By Jim Jones
Most serious Bible students understand that Jesus was not born on December 25th. In fact it was not until the mid fifth century that the Church Fathers officially proclaimed December 25thas the day of Jesus birth. The early Christian church did not celebrate the birth of Jesus, but rather his death and resurrection. So the “official date” was likely established to coincide with the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, observed near the winter solstice, and one of the many pagan festivals that was inherited from the days of the Babylonian priesthood. Dr. Greg Neal observes,
The pagan Feast of Saturnalia, and other winter solstice festivals, presented the Church with a serious challenge: this popular religious bacchanalia, which focused upon the birth of the sun god, was celebrated by pagans and Christians alike even despite official denouncements of the practice by leading Bishops and other Church Fathers. When such measures failed to stop the party, the church changed its tactics and attempted to co-opt the party, adopt and reinterpret some of the pagan symbols, and place a Christian “spin” on the entire festival. It worked. The 4th century Church shifted the focus of the winter solstice celebrations from the birth of the sun god to the birth of the Son of God.
Along with the issues of trying to determine the month and day of Jesus’ birth is the problem of trying to correctly establish the actual year of Jesus birth. At first consideration it would appear that Jesus’ birth should be at year zero. After all, history is determined by dates BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini – year of the Lord, which is the year of his birth). For those who try to ignore the place of Christ in history, the terms CE (Common Era) and BCE (before Common Era) are used. Of course, the amusing thing is that this time distinction is still governed by the time of Jesus’ birth.
The problem is that there is no year zero, as we go from 1 BC to 1 AD. Added to that problem is the change of calendars – Egyptian calendar, Hebrew calendar, Julian Calendar, and Gregorian calendar, just to name a few. Trying to reconcile these can become a very tedious job, and one I gave up on several years back. Fortunately there are those who have had more success in this reconciliation of calendars, and there is now available some wonderful research results that allows one to do more than just make an educated guess. Do not misunderstand; there is still no final agreement among scholars, but for the Christian researcher taking the truth of Scripture and the recorded facts of secular history, it can now be determined with much more accuracy the dates as they relate to our modern Gregorian Calendar (also called the Western calendar and the Christian calendar).
Now, if I took the time and space to detail all of the research as to the year and the month of Jesus birth, it would become very technical – and very long. That is not my intent with this article. So let me simply tell you the research results to which I strongly adhere for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that these dates for Jesus’ birth fit perfectly with the dates I believe for Jesus death, according to calculations from Daniel’s ‘seventy weeks’prophecy and the decree of Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Okay, I have made you wait long enough – I believe Jesus was born during the last week of the month we now call September in the year 2 BC. This date is derived from several cross-related sources that include both biblical and historical data, including again the Feasts of the Lord, the birth of John the Baptist, the priesthood of Zechariah, the death of King Herod the Great, the historical dates for the rule of Augustus, and a few other details such as the gestation period for a human baby. Perhaps, if there is enough interest, I will write an article in the future detailing this information. But for now I want to deal with the implications of this conclusion.
There are a few who say that since the early Church did not celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Church today should neither observe this event. On the opposite extreme are those who believe that they have nailed down the exact day of His birth (most common date is September 29th) and that it is prudent for the Church to drop December 25th, and celebrate His birth on the day more likely to be the day of the actual event. Many, however, believe that the time of year we observe the birth of Jesus is not important, but as it is proper to celebrate His birth at some time, they see no reason to change 1600 years of tradition – continue the celebration on December 25th.
Personally I would fall into the latter group, but perhaps for a reason many might overlook. As many of you have become aware, I place great emphasis on the seven Festivals established by God, Himself, and given to Israel to share with the world. While these Feasts are commonly called the Feasts of Israel, God has declared in Leviticus 23 that these are His Feasts. “The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts” (verse 1).
I believe that in God’s perfect order He has established these Feasts to coincide with every major redemptive event in history. This has been proven with the four Spring Feasts, and I believe it will continue with the three Fall Feasts. In fact, I believe that Jesus was likely born in conjunction with a Fall Feast. The three Fall Feasts usually occur on our calendar from mid-September until early October. There are several reasons to believe this for those who follow the Feasts closely, but allow me to share just one thought that collaborates this idea.
It can be reasonably shown, and is accepted by many, that the birth of John the Baptist, the son of Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, was likely during Passover. Because of the instructions given to Mary by the angel, we can know that Elizabeth was six months pregnant when Mary conceived Jesus. That would place the birth of Jesus in the Fall, some six months after Passover in the Spring. So if we were to grant that the date of September 29th is accurate as many believe, what would then be the date of Mary’s conception? The average gestation period for a human baby is considered to be approximately 280 days. If you count backward from September 29th, at 280 days you will arrive at December 24th. Now there is a coincidence!
Now, just one final question. . . when did the incarnation occur? Did it occur at the birth of Jesus or at His conception? The correct answer is “at His conception.” That is when the divine took on human flesh. As with any normal human pregnancy it would take nine months for the embryo to come to full term and be born, but this unborn baby carried by Mary was the divine Son of God – God incarnate – for those full nine months. So the incarnation of Jesus could well have taken place on or close to December 25th.
My conclusion is, therefore, that whether we are celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25th, or celebrating his conception and incarnation, this is a good and proper date to remember the greatest gift ever given by God to man, His only begotten Son. So this year as we approach this day of celebration, may we all make every effort to keep the focus where it belongs – on Jesus!