What is the Truth About the Date and Origin of Christmas?
So, Exactly When Was Jesus Born?
Every year as the Christmas season approaches, many Christians ask the obvious questions related to the birth of Jesus. First, was Jesus actually born on December 25th? And second, if He wasn’t born on this date, why in the world do we celebrate it as if He was? Well, the Bible is absolutely silent about the precise date on which Jesus was born, but a careful and somewhat forensic investigation of the scripture WILL give us a rough guideline related to the birth of Christ, and if nothing else, shed some light on whether or not December 25th has anything to do with Jesus’ true birthday…
To begin, we have to take a minute to understand the way that ancient Jews lived and raised sheep in order to understand when Jesus was born. Does that sound crazy? Well, hang with me here for a minute. It was the Jewish custom for shepherds to send out their sheep into the fields in the early spring at about the time of the Passover. They did not bring these sheep home until the first rains started in early to mid fall. During this time, when the flocks of sheep were out in the open fields, shepherds would stay with the sheep to insure their safety. They would stay with the sheep both day and night. This would continue until the shepherds drove their sheep back in from these fields early in the month of “Marh-esvan” (a period of time we would now locate some time in October). In essence, shepherds stayed in the open fields with their sheep for the entire summer.
This cultural tradition, documented in many non-Biblical records and accounts of the time, is also well documented in the Jewish scriptures. The Book of Ezra documents the act that the winter rainy season was a time when the Jewish people knew better than to leave themselves out in the rain:
So all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem within the three days. It was the ninth month on the twentieth of the month, and all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and the heavy rain. Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, "You have been unfaithful and have married foreign wives adding to the guilt of Israel. Now, therefore, make confession to the LORD God of your fathers, and do His will; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives." Then all the assembly answered and said with a loud voice, "That's right! As you have said, so it is our duty to do. But there are many people, it is the rainy season, and we are not able to stand in the open. Nor can the task be done in one or two days, for we have transgressed greatly in this matter.”
The Jewish people endured the winter as a time of rainy and harsh weather. It was not the time to be out in the rain, tending flocks in the open fields. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived also affirmed this fact:
Song of Solomon 2:11
For behold, the winter is past, The rain is over and gone.
Given this brief cultural background of the ancient Jewish shepherds, let’s now take a look at what the Bible has to say about timing of Jesus’ birth:
“And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night.”
Notice a couple of things here. It is clear that the shepherds are living in the fields with their sheep. The Greek word translated here in the New American Standard Version as “staying out” is ‘agrauloúntes’. It means that they were staying over night; the shepherds were ‘camping out’, so to speak. In the KJV, the expression translated as “abiding in” the fields with their sheep. They are not out on a day trip, at least not according to the scripture. They are actually living out there with their flock! This certainly seems to indicate that we are within the range of time when shepherds drove their sheep into the open fields and stayed with them for the May to October time period. They are already out there at the time of Jesus’ birth, and they apparently have not yet returned. If nothing else, this seems to indicate that Jesus is born sometime between May and October, and certainly not as late in the winter as December…
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