Jesus was born
between 8 to 5 BC.
How can Jesus be born
in BC (Before Christ)?
The calendar which
splits time between BC
and AD (Anno Domini or
Latin for “Year of Our
Lord”) was not adapted
until AD 525 when a
monk named Dionysius Exiguus prepared a standardised calendar for the western Church. Unfortunately, he missed the real BC/AD split by at least 6 years! He also skipped the year zero, going straight from 1 BC to AD 1.
YEAR OF JESUS’ BIRTH
Luke states that Jesus was “about thirty years old” (Luke 3:23) during the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign (Luke 3:1). Tiberius began to reign with Augustus in AD 11 or 12. The 15th year of his reign would then be AD 26 or 27, making Jesus’ birth between 8 to 4 BC.
Josephus records that Herod the Great died just before a Passover and a lunar eclipse – which is normally dated to 4 BC. Matthew tells us that Herod killed Bethlehem’s baby boys two years old and under. 1
Matt 2:16 (NIV) When Herod
realized that he had been
outwitted by the Magi, he
was furious, and he gave
orders to kill all the boys in
Bethlehem and its vicinity
who were two years old and
under, in accordance with
the time he had learned from
By this reasoning, Jesus could
have been born no later than
6 BC and possibly earlier.
Herod the Great
(73/74 BC - 4 BC)
Let’s look at some of the miraculous events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.
Miracle of announcement
Miracle in the heavens
Miracle of Jesus’ lineage
Miracle of timing
Miracle of virgin birth
Miracle of census
Miracle of birthplace
MIRACLES OF JESUS’ BIRTH
Jesus’ birth is miraculously announced to Mary by the angel Gabriel, who stands in God’s very presence. (Luke 1:30-31)
1. MIRACLE OF ANNOUNCEMENT
Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.
Jesus’ birth is miraculously announced to the shepherds
in the fields of Bethlehem by an angel. (Matt 2:2)
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.
Jesus’ birth is announced to Simeon by God, who promises him that he will live to see the Messiah. (Luke 1:30-31)
Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people…
Jesus’ birth is miraculously announced to the Magi
by the appearance of a star in the east. (Matt 2:2)
2. MIRACLE IN THE HEAVENS
Suggestions as to what the star of Bethlehem was - include:
a supernatural star specially created by God for the occasion.
an angel (angels are sometimes referred to as stars in the Bible)
a conjunction of planets
Some cosmic phenomena around the time of Jesus’ birth which have been proposed as the star of Bethlehem are:
December 7 BC - Babylonian records, verified by modern calculations, indicate a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces – occurs once every 125 years.
February 6 BC – Conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars - occurs only once every 805 years.
Spring of 6 BC - Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn form an unusually close grouping.
5 BC - a supernova recorded by Chinese astronomers.
March-April 5 BC - a comet appeared for some 70 days near the constellation Capricorn which would have been visible in both the Far and Near East.
Why did the Magi see the star as a sign of the birth of the king of the Jews?
Balaam had prophesied in Numbers 24:17
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel.” (NIV)
Ancient astrologers believed that the area of the sky named Pisces where these conjunctions occurred contained signs pertinent to the Hebrew nation.
It is possible that the Magi, blending their heavenly observations with a knowledge of Old Testament prophecies about a Messiah, were led to seek the predicted king in the Land of Israel.
The OT prophecies tell us that the Messiah would be:
the seed of Abraham (Gen 22:18)
the seed of Isaac (Gen 26:4)
the seed of Jacob (Gen 28:14) and have the sceptre of Israel (Num 24:17)
have the sceptre of Judah (Gen 49:10)
the root of Jesse (Isa 11:10)
the son of David (2 Sam 7:12-13)
3. MIRACLE OF HIS LINEAGE
Matthew shows Jesus’ Messianic credentials in terms of his genealogy:
Matt 1:1-6 (NIV) A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. [Luke 1:32-33, NIV]
Gabriel tells Mary that Jesus is the promised Son of David.
Matthew and Luke trace the genealogy of Jesus back to David through Joseph and Mary respectively.
If Jesus were born more than 77 years later this would have been impossible. The Jewish genealogical records, extremely important in establishing that Jesus was a descendant of David, were still intact in Jerusalem. With the destruction of the temple by Titus those records were completely lost.
To this day, no Jew can trace their lineage before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Thus no one after Jesus can legitimately claim to be the Son of David and have this verified.
4. MIRACLE OF TIMING
The prophecy of Daniel’s 70 weeks given to him by Gabriel sets the timing for the coming of the Messiah (“Messiah” in Hebrew is “Christ” in Greek and “Anointed One” in English).
The Messiah had to come 483 (69x7) years after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem:
Daniel 9:25 (NASB) “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.”
Artaxerxes I of Persia gave the decree to rebuild Jerusalem in 445 BC.
The Messiah would be “cut off and will have nothing” (i.e. rejected and killed) before the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem by the Romans.
Dan 9:26 (NASB) “Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary…”
The temple and Jerusalem were destroyed by the Roman general Titus in AD 70 so the Messiah had to come between 445 BC and AD 70.
Jesus of Nazareth is the only one who meets the date criteria given by Gabriel to Daniel.
God promised that the deliverer who would bruise the serpent’s head, would be the “seed of the woman”. This is the first allusion to the virgin birth in Scripture.
Gen 3:15 (NIV) And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.“ (NASB)
And Isaiah prophesied that Immanuel (meaning “God with us”) would be born of a virgin:
Isa 7:14 (NIV) Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
5. MIRACLE OF VIRGIN BIRTH
The virgin birth and conception by the Holy Spirit was necessary for Jesus to be untainted by Adam’s sin.
How will this be since I am a virgin?
The Holy Spirit will come upon 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.
Micah prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem:
Micah 5:2-5 (NIV) But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” … He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.
The chief priests and teachers of the law of Jesus’ day were aware of this prophecy - as evidenced by their response to King Herod when he asked them where the Messiah was to be born (Matt 2:3-6).
6. MIRACLE OF CENSUS
In Bethlehem in Judea, 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 be the shepherd of my people Israel.”
Where will the Messiah be born?
Boaz, Jesse and David, the forefathers of Jesus, lived in Bethlehem, where the Messiah was to born. However by the time of Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph were located in Nazareth and there was no compelling reason for them to leave – certainly not while Mary was pregnant.
Mary, pregnant with Jesus, lived not in Bethlehem, but in Nazareth.
Luke 1:26-27 (NIV) In the sixth month, 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.
So how would God effect the fulfilment of Micah’s prophecy?
The answer was the census of Augustus. Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem necessitated the world’s greatest empire to move exactly according to God’s plan. And along came the census decreed by the Emperor Augustus.
Luke 2:1-3 (NIV) In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world… And everyone went to his own town to register.
Luke 2:4 (NIV) 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.
Octavian was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. The Senate formally deified Julius Caesar in 42 BC, and Caesar Octavian henceforth became Divi filius (“son of a god”).
Later the Senate gave Octavian the new title ‘Augustus’ from the Latin word ‘Augere’ (meaning to increase), which can be translated as “the illustrious one”. It was a title of religious rather than political authority. 1
1 http:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Octavian
Augustus (63 BC – 14 AD)
One month after his death in AD 14, Augustus was deified by the Senate.
Jesus of course is known as the “Son of God”.
Mark 1:1 (NIV) The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Rom 1:4 (NIV) and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
So twice within the span of about 70 years two men would be acclaimed first as the “son of a god”, and then as “Son of God”. But Augustus Caesar, the man the Romans claimed as the “son of a god”, imposes a census along with all the associated bureaucracy, that will force Joseph and Mary to return to their home town of Bethlehem.
So God used the false “son of a god” as the very instrument to ensure that the true “son of God” is born in Bethlehem.
son of a god
Son of God
The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus was born in a stable (as we understand a stable today) or at the back of an inn – only that there was no room in the inn (or guest room) and that he was placed in a manger after birth.
Luke 2:4-7 (ESV) And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
7. MIRACLE OF BIRTHPLACE
Old church tradition says that Jesus was born in a cave in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem.
Justin Martyr (c. 100 AD – 165 AD) wrote that Joseph and Mary had taken refuge in a cave outside of town:
Joseph took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger… 1
Origen (185 AD – c. 254 AD) wrote:
In Bethlehem the cave is pointed out where He was born, and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. And the rumour is in those places, and among foreigners of the Faith, that indeed Jesus was born in this cave who is worshipped and reverenced by the Christians. 2
1 Dialogue with Trypho chapter LXXVIII 2 Contra Celsum, book I, chapter LI
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was originally commissioned in 327 AD by Constantine and his mother Helena over the site traditionally considered to be located over the cave where Jesus was born.
The holy site, known as the Grotto, that the Church of the Nativity sits atop, is today associated with the cave in where Jesus of Nazareth was born.
In 135 AD, Hadrian is said to have had the Christian site above the Grotto converted into a worship place for Adonis, the Greek pagan god of beauty and desire. 1
Jerome noted that the cave was at one point consecrated by the heathen to the worship of Adonis, and that a pleasant sacred grove was planted there in order to wipe out the memory of Jesus. 1
1 http:// en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/ Church-of-the-Nativity
Statue of Jerome outside the Church of the Nativity
In Bible times mangers were made from clay mixed with straw or from stones held together with mud; sometimes they were carved in natural outcroppings of rock. 1
1 https:// www.padfield.com/1999/away-in-a-manger.html
A manger at Megiddo used
in the stables
Now note this Messianic prophecy in Micah 4, the very chapter before Micah 5 – which identified Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah.
Micah 4:1-4 (NIV) In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.
Micah 4:8 (NIV) As for you, O watchtower of the flock, O stronghold of the Daughter of Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship
will come to the Daughter of Jerusalem.
Based on Micah 4:8, some
believe that Migdal Eder
(Tower of the Flock) may
even have been the place
where Jesus was born.
1 http:// biblos.com/micah/4-8.htm
A watchtower, Shepherd’s Fields, Bethlehem (c. 1934)
are a few
and Rachel’s tomb. Eusebius locates it 1.9 km east of Bethlehem and others with Siyan al Ghannam SW of Jerusalem. 1
1 https:// biblicalgeographicdotcom. wordpress.com/ 2011/ 09/ 28/ migdal-eder-bethlehem-israel/
One possible location for Migdal Eder (in the valley at left centre) with the town of Bethlehem in the background.
Near Bethlehem is a site known as Kaniset el-Ruat (Church of the Shepherds). The current church was built in 1972, but according to Jerome the Church of the Shepherds was the site of Migdal Eder.
Some of the ancient rabbinical writings predicted that it would be at Migdal Eder that the announcement would be made that Messiah had come.
Targum Yonatan, cited by Rabbi Munk, paraphrases Genesis 35:21 and Micah 4:8 “He spread his tent beyond Migdal Eder, the place where King Messiah will reveal Himself at the end of days.” 1
Alfred Edersheim (1825 – 1889) was a Messianic Jew, who provided great insights into the Bible from a Hebrew-Christian perspective. He writes:
That the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, was a settled conviction. Equally so was the belief, that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder, ‘the tower of the flock.’ (Targum Pseudo-Jon. On Gen. xxxv. 21.) 1
1 “Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”
Edersheim writes, “This Migdal Eder was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheepground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage in the Mishnah (Shek. vii. 4.) leads to the conclusion, that the flocks, which pastured there,
were destined for
Luke 2:8-11 (NIV) 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 of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
Who were these shepherds? They may have been none other than the shepherds from Migdal Eder who were aware that the Messiah might well be announced from Migdal Eder at Bethlehem. Were these possibly the men who raised the blemish-free sacrificial lambs for the temple?
If the Bethlehem
were the ones
then God is
that the sacrifice their life’s
work had foreshadowed had now come!
Remember that John the Baptist declared Jesus to
be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. (John 1:29)
Years back Rachel had died in childbirth near Bethlehem and Jacob subsequently moved beyond Migdal Eder (Tower of the Flock) where Benjamin was born.
Gen 35:16-21 … While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t be afraid, for you have another son.” As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Benoni [Son of my sorrow]. But his father named him Benjamin [Son of my right hand]. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb. Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder.
Jesus was a “son of sorrow.”
Isaiah 53:3 (ESV) He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…
Yet he is the Father’s “son of my right hand.”
Acts 2:33 (NIV) Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit…
AUTHOR: Gavin Paynter
NOTE 1: Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of http:// sweetpublishing.com
NOTE 2: Illustration from freebibleimages.org
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