Let's suppose you're talking to a person about a mutual friend, discussing all about what a fine fellow he is. But you don't know approximately when he was born, his height, weight or what he looks like; you don't know to which race or ethnic group he belongs. You know nothing about his family — whether or not he has any brothers and sisters. You know nothing about his aims, goals or objectives in life; nothing about his nature, personality and character. You don't know where he is, where he's been or where he's going. That's quite a bit not to know about someone and still call him "friend," isn't it? Yet millions of professing Christians find themselves in exactly that predicament when it comes to how much they really know about Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
True or false? Jesus was born on Christmas Day. Jesus was resurrected on Easter Sunday. Jesus' Olivet Prophecy was all fulfilled in A.D. 70. Believe it or not, all of these statements about Jesus Christ and what He said are completely false! Yet multiple thousands, the vast majority of professing Christians, believe them to be totally true. Why? Because they have never taken the trouble to examine the source of these beliefs and check up on them in their own Bibles without prejudice and without bias. In this short series of articles on pagan doctrines, we have already seen how the ideas of men about a so-called "immortal soul," an "ever-burning hellfire," a Christian retirement plan in heaven and a "triune" God are all sheer fabrications — lacking any biblical basis. Now the scene changes to focus on the false beliefs about the "person" of Jesus Himself and what He directly and personally taught in the New Testament.
When Was Jesus Born?
Did the three (?) wise men meet Jesus in a manger scene just like it's always pictured in Christmas plays and on various Yuletide postcards and paintings? You've seen it before: the wise men coming into a stable or barn carrying a cute little gold coffer, with goats and camels munching on a lot of hay scattered around. This nativity scene is repeated endlessly year after year so that it has become so firmly fixed in our minds it is very difficult, if not well-nigh impossible, to dislodge. But flash back to another scene that supposedly occurred not long before. An angel suddenly appears somewhere just outside of Jerusalem on a rolling hill all covered with snow, very near to where men are shepherding their flocks, scares the daylights out of them, and announces Jesus' birth. It's a pity nobody ever seems to stop to think about the difference between these Christmas plays, postcards, or paintings showing a beautiful — albeit cold and uncomfortable — winter scene and the fact that it never snows in or near Jerusalem at the actual time of Jesus' birth. Luke 2:8 tells us in no uncertain words that "there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night." But these shepherds were not walking around in the midst of great drifts of snow as commonly depicted in the obligatory "white-" Christmas scene. If it were wintertime, these keepers of the flock would have exhibited a little common sense; they would have penned their flocks, laid up plenty of hay and forage in the barns and carefully and painstakingly prepared the lofts, sheds and sheepfolds. Sheep have to be meticulously cared for, fed and sheltered during the winter. The shepherds or the sheep could hardly have been out in the snow-covered fields. Yet Luke -records the irrevocable biblical fact that they were out in the fields at the time of Jesus' birth (see Luke 2:8-12). Simple logic, then, tells us there was no snow and it was not December and in the middle of the winter when Christ was born — but much earlier in the year, by about three months!
In Judea, shepherds simply did not have their flocks in the field during December. They always rounded up the sheep and goats from the mountainsides and the fields — corraling them usually not later than October 15. Even if it did not snow, the cold, rainy season would have been too much for the sheep (see Song of Solomon 2:11; Ezra 10:9, 13). Says Adam Clarke's commentary: "It was a custom among the Jews to send out their sheep... about the Passover, and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain; during the time they were out, the shepherds watched them day and night. As the Passover occurred in the spring, and the first rain began early in the month of Marchesvan [Jewish sacred calendar], which answers to part of our October and November, we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during the whole, of the summer. And as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that consequently, our Lord was not born on the twenty-fifth of December, when no flocks were out in the fields" (one volume edition, abridged by Ralph Earle, p. 857, emphasis mine). Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary on the Whole Bible concurs (one volume edition, see pp. 991-992). Almost any authoritative commentary or encyclopedia will tell you that there is no evidence that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was born on December 25.
Myths About the Magi
Turn now to the second chapter of Matthew, where some diametric opposites about what is commonly believed about Jesus' birth will be found. Verse one: "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men [Greek, magi] from the east to Jerusalem." First of all, as an aside, it nowhere says, either in this verse or elsewhere, that there were three wise men. Verse 2: "Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him." Do you actually believe that this was a real star — a celestial body in the heavens that is still there today? I don't! Picture the scene. These wise men suddenly saw this "star" in the east and according to their calculations, "triangulations" and celestial navigation finally found Jesus in the manger. But is that the way it happened? Check the context of the chapter — particularly verse 9: "When they [the wise men] had heard the king, they departed; and, 10, the star, which they saw in the east [the same one mentioned in verse 2], went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was." Have you ever seen a real star act like that? Obviously the star described in this chapter of Matthew is not a normal star in the classical sense of an astronomical body — that would be an illogical impossibility. Turn briefly to the first chapter of the book of Revelation. Jesus Christ is pictured in a divine vision as having seven stars in His right hand (verse 16). Drop down to verse 20: "The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand.... The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches...." A star, in symbolic biblical language, can be a great angelic being. Lucifer — before he sinned and became Satan the devil — was known as "the Shining Star of the Dawn." The expression "Lucifer" literally means "Day Star." Notice again Matthew 2:2. Employing a personal pronoun, the expression used is "his star." A similar expression — "his angel" — is also used in a number of biblical passages. For example, see the very first verse of the book of Revelation: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John" (cf. Acts 12:11, 15; Dan. 6:22; Heb. 1:7; Ps. 103:20). A personal pronoun indicating possession is even used in connection with. barely converted new babes in Christ. Jesus said: "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones [newly converted Christians]; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels [not necessarily implying a guardian angel for every single person on earth] do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 18:10). All the biblical evidence, taken together, clearly indicates that this star was indeed an angelic messenger of God.
How Long Did It Take?
Herod the Great was a vice-king in Jerusalem (tetrarch of Galilee, Luke 3:1) at the time of Jesus' birth. "When Herod the king had heard these things [about Jesus' birth and the wise men], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.... Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star [angel] appeared" (Matt. 2:3, 7). Herod sent the wise men on to Bethlehem (verses 5, 8-9). And believe it or not, this whole journey (from wherever they originally were east of Jerusalem, to Jerusalem, and then to Bethlehem) could have taken up quite a long period of time. Here's why. Herod the Great had privately called the wise men and carefully tried to pinpoint the time of the star's appearance. Why? Because he guessed that it marked the approximate time of Jesus' birth (verses 1, 7). Now notice this important point in verse 16: "Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men" (the time at Which the star, or angel, had appeared). This was a horrible, bloody, unbelievable slaughter — one of the worst in history! What circumstances would make this puppet king, Herod, under the authority of. the Roman governorship, take such a big gamble? He was obviously risking one of the most unbelievable riots you ever heard of in your life. Can you imagine someone actually assassinating all the male babies in an entire area? Stop to think about it logically. If Herod had known that Jesus could not have been more than one month of age, why would he have risked killing all the other thousands of babies? Obviously there was a big question in his mind as to exactly how old Jesus might be. He must have been guessing by at least. as much as one full year. So he ordered mass death for male children two years of age and under.
A House or a Manger?
Commonly portrayed in literature and Christmas greeting cards is the scene in which Mary, Joseph and the wise men (magi) are all gathered around the manger. But is this a true portrayal or a completely false one? Let the Bible itself give the answer! Verse 11: "And when they [the wise men] were come into the house [very definitely not a stable scene complete with a manger], they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh." Since three categories of gifts are mentioned, people have assumed that there were three wise men; but there could have been two, or seven, or twelve, or even twenty — we simply don't know! Here's another one of those biblical opposites. Jesus was in a house — apparently a rented home — when the wise men arrived. It could have been the home of a relative or friend, but more probably it was rented. When the family first came to Jerusalem, the biblical account says every available dwelling was filled and no remaining space was available (see Luke 2:7). Jesus' family had no abode of their own and apparently were not well acquainted with anybody in Bethlehem — being from the hill country in Galilee. But the point is this: the common manger scene cannot possibly be correct, because by the time the wise men arrived Jesus was in a house, not a manger.
The Real Manger Scene
The companion chapter about the birth and boyhood of Jesus is found in Luke 2. Joseph and Mary journeyed from their home in Nazareth (where Jesus later grew up) to Bethlehem for several reasons. First of all, it is very likely that Joseph knew from the prophecy of Micah that Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem (cf. Matt. 2:4-6; Micah 5:2-3). Secondly, the whole Roman world was being taxed at that precise time by a decree from Emperor Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-5). Thirdly, there is every indication that this was also the time of the fall festival season. The logical time for taxes to be paid was at the week-long Jewish Feast of Tabernacles in the autumn — the highlight of the fall festivals. Remember that "there was no room for them in the inn" (verse 7). Mass attendance at the fall feasts caused quite a housing problem in Jerusalem which spilled right on over into nearby "suburbs" like Bethlehem (about five miles from Jerusalem proper). The whole area was simply swarming with people — perhaps even up to two million in a region normally limited to about a 200,000 population. By the time Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, "stable rooms" were the only available accommodations. Now notice the entirety of verse 7: "And she [Mary] brought forth her firstborn son [there were others born later — see Matthew 13:55], and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." Here the actual account of Jesus' birth is described by Luke. No calendar date is given. Apparently God very carefully obscured the exact date of Christ's birth. However, as stated before, the general time of the year is clearly indicated in verse 8: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field [an impossibility anywhere near December 25th], keeping watch over their flock by night." Verses 9-12: "And, 10, the angel of the Lord came upon them.... And the angel said unto them [the shepherds] .... For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." Two vital points quickly come to mind. First, it is stated plainly that an angel appeared to these shepherds and spoke the enunciation. It would seem very logical that God would use the same modus operandi to inform the wise men in Matthew's account, though the language there is certainly cloaked in symbol. Secondly, the angel appeared to these shepherds on the exact date of Christ's birth (verse II); yet Luke, the Gospel writer, does not bother to include a clarifying parenthetical remark complete with a calendar date (such parenthetical clarifications can be found in several places in the same chapter — verses 2, 4, 23, 35).
Peace on Earth?
Immediately after the enunciation, these same shepherds were startled by a large group of angels (verse 13) who were saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (verse 14). At least that's the way the King James Version has it. But was there much peace on earth in Jesus' earthly lifetime? We read earlier of a mass killing of infants and toddlers; several attempts were made on Christ's life prior to the crucifixion; secular history reveals there was unrest in the whole Roman world at that time. Is there peace now? We've had sixty wars since World War II. You can see some of the tragic scenes from the war in Cambodia and Vietnam in the next article in this month's issue (beginning on page 6), "The War That Could End It All." Big nations around this world are armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons just in case we do, after all, have to fight the war that must not be fought. The truth is that there has been precious little peace on earth or good will toward men since the time Cain killed Abel. Why, then, did a chorus of angels say such a thing at the enunciation of Christ's birth? The 1611. translation is the guilty party in this case. Almost all modern translations correct this flagrant mistranslation in the King James. The Revised Standard Version has it: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he [God] is pleased!" The Phillips translation renders it: "Glory to God in the highest Heaven! Peace upon earth among men of goodwill!" Continue the story in verses 15 and 16: "And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass.... And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger." There are many important differences (but not contradictions) between the two accounts in the second chapters of Matthew and Luke. One is that, unlike the wise men as explained previously, the shepherds immediately rushed to the scene of Christ's birth. By the time the wise men finally arrived, Joseph had already moved Jesus from the emergency accommodations of a manger into a house (Matt. 2:11). The shepherds were apparently nearby "in the same country" (Luke 2:8); the wise men came "from the east to Jerusalem" (Matt. 2:1) — apparently quite a long distance away, as is obvious from the fact that Herod was so completely unsure of Jesus' birth date.
Was Christ, Born "B.C."?
The biblical facts clearly show that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was not born on or anywhere near December 25th — the date of the pagan celebration called "Christmas." Further, He was born not in the winter, but in the autumn or fall of the year. You may also be surprised to learn that Christ was actually born in the year 4 B.C. But how could that possibly be? How could Jesus have been born before He was born — "Before Christ"? Think a moment! Did all the world suddenly begin to reckon time differently at the birth of Christ? Did everyone announce that from this point on, they would begin year A.D. 1 (Anno Domini, or "Year of Our Lord")? Did the whole Western world suddenly begin counting time the same way you have always. counted time? Why, of course not. Many of the facts presented in this article clearly show the obscurity of the time factors surrounding Christ's birth. Further, the Jews in Palestine were then counting time according to the regnal years of their rulers (Luke 3:1). The Chinese count time differently than we do, or than do the Jews. The Mohammedans, or the adherents of Islam, reckon time from the Hegira, or the flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina. In the so-called "Christian" world, we are now supposedly living in the year One Thousand Nine Hundred Seventy-five After Christ. But are we really?
A Pagan Calendar
Believe it or not, our whole method of counting time is completely pagan. All your plans, your calendar markings, your "dates" with friends have always been set according to pagan, heathen days and seasons. Did you ever analyze the very names of days? SUNday is the chief day of the professing Christian world — or the day specially dedicated to the sun god, not the Son of God! MONday is the second day of the week, and the day of the moon god. In other languages, such as in some of the Romance tongues, the word lunes (having the same Latin root as our word "lunar") is used. When you use the term "looney," referring to someone who is crazy, you are actually reverting to an ancient superstition that people became "moonstruck" or went crazy because of the influence of the moon. The remainder of the days of the week all have similar origins. But what about the months? The very same thing has happened. The Romans, and then the professing Christian world, adapted the same old pagan calendar, calling the names of the months not after the divinely revealed pattern of the Bible, but after the god "Janus" or "Juno," or in honor of a pagan emperor, such as Julius or Augustus.
Even the Years Are Wrong
But what about today's date? Are we really living in the One Thousand Nine Hundred Seventy-fifth year since Christ's birth? No, we are not! Actually, until about September of 1976, we will have been living in the 1979th year since the birth of Christ. Let's understand. God did not instruct man regarding the manner of reckoning time according to A.D. or B.C. This is a devising of man's. The present-day method of calculating years and epochs was first established by Dionysius the Little (a Roman Catholic abbot who lived in the sixth century) and began to be used only in parts of Italy — not reaching France until the eighth century. The Florentines continued to use a totally different method of reckoning the passage of years, until even as late as the eighteenth century. Further, different peoples, according to location and religion, began the years on different dates, and in different months. It was Dionysius who began assigning the years prior to Christ as those Ante Christum (in English, "Before Christ"), and those following the supposed date of His birth as Anno Domini or "Year of Our Lord." Dionysius' method of dividing the years with the supposed time of the birth of Christ has led to countless difficulties. For instance, astronomers, counting either backward or forward, insert a year "0" between A.D. 1 and 1 B.C. Chronologers and historians do not. Isn't it a little confusing to use two totally different systems, the one the exact opposite of the other, when reckoning time? Not only do historians and chronologers resort to a double manner of reckoning, but they must also remember that the cycles of the leap years are totally different in the years "B.C." Was Dionysius able to be completely objective? Was he completely honest with himself — driven only by the intellectual and philosophical pursuit of new knowledge and truth? Or was he striving to see how he could devise a method which would blend the pagan customs with the "Christian" ones? To this Hislop replies: "The instrument in accomplishing this amalgamation was the abbot Dionysius the Little, to whom also we owe it, as modern chronologers have demonstrated, that the date of the Christian era, or the birth of Christ Himself was moved four years from the true time!" (Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, p. 105, emphasis mine.) These ancient chronologers did not lose four years, as some have feared. They just misplaced Christ's date of birth by pushing it forward four years on the calendar they had already devised.
The Real Jesus
Perhaps many of the above points surrounding the birth of your Savior are relatively minor ones when compared to the major truths concerning salvation and entrance into the Kingdom of God. But if there are so many misunderstandings, untruths, myths and diametric opposites extant in the religious world about even His birth, how many are there concerning the really important things about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ? They are legion! And that is absolutely true whether you are talking about the person of Christ or His teachings. When people hear the phonetic sound of the name "Jesus," a mishmash of hazy concepts about a false Jesus that never existed comes into their minds. It would take a year's worth of magazines for me to even begin to clear up all the pagan traditions, false ideas and deliberate distortions about Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Fortunately, we publish a couple of booklets that will help get you much farther down the road to understanding the real Christ and what He did and did not teach. Click the links for your free copies of The Real Jesus and What Is a Real Christian? The first booklet proves that Jesus did not have long hair; did not break the laws of the land; was subject to civil authorities; was not "anti-establishment," sometimes hobnobbed with the upper crust of society; was a "family" man with brothers and sisters as well as a mother and legal father. It also clearly shows that Jesus did have as many as two houses in different cities; was definitely not a vagabond who always slept out-of-doors; did pay taxes; and looked like any normal Jew of His day. Be sure to follow links immediately for this challenging booklet entitled The Real Jesus. The other booklet — What Is a Real Christian? — shows the great yawning chasm between what Jesus really taught and what the Western world of religion "perceives" Him to have taught. It begins with the clearest and most fundamental of Christ's teachings in the "Sermon on the Mount" and proceeds there to such basic subjects as repentance and water baptism. You owe it to yourself to read these two attractively printed, color-cover booklets (and any others advertised in this issue). Even our longer magazine articles are of necessity limited in what they can cover by lack of space. But you can get a thorough, much more, complete understanding of any of these vital biblical topics by simply requesting and reading these many, many booklets that we send out by the multiple thousands every single year.