When Was Jesus Born?
We don't know the exact date of Jesus' birth
Although it is estimated to be around 4-6 BC, the Bible does not mention the date of Jesus' birth. Historical records aren't complete enough to give us a solid answer, either. Let's look at what we do know about when Jesus was born.
We celebrate the birth of Jesus on the 25th of December. The word 'Christmas' comes from the words 'Christ' and 'Mas'. The term 'Mas' refers to celebration. Christmas, therefore, is the day we celebrate Christ's birth.
The difference between BC and AD
I will be using the terms BC and AD. BC stands for 'before Christ'. AD stands for Anno Domini. Anno Domini is a Latin expression that means 'The year of our LORD' or the year that Jesus was born. The use of AD was only popularized in the 9th century (900 AD). BC (before Christ) was used even later than that. According to this measurement, Jesus was born on 1 AD. The year before that is regarded as 1 BC. The greater the number in BC, the further back in time we go.
Matthew 2:1-2 (NIV)
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Birth of Jesus linked to the rule of Herod the Great
Herod died in 4 BC. Some believe, though, that he died in 1 BC. Jesus could have been up to 2 years old when the Magi from the east came to visit Jesus. This is why Herod called for the murder of all boys from the ages of 2 years and below. This was in accordance with what the magi told him.
Matthew 2:7 (NIV)
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.
Matthew 2:16 (NIV)
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Luke 2:1-4 (NIV)
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.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born
Time of when Jesus was born linked to a national census
Historians place the Census of Quirinius between AD 6 and AD 7 (10 years later). Many historians regard the Biblical linking of this census to be incoherent to the estimated time of Jesus' birth in 6-4 BC. (Herod died around 4 BC - by this time Jesus had already been born).
Others say that many censuses were taken at around the same time under the Roman Empire. This, in view of some historians, maintains the coherency of Luke's account. They say that this census could be one taken before Quirinius governed Syria.
Luke 3:23 (NIV)
Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli,
Luke 3:1-2 (NIV)
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— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
Calculating Jesus' birth by dating the beginning of His ministry
Historians are able to estimate that the time mentioned in the above scriptures is around 28-29 AD. If you minus the 30 years of age, you reach the 1 BC mark.
Take note that the above verses say that Jesus was about 30 years old. If he was 32-34, the birth date would be 4-6 BC. This would fit in with the reign of Herod (who died at 4 BC). This is important, since Jesus would have already been born when Herod ordered the massacre of children under the age of 2 in and around Bethlehem.
Another interesting argument is that Herod's death was later than what is originally thought. Some say that he only dies as late as 1 BC to 1 AD.
John 2:20 (NIV)
They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”
The 46th year of the construction of the temple
Historians can ascertain that the 46th year of the construction of the temple was about 27-29 AD.
This supports the above hypothesis that connects when John started his ministry and the age of Jesus to determine His birth date.
This verse therefore supports that fact that Jesus was born around 4-6 BC.
We are instructed to remember Christ's death above His birth
You would think that the Bible would give us a clear indication of when Jesus was born! We are clearly instructed to remember the death of our Savior until He returns. In comparison, His birth is not as important.
Luke 22:19 (NIV)
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
John 15:13 (NIV)
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Please share your ideas, comments, queries and feedback in the comments below.