Day 9. Recorded history

[above: Caesar Augustus of Prima Porta—Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0] / Wikimedia]

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. (Luke 2:34–35, NRSV)

For Jesus Christ is unique—unique among gods and men. There have been incarnate gods a-plenty, and slain-and-resurrected gods not a few; but He is the only God who has a date in history.

—Dorothy L. Sayers, The Man Born to Be King

Good old Quirinius!

We encounter his name every time we read the story of the first Christmas. In accordance with the decree of Caesar Augustus, Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to register with the Romans. In his Gospel Luke confidently asserts that this was the first census “taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:2).

For a time some scholars doubted whether Luke knew quite what he was talking about. There was no “governor” of “Syria,” they claimed. Yet later research confirmed that the Evangelist was using precisely the right term for exactly the right person. Quirinius really lived, and he was the governor of Syria after all!

Hearing Quirinius’s distinctive name firmly roots the Incarnation in human history. Quirinius and Augustus were real people. Mary and Joseph were real people too—a humble Jewish carpenter and his faith-filled betrothed. 

The baby who was born to them in Bethlehem was every bit as real. The Son of God came into the same everyday world that we live in—the world of imperial powers, government regulations, and long family trips back home. Jesus became one of us to save us. He is our Savior in flesh and blood.

Near the end of his Gospel, Luke introduces us to another Roman official: Pontius Pilate, who unjustly sentenced Jesus to death. If Quirinius helps us date the birth of Jesus, then Pilate confirms the time of his death.

Augustus, Pilate, and Quirinius remind us what is truly unique about Jesus Christ in the history of the world: his miraculous birth, atoning death, and bodily Resurrection really happened!

This is really good news for any real person who needs forgiveness and hopes one day to rise from the dead. Our salvation is as genuine as good old Quirinius.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son to be my Savior in time and space. And thank you for strengthening my faith by including facts of history in the story of the gospel. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

By Philip Ryken

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #133+ in 2019]

Philip Ryken is the president of Wheaton College and serves as a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
Next articles

Day 10. Holy laughter

True laughter, holy gladness, requires freedom from the world.

Jennifer Trafton

Day 11. An active peace

God is in sovereign control but we must work.

Langdon Palmer

Day 12. The grand miracle

Jesus is like a deep sea salvage diver, bringing the whole ruined world up with him.

Chris R. Armstrong

Day 13. The fire of Christ within

All of human history is centered on the Incarnation.

Edwin Woodruff Tait
Show more

Subscribe to magazine

Subscription to Christian History magazine is on a donation basis


Support us

Christian History Institute (CHI) is a non-profit Pennsylvania corporation founded in 1982. Your donations support the continuation of this ministry


Subscribe to daily emails

Containing today’s events, devotional, quote and stories