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When Was Jesus Christ Born?

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The year 2000 is approaching, and excitement is in the air. Magazines and newspapers report on the celebrations scheduled for January 1, 2000, the purported beginning of the 21st century and the third millennium. Even though the new century and new millennium really begin January 1, 2001, it is a rare generation that can witness such an event.

The numbering system in our calendar was originally intended to reflect the years since the birth of Christ. Yet, before too much is said about this celebration, perhaps we should ask how accurate is the numbering system. Has it really been 1,996 years since the birth of Jesus?

The history of the Gregorian calendar is indeed fascinating and enlightening. The calendar not only impacts the bimillennial celebrations being planned, but the true 2,000th year since Christ's birth.

The year of Christ's birth

Neither the Bible nor the early Church fathers mentioned the date of Jesus' birth, although they did provide details of the circumstances surrounding His birth.

Why this omission? In the case of the Church fathers, the reason is that, during the three centuries after Christ's life on earth, the event considered most worthy of commemoration was the date of His death. In comparison, the date of His birth was considered insignificant. As the Encyclopedia Americana explains, "Christmas . . . was, according to many authorities, not celebrated in the first centuries of the Christian church, as the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons rather than their birth . . ." (1944 edition, "Christmas").

We find no command in Scripture by Christ or His apostles to celebrate His birth.

So how was the year determined for His birth? In 525 Pope John I commissioned the scholar Dionysius Exiguus the task of establishing a feast calendar for the Church. Dionysius also estimated the year of Christ's birth, but through several errors in his calculations arrived at a date at least a few years later than the actual event.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Dionysius set the year of Christ's birth as the 753rd year since the founding of Rome. However, this was an impossibility, since the Gospels record Jesus' birth as occurring during the reign of Herod the Great, and thus He could not have been born later than the 750th year from the founding of Rome (15th edition, Vol. 4, p. 580, "Chronology").

Herod's death was recorded by Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and would have fallen in 4 B.C. Therefore, according to the adjusted calculations, Christ's birth took place some four years before the traditional date. Counting forward from 4 B.C. for 2,000 years (one year has to be added because there was no year 0) yields 1996 as the true 2,000th calendar year after Christ's birth. This might prove disappointing to the celebrants of the January 1, 2000, date, but they shouldn't worry too much, since the tide of tradition has usually overwhelmed the facts of history.

Confusion over dates

Surprisingly, not only is the traditional year for Christ's birth off by a few years, but His supposed December 25 birthday, widely celebrated as Christmas, is also off. Both history and the Bible give many strong indications against December 25 as the day of Christ's birth.

Certainly, if the ancients had known when Christ was born, we would expect to find ample evidence of the celebration in early writings. Yet, in the first 200 years of Christian history, no mention is made of the calendar date of His birth. Not until the year 336 do we find the first mention of a celebration of Christ's birth.

Speculation on the proper date began in the 3rd and 4th centuries, when the idea of fixing Christ's birthday started. Quite a controversy arose among Church leaders. Some were opposed to such a celebration. Origen (185-254) strongly recommended against such an innovation. "In the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners who make great rejoicings over the day in which they were born into this world" (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908 edition, Vol. 3, p. 724, "Natal Day").

During this time eight specific dates during six different months were proposed by various groups. December 25, although one of the last dates to be proposed, was the one finally accepted by the leadership of the Western church.

A summary of the debate on the dates of Christ's birth appears in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church:

"Though speculation as to the time of year of Christ's birth dates from the early 3rd century, Clement of Alexandria suggesting the 20th of May, the celebration of the anniversary does not appear to have been general till the later 4th century. The earliest mention of the observance on Dec. 25th is in the Philocalian Calendar, representing Roman practice of the year 336. This date was probably chosen to oppose the feast of the Natalis Solis Invicti [nativity of the unconquerable sun] by the celebration of the birth of the 'Sun of Righteousness' and its observance in the West, seems to have spread from Rome" (1983 edition, Oxford University Press, New York, 1983, p. 280, "Christmas").

Around 200, when Clement of Alexandria mentioned the speculations about Christ's birthday, he said nothing about a celebration on that day. He casually reported the various ideas extant at that time: "And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord's birth, but also the day . . ., the 25th day of Pachon . . . Furthermore, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi" ("The Stromata, or Miscellanies," The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1986, p. 333).

Later, in 243, the official feast calendar of the time, De Pascha Computus, places the date of Christ's birth as March 28. Other dates suggested were April 2 and November 18. Meanwhile, in the East, January 6 was chosen, a date the Greeks had celebrated as the birth of the god Dionysus and the Egyptians as the birth of the god Osiris. Although pagans commonly celebrated the birthdays of their gods, in the Bible a birthday is never celebrated to the true God (who, of course, had no birth or day of origin).

December 25 popularized

In Rome December 25 was made popular by Pope Liberius in 354 and became the rule in the West in 435 when the first "Christ mass" was officiated by Pope Sixtus III. This coincided with the date of a celebration by the Romans to their primary god, the Sun, and to Mithras, a popular Persian sun god supposedly born on the same day. The Roman Catholic writer Mario Righetti candidly admits that, "to facilitate the acceptance of the faith by the pagan masses, the Church of Rome found it convenient to institute the 25th of December as the feast of the birth of Christ to divert them from the pagan feast, celebrated on the same day in honor of the 'Invincible Sun' Mithras, the conqueror of darkness" (Manual of Liturgical History, 1955, Vol. 2, p. 67).

Protestant historian Henry Chadwick sums up the controversy:

"Moreover, early in the fourth century there begins in the West (where first and by whom is not known) the celebration of December 25th, the birthday of the Sun-god at the winter solstice, as the date for the nativity of Christ. How easy it was for Christianity and solar religion to become entangled at the popular level is strikingly illustrated by a mid-fifth century sermon of Pope Leo the Great, rebuking his over-cautious flock for paying reverence to the Sun on the steps of St. Peter's before turning their back on it to worship inside the westward-facing basilica" (The Early Church, Penguin Books, London, 1967, p. 126).

If the date of Christ's birth had been celebrated in early Christianity, there would not have been the immense confusion of the dates and the ensuing controversy. Church historians of that time could have simply quoted the Bible for support or shown the examples of celebrations in the early centuries. But none did.

Simply speaking, the date chosen had nothing to do with biblical precedent and everything to do with ecclesiastical authority.

The Encyclopedia Americana makes this clear:

"In the fifth century, the Western Church ordered it [Christ's birth] to be observed forever on the day of the old Roman feast of the birth of Sol [the sun god], as no certain knowledge of the day of Christ's birth existed" (1944 edition, "Christmas").

What about the internal biblical evidence for the timing of Christ's birth? We can at least determine the probable season of His birth, and all scriptural indications argue against a December or other winter date.

When were shepherds in the fields?

Israeli meteorologists tracked December weather patterns for many years and concluded that the climate in Israel has been essentially constant for at least the last 2,000 years. The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible states that, "broadly speaking, weather phenomena and climatic conditions as pictured in the Bible correspond with conditions as observed today" (R.B.Y. Scott, Vol. 3, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1962, p. 625).

The temperature in the area of Bethlehem in December averages around 44 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius) but can drop to well below freezing, especially at night. Describing the weather there, Sara Ruhin, chief of the Israeli weather service, noted in a 1990 press release that the area has three months of frost: December with 29 F. [minus 1.6 C.]; January with 30 F. [minus 1.1 C.] and February with 32 F. [0 C.].

Snow is common for two or three days in Jerusalem and nearby Bethlehem in December and January. These were the winter months of increased precipitation in Christ's time, when the roads became practically unusable and people stayed mostly indoors.

This is important evidence to disprove a December date for Christ's birth. Note that, at the time of Christ's birth, the shepherds tended their flocks in the fields at night. "Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields," wrote one Gospel writer, "keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:8). A common practice of shepherds was keeping their flocks in the field from April to October, but in the cold and rainy winter months they took their flocks back home and sheltered them.

One commentary admits that,

"as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields; nor could He have been born later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night. On this very ground the nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact, which casts considerable light upon this disputed point" (Adam Clarke's Commentary, Abingdon Press, Nashville, note on Luke 2:8).

Another study source agrees: "These humble pastoral folk are out in the field at night with their flock—a feature of the story which would argue against the birth [of Christ] occurring on Dec. 25 since the weather would not have permitted it" (The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1971, note on Luke 2:4-7).

The census described by Luke

Other evidence arguing against a December birth of Jesus is the Roman census recorded by Luke. "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered . . . So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem . . ., to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son . . ." (Luke 2:1-7).

The Roman rulers knew that taking a census in winter would have been impractical and unpopular. Generally a census would take place after the harvest season, around September or October, when it would not seriously affect the economy, the weather was good and the roads were still dry enough to allow easy travel. According to the normal dates for the census, this would probably be the season of Christ's birth.

One author states that this census "could hardly have been at that season [December 25], however, for such a time would surely not have been chosen by the authorities for a public enrollment, which necessitated the population's traveling from all parts to their natal districts, storms and rain making journeys both unsafe and unpleasant in winter, except in specially favorable years" ("Christmas at Bethlehem," Holy-Days and Holidays, Cunningham Geikie).

Luke's account of the census argues strongly against a December date for Christ's birth. For such an agrarian society, an autumn post-harvest census was much more likely.

The birth of John the Baptist

We can find still more biblical evidence against a December birth of Christ. John the Baptist was born six months before the birth of his cousin Jesus. Just before Mary miraculously conceived Jesus, the angel said to her: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren" (Luke 1:35-36).

If we can determine when John was born, then six months later we will come to the approximate date of Christ's birth. Can we find evidence indicating the time of John's birth?

The Bible mentions that Elizabeth conceived shortly after her husband, the priest Zacharias, had finished serving his course at the temple, called "the division of Abijah" (Luke 1:5, Luke 1:8). This was six months before Mary became pregnant with Jesus. Back in King David's day, the priestly course had been separated into 24 turns, or divisions (1 Chronicles 24:7-19). These began in the first month (1 Chronicles 27:2), March or April of our modern calendar, and, according to Talmudic and Qumran sources, rotated every week until they reached the end of the sixth month, when the cycle was repeated (beginning in September-October) until the end of the year.

During the festival season, all the priests would come to the temple to serve. Luke shows us that Zacharias's service was not during a feast season, since it was the division of Abijah that was in charge of the temple, and Zacharias was chosen to present the incense offering.

The division of Abijah was the eighth division, or shift, which normally would take place close to three months after the start of the cycle in March-April. This would place Elizabeth's conception around June or, if it was Zacharias's second yearly turn, around December.

The Bible does not specify which of the two shifts it was. Regardless, nine months after one of the two dates John the Baptist was born. This would place his birth in March or September. Six months later, Jesus' birth would have been around September or the following March. Whichever way it occurred, according to the time of the division of Abijah, a December birth for Christ is out of the question.

What was celebrated by the early Church?

We find no command in Scripture by Christ or His apostles to celebrate His birth. In the 60 years of Church history after Christ's death recorded in the New Testament, we find that, rather than celebrating His birth, the Church commemorated His death through the biblically mandated observance of the Passover.

Around 55 the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: "For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

Christ's Church through the ages has faithfully remembered His sacrifice by observing the New Testament Passover. Neither Christ nor the apostles indicated, by word or example, that we should celebrate His birth. On the contrary, the Bible carefully conceals His exact birthday. The early Church never bothered to invent and celebrate such a feast but focused on the biblical celebration that foreshadowed and commemorated His sacrificial death for us.

Let us not fix on an artificially contrived date for Christ's birth at Christmas. If we follow Christ's instructions, we will annually commemorate His sacrifice: "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God . . . This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:15-16, Luke 22:19).

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  • H.G. Hennis

    Thank you Mr. Graham for taking the time to research and write about the year of Jesus Christ's birth and death. It was one of the most detailed (and interesting) summaries that I've read on the factors required to arrive at an accurate conclusion about the year.

    I also appreciated the other details supplied by Mr. Seiglie's well-written article. Thank you to both of you for helping us understand this subject more clearly.

  • Roger C

    To Victory2011

    ["The Bible is very detailed and precise in some areas but yet very vague when recording specific dates and times."]

    Considering that various calendars have been used in our past history and that other nations and cultures had their own calendars that differed from ours, I can understand why the Bible associates events with other events in order to establish timeline. I don't believe the years were numbered before our Gregorian calendar was established.

    It wasn’t until 1582, by which time Caesar’s calendar had drifted a full 10 days off course, that Pope Gregory XIII (1502 - 1585) finally reformed the Julian calendar.
    The "new" calendar, as we know it today, was not adopted uniformly across Europe until well into the 18th century.

    ["The reason is that God does not want you to get caught up on dates and times."]

    I agree with that (1Tim 1:3-4), however, my purpose in this particular case was to get the FACTS regarding Jesus' birth.
    We are told to PROVE ALL THINGS (1Thess 5:21) and BE READY TO GIVE AN ANSWER (1Peter 3:15).

    I have dealt with atheists who claim the Bible is full of errors and contradictions. They love pointing out the time difference between when Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem and when the wise men showed up at Joseph and Mary's home in Nazareth a year later. The birth of Jesus could not have been in the same year Herod died.

  • Victory2011

    The Bible is very detailed and precise in some areas but yet very vague when recording specific dates and times. The reason is that God does not want you to get caught up on dates and times. Know that God is still doing the same thing today that he was doing some 2000 years ago.

    Concerning the birth of Christ according to Luke 2:11, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."

    Jesus comes alive (born) in your life when you except him. When you need help (saving), he is an ever present help in time of trouble.

    How do we know that Jesus is still saving today like he was 2000 years ago. Luke 2:12, "And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manager."

    Swaddling clothes are strips of clothes used to protect and the manager is a trough where animals feed. The trough symbolizes the world which is cold and cruel, people who use and abuse you, who hurt and harm you.

    When you were in an automobile accident He had you covered, wrapped in swaddling clothing. When you lost your job, but you never lost your house to foreclosure He had you covered (wrapped in swaddling clothing). When your spouse walked out on you and left you for someone else He had you covered (wrapped in swaddling clothing). You are a child of God.

    The "birth" is that you should be on the edge of your seat like an expecting mother that is about to birth new life. God has you covered and has a new job for you Monday, new money for you Tuesday, new friends for you Wednesday. He is born unto you this day and He has you covered.

    I am Pastor Jonathan and I approve this message.

  • Ken Graham

    Hi Roger:

    I hope I don't have to comment at that length very often! It takes a lot of time. But you are certainly welcome if it answers the question.

    Best Regards,

  • Roger C

    Hi Ken,

    Thank you very much for your reply. I appreciate the explanation of for the date of Herod's death at 3 B.C. and in particular, why Josephus arrived at 4 B.C.

    I don't mind at all a lengthy explanation if it gives me a thorough understanding.


  • Ken Graham

    Hi Skip:

    Sorry for the length of the previous post. I just thought that in order for all to see that the issue isn't as simple as it might seem at first, I'd include just a few of the reasons for setting certain years for the birth and death.

    Best Regards,
    Ken Graham

  • Roger C

    "Herod's death was recorded by Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and would have fallen in 4 B.C. Therefore, according to the adjusted calculations, Christ's birth took place some four years before the traditional date of December 25)."

    Should not Jesus' birth be around 6 B.C. according to what the wise men told Herod?

  • Ken Graham

    Hi Roger C:

    There are several issues involved in dating Jesus Christ's birth and consequently His death as well. UCG has believed for years that Jesus was born in 4 BC and died in 31 AD. Sorry about the length of this post, but your question requires a lot of material as proof. Here is a little of the proof involved in those dates:

    Josephus gives us 4 pieces of information regarding the death of Herod. 3 of the 4 come close to providing a year for his death. However, none of the 4 are absolutely verifiable. Was Josephus in his statement about the reign of Herod and the number of years he reigned including an accession year or was he not? No one knows. Although many studies have been done on it.

    Secondly, he mentions a lunar eclipse in conjunction with Herod’s approaching death. But again, Josephus is not specific enough to verify beyond doubt. People have been playing astronomical “games” with his comment and the year of Herod’s death for years with no real conclusive results. Why? Because the answer to the question is in the Bible, not in secular history. Therefore, trying to establish the exact year of Herod’s death (and thereby being able to date Jesus birth year) is not possible with the information that we have today. That is why it has been argued about for centuries. The reason? The Bible itself is mostly ignored. We will see evidence that Josephus has been interpreted by some historians to support a 3 B.C. death of Herod, providing for a 4 B.C. birth of Christ.

    William Filmer, who’s book The Chronology of the Reign of Herod the Great was published in Oxford’s Journal of Theological Studies, Oct.1966 argues persuasively that the actual date beginning Herod’s 34 year reign was 36 B.C., and that Josephus used an accession year reckoning. So the initial year was an “accession year,” and “year one” was the next year 36 B.C. This would point to Herod’s death in 3 B.C.

    Josephus states that the 13th year of Herod’s reign in Jerusalem was a Sabbatic year followed by a Jubilee year. Josephus also says, “Now on this very year, which was the thirteenth year of Herod, very great calamities cam upon the country...” There is a footnote here in Josephus in which he says, “It is well worth our observation here, that these two years were a sabbatic year, and a year of jubilee..”

    Herod’s 13th year would be 36-12 = 24-23 B.C. a 49th Sabbatic year!

    But the Bible itself is where we must look for the real clues to the year of Christ’s death. Let’s begin with John 7:2. The Jews Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. In verse 10 of John 7 we find that, Jesus sent his brethren up to the feast, but waited until after they left before going up the feast Himself. Then we find that about the middle of the feast of tabernacles Jesus went up into the Temple and taught in verse 14. We now have Him firmly established at the Feast of Tabernacles in the Temple in Jerusalem in the middle of the feast at His last feast of tabernacles (which comes in the fall of the year) before His death.

    In John 7:37-38 we have a point which can be identified as a specific day of the Feast of Tabernacles. In this verse it says, “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Clearly, by tradition and by what we know from the scripture it is referring to the 7th day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Jews called the “Great Day of the Feast.” Notice that it is not a Sabbath, but in many of the previous verses there is discussion about Jesus being targeted to be killed because He healed someone on a previous Sabbath (verses 19-25). Why? Because Jesus is here speaking, probably late in the day on the 7th Day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and because this is a Friday afternoon in 30 A.D. Part of this discussion is focusing on the coming of the Sabbath that evening as we shall see.

    After much discussion among the Pharisees who sought to seize Jesus here, but hesitated because of the crowd we find the last verse in chapter 7. Verse 53 says, “And everyone went to his own house.” Clearly the day ended and everyone went home for the night. And this time they went home, not to their Sukkah (booth or hut), because the Feast of Tabernacles was over, and the custom was to leave the Sukkah after the 7th Day, if they had a home locally to return to. We now enter the eighth day of the Feast, which in this year we will prove was a high Sabbath. In other words, it was the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles and a weekly Sabbath both.

    Notice the beginning of chapter 8 now. Verse 1 says, “BUT Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.” Notice the “BUT” here. Obviously Jesus didn’t go to His house, He went to the Mount of Olives, which we find is often where He resorted to pray. And pray He did there, often for many hours. Notice verse 2 seems to show He prayed there and perhaps slept some, “Now early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and he sat down and taught them.”
    The Expositor’s commentary certainly backs this being the events of one evening and the next morning.

    Now either this was because it was the eighth day of the feast that “all the people” would be there to be taught, or it was a weekly Sabbath or both. Otherwise they would have returned to their homes from the feast. The early part of chapter 8 is taken up with the story of the woman taken in adultery that the Pharisees brought to Him for Him to judge and his discussions with the Pharisees. All these things happening in the Treasury of the Temple as it tells us in John chapter 8:20. Again Expositor’s commentary verifies that this long discussion beginning in chapter 8:12 is “chronological.” It is all part of one time frame.

    In chapter 8 we find much of the discussion follows two points. Number one, is who Jesus is. Secondly, the concept of death and not tasting death if we obey Him now (John 8:52). The concept of not having to be brought up to live again, as in what the eighth day of Tabernacles represents - a second resurrection period for all those brought up from the dead as we see in Ezekiel 37 and 38. So we see the discussion is still revolving around concepts of the eighth day of the Feast. So chapter 8 is clearly taking place still on the eighth day. And we find at the end of chapter 8 in verse 58 Jesus finally comes right out and says who He really is, infuriating the Pharisees, “Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

    Now notice that the end of chapter 8 is not the end of this day at all. The events here are clearly those of one days activities. John 8:59, “Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.”
    Notice the continued connection to the same events beginning in chapter 9:1, “Now as Jesus passed by, he saw a man who was blind from birth.” Clearly the events of chapter 8 continue right on in to chapter 9.

    If you remember the earlier discussion of the Sabbath from chapter 7 we see Jesus again confronting a situation of healing on the Sabbath. The same day as the events in chapter 8 which was and still is the eighth day of the Feast or the Last day. So chapter 9 continues the events of chapter 8, which as we saw were the same eighth day of the Fall Feasts. There is absolutely no break here of any kind indicating people went home or slept or left.

    In chapter 9:5 we find, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Again a reference to Him being the light of the world, a concept emphasized in the conclusion of the Feast days repeatedly in Jewish tradition. Even the Jews festival of lights would have been done as the Seventh Day passed into the Eve of the 8th Day. This is symbolic of the light of truth and the gospel shining finally to all those who never heard the name "Jesus Christ" during the coming Great Resurrection and White Throne Judgment periods in the future.

    So we are still operating on events all part of the 7th and 8th days of the Feast of Tabernacles and Eighth Day. And clearly Jesus is healing this blind man on what we find is the Sabbath day which in this year was the eighth day or Last Great Day of the Feast. The Hebrew Calendar shows that the Eighth Day fell on a Sabbath in 30 A.D. It is also interesting and significant that part of this healing requires the man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. Why? Another reference to water (and the Holy Spirit) but water in particular right after the great Water Festival of the previous day. Jesus didn’t have to tell the man to go wash in order to be healed, but He does here.

    John 9:14 continues this story of the healing with the important statement, “Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes.” There is simply no way that these events could have drug on through a whole week of days until the next Sabbath. What could be more illustrative of the festival of lights and Jesus being the light of the world than the healing of the blind man?

    The statement by John that it was a Sabbath day on which He healed the man is significant. If it had just been the eighth day or Last Day of the Feast, the Jews would not have objected to the healing. But because it was also a weekly Sabbath they objected.

    Scholars are somewhat divided on whether the events of chapters 7, 8, and 9 occur on the 7th day of the feast and the Last day (eighth day) or on the eighth day of the feast and the next day a Sabbath. But almost all agree that all the events are within a two day period.

    So either the eighth day was a Sabbath or the next day was. This allows us to go to the calendar and calculate what years this could fall into very simply within that decade. In what years does the 8th day of the feast fall on a Sabbath? 27 A.D., 30 A.D., 31 A.D., 34 A.D., 37 A.D.

    In what years does a Sabbath day follow the eighth day of the Feast? None. It is not possible for this to occur in the Hebrew calendar. In order for Jesus to have died in 30 A.D. (as some propose) His last Feast of Tabernacles would have had to have been in 29 A.D. which is not possible based on the account of that feast given by John. But 30 A.D. could very well have been His last Feast of Tabernacles and the only year which fits the evidence in John 7-9 and allows a Wednesday crucifixion the following year in 31 A.D. which meets the descriptions given in the gospel accounts. The historian Tacitus agrees that the crucifixion took place during the period of Pontius Pilate being procurator of Judaea, between 26 A.D. and 36 A.D.

    Second Proof

    There is a very simple second proof pointing to Christ’s crucifixion in 31 A.D. and not 30 A.D. In the year 30 A.D. even without postponements (Postponements are a function of the Hebrew Calendar) The Feast of Trumpets, the first day of the Feast Tabernacles and the eighth day of the Feast all fell on the Sabbath that year. In order to arrive at a Wednesday date for the crucifixion in 30 A.D. you must employ intercalation and postponements. This implies a fixed calendar that was in use. Of course accurate calculation had been possible since the 10th century B.C. In 31 A.D. the key Holy Days fall on weekly Sabbaths with or without postponements. This is not true of 30 A.D. This forces us away from 30 A.D. as a possible crucifixion year.

    Third Proof

    Many scholars have long purported that the crucifixion occurred in 33 A.D. In an article attempting to prove this astronomically by the placement of a likely eclipse of the Moon on the evening of the crucifixion, astronomical evidence is displayed. The chart presented actually shows more evidence that the year 31 A.D. would have been the most likely date rather than 33 A.D. However, they were not looking for 31 A.D. and did not conclude this in their article. Details of this can be found on page 18 of the Summary of the Hebrew Calendar published by (as a doctrinal paper) by the United Church of God in February of 1997. There was no eclipse or evidence of an eclipse in 30 A.D.

    Fourth Possible Proof

    Although it is not at a point at which it can be used as absolute proof, there is strong evidence indicating what year Jesus began His public ministry based upon 49th Sabbatical Land Sabbath and Jubilee years. Christ probably became 30 years old around Trumpets in 27 A.D. which was a weekly Sabbath 9-20-27 A.D. This was a 49th year. The following year - 28 A.D. the Jubilee year began on Atonement, again a weekly Sabbath, 10-16-28 A.D. Christ was likely baptized on or near Trumpets in 27 A.D. on or near His 30th birthday.
    This places the beginning of Jesus public ministry in a 49th year (Mat. 4:11-17) or 27 A.D. This would have been in the month of Heshvan (Hebrew calendar - late in the year), probably around the 10th a Wednesday. This would make His ministry exactly 3 and ½ years Wednesday to Wednesday.

    In 13 A.D. (A.U. 764) a law was made (collega imperii) granting Tiberius a share with Augustus in the administration of the provinces (i.e. imperium), at the time of the periodic renewal of Augustus’ powers. 13 A.D. + 14 = 27 A.D. (This would be the 15th year of Tiberius). We find then in Luke 3:1-3, Tiberius’ 15th year of reign John the Baptist begins preaching repentance (Spring of the year).

    It is interesting also that on what appears to be Atonement of 28 A.D. we find Christ in the Synagogue (Luke 4:16-21) in Nazareth (Also a weekly Sabbath) quoting from Isa. 61:1, 2. The phrase “acceptable year of the Lord” is used here. Notice Lev. 25:10, 13, 28 in this regard. It is significant of a Jubilee year being described!

    The 49th and Jubilee years are calculated based on several pieces of evidence. First that 623-622 B.C. was a Jubilee year. A previous minister and historian - Dr. Herman Hoeh stated that he believed from scriptural evidence that this was indeed the 18th year of Josiah’s reign in Judah and it agreed with Jewish tradition. Exactly 600 years later it makes 23-22 B.C. a Jubilee year as well. This makes 27-28 A.D. a 49th land Sabbath year and 28-29 AD a Jubilee year in which Christ makes the Jubilee statements in the synagogue on the High Sabbath in Luke 4. The Greek indicates that this verse is “the day of the Sabbaths.” It is clearly a High Sabbath, not only a weekly Sabbath but also one of the feast days.

    There is more evidence in this regard, but for the sake of space and time I’ll stop here. Much evidence points to the 49th year land Sabbath as the beginning of Jesus' public ministry and the second year of it being the Jubilee year - 28-29 A.D. This again forces a 3 and ½ year ministry to conclude in the spring of 31 A.D. with the Passover and His crucifixion.

    Although not all of the biblical facts are absolutely conclusive, there is far too much evidence which collaborates with itself to be ignored. Too many Bible incidents and events tie together chronologically for Christ to have been crucified in any other year than 31 A.D. if we are willing to look at all the information presented in the Gospels.

    Other evidence

    Herod the Great had to have died in 3 B.C. There is a lot of argument about that. Josephus doesn’t record the specific date but gives the years of Herod’s rule. Unfortunately, what Josephus uses may be the first full year or the accession year. Historians are in argument about that. So it is in question. The 185th olympiad was from July 40 B.C. to July 36 B.C., and Agrippa and Gallus were consuls in 717 AUC or the year 37 AND 36 B.C. Herod completed his conquest of Jerusalem in 37 B.C., but his first full year of reign there did not begin until 36 B.C. 37 was an accession year. Herod was crowned king in Rome sometime between January and March of 40 B.C. Josephus says that Herod reigned 37 years since being declared king by the Romans. 40-37 = 4 B.C. Josephus is not counting the accession year, so in adding that year, which was not a full year, but needs to be counted we arrive at 3 B.C. And that is where the error has always been. This places Herod’s death in 3 B.C., not 4 B.C. as some calculate because of the confusion in Josephus’ comments.

    Again Josephus dates Herod’s death as after a Lunar Eclipse and before a Passover. But again, how reliable is Josephus? Which year is Josephus speaking of? Again more uncertainties. The eclipse could have come in March of 4 B.C. with Herod still dying the next year in 3 B.C. before the Passover. I don’t trust Josephus explicitly. And neither should you. There are too many Scriptures that are pointing to other dates than Josephus points to. Josephus wrote at the behest of his Roman masters. The Scriptures are the answer, not Josephus, nor Roman historians.

    Fifth Proof - The 70 Weeks Prophecy

    It is sad. I have seen some of the most convincing historical proofs shown to attempt to show a 5 B.C. birth and 30 A.D. death, then after all their proof see the same people attempt to show the 70 weeks prophecy proving a 26 A.D. beginning of Christ’s public ministry by taking the wrong year of the edict by Artaxerxes to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, in order to force a 26 A.D. date instead of the correct 27 A.D. date.
    In Daniel 9:25 we find the beginning of the Seventy Weeks Prophecy. 7weeks of years + 62 weeks of years = 69 weeks of years, using the day for a year principle found in Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:4-6. The year of the decree by Artaxerxes to rebuild the temple came in the Jewish year (Fall to Fall) of 458-457 B.C. In Ezra 7:8-11 we find that Ezra accepted the decree and began his journey with other Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem on Nisan (Abib) 1 (in our spring) and completing the trip in 5 months arriving on the first of the month of Ab (our August, just before the year changed over to 456 B.C. in September). Artaxerxes father Xerxes died in December of 465 B.C. and Artaxerxes took the throne in December. But his first full year of reign was (as the Persians count their years Spring to Spring of 464-463 B.C. The decree went out in the Seventh year of his reign. So it would have been given in 458-457 B.C. 69 x 7 = 483. 458-457 B.C. minus 483 years is 25-26 A.D. Plus one year for crossing into A.D. (No year zero) gives us 26-27 A.D. Again most likely the late winter or Spring of 27 A.D. when the decree went forth, but Ezra arrives with the decree to begin in the Fall of 457 B.C. And as we know Christ’s public ministry is 3 and ½ years long ending in the Spring with His crucifixion, His ministry must have begun in the fall! The fall of 457 to 27 A.D. is 483 years.

    When we look at what the Bible says and put it’s facts together, we get what really happened, not what some historians and astronomer’s want.

    Best Regards,
    Ken Graham

  • Skip Miller

    Accepting Josephus' given dates that seems about correct.

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