What Is the Bible’s View?
Was Jesus Born at Christmastime?
TODAY the celebration of Christmas has become to many a mere custom. They give a sigh of relief when the Christmas season is over, became the spirit of commercialism rather than that of Christianity pervades it, though it is supposedly based on the date of Jesus’ birth.
Of what spiritual value, or of what merit in God’s eyes, is the celebration of such an event if it is a mere formalism? And how much less if its origin and practice are not Christian? On this point note what the New Catholic Encyclopedia says:
“According to the hypothesis . . . accepted by most scholars today, the birth of Christ was assigned the date of the winter solstice (December 25 in the Julian calendar [December 23 in our present Gregorian calendar] . . . ), because on this day, as the sun began its return to northern skies, the pagan devotees of Mithra celebrated the dies natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of the invincible sun). On Dec. 25, 274, Aurelian had proclaimed the sun-god principal patron of the empire and dedicated a temple to him in the Campus Martius. Christmas originated at a time when the cult of the sun was particularly strong at Rome.”—Vol. 3, p. 656 (Bracketed note ours).
Furthermore, it is generally acknowledged by Bible scholars that December 25 is not the date of Christ’s birth. In fact, the Bible does not pinpoint the date of Jesus’ birth, but it does give us information to the effect that it was not in the winter season. Luke, the writer of the third Gospel, provides the following information:
Christ’s forerunner, John the Baptist, was of the priestly family of Aaron of the tribe of Levi. (Luke 1:5, 13) Therefore he would have entered upon his assigned work at the age of thirty years. (Num. 4:3) John was six months older than Jesus. (Luke 1:24, 26, 35, 36) Since Jesus also entered his special work when “about thirty years old,” John would have been preaching about six months before Jesus approached him for baptism.—Luke 3:23.
John began his work “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,” the Roman emperor. (Luke 3:1, 2) Historical records show that Tiberius began to rule on August 17, 14 C.E. (Gregorian calendar). By Roman reckoning Tiberius’ first year ran from the date he took power, August 17, 14 C.E., to August 17, 15 C.E.* His fifteenth year would run from August 17, 28 C.E., to August 17, 29 C.E. Therefore, even if John began his work on August 17, 28 C.E., Jesus, coming to John about six months later, did not approach him until, at the very earliest, sometime in February of 29 C.E. Accordingly, Jesus’ birth thirty years earlier would fall in the year 2 B.C.E. not 4 or 6 B.C.E., as some calculate.
Here the question may arise: ‘If our calendar starts with the birth of Jesus, how can it be said that Jesus was born in 2 B.C.E.?’ The New Catholic Encyclopedia says that Dionysius Exiguus, a Catholic monk, early in the sixth century, “was the first to date the Christian era by the birth of Christ, but he made a 4- to 7-year error.” Actually, it appears to be a little more than a one-year error.
In what time of the year 2 B.C.E. was Jesus born? It is likely that John began baptizing, not at the start of the fifteenth year of Tiberius’ reign, so that the six months of his work took place through the rainy, cold winter season that followed; but, more logically, John began baptizing in the spring and Jesus’ baptism took place in the fall.
Supporting a fall date for Jesus’ birth are the facts concerning his work and his death. He died on Nisan 14, Passover day, in harmony with his being the real “passover,” “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!” (1 Cor. 5:7; John 1:29) Beginning when he was about thirty years of age, his work of preaching and teaching occupied three and half years, as is evidenced by the fact that the Gospel accounts indicate that Jesus attended four passovers during this time. (John 2:23; 5:1; 6:4; Luke 22:14-18) This harmonizes with Daniel’s prophecy that the Messiah, after his appearance, would give his sacrifice in the middle of a “week” of seven years. The prophecy reads: “At the half of the week he will cause sacrifice and gift offering to cease.” Half of a week of years would be three and a half years. Christ’s sacrifice was the basis for causing the animal sacrifices and offerings at the temple in Jerusalem to cease. It provided the real release from sin. (Dan. 9:25, 27) His death would be, by this calculation, three and one half years from the fall of 29 C.E., or in the spring of 33 C.E. Astronomical evidence shows that Nisan 14 of that year corresponds with April 1, Gregorian calendar. Counting back “the half of the week” would bring Jesus’ appearance as the Messiah (when baptized and anointed by holy spirit) to the fall season of 29 C.E. and his birth thirty years earlier to the fall season of 2 B.C.E.
So we have good evidence for the date of Jesus’ death, both as to the year and the day. For the date of Jesus’ birth, we have evidence for the year and for its occurrence in the fall season. But there is no evidence as to the exact day. Is there a reason why this date is not in the Bible?
Apparently so. Jesus gave a definite commandment that the day of his death be commemorated every year, saying: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) But as to the date of Jesus’ birth, there is no command to remember it. True Christians today should look to Jesus, not as a babe, but as a mighty spirit person in a position in the heavens second only to his heavenly Father. Now he has been given power over earth as King, and is soon to usher in his thousand-year reign of peace earth wide.—Rev. 11:15.
Consequently, true Christians do not observe any date as the anniversary of Jesus’ birth. This is in harmony with the statement at Ecclesiastes 7:1: “A name is better than good oil, and the day of death than the day of one’s being born.” The day of Christ’s death was certainly better than the day of his birth as a human. The apostle Paul speaks of his course of faithful integrity to God and his sacrificial death, saying: “Through one act of justification the result to men of all sorts is a declaring of them righteous for life. For just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] many were constituted sinners, likewise also through the obedience of the one person many will be constituted righteous.”—Rom. 5:18, 19.
Since the birth of Jesus was very likely in October, and not in December, and since the Bible shows that it is his death—not his birth—that must be commemorated, Christmas has no significance whatsoever to true Christians. Its celebration is particularly avoided by them because of its pagan origin and practices.
Although Tiberius was associated with Augustus in rulership, not until his sole rule did he begin to reign as caesar. Logically, therefore, the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar was the actual fifteenth year of his reign.