Personally, I trust Luke. So I believe Luke’s Census was an actual, historical census that happened in Israel near the end of Herod’s reign. In that sense, faith is good enough for me. But I also believe that in order to be reasonable, faith based scholarship needs to work from both classical sources AND from Luke 2:1-3 to reconstruct this historical census… even if nobody’s ever done that before, to my knowledge… even if attempting to do so brings us into conflict with traditional conclusions on other chronological details regarding the Life of Christ.
In my preface post, I already said believers should prioritize the evident veracity of details in scripture, for purposes of historical reconstruction. In other words, we may say and believe Luke 2:1-5 is historical, but we also have to admit it seems awfully unclear. Scholarship is at least in agreement that some of the details seem to contradict history. But instead of defending those details right from the start, I’m suggesting we rank them. Whichever facts in Luke’s text seem most immediately reliable – whichever details we can most easily trust – those are the ones to begin from. That means, for example, that Quirinius can wait.
So what’s the best place to start? Let’s start by eliminating what isn’t.