Th birth of jesus

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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.

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th birth of jesus

Fr. William Saunders, in one of his consistently excellent articles for The Arlington Catholic Herald (12-19-13), wrote:

St. Luke related the announcement of the birth of St. John the Baptist to his elderly parents, St. Zechariah and St. Elizabeth. St. Zechariah was a priest of the class of Abijah (Lk 1:5), the eighth class of 24 priestly classes (Neh 12:17). Each class served one week in the temple, twice a year.

Josef Heinrich Friedlieb has established that the priestly class of Abijah would have been on duty during the second week of the Jewish month Tishri, the week of the Day of Atonement or in our calendar, between Sept. 22 and 30. While on duty, the Archangel Gabriel informed Zechariah that he and Elizabeth would have a son (Lk 1:5-24). Thereupon, they conceived John, who after presumably 40 weeks in the womb would have been born at the end of June. For this reason, we celebrate the Nativity of St. John the Baptist June 24.

St. Luke also recorded how the Archangel Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John (Lk 1:36), which means the Annunciation occurred March 25, as we celebrate. Nine months from March 25, or six months from June 24, renders the birth of Christ at Dec. 25, our Christmas.

Marty Barrack adds:

Shemaryahu Talmon, Professor Emeritus in the Bible Department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a top Scroll scholar, in 1958 published an in-depth study of the Temple’s rotating assignment of priests  and the Qumran scrolls to see the assignment during New Testament times. It shows definitively that Zachariah served as a Temple priest  in September. His wife, St. Elizabeth, conceived late in September, as the archangel Gabriel said,  and afterward remained in seclusion for five months. Church tradition is that her son John the Baptizer was conceived on September 23.

It’s commonly believed (I have thought this myself) that Christians made the date of Christmas to correspond to Roman holidays, so as to wipe them out. Fr. Saunders observed:

The Romans did celebrate Saturnalia between Dec. 17 and 23, commemorating the winter solstice Dec. 23, but Christmas does not fit that time frame. What about the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” Dec. 25?

He goes on to note that we have a record of celebrations of Christmas on December 25th, from Pope St. Telesphorus (c. 125-136), the seventh bishop of Rome, St. Theophilus (AD 115-181), bishop of Caesarea, St. Hippolytus (170-240), Pope Liberius (352-66), St. Gregory Nazianzus (d. 389), and St. Ambrose (d. 397).  The Romans celebrated the winter solstice on December 25th in the Julian calendar. At length, he concludes: “Christmas was celebrated Dec. 25 prior to any pagan celebration on the same date.” The earliest date provided by historical evidence, for the Roman celebration of Sol Invictus is 274 (institution by the Roman emperor Aurelian). 

In his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, revised edition, 2000), Pope Benedict XVI explains:

The claim used to be made that December 25 developed in opposition to the Mithras myth, or as a Christian response to the cult of the unconquered sun promoted by Roman emperors in the third century in their efforts to establish a new imperial religion. However, these old theories can no longer be sustained. (pp. 107-108)

Catholic Answers apologist Jon Sorensen adds:

That the Christians chose a date so close to the winter solstice is also not proof that this was done to mimic pagan festivals. The various pagan religions all had festivals spanning the calendar. Whatever month the early Christians might have otherwise chosen would still place Christmas near some pagan celebration, and oppositional theorists would still be making the same claims. (“Why December 25?”, Catholic Answers, 12-16-13)

Andrew McGowan (no insignificant scholar) wrote in an article for Bible Review (Dec. 2002; reprinted in Bible History Daily, 12-3-17):

arly Christian writers never hint at any recent calendrical engineering; they clearly don’t think the date was chosen by the church. Rather they see the coincidence as a providential sign, as natural proof that God had selected Jesus over the false pagan gods.

It’s not until the 12th century that we find the first suggestion that Jesus’ birth celebration was deliberately set at the time of pagan feasts. A marginal note on a manuscript of the writings of the Syriac biblical commentator Dionysius bar-Salibi states that in ancient times the Christmas holiday was actually shifted from January 6 to December 25 so that it fell on the same date as the pagan Sol Invictus holiday. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Bible scholars spurred on by the new study of comparative religions latched on to this idea. They claimed that because the early Christians didn’t know when Jesus was born, they simply assimilated the pagan solstice festival for their own purposes, claiming it as the time of the Messiah’s birth and celebrating it accordingly. . . .

From the mid-fourth century on, we do find Christians deliberately adapting and Christianizing pagan festivals. A famous proponent of this practice was Pope Gregory the Great, who, in a letter written in 601 C.E. to a Christian missionary in Britain, recommended that local pagan temples not be destroyed but be converted into churches, and that pagan festivals be celebrated as feasts of Christian martyrs. At this late point, Christmas may well have acquired some pagan trappings. But we don’t have evidence of Christians adopting pagan festivals in the third century, at which point dates for Christmas were established. Thus, it seems unlikely that the date was simply selected to correspond with pagan solar festivals.

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Photo credit: The Visitation, by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674)

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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.

Sources

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).

Jesus’ Childhood

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).

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th birth of jesus

QUESTION: Was Jesus born on December 25?

ANSWER:

Was Jesus born on December 25? There is no evidence for this date. So then, who decided that Jesus’ birth would be celebrated on that date? The early Christian church did not celebrate Jesus’ birth. It wasn’t until A.D. 440 that the church officially proclaimed December 25 as the birth of Christ. This was not based on any religious evidence but on a pagan feast. Saturnalia was a tradition inherited by the Roman pagans from an earlier Babylonian priesthood. December 25 was used as a celebration of the birthday of the sun god. It was observed near the winter solstice.

The apostles in the Bible predicted that some Christians would adopt pagan beliefs to enable them to make their religion more palatable to the pagans around them. Therefore, some scholars think the church chose the date of this pagan celebration to interest them in Christianity. The pagans were already used to celebrating on this date.

The Bible itself tells us that December 25 is an unlikely date for His birth. Palestine is very cold in December. It was much too cold to ask everyone to travel to the city of their fathers to register for taxes. Also the shepherds were in the fields (Luke 2:8-12). Shepherds were not in the fields in the winter time. They are in the fields early in March until early October. This would place Jesus’ birth in the spring or early fall. It is also known that Jesus lived for 33.5 years and died at the feast of the Passover, which is at Easter time. He must therefore have been born six months the other side of Easter – making the date around the September/October time frames.

Other evidence that December 25 is the wrong date for the birth of Jesus comes from early writings. Iranaeus, born about a century after Jesus, notes that Jesus was born in the 41st year of the reign of Augustus. Since Augustus began his reign in the autumn of 43 B.C., this appears to substantiate the birth of Jesus as the autumn of 2 B.C. Eusebius (A.D. 264-340), the “Father of Church History,” ascribes it to the 42nd year of the reign of Augustus and the 28th from the subjection of Egypt on the death of Anthony and Cleopatra. The 42nd year of Augustus ran from the autumn of 2 B.C. to the autumn of 1 B.C. The subjugation of Egypt into the Roman Empire occurred in the autumn of 30 B.C. The 28th year extended from the autumn of 3 B.C. to the autumn of 2 B.C. The only date that would meet both of these constraints would be the autumn of 2 B.C.

John the Baptist also helps us determine that December 25 is not the birth of Jesus. Elizabeth, John’s mother, was a cousin of Mary. John began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar. The minimum age for the ministry was 30. As Augustus died on August 19, A.D. 14, that was the accession year for Tiberius. If John was born on April 19-20, 2 B.C., his 30th birthday would have been April 19-20, A.D. 29, or the 15th year of Tiberius. This seems to confirm the 2 B.C. date, and, since John was 5 months older, this also confirms an autumn birth date for Jesus.

Another interesting fact comes from Elizabeth herself. She hid herself for 5 months and then the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary both Elizabeth’s condition and that Mary would also bear a son who would be called Jesus. Mary went “with haste” to visit Elizabeth, who was then in the first week of her 6th month, or the 4th week of Dec., 3 B.C. If Jesus was born 280 days later it would place his birth on Sept. 29, 2 B.C. Some scholars interpret the 6 months to be in line with the Hebrew calendar or the August-September time frame. Since Mary’s pregnancy commenced a little before the sixth month around July, Jesus would be born somewhere around March-June. But does it matter if Jesus was born on the spring, the fall, or on December 25? Does it matter, theologically, when Jesus was born? What do you think, does it matter what day we celebrate His birth?

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

– We have all

sinned

and deserve God’s judgment.

God

, the Father, sent His only Son to satisfy that judgment for those who believe in Him.

Jesus

, the creator and eternal Son of God, who lived a sinless life, loves us so much that He

died

for our sins, taking the punishment that we deserve, was

buried

, and

rose from the dead

according to the

Bible

. If you truly believe and trust this in your heart, receiving Jesus alone as your

Savior

, declaring, “

Jesus is Lord

,” you will be saved from

judgment

and spend eternity with God in heaven.

What is your response?

Yes, today I am deciding to follow JesusYes, I am already a follower of JesusI still have questions

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