You’re probably familiar with the story of baby Jesus lying in a manger on the day of His birth. You’ve likely heard of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem and of the Three Wise Men, or the Magi, trying to find Jesus.
But, when did this all actually happen?
It is commonly believed the birthday of our Lord and Savior is on Christmas. After all, aren't many of the holiday songs we proudly sing every year in reference to this holiest of holidays, His birthday?
Yard decorations claim He is the 'reason for the season.' Millions of Christians celebrate his birth on Dec. 25, but scholars and historians agree this is not His birthday. The truth is, no one truly knows when Jesus Christ was born.
The birth date of Jesus Christ is of much debate. The Bible does not state the exact day Jesus was born.
Even after much research, theologians, historians, and scholars also cannot find finite historical evidence of His birth date. The closest date theologians can predict is in between the years 6 and 4 BC.
There are many different beliefs regarding the birth of our Lord and Savior — read on to learn about the controversy surrounding the matter.
Dissecting the Bible, we can begin to find answers to the time Jesus was born.
Apostles Matthew and Luke both give clues that suggest Jesus was born around 4 BC. Both have cited circumstances during this time which helps us narrow down a timeline.
One of the most telling clues is the mention of His birth being during the time of Herod the Great. Specifically, Matthew 2:1 states: "Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king."
At this time, Herod was the king of Judea, while Caesar Augustus was the ruler of the Roman Empire.
Theologians also came to believe the birth of Jesus Christ falls along this timeline of Herod by working backward from when He was 30.
In Luke 3:23, we learn His age: “And Jesus himself, when he began [to teach], was about 30 years of age.” However, Biblical scholars don't necessarily agree this information can conclusively determine the day of His birth.
The Gospel of Luke also depicts the time of the nativity of Jesus:
“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid” (Luke 2:8-9).
In the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew do not support Jesus being born in the winter season.
Shepherds do not graze their flock in the colder seasons. In the colder months, beginning in October, the flocks head from the fields to where it is warmer.
Because of this, theologians believe Jesus was born in the spring because shepherds watch over their flocks in the fields during the spring, not the winter. This would mean that Jesus’ birthday is actually closer to Easter, or the Jewish holiday Passover, than to Christmas.
Other clues shedding some light on the date Jesus was born can be found by looking at the birth of John the Baptist.
We are told in Luke 1 that Zacharias and his barren wife Elizabeth became pregnant after his days of service in the temple. Six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Mary learned from an angel that she would give birth to Jesus.
The word of Luke 1:24-31 reveals these events:
“Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, ‘Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.’
“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’
“...And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.”
Using this knowledge, we can conclude when the birth of Jesus was by counting from the date of Zacharias' service as a priest until the birth of Jesus Christ.
Another theory uses the Star of Bethlehem to pinpoint the year Jesus was born. In the Bible, the star heralds Christ's birth. Astronomer Colin Humphreys argues that the star was really a slow-moving comet. The Chinese saw and recorded this comet in 5 BC.
Astronomer Dave Reneke disagrees with Humphreys. According to him, the Star of Bethlehem was actually Venus and Jupiter coming together to form a very bright light in the night sky. He declares through research that this event happened on June 17 in 2 BC.
Even among scientists, there is much debate.
The scripture leaves us many clues as to when the possible birth of the Messiah could be.
The question isn't was Jesus born, but when? However, nothing is conclusive, and even with the assistance of science, we must speculate.
There is nothing wrong with celebrating Jesus' birthday on Christmas. In fact, we celebrate the gift of His birth every day, no matter the time of year, as we keep Him in our hearts.