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Kevin H

How did we really get December 25 as the birth of Jesus?

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Kevin H

First of all I do not believe that Jesus was born on December 25. This post is only about fairly new discoveries in church history as to how we got December 25 for Christmas. The two major sources for this post is last year's Bible Archaeology review (December 2009) and the Nov-December issue of Bible Review in I forgot the exact year, but either 2001, 2002 or 2003. You can look up these journals and read the articles for further study.

During the dark ages scholars, using the best information they had available to them at that time, came to the conclusion that December 25 was celebrated as Christmas in the 4th century AD, when Constantine made Christianity a legal religion, and that since December 25 was a pagan holiday it was easier to just keep the holiday but change the emphasis to the birth of Jesus.

But over the years more ancient documents have been discovered, and with communications the documents have much wider circulation. Especially with the rise of Archaeology over the last half of the 19th century and through out the 20th century, there is a lot more sources to study than what our dark ages scholar had.

It is now known that, while not a major holiday, that during the 3rd century, 100 years before Constantine, Christians hiding in the Catacombs, who wanted nothing to do with Paganism, believed that Jesus was born on December 25. So we cannot say that the church only wanted to make it easier for the pagans by choosing a pagan holiday, and scholars needed to discover why the Anti-Pagan Christians living in the 3rd century, about 200 years after the birth of Jesus, believed he was born on December 25.

For that they had to turn to second century Christianity and intertestamental Jewish tradition.

Until 135 AD Christianity was a part of Judaism. In 135 AD the Church and Synagogue split into two separate religions. As with a divorce both sides had mixed feelings of anger and hurt, both sides were partially in the right and partially in the wrong. A strong sense of anti-Jewishness and an anti-Jewish interpretation of the Bible was developed by Christians. Some doctrines that were held in common were split in half with post 135 AD Jews teaching part of the doctrine and the Christians teaching part of the doctrine but where it was no longer a whole doctrine as it was prior to 135 AD. It was a very sad time in both Christian and Jewish history.

During the second century AD the church had a feast that they would celebrate every year at Passover; the feast of the annunciation. It was believed that Gabriel came to Mary on Passover to announce that she was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. It was also during the second century that the church distancing it self from Judaism they stopped using the Jewish calendar and started to use the Roman calendar that we use today. That year Passover fell on March 25 (although the Rabbis in Greece said that it fell on April 6). Since that year instead of celebrating the feast of the Annunciation whenever the Jews were celebrating Passover, the western church would celebrate every year on March 25 and the Greek churches would celebrate on April 6.... Guess what is 9 months from March 25?

December 25 was not picked as the birth of Jesus. Passover was picked for the announcement to Mary. The church celebrated the announcement on Passover every year until they changed calendars and then started to celebrate every March 25. 100 years later folks added 9 months to the March 25 holiday and TA-DA! in the 3rd century we have December 25 as the birth of Jesus. In the 4th century with Constantine it was not the picking December 25 to be the birth of Jesus because it was a pagan holiday, but if anything it would have been a day held in common as important. December 25 was seen as the birth of Jesus for about 100 years by the time Constantine came along.

Ok, so how did the church start to celebrate the feast of the annunciation with Passover? Here we have to turn to Jewish tradition. The Rabbis said that you were to expect good things to happen at Passover. They taught that it was Passover when Sarah conceived Isaac, the child of promise, and that it was another Passover that Abraham took Isaac to sacrifice him to the Lord. Part of the Passover celebration was the celebration of Isaac being conserved. And thus it was believed that Isaac was born about 9 months after Passover, in the Jewish calendar with in our month of December, occasionally landing on December 25. When Jesus was a little boy they would celebrate the birth of Isaac, the child of promise, during this time of year. This season was not a major temple feast, but it was already in Jewish and early Christian tradition that Isaac was born around this season.

After 135 AD the Christians wanted to prove that Jesus was better than Isaac. They wanted Isaac to be foreshadowing Jesus. That like Isaac, Jesus was sacrificed on Passover, and that Jesus was the true Passover sacrifice and thus better than Isaac. In continuing the analogy the church said that just as Isaac was conserved on Passover, that it was Passover that Gabriel came to Mary and where she became pregnant with Jesus. The church began celebrating the annunciation every year on Passover. They changed calendars on a year that most Jews celebrated Passover on March 25 and every year thereafter they celebrated this feast on March 25. Adding 9 months to March 25 we ended up having December 25 seen as the birth of Jesus. This still does not MAKE December 25 the actual birthday of Jesus, but only an update of the dark ages study as to why the church picked December 25 as the birth of Jesus. Therefore we got December 25 from Jewish tradition, not paganism. Granted Jewish tradition is not necessary accurate and we know Jesus' relationship with Jewish tradition. However to be up to date and accurate we need to not say that we got December 25 from compromising with the pagans, but we got it from Jewish tradition, and realizing that the church saw December 25 as the birth of Jesus at least 100 years before the time of Constantine, and in a secondary sense 200 years before Constantine. Now the paganism may have made it a more important holiday and cause it to spread, but it is not the ORGIN of December 25 being seen as the birth of Jesus.

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That's interesting, Kevin. Do you have a reference for the early belief among Christians in Dec 25 as Christ's birth date?

By the third century, false doctrines were already finding their way into the church. In fact, false teachings and beliefs were influencing the earling church in the first century, before the apostles had died.

I agree with what Ellen White wrote about Christmas. The main thing is that we make Christmas a time for celebrating the life and teaching of Christ. We should take advantage of this time of year to draw people's attention to the greatest gift of all, Jesus.

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Kevin H

The reference is in the first paragraph; I mostly got this and you can find foot notes for even further study in the December 2010 Bible Archaeology Review and the November-December issue of Bible Review (I forgot which year but either 2001, 2002 or 2003).

And all I'm saying is that the evidence points to December 25 being based on Jewish tradition, mixed with events of the church-synogogue split. That December 25 was not the goal date, but secondary result from passover one year landing on March 25 and the church changing calendar to keep March 25 a feast day celebrating the announciation and eventually they added 9 months to be the birth of Jesus.

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