The First Christmas: It Was Later Than You May Think!

describe the imageHistorians and theologians have for many years sought to link the birth of Jesus Christ with December 25th. The internal evidence from the Gospel accounts indicates a timing of the fall or autumn of the year for the birth of Jesus, so scholars have probed the literature written by the church fathers to establish the exact date and determine when it was first associated with December 25th. All efforts to find conclusive evidence linking His birth to that date have failed. 

Of recent date, a classical scholar, who is the Emeritus Professor of Classics at the University of Toronto, has made an observation that transforms the understanding of the relationship of December 25 to Jesus Christ.

Timothy Barnes has studied the Patristic period, from the 2nd through 5th centuries, specializing in one individual in particular, Constantine the Great. Barnes is considered a foremost authority on Constantine and his accomplishments. He has noted that December 25th first appears as a Christian event in Rome linked to the events of 312, the year that Constantine fought his battle at Milvian Bridge, conquering the city and thus becoming supreme Emperor.

In his 2011 book, Constantine, Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire, Barnes writes: “In the winter of 312/313 Constantine began to grant fiscal privileges to Christian clergy and to raise the status of the Christian church within Roman society." Barnes notes that Constantine remained in Rome until January 6, 313, traditionally known as Epiphany day. By the end of his reign, Roman Christians were dating the nativity of Christ to December 25. So Christmas began in Rome with a newly ‘converted’ Roman emperor. Barnes questions whether it is “rash to suggest that it was Constantine who introduced this synchronism in 312, thereby in some way equating the traditional pagan god with his new Christian God” (Barnes 85).describe the image

It remained over half a century more before John Chrysostomas began to associate December 25th with the date of the birth of Jesus. But Chrysostom's misunderstanding of Scripture is a story for another day.



Tags: Christmas, Constantine, birth of Jesus, December 25, Timothy Barnes

Easter is coming!

Just how far Christianity has strayed from the New Testament roots

This year in particular highlights how far traditional Christianity has strayed from the New Testament. Tomorrow is Good Friday when the majority of Christians celebrate the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.  Yet the New Testament nowhere speaks of Easter – apart from a mistranslation in Acts 12: 3 in the King James Version.  The death of Jesus Christ occurred at the Passover season which included the seven days of Unleavened Bread.

This year, Passover falls a month after Easter.  Calculated according to the Jewish calendar which is a combination of lunar and solar elements rather than the purely solar basis of the Gregorian calendar used throughout the western world, the Jewish calendar requires the addition of an extra month in certain years to keep the calendar in line with the movement of the sun. A starting point for the calculation of the calendar was the need to offer freshly cut barley during the days of Unleavened Bread.  This year saw the inclusion of an extra month to harmonize the calendar with the solar year.  This is true for those who follow the calculations for the calendar as well as for those who observe the growth of barley within proximity of Jerusalem before declaring the start of the new month.

So how did the Christian world end up with a festival observing the death of Jesus Christ so far removed from the calendar date when the event occurred?

Christians today follow the edict of the Emperor Constantine who decreed as a result of the Council of Nicea in C.E. 325, that Easter should be calculated separately from the Jewish festival.  As a result, Christianity today follows a festival that has no connection to the timing given with the Bible. The upshot is that the detail of the event is largely lost. 

We will continue to examine some of these connections as the period of time passes from Easter to Passover.

Tags: Passover, calendar, Constantine, Council of Nicea, Easter

Church History Date

Anniversary for a major historical city

The Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that May 11 is the date in 330 CE on which Constantine dedicated Constantinople as the capital of his empire. Formerly known as Byzantium, and today Istanbul, Constantinople was considered the administrative omphalus or navel of the earth by Constantine. To make the point, Constantine apparently moved Apollo’s statute from Delphi to the city.

Read more on Constantine on our Vision site.

Constantine: The Man and the Church 

Messiahs! Rulers and the Role of Religion, Part 2: The Coming of the "Christian" Emperor 

Splitting Heirs? 

Jerusalem: Center of the Earth? Part One 

Tags: christianity, Constantine, Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul

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