Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ Part I: The Date of Christ’s Birth -- By: Harold W. Hoehner

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 130:520 (Oct 1973)
Article: Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ Part I: The Date of Christ’s Birth
Author: Harold W. Hoehner

Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ
Part I:
The Date of Christ’s Birth

Harold W. Hoehner

[Harold W. Hoehner, Assistant Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

Jesus Christ entered into the history of our world. Christianity, therefore, has historical basis. The backbone of history is chronology. Whereas history is a systematic account of events in relation to a nation, institution, science, or art; chronology is a science of time. It seeks to establish and arrange the dates of past events in their proper sequence. Thus chronology serves as a necessary framework upon which the events of history may be fitted.

In the present series of articles there will be an attempt to establish certain fixed dates in our Lord’s life. The first of these deals with His birth.

The Year of Christ’s Birth

The earliest Christians were not as much concerned about the date as the fact of the birth of Christ. Chronological notes, such as “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius” (Luke 3:1) marking the commencement of John the Baptist’s ministry, were sufficient.

In A.D. 525 Pope John I asked Dionysius, a Scythian monk, to prepare a standard calendar for the Western Church. Dionysius modified the Alexandrian system of dating, which used as its base the reign of Diocletian, for he did not want the years of history to be reckoned from the life of a persecutor of the church, but from the incarnation of Christ. The commencement of the Christian era was January 1, 754 A.U.C. (anno urbis conditae = from the foundation of the city [of Rome]) and Christ’s birth was thought to have been on December 25th immediately preceding. So 754 A.U.C. became A.D. 1 in the calendar of Dionysius.

The years before this date are denoted by B.C. (before Christ) and after by A.D. (anno Domini = in the year of the Lord) with no zero between 1 B.C. and A.D. 1. However, later researches indicated that the latest year for Herod’s death was 750 A.U.C. and Christ’s birth, according to Matthew, occurred before Herod’s death.1 Hence, today it is generally recognized that the birth of Christ did not occur in A.D. 1 but some time before that.

As to how soon before A.D. 1 Christ was born, there is great divergence of opinion. King2 dates it 15 B.C. and more recently Ogg dates it as early as 11 B.C.3 On the other hand Filmer would probably date it somewhere between 3 and 1 B.C.

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