The Correct Date For Jesus’ Birth

Correctly Establishing The Start Of Daniel’s Prophecy

According to the prophecy of Daniel 9:25, when a “command” is given for the captives of Babylon to be set free and return to Judah, 483 years later the Messiah will arrive in Jerusalem. According to the Book of Nehemiah, King Artaxerxes (Longimanus, “long-handed”⁠1) gave a command for the captives to return to Judah.

Nehemiah 2:1-2 And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, (March-April) in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before. 2 Therefore the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.”  So I became dreadfully afraid

To clarify the identity of the Artaxerxes whom Nehemiah speaks of, we look to the historical record. According to James Ussher’s work in “Annales Veteris Testamenti,” Artaxerxes I was given the nickname “Longimanus” because the fingers of his right hand were longer than the fingers on his left hand.[2] He ascended to the throne of the Medo-Persian empire in July 465 B.C.[3]

According to Nehemiah, it was in the “twentieth year” of Artaxerxes’ reign, specifically July of 446 B.C., that Nehemiah was before the king, with his request.[4] Nine months later, in the first month of Nisan by the Hebrew calendar—which is March/April of our current calendar—Artaxerxes gave the command to return and rebuild Jerusalem. According to Hebrew tradition, when the day of the month is unstated, the first day is assumed.[5] On the first day of the month of Nisan, our 14th day of March 445 B.C., Artaxerxes Longimanus issued the command for Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem, to restore and rebuild the city.[6]

A secondary confirmation of this date is found in a secular record of history, revealing that Tiberius Caesar began his reign on August 19th , 14 A.D.[7] According to Luke’s Gospel, in the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign, Jesus was baptized at the Jordan River by John the Baptist in the Fall of 28 A.D.

Luke 3:1-3 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins…   

Luke 3:21 When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized…

Jesus began His public Ministry at 30 years of age, in the Fall of 28 A.D., by the testimony of Luke’s Gospel.

Luke 3:23 Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at thirty years of age…

When Was Jesus Born?

We know the precise date of Jesus’ birth from the historical records that were kept by secular writers, who described the events of the Roman General Titus when he sacked the city of Jerusalem and burned the Temple in 70 A.D.

It is certain that Jesus was not born in December, because shepherds do not keep watch over their sheep outdoors this late in the season. Luke testifies that during the time of Jesus’ birth, there were shepherds with their sheep out in the fields.

Luke 2:8-20 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

In Bethlehem during the winter, temperatures often fall below freezing. Shepherds did not attend to their flocks at night in winter because it was too cold. Once the frost set in, shepherds would bring their flocks into pens at night.

The fact that Luke mentions, that the shepherds were outside with their sheep at night is a hint for us, revealing the time of year this all happened. Also remember that a census had been ordered by the Roman government. Every man was required to return to the place of his ancestors’ birth, to register for this census. The Roman government would not order the citizens of their empire to return to their place of birth during winter, when travel was difficult. This would have been extremely poor planning by the Roman government, who were always meticulous in their organization of every event. The Romans called for the census to be conducted in the Fall, when temperatures were moderate and travel was much easier.

The Most Reliable Source For The Correct Time Of Year For Jesus’ Birth Is The Bible Itself

Luke 1:5 “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.”

John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias, was a priest who served in the Temple. Each man took his turn in serving according to the division or course in which he belonged. According to Luke 1:5, Zacharias belonged to the division of Abijah.

There were eight divisions, with each priest serving two weeks in the Temple.

We know, from history, that when the Roman army came in and destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Roman soldiers also destroyed the Temple. The Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that the first course of the priests in Israel had just taken place when the Temple was burned.[8]

Knowing that this first course of the Temple service had begun in 70 A.D., it is very easy to count backwards to determine when Zacharias would have been serving in his pre-determined course of Abijah.

We know that as soon as Zacharias came out of the Temple and had finished his time of service, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant with John the Baptist shortly thereafter. We know that John the Baptist is 6 months older than Jesus. If we count 6 months past John the Baptist’s birth, we can determine the date of Jesus’ Birth.

The following chart will help you visualize how and when these events took place. The first course of Jehoiarib began on August 5, 70 A.D.[9] We know this from the writings of Josephus and the Talmud.[10] Counting backwards, as these times of service were consistent in the precise months in which they would occur; in 4 B.C., when Zacharias received his turn to serve in the Temple, it would have been during the course of Abijah, which was completed on July 13th, 4 B.C.

The New Testament account of Elizabeth and Mary’s conceptions:

Luke 1:24-31 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.”

Gabriel Tells Mary The Date Of Elizabeth’s Conception

Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist on July 13, 4 B.C., which allows us to know the date of Jesus’ conception—the fourth week of December, 4 B.C. (See the chart above.)

Luke 1:35-36 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren.”

We Know That In The Sixth Month Of Elizabeth’s Pregnancy, Mary Had Already Conceived Jesus In Her Womb:

Luke 1:39-44 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.”

Having established the date of Jesus’ birth, we can now determine the time when He began His public ministry—at 30 years of age. Coincidentally, 30 was the age that a Hebrew man could begin His ministry, as described in the traditions of the elders.

  • Jesus was born on September 29, 3 B.C.
  • Adding 30 years, we come to the Fall of 28 A.D.; the first Passover during Jesus’ ministry is April, 29 A.D.
  • Adding 3 1/2 years or four Passovers, we come to 32 A.D., when Jesus was crucified on Passover, April 14, 32 A.D.

3 2 1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32

These dates are verified by the secular record of Suetonius, revealing that Tiberius Caesar began his reign on August 19, 14 A.D.[11] According to Luke’s Gospel, in the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign, Jesus was baptized at the Jordan River by John the Baptist, in the Fall of 28 A.D.

Luke 3:1-3 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins…

Having established the date of Jesus’ birth from history, both Biblical and secular, and verifying the exact date when He came into Jerusalem as the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy, in chapter 9, we can go on to examine the commandment given to Nehemiah that was made by Artaxerxes for the Jews to return to Jerusalem, to restore and rebuild the city.

See The Entire Prophecy Of Daniel 9


NOTES:

[1] Plutarch, Artaxerxes, l. 1. c. 1. 11:129 – cited by Ussher, Annals, para. 11
[2] Plutarch, Artaxerxes, l. 1. c. 1. 11:129 – cited by Ussher, Annals, para. 1179
[3] 1. Ghias Abadi, R. M. (2004) (in Persian). Achaemenid Inscriptions (کتیبههای هخامنشی)‎ (2nd edition ed.). Tehran: Shiraz Navid Publications. pp. 129. ISBN 964-358-015-6. 2. Encyclopedia Britannica 1990 Edition, section on Artaxerxes I.
[4] Nehemiah Chapter 2, and Plutarch, Artaxerxes, l. 1. c. 1. 11:129 – cited by Ussher, Annals, para. 1179
[5] 1. JewishEncyclopedia.com”. Retrieved 2012-04-24. 2. See Willie Roth’s essay The International Date Line and Halacha. 3. Appendix II: Baal HaMaor’s Interpretation of 20b and its Relevance to the Dateline” in Talmud Bavli, Schottenstein Edition, Tractate Rosh HaShanah, Mesorah Publications Ltd. (“ArtScroll”) 1999, where “20b” refers to the 20th page 2nd folio of the tractate.
[6] Sir Robert Anderson, “The Coming Prince”, ISBN-10: 147921594
[7]  Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Tiberius, also Barnes notes on the Gospel of Luke, chapter 3, and Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Gospel of Luke chapter 3.
[8] Flavius Josephus, the Wars of the Jews, account of the destruction of the temple.Translated by William Whiston, 1737
[9} Ibid, Josephus
[10] The Course Of Abijah. In 1 Chronicles 24, there are 24 courses described for the priests who serve in the temple. Rabbi Abbahu, writing from 300 A.D., states in the Talmud that there was an unbroken succession of courses in the temple that continued without interruption every year. This was later confirmed by Alfred Edersheim, Kenneth Doig, Thomas Lewin and Henry Browne. In Ezra 6:15,18, the priests are described performing in their divisions, as well as the Levites. This began at the dedication of the second temple during the month of Adar, 616 B.C., which is our March 12, 515, B.C. There were no breaks in the schedule of service for the priests until Antiochus Epiphanes defiled the temple in 167-164 B.C. This continued until 70 A.D., when Titus destroyed the temple and Jerusalem. Rabbi Jose ben Halafta often said that “Fortunate things happen on a fortunate day, and evil things on an evil day. For as the first temple was destroyed on a Sunday, the year after a sabbatical year, when the course of Jehoiarib was on duty, on Ab 9, (August 9), so it was also with the second temple. Working backwards from Saturday, August 4, 70 A.D., when the second temple was destroyed, this first course of the priests working in the temple, the eighth course of Abijah, would have served from September 3-10 in 5 B.C. If Elizabeth conceived on the 10th and we add 14 months, we arrive at January/February of 3 B.C.
[11] Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Tiberius, also Barnes notes on the Gospel of Luke, chapter 3, and Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Gospel of Luke chapter 3.



Categories: Forgiveness of Sin, Fulfilling Daniel's Chapter 9, Historical Validity of the New Testament, Jesus born to die, Jesus is the Messiah, Messianic Prophecies, Messianic Prophecy Bible, Robert Clifton Robinson, Salvation through Jesus, The Claims of Jesus, The Historical Jesus

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