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Contending for the Faith
The Date of Jesus' Birth
Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 10:00am

Preface: Many Christians acknowledge that no one knows the exact day Jesus was born. The precise date of Jesus’ birth is not critical, and speculation and controversy about this topic can cause us to lose focus.

It is important that we rejoice and celebrate the central events in the life of Jesus Christ because he is the core and foundation of our faith.

Jesus is the reason for the season. We do not celebrate a day, but rather we celebrate the fact that God, in the person of Jesus Christ, came to save us from our sins."

It was in Jesus that God gave us the greatest gift. He came to save us, to give us salvation, and eternal life. He gives us that gift freely, by the riches of his grace. We celebrate the extravagant and lavish love of God that is demonstrated by the birth of Jesus Christ.

When we think about and ponder the birth of our messiah, there are many issues that are mysterious and profound for us. God came to us, taking human flesh, and dwelling with us, so that we might be saved.

Jesus (the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity), never stopped being God, but He also became human. He was born of a virgin as prophesied, and began his human life as a helpless and dependent baby, just as we all do.

"Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet [Isaiah]: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”  (Matthew 1:22-23). 

Matthew’s quotation here of Isaiah 7:14 confirms that the prophet did in fact predict the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel".  Isaiah 7:14

How and why he did all of that for us is beyond our comprehension, but it is a subject that causes us to marvel and to worship.

Every December, Christians (and many others who are not Christians but hear the gospel message nonetheless) center their lives in the miracle and mystery of the birth of our Lord.

When the early church first began celebrating Christmas, it had nothing to do with trees and holly and reindeer. All those were added centuries later in northern Europe. The fact that non-Christian customs were later associated with the festival does not prove that the date itself originated in paganism.  

It may have been based on calculation.

We can discover that Christ was born in late December by first observing the time of year in which Luke describes Zacharias in the temple. This provides us with the approximate conception date of John the Baptist.

From there we can follow the chronology that Luke gives, and that lands us right smack at the end of December.

It begins with Luke 1:5, where we read that Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was serving in the 8th course of Abijah in the temple.

"In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. (Luke 1:5)

1 Chronicles 24:7-19 indicates that there were 24 courses. A course was a specific time when priests served in the temple.

According to the Biblical account of Christ’s birth, Mary conceived in the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. In Luke 1:30-31, The angel Gabriel came to Mary and said to her: "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God" and And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus."

In Luke 1:36-37 "And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God."

I love the words in the King James Version of Luke 1:38, " it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her."

The Early Church Fathers Testify to December 25

Although it was not initially celebrated as a Holy Day, Church history since the time of the late first century has attested to a late December birth.

In the second century AD (long before Constantine), St. Hippolytus argued that this was Christ's birthday.

In the fourth century, John Chrysostom (347-407) taught that Zechariah received the message about John's birth on the Day of Atonement and John the Baptist was born sometime in June or July, and the birth of Jesus took place six months later, in late December.

Luke 2:1-7 mentions a tax census ordered by Augustus Caesar. The census records were eventually taken to Rome. Cyril of Jerusalem (348-386) requested that the true date of Jesus’ birth be taken from the census documents. He reported that the date he was given from these documents was December 25. Unfortunately, these records are no longer available.

The earliest mention of some sort of observance on that date is in the Philoclian Calendar, representing Roman practice, of the year 336.

There was never a question about the period of Jesus' birth either in the East or in the West; only in the recent years this date was challenged by “scholars” who believe they know something those in the “Early Church” didn’t.

Early Jewish sources suggest that the sheep around Bethlehem were outside year-round. In the normal traffic of shepherds, they move around and come near Bethlehem from November to March of the year. But there were a special class of Levitical shepherds who kept the sacrificial lambs. They did not move around because they supplied the lambs for daily sacrifice from whom people bought their approved lambs, which are without blemish.

The fact that the Angels announced the arrival of the perfect sacrificial lamb to these shepherds is providential.

When the Babylonian Captivity occurred, the Temple was destroyed - so there was no more service to be done. The date this occurred became a well-known fast-day for the Jews, the 9th of Av, B.C. 586. According to traditional sources, when they returned to the land 70 years later, it was a very “bumpy” restart to the Temple services over the course of many years. They memorialized this fast-day by re-beginning the Courses beginning at the 9th of Av. The Temple was gradually rebuilt (called “the Second Temple”) and added to by the Herods (during the time of Jesus Birth). But it was destroyed again by the Romans in A.D. 70 — ON THE SAME DAY! The 9th of Av, A.D. 70.

What is important to this discussion is that according to both Josephus (Jewish historian, AD 37 – c. 100) and more recent work done by Friedlieb (Leben J. Christi des Erlösers, Münster, 1887, p. 312), it was the First Course that was serving at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70 - in the second week of Av.

Stepping back 70 years (and assuming the courses were running then as they ran in 70 A.D.) to the time of Jesus’ birth, the First Course of priests (Jehoiarib) would serve during the second week of Av, Sabbath to Sabbath, followed in the third week by the Second Course (Jedaiah). The fourth week would fall to the Third Course (Harim). By the time the Eighth Course (Abijah) was called to service it was the second week of Tishri and the High Holy Day of Yom Kippur - The Day of Atonement (10 Tishri) - roughly, in the first week of October.

When the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, the priestly course of Jehoiarib was serving. If the priestly service was unbroken from the time of Zechariah to the destruction of the temple, this calculation has the course of Abijah in the first week of October. This would place John the Baptist’s birth in June or July, and the birth of Jesus six months later, in late December or early January. Some advocates of this second method believe that December 25 is the correct day of Jesus’ birth, while others believe that January 6 is the correct day.

The truth is we simply don’t know the exact date of our Savior’s birth. In fact, we don’t even know for sure the year in which He was born. Scholars believe it was somewhere between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C. One thing is clear: if God felt it was important for us to know the exact date of the Savior’s birth, He certainly would have told us in His Word. The Gospel of Luke gives very specific details about the event, even down to what the baby was wearing - “swaddling clothes” - and where he slept - “in a manger” (Luke 2:12). These details are important because they speak of His nature and character, meek and lowly. But the exact date of His birth has no significance whatsoever, which may be why God chose not to mention it.

The fact is that He was born, that He came into the world to atone for our sins, that He was bodily resurrected, and that He’s alive today. The angel that announced the birth to the shepherds brought “... good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Surely here is the cause for celebration every day, not just once a year.

Regardless of when Jesus was actually born, our hearts overflow with thanksgiving and joy that God chose to send his Son into the world for our redemption and salvation.

While the gospel does not require the celebration of Christmas. The gospel does not forbid the observance of Christmas, either.

It is fitting that we come together as Christian brothers and sisters to celebrate God’s love whenever we meet. Whether it be on Christian festivals such as Christmas and Easter, or some other annual occasions, we are free to joyfully give praise and honor to God as his beloved children. Every celebration is an expression of our love and devotion to God. Let each of us learn how to celebrate "unto the Lord" without condemning those who do so in a different way.

Source: Adapted in part from articles at, , and Grace Communion International

All Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB)

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  "Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong."  1 Corinthians 16:13  

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Amen and God bless you.

"Saint Pete", Sr.

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