Info Center > Mysteries of the Bible Notes >

When Was Jesus Born?

The Christmas season is a special time of year all around the world, with its wintry manger scenes in straw-filled wooden barns. However as endearing as these images are, in light of history and Biblical evidence, these re-creations are not quite accurate.

The New Testament doesn’t tell us the exact time of year when Christ was born and gives no indication Christ’s “birthday” was in December. However, we do have one clue that the time was not during the winter months. Luke states in Luke 2:8 that, “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

In Palestine (where Christ was born), the grain crops were grown in the winter during the rainy season. Animals were not permitted in the fields during the growing season because they would walk on and trample the stalks. After the grain was harvested, the sheep and goats were allowed to graze the stubble and fertilize the fields.

The birth of Jesus was first celebrated on December 25th in the fourth century. Up until then, that date marked the weeklong celebration of Saturnalia, one of the most popular celebrations of the ancient Roman Empire. The festival was a celebration of the dedication of the temple built in honor of the Roman god, Saturn, who was the god of agriculture, justice, and strength (the planet, Saturn, and our favorite day of the week was named for him). After the Roman Empire became Christianized, the pagan festival was turned a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ.

The familiar picture of Joseph and Mary being turned away from the inn at Bethlehem is also inaccurate as well. We read in Luke’s gospel that Mary delivered Jesus and laid him in a manger “because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:7).” The Greek word that was translated “inn” actually means a guest room. There would’ve been walled enclosures in the countryside where travelers and their animals could stay, but there were no “inns” or hotels in first-century Judea. People didn’t travel much, and if they did, they usually stayed with distant relatives.