In the Dead of Winter?

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King. These words are from the popular carol that is often sung during the Christmas season. Many celebrate Christmas under the assumption that Christ was born on December 25th—but was He? What time of year was Christ actually born? While the Bible does not mention the exact date, both secular and biblical sources, can be used to determine that Christ was not born in the dead of winter, but around the time of the fall Holy Day season.

Census of Quirinius

Luke’s account of Christ’s birth mentions a census (Luke 2:1–7). This registration and taxation were carried out according to the Jewish manner. This would mean that taxes would be collected after the fall harvest season approximately September or October, not in the winter (The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Chronology, New Testament, p. 230). This census record calls to question a winter birth of Christ. A winter census would require the populace to travel from all over the country in severe weather making the journey dangerous and harsh. Furthermore, a census occurring after the harvest season in the fall would reduce the economic effect because roads would be dry thus allowing much easier and faster travel.

Another piece of evidence Luke provides proving Christ’s birth to be in the fall is that there were no rooms available in the inn because thousands of people were arriving for the census. Additionally, other sources argue that many people were already in Jerusalem to observe the fall Holy Days and  Bethlehem was crowded due to its proximity to Jerusalem.

Shepherds in the Field

The gospel of Luke provides yet another piece of evidence pointing to a fall birth,

“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. (Luke 2:8)

This argues against a winter birth of Christ in December, because it would have been too cold for shepherds to stay outside throughout the night.

“…It is also a fact that the Jews sent their flocks out into the mountainous and desert regions during the summer months, and took them up in the latter part of October or the first of November, when the cold weather commenced. While away in these deserts and mountainous regions, it was proper that there should be someone to attend them to keep them from straying, and from the ravages of wolves and other wild beasts. It is probable from this that our Saviour was born before the 25th of December, or before what we call “Christmas.” At that time it is cold, and especially in the high and mountainous regions about Bethlehem…” (Barnes Notes on The New Testament, note on Luke 2:8).

The Birth of John, the Baptist

The scriptural events surrounding the birth of John, the Baptist, provides further evidence of a fall birth. Luke’s gospel account reveals that the conception of Elizabeth, mother of John, the Baptist, occurred six months before Mary’s conception of Jesus (Luke 1:36). Hence, determining the time of John, the Baptist’s, birth will lead to the time of Christ’s birth.

To do this, we need to understand the course of Abijah is key to correctly placing John’s birth. Concerning the preceding events to John’s birth, the gospel of Luke mentions that Zacharias was serving in the temple during the course of Abijah when and angel appeared to him and announced that his wife would have a child (Luke 1:5-13). It further mentions that Elizabeth conceived John in the days shortly after Zacharias’ course was completed (Luke 1:24).

King David divided the service of the priests into 24 courses or divisions (1 Chron. 24:3–19). Each division was assigned to work one full week and the service rotated to the next course until all courses were served.

It took six months for all the courses to be served and then the rotation would start again. Each priest served a one-week shift twice a year. The Bible reveals that the 12 tribes of Israel had their representatives serving by course. The first course commenced in the first month (1 Chron. 27:2). The first month for service in the temple was Nissan (March-April). Thus, this was also the first month for the priestly courses. The beginning point of the next rotation would be Tishri (September-October).

Let’s consider Zacharias’ first shift of service. The 8th course would normally start a little less than three months from the beginning of the ecclesiastical year. The dispute among dates when the 8th course would begin and end varies among different sources. However, a safe range that encompasses most disputed dates for the course of Abijah would be May 22nd-June 20th.  Elizabeth then conceives in the immediate days following. Nine months after would put John, the Baptist’s, birth according to most sources in March-April. Christ’s birth then following six months later would occur between September-October.  This would support the time when the census took place as well as the time shepherds would be watching their flocks by night. It would be in the fall, after the harvest!

In conclusion, when considering the secular and biblical evidence it’s apparent that Christ’s birth took place between the months of September and/or early
October. This is also the time when the fall Holy Days occurred. A winter birth in
December is incorrect given all the evidence discussed above.

Although the Bible does not mention the exact date of Christ’s birth, it is very plausible it fell on the Feast of Trumpets or during the Feast of Tabernacles which several sources claim. Numerous passages in the Bible picture the Feast of Trumpets as the coming of Christ. This being the case, isn’t it reasonable that God could choose the Feast of Trumpets as a day of Christ’s birth? Similarly, the same could be said regarding the Feast of Tabernacles. This Feast pictures the Kingdom of God and more appropriately Christ coming to tabernacle with us. Again, is it not possible for God to choose a date that falls during the Feast of Tabernacles for the Saviour’s birth?

The point is, the birth of  Christ on either of these fall festival days would be in perfect harmony with God’s marvelous plan portrayed by these and the other Holy Days. Most importantly, we need to remember Christ is the central figure in all the Holy Days.

Therefore, if we want to take part in a festival that has a direct connection to Christ why not consider observing the Biblical Holy Days (Lev. 23). How much more appropriate would it be to sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” not in the dead of winter, but during the fall Holy Day festivals!


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