Blog

On What Date Was Christ Born?

“The traditional date for the birth of Christ from as early as Hippolytus (ca. A.D. 165-235) has been December 25th. In the Eastern Church January 6th was the date for not only Christ’s birth, but also the arrival of the Magi on Christ’s second birthday, His baptism in His twenty-ninth year, and the sign at Cana in His thirtieth year. However Chrysostom (A.D. 345-407) in 386 stated that December 25th is the correct date and hence it became the official date for Christ’s birth in the Eastern Church (January 6th was still considered the day for the manifestations of the coming of the Magi, the baptism, and the sign at Cana.

Although the exact date may not be pinpointed it seems that there is a relatively old tradition of a midwinter birth, therefore a date in December or January is not in itself unlikely.

The one objection raised for the winter date is the fact of the shepherds attending their flock in the night (Luke 2:8). Usually, it is noted, the sheep were taken into enclosures from November until March and were not in the fields at night. However, this is not conclusive evidence against December being the time of Christ’s birth for the following reasons. First, it could have been a mild winter and hence the shepherds would have been outside with their sheep. Second, it is not at all certain that sheep were brought under cover during the winter months. Third, it is true that during the winter months the sheep were brought in the from the wilderness. The Lukan narrative states that the shepherds were around Bethlehem (rather than the wilderness), thus indicating that the nativity was in the winter months. Finally, the Mishnah (Shekalim 7:4) implies that the sheep around Bethlehem were outside all year, and those that were worthy for the Passover offerings were in the fields thirty days before the feast, which would be as early as February, one of the coldest and rainiest months of the year. Therefore, a December date for the nativity is acceptable.

In conclusion, the exact date of the birth of Christ is difficult to know with finality. However, a midwinter date is most likely. It is clear that Christ was born before Herod the Great’s death and after the census. In looking at the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke one would need to conclude that Christ was born of Mary within a year or two of Herod’s death. In looking to some of the other chronological notations in the Gospels, the evidence led to the conclusion that Christ was born in the winter of 5/4 B.C. Although the exact date of Christ’s birth cannot be known, either December of 5 B.C., or January of 4 B.C. is most reasonable.”

Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1981) pp. 25-27

23 Responses to “On What Date Was Christ Born?”

  1. I like December 25 because that’s when Santa comes anyway…

  2. Edersheim (I:135) also says that the course of Abijah served the first week of October. That puts Luke 1:26-29 near the month of April. Hence, Jesus would be born in late December or early January.

  3. “On what date was Christ born?”

    Interesting question? Yes.

    Important question? No.

  4. Hi Michael,

    I have written an article which looks further at what year was Jesus born, when did he die, and does it matter.

    I think you will find it an interesting read. In short, it argues that we underestimate Jesus’ age by about 10 years.

    Take a look, I would be interested in hearing what you or your readers think.

  5. There is much debate around this Michael. Further discussion in the 30 years since this was written has convinced many that alternative dates are more likely. And Finegan in his Handbook of biblical chronology altered the dating when he updated this book in 1998 following Martin and others.

    If we can date the astronomical events around the star then we be more certain of our proposed dates. Several have found the conjunction in 2 BC fits the data well. The UK Daily Mail ran this story last year arguing for June 17, 2 BC as the date of Jesus’ birth.

    I think a reasonable though tentative proposal based on the astronomical events around that time is:

    Jesus’ conception 3 BC September 11
    Jesus birth 2 BC June 17
    Visit by the Magi 2 BC December 25.

    So the December 25 date may be somewhat legitimate based on the Magi’s visit.

    More of my thoughts here.

  6. Michael –

    What about some thoughts that have arisen that Jesus would have been born around the Feast of Tabernacles, thus in Sept-Oct time?

    Here is an interesting article to ponder that was written by a member of Theologica.

  7. Eclectic Christian – Michael Bell on 01 Dec 2009 at 8:56 pm # wrote:

    “I have written an article which looks further at what year was Jesus born, when did he die, and does it matter.”

    Michael Bell: In your article you write:

    There is one other interesting side note that “possibly” speaks of an older age of Jesus. John 2 records the following at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry:

    The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days? But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

    The temple began its reconstruction in 19 or 20 B.C. Add 46 years to that date and it takes you to A.D. 26 or 27. These dates don’t make sense, because we know that John the Baptist only began his ministry in A.D. 29. This could mean one of two things. Firstly either Jesus had a ministry that lasted 10 years which began in relative anonymity two to three years before John the Baptist. The other option that some have suggested is that Luke misunderstood the conversation, again because of his misunderstanding Jesus’ age and the 46 years is in fact a reference to Jesus’ age at the time. This would then fit with a death two years later at age 48.

    Did you mean to say that “Luke” misunderstood the conversation? This conversation is in John’s Gospel, not Luke’s.

  8. Of interest might be this post (http://www.bib-arch.org/e-features/christmas.asp) on a BAR blog pointing out that the Annuciation was early on pegged to the crucifixion (Nissan 14 mapping to the Roman March 25) and that Christmas was therefore easily computed as Dec 25, nine months later. The dating of Jesus conception was seen as more important than any clues hinting at the time of his birth.

  9. A few years ago, Touchstone Magazine had an article about the history of December 25 as Christmas.

    http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v

  10. I didn’t realize the whole post was a quote from H. Hoehner (z”l) until I got to the very end. Almost missed it. Maybe he should be added to the byline.

  11. @Erik W

    Good point, I will amend my original posting at Eclectic Christian.

  12. In addition to Lk 2:8 objection, ancient Jewish cultural background would also give us additional clues. Shepherds literally stayed with their sheep out in the open fields. They would bring their sheep in from the fields when it starts to rain— this would be around October is my understanding. It would also seem to be a very clever ploy of the early Christians in their evangelistic move to advance ‘Good News’ by reinventing pagan festival/holiday as a Christian celebration much like our political correct culture to celebrate Christmas as Happy Holiday.

    Merry Christmas

  13. Depending on who you ask, and what theory you attend to, the final Julian calendar, in its final form did not come into force until either 1BC or 4AD. There were still wild adjustments being made arount 8BC or so. Even if we knew for sure the exact day Jesus was born on by the Gregorian calendar, it doesn’t mean we would know what day he was born on according to the calendar of the day. Or vice versa.

  14. Good question and probably unanswerable . My guess would put Him under the sign of Scorpio .

  15. Interesting read, but it leaves out MUCH symbolism found in the Feasts of the Lord – which were dramas played out to help the people understand spiritual realities … Passover and Feast of Tabernacles mainly, but also Pentecost and Hannukah.

    Googling Christ born Feast of Tabernacles, or Christ born Passover, or Christ born Hanukkah will give several different opinions.

    [Edited to remove hyperlinks. – Admin.]

  16. the fact that christ came to earth as a mortal man makes that year as 1-AD
    not the other way around. the fact this the year of our lord 2011 tells us AD-1 was 2011 years ago. christ made AD-1 by his birth to the virgin mary. there would be no AD if god did not send his only son to earth. BC-1 ended the 6th millennium .. today we talk 2nd millennium after christ or it will otherwise be the 8th millennium at the year 2000 by the standards i see here. the calendar did not make AD calendar christ did at his birth.. lets get things in there true places

  17. December 25 is birthday of Mithra, popular god worshipped by the Roman military.

    I think it is more important to consider the Jewish Feasts and how they all contain prophecy pointing to birth, death, and ressurrection of Jesus Christ.

    I have heard that Jesus was conceived during the Festival of Lights.

    King Herod chose to take his census (man’s birthplace) and collect taxes during the Feast of Tabernacles when harvest was just complete and pockets were full of money.

    The Feast of booths….Jews had to leave their homes- may even trade houses with a neighbor during the Feast. The inn was full because Jewsh people did not stay in their own homes during feast of booths. The construction of the booth points to the construction of the stable….

    Emmanuel (God with us) tabernacled among us- then during the Feast of Weeks there was wave offering- pointing to Pentecost and the Holy Spirit.
    Emmanuel left His Holy Spirit to tabernacle within each born again Christian.

    Instead of looking for answers from sources tainted with Roman paganism, we need to find our answers in Judaism.

    When we recognize Holy Spirit as our Teacher,
    He opens our eyes to see and opens our ears to hear.

    Those who refuse to see and refuse to listen show who their Teacher is not….

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Christmas-ing « ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (in Christ Jesus) - December 2, 2009

    […] See also C. Michael Patton: On What Date Was Christ Born? […]

  2. When Was Christ Born? « Abraham's Seed - December 2, 2009

    […] 2, 2009 When Was Christ Born? Posted by Andrew Suttles under Miscellany Leave a Comment  When was Christ born? – Parchment and Pen […]

  3. Christmas Links (Latest Links Special) | blog of dan - December 3, 2009

    […] On what date was Christ born? […]

  4. Latest Links | blog of dan - December 7, 2009

    […] On what date was Christ born? […]

  5. When is Jesus’ Birthday? « Daily Illumination - December 25, 2012

    […] From Michael Patton at Parchment and Pen: […]

Leave a Reply