The birth of Jesus is celebrated on December 25, but is this the real date on which He was born? The Bible does not specifically tell us when Jesus was born, meaning any dates proposed for His birth require extra-biblical information.
Was Jesus actually born on December 25?
The earliest known accounts associated with a December 25 birthdate can be traced back to church father Irenaeus (130—202) who connected Mary's conception of Jesus with the Passion Week (starting with Palm Sunday). Using March 25 as his Passion Week date, Irenaeus calculated forward nine months to December 25 as a birthdate.
Hippolytus (170—236) specifically noted December 25 with the birth of Jesus, though he may have made this decision based on the earlier tradition of Irenaeus.
Sextus Julius Africanus (160—240) noted December 25 as the date of Jesus' birth in the year 221.
The influential church leader John Chrysostom (347—407) held to December 25 as well.
Cyril of Jerusalem (348—486) was a writer who had access to the official Roman birth census and documented the birth of Jesus on December 25. This date would be accepted as the date on the Western church calendar. The Eastern churches selected January 6, with other churches selecting various dates between December 25 and January 6.
Biblically, the date of Jesus' birth is uncertain. In fact, we are uncertain even of the year in which Jesus was born. Matthew 2:1 tells us Herod was king when wise men from the east came looking for Jesus. This Herod died in 4 BC, meaning Jesus was born by then. Further, since Herod commanded all males two years old and under to be killed after the wise men did not return, this indicates Jesus could have been as old as two years by 4 BC, giving a window of 6—4 BC for His birth.
The time of year is uncertain as well, though some data can help. Since a census was being taken in Luke 2, it was likely after the growing season, indicating a time from fall to spring. Another relevant note is that Jesus was born approximately six months after John the Baptist. John's father received the angelic visit regarding John's birth during his time of service in the temple. According to Jewish records, this time would have probably been in early June, with Elizabeth conceiving shortly afterwards. This would have placed the birth of John nine months later in approximately March/April, and Jesus six months later in September/October. However, we cannot know with certainty.
Though it is unknown which day Jesus was born, early believers selected December 25 based on the known information from that time. Regardless of whether this is the exact date, December 25 is now used to commemorate a key date in the history of all Christians—the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
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