When Was Jesus Born B.C. or A.D
While this is sometimes debated, the majority of New Testament scholars place when was Jesus born in 4 B.C. or before. This is because most date the death of King Herod the Great to 4 B.C. Since Herod played a major role in the narrative of When was Jesus born B.C or A.D (see Matthew 2), Jesus would have had to be born before Herod died.
This begs the question: How could when was Jesus born b.c or a.d have been born in B.C.—“before Christ”?
The terms when was Jesus born B.C. or A.D stand for “before Christ” and “anno Domini,” which means “in the year of the Lord.” These terms are used to mark years in the Gregorian and Julian calendars—with the birth of Jesus as the event that divides history. In theory, all the years before Jesus’ birth receive the label B.C., and all those after his birth get A.D. If Jesus had been born in 1 A.D., these designations would be completely accurate.
However, as mentioned above, it seems most likely that Jesus was born in 4 B.C. or earlier. How then did the current division between B.C. and A.D. come to be?
Spread of the system
The B.C./A.D. system gained in popularity in the ninth century after Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne adopted the system for dating acts of government throughout Europe.
By the 15th century, all of Western Europe had adopted the when was Jesus born B.C or A.D system. The system’s inclusion was implicit in the 16th-century introduction of the Gregorian calendar, and it later would become an international standard in 1988 when the International Organization for Standardization released ISO 8601, which describes an internationally accepted way to represent dates and times.
Since the years of the Common Era are labeled “AD,” standing for anno Domini or “in the year of the lord” in Latin, one might assume that Jesus was born in the Year 0. Specifically, he is commonly believed to have been born eight days before the New Year on December 25, 1 B.C.E. But this is very unlikely.
For one thing, there is no year 0. The day following December 31, 1 B.C.E. is January 1, 1 C.E. And it isn’t as though this system of accounting can be trusted anyway. It was devised by Dionysius Exiguus, a monk who hailed from what is now Bulgaria, in the year 525 C.E. (according to himself).
Did Jesus exist before He was born?
The correct answer is: “Yes… and, no!” On the one hand, the Son of God always existed (John 8:58; 17:5), for He was eternally with God (John 1:1-2) and through Him God created all things (1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:2). So, yes, the Son of God existed before Jesus was born. But, on the other hand, to be strictly correct, “Jesus” did not exist before He was born, because the name “Jesus” was not given to the Son of God until AFTER He had taken on a human nature and was born into the world (Matthew 1:25). This is why, to be completely precise, the best answer to the question is “Yes… and no!”
As an analogy, think about marriage. In many countries in the world, when a woman marries, she will change her name. For example, in England, if Mary Smith married John Jones, her name would change to Mary Jones. If we ask the question, “Did Mary Jones exist before she got married,” we could answer “Yes,” because the same person still existed before she got married; but, if we wanted to be very literal, we would answer “No,” because before Mary Smith got married, she was not called Mary Jones. In a similar way, the Son of God existed both before and after He was born; but it was only AFTER He was born that this Divine Person could properly be called by the name of “Jesus.”
No Year Zero? When Was Jesus Born—B.C. or A.D.?
According to Charles Seife in his book “Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea”: “To Bede, also ignorant of the number zero, the year that came before 1 A.D. [sic] was 1 B.C. There was no year zero. After all, to Bede, zero didn’t exist.”
However, zero did exist; our modern conception of zero was first published in A.D. 628 by the Indian scholar Brahmagupta. The idea would not spread to medieval Christian Europe, however, until the 11th to 13th centuries.
For these reasons most biblical scholars and historians agree that Jesus was born between 4 – 1 B.C. While it may seem strange to say that Jesus was born “Before Christ,” it is simply a matter of human error. However, if 1 B.C. is ever confirmed to be the correct date of Jesus’ birth, Dionysius was only off by one year. Not bad for a 6th-century monk without the use of computers!
- Wishing you a very Merry Christmas.