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In your new book, "Jesus Christ — A Mystery," as well as in your booklet, "Don't Keep Christmas," you state that Christ was not born on December 25th. Does the Bible give any indication as to when He was born?

When considering the relevant Scriptures and some external sources, we can, indeed, find out the approximate time of Christ’s birth, but it is impossible to find out the exact date.

King David had divided the priests into several “courses” or divisions — that is, each group or “course” of priests was to serve God for a specific period of time. David had established 24 of those priestly courses. Luke 1:5-9 shows that Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, was of the course of Abijah (which courses are listed in 1 Chronicles 24) and that he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course or division. Each course lasted eight days — from Sabbath to Sabbath.

The account in Luke 1 records that Zacharias was serving God in the order of his division (verse 8); that he burnt incense (verse 9); and that his prayer was heard (verse 13). The angel Gabriel told him that his wife, Elizabeth, was to bear a son and his name was to be John (verse 13). Luke 1:23 clearly indicates that this event did not take place at the end of his course but sometime during his course or division, because it states that Zacharias, after he had received the vision, completed the days of his service, before he went home.

The courses started at the beginning of the sacred year. The first Hebrew month of the sacred year was called Nisan. Zacharias’ course, the course of Abijah, was eighth in order.

However, there were two sets of courses. The New Bible Commentary explains: “The course of Abijah to which Zacharias belonged, was one of twenty four courses into which David organised the priests. Each course was on duty in the temple for a week every six months.” This means, that every course ministered TWICE throughout a year.

When did the angel Gabriel appear to Zacharias? Did he appear to him during the first or the second course? As we will see, the angel appeared to Zacharias during the first course at the beginning of the year and not six months later in the autumn, when the courses started again.

To establish this point, we need to consider the time of the Messiah’s birth, and compare it then with the time of John’s conception and birth. We note that Joseph was going to be taxed (compare Luke 2:1-5). Taxation would come just after the fall harvest. The time of the fall Festivals (or annual Holy Days, such as the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles) was just after the fall harvest, when tithes were paid to the priests. History records that these taxations always took place at the end of the fall harvest, which was sometime in September or October, a logical time for taxation and travel.

In addition, we read that at that time of the year, shepherds were in the fields with their flocks (Luke 2:8), pointing again at the time of late summer or early fall. That is the time of year when Palestinian shepherds take their flocks into the field to graze at night (compare Wynne Progress, December 21, 1967, “The Christmas Story.”). However, Christ could not have been born at the end of December, the coldest month of the year, with hail and snow. Shepherds would not have been out in the fields in December.

We also read that Mary and Joseph stayed in an inn, when they arrived in Bethlehem. The word for “inn” is better translated as “guestchamber” or “guest room” (compare “Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible,” as well as Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11, where the same Greek word, “kataluma,” is used). These guest rooms housed people in Jerusalem during the Holy Days. Christ’s birth then, based on the evidence presented herein, occurred during the FALL Holy Day season.

Based on the fact that Christ was born in early fall, we can determine that John the Baptist was conceived during the FIRST course of Zacharias’ ministry — and not the second. Note the following:

In Luke 1:26-35, Christ’s forthcoming birth was announced to Mary. The sixth month referred to in verse 36 is the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. When Mary conceived, Elizabeth was six months pregnant. Christ was born in the autumn, in late September or early October. John was born six months earlier, in March or April. This means, based on approximately nine months or 280 days of human gestation, John must have been conceived in June — during the first course of Zacharias’ ministry.

This conclusion is also supported by the established fact that the Messiah was crucified in the spring of the year, at the time of the Passover, being 33 years and six months old. He began His public ministry, when He was about 30 years old (Luke 3:23), and His ministry lasted 3 1/2 years (compare Daniel 9:27, speaking about a prophetic week of seven prophetic days. In prophecy, a day counts as a year, compare Numbers 14:34. Christ would be killed “in the middle of the week,” bringing the sacrificial system to an end, that is, after 3 1/2 years.). The Passover occurred each year on the 14th of the first Biblical moon, or month — in the latter part of March to the first part of April. If we count back six months to His 33rd birthday, we can see that His birth must have been in the autumn, in late September or the beginning of October.

We might also note that Zacharias ministered in the ninth week of the new year, because during the third week of the Passover season, all the priests were ministering. He could not have returned home immediately because he would have to minister for the course when a Holy Day, Pentecost, began, and in which his course, along with the other 23 courses, would minister. As soon as he finished his course — the eighth one — he went home and his wife conceived (Luke 1:23-24). This would have been in the middle of June. As explained above, knowing when Elizabeth conceived, we can compute the time of birth for John the Baptist. Since the human gestation period is 280 days, we can go forward this amount of time to arrive somewhere at the beginning of Nisan (late March/early April), when John the Baptist would have been born. Six months later brings us to late September, or early October, when Christ would have been born.

When we summarize all the facts stated herein, it is clear that Jesus was born in the autumn — not on December 25. However, the exact date of His birth has been hidden from man. We have seen that:

(1) The courses (or divisions) of the priests started at the beginning of the sacred year
(2) The Sacred year begins on the first of Nisan, about April
(3) Zacharias served on the eighth course (ten weeks later, because of the Passover and Pentecost)
(4) Zacharias returned home about mid-June when his wife conceived
(5) John the Baptist was born about 40 weeks or 280 days later, i.e., in about late March of the following year
(6) Mary conceived when Zacharias’s wife, Elizabeth, was six months pregnant. John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus
(7) Since John the Baptist was born about late March, Jesus, six months younger, was born probably around late September
(8) The course (or division) referred to, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias, was the first course of the year because:

(a) The guest chambers were made available around the time of the annual Holy Days
(b) Taxation came just after the autumnal (fall) festival season, and
(c) Christ’s ministry lasted for 3½ years, and He began His ministry, when He was about 30 years old. As He was crucified at Passover, He must have been born 33½ years earlier, which would take us back to the autumn.

The evidence that Jesus Christ was born in the autumn, during the time of the annual autumn Holy Days, is compelling. God has, however, not revealed Christ’s exact day of birth, so as to prevent that the same be observed. We are told to observe Christ’s death — not His birth — until He comes again (1 Corinthians 11:26; compare, too, Psalm 116:15; Ecclesiastes 7:1).