Archive for category Census of Luke

Light In The Darkness

2020 has been a very difficult year. I’m sure by now many people are tired and weary. 2020 has been a disruptive year and I’m sure many will be glad to see the back of it. But we should never assume 2021 will be any better. Times do not change because Big Ben strikes twelve. Time is a flat circle and evil, fanaticism and sins are forever busy.

In my opinion, we do not live in a good era. Attacks and destruction are becoming too common. Massive earthquakes, floods, homelessness, deadly pandemics are slowly becoming over familiar. There is a lot of suffering out there and I would rather live in the past. Although there are some things of modernity that I am fond of, the world has become a very dark and cruel place, where people are trapped in a marred lens of imposing worldviews. Governments are proposing a Covid-19 vaccine, yet there is a continuous air of mistrust. Times are sneaky and untrustworthy. Everything is up for grabs. People are starving, while grab and greed are running amok.

Although England is an intrinsically peaceful country, things are changing and nowadays, she too seems to be running amok. Political chaos, and division. Riots, protests, lockdowns, corruption and deceptive conceit. It seems that everybody has an opinion yet few want to be challenged. Everyone is right in their own eyes. Many people are becoming aggressive toward any challenge of their beliefs and discussions are being restrained. Many fear that ‘freedom of speech’ is under attack. Maybe it is.

I’ll not rant, but it seems as the saying goes, the world has gone mad and I’m inclined to agree.

The ancient Greco Roman world was, (in my opinion), a much more safer world to live in. I say this because things were much quieter back then and the air was clean. For certain, dictators existed, and the powers that be, but they were fewer in number. People thought more and spoke slower. Communities were proper. Although I admire past times, I am fully aware the ancient worlds were not without their troubles and monstrous evils. If we focus upon the ancient Biblical lands, King Herod was by all accounts a wicked person. History purports, ‘Better to be one of Herod’s pigs than his son‘. Matthew 2: 16-18 claims it was Herod who ordered the slaughter of the innocents around the birth of Christ. This, by all accounts is entirely accurate and the type of thing that Herod was capable of ordering. Josephus records that Herod ordered ‘nobles’ executed at his death to ensure mourning.

The ancients didn’t celebrate Christmas as we do today. Studies show that it is very unlikely that Jesus was actually born on December 25. In a previous article I demonstrate how the Messiah was probably born at Nissan. In another previous article I have offered discussion concerning the historic possibilities of St. Luke’s references to the Census of Augustus and its whereabouts in his ancient world. These studies offer more insight for us to consider and can present a very real view of a very real world that once existed. The world of the New Testament was as real for the Gospel writers (and the Apostles) as today is for us. Consciousness was no less real for ancient persons than it is for each one of us. Evil has always been a very real existence. Yet Matthew and Luke’s Gospels communicate that as the Christ-child was born God was doing a great thing. The world was being redeemed and the Saviour was born to bring peace on earth and goodwill to mankind (Luke 2: 14). This is in the context of mankind being offered peace with God. But all around, things were all but peaceful. Matthew’s Gospel references the story of the wise men and the Massacre of the Innocents (by order of Herod) of all new born babies up to the age of two. Justin Martyr (c. 100 – c. 165 AD) claimed these wise men (Magi) were from Arabia (c. 160, E, 1.237). Matthew claims the wise men were warned in a dream that they “should not return to Herod” (Matthew 2: 12). Herod then viciously ordered a Massacre of all the male children and this evil happening was an angry response (from a wicked ruler) to the wise men who had deceived him.

Matthew puts it this way:

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.” (Matthew 2: 16. NKJV)

Yet although things seemed dark, God was at work. Matthew records the famous “star” that appeared around the Messiah’s birth was seen in the East. In a previous article I discuss what this star could have been? Whatever it was, be it an actual star or the glory of the Lord, this light shone in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not. Herod did not see beyond the narrow limits of his own mind and his own self-governed materialistic worldview.

Today, historians and astrologers know full well this star was not a tale of fiction. Ancient Greco Roman coins from Antioch, Syria from the time of Augustus affirm the star was a historically verifiable event.

Ignatius writes:

How, then, was He manifested to the world? A star shone forth in heaven above all the other stars. The light from this star was inexpressible, and its uniqueness struck men with astonishment.” (Ignatius. c. 105, E, 1.57)

What is clear is that the world is, and always has been a mess. Ever since Cain murdered Abel, this wretched world awaits a day of reckoning. That day will come, and although I confess, there are a lot of good and nice things in this world, (and I paint a dim picture), can you not see that evil is and always will be. Light cannot exist without darkness. Just as evil needs exist in order for good to triumph and yet through it all, God is speaking.

Regardless of the enemies of Christianity, or coronavirus, politics, cancel culture, or dates, times or seasons, Christmas exists in the heart. It is not a time, it is a state of being. Nothing can take that away from you. So regardless of what this world throws at you, be good to one another and remember that Jesus said “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16: 33)

Can you not hear His voice?

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Tertullian and the Census of Luke 2: 1-2

Forum Rome © 2018 Simon Peter Sutherland

Forum Rome © Simon Peter Sutherland

Around 197 AD, early Christian author Tertullian, wrote concerning the Roman Census of Cyrinius. In his writing Tertullian claimed that there was a reference to the Mary of the Gospels “among the Romans“. The English translation of his words read like;

Jesus was from the native soil of Bethlehem, and from the house of David. For, among the Romans, Mary is described in the census, of whom Christ was born.” (c. 197, W), 3.164. (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. Birth of Jesus. Page 69. Hendrickson.)

This ancient historic claim is intriguing because it implies that Tertullian himself had seen archival evidence of the census written about in the Gospel of Luke. The text reads like so;

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.” (Luke 2: 1-2. NKJV)

This archival evidence has clearly vanished from our modern world, yet it seems that both Luke and Tertullian had access to documentation concerning the Roman census.

In a previous article, I theorised over the possibilities that the Census of Luke 2: 1-2 may have been referenced in The Mausoleum of Augustus on the funerary Res Gestae Divi Augusti in Rome. If this is true, then we have two Biblically external evidences that help collaborate the historicity of the Census of Luke 2: 1-2.

In the forum of Rome there are the remains of the ancient Curia Julia. The majority of the legal trials were held in that place. It is therefore possible that the census referenced by Tertullian was once held within the archives of the forum.

History tells us that Tertullian went to Rome after completing his education in Carthage. It was in Rome that Tertullian became interested in the Christian movement and did not return to Carthage until the end of the 2nd century. This places Tertullian as researching Christianity in Rome when documented evidence of the Census of Luke 2: 1-2 was still extant.

 

 

 

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Luke 2: 1-2: Augustus, the Census and Rome

Rome © 2018 Simon Peter SutherlandWell, the Christmas season is upon us! Yet recent months and hours have been a strange time for the people of Britain. England is politically divided and chaotic, the country appears to be tearing itself apart and it is difficult for the average person to see any bright future? However, I have repeatedly stated that an East Wind is coming, and I believe it is. But I know that God is in control.

Sometimes in this wicked world, it is necessary for a person to set himself apart and come away a while. In November I visited Rome. This was my third visit. Rome is a bustling busy city, and being there is like walking through an outdoor museum. The streets are filled with ancient rubble. A person who visits Rome is walking in the footsteps of historic giants.

Rome Forum © 2018 Simon Peter SutherlandThe Roman Forum is by far one of my beloved areas of Rome. Here I can bathe myself in Biblical history and bring myself back to what really matters. Biblical Truth! Here stands The Arch of Titus, The Temple of Caster and Pollux, The Curia Julia, where Paul stood trial. The location of the conflict between Peter and Simon Magus.  The Mamertine Prison, where tradition claims Peter and Paul were imprisoned.

Across the way from the Mamertine, there stands the remains of the ancient Forum of Augustus. This forum was inaugurated in 2 BC by the man who decreed the census to be taken around the time when Jesus was in the womb of Mary.

In Luke 2: 1-2 it reads: “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.” (NKJV)

By Luke’s reference to “all the world” I take that to mean all the Roman world. The Greek (G3625) is with special reference to a part of the globe, “specifically the Roman Empire”. However, the facts surrounding the census are still a matter of much debate.

Yet in The Mausoleum of Augustus, Rome, there once stood Bronze pillars which had an engraved reference to a Census of Augustus. This funerary inscription is known as “Res Gestae Divi Augusti“. It was upon this inscription where Augustus recorded the achievements he had made during his life. One such achievement reads “CENSVM-POPVLI”. This when translated reads ‘I did a census‘.

Dates for this census are well established, but my question is; could this reference be remotely related to the census written about by St. Luke? After three visits to Rome I have concluded that Luke probably wrote his Gospel from this ancient City of Seven Hills. However, some modern scholars claim there is no historic evidence for the census of Luke 2: 1-2. Yet in claiming this they assume Luke’s narrative is not a reliable source. Likewise, they sometimes fail to explore the possibilities of other arguments and views that differ to their own. They often likewise ignore the possible translations issues concerning the correct rendition of (G2958) and the possibility of a continued or repeated census.

In a pause of reflection, what strikes me about Augustus and the “Gestae Divi Augusti” is how historically absolute it is that this Roman Emperor was distinctly associated with a census. Whichever way we look at it, we cannot dismiss that Augustus was known for a census of the Roman world.

What Luke was communicating was a fulfilment of the Scripture that a ruler over Israel would come out of Bethlehem (Micah 5: 2). That the ancestral home of Joseph was Bethlehem. Yet, when Augustus Caesar did his census, he thought he was bringing this about of his own power. But Luke was communicating that it was God who was bringing it to pass, not man.

Here we can learn. The world is a mess. People are sinful and depraved. Does that mean that Christ is not reigning or a Ruler? Has God lost control of His universe? On the contrary. There is no greater way to cause people to change their ways than pain. In the Scriptures God often hands nations over to corrupt leaders to teach them and bring them to repentance. Yet He must have been reigning in order to have done such things.

It is Christ who holds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1: 3) there is no governing power outside of Him. By bringing about a Census, Augustus was doing the will of God, not the will of man. We all must learn from that. Christ is in control.

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