When was Jesus born? By calculating temple’s age, Herod…


Jesus Christ has changed history and many millions of people, not just in Israel, but the whole world.

Jesus’ enemies couldn’t fault his life, nor deny his miracles. They couldn’t stop the massive crowds from following him.

The bottom line was that they wanted him killed because they were jealous of his impact on the crowds and they were scared that their ‘reign’ would come to end and that the Romans would crush the Jews.

Table Of Contents for: When was Jesus born by calculating temple’s age, king Herod, Jesus’ baptism…

A stable with Jesus and the shepherds. When was Jesus born? By calculating temple's age, Herod...
‘An exhibit at Christus Biblical Gardens, Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The Birth of Jesus Christ.’ [i] When was Jesus born?

Our yearly calendar is based on Jesus’ birth

But the calculation by Dionysius Exiguus, a monk, got it slightly wrong.

The calendar era is based on the traditionally reckoned year of the conception or birth of Jesus, with AD counting years from the start of this epoch and BC denoting years before the start of the era.
There is no year zero in this scheme; thus the year AD 1 immediately follows the year 1 BC.
This dating system was devised in 525 by Dionysius Exiguus of Scythia Minor, but was not widely used until the 9th century.

‘Anno Domini’ Wikipedia [ii]

Trying to calculate a definite month for when Jesus was born, we could use this calculation and deduce that it was in September:

…we can approximate the month of Jesus’ birth to be around the time of Tishri (mid to late September).
To arrive at this date, start at the conception of John the Baptist, Sivan (June),
count forward six months to arrive at Gabriel’s announcement of the conception of Jesus, Kislev (December),
then count forward nine more months, the time it takes for human gestation, to reach Tishri (September), when Jesus was born.”

‘When was Jesus born?’ BibleInfo [xii]

So what is the assumed correct year of Jesus’ birth?

Many theologians assume the date to be 6, 5 or 4 B.C. [xi]

While this is sometimes debated, the majority of New Testament scholars place Jesus’ birth in 4 B.C. or before.
This is because most date the death of King Herod the Great to 4 B.C.

‘When Was Jesus Born—B.C. or A.D.?’ by Megan Sauter Biblical Archaeology Society [xiii]

But, as we will see later, the date of Herod’s death is now debateable.

So we can make some calculations based on certain historical facts, these being:

  • The crucifixion
  • Jesus’ baptism
  • The temple’s age
  • King Herod’s reign
  • The Roman census

Although some of these events are not definitive dates.

When was Jesus born? – Counting back from the crucifixion

  • We could put a year on Jesus’ birth by counting back from his crucifixion:
    Contemporary scholars put the most likely date of the crucifixion of Jesus on the fourteenth of Nisan (7 April) 30 A.D.
    Another preferred date among scholars is Friday, April 3, 33 A.D.

Taking the information above into consideration along with this verse:

Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.”

Luke 3:23

If Jesus’ crucifixion was in 30 A.D. with three and a half years of ministry the timescale would look like this:

  • 30 AD April crucifixion.
  • 26 AD September Jesus’ baptism (30 years old).
  • 4 BC April or September Jesus born.

If Jesus’ crucifixion was in 31 A.D. with three and a half years of ministry the timescale would look like this:

  • 31 AD April crucifixion.
  • 27 AD September Jesus’ baptism (30 years old).
  • 3 BC April or September Jesus born.

But if his crucifixion was in 33 A.D. with three and a half years of ministry the timescale would look like this:

  • 33 AD April crucifixion.
  • 29 AD September Jesus’ baptism (30 years old).
  • 1 BC April or September born.

There is a very interesting article suggesting Wednesday 25th April 31 AD for Jesus’ crucifixion:

A Passover on Wednesday is the only day of the week that works with all Biblical accounts of the crucifixion.
Yahshua was in the grave “three days and three nights” Matthew 12:40.
From Wednesday just before sunset [even] to Saturday just before sunset [even] is three days and three nights.
The fact that the day following Yahshua’s crucifixion was a Sabbath (Mark 15:42, Luke 23:52-54, & John 19:31) does not prove He was crucified on a Friday.
According to the Law of Moses, the day following Passover (which is also the first day of the feast of unleavened bread) is also, always a Sabbath day of rest to be observed like the 7th day weekly Sabbath no matter what day of the week it falls on. (See Leviticus 23:4-8, Numbers 28:16-18, and take special notice of John 19:31 again.
The Sabbath immediately following Yahshua’s crucifixion was no ordinary Sabbath.)
Understanding that it was a Wednesday Passover and crucifixion also solves apparent conflicts in the Gospel records.
In Luke 23:55,56 it says that the women (Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James) went and prepared anointing spices and oils BEFORE the Sabbath.
In Mark 16:1 it says that they bought them AFTER the Sabbath!
The answer lies is in the fact that there are two different Sabbaths being referred to here.
The women both bought and prepared the spices on the same day.
The day of the week was Friday.
When Mark says they bought the spices AFTER the Sabbath, the Sabbath he is referring to was the special Thursday Sabbath …
the first day of unleavened bread that followed the day of Passover.
When Luke says they prepared the spices and then rested the Sabbath, the Sabbath he is referring to is Saturday …
the weekly Sabbath.
There is also proof found in Matthew 28:1 that there were two Sabbaths.
Most Bible translations render this word “Sabbath” in the singular because translators, believing the traditional Friday crucifixion scenario, couldn’t make any sense of the fact that the Greek manuscripts all render this word in the plural.
This fact can be verified by anyone with a Greek interlinear translation or Greek lexicon.”

‘Passover dates 26-34 A.D.’ by Intercontinental Church of God [xiv]

So we’ve got a date between 1 and 4 BC for Jesus’ birth.

When was Jesus born? – Counting back from Jesus’ baptism

  • If we take the fact that Jesus was “about 30 years of age” at the start of his ministry (Luke 3:23) that would mean that he got baptized by John the Baptist at this time which Luke tells us is:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar…”

Luke 3:1

Here is the logic of Tiberius’ reign and Jesus’ baptism:

as far as is known, ancient sources always counted Tiberius’ reign as commencing after the death of Augustus.
(…surviving coins and inscriptions also reckon Tiberius’ reign from either January 1 or August 19, A.D. 14.)
The reckoning of Tiberius’ fifteenth year as A.D. 29 is confirmed by John 2:13, 20, 23.
Jesus’ first Passover following his baptism, which should have occurred in A.D. 30 if Jesus was baptized in the summer of A.D. 29.”

‘When Did Herod the Great Reign?’ by Andrew E. Steinmann [v]
  • Scholars estimate this year at about 28–29 A.D. when Jesus got baptised and started his public ministry.
    So if we give Jesus’ age as 30 at the start of his ministry, by working backwards from this then Jesus would have been born in 1-2 B.C.
    Or if we give Jesus’ age as 32 at the start of his ministry, then working backwards from this Jesus would have been born in 3-4 B.C.

But John P. Pratt makes some very good points:

Christ made a point of fulfilling the law of Moses in every detail (Mat. 5:17), which would have included beginning his public ministry at age 30 (Num. 4:3).
He apparently began his public ministry at the Passover in A.D. 30 (after his baptism) because:
1) his first miracle was done rather secretly “not many days” before that Passover (John 2:9-13);
2) at that time he said, “mine hour is not yet come” (John 2:4), suggesting that the time for his public ministry had not arrived because he was not yet thirty; and
3) he then openly taught and did miracles at Passover (John 2:23), implying that he was then thirty.
If so, Christ was born in the spring of 1 B.C., on or shortly before Passover.”

‘Yet Another Eclipse for Herod’ by John P. Pratt [vi]

When was Jesus born? – By calculating the temple’s age

  • This date is independently confirmed by the Jews in the temple at the time Jesus overturned the money changers tables, as recorded by the Apostle John:

They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ “

John 2:20
  • So the Temple was 46 years old when Jesus began his ministry during Passover, which corresponds to around 28–29 AD according to scholarly estimates.

In John 2:20, Jesus’ opposition notes ‘this temple has been built for forty-six years.’
Josephus reports that Herod began the Temple in the year that Caesar came to Syria and that this was ten years after the Battle of Actium (Ant. 15.354; War 1.398–399.
Actium was fought on September 2, 31 B.C.).
Therefore, the temple construction began sometime after the spring of 20 B.C.
The temple building itself was completed in one year and six months—in late 19 or, more likely, in 18 B.C. (Ant. 15.421;
the rest of the temple precincts were completed after eight years of work [12 B.C.], Ant. 15:420.)
Thus, the forty-sixth anniversary of the completion of Herod’s temple would have occurred in late A.D. 28 or 29.
If it was in A.D. 29 the following Passover would have been in spring, A.D. 30.

‘When Did Herod the Great Reign?’ by Andrew E. Steinmann [v]
  • If we give Jesus’ age as 30 at that point, by working backwards from this then Jesus would have been born in 1-2 B.C.
  • Or if we give Jesus’ age as 32 at that point, by working backwards from this then Jesus would have been born in 3-5 B.C.

When was Jesus born? – Calculating king Herod’s reign

King Herod marble statue. When was Jesus born? By calculating temple's age, Herod...
Marble statue presumed to be king Herod. The figure’s crossed legs, often seen in representations of Herod commanding the Massacre of the Innocents, are seen as a sign of disrespect. [iii]
  • Both Luke and Matthew associate Jesus’ birth with the time of Herod the Great:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.”

Matthew 2:1
  • Jesus could have been as much as two years old at the time of the visit of the Magi, because Herod ordered the murder of all boys up to the age of two years.

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”

Matthew 2:16
  • c. 4 B.C. (uncertain) king Herod died (traditional date 1 B.C.) The kingdom is split between 3 of his sons: Antipas, Archelaus and Philip.
    So if Herod died in 4 B.C. then Jesus could have been born in 5-6 B.C.
  • Another theory is that Herod’s death was later:
    January eclipse of 1 B.C.
    December eclipse of 1 B.C.
    If Herod died in 1 B.C. Jesus could have been born in 2-4 B.C.

In Josephus’ account, Herod’s death was preceded by a lunar eclipse and followed by Passover.
A partial eclipse best observed from the west coast of Africa, took place on March 13, 4 BC, about 29 days before Passover. Whilst this eclipse has been suggested as the one referred to by Josephus, there were other eclipses during this period, with proponents of 5 BC and the two eclipses of 1 BC occurring January 10, being the most spectacular total lunar eclipse and December 29, another only partial eclipse.”

‘Herod the Great’ Wikipedia [iv]

Here are some more thoughts on Herod’s death being 1 BC and Jesus’ birth being 4 BC, 3 BC or 2 BC:

All early Christian sources place the birth of Jesus after Passover in 4 B.C., with most of them placing it in sometime in late 3 or early 2 B.C.
Since Jesus was born before the death of Herod according to Matt 2:1–19, these sources imply that Herod died after 4 B.C…
These challenges led Finegan to abandon the Schürer consensus to endorse a date of 3/2 B.C. for the birth of Christ and a date of 1 B.C. for the death of Herod in the revised edition of his ‘Handbook of Biblical Chronology’.
In keeping with the information supplied by Josephus, this revised end date for Herod’s reign is chosen to align Herod’s death with a total eclipse of the moon on January 10, 1 B.C., about twelve weeks before the Passover on April 11 that year.”

‘When Did Herod the Great Reign?’ by Andrew E. Steinmann [v]

When was Jesus born? – Calculating when the census was

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)”

Luke 2:1-2
  • The Jewish historian Josephus in his book Antiquities of the Jews (written c. AD 93) gives the census as sometime between 6–7.A.D.
    But Herod died many years before this so most scholars discount this census.
    Tertullian believed, (writing two centuries later) that there were a number of censuses done under Saturninus (he died 100 B.C.) so more may have been carried out in Caesar Augustus’ time.
    Some biblical scholars and commentators believe that the text in Luke can be read as ‘registration before Quirinius was governor of Syria’.

Until recently, no empire-wide enrolment (Luke 2:1) was known that would have been required of Joseph and Mary;
The commonly cited taxation of 8 B.C. applied only to Roman citizens.
Now Martin has identified it as a combined census and oath of allegiance to Augustus in 3-2 B.C., perhaps related to the bestowal of the title “pater patriae” (father of thy country) by the senate on Feb. 5, 2 B.C.[vii]
Josephus records that over 6,000 Pharisees refused to pledge their good will to Caesar (about a year or so before Herod died),[viii] probably referring to that oath because the census would have recorded how many refused.
Orosius (a fifth century historian) clearly links an oath to the registration at the birth of Christ:
‘[Augustus] ordered that a census be taken of each province everywhere and that all men be enrolled. So at that time, Christ was born and was entered on the Roman census list as soon as he was born. This is the earliest and most famous public acknowledgment which marked Caesar as the first of all men and the Romans as lords of the world … that first and greatest census was taken, since in this one name of Caesar all the peoples of the great nations took oath, and at the same time, through the participation in the census, were made part of one society.'[ix]
He identified the time of the census using two Roman systems that both agree to indicate 2 B.C.[x]
This implies a lower limit for Herod’s death of 2 B.C.”

‘Yet Another Eclipse for Herod’ by John P. Pratt [vi]

So it looks like Jesus’ birth was around 2 BC.

Conclusion to when Jesus was born

Taking the evidence of the crucifixion, Jesus’ baptism, the temple’s age, king Herod’s reign and the Roman census a fair, broad, assumption would be that Jesus was born between 1 and 4 B.C.

Do you think we can get any closer to getting a more precise date for when Jesus was born?

References:
[i] ‘An exhibit at Christus Biblical Gardens, Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The Birth of Jesus Christ.’ RG 82: Tennessee Department of Conservation Photograph Collection, 1937-1976
[ii] ‘Anno Domini’ Wikipedia
[iii] ‘Seated King, Probably Herod ca. 1300–1350’ O.A. Public Domain
[iv] ‘Herod the Great’ Wikipedia
[v] ‘When Did Herod the Great Reign?’ by Andrew E. Steinmann
[vi] ‘Yet Another Eclipse for Herod’ by John P. Pratt
[vii] Res Gestae 35; Ovid, Fasti 2.129.
[viii] Ant. XVII.ii.4.
[ix] Orosius, Adv. Pag. VI.22.7, VII.2.16; trans. by Deferrari, R.J. The Fathers of the Church (Washington, D.C.: Catholic U. Press, 1964), vol. 50, p. 281, 287.
[x] A.U.C. 752 = Augustus’ 42nd year = 2 B.C. (Adv. Pag. VI.22.1, VI.22.5, VII.2.14).
[xi] Dunn, James DG (2003). “Jesus Remembered”. Eerdmans Publishing: 344
[xii] ‘When was Jesus born?’ BibleInfo
[xiii] ‘When Was Jesus Born—B.C. or A.D.?’ by Megan Sauter Biblical Archaeology Society
[xiv] ‘Passover dates 26-34 A.D.’ by Intercontinental Church of God

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