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Was Jesus born in the morning or night?

The exact time of Jesus’ birth has been debated throughout history. The Gospels do not specify the precise hour that Jesus was born, simply stating that it was during the reign of King Herod. However, some clues from the Bible and historical context provide evidence for whether Jesus’ birth was more likely to have occurred in the morning or at night. This article will examine key pieces of information to evaluate the likelihood of a morning or night birth.

Gospel Accounts of Jesus’ Birth

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke provide details about Jesus’ birth, but do not definitively state whether he was born early in the day or late at night. A look at what these accounts do say can provide some hints.

Matthew’s account simply states that “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king” (Matthew 2:1). There are no details given about time of day or any astronomical occurrences.

Luke’s account provides a few more clues. Luke 2:8 states that at the time of Jesus’ birth, there were “shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” This indicates it was nighttime when the angels appeared to announce Jesus’ birth to the shepherds. In Luke 2:11, the angel told the shepherds that the savior had been born “this day,” implying the birth had just occurred.

Based on Luke’s account, it can be inferred that Jesus’ birth happened at night, since it was night when the shepherds received news of the event. However, the exact timing is still uncertain. Was it early night or closer to dawn? Luke does not provide enough information to definitively determine an exact hour. Nonetheless, a nighttime birth seems most plausible based on the details provided.

Historical and Cultural Context

Looking at what is known about the climate, culture, and animal husbandry practices of first century Judea also provides useful context about when the birth may have occurred.

The climate in Bethlehem is temperate, with chilly nights for much of the year. December and January evenings typically range from the mid-30s to lower 40s Fahrenheit. Shepherds would not likely have had their flocks out in the fields overnight during the cold rainy season from November through February. The more probable time for shepherds to keep watch outdoors at night was during the warmer spring months.

This suggests Jesus’ birth was more likely in the spring rather than winter. The traditional date of December 25 did not arise until several centuries later and was not based on historical evidence. Spring births for lambs were common, aligning with the symbolism of Jesus as the Lamb of God.

The practice of keeping sheep in the fields at night also provides clues about the birth’s timing. During late spring through fall, overnight temps were mild enough to allow sheep to remain outdoors. Staying out in the fields also allowed maximum grazing time.

Shepherds would take shifts watching the sheep for predators and thieves. Around dawn, the sheep would be gathered and led to shelter. The next watch would arrive in the evening as the flocks headed back out to pasture.

So the mention of shepherds keeping watch at night in Luke’s account suggests sometime between dusk and dawn, rather than the middle of the night. The angels’ announcement happening close to dawn and the shepherds’ quick journey to see the newborn Christ would fit this timeline.

Details about the Magi’s Visit

The visit of the Magi, recounted in Matthew 2:1-12, provides additional evidence about the potential time of Jesus’ birth. The Magi told King Herod they saw the star signaling Jesus’ birth “in the East,” then traveled to Jerusalem to inquire about the new king’s birthplace.

Upon learning from the Jewish priests that the Messiah was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem, the Magi set out and the star led them to the exact house where the young Jesus lay. They then presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The text also says the Magi had a dream warning them not to report back to Herod, so they returned home another way.

Important details include:

  • The Magi saw the announcing star originally in the East, implying some distance from Jerusalem.
  • The star reappeared and led them from Jerusalem directly to Bethlehem, only about 6 miles south.
  • Herod, upon hearing from the Magi, had all boys under 2 years old killed, implying Jesus was likely born less than 2 years before the Magi’s arrival.

The distance required for the Magi’s journey means they likely did not arrive until several months after Jesus’ birth. Herod’s order to kill boys under 2 suggests they arrived within 24 months of the Nativity. Therefore, the star appearing to the Magi does not help fix the actual night of birth, only confirm it happened within the timeframe of their visit.

Early Church References

The early church did not directly comment on the time of Jesus’ birth. However, a few notable references to the Nativity timing exist:

  • Clement of Alexandria (late 2nd century) mentions those chronologizing Jesus’ birth date it to the 28th year of Augustus’ reign, around 2 BC.
  • Hippolytus of Rome (early 3rd century) also linked Jesus’ birth to Augustus’ 28th year.
  • According to ancient Roman census records, periodic censuses were taken around striking midnight on December 25th.

These limited historical references at least confirm Jesus was born near the end of the reign of Herod the Great, sometime around 2 BC. The census date gives indirect evidence of a late night birth. However, the early church fathers do not provide definitive quotes about the precise hour of Jesus’ birth.

Prophetic References

Prophecies related to the Messiah’s coming provide a few cryptic clues about the birth timing:

  • Isaiah 9:2 – “…The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” This metaphorical language could imply a nighttime birth.
  • Psalm 130:6 – “My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning.” Watchmen waiting for daylight suggests a dawn birth.
  • Habakkuk 3:2 – “…revive Your work in the midst of the years.” Some interpret this as referring to Jesus being born mid-year, placing his birth around the summer solstice rather than mid-winter.

These prophetic hints are open to interpretation. Taken together, they seem to point to a birth occurring during the nighttime hours, potentially close to dawn. But fuller exegesis would be needed to draw definitive conclusions. The prophecies ultimately do not provide air-tight evidence favoring a particular hour.

Significance for Theology

Though the exact hour remains uncertain, the question of whether Jesus was born during the day or night is intriguing to consider from a theological perspective. Here are some potential symbolic meanings to contemplate:

  • A night birth mirrors creation occurring amid darkness in Genesis 1.
  • The Light coming into the world parallels John 1’s theme of the eternal Word bringing light into darkness.
  • Fulfilling prophecy of Isaiah 9:2 of light dawning on those in darkness.
  • Overcoming sin, evil and the “powers of darkness” through the incarnation.
  • A dawn birth represents the “Sunrise from on high” in Luke 1:78, scattering spiritual night.
  • The Sun of Righteousness arising with healing in its wings (Malachi 4:2).

In the end, the exact timing matters less than the significance of the event. Whether in twilight or darkness, the Nativity shines as a pivotal moment in salvation history. As the Gospel of John declares: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). When and how Jesus entered the world remains secondary to the light of life He brought.


While the Bible does not definitively pinpoint the hour of Jesus’ birth, contextual clues and hints within the Gospel accounts suggest it was most likely during the nighttime hours. Details about shepherds keeping watch at night and prophetic metaphors of light in darkness seem to point to a birth occurring after dusk but potentially close to sunrise. However, the late spring climate of first century Bethlehem means a night birth need not rule out also being outdoors.

Cultural practices of shepherds and sheephusbandry provide helpful insight about the potential timing. But early church records and prophecies, while useful, do not isolate the exact hour conclusively. The time of day Jesus was born carries rich theological meaning, yet Scripture focuses more on the significance of the event rather than precise chronology. As the saying goes, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” and when He arrived matters less than why He came.