Let’s start giving a full disclosure concerning Christmas: Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th. (That’s what I mean by Christmas. I’m referring to its date.) I think most people know that, but what’s important is knowing when Jesus actually was born (approximating) and the origins of the date. Spoiler alert: the date has pagan origins. Is that a problem? I don’t think so and we shouldn’t be up in a twist about it. The main point is marking a point of celebration. Christmas is about the incarnation–God becomes man. Does our celebration of the incarnation have to be on a specific day? No. It has simply become Christian tradition that we do celebrate the incarnation. The birth of Jesus is another way of looking at it but a theologically rich view of Christmas views the season as a celebration of the incarnation of God.
1). Dating the account requires synoptic correlation by referring to Matthew’s account of the same events.
- Mt. 2.1: Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem.”
- Mt. 2.19: “But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt.”
2). Herod died in 4BC. Jesus had to have been born before this, which would be between 6-4BC. During this time, Herod was sick and there was much turmoil. Augustus would have wanted a census taken.
- Lk. 2.1: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.”
- Lk. 2.2: “This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.”
3). The events within the scope of this passage occur between late 5BC and early 4BC—during Augusts’ census, before Quirinius’ census.
- The modern timeline distinction between BC and AD was created by Dionysius Exigus (Dennis the Little) around AD 525 by order of Pope Gregory.
4). Was Jesus born December 25th? Probably not.
- Jesus was most likely born in the Spring or Fall due to moderate travel conditions for a census to occur—travelling to town of birth.
- Also, note the age difference between Jesus and John and the timing of John’s conception and Zacharias’ service in the Temple.
- i. Zacharias was of the order of Abijah (Lk. 1.5)
- ii. Served in the Temple in June and December
- iii. John the Baptist conceived after Zacharias returned home
- iv. John the Baptist born in March or September
- v. Jesus was born six months later (Lk. 1.26), which times well with a census travel and when shepherds would be in the fields
- December 25th came, originally, from Constantine. Though Constantine was said to have converted to Christianity he kept his pagan roots. He named the Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun) as Jesus’ birthday.
- i. This was made popular by Pope Liberius in AD354.