My friend Spencer Rothfuss and I are partnering up to write a mini series on Christmas. He has written a post about the meaning of Christmas, while I have written this post about the history of Christmas, the holiday and the actual timing of Jesus Christ's birth. Here is a link to Spencer's blog post.
Scholars debate exactly when Jesus was born. However, there are several clues which can help us determine, with relative accuracy, the year of Jesus' birth. In Matthew, Herod the Great plays a major role in what happens after Jesus' birth. Because he was alive when Jesus was born, and we know when his reign ended, we can use that to figure out when Jesus was actually born. Herod's reign ended in 4 B.C., the Bible says that right after this, Mary, Joseph and Jesus returned from Egypt. So the latest that he could have been born was 4 B.C. The earliest can be determined by looking at verses one and two of Luke: 2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. While we don't know much about Quirinius, we do know that his rule began during 6 B.C., and the census which Mary and Joseph went to was after he had taken the throne. So, it is safe to assume that the earliest Jesus was born was probably around 6 B.C. Now, everyone has seen the Christmas snow globes with the stable and the manger surrounded by snow. But, it's pretty clear that Jesus was NOT born in December. If he was born in December, why were there shepherds out in the fields? Why were people housed in barns? It would have been much, much too cold for these things. But the dagger for the winter being the birth month is the fact that, historically, Roman censuses were not taken during the winter months! It appears that the early Church did not actually celebrate Christmas. They saw Easter as the only important holiday, as that was the day that Jesus rose from the dead. However, when Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor came to the throne, things changed. It is believed that that is when the first Christmas celebration came about. By the fourth century, we find references to two dates that were widely recognized—and now also celebrated—as Jesus’ birthday: December 25 in the western Roman Empire and January 6 in the East (especially in Egypt and Asia Minor). The modern Armenian Church continues to celebrate Christmas on January 6; for most Christians, however, December 25 would prevail, while January 6 eventually came to be known as the Feast of the Epiphany, commemorating the arrival of the magi in Bethlehem. The period between became the holiday season later known as the 12 days of Christmas. Christmas was celebrated as a time of wild feasting and celebration. It was so wild, that the Puritan colony of Massachusetts banned it. However, during the mid to late 1800s, a reformation took place. Writers and speakers called for an 'un-commercialized' Christmas. It was during this time, the tradition of giving gifts was formed. That was how the Christmas that we know was formed.
So what year and month was Jesus born on? Well let’s break down some quick numbers. We know that Elizabeth, (John the Baptist’s mother and Mary’s cousin) was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Jesus was conceived (Luke 1:24-36). We also know that John’s father Zacharias was a priest serving in the Temple just before John was conceived. Therefore, all we need to do is figure out when Zacharias served his term as a priest, add 15 months, and we have an approximate date! John's father, Zacharias, was a priest serving in the Jerusalem temple during the course of Abijah (Luke 1:5). Historical calculations show this course of service corresponded to June 13-19 in that year ( The Companion Bible, 1974, Appendix 179, p. 200). Zacharias learned that he would have a child while he was serving as a temple priest. (Luke 1:8-13). After he completed his service in Jerusalem and traveled home, Elizabeth learned that she would have a child. (verses 23-24). Adding nine months to that date brings us to the end of March as the most likely time for John's birth. Adding another six months (the difference in the ages between John and Jesus) brings us to the end of September as the likely time of Jesus' birth. So there you go! September is the likely birth month of Jesus! Now, some scholars also argue that it probably occurred in the Spring, due to the fact that the sheep were out in the fields. But I believe that the likely month was September. (This is just my opinion, not necessarily the truth. But from my research, I believe that September or October is the likely month.)
I hope that you all have a great Christmas and a happy New Year. And I ask you to always remember the 'Reason for the Season."
Thanks for reading.
How December 25 Became Christmas By:
The Companion Bible
Biblical Evidence Shows Jesus Christ Wasn't Born on Dec. 25 By: Good News Editor
The ESV Study Bible
The Resurgence BLog: When was Jesus Born? By: Mark Driscoll