We are not given an exact day… but The Spirit does tell us that there was A day in A city when Jesus was born. Jesus wasn’t born on any day… but a specific day. Jesus wasn’t born in any city… but a specific city. Both were chosen by God from all eternity past. That leads us to…
Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman…”
Jesus’ birth was not an accident. It took place at a time and place God determined. When everything was right and God had everything in it’s proper order… then Jesus was born. Of many things that are included in what “the fullness of time” means, at least the following are noteworthy…
The Pax Romana (“The Peace of Rome”). Historians write that there was never, or ever has been, a time when there was no war except during the time Jesus was born. Rome was the ruling power of the day and enforced peace through the sword. Rome immediately crushed any rebellion in order to maintain peace. It is interesting that it is during this unusual time of peace that the Prince of Peace is born.
One Language (Greek). Most everyone could speak Greek. Jesus himself was tri-lingual (Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic). This means that those involved in the birth events could communicate with each other effectively. That is how the Magi could converse with the Romans and Jesus’ parents.
System of Travel (Roman roads). At the time when Jesus was born, the Roman Empire had built a comprehensive system of roads for travel throughout the empire. This helped Jesus’ parents to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem and aided in communication across the empire… not to mention it aided in the spread of the Gospel and Jesus’ itinerate ministry.
The Census of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1). It was this purely secular event that compelled Joseph to take Mary to the place of his family… Bethlehem. This was part of the providence of God because that was His way of getting the couple to the city that was foretold by the Prophet in Micah 5:2 as to where the Messiah would be born.
The Arrival Of The Magi. It was of course not an accident that the Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem when they did. They knew to be looking for a sign in the heavens of the birth of the King of the Jews… even though they’d never been in Judea. Note: This is most probably the result of Daniel’s influence hundreds of years earlier (Another study).
There came a precise moment, ordained from the beginning by God the Father, when he said, “It’s time,” and his Son stepped out of the portals of glory, descended the starry staircase, and entered our world wrapped in rags, sleeping in a feeding trough. Among other things, this verse means there was a day and there was a year and it does matter because it mattered to God.
What about December 25th and how did that date come to be the one we celebrate?
In A.D. 525 Pope John I asked Dionysius, a Sythian monk, to prepare a calendar for the Western Church. He dated Christ’s birth as Year 754 of Roman time. Thus January 1, 754 Roman time became AD 1. Christ’s birth was thought to have occurred one week earlier, on December 25. The years before were calculated at BC & the years after as AD. In this reckoning, there was no year zero. The calendar went from 1 BC directly to AD 1. There was only problem with this scheme. Later research showed that Dionysius missed the date by at least four years because he miscalculated the death of Herod. Our present calendar is four years off. Thus this year should be 2005, not 2009…
What is the Biblical evidence for when Jesus was born? (Only Matthew & Luke)
Luke 2:1. Jesus was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus (44 BC to 14 AD). He ruled from age 19 to 77. It was this Caesar who ordered the census… which more than likely took a couple to three years to complete given the technology of that day not being anything near what we have today.
Matthew 2:1. Jesus was born while Herod was still alive. Josephus tells of an lunar eclipse in the spring of 4 BC when Herod died. Astronomers calculate that as happening on March 13, 4 BC. Thus Jesus must have been born sometime before March 13, 4 BC. The census could have been ordered, begun, and carried out any time in the previous two years, thus giving us a likely date of 6-4 BC for the birth of Christ.
John 8:57. This states Jesus was not yet 50 years old… but that doesn’t help any.
Matthew 2:15. Herod killed all the babies under two years of age to make sure he killed this “King of the Jews.” If this is the case… then Jesus had to have been born in from 6-4 BC since Herod died in 4 BC.
Luke 3:23. Jesus was “about 30 years old” when he began his ministry. The word “about” is important!! We know that Jesus began his ministry soon after John the Baptist began his ministry and John began in the 15th year of Tiberius (Lk 3:1), AD 26-29. The word “about” could indicate that Jesus was 27-33 years old. That means the earliest likely date for the birth of Jesus would be around 5 BC.
The one key date in all of this is the death of Herod in March of 4 BC. We are not far from the mark if we conclude that Jesus was born shortly before that—within 6 months to a year at the most. A birth date in late 5 BC or early 4 BC is very possible.
What about the actual date of Jesus’ birth?
There are two dates that have been suggested for many centuries… December 25th and January 6th.
12/25. Hippolytus (165-235) suggested this date, and Chrysostom (343-407) agreed. A more recent suggestion from a Christian astronomer came up with a date of 12/25/2BC.[i]
01/06. This date has been accepted by the Eastern Orthodox church as Jesus’ birth & arrival of the Magi.
Truth be told… we don’t know. If it was the 25th… that would be much like Jesus taking over as supreme over a pagan god since there was a festival on that day.
Both dates are mid-winter and some have objected that shepherds don’t feed their flocks in the field at that time. But that isn’t necessarily true. It could have been a mild winter. Sheep were kept outside all the time. So the weather had little to nothing to do with the shepherds.
Conclusion: I would suggest that a date late in the year 5 BC or early in 4 BC is a possible time for the birth of Christ. When the ancient traditions are taken into account, it is not impossible that Christ was actually born on December 25 in the year 5 B.C.
[i] http://bethlehemstar.net/dance/dance.htm (See bottom of the page of this website).