What Year was Christ Born?

The birth year of Christ is a journey into the history of time, good and bad math, politics, and egos.

No one knows for certain what year Christ was born. A 2 to 10-year discrepancy pops up in a different location with almost every ancient calendar system that dates the birth year.

This controversy is not Christ’s fault, nor a question of Biblical accuracy. It is a problem of a human dimension. It is interesting to peel away the problems and see some patterns that make sense. In doing so, one will see how our present calendar system came into being.

There was no universal time system at Christ’s birth. There have been well over ten major time systems and many more regional ones used throughout history to define Christ’s birth year. The majority of these ancient systems are not the most accurate, consistent, or in agreement with each other.

Here are a few of the more prominent ones that have influenced our current calendar.

The regnal time system was an important one. The beginning and sometimes the end of a Roman leader set the basis for yearly calculations. Luke’s narrative of the birth of Christ provides a good example: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)” NIV. The baptism of Jesus in the 15th year of Emperor Tiberius is another example from the Bible. However, we do not have accurate historical records of when the census happened with Quirinius. There are also disagreements on when exactly a ruler began and ended his career, such as gauging when the 15th year of Tiberius exactly occurred.

The popular first-century historian Josephus avoided using this system exclusively and liked to use Olympiads associated with political events for his reckoning. An Olympiad is a time system invented by the Greeks that ran in 4-year rotations. His political work on the Middle East is so detailed and close to the time of Christ that it is the de facto standard for dating the birth year.

He hardly wrote about Jesus and gave no time frame when he did mention Christ. So many try to apply Christ’s birth date according to the events of Herod’s life, as illustrated by Josephus. The Josephus account has problems, too.

Many Church Fathers preferred to date using the Adamic method, dating everything from what they believed was the world’s creation. This reckoning is sometimes called the Anno Mundi system or A.M. for short.

Then there is the Roman consular system, which dates everything by the consuls in Rome. The problem is that the records do not consistently have dates for them.

Around 526 AD, the calendar system we use today had its origins. A monk named Dionysius Exiguus was the first catalyst. He wanted to create a new time system that would no longer honor the wicked and cruel Roman emperor, Diocletian. So he went about to wipe his name off their calendar system. A.D. first stood for Anno Diocletiani. He changed it to “Anni Domini nostri Jesu Christi” — A.D..

See Dionysius Exiguus and the AD Calendar System for more info.

The Dionysius calendar was for Easter calculations, and it quickly evolved

Many medieval Church Fathers preferred to date everything from the passion of Christ, but to the angst of the great 8th-century theologian, the Venerable Bede, it was at least two years wrong.

Bede strongly attempted to use his skills in mathematics, astronomy, history, knowledge of regional calendars, and theology to reconcile the calendars into one cohesive system. At one point, when he tried to correct the Anno Mundi system publicly, he got into much controversy and was almost branded a heretic. In the end, he set a general basis with some minor variations for the calendar we have today.

He was one of the first authors to differentiate between before Christ and after in an A.D. type calendar system, though his abbreviations are not quite the same as ours.

See Bede on the Problem of 1 AD for more info.

As one delves deeper into the subject, it gets into astronomy, lunar phases, solstices, solar calculations, and more. The lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar one, which can add up to years in differences. The uneven reconciliation between the lunar and solar calendars is the number one culprit in the difficulty surrounding the dating of His birth.

Other calendars are used, such as the Roman indiction system (which operated on 15-year cycles), and Christian Arabs traced time from Alexander the Great. The Jews at one point, at least according to Bede, liked to use the 49-year Jubilee calendar system.

One must remember the AUC method too. “Ad Urbe Condita”–from the founding of Rome.

“Modern historians use it much more frequently than the Romans themselves did.”1 Many contemporary writers use 753 AUC as the birth date of Christ. But there are debates with this one, too, about what year one should begin dating from.

Secondly, there was no agreement when the year started. Some thought it to start in March rather than January 1st. This problem is less significant than the above but adds to the complexity.

To top it all off, the mathematics was very primitive. The Romans didn’t use the numeral zero “0” in calendar calculations. This modification came later. It makes this investigation all the more interesting.

This survey is an introduction. There are many articles under the header Calendar History that journey into the major figures and movements in detail.


  1. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ab_urbe_condita)

3 thoughts on “What Year was Christ Born?”

  1. The Scroll of Fasting lists a festival celebration for Herod’s death as 2 Shebet. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313987254_Megillat_Ta'anit_The_Scroll_of_Fasting
    In 1AD, 2 Shebet falls on 14 Jan 1AD, 18 days after the 29 Dec 1BC eclipse and well before the 27 March 1AD Passover. Allows plenty of time for 25 day funeral march and other events. Valid year for Herod’s death.
    In 1BC, 2 Shebet falls on 26 Dec 2BC, 14 days BEFORE the 10 Jan 1BC eclipse, thus invalid year for Herod’s death
    No viable eclipse in 2 or 3 BC.Invalid years for Herod’s death.
    In 4 BC, 2 Shebet falls on 29 Dec 5 BC, 74 days before the 13 Mar 4BC eclipse. Invalid year for Herod’s death.

    Christ was born on Passover 6 April 1BC. Conceived 9 months earlier on the 17 June 2BC conjunction of Jupiter and Venus.
    9 months after Christ was born on 6 April, Herod had 42 dissentients (did it include babies?) executed on 29 Dec 1BC. Herod calculated from the 18 month old “star” event to set age 2 for babies.
    My proofs found here: https://www.familysearch.org/tree/person/memories/LDLR-236

    Enjoy for your consideration!


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