When Was Jesus Born—B.C. or A.D.?

How the divide between B.C. and A.D. was calculated


When was Jesus born? This predella panel from an altarpiece by Mariotto Albertinelli (1474–1515) depicts the newborn baby Jesus flanked by Joseph and Mary. In which year was Jesus born—B.C. or A.D.? The evidence suggests he was born in 4 B.C. or before. Photo: John G. Johnson Collection, 1917, courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In which year was Jesus born?

While this is sometimes debated, the majority of New Testament scholars place Jesus’ birth 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 Jesus’ birth (see Matthew 2), Jesus would have had to be born before Herod died.

This begs the question: How could Jesus have been born in B.C.—“before Christ”?

The terms B.C. and 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?

Ben Witherington III of Asbury Theological Seminary examines the calendar division in his Biblical Views column “The Turn of the Christian Era: The Tale of Dionysius Exiguus,” published in the November/December 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. He identifies the monk Dionysius Exiguus, who lived during the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., as the originator of the B.C. and A.D. calendar (based on when he calculated Jesus was born):

Dionysius was born in Scythia Minor, which means somewhere in Romania or Bulgaria, and he lived from about 470 to 544 A.D. He was a learned monk who moved to Rome and became well known for translating many ecclesiastical canons from Greek into Latin, including the famous decrees from the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon. Ironically, he also wrote a treatise on elementary mathematics. I say ironically because what he is most famous for is the “Anno Domini” calculations that were used to number the years of both the Gregorian and the adjusted Julian calendars.


Interested in learning about the birth of Jesus? Learn more about the history of Christmas and the date of Jesus’ birth in the free eBook The First Christmas: The Story of Jesus’ Birth in History and Tradition.

Although we are not exactly sure how he came to this conclusion, Dionysius dated the consulship of Probius Junior, who was the Roman Consul at the time, to “525 years after ‘the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ’”—meaning 525 years after Jesus’ birth, that is, 525 A.D. Because of Dionysius’s calculations, a new calendar using B.C. and A.D. was born. The terms B.C.E (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era) also use this calendar.

Even though Dionysius Exiguus calculated his date for the year in which Jesus was born in the sixth century, it was not until the eighth century that it became widespread. This was thanks to the Venerable Bede of Durham, England, who used Dionysius’s date in his work Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

Learn more about when Jesus was born and Dionysius Exiguus’s calculations for B.C. and A.D. in Ben Witherington III’s Biblical Views column “The Turn of the Christian Era: The Tale of Dionysius Exiguus” in the November/December 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


Subscribers: Read the full Biblical Views column “The Turn of the Christian Era: The Tale of Dionysius Exiguus” by Ben Witherington III in the November/December 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a subscriber yet? Join today.

Interested in learning about the birth of Jesus? Learn more about the history of Christmas and the date of Jesus’ birth in the free eBook The First Christmas: The Story of Jesus’ Birth in History and Tradition.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Herod’s Death, Jesus’ Birth and a Lunar Eclipse

Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible: Lawrence Mykytiuk’s feature article from the January/February 2015 issue of BAR with voluminous endnotes

How December 25 Became Christmas: Andrew McGowan’s full article from the December 2002 issue of Bible Review

Christmas Stories in Christian Apocrypha by Tony Burke

Where Was Jesus Born?

Who Was Jesus’ Biological Father?

Why Did the Magi Bring Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh?

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on November 29, 2017.


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31 Responses

  1. danilo says:

    “When you tell me that you love me? Hi’codexcom God’son Jesus Christ please help me forcasting in my life’.what about the my future standing mission’;answer me better reganted in all by my self.

  2. Thomas Gegg says:

    He was born on October1 evening. He died at the age of 331/2 years old, do your calculations.

  3. David Bush says:

    If you would enjoy watching some interesting videos on when was Jesus born, go to YouTube and search Jonathan Cahn – When was Jesus born? He gives a convincing prediction of March 20, 6 BC (the first day of Nisan, 3753).

  4. ReaderLast72 says:

    Jesus was born 2 November 1 AD (Julian). On that day, before sunrise, arose a 4 planet grouping (Venus, Mars, Mercury and Jupiter) in direct fulfilment of Numbers 24:17. A Sceptre. Also Revelation 12: A woman, clothed with the sun, with the moon at her feet…on the same snapshot! Stellarium, artwork on, atmospheric effects on. As place I chose Shiraz (near Persepolis, Persia) as hometown of the magi. After 4 BC you say? By careful consideration of the facts presented by Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 17.6 7 8 9) the 13 March 4BC was the wrong lunar eclipse. Try 16 October 4 AD! Construct a Natural Jewish Calendar first. As it was before Hillel II invented his calendar in 358/9. All calendar calculators obey Hillel, and are useless in constructing ancient (pre-358) calendars. Bear in mind that the Hillel rules did not exist pre- 358! The magii saw the first visibility of Jupiter early morning 28 Oct 1 AD (the 7th day of the feast of Tabernacles) and arrived in Jerusalem 3 or 4 April 3 AD (just before Passover) in time to see a Jupiter station. (The star they had seen in its rising, stood still? Mat 2). Herod died 7 Kislev (8 Dec 4 AD), an exact fit date to the Josephus narrative.

  5. ReaderLast72 says:

    1 January 1 AD was a Saturday …(GEDCOM Date Calculator, and FOURMILAB Calendar Calculator)

  6. BAR0001353432/1 says:

    So many thoughts shared or trolled. So much confusion!

    Like so many others, I too have sought the answer boggled between calendars, ultimately resorting to the calendar of the Bible; the Hebrew Calendar. For ease, however, I’ll use the BCE/CE references familiar to more of us.

    The answers we seek can be found in the Bible. Starting, for the purposes of this discussion, with the book of Daniel chapter 9 verses 24 through 27. Visa versus speak of the end of the captivity in Babylon, the death of Jesus on the cross, Amber look forward to the second Advent. Looking at verse 25 of Daniel 9, I have read the works of scholars put into the commands of three kings Darius, Cyrus, and Artaxerxes.

    Moving to the book of Ezra chapter 7 verse 11 King Artaxerxes gave Azurá the priest, describe, expert in the words of the commandments of the Lord, release to carry the word of God to Jerusalem; (Daniel chapter 9 verse 25: no therefore and understand that from the going forth of the command/word to restore and Bill Jerusalem there she’ll be seven weeks and 62 weeks.) Ezra, and a group of release the captives started their journey to Jerusalem in 445 B.C.E. With Ezra carrying forth The word of God which is generally excepted to be the book of Deuteronomy, this initiated the 69 weeks (483 years) projected in the book of Daniel to of the death of Jesus. Daniel chapter 9 verse 6 projects that the Messiah she’ll be cut off, but not for Himself.

    Countind forward 483 years from Ezra’s travel In 445 B C E takes us to the year that Jesus died on the cross: 26 CE. This year matches perfectly with the Hebrew calendar’s Dating of the Passover and the death of Jesus The sacrificial lamb on Friday (14 Nissan on the Hebrew Calendar).

    We know that Jesus was 33 years old when he died on the cross. Counting backwards those 33 years would give us The year of Jesus birth at 8 B.C.E. It makes one wonder if Jesus died on his birthday.

    There’s a whole lot more to the detail of this study that I’ve been through over the past few years but that would be far too much for this short offering of my opinion based on the word of God in the Bible when Jesus was born.

    1. Robert says:

      Too many corrections to make; typing by voice command doesn’t work for me.

      One correction that must be made is that Ezra traveled in 458 BCE not 445.

      Sorry about that!

  7. Tim says:

    This is all very interesting and I suppose it is of vital importance to many. However, whether it was 4,3,2, or 1 BC is always speculation based upon the known and the unknown. What is known is that Jesus Christ was born, lived, died, and was bodily raised again from the dead and is alive today sitting at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. He had completed the purpose of His incarnation which was to bring the availability of salvation to all who would believe. Just as we do not know the exact date of His birth, we also do not know the date He will return for His church (the Body of Christ). What we do know is that we had better be ready for according to Scripture, if you refused to believe there will be no second chance. Get ready!

  8. Dr Paul Marston says:

    It seems odd that you seem so sure that Herod died in 4BC and not 1BC as some have now concluded. As you know, Josephus mentions an eclipse of the moon before Herod’s death which then came before Passover. In between he is said to have done a number of things. There was a partial eclipse on March 12/13 in 4 BC only 29 days before Passover. The total lunar eclipse in 1 BC was on Jan9/10 allowing plenty of time for Herod to do what Josephus says he did before this death. The 4BC date seems to be based on calculations from when he started his full reign, and on the start of rule of his three sons after he died. But the start of his full reign has been questioned, and on one of the sons it seems a copyist error changed what Josephus said was 22 to 20 years. It also seems that all early Christian commentators placed the birth of Jesus around 3-2BC. Can you really be so sure, then, that 4BC is the date of the death of Herod? Schurer, who calculated the date 4BC in the 19th century, will surely not have had so accurate tools to date the lunar eclipses as accurately as we now can?.

  9. YHWH Allah says:

    Yep the Holy See at the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) messed up JESUS’ real birth date. He was born on 6/6/6 BC Julian and was 12 years old on AD 6/6/6 Julian doing business. We know that Christmas Day is really 6/1/6 BC Julian being John the Baptist’s birthday. Here quick fix: Celebrate John the Baptist’s real birthday Christmas Day with Lucifer’s.

    Gregorian Calendar 25th December 7 BC
    Revelation beast One’s birth date
    6/1/6 BC (day/month/year)
    John the Baptist

    Gregorian Calendar 24th May 6 BC
    Revelation beast Two’s birth date
    6/6/6 BC (day/month/year)
    Jesus the Christ

    Germanicus Julius Caesar

  10. Daniel Bisson says:

    Yeshua has confirmed his Nativity to have been on a Sunday → “Sunday is the day of the Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection…”, Assumption of the Virgin, Syriac version Book IV.”; “I came into being on the eighth day, which is the day of the Lord”, The Epistle of the Apostles, Coptic version.

    A.D. 1 began correctly on a Sunday. Calculating back from the day that you read this post and integrated with intercalary days, Dionysius’s calendar began at midnight Sunday, on January 1st → Apocrypha Syriaca: Transitus Mariae; ‘He was in her womb until the Second Kanun (Syriac calendar month conterminous with January) on its sixth (hour – midnight) on the first day of the week, the Holy Day…’

    Yeshua has confirmed this particular Sunday to have been on the day that Augustus Caesar gave peace to the Roman Empire — “I was born the same day on which Augustus Caesar gave peace to the Roman world.” The Archko Volume, Pilate’s Report.

    Roman Historian Dio Cassius has Gaius making peace with Phraates king of Parthia in early A.D 1. Treaties were inaugurated under the auspices of Caesar and formalized in a ritual to their deity Janus at midnight on January 1.

    Yeshua’s word is in lambent concordance with the inauguration of peace for the Roman world as given under the auspices of Augustus Caesar in the year A.D. 1, begun at midnight on January 1st → The Apocryphal and Legendary Life of Christ has the Gates of Janus being closed at the time of Jesus’ birth and Orosius, priest, historian and theologian has chronicled the temple doors closing at the time of Jesus’ birth.

    Dionysius’ calendar aligns with the ceremony of the closing of the doors of the Roman deity Janus incorporating the inauguration of peace for the Roman world at midnight January 1st A.D. 1.

  11. MacReality says:

    Why is this site still using the out-dated BC and AD?

    No reputable scholar has used these for at least 2 years.

  12. alans73 says:

    BTW, “Herod” was a dynastic title like Caesar and Pharaoh. The “Herod” at the time of Christ’s birth was Herod Archelaus; he was deposed that same year (after the “slaughter of the innocents” in Bet Lechem) and died in exile in 18 CE. When did the “holy family” return from Egypt after Herod [Archelaus] died? When Yehoshu’a was 12 years old (18 CE – 6 CE = 12 years). Herod the Great had nothing to do with Christ’s birth; he was long dead. I even verified what the “star of Bet Lechem” was with our local planetarium and provided a screenshot with my research. The “wise men from the East” of the “sect” called The Way (HaDerech) lived in the desert wilderness of Qumran — 15 miles away as the crow flies.

    Yochanan studied there; see Luke 1:80. He wasn’t just roaming around aimlessly in the desert; he was “the voice crying out in the (desert) wilderness (of Qumran).” That phrase is employed in multiple DSS manuscripts as well as several verses in the Bible. Titus Flavius Josephus (né Yosef ben Matityahu), a self-described Pharisee, coined the derogatory term Essenes (=pious ones). He claimed to have studied at Qumran, but he lied!

    There was also a documented solar eclipse in Jerusalem (which requires a new moon) when Christ was crucified on Pesach (Passover) in 36 CE — just as the Scriptures state. That event occurred on 14 Abib on the third day of the week. His ministry was NOT 3-1/2 years in duration; Biblical “scholars” fail to recognize Pesach Sheni (Second Passover) as is documented in Torah; see Numbers 9:10-14. He died incarnate at age 29.

    BAS still refuses to approve my post containing my high-level research on this topic; it will forever be held hostage “awaiting moderation.” The truth is found in the Lucan account and corroborated with the calendar in the DSS. Readers will never get the whole truth from BAS (or their local church or synagogue). Elisheba (Elizabeth) was six months pregnant in the sixth month, and Tsekharya (Zecharias) was a Levite of the division of Abiyah (Abijah). Christ was born during the census of Quirinius in 6 CE — as is clearly stated in the Lucan account. Those three facts form the baseline; everything else is easy to deduce from 4Q319-4Q321.

    Shema Yisrael!

  13. alans73 says:

    And, Peter, when we alleged “secularists” employ BCE/CE, it is because we refuse to perpetuate the lies of the RCC and especially that of Dionysius Exiguus, who created this bogus BC/AD year accounting as well as the Gregorian calendar and falsified Easter Tables. The Most High marks time through “weeks of years” or jubilees. Maybe you should research 4Q319 in addition to the calendrical documents in 4Q320 and 4Q321. Even the Samaritan vs. Masoretic versions of the Torah differ by a century by the time of Enoch — the seventh from Adam, so even Israelites don’t know with absolute certainty what the correct AM year is. Plus, they have followed the Babylonian calendar since the time of their captivity. Their fourth month is named after the Babylonian deity Tammuz (Du’uzu); that’s an abomination!

  14. alans73 says:

    Why won’t BAS print the truth? Yet, the drivel from these other posters is allowed. The Book of Luke and the calendar from the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) clearly state the month, day, day of the week, and year of Yochanan’s (John’s) conception as well as Yehoshu’a’s (Joshua’s) conception and birth. I provided the evidence how these two sources corroborate the following:

    * Yochanan was conceived on the 22nd day of the twelfth month on the first day of the week in 4 CE.

    * Yehoshu’a was conceived on the 22nd day of the sixth month on the first day of the week on the Feast of New Oil in 5 CE — exactly six months from Yochanan’s conception.

    * Yehoshu’a was born during the census of Quirinius on the 15th day of the third month on the first day of the week on the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) in 6 CE — exactly 38 weeks from His conception. Sidebar: This is when the “sect” called The Way (HaDerech) in Acts and the DSS made new covenants. Christ’s birth ushered in the ultimate New Covenant! Josephus, a self-described Pharisee (and we know what Christ thought of them in the Eight Woes of Matthew 23), coined the derogatory term “Essenes” (=pious ones).

    Why is BAS afraid of the truth?

  15. Peter Smith says:

    The excuse by the secularists for using the term “Common Era” is that it is more inclusive and internationally acceptable than “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini” which refer to one specific religion, but this is hypocrisy. To which culture is the the dating common? Not to Jews, not to Muslims, not to Hindus, not to Buddhists, not to Taoists, not to Shintoists, in fact only to Christians who have given to the world a dating system divided by the most important event in history – the Incarnation, God dwelling in a human form.
    So, far from respecting all peoples, these secularists are at one and the same time trying to remove Christ from world-wide consciousness and insulting all other religions, cultures, and peoples by imposing on them a Western system which they are expected to accept as “common.”

  16. Peter Smith says:

    The idea that Herod died in 4BC and therefore Jesus was born before that comes from Josephus’ mention of a solar eclipse a little before Herod’s death and there was an eclipse early that year. However Josephus mentions a number of events between the eclipse and the Passover, far too many to fit the time available. On the other hand there was also an eclipse earlier in the year in 1BC which does provide time for those events. Moreover 2BC was the 25th anniversary of Caesar Augustus’ power-grab to de facto emperor and he DID call for a registration throughout the whole Roman Empire of those who had any claim to regal authority so that in registering they were accepting Augustus’ over-arching authority. Far from being a “taxation” it was a tax-free year as far as Empire taxes were concerned. This registration also explains the role of Quirinius in Syria in that year. So Jesus’ birth was in 2BC, Herod died in 1BC and “Luke” writing in 58-60AD was a brilliant historian. You’ll find full details in “The Star that Astonished the World” (which can be read online by the late Ernest L Martin at


    abysmal ignorance of the Hebrew Calculated Calendar, as followed by the
    Hebrew (Levite) priesthood in both First and Second temples at Jerusalem.
    majority of such ignorance has prevailed in the Roman Catholic Church, though
    certainly not all of it. the fact that traditionally Seth was the considered originator
    of the Lunar-Solar calendar of the Hebrews should provide considerable insight
    into the past, and how it is that the Jewish Year remains so far behind the actual
    years since Adm and Eve. But far beyond that is the accuracy of the Hebrew Calculated Calendar… surpasses any other known calendar on the planet.

  18. K says:

    The birth of the Messiah can be calculated two ways. First believe that God’s word is true then know that the monk Dennis the Small did not know Hebrew or understand that God’s Word was written to the Hebrews and His chosen had customs very foreign to the Romans. Dennis made his calculations on knowing the Messiah was 33 years old when crucified and the Sabbath was on the 7th day of the week. Therefore he said to us that Passover had to be on the sixth day of the week during 33 CE. Not knowing the Jewishness of God’s word Dennis did not realize when reading Mark, Luke and John in the Latin Vulgate that the “preparation day” God’s chosen was for the first day of Matzah (Feast of unleavened bread) which the Pharisees called a High Sabbath. However the Latin Vulgate in Leviticus 23 only calls two of God’s appointed times a Sabbath, the 7th day of the week a Sabbath for God and Yom Kippur (day of atonement) a Sabbath for us. Knowing this it becomes a matter of math and using the only consistent calendar in our history, the Hebrew Biblical calendar, starting with the birth in the year 3756 in the month of Etanim (Tishri in the Hebrew civil calendar or the seventh month) on the 15th day also known as the first day of Sukkot. Then the resurrection happened in the year 3790 (30 CE) during the month of Aviv which is also know as Nisan or the 1st month. Then the Talmud in Yoma 39B tells us that the sin sacrifice was not accepted on Yom Kippur by God forty times (note that Josephus also reference these forty years). Then approximately 10 months later on the 9th of Av in the year 3830 (70 CE) the temple was destroyed. You can also calculate this by using Luke 1 and starting with the year 3755, the beginning of the Messianic movement. By knowing the Jewishness of God’s Word you can tell what are certain days. This is a very simple explanation for a very complex problem. Most answers to our questions are in what is called today the “Old Testament”

  19. Randy Pitt says:

    This is ignorance, Jesus was not part of Herod , Herod killed his own children not children of Jewish family to kill the Messiah. You need to look into the history books.

  20. John Fewkes says:

    While secularists will prefer Before Common Era (BCE) and Common Era (CE), I choose to consider BCE as Before Christian Era and CE as Christian Era. Perhpas they should have considered different initials (I don’t think they intended a dual meaning for the initials)!

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