In my studies of the Bible, I have noticed many traditions that have entered the church scene that do not correspond with biblical facts. Some of these traditions include the elevation of the King James Version to the level of being the only Bible. I have heard some people state that they believed that Paul wrote the King James Version. Are you kidding me? No wonder some skeptics think that Christians are Fruit Loops. My apologies to Toucan Sam. Other traditions include the ostracizing of remarried individuals. You would think that divorce was the unpardonable sin according to some Christians. Yet, if Jesus could save a woman who was divorced 5 times and was currently living with a man and set her on the right path, why should we Christians stand in the way?
With the ever-increasing intellectual and, sometimes, physical persecution upon modern Christianity, there seems to be an increasing dogmatism on many traditions. Some would even have you believe that Southern Gospel music is the only acceptable form of gospel music. While I appreciate the King James Version of the Bible and enjoy Southern Gospel music, I understand that these are personal preferences and not biblical mandates based upon facts. With this in mind, I was certain that I would find that December 25th was not the correct day of Jesus’ birth. However, I was greatly surprised when I began to research this topic for our radio show “Redeeming Truth.” Before we look into this subject, let’s read Luke’s historical account of Jesus’ birth:
1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” 15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Lk 2:1–20.)
Opponents of the December 25th birth of Jesus classically bring three arguments to the table: 1) Sheep would not be in the fields in the winter, 2) there are no early reports of a December 25th birthday of Jesus, 3) and the census would not have been taken during Channukah, it would have been more likely taken around Sukkot (the Festival of Booths). The three arguments against a December 25th date is compelling. According to many who hold that Jesus was born around Sukkot, the date of September 11th is held as the actual birthdate of Jesus. While this is intriguing, especially with the 9-11 tragedy, the main question is based around its’ authenticity. Could one prove that September 11th is the actual date of Jesus’ birth instead of December 25th? And if you could, would it be worth moving the Christmas holiday to September? Well, first we need to look at the other side of the argument. There are many good reasons for holding December 25th as the actual birthday of Jesus. Upon my research, mainly using IVP’s The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, I found 6 arguments for a December 25th birthdate for Jesus. Some of these arguments are based more on the year of Jesus’ birth. However, knowing the year of Jesus’ birth helps us determine the day of Jesus’ birth for reasons you shall see in the following argument. The six arguments for December 25th being the legitimate birthday of Jesus are: 1) Dating of Herod the Great’s Death, 2) Census, 3) The Start of John the Baptist’s ministry, 4) Astral Phenomena, 5) Shepherd and Sheep, and 6) Early Reports.
1. Dating of Herod the Great’s Death
One of the first things we need to do is to find the year of Jesus’ birth. We know from Matthew’s gospel that Jesus was born under the reign of Herod the Great. “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king” (New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Mt 2:1.) Dr. Ben Witherington III writes,
“Josephus tells us that Herod the Great was proclaimed King of Judea by the Romans when Calvinus and Pollio were proconsuls, or in late 40 B.C. (Ant. 14.381-85; JW. 1.282-85; Tacitus Hist. 5.9). He then adds that Herod reigned for thirty-seven years from the time of that proclamation (Ant. 17.191; J.W. 1.665)… Most scholars are still persuaded by the work of E. Schurer that Josephus is correct about the time of Herod’s accession and the length of his reign. This would place the death of Herod at about 3 B.C….Thus, it is likely Herod died between March 12 and April 11, 4 B.C. (Witherington III, “Birth of Jesus,” The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press) 66-67.
With this in mind, this pushes Jesus’ birth to at least a winter birth.
2. Census Under Quirinius
A lot of complex issues surround the census which would require great exposition. Therefore, we will skip the exhaustive problems surrounding the census but will tell the reader that Herod’s power was coming to an end well before his death occurred. Quirinius could easily planned a census to check the land before taking power. We will have to leave that issue there for this post. However, adversaries of a December 25th birth would have you to believe that the Romans would not issue a census during a small festival like Channukah, but would rather schedule it around Sukkot or another festival. This could be the case. However, there are a couple of problems with the argument. First, the census could have been Jewish in nature. If the census was Jewish in nature, then major holidays would have been avoided for the chaos that would ensue. Second, if the Romans did issue the census, then there may have been sinister motives behind issuing a census during the time of Channukah. Channukah is a national holiday as opposed to a religious holiday. It celebrates the victory of Judas and the Maccabee brothers who took Israel back from the Macedonians. Having the census during the time of Channukah may have been Rome’s way of reminding the Jews that the Romans were in power. This sound very Romanesque to me. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that Channukah would not have been chosen to issue a census. So, December 25th is still a possibility for the birth date of Jesus.
3. The Beginning of John the Baptist’s Ministry
Witherington III helps us out with two key important facts:
“Luke also tells us that John the Baptist began his ministry during the fifteenth year of Tiberius’ reign. Since Augustus died in the summer of AD 14 and Tiberius assumed the throne later that year, this would place John’s ministry about AD 29, though possibly it might be reckoned as early as AD 27 (Hoehner)….Luke then tells us that Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. The Greek word ‘hosei’ indicates an approximation or round number which would allow for a few years on either side… If Jesus did begin his ministry by working with our at the same time as the Baptist, as the Johannine tradition suggests (cf. Jn 3:22-30), and if rabbinic tradition is correct in saying that Jesus was age 33-34 when he began his ministry (b. Sanh. 106b), Jesus’ ministry may have begun as early as AD 29, if not shortly before then. This would mean that Jesus was born about 4 B.C. or perhaps a little earlier” (Witherington III, “Birth of Jesus,” The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press) 68.
So this again confirms that Jesus was probably born around BC 4 or 5.
4. Astral Phenomena
There were some strange cosmological phenomena going on around the birth of Jesus. The Star of Bethlehem, if it was a star, is such an example. Some have postulated that the Star of Bethlehem was a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. However, astronomers have shown that such an event was not possible due to the fact that the two planets would not have been close enough to appear as one star. Others have postulated that a supernova could have occurred. A supernova is a massive star explosion. It would appear as a large object in the sky.
Such an event is recorded…around December. Witherington tells us that a supernova was seen in France at the turn of the year of 5 going into 4 BC. Additionally, Jupiter would have been positioned over Bethlehem two years after Jesus’ birth. It may have been that Jupiter was what guided the wise men to the town of Jesus’ birth. Jupiter was over Bethlehem December 25th, 2 BC. Remember, the wise men came to visit Jesus 2 years after Jesus was born. Contrary to popular belief, the Maji were not in the Nativity scene.
5. The Shepherd and Sheep
Okay, what about the sheep? Opponents of a December 25th birth claim that the sheep would not have been in the fields in the winter time. This is one argument that led me to believe earlier that December 25th could not have been the birthday of Jesus. But, were sheep found in the fields in December in ancient times? One thing we must remember is that Israel has a dry, arid environment. So, Israel may not get as cold as many parts of the United States. However, there is evidence that shepherds did indeed allow their sheep out in the fields during winter months. “The Mishnah (m. seqal. 7.4) suggests that sheep around Bethlehem might also be outside during winter months (Hoehner). Therefore, though there is no certainty, it appears that Jesus was born somewhere between 4-6 BC, perhaps in mid-winter. Both the traditional Western date (Dec. 25) and the date observed by the Armenian Church (Jan. 6) are equally possible” (Witherington III, “Birth of Jesus,” The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press) 69.
6. Early Reports
Although there are no first-century Christians who spoke of the birth date of Jesus, there are early Christians who record the date of Jesus’ birth. Second-century Christian Hippolytus (AD 165-235) and fourth-century Christian John Chrysostom (AD 345-407) both record December 25th as the date of Jesus’ birth (Witherington, 69). We must remember that these Christians would have had earlier resources than we do today. Therefore, their testimony of this date is pretty good evidence for a December 25th birth date of Jesus.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I would never have guessed that I would be saying this, but I do believe that December 25th is indeed the date of Jesus’ birth. The Christmas tradition is indeed based upon good support to be claimed to be the actual birthday of Jesus. With all the information in hand, it appears that Jesus was born on December 25th, 5 BC. According to the best evidence available, it seems that Jesus died on Friday, April 7th, 30 AD and resurrected on Sunday, April 9th, 30 AD.
However, we must remember that Jesus did not originate on December 25th. As John tells us in the first chapter of his gospel, Christ was in the beginning with God and was God. Christmas represents the ultimate personal relationship that God had with His creation. God put on flesh, bore the penalty of our sins, showed us how to truly love, and defeated death to give us life eternal. If that is not something worth celebrating this Christmas season, I don’t know what is.
God bless and remember that Christ is the reason for the season. Merry Christmas!!!
Pastor Brian Chilton
One of the most thrilling experiences of my life occurred a brief time before I re-surrendered to the ministry. My wife and I had the distinct opportunity to view the Dead Sea Scrolls when they came to the Discovery Institute of Charlotte, North Carolina. It was absolutely phenomenal to examine these fragments and scrolls written two centuries before Jesus Christ was born! Most of what Evangelical Christians call the Old Testament (some call it the Hebrew Bible) were found written of the scrolls found at the Qumran caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. The only book not found was the small book of Esther.
Along with the books of the Old Testament were found scrolls of Enoch and other great apocalyptic works. 1 Enoch is one of my favorite apocalyptic books. There is even a reference to 1 Enoch in the New Testament book of Jude, written by Jesus’ brother. 1 Enoch reads a lot like Dante’s “Divine Comedy” where Dante shows levels of heaven and hell.
An enormous amount of lessons have been learned through the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some liberal scholars felt as if David could not be the author of the Psalms attributed to him. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls showed the opposite to be true. David’s name was listed on these ancient scrolls attributing him to the Psalms ascribed to him.
Another great lesson that has been obtained from the scrolls is the fact that the Hebrew Bible that we have now has been preserved with great accuracy. There is 95% accuracy rate between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) that we have now. The only discrepancies deal more with word placement and/or punctuation. For instance, you could say, “I am going to the store” or “to the store I go.” The speaker is essentially saying the same thing but slightly rearranged the words.
This accuracy includes the great prophecies written about the Messiah. Deep in the confines of Isaiah are pertinent and powerful prophecies concerning the Messiah. Now with certain evidence that these prophecies were written well before the birth of Jesus, we are posed with a question, “how did people miss the Messiah”. How is it that people missed Messiah when the prophecies are, in many cases, clear and concise? An even more troubling question is this, how is it that people miss the Messiah today? With the advent of Gutenberg’s printing press, every one of us can benefit from possessing a copy of the Bible. Yet even still, there are many who miss the Messiah. How is this possible?
We will be examining the prophecies pertaining to the Messiah in a special Christmas series at Friendship Baptist Church. We will be posting some of the information we discover here on this website.
God bless and remember that Jesus is the reason for the CHRISTmas season,
Pastor Brian Chilton
On “Redeeming Truth” at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton, I recently aired a show titled the “6 Major Worldviews.” We discussed the 6 major worldviews that exist in the world today. They are the following: atheism, agnosticism, pantheism, panentheism, deism, and theism. In case you missed the show, here is a brief description of the six worldviews. You do not have to learn every religion and philosophy. If you learn these six major worldviews, you will go a long way in understanding where a person comes from in their belief system.
Atheism comes from two Greek terms: “theos” which means “God,” and “a” which is a negation. Therefore, “a” “theos” literally means “no God.” This is the worldview held by those who claim that they absolutely deny God’s existence. Naturalists, who hold that the physical universe is all that exists, and secular humanists, who believe that man is the measure of all things, are two such groups that comprise the atheist worldview. Although atheism makes up a very low percentage of the world’s population, militant atheists (or anti-theists, those who oppose belief in God) are the loudest. Atheism can be discounted if there is any chance that God could exist. If there is only a one percent chance that God could exist, then atheism becomes futile.
Agnosticism also comes from two Greek words: “a” a negation, and “gnosis” which means “knowledge.” Therefore, the agnostic is one who claims to have “no knowledge of God’s existence.” It is claimed that Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha, was an agnostic, however this is debatable. In my opinion, agnosticism is more honest than atheism. Most who claim to be atheists are actually agnostics at heart. Some agnostics come to the point that they give up searching for God, or claim that God’s existence is beyond the scope of human knowledgeably.
Pantheism can be difficult for many Westerners to understand because it is rooted in Eastern tradition. Buddhism in its’ purest form can be accepted as pantheistic thought. Pantheists believe that God is in the universe. Pantheists would see God as being restrained by the universal laws. Some would see the universe and God as being the one and the same. For this reason, the ultimate in Buddhist thought is that of Nirvana. Nirvana is an escape. It is when one becomes one with the universe.
Panentheism is a little different than pantheism. Instead of believing that the universe is God, or God is in the universe, panentheists believe that the universe and everything in it is in God. This would mean that you are God and I am God. The rocks in your backyard are God. The birds flying in the air are God. The mosquito that bites you is God. In essence, everything is God. Panentheists make God more personal than their pantheist counterparts.
Deists believe in God’s existence and believe that God is separate from the universe. However, deists do not see God as personal in any way. Deists believe that God designed the universe and all of its’ laws, but does not interact with creation. Therefore, the deist would not believe in personal revelation, miracles, and some would not believe in an afterlife. Some famous deists are: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and perhaps Albert Einstein.
This brings us to the sixth and final worldview: theism. Theism comes from the root Greek term “Theos” which means “God.” Theists believe that God exists, that God created everything, that God is separate from the universe, and that God is personal with the universe and human beings. Theists would have no problem believing in personal revelation, miracles, and an afterlife. Classical Christians, Muslims, and Jews are theists. When we show the design found in the universe and the necessity of God’s existence, we do not necessarily prove Christianity, unless we show Christ to be savior.
Not every worldview can be correct. If God exists, then the atheist and agnostic can not be correct. If God is personal, the Deist could not be correct. If God is separate from the universe, then the pantheist and panentheist cannot be correct. It is not nice in popular society to claim that not all religions are true, but at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves if it is true. Study these worldveiws closely. This will help you understand bias in society. It will also go a long way in helping you understand why some act the way they do. Undeniably, I believe that the evidence seems to favor a theistic worldview.
Pastor Brian Chilton
Greetings everyone and welcome to my new website. My name is Pastor Brian Chilton. I have been in the ministry since I was around 16 years old. I did have a time where I left the ministry due to unresolved doubts. God answered those doubts and has since given me a great desire for Christian theology, philosophy, and apologetics. This website will host shows from our online radio show “Redeeming Truth” found at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton, articles, and essays on Christian apologetics. We hope you enjoy this website.
Pastor Brian Chilton