on Luke 2 :2
This taxing was first made when Cyrenius, etc. - The next difficulty in this text is found in this verse, which may be translated, Now this first enrolment was made when Quirinus was governor of Syria.
It is easily proved, and has been proved often, that Caius Sulpicius Quirinus, the person mentioned in the text, was not governor of Syria, till ten or twelve years after the birth of our Lord.
St. Matthew says that our Lord was born in the reign of Herod, Luke 2:1, at which time Quintilius Varus was president of Syria, (Joseph. Ant. book xvii. c. 5, sect. 2), who was preceded in that office by Sentius Saturninus. Cyrenius, or Quirinus, was not sent into Syria till Archelaus was removed from the government of Judea; and Archelaus had reigned there between nine and ten years after the death of Herod; so that it is impossible that the census mentioned by the evangelist could have been made in the presidency of Quirinus.
Several learned men have produced solutions of this difficulty; and, indeed, there are various ways of solving it, which may be seen at length in Lardner, vol. i. p. 248-329. One or other of the two following appears to me to be the true meaning of the text.
1. When Augustus published this decree, it is supposed that Quirinus, who was a very active man, and a person in whom the emperor confided, was sent into Syria and Judea with extraordinary powers, to make the census here mentioned; though, at that time, he was not governor of Syria, for Quintilius Varus was then president; and that when he came, ten or twelve years after, into the presidency of Syria, there was another census made, to both of which St. Luke alludes, when he says, This was the first assessment of Cyrenius, governor of Syria; for so Dr. Lardner translates the words. The passage, thus translated, does not say that this assessment was made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, which would not have been the truth, but that this was the first assessment which Cyrenius, who was (i.e. afterwards) governor of Syria, made; for after he became governor, he made a second. Lardner defends this opinion in a very satisfactory and masterly manner. See vol. i. p. 317. etc.
2. The second way of solving this difficulty is by translating the words thus: This enrolment was made Before Cyrenius was governor of Syria; or, before that of Cyrenius. This sense the word πρωτος appears to have, John 1:30 : ὁτι πρωτος μου ην, for he was Before me. John 15:18 : The world hated me Before (πρωτον) it hated you. See also 2 Samuel 19:43. Instead of πρωτη, some critics read προ της, This enrolment was made Before That of Cyrenius. Michaelis; and some other eminent and learned men, have been of this opinion: but their conjecture is not supported by any MS. yet discovered; nor, indeed, is there any occasion for it. As the words in the evangelist are very ambiguous, the second solution appears to me to be the best.
on Luke 2 :2
And this taxing was first made ... - This verse has given as much perplexity, perhaps, as any one in the New Testament. The difficulty consists in the fact that "Cyrenius," or "Quirinius," was not governor of Syria until 12 or 15 years after the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born during the reign of Herod. At that time "Varus" was president of Syria. Herod was succeeded by "Archelaus," who reigned eight or nine years; and after he was removed, Judea was annexed to the province of Syria, and Cyrenius was sent as the governor (Josephus, "Ant.," b. xvii. 5). The difficulty has been to reconcile this account with that in Luke. Various attempts have been made to do this. The one that seems most satisfactory is that proposed by Dr. Lardner. According to his view, the passage here means, "This was the "first" census of Cyrenius, governor of Syria." It is called the "first" to distinguish it from one "afterward" taken by Cyrenius, Acts 5:37. It is said to be the census taken by "Cyrenius; governor of Syria; "not that he was "then" governor, but that it was taken by him who was afterward familiarly known as governor. "Cyrenius, governor of Syria," was the name by which the man was known when Luke wrote his gospel, and it was not improper to say that the taxing was made by Cyrenius, the governor of Syria," though he might not have been actually governor for many years afterward. Thus, Herodian says that to Marcus "the emperor" were born several daughters and two sons," though several of those children were born to him "before" he was emperor. Thus, it is not improper to say that General Washington saved Braddock's army, or was engaged in the old French war, though he was not actually made "general" until many years afterward. According to this Augustus sent Cyrenius, an active, enterprising man, to take the census. At that time he was a Roman senator. Afterward, he was made governor of the same country, and received the title which Luke gives him.
Syria - The region of country north of Palestine, and lying between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates. "Syria," called in the Hebrew "Aram," from a son of Shem Genesis 10:22, in its largest acceptation extended from the Mediterranean and the river Cydnus to the Euphrates, and from Mount Taurus on the north to Arabia and the border of Egypt on the south. It was divided into "Syria Palestina," including Canaan and Phoenicia; "Coele-Syria," the tract of country lying between two ridges of Mount Lebanon and Upper Syria. The last was known as "Syria" in the restricted sense, or as the term was commonly used.
The leading features in the physical aspect of Syria consist of the great mountainous chains of Lebanon, or Libanus and Anti-Libanus, extending from north to south, and the great desert lying on the southeast and east. The valleys are of great fertility, and yield abundance of grain, vines, mulberries, tobacco, olives, excellent fruits, as oranges, figs, pistachios, etc. The climate in the inhabited parts is exceedingly fine. Syria is inhabited by various descriptions of people, but Turks and Greeks form the basis of the population in the cities. The only tribes that can be considered as unique to Syria are the tenants of the heights of Lebanon. The most remarkable of these are the Druses and Maronites. The general language is Arabic; the soldiers and officers of government speak Turkish. Of the old Syriac language no traces now exist.
on Luke 2 :2
2:2 When Cyrenius was governor of Syria - When Publius Sulpicius Quirinus governed the province of Syria, in which Judea was then included.