The True Date of Jesus’ Birth
The timing of Herod’s death is a significant point in determining the year Jesus was born. Most scholars believe that Herod died in 4 or 5 B.C. This date is believed to be true because the famous Jewish historian Josephus records that Herod died shortly after a lunar eclipse. An eclipse which occurred the evening following the execution of two prominent rabbis Judas and Matthias, who had incited their disciples to tear down a golden eagle which Herod had placed over the eastern gate of the Temple.
They were charged with sacrilege and sedition. Although Josephus does not say, it has commonly been believed that this eclipse was the one which took place on Adar 15 on the Hebrew calendar (12th month) which corresponds to our March 13, 4 B.C. I should add here that there were 32 eclipses during Herod’s reign, so there are other possibilities. If the March 13, 4 B.C. date is accurate then the birth of Jesus would have to have been in 5 B.C. or earlier.
There are problems with this date
(1) Luke records that John the Baptist began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar which has been dated to 28 A.D. (Luke 3:1-3) The Bible tells us that he began his ministry only months before Jesus began His Ministry at the age of 30 years. (Luke 3:23) In fact, Jesus began His ministry after being baptized by John in the Jordan River. (Luke 3:21) John was six months older than Jesus (Luke 1:36-38) and probably began to baptize six months before Jesus began to preach.
Since they were essentially the same age, they were most likely born in the same year. Being 30 years old in 28 A.D. would place their births in 3 B.C. which would be after Herod’s death if it occurred in 4 B.C. (According to the Law 30 years is the age when a priest could begin to minister) But we know that Herod lived after the birth of Jesus because in an attempt to kill the baby Jesus he had all the male children in Bethlehem 2 years old and under murdered. (Matthew 2:16)
A Side Note: Understanding the climate of Palestine we know that John could baptize in spring, summer and fall. It is reasonable to believe that since John began his ministry only months before Jesus began His, that John began baptizing in the spring.(when he would have also turned 30 years old) I believe this because it is reasonable to believe that Jesus was baptized by John the following fall when He began His ministry.(when He would have also turned 30 years old)
According to Scripture, Jesus went into the wilderness after His baptism in order to be tempted by Satan for forty days. We don’t know exactly how long Jesus was in the wilderness because He fasted the whole forty days and following the temptation God sent angels to minister Him. (Matthew 4:11) This certainly took some time. It is not unreasonable to assume that Jesus was in the wilderness for possibly two full months.
Now, after His baptism, temptation and recovery we see that He performs His first miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana. (John 2) We also see that this occurred just days before the Passover which is in the spring on the 14th day of the first month. (Leviticus 23:5)(John 2:11-13)
Therefore, it makes more Scriptural sense to believe that Jesus was baptized in the fall, tempted up into winter and performed His first miracle in the spring. If He was baptized in the spring, tempted and recovered in the summer then we would see that He did nothing in His ministry for up to ten months. Had it occurred in the summer then we would see that He did nothing in His ministry for up to six months. By the time Jesus did the miracle at Cana He had already been preaching previously because He already had disciples.
So, I conclude that John began baptizing in the spring when he turned 30 years old and Jesus officially began His ministry at 30 when He was baptized by John in the fall. The first element of His ministry was to overcome the temptation of the devil. The second was to make disciples. And the third was to confirm His Word with signs and miracles before He laid down His life.
After baptism He overcame the temptation, recovered from a 40 day fast, made disciples and by spring, days before the Passover, began to confirm His Word with His first miracle. All in all a period of about six months. The Gospel of John records three Passovers during Jesus’ ministry. The first when Jesus was 30½ years old (John 2:13), a second when He was 31½ years old (John 6:4) and His last when He was arrested and killed. (John 13:1) So, we see that His ministry lasted about 2½ years and He died at the age of 32½ years.
Back to Problems with the 4 B.C. Date
(2) Adar 15 is the second night of the Jewish festival of Purim. Purim is not one of God’s commanded appointed times, nor is it one of the pilgrimage festivals.(Leviticus 23) However, it was a very important two day celebration of God delivering them from certain destruction during the days of Esther and the Persian captivity. (Esther 9:26-32) An eclipse did take place on the second day of Purim on Adar 15, 4 B.C. (March 13th) but it is inconceivable to believe that Herod would have allowed the two rabbis to be burned alive during the celebration of Purim.
Unlike Herod who was hated, these rabbis were held in high esteem among the people and were regarded as heroes. To execute them during Purim would have been political suicide for Herod. According to Josephus, the trial by the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court) was fair and the sentence was pronounced by the court. It is extremely unlikely that the Sanhedrin would have set their execution on the first day of Purim.
(3) Another case against Herod dying in early 4 B.C., meaning both Jesus and John having to be born in 5 B.C. or earlier, is that the Bible supports a Wednesday crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus was crucified on Passover, and in 31 A.D. Passover fell on Wednesday. Jesus claimed that He would give only one sign that He was the Messiah and that was the sign of Jonah – ” But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:39-40)
Jonah was in a whale for three full days and nights. It is easy to see that a “Good Friday” crucifixion and a Sunday resurrection does not amount to three days and three nights. Since Jesus is using this as a sign to prove who He is, it is imperative that this prophecy was fulfilled. Muslims use the Friday Crucifixion to Sunday Resurrection to try and “prove” that Jesus was not the Son of God, but only a prophet. So, it is important that Christians get it right.
The day following Passover is the First Day of Unleavened Bread which is an annual High Sabbath. (Leviticus 23:6-7) This means that Passover was a “preparation day” for that Sabbath. (Luke 23:50-56) Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus at the end of the Passover (late afternoon-He died at 3 pm) because the Sabbath was drawing near.
This was not Saturday, the weekly Sabbath, but Thursday an annual High Sabbath the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (John 19:31) There were two Sabbaths that week. In the Bible a day begins at sundown, so Jesus was put in the tomb near the end of the Passover yet still daylight. This was late Wednesday afternoon, so late afternoon Thursday would be one day and one night in the tomb. Late afternoon Friday would be two days and two nights in the tomb. Late afternoon Saturday would be three days and three nights in the tomb.
Jesus arose from the tomb late afternoon on the weekly Sabbath. He was discovered missing the next morning on Sunday, the first day of the week. If He had risen on Sunday morning then He would have been Three days and Four nights in the tomb which is contrary to His own prophecy.
The Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John are clear that Jesus was already gone when Mary visited the tomb early Sunday morning but Mark should be addressed here because some point out that Chapter 16:9 says that Jesus had risen early on the first day.
This Gospel can easily be put in harmony with the other Gospel accounts by remembering that the Scriptures were not written with punctuation. Translators had to separate them into Chapters, verses and add commas and periods.
So, lets look at Mark 16:9 -“Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene…” Notice that the translators added a comma after “week” which reads as though Mark is telling us when Jesus arose. But if the translators had added the comma after “risen” Mark would not be telling us when Jesus came forth but when He appeared to Mary Magdalene. The comma placed after “risen” matches the other Gospel accounts and fits with Jesus’ prophetic sign that He would be in the tomb three days and three nights.
I conclude that Jesus was born in the fall (September- the Hebrew month of Tishri) of 3 B.C. and was crucified on Passover in 31 A.D. at the age of 32½.
(4) Remember, the reason it is believed that Herod died in 4 B.C. is because two rabbis were executed on Purim Adar 14 and that night, the beginning of Adar 15 (second night of Purim) a lunar eclipse occurred. We already know that it is extremely unlikely that the Sanhedrin would have done this.
We know that Herod died only days or weeks after an eclipse, but the question is -which of the 32 eclipses which occurred during his reign.(of course, it would be the last one)
According to Josephus, Herod’s son Archelaus was in power the following Passover. Between Adar 15 and Nissan 14, (Passover) there are only 29 days. If the Adar 15 eclipse is correct this would mean that Herod would have died sometime during this period but before the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread.(seven days) But there are many recorded events which took place after the death of Herod and the Passover. Events which would take more than two months, far more than 29 days.
After Herod’s death, word of it had to reach Rome which was 1700 sea miles away. According to Josephus, Sabinus, an officer of the empire was sent forth from Rome to place all of Herod’s effects under imperial control. Archelaus, not knowing this, started his journey to Rome in order to have Caesar Augustus confirm him in his kingdom. He left during the Days of Unleavened Bread.
When Archelaus came to the port city of Caesarea (on the last day of Unleavened Bread) to set sail for Rome he received a surprise. He met Sabinus there on his way to Jerusalem. This was only about three weeks from Herod’s death and we already see that word had reached Rome and Sabinus had already received orders and sailed 1700 miles to Caesarea.
For these events to take place within a three week or so period is simply impossible. The Adar 15 (March 13) Eclipse in 4 B.C. cannot be the one written in the records of Josephus.
If not the Eclipse on Adar 15 (March 13), 4 B.C. then When?
The eclipse that Josephus recorded must have been the one of January 10, 1 B.C. It took place more than three months before the Passover which would give plenty of time for the events mentioned above to take place. Herod would have died in late January following the execution of the rabbis on January 9, 1 B.C. Jesus would have been almost two years old when Herod died which fits with the Scripture showing that he ordered the murder of all the male children two years old and under in an attempt to kill the baby Jesus. Then shortly after this the Lord appeared to Jesus’ father Joseph in a dream and told him that the one who had sought to kill Jesus was dead and that he could now safely return home.
Can We Know When Jesus was Born?
Perhaps we cannot be absolutely sure of the exact day, but there are some clues which give us an opportunity to make an educated guess.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus had ordered a census in connection with his Silver Jubilee which would be celebrated in 2 B.C. People were ordered to register in their own city so Joseph traveled to Bethlehem because he was of the house of David. These registrations were generally ordered in the fall when the weather was fair.
Now notice these Scriptures, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2)
A Psalm of David who as a young lad gazed upon the stars each night as he watched over his father’s sheep. David meditated on all that he saw and concluded that the heavens tell of the glory of God and that knowledge is revealed in them night to night.
“The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory.” (Psalm 97:6) This could mean also that the heavens declare His righteous One (Jesus) and all peoples see His glory in the heavens.
“He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names.” (Psalm 147:4) Here we see that God knows each star and has a name for each one of them.
There is Scriptural evidence that many, perhaps all constellations were known by name during ancient Bible times. God asked Job -“Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?” (Job 38:31-32).
The second half of Revelation 11 we see that the Seventh Angel sounded the Seventh Trumpet which signifies the coming of the Lord.
Now notice what took place in Chapter 12 immediately following that blast -“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.”
Now this sign in heaven certainly represents the virgin Mary and also natural Israel and later spiritual Israel. (the Church)
On September 11, 3 B.C. the constellation Virgo (the virgin) appeared in Israel clothed with the sun and the moon at her feet from 6:18 pm to 7:39 pm. This happened to occur at the beginning of the Feast of Trumpets which is on the 1st day of the 7th month on the Hebrew calendar.
The priests were commanded to sound the horn on the 1st day of every month so the Feast of Trumpets begins with the seventh trump of the year. As the sun was in Virgo and the moon at her feet the priests were sounding the trumpets throughout the land.
Since it is reasonable to believe that Jesus was born in the fall then it is possible that the sign which appeared and the star which the Magi followed was Virgo, the virgin. If this is correct then we could see that Jesus may have been born between 6:18 and 7:39 on the Feast of Trumpets, September 11th, 3 B.C. (Many scholars believe that Jesus was in fact born on or about our calendar equivalent Sep. 11th or the 14th)
The annual Holy Day Festivals of God (Leviticus 23) picture God’s plan of salvation. They are held in three seasons, spring, summer and fall. On the 14th day of the 1st month (spring) is the Passover. Paul tells us that Jesus Christ is our “Passover” (Lamb/sacrifice)(1 Corinthians 5)
This is immediately followed by the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. After we receive Jesus as our “passover” we are “unleavened”, meaning we are without sin. Seven days is a number of completion or perfection ( so Biblically the number seven is a number of a completed act or event). We are to keep ourselves “unleavened” and walk uprightly before the Lord the rest of our life. The Passover and Unleavened Bread is a harvest festival, the barley harvest which represents all the faithful from Abel to those yet to receive Christ. The barley harvest represents a harvest of souls, the church, spiritual Israel.
The next feast day is Pentecost which represents the eventual salvation of natural Israel. This is depicted by two leavened loaves which are symbols of the house of Israel (ten lost tribes) and the house of Judah (Jews and Benjamin). This festival is connected to the wheat harvest, so the wheat represents natural Israel. The date for Pentecost is counted from the weekly Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Fifty days are counted which is why Pentecost always falls on Sunday.
Then come the fall Festivals of the Lord. These are in connection with the harvest of the fruit and vine and represent the harvest and salvation of souls during and after the Millennial reign of Jesus.
The first is the Feast of Trumpets representing the coming of the Lord. This is why Jesus’ birth on this day would be so significant. Primarily, it looks to the second coming of the Lord in all His might and glory and in great wrath toward the lawless and ungodly. Trumpets is on the 1st day of the seventh month (Hebrew calendar)
Exactly 10 days later is the Day of Atonement, a fast day when the High Priest of Israel would enter into the Holy of Holies, into the very presence of the Almighty and offer blood for the sins of the people.
It pictures the time after the return of Jesus when the survivors of the Great Tribulation (born again) will become at one with God. In means reconciliation. It also pictures the time when satan (the goat of Leviticus 16) is put away. Revelation 20 tells us that satan will be bound for a thousand years at the return of Jesus.
Then 5 days later on the 15th day of the seventh month begins the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles. This pictures the millennial reign of Jesus.
On the eighth day there is actually a separate Festival called the Last Great Day. This pictures the Great White Throne Judgment. After the Millennial reign of Jesus, satan will be loosed for a little while to tempt the nations and then be cast into the Lake of Fire to be destroyed. Immediately following this all the graves will open and the great and small will come forth.
Conclusion: I believe it is reasonable to consider that since God had Jesus, our Passover Lamb sacrificed on the very day of Passover in 31 A.D., that He also planned the birth of Jesus on the Feast of Trumpets. The Feast connected to the coming of the Lord.
Why Swaddling Clothes?
When Jesus was born in that manger in Bethlehem his parents wrapped Him in “swaddling clothes.” I believe that they were instructed by God to do this because swaddling clothes is something reserved for royalty.
They are 2 inch strips of linen which are wrapped around the newborn beginning at its feet after he has been gently bathed with a salt-water solution. This represented the preservation of “truth” and the commitment to walk upright before the Lord so that the child would grow up to be a righteous ruler.
These clothes stayed on the newborn only while prayers of thanks, dedication and direction were given. By this action it appears that the birth of Jesus was seen as the birth of a King, the death of Jesus on Passover as the sacrificial Lamb, and the return of Jesus in all His glory as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords -God Almighty Himself.
Virgo -“The Virgin” on September 11, 3 B.C. clothed in the sun and the moon at her feet. This was viewable in Palestine between 6:18 pm and 7:39 pm. September 11, 3 B.C. was the 1st day of the seventh month on the Hebrew Calendar which is the Feast of Trumpets.
Throughout the land the priests were sounding trumpets at that very moment. “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.” Revelation 12:1-2 The star of her right hand is called “Spica” which is Latin for “grain or sheaf of wheat or barley,” which is why she is depicted holding a sheaf in her right hand. In her other hand is a branch, – Jesus is called the Righteous Branch (Jer. 23:5).
Jesus was the true Wave Sheaf waved before the Lord during the Feast of Unleavened Bread which immediately follows the Passover. Jesus is quoted in the Gospel of John as saying that He is the “true bread or manna” which comes down out of Heaven.
A bottom line is that, Jesus’ “birth” day would never be December 25th or even close to that date. However, it is possible that He was conceived on or around that time ( week ) period.