When was Jesus born?

Scholars don’t really know when Jesus was born, in part because the earliest Gospels and stories about Jesus were completely silent about his birth. Mark’s Gospel, the earliest written, mentions nothing. Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, the first writings to even mention Jesus’ birth, were written some 80-90 years after the fact, and don’t mention a date.

To make matters more difficult, for the first few hundred years the church forbid the celebration of birthdays. One of the earliest academics and theologians in the church, Origen of Alexandria (c.185-c.254) “preached that it would be wrong to honor Christ in the same way Pharaoh and Herod were honored because birthdays were for pagan gods.” 1

So when was Jesus born?

Joseph A. Fitzmyer – Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America writes: “Though the year [of Jesus birth] is not reckoned with certainty, the birth did not occur in AD 1. The Christian era, supposed to have its starting point in the year of Jesus birth, is based on a miscalculation introduced in 533 by Dionysius Exiguus.”

Fitzmyer makes his guess at the birth of Jesus occurred as September 11, 3 BC.

Others have a different perspective: “Lacking any scriptural pointers to Jesus’ birthday, early Christian teachers suggested dates all over the calendar. Clement… picked November 18. Hippolytus… figured Christ must have been born on a Wednesday. An anonymous document believed to have been written in North Africa around A.D. 243, placed Jesus’ birth on March 28.”

 

1. Addison G. Wright, Roland E. Murphy, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “A History of Israel” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1990, p. 1247.) Other scholars place their guesses between 7 BCE and 3 BCE.

2. Jeffery Sheler, U.S. News & World Report, “In Search of Christmas,” Dec. 23, 1996, p. 58

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