Most people think that when Jesus was born it was December 25 in 4 BC. But a closer look will reveal that things are not quite as clear.
Facts about the 4 BC Date
BC stands for “before Christ”, so to say that Mary gave birth to Jesus in 4 or 6 BC is incorrect. This is the reason why.
During the Roman times, the years were counted from the Empire’s founding.
When it collapsed a new calendar was needed. In AD 526 a monk named Exiguius was assigned this task. The new calendar was to begin from the birth of Christ. Thus the time would be divided between the years before the time when Jesus was born (BC) and after it (AD, Anna Domini or the “year of our Lord”).
But Exiguius made an error. He set the date of Jesus’ birth in 753 from the founding day of Rome. It should have been in 749 or earlier.
There is nothing in the Bible that says Mary gave birth on December 25th. This date first appeared in the 4th century AD in the Western Church. In the Eastern Church, Jesus’ birthday is celebrated on January 6th.
Hipppolytus was one of the earliest Christian writers to state that December 25th was the date when Jesus was born. This was the date of the Saturnalia, a popular Roman pagan festival. It was the birth date of Mithra and Soi Invictus, popular sun gods. According to the historians the Christians chose the day to replace the pagan festivals. The Christian writer Chrysostom also used the December 25th date. This date stuck and it would become Christmas.
Other Possible Dates
Some believe that the birth date was September. The theory goes like this.
Luke 1:5 says that Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist) was on Abijah’s course. Shortly after an angel appeared and said his wife Elizabeth would get pregnant.
It’s said that the Abijah course was the eighth and took place in June. According to calculations Jesus and John were born six months apart. John would have been born in March. The time when Jesus was born would then be in September.
Others hold on to the December 25th date. They use the following method. The count starts from AD 70 with the temple’s destruction. Assuming the tradition held the Abijah course would’ve been in October. John would’ve been born in June. Jesus would be born in December.
There are other writers that support this contention. A Christian writer named Cyril got his information from the census. According to him, the date was December 25th. However there is no evidence to point to this conclusion. There are also no surviving documents either.
As stated the Eastern Church celebrates it on January 6th. Doubtless others have their own ideas too.
Of course these are all theories. Until something surfaces one can never be certain as to the time when Jesus was born. But for most Christians, this is of secondary importance. What is more vital are his teachings and message. Still, it is interesting to ponder.