The Calendar, The Nativity, and
In this article, we investigate many
interesting facts from scripture relative to dating time, and
look at the religious and civil facets of the calendar, and its
testimony to the kingdom and coming of Christ.
Genesis tells us that God so arranged the
heavenly bodies to create the seasons, and provide man a means
of marking time:
"And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the
heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for
signs, and for seasons, and for days and years: and let them be
for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the
earth: and it was so.
And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule
the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the
stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to
give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the
night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw
that it was good.
And the evening and the morning were the fourth day" (Gen.
Earth's movement through space and the
motion of the heavenly bodies provide a clock-work by which man
measures time even today.
The earth's revolution upon its axis gives us day and
night; its orbit around the sun provides us the seasons and the
year. The moon's
orbit around the earth gives us the month, and the zodiac or
twelve signs further serve to gauge the months and seasons.
There are two principal forms of the day;
the natural and the civil. The natural day is the whole period
between two sun sets; one day ending at the set of the sun and
the next day then beginning.
"And the evening and the morning were the first day"
(Gen. 1:4). The civil day is established by custom or usage.
Among the Romans, the civil day began at ; a custom has obtained ever since. The day
is divided into 24 hours. The first hour of the natural day is
has been settled upon as the nominal hour of sunrise.
Twelve hours are nominally assigned to the day and twelve
to the night, though we know that these, in fact, vary with the
season of the year.
When Jesus says, "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" (Jn.
11:9), he alludes to this division.
Likwise, when the gospels speak of the sixth or tenth
hour of the day or the like (Jn. 4:6; ), they mean the hour of the civil day
measured from the nominal hour of sunrise at However,
when Mark says it was the third hour when they crucified Jesus
(Mk. ), in apparent contradiction to John who says it was
the sixth hour (Jn. 19:14), Mark is probably best understood to
mean it was the hour from Jesus' trial before Pontius Pilate,
not the hour of the morning (cf. Matt. 27:45; Lk. 23:44).
A further measurement is the division of the night into
military watches, of which the Romans had four (6-9, 9-12, 12-3,
3-6). These watches
also represented hours of divine office in the temple and among
monastic orders today, whose names are Vespers (), Compline (),
Matins () and
Lauds () (Ps. 92:2; 134:1; I Chron. 9:33).
Most probably take for granted that the
week is an inherent and universal unit of time-keeping. It is
not. The week is
not a natural division of the month (except for the anomalous
month of February), nor is it a natural division of the year,
the nearest multiples coming short in each case.
The week comes to man directly from the Bible, where it
marked God's rest from the creation (Gen. 2:2, 3); it was then
given to the Jews as a token of their rest from slavery (Ex.
20:8-11); thence to the Christians, who assembled each first day
of the week to partake of the Lord's Supper (Act 20:11; I Cor.
The Roman "week" originally contained eight
days, and the month was divided between the "Kalends,"
"Nones," and "Ides" (see more below). There were eight days
between the Nones and
Ides, from which the
Nones received their
name (nine days to the
Ides reckoning inclusively), and two eight week periods from
the Ides to the end
of the month. It
was not until the reign of
He enjoins the General Observance of the Lord's Day, and the Day of Preparation.
HE ordained, too, that one day should be regarded as a special occasion for prayer: I mean that which is truly the first and chief of all, the day of our Lord and Saviour. The entire care of his household was entrusted to deacons and other ministers consecrated to the service of God, and distinguished by gravity of life and every other virtue: while his trusty body guard, strong in affection and fidelity to his person, found in their emperor an instructor in the practice of piety, and like him held the Lord's salutary day in honor and performed on that day the devotions which he loved. The same observance was recommended by this blessed prince to all classes of his subjects: his earnest desire being gradually to lead all mankind to the worship of God. Accordingly he enjoined on all the subjects of the Roman empire to observe the Lord's day, as a day of rest, and also to honor the day which precedes the Sabbath; in memory, I suppose, of what the Saviour of mankind is recorded to have achieved on that day. (1) And since his desire was to teach his whole army zealously to honor the Saviour's day (which derives its name from light, and from the sun), (2) he freely granted to those among them who were partakers of the divine faith, leisure for attendance on the services of the Church of God, in order that they might be able, without impediment, to perform their religious worship. Eusebius, Life of Constantine, Bk. IV, chapter xviii.
The precedent of
We first encounter the month in Genesis
where it occurs in connection with the flood.
"In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month,
the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the
fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven
were opened…and the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred
and fifty days…and the ark rested in the seventh month, on the
seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat"
(Gen. 7:11, 24; 8:4).
Moses says the flood prevailed five months
to the day. Since he says this was also equal to 150 days, this
would make the months thirty days long, just better than the
length of one lunar cycle.
Months in the Roman calendar were either "pleni" (full), containing 31 days, or "cavi" (hollow), containing 30 days. The Romans divided the month into Kalends, Nones, and Ides. In all cases, the Kalends were the first day of the month. In full months of 31 days, the Nones were the seventh and the Ides the fifteenth. March has always contained 31 days, and the Ides of March have been permanently marked in history by the death of Julius Caesar.
Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry "Caesar!" Speak, Caesar is turn'd to hear.
Beware the ides of March.
What man is that?
A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 1, scene 2, 15-19
In hollow months of 30 or less days, the
Nones were the fifth
and Ides the
thirteenth. Dates were expressed by enumerating
backward from these
days. Days between
the Kalends and
Nones were enumerated
backward from the Nones;
those between the Nones
and Ides, backward
from the Ides.
Days subsequent to the
Ides were enumerated
backward from the Kalends
of the following month. The Romans reckoned inclusively, so that
the day from and the
day to which the
enumeration was made were both counted.
Thus, 8 days before the
Kalends of January is
December 25th, seven days remaining to December including the
25th, plus January 1st.
As we have seen, the Noahic calendar had 30
days to the month, and thus 360 days to the year (12 x 30 =
360). A circle
contains 360 degrees.
Earth advances in its annual course around the sun about
one degree per day. However,
because earth's orbit is not a perfect circle, but slightly
elliptical, it takes just less than 365 1/4 days to complete its
annual course around the sun.
Hence, the Noahic calendar would have required the
intercalation of five days annually to keep the lunar and solar
year in synchronization.
Herodotus reports that this was done by the Egyptians:
"The Egyptians were the first to discover the year, which they
divided into twelve parts; and they say that they made this
discovery from the stars; and so far, I think they act more
wisely than the Grecians, in that the Grecians insert an
intercalary month every third year, on account of the seasons;
whereas the Egyptians, reckoning twelve months of thirty days
each, add five days each year above that number, and so with
them the circle of the season comes round to the same point."
Julius Caesar is usually credited with the
solar calendar of 365 days, but here we see the Egyptians
discovered it long before Caesar and doubtless the men of Noah's
day long before even the Egyptians.
In calendars based upon the solar year, months lose all
relation to the phases of the moon; they become blocks of time
upon the calendar, which come and go independently of the lunar
peoples kept lunar calendars primarily because of religious
festivals connected with the moon, which are lost or obscured in
That the Noahic calendar was solar shows that there were no
sacrifices coordinated with the moon at that time in sacred
this changed under Moses.
The Jewish month was marked by the
appearance of the new moon, at which time specific sacrifices
were made (Num. 28:11; ).
The Psalmist thus declared
"Blow the trumpet in the
new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day" (Ps.
nation's Exodus from
"The testimony of at least two witnesses was required to
establish that the new moon had been seen. So important were the
observations of these witness that, for the fixing of the new
moons of Nisan and Tishri, the pivotal points of the year in the
spring and fall, they might even exceed the travel limit of two
thousand cubits on the Sabbath day to bring their report to
The connection between the Jews' religious
festivals and the moon meant that the solar year of the Noahic
calendar was replaced with a lunar calendar tied to the actual
phases of the moon.
The moon's cycle is just better than 29 1/2 days. Half days were
counted for by alternating months between 29 and 30 days, so
that a year consisted of six months of 29 days, and six months
of 30 days. Twelve lunar months contain 354 days.
Since the solar year consists of just less than 365 1/4
days, the lunar year is eleven days shorter than the solar year.
To bring the two back into synchronization, the Jews and
other ancient peoples intercalated an extra, thirteenth month
seven times in nineteen years, or about every third year.
Among the Jews this month was added at the end of the
year so as to bring the first month, when Passover was
celebrated, back into synchronization with the vernal equinox,
which is a fixed point in the solar year.
The ancient Romans also used the lunar
calendar. The day that the Romans called the
Ides was associated
with the full moon, and Macrobrius states that many agree the
word Ides is derived
from the Greek
because on that day the moon presents its full
appearance (quod eo die
plenam speciem luna demonstret).
Scholars believe that the Roman method of counting days backward
from the Kalends, Nones,
and Ides is the
equivalent of saying "It wants so many days to the new moon, to
the first quarter, and to the full moon."
The religious character
of lunar calendars is also seen among the Romans, for it was the
duty of the pontifices to watch for the new moon, who then sang
a hymn, offered a sacrifice, and announced the number of days
remaining until the
Nones, whether five or seven.
The priests had the
further responsibility to insert intercalary months to regulate
the lunar and solar years. Macrobrius and other writers report
that 22 or 23 days were added every other year, for a total of
90 days in eight years, but that in the third octoennial period
of a 24 year cycle, only 66 were added.
The priestly college is reported to have added or subtracted
from the year by corrupt and capricious intercalations so as to
lengthen or shorten the period a magistrate remained in office,
and to injure or benefit the farmer of the public revenue.
Suetonius states that the negligence of the pontiffs had so long
disordered the calendar through their privilege of adding months
or days at pleasure, that the "harvest festivals did not come in
summer or those of the vintage in the autumn."
The Julian Calendar
The Roman calendar was in such a state when
Caesar attained the supreme power over his countrymen.
In 45 B.C., Caesar thus set his hand to reform the
calendar by abolishing the lunar calendar, and substituting a
solar calendar of 365 1/4 days in its place.
It will be recalled that Herodotus attributed the
Egyptians with discovery of a year of 12 months of 30 days,
adding five days to fulfill 365, so bringing the year to its
starting point again.
Caesar accomplished this same result by dividing the
months between 30 (April, June, September, November), and 31
(January, March, May, July, August, October, December) save
February, which has only 28.
The additional six hours Caesar believed the year
contained was dealt with by adding an extra day to February
every 4th year.
Caesar's reform of the calendar, making it
a civil/solar calendar, rather than a lunar/religious one, was
providential in timing.
The dawn of Christianity marked an end to monthly
observances tied to the moon typical of the Jewish and pagan
nations. Paul's comment to the Galatians, whom Judaizers had
seduced to keep the mosaic law, is telling:
"Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them
which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have know
God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak
and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in
bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years"
Paul's rebuke makes clear that he deemed
the calendrical observances of Jews as having no essential
difference from pagan observances. Both were the elemental stuff
of the world and could not save from sin.
There being no reason to keep a lunar calendar but
religious, the Julian calendar anticipated the conversion of the
nations to Christ, supplying in advance a calendar suited to the
The change from a lunar and solar calendar
soon made itself felt in the infant faith.
Annual commemoration of Christ's Passion caused no little
controversy in the early church. On the night of his betrayal,
Luke reports that Jesus said:
"With desire I have desire to eat this Passover with you before
I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof
until it be fulfilled in the
Unless this points to celebration of the
Pasche in heaven (for the
"At that time no small controversy arose because all the dioceses of Asia thought it right, as though by more ancient tradition, to observe for the feast of the Saviour's Passover the fourteenth day of the moon, on which the Jews had been commanded to kill the lamb. Thus it was necessary to finish the fast on that day, whatever day of the week it might be. Yet it was not the custom to celebrate in this manner in the churches throughout the rest of the world, for from apostolic tradition they kept the custom which still exists that it is not right to finish this fast on any day save that of the resurrection of our Saviour" (Ecclesiastical History, V, xiii; Loeb ed.).
The Error of the Julian
Calendar and its Testimony of the Birth of Christ
Another happy circumstance of Caesar's
calendar is the unwitting witness it lends to the date of
Christ's birth. The Julian calendar set the year at 365 1/4
days. However, this is 11 minutes 14 seconds longer the actual
year. In the period
between 45 B.C. and the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325), this excess
caused the civil year to gain almost three days (2.862 days).
The four natural divisions of the year are the vernal and
autumnal equinoxes, and the summer and winter solstices.
The equinoxes had anciently been fixed at the March 25
and September 25, and the solstices at June 25 and December 25.
To establish the uniform celebration of the Pasche
(Easter), the Council of Nicea corrected the vernal equinox to
March 21, and decreed that the Pasche should be celebrated the
first Sunday following the full moon on or after the vernal
equinox. But as this is four days correction, and the calendar
had grown out of synchronization less then three days in the
period from its start, it is clear that the equinox already
anticipated March 25 by a little better than a day when Caesar
inaugurated his reforms. Now, the earliest testimony of the
church is that Christ was born Dec. 25th
when it was still associated in men's minds with the winter
But the church very early on, almost from the very
beginning, knew of the error in the Julian calendar and that the
dates traditionally fixed for the equinoxes and solstices did
not correspond with the astronomical events. And as the
discrepancy grew more obvious and acute with the passing
centuries, like a beacon growing ever wider the further it
shines from its source, it is clear that the tradition placing
Christ's birth on Dec. 25th, when men still associated that day
with the winter solstice, necessarily hales from a time very
near, if not actually that of, the apostles themselves. For if
the feast of the Nativity was first celebrated Dec. 25th
hundreds of years after Christ's birth, as is often alleged, its
association with the winter solstice would have never come
about, the men of later times well knowing the correspondence
between the solstice and Dec. 25th did not exist when Jesus was
Where Do We Stand in History?
Thus far we have been looking at the
calendar in terms of measuring the year and its subdivisions.
What about the year as it stands in relation to the past or
future? How did the Jews and other ancient peoples date time?
Among the Gentiles, the distant past beyond
the memory of man was wrapped in myth.
Without the scriptures to provide a reliable account of
historical fact, the imagination of the poets had to fill the
gap. We thus read
of a time when all things were different than they are now; a
time of Olympian gods, centaurs, satyrs, and the age of heroes.
Censorinus reports of Varro's division of the past thus:
"And if the origin of the world had come into human's range of
knowledge, then that is where we would start from; but as it is
I shall treat that interval of time that Varro calls
"historical." For he gives three divisions of time epochs first
from the beginning of mankind to the first flood, which because
of our ignorance of it is called "unclear", second from the
first flood to the first Olympiad, which, because many fabulous
things are reported in it, is names "mythical", third from the
first Olympiad to us, which is called "historical", because the
events that happened in it are contained in true histories. For
the first epoch of time, whether it had a beginning or whether
it always existed, it is certainly not possible to comprehend
its number of years."(DN 20:12-21.2)
Between the mythical time and the first
Olympiad stands the fall of
Ancient cities had their own local time and
manner of calibration. As nations grew up and entered the world
stage, time involved synchronization of local with foreign
persons or events. Plutarch gives a date for the battle of
"They fought this battle on the fourth of Boedromion, according
the Athenians, but according to the Boeutians, on the
twenty-seventh of the month Panenus" (Arist. 19:7).
Establishing the year had equal challenges. Diodorus Siculus described the year 384 B.C. thus:
"At the conclusion of the year, in Athens Diotrephes was Archon
and in Rome the consuls elected were Lucius Valerius and Aulus
Mallius, and the Eleians celebrated the ninety-ninth Olympiad,
that in which Dicon of Syracus won the footrace" (15.14.1).
As this passage suggests, the Greeks dated
by those holding office of Archon and from Olympiads, but the
Romans by consuls, the year of an emperor's reign, or from the
founding of Rome (ab urbs
Among the Jews, no one reference or
comprehensive scheme occurs in scripture.
Any number of dating methods are found.
Genesis dates are consecutive, not cumulative. Rather
than saying an event occurred so many years from creation or
from Adam, they are dated to the time a particular person lived
or the year of his life. Continuity of dates is attained only by
totaling the years between successive births. Thus, from Adam to
Noah were 1056 years, and from Noah to Abraham 950 years, and
from Abraham to the death of Joseph 361 years.
The whole period covered by Genesis is therefore 2367 years.
Years to Birth of
Adam 130 yrs
Noah 502 yrs
Joseph 110 (dies)
Total 1056 yrs
Total 952 yrs
Total 361 yrs
After Genesis, this method of dating
disappears, and dates are provided from important events. Thus,
there were 430 years from Abraham entering
"They left Egypt in the month Xanthicus, on the fifteenth day of
the lunar month; four hundred and thirty years after our
forefather Abraham came into Canaan, but two hundred and fifteen
years only after Jacob removed into Egypt" (Ant. II, xv, 2)
From the Exodus to the beginning of David's
reign was 437 years (it was 480 years from the Exodus until the
4th year of Solomon (I Kng. 6:1, 38). David reigned 40 years.
Hence, 480 - 43 = 437). From David until the carrying away into
Babylonian captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, based upon the
regnal years of the kings of Judah, was 452 years. (But see Jos.
Ant. X, viii, 5 where
the length is given as 470 years from the building of Solomon's
temple until its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar.) From the
captivity until the decree to rebuild the city by
Artexerxes Longimanus given to Nehemiah was 132 years (586 B.C.
to 454 B.C.). And from the decree to rebuild the city to the
baptism of Christ in the fifteenth year of Tiberius (
Another method of dating that occurs in
scripture is the regnal years of kings.
During the monarchial period of the Jewish nation, the
scriptures often dated events according to a king's reign.
Thus, we read that in the eighth year of Josiah's reign "while
he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his
father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge
"And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the
tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar
king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem,
and pitched against it, and built forts against it round about.
So the city was besieged unto the eleventh year of king
Zedekiah" (Jer. 52:4).
Use of the term "Anno Domini" is usually
attributed to Dionysius Exiguus, a sixth century Sycthian monk.
The term is Latin for "in the year of our Lord" and
signifies the regnal years of Christ.
Dionysius used the birth of Christ to date the era in his
Paschal (Easter) Tables.
Dionysius substituted the "era of the martyrs" or the
"Diocletian era" that had obtained until that time, with the
incarnation of Christ.
Dionysius adopted his method because he did not want to
perpetuate the memory of Diocletian who had bitterly persecuted
Christians. The custom of nominating the era by
Anno Domini did not
become dominant in
Another era, related to that we have been
discussing, is the "latter days."
This phrase describes the closing days of the
world-course or age (Eph. 2:2) marked by the reign of sin and
death, and the dominion of earth by heathen powers.
Christ destroyed the dominion of sin and death by his
substitutionary death and atoning sacrifice.
He put his enemies beneath his feet in the cataclysmic
judgments visited upon the Jews and Romans in the years A.D.
68-70, which witnessed the "year of four emperors" among the
Romans and the destruction of the Jewish temple and nation. This
was the Stone smiting the image of Nebuchadnezzar's dream (Dan.
2:34-44); the time when the ancient of Days came in judgment
upon the "little horn" of Daniel seven (Nero Caesar) who had
persecuted the saints for 3 1/2 years, but was destroyed by the
brightness of Christ's coming and the spirit of his mouth (Dan.
7: 21, 22; II Thess. 2:3-8). Unless these things are true and
these prophecies fulfilled, we may not properly nominate the
present era Anno Domini,
for if Christ has not put his enemies beneath his feet, nor rules
the nations with a rod of iron, then he does not possess the
dominion, and the era is not his own. Eusebius is quite correct when
he states that the latter days were marked by the coronation of
Christ and destruction of the Jewish state:
"For we must understand by 'the end of the days' [viz., the
"last days", LXX Gen. 49:1) the end of the national existence of
the Jews. What, then, did he say they must look for? The
cessation of the rule of Judah, the destruction of their whole
race, the failing and ceasing of their governors, and the
abolition of dominant kingly position of the tribe of Judah, and
the rule and kingdom of Christ, not over Israel but over all
nations, according to the word, 'This is the expectation of the
Demonstratio Evangelica, VIII, ccclxxv; Ferrar ed.
The Gregorian Calendar
The defect of the Julian calendar, which caused it to grow 4 days out of synchronization with the solar year by the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, caused it to grow almost 10 days out of synch by 1582. To correct this, and to re-synchronize Easter with the vernal equinox, Pope Gregory promulgated a Papal bull establishing what is today called the Gregorian calendar. The reforms called for
Omission of ten days from the calendar, so that the day
Thursday, October 4, 1582would be deemed Friday October 15, 1582.
- Leap years were changed so that a year became a leap year (1) it is divisible by 4 but not by 100 or (2) it is divisible by 400. Thus, a year that is divisible by 4 is a leap year unless it is also divisible by 100, but not by 400.
- The extra day of the leap year was moved from the day before February 25th to the day following February 28th.
- New rules for determining the date of Easter were adopted.
The correction of the Pope Gregory
introduced was not the length of the year, but the intercalation
of leap years, to keep the solar year and calendar from growing
out of synch as they had with the Julian calendar.
The reforms were adopted immediately by several Catholic
states, including Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Poland, followed
later by France and Luxumbourge, Germany, Belguim, Switzerland
and the Netherlands.
 "If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a law, in like Manner as if he had signed it . . . " U.S. Constitution, Art. I, sec. 7.
an article by Thomas Hewitt Key, M.A., Professor of
Comparative Grammar in University College, London, on pp
222‑233 of William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John
Murry, London, 1875.
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875. However, Numa's calendar divided these between 31 and 29 days.
 Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Henrickson, 1998), §§73-76, pp. 36-37.
 Finegan, §80, p. 38, 39.
 Macrobrius, Saturnalia, I, xv, 16.
 Thomas Hewitt Key, Calendarium
 Macrobius, Saturnalia, I, xiii, 1-13.
 Thoms Hewitte Key, Calendarium
 Suetonius, Caesar, XL
 The earliest testimony is Theophilus, Bishop of Caesarea (A.D. 115-181): "We ought to celebrate the birth-day of our Lord on what day soever the 25th of December shall happen." Magdeburgenses, Cent. 2. c. 6. Hospinian, de orign Festorum Chirstianorum. Next is Hippolytus of Rome (A.D. 170-240) in his commentary on Daniel: “For the first advent of our Lord, that in the flesh, in which he was born in Bethlehem, took place eight days before the kalends of January, the 4th day of the week, while Augustus was in his forty-second year, but from Adam five thousand and five hundred years." The eighth before the calends of January is the twenty-fifth day of December. Dating from the death of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C., the forty-second year of Augustus would be 2 B.C.
 Augustine, Epistle 118: "It chiefly behooves us that upon the day of our Lord's nativity, we should receive the sacrament in remembrance of him that was born upon it, and upon the return of the year to celebrate the very day with a feasting devotion." "Return of the year" signifies the winter solstice when the days begin to grow longer; cf. Sermon In Natali Domini xi: "Jesus was born in the season when the length of the day increases.”
 For the full
argument, see John Selden,
God Made Man, A Tract Proving the Nativity of our Savior
to be on the 25th of December (
 As quoted in Dennis Feeney, Caesar's Calendar (A.D. 1007, Univ. Berkeley Press), p. 81.
 "What if I
should reveal the pools of
 Abraham was 75
at the death of his father, Terah (Gen. 11:32; 12:4;
Acts 7:4). Joseph was 30
when he stood before Pharoah; Jacob entered