Thursday, March 07, 2019

Eusebius, EH.1.5: The Date of Christ's Birth

Image: Excavation, Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

The next installment of Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History is now posted: book 1, chapter 5 (listen here).

Notes and Commentary:

This is a very short chapter.

Having presented an introduction or prelude to the life of Jesus from the OT, Eusebius begins with providing a date for the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

He places it in the forty-second year of Augustus and the twenty-eighth year after the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra. Lake points out in a note that this would place the birth year of Jesus as being in 1 BC, but this would not fit with Matthew which says that Jesus was born during Herod the Great’s reign, and he died in 4 BC.

He also mentions that the birth of Jesus was during the census of Quirinius of Syria mentioned in Luke and equates this with the rise of Judas the Galilean “in the days of the taxing” mentioned in Acts 5:37 and also in the writings of Josephus. Lake points out, however, that Eusebius is mistaken, since this occurred in AD 6 and would thus contradict the information in Matthew and Luke. Traditional scholars suggest that the census mentioned in Luke 2:1-3 was earlier than the one noted in Acts 5:37 and in Josephus.

This chapter shows both how important it was for early Christians to understand that Jesus had been born as a man in history, but also how difficult it is to establish his birth date (birth year) with precision. We rely on the sufficiency of Scripture.


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