John Stott on Christmas

Written by Drew on December 19th, 2005

“Three or four centuries seem to have elapsed after the birth of Christ before Christmas enjoyed a fixed position in the Western church calendar and Christians regularly celebrated it. This may have been due partly to a confusion. People spoke of Christ driving his chariot across the sky like the Sun God. In fact, because Christians worshipped on Sundays, and often turned East to do so, many pagans thought that Christians were sun-worshippers. Not till the fourth century did the Western church begin to celebrate December 25 (the birthday of the Sun God at the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year) as the nativity of Christ.”

John R.W. Stott in The Incomparable Christ (2001), 126.


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Anonymous says:

    Modern calendars and the date of Jesus’ birth. When Christians first learn that Jesus was most likely born anywhere from 6 – 4 B.C., they are confused. Doesn’t the dating of Western calendars assume the birth of Jesus in A.D. 1? Could this mean that our New Testament records are in error? A little investigation helps us to see that the discrepancy does not arise from the biblical record but from the attempts in later centuries to establish a birth date for Jesus.
    Modern calendars begin the present era, often called the “Christian era,” with Jesus’ birth. Dates after his birth are designated A.D. (Lat., anno domini, “in the year of our Lord”) and dates before his birth are designated B.C. (“Before Christ”). 37
    The first person to develop this system was the Christian monk Dionysius Exiguus in A.D. 525. Prior to him the Romans had developed the dating system used throughout the Western world, using the designation “AUC” (ab urbe condita — “from the foundation of the city [of Rome]” — or anno urbis conditae — “in the year of the foundation of the city”). Dionysius believed that it would be more reverent for calendrical dating to begin with Jesus’ birth rather than the foundation of Rome. So with the historical records available to him, Dionysius reckoned the birth of Jesus to have occurred on December 25, 753 AUC (i.e., approximately 754 years after the founding of Rome). That placed the commencement of the Christian era at January 1, 754 AUC (allowing for lunar adjustment), or under the new reckoning, January 1, A.D. 1.
    However, Dionysius did not have all of the historical data now available to scholars to make a more precise dating. We now know that King Herod died in March/April 750 AUC. Since Matthew states that Jesus was born while Herod was still alive, Jesus was actually born according to the Roman calendar between 748 – 750 AUC, four to six years earlier than Dionysius’s calculations. Thus, a more accurate dating of the birth of Jesus places it in 4 – 6 B.C. This has nothing to do with the accuracy of the biblical records, only the historical accuracy of the well-intentioned but misguided Dionysius Exiguus.

Leave a Comment