On what day was Jesus really born? A New Testament Manuscript Expert Responds

A 1466 copy of Jewish historianFlavius Josephus‘ first century workAntiquities of the Jews, widely used to establish the chronology of Jesus. Photo from Wikipedia.

This is a study by Daniel B. Wallace , which you can read it in its entirety here-  http://bible.org/article/birth-jesus-christ

Daniel B. Wallace has taught Greek and New Testament courses on a graduate school level since 1979. He has a Ph.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is currently professor of New Testament Studies at his alma mater.

His Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan, 1996) has become a standard textbook in colleges and seminaries. Dr. Wallace is also the Executive Director for the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.

Wallace – We must keep in mind that the Jesus we worship was truly born in time-space history. And that babe in the manger was truly crucified–and just as surely rose from the dead. The Bible is different from the sacred books of other religions because it invites historical investigation. And when it has met the test–as it surely always, inevitably does–it inculcates a greater devotion in the heart of the believer for the one we call the Son of God.

The Year Jesus Was Born

In the western hemisphere, we split time by the birth of Jesus Christ. But did he really even live? If so,when was he born?

Josephus records an eclipse of the moon just before Herod passed on. This occurred on March 12th or 13th in 4 B.C. Josephus also tells us that Herod expired just before Passover. This feast took place on April 11th, in the same year, 4 B.C. From other details supplied by Josephus, we can pinpoint Herod the Great’s demise as occurring between March 29th and April 4th in 4 B.C.

It might sound strange to suggest that Jesus Christ was born no later than 4 B.C. since B.C. means ‘before Christ.’ But our modern calendar which splits time between B.C. and A.D. was not invented until A.D. 525. At that time, Pope John the First asked a monk named Dionysius to prepare a standardized calendar for the western Church. Unfortunately, poor Dionysius missed the real B.C./A.D. division by at least four years!

Now Matthew tells us that Herod killed Bethlehem’s babies two years old and under. The earliest Jesus could have been born, therefore, is 6 B.C. Through a variety of other time indicators, we can be relatively confident that the one called Messiah was born in either late 5 or early 4 B.C.

My atheist friend scoffs at such flexibility. He says, „If you don’t know exactly when Jesus was born, how do you know that he really lived?” That is hardly a reasonable question! The other day I called my mother to wish her a happy birthday. „Mom, how many candles on this birthday cake?” I inquired. „I don’t know, son–I don’t keep track any more,” she sighed. After a few minutes of pleasant conversation, we hung up.

Now, of course, I can’t be certain, but I do believe that that was my mother on the other end of the phone. She can’t remember how old she is (and she’s neither senile nor very old), but that doesn’t make her a figment of my imagination, does it? Because if she’s just a phantom, then for the last three minutes, you’ve been reading absolutely nothing!

The Day Jesus Was Born

This coming December 25th most parents will be lying to their children about old St. Nick. Some of us will be celebrating the birth of our Savior. But was he really born on this day?

Was Jesus really born on December 25th? Virtually every month on the calendar has been proposed by biblical scholars. So why do we celebrate his birth in December?

The tradition for December 25th is actually quite ancient. Hippolytus, in the second century A.D., argued that this was Christ’s birthday. Meanwhile, in the eastern Church, January 6th was the date followed.

But in the fourth century, John Chrysostom argued that December 25th was the correct date and from that day till now, the Church in the East, as well as the West, has observed the 25th of December as the official date of Christ’s birth.

In modern times, the traditional date has been challenged. Modern scholars point out that when Jesus was born, shepherds were watching their sheep in the hills around Bethlehem. Luke tells us that an angel appeared to „some shepherds staying out in the fields [who were] keeping watch over their flock by night” (2:8).

Some scholars feel that the sheep were usually brought under cover from November to March; as well, they were not normally in the field at night. But there is no hard evidence for this. In fact, early Jewish sources suggest that the sheep around Bethlehem were outside year-round. So you can see, December 25th fits both tradition and the biblical narrative well. There is no sound objection to it.

Now admittedly, the sheep around Bethlehem were the exception, not the rule. But these were no ordinary sheep. They were sacrificial lambs. In the early spring they would be slaughtered at the Passover.

And God first revealed the Messiah’s birth to these shepherds–shepherds who protected harmless lambs which would soon die on behalf of sinful men. Whey they saw the baby, could they have known? Might they have whispered in their hearts what John the Baptist later thundered, „Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

Now, of course, we can’t be absolutely certain of the day of Christ’s birth. At least, not this side of heaven. But an early winter date seems as reasonable a guess as any. And December 25th has been the frontrunner for eighteen centuries. Without more evidence, there seems no good reason to change the celebration date now.

We can blame the ancient church for a large part of our uncertainty. You see, they did not celebrate Christ’s birth. At all. To them, it was insignificant. They were far more concerned with his death . . . and resurrection.

But modern man has turned that around. A baby lying in a manger is harmless, non-threatening. But a man dying on a cross–a man who claims to be God–that man is a threat! He demands our allegiance! We cannot ignore him. We must either accept him or reject him. He leaves us no middle ground.

This Christmas season, take a close look at a nativity scene once again. Remove your rose-colored glasses–smell the foul air, see the cold, shivering animals. They represent the Old Testament sacrificial system. They are emblems of death. But they are mere shadows of the Babe in their midst. He was born to die . . . that all who believe in him might live.

The Visit of the Magi

When Jesus Christ was born, men–known as magi–came from the east to worship him. Were they wisemen . . . or astrologers?

Matthew begins his second chapter with these words: „Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him.'”

Who were these wise men from the east? Matthew tells us next to nothing about them–he doesn’t mention their names, nor how many there were–not even which country they came from. As mysteriously as they come on the scene, they disappear. . .

Though Matthew doesn’t tell us much, over-zealous Christians throughout church history have dogmatically filled in the blanks. By the 6th century A.D., these dark strangers were given thrones and names: Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar were the alleged names of these alleged kings. But this has nothing to do with the biblical story: we really have no idea what their names were–nor even their number. There could have been 3 or 300 as far as we know! But one thing we do know for sure: they were not royalty. The ancient magi were reilgious and political advisors to eastern kings–but there wasn’t a drop of blue blood among them.

But isn’t it true that the magi were astrologers? And didn’t God prescribe death to astrologers in the Old Testament? ‘Not always’ and ‘yes’ are the answers. In Deuteronomy 17, God commands his people to execute all astrologers by stoning. Jean Dixon wouldn’t stand a chance in such a theocracy! The fact that she–and others like her–are so comfortably tolerated–even well respected!–in modern America ought to show us that the U.S.A. is a post-Christian country–at best . . .

But what about these ancient magi? Were they astrologers? After all, they followed a star to Bethlehem.

We might answer this in three ways: First, not all magi were astrologers, for Daniel the prophet was the chief of the magi in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Through his influence, undoubtedly many of the magi carried on their religious and political duties as worshippers of the One true God.

Second, there are some biblical scholars who believe that Isaiah predicted that a star would appear when the Messiah was born. If this interpretation is correct, then the magi who worshipped the newborn king were clearly following in Daniel’s train, for he almost surely taught them from Isaiah.

Third, although a few believe that the ‘star’ they saw was a natural phenomenon–such as a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter–this cannot explain how the star stood right over Bethlehem. Clearly, the ‘star’ was completely of supernatural origin. If so, it probably had nothing to do with astrology.

Therefore, the magi most likely did not subscribe to such superstitious folly. If so, they were truly wisemen . . .

I saw a bumper sticker the other day, which read, „Wise men still seek him.” Actually, that’s not quite accurate. The Bible tells us that „no one seeks God, not even one.” But if he has led us to himself, then we have become wise. For it is true that „wise men still worship him.”

The Boys from Bethlehem

One of the most heinous atrocities in human history was the murder of Bethlehem’s babies by Herod the Great. But did it really happen?

In the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel, we read that when Herod the Great heard of the Messiah’s birth, „he was troubled–and all Jerusalem with him.” Later, when the wise men did not report back to him, he became furious and ordered all the baby boys up to two years old in and around Bethlehem to be slaughtered!

Three questions come to mind as we consider this cruel incident: First, how many babies did Herod actually kill? Second, how old was Jesus when this happened? And finally, why does no other ancient historian record this outrage? In other words, did it really happen?

How many babies did Herod murder? Some scholars have suggested as many as 200! But most reject such a figure. Bethlehem was a small community–almost a suburb of Jerusalem. The village itself–and the surrounding countryside–would hardly have more than 30 male infants under two. Most scholars today place the number between 20 and 30.

But that’s if only the boy babies were killed. Actually, the Greek text of Matthew 2:16 could mean ‘babies’–not just ‘boy babies.’ And psychologically, Herod’s henchmen might not have bothered to check the gender of their victims. The number might be as high as 50 or 60.

Second, how old was Jesus when this occurred? According to the best chronological evidence, he could not have been more than three or four months old. He was more than likely born in the winter of 5 or 4 B.C.–Herod died in the early spring of 4 B.C. So why did Herod slay all children up to two years old? The answer to the third question might help to answer this one. . .

Third, why is this event not recorded outside the Bible? Specifically, why did Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, fail to mention it?

Josephus tells us much about Herod. The best word to describe his reign is ‘overkill.’ He murdered hisfavorite wife’s father, drowned her brother–and even killed her! He executed one of his most trusted friends, his barber, and 300 military leaders–all in a day’s work! Then he slew three of his sons, allegedly suspecting them of treason. Josephus tells us that „Herod inflicted such outrages upon (the Jews) as not even a beast could have done if it possessed the power to rule over men” (Antiquities of the Jews 17:310). Killing babies was not out of character for this cruel king. And killing them up to two years old–to make sure he got the baby Jesus lines up with his insane jealousy for power.

Josephus might have omitted the slaying of the babies for one of two reasons: first, he was no friend of Christianity and he left it out intentionally; or second, just before Herod died he locked up 3000 of the nation’s leading citizens and gave orders that they were to be executed at the hour of his death. He wanted to make sure that there would be mourning when he died. . . Israel was so preoccupied with this that the clandestine murder of a few babies might have gone unnoticed. . .

Herod thought that he had gained a victory over the king of the Jews. Yet this was a mere foreshadowing of the victory Satan thought he had when Jesus lay dead on a Roman cross. But the empty tomb proved that that dark Friday was Satan’s worst defeat!


We’ve been looking at several aspects of the birth of Jesus Christ in this short study. Now, we want to put it all together.

In the winter of 5 or 4 B.C., God invaded history by taking on the form of a man. He was born in a small town just south of Jerusalem. Bethlehem, which means ‘the house of bread,’ indeed became worthy of its name one lonely winter night. For there, in that town, was born the Bread of Life . . .

His mother placed the infant king in a manger–or feeding trough–because the guest room where they were to stay was occupied. The birth of this king was celebrated that night only by his mother, her husband, and a handful of shepherds. The shepherds had been in the fields around Bethlehem, guarding the lambs which would die at the next Passover. An angel appeared to them and gave them the birth announcement: „today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). In their simple faith, they rushed to see their newborn king.

Shortly after the birth of the Messiah, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem and inquired of king Herod where the real king of the Jews was to be born. The theologians of Herod’s court knew the Scriptures well–in ‘Bethlehem’ they recited. Ironically, though they knew the Scriptures, they did not believe them! They did not even bother to travel the five or six miles to Bethlehem to see their Messiah.

But Herod believed the Scriptures! That is why he sent a corps of butchers to Bethlehem to slaughter innocent children, in hopes of destroying this rival to his throne. But he was too late. The magi had come and gone and Jesus was by now safe in Egypt.

And the magi believed the Scriptures. They had traveled several hundred miles to worship this Babe. They were guided to Bethlehem by a supernatural celestial phenomenon–and by the Scriptures. Apparently, their ancestors had been instructed by Daniel the prophet about the coming Messiah. . . When they saw the child, they fell down and worshiped him. This was God in the flesh. They could do no other.

And they gave him gifts–gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This was an unusual present–by any standards. The gold, of course, we all can understand–but the frankincense and myrrh were odd. Perhaps they had read Isaiah’s prophecy that „nations will come to your light, and kings to your rising . . . They will bring gold and frankincense, and will bear good news. . . ” (Isa. 60:3, 6). This explains the frankincense, but not the myrrh.

Now myrrh, like frankincense, was a perfume. But unlike frankincense, myrrh smelled of death. In the ancient world, it was used to embalm a corpse. Jesus himself would be embalmed with this very perfume (cf.John 19:39).

If the magi were thinking of Jesus’ death when they brought the myrrh, they no doubt knew of it from Daniel’s prophecy (9:24-27). In the ninth chapter of Daniel we read that the ‘Messiah will be cut off’ and this ‘will make atonement for iniquity’ and ultimately ‘bring in everlasting righteousness’ (9:26, 24).

Even at the birth of our Savior, the shadow of the cross is already falling over his face. . .

The theologians of Herod’s court did not believe the Scriptures. They were fools. Herod believed, but disobeyed. He was a madman. The simple shepherds and the majestic magi believed in this infant Savior–and it was reckoned to them as righteousness. May we follow in their train.

David Platt – Incarnation (1) Hope of Glory

Even in church, those of us focusing on Christ have a tendency to miss the whole point. Even those of us in the church who know the story and focus on the story- Mary and Joseph and the angels. And, we focus on the wise men and the shepherds and we focus on all the circumstances surrounding this story. Even then we have the possibility of completely missing the point of Christmas.

You see, the question we need to ask- This is a foundational truth that we will unpack (in the next 4 messages)- The Mystery of Christmas is not found primarily in the circumstances of the birth of Jesus, but in the identity of the baby in the manger.

That is the mystery of what Christmas is all about: the identity in the fact that God (what a mammoth reality) would become a baby that needed to be taught and changed and fed and was dependent upon His own creation to nurture Him. This is the mammoth reality of a God who became like that. That is the mystery of what Christmas is all about and what I want us to do is dive into that mystery: WHO IS JESUS? This is a huge question. It is a historic question.

Is Christmas really a pagan holiday?

Photo credit www.bible-archeology.com

Article #1 Did the Romans invent Christmas?

From Historytoday.com –  Matt Salusbury –  DID THE ROMANS INVENT CHRISTMAS?

I am excerpting the article’s conclusion:

Gwynn concludes: ‘The majority of modern scholars would be reluctant to accept any close connection between the Saturnalia and the emergence of the Christian Christmas.’

Devout Christians will be reassured to learn that the date of Christmas may derive from concepts in Judaism that link the time of the deaths of prophets being linked to their conception or birth. From this, early ecclesiastical number-crunchers extrapolated that the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy following the Annunciation on March 25th would produce a December 25th date for the birth of Christ.

Read the entire article at Historytoday.com –  DID THE ROMANS INVENT CHRISTMAS?

Article #2 Christmas Date set on Pagan Festival?

From bible-archaeology.com – Kevin McKinney –  Christmas date set on pagan festival

Given the time of year I wanted to take time to make a brief post on the subject of Christmas. There are those who claim the date for Christmas was originally set to coincide with a pagan holiday. The Romans celebrated the Saturnalia festival in late December of each year. In 274 A.D. emperor Aurelian set the feast date for the birth of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun, for December 25th. Many have advanced the claims the early Christian church set the date of Christ’s birth to coincide with this festival to attract the pagan worshipers. This theory is stated in a popular movie as simply being a fact, a well known fact universally accepted by scholars and others who are in the know of how early Christian traditions were established. Is this in fact the case, or is there more to the story?

There are several interesting elements which should be considered. The first is that in the third century the early Christians were actively attempting to distance themselves from any form of pagan worship. This leads many scholars to believe they would never have set the birth of the Messiah to coincide with a pagan day of worship. While the belief is the early Christians would not have used a pagan holiday, just how did December 25th come to be known as the birth date of Jesus? In actuality, there was serious debate and separation among church leaders on the proper date for the birth of Jesus.
It should be noted that in the early years of Christianity very little significance was placed on when Jesus was born. The focus for the early church was the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. These dates were known and celebrated, which surprisingly ended up setting the date for Christmas. Early church leaders believed the birth and death of Jesus were tied together. Jesus came to earth to die for our sins and make it possible for us to achieve what it was impossible to achieve by the law. For this reason the conception and death of Jesus were believed to be so related that they happened on the same day of the year.
Using the Hebrew calendar it was determined Jesus had died on the 14th of Nisan, which is our modern day March 25th. Early Church leaders calculated that if Jesus was conceived on March 25th, and born nine months later, it meant Jesus was born on December 25th. In the eastern church they used the Greek calendar which placed the date of the crucifixion as April 6th. The eastern church held the same belief and used the same calculations as the western church and placed the date of Jesus’ birth nine months later, or January 6th. These two dates were used for centuries as the dates for Christmas. The time between these two dates came to be known as the twelve days of Christmas. It seems, based on the evidence and not the work of modern day fiction writers, the date for Christmas was set based on Good Friday and Easter, not a pagan holiday.

Article #3 Is Christmas really a pagan holiday?

Read selected notes which I have transcribed below or watch the entire video (70 minutes) at the bottom of this article.

Lenny Esposito , theologian and apologete answers the question:

  • The answer to this question could lead to eternal destinies. Esposito recounts the story of a 16 year old young man who was told by Jehovah’s Witnesses that the christian church ‘cannot’ be worshipping God in spirit  and truth because of all of the pagan paraphernalia used in the Christmas celebration, and that Jesus could not have been born December 25th because shepherds could not have been out in the field in December. The youth turned Jehovah’s Witness based on this information; as the JW promised that if he joined them he will know the truth, because JW only rely on the Word of God.
  • Atheists are also claiming that Christmas is a pagan holiday that started way before Christ was born. Esposito answers the questions: Is this true? What is the story? He points out that symbols could mean what ever someone would have them mean. Here, he points to the example of the swastika. Esposito says, „The swastika actually has roots that go back thousands of years. The Chinese have been using it as a symbol for good luck and it is incorporated into Chinese art. But, if you paint a swastika on a park bench, or if you put it on your front door, even if you’re Chinese and are hoping for good luck; I’m guaranteeing you, your neighbors are not going to react well, because the culture understands that symbol that means something different than what you’re trying to envision. And the problem you’re going to have is that you won’t be able to communicate that in any other way.” Then he makes his point, „Does a Christmas tree mean that I love pagans, now? No, we’re Christian. But, that’s not necessarily the best answer:

Is Christmas really just a repackaging of the Roman feasts? There are 2 feasts in Rome that are usually offered as primary candidates for the basis of Christmas being on Decemeber 25th: Saturnalia, which is the festival of the god Saturn, who is kind of the god of time, god of harvest, and then the Sol Invictus. Actually, the feast name is Deus Natales del Sol Invictus- the birthday of the unconquerable sun, the idea that the sun cannot die. This is tied into the idea of the sun decreasing in the Northern hemisphere and then increasing again after the solstice.

  1. So, let’s take them in order: Saturnalia- the worship of Saturn. Wikipedia says that ‘Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honor of the deity Saturn, held on December 17th of the Julian calendar, and later expanded with festivities through December 23rd. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice to the temple of Saturn in the Roman forum. And a public banquet followed by private gift giving, continual partying and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms. Gambling was permitted and masters provided table service for their slaves. The poet Catalus called it ‘The best of days’. The popularity of Saturnalia continued into the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D., and as the Roman empire came under the Christian rule, some of its customs may have influenced the seasonal celebrations surrounding Christmas and New Year.’ So, there’s your first clue, that even Wikipedia is saying, „Saturnalia was an influence to Christmas.” December 17- December 23, revelry, nonstop partying… That’s Saturnalia; that’s the one that is most well known of the two.
  2. The other one is a single day holiday- Sol Invictus. Again, the Sol Invictus was the sun god, the unconquerable god and this is tied more to astrology and the winter solstice, because the winter solstice happens on Dec. 21st. It’s the shortest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere. That’s the time when we have the least amount of sunlight. What does that mean? Well, you tilt the earth on its axis and you have a fixed light point, and at one point, more of the sunlight hits the top part of the earth than the bottom. That’s summer. It heats up, days get longer. When it’s on the other side, more light hits the Southern hemisphere. In the Northern hemisphere the days grow shorter, and it’s colder. That’s why we have summer and winter, because of the 22 degree offset of the earth’s axis. So, December 21st marks the very shortest time of light, and it’s also when the sun is at the lowest on the horizon at noon time. And then as we enter into spring, through winter, you get the sun going higher until the summer solstice, when we have the longest day of the year, and so on. Given this, the Romans wanted to celebrate the unconquerable sun , that the sun could not die, and it would never sink away into oblivion. Aurelian is the emperor that actually started this and it’s a later holiday in the Roman tradition. The official sun god was the patron of soldiers, who of course needed to do their fighting during the daylight hours. And in 274 A.D. Aurelian made Sol Invictus an official cult; in other words there was an official religion of the empire, alongside the other Roman cults. And then by 375 A.D. he decides to declare a holiday, the birthday of the unconquerable sun, which is supposedly celebrated on Dec. 25th. This happens in the 370’s to 380’s A.D.

By 400’s A.D. or so, the Christians are aware of this stuff. Augustine, who is one of the church fathers had a Christmas sermon that he was preaching and he said, „Let us,” meaning the Christians, „celebrate this as a feast, not for the sake of this sun (sun in the sky) which is beheld by believers, as much as by ourselves, but for the sake of Him who created the sun.” This shows that Augustine was aware that there was this kind of competing holiday idea. Although the pagan holiday was celebrated in only a few places, it wasn’t widespread, but he knew about it, and he knew that because of the Roman calendar, it would move a little bit and it may land during Christmas. But, it’s interesting that he pulls those two things together.

The best thing you can do when you’re reading this kind of stuff is to say, „Who says so?” Let’s look at it from a historian’s perspective and maybe we can find some truth in here. When we start looking at Sol Invictus and Saturnalia, one of the things we find out is that the celebration accounts that are recorded really don’t fit. First of all, and before we really go into this, I am going to give you a really brief Roman calendar lesson. It’s not gonna be hard, it should’ the too scary. But you need to know this because this is how all these holidays are referred to. The Roman calendar, the Julian calendar that Julius Caesar started is not quite the calendar that we have today. We have the Gregorian calendar. The Julian calendar had 4 months that were 32 days long- March, May, July, and October, 31 days. Then they had short months, and that was 29 day months. So it wasn’t 30 and 31. It was 30 and 29. And that was January, April, June, August, September, November and December. And then they had February which was an accordion month. It could be 29 days, it could be 24 daysThey would use it to kind of fill up the gaps because we know that it’s 365 1/4 days, so we have leap year. We do the same thing. Once every four years we stick a day in February.

Initially, in this process, they would begin a month, traditionally, in a new moon. When the Julian calendar takes effect, that tradition fades away.  But the names persisted. So the first day of ever month is called the calends. The calends of the month meant the first of the month. We get the english word ‘calendar’ from it. The middle of the month, and again, this was based on lunar cycles, was called the ides of the month. Anybody familiar with Shakespeare and Julius Caesar’s ‘Beware the ides of March?’ On a long month, March happens to be a long month, it happens to hit on the 15th. In a short month, that would be the 13th. So the ides would move based on the length of the month, but the ides is the middle of the month. And then you have the ‘nones’, which falls between the ides and the calends. So it’s kind of the halfway point between the ides and the next calends coming up. Again, because the months change in length, that nones could be moving around. But this was the basic framework. So, we do the same things. We’ve got the 1st and the 15th; those are the paydays. Roman army- same thing. The ides and the calends, those are the important dates.

Why is this important? Because when the guys are writing about the festivals, they’re talking about the festivals in reference to the calends, in reference to the 1st of the month. So when we start looking at Saturnalia, and we start researching where Saturnalia was, it was one day initially. It was 14 days before the calends. So, December being a short month, that puts December 15th as the day of Saturnalia’s celebration. Now Dec. 15th isn’t Dec. 25th by any stretch of the imagination. So that causes me a problem, saying, „How can this be in competition?”  So, if Saturnalia is starting on the 15th, how could that be influencing Christmas which is on the 25th? It doesn’t make sense to me. Later, a new festival extended the celebration to complete 7 full days, but the festival would still end on the 10th of 9th day before the calends of January, which still falls short of the December 25th date. And as we saw here, even Wikipedia gets the dates right, December 17th, 16th, and lasting 5-7 days, you get December 23rd. It’s still not Dec. 25th.

Saturnalia doesn’t fit calendar wise or customs wise

So, Saturnalia doesn’t fit in terms of the calendar positioning. But, Saturnalia doesn’t fit in terms of the customs of the people, the way they celebrated the holiday, either. And it was really interesting. Basically, Saturnalia is kind of like a Sadie Hawkins of Rome. It’s kind of like a anti tradition, anti culture day. It’s a bizarro day. You do the things backwards. What do I mean by that? Well, Roman society was very formal, and the Roman togas were the proper attire. But, on these days, you ditched the Roman togas, you wore a more casual Greek garb. Imagine having to go into work wearing a suit and tie every day and this like, now, come in in your jambes (pajamas). It’s that kind of a feel. And with Roman societies that was like, ‘Wow, you just never do that.’ Again, gambling was very frowned upon, Romans were very disciplined. It was all about work, and order, and progression. Gambling and other vices were permitted and encouraged. So, rather than saying ‘Gambling is wrong,’ ‘No, gambling is right…’ Slaves would take the roles of masters and sit at the banquet table and be fed. And masters would most probably not be the ones sitting in the salves’ quarters, they would never go that fra. But, they would sit at the table with the slaves, which again was kind of unheard of. Some people, the masters, would even serve the slaves. So, it’s an upside down holiday, if you will.

Gifts were given, some trinkets, sometimes gag gifts were given, but the idea behind the whole thing was they were reversing the social norms. The master never gives a slave a gift. It’s the slave’s duty to give the master a gift. So, everything was flipped upside down. This is what Saturnalia was all about. There was a sacrifice, so where’s the Christmas tree in this? There’s gifts, but let’s face it, every time you’re gonna get people together, you’re gonna get gifts. You got married, what do you have to bring? A gift. Moved into a new house. What do you have to bring? Kid graduated high school. What do you have to bring? The fact that gifts are associated with a festival, it’s a nonstarter.

I don’t see the connection here. If these ancient pagans were celebrating Christmas before Christians, how are these connected at all? Could it be that this holiday just happened to be on Dec. 25th? Why would the Christians choose this?

What about Sol Invictus?

It’s interesting in Sol Invictus, when you read about it, there is no evidence that Aurelian instituted this celebration of Sol, the sun, on December 25th, originally. When he proclaimed the new religion ‘We will worship the sun god’, it’s not mentioned until 80 years later. It’s not until 354 A.D. and  362 by Julian, in his oration to King Helios, that they talk about Sol Invictus now beginning on Dec. 25th. Now, why is that important? Why is it that by the mid 4th century, that date important? I’ll get to that in a minute. It’s interesting that the chronography of 354, the same time that they start mentioning Sol Invictus on Dec. 25th, talks about Christmas, talks about Christmas being on December 25th. So, maybe the pagans claimed their holiday in order to match the Christian holiday. Again, I point you to Halloween, it wouldn’t be the only time in history where that happened (Halloween used to be the holiday for the Eve before All Saints Day, but Christians stopped celebrating it after pagans started celebrating it). Most people, if you’re talking about the winter solstice, those guys in the ancient world were pretty darn good at astronomy. I mean, look at Stonehenge, look at the timekeeping that thing took. They would notice the difference between a Dec. 21st winter solstice and a December 25th celebration. That’s  a big difference.

Of course, you hear the whole idea of celebrating the Son of God instead of the sun god. I’ve heard atheist throw this out. Let me just caution you guys. They didn’t speak english in ancient Rome. I remember I was working on a project for somebody once, and they were creating a Spanish website for Christian books. And they were basically gonna call it ‘Sunflower Books’. One of the things that they said is, ‘You can’t use the pun of SUNflower and SON of God because in Spanish it just doesn’t work. They are 2 different words. Similarly, the Latin for the sun that we see in the sky is sol- solstice, solar year. The latin for the Son of God is filius. So the pun doesn’t even work, it doesn’t make sense, only if you are naive. And this is what I find, atheists tend to do one of two things:

  1. They either tend to assume that the ancients knew absolutely nothing. Oh, December 21st, December 25th- it’s close enough. You know, they weren’t as smart as we were.
  2. Or, they assume that the ancients were exactly like us. Oh yeah, Son of God- sun worship, it’s all the same. They make this mistake in both sides of life.

Now, when we start looking at Christmas, though, we’ve got to say, „Wait a minute, how early did we start celebrating Christmas in December? T.C. Schmitt out of Yale University is doing a lot of primary source work. He’s done a lot of research work in this. He’s a translator. He’s getting his pHd. He reads latin and he’s translating commentaries from Latin and things like that. So, he’s looking at the primary sources. And what we’re finding out is the Christians were celebrating Christmas well before Christianity was allowed to be out in the open in the Roman empire, as early as A.D. 200, Christmas was already established in the empire.

Clement of Alexandria, one of the early church fathers, wrote somewhere between the 190’s  and 210’s. He wrote a book called the Stromata. And he calculates a date for Jesus birth. And he says, ‘From the birth of Christ, therefore to the death of Comotis (a Roman ruler) are 194 years, one moth, 13 days.” Pretty precise. „And there are those who determine, not only the year of our Savior’s genesis, but even the day, which they say took place in the 28th year of Augustus, on the 25th of December.” In this outlet, he’s pretty specific to place the birth of Christ right at December 25th. This is A.D. 200 or so, Clement of Alexandria, a church father who came from pagan roots, so he shunned pagan rituals and it’s highly unlikely that he would choose a pagan date himself.

But, he’s not alone. There’s another guy, Hippolytus of Rome, writing somewhere in the early 200’s as well. In his commentary on Daniel he mentions Bethlehem. And he says, ‘For the first advent of our Lord in flesh, when He was born in Bethlehem was December 25th, a Wednesday, while Augustus was in his 42nd year, from Adam, 5,500 years. He suffered in the 33rd year, March 25th, Friday, the 1th year of Tiberius Caesar, while Rufus and Rubion were counsels. There’s about 7 different manuscripts of this commentary by Hippolytus of Rome floating around. Because we don’t have the original, some people have debated that maybe that 25th date, maybe somebody stuck 12/25 in there, maybe they added it. Well, of the 7 manuscripts, 5 contain December 25th, one mentions no dates and one mentions two, December and March. And here’s the interesting thing. With all of the talk about the winter solstice and Christians trying to convert the pagans, what it looks like and what modern scholarship is finding is that Christianity had absolutely no interest in changing their festivals and making their festivals in order to attract the pagans. It looks like the Dec. 25th date comes from a tradition from within Christianity itself. It’s got very Christian origins.

Now, let me give you the reason why. You’ll notice, both in the Clement and in the Hippolytus quote they talk about Jesus’ passion, His death, His crucifixion. Why is that important when we talk about Christmas? Well, we know. We never forget the cross. This is why He came. Jesus is the reason for the season. Well, it seems like the early Christians held that same view. And, what the Christians held was an even more ancient Hebrew tradition. That a major prophet, he would have either his birth or his conception land on the very same day as his death. They believed in symmetry. So they held that Jesus was the greatest of all that God could send to us. Therefore, his birth would be a significant date. And so, they wanted to tie that into His death. In the Stromata, Clement of Alexandria talks about our Savior’s genesis. That genesis doesn’t only mean birth, it could mean conception. From the Christian viewpoint, the ministry starts at the point of conception, because God calls you from the womb. So, if Christ’s conception lines up with Christ’s death, and they’re using the March 25th, A.D. 30, the point of passover of Jesus’ crucifixion death, that means his conception is on March 25th. Guess what 9 months after March 25th lands on? December 25th.

This isn’t only a tradition within christendom, there were some Jews who would hold that same idea. Thomas Talley, in the Origins of the Liturgical Year, writes, ‘Around 200 A.D., Tertullian has reported that the calculation of the 14th of Nisan (which is the day of the crucifixion), was March 25th.’ Now, it was later recognized that the feast of annunciation, when Gabriel encounters Mary, the commemoration of Jesus’ conception would be March 25th, plus nine months, then you move it to Christmas. Augustin was familiar with this association as well. He writes, ‘For Jesus, it is believed that He was conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day He also suffered. As a matter of fact, the Christians went one step further. They would say that the actual creation day of the universe is also March 25th. If you were to go backwards, count all the way to the beginning, March 25th is the most significant date in history because that’s when the beginning of the world was and that’s when Jesus would start the new beginning to come back into the world, and that’s when the new life, through His death and resurrection would start  as well. And that’s what we have.

So, we’ve got the Biblical Archaeological Society writing that Christian authors of the time, do note a connection between the solstice and Jesus’ birth. Ambrose, the church father, for example, describes Christ as the true sun who outshone fallen gods of the old order. But early Christian writers never hint at any recent calendar engineering. They clearly don’t think that the date was chosen by the church. Rather, they see the coincidence as providence, a providential sign. As natural proof that God has selected Jesus to be above, and over. Basically, ‘you’re going to give me a false copy, but the real one stand-in its place.’ The first mention of a date for Christmas in about A.D. 200, and the earliest celebrations we know about Christmas  form 230 to 300, come in a period when Christians were not borrowing heavy from pagan traditions. They wouldn’t do that; they were being persecuted, especially around 300 A.D. with the persecution of Diocletian.

So, it’s interesting that this is what we find. That perhaps, it has nothing to do with the winter solstice, that’s just a coincidence of time that it happens around the same time of year. But, the Christians were more precise than that. They said, we know when Jesus died, we count 9 months and that’s when Jesus was born, because He had to have been conceived at the same point when He died. This means that December 25th has its roots in Christianity. It doesn’t have its roots in any pagan traditions. The December 25th date came from within the church, based on church understanding of the time, and therefore is in no way, shape or form corrupt as a pagan process. Tom Schmitt summarizes, „A feast of Sol Invictus did occur on December 25th, but the earliest evidence for it dates to the middle or late 4th century. About 200 years after Christmas has been established. There’s no evidence that emperor Aurelian established a festival of Sol Invictus or anyone else on December 25th. 43:00

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