Do You Know Jesus?

Was Jesus born on December 25th? The answer is probably not. We do not know the month and day of Jesus’ birth. The celebration of Jesus’ birth began in the fourth century. Emperors in the third century had celebrated the sun cult on December 25th, and this was continued by Constantine. In the latter part of the fourth century, Christians began to celebrate Jesus’ birthday on December 25th in effect continuing a celebration but changing the meaning of it. The fact that Luke mentions the shepherds in the fields (Luke 2:8) would suggest that the birth was between March/April and October/November.

Was Jesus born in a stable? If you say yes, you are being influenced by the fact that Jesus was placed in a manger. Certainly some traditions place the birth in a stable. The non-canonical work, the Protevangelium of James (c. 200 A.D.), has Mary giving birth in a cave, which was used as a stable. However, the typical house of this period also had mangers in them, because animals were brought into the house at night.

The “inn” of Luke 2:7 is not the word for a commercial inn as in Luke 10:34. The word in the birth narrative means a guest room. The same word is used to describe the upper room of the Last Supper (Luke 22:11). It is possible that the guest room was already taken, and that Mary and Joseph were housed in the main living quarters of the house, which would have had a manger.

Were there three wise men? The text of Matthew does not tell us how many wise men (Magi – the word means “magician” or “astrologer”) visited Jesus. The tradition of three wise men is likely based on the fact that three gifts are mentioned: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11).

Did the wise men arrive the night of Jesus’ birth? Matthew 2:1 indicates that the wise men arrived in Jerusalem to inquire about the birth of the king after the birth of Jesus. A comparison with Luke also suggests this. Jesus was presented in the temple 40 days after his birth according to the law (Leviticus 12:3-4 – 8 plus 33 with the days counted inclusively). Jesus’ parents gave the offering of the poor, a pair of turtledoves (Luke 2:24, Leviticus 12:8). Joseph and Mary would surely have had enough funds for a lamb offering if the wise men’s gifts had been received prior to the presentation in the temple. Most chronologies of Jesus’ life would place the coming of the wise men after the presentation in the temple.

No, I’m not a curmudgeon when looking at nativity scenes grumbling that they have it wrong. But it is important to know the facts. The eyewitnesses of Jesus point us to Jesus. The most important question you can ask yourself at this season of the year or any season of the year is: do you know Jesus?

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