When was Jesus Born?

     On what day was Jesus born? No one knows exactly. The Bible does not say. Most people who lived during the first century did not celebrate birthdays. The early Church Fathers were confronted with several dates for our Lord’s birth. For example, “Clement of Alexandria says that some place it on April 20, others on May 20.”[1] It was not until the fourth century A.D. that the church was seriously divided over the matter. The Western Church in Rome celebrated December 25th, while the Eastern Church in Alexandria celebrated January 6th

Christmas (from Old English Cristes maesse “Christ’s mass”).  Observance commemorating the birth of Jesus. In the Western church, the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord was first celebrated on December 25 ca. A.D. 336, the date apparently chosen to counter the Roman feast Natalis Solis Invicti (“birth of the unconquered sun”), the birthday of Emperor Aurelius. In Alexandria and the Eastern churches the event was originally celebrated on January 6 in connection with the Feast of the Epiphany honoring Jesus’ baptism; some branches of the Eastern church still hold to this date.[2]

       We are not sure of the day, or even the year of Jesus’ birth. Scripture does mention historical events, people, and places associated with the birth of Jesus, and this helps narrow the time the Savior came into the world. The Gospel of Luke states, “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:1-2). Matthew, in his Gospel account, records the historical event concerning Herod’s effort to kill the baby Jesus. Herod died in 4 B.C., and since Jesus was less than two years of age when Herod ordered the killing of the infants (Matt. 2:16), then Jesus’ birth would fall sometime between 6 and 4 B.C. Though the matter of an exact year and day of Jesus’ birth is uncertain, the Bible plainly states that Jesus is a real historical Person who was born in time and space (read Matthew chapters 1-2 and Luke chapters 1-2). Concerning the season of His birth, Jesus could have been in the late winter, but that’s unlikely. It was probably spring or summer because the shepherds where in the field with their flocks (Luke 2:8). I know a lot of Christians who are very dogmatic about December 25th being the day Jesus was born, and there’s simply no biblical or historical evidence to make the case. What’s important is THAT He was born. 

       Biblically, Christians are not commanded to celebrate Christmas or any other holiday. This is unlike the Israelites in the OT who were required to keep the Passover (Lev. 23:5), Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:6), Feast of First Fruits (Lev. 23:9-14), Feast of Weeks (Deut. 16:10), Feast of Trumpets (Num. 29:1), Feast of Booths (Lev. 23:34), and the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). The Jewish feasts were a part of the Mosaic Law, and since that law code is no longer in effect (Rom. 6:14; Heb. 8:13), the feasts are not obligatory for God’s people. For Christians, it’s really a matter of Christian liberty to celebrate Christmas or not. Personally, I do not celebrate Christmas, but that’s because I have no children. However, if I had children, I suspect I would do something for the kiddos. I would not lie and tell them about Santa Claus, or that it was the day Jesus was born, when in fact no one really knows.  

       There are two chapters of the Bible that mention Jesus’ birth, whereas thirty eight chapters mention His death. Both His birth and death are important, but the Scripture emphasizes the latter. Jesus was born into the world to be our substitute on the cross. John the Baptist called Him the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And Jesus went willingly to the cross to die in our place. Jesus said “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18). Jesus willingly died in our place, for our benefit (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25; Heb. 7:27; 9:14), and through His death we have forgiveness of sins and the gifts of eternal life and righteousness (John 3:16; 10:27-28; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:7; 2:8-9; Philip. 3:9; 1 Pet. 3:18).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] Merrill Frederick Unger, R. K. Harrison, Howard Frederic Vos et al., “Christmas” The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Rev. and updated ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 227.

[2] Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 210-11.

About Dr. Steven R. Cook

Dr. Steven R. Cook is a Christian educator. He is protestant, conservative, and dispensational. Studies in the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology have been the foundation for Steven’s teaching and writing ministry. He has written several Christian books, dozens of articles on Christian theology, and recorded more than seven hundred hours of audio and video sermons. Steven currently serves as professor of Bible and Theology at Tyndale Theological Seminary, and hosts weekly Bible studies at his home in Texas. Steven’s ministry activity is entirely voluntary (articles, blogs, podcasts, and video lessons), as he works a full time job as a Case Manager for a local nonprofit agency that helps the elderly and disabled in the community.
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6 Responses to When was Jesus Born?

  1. hodnigeria says:

    Bro Steven, thank God for your life. i have been following your thought on any doctrine and i observed you dont like to do things which you can not find in the Bible. Please can you tell me why Christian goes to church on Sunday and not Saturday? Thank you sir.

    • Dear Hodnigeria,

      Thank you for following the blog, and for your thoughtful question.

      In the NT, the church met on Sunday, which was the first day of the week (see Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10). Even Jesus’ disciples met on Sunday, after the Lord’s resurrection (John 20:19). In the book of Acts, Luke writes, “On the first day of the week [Sunday], when we were gathered together to break bread [probably the Lord’s Supper], Paul began talking to them [teaching a Bible lesson], intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight” (Act 20:7). Concerning Acts 20:7, A. T. Robertson states:

      For the first time here we have services mentioned on the first day of the week though in 1 Cor. 16:2 it is implied by the collections stored on that day. In Rev. 1:10 the Lord’s Day seems to be the day of the week on which Jesus rose from the grave. Worship on the first day of the week instead of the seventh naturally arose in Gentile churches, though John 20:26 seems to mean that from the very start the disciples began to meet on the first (or eighth) day. But liberty was allowed as Paul makes plain in Rom. 14:5f. (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Ac 20:7)

      And Warren Wiersbe writes:

      The church met in the evening because Sunday was not a holiday during which people were free from daily employment. Some of the believers would no doubt be slaves, unable to come to the assembly until their work was done. The believers met in an upper room because they had no church buildings in which to gather. This room may have been in the private home of one of the believers. The assembly would have been a cosmopolitan group, but their social and national distinctions made no difference: they were “all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), Ac 20:6–12)

      The Lord was resurrected on Sunday, the first day of the week, and it seems likely the early church met on Sunday to celebrate His life, partake of the Lord’s Supper, and hear the Lord’s message. There is no command for Christians to meet on Sunday. What we read is Scripture is descriptive, not prescriptive. Christians are free to worship on whatever day they like. Paul writes, “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5). We are not under the Mosaic Law (Rom. 6:14); therefore, we are not obligated to keep the Saturday Sabbath, as was the case with Israel. The Christian is free to worship on Saturday, Sunday, or whatever day he prefers.

      Hope this helps.

      Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

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