When Was Jesus Born? Inside The Enduring Mystery

Published February 17, 2024
Updated March 14, 2024

Jesus Christ was likely born sometime between 6 and 4 B.C.E. — but no one knows the exact date.

Christmas traditions around the world celebrate the holiday as a commemoration of Jesus Christ’s birth. But the truth behind his birthdate is much more complicated. So when was Jesus born?

For starters, he was probably not born on December 25th. He was likely not born in the month of December at all, or even during the wintertime. Indeed, significant mystery surrounds the real birthdate of Jesus Christ.

But theories have emerged about when Jesus was actually born — and why his birth is traditionally celebrated on Christmas Day.

What Year Was Jesus Born?

When Was Jesus Born

Public DomainWhen was Jesus born? This question has fascinated religious scholars for centuries.

Some Christian calendars imply that Jesus was born in 1 C.E. — often stylized as 1 A.D. for Anno Domini (“in the year of the Lord”). But no matter how the year is formatted, Jesus was likely born earlier than that.

Most scholars place Jesus Christ’s birth year somewhere between 7 B.C.E. and 1 B.C.E. And some narrow the range down to 6 B.C.E. and 4 B.C.E. due to a Biblical story about King Herod the Great. Herod allegedly ordered the deaths of all male children under age two living near Bethlehem, the town where the Christian Messiah was born. This brutal “Massacre of the Innocents,” intended to kill baby Jesus, occurred just before Herod’s death.

Jesus Christ As An Infant

Public DomainJesus Christ as an infant, depicted in Gerard van Honthorst’s Adoration of the Shepherds (circa 1622).

Because many scholars — though not all — believe that Herod died in 4 B.C.E., they think that Jesus must have been born shortly before then.

Christianity.com has documented some other clues about Jesus’ birth year. For example, the Gospel of Luke describes how the Virgin Mary and Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, traveled to “Bethlehem the town of David” to register for a census decreed by Caesar Augustus. “While they were there,” the Bible says, “the time came for the baby to be born.” There is some historical evidence that the census in question occurred between 6 B.C.E. and 4 B.C.E., offering further hints about when Jesus was born.

Points like these — though there is little historical proof of the Biblical Massacre of the Innocents — suggest that Jesus was possibly born sometime between 6 B.C.E. and King Herod’s death in 4 B.C.E.

While we may never know exactly what year Jesus was born, we’re able to narrow it down to a few possibilities. But what month was Jesus born?

The Ongoing Debate Over The Exact Month When Jesus Was Born

Though many Christians celebrate December 25th as Jesus Christ’s birthday — and some Orthodox Christians celebrate January 7th as his birthday — it’s probable that Jesus was not born in the winter at all. That said, his exact month of birth is unclear, as the Bible offers no specific dates.

Thus, scholars have had to rely on other evidence, from celestial events to harvest patterns, to guess which month Jesus was born.

When Jesus Christ Was Born

North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy Stock PhotoThe Bible describes how the Magi, or Wise Men, followed a bright star to Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem.

If celestial events are to be taken into account, then the Biblical Star of Bethlehem — which the Magi (or Wise Men) purportedly followed to Jesus’ birthplace — could have actually been a conjunction between planets. In June of 2 B.C.E., Venus and Jupiter came together and shone brightly in the night sky. There was also a conjunction between Saturn and Jupiter that happened in October of 7 B.C.E.

There’s other evidence that suggests that Jesus was born in the autumn. As Christianity.com notes, shepherds of the day sent their sheep out to pasture between spring and October, after which the sheep would return to the fields. Since the Bible notes that shepherds were still tending to their flocks when angels emerged to announce the news of Jesus Christ’s birth, some religious scholars believe this event happened no later than October.

Other Biblical events, like priestly courses, seem to suggest that Jesus was born around the Jewish month Tishri, which usually falls in September.

Then again, scholars have also come up with other theories. Live Science reports that religious scholar Ignacio L. Götz suggested that Jesus was actually born in the springtime, because most women of the era typically got pregnant after the fall harvest. (Though this theory perhaps ignores the Christian belief that Jesus was the Son of God and therefore the Virgin Mary probably wouldn’t have had a “typical” pregnancy.)

In any case, evidence exists for Jesus’ birth in the fall and the springtime — but not so much in the winter. So here’s why scholars believe that most Christians celebrate his birthday on December 25th in modern times.

Why December 25th Was Chosen As The Date Of Jesus’ Birth

In the first couple of centuries after Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, most Christians were more interested in Easter, which commemorated Jesus’ death and resurrection, than any holiday celebrating his birth. But as Christianity spread throughout the Roman world, this changed.

As HISTORY reports, Roman Emperor Constantine I converted to Christianity in 312 C.E., and church leaders soon looked for a way to replace popular pagan rituals with Christian festivities. Since Romans of the time celebrated Saturnalia in honor of the deity Saturn around the winter solstice, church leaders may have chosen to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth around the same time. And, thus, December 25th was chosen as Jesus’ birthdate.

The Baptism Of Constantine

Public DomainThe Baptism of Constantine, painted by the assistants of Italian Renaissance painter Raphael.

However, The Washington Post has also reported that a few scholars take issue with the theory of Christmas’ pagan-inspired origins since it’s not found in any ancient Christian writings and writers of that time period don’t seem to think the December 25th date was chosen by the church.

But whether or not the date was pagan-inspired, other Christmas traditions certainly were. Rituals like yule logs and decorated trees can be traced back to the pagans, who often used such objects to celebrate the winter solstice.

As such, the question of when Jesus Christ was born remains a mystery. It’s difficult to determine the exact year that Jesus was born, just as it’s a challenge to identify the exact month. Without any specific details offered in the Bible, answering the question “When was Jesus born?” involves a significant amount of guesswork. And there may never be a definite answer.

After reading the evidence about when Jesus Christ was born, find the answers to other frequently asked questions about the Christian Messiah like “What was Jesus’ real name?” and “How tall was Jesus?”

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Citation copied
Cite This Article
Fraga, Kaleena. "When Was Jesus Born? Inside The Enduring Mystery." AllThatsInteresting.com, February 17, 2024, https://allthatsinteresting.com/when-was-jesus-born. Accessed May 23, 2024.