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When Was Jesus Born?

Question:

When was Jesus born?

Answer:

The first Christians were not concerned with the date of Christ’s birth nor with celebrating it. Origen (d. 255), Irenaeus (d. 202), and Tertullian (d. 220) do not include Christmas or its date on their lists of feasts and celebrations.

The earliest attempts to date the birth of Christ produced various results:

  • Circa 200, Clement of Alexandria noted that Christians in Egypt believed Jesus was born on May 20.
  • De paschæ computus, written in 243, notes the some groups of Christians celebrated the feast of Christ’s birth on March 28 and others on April 19/20.
  • The writings of Theophilus (d.181) and Hippolytus (d. 240) mention that Christ was born on December 25.
  • Fourth- and fifth-century writings mention December 25 as an ancient and widespread feast of Christ’s birth.
  • Many ancient writings, especially in the East, place the celebration on January 6 but usually combined with what we now celebrate separately with the Epiphany.

The Church chose December 25 due to its ancient origin and widespread acceptance. No other date was accepted by more Christians for a longer or older period of time. However, we should note that although the Church chooses this date to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, it is not declaring de fide that it is the literal date he was born.

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