Skip Navigation Links

When was Christ born?

Where is there biblical authority for the celebration of Christmas?
Does the Bible command Christians to observe the birthday of Christ?
Strange as it may seem, there is no scripture commanding Christians
to observe a wintertime holiday season! Here is why!


THE FACTS about the origin of Christmas will startle you. Abundant historical evidence proves beyond doubt that Christmas is not of biblical origin at all. The festival, believe it or not, had its beginning hundreds of years before the birth of Christianity. "Christmas" customs were being observed by almost the whole Western world centuries before Christ!


Whence Comes Christmas?

Sir James Frazer in his monumental work on ancient religion, The Golden Bough, relates that during the second and third centuries after Christ an intense rivalry was apparent between professing Christianity and the old pagan religion of Mithraism. Of course, Christianity managed in the end to suppress this strongly implanted pagan creed, but the victory was in name only. History shows a good deal of compromise was affected by the early Church leaders with the teachings of Mithraism. Notice: "An instructive relic of the long struggle between Christianity and Mithraism is preserved in our festival of Christmas, which the Church seems to have borrowed directly from its heathen rival. In the Julian Calendar the 25th of December was regarded as the Nativity of the Sun. . . . The ritual of the nativity, as appears to have been celebrated in Syria and Egypt, was remarkable. The celebrants retired into certain inner shrines, from which at midnight they issued with a loud cry, 'The Virgin has brought forth! The light is waxing.' The Egyptians even represented the newborn sun by the image of an infant [remember, this was before Christ] which on his birthday, the winter solstice, they brought forth and exhibited to his worshippers" (from The Golden Bough, St. Martin's ed., pp. 471, 472).

The similarity between this ancient pagan rite and the modern Christmas is as striking as it is obvious.

Let us notice yet another fact recorded by Frazer concerning this winter festival. "No doubt the Virgin who thus conceived and bore a son on the 25th of December was the great Oriental goddess whom the Semites called the Heavenly Virgin or simply the Heavenly Goddess" (p. 472).

This "Heavenly Goddess" was the pagan Queen of Heaven whose worship (with all her festivals) is utterly condemned in the Bible. Read it for yourself in Jeremiah 7:17-20; 44:15-29.


History Speaks

"What led the ecclesiastical authorities to institute the festival of Christmas? The motives for the innovation are stated with great frankness by a Syrian writer [5th century A.D.] It was the custom of the heathen to celebrate on the same 25th of December the birthday of the Sun, at which [time] they kindled lights in token of festivity: In these solemnities and festivities the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true nativity [of Christ] should be solemnized on that day,"' concludes Frazer's quote.


Can the Birthday of Christ Be Known?

The major reason December 25th was chosen to commemorate Christ's birthday was that it represented the chief religious day among most of the heathen. The Church authorities erroneously reasoned that it was proper to replace the sun god with the Son of God — Christ.

Hardly any of the early scholars really believed that Christ was born on December 25. In fact, there were all types of guesses by the men of the fourth and fifth centuries, and almost everyone disagreed. (See Smith's Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, Vol. 1, p. 358) But the people just couldn't give up celebrating the season.

The truth is, no man knew — or knows — when Christ was born. The Gospels say nothing as to the day of His birth. This lack of reference is in itself significant. If God had wanted Christians to celebrate His birthday, He surely would have told His people when it was.

This omission also shows how unconcerned the Gospel writers were over the exact date of Christ's birth. To the early Christians, there was nothing especially significant in a birthday. Actually, the only two instances of birthday celebration in the Bible refer to evil men. Notice Genesis 40:20 where Pharaoh's birthday was observed, and also Matthew 14:6-10, where it describes Herod's birthday party and the beheading of John the Baptist.

Only the heathen celebrated their birthdays in Bible times. No wonder, then, that the early Church never observed the birthday of Christ. That was a custom of the heathen, not of God's people. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: "In the scripture, sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthdays." (See the article "Christmas," 1908 edition, Vol. 3, p. 724)

Thus, it becomes easy to understand why the question of Christ's birth did not really become important until the fourth and fifth centuries. At this time, the matter was looked into because of the influx of pagans into the "Church" and because of their adherence to their old customs — wanting to celebrate the birthdays of their old gods. So, to please the pagans, December 25 was chosen.


In What Season Was Christ Born?

Even though there are no records which show the date of Christ's birth, there is sufficient evidence within the Bible itself which clearly reveals that His birth was nowhere near, of all days, December 25.

First, to show this, let us consider the time of Christ's ministry, which we find revealed in the Bible.

Daniel 9:27 shows that Christ would preach the Gospel for three and one-half years (one half of a prophetic week). Just as a natural week has seven days, a prophetic week has seven prophetic days wherein each day equals one year. (See Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6) Daniel, then, is speaking about a seven-year period. In the midst of that period, that is, at the end of three and one-half years (or three and one-half prophetic days), Christ's earthly ministry would come to an end.

What does this show? Very much!

We know that Christ's ministry came to an end at Passover time in A.D. 31. Then 31 years preceding the spring of A.D. 31 would put the commencement of His ministry in the early autumn of A.D. 27.

But what does this prove? Let us see!

The Gospel further tells us that Christ began His ministry just as He was approaching 30 years of age (Luke 3:23). This was the age originally required by the Old Testament to which priests must attain before they could be installed as official ministers and preachers (Num. 4:3). The Jews also considered that 30 years of age was the age of maturity and real manhood.

Notice what this indication shows. Since Christ was just about 30 years old when He began His ministry in early autumn, A.D. 27, this clearly shows He was born sometime in the early autumn of 4 B.C. — 30 years before!


Autumn the Only Possible Season

There are many proofs which point to an early autumn birth of Christ. For example, if Christ had been born in any of the seasons preceding autumn 4 B.C. (that is, spring or summer of 4 B.C), He would have been past 30 at the commencement of His ministry. But the scripture says He was about or approaching 30.

Also, let us consider the season immediately after autumn 4 B.C. — the winter. If He had been born in the winter of 4-3 B.C., then He could, of course, have been under 30 when He began preaching (as the Gospel says). But this season is out of the question. Here is why: We have the plain testimony of the Scriptures that the flocks were still in the fields at the time of Christ's birth (Luke 2:8). The flocks were never in the fields in the Holy Land during the winter season. They were kept inside barns or in protected places during the months from mid October to mid March. (See Clarke's Commentary on Luke 2:8) The late autumn and winter seasons of Palestine were too severe for the flocks to remain in the open and unprotected from the rain, wind and frost. Notice Matthew 24:20 for reference to Palestinian winters.


More Proof: The Temple Ritual

In the New Testament we have another important chronological feature which will show the season of Christ's birth. It concerns the time periods in which the Levitical priesthood served in the Temple. By comparing these prescribed times with certain New Testament references, we can arrive at the very season for the birth of Christ.

In the days of Christ, the Aaronic priesthood, which offered the sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem, was divided into 24 separate divisions. Each division (called a course) had one chief priest who was chosen by lot to represent the whole division in the Temple for a week's period. This chief priest was to offer the evening and morning sacrifices and the incense offerings.

The priesthood had been divided into 24 courses by David. In his time there were so many priests that all could not possibly serve in the Sanctuary at the same time. So David divided them into 24 courses and gave instructions that one course should serve in the Sanctuary for one week, then the next course could serve the following week, etc. These 24 courses of the priesthood are described in I Chronicles 24. The names of the individual courses are given from verse 7 through 19.

We are further told by Jewish records that each of these courses began serving at noon on a Sabbath and continued their service until noon the next Sabbath — a one-week period (Talmud, Sukkah, 55b, footnote 5, p. 270). The Jewish historian, Josephus, who lived during the time of the Apostle Paul and was himself a priest belonging to the first of the 24 courses (Josephus' Life, 1), also tells us that each one of these courses served for one week, from Sabbath to Sabbath (Antiquities, vii, 14, 7).

The Jewish records again tell us that the courses also served biannually — twice in the year. That is, the first course would begin serving in the spring of the year, on the first week of the sacred year. The second course would serve the second week, etc. This went on until the twenty-fourth course had served. Then, in the autumn of the year, at the first week of the civil year, the first course would commence again and all of the courses would repeat the order. Thus, on each of the 48 weeks during the year one particular course of the priests served in the Temple.

But, added to these 48 weeks are 3 extra weeks in the year during which ALL 24 of the courses served together. These 3 weeks were during the three major Holy Day periods: the Passover in the beginning of spring, Pentecost in late spring, and Tabernacles in the early autumn. Because multitudes of people were always in Jerusalem at these three times of the year, ALL 24 courses of the priests stayed on in Jerusalem and served together in the Temple (Talmud, Sukkah, 55b).

So, the 51 weeks of the Hebrew calendar are accounted for. (Occasionally, a 13th month was added to the calendar to allow the months to remain in their proper seasons of the year. When this extra month was added, the priests who officiated in the 12th month repeated their service in the 13th — Talmud, Megillah, 6b).

It is important to realize that the first course of these 24 divisions began their ministration with the first Sabbath in the first Hebrew month — that was Nisan, in the very early spring. See especially I Chronicles 27:1, 2 and following verses.

With this information, it becomes possible to know the particular weeks in which each of the 24 priestly courses served in the Temple. And consequently, we can know the time period in which some significant New Testament events took place. Let us now see the importance of this information with regard to Christ's birth.