Can We Know the Date of Christ’s Birth?
Many people believe that Christ was born on December 25; many other people have an idea that this is not so, but do not know when Christ was really born. However, we can get a very good idea of what time of year he was born, and furthermore we can know with surprising accuracy as to exactly what was that date. There are several ways of proving this, as we shall see.
The Bible states: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. . . . And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.” Luke 2:1, 3-5.
Logically governors and rulers would schedule tax time in the fall shortly after harvest. This only makes scene for any wise ruler to do: the weather was still pleasant and the cold of winter had not yet set in, people had the resources with which to pay the taxes because they just had harvest, and they had free time to go to be taxed since work in the fields had come to a lull. To get maximum cooperation from the citizens, rulers would put the taxation at a time when the people were best able to pay the taxes and have the time to do so, which in the account in Luke would have been fall time. (1)
Flocks in the Field
Shepherds do not keep their flocks in the fields over winter; it is too cold, and it can snow in the winter in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. (Bethlehem is only about 5 miles from Jerusalem and is a little higher in elevation. Jerusalem is at 2,474 ft; Bethlehem is at 2,543 ft). When in Jerusalem we saw a postcard of snow in Jerusalem. Thus it can get cold in winter now as well as anciently: “Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered themselves together unto Jerusalem within three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month; and all the people sat in the street of the house of God, trembling because of this matter, and for the great rain.” Ezra 10:9. They were trembling in the cold rain, and this was middle to end of December. (The first month begins in March/April.) Thus flocks were typically taken in from the fields by the end of October. “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” Luke 2:8-9. This could not have happened on December 25, but instead before the end of October. (2, 3, 4)
The 2300-Day Prophecy
It is a well-known and accepted fact in Christianity that Christ died in the spring. We do not need to prove that here. According to Daniel’s prophecy, Christ’s ministry would last three and a half years: “And He [the Messiah] shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week He shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations He shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.” Dan. 9:27. At Christ’s death the system of sacrifices in the Jewish economy was abolished; it was no longer needed because the true, ultimate, and perfect sacrifice had been made.
In Bible prophecy we apply the reckoning that one day of the prophecy is equal to one calendar year (see Eze. 4:6 and Num. 14:34). This verse speaks of one week which is seven days or years. Half of seven years is three and a half years. Thus Christ’s public ministry lasted for three and a half years. (5) Three and a half years back from a springtime (March/April) puts us in the fall time (September/October). And thus Christ’s baptism took place in the fall. The Bible says when He turned 30 years of age, He went to John the Baptist to be baptized: “Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli.” Luke 3:21-23. Thirty years previous from a fall time is also a fall time (September/October).
The Birth of John the Baptist
The events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist also help us to know when Christ was born. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, was serving in the temple when an angel appeared unto him to inform him that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a son, and they were to name him, John (Luke 1:5-22) There are some important clues in this story. Luke tells us that Zacharias was of the course of Abia: “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.” Luke 1:5. When the priests increased in number to the point that all could not service in the temple at the same time, David divided them into 24 sections. “Now these are the divisions of the sons of Aaron. The sons of Aaron; Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. . . . Now the first lot came forth to Jehoiarib, the second to Jedaiah, the third to Harim, the fourth to Seorim, the fifth to Malchijah, the sixth to Mijamin, the seventh to Hakkoz, the eighth to Abijah [or Abia].” 1 Chron. 24:1, 7-10. Each of these divisions or sections served in the temple for one week, twice a year, and all served during certain major feasts, such as the week of Passover. They began their term of service on a Sabbath and ended on a Sabbath: “So the Levites and all Judah did according to all things that Jehoiada the priest had commanded, and took every man his men that were to come in on the sabbath, with them that were to go out on the sabbath: for Jehoiada the priest dismissed not the courses.” 2 Chron. 23:8. Thus the course of Abia or Abijah was the eighth course, and the term of service started on a Sabbath and ended on a Sabbath. (6, 7)
So down to some math. Using the prophecy of Daniel, chapters 8 and 9, specifically the 2300-day prophecy, we can determine that Christ was born in 4 BC. (8) However, John was born before Christ, and he was conceived in 5 BC. The Jews reckoned time using their ceremonial calendar (Ex. 12:1-2) with the new year starting with the first new moon of spring, on or after the spring equinox. The spring new moon of 5 BC was on April 6th. (9) (The calendar for 2013 is a nice calendar to work from for a visual of what we are talking about, because April 6 of that year is a Sabbath.) Thus course one would have started to serve on the first Sabbath of the new year; the next one the next week. The third week was Passover and all courses served. The fourth week, the third course served, and so on. Thus we can count nine weeks and Zacharias would have served around the first full week of June. Thus by the time he finished his service and traveled to his home, it could have been the middle of June. Conception of John would have taken place soon thereafter (Luke 1:24). It is possible that it took place on or around June 24; however, we could at least acknowledge that it was by the end of June. Subsequently John was born on or around March 25.
The Bible says that when Elizabeth was six months pregnant that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary: “And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” Luke 1:26-28. Six months from near the end of June, puts us near the end of December. Counting nine months forward from near the end of December puts us near the end of September of 4 BC. Thus this is when Christ would have really been born.
A Special Festival for Michael
There is a festival called Michaelmas that was particularly observed in what is now the United Kingdom and Ireland. (10, 11) This is a feast of Michael the Archangel, and it was one of most important feasts of the year. According to inspired writings, Michael the Archangel is Christ:
“Christ resurrected Moses and took him to heaven. This enraged Satan, and he accused the Son of God of invading his dominion by robbing the grave of his lawful prey. Jude says of the resurrection of Moses, “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.’” Review & Herald, March 3, 1874.
“Moses came under the dominion of death. If he had continued faithful, and his life had not been marred with that one transgression, in failing to give to God the glory of bringing water from the rock, he would have entered the promised land, and would have been translated to Heaven without seeing death. Michael, or Christ, with the angels that buried Moses, came down from Heaven, after he had remained in the grave a short time, and resurrected him, and took him to Heaven.” Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 1, p. 342.
“The words of the angel, ‘I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God,’ show that he holds a position of high honor in the heavenly courts. When he came with a message to Daniel, he said, ‘There is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael [Christ] your Prince.’ Daniel 10:21.” DA 99. (Brackets in the original quote.)
Thus Michael the Archangel is not the angel Gabriel or any other angel, but he is none other than Christ Himself. According to tradition, Mary the mother of Jesus and certain other close relatives of Jesus were banished from Jerusalem during the persecution of the Christians that followed Christ’s accession to heaven. These relatives eventually made their way to what is now Britain. (12) Certainly the mother of Jesus would have know what day her son was born. Michaelmas is observed on the 29th of September, right at the time from all other evidence that we would expect Christ to be born! However, the true origin of Michaelmas has been lost sight of: “We pass on now to consider, in the third place, the commemoration of September 29, the festival of Michaelmas, par excellence. It does not appear at all certain what was the original special idea of the commemoration of this day” (Smith’s Dict. of Chr. Antiqq. (1893), vol. ii, p. 1177. Is this possibly the actual date of Christ’s birth?
There is another piece of convincing evidence. In 4 BC the first day of the seventh month fell on September 20. The tenth day was the Day of Atonement: “Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord.” Lev. 23:27. Thus starting with September 20 as Day 1 and counting 10 days forward brings us to September 29! Thus Christ was born on the Day of Atonement in 4 BC! What a perfect match! The very date of the sacrifice for the atonement for the sins of the people was the very date that the Great Atonement was born! Certainly, what great weight of evidence!
Then five days later the Feast of Tabernacles began, which lasted for seven days: “Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the Lord.” Lev. 23:34. It was in the middle of this week-long Feast of Tabernacles (about/on October 6) that Christ was circumcised: “And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Luke 2:27. Forty days from His birth (about/on November 7), His parents took him to the temple to be dedicated: “About forty days after the birth of Christ, Joseph and Mary took Him to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord, and to offer sacrifice. This was according to the Jewish law, and as man’s substitute Christ must conform to the law in every particular. He had already been subjected to the rite of circumcision, as a pledge of His obedience to the law.” DA 50.
One last interesting piece. Average human gestation is 280 days or 40 weeks. Counting back from September 29 takes us to December 24 or 25, depending upon whether or not 4 BC can be considered a leap year. Thus the Incarnation of Christ most likely happened on the evening of December 24 and going into December 25! Thus the world is celebrating the wrong thing on December 25; it was not Christ’s birth, but His Incarnation! Those who understand the pagan origins of December 25 may wonder, how could this be? Light is often sent at the point of deepest darkness: “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” John 1:5. Thus at that time the Godhead initiated the mission of Christ, the Light of the world, to come to this world as a babe; that is when the Holy Ghost came upon Mary, and the power of the Highest overshadowed her (Luke 1:34), and she conceived the Son of God.
In England there are four quarter days in the year that are of special note: March 25, June 24, September 29, and December 25. (13, 14) Are these four special dates actually dates pertaining to the conception and birth of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ? The first two dates to the birth and conception of John, and the last two dates to the birth and Incarnation of Jesus? It certainly does fit!
- Stump, Keith W. (co-author), The Plain Truth About Christmas, 1985, Worldwide Church of God, p. 8: “Late September or early October was also the time of year that taxes were customarily paid—in the fall, at the end of harvest.”
- Ibid, p. 6: “In ancient times as today, shepherds brought their flocks in from the fields and penned them in shelters not later than the middle of October.”
- Morris, Henry M., When God Became Man, Institute for Creation Research, p. 6: “Although it [shepherds watching sheep in the fields] is barely possible that this could be in late December, it seems far more likely that it would be sometime in the early fall.”
- SDA Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1980, Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, p. 699: “Abiding. If the ordinary custom was followed, the shepherds were living in the fields both day and night. This clearly implies that the season was after the rain of April and before the rains of November. . . , the season when sheep were commonly kept in the open fields. Winters are cold and wet in the mountain regions of Judea, and if it had been winter, the shepherds would have sought shelter from the heavy winter rains for themselves and their flocks. Considering all the evidence regarding the time of Christ’s birth, it seems that placing the birth in the autumn of the year would fit best the chronological pattern of the context.”
- White, Ellen G., The Desire of Ages, Pacific Press Publishing Association, p. 233: “Then, said the angel, ‘He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week [seven years].’ For seven years after the Saviour entered on His ministry, the gospel was to be preached especially to the Jews; for three and a half years by Christ Himself; and afterward by the apostles. ‘In the midst of the week He shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.’ Daniel 9:27. In the spring of A. D. 31, Christ the true sacrifice was offered on Calvary. Then the veil of the temple was rent in twain, showing that the sacredness and significance of the sacrificial service had departed. The time had come for the earthly sacrifice and oblation to cease.”
- Stump, Keith W. (co-author), The Plain Truth About Christmas, 1985, Worldwide Church of God, p. 6-8.
- SDA Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1980, Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, p. 671.
- White, Ellen G., The Great Controversy, Pacific Press Publishing Association, p. 327: “’From the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks’--namely, sixty-nine weeks, or 483 years. The decree of Artaxerxes went into effect in the autumn of 457 B.C. From this date, 483 years extend to the autumn of A.D. 27. (See Appendix.) At that time this prophecy was fulfilled. The word ‘Messiah’ signifies ‘the Anointed One.’ In the autumn of A.D. 27 Christ was baptized by John and received the anointing of the Spirit.”
- Internet: accessed Nov. 15, 2013: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/phase/phases-0099.html. Note that one must adjust for the “0” year on the NASA table, as there was no zero year.
- Morris, Henry M., When God Became Man, Institute for Creation Research, p. 6: “. . . it is significant that there was an ancient Christian feast called Michaelmas, observed on September 29 by many early Christians, especially in England and Western Europe.
- Internet: accessed Dec. 6, 2013: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michaelmas
- Gray, Jonathan, Update International, May to July 2012, Victoria, Australia: Jonathan Gray Ministries, p. 9: “Documentary testimony (not British) states that when Joseph and others were cast adrift on a boat, that Mary was among the occupants, and that they eventually landed near Marseilles, Gaul (France). Her presence in Joseph’s party of exiles would be expected if Joseph had taken over from John the guardianship of Mary. Other reports take up the story in Gaul, attesting that Mary was a member of Joseph’s mission that arrived in Britain in AD 37.”
- Internet accessed Dec. 6, 2013: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quarter_days
- Internet: accessed Nov. 16, 2013: The Companion Bible, http://www.therain.org/appendixes/app179.html