The Augustine census was a famous census taken in either 6 BC or 5 BC, on orders of the Roman Emperor Augustus, that occasioned the journey of Joseph of Nazareth and his wife Mary to Bethlehem where Jesus Christ was born.
The Ostensible Problem
Saint Luke (Luke 2:2 (NASB)) says that Quirinius was in charge in Syria Province when Augustus ordered the taking of the census. But the record shows that Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was not the Imperial legate in Syria until 6 AD, not 6 BC. We also know that Jesus was born before the death of Herod the Great, which astronomical and other references place at 4 BC.
According to Ussher and at least two modern sources, Quirinius was not so much governor of Syria as governing in Syria. Ussher states that he was serving as proconsul of Cilicia at the time, and was a special envoy of Augustus to two successive proconsuls of Syria: Sextius Saturninus and Quinctilius Varus. Varus gained the proconsulship in 6 BC, but Quirinius probably had a special responsibility to represent Augustus' interests in the province. This was an especially delicate time, because relations between Augustus and Herod, "King of the Jews," were strained.
Furthermore, the verse says that this was the first census taken while Quirinius was exercising governing powers and duties in Syria. Augustus ordered another census during the time of Quirinius' actual, titular governorship in and of that province.
- James Ussher, The Annals of the World
- Quirinius and the Census at BibleHistory.net
- Quirinius, Publius Sulpicius in the Christian Classics Ethereal Library