(c) Copyright Michael R. Ash 2002. All rights reserved
Many Latter-day Saints believe that April 6 was the actual date of Christs birth. This belief is based on the first verse of an1830 revelation to Joseph Smith indicating the date for officially restoring the Church.
The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April (D&C 20:1).
A number of Saints have read this passage as a revelation that the Church was restored on the very day Christ was born. This would mean that according to our current calendar, Jesus was born on April 6, 1 B.C. (there is no 0 B.C. or 0 A.D.). It appears that B.H. Roberts may have been among the first to suggest this reading when in 1893 he commented:
I believe that this [D&C 20:1] better than any other authority, fixes the time of the birth, or the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh; and that, as to the year at least, agrees with the Dionysian computation. It must be remembered that this revelation in Section twenty of the Doctrine and Covenants was given before the Church was organizedat sundry times between the first and the sixth of Apriland that the prophet was instructed to organize the Church on the sixth day of April, 1830, hence it was not mere chance that determined the day on which that organization took place.... (Roberts, 1893, 17.)
A little more than twenty years later James Talmage perpetuated and perhaps popularized the April 6 Christmas belief with the publication of Jesus the Christ in which he wrote:
As to the season of the year in which Christ was born, there is among the learned as great a diversity of opinion as that relating to the year itself. It is claimed by many Biblical scholars that December 25th, the day celebrated in Christendom as Christmas, cannot be the correct date. We believe April 6th to be the birthday of Jesus Christ as indicated in a revelation of the present dispensation already cited [D&C 20:1], in which that day is made without qualification the completion of the one thousand eight hundred and thirtieth year since the coming of the Lord in the flesh. This acceptance is admittedly based on faith in modern revelation, and in no wise is set forth as the result of chronological research or analysis. We believe that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, April 6, B.C. 1. (Talmage, 1915, 98.)
Since that time, other Latter-day Saints, including several general authorities (such as Lee, 2, and Kimball, 54], have referred to April 6 as the actual date of Christs birth.
While it is certainly possible that this is the correct reading of D&C 20:1, it is more likely that Joseph Smith was simply stating in fancy language that the Church was restored in 1830. I see three problems with accepting D&C 20:1 as a revelation for the actual date of Christs birth.
1) Although I may have missed a source, Ive been unable to find a document contemporary with Joseph Smith which claims that Christmas should be celebrated on April 6. Orson Pratt, who knew Smith intimately, once said:
If I were to celebrate Christmas, or the birthday of Christ, I should go back a little less than thirty-three years from his crucifixion, and it would bring it to Thursday, the 11th day of April, as the first day of the first year of the true Christian era
. The first day of the year of the true Christian era should be the day of the Savior's birth -- the 11th day of April. (Journal of Discourses, 15: 261.)
While Pratt believed that Christ was born in the spring (and he notes that several Bible scholars of his day suggested the month of April), he was apparently unaware that April 6 was the supposed day of Jesus birth. This seems unusual if the early Latter-day Saints understood D&C 20:1 as revealing the actual date of the first Christmas.
2) Not all recent General Authorities have accepted April 6 as the Christs birth day. Bruce R. McConkie, for example, wrote:
We do not believe it is possible with the present state of our knowledge-including that which is known both in and out of the Church-to state with finality when the natal day of the Lord Jesus actually occurred. (McConkie, 1:349, n.2.)
John Franklin Hall quoted McConkies comments in the General-Authority-directed publication, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Hall noted that for the present time, McConkies statement was probably the most definitive word on the question of the dating of Christs birth. (Hall, 1:62.)
3) In order for D&C 20:1 to refer to the literal date of Jesus birth, it would require that He was born in the year 1 B.C. This is problematic. While April may possibly be the month of Jesus birth, most scholars date the year to between 4 B.C. to 7 B.C. As LDS scholars, Brown, Griggs, and Hansen note: The impossibility of dating Jesus birth in 1 B.C. arises from the date of Herods death. ...Herod died in 4 B.C. Try as one might, one cannot escape this fact.(Brown, Griggs, and Hansen, 255.) These three LDS scholars (two of whom are professors of ancient scripture and one of whom is a professor of physics and astronomy) have shown that those a 1 B.C. dating for Jesus birth cannot be supported by history, astronomy, or ancient calendrical systems. (Brown, Griggs, and Hansen, 375-83.)
Michael R. Ash
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