Several of us had a Skype conversation on our snowbound Sunday (December 20th) and there were several excellent questions, a couple of which I thought I’d post here for others to see.
- [Ok john... (1) When was Jesus really born (2) Why is it celebrated on Dec. 25th?
Pastor John: Two good questions. First, by most modern accounts Jesus was most likely born between 3-6 BC. We get that date by using the dates we have for Herod's reign, Pilate's reign and then dating backwards using the best [information] we have for Jesus' age at the time.
Our current system of AD and BC was developed hundreds of years ago using the best data [available] at the time, but they didn't have a lot of archaeological stuff that we have now. We've only had independent (outside the Bible) confirmation that Pilate even existed for about 50 years or so.
Why is Jesus' birth celebrated on the 25th? A lot of answers to that one and the bottom line is - we don't know for sure. Here are some of the best answers we have.
In the 200's, one of the early church father's suggested that Jesus was conceived on the Spring equinox. That, more than anything, popularized the idea that he was born in December, specifically the 25th.
There's also a manuscript from the 350's that gives the date as December 25th.
December 25th also corresponds to some of the pagan holy day celebrations of the Roman period of the early church. There's a lot of speculation that the church settled on the December date so that Christians had a festival to go to while all the pagans were going to their festival. It served as a sort of "replacement" for early converts. Since the exact date really didn't seem to matter - they settled on one that worked in a more practical way.
- [Ok if's that's the case...then why are the pagans so damned and the Bible says in some verses that "do not do as the pagans do, when they have such similar relations taken from them....and yet shunned now a days???
Pastor John: Those quotes (and there are several) "do not do as the pagans do" are referring to the specific practices that took place during the pagan celebrations. The mystery religions were very popular in Rome during the time of the early church as well as the Saturnalia festival and Bacchanal. All of them had at least several things in common: public drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, and general overindulgence (especially eating).
When Paul says, "don't do as the pagans do" he's referring specifically to those things. Don't get drunk and run the streets like fools. Don't participate in the sexual immorality of the festivals, don't overeat until you vomit, don't overindulge the appetites of your flesh.
It wasn’t referring to the specific dates, but the specific practices of the pagan festivals.