WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY: When Was Jesus Born? Why is Christmas on December 25? Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

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EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 140 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Let me begin by saying, none of you know where this article is going. But what I can tell you is that it will be factual, biblically grounded, and historically grounded. I can also tell you that it will be brief and to the point. However, we will have another linked article herein that will dig deeper for those interested. If you are interested in an objective answer to these three questions, please continue reading. 

When Was Jesus Born?

The Bible does not explicitly state on what date Jesus was born. We can determine the year (2 B.C.E.), the likely season, and possible month (early fall [September through November), but not the exact day.

Matthew 2:1 BDC: When was Jesus born?

  • According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia: “The true birth date of Christ is unknown.” Also, the same encyclopedia teaches that: “Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church.”
  • In line with this the Encyclopedia of Early Christianity: “The exact date of Christ’s birth is not known.”
  • Additionally, Wikipedia states, “the date of birth of Jesus is not stated in the gospels or in any historical reference. The historical evidence is too incomplete to allow a definitive dating.”
BIBLE DIFFICULTIES

While the Bible has no historical reference to the exact date of Jesus’ birth, we can extrapolate inferences by looking at two events that will help us know that it was very much likely not December 25. We can gain some additional insights through three different approaches: 

While the Bible does not directly answer the question, ‘When was Jesus born?’ it does describe two events surrounding his birth that lead many to conclude that he was not born on December 25.

(1) We need to examine references to known historical events mentioned in the nativity accounts in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, (2) by working backward from the start of the ministry of Jesus (29 C.E),[1] and (3) astrological or astronomical alignments.[2] The day we cannot establish with any kind of certainty but we can certainly get at the season, which can be estimated by various methods, including the account that tells us of shepherds watching over their sheep in the fields.[3] Again, if you are looking for greater detail than here, see the link to the article above.

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It Most Certainly Was Not In the Winter

  1. Caesar Augustus Decreed the Registration. Right before Jesus was born, Caesar Augustus published a decree that ordered that “a census be taken of all the inhabited earth (Roman Empire).” “All the people were on their way to register for the census, each to his own city.” When we consider that Jesus’ parents lived in Nazareth and needed to go to Bethlehem, we are looking at a week or more of travel. (Luke 2:1-3) Many across the Roman Empire would have to travel great distances, to be obedient to this decreed to register, likely for taxation and military purposes. Therefore, the burden it caused would have made such a decree unpopular regardless of when it took place in the year. However, it would have been quite foolish for Augustus to make such a decree in the dead of winter, which would have aggravated his subjects even further to have to travel great distances in the cold weather. 
  2. The Shepherds Living in the Fields with the Sheep. Luke 2:8. “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” The website bibleinfo.com notes “According to Bible commentator Adam Clarke, it was customary for the Jews to send their sheep to pasture from the spring until early October. As the cold winter months began, the flocks would return from the fields for shelter and warmth. Since the shepherds were still tending their flocks in the fields around Bethlehem it can be concluded that the angels announced the news of Jesus’ birth no later than October.”
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Likely Early Fall

We can get at the season and the year by calculating backward from the date of his death, which was on Passover, Nisan 14 33 C.E., which was in the Spring. (John 19:14-16) Jesus, when he began his ministry (3.5 years), was about thirty years of age. (Luke 3:23) Therefore, we can deduce that Jesus was born in the early fall of 2 B.C.E. 

How Did Christmas Come to Be December 25?

The Encyclopædia Britannica says, The reason why Christmas came to be celebrated on December 25 remains uncertain, but most probably the reason is that early Christians wished the date to coincide with the pagan Roman festival marking the “birthday of the unconquered sun” (natalis solis invicti); this festival celebrated the winter solstice, when the days again began to lengthen and the sun begins to climb higher in the sky. The traditional customs connected with Christmas have accordingly developed from several sources as a result of the coincidence of the celebration of the birth of Christ with the pagan agricultural and solar observances at midwinter. In the Roman world, the Saturnalia (December 17) was a time of merrymaking and exchange of giftsDecember 25 was also regarded as the birth date of the Iranian mystery god Mithra, the Sun of RighteousnessOn the Roman New Year (January 1), houses were decorated with greenery and lights, and gifts were given to children and the poorTo these observances were added the German and Celtic Yule rites when the Teutonic tribes penetrated into Gaul, Britain and central Europe. Food and good fellowship, the Yule log and Yule cakes, greenery and fir trees, gifts and greetings all commemorated different aspects of this festive season. Fires and lights, symbols of warmth and lasting life, have always been associated with the winter festival, both pagan and Christian. Since the Middle Ages, evergreens, as symbols of survival, have been associated with Christmas. Christmas is traditionally regarded as the festival of the family and of children, under the name of whose patron, St. Nicholas, presents are exchanged in many countries.

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What Does the Bible Say?

Do not let the following comment lead you to believe how this article is going to come out in the end. It needs to be stated that Neither Jesus nor any New Testament author told the Christians (followers of Christ) to celebrate his birthday. However, there are multiple Bible verses that obligate Christians to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22; Lu 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:23-25)

McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia states: “The observance of Christmas is not of divine appointment, nor is it of N.T. origin. The day of Christ’s birth cannot be ascertained from the N.T., or, indeed, from any other source. The fathers of the first three centuries do not speak of any special observance of the nativity. The baptism of Jesus was celebrated in the Eastern Church by A.D. 220, but not in the Western until the fourth century, and the Eastern Church finally adopted the Christmas festival from the Western (about A.D. 380).” Yes, honest-hearted ones know that Christmas has its roots in pagan religious rites. Yes, the Bible does show that God will find us an abomination if we worship him in a way that brings reproach on him and corrupts us through false worship.—Exodus 32:5-7.

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

Common Arguments Against Celebrating Christmas
  • Christmas is Commercialized and Materialistic: Yes, some humans distort the celebration and mist the entire point of simply respectfully showing one’s appreciation for Jesus Christ coming to earth once a year. If we avoided everything imperfect humans corrupted, we would do nothing. 
  • There Is No Scripture Authorizing the Celebration of Christmas: Again,  this is an argument from silence, and if we avoided everything that the Bible did not authorize, we would be doing very little.
  • Scripture Forbid the Celebration of Special Months, Seasons, Days or Religious Festivals Col. 2:16-17): These verses are referring to the observance of any special months, seasons, days, or religious festivals that is a religious duty or obligation, like what took place under the Mosaic Law. 
  • Christmas Is Steeped In Paganism: Let’s use another similar argument that Paul made. The meat in the marketplace actually came from the pagan temples where animals were offered to false gods. So, the question Paul addressed was, should Christians eat meat from the marketplace? He said plainly that there is nothing wrong with this meat. It is one’s heart attitude toward that meat. Mist gentile Christians were actually involved in this pagan worship prior to becoming a Christian, so some would struggle spiritually if they ate the meat from the marketplace. So, Paul said, if your Christian conscience tells you not to because you feel it is wrong, do not eat it. Other Christians that were spiritually mature enough to realize there was nothing in the meat that made it in of itself bad, could eat the meat. 
The Holy Spirit_02 THE CREATION DAYS OF GENESIS gift of prophecy

So, the conclusion of the matter is this, if your Christian conscience cannot separate December 25 and paganism from over a thousand years ago and focus on the celebration of Jesus’ birth; then, do not celebrate Christmas. If you are spiritually mature enough to realize the celebration of Jesus’ birth today is not on the right day because it is impossible to know the right day, so the world has for many centuries chosen December 25th, and that there are no paganistic motives in your heart; then, celebrate Christmas. Finally, let neither party condemn the other for their Christian conscience decision because that is what God will find offensive and abhorant in you.

[1] New Testament History by Richard L. Niswonger 1992, pp. 121–124

[2] Molnar, Michael, The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi, 1999, Rutgers Univ. Press

[3] “New Testament History” by Richard L. Niswonger 1992, pp. 121–124

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