What year was Jesus Christ born?
The Bible does not explicitly teach the exact day or even the exact year in which Jesus was born. It does, however, provide many historical details that can help determine a specific time period during which He was born.
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Both Matthew and Luke describe the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus. Matthew 2:1 states Jesus was born during the days of Herod the king. This Herod died in the spring of 4 BC, indicating the latest time at which Jesus could have been born on earth. Further, Matthew 2:16 notes Herod commanded all male children two years old and younger to be put to death in his attempt to kill Jesus. This would further provide details that place the birth of Jesus to around 6-4 BC.
Luke's account provides many additional details. Luke 2:1-2 states, "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria." Caesar Augustus reigned from 27 BC to 14 AD. Quirinius required one known census in 6-7 AD, though the census mentioned in Luke seems to be unmentioned in existing literature. The use of the Greek term protos (translated "first") could also be translated "before" and may have referred to the time period before the census of Quirinius. Another option is that Quirinius served two times as leader in this area and ordered a census during his first reign. In either case, Jesus' birth between 6-4 BC still agrees.
In Luke 3:23, we are also told Jesus began His public ministry at "about thirty years of age." The details provided in Luke 3:1-2 limit the start of His ministry to between about 27-29 AD, also fitting a birth between 6-4 BC.
Further defining the window during which Jesus was born becomes more difficult based on the available evidence. Because Jews were required to travel to their ancestral towns for a census, it is unlikely that this census took place during the planting or harvest seasons (spring or fall). The most likely time period would have been following the harvest when residents had income to pay taxes and were not involved in the harvest, indicating a time period from late September to the end of the year, likely late 5 BC to early 4 BC.
The later connection of December 25 as the date of Christ's birth was developed long after the New Testament period. While it serves as the day Christians have chosen to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the exact date of His birth is unknown.
Others have attempted to use the priestly cycles of the Old Testament to date the birth of John the Baptist and therefore Jesus to the autumn of 5 BC. This is possible, but impossible to determine for certain. Others have focused on the "star" spotted by the wise men from the east in an attempt to more specifically date the birth of Christ. However, the fact that these men visited Jesus in a "house" rather than the manger and arrived days or weeks after His birth make any chronology impossible to determine with certainty. Others even seek to calculate the birth of Jesus based on the "70 Weeks" in Daniel 9, but a variety of factors make these findings uncertain. Still others argue a summer birth due to sheep in the field at night (Though sheep are actually outside year-round in the Middle East.).
While the birth of Christ in the last half of 5 BC is most likely, the evidence can only be given to support 6 to early 4 BC as the window of time for the birth of Christ. Yet the birth of Christ is of utmost importance and worthy of celebration on Christmas and every day. He came to live, die, and rise again to prove Himself as the Messiah, God's One and only Son (John 3:16).
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