History convincingly shows that Dec. 25 was popularized as the date for Christmas not because Christ was born on that day, but because it was already popular in pagan religious celebrations as the birthday of the sun.
But is it possible that Dec. 25 could be the day of Christ’s birth?
“Lacking any scriptural pointers to Jesus’s birthday, early Christian teachers suggested dates all over the calendar. Clement … picked November 18. Hippolytus … figured Christ must have been born on a Wednesday … An anonymous document[,] believed to have been written in North Africa around A.D. 243, placed Jesus’s birth on March 28” (Jeffery Sheler, U.S. News & World Report, “In Search of Christmas,” Dec. 23, 1996, p. 58).
A careful analysis of Scripture, however, clearly indicates that Dec. 25 could not have been the date for Christ’s birth. Here are two primary reasons:
First, we know that shepherds were “living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night,” at the time of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8 Luke 2:8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
American King James Version×). In that area, shepherds simply were not out in the fields at night with their flocks during December.
The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary, for example, explains that this passage argues “against the birth [of Christ] occurring on Dec. 25 since the weather would not have permitted” shepherds watching over their flocks in the fields at night. It was simply too wet and cold for these events mentioned in connection with Christ’s birth to have taken place in December.
Second, Joseph and Mary came 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×). The Romans were highly efficient administrators, and such a census would never have been undertaken in winter when temperatures often dropped below freezing and roads were in poor condition. Taking a census under such conditions would have been self-defeating.
The Bible makes no mention of Christmas, nor does it anywhere encourage any sort of celebration of Christ’s birth. History records no such celebration until at least several centuries later, when the Catholic Church essentially adopted the pagan midwinter Saturnalia festival and the Dec. 25 celebration of the birthday of the pagan
sun god Mithra as the supposed birthday of Jesus Christ in an effort to make Christianity more appealing to pagans.
Given the difficulties and the desire to bring pagans into Christianity, writes author William Walsh, “the important fact then which I have asked you to get clearly into your head is that the fixing of the date as December 25th was a compromise with paganism” (The Story of Santa Klaus, 1970, p. 62).
If Jesus Christ was not born on Dec. 25, does the Bible indicate when He was born? We do find scriptural clues that point to the autumn of the year as the most likely time of Jesus’ birth, based on the conception and birth of John the Baptist.
Since Elizabeth (John’s mother) was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Jesus was conceived (Luke 1:24-36 Luke 1:24-36 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.
28 And the angel came in to her, and said, Hail, you that are highly favored, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women.
29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
30 And the angel said to her, Fear not, Mary: for you have found favor with God.
31 And, behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name JESUS.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give to him the throne of his father David:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34 Then said Mary to the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
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×), we can determine the approximate time of year Jesus was born if we know when John was born. John’s father Zacharias was a priest serving in the Jerusalem temple during “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×)— designating a particular rotation in priestly service. Historical calculations indicate that this course of service corresponded to June 13-19 in that year ( The Companion Bible, 1974, Appendix 179, p. 200).
During this time of temple service, Zacharias learned 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 (verses 23-24). Assuming John’s conception took place near the end of June, adding nine months brings us to the end of March as the most likely time for John’s birth. Adding another six months (the difference in ages between John and Jesus) brings us to the end of September as the likely time of Jesus’ birth.
In any event, nowhere in the New Testament did Jesus tell us to observe His birth. Instead, He personally commanded us to commemorate annually His sacrificial death on our behalf (Matthew 26:26-28 Matthew 26:26-28 26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink you all of it;
28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
American King James Version×; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24 And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do you, as oft as you drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord’s death till he come. 27 Why whoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
American King James Version×). For further understanding, please request or download our free booklets Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe? and God’s Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.