The typical Jesus’ birth story we hear today is:
The problem is that this story is almost entirely wrong. The events surrounding the birth have been rehashed so many times and in so many ways – in plays, poetry, books and movies – that most people have a distorted view of the true events. This record is not even close to what is found in the Bible.
Did Mary ride on a donkey to Bethlehem? Perhaps she did; although there are various other possibilities. The Bible doesn’t say how she got to Bethlehem. It only says that she came with Joseph.
Did Mary arrive in Bethlehem the night she gave birth? The Bible does not suggest this. They could have arrived days/weeks/months earlier. The Word simply states in Luke 2:6, “While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her child”. Logically, arriving in town well before her due date would make more sense.
Did Joseph or Mary talk to any innkeepers? I don’t know, except there is no real solid biblical proof to believe that they did. Although innkeepers play a prominent part in many Christmas plays/stories, there is no innkeeper actually mentioned in the biblical record of Christ’s birth. Also, it is more than likely that Mary and Joseph actually stayed in a house with relatives, not behind some kind of Bible-times hotel.
Was Jesus born in a stable or a barn? The Bible does not mention any of these places in connection with Christ’s birth, only a manger. Scripture simply reports that they laid Jesus in a manger because there was no room for him in the guest room. The Greek word used in Scripture is kataluma, this can mean guest chamber, lodging place or inn. The only other time this word was used in the New Testament, it means a furnished, large, upper story room within a private house. It is translated guest chamber, not inn (Mark 14:14-15). According to our Bible archaeology experts, Jesus was probably born in the house of relatives but outside (under) the normal living and guest quarters.
“Away in a manger … the baby awakes but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” Although this is part of a beautiful song, we cannot be sure that Jesus did not cry. The Bible does not give any details of this.
Did angels sing to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem? No, the Bible specifically says that the angels only spoke. First an angel appeared and spoke saying “Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you, a message that will fill everyone with joy. Today your Saviour, Christ the Lord, was born in David’s city...” (Luke 2:10-12) and then “Suddenly, a large army of angels appeared with the angel. They were praising God by saying, Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace....” (Luke 2:13-14) the Greek word used here is legδ meaning to speak.
Were there angels present at the birth? It would seem logical to assume that they were, nevertheless, there is no Scripture to support it, also there is also no evidence that angels were visible to Mary and Joseph at this time.
Did three kings riding camels come to Jesus’ birth? No! The Bible does not say that any kings or camels ever visited the baby Jesus; although it does report ‘magi’ (wise men) came but it does not mention how many. None of the early Church Fathers or historians suggested the magi were kings.
Before the arrival of the magi in Bethlehem, Jesus travelled to and from Jerusalem for presentation in the Temple (Luke 2:21-22). Therefore, the wise men clearly did not visit Jesus when he was still lying in the manger, as is commonly shown on greeting cards, in stories and plays. The magi did not arrive until sometime after Christ’s presentation in the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:22-39). At this time, Scripture calls Jesus a ‘child’, not a ‘baby’. It is possible that little Jesus was walking and talking by then. Based on the calculations of King Herod and the magi (Matthew 2:16), Jesus could been up to two years old.
Given that the word ‘magi’ used in the Bible is plural, it appears that at least two and there could have been more – even quite a few more. The Bible simply mentions three costly gifts they presented – gold, frankincense and myrrh however this in no way indicates the number of magi. There is also no proof of what country or counties these men came from only that it was from the east.
Was Jesus born on December 25th or in December at all? The Bible does not specify a date or month but I would say no because it seems extremely unlikely. One major problem with December is that it would be unusual for shepherds to be ‘abiding in the field’ at this cold time of year when fields were unproductive; it was normally the custom to keep the flocks in the fields from spring to autumn. In addition, winter would be an especially difficult time for a pregnant Mary to travel the 113K’s (70 miles) from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
A more probable time would be late September, the time of the annual Feast of Tabernacles, when such travel was commonly accepted. Consequently, it is somewhat commonly believed that Jesus’ birth was around the end of September (although nothing is certain).
Why do most Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25th, if that is not when he was born?
The date was chosen by the Roman Catholic Church. Because Rome dominated most of the ‘Christian’ world for centuries, the date became tradition throughout most of Christendom.
The original significance of December 25th is that it was a well-known festival day celebrating the annual return of the sun called the Saturnalia. It started on December 21st the winter solstice (shortest day of the year and thus a key date on the calendar) and ended on December 25th the first day that ancients could clearly note that the days were definitely getting longer and the sunlight was returning.
So, why was December 25th chosen to remember Jesus Christ’s birth with a mass (or Communion supper)? Since no one knows the day of his birth, the Roman Catholic Church felt free to choose this date. The Church wished to replace the pagan festival with a Christian holy day (holiday). The psychology was that is easier to take away an unholy (but traditional) festival from the population, when you can replace it with a good one. Otherwise, the Church would have left a void where there was a long-standing tradition and risked producing a discontented population and a rapid return to the old ways.
The various misconceptions about Christ’s birth illustrate the need to always test everything we hear against God’s Word, no matter what the source. The Bible is the final authority.
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