|CHRIST'S BIRTH: THE DATE||
THE DATE OF CHRISTíS BIRTH
Dwight Pentecost provides a thorough analysis of this issue in his book, THE WORDS AND WORKS OF JESUS CHRIST (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981; pp.56-58), by quoting Harold Hoehner.
Since Luke was a careful historian, he recorded the time of Christ's birth. There are many difficulties associated with dating the birth of Christ. Hoehner writes concerning the time of Christ's birth:
In A.D 525 Pope John I asked Dionysius, a Scythian monk, to prepare a standard calendar for the Western Church. . . . The Commencement of the Christian era was January 1,754 A.U.C. (anno urbis conditae = from the foundation of the city [of Rome]) and Christ's birth was thought to have been on December 25th immediately preceding. So 754 A.U.C. became A.D. 1 in the calendar of Dionysius.
In the broadest terms Luke 2:1 states that Christ was born in the reign of Caesar Augustus (who reigned from March 15, 44 B.C to August 19, AD 14). Since this is so broad, one needs to narrow the limits. In the attempt to arrive at a more specific date, it is essential to establish two concrete limits, the termini a quo (the earliest limiting point in time) and ad quem (the final limiting point in time). With respect to this, the terminus ad quem is the death of Herod the Great, and the terminus a quo is the census of Quirinius (Cyrenius).
According to Matthew 2:1 and Luke 1:5, Christ's birth came before Herod's death. Herod was proclaimed king of the Jews by the Roman Senate in late 40 BC by nomination of Antony and Octavian and with the help of the Roman army he gained the possession of his domain in 37 B.C. He reigned for thirty-seven years from the time he was made king or thirty-four years from the time of his possession of the land.
According to Josephus, an eclipse of the moon occurred shortly before Herod's death. It is the only eclipse ever mentioned by Josephus and this occurred on March 12/13, 4 B.C. After his death there was the celebration of the Passover, the first day of which would have occurred sometime between March 12th and April l1th. Since the thirty-fourth year of his reign would have begun on Nisan 1, 4 BC (March 29, 4 BC), his death would have occurred sometime between March 29 and April, 4 B.C. Therefore, for these reasons, Christ could not have been born later than March/April of 4 B.C.
According to Luke 2:1-5 a census was taken just before Christ's birth. Thus,
Christ could not have been born before the census. The purpose of a census was
to provide statistical data for the levy of taxes in the provinces. . . .
'This census took place before Quirinius was governor of
Luke is not distinguishing an earlier census from one during the governorship
of Quirinius, but is merely stating that the census at the time of the
nativity took place some time before Quirinius held office. This gives good
sense to the passage at hand. As stated above, Quirinius was governor of
in A.D 6-7 and possibly also, as Sherwin-White has argued, in 3-2 B.C. If this
has reference to his governorship in A.D. 6-7 then this census is before the
governorship when he had conducted the well-known census mentioned in Josephus
and Luke. On the other hand, this also fits nicely if he were governor in 3-2
B.C; for Luke is then stating that just before Quirinius was governor in Syria
in 3-2 B.C. there was a census in Herod's domains.
The exact year of this census, which would mark the terminus a quo of Christ's birth, is difficult to pinpoint but it was probably taken sometime between 6 and 4 B.C, preferably the latter part of this span of time. This fits well with both Matthew's and Luke's chronologies, which seem to indicate that the census and Christ's birth were shortly before Herod's death. . .
Conclusion. Having considered some of these chronological notes, it seems the evidence would lead one to conclude that Christ's birth occurred sometime in late 5 B.C. or early 4 B.C.
There have been lengthy discussions on the day of Christ's birth. . . . The traditional date for the birth of Christ from as early as Hippolytus (ca. A.D. 165-235) has been December 25th. In the Eastern Church January 6th was the date for not only Christ's birth, but also the arrival of the Magi on Christ's second birthday. . . . Chrysostom (AD. 345-407) in 386 stated that December 25th is the correct date and hence it became the official date for Christ's birth in the Eastern Church.
Although the exact date may not be pinpointed it seems that there is "a relatively old tradition of a midwinter birth, therefore a date in December or January is not in itself unlikely."
The one objection raised for the winter date is the fact of the shepherds attending their flock in the night (Luke 2:8). Usually, it is noted, the sheep were taken into enclosures from November until March and were not in the fields at night. However, this is not conclusive evidence against December being the time of Christ's birth for the following reasons. First, it could have been a mild winter and hence the shepherds would have been outside with their sheep. Second, it is not at all certain that sheep were brought under cover during the winter months. Third, it is true that during the winter months the sheep were brought in from the wilderness. The Lukan narrative states that the shepherds were around Bethlehem (rather than the wilderness), thus indicating that the nativity was in the winter months. Finally, the Mishnah implies that the sheep around Bethlehem were outside all year, and those that were worthy for the Passover offerings were in the fields thirty days before the feast-which could be as early as February-one of the coldest and rainiest months of the year. Therefore, a December date for the nativity is acceptable.
In conclusion, the exact date of the birth of Christ is difficult to know with finality. However, a midwinter date is most likely.
It is clear that Christ was born before Herod the Great's death and after the census. In looking at the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke one would need to conclude that Christ was born of Mary within a year or two of Herod's death. In looking to some of the other chronological notations in the Gospels, the evidence led to the conclusion that Christ was born in the winter of 5/4 B.C. Although the exact date of Christ's birth cannot be known, either December, 5 B.C or January, 4 B.C, is most reasonable (2).
(2)Harold Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977) pp. 11-13, 22-23, 25-27. This work is highly recommended for careful study.
1. By the time of the Magiís arrival, the family had moved into a house.
2. Herod's paranoia had the children under 2 years killed. But - his choice of how old was based on what the magi had told him, "according to the time which he had determined from the magi."
And of course, we don't know WHEN the star appeared to them. And there is no way of knowing whether it was at conception or at birth - or earlier, IN ANTICIPATION of arriving at a specific time in Bethlehem.
26 AD (Year 15 of Tiberius), JOHN was 30 Ĺ years old (6 months older than
Jesus first Passover was in April 27 AD. John 2:13-20.
Passover at John 6 in 29 AD.
is 3 years from John 2:20 (27 AD).
Luke 3:1, we have already established that the 15th of Tiberius is
26 AD. BUT Ė we donít know exactly WHEN during that year, John began his
The 15th of Tiberius began August 19th. That gives us approximately 8 months until April of 27 AD. This gives us several months of flexibility for the start of Jesusí ministry, but very easily 5 to 6 months before the Passover of 27 AD.
However, it is not very likely that John would be baptizing in the Jordan IN
THE WINTER MONTHS.
6. So for the sake of the discussion, I shall choose September/October for the start of Christís ministry. So letís make September of 26 AD, the 30th year of Christís life.
7. The reign of Tiberius would be measured from August 19 of 26 AD. Aug. 19th is the day from which the reign would be measured, since Augustus died on Aug. 19, 14 AD, and Tiberius began his SOLE reign at that time.
Herod died in the spring of 4 BC (on or before April 4). Let's just call it
So from the death of Herod in April of 4 BC to the 15th of Tiberius in Aug/Sept of 26 AD is 29 years and 4/5 months.
Jesus is about 30 years old in September of 26 AD, then in April of 4 BC, he
is about 6 months old.
If we take it back 1 year more to Sept of 6 BC, then it would be 18 months
before the death of Herod. That would make Jesus 30 and 10/11 months in
September of 26 AD.
©Ron Wallace, http://www.biblefragrances.com.
Anyone is free to reproduce this material and distribute it,