As usual, if you study and research, you find all kinds of things under your nose; things that have been debated pro and con, with no true answer forthcoming and then the epiphany, the moment of revelation. I had this just yesterday. When trying to reconcile the 10-12 year contradiction between Matthew and Luke, concerning when Jesus was born (Matthew – during the reign of Herod, Luke when Cyrenius was governor of Syria); Christians often try to “prove” that Cyrenius (more properly P. Sulpicius Quirinius) served more than one term as governor and that he conducted a census during that first term of office. In order to understand the importance of the taxation mentioned in Luke, you have to understand the way the Roman world worked.
With the Romans, Censuses were conducted for purposes of taxation and In his account of the major events of his life, Augustus wrote that he conducted official censuses in 28 BCE, 8 BCE, 6 CE and 14 CE. Dio Cassius the Roman historian wrote that in 6 CE Caesar Augustus set up a fund to benefit the Roman military and had kings and certain communities contribute to it. He also made a sizable contribution and promised to do so each year. When this did not provide sufficient funds to keep the military going, he issued a worldwide decree that there would be a 5% inheritance tax on estates/inheritances, something beyond normal taxation. Such taxation would require a census to register transferable assets, such as land, and to record genealogies to establish “very near relatives” (Roman History LV 25:5-6).
Josephus noted the effects of this decree in Judea: “Now Cyrenius, a Roman senator, and one who had gone through other magistracies, and had passed through them till he had been consul, and one who, on other accounts, was of great dignity, came at this time into Syria, with a few others, being sent by Caesar to be a judge of that nation, and to take an account of their substance. Coponius also, a man of the equestrian order, was sent together with him, to have the supreme power over the Jews. Moreover, Cyrenius came himself into Judea, which was now added to the province of Syria, to take an account of their substance, and to dispose of Archelaus' money; but the Jews, although at the beginning they took the report of a taxation heinously, yet did they leave off any further opposition to it." (Antiquities. XVIII 1:1). He further reported "a certain Galilean, whose name was Judas, prevailed with his countrymen to revolt; and said they were cowards if they would endure to pay a tax to the Romans, and would, after God, submit to mortal men as their lords." (Wars II 8:1). In Antiquities XX 5:2, he wrote of "Judas who caused the people to revolt, when Cyrenius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews." As Josephus noted, Caesar’s 5% tax was to be on estates/inheritances of all but the poor and near relatives, not on the people.
The census attached to this taxation was also noted by Luke: "Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away some people after him, he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered." (Acts 5:37) This shows that Luke was speaking of the same census/taxation as Josephus, the 6 CE census/taxation conducted under Cyrenius (P. Sulpicius Quirinius).
A listing of the Governors of Syria from 10 BCE to 7 CE are as follows:
BCE 10-9 M. Titius
BCE 9-6 Gaius Sentius Saturninus
BCE 6-3 P. Quinctilius Varus
BCE 3-1 L. Calpurnius Piso
BCE 1-4 CE Gaius Julius Caesar
4-6 CE L. Volusius Saturninus
6-7 CE P. Sulpicius Quirinius
Now my question to Christians is, “Having been shown how the 6 CE census recorded by Josephus in his two major works (Antiquities and Wars) is indeed the one mentioned by Luke in his gospel (nailed firmly by Acts 5:37); how can you explain the 10-12 year discrepancy between Luke and Matthew and for you fundies, how can you defend the inerrancy of the bible? - Heimdall