Was Jesus born on December 25?
Was Jesus Christ born on the 25th of December? If not, why do Christians celebrate his birth on Christmas?
The early Christian church did not celebrate Jesus’ birth. It wasn’t until A.D. 440 that the church officially proclaimed December 25 as the birth of Christ. This was not based on any religious evidence but on a pagan feast, dies natalis solis invicti (birth of the invincible sun god). Saturnalia was a tradition inherited by the Roman pagans from an earlier Babylonian priesthood. December 25 was used as a celebration of the birthday of the sun god. It was observed near the winter solstice.
The apostles in the Bible predicted that some Christians would adopt pagan beliefs to enable them to make their religion more palatable to the pagans around them. Therefore, some scholars think the church chose the date of this pagan celebration to interest them in Christianity. The pagans were already used to celebrating on this date.
The Bible itself tells us that December 25 is an unlikely date for His birth. Palestine is very cold in December. It was much too cold to ask everyone to travel to the city of their fathers to register for taxes. Also the shepherds were in the fields (Luke 2:8-12). Shepherds were not in the fields in the winter time. They are in the fields early in March until early October. This would place Jesus’ birth in the spring or early fall. It is also known that Jesus lived for 33.5 years and died at the feast of the Passover, which is at Easter time. He must therefore have been born six months the other side of Easter – making the date around the September/October time frames.
December 25 is the wrong date for the birth of Jesus comes from early writings. Iranaeus, born about a century after Jesus, notes that Jesus was born in the 41st year of the reign of Augustus. Since Augustus began his reign in the autumn of 43 B.C., this appears to substantiate the birth of Jesus as the autumn of 2 B.C. Eusebius (A.D. 264-340), the “Father of Church History,” ascribes it to the 42nd year of the reign of Augustus and the 28th from the subjection of Egypt on the death of Anthony and Cleopatra. The 42nd year of Augustus ran from the autumn of 2 B.C. to the autumn of 1 B.C. The subjugation of Egypt into the Roman Empire occurred in the autumn of 30 B.C. The 28th year extended from the autumn of 3 B.C. to the autumn of 2 B.C. The only date that would meet both of these constraints would be the autumn of 2 B.C.
John the Baptist also helps us determine that December 25 is not the birth of Jesus. Elizabeth, John’s mother, was a cousin of Mary. John began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar. The minimum age for the ministry was 30. As Augustus died on August 19, A.D. 14, that was the accession year for Tiberius. If John was born on April 19-20, 2 B.C., his 30th birthday would have been April 19-20, A.D. 29, or the 15th year of Tiberius. This seems to confirm the 2 B.C. date, and, since John was 5 months older, this also confirms an autumn birth date for Jesus.
Another interesting fact comes from Elizabeth herself. She hid herself for 5 months and then the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary both Elizabeth’s condition and that Mary would also bear a son who would be called Jesus. Mary went “with haste” to visit Elizabeth, who was then in the first week of her 6th month, or the 4th week of Dec., 3 B.C. If Jesus was born 280 days later it would place his birth on Sept. 29, 2 B.C. Some scholars interpret the 6 months to be in line with the Hebrew calendar or the August-September time frame. Since Mary’s pregnancy commenced a little before the sixth month around July, Jesus would be born somewhere around March-June.