Did His birth occur on December 25th? Can we even know when Christ was born? And, should we really be celebrating His birth?
[Darris McNeely] Was Jesus born on Christmas Day? Can we even know when He was born? And most importantly, does it really matter?
December 25th is universally celebrated as Jesus Christ’s birthday. Around the world Christians celebrate the season and the day by giving gifts, being with family and friends. Even for those who aren’t Christian it’s a season of joyous celebration.
So when was Jesus born? Let’s find out. And join us on Beyond Today as we explore the many issues surrounding the question: “When Was Jesus Born?”
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[Darris] When was Jesus Christ of Nazareth born?
Every year, we hear Christmas carols all about the baby Jesus in the manger and the winter wonderland associated with His birth. If we look at our calendar, chances are, right there on December 25th, it says Christmas Day. The birth of Jesus Christ is said to be the reason behind the season. But of course every year people worry about the fact that Christ is not in the season. But was Christ actually born on Christmas Day - on December 25th? It’s not as clear and simple as our calendars would suggest.
If we look into it, we find that December 25th wasn’t always considered Jesus’ birth date. Joseph L. Sheler of U.S. News & World Report , wrote in an article entitled, “In Search of Christmas”:
“Lacking any scriptural pointers to Jesus’ birthday, early Christian teachers suggested dates all over the calendar…Clement who was an early church father, he picked November 18th…A man named Hippolytus, another early father, he “figured Christ must have been born on a Wednesday…And then there is an anonymous document believed to have been written in North Africa around the year 243 A.D. which placed Jesus’ birth on March 28th.” (Joseph L. Sheler, U.S. News & World Report , “In Search of Christmas,” Dec. 23, 1996, p. 58).
Although it is difficult to determine the first time anyone celebrated December 25th as Christmas Day, historians are in general agreement that it was sometime during the fourth century. Now this is an amazingly late date. Think about it! What this means is that Christmas - which most consider Jesus’ birthday - wasn’t observed by the Roman church until about 300 years after Christ’s death. Christmas cannot be traced back to either the teachings or the practices of the earliest Christians. That sounds almost impossible, doesn’t it? But it’s true.
So why did the Roman church adopt Christmas Day as the time to celebrate Jesus’ birth? The reason His birthday is celebrated now, at that time, is because religious leaders of the day wanted to give a pagan festival a name change and to make it easier for pagans to convert over to Christianity.
Listen to this quote from the Encyclopedia Americana which makes it very clear:
“In the fifth century, the Western Church ordered it [speaking of Christ’s birth] to be observed forever on the day of the old Roman feast of the birth of Sol [who is the sun god], as no certain knowledge of the day of Christ’s birth existed” (1944 edition, “Christmas”).
The reason for this confusion is not surprising. The Bible doesn’t actually tell us the exact date of Jesus Christ’s birth. There is no specific date given. What’s more, there aren’t any mentions of any celebrations being held honoring Christ’s birth date by the early church.
And by the early church we mean the church that we read about in the book of Acts. These people followed Jesus Christ’s example and teaching to the letter. And none of that included celebrating the day of His birth. There is no command to celebrate Christ’s birthday found in all of Scripture, certainly not in Christ’s teachings, nor in the letters of the apostles who founded the church.
As Christians, you and I should desire to follow Christ’s example and His teaching and that of His church. And nowhere do we find in Scripture that Jesus instructed us to celebrate His birthday - its just not there. And the apostles to whom the faith delivered, was given and who translated that and transferred it to the church, they followed Christ’s example in everything they did.
Again, there is no record of the early church celebrating Christmas or for that matter, the birth of Jesus Christ in any way shape or form.
Even so, it is possible that we can generally know the time or the season of the birth of Christ. Because there are distinct clues that give us an idea about the time of year that He was born.
So what about December 25th? Is it possible the Roman church accidentally adopted the correct date for Jesus’ birth? Well, a careful Bible study shows that the middle of winter was absolutely not the time Christ was born. There are two big reasons why Christmas or December 25th can’t be the time of Christ’s birth.
Let’s look at the first one. We know from the Gospel accounts that the shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks at the time of the birth of Jesus.
Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus found in chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke tells us a great deal of the details of many of the facts surrounding that birth. Here is what it says:
“And she brought forth her firstborn Son” - speaking of Christ’s mother, Mary - “and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:7-8 Luke 2:7-8 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
American King James Version×).
Listen to what Adam Clarke’s Commentary mentions about the significance of what we just read here in Luke’s account. It says:
“… Shepherds were not in the fields during December. According to [a book entitled] Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays , Luke’s account ‘suggests that Jesus may have been born in summer or early fall. Since December is cold and rainy in Judea, it is likely the shepherds would have sought shelter for their flocks at night’ (p. 309).”
Now, what do we have here? We have a recording. A historical fact about shepherds and the flocks in the cold, wet winter. They just weren’t there in the fields. The conditions were not appropriate for that to be taking place.
Now let’s look at what another source says. The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary says this passage argues “against the birth [of Christ] occurring on December 25th since the weather would not have permitted shepherds watching over their flocks in the fields at night.”
So the first reason we know He wasn’t born in December was that there were shepherds in the fields tending their flocks, something that wouldn’t have been happening in the cold Judean winter.
The second reason we know Jesus wasn’t born in December is that His parents traveled to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census (Luke 2:1-4 Luke 2:1-4 1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
American King James Version×). Such censuses were not taken in winter, when the temperatures often dropped below freezing and the roads were in poor condition thus inhibiting travel. Taking a census under such conditions would have been self-defeating, since it would have been too difficult for Judean residents to travel and to be counted. Travel back then wasn’t as easy as it is today. We live in an age of heated vehicles and snow plowed roads.
We have to understand what it was like in the culture and the setting of that time in the first century.
Now based on these two facts alone, we see that it’s impossible that the biblical account of Jesus’ birth happened in the winter, let alone on the specific date of December 25th. More than being a simple incorrect guess, the December 25th date was really an attempt to synthesize pagan worship into Christian worship.
So when was Jesus born? Well, we’ve proven that He wasn’t born on Christmas day or December 25th. Stay tuned, and next we’ll examine the biblical evidence that we do have that can tell us when He was born and why that matters.
But first, let me briefly tell you about our free Bible study aid that we’re offering on this program, the one, Jesus Christ: The Real Story . You can order your own, personal free copy of this booklet by calling: 1-888-886-8632. Again, that’s 1-888-886-8632. Or you can go online to BeyondToday.tv and download and begin reading immediately a copy of this booklet.
This study aid can help you understand the truth behind the birth of Jesus Christ and His significance in your life today.
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We’ve explained how the Bible shows us that Jesus wasn’t born on Christmas, in December, or even in the winter of the year. So when was He born?
We find the important clues about the real time of Jesus’ birth in what the Bible tells us about His cousin, John the Baptist.
Maybe you’ve read the Gospel of Luke and thought it was strange that the book and the story begins not with the story of the conception of Jesus, but with the story of the conception of John the Baptist. There’s a very good reason for this. Luke was sure to tell us in very specific detail when John the Baptist was conceived and born.
In Luke 1, it tells us that John’s mother, Elizabeth was six months pregnant when Jesus was conceived.
“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary…” (Luke 1:24-27 Luke 1:24-27 24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,
25 Thus has the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
American King James Version×).
Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were cousins. That means that from this verse, we know that John was six months older than Jesus. So we can discover the approximate time of year Jesus was born if we know when John was born.
Now let’s look at what the Bible tells us about the time of John’s birth.
John’s father, Zacharias, was a priest serving in the Temple at Jerusalem. The Bible tells us that he and his wife were both righteous people who put their hearts into serving God. Zacharias, we’re told, was a priest who served in “the division of Abijah” (Luke 1:5 Luke 1:5THERE was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
American King James Version×). At this time, the Temple priests in Jerusalem were divided into several different “divisions” or what were called “courses” - or groups of priests that would take turns performing Temple service during the year. It’s like a yearly schedule for those serving at the Temple. There were so many priests at the time that they had to be set up on a schedule to have their time to serve in the Temple.
Now, here’s what’s important. Historians calculate that the course of Abijah mentioned by Luke, during which Zacharias served, happened from June 13-19 in that year ( The Companion Bible , 1974, Appendix 179, p. 200).
The announcement therefore to Zacharias in the Temple as to the conception of John the Baptist took place between June 13-19 as our calendar has it today in that year.
During his Temple service, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias and announced to him that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a child (Luke 1:8-13 Luke 1:8-13 8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course,
9 According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell on him.
13 But the angel said to him, Fear not, Zacharias: for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elisabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.
American King James Version×). After he completed his service and traveled home, Elizabeth conceived the cousin of Jesus; the child that would one day become John the Baptist (Luke 1:23-24 Luke 1:23-24 23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. 24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,
American King James Version×). It seems that John’s conception took place near the end of June which was after the division of Abijah and Zecharias completed his Temple service, adding nine months brings us to the end of March the next year as the most likely time for John’s birth.
Adding another six months - the difference between the ages of John and Jesus (Luke 1:35-36 Luke 1:35-36 35 And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Ghost shall come on you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God.
36 And, behold, your cousin Elisabeth, she has also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
American King James Version×) - brings us to the end of September as the likely time of Jesus’ birth.
Now, when we look back and we look at this timeframe, we learn some interesting facts.
Zacharias, remember, was serving during the course of Abijah which was in the middle part of June of that year when he heard the announcement of his son’s birth. He went home, his wife conceived John the Baptist toward the end of June that year. Nine months later, John the Baptist was born in the spring, probably during the month of March as we know it today.
Six months later, Jesus Christ was born. Therefore, Christ is six months younger than his cousin and was born most likely in the fall sometime in the timeframe of September or October of that year.
So, if it’s provable using what we know from the Bible and some historical research that Jesus was born in the autumn of the year instead of the middle of winter in December, does that mean then we should keep Christmas or Christ’s birth and celebrate it in September instead of December? No it doesn’t.
For this reason: Nowhere in the Bible is there any instruction or command to commemorate or in any way celebrate the day of Christ’s birth. The fact that so many specific dates are given about other important and even less important events in the Bible, yet this exact date - the date of Christ’s birth - remains vague, that is significant.
God didn’t intend for this specific date, the date of Christ’s birth, to be celebrated. Now God does give us other specific days to observe that honor Christ and the Father. We do not need to invent our own days and times to do this. For those who love God and His Son, it is only natural to desire to worship both of them. But it is far better to worship God and Jesus Christ on the days and the times God has set.
As for the celebration of Christmas in December: Remember what we read earlier about the Roman church adopting pagan practices into the Christian faith to create Christmas. Jesus wouldn’t want us to celebrate pagan days as a means of honoring His birth. Now how can I make such a statement?
How do we know what Jesus would or would not want us to do? God makes it very clear He does not like pagan practices and He pretty well lays it out for us in one passage of the Bible that we should take note about. It says this in the book of Deuteronomy.
“When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. ‘Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to [it] nor take away from it’ ” (Deuteronomy 12:29-32 Deuteronomy 12:29-32 29 When the LORD your God shall cut off the nations from before you, where you go to possess them, and you succeed them, and dwell in their land;
30 Take heed to yourself that you be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before you; and that you inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.
31 You shall not do so to the LORD your God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hates, have they done to their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.
32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
American King James Version×,NKJV).
We should be happy Jesus Christ was born on the earth. It is a joyous event that brought us many things.
Through Christ’s birth, we see how to have a relationship with God the Father. We see His example of a perfect life, a perfect sacrifice. We see Christ’s death and His resurrection back to spirit life as a means and a way for mankind to have a chance to share the glory and live forever in the family of God. Christ came to form a new relationship with man that through His blood extends into all nations, to all peoples. He came to become our High Priest and to intercede before God’s throne for us.
Because of His birth we have the wonderful hope of a future as a Son of God in His family. Through Him we have hope to have an authentic relationship with God the Father based on truth and love. And if we truly love Him, we will love Him the way that He wants to be loved. And to love God, we should do what He asks.
John was inspired to write this, “But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him” (1 John 2:5 1 John 2:5But whoever keeps his word, in him truly is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
American King James Version×, NKJV).
Any relationship involves mutual kindness and respect. If a friend gave you a gift that you didn’t like, you’d probably forgive them. But if they gave it to you every year even when you asked them not to, eventually you might start to wonder: “Are they doing this for me or for themselves?”, “Is this person really a friend?”
By not obeying God, we are missing out on a closer relationship with Him.
During today’s program, I’ve shown you why Jesus was not born on December 25th. We’ve offered biblical evidence as to when He was born and we’ve explained how the Bible nowhere tells us to observe the day of His birth.
So to help you gain more understanding on this subject, we’re going to ask you to request this free Bible study aid, Jesus Christ: The Real Story. This is an important study aid that can provide you with many more details that we have not had time to cover in today’s program.
Please order your own, personal printed copy of Jesus Christ: The Real Story. You can call us today at the number: 1-888-886-8632. That’s 1-888-886-8632.
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I’m joined now by Steve Myers, one of my fellow Beyond Today hosts.
Steve, we have taken on quite a subject today by exposing that Christ was not born on December 25th and are saying to our audience that they should not be doing that but worshipping God in spirit and in truth. That’s an emotional law. That’s a hard thing.
[Steve Myers] It’s a really hard thing, especially when we have all these connections to Christmas time.
[Darris] And you and I both being individuals that have kept Christmas, we know exactly what the feelings are.
[Steve] Absolutely, it’s time for family’s to get together. It’s time for warm feelings. It’s time to put away our differences. We hear the songs about peace and good will to all men and those kinds of things. And it has such a connection with people that even those that aren’t Christians keep Christmas and celebrate it because of those different things.
And it can be very difficult to separate yourself from the truth of what God’s Word is and those feelings because it’s so over emotionalized in many ways. I know for my family, as my parents began to understand the truth and that God had something better in mind, it was pretty tough to give it up. I think my dad came to it pretty quick but my mom thought that well maybe she could kind of change it up a little bit and have it be a little bit more Christlike.
[Darris] She was one of those that tried to put Christ into Christmas.
[Steve] Definitely. She definitely did. She was a little apprehensive and thought she could do that. So we went on a mission, I guess you could say, to make it more Christlike. We lit candles during Advent and read scriptures. She had us read scriptures as kids. I remember sitting all in a row and going through different passages. Which you know, it’s not bad to read the Bible, but to make it something that it wasn’t.
To keep those traditions that people have rather than the truth of the Bible became a problem. So decorating our front door with crosses and nativity scenes or taking us on a car excursion to see live nativity scenes to give it a little bit more of a feeling of reality. She tried to do those things and yet even in all that, she began to see that that really did fall short of what God has in mind.
[Darris] Well, my mother was the same way. She was into it in a sincere effort to honor God, to honor Jesus Christ and the Father. We had all the trappings of Christmas just like everyone else. But she came to see that her traditions in essence were false, and that she’d been lied to. She had enough wisdom to kind of wean my sister and I off of the holiday.
But, there came a day when there was no more Christmas and she had the ability to understand what the Bible teaches about God’s festivals, God’s Holy Days, there was really no hole that was created emotionally in our life. It was filled with the truth, but because I can see both sides, I understand how difficult it is for a person to make that decision to put God and His Word first as opposed to human tradition and ideas that just don’t really cut it biblically or to put into a relationship with God, truth.
[Steve] Yeah, and to just have a day when we put away our differences or we just try to get along while the family gets together for our Christmas dinner. Boy it gets done and the kids open up all the presents and then as soon as it’s over with, it really leaves you with an emptiness. It kind of falls so far short of the idea that God has to keep that peace and that confidence in God all the time. That’s what God’s way has in mind, that we can have a fulfilling life and not just have it for a few moments on one day of the year.
[Darris] You read in Scripture that the angel said, peace on earth good will toward men. Which was a result of Christ’s birth, and everyone wants peace whether it’s within the family or peace for all the world. It’s not there.
Now don’t get us wrong by what we’ve talked about today. We are not diminishing the birth of Jesus Christ into this world. We have already covered that. It’s a matter of worshipping God in spirit and in truth and in the manner in which He says to do so. And it’s when we get on track with God that we can fully appreciate the complete life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
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Christ was not born on December 25th in the dead of winter. And celebrating it as such doesn’t change this fact. And God never gave us instruction to observe Christ’s birth in any fashion. Instead of holding to a wrong day and a wrong idea, isn’t it time that you focus on why He was born?
The idea of God coming to dwell among us in the flesh holds more profound meaning to us than the vain celebrations of His birth. Isn’t it time that you begin to focus on why Jesus was born rather than when He was born. It will make a big difference.
That’s our program today. Thanks for joining us, and be sure to tell your family and friends about Beyond Today . Tune in again next week and join us in praying, “Thy Kingdom come.” For Beyond Today , I’m Darris McNeely. Thanks for watching.
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