Christmas History: What Year Was Jesus Born?

The birth of Jesus Christ holds great significance for billions of people worldwide, especially regarding spiritual matters.

Jesus' birth also holds a chronological significance, as western nations based their present form of time-keeping off of the estimated date of the event.

Every time someone speaks of the war of 1812, or the blizzard of 1996, or the 2008 presidential election they are referencing how many years it's been since Jesus was born.

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Yet when did this system of time come about and how sure are scholars that Jesus was born 2,013 years ago?

Edwin Tait, contributing editor of Christian History Magazine, told The Christian Post about how the origins of the western year count derived from the work of a sixth century monk.

"Dionysius Exiguus, a sixth century Christian writer who was the abbot of a monastery in Rome and died sometime before 544," said Tait.

"He wanted to date the calendar from Jesus' birth because the existing system had Diocletian's name on it, and Diocletian had persecuted Christians."

Dionysius' calculations placed the birth of Jesus at 753 Ab Urbe Condita ("from the founding of the city"), the old Roman system that derived its point of time at the establishment of Rome.

Credited with the creation of the calendar system of Before Christ and Anno Domini ("in the year of our Lord"), scholars have since noted problems with Dionysius' estimate.

Tait explained to CP about how the Gospels' account of when Jesus' birth took place, which mentions it being during the reign of a King Herod, may contradict Dionysius' conclusion.

"Most scholars think that Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., though this is based on evidence from Josephus and I've seen alternative interpretations of the evidence arguing that Herod actually died later than that," said Tait.

"If Herod did die in 4 B.C., and if both Matthew and Luke are right in saying that Jesus was born in the reign of Herod, then Jesus obviously was born earlier than Dionysius thought."

The apologetics website places the date of Christ's birth sometime between six and five B.C., which can be an awkward thing to write.

"Luke 2:1-2 notes several other facts to ponder: 'In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.' We know that Caesar Augustus reigned from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14," reads an entry on their website.

"Quirinius governed Syria during this same time period, with records of a census that included Judea in approximately 6 B.C. Some scholars debate whether this is the census mentioned by Luke, but it does appear to be the same event. Based on these historical details, the most likely time of Christ's birth in Bethlehem is six to five B.C."

As notes, however, is that whatever the exact date, Jesus' "birth changed history forever, along with the lives of countless people around the world."

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