Yes, Jesus Really Was Born on December 25
Everybody likes a good prank and Christmas is just a good a time as any to have fun and enjoy some silly nonsense, but must we be subjected yet again this year from the silly nonsense dished out by the internet atheists?
Once again this year we will hear how “There is no evidence that Jesus ever existed. His ‘birthday’ was simply the fact that the early Christians took over the Roman mid winter feast of Saturnalia — the birth of Sol Invictus — the unconquered Sun.”
Why That’s Nonsense
This is just dumb. Here’s why:
First let’s use some common sense. The early Christians were Jews. They couldn’t stand the pagan Gentiles. Everything in their religion was opposed to pagan worship of any kind.
The first Christians would rather die than offer even one grain of incense to the pagan gods. So we’re supposed to believe they suddenly said, “I know! Those pagan feasts mid winter seem kind of fun. Let’s take them over and say Jesus was born then!”
Hardly. It’s true that later missionary efforts “baptized” pagan sites and customs, but not during the early days.
The New Testament Evidence
Secondly, we actually have textual evidence for Jesus’ birth around December 25. It’s called the New Testament. And far from the New Testament being a collection of far out fairy tales, it is rooted in something called “facts” and those facts can be put together to bring us to a conclusion which is true.
Here’s how it goes: We know that John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah was a priest who served in the temple at Jerusalem. While he was serving an angel appeared announcing that his wife Elizabeth would become pregnant and the boy’s name would be John.
Because the Jewish priesthood was hereditary there were lots and lots of priests. So they served on a schedule according to their family lineage. John the Baptist’s father Zechariah was a priest of the class of Abijah. This is recorded in Luke 1:5. The class of Abijah was the eighth class of priests. This is recorded in Nehemiah 12:17.
The Jews kept detailed records of service. We know each class of priests served one week in the temple twice a year. The Abijah class took their turn during the second week of the Jewish month of Tishri. On our calendar that would fall between 22 and 30 September. So John the Baptist’s father was in the temple around September 25 when he got the message that his wife would have a baby. Count ahead nine months. From ancient tradition, the Catholic Church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist on 24 June.
So how does this connect with Jesus? If you get out your Bible again you’ll see the angel comes to Mary to announce the conception of Jesus Christ, and after she says “Yes” to God Jesus is conceived in her womb. Mary immediately goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s mother and wife of Zechariah) Luke 1:36 tells us this happened when Elizabeth was six months pregnant. If John the Baptist was conceived around 25 September, this means Jesus was conceived around March 25 — the date Christians celebrate the Annunciation (the conception of Jesus). Count forward nine more months from March 25 and you get December 25 as the date for the birth of Jesus Christ.
If the early Christians were simply taking over the Saturnalia or the Feast of the birth of Sol Invictus they would have had to go back and fiddle not only with the details in Luke’s gospel, they would also have had to re-arrange with the details of the Jewish schedule of priests serving in the temple which went way back into the Old Testament times.
But What About the Shepherds?
The other detail is the Catholic Church has documents showing that Christmas was celebrated on December 25 from the time of St Telephorus–the seventh pope who was born in 115 AD. On the other hand, the pagan cult of the birth of Sol Invictus was not established until 274 AD. Therefore if anybody was copying celebrations, it is more likely that the Roman Emperor Aurelian was copying the already existing feast of Christmas than the other way around.
Have you heard that other bit of fake news about Christmas not being in the winter? Doubters have picked up a detail about the Bethlehem shepherds.
The only time shepherds stay out in the fields all night is the lambing season. Those who question the timing of Jesus’ birth point out that sheep give birth to lambs in the spring — not in the bleak mid winter.
If you live in Northern Europe or England you would be correct. The sheep do give birth in the Spring. However, the breed of sheep in the Middle East are called Awassi. They are the only sheep native to the land of Palestine and they give birth … you guessed it … in mid December.
So whether you’re a Christian believer or not when you celebrate Christmas this year on December 25 you’ll be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
Read Dwight Longenecker’s book The Mystery of the Magi-the Quest to Identify the Three Wise Men. Check it out at dwightlongenecker.com
For more on the birth date of Jesus, check out The Stream series “Born on Christmas Day”