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Another look at when Christ was born

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While Scripture does not inform us when Christ was born; this was certainly not during winter, for Christ was born while the shepherds tended their flocks at night, while ` abiding in the field' (Luke 2:8). If Christ had been born during December, the shepherds would have kept their flocks indoors instead, as a protection against the bitter cold and snow. According to Methodist theologian and Historian Adam Clarke (c. 1760 - 1832):

"It was a custom among the Jews to send their sheep to the deserts, about the Passover, and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain: during the  time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As the Passover occurred in the spring, and the first rain began early in the month of Marchesvan, which answers to part of our October and November, we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during the whole of summer. And as the shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that consequently, our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields, nor could he have been born later than September, as the flocks were out in the fields by night. On this very ground the nativity in December should be given up." [1]

While Dr. Clarke does not believe that Christ could have been born later than September, as the flocks were still out in the field by night, he does not take into account the previous verse, which informs us that Mary, the mother of Christ wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and He was born in a manger in a stinky cattle-barn, `because there was no room for them in the inn.' One of the busiest times of the year in the Jewish economy was during the Feast of Tabernacles, which corresponds to September in some years and October in others, when Jews from all over the known world converged upon Jerusalem, so that their sins might be forgiven on the Day of Atonement. But certainly not in December, for the third century theologian Origen of Alexandria mocked the Roman practice of celebrating birthdays, and dismissed them as "pagan practices"[2] - which is fair indication that the birthday of Jesus was not celebrated among Christians as late as the third century. There are also two other points which should be taken into consideration, and which lend weight to this theory. The Messiah was expected to appear at the appointed time during the Feast of Tabernacles, which is traditionally known in Judaism as `the season of joy.' [3] The announcement to the shepherds in Luke 2:10 `I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people' does not appear to be coincidental, as `The angel is announcing the birth of Jesus in the language of a Feast of Tabernacles greeting.' [4]

Jesus' sceptical brothers also taunted Him to go to the Feast of Tabernacles and provide evidence that He was the Messiah by working miracles. The reason why Jesus told his brothers that He wasn't about to, and they should go to the feast instead, was because the appointed time in which He was to reveal Himself as Messiah, ` . . . has not yet fully come' (John 7: 8).

There is also further evidence which can be garnered from the narratives of the births of John the Baptist, and Jesus. Zacharias, the father of John, was a priest of the order of Abia (Luke 1:5). The Biblical Book of Chronicles[5] informs us that there were 24 priestly cycles, with the priests taking their turn over the course of the year. Elizabeth became pregnant with John shortly after the angel appeared to Zacharias, at the time of the year in which he was performing his priestly duties. [6] 

"And it came to pass, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division . . . an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense . . . and the angel said to him, `Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and you wife Elizabeth will bear to you a son, and you shall call his name John." [7]

As Mary became pregnant with Jesus six months after Elizabeth,[8] - then in order to determine the approximate time that Jesus was born, we need to determine when Zacharias performed his priestly duties.

"Claiming to be the Messiah, it was Jesus who stood confidently during a very early Feast of Tabernacles celebration and said for all to hear, `If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. {Jn 7:38-39}[KJV]' This wasn't just any statement, but was a bold declarative claim by Jesus that He was the living embodiment of the special `water libation' ceremony which was annually carried on by the priest during the Feast of Tabernacles. This ceremony when the priest went down to the pool of Siloam where he drew water and in returning to the Temple led a joyous procession before pouring the water on the altar was a depiction of the coming of the day of the Messiah . . . Not only was He claiming to be the fulfilment of this water libation ceremony, but His claim was that of being the fulfilment of the Feast of Tabernacles as well.                                                                                                     Additionally, the Feast of Tabernacles, arguably, serves as the true time or season of the birth of the Messiah. Scripture, if thoroughly followed and dissected, strongly alludes to this possibility . . . According to Chronicles 24:10, the division of Abijah (Abia), of which Zacharia was a member, was the eighth of twenty-four divisions of the priesthood. With the divisions serving for one week periods, starting at the first of the year or the 15th of the month of Nisan on the Jewish calendar (Mar-Apr on the Gregorian calendar), and taking into account, the feasts of Passover and Pentecost when the whole priesthood served, Zachariah would have ministered in the tenth week of the year . . . when his service was completed, Zachariah went home and shortly thereafter his wife Elizabeth became pregnant. This event would have most likely occurred late during the fourth month, Sivan, or early during the fourth month, Tammuz, of the Jewish calendar (May-June to June-July on the Gregorian calendar) . . . In Luke 1:34-38, Mary conceived of a child during the sixth month, sometime in late Kislev or early Tevet (Nov-Dec to Dec-Jan on the Gregorian calendar) of Elisabeth's pregnancy . . . Jesus would have most likely been born during the month of Tishri (Sept-Oct on the Gregorian calendar) and possibly at the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles." [9]

Thus it would seem likely that Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles, at the appointed time.

Kym Jones.


[1]  Adam Clarke, `Clarke's Commentary on the New Testament', Vol. 1, Luke, Ch. 2, V. 8, Butterworth and Son, Dublin, 1817. 

[2] Origen, `Homily on Leviticus 8'.

[3] See Morris Joseph, `Judaism as Creed and Life', 1910, p. 185.

[4] Andrews University. Seventh-Day Adventist Theological Seminary. `Andrews University Seminary Studies', Vol. 44, Issue 2, (2006), p. 199.

[5] Chronicles 24:10.

[6] Luke 1:24.

[7] Luke 1:8,11,13.

[8] Luke 1: 26.

[9] Rev. Donald E. Banks Jr. `The Awakening: The Last Paradigm Shift',    pp. 68, 69.