WAS JESUS BORN ON DECEMBER 25?
BY DR. BILL JONES
Over the years, there have been many who have objected to observing the birth of Jesus on December 25. Let us say at the beginning that we do not think that the critical issue is the date on the calendar. Regardless of how the 25th came to be the observance date today it is universally accepted.
Even though many link the choice of early Christians of December 25 with the pagan Roman celebration of Saturnalia, there may be a totally different reason for the choice. It is far more likely the date was chosen because of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.
In 323 B.C., Alexander the Great died and his kingdom was divided among his four generals. The land mass north of Israel, known as Syria, was ruled by Seleucid. One of his descendants, Antiochus Epiphanies,
inherited the kingdom. In 168 B.C. Antiochus began a campaign of atrocities against the Jews. People by the thousands were killed, and the sacred altar was defiled when a pig was sacrificed on it. Also, the temple was looted and defiled when a statue of Zeus Olympus was erected in the Holy of Holies.
These acts of degradation were met by rebellion by a priest named Mattathias and his five sons. The family gathered other Israelites to their cause and soon formed an army. The family would later take the name of Maccabee, which means, “hammer.” After three years of fighting, the Maccabean army drove the Syrians out of the land.
One of the Maccabees’ first actions was to cleanse and rededicate the temple. This was the beginning of Hanukkah, which means, “to dedicate.” The dedication was on the 25th of Chislev, or December 25.
It is referred to in the Bible as “the feast of dedication” (Jn. 10:22).
Some years later, a tradition arose that during the temple cleansings, they found a one-day supply of oil for the Menorah, or seven-branched candelabrum. It would take days to ceremonially prepare more oil. A miracle is supposed to have occurred when the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight. That is why there are eight candles lit during Hanukkah. From this, the holiday became known as the Festival of Lights.
Jewish historians are divided on how the lights came to play such an important role in the holiday. They readily admit two facts: 1) That the lights played no part in the festival; and 2) the concept of lights originated shortly after 30 A.D. The obvious question is, why were the lights added?
Four times in the Gospel of John, Jesus claimed to be the “light of the world” (Jn. 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:35). Chapter 10, in the meantime, tells us that the setting was the temple during the Feast of Dedication Hanukkah. After Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, Hebrew Christians began to associate light, Jesus, the temple, and Hanukkah. This is why the center branch of the menorah stands taller than the other eight. It is called the shamash, or “servant,” candle. It was the early Christians’ way of illustrating John 1:9: “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”
The temple was to be the dwelling place of God on earth, a place where His glory could shine forth. The incarnate Jesus, too, was the dwelling place of God. He, too, radiated the glory of God (Jn. 1:1). The relationship between the temple and the body of Jesus was so close that when pressed for a sign to authenticate his life and ministry, He compared his body to the temple (Jn. 2:19).
Therefore, when the church needed a date to designate the time for observing Christ’s birth, it could find a no better one than December 25. It was already the established day for celebrating the restoration of the temple as the dwelling place of God. The choosing of the date had nothing to do with a pagan holiday that happened to share the same time on the calendar.
One question, though, remains: If Jesus wasn’t born on December 25, then when was He born? Since that date was established, we have learned a great deal about the customs and activities at the time of His birth. This knowledge allows us to speculate on the actual day Jesus was born.
Many parts of the world celebrate a holiday called Michaelmaus Day. It means, “Michael Sent,” just as Christmas means, “Christ Sent.” It is observed on September 29. Many scholars believe that it was Michael who was sent with the heavenly host to proclaim the birth to the shepherds (Lk. 2:9-15). But why is September 29 the designated date for this event? September 29 corresponds with the 15th of Tishri on the
Hebrew calendar. This is the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles. This festive holiday commemorates God’s provision in the wilderness, when the children of Israel dwelt in tents (tabernacles). The New
Testament tells us that “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt (tabernacled) among us” (Jn. 1:14). The Feast of Tabernacles would have been a fitting time for the glory of God to tabernacle among them once again.
Also, September was the logical time of year for a Roman census. The crops were in and the people were at liberty. This vacation would have been much more enjoyable in September than in December. In fact,
the Bible tells us that there were, “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Lk. 2:8). This took place during the summer and fall, but by October or November the flocks were
gathered in because of the cold.
Scholars claim that the Roman census almost always occurred between August and October. Thus, the evidence points to the actual birth of Christ as occurring during the Feast of Tabernacles. If so, Jesus would have been circumcised on the eighth day – the “great day” of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Wonderful and marvelous as His birth truly was, the real miracle had occurred nine months before. The miracle was the conception in the womb of Mary by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. The human
gestation period is 278 days. If we stay with September 29 as the birth of Christ and went back 278 days, we have the day of conception: December 25.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY ZION’S FIRE, DECEMBER 2001, PAGE TWENTY-TWO. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.