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Discovery Magazine 9/1/1999

When Was Jesus Born?

No one knows for sure when Jesus was born. We do not know the exact year, month, or day. The Bible does not tell us, and it was not a big deal to the early church. Some of the best Christian thinkers and writers of the time did not think that Jesus’ birth could be pinned down to any particular date.

Still, by A.D. 354, the religious leaders in Roman had settled on a date of December 25th. Why this day?

Again, no one knows for sure. The best guess is that they picked the day on which non-Christian Romans celebrated the birth of Sol, the Sun god. This was called the "Birthday of the Unconquered." Christmas has been mixed with pagan ideas ever since.

What about the year? This is a little more serious because some people have doubted Luke’s record of a census (Luke 2:1-2). A census was a chance for Rome to count the people and collect taxes. For a long time, critics of the Bible pointed out that a census did not take place until A.D. 6. This was way too late for the birth of Jesus. But now there is some evidence that a census was ordered in 8 B.C.

The next piece of the puzzle is Herod the Great. He ordered the death of all male children 2 years old and under who lived in and around Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16). A little later, on March 11, 4 B.C., Herod was dead himself. So, the most likely time for Jesus’ birth is somewhere between the time the census was order (8 B.C.), and the year of Herod’s death (4 B.C.)

Today, Christmas has become a special family time. It is true that if Jesus had not been born, we would not have had this holiday. But the church we read about in our Bibles did not set aside this special day. The early Christians remembered His birth, life, death, and resurrection, all year long. We would be wise to follow their example.

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