When Was Jesus Born? -- Questions and Answers

In an earlier post, I blogged about Prof. Jack Kinneer, Adjunct Professor of New Testament Studies, Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, concerning a short article that he had written answering some of the commonly held myths of Christmas. I noted my disappointment that Prof. Kinneer had not given more details in support of his propositions.

Well, I spoke too soon. It turns out that the article I cited previously was only a summary of some of the arguments he made as to why certain stories about Christmas are actually a myth. (Let me clarify, he is not saying that the Christmas stories as found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are myths. Rather, he is saying that there are certain myths that have grown up around those accounts that are myths. For example, one such myth is that the magi showed up in Bethlehem when Jesus was two or three years old. Another myth is that Jesus stayed in Egypt for a couple of years before returning to Israel.) He has actually written a much longer article (13 pages pdf) entitled When was Jesus born? And Other Commonly Asked Christmas Questions.

Prof. Kinneer, after spending time reviewing the texts, comes to the conclusion that there is a different way to read the texts together than what is the common teaching in the church. His efforts take into account many different lines of evidence without sacrificing the Biblical texts and comes to the conclusion that the timeline for the Nativity actually went something like this:

All the events in Matthew could easily fit into the minimum time frame in Luke (42 days).
Birth of Jesus (Day 1)
Magi arrive in Jerusalem (Day 3)
Jesus circumcised (Day 8)
Conferences with Herod, on to Bethlehem (Day 8)
Magi leave, flight at night (9)
Trip to Egypt (Days 10-20)
Stay in Egypt, angel appears (Days 21-30)
Return from Egypt (Days 31-41)
Visit to the temple (Day 42)

The article is interesting and gives some different takes on some of the common questions about Christmas. Here are the questions he answers:

When was Jesus born?
But I thought our dating system was based upon the birth of Jesus? Why is the birth of Jesus before A.D. 1?
How exact can we be in dating the birth of Jesus relative to the death of Herod?
What about the star? Was there really a star?
So then, was Jesus born at one of these events? Is that why he is often said to have been born as early as 7 B.C.?
But wasn’t Jesus about two or threewhen the magi arrive?
But wasn’t Jesus in Egypt for several years?
How long was the interval from the birth of Jesus to the death of Herod and the return from Egypt?
Do Matthew and Luke fit together chronologically?
What is the basis for saying the period between Jesus’ birth and his presentation at the temple was 40 days?
How would the magi have known the meaning of the star?
Is it really plausible that Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem just days before she gave birth and arrived perhaps the very day of her being delivered?
What about the census? Was there really a census?
On your dating, Jesus was born in the winter months. How then could there be shepherds at night in the wilds with their flocks?

His conclusion? Prof. Kinneer says:

Jesus was born not too long before the death of Herod in late March of 4 B.C. Assuming the time from the birth of Jesus till his presentation at the temple may have been more that 41 days but not a great amount of time longer, then the birth of Jesus would have occurred in the winter months of 5-4 B.C. Late in December is about as far back as the date can be pushed without doing violence to the time indication in Luke. As it turns out, both the traditional dates for Christ’s birth, December 25 or January 6, fall within the time frame we have determined. We are not saying these dates are exact, but they are plausible. In our estimation, a date in late January or early February is a little more likely since such a date barely stretches the minimum of 41 days implied by Luke.

Agree or disagree, this is definitely worth a read.


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