Here are a cou­ple of non-pa­gan rea­sons why Je­sus Christ’s birth is cel­e­brated on Dec. 25

The Telegraph (Macon) - - Opinion - BY ERICK ERICK­SON

Many of us learned that Chris­tians set the date of Christ­mas to co-opt pa­gan hol­i­days. Both the Ro­man Satur­na­lia fes­ti­val and Sol In­vic­tus, the Feast of the Un­con­quered Son, fell around Dec. 25. Chris­tians could claim Christ was the un­con­quered son and draw peo­ple into their re­li­gion.

This the­ory re­ally did not de­velop un­til the 12th cen­tury and only took off af­ter the 18th cen­tury.

The ear­li­est records of the still de­vel­op­ing church show two things. First, the early church did not cel­e­brate Christ’s birth, but his death and res­ur­rec­tion. Se­cond, when the church did start cel­e­brat­ing Christ’s birth, the church had its own rea­son­ing com­pletely un­re­lated to pa­gan holi- days.

To un­der­stand why the church cel­e­brates Christ’s birth on Dec. 25 you must first un­der­stand that to the early church it was Christ’s death and res­ur­rec­tion that were of gravest im­por­tance. Ac­cord­ing to An­drew Mc­Gowan of the Bib­li­cal Ar­chae­ol­ogy So­ci­ety, “Around 200 A.D., Ter­tul­lian of Carthage re­ported the cal­cu­la­tion that the 14th of Nisan in the year Je­sus died was the equiv­a­lent to March 25 in the Ro­man cal­en­dar.”

Chris­tians and Jews at that time held as fact that a prophet died on the same date of his con­cep­tion. In other words, if Christ died on March 25, he would have been con­ceived on March 25, too. Go nine months out and you would land on Dec. 25 as his date of birth.

Con­cur­rent to that the­ory was an­other one. Zacharias, John the Bap­tist’s fa­ther, was in the priestly di­vi­sion of Abi­jah. Know­ing the di­vi­sion of priest in the tem­ple in Jerusalem when it fell to the Ro­mans in 70 A.D. and as­sum­ing an un­bro­ken chain, early church his­to­ri­ans counted back­wards and con­cluded Zacharias would have been in the tem­ple in Oc­to­ber. The Bi­ble tells us that af­ter Zacharias left the tem­ple, his wife con­ceived John. Luke 1:25-26 notes that six months later Mary con­ceived Je­sus.

That would put Mary con­ceiv­ing Je­sus around March 25, which other early church lead­ers had al­ready es­tab­lished as his date of death. The two sep­a­rate cal­cu­la­tions con­firmed each other to early church lead­ers who could then set Christ’s birth­day as Dec. 25.

The ear­li­est known records of set­ting Christ’s birth­day come in 200 A.D., 1,000 years be­fore any doc­u­mented sug­ges­tions that Chris­tians set his birth­day to cor­re­spond to pa­gan hol­i­days. By 300 A.D., Chris­tians through­out the world were cel­e­brat­ing Christ­mas on Dec. 25 be­cause it fell nine months af­ter the date they had set for his cru­ci­fix­ion. Within 100 years it had be­come a for­mal church cel­e­bra­tion.

Most schol­ars re­ject the idea that Zacharias was in the tem­ple in Oc­to­ber the year Gabriel ap­peared to him. Fur­ther, modern schol­ar­ship sug­gests Christ may have been born in the spring. One is able to con­clude the early church got it wrong. But it is also im­por­tant to note that they thought they had it right and they set the date of Christ­mas for rea­sons en­tirely un­re­lated to Ro­man pa­gan hol­i­days.

The more sig­nif­i­cant point is not when Christ’s birth­day ac­tu­ally is, but that Christ him­self ex­ists. Many athe­ists wish to write Christ’s ex­is­tence en­tirely out of his­tory. To do so re­quires an ex­tra­or­di­nary num­ber of other peo­ple to be writ­ten out of his­tory too. For me, about the only thing fraud­u­lent this Christ­mas sea­son will be the words of “Silent Night.” Be­tween a new born baby and the heav­enly host singing, there was noth­ing silent about that first Christ­mas.

Erick Erick­son is host of At­lanta’s Evening News on WSB Ra­dio.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.