“A truly comprehensive reading of all of the calendars, time lines, church chronologies, and other materials that provide the evidence for dating the birth of our Lord.”
—Charles J. Scalise, Professor of Church History, Fuller Theological Seminary
The most important events in human history—the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—are celebrated by Christians every year. But are we celebrating at the appropriate times? Have we lost the true understanding of these events?
Dr. Steven L. Ware’s new book When Was Jesus Really Born? offers an in-depth look into these events and how the early Christians observed special dates in the Church. In the following interview, Dr. Ware discusses the dates of Christmas and Easter and explains how the Church actually supports scientific timekeeping.
Some people today claim that December 25 is an arbitrary date, not actually when Jesus was born. How does your book help address this claim?
We may never have incontrovertible evidence for a particular date for Jesus’ birth, and it is certainly possible that December 25 is not the correct date. But December 25 is anything but an arbitrary choice of date, as we see it cited in very early Christian literature. And it was chosen as the date for celebrating Jesus’ birth not because of the date itself, but because it was nine months after an equally important date—the Annunciation of Our Lord.
The date of Easter changes every year. How does your book explain this?
Two entire chapters of this book are dedicated to the fascinating story of the development of the Paschal, or Easter cycle, its connection to Passover, and the varieties of Christian approaches to this matter. Special attention is given to Dionysius Exiguus, who not only created a 95-year Easter cycle in the early sixth century but also the modern (Western) chronological system known as “Anno Domini.”
What benefit can students take away from this book?
For college students (and other interested readers) this book holds special value in showing the historical grounding of early Christian beliefs and practices in the events, writings, and inscriptions of the late ancient world. It shows the clear connections of Christian theology with astronomy and timekeeping. And it challenges the popular perception of Christianity as the enemy of science with clear examples of the Christian Church as the benefactor and supporter of scientific research.
Dr. Steven L. Ware is Professor of Historical Theology at Nyack College/Alliance Theological Seminary in New York City and Nyack, NY.