“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” —Luke 2:7
A dear friend asked me about the timing of Christ’s birth recently; and having sent him an email, it seemed a good idea to share it. I did a live radio broadcast on December 24, 2007 with KICY radio in Alaska and walked through the timing of Christ’s birth. I believe I said the same things that I am providing now in this article (as I still haven’t listened to it since it was recorded; but it is available on SermonAudio.com if you’d like to hear it: this link provides a popup MP3 player).
Most of the important scriptural information is found in the Gospel According to Luke, with some other references here and there. It is important to understand that our main focus and primary perspectives need to come from the authority of scripture itself. Although there is a tendency to fill in the blanks with conjectures of various origins and emphases, we should avoid, as much as possible, any movement away from scripture and any distraction that pulls us away from the glory of God alone in Christ Jesus. This, however, does not mean that we cannot examine the scriptures in the light of its historic, grammatical, and literary context; we must, as these are important and necessary tools in a proper hermeneutic.
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgins name was Mary. Luke 1:26-27
“And in the sixth month…” (1:26) is given with reference to some other time, more than likely connected to Luke 1:24, “And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months…” This suggests a reference from the initial sighting of Gabriel by Zacharias in the temple (1:11). Additionally, we are told later in the chapter when Gabriel visits Mary, he tells her, “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” (1:36) Therefore, when Mary visits her cousin Elisabeth (1:39-56), she stays with Elisabeth until she has just about come to term, as it is written, “And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house” (1:56). After Mary left, Elisabeth gives birth (1:57).
Clearly, the “traditional” December 25th winter solstice would be out of the question for the Lord’s birth as Luke 2:8 tells us of “country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Late October, and early November at the very latest, would have been the latest time of year for shepherds to keep their flocks out in the fields; neither would they have stayed out there. It is just too cold. They do not do it now, and more than likely, they would not have done so then. Shepherds typically keep watch in the field with their flocks at night between March and October.
We should also recognize that we are given clues to the timing of these events when the ministry of Zacharias in the temple, being of the course of Abia (Luke 1:5), or Abijah (1 Chronicles 24:10), the eighth course of the Aaronic priesthood. According to several Jewish traditions, the priestly courses began at the barley harvest, the beginning of the month, and being when the Passover takes place in the spring; therefore that timeframe would have been from late March to late April according to a lunar calendar. Each course of the priesthood fulfilled a week every 24 weeks, and all courses ministered together three times a year, during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), and the Feast of Ingatherings (Tabernacles), making up a total time of approximately 3-1/2 weeks. The course of Abijah would have ministered between mid-May to Mid-June in the first 24-week cycle, and it would have also placed the 8th course somewhere in mid-November to mid-December during the second 24-week cycle.
As Luke 1:10 tells us that “the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense,” then more than likely, Zacharias’ ministry to burn incense took place in the first cycle, for the weather would have been more conducive to multitudes of people praying outside at 9 a.m. or 3 p.m. Why is that? It would have been too cold in November and December to stand out there on the temple mount for up to an hour. Incense burning and the time of prayer took place coincident with the morning and evening oblations (offerings); and the incense burned until the offerings were complete (approximately an hour).
If this is so clear in scripture with just a little digging and diligence on the matter, why is a date not recorded in scripture for the Lord’s birth? It’s quite simple really. The birth of Jesus Christ is the incarnation of the Son of God. His virgin birth was declared from the beginning (Genesis 3:15), because His being born was for the specific purpose of His death (fulfilling the bruised heel of Genesis 3:15), as it is written, according to the words of the Lord Himself to Pontius Pilate in John 18:37,
Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
Christ’s birth is an eternal decree, for it must be! Although He was fully man, He is also the everlasting Son of God, having no beginning and no ending, as it is written in Micah 5:2,
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
This is also why, I believe, that we read in Luke’s account of the Lord’s age after His baptism was that He “himself began to be about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23); for how can one give an exact age in years to He who is fully God, eternal and the same in essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, equal in power and glory?
The Incarnation of the Son of God is of utmost and essential importance. On what day was He born is unnecessary; for if it were necessary, God would have revealed it and preserved it in His Word. Following that, the next important question is: IS THE SON OF GOD BORN IN YOU?
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. John 3:3