Read this interesting and informative article of Prof. Daniel B. Wallace.
The following is part of a short series of devotional items related to the birth of Christ. For some, such material is hardly devotional because it primarily focuses on history. But we must keep in mind that the Jesus we worship was truly born in time-space history. And that babe in the manger was truly crucified–and just as surely rose from the dead. The Bible is different from the sacred books of other religions because it invites historical investigation. And when it has met the test–as it surely always, inevitably does–it inculcates a greater devotion in the heart of the believer for the one we call the Son of God.
The Year Jesus Was Born
In the western hemisphere, we split time by the birth of Jesus Christ. But did he really even live? If so, when was he born?
Sometime ago, I struck up a conversation with a man who claimed that God did not exist. He was an atheist. But not just a run-of-the-mill atheist, you understand. He also insisted that Jesus Christ never existed! This fellow was hard core.
Now my atheist friend had incredible faith–blind faith, I might add. His religious fervor, in fact, would put many evangelists to shame. But the evidence that Jesus Christ invaded history is not just shut up to the testimony of the New Testament–as irrefutable as that might be! The very enemies of Christianity claimed that he lived–and that he performed miracles! Early Jewish documents such as the Mishnah and even Josephus–as well as first-century Gentile historians–such as Thallus, Serapion, and Tacitus–all testify that the one called Christ lived in Palestine and died under Pontius Pilate. As the British scholar, F. F. Bruce put it, “The historicity of Christ is as [certain]. . . as the historicity of Julius Caesar” (NT Documents, 119).
Now it logically follows that if Jesus Christ lived (need it be said?), he must have been born. The Gospels tell us that his birth was shortly before Herod the Great died. Herod’s death can be fixed with certainty.
Josephus records an eclipse of the moon just before Herod passed on. This occurred on March 12th or 13th in 4 B.C. Josephus also tells us that Herod expired just before Passover. This feast took place on April 11th, in the same year, 4 B.C. From other details supplied by Josephus, we can pinpoint Herod the Great’s demise as occurring between March 29th and April 4th in 4 B.C.
It might sound strange to suggest that Jesus Christ was born no later than 4 B.C. since B.C. means ‘before Christ.’ But our modern calendar which splits time between B.C. and A.D. was not invented until A.D. 525. At that time, Pope John the First asked a monk named Dionysius to prepare a standardized calendar for the western Church. Unfortunately, poor Dionysius missed the real B.C./A.D. division by at least four years!
Now Matthew tells us that Herod killed Bethlehem’s babies two years old and under. The earliest Jesus could have been born, therefore, is 6 B.C. Through a variety of other time indicators, we can be relatively confident that the one called Messiah was born in either late 5 or early 4 B.C.
My atheist friend scoffs at such flexibility. He says, “If you don’t know exactly when Jesus was born, how do you know that he really lived?” That is hardly a reasonable question! The other day I called my mother to wish her a happy birthday. “Mom, how many candles on this birthday cake?” I inquired. “I don’t know, son–I don’t keep track any more,” she sighed. After a few minutes of pleasant conversation, we hung up.
Now, of course, I can’t be certain, but I do believe that that was my mother on the other end of the phone. She can’t remember how old she is (and she’s neither senile nor very old), but that doesn’t make her a figment of my imagination, does it? Because if she’s just a phantom, then for the last three minutes, you’ve been reading absolutely nothing!]
Read the full article here: http://bible.org/article/birth-jesus-christ