Bible Question:

We know that the Bible does not record a date for Jesus birth. When was He born?

Bible Answer:

When was Jesus born? There are several issues we need to consider in order to obtain an answer. First, why have Christians doubted the date of December 25, and then what have historians said was the date of His birth?

Reasons For Doubt

The major reason Christians have doubted that December 25th was the day of Jesus’ birth is that they do not believe the shepherds were out in the cold night watching their sheep at night. Luke 2:8 says that the shepherds were watching at night. Temperatures in Jerusalem can range from the low 30 degrees Fº (-1.1 Cº) into the lower 40 degrees Fº (4.4 Cº).

And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night. (NASB) Luke 2:8

Here is an interesting experience from Dr. Harry Mulder of the Netherlands.

During the brief Christmas vacation my wife and I traveled from Beirut to Jerusalem . . . On Christmas Eve in Shepherd Field a crowd had gathered to sing Christmas carols. We joined this crowd and took part in the singing. Right near us a few flocks of sheep nestled. Even the lambs were not lacking. It was a moving sight. It is therefore definitely not impossible that the Lord Jesus was born in December.[1]

This is not proof that Jesus was born in December, but it does show that shepherds could have been in the field in the Israeli winter. It is easy to reason with incorrect information and arrive at the wrong conclusion that Jesus was not born on December 25.

Historians Speak Out

Ancient historians have claimed that Jesus was born on December 25 or January 6. The first date is supported by Clement of Alexandria and Epiphanius (A.D. 315-403).

Report From Epiphanius

Here are the words of Epiphanius.

. . . Christ was born on the eighth day before the Ides of January, thirteen days after the winter solstice and the beginning of the increase of light and the day. (Panarion 51.22.4) [2]

Epiphanius provides two calculations for the day on which Christ was born. The Ides of January is an ancient Roman expression referring to the thirteenth day of January. If we count eight days backward from January thirteen, we arrive at January 5. At first this seems to be correct, but as Jack Finegan explains the day should be January 6 and not January 5 because of the Roman method of computing days. They included January thirteen as day one in the eight days.

In another passage Epiphanius gives the same date even more exactly as, according to Roman reckoning, between the evening of Jan 5 and the morning of Jan 6 (51.24.1; cf. 51.27.5).[3]

The second calculation is computed from the Winter Solstice which according to current calculation occurs between December 20 to December 23.[4]  However in the ancient world, the dates of December 25 and January 6 were accepted as the official dates. But Christians believed December 25 was the true date.[5] Then counting forward thirteen days after December 25, we arrive at January 6. Both computations yield January 6 as the day of Jesus’ birth according to Epiphanius.

Epiphanius also states that Jesus was conceived on May 20. January 7 is approximately eight and one half months from May 20. Epiphanius is very precise in his dating giving numerous alternate dating methods not only for Jesus’ birth date, but for the year of His birth as well.

Report From Hippoltytus

Hippoltytus of Rome (A.D. c. 170 – c. 240)  also makes this comment about the birth of Christ in his Commentary on Daniel 4.23,

The first coming of our Lord, that in the flesh, in which he was born at Bethlehem, took place eight days before the kalends of January, a Wednesday, in the forty-second year of the reign of Augustus, 5500 years from Adam.[6]

The Roman “kalends of January” is the first of January in our modern calendar, which is the Gregorian calendar.

Finegan adds,

The eighth day before the kalends of January is the twenty-fifth day of December, and the forty-second year of Augustus was 3/2 B.C.[7]

December 25th is the correct day since the Romans included the start day in the count.

Report From Chrysostom

John Chrysostom provides a lengthy defense supporting a winter birth and the specific date of December 25th for Christ’s birth date.[8] One can read John Chrysostom’s lengthy and detailed sermon titled, “On the Day of the Birth of Our Savior Jesus Christ”  and discover his reasoning as to why December 25 is the day of Christ’s birth.[9]

Conclusion:

When was Jesus born? The Bible does not tell us. As a result, we cannot know with confidence. We have discovered that Israeli shepherds and their flocks are in the fields during the cold nights of December. Ancient data supports a May date for His conception and December/January for Jesus’ birth day. Based on data supplied by the early church fathers, December 25 is possibly a good date. December 25 just may be our Merry Christmas.

What is important is not the day, but the person of Christ. He is our God who took on human flesh in order to die for our sins. He is Savior and Lord. Is He yours?

 

References:

1. Hendricksen, William. Matthew (NTC; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973), p. 182.

2. Finegan, Jack. Handbook of Biblical Chronology. Hendricksen. Grand Rapids. 1998., para. 555, p. 322.

3. Ibid.

4. TimeAndDate.com (www.timeanddate.com/calendar/december-solstice.html)

5. Finegan. Ibid. para. 552, pp. 320-321.

6. Ibid., para. 562., p. 325.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid., para. 564 – para. 567., pp. 326-327.

9. John Chrysostom. “On the Day of the Birth of Our Savior Jesus Christ.” sections 2-6.

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