Why Luke Doesn’t Say “Once Upon a Time …”

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Every year I like to learn about a new facet of the account of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. Doing this helps me stay out of a robotic rut when communicating to kids, and instead teach with the joy of new discovery.

This year I have focused on the first verse of Luke 2.

But backing up a bit …

First of all, I have always liked the introduction to Luke. Luke prefaces the details of his writing by assuring his reader: … having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you …. (vs. 1:3) In other words, Luke wanted to get the facts straight.

Luke 2 is probably the most familiar chapter of the book and is crucial to our understanding of God becoming man. And indeed, that chapter has been told and retold. Even non-believers can tell the “story of Christmas” and often relay it to their kids as part of tradition with no underlying worth or validity.

Ask a group of kids how fairy tales or other fictional narratives begin and most will answer Once Upon a Time …

But notice Luke doesn’t do that. He does not start the account of Christ’s birth with the nebulous once upon a time. Instead, he immediately draws the reader in by starting with an historical event – a decree by Caesar Augustus … the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. By doing that, he establishes that this was an event that truly took place and therefore has credibility.

(Some scholars and skeptics have disputed this census – but research shows Quirinius was governor of Syria and Luke has his facts right. If you’re interested in studying this more, I would suggest finding writings of reputable Bible scholars and reading the different references both to Quirinius and the census. A good source is https://www.gotquestions.org/Quirinius-census.html )

Ask the kids (in your class or home) why stories begin once upon a time … . Then explain to them the difference between a fairy tale beginning and an actual-event beginning.

Challenge your kids to think through the truth of God’s Word.


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