A good starting point for determining the date of Christ Jesus’ date of birth is to look at the dates we have in the Bible surrounding the life of John the Baptist, who was Jesus’s older cousin.
Jesus was 6 months younger than John the Baptist. We read about this in the first chapter of the Book of Luke.
“24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men. 26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36 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. 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:24-37).
Another fact to consider in determining the date of Jesus’ birth, is the date of Tiberius Caesar’s 15th year of reign, which was AD 29. This is based on Luke 3:1-3 which reads,
“1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, 2 Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.” 3 And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”
Tiberius received the throne in August of AD 14. If the remainder of that year was an accession year, then his first year would be in AD 15, his 12th when Pontius Pilate was appointed govenor of Judea would be AD 26, and his 15th when John the Baptist began his ministry would be AD 29.
Jesus was thirty years old when he was baptized by John the Baptist and started His ministry. We read of this in the third chapter of Luke:
“21 Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, 22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. 23 And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli…” (Luke 3:21-23).
In the Gospel of Luke, we read that sheep and shepherds were out in the fields when Jesus was born. This highlights that it was the autumn season in Israel, and could not reflect the cold winter season, which the month of December falls into, in Israel.
“8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger” (Luke 2:8-16).
Now let us discuss the EXACT DAY of Jesus’ birth.
Some have thought that Jesus was born on September 29 on the Julian calendar, because that was celebrated as St. Michael’s day on the church calendar. This may be correct, but it is uncertain. The difference between lunar time, used by the Jews, and solar time, now in common use, involves some uncertainty also. However, autumn of 2 BC, is about correct.
Br. James Parkinson has an engaging analysis in “The Beauties of the Truth,” February 2011 issue, in the article “From Jordan to Golgotha.” “The single most-likely assumption is that Jesus was baptized on the first Sabbath after the Feast of Sukkoth, or Saturday, October 22. If so, then it follows that the number of days of Jesus’ spirit-begotten life to his crucifixion (?April 3, 33 AD) was … 1260 days.”
Nine months back of that date would bring us to the previous winter as the time at which our Lord laid aside the glory which he had with the Father before the world was [made] and the taking of or changing to human nature began. Possibly this is related to the celebration of December 25th as Christmas Day, though that specific date was evidently chosen to connect Jesus to the solar solstice, a day observed in common culture centuries ago.
The Seventy Week Prophecy
Thus the ministry of Jesus would have been about 3 1/2 years in length. This is compatible with what one might infer from the SEVENTY WEEK PROPHECY in Daniel Chapter 9. For that prophecy speaks of the “midst of the week,” which divides the last “week” of seven years into two parts, marking one of those as the ministry of Jesus. If Jesus was 30 years old at his baptism in the autumn of the year 29, then his death at Passover season in the spring of 33 AD yields a ministry, about 3½ years later, would be consistent.
The 70 week prophecy is given not in years but in units of “weeks”—seven year increments—so in weeks of years. Using this fairly course measure, the prophecy stipulates the number of weeks which would pass until the appearance of Messiah, namely 69. Messiah did appear subsequent to the end of 69 weeks, and of course before the end of 70 weeks, so this part of the prophecy is correctly fulfilled.
But precisely when in this last week would his ministry begin?
In order to specify this, the prophecy says, God would cause the “sacrifice and oblation” of the Law to cease “in the midst of the [last] week” (Daniel 9:27).
The middle of that last (70th) week would be in AD 29, the very time Jesus presented himself to John at Jordan for baptism. Jesus there became the antitype of the bullock of the sin offering for 3 1/2 years until 33 AD. Jesus began replacing the typical arrangements by fulfilling them as an antitype. At his baptism, Jesus began to fulfill the Law types and shadows respecting himself. Thus, in Hebrews 10:9 we read:
“Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first [the Law and its types], that he may establish the second [the antitypes]” (Hebrews 10:9).
Notice that the prophecy does not say Jesus would be cut off in the middle of the week. This thought, though a common interpretation of the prophecy, is not actually stipulated in the text. Verse 26 says “Messiah will be cut off,” and verse 27 says in the middle of the week God would cause the “sacrifice and oblation” to cease, but these are two separate parts of the prophecy.
Confirmed for One Week
Verse 27 says “he [God] shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.” When the text says “he,” clearly God is the one intended. Some suppose Christ is meant by this pronoun, and claim the antecedent is the same as the pronoun “himself” in verse 26 (King James version).
But in that verse “himself” does not appear in the Hebrew. The “he” of verse 27 who confirms the covenant is the same as the one who “determined” the seventy weeks (verse 24), namely Yahweh.
The week referred to is the last (70th) week, which included the ministry of John the Baptist, which began before Jesus appeared as Messiah in the middle of the week. The Jewish Covenant was “confirmed” to them by both John and Messiah, in order for faithful ones to be transferred from Moses into Messiah.
After the cross Jesus became the “end of the law covenant … to everyone that believeth” (Romans 10:4). The Law Covenant was not being “confirmed” to the Jews after Christ died.
The beginning of the week would be AD 26, and it is natural to ask what episode marked this date. But the prophecy does not specify any particular event. The prophecy does stipulate that 69 weeks would pass before Messiah appeared, but this does not require Messiah to appear immediately at the expiration of 69 weeks, any more than verse 26 requires Messiah to be “cut off” immediately “after threescore and two weeks.”
Incidentally, we notice that AD 26 was the date when Pontius Pilate assumed the governorship of Judea, setting the stage as it were for the events soon to unfold.
The fundamental basis for applying the Seventy Weeks must be proper historical dates. If we loose ourselves from this requirement, the whims of interpretation can direct the issue a variety of ways, with no anchor of fact to settle the matter. Today we have that anchor. Ezra’s commission was in 458 BC (Ezra 7:7-14), Nehemiah’s in 445 BC, and only the first one fits the prophecy.
The traditional understanding amongst many students of the Bible has been that AD 29 marks the beginning of the 70th week. In our understanding this cannot be so. Here is our reasoning WHY:
- The prophecy tells us that it begins with a decree to restore Jerusalem.
- There was no such decree in the year 455 BC, as would be necessary to make 69 weeks reach precisely to AD 29.
- There was also no such decree in 454 BC (which is however, the understanding advocated by many dearly beloved brethren in Christ, and the understanding documented in Volume 2, Study 3, page 67 of “Studies in the Scriptures”)—and if there had been such a decree in 454 BC, then the time from 454 BC to AD 29 is only 482 years, rather than the required 483 years.
Thus 483 years forward take us to the year AD 26, which began the last, or 70th week. Seventy weeks of years forward terminate at Calvary, with no imprecision crossing the BC/AD divide.
The dates of Christ’s life are sometimes disputed elsewhere. But the evidence has been decisively shifting in favor of considerate Bible Student view.
In October, 1966, in The Journal of Theological Studies, appeared an article by William Filmer, “The Chronology of the Reign of Herod the Great,” showing that Herod died near the opening of 1 BC (rather than 4 BC), which allows Jesus’ birth in the fall of 2 BC, 30 years before his ministry began in the 15th year of Tiberius (Luke 3:1,23).
As three Passovers in Jesus’ ministry are explicitly referred to in the book of John, and possibly another in John 5:1, this is consistent with a 3½ year ministry which would have ended at Passover in the year AD 33, in which year Nisan 14 did fall on a Friday, consistent with the Gospel narratives.
See also “Dating the Crucifixion,” by Humphreys and Waddington, Nature magazine, December, 1983, which shows this to be the only feasible date for the crucifixion in all the years Pontius Pilate governed Judea, namely AD 26 to AD 36.
As Jesus died on Friday April 3, 33 AD (Julian calendar)—for that was Nisan 14 in the year 33 AD as best we can judge (which rarely falls on a Friday, but in this year it actually did) then if his ministry was 3½ years, discount the three for a moment, the half year would take us back six months from April—thus to October.
The day of the death of Jesus also coincided with a lunar eclipse, visible at Jerusalem as the moon rose near sunset on that fateful day. In this case, it seems the “moon turned to blood” as a token of the passing of the Law, with the death of Jesus. (Acts 2:16-21)
(Technical side note: in those days the Julian calendar operated in the Roman world, and the Gregorian calendar in use today did not begin introduced in 1582 in some European countries. However, some countries used the Julian calendar much longer. Turkey was the last country to officially switch to the new system on January 1, 1927.
To personally experiment with converting dates from one system to another, one can google “Calendar Converter.” The first hit should be the Formula date conversion site, https://www.fourmilab.ch/documents/calendar/. There are some caveats about computing Jewish dates before about 300 AD or so, but in this case it has it correctly.)
THE gentle sighing of the wind among the pines,
The joyous singing of the lark at break of day,
The rippling of the water-brooks through cooling shade,
The patter of the softly falling rain at night,
Are sounds less sweet by far than His most precious name.
No art can show a form so gracious and so fair,
No Master’s hand hath drawn a smile so wondrous sweet,
Nor could depict the majesty of that pure brow;
No canvas ever glowed with such a holy light
As shines from His most radiant image in my heart.
The dearest earthly friend may fail in time of need,
The sweetest and the loveliest grow cold at heart,
The nearest may not heed the throbbing heart’s sad cry,
The gayest throng may hold the loneliest solitude,
But Jesus, Jesus never fails my call to hear.
Oh, may the music of Thy name more clearly fall
Upon my ears attuned to catch that sweetest sound!
Oh, may Thine image in my heart so bright become
That I by gazing may be changed into the same;
Oh, blessed Jesus, let Thy presence ne’er depart,
Oh, come and reign forevermore with my heart!
by Gertrude W. Seibert
Br. David Rice – written content.
Br. James Parkinson – for his study from “The Beauties of the Truth” – as referenced in the above post.
Further Reference & Reading Material:
“Confirmation on a Fall Birth Date,” The Beauties of the Truth, December 1980.
Volume 2 of “Studies in the Scriptures” by Br. Charles. T. Russell – “The Time Is At Hand”, Study 2 – Bible Chronology pg.55-62 : THE DATE OF OUR LORD’S BIRTH
“The Birth of a Savior” – The Dawn Magazine, December 2005.
“The Star of Bethlehem” – The Dawn Magazine, December 2003.
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