What Year Was Jesus Born?

Monday, December 9, 2013

The picture isn’t Jesus. It’s Herod the Great (also known as Herod I). And it’s because of him that we know Jesus wasn’t born in 1 A.D.

Matthew and Luke both tell us that Jesus was born during the reign of “Herod.” (See Matthew 2:1 and Luke 1:5.) Furthermore, this Herod died while Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus were in Egypt, and then Herod’s son Archelaus took over. (See Matthew 2:19-22.) Putting this together with other historical information, Biblical scholars agree that Jesus must have been born during the reign of Herod the Great.

(Historical evidence also tells us that Archelaus was soon replaced by his brother, Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas is the one who had John the Baptist beheaded and reviled Jesus before his crucifixion.)

Most historians place Herod the Great’s death in 4 B.C., although some date it as early as 5 B.C. or as late as 1 B.C. Unfortunately for our B.C./A.D. distinction, Herod the Great died too early. The sixth century monk Dionysius developed this dating system to revolve around the birth of Christ. (A.D. stands for anno Domini, which means “in the year of our Lord.") But given the probable date of Herod’s death, it’s likely that Jesus was born around 5 B.C. This means that Dionysius must have been at least one year but probably four to five years off.

So if you want to confuse your friends, tell them it’s 2018 A.D.

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For more information on the historical circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth, see In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church, by Paul L. Maier.


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