When was Jesus born?
What an interesting question! It may or may not surprise you to know that there is much discussion—even argument—throughout Christendom as to the birthday of Jesus. One thing, however, is certain. Jesus was not born on December 25, 0 b.c/a.d. Frankly, no one can pinpoint the exact day or year of His birth—although many have tried. In fact, it seems that no one in the Christian faith even cared about His birthday until the third century a.d. People have been guessing ever since.
Some of the guesses are rather ludicrous. For example, one group of astrologers postulate that December 25 could not possibly be the correct date because Jesus would be a Capricorn and would have been more likely to be a philanthropist or run for public office than sacrificing His life on the cross! One prominent minister/astrologer, Rev. Don Jacobs, used a main frame computer to replicate the same celestial dynamics observed by the ancient Magi who were “center stage” in Matthew’s gospel, as well as possible astrological charts of Christ’s time to declare that Jesus was born on March 1, 7 BC, at 1:21 a.m. in Bethlehem.
The year of His birth is unknown but certainly fits within certain known parameters. The key verses are Luke 2:1-4: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.
Jesus was born in 6 b.c. or after because of historical evidence purporting that Quirinius became governor of Syria in 6 b.c.. Jesus was born in 4 b.c. or earlier because Herod died in 4 b.c.. Also, a birth before 4 b.c. is reckoned because the Roman emperor Augustus who issued the decree died in 4 b.c. Jesus had to have been born before the tax degree was implemented.
Astrological evidence also helps pinpoint the year. This evidence relates to the “star” which appeared to the wise men from Babylon. Many have postulated a numerous guesses as to what the star was and especially how it moved to lead the Babylonian astrologers to the very house where Jesus was staying when He was about two years old. Jesus fled with his parents to Egypt just before King Herod invoked the command to kill all the baby boys two years or under. It is likely that the three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh financed the trip.
Of course the star could have easily have been a supernatural miracle from God. After all, the “star” moved and “remained” over the house until the wise men arrived. Another suggestions is the astronomical lining up in a line of the planets Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn as viewed from earth. Since a confluence like this occurs only once every 25,000 years, or so, this monumental astronomical event could easily have gotten the attention of Babylonian observers. The confluence occurred in 7 b.c. which corresponds closely with the above evidence.
Another suggestion regarding the star was stated by the Roman Historian, Josephus, who mentioned the eclipse which occurred in 4 b.c. which again is close to the above historical evidence.
Why was Jesus not born in 0 b.c/a.d? The answer is rather simple. In the 10th century several European scholars decided it was time to draw up an accurate-historical time line which began at Jesus’ birth and continued into the present. The men miscounted by 4 to 7 years or so!
By the way, for the past millennium all reference to years before Christ were known as “B.C.” and stood for the words, “Before Christ”. The years after Christ’s birth were identified as “A.D.” which stands for “Anno Domini” which means “In The Year Of Our Lord.” In the past fifty years secular scholars have led the intellectual community to get Jesus out of the dating altogether. The term now used for the years before Christ is “b.c.e.” which means “Before Common Era.” The term now used for the years after Christ is “c.e.” which means “Common Era.” What a shame! By the way, I refuse to use the new Christless terms. They gall me.
Again, the Bible doesn’t explicitly identify a particular day as the birthday of our Lord. Nevertheless, many scholars have developed diverse opinions as to the likely birthday of Jesus. A careful analysis of the Bible clearly indicates that December 25 couldn’t be the date for Christ’s birth. Here are two primary reasons:
First, shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks at the time of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:7-8). Shepherds were not in the fields during December. Luke’s account (based on the dates of Mary’s pregnancy in relation to the birth of John the Baptist) suggests that Jesus may have been born in summer or early fall. Since the winter months are cold and rainy in Judea, it is very likely that the shepherds would not be out in the fields at night but sheltered somewhere from the elements. Second, no competent Roman administrator would require registration involving travel during the winter season because of the travel hardships involved.
Although it is difficult to determine the first time anyone celebrated December 25 as Christmas Day, historians say that it was sometime during the fourth century. The first recorded mention of December 25th is in the Calendar of Philocalus (AD 354), which declared Jesus’ birth to be Friday, December 25th, AD 1.
A close look at the pagan-Roman-religious holidays may give clues as to why December 25 became so popular. The date of December 25th was actually a vestige of the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, observed near the winter solstice, which celebrated the “birth of the sun.” Since December 21 is the shortest day of the year each day becomes increasingly longer after the winter solstice as Spring approaches. Many suggest that the early Roman Christians simply “Christianized” many of the Roman-pagan holidays which they themselves inherited from the earlier Babylonian priesthoods (read “wise men.”). In one sense, simply making these holidays Christian ones could be considered evangelistic wisdom because the gap from paganism to Christianity was shortened dramatically making conversion to following Christ easier.
Well, “LAC”, I hope my answer is satisfying. I was short on time this week and I chose your question to answer because I thought it needed only a quick paragraph or two. But, the more I thought about it, the more intriguing became “When was Jesus born?” Thanks so much!