03.06.02 6 – 5 B.C. The Birth of Jesus
Nearly all scholars today agree that Jesus was born in 6 or 5 B.C. Yet this seems hardly possible to the novice who would wonder how Jesus could have been born 6 or 5 years “before Christ.” This miscalculation occurred in 533, when Dionysius Exiguous (Exiguous meaning insignificant) was commissioned by Pope John I to reckon a calendar to determine the date of the birth of Christ. He carefully made his calculation and decided that March 25 was the day of the conception of Jesus, which was celebrated in the church’s Feast of Annunciation. This day was also to be the first day of the New Year in his calendar. By the time the error was discovered, people had been using the calendar too long as a basis for writing history, that the change was not made.
If one considers that Jesus was born in 5 B.C., then according to the Roman calendar that birth date would be 748 A.U.C. ab urbe condita, meaning “from the founding of the city.” In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII sponsored the research and development of a new calendar that is now known as the Gregorian Calendar. It replaced the Julian Calendar that had been used since the year 45 B.C. It was Pope Gregory who introduced the years “B.C.,” meaning “before Christ,” and the Latin term ab incarnatione Domini meaning, “from the incarnation of the Lord.”  But the term was changed in later traditions to anno Domini, meaning, “In the year of our Lord.” More recently, B.C. has been replaced with B.C.E. “before Common Era,” and A.D. has been replaced with C.E. meaning “Common Era.” Since the pope used the calculations of Dionysius, the errors of Christ’s birth remain unchanged.
The birth of Jesus was placed on December 25, a pagan holiday in the Roman Empire. The Roman festival was the feast of Sol Invictus, meaning the Unconquerable Sun, and was a few days from the feast of Saturnalia that the Romans incorrectly thought was the winter solstice of December 25 (instead of December 21). Since the pagans were already celebrating various gods, Dionysius simply added the birth of Christ to their celebration without any real evidence of the actual date of birth. Unfortunately, Dionysius was less than accurate by at least four years in calculating the year of the birth, since Herod died in 4 B.C. While the actual day of the birth of Jesus remains unknown, recent Messianic scholarship has offered some clues that will be discussed later.
. Geating. “The Star of Bethlehem.” 121.
. Maier, In the Fullness of Time. 24-25.
. Cosby, Interpreting Biblical Literature. 299.
. Finegan, Handbook rev. ed., 1964, 132.
. Maier, In the Fullness of Time. 10, 29.
. Keller, W. The Bible as History. 366.
. See 04.03.10.Q2 “When was Jesus born?”