THE DATE OF CHRISTMAS IS BASED ON BIBLICAL EVIDENCE
Many claim that the date Dec. 25 was borrowed from pagans. But this is not true. Shemaryahu Talmon, Professor Emeritus in the Bible Department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem says, “Christmas was celebrated Dec. 25 prior to any pagan celebration on the same date.”
The Bible tells us that John was conceived after Zechariah served in the temple and that Jesus was conceived 6 months later. So if we can figure out when Zechariah served in the temple, that would be a very solid evidence for when Jesus was born. Scholars have studied and found that there are basically 2 possible times for the conception and birth of John and Jesus (a few people talk of a 3rd, but its evidence is very flimsy).
These are 8 biblical, historical and biological facts that help us to figure out approximate dates for the conception and birth of John the Baptist and therefore Jesus since the Bible tells us that John and Jesus were conceived about 6 months apart:
- FACT #1: Zechariah’s priestly order was on duty at the temple when Gabriel told him that he and his wife would have a baby who would prepare people for the coming of the Lord (Luke 1:8-17). Zechariah didn’t believe at first, and as a punishment was made dumb during the whole pregnancy (Luke 1:18-22).
- FACT #2: When his week of service in the temple was over, he returned home and soon after Elizabeth became pregnant and praised God (Luke1:23-34).
- FACT #3: Zechariah’s priestly order was Abijah (Luke 1:5).
- FACT #4: The Bible and Jewish historians say that the order of Abijah (spelled Aviyah in Hebrew) was on duty 2 times/weeks every year at the temple. From Jewish historical records, we know that Zacharias was on duty in the months of Sivan and Kislev. If you look at these times in a Hebrew calendar for 2-6 BC, at sites like this:, http://www.cgsf.org/dbeattie/calendar/?roman=3bc, then Sivan is late June***, Kislev is late December***. Mathematical calculations then mean that Jesus had to be either conceived or born in late December to early January. Dec. 25 is completely within that range.
- FACT #5: Luke tells us that God sent Gabriel to Mary when Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant with John and announced that God had chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah, that the Holy Spirit would cause her to conceive and she would raise the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38).
- FACT #6: Mary humbly agreed to follow whatever God’s will for her was, hurries to visit Elizabeth, the two mother’s praise God for what He is doing for them and then about 3 months later Mary returns home (Luke 1:39-55).
- FACT #7: Babies normally take ~9 months from birth to conception.
- Fact #8: The view of nearly all early church fathers was that Jesus was born on March 25. This is partly from the above facts, partly from calculations based on when Jesus died, started his ministry, and working backwards from these along with a couple Jewish traditions about prophets and God’s putting important divine acts on highly symbolic days.
So with a normal pregnancy, 9 months from March 25 would bring us to Dec. 25. But because of variations between lunar and solar calendars we have dates in the early church ranging from around Dec. 22-January 6. Again, Dec. 25 is completely within the specific possible range.
Hebrew4 Christians has made a helpful chart based on Jewish history for when the priestly courses were on duty, including the order of Aviyah, Zachariah’s order.
- With these biblical/historical/biological facts, we can just do some fairly simple math and figure out that there are 2 possible approximate dates for John’s and Jesus’ conception and birth.
The one major thing we don’t know is exactly which of the two times that the order of Abijah was on duty it was that the angel came to Zechariah. Until someone comes with concrete evidence, we can only say that two dates are most likely.
POSSIBILITY #1) John was conceived in Sivan (~June) and born in Nisan (late March). Jesus was conceived in Kislev (~December) and born in Tammuz (late September). This site has a good overview of both possible dates, but thinks the September date has the best evidence.
Christmas Day: Was Jesus really born on December 25th?
POSSIBILITY #2) John was conceived in Tammuz (late September) and born in Sivan (~June) . Jesus was conceived in Nisan (March) and born in Kislev (~December).
The Hebrew4Christians site lists some evidence for this, but others are even better like this one:
Christmas Day: Date revealed by Levite calendar & celebrated through the ages!
There is some historical evidence that supports both dates as well. But both have evidence and both have deep spiritual meaning.
EVIDENCE #1: The early tractatus De solstitiia records the tradition of the Archangel Gabriel appearing to Zachariah in the High Temple when he was serving as high priest on the Day of Atonement (Lk 1:8). This placed the conception of St. John the Baptist during the feast of Tabernacles in late September,
EVIDENCE #2: Shemaryahu Talmon, Professor Emeritus in the Bible Department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a leading expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls published a careful study of the Temple’s rotating assignment of priests [1 Chr 24:7] and the Qumran scrolls related to assignments during New Testament times. His work gives significant evidence that shows that one date Zachariah would have served as a Temple priest would be in late September.
EVIDENCE #3: Josef Heinrich Friedlieb explained in his 1887 book, “The Life of Jesus the Redeemer” with evidence that the priestly class of Abijah would have been on duty during the second week of the Jewish month Tishri, which is the week of the Day of Atonement or in our calendar, between Sept. 22 and 30.
This site has more detailed explanations of this:
EVIDENCE #4: Dr. T.C. Schmidt from Yale and others have done a lot of research showing these facts:
“scholars like Yale University’s T.C. Schmidt are finding the marking of December 25 to go much earlier in the Christian history. When translating Hippolytus’ Commentary on Daniel, written just after AD 200, Schmidt notes that five of the seven manuscripts contain December 25 as the date for Jesus’ birth and another offers the 25th of either December or March.4 Clement of Alexandria in this same time offers the date of March 25 as the date of the incarnation, that is the conception of Jesus, in his Stromata (1.21.145-146).5 “
Luke 2:8 says there were shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night and some think this eliminates a Dec. birthday, but it does not.
“Some suggest that it hardly seems probable that shepherds would keep their flocks pastured in the fields in the cold of wintertime….However, while this sounds like a sound, logic-based argument, it has some problems. Due to the mild climate in the region of Judea, shepherds were (and still are) able to keep their flocks pastured in the fields year round.” https://newcreation.blog/the-archaeology-of-christmas
So all the evidence above indicates that Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist near the end of September. 6 months later would be the conception of Jesus, at the end of March, which was also the Passover celebration. 9 months after that would bring us to the end of December. So Jesus was very likely born on or near Dec. 25.
There is good biblical and historical evidence that indicates that there are two strong arguments for dates of the birth of John and Jesus. Both have very deep spiritual meanings:
SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE OF DATE A:
John the Baptist was conceived shortly after Zachariah’s service in the Temple (Luke 1:23-4) in late Sivan (June). This is when Jews celebrate Shavuat and God giving His word, the Torah on Mount Sinai more than 3,300 years ago. John was born around Passover on Nisan 15 (late March). The Jews have always expected Elijah to come at Passover and herald the coming of the Messiah who would be sacrificed as the real Lamb of Passover and Jesus said that John the Baptist was a type of Elijah the prophet (Matt 17:10-13, cp. Luke 1:17).
Jesus then would have been conceived in December near Chanukah at the festival of Lights and born near the day of atonement and the festival of Tabernacles. This would symbolize that Jesus is the light of the world and the light of the first spark of life at conception and that God came to atone for man’s sins and dwell among men.
SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE OF DATE B:
1) John was conceived after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year and Sukkot, near the feast of tabernacles (both in September) and born in Tammuz (June/July). So John was born to herald that the real Day of Atonement had come with the Lamb of God and that God had come to tabernacle, or live with man.
2) Jesus was conceived 6 months later than John around the time of Passover (March) and born near Chanukah, the festival of lights, in December .
3) Jesus’ conception near Passover in March points to His mission to sacrifice for our sins. His birth in late December near Chanukah points to Jesus as the light of the world!
So it’s very likely that Jesus was either conceived or born in late December. Either way the dates point to important spiritual insights about His mission to save humanity from sin! And that’s a good enough reason to celebrate His birth and Immanuel, God with us!
You can see more links on research about this here:
Pinpointing the date of Christ’s birth https://biblearchaeology.org/research/the-daniel-9-24-27-project/4368-pinpointing-the-date-of-christ-s-birth
Was the Birth of Christ During Tabernacles https://www.jewishroots.net/library/messianic/was-the-birth-of-christ-during-tabernacles.html
Star of Bethlehem https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exmbuX1NffU
But note that several sites assume that Herod’s death was in 4 BC because Josephus says there was an eclipse near Herod’s death. However there was also one in ~1 BC as Ralph Larson at bethlehemstar.com has shown with research.