Which year was Jesus born? 7 BC, 4 BC, 1 BC ... or 0 AD?
It can be quite confusing hearing that Jesus was born on either 3 BC or 4 BC… or was it 5 BC? Especially when we logically think that Jesus should be born on 0 AD, as isn’t all history framed around this significant date!!?? And because “AD” means “Anno Domini” translated as “the year of our Lord”... to say that Jesus was born in "BC" seems like madness, because how can He be born “Before Christ”? So which is it? 7BC, 4BC, 1BC or 0AD? Why the importance? And who really cares?
Yes, this debate is really for the historian, as biblical literature discontinues its timeline past the Persian Empire (stopping at the 32nd year of King Artaxerxes). And although we have the Apocrypha and other historical records (e.g. the Greek historian Herodotus), none have given enough recorded information so as to accurately map events. Only the Bible has been a definitive source of chronology, mapping the first 3500 years of mankind’s history fairly accurately… followed by a ‘pause’ for nearly 500 years, and then picking up again with the New Testament providing a rough narrative of the birth of Jesus and the Church (journaling approximately 100 years). Overall, the more information the historian attains enables the mapping of events precisely.
To add to this complex issue, the conquering empires have changed the current calendar so as to integrate their god names, holidays and celebrative ceremonies. In other words, the Assyrian Calendar, the Babylonian Calendar, the Persian Calendar, the Greek Calendar, the Roman Calendar, the Julian Calendar; the Gregorian Calendar all start their year in different seasons… which means with each change, that there is potentially a 6 month variance from empire to empire, affecting up to several years in total.
Nevertheless, in relation to mysterious birth year of Jesus, the following argument provides a framework to help solve this mystery:
Census of Quirinus (Luke 2:1-5 and the Antiquities of the Jews):
There is immediate confusion here as for some reason scholars remind us of what Josephus writes in “the Antiquities of the Jews” (circa 93 AD) asserting that the “taxings conducted by Quirinius while governing Syria were made in the thirty-seventh year of Caesar’s victory over [Marc] Anthony at Actium”… therefore arguing that this would place the “census” around 6 AD (approx. 10 years after Jesus’ birth)… which when contrasted to the Book of Luke, there is seemingly a different Governor called Cyrenius (and not Quirinus) within the text, and that Caesar Augustus initiated the census.
Closer examination of Luke’s word “apographo”, means “taxed” or “written”. This concept of being “taxed”/”written” does not make sense to our western minds… and so the translators have attributed the word to mean “registered”… which then developed into the word “census”. Overall two degrees of separation from its original meaning.
Furthermore the phrase “ginomai protos ginomai” translates to “came to pass first came to pass” where the translators have adapted to read “taxing was first made”. However, when we read the word “first”, we tend to interpret the text to mean that this was when the “taxing began”… However the Greeks understood “first” to mean “priority” which implies that the taxing “accomplishments” reached a time of “greatness” during the time of Kurenios (Cyrenius) Governor of Syria… revealing that this was perhaps a difficult economic period for the people of the land… starting with Augustus and “ending” with Cyrenius.
In summary, Cyrenius is out of the picture in relation to the time around Jesus’ birth; but even with Luke stating that Caesar Augustus was around then, scholars do not know precise details around this information… and have subsequently positioned Augustus’ reign between 63 BC to 14 AD (according to general sources) which unfortunately provides no help to solving this riddle!!!
Jesus’ 30th year equates to Caesar Tiberius’ 15th year (Luke 3:23):
Fortunately scripture gives three famous rulers of the day: Caesar Tiberius (in his 15th year of power); Governor Pontius Pilate of Judea and Tetrarch Herod of Galilee… and that this was the same year that Jesus was about 30 years old (Luke 3:23).
Unfortunately having succumbed to Google, it states that Caesar Tiberius reigned from 14 AD to 37 AD, therefore making the 15th year equate to 29 AD. Pontius Pilate ruled from 25 AD to 36 AD, and Herod the Tetrarch reigned 4BC to 39 AD. So if 29 AD is correct, Caesar Tiberius’ 15th year would place Jesus’ birth at 1 BC.
However, there are also a number of other reputable sources that provide scholarly arguments that Caesar Tiberius’ reign started from 8 AD through to 12 AD… which then places Jesus’ birth within the range 7 BC through to 3 BC.
There is already contradiction with the above, as some argue that if King Herod the Great (Herod the Tetrarch's father) died in 5 or 4 BC… this logically changes the birth year of Jesus to potentially the same year (i.e. 5 or 4 BC).
Furthermore, with respect to Herod’s death, some scholars argue that due to the “Massacre of the Innocence” (where Herod killed all the children 2 years and under), they advocate that Jesus must have been 2 years old, which subsequently repositions the birth date of Jesus to 7 or 6 BC. This argument also seems logical as Joseph’s family escaped to Egypt for an unknown period of time so as to avoid Herod’s genocide (Matthew 2:15).
Herod’s Temple (John 2:20):
Fortunately all sources agree that Herod’s decree to rebuild the Temple was in 21 BC, and that he started restoration straight away. Thus when we consider John 2:20, Jesus was at the end of his ministry and publicly declared that he was going to “destroy the temple and rebuild it in 3 days”… to which the builders responded “You’re a Peanut!!” (I'm paraphrasing of course) because the Temple construction had taken some “46 years”. Now although we all realize that Jesus was not talking about the Temple but rather Himself, 46 years from 21 BC equates Jesus’ death in the year 25 AD… which subsequently positions His birth to be 7 BC.
Lunar Cycles & Astronomical Calculations:
Another topic of discussion is that scholars argue that Jesus’ death occurred on the Nisan 14th or Nisan 15th month (believed late March early April), yet they struggle to pinpoint the year. They therefore have looked to lunar eclipses, arguing that there is a connection with Luke 23:45 (which states that the “sun was darkened” on day of Jesus’ death). Their mathematical projections position the birth of Jesus to be in 0 AD (of course).
Personally, I see the “darkened sun” as a metaphorical expression of evil prevailing that dark day…. especially as there is no other historical evidence substantiating a “blood moon” (similar language to “darkened sun”). Additionally I perceive that any “lunar eclipse” calculations are from a stance of working backwards to achieve a bias… similar to those that use Jubilee Cycles (where without the original starting point of a cycle they are lost in their “patterns” for predicting events).
The Maggi Prediction:
Daniel 9’s 70 weeks prophecy has also been used to provide an argument. Although this prophecy is predominantly about the last 14 years of the Persian Empire, the next “490 year cycle” starts from 497 BC when Nehemiah completed the Temple Walls. Subtract 490 years (70 Weeks) equates to 7 BC.
And for those contending that Artaxerxes 32nd year could not possibly be 497 BC, please read my other Artaxerxes blog defending the actual chronology of Ezra and Nehemiah, rather than the chronology of Google.
So which is it? Which one are we to believe? Because there can only be one date!!!?
From the above:
· One non-biblical argument for 0 AD (based upon lunar cycles)
· A biblical argument from 7 BC to 1 BC (based upon evidence around Caesar Tiberius 15th year).
· Another biblical argument for 4 BC (based upon the year of King Herod’s death).
· But when considering if Jesus was 2 years old, a biblical argument for 7 or 6 BC.
· And we have a two more biblical arguments again supporting 7 BC (Herod’s decree and the Daniel 9 prophecy)
So… it would appear, by the weight of these arguments, information falls heavily on the year 7 BC.
Thus, until the historians find a way to re-calibrate and align ALL historical events back to 0 AD, (refocusing ALL of history around Jesus... which would be a massive accomplishment and very upsetting to the historians in general), then 7 BC remains true for now.