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When was Jesus ACTUALLY Born?
Christmas. It’s the time of year when we gather with loved ones, friends and family alike, exchange gifts, eat copious amounts of food, and, oh yeah, celebrate the birth of Jesus.
But why? Why is it this time of year that we celebrate Jesus’ birth? Was that when He was actually born? And if He wasn’t born on or around Christmas, does that change how we celebrate it?
Every year around Christmas, I ask those same questions. And I know I’m not the only one who wonders about this. If you are reading this, I’m going to assume that one of those questions you’ve wanted to know the answer to, or maybe you wanted to see if this contradicts something you already knew. Either way, as someone who loves herself a good research project, I’m happy to do the leg work for you.
Simple answer: we don’t know.
Sorry to break it to you. I know you probably had really high expectations coming into this, thinking that we’d reveal some specific date or year. Or at least uncover some new profound piece of insight that had never been considered. The reality is the Bible doesn’t tell us. And there is no historical document dating back that references it. Controversial, I know.
History and the Bible tell us a lot of things to give us insight into date ranges, time of year, and a lot more important details regarding the significance of Jesus’ birth — especially to us this time of year.
First, while the Bible doesn’t give us an exact date for Jesus’ birth, it does give us some indicators to help us narrow down the years he could have been born in. Matthew 2:1 tells us that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod — he died in 4 BC. Luke 2:1–2 also tells us that a decree went out from Cesar Augustus, who reigned from 27 BC to 14 AD, that the world should be registered. The first registration was when Quirinius was governor of Syria. There is a census record in his governing reign that included Judea in approximately 6 BC. So, based on this historical evidence, the most likely time of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is sometimes between 6 and 5 BC.
Second, the Roman Emperor Constantine, in 336 AD, chose December 25 to celebrate Jesus’ birth. There is no detailed historical evidence that Jesus was born in the winter. Some scholars debate that He was possibly born in the fall, maybe even September.
Author and Pastor Dave Adamson notes that September is when the Jews celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles to remember that God was with His people after their exodus from Egypt when they were wandering in the desert. Dave states, “If Jesus was born during a festival that celebrates God being with His people, that would fit with Him being called Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us.’” Just the mere symbolism of this is incredible to think about.
So, was Jesus born in September of 6 or 5 BC? Again, we don’t know. And the reality is if God thought it was crucial to know the exact date of Jesus’ birth, He would have told us. Instead, He paints a picture to us of the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth — where it was, where He slept, and what He was wearing.
Because it shows the very nature and character of our Savior. Jesus didn’t come in demanding a throne or some high-ranking position. He arrived in the lowliest of ways — a humble servant who came to seek and save the lost [Phil. 2:5–11; Titus 2:11–15]. Y’all, Jesus wasn’t born in the Ritz Carlton. He wasn’t even born in a barn as we may know it today. The place Jesus was born was not clean, not fancy, and not as warm and cozy as we like to make it [click here if you want to know more about the place Jesus was born]. But what His birth means for us is that God sent Himself, in human form, down to be with us. And that’s what we celebrate.
This Christmas season, reflect on what Emmanuel means to you. Whether Jesus was born on Monday in September, a Thursday in June, or on Christmas Day, the fact that God is with us is something we should carry with us EACH and EVERY day of our lives — not just one day a year.
“Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you, declares the Lord.” — Zechariah 2:10
So, what about you? When do you think Jesus was born?