When was Jesus Born?

We mark the dates from our calendars with the familiar suffix, “A.D.” Today, for example, is July 19, 2020 A.D. Those letters represent a dating device we have been using for approximately 1500 years. They are an abbreviation of the words Anno Domini, which is a Medieval Latin phrase meaning “in the year of the Lord,” and a shorter version of the full original phrase “anno Domini nostri Jesu Christi,” which translates to “in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The letters have come to represent the past two thousand years as the “Christian Age,” and are based off of the year that Jesus Christ was born. The letters “B.C.” were also adopted to mean “before Christ.” All dates assigned to events occuring before Jesus receive the “B.C.” designation and the events since His birth are designated as “A.D.”

So, does this mean that Jesus was born 2020 years ago? That is certainly what the designated letters would imply, however, they are wrong! It has been calculated that Jesus was actually born some 2025 years ago! Instead of Jesus’ birth year being marked as A.D.1, it is more likely He was born in 5 B.C.! How could this be? Well, it is a rather intersting story, that begins with a monk by the name of Dionysius Exiguus. He had become agitated that all the calendars used during his time had been implemented by Roman Emperor Diocletian. To complicate matters, there had been many and various calendar formats implemented by other emperors in the previous centuries. Roman calendars began counting years from events such as: the founding of Rome, the reign of a certain emperor, or from a particular conquest. What we now know as 532 A.D., the year when Dionysius proposed a change, was known to him as the year 284 in the Diocletian calendar, or the year 1286 in the AUC calendar (ab urbe condita, meaning “since the founding of Rome”). If this sounds confusing, it is, and it had been for many centuries before Dionysius’ time.

Since the Roman Empire had disintegtrated and Diocletian had been known as a fierce persecutor of Christianity, Dionysius reasoned that a pagan emperor should not be be glorified over our Lord and Savior. So, he proposed that all calendars should be dated from the birth of Jesus, instead. However, since the actual date of Jesus’ birth is not registered in any particular historical document, we are not exactly sure just how Dionysius calculated his dates and arrived at 754 AUC as the year Jesus was born. At any rate, he fixed this date as A.D.1 and the system was soon adopted by the authorities of the time. This is the calendar we have today and the one that has been in use around the world ever since. It wasn’t until many years later that an error in Dionysius’ calculations was revealed.

The Bible gives us two, very specific events that can be used to more accurately deduce the year of Jesus’ birth. The first verse is in Luke, “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria,”(Luke 2:1-2). Roman historians recorded this event as taking place around 749 AUC (5 B.C.). The second passage is found in Matthew 2:1 which says, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king,” and verse 19 says, “Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph …” According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, the year that Herod the Great died was 750 AUC, which correlates to 4 B.C. With these two events and their corresponding historical resources, we can reason that Jesus must have been born around 749 years after the founding of Rome, which is also known as 5 B.C. by our modern calendars. This means that our current calendars are not actually correct in asserting that they are dated from the birth of Christ! It would also mean that if we were to make some adjustments to reflect the date more accurately, then this year is not 2020, but 2025 instead! How interesting!