“When was Jesus born? and Other Commonly Asked Christmas Questions”
By Dr. Jack Kinneer, Adjunct Professor of New Testament Studies, Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
For other articles about so-called Christmas myths, read:
“How December 25 Became Christmas: The Passover Connection” by By Andrew McGowan, Warden and President of Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, Australia
Why post this when Christmas is over? Because I wanted to wait until the Christmas hysteria is done, so you might find time to read it.
In this paper, Dr. Kinneer, a strict adherent of the Reformed Principle of Worship, questions many assumptions, both traditional and modern, that Christians have about the birth of Jesus. He bases his conclusions using Scriptural, historical, and astronomical data:
(1) King Herod died in March 4 B.C.
(2) Jesus was born in the winter of 5-4 B.C., a few months before Herod’s death. Why would shepherds be out in the field in the middle of a cold, winter night? Because the Mediterranean winter is the best time for grazing, when the fields are lush because of the winter rains (Song of Solomon 2:11)!
(3) The star that the wise men from the East saw was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in May, September, and December 7 B.C., and in Feburary 6 B.C. (when Mars joined in), a phenomenon that occurs only every 805 years.
(4) This “star” was different from the star that “came to rest over the place where the child was” (Matt 2:9). It might have had the same brightness as the conjunction (“the star, which they saw in the east” Matt 2:9), but a normal star, comet, or meteor could never “come to rest over” a specific house, unless it hovered only a few feet above the house. A special star indeed!
He debunks several myths about the birth of Jesus:
1. The traditional dates of December 25, 5 B.C. or January 6, 4 B.C. are plausible and closer to reality than most contemporary theorists would accept. A date of late January or early February 4 B.C. is even more likely.
2. December 25 was not an accommodation to a pagan festival on the winter solstice to honor the Sun-god. Rather, it was regarded as the actual historical date of Jesus’ birth since the early church (Hippolytus in the 2nd century and Chrysostom in the 4th century).
3. Joseph and Mary did not travel to Bethlehem when Mary was about to start her labor. They were already residents of the town for some time before Jesus was born. “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth” (Luke 2:6).
4. “No room in the inn” is another misinterpretation. The Greek phrase actually means “there was no place in the room.” They already had some sleeping arrangements, but there was no place for giving birth!
5. This means that “the cattle are lowing” manger scenes are also improbable since the place where the manger was would have been cleared of the animals in preparation for the baby’s delivery.
6. Jesus was not two years old when the magi arrived. The birth of Jesus was not at the appearing of the star, but at the arrival of the magi in Jerusalem about two years later.
7. The trip to and back from Egypt did not take weeks and months, but only about 10 days each way. The family stayed in Egypt not years, but only about 10 days.
O Jesus, King of Glory
The Eastern sages, bringing their tribute gifts to Thee,
Bear witness to Thy kingdom and humbly bow the knee.
To Thee the star is pointing, and the prophetic Word;
Hence joyously we hail Thee: our Savior and our Lord!
(Martin Behm, 1606; Tune: “All Glory, Laud, and Honor”)