The True Story of Christmas

 

For centuries Christians have celebrated the birth of their Savor on December 25th.  Does The Word of God isolate the date, century, or time of year when Christ was born?  What does the Bible say about the Magi?  Were there really 3 of them?

When was Jesus born? 

The New Testament gives no date or year for Jesus’ birth.  The earliest gospel – St. Mark’s, written about 65 CE – begins with the baptism of an adult Jesus.   The year of Jesus birth was determined by Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk, “abbot of a Roman monastery”.  The book of Luke 1:5 places Jesus’ birth in the days of Herod.[1]

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit…. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel”— which means, “God with us” (Matthew 1:18).[2]

At that time the birth of Jesus was foretold. [Please note there is no actual date given for the birth of the Lord.  It does not reference any of the normal Jewish festivals.]  Historians have some references to the century of his birth.

The Gospel of Matthew indicates that Jesus was born before the death of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1,15,19). New Testament scholar Donald A. Hagner, in Matthew 1-13 of  the Word Biblical Commentary, notes: “Herod, whose long reign began in 37 B.C., died in 4 B.C.” This is typical of the endorsement by almost all modern scholars of a 4 B.C. date for Herod’s death. What is the evidence? The first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews(17.6.4), tells of a lunar eclipse in the final year of Herod’s life. Solar and Lunar Eclipses of the Ancient NearEast by Kudiek and Mickler establishes that this eclipse occurred March 13, 4 B.C. Josephus’ account records that sometime after the eclipse, Herod—afflicted with a painful and loathsome disease—went beyond the Jordan River to bathe in hot sulfur springs. The cures he undertook were unsuccessful. His condition worsened, and he returned to Jericho.

There, in a wild rage, the paranoid monarch plotted the deaths of many prominent Jews, perhaps including the male infants of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16). Herod also ordered his firstborn son, Antipater, slain. These events required some months.

Josephus also reports that Herod’s death occurred before a spring Passover (Antiquities 17.9.3). This Passover—the Passover in April of 3 B.C.—was 13 months after the lunar eclipse and, according to Jewish tradition, a few months after Herod’s death. Taken together, this information confirms a 4 B.C. birth date for Jesus. But how could Jesus have been born in a year B.C.—”Before Christ”? The B.C.-A.D. system of reckoning time was devised in the sixth century A.D., hundreds of years after Jesus’ birth. At that time, a misunderstanding of the chronology of Herod’s reign caused a miscalculation of Christ’s birth year, an error detected too late to be corrected.

As for the month and day of Jesus’ birth, the Gospels make no specific statement; Jesus’ birth was not commemorated in the early days of the church. Christmas was not included on the liturgical calendar until the fourth century. [For more information, see The date of Jesus’ birth.][3]

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,  to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”   “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her (Luke 1:26-38).

Joseph Accepts Jesus as His Son

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about..  His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).[4]  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus (Matthew 1:18-24). No date, no season, no reference to a specific temple event is given in this scriptural reference either. We are now clear on the fact that the bible does not give us a date for the birth of Christ. What about the rest of the Christmas story that is represented each year?  How about the three kings?  Were three kings mentioned in the Bible? 

The Magi Visit the Messiah: How many Magi were there?

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi [ Note there is no number given in the scripture!] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:   “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,     are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”  After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. [They NEVER went to the manger to see the Christ child.  They went to his home!] Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route (Matthew 2:2-12).

Clarification: The bible does not states how many magi visited Jesus.  It does state that they found him in the house.  He was at home with his parents when they visited him NOT in a manger.[5]  I

What about the Shepherds?

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while  Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,  and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.   And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told (Luke 2:1-21).

Finally what did the manger of the New Testament Times look like?

This is what a New Testament manger looked like.

Image Type:
Misc. Image

“This is a mock-up of a New Testament manger. When Joseph and Mary could not stay at the inn they instead stayed in a stable with a manger. A stone manger in Israel. This was used to put animal feed in for the farm animals. This may have been the kind of manger that Jesus was put in as an infant. Scripture: Luke 2:7-16” [6]

So how do we proceed from here?  Teach your children about the birth of the Lord from the Bible and you will not go wrong!  Have a blessed Christmas!

Bibliography

“Bethlehem.” Bethlehem:Manger. 2014. Accessed December 13, 2014. http://www.ebibleteacher.com/taxonomy/term/100.

Miller, Dave. “Luke, Quirinius, and the Census.” Apologetics Press. 2003. Accessed December 13, 2014. http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=907.

“The Miracle of Jesus’ Birth.” Grace Communion International. 2014. Accessed December 13, 2014. https://www.gci.org/jesus/birth

Notes

[1] In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron (Luke 1:5).

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).

[3] “The Miracle of Jesus’ Birth,” Grace Communion International, 2014, When was Jesus born?, accessed December 13, 2014, https://www.gci.org/jesus/birth.

[4] This scripture references a prophecy in the book of Isaiah.Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”  Isa. 7:14.

[5] On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11).

[6] “Bethlehem,” Bethlehem:Manger, 2014, Manger, accessed December 13, 2014, http://www.ebibleteacher.com/taxonomy/term/100

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bueller
    Dec 16, 2014 @ 09:05:42

    I find my learning has been a bit different than what was actually the true story of the birth of Jesus. I was taught the Magi went to the stable along with the Shepherds and saw Jesus lying in the manger. However with the research and bible studying you have done, the whole Christmas idea is a bit dented. I know we did NOT call it Christmas until much later and a date was decided based on something, but how could it be called Christ mas when Jesus did not take the name Christ until after his death. At least that is what I was taught. The story you teach is a bit different than one most. I like your story better than the one where everything happens in one night!!

    Reply

  2. Joyce
    Dec 17, 2014 @ 13:05:58

    It is a biblical story and not one made up by man.
    Thanks Jeleane!

    Reply

  3. Bueller
    Dec 21, 2014 @ 09:16:43

    I came looking for a continuation of this wonderful blog. It has given me so much insight as well as good news of our Lord and Savior. This year has been a year of so much growth for me that I can hardly believe it at times. As I know you have seen I’ve been posting daily scripture readings that speak to my heart. I hope I’ve been doing them correctly as it seems God helps me pick them out and also helps me say how they mean….especially to me. This was always yours and Wyn’s realm, but it is comfortable for me to be doing this and it’s because of the patience and continued teaching by both of you that I can now do what I would never have thought I could do. Bless you and we know Wyn is being blessed beyond measure!!

    Reply

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