A number of myths shroud the history of the early childhood of Jesus Christ, but the Scriptures provide enough facts to dispel many of the unsubstantiated stories that have crept into the accounts of His childhood.
Not only was the manner of Christ’s birth predicted (Matthew 1:22-23), but also the place (Micah 5:2) and the Jewish people were very aware of these prophecies. There was an expectation of the coming of the Messiah (Matthew 11:2-3; John 1:40-41) at the time Christ was born. In Luke 2:25-28 we are told: “And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout... And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God…”
Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, mentions the Jews had the belief that “about that time one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth” (Wars of the Jews, Book VI, Chapter V, Section 4). Tacitus, a Roman historian, also writes of the same belief that “there was a firm persuasion … that at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers coming from Judea were to acquire a universal empire” (Histories, 5:13).
Therefore the four Gospels begin where the Old Testament prophecies leave off, showing the fulfillment of the events around Jesus Christ’s birth. As He claimed to be the Messiah there was a need to prove through his genealogy he had descended from Abraham and David, therefore the Gospel writers placed His genealogies at the beginning of Matthew (Joseph’s genealogy) and in Luke 3 (Mary’s genealogy) for all to see and verify. Interestingly, Scripture doesn’t record any instance of the Jewish leaders challenging Jesus on this point.
It is also remarkable that, while the manner, place and genealogy of Jesus are carefully described in the opening chapters of Matthew and John, none of the Gospel writers mentions the date—or even the month—of His birth. The first recorded “Christ mass” or celebration of the birth of Christ was not held until 435, when Pope Sixtus III conducted it in Rome.
Cambridge historian Henry Chadwick explains when and why Dec. 25 was chosen to celebrate the birth of Jesus: “Moreover, early in the fourth century there begins in the West … the celebration of December 25th, the birthday of the Sun-god at the winter solstice, as the date for the nativity of Christ” (The Early Church, 1967, p. 126). Thus Dec. 25 was arbitrarily selected, not because Jesus was born on that day, but because it was already popular in pagan religious celebrations as the birthday of the sun.
The origins of Christmas cannot be traced to either the teachings or practices of the earliest Christians. Infact, the biblical festival days observed by Jesus and the apostles were neglected by later religious leaders who instituted a new set of holidays in their place. We know that during his youth Jesus kept Israel’s religious feasts every year with his family. “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast” (Luke 2:41-42).
We also know Jesus lived most of his life up to the age of 30 in the environs of Nazareth. “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read” (Luke 4:16). He was also well known in Nazareth for his profession as a builder and carpenter. When He began His ministry the people from Nazareth asked, “Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3). Notice, this verse not only explains what Jesus’ profession was during his adulthood in Nazareth, but that He had four half-brothers and at least two half-sisters. (They would be half-brothers and sisters since Jesus had God as His father and Mary as His mother. The brothers and sisters had Joseph as their father and Mary as their mother.)
Most of Christ’s life recorded in the Gospels deals with His public teaching. His early life is briefly mentioned to confirm He fulfilled prophecies about the Messiah and to establish the background for His all-important ministry. But, when all is said and done, there is sufficient information to dispel the myths that have crept into the extra-biblical accounts of Christ’s life through the centuries.
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