Monday, November 26, 2012
The Date of Jesus' Birth
M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia says: “The observance of Christmas is not of divine appointment, nor is it of N[ew] T[estament] origin. The day of Christ’s birth cannot be ascertained from the N[ew] T[estament], or, indeed, from any other source.” - (New York, 1871), Vol. II, p. 276.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges: “The date of Christ’s birth is not known. The Gospels indicate neither the day nor the month. - (1967), Vol. III, p. 656.
Jesus' birth was not in December
Though the specific date of Jesus' birth was not recorded in Scripture, it does give us sound reason to conclude that his birth did not take place in December.
The weather conditions at that time of the year in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born is cold and rainy.
The Bible writer Ezra reported that this particular month in Jerusalem is known for cold and rainy weather. He wrote that people were “shivering . . . on account of the showers of rain.” (Ezra 10:9) Concerning weather conditions at that time of the year, the congregated people themselves said: “It is the season of showers of rain, and it is not possible to stand outside.” (Jeremiah 36:22) So it is no wonder that shepherds living in that part of the world made sure that they and their flocks were no longer out of doors at night when December came around.
But when Jesus was born, the Bible says that shepherds were in the fields tending their flocks on the night of Jesus’ birth.
In fact, the Bible writer Luke shows that at that time, shepherds were “living out of doors and keeping watches in the night over their flocks” near Bethlehem. (Luke 2:8-12) Notice that the shepherds were actually living out of doors, not just strolling outside during the day. They had their flocks in the fields at night. Does that description of outdoor living fit the chilly and rainy weather conditions of Bethlehem in December? No, it does not. So the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth indicate that he was not born in December.
The book Daily Life in the Time of Jesus states: “The flocks . . . passed the winter under cover; and from this alone it may be seen that the traditional date for Christmas, in the winter, is unlikely to be right, since the Gospel says that the shepherds were in the fields.”—(New York, 1962), Henri Daniel-Rops, p. 228.
After mentioning that Jesus was born at a time when shepherds were out-of-doors at night watching their flocks, 19th-century Bible scholar Albert Barnes concluded: "It is clear from this that our Saviour was born before the 25th of December . . . At that time it is cold, and especially in the high and mountainous regions about Bethlehem. God has concealed the time of [Jesus'] birth. . . . Nor was it of consequence to know the time; if it had been, God would have preserved the record of it." - Barnes Notes on Luke 2:8
"Neither scripture nor secular history records the date of Jesus' birth; even the season of the year is not stipulated. Some evidence points to spring, but it is not conclusive. The only thing reasonably certain about the coming of the Christ Child is that his birth did not take place in winter. .... In A. D. 350 Pope Julius I formally designated December 25 as Christmas. He chose that date because it coincided with important pagan festivals. These, in turn, were linked with the winter solstice [the shortest day of the year]." - How it Started, p. 54.
"It was noted later that this date [Dec. 25] would fall within the rainy season in Palestine, so that the shepherds would hardly have been in the fields as they were when Jesus was born." - p. 1425, The World Book Encyclopedia, 1958.
"At that time, Christianity was locked in a great duel with the Mithraists for the hearts and minds of the people of the Roman Empire. .... Sometime after 300, Christianity managed the final coup of absorbing the Saturnalia, and with it scored its final victory over Mithraism. December 25 was established as the day of the birth of Jesus and the great festival was made Christian. There is absolutely no Biblical authority for Dec. 25 as having been the day of the Nativity." (Cf. "Sol Invictus", p. 725, An Encyclopedia of Religion, 1945 ed.)
Christmas - It's Origins And Associations (SFBT)
Was Jesus Born in December? (WBTS.)
THE BIBLE’S VIEWPOINT - When Was Jesus Born? (WBTS.)
So Why is it Established That Jesus Was Born on December 25?
The Encyclopedia Americana informs us: “The reason for establishing December 25 as Christmas is somewhat obscure, but it is usually held that the day was chosen to correspond to pagan festivals that took place around the time of the winter solstice, when the days begin to lengthen, to celebrate the ‘rebirth of the sun.’ . . . The Roman Saturnalia (a festival dedicated to Saturn, the god of agriculture, and to the renewed power of the sun), also took place at this time, and some Christmas customs are thought to be rooted in this ancient pagan celebration.”—(1977), Vol. 6, p. 666.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges: “The date of Christ’s birth is not known. The Gospels indicate neither the day nor the month . . . According to the hypothesis suggested by H. Usener . . . and accepted by most scholars today, the birth of Christ was assigned the date of the winter solstice (December 25 in the Julian calendar, January 6 in the Egyptian), because on this day, as the sun began its return to northern skies, the pagan devotees of Mithra celebrated the dies natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of the invincible sun). On Dec. 25, 274, Aurelian had proclaimed the sun-god principal patron of the empire and dedicated a temple to him in the Campus Martius. Christmas originated at a time when the cult of the sun was particularly strong at Rome.”—(1967), Vol. III, p. 656.
“December was the major month of pagan celebration, and Dec. 25 was the high point of the winter revelries…Some believe the bishop of Rome chose Dec. 25 as the birth date of Christ in order to ‘sanctify’ the pagan celebrations. What resulted was a strange mixture of the pagan and the Christian festivals that the world now calls Christmas…The word ‘Christmas’ does not appear in the Bible. And Scripture gives no mandate for celebrating Jesus’ birth.” (Church Christmas Tab Magazine)
On the Road to Civilization, page 164: “The feast of Saturn, the Saturnalia, was a winter festival which lasted a week beginning on the twenty-fifth day of December, and was celebrated with dancing, the exchanging of gifts, and the burning of candles. The Saturnalia was later taken over by the Christians as their Christmas, and given a new significance.”
New Americanized Encyclopedia Britannica, 1900, Vol. IX, page 5236, says: “Saturnalia . . . celebrated on the 19th . . . lasted seven days. The time was one of general joy and mirth. The woolen fetters were taken from the feet of the Image of Saturn, and each man offered a pig. During the festival schools were closed. . . . Gambling with dice, at other times illegal, was practiced. All classes exchanged gifts, the commonest being tapers and clay dolls. These dolls were especially given to children. Varro thought that these dolls represented original sacrifices of human beings (children to the ‘Infernal God’).”
“Rev.” A. E. Palmer of Holy Trinity Church was reported by the Examiner to have said: “‘Why choose December 25 as the date of the sacred festival? Wouldn’t any other public holiday do just as well for this jollification?’ There was no evidence, he said, that Jesus was born on December 25 but the Church took over a great many of the ancient pagan festivals and gave them Christian meaning. On December 25 was celebrated the return of the sun, with the days becoming longer, and the Church chose this as being symbolic of the light that shone through the darkness. Christmas without Christ, he said, was nothing but a pagan festival.”
“It is a well-known fact that the popes and councils in the early Church deliberately placed a Christian festival on or near the day of a previously existing pagan carnival, with the purpose of ousting the heathenish and generally licentious celebration.” (James M. Gillis, C. S. P., editor of the Catholic World. December 2, 1945)
Christmas - It's Origins And Associations (SFBT)
Christmas Customs—Are They Christian? (WBTS.)
Can a Pagan Holiday Be Made Christian? (WBTS.)
How Should Jesus Christ Be Remembered? (WBTS.)
Wouldn't the Bible specifically mention what month and what day Jesus was born if Jesus' birthday was meant to be observed?
Jesus was the greatest man who ever lived and he is the Exemplar of all true Christians. So one would think that if he or his disciples or any of the early Christians ever celebrated his birth, the date would have been clearly recorded in the Bible so future Christians would always be able to celebrate it.
Yet the Bible never mentioned that Jesus nor his followers ever celebrated his birth. There is a very good reason for this -
The early Christians and Jews of Bible times did not celebrate birthdays at all
Historian Augustus Neander writes: “The notion of a birthday festival was far from the ideas of the Christians of this period.” (The History of the Christian Religion and Church, During the Three First Centuries, translated by H. J. Rose, 1848, p. 190)
The Jews "regarded birthday celebrations as parts of idolatrous worship . . . , and this probably on account of the idolatrous rites with which they were observed in honor of those who were regarded as the patron gods of the day on which the party was born." -M'Clintock and Strong's Cyclopaedia (1882, Vol. I, p. 817)
"Early Christians [from time of Christ until the 4th century] frowned on [celebrating anyone's birthday], which was too closely linked with pagan customs to be given the approval of the church." - How It Started, p. 213.
The Christian Book of Why, by Dr. John C. McCollister (Lutheran minister and university professor, graduate of Trinity Lutheran Seminary), Jonathan David Publishers, Inc., 1983, tells us on p. 205:
"Christians of the first century did not celebrate the festival honoring the birth of Jesus - for the same reason they honored no other birthday anniversary. It was the feeling at that time by ALL Christians that the celebration of all birthdays (even the Lord's) was a custom of the PAGANS. In an effort to divorce themselves from ALL pagan practices, the early Christians refused to set aside a date marking Jesus' birth. As a result, the first celebration of Christmas by Christians [?] did not take place until the fourth century."
Think about it for a moment. Exactly who were included in "ALL Christians of the first century" (1 A. D. - 100 A. D.)?
Yes, the Jews themselves never celebrated birthdays until long after the death of Jesus. They considered it a purely pagan custom and detestable to the God they worshiped. Jesus and his Apostles continued this belief and so did their followers for centuries!
"As late as 245 [A. D.] Origen [a writer of the third century C.E.] (hom. viii. on Leviticus) repudiated the idea of keeping the birthday of Christ, `as if he were a king Pharaoh [Gen. 4:19-22].'" - Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th ed., p. 642, Vol. 5.
“Origen . . . insists that ‘of all the holy people in the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod) who make great rejoicings over the day on which they were born into this world below.’”—The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, Vol. X, p. 709
Birthdays (SFBT Category)
For More Related Articles Concerning Jesus' Birth, See:
Myth Versus Fact—The Truth About Jesus (WBTS.)
Jesus' Birth—How and Why It Happened (WBTS.)
Lessons From the Record of Jesus' Birth (WBTS.)