt: And now I see from Facebook that you’re a hiker. You like to do a lot of hiking.
Ted: Absolutely. Hiking. Outdoors. Mountaineering. Norway has it all.
Kurt: Yeah. How often do you make it over there?
Ted: It’s got the ocean. It’s got mountains. I like cold weather even though I am from the South, I do love cold weather.
Kurt: Interesting. Okay then, so let’s transition over to the category of historical objections to Christmas and so one of those that I had picked out, there’s another smaller one that maybe I’ll end with, but one of the main ones pertaining to the Gospel accounts is the census of, I think I’m saying it correctly, Quirinius. Correct me if I’m mistaken on that.
Ted: Yes. That’s correct.
Kurt: And so there’s a number of NT scholars, especially non-Christians ones that say this is an example where Luke has gone astray and now Luke has usually gotten a bad rap over the last couple hundred of years as being a bad historian, however upon closer examination and the more we discover archaeological findings, we see that Luke was actually correct, but here, we’ve got one instance, the census of Quirinius, that seems to be, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to help support Luke’s statement, so what are the ways in which, I mean I’ve read up a little bit on it online, how would you get around the issue here and maybe then for our listeners you can sort of flush out more so what the objection is exactly.
Ted: Sure. Absolutely. That’s a great question and the question does pop up. In fact, about a year or so ago for Cross-Examined and I could post that as well, but by all accounts and interestingly you played the excerpt from Bart Ehrman which I was pleasantly, I had not heard that before. I knew about it. I knew about it, but I had never actually heard it and he’s absolutely correct and any historian worth their salt understands that there’s a lot of historical information that you can glean from the Scripture and Luke is no different. In fact, Luke is a wealth of historical information. In fact, I would call Luke one of the best historians in the ancient world. In Luke 1 in the Gospel of Luke, of course many people are aware, that Luke of course wrote the book of Acts as well so Luke and Acts go together, but in Luke 1 in verse 1 and then 3 and 4. He opens his Gospel this way to kind of let people know. He says
“Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us… it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.”
The two things that Luke is concerned with primarily in his Gospel account, #1 is order and #2 is accuracy, so order and accuracy so that a certain Theophilus, and there’s different thoughts about who that Theophilus may be. Is he a Roman official or is he an early believer?
Kurt: Or even a generic person.
Ted: Exactly. It’s not absolutely critical to the message, but the point is he’s writing to this guy named Theophilus that he might know the certainty of those things in which he was instructed. Several years ago I was speaking with Josh McDowell and Josh actually sent me, he told me about someone who knew, I don’t know if it’s one of his students or someone he knew, but there was a guy who did either his Master’s or Doctoral dissertation on the identification of Luke and Acts and his theory was that, and it’s very interesting and I’m still not convinced to an absolute conclusion on this, but the guy’s theory was Luke and Acts was written to a lawyer in Rome, that this was his legal case, cause Paul was on trial in Rome and it was basically an orderly account of everything that had happened up to that point for Paul so basically this is Paul’s legal document and in the legal document you get the defense of who Christ was to the Roman government so it’s sort of like right at the heart of Rome this excellent Theophlius.
Ted: So you know, that’s neither here nor there. The point is to go back, we were talking earlier, it’s about the orderly account, and the great classical archaeologist William Ramsay basically said that Luke was a first-rate historian. He said quote, I’m just going to quote William Ramsay here, “That Luke’s historical works are of the highest order in which a writer commands excellent means of knowledge either through personal acquaintance or through access through original authorities and brings treatment of the subject genius, literary skill, and sympathetic historical insight into human character and movement of events. Such an author seizes critical events, concentrates the reader’s attention on them by giving them fuller treatment.”
And so one such event and we were talking about now and Luke is talking about the very famous Christmas story.
Kurt: Luke 2:1-3.
Ted: Luke 2. Absolutely. So since it’s Christmas Eve I think it’s appropriate we can read that and if you don’t mind Kurt, I’d kind of like to read through that, Luke 2:1-5.
“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.”
Ted: And again, that’s Luke 2:1-5. Very famous Christmas passage that’s been read and will be read tonight, tomorrow, talked about throughout this week and throughout this holiday season. The question is, did this happen? Do we have any historical record of this happening? For many years historians and scholars have pointed to that passage that we just read mentioning this decree by Quirinius as problematic if not completely inaccurate. They basically say that we don’t really, there’s really not any evidence of a census really taking place of the entire Roman world during that time and whether or not Mary or Joseph actually went up to Bethlehem to be registered as Luke’s Gospel says so what I’m going to do, and again, some of this research, is absolutely not original to me at all. I did a lot of digging. There’s different theories about this and different ways to answer it.
Ted: And I found out that, three scholars that I want to mention and one of the book I know and I’m pretty sure is actually out of print but I’m going to mention anyway, some folks may be able to find it, a used copy in a library.
Kurt: Or maybe online.
Ted: It’s written by a scholar named Harold Hoehner and it’s called Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. Dr. Hoehner did his Ph.D. at Cambridge University. He was professor of NT literature and exegesis at Dallas Seminary and this book is his years of research on the historical record and these are non-Christian sources, based on these very specific dates in the life of Christ, so Dr. Hoehner mentions this and then another NT scholar, I believe he’s British, I’m not positive, is Dr. Jack Finegan and it’s The Archaeology of the New Testament by Jack Finegan and then there’s another one, more up-to-date, well it’s actually, it’s sort of a general book and I kind of like it. I’m not absolutely crazy about it, but I think it’s a pretty good book. It’s by John McRay. It’s called Archaeology and the New Testament and so all three of these scholars deal with this somewhat problem. It’s really not a problem. It’s actually when you dig into the historical record, there’s several ways to look at this. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to kind of summarize Harold Hoehner. Hoehner mentions a scholar that many people may not be familiar with. He’s a Jewish scholar, very liberal Jewish scholar, back, I believe he was in the late 19th century, early 20th century named Emil Schurer and Emil Schurer states that Luke cannot be historically accurate because nothing is known in history of the general census during the time of Augustus. He also says that in a Roman census Joseph would not have had to travel to Bethlehem to be registered and then he mentions some other things here. He also mentions Josephus records nothing of a Roman census in Palestine in the time of Herod so he’s saying that when we read Josephus we don’t see the census and also a census held under Quirinius could not have happened during Herod’s reign for Quirinius was not governor till after Herod’s death, so when you look at the first glance of this it seems that objections to a Roman census during the reign of Emperor Augustus and Quirinius may seem insurmountable. Now just to let folks know, a governor like, to go back to Roman politics in the first century during Jesus’s birth, the emperor of the Roman empire was Octavius or Caesar Augustus. The Latin title of that office is called imperator. The governor is called a legatus. In Latin, it’s governor so it’s how we roughly translate as governor. We do have evidence that there was a certain Quirinius that was legatus or governor of Syria during this time. The question then is what of a census? What about when Quirinius was governing Syria? So that’s the question so there’s a couple different ways that we can actually resolve this issue and it’s actually very much a historical event. Apart from Luke, to go back to Luke 2:2, it says this census first took place when Quirinius was governing Syria and apart from Luke we have two other historical sources concerning Quirinius. We have the Roman historian Tacitus in his writing Annals 3.48 and we also have the Jewish roman writer Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews. According to Tacitus, Sulpicius Quirinius died in A.D. 21. Josephus’s reference to Quirinius in Antiquities of the Jews poses somewhat of a problem because he does let us know that the taxes conducted by Quirinius while governing Syria were made in the 37th year of Caesar’s victory over Marc Antony at Actium in 31 B.C. so this would place the census in about A.D. 6 or 7, a date that would be too late to brought in line with the birth of Christ, but in Luke’s account in Luke 2, Luke speaks of the census which first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria, so it’s not out of the question that the census which Josephus was referring was the second one while Luke mentions the first one, so in other words there must have been an earlier census that took place. Another New Testament scholar that I would point people to as well is Gleason Archer. He’s actually an Old Testament scholar, but he actually touches this as well, so it very well could be, in fact it’s very likely the case that there was several censuses that took place. There’s additional evidence too as well Kurt that suggests that Quirinius served as governor twice which would put him in an official position over Syria to enact the Census of chapter 2. In 1784 a Latin inscription was discovered near Tivoli located about 20 miles northeast of Rome and this inscription’s known as the Lapis Tiburtinus inscription. According to this inscription, the inscription contains the statement of a high Roman official that when he became governor of Syria he entered the office for a second time. It’s even been thought and very likely that this person is Quirinius.
Kurt: So it’s not outside of the realm, yeah, of plausibility that this happened.
Ted: Absolutely. Totally. For sure.
Kurt: And there’s evidence that there were multiple censuses that occurred within ten years of each other so I recall from my study of Egypt that that happened and then lastly another point here that’s often brought up by scholars is the Greek word here from the previous verse, not about Quirinius, but about Augustus, was that the census should occur in all the land and so here people, some translations have it all the Roman Empire, but some think that’s going beyond Luke’s intention because Luke uses that same word in the book of Acts where he talks about a regional famine so that word, that Greek word could just apply to the region which would explain that. Okay. Ted. We’ve got to move along here. Let me just ask you this then. Did Joseph and Mary have to return to Bethlehem or what was going on there?
Ted: Yes. Very interestingly, in their ancestral homeland they knew of course I’m sure, I’m very well aware that Mary and Joseph definitely understood the significant of the passage in the Old Testament, that’s Micah 5:2, that mentions that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem so very interestingly, the idea that they could go to their ancestral homeland was not out of the ordinary for Jews to do this. It says that they went to Bethlehem, the city of David, because he was of the house and lineage of David, so the objection comes from people who say, if it was a Roman census then Joseph would not have had to travel to Bethlehem, would be registered as primary town of residence and Mary would not have to register at all. Jews understood that Roman law instructed property owners to register for taxation in the district that they owned land, however the prior is dated to about 1 or 4 A.D. records an Egyptian prefect who ordered Egyptians to return to their ancestral homes so that a census could be taken. In 1st century Rome, since Jews’ property was linked to their fathers, that is their patriarchal fathers, their patriarchal, that would have been Bethlehem, the Romans would have certainly allowed them the custom of laying claim to their family estate for taxation. Since every person needed to appear in his ancestral homeland and since Mary was betrothed to Joseph and pregnant with her child, the two then would travel to Bethlehem together so surely again, Mary and Joseph would have understood the Scriptures and the prophecies concerning Israel’s Messiah in Micah 5:2, that He must be born in Bethlehem, so you think about this from Mary and Joseph’s perspective. They see all this happening and I’m sure they’re just amazed that all of these pieces of the puzzle were beginning to fall in place even if the pieces of the puzzle were official decrees by the Roman empire, so once again when the Scripture is placed under the scrutiny of archaeological and historical research, it definitely stands the test in amazing ways, and this is just one example Kurt of where archaeology and history corroborate with Scripture in the finest detail and again we mentioned earlier that Luke’s Gospel is the first of a two-part volume set and Acts is the second, and I’m not sure if you’ve ever discussed Colin Hemer’s massive book or the study he did called The Book of Acts and its Setting in Hellenistic History in which Colin Hemer lists at least eighty-four historical facts in the last sixteen chapters of Acts that have been confirmed either through archaeological or historical research, and again this all comes back to the fact that Luke is a first-rate historian.
Kurt: Yeah. Yeah. It seems that maybe on this one it’s not as, we can’t be as confident as with other issues, but nevertheless, there seems to be decent plausibility that what he said here is accurate and to that let me also then close on this issue at this point. To that we can’t neglect that the Gospels themselves are historical documents. For some reason people think therefore that they’re just untrustworthy because maybe they mention this guy Jesus and He’s doing miracles, but they themselves, suppose you want to reject and not be a believer. You reject the miracle claims. There’s no reason why we should reject Luke’s claim that a census occurred and add that to our arsenal of facts that we know about history, so we can’t just neglect the Gospels on ideological basis. It has to be a historical one so I think the only way we can dismiss Luke on this point about the census is if we had evidence to the contrary and so since we don’t have that, I think Luke is just fine in the historical claim that he’s making.
Kurt: Ted. Hey. Well we’ve got to rack up here shortly. I just want to thank you so much for coming on the show here and lending your knowledge, your wisdom, your insight to these various Christmas objections, especially to Quirinius. I know the archaeology stuff is your cup of tea so thanks so much for coming on the show and I’m looking forward to working with you and Epic Archaeology in the future.
Ted: Thank you so much Kurt and it’s been a joy to be with you today and I hope you have a Merry Christmas.
Kurt: Yeah. Merry Christmas to you Ted and thanks so much. Bye Bye.
Ted: Thank you. Take care! Bye bye.
Kurt: I hope that you’ve enjoyed these segments that we covered about the Christmas objections, about the Jesus mythicist objections, about Quirinius and the census and then just lastly I want to close on one little small point here. The Christmas narrative that we hear, the innkeeper. Where is the innkeeper? He’s not in there. He’s not in the Gospels. It’s true. He’s not in there. This is because the word inn is translated from a certain Greek word which when you look at it it’s not really the best translation. The better translation, and some of the translations of the Bible are actually fixing this now, is that there was no room for them in the guest room, the guest room. And so that’s why Jesus was laid in a manger because based on the housing structures, the animals were down below and people lived up high so the heat of the animals would actually help heat the home and so Joseph and Mary went down to where the animals slept basically because there was no room for them in the guest room, so that’s just another little objection that there’s no inn in the Gospels. It might be something that you may encounter. It might not be. But nevertheless, it’s an important fact to know, so we had one comment come in, a question, so I get to play this favorite tune of mine. This favorite jingle.
Kurt: Okay. So we had David write in with a question. He says that his biggest criticism of Christianity is this. Which one? We both know there are multiple versions of Christianity. Most of which you don’t believe in, but they feel just as strongly about you, so this isn’t about you, but rather about Christianity in general. Upon what authority can you say one version is right and the other is wrong? That’s a very good question David and you’re absolutely correct that there are different versions if you will. There are different worldviews within the broad Christian camp or as we call them denominations and so these denominations have their different beliefs on different theological matters so how do we know which one is correct? Well, I affirm and am sympathetic to what’s called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral for authority. This considers the various ways in which we can have knowledge. First we have of course since we’re Christians, we have the authority of the Scripture, the Bible itself is authoritative, but added to that are other ways we can know things. For example the use of reason, logic and reason. We can deduce certain things about the way the world is. We can even make certain deductions about what the Scriptural text is saying, certain theological matters. The use of reason is one of those things. Our own personal experience. Now you might think, “Well experiences are subjective,” and that’s true, but that still doesn’t mean that knowledge cannot come from them, so for example especially experiential knowledge. I have an experience of seeing my wife’s face when I wake up in the morning. Right? That’s an experience. That’s knowledge that I have because I had that experience. Some experiences now may not line up with reality so really there’s still room there for discussion as to how we can know which experiences are valid or invalid, but I do want to say that there are valid subjective experiences, and finally there’s also the authority of tradition or the church. Here we have an authority that we do give to people who are in a certain place and time and who considered things and gave us decisions that they believed represented the whole of Christendom. Now before I go outside of the New Testament church, let me give a fine example here. Before the New Testament canon was formed, before the Gospels were written, the early church had a tradition, they had sayings that they passed on, the teachings of Jesus, this was part of a tradition. It wasn’t part of the text. It wasn’t part of reason per se properly speaking. It was, however, based on the experiences of the disciples and they shared that experience by telling it and even canonizing certain phrases such as what you see in 1 Cor. 15 and so here you have the tradition, the authority of the church community so there is some aspect there to that so I think a cumulative case is needed when we are to access which version of Christianity is correct and which one is wrong so for example, I am not a Calvinist on the basis of I think Calvinism misinterprets the Scripture on issues pertaining to what is commonly called the TULIP. Of course, I think Calvinists are correct on core Christian beliefs, but on certain issues, on soteriology, so the issue of salvation, and the nature of man, theological anthropology, I think they are mistaken, and so for that, there are debates of course. Yes. We have different beliefs and they believe just as strongly that I think they’re wrong and they think I’m wrong, but ultimately it’s a cumulative case effort in order to discover what the truth is, so I hope that helps answer your question, but if not go ahead and write back in and follow up with me and hopefully we’ll have this on the matter, but otherwise too for any of you listeners you can give me a call so the number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. You can call at any time throughout the week and leave me a message. I’d love to hear from you. Alright. That does it for our show today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons and the partnerships with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, we have the Illinois Family Institute, and we have Evolution 2.0. I want to thank my brother Todd actually who is sitting here screening calls for me today. Thanks for coming in while the rest of the tech team has been off due to the holiday, and a special thanks to Ted Wright for discussing with us, giving us his thoughts on these various objections to Christmas, and I also want to say thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.