Luke 2:2. And this taxing (rather this enrolling) was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Cyrenius was not governor of Syria till ten or twelve years after our Saviour’s birth, after Archelaus was deposed, and the country brought under a Roman procurator; yet, according to our translation of Luke here, he was governor before the death of Herod, the father and predecessor of Archelaus, and in the same year when Christ was born. Now as, on the one hand, it cannot be supposed that a writer so accurate as Luke (were he considered only as a common historian) should make so gross a mistake as to confound the enrolment in the reign of Herod with that taxation under Cyrenius, which happened many years after; so, on the other hand, it is hard to conceive that Josephus should be mistaken in an affair of so public a nature, so important, and so recent when he wrote his history. To remove this difficulty, 1st, Some have supposed a corruption of the original text in Luke; and that, instead of Cyrenius, it ought to be read Saturninus, who, according to Josephus, was prefect of Syria within a year or two before Herod’s death. 2d, Others have thought it probable, that the original name in Luke was Quintilius; since Quintilius Varus succeeded Saturninus, and was in the province of Syria when Herod died. But all the Greek manuscripts remonstrate against both these solutions. Therefore, 3d, Mr. Whiston and Dr. Prideaux suppose, that the words of the preceding verse, In those days there went out a decree, &c., refer to the time of making the census; and the subsequent words, This enrolment was first made, &c., to the time of levying the tax. “When Judea,” says the latter, “was put under a Roman procurator, then taxes were first paid to the Romans and Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, who is in Greek called Cyrenius, was governor of Syria: so that there were two distinct particular actions in this matter, done at two distinct and different times: the first was making the survey, and the second the levying the tax thereupon. And the first verse here is to be understood of the former, and the second only of the latter. And this reconciles that evangelist with Josephus; for it is manifest from that author, that Cyrenius was not governor of Syria, or any tax levied on Judea, till Archelaus was deposed. And therefore the making of the description cannot be that which was done while Cyrenius was governor of Syria; but the levying the tax thereon certainly was.” In accordance with this interpretation of the passage, Dr. Campbell reads the verse, This first register took effect when Cyrenius was president of Syria, observing that, by this translation of the words, divers objections are obviated. “The register,” says he, “whatever was the intention of it, was made in Herod’s time, but had then little or no consequences. When, after the banishment of Archelaus, Judea was annexed to Syria, and converted into a province, the register of the inhabitants formerly taken served as a directory for laying on the census, to which the country was then subjected. Not but that there must have happened considerable changes on the people during that period. But the errors which these changes might occasion, could, with proper attention, be easily rectified. And thus it might be justly said, that an enrolment which had been made several years before, did not take effect, or produce consequences worthy of notice, till then.” Dr. Hammond and Dr. Lardner, however, give what many think a still easier solution of this difficulty, rendering the words thus: This was the first enrolment of Cyrenius, governor of Syria, supposing that Cyrenius (afterward governor of Syria, and at the time Luke wrote well known by that title) was employed in making the first enrolment of the inhabitants of Judea in the reign of Herod; to which purpose Dr. Hammond quotes Suidas as relating, on the authority of an ancient author, that “Cesar Augustus, desiring to know the strength and state of his dominions, sent twenty chosen men, one into one part, another into another, to take this account; and that Publius Sulpicius Quirinius had Syria for his province.” The reader will of course adopt the interpretation which he judges most probable.
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