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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Existence of Jesus Christ

Don Stewart :: What Year Was Jesus Born?

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What Year Was Jesus Born?

The Existence of Jesus Christ – Question 9

While we know Jesus actually existed, the exact year in which He was born is a subject of dispute. There have been various theories as to the exact year of His birth.

There are a number of important points that need to be made about this issue.

The Time before and after Jesus Christ

After the Roman Empire became Christianized, an attempt was made to date events before, and after, the birth of Christ. Our calendars today recognize the fact of Jesus’ coming to the world. The letters B.C. stands for “before Christ.” The letters A.D. is the Latin Anno Domini, which stands for “In the year of our Lord.”

Herod the Great Was Still Alive When Jesus Was Born

We know that Jesus Christ was born some time before the death of King Herod. It was Herod who sent the Magi to find the place where the Christ had been born (Matthew 2). Herod later sent the soldiers to slaughter the innocents of Bethlehem (Matthew 2). Therefore, whenever He was born it was sometime before Herod’s death.

How Could Christ Have Been Born B.C.?

In modern times, the death of Herod has been commonly believed to have occurred in the year 4 B.C. Recently, however, there has been evidence brought forward to revise the date to 1 B.C. If this is the case, then Christ had to have been born sometime before 1 B.C. How can this be? How could Christ have been born before Himself?

History’s Greatest Mathematical Error

The source of this problem goes back to a sixth century Roman monk/mathematician named Dionysius Exiguus (Dionysius the little). In attempting to calculate the year of the birth of Christ, this monk made a simple error that had profound implications. Dionysius dated the birth of Christ as 753 years from the founding of Rome.

The problem with this calculation is that Herod seems to have died only 751 years after Rome’s founding. Since Herod was still alive after Christ was born, we seem to have an error of at least two years. Though Dionysius gave the correct date for the founding of Rome, he was incorrect in his calculations for the birth of Christ. The chronology of Dionysius was incorporated into our calendars with the miscalculation about the birth of Christ undiscovered.

The Same Error Is Found Today

To this day, our calendars reflect this error. Thus the birth of Christ probably occurred sometime in the years 3/2 B.C., a couple of years before Himself!

Consequently if we are adding up the years from Christ’s birth, until the present year, we need to add about two or three years to our current calendar year to get the approximate date of when He was born. Thus, the year 2000 would have actually been more like 2002 years from the birth of Christ. However, we are still uncertain as to the actual year that Herod died.

We must emphasize that miscalculation is not a mistake in the Bible. Indeed, the Bible does not give us the exact year when our Lord was born. The miscalculation came hundreds of years later. The important point in all of this is that Jesus Christ, God the Son, was indeed born into our world.

Summary – Question 9
What Year Was Jesus Born?

As to the exact year in which Jesus was born, we do not know. It was obviously before the death of King Herod seeing that it was Herod who sent the Magi to Bethlehem to find where the Christ Child was located. Later Herod ordered the slaughter of the innocent babes of Bethlehem.

The most likely date of Jesus’ birth is now assumed to be somewhere from 4-1 B.C. Because of the error of Dionysius Exiguus, the sixth century monk/mathematician, our calendars are off at least two years. This man was commissioned to determine what year Christ was born. It seems that he made an error in his calculations of at least two years.

Thus to calculate the date when Christ was born from our present calendars, we should probably add at least two years to our current year to have the approximate year He was born. However, there still remains much uncertainty in this matter.

This error, we should stress, is not a mistake of the Bible. It is, rather, a miscalculation made in the sixth century A.D. in an attempt to date the birth of Christ. The Bible itself does not give the exact year for the birth of Christ. What we do know is that Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, did come as promised.

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