The Birth of the Savior - Two Possible Dates
The Christmas season is one of cheer, goodwill, and family. Radio stations are playing politically correct “holiday” tunes, people hang lights on their houses, bring trees indoors, and hang socks over their fireplaces. For the vast majority of Christians, this is the time of year for celebrating the birth of their Savior, Jesus Christ, and His birthday is widely said to be December 25th.
Unfortunately, December 25th, far from being the correct date for Christ’s birth, isn’t even a possible contender in the long run.
Most believe that the Bible does not say when Jesus was born so December 25th is just as good a time as any to celebrate His birth. Little do they know, however, is that the Bible does tell us when Christ was born. The clues are all there and with a little math, it is possible to narrow His birth date to two possibilities.
Doing the Math
The first clue is in Luke 1:5, which states:
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judæa, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
Zacharias was a priest of the Aaronic order which meant that he would have times where he would be required to work in the Temple in Jerusalem. What this verse tells us is that he worked during the course of Abia (also read as Abijah).
The times for the priests to work are listed in 1 Chronicles 24. This chapter details in what order they work and when all of the priests would work together.
1 Chronicles 24:5 explains that the lots drawn would determine who would work in the Temple. Verses 7-18 give the order of the rotations as they were drawn. As verse 10 tells us, Abijah was the eighth in order for the duties of the Temple. There were a total of 24 courses that needed to work and each would typically work for 8 days, or from noon on the Sabbath to the noon of the next Sabbath.
The Hebrew year has 51 weeks, so with 24 courses, that would require each course to work twice a year with 3 weeks left over. Those extra 3 weeks were spaced throughout the year during the Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, and during those 3 weeks all of the priests were expected to work in the Temple. This system of rotation had every priest working a total of five times a year—twice for their expected course and three times during the Holy Days.
As Luke 1:5 tells us, Zacharias worked in the Temple during the time of Abia, meaning that his rotation would have been the ninth week of the Hebrew year (the third week all of the priests would have been in the Temple for the Passover). The Temple rotations started on Nisan 1 so this would have put Zacharias’s first schedule of the course of Abia during Iyar 27 through Sivan 12, or roughly June 3rd through June 10th. The following week was the Pentecost so all the priests would have stayed to work, meaning he would have worked an additional week up through the 17th. Zacharias’s second course of Abia would have been during Chisleu 12 to Chisleu 18, or roughly December 5-12.
This gives us our starting point for deciphering when Jesus would have been born.
Luke 1:8-11 tells us how the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias while he was working in the Temple during his course of Abia. Gabriel announced that Elizabeth would conceive and give birth to a son that they should name John.
After his course was run, Zacharias would have likely returned home immediately to his wife. Assuming that she conceived shortly after Zacharias returned, it is safe to believe that Elizabeth conceived sometime at the end of June or December. Whether it is June or December depends on which course of Abia Zacharias was ministering at and, unfortunately, Luke is silent on this point.
Luke 1:26-27 tells us how Gabriel then visits Mary, the mother of Jesus, during the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. This means that Mary would have been visited during the month of either December or June. Gabriel announces to Mary that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost a son that she would name Jesus. Jesus Christ, our Savior, and the one we worship.
Mary left to visit Elizabeth and when Mary greeted her, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost and recognized the beauty of what was in Mary’s womb right at that time (see verses 41-42). This means that, at the time that Mary visited Elizabeth, she was, in fact, pregnant.
Bear in mind that Mary would have been going to visit Elizabeth during the month of either December or June. It seems more likely she would have made this journey during a warmer month like June, but this is entirely guesswork at this point.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth three months (56) before returning home. Elizabeth gave birth rather shortly before Mary left or shortly after (57). This means that Mary was three months pregnant when she left Elizabeth, placing our current time at the end of March/beginning of April or the end of September/beginning of October.
This means that she would have had six months of pregnancy left by the time she returned home. Six months after our two dates puts us at rather the end of September/beginning of October for Jesus’ birth date, or the end of March/beginning of April for His birth date.
These time frames work considering the fact that Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem for the tax declared by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1). For him to have declared the tax during this time would have made the most sense since all the Jews were gathering already for the Passover (end of March) and the Sukkot (end of September).
This leaves us with early April or early October for the time of Jesus’ birth. This is as close as the Bible can give us on the birth of Christ.
So Which One is it?
Obviously, neither of these dates are even close to December 25th. December 25th is not even a contender and is a tradition set up by the Catholic Church and Constantine in order to help unite the Roman empire of Pagans and Christians better. December 25th is right at the Winter Solstice. By placing the birth date of Christ by the Winter Solstice, both Pagans and Christians would have had more reason to celebrate together in the early days of Christianity, thus uniting them better. The date, however, is completely false and is not even allowed by the Biblical text, not unless Mary had an eleven-month pregnancy.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has maintained since its founding that the birth of Christ is not in December. In fact, the Church has maintained fairly regularly that Jesus was born April 6th. This is recorded in the Doctrine & Covenants chapter 20 verse 1, which states:
“The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April—”
The Church was officially organized and declared to be a Church on April 6th. This is also the date that revelation here states Jesus Christ was born.
According to our Biblical calculations, this date is completely possible and is a lot more plausible than December 25th.
Does this revelation prove to anyone other than Mormons that Jesus was born in April? Well, no. However, that the LDS church has maintained this for nearly 200 years without any scholarly research to back it up, especially in the beginning, is an amazing feat and definitely worth looking at. It is a fantastic thing when worldly research catches up to revelation given by God.
Generally speaking, the LDS Church does celebrate Christ’s birth in December with the rest of the Christian world. However, never have we claimed that to be Christ’s actual birthday. Instead, it is just the time that we join the rest of Christianity in remembering His birth. This does not mean, however, that this is the date we believe to be His birth day. It is a show of solidarity and brotherhood that causes us to unite with others to remember His birth at this time, even if we know His birth is actually during a different time of the year.