Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

When Was Jesus Born?

A Facebook post reminded me of the question that comes up every year.  When was Jesus really born?
It is more complicated than we think.
About ten years ago I did some research on the subject for a message series we were doing.  I slightly cleaned up my notes:

(At this time my son and his family lived in Kazahkstan.) In a short time when my grandson asks his mom and dad, “When is Christmas?” the answer could be quite complicated.  Many of Nancy & Chris’s new neighbors will recognize Christmas as being on January 7, while those who have been more influenced by the West will go with December 25.  A friend of mine who lives in Ukraine tells me that many of his Ukrainian friends celebrate both days.  That would be an option that I’m sure Kira & Silas would find attractive.

So, what is the right day? 
            Both, neither, either, whatever.

Have you ever wondered when you looked at a calendar, who figured all this out and made it work?
Well, in 46 BC good old Julius Caesar introduced a calendar that became known as the Julian Calendar.  In order to get things to work out right, the year 46 BC, or as the Romans reckoned time it was the year 708—they began counting time from the founding of Rome--was 445 days long.  Julius’s calendar actually began in 709/45.
The problem with the Julian Calendar is that they figured that a year was 365
1/4 days long.  That is just a little too long.  Under the Julian calendar there were 100 leap years every 400 years.  In our system there are only 97.  As far as you getting to work on time tomorrow, none of this matters, but when you are talking a couple of millennia it adds up.
Some astronomers  recognized the problem and in 1582 Pope—keep that title in mind—Gregory the XIII decreed the new Gregorian calendar.  Various countries adopted the new calendar at different times.
*      Our ancestors here in America, continued to use the Julian Calendar until 1752, Wednesday, Sept. 2 was followed by Thurs. Sept. 14, just to get things to work out.
*      When we bought Alaska from the Russians, they were still using the old calendar, so folk there in the snowy north went to bed on Friday Oct. 6, and woke up on Friday Oct. 18.
*      Greece was the last country in the world to adopt the "Gregorian" Calendar, in 1923.

Though the nations of the world finally agreed on what day it is, the churches still haven’t.   You remember it was Pope Gregory who . . .

The Eastern Orthodox churches who had split from the Catholic Church or was it the other way around—actually they excommunicated each other—weren’t about to  . . .
So to this day they continue to follow the Julian Calendar, at least in part.  (You can find out more than you want to know, here & here.)   
Actually in church history there are several dates that have been considered the appropriate dates for the recognition of Christ’s birth:
*      Clement of Alexandria suggesting the 20th of May
*      Later, in 243, the official feast calendar of the time, De Pascha Computus, places the date of Christ's birth as March 28.
*      Other dates suggested were April 2 and November 18.
*      You can find articles claiming September 11 or 29.

Well, you say, we don’t know the day or maybe even the month, but at least we know the year.  It was zero, right?
BC goes backward up to Jesus birth, and AD starts counting forward after His birth, so Jesus was born at zero.

No, there is no year zero . . .
. . . It’s not even the year one.

Have you ever needed to time something, but you forgot to start your watch when the event began?
So you started your watch when you thought of it and then kind of estimated how much time had already passed.  So you had an accurate count, plus an estimate.  No matter how accurate your time is since you started the stopwatch, your over all timing is only as good as the estimate you made.

It might seem obvious that Jesus was born in the year 1 (of the Christian era, AD, Anno Domini). However, the Christian calendar was only developed around 500 years later, and it took another 500 years before it was generally accepted. As it happens, the Monk (named Dionysius Exiguus) who developed the concept, was apparently off in his calculations by around 4 years, as to exactly when Jesus was born. This results in the fact that Jesus was apparently born in around 4 BC, an odd statement!

The actual calendar that was used during Jesus' life was the Roman calendar. His family would have described His birth to have occurred in (probably/about) 750 AUC.  (This website published by the Roman Catholic Church gives a good summary.)

The fact is there really is no definitive statement.  Conclusions are drawn from various pieces of evidence:
The death of Herod the Great & an eclipse that is mentioned in association with his death.
The beginning of the building of the Great Temple in Jerusalem.
Astronomical phenomena, etc.
The evidence leads to somewhere between 4 & 6BC.

While we may not be able to name the date of Jesus birthday, we do know when it was in a far more significant way.

Look at Gal. 4:4
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, Galatians 4:4

So what is the answer to the question, “When was Jesus born?”  He was born in the fullness of time—when the time was right.  

1 comment:

Howard Merrell said...

Here is an article that addresses another perennial Christmas question.