Was Jesus Born on the 25th of December?
by Arfaque Malik, London
The Light (Pakistan), 8th/24th December 1982 Issue (Vol. 62, Nos. 23–24, pp. 7–8, 48–49)
The twenty-fifth day of December, being the Christmas day is celebrated by millions all over the world as the birthday of Jesus Christ. Was he born on the twenty-fifth December? No one knows exactly when Jesus was born.1
Exact Date of Christ’s Birth:
“It is impossible to determine the exact date for the birth of Christ, either from the evidence of the Gospels or from any sound tradition.”2
Did the disciples, who knew Jesus personally, celebrate his birthday (i.e., Christmas)3 on the 25th December?
“Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt.”4
The early Church had no fixed date for Christmas;
“by some it was observed in May, by some in January, and by others combined with Epiphany.”5
We learn from the Oxford Dictionary of Christian Church that
“through speculation as to time of year of Christ’s birth dates from the early 3rd Century … the celebration of the anniversary does not appear to have been general till the 4th century.”6
The Encyclopaedia Americana says:
“Christmas was, according to many authorities, not celebrated in the first centuries of the Christian Church as the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons rather than their birth. A feast was established in the memory of this event in the fourth century. In the fifth century the Western Church ordered it to be celebrated for ever on the day of the Old Roman feast of the birth of Sol, as no certain knowledge of the day of Christ’s birth existed.”7
Thus there is
“no authoritative tradition as to the date or month of Christ’s birth.”8
The above historical authorities led us, as they have led Christian scholars to conclude that the
“Christmas was not observed by Christians for the first two or three hundred years. It got into the Western or Roman Church by the fourth century A.D. It was not until the fifth century that Roman Church ordered it to be celebrated as an official Christian festival.”9
“Most of the Christmas customs now prevailing are not genuine Christian customs, but heathen customs which have been absorbed or tolerated by the Church. The Saturnalia in Rome provided the model for the most of the merry customs of the Christmas time.”10
The pagan customs were so deeply entrenched in the daily life that the Christian influence could not get rid of them.
“the pagan festival with its riots and merry-making was so popular that Christians were glad of an excuse to continue its celebration with little change in spirit and manner. Christian preachers of the West and the Near East protested against the unseemly frivolity with which Christ’s birthday was celebrated, while Christians of Mesopotamia accused their Western brethren of idolatry and sun-worship for adopting this pagan festival.”11
As to the origin of the date the World Book Encyclopaedia says:
“In A.D. 354 Bishop Liberins of Rome ordered the people to celebrate it on December 25th. He probably chose the date because the people of Rome already observed it as the Feast of Saturn, celebrating the birthday of the sun.”12
However, the choice of the 25th December in the West was chiefly due to the following considerations:
“The Winter solstic was regarded as the birthday of the sun and at Rome a pagan festival of Sol invictus was introduced by the emperor Aurelian on 25th December 274. The Church unable to stamp out this popular festival, spiritualized it as the feast of the Nativity of the Sun of Righteousness.”13
According to the Collier’s Encyclopaedia,
“The choice of December 25 was probably influenced by the fact that on this day the Romans celebrated the Mithraic feast of the Sun god (Natalis Solis invicti), and that the Saturnalia also came at this time.”14
We have seen from the above evidence that Christmas has its roots in paganism and certainly did not originate in Christianity. The next question is, was Jesus born on 25th December? There is no historical evidence as to the day or month of Christ’s birth and some uncertainty exists as to the actual year.
“St. Clements of Alexandria refers to calculations which placed it in April or May. Some such dates would better accord with the Gospel statement that ‘shepherds were watching their flocks by night’ than 25th December which falls in the cold and rainy seasons in the hilly country of Judaea”.15
The 25th December could not have been the birthday of Jesus. The Bible shows that at the time “Shepherds” were still in the fields at night. As the Encyclopaedia Britannia (1907, Vol. V, p. 611) acknowledges,
“they would not have been there in the cold, rainy season of winter (Luke 2:8-12).”16
Accordingly, Jesus was not born in the winter season. We have seen that when he was born
“there were, in the same country, shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.”17
Could this have occurred in Judaea in the month of December?
“The shepherds always brought their flocks from the mountain sides and fields and corralled them not later than October 15, to protect them from the cold, rainy season that followed that date. Notice that the Bible itself proves, in Song of Solomon 2:11 and Ezra 10:9, 13 that winter was a rainy season not permitting shepherds to abide in open fields at night.”18
We read in Adam Clarke’s Commentary19 that it was ancient custom among Jews to send out their sheep to fields and deserts about the Passover in early spring and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain. The same authority states,
“During the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As the first rain began early in the month of Marchesvan, which answers to ‘part of our October and November’ (begins sometimes in October), we find that the sheep were kept in the open fields during the whole summer. And as these 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 born been later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night. On this very ground, the nativity in December should be given up.”20
The facts produced in these pages may shock those who had faithfully believed that Jesus was born on the 25th December, but they are plain facts of history.
To conclude we shall summarise below the conclusions we have reached:
- Jesus was not born on the 25th December.
- The early Christians were neither aware of the “25th December” nor celebrated the Christmas.
- The festival was borrowed from Pagans and spiritualised as Christmas in the fourth and fifth century.
- As Jesus was born at a time when shepherds were abiding in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night, Jesus could not have been born, later than September.
- The World Book Encyclopaedia, U.S.A. (1977) vol. 3, p. 409. ↩
- Colliers Encyclopaedia, Macmillan Educational Corporation, New York (1980), vol. 6, p. 403. ↩
- Christmas in Old English was called “Cristes Maesse” which means “the mass of Christ” later shortened to Christ-Mass and eventually became Christmas. ↩
- The Catholic Encyclopaedia, (1908), vol. III, p. 724. ↩
- Everyman’s Encyclopaedia, (1978), vol. 3, p. 299. ↩
- The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Church, Oxford University Press, London (1977), p. 280. ↩
- Encyclopaedia Americana (1944 edition), quoted by Herbert W. Armstrong in “The Plain Truth About Christmas”. Worldwide Church of God, California, p. 9. ↩
- Chambers Encyclopaedia, (1967), vol. 3 p. 538. ↩
- Herbert W. Armstrong, The Plain Truth About Christmas, Worldwide Church of God, California, p. 9. ↩
- James Hastings, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 3, pp. 608-609. ↩
- New Schaff Herzog, Encyclopaedia of Religious Knowledge, quoted by Herbert W. Armstrong in “The Plain Truth About Christmas”, a Worldwide Church of God publication. ↩
- The World Book Encyclopaedia, (1966), vol. 3, p. 416. ↩
- Chambers Encyclopaedia, (1967), vol. 3, p. 528. ↩
- Colliers Encyclopaedia, Macmillan Educational Corporation (1980), vol. 6, p. 403. ↩
- Chambers Encyclopaedia, London, (1955), vol. 3 p. 540. ↩
- The Truth that leads to Eternal Life, Watch Tower Bible Tract Society, New York, (1968), p. 148. ↩
- Luke, 2:8. ↩
- Herbert W. Armstrong, Supra, p. 9. ↩
- Adam Clarke, Commentary, New York, vol. 5, p. 370. ↩
- Adam Clarke, Commentary, New York, vol. 5 page 370 quoted by Herbert W. Armstrong in “The Plain Truth About Christmas”, Worldwise Church of God, California, p.11. ↩