For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Lu 2:11

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When was Jesus Born?

It is commonly believed that Jesus was born on December 25, but no where do the scriptures tell us the date of His birth. 

Regarding December 25

The Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say about the assignment of December 25 for Christ’s birthday.

 “Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen, glancing perhaps at the discreditable imperial Natalitia, asserts … that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday;”

“In 385, therefore, 25 December was not observed at Jerusalem. … Cyril … asks Julius to assign the true date of the nativity "from census documents brought by Titus to Rome"; Julius assigns 25 December.”

Thus, it was not till after 385 AD that Christ’s birth was officially celebrated on December 25 and at that time only by the Catholic Church.  Celebrating Christmas was unknown among Baptist churches until modern times.  (19th-20th Century)

The Priestly Course of Abia

Do the scriptures indicate when Jesus was born?  As stated earlier, there is no specific date given for Christ’s birth.  However, the Bible does leave us a trail of clues that provide us with a reasonable estimate of the time of year when Jesus was born. 

John the Baptist was conceived six months before Jesus (Lu 1:36).  To ascertain the time when Christ was born we begin with conception of John the Baptist.

Lu 1:5  There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.

Immediately following the fulfillment of Zacharias' course, Elisabeth conceived John the Baptist. Luke 1:23-24

If we can determine when the course of Abia takes place we will be able to determine the approximate time of Christ’s birth.

What Were the Priestly Courses?

All the priests, in each priestly course, served at the temple beginning on the Sabath day and continuing for a week and then returned home :

… and took every man his men that were to come in on the sabbath, with them that were to go out on the sabbath: for Jehoiada the priest dismissed not the courses.  2 Chronicles 23:8 

And their brethren, which were in their villages, were to come after seven days from time to time with them.  1 Chronicles 9:25  

Speaking upon 1 Chron 9:25, Gill states, there was a new course of them every week; the old ones went off of duty, and another course succeeded, which came out of the villages where they dwelt, and the old course retired to theirs.

In John Gill’s Commentary of the Old and New Testament, Gill quotes a Jewish rabbi, Maimonides, with respect to the courses:

“Moses, our master, divided the priests into eight courses, four from Eleazar, and four from Ithamar, and so they were until Samuel the prophet; and in the days of Samuel, he and David, the king, divided them into twenty four courses; and over every course one head was appointed, and they went up to Jerusalem to the service of the course every week; and from sabbath to sabbath they changed; one course went out, and another came in, till they finished, and returned again.”

How Many Priestly Courses were there and How Often did Each Serve?

The course of Abia is one of 24 priestly courses.  In 1 chronicles 24:4 we learn:

And there were more chief men found of the sons of Eleazar than of the sons of Ithamar; and thus were they divided. Among the sons of Eleazar there were sixteen chief men of the house of their fathers, and eight among the sons of Ithamar according to the house of their fathers. 

16+8=24 courses

In 1 Chronicles 24 we have all 24 courses listed were we learn that Abia (Abijah in the OT) is the 8th course.

1Ch 24:10  The seventh to Hakkoz, the eighth to Abijah,

Three times a year all the priests served during the three major festivals.  At these festivals all the men were required to appear before the Lord at the tabernacle (later the temple) with the priests being included in this number.  Due to the large number of sacrifices, all the priests assisted during each of these weeks in addition to their regular course. 

Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: Deuteronomy 16:16

One Hebrew 12 month year is 51 weeks long.  Each or the courses served twice (independent of the feasts) for a total of 48 weeks.  All the priests served during the weeks of the 3 great feasts bringing the total to 51 weeks.  Thus, each course served at least 5 times a year.  However, since the Hebrew calendar was a lunar, rather than solar calendar. An extra or 13th month was occasionally added to realign the Hebrew calendar with the solar year.  Based on the available evidence, it appears that some priests would serve during the extra weeks in addition to their usual 5 other weeks.

What Time of Year Did the Courses Start and Which Course started it?

The first month of the ecclesiastical calendar was Abib (Nisan):

Ex 12:2 This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you. 

Gill's Commentary notes: the vernal equinox, for this month of Abib or Nisan answers to part of our March and part of April;

The vernal equinox is the first day of Spring when the length of day and night are exactly 12 hours each.

Ex 23:15  Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:)

Es 3:7  In the first month, that is, the month Nisan…

Abib was later called by its Chaldean name Nisan.  Since then, the two names are used interchangeably to refer to the first month.

Because Jehoiarib was the first Priestly Course (1Ch 24:7) it started on Abib (Nisan) 1.  From this day, it is possible to calculate week by week when each course took place.

As we shall see, it is important to establish when the first priestly course Jehoiarib, starts in order to establish the time of the Abia course.

Conception of John the Baptist

Luke 1:5-25 gives the account of John's conception where we learn:

And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.

And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, … Luke 1:23-24

After Zacharias finished his week of ministering at the temple (i.e. finished the course of Abia), he returned home where Elisabeth's conception of John is assumed to have taken place within only a few a days if not immediately upon his return.

Conception of Jesus

Elisabeth hides her pregnancy up till the fifth month:

And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months...Lu 1:24

At the beginning of the sixth month we read of the conception of Jesus in Mary:

And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. Lu 1:26-27

And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.  Lu 1:36

When was Jesus Born?

From the end of the Priestly Course of Abia when John the Baptist was conceived to the conception of Jesus is 6 months.  Forty weeks from the conception of Jesus is his birth.  Following the time chart below, Zacharias would have returned home the week of May 16-22 at which point John would have been conceived.  Six months later places Mary's conception of Jesus in the week of November 14-20.  According to the Time Chart below, following forty weeks of gestation, Jesus would have been born on or near August 27.

Why Use 4 BC and not 1 AD?

Most historians, though not all, are in agreement that Jesus was born in 4 BC rather than 1 AD.  Our modern calendar, dating years in A.D., was not established till centuries after the death of Christ.  The Anno Domini system was devised by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus in Rome in 525.  According to Mathew 2:1,16, Herod was king of Judea.  Most historians place Herod's death in 4 BC.  Therefore, Jesus had to have been born at least by 4 BC meaning Dionysius made an error in calculating the birth year of our Lord.  Various historians place the birth of Christ in either 5 or 6 BC with other years being advanced by more historians.  For our purposes we will use 4 BC.  Even if Christ was born in a different year, the calculations found here would be off by four weeks or less.

Why Use Abia's First Ministration During the Year and Not the Second?

Since there were 24 courses, each course repeated at least twice (apart from the 3 feast days) during the year.  A logical question to ask would be, Why couldn't or shouldn't the birth of Christ be established using Abia's second ministration during the year? (October 31-Nov 6 on the time chart below)   

Luke 2:8-20 states that there "were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night".  According to historians, shepherds in Palestine only keep their flocks out during the warm dry months of Spring and Summer.  They keep their sheep in the sheepfold during the cold, wet months of fall and winter.  If the birth of Christ is calculated from the second ministration of Abia, this would place the birth of Christ in February, which is ordinarily the coldest and wettest time of year in Palestine.  Unless February was unseasonably warm, this would not be in harmony with the testimony of Luke 2:8.

Luke 2:1-5 states: 

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

The end of winter would be an unlikely time of year to force people to travel for taxation due to the cold and rain normally prevalent.  Money to pay taxes would also be in short supply until later in the year when the harvests began to come in.  The time of taxation would point towards a later date in the year such as August or September.

While Zacharias was filling his first ministration, he would have been at the temple two weeks in a row for the course of Abia and the Feast of Weeks.  If the angel appeared to Zacharias during the Feast of Weeks that might explain Luke 1:10 which states:

 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.

Ordinarily a multitude would not be present during the day to day service at the temple.  However, the angel might have appeared on a regular Sabath day apart from a special Sabath such as the Feast of Weeks.

Time Chart

The conception of John the Baptist would have taken place the year before the birth of Jesus.  Thus, the Time Chart begins in 5 BC.

Conversion of the Hebrew to Gregorian (Modern Calendar) was made using the Rosetta Calendar.

Course Name Month Modern Calendar 5 BC Event
1 Jehoiarib Nisan 1-7 March 7-13 Nissan 1 - Ecclesiastical New Year
2 Jedaiah Nisan 8-14 March 14-20  
  All Priests Nisan 15-21 March 21-27 Feast of Unleavened Bread
3 Harim Nisan 22-28 March 28-April 3  
4 Seorim Nisan 29- Iyyar 5 April 4-10  
5 Malchijah Iyyar 6-12 April 11-17  
6 Mijamin Iyyar 13-19 April 18-24  
7 Hakkoz Iyyar 20-26 April 25-May1  
8 Abijah Iyyar 27 - Sivan 4 May 2- 8  
  All Priests Sivan 5-11 May 9-15 Pentecost (Feast of Weeks)
9 Jeshua Sivan 12-18 May 16-22 Zacharias returns home.  Elisabeth conceives John the Baptist.
10 Shecaniah Sivan 19-25 May 23-29  
11 Eliashib Sivan 26-Tammuz 2 May 30-June 5  
12 Jakim Tammuz 3-9 June 6-12  
13 Huppah Tammuz 10-16 June 13-19  
14 Jeshebeab Tammuz 17-23 June 20-26  
15 Bilgah Tammuz 24-Av 1 June 27-July3  
16 Immer Av 2-8 July 4-10  
17 Hezir Av 9-15 July 11-17  
18 Aphses Av 16-22 July 18-24  
19 Pethahiah Av 23-29 July 25-31  
20 Jehezekel Av 30-Elul 6 August 1-7  
21 Jachin Elul 7-13 August 8-14  
22 Gamul Elul 14-20 August 15-21  
23 Delaiah Elul 21-27 August 22-28  
24 Maaziah Elul 28-Tishri 5 August 29-Sept 4  
1 Jehoiarib Tishri 6-12 September 5-11 Tishri 10 Day of Atonement
  All Priests Tishri 13-19 September 12-18 Tishri 15-21 Feast of Tabernacles (Feast of Booths)
2 Jedaiah Tishri 20-26 September 19-25  
3 Harim Tishri 27-Heshvan 3 September 26- Oct 2  
4 Seorim Heshvan 4-10 October 3-9  
5 Malchijah Heshvan 11-17 October 10-16  
6 Mijamin Heshvan 18-24 October 17-23  
7 Hakkoz Heshvan 25-Kislev 1 October 24-30  
8 Abijah Kislev 2-8 October 31-Nov 6  
9 Jeshua Kislev 9-15 November 7-13  
10 Shecaniah Kislev 16-22 November 14-20 Mary conceives Jesus 6 months after John's conception.
11 Eliashib Kislev 23-29 November 21-27 1 1st of 40 weeks gestation
12 Jakim Kislev 30-Tevet 6 November 28-Dec 4 2 2
13 Huppah Tevet 7-13 December 5-11 3 3
14 Jeshebeab Tevet 14-20 December 12-18 4 4
15 Bilgah Tevet 21-27 December 19-25 5 5
16 Immer Tevet 28-Shevat 5 December 26-Jan 1 6 6
17 Hezir Shevat 6-12 January 2-8 7 7
18 Aphses Shevat 13-19 January 9-15 8 8
19 Pethahiah Shevat 20-26 January 16-22 9 9
20 Jehezekel Shevat 27-Adar 3 January 23-29 10 10
21 Jachin Adar I 4-10 January 30-Feb 5 11 11
22 Gamul Adar I 11-17 February 6-12 12 12
23 Delaiah Adar I 18-24 February 13-19 13 13
24 Maaziah Adar I 25-Adar II 1 February 20-26 14 14
? ? Adar II 2-8 February 27-March 5   15
? ? Adar II 9-15 March 6-12   16
? ? Adar II 16-22 March 13-19   17
? ? Adar II 23-29 March 20-26   18
Because the Hebrew calendar is lunar not solar, Adar II is occasionally added as a 13th month to keep the Hebrew calendar in sync with the solar calendar.  One unknown is how the priestly courses were filled during the extra weeks.  Did some priests serve an extra course that year as suggested here?  Or did the priestly course immediately start over again?  If the priestly course immediately starts over again, then Jehoiarib should be placed at Adar II 2-8 on this calendar.  However, this calendar is based on the assumption that Jehoiarib always starts on or very close to Nissan 1.  And in an ordinary 12 month Hebrew year the 24 courses serving twice plus the three feasts fills out the 12 month calendar almost exactly.

According to the Rosetta Calendar calculations, 5 BC was a year that added the 13th month of Adar II.  The green column on the right is most likely the correct calculation of the time of Christ's birth. The Yellow column is given for reference and would approximate the birth of Christ if he was born in the year 5 BC rather than 4 BC.  If the Rosetta Calendar calculations are correct, and there is no compelling reason to think they aren't, then Christ's birth in August should be the accepted date of His nativity, provided he was born in 4 BC.

Course Name Month Modern Calendar 4 BC Event
1 Jehoiarib Nisan 1-7 March 27-April 2 15 19
2 Jedaiah Nisan 8-14 April 3-9 16 20
  All Priests Nisan 15-21 April 10-16 17 21 Feast of Unleavened Bread
3 Harim Nisan 22-28 April 17-23 18 22
4 Seorim Nisan 29- Iyyar 5 April 24-30 19 23
5 Malchijah Iyyar 6-12 May 1-7 20 24
6 Mijamin Iyyar 13-19 May 8-14 21 25
7 Hakkoz Iyyar 20-26 May 15-21 22 26
8 Abijah Iyyar 27 - Sivan 4 May 22-28 23 27
  All Priests Sivan 5-11 May 29-June 4 24 28 Pentecost (Feast of Weeks)
9 Jeshua Sivan 12-18 June 5-11 25 29
10 Shecaniah Sivan 19-25 June 12-18 26 30
11 Eliashib Sivan 26-Tammuz 2 June 19-25 27 31
12 Jakim Tammuz 3-9 June 26-July 2 28 32
13 Huppah Tammuz 10-16 July 3-9 29 33
14 Jeshebeab Tammuz 17-23 July 10-16 30 34
15 Bilgah Tammuz 24-Av 1 July 17-23 31 35
16 Immer Av 2-8 July 24-30 32 36
17 Hezir Av 9-15 July 31-August 6 33 37
18 Aphses Av 16-22 August 7-13 34 38
19 Pethahiah Av 23-29 August 14-20 35 39
20 Jehezekel Av 30-Elul 6 August 21-27 36 40 Jesus born approximately August 27, 4 BC
21 Jachin Elul 7-13 August 28-Sept 3 37  
22 Gamul Elul 14-20 September 4-10 38  
23  Delaiah Elul 21-27 September 11-17 39  
24 Maaziah Elul 28-Tishri 5 September 18-24 40  Jesus born approximately Sept 24 if born in 5 BC
1 Jehoiarib Tishri 6-12 September 25-Oct 1  
  All Priests Tishri 13-19 October 2-8 Feast of Tabernacles (Feast of Booths)
2 Jedaiah Tishri 20-26 October 9-15  
3 Harim Tishri 27-Heshvan 3 October 16-22  
4 Seorim Heshvan 4-10 October 23-29  
5 Malchijah Heshvan 11-17 October 30-Nov 5  
6 Mijamin Heshvan 18-24 November 6-12  
7 Hakkoz Heshvan 25-Kislev 2 November 13-19  
8 Abijah Kislev 3-9 November 20-26  
9 Jeshua Kislev 10-16 November 27-Dec 3  
10 Shecaniah Kislev 17-23 December 4-10  
11 Eliashib Kislev 24-2 December 11-17  
12 Jakim Kislev 2-Tevet 8 December 18-24  
13 Huppah Tevet 9-15 December 25-31  
14 Jeshebeab Tevet 16-22 January 1-7  
15 Bilgah Tevet 23-29 January 8-14  
16 Immer Shevat 1-7 January 15-21  
17 Hezir Shevat 8-14 January 22-28  
18 Aphses Shevat 15-21 January 29-Feb 4  
19 Pethahiah Shevat 22-28 February 5-11  
20 Jehezekel Shevat 29-Adar 5 February 12-18 Time of Jesus birth if calculated from Abia's second ministration, 4BC.
21 Jachin Adar 6-12 February 19-25  
22 Gamul Adar 13-19 February 26-March 4  
23 Delaiah Adar 20-26 March 5-11  
24 Maaziah Adar 27-Nisan 4 March 12-18  
24 Maaziah Nisan 5-11 March 19-25  
         

Elder James Taylor

 
 

7/19/2008

 

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