Is December 25th really Jesus birthday?

There are not very many people who forgo celebrating Christmas in some way, shape, or form. But what is Christmas all about? Christmas is truly supposed to be a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. This naturally leads many people to ask the question, “Was Jesus born on December 25th?”

The short answer to that question is quite simply no; Jesus was not born on the 25th day of December. In fact, it is most likely that Jesus wasn’t even born anywhere close to December. We do not have an exact date for the birth of Jesus, but what we do have are some pretty good clues as to the season of his birth.

There are two major clues found in the Scriptures concerning the date of Jesus’ birth. The first is mentioned in Luke 2:1. This verse mentions the reason Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem, where Jesus would be born. There was a census given by the Roman Empire that required everyone to return to his or her ancestral home. For Joseph, this was Bethlehem.

The exact date of this census is somewhat hard to determine because Luke’s choice of wording. He mentions the governor Quirinius. However, there is some confusion as to whether or not the census was issued during Quirinius’ governorship or if it was before his time as governor. This is because Quirinius became governor (4 AD) after Herod I had died (4 BC). This would have made the claim in Matthew 2:7-8, 16 about Herod seeking out the Christ child rather difficult as Herod would have been dead if the census was issued during the governorship of Quirinius. The most likely explanation is that the phrase “the first census” is better translated as “the census before Quirinius”—just as the same Greek word was translated in John 1:15.

Nevertheless, the Romans would never have ordered a census to be conducted in the middle of the winter. Not only would it have been difficult for the people to travel and be counted, but also it would have been difficult for the officials of the Empire to travel about and conduct the census and gather the results.

The second major clue as to the birth of Jesus is found in Luke 2:8—And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. The sheepherders would not have been found in the open fields in December. It would have been much too cold and the fields would not have enough vegetation to support their flocks. The shepherds would only have been found in the fields from about the end of March to the beginning of September.

Taking these two pieces of Biblical evidence together, it can only be concluded that Jesus was not born in December, much less the 25th day of the month. But this is not really any surprise; biblical scholars have known for many years that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25. At this point, you might be wondering to yourself why we celebrate the birth of Christ on a day that we know isn’t correct. It is because of a couple of things that did take place on and around this date.

There was a Roman emperor who ruled about 150 years before Jesus was born. Antiochus IV is responsible for creating some of the historical traditions that eventually led to Christmas being celebrated on December 25. The story goes that Antiochus began to utterly despise the Jews. He began outlawing many Jewish religious rituals. If that wasn’t enough, he also required them to begin worshiping the Greek gods.

Antiochus went so far as to seize the temple. Then he proceeded to dedicate the temple to Zeus. In an official act of commencement, he slaughteed a pig on the altar to indicate the temple was dedicated to Zeus from that point forward. This was also a way that Antiochus was thumbing his nose at the Jews because pigs were detestable to them. For Antiochus, it was not enough to take the temple from them (their national religious symbol), but he had performed an act of desecration as well by slaughtering the pig. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the day that Antiochus performed this sacrifice was December 25th. This began a rebellion by the Jewish people known as the Maccabean Revolt.

Eventually the rebellion was successful and Jerusalem was recaptured. Before restoring proper worship in the temple, the Jews removed all traces of idol worship from the temple and held a ceremony to mark its cleansing and dedication back to the worship of Yahweh. Part of this celebration was lighting the menorah. Due to the rebellion, there was only enough oil to burn the lights for one day. The day of this celebration was the 25th of Kislev. However, the Talmud records that the candles miraculously burned for eight days. This sparked an annual celebration known as Hanukkah. This is also known as the fest of dedication or the festival of lights.

This celebration is mentioned in the Bible. It is found in John 10:22. Jesus was teaching in the temple courts. Specifically, what was known as Solomon’s Colonnade. At this point, the Jews approach him and ask, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” They were asking a very specific question. They wanted Jesus to state whether or not He was the Messiah, God in the flesh. This is particularly interesting as Hanukkah marked a time of renewed Jewish nationalism as they remembered a time of their ancestors overcoming an empire and restoring Israel to national independence. They believed the Messiah would also bring the nation of Israel independence. So their question naturally flowed from the celebration. At this point, Jesus clearly proclaimed, “I and the Father are one.” Thus indicating that he was the Messiah.

Even more interesting is the fact that the passages directly preceding this one are clearly intended to demonstrate that while Hanukkah was not a festival established in the Old Testament, Jesus still fulfilled it. In John 8:12 Jesus declared, “I am the true light.” Then in Chapter 9, John records Jesus’ healing of the man born blind. In other words, Jesus brought light into this man’s life of darkness.

It is for these reasons that it is certainly fitting and proper that we would celebrate the birth of Christ, the coming of “the light of life” (Jn 8:12). It is a time when Jesus proclaimed his message of salvation, his message of freedom from spiritual darkness. December 25th is a time to tell our children, family, and friends how we used "to be darkness, but now [we] are light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8). It is a time to proclaim the gospel of salvation with renewed fervency.

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