The Layman's Gospel Harmony

Period 1 -- Origins

About 3.5 Years, Spring to Fall, 7-4 BC
From the Magi's Heavenly Signs to the Holy Family's Return to Galilee from Egypt

As reported by:

Matthew 1:1 - 2:23
Luke 1:1 - 2:52
John 1:1-18

4,538 KJV Words

Is there a plausible historical basis for the much maligned December 25 birth of Christ?

If so, in what year?

The following graphic visualization of the plausible chronological basis for the birth narrative of Christ is a demonstration of the kind of illuminating, calendar-based analysis integrated throughout the systematic research method of The Layman's Gospel Harmony as it explores the historic plausibility of the complete gospel texts to test the classic Christian declaration that the Gospels are in fact accurate, reliable historic records. See the accompanying essay below the graph's adjoining legend for a summary of the classic birth narrative tradition and related issues.

The Birth Narrative of Christ vs. Modernism:

If the flashpoint in the modern anti-God philosophical assault on classical Christian faith is typically the historicity of the Gospels, then the Gospels' birth narrative of Christ is the Ground Zero of that attack.

Secular academia scoffs at the very idea of the nativity. Deconstructionist Christian scholarship reduces it to myth. Fringe elements within the Church, often driven by an anachronistic animus for the medieval Church, advocate poorly researched, subversive counter-theories which discredit classical doctrine and make the Church a laughing stock before the onlooking world.

Only in the last 200 years has Christianity abandoned the intellectually and spiritually rich classical Christian belief in Christ's December 25 birth. This deeply theological and historically grounded tradition has been abandoned and replaced by poorly researched speculations that the date was chosen by a corrupt medieval Church to conform to pagan solar feasts related to the winter solstice.

There is no evidence in the first four Christian centuries that Christians adopted pagan motifs and traditions. If anything, the evidence is exactly the opposite. Christianity began by rigorously differentiating itself from not just its Jewish heritage but from all pagan traditions at least into the fourth century. The historic evidence clearly shows the December 25 birth tradition precedes any Christian adaptation of pagan motifs by at least two centuries. The fact that totally unfounded notions of the pagan adaptation of Christ's birth still persist and thrive, especially in America, is a reflection of the deplorable state of gospel illiteracy affecting the Church in the West. Until the Church can engage and teach the compelling, coherent historical and theological basis of the birth narrative, the full potential of the historical Advent to inspire a disciple's deep, lifelong encounter with the relational Christ will not be realized.

The Birth Narrative of Jesus the Christ -- Advent Theology in Sacred Jewish Time:

The Old Testament prophets' visions of the future, atoning Messiah who would come describe a divine being whose every word and act must be contemplated in reverent awe, wondrous joy, and, invariably, theological contemplation. The birth narrative of Christ is no different, but with an added distinction. Like Daniel's two prophetic visions described on the Harmony Overview and Summary page, Christ's birth narrative unfolds in historic time, rooted in the theological depths of the Jewish calendar's sacred time construct.

The birth narrative is both compelling and enigmatic. The accounts by Matthew and Luke seem at first glance to be completely unrelated to each other. And yet, as The Layman's Gospel Harmony shows, the two accounts merge seamlessly into a single chronological time line exhibiting compelling historical plausibility. Though the harmonized birth narrative is replete with clues and chronological details, no specific date of Christ's birth is mentioned. Why? Might it be that like many profound biblical truths, such as the nature of the Trinity, the birth of the Christ must be discovered through devotional, theological contemplation? Is it perhaps not merely a date to be remembered, but more a theological picture of the adventing Christ waiting within the sacred scriptures to be discovered and experienced?

Daniel's Vision of the Year of the Christ's Advent -- The Mystical Meets the Mathematical:

Assuming that the classical Christian interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27 as discussed on the Harmony Overview and Summary page is true, Jesus must have begun his messianic witness of 3.5 years in Daniel's 484th year upon his baptism by John shortly after the Jewish new year in the fall of 26 AD.

At the time of his baptism, as is reported at Luke 3:23, Jesus "began to be about thirty years of age" (King James text). This report appears related to instructions of the Torah concerning a minimum age 30 required for priestly service at the Temple per Numbers Chapter 4. But how should Luke's phrase be interpreted? Had Jesus just turned age 30? Was he older, say 31 or more? Was he about to turn age 30? Was he age 29 or less? At one time or another, all of these options have been chosen in past gospel chronology studies. But if the literal annual countdown of years per Daniel's vision are the context, and if Jesus consciously adhered to principles in the Torah, how exactly shall Luke's phrase be interpreted?

The Layman's Gospel Harmony consistently applies a conservative, restrictive method of interpreting chronological indicators throughout its Gospel chronology research. This is particularly true of the birth narrative texts of Matthew and Luke. This restrictive method allows the least possible margin for error in the texts. This presents the most rigorous challenge and test of the premise of the Gospels as divinely inspired texts which accurately record a coherent, plausible, birth narrative time line.

This conservative interpretive method stands in contrast to many past chronological studies of the Gospels. Frequently, when a theorists has failed to fully integrate segments of their research within a single, contiguous time line, they resort to loose interpretation of one or more key phrases of text. Such loose interpretation can create years of "wiggle room" which disguise unaccountable gaps in chronological research. As previously stated, Luke 3:23 is subject to such convenient, loose interpretation. Other points of text exploited this way to rescue failed research include the time of the "heavenly signs" observed by the Magi and the length of the Holy Family's refuge in Egypt after fleeing the wrath of Herod the Great.

In the case of Luke 3:23, The Layman's Gospel Harmony avoids elaborate or convoluted reasoning. It applies the simple, accepted, whole number "rounding" convention to establish that Jesus must be at least 29.5 years old but less than 30 years old at the time of his baptism. If not, Luke's report cannot be considered sufficiently precise in the context of Daniel's prophetic time line. Said differently, the method requires that Christ's 30th birthday must occur within the six months that follow the Jewish new year and his baptism, a period spanning the fall of 26 AD to the spring of 27 AD. It would be this 30th birthday which would make Jesus fully 30 years old and conformed to the Torah instructions of Numbers 4 for his first ministerial Passover of 27 AD (John 2:13-3:21). Also, it follows from this line of reasoning that Jesus' actual day of birth must also occur within the six month period between the Jewish new year in the fall of 5 BC and the spring of 4 BC.

(In passing, it should be noted that the Magi, experts in Babylonian astronomical science and surely cognizant of Daniel's prophecy, which had occurred in Babylon, probably used similar mathematical reasoning to inform their searching of the night sky beginning several years prior to their calendar's equivalent of 5 BC -- the subject of another forthcoming essay on this website.)

Herod's Death and Intervening Events Sharpens the Focus:

The sixth month window for Christ's birthday inferred from Luke 3:23, set in the context of Daniel's advent prophecy, is further limited to just the last three months of 5 BC by details provided by both Luke and Matthew which are confirmed by authoritative modern research on the date of the death of Herod the Great.

From the harmonized reports of Matthew and Luke, we learn that the infant Jesus had been born, circumcised on the eighth day, presented at the Temple on his 40th day, visited by the Magi, travelled with Joseph and Mary 250-300 miles over a minimum of 20-30 days to the refuge in Egypt, and then had been in Egypt long enough for the news of the death of Herod the Great to be received. At a very minimum, these events transpiring between Christ's birth and Herod's death must account for 70-90 days, or about half of the six month window indicated by Luke 3:23. What then can be said about the date of Herod's death?

The first century Jewish historian Josephus reports Herod's death in the early spring of a particular year between a lunar eclipse and the Week of Passover. Centuries of scholarly analysis of Josephus' writings confirm 4 BC as the year. Advanced NASA computer analysis identifies the lunar eclipse reported by Josephus as viewable in the Holy Land region and dated March 23, 4 BC. Finally, modern "kosher" Jewish calendar calculators date the start of the Passover Week in 4 BC to April 9.

If Jesus had been born on December 25, 5 BC and Herod died the day before Passover of 4 BC, the elapse time totals 105 days, or just a few weeks longer than the required 90 days for the intervening events to transpire. Subtle indicators in the birth narrative texts convey a sense of compressed time and urgent action which also suggests the plausibility of Christ's birth within about 100 days before Herod's death, or late December, 5 BC.

The evidence provided by Luke, Matthew, and the extensive research of Josephus' writings have contributed significantly to the scholarly consensus that the Gregorian calendar used around the world today is actually 4 years late. If the December 25, 5 BC date of Christ's birth is accurate, it means that the Gospels and classical Christian doctrine prove that the calendar is exactly four years and one week late. But this conclusion has only been offered as a statement of faith based on the Gospels' chronological evidence described above and the rigorous, differentiating theological contemplation of early Christianity as it sought to define itself in the first three Christian centuries. It is this theological contemplation of Christ's birth to which we now turn.

The December 25 Birth of Christ -- Christian Theology, Jewish Sacred Time, and Divine Revelation:

The first written record of Christ's December 25 birth is found in an almanac of important church dates published in 354 AD called The Philocalian Calendar. This is not to imply the December date was new at that time. The Calendar was a compendium of long held historical records being consolidated in the Church's expansive era following the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. In 400 AD Augustine of Hippo cited the Donatists, a North African Christian sect, which had been celebrating the December 25 birth of Christ for at least a century, probably back into the mid 200s AD.

The earliest written evidence with an inference to the December 25 birth of Christ comes in 200 AD in the writing of Tertullian (c. 160 - c. 225 AD), of Carthage in North Africa. In his work Adversus Iudeaos, a robust apologetical defense of Jesus as the foretold Jewish Christ, Tertullian declares that the Jewish calendar Nisan 14 date of Christ's Passion during the Passover converts to March 25 on the Roman Julian calendar of antiquity, the precursor to the Gregorian calendar used around the world today. This March 25 date is exactly 9 months, a typical human gestation, from the prior December 25.

Tertullian's observation in 200 AD is the first tell tale clue of the ancient church's theological contemplation of Christ's birth date. His calendar synchronization reveals an awareness of the sacred time construct of the Jewish calendar of holy Feasts and their relation to the chronological details reported in the Gospel birth narrative accounts. Tertullian's partial premise is fully articulated about 200 years later by Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) in his work On the Trinity:

"For he [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon the day also he suffered . . . But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th."

Augustine's remark, and other like it from the same period in North Africa, summarizes a December 25 birth tradition that had been observed in North African Christian communities for perhaps 200 or more years -- long before Constantine's State Church began accommodating pagan motifs. But what is the theological thrust of the tradition? It is much more than merely the declaring Christ's date of birth. The December birth date, though important, is in fact a result pointing back to a much more significant event: Mary's miraculous virginal conception of the Christ on the same day that his crucifixion would occur 34 years later.

To this day, classic Christian doctrine reveals just the first part of the December 25 birth premise: that Jesus had revealed himself on the stage of history as the foretold Jewish Messiah which he materially fulfilled the symbolic meaning of the Passover in his crucifixion.

But the December 25 birth tradition, solidly grounded in compelling chronological evidence, reveals that the Christ was given for the world twice on that most holy of days: first, he was given that day to the world miraculously by God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, into the womb of the virgin Mary, that the Christ might walk among us, as one of us, to declare that God's kingdom had arrived. Second, he gave himself on that day in willing love on the cross as a ransom for all that was broken and captive, to restore humanity and all creation into the heart of God.

But there is more. The following hypothetical calendar study illustrates not only Tertullian's working premise of 200 AD and Augustine's fully articulated statement of 400 AD. It also incorporates original research findings of The Layman's Gospel Harmony which extends the early Church's birth narrative theology to explain the mystical relation of the birth of John the Baptist, the last prophet of the Law, with the birth of the Christ, the High Priest of Grace.

In secular and academic culture, the birth narrative of Christ has been studied, critiqued, analyzed, deconstructed, debunked (allegedly), and disregarded as a hodgepodge of myth, lore, and allusion. And for over two centuries subversive fringe elements with the Church itself have attacked the credibility of the early Church testimony with poorly researched counter theories to disprove the December 25 birth of Christ -- arguments which have only weakened the Church's ability to testify boldly to the world of the redeeming Christ.

The Layman's Gospel Harmony simply assumes the hand of divine guidance in the texts of Matthew and Luke and tests the birth narrative hypothesis by harmonizing the two accounts into a chronological narrative totaling 4,538 gospel words into the first 16 "Scenes" of The Harmony's 200 scene sequence. As shown above, those 16 Scenes plausibly transpire over approximately 700 days in a 756-day hypothetical Jewish/Gregorian calendar, the most detailed, definitive, and revealing graphically visualized chronological analysis ever completed of the birth narrative of Jesus the Christ.

"For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." -- Luke 19:10