Was Messiah Born on December 25th?

The quick answer to this question is no. The more important questions are, do we know when He was born, and why do most celebrate His birth on December 25th? While Scripture doesn’t indicate the precise date of His birth, we can use information that Scripture does provide, to guide us to a reasonable time frame.

 

Josephus’ Report

Josephus (37-101AD) was a Jewish historian, born four years after the crucifixion, and was an eye witness to the majority of the events that he recorded in the first century. Josephus reported that Jehoiarib (of the priestly divisions) was on duty when the Jerusalem was attacked during the first week in April, 70AD.  According to Luke, Zacharias (John the Immerser’s father) was a priest of the order of Abijah [tooltip title=”5 In the days of Herod, King of Judah, there was a kohen named Zechariah from the priestly division of Abijah. Elizabeth, his wife, was from the daughters of Aaron.”](Luke 1:5)[/tooltip][1]. Working backward from April, 70AD, scholars had concluded that Zacharias, was serving in the temple in either June or December when he was visited by an angel [tooltip title=”8 Now it happened to be Zechariah’s time to serve as kohen (priest) before Adonai in the order of his division. 9 According to the custom of the priestly office, it became his lot to enter the Holy Place of Adonai to burn incense. 10 And the whole crowd of people was praying outside at the hour of incense burning. 11 An angel of Adonai appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.”](Luke 1:8-11)[/tooltip][2]. Luke also reports in [tooltip title=”23 When the days of his priestly service had been completed, he went home. 24 After these days, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and hid for five months, saying,”]Luke 1:23-24[/tooltip][3], that John the Immerser was conceived when Zachariah returned home from serving in the temple.  If the dating of Zachariah’s service is correct, then we can calculate that John the Immerser was born in either March or September, which is helpful because [tooltip title=”26 Then in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by Adonai into a town in the Galilee named Natzeret 27 and to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Miriam.”]Luke 1:26-27[/tooltip][4] indicates that Messiah was born six months after John the Immerser.

 

Caesar Augustus’ Census

According to Luke in [tooltip title=”Now it happened in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the world’s inhabitants. 2 This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 Everyone was traveling to be registered in his own city. 4 Now Joseph also went up from the Galilee, out of the town of Natzeret to Judah, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was from the house and family of David. 5 He went to register with Miriam, who was engaged to him and was pregnant.”]Luke 2:1-5[/tooltip][5], Joseph and Miriam (English commonly translates as Mary) were traveling to Bethlehem to register for the census.  When we read [tooltip title=”9 So within three days all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled in Jerusalem. On the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the people were sitting in the plaza before the House of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the rain. 10 Then Ezra the kohen (priest) stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful and taken foreign wives, increasing the guilt of Israel. 11 So now, give praise to Adonai, the God of your fathers, and do His will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from your foreign wives.” 12 The entire assembly answered and said with a loud voice, “Yes, we will do just as you have said. 13 However, there are many people here and it is the rainy season, and we are not able to stand outside. Besides, this task cannot be resolved in one or two days, for we have transgressed greatly in this matter.”]Ezra 10:9-13[/tooltip][6] (and other places in Scripture), we discover that this particular region had a particularly harsh rainy season that made outdoor activities extremely hard for everyone.  Because of this, we can reasonably assume the time frame for the census registry would have taken place between May and October to avoid such harsh traveling conditions for everyone.

 

From Passover to Marh-esvan

In early Spring, it was a Jewish custom for shepherds to send their sheep into the fields around the time of Passover, and they wouldn’t bring the sheep home until early to mid-fall when the first rains started. The shepherds would typically drive their flocks back early in the month of Marhesvan (which was in October), to avoid the harsh storms. When we read [tooltip title=”6 But while they were there, the time came for her to give birth— 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped Him in strips of cloth and set Him down in a manger since there was no room for them in the inn. 8 Now there were shepherds in the same region, living out in the fields and guarding their flock at night.”]Luke 2:6-8[/tooltip][7], we see that Messiah’s birth was associated with the season of shepherding. The word in Greek for “living out” is agrauleō (ἀγραυλέω)[8] which means to “camp out,” indicating the shepherds were living outdoors with their flocks. Messiah was born within the time frame of when the shepherds drove their sheep into the open fields and lived outdoors with them from May to October, with September being the more popular choice amongst scholars.

Syncretism in the Third and Fourth Centuries to evangelize pagans…

Why is Christmas Celebrated on December 25th?

Now that we’ve covered the dating of Messiah’s day of birth, or at least narrowed it down a bit, we can discuss why some chose to celebrate His birth on December 25th. Before we get into [tooltip title=”Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, while blending practices of various schools of thought, in an attempt to evangelize”]syncretism[/tooltip][9], I’d like to stress the point that the majority of people that participate in Dec. 25th celebrations aren’t even aware that this dating is inaccurate, but genuinely believe this was when Messiah was born. The name Christmas comes from “Christ’s mass,[10]” a service that is held in Roman Catholic churches.


[1] Luke 1:5 – 5 In the days of Herod, King of Judah, there was a kohen named Zechariah from the priestly division of Abijah. Elizabeth, his wife, was from the daughters of Aaron.

[2] Luke 1:8-11 – 8 Now it happened to be Zechariah’s time to serve as kohen (priest) before Adonai in the order of his division. 9 According to the custom of the priestly office, it became his lot to enter the Holy Place of Adonai to burn incense. 10 And the whole crowd of people was praying outside at the hour of incense burning. 11 An angel of Adonai appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.

[3] Luke 1:23-24 – 23 When the days of his priestly service had been completed, he went home. 24 After these days, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and hid herself for five months, saying,

[4] Luke 1:26-27 – 26 Then in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by Adonai into a town in the Galilee named Natzeret 27 and to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Miriam.

[5] Luke 2:1-5 – Now it happened in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the world’s inhabitants. 2 This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 Everyone was traveling to be registered in his own city. 4 Now Joseph also went up from the Galilee, out of the town of Natzeret to Judah, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was from the house and family of David. 5 He went to register with Miriam, who was engaged to him and was pregnant.

[6] Ezra 10:9-13 – 9 So within three days all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled in Jerusalem. On the twentieth day of the ninth month, all the people were sitting in the plaza before the House of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the rain. 10 Then Ezra the kohen (priest) stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful and taken foreign wives, increasing the guilt of Israel. 11 So now, give praise to Adonai, the God of your fathers, and do His will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from your foreign wives.” 12 The entire assembly answered and said with a loud voice, “Yes, we will do just as you have said. 13 However, there are many people here and it is the rainy season, and we are not able to stand outside. Besides, this task cannot be resolved in one or two days, for we have transgressed greatly in this matter

[7] Luke 2:6-8 – 6 But while they were there, the time came for her to give birth— 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped Him in strips of cloth and set Him down in a manger, since there was no room for them in the inn. 8 Now there were shepherds in the same region, living out in the fields and guarding their flock at night.

[8] Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 7). Bellingham, WA

[9] Syncretism – Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, while blending practices of various schools of thought, in an attempt to evangelize

[10] a summary of early Christian remarks that followed toward the Jewish people seen in “Jew, Jews,” in David W. Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), pp 374-378.