At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
Luke 2:1, 2 NLT
When I was a child I was asked to do a reding at the Christmas Eve service at the church where my father served. It seems to me, that every single year I ended up with the “Quirinius was the governor of Syria” bit. I remember tripping over that name on Christmas Eve over and over again.
I was self-conscious and reading in public was tough for me. It always seemed that my eyes went faster than my mouth and that was always a problem.
This Christmas everything is different. I’ve blogged about the fact that my routine is out of whack. And that continues to be true. But it is also true that I am seeing many things with new perspective, new eyes, because of my experience in the Holy Land at the beginning of Advent.
And this little passage of the narrative of Jesus’ birth is no different. It jumped out at me this evening as I browsed Scripture, trying to decide if I had the energy to write a blog today. It jumped out of me because of something I read about Quirinius, a number of years ago. I believe it was in Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ… The details are a little fuzzy to me now, but what I read went something like this: for years biblical scholars thought that the mention of Quirinius as governor of Syria was an error. There was a Quirinius, the scholars and historians said, but he ruled a generation before the birth of Christ. So this was thought of as a fallacy in the historical accuracy of the Bible. But then, as seems to happen so very often in that ancient part of the world, somebody found a coin during an excavation. The coin was imprinted with a date – the time of Jesus’ birth – and had the figurehead of…you guessed it, Quirinius, governor of Syria. And all the scholars and historians had to change their views, because this was proof that there was indeed a Quirinius governing in Syria at the time of Jesus’ birth (if I am not mistaken, it was the other Quirinius’ son).
Now, the reason that jumps out at me as I read the Scriptures this evening, is that a little over 2 weeks ago, I stood on the shores of the Mediterranean at Ceasarea Maratima while gazing at a stone engraved with another biblical name – Pontius Pilate – as we heard a very similar story about how all the scholars believed Pilate was just a literary construct, not a real person. Then some fishermen were making their dinner on the breezy shores of the Mediterranean one evening. The wind was a little too much and they needed shelter for their fire. So they found a flat rock, and they propped it up, blocking the wind. As the fire crackled and their dinner cooked, one of the fishermen noticed that their wind-break-rock bore some writing. In fact, it bore a name. A familiar name: “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea.” And all the scholars and historians had to change their views.
I think God must delight in those moments – when someone flips over a stone or picks up a coin and the word of God is proved accurate. For me, I will grin any time I read that “Quirinius was the Governor of Syria” and remember that there is a lot of evidence for my faith.
Above: The Pilate Stone – evidence that Pilate was who the Bible says he was.