Ask Father Paul 12/29/10
Answers to your questions about life, religion and the Bible
Pastors get some of the most interesting questions from people they meet and people in their congregations. Here are a few that I have gotten during my ministry and via email for this column.
Dear Father Paul: We have just celebrated Christmas, and I have a steak dinner riding on this question. Was Jesus really born on December 25th? My friend says he was. I say he was not. — A.T.
Dear A.T.: So how do you like your steak cooked A.T.?
The fact is that we do not know precisely and for certain the exact month, day and year that Jesus was born, although we do know that, he was born fairly close to the traditional December 25th date for Christmas and close to the year One of the first century A.D. Christians in the earliest years of the young church adopted December 25th because they too did not know the exact date and because there was already a popular Roman holiday at about that same time.
Luke 1:5, 8, 23 and 24 give us some strong evidence of the possible time of Jesus’ birth, but, again, Bible scholars and historians are not absolutely certain. These verses talk about John the Baptist’s father, a priest named Zacharias, a member of the priestly order of Abijah (number eight in the sequence of 24 orders of priests). Each order served in the Temple for one week and again for a second week 24 weeks later during 48 weeks of each year. All 24 priestly orders served together in the Temple during the remaining four weeks marked by the Passover and other holy days and festivals. See 1 Chronicles 24:1-4 ... and 1 Chronicles 24:7-18 for the assigned priestly service cycles/dates.
The Bible, in Luke 1:5-24, tells us the story about how Elizabeth (Zacharias’ wife) became pregnant with John the Baptist right after he returned home from his first (for that year) week of service in the Temple which (by sequence or order of his cycle) would have been mid-way through the Jewish month of Sivan which corresponds to our May – June. Six months later in the Jewish month of Chislieu/ Chislev/Kislev, corresponding to our November – December, Elizabeth’s cousin Mary, having just become pregnant with Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, visits Elizabeth. See Luke 1: 35-44. If we add nine months to this mid-Chislieu/Chislev/Kislev date, we arrive at a date around mid-way through the Jewish month of Ethanim/Tishri corresponding to September - October of our calendar. So we may surmise that Jesus was likely born at that time of year ... sometime around the last of September or the first of October.
As-far-as the year of Jesus’ birth is concerned, historians know “about” the year of his birth from Roman historical records of the time concerning the empire wide census ordered by the Emperor Augustus and noted in Luke Chapter 2. Luke tells us that this census was taken at about the same time as Jesus’ birth. The year was either 4 or 5 B.C. Jesus then was perhaps born in late September or early October of 4 or 5 B.C.
But here’s the thing, A.T. Knowing the “exact” date on which Jesus was born is not all that important. Matter of fact, the calculations that I pose above could be dead wrong. The fact that Jesus was in fact born is what is important. The probability that Jesus was not born on December 25th in no way detracts from his message and the fact that he is indeed the Son of God.
Do you have a question? I will try to answer you in the paper. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Father Paul Massey is pastor of The Church of the Holy Cross Charismatic Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Georgia. CHC is a sacramental, evangelical and charismatic congregation. Sunday sermons, more info. directions and service times can be found at www.holycrosschurch.wordpress.com