The Lukan Census -- Updated - Part 2

 

[Draft, Part 2: Sept 6/2014]

 

I have re-researched this ‘Luke, Quirinius, and Herod’ objection, and frankly have been surprised at how much ‘dogmatic certainty’ is held about this objection.

 

For example, the deeper I dug into the timing/offices of Quirinius (for example) the less certain I became of various scholarly ‘timelines’ of the leaders of Syria and/or the career of Quirinius, the frequency of the allegedly-uniform censuses, the purpose of an ‘enrollment’, the supposed immunity of client-kings from taxation, and the actual interpretation of the grammar of the passage.

 

So, I want to restate the main points of my response to the objection/problem as a semi-FAQ here.

 

This will now be divided into several sections, and I will hot-link them as they become available.

 

Part One: The event itself (qr1.html)

 

·         What specifically did Luke say happened in the event?

 

·         Was this apographe a Roman census for taxation purposes (as in provinces) or an enrollment for unspecified purposes?

 

·         Do we have any indications that Augustus issued some kind of universal-counting enrollment decree?

·         Are there any historical events/processes in this time period that might require such a non-taxation enrollment of this scope?

 

·         If not, could there have been a ‘taxation-centric’ census in a client-kingdom like Herod’s?

 

·         How much ‘hard data’ do we even have about imperial or senatorial decrees, or about actual census processes/events in the Empire?

·         Do we have any evidence for enrollment/taxation/census mechanisms in Herod’s Judea ("Roman style" or other)?

 

·         What would be the relationship between a universal decree and the census events within individual geographies (e.g., Egypt versus Germany), differing government status (e.g. senatorial province, imperial province, Italian cities, etc), and differing internal situations (e.g. turbulence in the Augustus/Herod relationship, impending death, preparation for annexation)?

 

·         What is the relationship between the location of enrollment and Davidic ancestry (if any)?

 

 

 

Part Two: The timing/dating of the event (this document, qr2.html)

 

·         What explicit timing indicators are present in the passage (if any) and what does the grammar of the passage argue for?

 

 

 

Part Three: Quirinius and "How confident can we be that we have enough hard data to decide against any particular interpretation of the historical aspects of this passage?" (future document, qr3.html)

 

 

·         What does the passage say is the relationship of Quirinius to Syria?

 

·         What do we know/believe about the relationship of Q to Syria, from other sources?

 

·         What does the passage say about the relationship of Quirinius to Luke’s enrollment (if anything)?

 

·         What do we know/believe about the relationship of Q to census activities, in Judea or otherwise?

 

·         Who actually would conduct a census in a locale? What Roman officials were responsible for Roman census proceedings?How certain are we of Q’s census of 6/7 AD (a la Josephus)?

 

·         How certain are we of Q’s career/location/roles in the 4-2BC timeframe?

 

·         What other historical data points or trajectories might confuse the issue for us?

 

 

………………………………………………………………. ……………………………………….

 

Part Two: The timing/dating of the event

 

 

 

What explicit timing indicators are present in the passage (if any), and what does the grammar of the passage argue for?

 

 

The passage (and surrounding narrative) contains these elements:

 

·         The registration-driven travel to Bethlehem post-dates some decree of Augustus (but doesn’t indicate whether Augustus is still alive or not).

 

·         There is an (ambiguous) time marker ('first' or 'before') related to some (ambiguous) type of enrollment process (taxation, mandated oath, Imperial 'status report' data gathering?) related to an (ambiguous) authority relationship between Quirinius and Syria (technical governor, Imperial assistant under special assignment, transitional role?)

.

·         The birth occurs before the death of Herod (which also shows that Augustus is still alive and in power).

 

 

 

The main timing indicator (protos) is central to the issue, but it is also highly problematic--it doesn’t sort of 'fit well' grammatically with ANY interpretation of its meaning in the passage. Marshall stated the issue clearly:

 

"The form of the sentence is in any case odd, since it is hard to see why πρῶτος was introduced without any object of comparison, and it may be that πρῶτος should be understood as a comparative with the meaning ‘before’. Luke does write loose sentences on occasion, and this may well be an example of such. " [Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Gospel of Luke: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 104). Exeter: Paternoster Press.]

"Here we read autē apographē prōtē egeneto, which is awkward Greek, and creates a problem with the following gen. clause." [Fitzmyer, J. A. (2008). The Gospel according to Luke I–IX: introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 28, pp. 400–401). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]

 

"Because of the awkwardness of this Lucan sentence, no specific reading should be defended too strongly on grammatical grounds; thus, more weight must be given to external evidence to elucidate the probable meaning of Luke's strange grammar at this point." [Pearson, 282]

 

Although I will invest a 'digital ton' of bits on discussing the possible meaning of this word, it should be noted at the outset that it is JUST AS SEMI-SPECULATIVE to translate it as 'first' (creating a timing problem with the standard timing of Q and Syrian leadership) as it is to translate it as 'before' (eliminating any problem with the standard timing of Q and Syrian leadership). Accordingly, any reconstruction of the relationship between Q and Syria in this period might not be in ANY way relevant to the issue of Luke's accuracy.

 

If it means 'first', then the central question becomes Q+Syria relationships in the period.

If it means 'before', then the question becomes a simple 'what is the narrative purpose of the Q mention?"--and nothing like a challenge to Luke's historical accuracy at all.

 

So, we will end up investigating both--the linguistic evidence concerning 'protos', and then the historical relationship between Q, Syria, and registrations (in Part 3).

 

The Linguistic Data: The Options.

 

The enrollment (in the sense I discussed in Part One--some kind of 'counting' or 'mandated oath' process--not the standard 'Roman taxation census' strictly speaking) is somehow related to Quirinius’ role in Syria. The various ways of understanding Luke’s complex wording include these (my wooden wording is an attempt to preserve some of the word order/tense elements in the Greek):

 

 

Rewording/paraphrasing for clarity, we get:

 

 

So, one understanding portrays Q as being in power during this enrollment (option ONE), one portrays him NOT being in power yet (option THREE), and one does not indicate either timing state (option TWO).

 

Two of these show knowledge of a subsequent enrollment by Q (options ONE, TWO), and the other one implies it--if the reader knew of Q’s enrollment in AD 6-7 (option THREE)--very likely since the Gospel author was clearly writing much later than that notorious census.

 

None of these interpretations--NONE--clearly identify this enrollment with the ‘notorious one’ that came later (as described by Luke in Acts and by Josephus).

 

Let me restate this for emphasis. Even the first understanding (which is somewhat the 'standard' one--that Luke was asserting that Q was governor of Syria at the time of the Nativity) explicitly indicates that the Nativity-centric enrollment was NOT the 'only' enrollment while Q was governor of Syria. Therefore there is zero reason to believe that Luke was asserting that this census was the later/notorious one which he seems to be familiar with in Acts and with the one Josephus seems to describe in his works. In fact, since most believe that Q's governorship of Syria ended almost immediately after the 6-7 ad well-known census, Luke's use of the term 'first' could not be referring to that 'last' one--assuming he is talking about censuses under Q to begin with.

 

As a matter of fact--although I will not lean too much on supposedly 'natural ways of expressing things' for methodological reasons mentioned below--the 'standard' interpretation of this is contra-indicated by the very word protos here. If, as many standard interpretations assert, Luke has mistaken this enrollment with the later/singular/sole census of 6-7 AD, then Luke only knows of ONE (1) census--and the word protos is out-of-place altogether. He 'should have said' simply: "this was THE enrollment made when/while Q was leading Syria". There is neither place nor warrant nor even license for Luke to place the word "protos" in that affirmation!

 

This alone should tip us off that the standard interpretation (contra Luke's accuracy) is questionable, and certainly not to be assumed as correct, preferable, or even a 'natural reading' of the awkward text….

 

 

 

Are any of these interpretations clearly more ‘natural’ than the others?

 

No--the word protos injects too much ambiguity into the mix!

 

“However, the Greek sentence construction of Luke 2:2 is unusual and an alternative translation is:  ‘This census took place before the one when Quirinius was governor of Syria’. As noted above, from Josephus this latter census can be dated to AD 6, and Luke (Acts 5:37) was well aware of it.” [“The Star Of Bethlehem, A Comet In 5 BC And The Date Of Christ’s Birth”;   Colin J. Humphreys, (1992). Tyndale Bulletin, 43(1), 30-51”

 

Superlative for Comparative. To complete the picture, πρῶτος and ἔσχατος must be mentioned here. Πρῶτος … πρότερος Aelian Anim. II 38; VIII 12, P. LPw (ii–iii/B.C.), Plut. Cat. min § 18, IG XII 5, 590, Kaibel Epigr. 642, 10 (iii–iv/A.D.), Mt 21:28. 31 elder, Jn 1:15. 30 superior to or before me, 15:18 before us. Πρῶτος meaning former and ἔσχατος meaning latter occur in Mt 27:64. Thus πρῶτος in Ac 1:1 is ambiguous: either Luke is guilty of a popular Hellenistic mannerism or he intended to write three volumes. Similarly difficult is Lk 2:2 αὕτη ἡ ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη. It is the first census of a series (if class. Greek); or first of two (if Hellenistic). And if Hellenistic it could mean either the first census of the two made by Quirinius, or the census before the (greater) census made by Quirinius; see Lagrange S. Luc in loc…. With this popular Hellenistic failure to appreciate the significance of the Dual, we may compare the confusion of ἄλλος and ἕτερος, τίς and πότερος (Mt 9:5 τί γάρ ἐστιν εὐκοπώτερον), and the use of ἀμφότεροι for more than two. See below, ch. 14 § 2.” [Moulton, J. H., & Turner, N. (1963–). A grammar of New Testament Greek: Syntax. (Vol. 3, p. 32). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.]

 

“Another important consideration is that Luke’s precise wording in the Greek of Luke 2:2 is curious. He could be referring to the first or the former census that was taken under Quirinius, or it is even possible grammatically to take the word prōtē to mean “prior to” or “before” the more famous census of Quirinius that led to Jewish revolt.” [Witherington, B., III. (2001). New Testament History: A Narrative Account (pp. 65–66). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

 

 αὕτη ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη. The clause can be understood in at least three ways: (1) αὕτη could be viewed as the nominative subject of ἐγένετο and ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη as a predicate nominative: “this was the first census.” (2) αὕτη ἀπογραφή could be viewed as the subject and πρώτη as a predicate adjective (see the translation: This census was the first while Quirinius was governing Syria.). Or, (3) αὕτη ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη as a whole could be taken as the subject: “this first census came about.” A noun modified by a demonstrative pronoun is normally articular if it is the subject (cf. 1:29). The article is normally not present, however, when the nominative substantive serves as the predicate (Robertson, 767). Thus, option 1 appears to be most likely. This is a good example, however, where the textual tradition provides important evidence of how scribes, who represent ancient speakers of Greek, understood the text. Some manuscripts (2א A C L R W Ξ Ψ f1,13 𝔪) include the article ἡ, making it clear that these scribes viewed ἀπογραφὴ as the subject and πρώτη as a predicate adjective (option 2 above). This reading is also supported by two manuscripts (א* D) that reverse the order of ἐγένετο and πρώτη, making it likely that these scribes also took πρώτη as a predicate adjective. In an interesting argument, Carlson suggests that πρώτη here means “most prominent” or “most important” (cf. BDAG, 893.2). The point, then, would be that “this registration became most important when Quirinius was governing Syria.” In this reading, Luke is referring to the growing significance of Caesar Augustus’ decree during the later period when Quirinius was governor (cf. Bock, 1:908, option 5c).” [Culy, M. M., Parsons, M. C., & Stigall, J. J. (2010). Luke: A Handbook on the Greek Text (pp. 64–65). Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.]

 

Since Jesus was born somewhere between 1 and 4 B.C., not long before the death of Herod, and since we know that Quirinius took a famous census in about A.D. 6, various scholars have suggested that Luke made a chronological blunder. This depends on a particular kind of reading of the grammar of Luke 2:2, however. It is equally feasible to translate the passage as “This registration happened first, [before] Quirinius was governor of Syria.” … The reason for mentioning Quirinius is obvious enough: he took a famous (or infamous) census in A.D. 6 when he was governor of Syria, a census that helped precipitate a rebellion of some Jewish Zealots against Roman rule. (Head-counts for the purpose of composing tax lists were always contentious matters in the Roman provinces, and Judea would have been no different.) This census was an obvious historical landmark that many would be familiar with. Luke uses it to provide Theophilus with a general frame of reference. Luke is saying, in essence, “You remember the cause célèbre that happened when Quirinius took a census as governor of Syria. Well, there was in fact a less famous census before that one, the very first census of its kind, which precipitated a journey by Jesus’s family to Bethlehem.” Chronological precision was not required even in very good Hellenistic historiography, and so Luke is content to let Theophilus know that the census he has in mind transpired before A.D. 6.” [Witherington, B., III. (2006). What Have They Done with Jesus?: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History—Why We Can Trust the Bible (pp. 101–102). New York: HarperSanFrancisco.]

 

“The Jewish historian Josephus wrote that Quirinius became governor of Syria and instituted a registration in Judea in A.D. 6, too late for a supposed birth of Jesus under Herod the Great (Mt 2:1; Lk 1:5), who probably died in 4 B.C. Luke clearly knew of this registration (Ac 5:37), so that calling the registration of chapter 1 “the first” (in apparent opposition to the later census) strongly suggests he did not have his facts mixed up here. The verse is to be read as either (1) dissociating Quirinius from the registration (i.e., this was a former registration, taken before the famous one under Quirinius), or (2) positing two registrations administered by Quirinius (i.e., this is the registration taken by Quirinius the first time he was governor [or some other administrator] of Syria). Our knowledge of the relevant historical facts is too incomplete to determine a more definitive solution.” [Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 1514). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.]

 

“One’s first impression is that St. Luke was confused about the date of Quirinius. The earliest census which this official could have conducted was that which was held in A.D. 6. Quirinius never officiated as legate during the reign of king Herod, in which, St. Matthew says. Jesus was born. … St. Luke should not be convicted before we have considered that small point of grammar. Greek at this period was as relaxed as any modern language in observing the correct distinction between comparative and superlative with regard to “former” and “first.” There was in Hellenistic Greek, as there is in English to-day, a preference for “first” when in fact “former” or “prior” is more grammatical. Strictly, “first” means number one among at least three, while “former” is the word which compares only two. St. Luke was professional, but many use “first” where the meticulous prefer “former.” … A Roman Catholic scholar, Lagrange, offered a solution which completely vindicates St. Luke’s accuracy. “First census” must be taken in its Hellenistic connotation as the first of two, and then we must expand the clause a little. “This census was before the census which Quirinius, governor of Syria, made.” Lagrange was not the first (or “former!”) to offer the suggestion. It was known to the grammarian, G. B. Winer, whose survey of the New Testament language appeared in its first edition in 1822, and who scorned the suggestion as “ungrammatical.” The phrase is compressed, but it is no more ungrammatical than the phrase in John 5:36, “I have a testimony greater than (seil., the testimony of) John,” or the highly compressed I Cor. 1:25, “the foolishness of God is wiser than (seil., the wisdom of) men.” The words in parenthesis are absent from the Greek and yet must be supplied. There is no grammatical reason for not as readily supplying the necessary words in the sentence of St. Luke. “This census was prior to (the census) of Quirinius.”” [Turner, N. (1966). Grammatical insights into the New Testament. (pp. 23–24). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.]

 

 

           

There are grammatical objections that can be raised against the comparative sense (“the census before the implied census of Q”) and the adverbial sense (“the census which was taken before Q was a leader of Syria”). Fitzmeyer and Compton describe these:

 

Prōtē, “first,” is sometimes used in Hellenistic and NT Greek in the sense of protera, the comparative, “former, prior” (see Acts 1:1; John 1:15, 30; 15:18), since the use of the comparative degree was on the wane, and other means were taken to express it (BDF §§ 244–245). Understood thus, prōtē might govern the following gen. and be translated, “This registration took place before Quirinius was governor of Syria,” or (with an ellipsis of the term of comparison, as in John 5:36; 1 Cor 1:25), “This registration was before (that of) Quirinius, governor of Syria.” This interpretation, apparently first proposed in the seventeenth century, was adopted by M.-J. Lagrange (Luc, 67; RB 8 [1911] 60–84) and supported by no less a grammarian than N. Turner (Grammatical Insights, 23–24). Either of these interpretations would mean that Luke was referring to a registration conducted prior to Quirinius’s well-known census in A.D. 6–7. The comparative sense of prōtē is attested. But the following gen. is a gen. absolute, since the first word is a ptc. If Luke had written hēgemonos tēs Syrias Kyrēniou, then it would be possible. But the use of the ptc. and the word-order are fatal to such interpretations. Moreover, it is obviously a last-ditch solution to save the historicity involved. It is trying to make Luke more accurate than he really is.” [Fitzmyer, J. A. (2008). The Gospel according to Luke I–IX: introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 28, p. 401). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.]

 

 

“Second, those solutions involving textual and grammatical evidence suggest either one of the following understandings of πρώτη in Luke 2:2: (1) πρώτη, normally a superlative, could be a comparative and thus render a translation: “This census was before [the census] which Quirinius, governor of Syria, [made]”; or (2) πρώτη could be adverbial and thus render a translation: “This census took place before Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Both are quite promising for in both the difficulty of Luke’s reference to Quirinius is mitigated, since either allows for something other than a reference to a census taken at the time of Jesus’ birth under the oversight of (governor) Quirinius. … Here too, however, problems arise. Five will be registered, some more significant than others. First, often when a demonstrative pronoun stands adjacent to an anarthrous noun (αὕτη ἀπογραφὴ), the anarthrous noun predicates the demonstrative; this is especially the case when a numerical indicator is present, as there is here (cf., Luke 1:36: οὕτος μὴν ἕκτος ἐστὶν). What this means is that it is unlikely (“almost impossible”) that Luke meant “this census” instead of “this was the census.” As such, αὕτη is the subject and ἀπογραφὴ is the predicate nominative. Second, if ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρίας Κυρηνίου is a genitive absolute, as many suggest, then it is likely to be “unconnected” grammatically to the rest of the sentence, seeming to rule out both suggestions since both (a comparative and adverbial sense) require such connections. Third, were πρώτη being used comparatively, as the first option suggests, one would expect the genitive of comparison (Κυρηνίου) to immediately follow πρώτη as in other cases of implicit comparison (e.g., John 5:36; 1 Cor 1:25), rather than being separated from it by four words. Fourth, if πρώτη is used adverbially, as the second option suggests, this demands it be treated akin to πρό (cf. John 15:18). However, in texts where πρῶτος denotes πρό a few other phenomena seem to normally occur: (a) a genitive immediately follows πρῶτος and (b) the verb modified by πρῶτος can be supplied following the genitive to create a parallel clause, as is the case, for instance, in many English translations of John 15:18: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before [πρῶτον] it hated you” (esv; cf. also nasb, nrsv, nkjv). By contrast, in Luke 2:2, πρώτη stands several words removed from Κυρηνίου, and Κυρηνίου does not sustain the same relationship with ἐγένετο that αὕτη does (e.g., “This was the census before Quirinius was” or “This was the census taken before Quirinius was taken[!]”). Fifth and finally, both proposals must plausibly explain why Luke referred to Quirinius at all.” [Jared M. Compton, “Once More: Quirinius’s Census”, (2009). Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, 14, 46ff; TankNote: I cannot find any reference in this discussion to Lagrange’s important work on these specific issues.].

 

 

But these--specifically use of the participle and the word order (!)-- were anticipated and addressed by the earlier work of Lagrange:

 

“It would seem, then, that the greatest difficulty for the Lukan account is posed by the attempt to locate an earlier governorship of Quirinius in Syria during the final years of Herod’s reign. Otherwise, despite the objections raised, Luke’s account squares well with what is known from other sources of the Roman history of the period. … Now it is possible to translate Luke 2:2 in a manner that obviates any need for seeking an earlier governorship for Quirinius. Well represented in the history of the discussion, it has been argued most carefully by Lagrange (RB 8 [1911] 80–84) and has been taken up in several more recent studies (Higgins, EvQ 41 [1969] 200; Barnett, ExpTim 85 [1973–74] 379; cf. N. Turner, Grammatical Insights, 23; Brindle, JETS 27 [1984] 48–50). Lagrange has shown that there is no decisive objection from word order or from the use of the genitive participle to translating Luke 2:2 as “This registration happened before Quirinius became governor of Syria.” (On the basis, however, of the critique by E. Power, “John 2,20 and the Date of the Crucifixion,” Bib 9 [1928] 286, it is clear that Lagrange’s appeal to Sophocles, Antigone 2.637–38, must be dropped.) As a clarifying aside, such a statement would fit well. The governorship of Quirinius was an important turning point in Judean history, marking as it did the annexation of Judea, which was made profoundly visible by the census registration with which Quirinius’ governorship began. That registration was “the registration” (cf. Acts 5:37), and it is natural that Luke should distinguish from it a preliminary registration in the time of Herod the Great. On any reading, the Greek of Luke’s sentence is awkward (cf. Fitzmyer, 400), and perhaps no more so on the reading suggested here. This seems better than forcing an earlier governorship on Quirinius and more likely than the contradiction in the Lukan infancy narratives created by an identification of the census here as that of A.D. 6.” [Nolland, J. (2002). Luke 1:1–9:20 (Vol. 35A, pp. 101–102). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]

 

So, if understanding THREE is correct, then the enrollment meshes with the ‘standard’ interpretation of Q’s Syrian governorship, removing any presumed ‘contradiction’ between Luke and Josephus (our only source of data about the later census of Q, in AD 6-7).

 

And, if understanding TWO is correct, then the question of overlap between Herod and Q-as-gov is left ‘open’, but as a ‘problem’ or ‘contradiction’ it evaporates.

 

 “First census” must be taken in its Hellenistic connotation as the first of two, and then we must expand the clause a little. “This census was before the census which Quirinius, governor of Syria, made.” … Some examples using other adjectives are John 5:36, “the witness which I have. is greater than (that of) John,” and I Cor 1:25, “the foolishness of God is wiser than (the wisdom of) men.” Turner says, “The evangelist is referring to a census, of which we know nothing [from extra-Biblical sources], held before that of Quirinius in A.D. 6.” Thus Luke recognizes that the well-known census under Quirinius took place in A.D. 6-7. He is not speaking of that one, however; the census of which he is speaking took place before (prōtē) that one. …  This solution also throws light on the statement of Gamaliel in Acts 5:37 concerning “the days of the census,” when Judas the Galilean rebelled. The census of A.D. 6-7 was the census that all Israel remembered, and they remembered Quirinius mostly because of that census that he directed. Sherwin-White states that Quirinius “was the first of the Jewish bugbears of the empire period.” They remembered him for his census, and Luke had purposely to distinguish between that census and the census during which Jesus was born….   The very word “first” indicates that there were at least two censuses in Judea. Josephus mentions only one, whereas Luke notes two (Luke 2:2 and Acts 5:37). BAG allows for protos to be used “without any thought that the series must continue.” But the only NT example cited is Matt 17:27: “Take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth, you will find a stater.” This passage does not apply to the question at hand since the one doing the counting has the means to stop the series after the first one, whereas the historian looks back and has to determine how many have already occurred. Luke would certainly have spoken of the census, rather than the first, if in fact he only knew of one. The obvious conclusion is that he knew of another before that of Quirinius. … Higgins and Hoehner suggest an adverbial use of protos to read: “This census took place before Quirinius was governor of Syria.” But their example, John 15:18, uses the neuter prōton (which often has an adverbial meaning), not prōtos or prōtē as here. Their view also has two other weaknesses: (1) It neglects the A.D. 6-7 census, which was so important in the history of Israel between A.D. 6 and A.D. 70 (cf. Acts 5:27); and (2) it fails to answer why Quirinius is mentioned at all. Why not give the name of the actual governor at the time of the census? In conclusion, Luke 2:2 fits well both grammatically and historically when taken to mean that the census during which Jesus was born was the census before the well-known, later census of Quirinius. … Quirinius may or may not have been governor of Syria at the birth of Christ in 5 B.C., but this is irrelevant since Luke 2:2 states that the census during which Jesus was born was the first one, before the more well-known one taken by Quirinius in A.D. 6-7. This first one was “in the days of Herod the king.” [The Census And Quirinius: Luke 2:2 , Wayne Brindle, The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. (1998) (electronic edition.). Garland, TX: Galaxie Software.JETS 27/1 (March 1984) 43-52.]

 

 

 

This leaves only understanding ONE as presenting even a possible historical puzzle, but also as presenting data which shows Luke’s awareness of the issue--the use of ‘first enrollment’ implies knowledge of a ‘later’ one. One then has to probe into the meanings of ‘leader’ (hegemon) to see if there really IS a ‘contradiction’ or ‘error’ underlying the terminology in Luke (specifically, any assertion that Q was legate of Syria at the time of the enrollment--this is the only possible historical error in the passage).

 

 

 

In other words, there may not be a problem with Q at all… but we will keep going and see what options might exist for interpreting the historical data that we have.

 

I should make a few observations myself here, given the options and the controversies about the use of protos.

 

First, if Luke intended the construction in 2.2 to be the ‘when’ or ‘while’ use of the genitive absolute (implying that the events of the Bethlehem trip occurred under Quirinius) then there was no need whatsoever to use protos in a separate clause. Simply adding the genitive absolute (‘Quirinius leading of the Syria’) to the end of verse 2.1 would have been a clear indication of that. In other words, the genitive absolute would have its ‘normal’ adverbial function, describing the decree. The text would then look like this: “In those days, a decree went out from C.A.--during the governorship of Quirinius over Syria-- that all the world be enrolled”. This would have been the "natural" way to use the genitive absolute to mark the adverbial ‘when’ of the decree. This suggests to me that it is NOT being used as a co-temporal clause at all.

 

Second, the passages in which protos is used in a way similar to the more basic/bland ‘pro’, there is a strong element of superiority/preeminence. Of course, protos as the superlative of the comparative proteros-- ‘former’-- also has this implied element of superiority already (“whoever among you would be first, must be your slave”)--‘first’ automatically includes the concept of ‘before’ (e.g. in rank, in power, in entitlement, in honor, in birth-order, in intensity, in sequence). This ‘before all others in some dimension/aspect’ can be seen in Paul’s remark that he was the ‘foremost (protos) of sinners’ (1 Tim 1.15) and Christ’s being the ‘first to rise from the dead’ (Acts 26.23). Luke could have used ‘pro’ to indicate simple ‘superiority in sequence = before’, and he could have used ‘meizo’ to indicate simple ‘superiority in honor = greater’, but he used protos which can include both--perhaps as a dig on the Augustian claims to supremacy and divinity (a well-known under-theme of Luke in the birth narratives (e.g. ‘prince of peace’ versus Pax Romana;  a savior is born to you versus Augustus Savior of the Roman people, etc). This would fit well with the position of Carlson, in which ‘more prominent than the one by Q’ is the inherent meaning of this phrase. Luke's point is then that this specific enrollment (the Judean implementation of the global counting program of Augustus) was much more important that the notorious one done when Q was leading Syria'--in the grand scheme of history and in the eyes of god.

 

 

Third, all the lexicographers note that protos (as adjective) could substitute for proteros in later Greek, with LSJ giving John 1.15,30 as examples. This usage was followed by the genitive case. Here’s the part of the entry in LSJ:

 

“(B,I, 3, d):  πρῶτος is sts. (sometimes) used where we should expect πρότερος, Αἰνείας δὲ πρῶτος ἀκόντισεν Il.13.502, cf. 18.92: in late Greek folld.(followed) by gen. (genitive), πρῶτός μου ἦν Ev.Jo.1.15, 30, cf. 15.18; οἱ πρῶτοί μου ταῦτα ἀνιχνεύσαντες Ael.NA8.12; πρώτη εὕρηται ἡ περὶ τοὺς πόδας κίνησις τῆς διὰ τῶν χειρῶν Ath.14.630c; γεννήτορα πρῶτον μητέρος εἰς ἀΐδην πέμψει Man.1.329, 4.404; ἀλόχου πρῶτος before his wife, IG12(5).590.5 (vi (?) A.D.).” [Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press.]

 

And here are the sections from BDAG (on adjectival use, and as substitute for proteros):

 

“Used w. a gen. of comparison (Ocelus Luc. 3 ἐκεῖνο πρῶτον τοῦ παντός ἐστιν=prior to the All; Manetho 1, 329; Athen. 14, 28 p. 630c codd.) πρῶτός μου ἦν he was earlier than I = before me J 1:15, 30 (PGM 13, 543 σοῦ πρῶτός εἰμι.—Also Ep. 12 of Apollonius of Tyana: Philostrat. I p. 348, 30 τὸ τῇ τάξει δεύτερον οὐδέποτε τῇ φύσει πρῶτον). So perh. also ἐμὲ πρῶτον ὑμῶν μεμίσηκεν 15:18 (s. β below) and πάντων πρώτη ἐκτίσθη Hv 2, 4, 1.—As a rule the later element is of the same general nature as the one that precedes it. But it can also be someth. quite different, even its exact opposite: τὴν πρώτην πίστιν ἠθέτησαν 1 Ti 5:12. τὴν ἀγάπην σου τὴν πρώτην ἀφῆκες Rv 2:4.

 

“Since πρῶτος can stand for πρότερος (s. 1 at beg.; also Mlt-Turner 32), it by no means follows from τὸν μὲν πρῶτον λόγον Ac 1:1 that the writer of Luke and of Ac must have planned to write a third book

 

“αὕτη ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο Lk 2:2, likewise, does not look forward in the direction of additional censuses, but back to a time when there were none at all (Ael. Aristid. 13 p. 227 D. παράκλησις αὕτη [=challenge to a sea-fight] πρώτη ἐγένετο; for interpolation theory s. JWinandy, RB 104, ’97, 372–77; cp. BPearson, CBQ, ’99, 262--82).

 

[Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.]

 

 

And from NIDNTT:

 

“πρῶτος G4755 (prōtos), first; πρωτεύω G4750 (prōteuō), be first; πρότερον (proteron), beforehand;

 

 “prōtos is the superlative of pro, before, and the ordinal number corresponding to heis, one. Hence in late Koiné Gk. it is used for proteron (earlier) also.

 

“(in the NT): In a temporal sense: first, first of all, to begin with, previously (Matt. 5:24 followed by kai tote, and then; Lk. 9:59, 61); for proteron, beforehand (Matt. 12:29; Jn. 1:15)

 

[Bartels, K. H. (1986). First, Firstborn. (L. Coenen, E. Beyreuther, & H. Bietenhard, Eds.) New international dictionary of New Testament theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.]

 

 

Barnett pointed out that Luke never uses proteros (“former”) but uses protos to convey that sense:

 

protos is used elsewhere by Luke to mean ’ former’ (Acts 1.1) and indeed he nowhere uses proteros (which occurs Only 11 times in the New Testament and is never accompanied by a genitive of comparison.) Whilst protos is nowhere followed by a genitive participle to mean ’ before ’ it is followed by pronouns in the genitive to mean ’ before ’ (Jn 1.15, 30, 15.18)” [Barnett, op. cit. note 13]

 

 

Most discussions of this word refer to the entry in Nigel Turner:

 

Superlative for Comparative. To complete the picture, πρῶτος and ἔσχατος must be mentioned here. Πρῶτος … πρότερος Aelian Anim. II 38; VIII 12, P. LPw (ii–iii/B.C.), Plut. Cat. min § 18, IG XII 5, 590, Kaibel Epigr. 642, 10 (iii–iv/A.D.), Mt 21:28. 31 elder, Jn 1:15. 30 superior to or before me, 15:18 before us. Πρῶτος meaning former and ἔσχατος meaning latter occur in Mt 27:64. Thus πρῶτος in Ac 1:1 is ambiguous: either Luke is guilty of a popular Hellenistic mannerism or he intended to write three volumes. Similarly difficult is Lk 2:2 αὕτη ἡ ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη. It is the first census of a series (if class. Greek); or first of two (if Hellenistic). And if Hellenistic it could mean either the first census of the two made by Quirinius, or the census before the (greater) census made by Quirinius; see Lagrange S. Luc in loc.” [Moulton, J. H., & Turner, N. (1963–). A grammar of New Testament Greek: Syntax. (Vol. 3, p. 32). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.]

 

 

Fourth, some writers object to this understanding of protos as 'prior to' or 'before' on the basis of lack of a precedent usage in Luke. But most readers will know that you don’t have to have TWO of everything (in the same writer) before you can understand a SINGLE usage…

 

"Nigel Turner, arguing that the sense should be "This census was prior to (the census) of Quirinius" (on the basis of the attested ellipsis in other comparative uses, as in John 5:36 and 1 Cor 1:25), also suggests that in Luke 2:2 the superlative πρώτη is used in its Hellenistic comparative sense. Heichelheim's solution concurs largely with Turner's, but more for several of the historical reasons which have been outlined above than for grammatical ones. Sherwin-White, in response, states that "E W. Heichelheim's (and others') suggestion that πρώτη in Luke iii.2 [sic] means [comparative] πρότερον could only be accepted if supported by a parallel in Luke himself." This is not a viable argument, however. We must examine not only Luke but also the Hellenistic Greek in which he wrote. The comparative sense of the superlative adjective in Hellenistic usage is well attested, and we do not even have to go outside the New Testament itself to find it (cp. John 5:36 and 1 Cor 1:25). With bodies of writing as small as those of the New Testament books, it is much more difficult than many think to establish the style or "regular" usage of any particular writer." [Pearson, 278]

 

"Sherwin-White, op. cit. p.171, offers a passing criticism stating that the 'suggestion… that prote in Luke 2.2 means proteron could only be acceped if supported by a parallel in Luke himself'.  This criticism has little force. Since a speaker's performances are only part of his/her linguistic competence, one cannot deduce from absence in performances a corresponding absence in linguistic competence. Moreover, though many other linguistic items are used only once by an author, we do not doubt his/her competence for each of these." [NEWDOCS6, S.R. Llewelyn, 131]

 

"The second argument ["there is no parallel in Luke for the comparative sense of the superlative form πρώτη"], is also unfounded, as both Pearson and Llewelyn have argued. First, there are in fact instances of the comparative use of the superlative form in the Lukan writings, as well as in the rest of the New Testament (e.g. Acts 1:1; Jn 1:15, 30, etc.). Secondly, to make the argument that within a limited corpus such as a single New Testament writer all linguistic phenomena must be found not once but twice before interpretation or understanding can take place is simply absurd. The Greek of the New Testament must be understood in the context of its larger Hellenistic usage. This argument also proves nothing." ["Reasons for the Lukan Census", Stanley E. Porter, in Wedderburn, A. J. M., & Christophersen, A. (2002). Paul, Luke and the Graeco-Roman world: essays in honour of Alexander J.M. Wedderburn (Vol. 217, pp. 165–188). London; New York: Sheffield Academic Press.]

 

 

 

Fifth, we should also note that there ARE examples of this usage in Hellenistic Greek, showing that such an interpretation of protos would not be 'an innovation' by Luke at all.

 

"To decide this issue, we will begin by surveying Hellenistic use of πρώτος. Among the meanings associated with πρώτος is the sense of time, "first, earliest, earlier." Perhaps the most interesting example of this in the New Testament for the present purpose is John 1:15,30: πρώτος μου ήν, translated either "he was earlier than I" or "he was before me."54 There are also at least two significant examples outside the New Testament. The first is Aristotle Ph. 8.8 (263a lines 11-12): έν μέν ούν τοις πρώτοις λόγοις τοις περί κινήσεως, "therefore, in the earlier words (books, studies) concerning movement." Clearly, πρώτοις in this instance cannot be made to mean "first," unless one posits that there is more than one "first," which would beg, of course, for such a sense as the one given in my translation. The second example, Athenaeus Deipnosophistae 14.630c, is from Egypt at the end of the second century or beginning of the third. The topic is the origin of movements in dancing: πρώτη δ' εδρηται ή περί τους πόδας κίνησις της δια των χειρών.55 Here too πρώτη must have the sense of "earlier" or "before." So, although Luke's parallels are few in extant Greek literature, he is by no means without company." [Pearson, 280-281]

 

To these two examples we can others [NEWDOCS6, S.R. Llewelyn, 131]:

 

·         Aelian, De nat. anim. 8.12: those having investigated these things before [protoi] me"

·         Plutarch, Cato Minor p18: "for neither did any of his colleagues attain the treasury earlier than (protos) Cato nor did any quit it later"

·         IG 12(5).590.5: "(you) who prior to (protos) your wife attained the place of the blessed…"

·         Manetho, Apotel. 1.329-30 (=4.404-5): "Then will deathly fate send to Hades the father of growing babes before (proton) the mother:

 

Porter states that this should be enough evidence to support the comparative force:

 

"As a number of scholars have shown, and as the Greek grammars clearly indicate, there are a number of passages in ancient Greek, from Homer to the Hellenistic period, that illustrate that the Greek superlative adjective can have comparative force, either without or with a comparative item in the genitive. In one sense, this evidence should be sufficient to indicate that the superlative in this passage might have comparative force as well." ["Reasons for the Lukan Census", Stanley E. Porter,op.cit.]

 

 

 

Sixth, the strongest objection to this position is based on an understanding of the genitive phrase as being a genitive absolute as specifying the time of the enrollment process. But this understanding is open to criticism and doubt as well, in either the interpretation of it as a 'genitive absolute' or as it even being a G.A. to begin with.

 

Porter is not sure it actually IS a genitive absolute:

 

"The argument regarding the dependent participle [tn: " there is no instance where the comparative item is a dependent genitive participle"] is a more important one, and may well have some merit. It is true that there are not many—if any—instances of a dependent participle as the item of comparison in this type of construction—at least as this evidence is recorded in the major Greek grammarians I have surveyed. Despite this, Pearson has made a plausible case for how to understand the construction in Lk. 2:2 as a genitive absolute that is dependent upon the preceding independent clause, marshalling examples from Luke-Acts that show the flexibility of the genitive absolute construction. Further, there are numerous examples of dependent participles being used in the genitive case in predicative constructions, both in the Greek of the New Testament and in extra-biblical Greek. However, it may be that analysis of the particular construction in Lk. 2:2 has been misguided at this point, and the construction is not to be understood as a genitive absolute at all but with the noun, κυρηνίου, as the genitive of comparison, with the participle ἡγεμονεύοντος attributively modifying this noun. In this case, the construction, though often referred to as a genitive absolute, may more resemble a simple modifying participle, which is found frequently in both extra-biblical and New Testament usage, in all cases. The confusion here is caused by the fact that the participle and noun are in the genitive case, as is required by the comparative construction, rather than the structure being a genitive absolute. Jelf appears to have interpreted the construction in this way." [Porter, op. cit. 175]

 

Under this alternative grammatical understanding (i.e. no genitive absolute is present), the phrase would be rendered "this enrollment was before Quirinius--the (later) governor of Syria". This would be equivalent to our Option Three--with no apparent historical problem present at all.

 

 

Pearson (referred to by Porter) allows that it is a G.A., but argues that its meaning is not as obvious as the 'standard tradition' asserts:

 

"In Luke 2:2, however, the verb έγένετο and the genitive absolute ηγεμονεύοντος της Συρίας Κυρηνίου must also be explained. The verb έγένετο is a verb of existence, and though it is not strictly a copulative verb like είμί, it often functions very similarly. If έγένετο functions copulatively here, we may have a use very similar to what we see in John 1:15 and 1:30. The genitive absolute in this case really, then, must take its sense from the preceding construction (contra Fitzmyer). As in John 1:15, 30, we have πρώτος, then a linking verb, then a genitive. We have the same thing here in Luke 2:2. A genitive absolute is not a finite verb after all, even though it may function similarly. A genitive absolute does not grammaticalize time; rather, as with other participial constructions, it often gains its sense from other grammatical constructions. The sense of time must come from surrounding deictic indicators, not from the verb forms themselves. The sense of time in this verse, therefore, must be sought primarily from the context of the verse and from deictic markers within the verse. The only possible deictic marker in this clause is πρώτη. If πρώτη in Luke 2:2 functions as it does in John 1:15, 30, the sense of the verse is, "This census was earlier than (or before) Quirinius governed Syria." …While it is often customary to translate genitive absolutes with a "while" attached to them, this is by no means necessary or even to be recommended. In Luke-Acts there are several examples in which the genitive absolute must be construed with the sense of "after" or "when" (Luke 11:14,29; 12:1; 22:59; Acts 7:30; 13:43; 14:20; 25:13), and at least one example where it must be construed with a future meaning (Luke 21:26). This pattern holds true not only for the Greek of the New Testament but also for Hellenistic Greek generally. In Luke 2:2, then, we must turn to the surrounding context to determine the particular time frame in question. We have seen that the idea of "earlier" or "before" for πρώτος is an acceptable Hellenistic sense. Thus, the genitive absolute in this verse is not determinative at all, and it must take its sense from the preceding construction." [Pearson, op.cit. 281]

 

 

 

Finally, it is surprising common to find commentators concluding their argument with something like "but the most natural / intuitive way of understanding the passage is X….". Most of them end up with "the construction should have been written differently if it is to mean ‘before Quirinius was governor’" or 'before the (implied) census of Q", basically. Porter points out that this type of argument is both unclear and lacks compelling force:

 

"This argument is not entirely clear, since the point is not whether the construction could or could not be rewritten in another form (it almost certainly could), and should not in any case be focused simply upon the participle. It is the entire construction, with the independent clause, the adjective πρώτη and the following genitive element, that is understood as indicating ‘before’. … Arguments about the supposed natural and intuitive ways of interpreting a grammatical construction are difficult to invoke for an ancient language, where there are no natural speakers and no intuitive users. Ancient Greek grammar must be evaluated in terms of the linguistic evidence available, and it appears that there is still warrant for the view that Lk. 2:2 could be rendered: ‘this was the census before Quirinius governed Syria’. The case is not necessarily strong, but it cannot be excluded." [Porter, op. cit. ]

 

 

 

The comment above--that there are no 'natural speakers' alive today--triggered recall of one of the earlier references:

 αὕτη ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη. The clause can be understood in at least three ways: (1) αὕτη could be viewed as the nominative subject of ἐγένετο and ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη as a predicate nominative: “this was the first census.” (2) αὕτη ἀπογραφή could be viewed as the subject and πρώτη as a predicate adjective (see the translation: This census was the first while Quirinius was governing Syria.). Or, (3) αὕτη ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη as a whole could be taken as the subject: “this first census came about.” A noun modified by a demonstrative pronoun is normally articular if it is the subject (cf. 1:29). The article is normally not present, however, when the nominative substantive serves as the predicate (Robertson, 767). Thus, option 1 appears to be most likely. This is a good example, however, where the textual tradition provides important evidence of how scribes, who represent ancient speakers of Greek, understood the text. Some manuscripts (2א A C L R W Ξ Ψ f1,13 𝔪) include the article ἡ, making it clear that these scribes viewed ἀπογραφὴ as the subject and πρώτη as a predicate adjective (option 2 above). This reading is also supported by two manuscripts (א* D) that reverse the order of ἐγένετο and πρώτη, making it likely that these scribes also took πρώτη as a predicate adjective. In an interesting argument, Carlson suggests that πρώτη here means “most prominent” or “most important” (cf. BDAG, 893.2). The point, then, would be that “this registration became most important when Quirinius was governing Syria.” In this reading, Luke is referring to the growing significance of Caesar Augustus’ decree during the later period when Quirinius was governor (cf. Bock, 1:908, option 5c).” [Culy, M. M., Parsons, M. C., & Stigall, J. J. (2010). Luke: A Handbook on the Greek Text (pp. 64–65). Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.]

 

This reference pointed out that the only (or 'closest') source we have for 'natural speakers' were the textual scribes (not the "Church Fathers" per se). This would provide some support for the rendering "This census/enrollment (verb-X) the (adjective-Y) when/while Q was governing Syria".

 

Then, the reference mentions an 'interesting argument' by Carlson, taking protos as 'most prominent'. So, verb-X would be either was or became (it could not be 'happened' because this understanding makes protos into an adjective instead of an adverb), and 'adjective-Y' would be any of the two possible BDAG meanings "first (in a set or sequence of more than one)",  or "first in importance/most important" (still in a set of 'important' things, though).

 

Putting the possibilities together gives us these combinations:

 

A: "This enrollment was first in a sequence/set of enrollments, when/while Q was governing S"

B: "This enrollment was most important, when/while Q was governing S"

C; "This enrollment became first in a sequence/set of enrollments, when/while Q was governing S"

D: "This enrollment became most important, when/while Q was governing S"

 

Option A is the familiar one we have seen before. It implies that there were multiple enrollments during the governorship/leadership of Q over S.

Option B probably is equivalent, if we understand the adjective to mean 'a/the most important ONE'.

Option C looks like it would imply that the enrollment was during Q's leadership (it would require something like 'because first in a sequence of LATER censuses when Q…", but even that would still place the enrollment within Q's reign.

Option D, however, omits the implication. It only says that the 'importance' occurred during the leadership of Q--not the enrollment itself. That is, prior to Q's governorship over S, this enrollment was not as prominent, visible, or important -- when compared to its importance in 6-7 ad.

 

 

At this point in our discussion (prior to looking up the Carlson reference--my mistake…sigh), however, I finally "noticed" a couple of details I really didn’t pay any attention to much earlier:

 

·         I noticed the direction of reference for the demonstrative pronoun. The demonstrative pronoun 'this' would normally refer backward (to the global counting program of Augustus) rather than forward to the as-yet-unmentioned local enrollment process in Judea. So, it wouldn’t be referring to 'a set' of enrollments under Q at all, but rather to an enrollment process or policy. Most (if not all) of the above argumentation assumed that 'this' referred to the local implementation of that policy in the Nativity timeframe--would still apply in most cases to this version anyway.]

 

·         I noticed that egeneto was not primarily a copulative, but rather an 'emergence' word. It didn’t primarily mean 'was', but rather something more like 'became' or 'happened' or 'emerged'.

 

·         I noticed that the concept of 'most important' or 'pre-eminent' did not have as wide a range of possible Greek words for it to find expression. There were several 'more expected' or 'more normal' ways to say "before", or "this first one", or "when/while ruling"--so there was a wide range of interpretative options for the whole. But unlike those concepts, 'pre-eminent' as an adjective didn’t have any other 'more normal' options--they are all based on this root. (As an exegetical rule, you start with the 'most constrained variable' and work outward…). So, whatever we come up with for the meaning of the whole--under this understanding of protos--has to make sense with 'most important' or 'most prominent'. [And, as an adjective, it basically precluded the more common event-rendering of egeneto as 'happened', an adverbial use of protos --'happened first', which would likely have involved the neuter form.]

 

So, it is starting to look like (in my working through this, chronologically) 'most prominent' will be the starting place… so I now hunt down the reference to Carlson, to see his 'interesting' position…

 

And, lo and behold, he has articulated these points a decade earlier than I stumbled upon them!

 

It's only in an online source that I can find it-- http://hypotyposeis.org/weblog/2004/12/luke-22-and-the-census.html-- it doesn’t show up in Bock's "provisional" bibliography. But he argues the exact same points as my three above--focusing first on the problem of 'first', rightly IMO.

 

Where my position would differ from his would be perhaps minor (if not complementary):

 

·         I would also see the 'decree' (dogma) as being related to the Roman census of 8 BC, but as I have argued in Part 1, I am convinced that this Roman counting was concomitant with a 'non-Roman' counting as reflected in the Res Gestae. So, 'inhabited world' for me would include the provinces.

 

·         Since I believe that Luke's gospel is written prior to the Fall of Jerusalem--and hence prior to the Jewish wars--I am required to account for the reference to Q/S in ways other than the Josephean link of Qcensus-Jewish war. The 'most importance' aspect -- for my understanding -- has to be something earlier and related to the political changes that occurred in Judea "when/while Q was ruling in S". I can still refer to the notoriety of 'the census' in the same way as Luke (and Carlson) in Acts, but without having to mention the war or destruction of Jerusalem. I would have to come with, though, some connection between events of Q-over-S and the Nativity (driven by the universal 'enrollment' referred to by the demonstrative). Of course, this connection is not difficult to conceive of, either theologically (e.g. the real King of the Jews/Prince of Peace/"Augustus of the Universe" walking within a now-Roman-province), rhetorically (slight-sarcasm: i.e., the real 'imperial-ordered enrollment' was the one that God used to bring the Savior into our midst--as opposed to the 'trivial one' of Q), chronologically (i.e. the enrollment policy was prior to Q-over-S, and therefore to be dated before that)  or politically (i.e. it was more important to Jewish futures than the unnamed-but-connoted-and-hated one under Q). But it might be more difficult to substantiate such a conjectured connection.

 

·         I don’t feel  that the reference has to be taken as parenthetical, since I don’t see protos as referring to the Q-over-S census of post-Herodian Judea as the 'most important' (to the Jews) census of Augustus. I see the 'became most important' referring to the policy itself (and not a local implementation thereof) which 'only became important' to the Jews when the political tides turned (i.e. it wasn’t controversial or a high-priority issue until the census Q-over-S).  The difference may seem slight, but it does have some bearing on the 'why Q is mentioned' and the chronological freight that mention carries.

 

So, there are some differences, although I am persuaded by his treatment of the verb and the adjective and the demonstrative (as I stumbled upon myself, in a basic sense…sigh). But I still consider the 'earlier than' understanding of protos to be a viable option, given that 'natural readings' are unreliable as 'standards' or 'criteria'. The text is just too weird to lend itself to a 'consensus-earning' interpretation, and the standard interpretation has an equal number of problems/faults as do any of the alternatives.

 

[I should mention that there is also a possibility that Q-over-S occurred once in 4-1BC, and only later in the 6-7AD timeframe. This position was articulated by Sherwin-White, since we have a gap in our knowledge of Syrian leadership from 4-1BC, but such an earlier governorship by Q would provide even less connection between it and the enrollment policy/decree of Augustus than would the hated census in 6-7. In the 4-1 BC period, we would have Jesus in Egypt and then Nazareth, prior to the consolidation of Herod's territory under Roman rule in 6-7 AD.]]

 

Bock (who doesn’t mention the 'most prominent' option in his otherwise comprehensive summary of the options), comes out here:

 

"The solutions to the Quirinius problem are varied. No candidate is so manifestly superior that it can be regarded as the solution. What one faces is a variety of solutions, any of which could be correct. If one is forced to state a preference, it would seem that the current historical uncertainty regarding the succession of the governorship in Syria is the most likely cause for the lack of clarity in making a choice. The most likely possibilities are my variation of Sherwin-White’s solution with the allowance of the beginning of a census in the period of Herod (view 5c) or the solution of Hayles with Quirinius as an administrator of the census (view 5d). But the lexical suggestion of Higgins (view 5g--'before the governership of Q') is also possible. One additional detail is little noted. If πρώτη means “first” (as agree most interpreters), then Luke calls this the “first” census while Quirinius was governor—a remark that could imply knowledge of more censuses under Quirinius. So the one thing Luke may not mean is what scholars who deny historicity argue he means: the later census of A.D. 6. In light of this and the various possibilities, it is clear that the relegation of Luke 2:2 to the category of historical error is premature and erroneous." [Bock, D. L. (1994). Luke: 1:1–9:50 (Vol. 1, p. 909). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.]

 

 

In other words, our lack of a clear interpretation of the passage is not because we know 'too much' about the history of Syria succession (as some 'doubters' might believe), but rather because we know 'too little' about it.

 

And I might add that our lack of a clear interpretation of the passage is not because we know 'too much' about the linguistic factors in the text, but rather because we know 'too little' about them (e.g. our sample sizes are too small to make sweeping grammatical 'thou shalt not' universals).

 

For my personal conclusions, I come out at a tie between these:

 

·         This enrollment policy was implemented before Q-was-over-S (and obviously before his census), and was therefore neither connected with that census nor was it anti-Jewish in any sense of the word. It functions as a time-delimiter for Luke's later readers (who could probably date the Q-over-S time period, due to its high visibility in Jewish history and Jewish-Roman relationships).

·         This enrollment policy became most significant-to-history when the political status of Judea changed when it became a Roman province under Q.

 

 

So, so far, we have seen that the data of history and text suggest that:

1.    There was a universal enrollment decree/policy/program of Augustus that encompassed everything under his/Roman 'influence';

2.    There is no reason to doubt the historical accuracy of Luke's statement in 2.2 (especially since we are not really SURE of what he WAS saying…smile).

 

Now, strictly speaking, I don’t think we absolutely need to explore the history of Q, Judea, and Syria, but it might be helpful in illuminating our knowledge (or lack-of-certainty thereof) of the period, and of enrollment processes.

 

So, we might move ahead to Part Three… (future)

 

  

 

 


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