Bible Question:

When Jesus was 2 years of age the magi visited him in the house that He lived in with his parents. According to the timeline why couldn't we count back two years find the birthdate of Christ?

Bible Answer:

There have been many approaches to determining the date of Christ’s birth. The question that we are concerned with is can the birth of Christ be determined by counting backward from the date of the magi’s visit to Christ in the house described in Matthew 2:9-12.

Determined The Exact Time The Star Appeared

Herod The Great Is Alive

The strategy for determining the birth of Christ using the date of the wise men’s visit to Christ in Matthew 2:9-12 requires that we understand the exact date of Herod’s death and the exact time the star appeared to the wise men. This would seem to be a good approach since Matthew 2:1 tells us that Herod the Great was alive when the magi came to the city of Jerusalem.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” Matthew 2:1-2 (NASB)

Since the Herod mentioned in Matthew 2:1 was Herod the Great, we can conclude that Herod the Great was still alive when the wise men arrived in the city of Jerusalem.

The Star Had Appeared About Two Years Earlier

Since Matthew 2:2 states that the wise men had seen “His star in the east” and Matthew 2:7 says that Herod knew the exact date the star appeared, it would seem that we can determine the exact date of the star also!

 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. Matthew 2:7 (NASB)

Matthew 2:8-15 help us understand that the wise men then visited Christ when He was in a house (Matthew 2:11). After that they did not return to Jerusalem because God warned them not to return to Herod (Matthew 2:12). Once Herod understood that his orders had not been followed,  he ordered all male children under the age of two to be murdered. In Matthew 2:16 we are told the age of the children to be murdered was defined “according to the time which he had determined from the magi.”

Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.  Matthew 2:16 (NASB)

Time of Christ’s Birth

It would seem that if we subtract the exact time the star appeared from the date the wise men arrived in Jerusalem, we could determine the date of Christ’s birth. But we have some problems. First, the exact date on which the wise men visited Herod the Great is not precisely known. In the article titled, “Fables of Christmas” it has been demonstrated that Herod the Great did not die in 6 B.C. or 4 B.C. as is often claimed but in 3-2 B.C.[1]

The second problem is when did the magi visit Herod? Did Herod die a few months later or did Herod die one or two years later? It is usually assumed that Herod died within one year.

The third problem is that we do not know the exact time of the appearance of the star. It is important to note that Herod ordered every child under the age of two to be murdered. That means Herod was not completely certain about the exact time. In fact, he may have inflated the number in order to be sure that he eliminated that child.

Therefore, there is too much uncertainty in the date of the wise men’s visit to Herod and in the time of the appearance of the star. As a result, this approach is not useful in determining a precise date of Christ’ birth.

Conclusion:

The article titled, “Fables of Christmas” provides the best estimate of the date of Christ’s birth and the article “Was Jesus born on December 25?” provides the best month and date of Christ’s birth.

 

References:

1. Fables of Christmas (www.neverthirsty.org/bible-studies/christmas-accounts/fables-of-christmas/)

Suggested Links:

Was Jesus born on December 25?
Fables of Christmas
How old was Jesus when the wise men found Him?