When was Jesus born?

During the Advent season, most parishes are in a countdown to Jesus' birthday party: they count the days until Christmas. It is not uncommon to hear of discussions during this time of the year about the 24. December is the right day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and whether it is appropriate to celebrate that day at all. The search for the exact year, month and day of the birth of Jesus is not new. Theologians have been dealing with this for about two thousand years and here are some of their ideas.

  • Clement of Alexandria (around 150-220) named various possible dates, including November 18, January 6, and Passover Day, which was dependent on the year on March 21, April 24/25, or May 20.
  • Sextus Iulias Africanus (around 160-240) named March 25th.
  • Hippolytus from Rome (170-235), a disciple of Irenaeus, mentioned two different days in his commentary on the book of Daniel: “The first appearance of our Lord in flesh took place in Bethlehem eight days before the January calendar (December 25th) on the fourth day (Wednesday), held under the rule of Augustus in 5500. ”In another document and in an inscription of a statue of Hippolytus, April 2 is given as the date.
  • According to the Jewish historian Flavius ​​Josephus, some place the birth of Jesus in the 12 period. March to 11. April in the year 4 before Christ, since Christ was born before the death of Herod.
  • John Chrysostom (around 347-407) named December 25th as the date of birth.
  • In the calculations of Passion, an anonymous work of probably North African origin, the 28. Called in March.
  • Augustine (354-430) writes in De Trinitate that “it is believed that he was received on March 25th. The day he suffered and was born on December 25th according to tradition ”.
  • Messianic Jews name several possible birthdays. The most representative considerations are based on priestly services (more precisely: "from the order Abija" (Luke 1,5). This approach leads them to tie the birth of Jesus to the Sukkot / Tabernacle Festival. His circumcision took place on the eighth day of the festivities.

It is interesting to speculate that Jesus was born during the Passover or the Feast of Tabernacles (or received). I like the idea that Jesus did the work of the angel of death when it happened during the Passover. There would be a satisfactory symmetry in his arrival if he was conceived or born during the Feast of Tabernacles. However, there is insufficient evidence to be certain on which day Jesus came to earth, but perhaps one can make a good estimate with the few pieces of evidence available to us.

In Luke 2,1-5, we can read that the Emperor Augustus passed a resolution on the taxation of the Roman Empire and therefore everyone should return to his own city to pay that tax. Joseph and Mary also returned to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. It is to be assumed that such a census did not take place at any time in history. After all, she should not have agreed with the harvest season. It may also be assumed that such a count would not have been prescribed in the winter if the weather made the journey more difficult. The land was ordered in the spring. It may be that autumn, after the harvest season, was a time for such a census and therefore the time for the birth of Jesus. However, it is not clear from the biblical texts how long Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem. Maybe Jesus was born several weeks after the census. Ultimately, we can not determine the date of birth of Jesus with certainty. Mockers cling to this uncertainty and claim that everything is just a myth and that Jesus never existed. But even if the date of birth of Jesus can not be named clearly, his birth is based on historically verifiable events.

The biblical scientist FF Bruce says the following about doubters:
“Some writers think about the myth of Christ, but they don't because of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is axiomatic, that is, it is neither provable nor does it require proof, just like the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not the historians who propagate the Christ myth " (in The New Testament Documents, p. 123).

The people of Jesus' time knew from the prophecies when to expect the Messiah. But neither the prophecies nor the gospels set an exact date for the arrival of the Messiah, even if modern historians want it. It is not the goal of the Bible to tell us the exact time, because it can "teach you to be beatified by faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3,15).

The focus of the writers of the New Testament is not the day of Jesus' birth, but that God the Father has sent His own Son to earth at just the right time in history to fulfill His promises and bring salvation.

The apostle Paul said:
"But when the time was fulfilled, God sent his son, born of a woman and put under the law so that he could redeem those who were under the law so that we could receive childhood." (Galatians 4,4: 5). In the Gospel of Mark we read: “After John was imprisoned, Jesus came to Galilee and preached the gospel of God and said: The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come. Repent and believe in the gospel! " (Mark 1,14-15).

The knowledge of the exact date of the birth of Christ is historically interesting, but completely irrelevant theologically. We just have to know that it happened and why he was born. These questions are answered clearly by the Bible. Let's keep this look for the Advent season and not focus on small details.

by Joseph Tkach


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