Q: #181. Was Jesus really born on December 25th?
A: The Bible is silent on the date of Jesus’ birth, and there is very little historical evidence on this subject. The early church fathers, who wrote on this were all over the calendar as to the month and date. Some believe that the Roman Catholic Church, which was very prominent in the early centuries after Christ’s death, proclaimed Dec. 25th the date of Christ’s birth to combat very popular pagan festivals celebrating Saturnalia (the god named Saturn), by offering a Christian alternative. Apparently though, the Dec 25th date was not officially declared by the Catholic church until about 336 A.D.
In my studies, it appears that a majority of people argue against a Dec. 25th date for Christ’s birth. Generally, however, only two arguments are used to prove their point. I personally find each of these arguments flawed.
The first argument used is based on (Lk 2:1-7) which speaks of the pregnant Mary and Joseph traveling from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem (about 70 miles) to register for a census that was ordered to be taken by Caesar Augustus. Shortly after they arrived in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus. (Lk 2:8) continues by saying that on the same “day” (Lk 2:11) there were “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”
It is argued that neither a census would be taken, nor would shepherds be in the fields with their flocks in December, because it is too cold. The months stated for shepherds being in the fields with their flocks range from March – November (nearly everyone seems to have different months…).
As I am writing this on Dec. 11, I decided to check the weather forecast in Bethlehem to see what the temperatures are today, as well as the extended forecast. Within a few degrees either way, the highs are in the upper 50’s and the lows are in the mid 40’s. While it has been colder than this, it has also been warmer than this. This is not exactly an intolerable cold that would prevent people from traveling to participate in a census, nor would it force shepherds and their flocks to stay indoors.
The second argument is attempting to determine the month (and even date by a few) of Jesus’ birth by first determining the month that John the Baptist was born. This is done using several verses in Luke 1. (Lk 1:5) states that John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias was a priest “of the division of Abijah.” According to (1 Chr 24:4-19), there were 24 divisions of priests set up to minister in God’s Temple, and Abijah was the 8th division (1 Chr 24:10). These 24 divisions were to serve twice a year (2 weeks). It is reasoned that the 1st division began ministering on the first week of the Jewish calendar (our March/April), with each division following from there. Using this pattern, they have reasoned that since Zacharias was serving in the Temple when the angel Gabriel appeared to him and said he and his wife (Elisabeth) would have a child, and she conceived shortly after, she must have conceived in May/June (8 weeks from March/April) or November/December (8 weeks from October/November if it was the second week of service). This is then combined with the fact that 6 months later (Lk 1:26), Gabriel then appeared to Mary and told her that she would give birth to Jesus. She became pregnant at that time, and then went immediately to see Elisabeth who was 6 months pregnant (Lk 1:36). She stayed with her for 3 months, and then returned home, after which time Elisabeth gave birth to John (Lk 1:56-57). When all of this is combined together, it is concluded that Jesus could not have been born in December.
The one big flaw with this whole theory though lies in using the priestly divisions as a timeline. If each division served 2 weeks in a year, then it adds up to 48 weeks. Obviously, this doesn’t equal a year. Therefore, it is impossible for each division to have served at exactly the same time each year (it would shift yearly), meaning it is also impossible to know exactly when Zacharias was serving in the Temple. (It should also be noted that 7 times every 19 years, an extra month is added to the Jewish calendar.)
Since neither of these arguments holds much credibility, I cannot see any reason why December 25th shouldn’t be celebrated as the day of Jesus’ birth. Even if His birth was not on this day, does it really matter? The important thing is found in (Mt 1:21), “And she (Mary) shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” This is what the Christmas celebration should be all about. Jesus (God) came to Earth, became a man, and ultimately gave His life to pay for our sins out of love for each of us. Setting aside a day to celebrate this act of love is a wonderful thing and a great opportunity to share our faith with those who don’t know this love. However, we truly should be celebrating it daily.