Dec 18, 2017
It is a repeating news story this time of year. Christians are accused of lying about Jesus’ birth. Let it be known the only approved liars at Christmas are those lying about Santa. But it seems that Christians dropped their ideas of a virgin giving birth to a Savior in December to coincide with an innocent Roman festival of lights and presents. First Christians lied; then they stole a holiday. It is a world-wide scandal.
The truth about Jesus’ birth exists if anyone cares to hear it, but the debate lingers. No wonder since the issue over the year of His birth has finally reached a reasonable compromise. The year ranges any where from 2BC to 6BC.
I admit I cringe when I hear Christians defend Christmas (or Easter) for being celebrated on pagan holidays. They describe the Christian holidays– holy days– and their pagan roots.
Let me begin by saying Christmas (and Easter) have NEVER been pagan holidays. Both are celebrated at these times of the year for reasons apart from paganism.
Many believe that Jesus’ birth was passed over by the Gospel writers. There are those that bemoan the little detail or collaborating evidence given for Jesus’ birth compared to the story of the cross. The reason is because the cross was current news. There were many witnesses to it and the resurrection.
But the birth went unnoticed, except for two elderly believers in a synagogue who were waiting for it, a group of Magi who were watching for it and some shepherds who were alerted to its happening by the heavenly host who burst from the sky because they couldn’t keep quiet. It was fulfilled prophecy. But the priesthood missed it. Can you blame the angels?
The result is many believe that Jesus’ birth has no historical evidence to help place it on a calendar. But scholars have biblical evidence. Unfortunately, they use the same evidence to arrive at different dates. Both views, however, contain evidence for why December is a month of focus.
Here are some of the details pertaining to their investigation.
The census is one aspect of historical proof that as yet cannot be dated. It was thought that Luke mistakenly reported it, but archaeology has uncovered evidence for the census to have taken place exactly as Luke reported it.
Previously scholars argued that Joseph, under Roman law, could have registered for the census in Nazareth. There was no need for Joseph to travel, and Mary did not have to go with him. Returning to the place of birth was a Hebrew tradition not a Roman one.
But an order for a Roman census written in 104AD stated otherwise. It required people to return to their ancestral homes to register. You can read more about this in Paul L. Maier’s book, In The Fullness of Time.
As for guessing the time of year of the census, weather conditions may or may not have been considered for the traveler’s convenience.
Weather does play a role in the argument about the shepherds. Were they in the fields in the cold, rainy season with sheep? Were the sheep out in the open or penned? Like all weather reports, the conditions are unknown. It could have been a warm stretch in the middle of winter. Some scholars say the sheep around Bethlehem were raised for Jewish sacrifices. That is an interesting note when you think the Lamb of God was born there.
The next detail we have is the birth of John to Zacharias and Elizabeth. John’s conception is miraculously foretold, and Mary visits Elizabeth in the elderly woman’s sixth month of pregnancy. This is the evidence that scholars use to reach their conclusions concerning December.
Zacharias was a priest from the order of Abijah. King David divided the priests into groups so that they would take turns in working at the Temple. These were known to be partially reinstated at the time of the Jews’ return after their captivity. The mention of Zachariah’s group in Luke is thought to be evidence that they were fully reinstated at some time after the return.
Calculating from the assigned service of this group the scholars make two conclusions: one states that they served in October, another in June. If John was conceived in October and Mary visited Elizabeth six months later to tell her of her news, Jesus was conceived sometime in the early spring putting Jesus birth in late December or January. This is exactly where some early church leaders put it.
If John was conceived in June and Mary visited six months later, Jesus was conceived in the month of December and born in September. This is exactly where other church fathers put it.
Either way, December plays a role in the birth of Christ. It is either His birth or conception according to early and present church scholars.
The September birth eliminates the objections for the weather. It also coincides with the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles when the Jews celebrate their restoration of fellowship with God. John 1:14 of the Literal Translations reads, “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” It adds, “And we beheld His glory…” a reminder of the angels’ declaration, “Glory to God in the highest.” (Luke 2:14)
The September birth date also is interesting when you think that the Jewish fall festivals are linked with Jesus’ second coming.
So according to the scholars, December is the month that God became flesh and dwelt among us. But either conception or birth, this Christmas Christians hold your head high. You are neither liars nor thieves. It is not our fault the pagans have holidays we can use to tell them about Christ.
For more, read the Case for Christmas by Lee Strobel.
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