When we listen to Christmas carols and read our Christmas cards, we sometimes get the wrong impression about what really took place on the day Jesus was born.
The following are seven modern misconceptions about the events surrounding the birth of Christ. None of these take away from the miracle that took place that day.
1. Jesus was not born on December 25th
Look there is nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of Christ on December 25. As we read the Biblical account, the Lord’s birth was obviously a significant event and was very much celebrated.
But it did not take place on December 25th. The fact that shepherds were in their fields when Jesus was born, suggests that Christ was probably born during spring lambing.
So how did we end up with Dec. 25? Well, that was the result of the compounding of an earlier mistake. One of the first festivals initiated by the Roman Catholic Church was the Assumption of Mary, that celebrated her conception by the Holy Spirit. They set that date as March 25th, and it was only later they realized that if this was the day Christ was conceived, then He would have been born nine months later.
Besides, when would you expect the Lamb of God to be born?
2. The Three Kings
Christmas songs and cards often portray three kings coming to present gifts to baby Jesus. There is no mention of three kings, only three gifts frankincense, gold, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). We have no mention of how many people showed up. Because these items were very expensive, it has been presumed they were brought by royalty.
The Greek word ‘magos’ used to describe these men does not refer to kings but rather astrologers and magicians, a class of men who served as advisors to the Persian royal court. And the fact, we are told they specifically came from the East confirms this suggestion. In other words, these men were politically connected and undoubtedly wealthy because of it, which explains why King Herod granted them a meeting.
It’s also highly unlikely that only three people would have made that journey with that kind of wealth. They probably travelled in a heavily guarded caravan.
3. The Star of Bethlehem
We often see Christmas cards with a star hanging over a stable in Bethlehem with baby Jesus in a manger. When we read the Biblical text, the star did not appear until much later. Jesus may have been upwards of two years old when the magi followed the star to Bethlehem.
The first clue is that the angels told the shepherds to look for a baby in swaddling clothes, not to follow a star (Luke 2:11-14).
The second is after the Magi consulted with King Herod, he ordered all the children in Bethlehem two years and younger to be killed. It’s obvious from Herod’s discussion with the magi, Jesus was no longer a baby when they arrived in Jerusalem (Matthew 2:16-18).
Thirdly, the magi were members of the Persian royal court located in modern Iran. After seeing the star announcing the birth of a new king in Israel, it would have taken months, to decide, plan and make the journey that probably involved 900 or more miles.
4. No room in the inn
It is doubtful that Joseph and Mary were trying to book a room in an inn, when they were refused. The Greek word, ‘topos’, simply means place and most likely Joseph had approached members of his extended family for a room while in Bethlehem or maybe those days equivalent of a BNB. But because of the census, all the guest rooms were full (Luke 2:6-7).
And though it appears that Joseph and Mary ended up in a stable, because the word manger is definitely a feeding trough for livestock, this is probably not exactly what happened.
It was common to have a large room for the livestock as part of your home, versus a separate building. And with the guest rooms already filled perhaps with other relatives returning for the census, Joseph and Mary were forced to sleep in the livestock room.
5. The Heavenly Choir
Many Christmas cards portray an angelic choir in flowing robes singing in the background, as an angel told the shepherds about the birth of the Messiah.
They may have been singing, but the Bible does not say this specifically. All it says is that this Heavenly Host praised God (Luke 2:8-15).
And scratch the robes and harps and add battered armour, shields, swords and spears. The Greek word, ‘stratia’, is more accurately translated as an army. In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John provides a slightly different perspective on what was going on in the spiritual realm when Jesus was born. This was the night, that Gabriel and an angelic army drove Satan and his minions from heaven because they were threatening the life of Jesus.
6. Was Christ born in 1 AD?
Modern calendars have Christ’s birth as the turning point in history. Everything before Christ’s birth is BC and everything after AD. But was Christ actually born in 1 AD? Probably not.
It is most likely that Jesus was born around 4 BC and probably earlier. In Matthew 2:1, we are told that Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod. King Herod died in 4 BC.
But you can add a couple more years, to that because Herod ordered the killing of all babies under the age of two in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16-18). This tells us that from Herod’s conversation with the magi, Jesus was no longer a baby. He may have been born as much as two years earlier. This would put Christ’s birth sometime between 6 BC and 4 BC.
Archaeology also tells us that Quirinius, the governor of Syria, ordered a census around 6 BC that may have included Judah. Though there is some disagreement on whether this is the census mentioned in the Bible, it does fit the timeline.
7. The Animals
On the Christmas cards and in the Christmas carols, we have several types of animals associated with the birth of Christ. But there is only one animal mentioned in the Christmas story, sheep or more precisely a flock of sheep (Luke 2:8).
Were there cattle lowing as Jesus slept in the manger? Possibly. Because of the manger, we do know that this is where animals were kept, but there is no mention of them.
Did a pregnant Mary travel to Bethlehem on a donkey? Maybe. But again that detail is left out of the Biblical account. However, it is generally believed that Joseph was a stone mason, not a carpenter, as many Bible versions read. The Greek word ‘tekton’ can be translated as carpenter, stone mason or basically any type of craftsman. But many lean towards stonemason, because 90% of the construction in the ancient town of Nazareth involved stone because of the scarcity of wood in the area.
If Joseph was a stonemason, he was not carrying rocks to his construction jobs one at a time. He probably had a cart, and maybe even a donkey to pull it.
As for the Christmas cards picturing the magi travelling to see Jesus on camels, again there is no mention. But by their gifts, the magi were wealthy and camels were the Cadillacs of that day, so probably true.