When and Where was Jesus Born?

Christianity.com Editorial Staff

When and Where was Jesus Born?

Learn the birthday and birthplace of Jesus as we explore notable biblical and historical evidence along with scholarly speculation regarding the miraculous birth of Christ. Let’s explore whether Jesus was really born on Christmas Day in the little town of Bethlehem!

When was Jesus Born?

The Bible does not clearly answer this question. Evidently, the first Christians didn’t make a point of celebrating the birth of Christ. If they knew the precise date of his birth, they didn’t make an issue of it. The traditional date of December 25 goes back to the early centuries of the Christian era. Contrary to what some have asserted, there is no evidence that Christians “borrowed” that date from a pagan festival honoring the sun. William J. Tighe argues that the reverse is more likely to be true:

“Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Son” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.”

In regards the actual time of year for Jesus’ birth, the Bible states in Luke 2:8-9: “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.”

According to biblical scholar Adam Clarke, it was traditional for the shepherds of that region to send their sheep to field from the spring until the beginning of October. As the colder winter months started, the flocks would return from the pastures for refuge and warmth. Because the shepherds were still guarding their flocks in the fields near Bethlehem it can be inferred that the angels proclaimed the message of Jesus’ birth in October at the latest.

John the Baptist and the Birth of Christ

Other Christian scholars have used the birth of John the Baptist as a reference to understand a more precise timeline of Jesus’s nativity. 

Luke 1 speaks of Zacharias, and his wife, Elizabeth, who became pregnant with John the Baptist after his time of duty in the temple. In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Gabriel visited Mary with the announcement that she would give birth to Jesus. The supposed month of Jesus’ birth can, therefore, be estimated by calculating from the date of Zacharias’ clerical duty until the birth of Jesus.

By referencing Luke 1:24-31, we can estimate the month of Jesus’ birth to be around the time of mid to late September coinciding with Clarke’s estimates of sheep herding. To measure this date, begin at the conception of John the Baptist, in June, go ahead six months to reach Gabriel’s message of the conception of Jesus, December, then go ahead nine more months, the period of human pregnancy to develop, to arrive at September, when Jesus was most likely born.

Despite not knowing the exact birthday of Jesus, we celebrate his birth on December 25th as has been Christian tradition for centuries. The earliest documented date of Christmas being observed on December 25th was in 336, during the era of the Roman Emperor Constantine (the first Christian Roman Emperor). But it was not a formal Roman state holiday at that time.

Why is Christmas on December 25th?

Scholars suggest the Roman Catholic Church decided on Dec. 25 for various reasons, such as that date's links to the winter solstice and Saturnalia, a festival devoted to the Roman deity Saturn. The Encyclopædia Britannica says that church leaders likely selected it “to coincide with the pagan Roman festival marking the birthday of the unconquered sun,” at the time of the winter solstice. According to The Encyclopedia Americana, many researchers believe that this was done “in order to make Christianity more meaningful to pagan converts.”

Where was Jesus Born?

The question of where Jesus was born is often answered with a city – Bethlehem. We know this from Biblical prophesies and narrative accounts like in Luke 2:4 and Matthew 2:1. But Bible scholars are less sure about more specific details involving the setting. Again, we know from Luke’s gospel where Jesus was not born – an inn because there wasn’t room for his parents (Luke 2:7).

According to Micah 5:2 and Jewish tradition, the Messiah (the Christ) would be born in Bethlehem, a small town near Jerusalem. Luke 2 informs us that Mary and Joseph traveled to the town for a census prior to Jesus's birth, thus fulfilling the prophecy. 

  • Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”
  • Matthew 2:1-2, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’”
  • Luke 2:4-7, “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David…And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Discover more articles about the history and importance of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. 

True Significance of Jesus’ Birth

Much more meaningful than where and exactly when Jesus was born is the truth that He was born. Jesus arrived on earth to exist with us and to be one of us. The angel Gabriel told Mary that she would have a son and that His name was to be called “Immanuel” which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

The disciple John penned: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

“The Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This is the revelation of what occurred at Bethlehem and the true importance of Jesus’s birth.

 

Excerpts of this article are from: Was Jesus Really Born on December 25?, Was There Really a Consensus When Jesus was Born?, & Was Jesus Really Born in a Cave? on Christianity.com

Photo Credit: Thinkstock/Kevron2001


Originally published January 30, 2019.