We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

CHRISTMAS

What time of the year was Jesus really born?  Over the years I have collected several claims to knowing exactly when Jesus’ birth took place.  I present the arguments to my readers to let YOU decide which claim you feel has the best merit.

(Note the differences in when writers say “the course of Abia/Abija” takes place.  Which one is correct?)

August
It was certainly in the summer time that He was born, since the shepherds were out on the wilderness of Judea with their flocks and the season for pasturing in the open extended from Passover till October.  Nor is more precise evidence lacking.  Zechariah, the Baptist’s father, belonged to the Course of Abijah, the eighth of the twenty-four priestly relays that ministered each in rotation for a week, reckoned from Sabbath to Sabbath; and at that period the eighth Course’s “days of ministration” fell about the third week of May.  It was then that Zechariah obtained the promise of a son, and Elisabeth conceived after his return home in the beginning of June.  It was in the ensuing November that Mary conceived; and so it would be in August that she “brought forth her first-born Son.”
Our Lord’s Earthly Life, p.xii, author unknown  (possibly David Smith) because pages are photocopied without that information included.

September 29th
…it is unlikely that December 25th is the actual birth date of Christ.  Various dates for Christmas even today are observed as Christ’s birthday by different Christian groups.  Perhaps the most probable date, though no one really knows, is about September 29th.  This was the first day of the great Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, when thousands of pilgrims from all over Israel would go up to Jerusalem to dwell in small “tabernacles or booths, commemorating their wilderness wanderings and anticipating the coming kingdom when God Himself would “tabernacle” with men (note Revelation 21:3).
This would have been a good time for the Roman census, with the weather still warm, most of the harvest in, and people traveling anyway.  Shepherds would still have their flocks in the field, whereas none of this seems at all likely in the winter time.
This same date was later celebrated by Christians as Michaelmas (meaning “Michael sent”), Michael being the great archangel of God.  It seems reasonable to suppose that this observance could have had its origin in the coming of Michael and the angels to announce the birth of Christ to the shepherds (Luke 2:9-14).
 …
It is at least very interesting that, if one counts back 280 days (the normal period of human gestation) from September 29th, he arrives at the previous December 25th.  And then he realizes that the great miracle of Christ’s Incarnation was not His birth, which was a normal human birth in every respect, but rather the miraculous conception, when the Holy Spirit placed that “holy thing” in the womb of the Virgin Mary! (Luke 1:35.)
Henry Morris, from the booklet, Christmas: Pagan or Christian?

Winter
The winter birth is based on the Biblical account of the shepherds tending their sheep, which were pasturing close to the walls of Bethlehem instead of farther out in the fields as during summer months.  With the city full due to the census, the only refuge Mary and Joseph could find was a stable.
“The stable is best described as a cave where animals were kept, not a man-made structure.  The manger, probably made of wood, was where straw and food were placed for the animals, thus it made a soft bed for a baby,” Aling explained.

Ailing sides with the theory [about the star] in a book written by John Williams at the University of Chicago in 1871.
“The Chinese were known as night-sky watchers who kept a detailed book of sightings.  Two events in the book explain unusual sightings at the time of Christ’s birth.  Comet No. 52 was in the sky for 70 days during Mar. and April, about 5 B.C., and moved in a westward direction.  Comet No. 53 appeared in Mar. and April around 4 B.C., and hovered,” Aling said.
Article interviewing Dr. Charles Aling, professor of history and chair of the history dept. at Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN.  Article has no information as to its origin or date.

The remaining commentaries make claims for December 25th 

There is no adequate reason for questioning the historical accuracy of [December 25th].  The objections generally made rest on grounds, which seem to me historically untenable.  The subject has been fully discussed in an article by Cassel in Herzog’s Real. Ency. 17, pp. 588-594.  But a curious piece of evidence comes to us from a Jewish source.  In the addition to the Megillath Taanith (ed. Warsh. p.20a), the 9th Tebheth is marked as a fast day, and it is added, that the reason for this is not stated.  Now, Jewish chronologists have fixed on that day as that of Christ’s birth, and it is remarkable that, between the years 500 and 816 AD the 25th of December fell no less than twelve times on the 9th Tebheth.  It the 9th Tebheth, or 25th December, was regarded as the birthday of Christ, we can understand the concealment about it.
Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, p.132
Ancient Jewish tradition … seems to recognize that date….  According to Alfred Edersheim, Jewish leaders established a special fast day on 9th day of the Jewish month of Tevet.  Initially, no specific reason was given for this fast day, but later Jewish writers identified the 9th of Tevet with the birth date of Jesus.  Edersheim further states that the 9th of Tevet had fallen on the 25th of December numerous times in the past.
There is also the possibility of a Hanukkah-Christmas connection.  Hanukkah is celebrated on the 25th of Kislev, the Jewish month that corresponds with December.  Could it be that early Jewish believers in Yeshiva (jesus) wanted to connect Hanukkah and the birth of the Messiah, and eventually that desire was transposed into the 25th of December?  After all, Hanukah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, which Jesus applied to Himself when He said, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).
Jews for Jesus Newsletter, December 2000

The following is from a pamphlet by John A. Stormer:
Is there any real evidence that Jesus Christ was born at Christmas?  A careful examination of a number of seemingly unrelated Bible passages gives clear indication that the Lord Jesus was indeed born at Christmas time.  Such study will give new emphasis to what Christ came to do.  It will also provide a much deeper appreciation of all that is hidden in the Word of God which can be discovered by those who prayerfully search the scriptures.


In Luke Chapter 1, the Bible records seemingly unimportant details about what a priest named Zacharias was doing when an angel announced to him that he and his wife were to have a child.  The child was to be John the Baptist who would prepare the way for the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  The Bible further records that the Lord Jesus was conceived in the sixth month after John the Baptist was conceived.  Therefore, if the time of the conception of John the Baptist could be determined, the birth date of the Lord Jesus could be calculated.


In Luke 1:5 and Luke 1:8, we are told that Zacharias was a priest of the course of Abia and that he fulfilled his priestly duties in the order of his course.  To understand the importance of the course of Abia and its bearing on the date of John the Baptist’s conception, it is necessary to turn to I Chronicles 24:1-10.  This passage describes how a thousand years before Christ, King David established the courses for priestly service in the coming temple.  Twenty-four courses were established and numbered by drawing lots - twelve courses for sanctuary service and twelve for the government of the house of God.

Members of each course would serve during a month starting with the Hebrew month of Nisan.  (Because of the way the Hebrew calendar fluctuates, the month Nisan can start anytime between early March and early April.)   The sons of Abijah (the Old Testament spelling for Abia) were in the eighth course.  Priests of Abia like Zacharias would, therefore, have ministered for a time during the eighth month which in some years corresponds to our month of October.  Zacharias would have returned home when his days of service were accomplished and John the Baptist would have been conceived sometime between October 10th and the end of the month.

After conception the scripture says that Elizabeth hid herself for five months.  Then in the sixth month of her pregnancy (which depending on the year could have been between March 10 and April 10) the angel announced to the Virgin Mary that the Lord Jesus would be conceived  in her womb by the Holy Ghost.  If this took place on or about April 1 a “normal” gestation period of 270 days would have then had the Lord Jesus due on December 25.  How about that!

There are other scriptural indicators that confirm that the Lord was born at Christmas time.  In the account of His birth in Luke 2:8, we read:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

My son-in-law, who has a degree in agriculture, after hearing the above presentation told me, “Certainly, the Lord Jesus was born at Christmas.  The only time shepherds spend the night in the fields with their sheep is during the time when the lambs are born.  The ewes become ‘attractive’ to the rams in the month after June 21, the longest day of the year.  the normal gestation period is five months so the ewes start lambing about mid-December.”  He added:
Isn’t it natural that the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world would be born when all the other lambs are born?

This “coincidence” was too amazing for me to accept until I checked it out.  A former teacher from the school where I am the administrator is married to a Montana sheep rancher.  She confirmed what I had been told.  She said, “Oh, yes!  None of the men who have flocks are in church for weeks at Christmas.  They have to be in the fields day and night to clean up and care for the lambs as soon as they are born or many would perish in the cold.”  Isn’t that neat?  God’s Lamb, who was to die for the sins of the world, was born when all the other little lambs are born.  Because He came and died the centuries old practice of sacrificing lambs for sin could end.

Oh, and did you know that the Magi weren’t there until quite a while after Jesus’ birth?  In Matthew 2:11, the Magi come to a house, where by now the family has found shelter.  Looking back at vs. 7 Herod found out the time the star had appeared, and then in vs 16 has all the children 2 yrs old and under killed, based on the time he was given by the Magi.  

Of course Luke 2 tells us that the shepherds where there shortly after the birth, which is a fact that Matthew doesn’t mention.   Some Hollywood productions have the family leaving Bethlehem very shortly after Jesus’ birth (with one I’ve seen showing the escape on the same night), so as to escape to Egypt to avoid Herod’s men seeking to kill Jesus.   Yet Luke tells us that they waited (apparently still in Bethlehem) until “the time of purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed,” and then presented Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem.  Then they would have gone back to Bethlehem until Joseph was told to depart for Egypt.  So they Magi arrived either during the time of purification or after Joseph brought them back from Jerusalem.

So why do Hollywood, publishers, artists, and nativity scenes all show the magi there?  I guess they just didn’t read their Bibles!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I find it surprising that you did not include January 6th in the discussion. I find this option as compelling as December 25. From what I have heard, January 6th, Epiphany, was celebrated by the early church as Christ's birthday until the time of Constantine. At that point it seems that December 25th because the date that was used.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Anonymous,

Well, I haven't read that January 6th was a date. If you have information which shows this as a possible date, by all means - please post it!

Anonymous said...

I like the response from gotquestions.org
"The truth is we simply don’t know the exact date of our Savior’s birth. In fact, we don’t even know for sure the year in which He was born. Scholars believe it was somewhere between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C. One thing is clear: if God felt it was important for us to know the exact date of the Savior’s birth, He certainly would have told us in His Word. The Gospel of Luke gives very specific details about the event, even down to what the baby was wearing – “swaddling clothes”—and where he slept—“in a manger” (Luke 2:12). These details are important because they speak of His nature and character, meek and lowly. But the exact date of His birth has no significance whatsoever, which may be why God chose not to mention it.

The fact is that He was born, that He came into the world to atone for our sins, that He was resurrected to eternal life, and that He’s alive today. This is what we should celebrate, as we are told in the Old Testament in such passages asZechariah 2:10: “'Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,' declares the LORD.” Further, the angel that announced the birth to the shepherds brought “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Surely here is the cause for celebration every day, not just once a year."

Tim Maguire said...

Christmas is celebrated on what we call January 6th by Eastern Orthodox churches because they use a differnet calendar - the Julian calendar, but it is still Dec. 25th. It's just the difference between the two calendars - Gregorian which we use and the Jukian calendar used by Eastern Orthodox.

I always used to think that Jesus must have been born in the Spring because that's when we have lambing in Wales. Then a few years ago I came across some interesting info. About lambing season in Israel. In Israel and throughout the middle-east they farm a breed of sheep called Awassi, which is perfectly suited to that part of the world. The lambing season for Awassi sheep in Israel is Dec to Jan. During this time the ewes would be kept under watch and care in fields close to the shepherds homes. Hence "while shepherds watched their flock by night".