Your average cultural christian might be shocked by this statement, but any Christian who pays attention to their faith will not be surprised. Many, like myself, are agnostic about the exact date of Jesus’ birth, since it seems so hard to determine with any confidence as scripture doesn’t tell us.
I don’t see anything wrong with setting out a day to remember the birth of Jesus if you’re unsure of the day (Calm down, RPWers), that being said, there have been some persuasive arguments for an exact month, an exact day even, for Jesus of Nazareth’s birth.
I remain agnostic on this issue myself, however, I think if I were to take a side, I’d choose this one. Let me explain why.
The main source of research that is used for this view is a book by Dr. Ernest L. Martin titled “The Star of Bethlehem: The Star That Astonished The World.”
I read this book once I saw Dr. Michael Heiser recommended it on his website regarding the date of Jesus’ birth.
Dr. Martin spends the first chapter explaining astrological data suggesting the the star that the Maji may have seen which they thought indicated the birth of Jesus.
Roger Sinnot writes in an astronomical journal about the unusual collision between Jupiter and Venus stating that “The fusion of two planets would have been a rare and awe-inspiring event.”i
Such an event, we could reason, could have been very important to the Magi as they were professional astrologers. Do not confuse astrology with the type of “astrology” you may see today, like getting updates on your horoscopes from some website that gives your computer adware.
The Maji were not only astrologers but professional astronomers, not exactly the status quo of a new-age astrologer you may be thinking of. Matthew’s mentioning of the Magi and their symbolic interpretation of the star linking to the King of the Jews being born was Matthew showing scientific confirmation of his claims. ii The opinion of the Magi was clearly persuasive, as it troubled Herod and the people of Jerusalem in general. (Matthew 2:3)
The Star that the Magi presumably followed was called the Regulus, otherwise called “The Star of the Messiah.” The way the Regulus is positioned about the Leo lion constellation, seems to coincide with some biblical prophecy. (Genesis 49:10)
The overall claim is that the star does not necessarily have to be supernatural in origin, as if it was a star that appeared out of nowhere, but was a natural event that God used to signify the birth of the Messiah.
Though this view is accepted by platenieruims and the scientific community in general, there are some theological objections to this view that need to be considered.
In defense of the December 25th as the day that Jesus was born, I found one particular article that I found as a good defense against Martin’s claims in general regarding the day of Jesus’ birth. I have sought to bring forth the best arguments I could find for both sides of this argument, to start you on your journey of consideration and out of apathy towards the general time Jesus was born.
On this website, Martin’s work is critiqued as a biased and exaggerated opinion piece, who omits several important facts and “reads like a tabloid rather than serious academic work.” Clearly, the rhetoric is there, but how about the argumentation?
The author argues that Martin is guilty of special pleading, puts too much faith the science of astronomy knowing how the constellations would look 2,000 years ago and questioning the biblical interpretation of Martin on Revelation chapter 12.
Dr. Michael Heiser, in analyzing the critics has stated:
Martin’s thesis has, of course, been critiqued in some detail. There are problems, but none of them are insurmountable and can be rebutted with good evidence. This reality, along with the comprehensive explanatory power Martin’s work, as well as the date’s remarkable synchronicity with Jewish messianic symbolism and calendar, make Martin’s work persuasive to me
I will summarize the argument that is accepted by Martin, Hesier etc. by quoting Robert Rowe, Christian Apologist and a student of Physics at Edith Cowan University
- On the 12th of August in 3 b.c., Venus and Jupiter are in their first conjunction, visible low in the eastern twilight before sunrise. Both are moving eastward against the stars. This is what the Magi described when they met Herod [Matthew 2:1-2].
- On the 11th of September in 3 b.c., Jupiter and Regulus are in conjunction for the first time. It is on this date that Jesus was born. Thus, as Jesus began his ministry in October / November of 28 a.d., he was ~2 months past his 30th birthday, precisely as in Luke 3:23.
- On the 17th of February in 2 b.c., Jupiter and Regulus are in conjunction for the second time, as Jupiter is in retrograde motion.
- On the 8th of May in 2 b.c., Jupiter and Regulus are in conjunction for the third time.
- On the 17th of June in 2 b.c., Venus and Jupiter are in conjunction. They appear to merge into a single star low in the west at sunset. This is the Star of Bethlehem! By this time, Jesus is 9 months old.
Again, I do not think the evidence is strong enough to be dogmatic on this issue, It it quite possible that neither of us are right, that it’s not December 25th or September 11th. However, I find Martin’s arguments persuasive and if forced to choose a side I will defend Jesus being born on September 11th, though I have no problem with us celebrating it on December 25th for tradition sake.
i. Sky and Telescope, December, 1968, 384–386.
ii. The Star of Bethlehem, Chapter 2