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The Birth of Christ: History or Myth

by Abraham Smith

This is a time of year when many of us will enjoy time with our loved ones. It is also a time of year when some people will take the opportunity to share with us how wrong they think the Bible is in its record of the birth of Christ. It is for this reason that I would like to share my following article. I do not share this article because I think Jesus was born on December 25 or that He desired that we reverence that day. But it is important for us to know that one day a Savior was born!   

Luke's Accurate History

Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes will He really find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).

Do you have problems accepting the biblical account of the birth of Jesus? Are you persuaded that relevant facts or information would lead to doubt of the biblical account? If so, I say as the Apostle Paul said, “Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently” (Acts 26:3).

In thinking about whether information is factual or evidence relevant, we should ask, does anyone deny, oppose, or reject the validity of such evidence or information and upon what basis? We should also conclude that it would be irrational to doubt evidence when there isn’t a trace of objective opposition to it. Upon such evidence, then we are able to draw conclusions from this undisputed evidence.

The question for us in considering the Bible’s account of the birth of Christ is, “Is there such undisputed evidence?” To answer this, we must determine if Luke (writer of biblical books Luke and Acts) is a credible source. Luke makes reference to 32 countries, 54 cities, and nine islands without any mistakes. Without encyclopedias, he has given accurately titles of officials that often changed over time and has recorded event after event that has been confirmed by inscriptional data or other findings. Even where he was thought to have made mistakes (reference to Lysanias, Luke 3:1, and Quirinius as governor of Syria, Luke 2:1), he has been proven accurate by forthcoming discoveries. (See F. F. Bruce, New Testament Documents for more information.)

It has been said that Sir William Ramsay is regarded as one of the greatest archaeologists ever to have lived. Concerning Luke he says, “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy … this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians. Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.” Can any deny these facts?

Having considered Luke’s trustworthiness and confirmation, we should ask, “How much confirmation does a writer have to have before he is considered a historian?” If a writer such as Luke is judged to be a historian, then would not his writings of an event be historical evidence that this event did occur as recorded? If we say that the writings of such a person are not historical, then why do we accept other writings (History of Herodotus 488-428 BC) as historical when they don’t have as much confirmation? If we consider Herodotus to be a historian but not Luke, the only conclusion we can make of this is that we have a bias against one. Then it would not be our scholarship that causes us to arrive at this non-historical conclusion, but our prejudice against any writing that attribute anything to the supernatural.

Some “scholars” have even suggested that Luke was wrong about the “worldwide” census. Did the census take place or not? “The first three Gospels were written at a time when many were alive who could remember the things that Jesus said and did” (F. F. Bruce, New Testament Documents 13). And hardly no critic, atheist, agnostic, or otherwise would deny that Luke did write shortly after the events he describes. Luke states his purpose for writing the book of Luke, “that you may know the certainty of those things…” If this census did not happen, Luke (so accurate at all other points), writing in hope that people would believe that Jesus is the Christ, tries to accomplish his objective by reporting an event that all the world would know did not take place. What could make a person believe that Luke was guilty of such a blunder?

A census was taken every fourteen years and in A.D. 104 a census as Luke described took place which shows these censuses were not uncommon (Joseph P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History 284-287). Who can deny these facts? During Augustus’ reign, “The loss of citizenship was the punishment of the man who failed to have his name enrolled” (Num De nis Fustel De Coulonges, The Ancient City 162). We know a census did take place around 8 B.C. and there have been other censuses taking several years to complete. So it would be easy to see how the census of 8 B.C. may be the census that Luke described (When Critics Ask 383-385).

Modern Views on the Birth of Christ

It is also noteworthy that the birth of Christ is less significant in lower age groups according to a national survey by Barna Research Group Ltd. Obviously people today believe less in the birth of Christ because they believe less in the documents that reveal that birth.

Could the reason for this be that many people especially our young are exposed to only one negative view of Christ’s birth? Could Josh McDowell be right when he says that much of the research and many of the writings quoted in his book (Evidence that Demands a Verdict) are not available at most secular universities? Therefore students and faculty are often limited in their examination of the subjects covered in the classroom and in his book according to him.

Wouldn’t it be a shame if the real reason for this unavailability is simply that on philosophical grounds, credible alternative positions were excluded? Would this be education or indoctrination?

A student wrote to Billy Graham, “I have been taking a course in religion at college. My professor claims that the Bible is full of contradictions and factual errors, and that it is a book like any other human book. If this is so, why should I rely on it for a knowledge of spiritual truth?” She and others should know that “following the modern Historical approach I would never come to believe in the resurrection of Jesus as Savior and Lord” (Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict 2). We might also add to Josh’s statement that there would never be any acceptance of the birth of Christ by such a philosophical approach. The reason is that the average “modern” historian rules out any reference to the supernatural as being unhistorical, or they would say a “myth.” They have already determined the limits of their results beforehand!

The college professor said that “the Bible is full of contradictions and factual errors.” Is the Bible “full” of such? “In addition to illuminating the Bible, archaeology has confirmed countless passages which have been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contradictory to known facts” (Joseph P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History). If a passage of Scripture is contradictory to a “known fact,” they both can’t be truth. Acceptance of one is the denial of the other. If a passage is confirmed as true by archaeological discoveries, then the contradictory “known fact” could not really be a fact. Just how many times do you suppose these critics used these erroneous “known facts” to destroy the faith of some in the Scriptures in the name of education? How many other “known facts” contradictory to various passages are just waiting to be removed into a nonfactual category by future discoveries? But until this happens these little “known facts” will be used to destroy the faith of our young. And these critics are just as sure of these “known facts” as they were the others before these “facts” were disproven by evidence.

Can any deny what Joseph Free said? If not, then the past is full of illustrations of discoveries establishing Scripture and disproving interpretations called “known facts” by some. Do you ever wonder what do these critics use to come up with these “known facts”? Perhaps it was their philosophy that the Bible evolved from men and did not come from God! If this philosophy brought us errors in the past, shall we continue to trust it today to guide us? God has given us a guide, “your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalms 119:105).

The Bible is never wrong! It is God’s word. If any evidence seems to conflict with Scriptures, we either have a false interpretation of the evidence or a false interpretation of the Scriptures. God made the world and gave us the Bible through error-free guided men. How can they disagree? So a man may rationally believe that Jesus on earth healed, walked on water, and arose from the dead to ascend to the right hand of the Father and will one day return. But before He did any of that, He was born of a virgin, laid in a manger, during a census just like the Bible says.