Questions Surrounding Jesus’ Birth/Part 1

By: Dr. John Ankerberg with various Scholars; ©{{{copyright}}}

Ed. note: This article is based upon the transcript from programs produced by the John Ankerberg Show. Additional material has been added for this print version.


And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And Joseph went out from the city of Nazareth unto the city which is called Bethlehem to be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child. And she brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn.

Dr. John Ankerberg: We’ve traveled to three continents to ask historians and archaeologists, “Is the Jesus of history the same as the Jesus of the Christian faith?” “What can we really know about Him?” Recently these questions captured the attention of ABC, resulting in a two-hour program entitled, “The Search for Jesus,” hosted by Peter Jennings. Well, after it aired, we became aware that many scholars wanted to give a second opinion about what was said.

Dr. Craig Evans:[1] No matter what their persuasion is, people say, “This guy’s extraordinary, nobody else like this has ever lived. He’s incomparable. Nobody has ever taught this way, acted this way, impressed people this way. No one has ever done these things. This is a guy I can’t leave alone. I’ve got to study Him.”
Dr. N. T. Wright:[2] Jesus does talk about Himself as Son of God in ways which it doesn’t look as though the early Church would have made up.

Dr. John Ankerberg: You know about second opinions. If your doctor diagnoses you with a serious illness, and you question his diagnosis, you would not hesitate to ask for a second opinion. Well, many of the conclusions given about Jesus in the ABC Special didn’t seem to ring true, and so we decided to check with 13 other doctors and ask them for a second opinion. We even talked to a few of the same scholars ABC did, just to make sure we were hearing them correctly.

We begin with the questions surrounding Jesus’ birth. Was Jesus born in Bethlehem or Nazareth? Have the Gospel writers presented accurate historical information about what happened or do they contradict each other?

Peter Jennings opened his special by saying, “We suspected that reliable sources would be hard to come by.” And he said that not only are there reliable sources hard to come by, he said there’s a lack of evidence concerning Jesus’ life in terms of the historical Jesus. Is that true?

Dr. Darrell Bock:[3] No. Not really. There actually is quite a bit of historical evidence, especially considering how obscure at one level a figure Jesus was. He was tucked away in a rural part of the Roman Empire and as He was tucked away in that rural part in the context of a vast empire, one would think you would know very little about Him. But in fact, He pops up in a whole lot of places.

Dr. John Ankerberg: A lot of people say that there are no secular non-Christian sources about Jesus that confirm the historical facts that are found in the New Testament. Is that true or false?

Dr. Darrell Bock: No. That’s false. We have several sources outside the Bible that confirm the existence of Jesus and they say very important things about Jesus.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Such as?

Dr. Darrell Bock: We have Tacitus who says that Pontius Pilate was responsible for the execution. That’s a Roman historian talking about a Roman governor. We have Josephus, a Jewish historian, saying Pontius Pilate is responsible for the execution of Jesus and “our people” put him up to it. So that’s a Jewish historian talking about the Jewish contribution to the discussion. We have Jewish sources that talk about Jesus as a magician and sorcerer, acknowledging that He did unusual works. That’s something that Josephus also tells us. So not only do we have corroboration, in some cases we have double corroboration.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, during the ABC Special, Peter Jennings went to people on the streets in Bethlehem and Nazareth and asked them what they thought about Jesus. We discovered scholars weren’t impressed with this approach of gathering historical information about Jesus.

Dr. Craig Evans: Well, that might be cute for television, but it’s of no probative value. It has no value whatsoever.
Dr. Claire Pfann:[4] I would say the ABC Special chose to begin from a skeptical view and chose to actually start with man-on-the-street interviews, which any credible scholar would have to laugh at. Why would we expect, for example, someone walking the streets of San Francisco today to be able to talk with any kind of knowledge about the Gold Rush in California in 1848 or someone walking the streets of Ireland to be able to talk with any type of credibility about the Great Potato Famine? These people are not the people who have spent their lives researching and exploring the issues.

Read Part 2


  1. Dr. Craig Evans: Ph.D. in New Testament from Claremont Graduate School and is the Director of the Graduate Program in Biblical Studies at Trinity Western University, where he has taught since 1981. He has lectured at Cambridge, Durham, and Oxford. Co-editor of Dictionary of New Testament Backgrounds, Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research and Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Author of Jesus and His Contemporaries.
  2. Dr. N. T. (Thomas) Wright: Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey and was formerly Dean of Lichfield Cathedral. He taught New Testament studies for twenty years at Cambridge, McGill and Oxford Universities. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God is regarded as one of the most significant studies in the contemporary “Third Quest” of the historical Jesus.
  3. Dr. Darrell L. Bock: Research Professor of New Testament Studies and Professor of Spiritual Development and Culture, Center for Christian Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas. Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland. He is author of a two-volume commentary on Luke in the Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series and of the Luke volume in the NIV Application Commentary series.
  4. Mrs. Claire Pfann: Faculty member, Center for the Study of Early Christianity, 1988-present. Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs, University of the Holy Land, 1998-present. Contributor, The Comprehensive Concordance to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Production Editor, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert XXVII . Contributor, The Illustrated Dictionary and Concordance of the Bible. Contributor, Hebrew University Bible Project: “The Alignment of the Aramaic and Greek Texts of Ezra and Daniel.” An expert on Jewish birth practices and culture of Bethlehem during the time of Jesus.


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