The Date and Meaning of Christmas

Another Look at the Date of Christ’s Birth

Noel Goh, Pastor and Professor

Christmas is a church tradition that celebrates and commemorates the miraculous event of birth of the Son of God from a virgin’s womb to save the world from sin. It is a festivity that continues to have a major impact on the commercial world as well as family gatherings and gifts giving. Many look forward to this year-end Christmas break even if the significance of the birth of the Christ child is not fully appreciated or embraced. The result is a much treasured and much loved holiday.

Objective of this Study

Pastor Noel GohThis review seeks fresh insights from the written account available in the Bible for a possible re-dating of Christ’s actual birth.

Given the weight of tradition and sentiment resting on December 25, it would not be unreasonable to encounter the axiom – “don’t confuse me with the facts; my mind is already made up.” Not withstanding that, allow me to respectfully invite you to an open review of the question: Was Jesus born on December 25 or at another time?

Many people acknowledge that Christ was not born on December 25. Even Sunday school children participating in nativity plays, especially as shepherds, realize that it would be much too cold for shepherds to be outdoors watching their flocks by night in the bleak mid-winter, even if it is only a milder winter in Israel.

Furthermore, many more are aware of how the origin of Christmas on 25 December derives from the celebration of the return of the Sun god on the day of the winter solstice – a day which is now corrected to December 21. History records how the Catholic church stepped in and redeemed an otherwise festival of great wanton orgy in Roman times and transforming it into a festival commemorating the birth of the Son of God.

Many people acknowledge that Christ was not born on December 25. Even Sunday school children participating in nativity plays, especially as shepherds, realize that it would be much too cold for shepherds to be outdoors watching their flocks by night in the bleak mid-winter, even if it is only a milder winter in Israel. Furthermore, many more are aware of how the origin of Christmas on 25 December derives from the celebration of the return of the Sun god on the day of the winter solstice-a day which is now corrected to December 21. History records how the Catholic church stepped in and redeemed an otherwise festival of great wanton orgy in Roman times and transforming it into a festival commemorating the birth of the Son of God.

The Focus of Our Study

As we take a fresh look at the Gospels’ account of the nativity, our concern is to determine, not the year of Christ’s birth, but the approximate time of the year when it occurred. Simply stated: “Do the scriptural records offer clues to ascertain a more likely season in the calendar year when the birth of Jesus would have taken place instead of December 25?”

In reviewing the infancy narratives in the four gospels, one quickly realizes the limited information on dates that are available. However, the account by Luke has more details than the other three which should not surprise us since Luke was a doctor concerned with accuracy. In fact, the Gospel opens expressing the intent to provide an orderly account of carefully investigated facts: “Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4).

A likely year could be established from Luke 1:5 “in the time of ….” but as mentioned earlier, this is not our primary concern. Suffice to say that Luke sets the narrative in time and history and introduces the key player for our consideration.

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