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Date of birth
The date of birth for Jesus of Nazareth is not stated in the gospels or in any secular text, but a majority of scholars assume a date of birth between 6 BC and 4 BC. The historical evidence is too ambiguous to allow a definitive dating, but the date is estimated through two different approaches — one by analyzing references to known historical events mentioned in the Nativity accounts in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, and the second by working backwards from the estimation of the start of the ministry of Jesus.
Place of birth
The Gospels of both Matthew and Luke place the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Although Matthew does not explicitly state Joseph’s place of origin or where he lived prior to the birth of Jesus, the account implies that the family lived in Bethlehem, and explains that they later settled in Nazareth. However, Luke 1:26–27 clearly states that Mary lived in Nazareth before the birth of Jesus, at the time of the Annunciation.
The Gospel of Luke states that Mary gave birth to Jesus and placed him in a manger “because there was no place for them in the inn”, but does not say exactly where Jesus was born. The Greek word kataluma may be translated as either “inn” or “guestroom”, and some scholars have speculated that Joseph and Mary may have sought to stay with relatives, rather than at an inn, only to find the house full, whereupon they resorted to the shelter of a room with a manger. This could be a place to keep the sheep within the Bethlehem area, called “Migdal Eder” (“tower of flock”) as prophesied by prophet Micah in Micah 4:8.
Account in Matthew: Matthew 1: 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”
22So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23″Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall
call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
24Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. 5And he called His name JESUS.
Account in Luke:
Luke 1: 26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
29But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
34Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
35And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37For with God nothing will be impossible.”
38Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Luke 2: 1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
4Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7And she brought forth
her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14″Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
15So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
There have been many important births since the dawn of humanity. Consider the births of the scientists who have given us things that make life easier. There have been researchers who have discovered treatments and cures for diseases and ailments. Great humanitarians who, through their tireless efforts, have eased the pain of many and helped them live productive lives. The births of those who grew up to be preachers and missionaries have blessed those to whom they have ministered. However, one birth stands far above the rest. It is the most important birth there ever was or ever will be. It is the birth of Jesus Christ.
Table of contents
The Word became flesh (John 1:1-18)
Jesus’ coming in flesh as a man is called the ‘incarnation’, a word that means ‘in the flesh’. The clear record of the Bible tells us that Jesus is God in human form. First, we must remember that Jesus existed prior to His incarnation, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1-3, 14 ESV, cf. Colossians 1:15-17).
In one of Jesus’ prayers, He prays, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5 ESV). Clearly, Jesus did not begin His existence when He appeared as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. He had already existed from eternity past.
Date of Jesus’ birth: c. 6 or 5 BC
Briefly, historians say the birth of Jesus occurred around 6 or 5 BC. The Bible tells us that Jesus was born in the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4-5). Jesus’ birth took place at the time in history God chose. He had promised humanity a Savior in Genesis (3:15); and then set about to prepare humanity for the Savior’s arrival. God’s providence had arranged everything to culminate in the birth of the Savior in that stable on that night. The birth of the One who would give His life to pay for our sins.
Gabriel visits Mary (Luke 1:26-38)
Luke 1:26-38 tells us the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary. This must have been quite unnerving for Mary, a visit from a heavenly being telling her that she, a virgin, has been chosen to give birth to the Savior of the world. Mary was initially frightened until Gabriel told her that she had found favor with God. Gabriel explained to her that she would conceive a child by the power of the Holy Spirit. Believers rightly celebrate Jesus’ birth, but it was actually a normal birth; if being born in a stable can be called normal, that is. However, His conception was a one-time event that was unique in all of history.
The angel told Mary a few things about her soon-to-be-son:
- He was to be called “Jesus” (1:31);
- He will be great and be called the Son of the Most High (1:32);
- God will give Him the throne of David (1:32);
- there will be no end to His kingdom (1:33);
- He will be called Holy-the Son of God (1:35).
Gabriel assured Mary these things would surely take place because, “…nothing will be impossible with God” (1:37 ESV). Mary and the angel ended their conversation with Mary humbling herself to the will of God.
Angel visits Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:18-25)
At this time, Joseph and Mary were engaged to be married. In their culture, when a man and woman were engaged it was very much as if they were married, only without sexual relations. When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he decided that he should divorce her without any publicity. Joseph was probably very confused about the situation. He believed he was marrying a virgin, and now he discovers that she is pregnant. People would think that Mary had been unfaithful to her spouse already. Still Joseph could have made a public spectacle of Mary, disgrace her publicly in order to preserve his pride. However, apparently, Joseph was a better man and decided to divorce Mary quietly.
However, God had other plans for Joseph. In Matthew 1:18-25, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream reassuring him that Mary’s pregnancy was a gift from God and that Joseph should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Once again, the angel included in its message that the baby’s name was to be “…Jesus, for he will save his people form their sins” (1:21 ESV). The name ‘Jesus’ is the Greek form of a Hebrew word meaning “Jehovah will save”. Even the name God gave Jesus testified to His mission in life. Believing the Word from God, Joseph took Mary as his wife.
Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-7)
Caesar Augustus called for a census to be taken of all those dwelling in his realm. Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, but were required by the Roman government to make the trip to Bethlehem in order to register in the census. The census was taken in order to assess the population for tax purposes. Thus, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, even though his parents’ home was in Nazareth. This fulfilled the prophecy of His birth found in Micah 5:2.
Since this was the time of the census, the city of Bethlehem would be brimming with out-of-towners. For whatever reason, Joseph and Mary could find no suitable accommodations. Then, the time came for Jesus to be born. Apparently, Joseph and Mary searched for some place that she could deliver a baby in relative privacy. Most believe that place was a stable, because the Bible says the baby Jesus was placed in a manger, which is a feeding trough for animals, at His birth.
I am purposefully avoiding too much theological pondering in this article. I want to focus on what it would have been like that night with Joseph and Mary. They had traveled roughly 70 miles from their hometown in order to participate in this census. However, that was just what was taking place on the outside. Their spirits must have been soaring, knowing what the angels had told them, knowing the time was near for Mary to give birth to God’s Son, knowing that they had been chosen to participate in this incredible plan of God’s to save mankind from sin. The hardships of the journey, and their lack of better accommodations, could hardly have made a dent in the overwhelming joy they must have been experiencing. It just seems reasonable that a loving God would bless their experience in a most powerful way. This was God coming into the world in human flesh. I cannot help picture the entire event as something blessed by God in a way that is unique to that particular time and place. What an incredible story. Truly, the greatest story ever told.
The Christmas story of Jesus’ birth has always been special to me. The warmth I feel in my heart at Christmas time is more than the hot chocolate, or the Christmas tree lights at night, or any of the other fond memories I have of the holiday season. It feels like God spreads His love on humanity a little thicker during the Christmas season. It is as if He is reminding us that the gift of His Son, that He gave us so many years ago, should convince us of His love for us. A love that we should all seek to emulate and share with others.
Christmas should be a celebration of the birth of the Savior. It is my prayer that, this Christmas season, Christians will lovingly and prayerfully take the lead in turning the holidays back into a time of reflection on, and worship of, Jesus Christ.
“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17 ESV).
Interested in reading more about Jesus and Christmas? Check out these articles:
Christmas Bible verses
10 Interesting Bible Facts about Jesus
10 Good Christmas Traditions
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version
“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV)
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The birth of Jesus, also called the “nativity of Christ,” is a topic of religious significance and scholarly interest. According to the Christian scriptures, the event was miraculous and fulfilled prophecies about the Messiah in the Hebrew scriptures.
The earliest sources on the birth of Jesus are the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The other two gospels, Mark and John, do not mention Jesus’ birth at all; they begin their narratives with Jesus’ adulthood.
When Was Jesus Born?
The Christian calendar, established by the monk Dionysius Exiguus in 5331 and now in use throughout most of the Western world, centers around the birth of Jesus. The abbreviation “AD” stands for the Latin anno domini, “in the year of our Lord,” and “BC” stands for “Before Christ.” The secular equivalent “CE” means “Common Era” or “Christian Era.”
So it would be natural to assume that Jesus was born in the year 1 AD/CE. However, modern scholars believe Jesus was actually born “before Christ”—around 6-4 BCE.234
The Christian Gospels of Matthew and Luke provide several historical references for the birth of Jesus:
- Jesus was born “during the time of King Herod” (Matt 2:1)
- John the Baptist was conceived about 15 months before the birth of Jesus, “in the time of Herod king of Judea” (Luke 1:5)4
- Jesus was still a child when Herod died (Matt 2:19-20)
- “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)”(Luke 2:1-2)
- John the Baptist began his ministry “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene” (Luke 3:1)
- “Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.” (Luke 3:23)
- At the time of Jesus’ baptism, the Temple in Jerusalem had been under construction for 46 years (John 2:20)
The rulers mentioned above are actual historical figures documented in other sources, so this helps establish the date of Jesus’ birth. Here is what is known about the dates of these rulers:
- Herod the Great died in March or April 4 BCE5
- Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, ruled 4 BCE – 39 CE6
- Augustus was emperor 27 BCE – 14 CE7
- Augustus conducted no known census of the entire Roman Empire8
- Quirinius became governor of Syria in 6 CE910
- Quirinius conducted a census in Judea in 6-7 CE111213
- the 15th year of TIberius’ reign (14-37 CE)14 was 27-28 CE15
- construction on the Temple in Jerusalem began in 19 BCE, so 46 years later puts Jesus’ baptism at 27 CE1617
It seems Jesus could not have been born during both the reign of Herod the Great (died 4 BCE) and the governorship of Quirinius (began 6 CE). The reference to Tiberius in Luke 3:23 also indicates a date before Quirinius.15
Therefore most scholars conclude that Luke made a mistake in his dating of Quirinius111218 and use the remaining information to date the birth of Jesus, concluding he was born at the end of the reign of Herod or c. 6-4 BCE. This aligns with Luke’s mention that Jesus was about 30 years old in the 15th year of Tiberius (27/28 CE) and John’s mention of the 46th year of the Temple (27 CE).
When is Jesus’ Birthday?
What about the day Jesus was born? The Gospels offer no indication as to the day of Jesus’ birth. The only potential clue is the shepherds “keeping watch over their flocks by night” described in Luke 2:8. This was not done in the coldest winter months. However, many modern scholars regard the story of the shepherds as a pious invention full of symbolism; if so, there is no information on Jesus’ date of birth in the Bible.
The birthday of Christ has been celebrated on December 25 since at least the fourth century. However, this is an acknowledged adaptation of pagan festivals that reflects no actual information on Jesus’ birthdate. (See Christmas for details.)
Where Was Jesus Born?
According to the New Testament, Jesus was widely known to be from Nazareth and was referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth” (e.g. Mk 1:9, 1:24, 10:47; Mt 2:23, 4:13, 21:11, 26:71; Lk 1:26, 2:39, 4:17; John 1:45-46, 18:5-7, 19:19; Acts 2:2, 4:10).
However, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke emphasize that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in fulfillment of prophecies about the Messiah.
Luke explains that Joseph and Mary were visiting Bethlehem from Nazareth during the birth because the Roman emperor had decreed all families register for a census in their ancestral hometowns (Lk 2), while Matthew says Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Mt 2:1-12) and the family later moved to Nazareth (Mt 2:23).
The Virgin Birth
According to the Gospels, Jesus was born to a devout Jewess named Mary and a carpenter named Joseph. Matthew and Luke report that it was a “virgin birth” – Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit before she had any sexual relationship with Joseph (Mt 1:18; Lk 1:26-38).
The Gospels are virtually silent when it comes to Jesus’ early life, but some information can be inferred from references elsewhere. Jesus was from a small town called Nazareth (Mt 4:13; Mk 14:67, 16:6; Lk 4:16; Jn 1:46; Ac 24:5), where he probably trained as a carpenter under his father.
Jesus spoke Aramaic, a Semitic language related to Hebrew, though it seems he knew enough Greek to converse with Roman officials during his ministry.
The Gospel of Luke offers the only account of this period, in which a 12-year old Jesus wanders off from his parents in Jerusalem to discuss religion in the temple. When his frantic parents finally track him down, Jesus asks, “Didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:41-50).