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Don Stewart :: Was Jesus Born on December 25th?

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Don Stewart

Not only is the exact year of Christ's birth a matter of debate, the exact date of the birth of Jesus is also something that is debated. In the western world, December 25th is the date set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The early church in the West seems to have celebrated the birth of Christ on December 25th while the church in the East observed January 6th. However both of these practices did not begin until A.D. 300- much too late to be precise as to the exact date of Christ's birth.

The Birth Of Christ Was Substituted For A Pagan Festival

During that time the Romans celebrated the Saturnalia festival on December 25th. This marked the date of the winter solstice-the time when the sun would turn northward again. The feast was called Sol Invictus, the "Unconquerable Sun." The Christians at that time wanted to replace the pagan festivals with Christian festivals. Since the phrase "Son of Righteousness" was a common designation for Jesus, it seemed natural to celebrate this date as the birth of the Son of Righteousness rather than celebrating the Unconquerable Sun in the sky. Therefore the selection of December 25th as the date of the birth of Christ was probably a matter of substitution of the Christian festival for a pagan festival.

The Exact Date Is Unknown

The exact date of Jesus' birth is not stated in the New Testament. It is most commonly believed that Jesus was born sometime during either the fall or winter with mid-winter being a popular view. Thus December 25th could have been the exact date when Jesus was born, but there is simply not enough evidence to be certain. In the ancient world there was no universal system of chronology so precision as to when Jesus was born seems to be impossible.

What About The Flocks Outside In Winter?

One objection to the date of December 25th is that the shepherds are tending their flocks by night when the announcement comes of the birth of Christ. It is argued that it would be too cold for them to have their flocks outside in the winter. Therefore it must have been some other time of year. However, this often-used argument does not hold much weight. There is evidence both ancient and modern that flocks stayed outside year round.

There Is Evidence That Flocks Were Outside All Year Round

There is a passage in the Jewish Mishnah [Shekalim 7:4] that stated that some sheep were kept outside of the fields of Bethlehem all year round. These sheep were to be used for sacrifice in the temple in Jerusalem. Therefore it is possible that the birth of Jesus could have come on any day of the year.

There Is Modern Evidence Of Flocks Outside In Winter

Shepherds in the Bethlehem area, to this very day, keep their flocks out at night during all times of the year. Anyone visiting Bethlehem around Christmas time can still see the sheep outside with the shepherds.

The Birth Of Christ Could Have Been In Winter

It would, therefore, not be impossible for the birth of Jesus to have occurred during the winter season. Based upon the present evidence, a mid-January in 2 B.C. is a preferred date for the birth of Jesus. However this is by no means certain.

Summary

As there is a question as to the exact year Jesus was born, the exact day of His birth is also uncertain. December 25th was chosen as the date in the West. It seems to have come from substituting the pagan Roman festival around the winter solstice with the celebration of the birth of Christ. While it is certainly possible that Jesus was born on that date, there is not enough evidence to be precise. We do know however, that He was born sometime in the past with mid-winter 3/2 B.C. being a possible date suggested by modern scholars.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.