The birth date of Jesus
The birth date of Jesus
There is considerable controversy surrounding the birth date of Jesus. The reasons are numerous, and many are linked to church history, especially the formation, enforcement, and corruptions of the Roman Church. However, even the Protestant reformists have not shed much light on the subject. Research on this subject, one would expect to be a high priority in the “mainline” churches, however that is not so, and in the main “enthusiastic laypeople” are the ones doing the work. In the case of the writers, there is a belief in, and at present a reliance on, the work of two Bible scholars; Dr. E.W. Bullinger, and Dr. David Ginsburg, on this subject. Dr. Bullinger was a Greek and Hebrew scholar, and Dr. Ginsburg the son of a Polish Rabbi, who was steeped in the Old Testament, and the “Wisdom writings” of the Jews post Ezra. Both these men had powerful conversion experiences to Christ as Saviour, Dr. Bullinger after serving as a C. of E. vicar for many years, and Dr. Ginsberg after reading Isaiah 53, and the New Testament, knowing that his conversion meant expulsion from his family and home!
The brief history is given to illustrate the sincerity of the two men, who met in London, and worked together for a period of time. Their joint knowledge, fidelity and dedication to Truth and detail, produced much good work, part of which is undoubtedly that on the Lord’s birth date, as Dr. Ginsburg entrusted Dr. Bullinger with his notation on his work.
The significance of December 25th is not disputed by Dr. Bullinger, but the event is! Most people accept this date as “celebrating” our Lord’s birth, but “notionally”, as they think in the main that it is the ancient date of a Pagan festival, which was re- imposed by the Emperor Constantine.
A good starting point is the prophecy of Balaam in Numbers 24:17, which reads (KJV), “I shall see Him, but (Who is) not now: I shall behold Him, but (Who is) not nigh: There shall come a Star (Prince) out of Jacob, And a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, And shall smite the corners (quarters) of Moab, And destroy (subdue) all the children of Sheth.” [The brkts.( ) denote Dr. Bullinger’s changes/ corrections ref. the manuscripts]. The ref. to “Star”, can be correct, and also “Prince”, as the Hebrew is “kokab”, Strongs 3556, “kowkab”, meaning “shining, blazing, a prince”. This particular prophecy regarding the “Star” had grown into Jewish “lore”, especially in the Babylonian Jewish community, and interpreted for some reason as happening 2 years before the event of Christ’s (Messiah's) appearance. There is a record in Matthew’s Gospel, and in the case of the eastern records, that such a phenomenon did occur, which has been explained latterly as the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn, and that in 7 BC; however, that does not mean they are the same event! The planet conjunction is now known to occur every 800 years, but that does not diminish its significance for 7 BC, and the journey of the Magi. However, the planet conjunction may be misleading, as with so many of the miraculous events of Scripture, man has tried to put natural explanations to them, totally underestimating the power of Almighty God! The Bible makes the statement regarding the appearance of the star, Matt. 2:2, and that it related to “He that is born King of the Jews”. This clearly is taken as confirmation of Num. 24:15-19, and interestingly plays on both “star” and “prince” translations!
As regards the birth date of Jesus, using the datum date of 7 BC (the conjunction), to try to ascertain the events related in Matt. 2, is problematic, as the conjunctions only last for a short period, however a comet is recorded as appearing in Feb. of the year 4 BC, and has been seized upon as possibly the guiding star. In the view of the writers, God the Father, knowing the traditions of the Jews, would use that tradition to “alert” the Babylonian sages, with the conjunctions, and also with the comet appearances, as they were/are constantly watching for Messiah’s appearing! It is the writers view also that “the guiding star” was supplied miraculously specifically for the guidance of the Magi, and that there is no need to try to “explain” the event in natural terms!
Fixing a date datum on firmer ground, may be possible using the life of Herod the Great. Although the “traditional” view is that the Magi and the shepherds visited the “nativity” scene at the same time, that is the stuff of the Christmas play. It is recorded that Herod died in 4 BC, and Josephus states March 13th as the actual date due to its proximity to an eclipse of the moon, which took place on the same night that he burned alive two Jewish zealots, Judas and Matthias! At approx. the same time Herod ordered the execution of his son Antipater, and Herod died 5 days later. This would be a very good datum if it was reliable, but again records vary, and Calendar changes have created a margin of uncertainty. This is further complicated by the interpretation that Herod “accurately” in Matt. 2-16, fixed the age of the Lord by then as up to 2 years old, hence his order to kill all children up to that age! It is also apparent that the Magi did not visit a stable, but a house (Matt. 2:11), and as soon as they departed Joseph is told to flee to Egypt. They did not return until after Herod’s death, to take up residence in Nazareth (Matt. 2:19-23). It follows that if Herod’s death was 4 BC, and if Jesus was then more than two years old, then His nativity would have been approx. 6-7 BC. If He was not two years old, which is unlikely, then His nativity is nearer 5 BC, using the traditional dating and understanding of Dec. 25th.
It is apparent that one factor is reliable, the death of Herod the Great, but not its year. That relationship to our Lord’s age may also be reliable, but many will hold different views. One of those, which Dr. Bullinger lays out with great clarity, detail and lucidity, and which the writers at present also hold to, is that the Lord was not born on 25th Dec. but was “begotten by the Holy Ghost” on that date. In this context, the birth was therefore on Sept. 29th of the following year, which corresponds with the Jewish feast of Tabernacles (15th of Ethanim, or Tisri). The detailed document also explains the dating errors, and gives academic sources to substantiate. This can be found in the Companion Bible, Appendix 179.
The conclusion then in the view of Dr. Bullinger and the writers at present, is that our Lord was “Begotten” on the 25th Dec. 5 BC. That He was born on 29th Sept. 4 BC. The apparent conflict regarding Herod’s death date does not exist, see above documents. A further factor which to the writers have relevance, is that the events of Revelation and the timings are in the domain of the Father only. If the Lord’s birth date was known absolutely accurately, with other of Bible information, future event timings could probably be possible to know, which is not intended by the Father until certain times! His priority (Almighty God), is that people should look on Him that was slain for our iniquity, and should be saved! The priority is the saving of the people, and for those that are saved to look for His appearing, both for Rapture, and for His Government on earth in “Power and great Glory”. Amen!
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