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The Bible Always Gets History Right

Did the Romans have a census? Yes!

THE HUMANIST'S CLAIM ABOUT: History and the New Testament

In the New Testament, the second chapter of Luke asserts that shortly before the birth of Jesus, the emperor Augustus ordered a census throughout the Roman world. Luke claims that every person had to travel to the town of his ancestors for the census to be taken. He identifies the census as the reason for Joseph and Mary traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus is said to have been born.

In his book Gospel Fictions, Randall Helms says this type of census was never taken in the history of the Roman Empire. He points out it’s ridiculous to think the practical Romans would require millions of people to travel enormous distances – to towns of long-deceased ancestors – merely to sign a tax form. Likewise, in Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, Isaac Asimov affirms that the Romans would certainly arrange no such census.

Let's start with a little background on the referenced Randall Helms book. In chapter three, called Nativity Legends," he writes: "We must remember that for the Christian generation that produced our Gospels, the Bible consisted only of what Christians now call the Old Testament, and a particular version thereof, the Greek Septuagint. But, before they wrote the New Testament, Christians created another entirely new book, the Old Testament, turning the Septuagint into a book about Jesus by remarkably audacious and creative interpretation." (page 53).

So it appears we have another fiction writer who makes up things to support his accusations against the Bible. For example, open your Bible. In the front will be a section describing the sources used for translation. In most cases the Old Testament is translated from the BIBLICA HEBRAICA, with some use of other sources such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Yes, about 2/3 of the Old Testament quotes in the New Testament come from the Septuagint. Why? Because the language of their readers was Greek. Just as I quote from an English language translation of the Bible in these web pages, because you read English. The writers of the New Testament did the same. Helms' statement above is pure fiction.

And what is the accusation? "It's ridiculous to think the Romans would require millions of people to travel enormous distances." So this accusation is based on atheists thinking it is ridiculous... not on any facts. We should stop here... that's nothing. Just personal opinion. But, let's go on and look at some facts... I love facts:

First, a little history about Rome. The Roman Republic (508 BC to 27 BC) became the Roman Empire in the year 27 BC. According to the Roman Empire web site, the census in the Roman Republic was very important:

Every five years, each male Roman citizen had to register in Rome for the census. In this he had to declare his family, wife, children, slaves and riches. Should he fail to do this, his possessions would be confiscated and he would be sold into slavery. Throughout the entire republican era, registration in the census was the only way that a Roman could ensure that his identity and status as a citizen were recognized.

So this type of census was historically common in Rome. Biblical scholar Harold Hoehner writes:

“…a papyrus dated to A.D. 104, records an Egyptian prefect who ordered Egyptians to return to their ancestral homes so that a census could be taken. In first century Rome, since the Jews’ property was linked to their fathers (i.e. patriarchal), the Romans would certainly have allowed them the custom of laying claim to their family estate for taxation.” - Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ 1977, page 15.

Let's go back to the humanist's expert, Randall Helms, and see what he specifically writes about this: "In his anxiety to relate the Galilean upbringing with the supposed Bethlehem birth, Luke confused his facts. Indeed Luke's anxiety has involved him in some real absurdities, like the needless ninety-mile journey of a woman in her last days of pregnancy--for it was the Davidic Joseph who supposedly had to be registered in the ancestral village, not the the Levitical Mary."

Stop here. Mary was not a Levite, she was of the Davidic line through Nathan. So there is another fiction. And also, she was not necessarily in her last days of pregnancy. That is a common myth even Christian believe. But, what does scripture say? Joseph and Mary get to Bethlehem, and... While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. (Luke 2:6) Scripture does not say how long it was after they arrived until she gave birth. (Click here for details about what happened in Bethlehem. Be sure to watch the video.)

Let's continue with what Helms' writes: "Worse yet, Luke has been forced to contrive a universal dislocation for a simple tax registration: who could imagine the efficient Romans requiring millions in the empire to journey scores or hundreds of miles to the villages of millennium-old ancestors merely to sign a tax form! Needless to say, no such event happened in the history of the Roman Empire." - Randall Helms, Gospel Fictions, 1989, pages 59 & 60.

What do we have? Just more fiction. The picture of "millions" being dislocated is pure fiction. People in those days did not travel much, nor move from their ancestral homes. They typically stayed together in family groups. So the vast majority of people were already where they needed to be for the census. And as you read above, while it was a tax census, it still involved more than signing your name on a tax form. That is yet another humanist fiction.

Also, what is described in Luke seems to be the height of efficiency. The problem with taking a census is with those few people who do move around. In those days, taking a census could take months... or a year or two. How can you ensure everyone is counted, and that people are not counted twice? You specify the place where they will be counted. And their ancestral home is the only place that makes sense.

Only the men had to register. So why did Mary go? Where are they going? To the family home of both Joseph and Mary. Of course she wanted to go. Of course she wanted to have the baby with her family there. And where did they go after the baby was born? They didn't go... they stayed in Bethlehem. Their family was there and that was where they wanted to be.


The humanists version of history is based on fiction solely created to provide a way to attack the Bible. It is neither historically true, nor is it true to human nature (the desire to be with family, for example).

Next: New Testament and More:

The third chapter of Luke contains a genealogy tracing Christ’s ancestry back only 76 generations to Adam. According to Genesis chapter 1, Adam was created along with the rest of the universe during the course of one week.

The Bible thus views the human race and the universe as having existed for a relatively short period, probably no more than several thousand years. In fact, for many centuries the orthodox Christian position – to doubt which was to risk damnation – was that the creation took place sometime between four and six thousand years before Christ’s birth.

Historians and scientists give a much longer historical record. They say the universe is between 10 and 20 billion years old, the earth’s age is approximately 4.6 billion years, and humans evolved from ape-like ancestors during the last few million years.

Now we get to the age of the earth, another big topic. We'll tackle this one on the next page: click here...