Jesus Christ/Date of birth
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This page is based on an answer to a question submitted to the FAIR web site, or a frequently asked question.
Do Latter-day Saints believe Jesus was born 1830 years before the Church's organization on 6 April 1830?
Members and leaders of the Church have been of varying opinions on this topic. It is not a matter of great consequence in Latter-day Saint worship.
The common Latter-day Saints belief that Jesus was born on April 6th is based on a single scripture — DC 20:1. This passage says the Church was organized "one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh...in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April."
Many Mormons have taken this reference to be a literal count of the years from the birth of Jesus to the organization of the Church. On the other hand, several writers, including some modern apostles and prophets, have urged caution in interpreting D&C 20:1 as an exact count of years.
The Joseph Smith Papers Project has demonstrated that D&C 20:1 is not part of the original wording of D&C 20, but was rather added at a later date—probably by John Whitmer, the Church's first historian—to reflect the date the Church was organized. It is thus probably inappropriate to regard it as some type of revealed dating of Jesus' birth.
Most scholars accept that Jesus’ birth year was somewhere between 6 and 4 B.C. (2 B.C. is too late for Matthew's account of Herod the Great and the magi; Herod died in 4 B.C.) D&C 20:1's "one thousand eight hundred and thirty years" is probably just an elaborate or formal way of referring to the year 1830 A.D. without being intended as an actual count of years.
Bruce R. McConkie 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 [i.e., in which year] the natal day of the Lord Jesus actually occurred."
However, at least two Presidents of the Church—Harold B. Lee and Spencer W Kimball—have affirmed that April 6th is the actual birth date of the Savior as well as the anniversary of the organization of the Church.
It's unclear, however, if these remarks were based on revelation or on personal interpretation. It seems most likely that they assumed, as many have, that D&C 20:1 was a revealed text disclosing the date, rather than a later addition by Whitmer.
The Church does not take an official position on this issue
This is one of many issues about which the Church has no official position. As President J. Reuben Clark taught under assignment from the First Presidency:
- Here we must have in mind—must know—that only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church....
- When any man, except the President of the Church, undertakes to proclaim one unsettled doctrine, as among two or more doctrines in dispute, as the settled doctrine of the Church, we may know that he is not "moved upon by the Holy Ghost," unless he is acting under the direction and by the authority of the President.
- Of these things we may have a confident assurance without chance for doubt or quibbling.
- —J. Reuben Clark, Jr., "Church Leaders and the Scriptures," [original title "When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?"] Immortality and Eternal Life: Reflections from the Writings and Messages of President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Vol, 2, (1969-70): 221; address to Seminary and Institute Teachers, BYU (7 July 1954); reproduced in Church News (31 July 1954); also reprinted in Dialogue 12/2 (Summer 1979): 68–81.
Harold B. Lee was emphatic that only one person can speak for the Church:
- All over the Church you're being asked this: "What does the Church think about this or that?" Have you ever heard anybody ask that question? "What does the Church think about the civil rights legislation?" "What do they think about the war?" "What do they think about drinking Coca-Cola or Sanka coffee?" Did you ever hear that? "What do they think about the Democratic Party or ticket or the Republican ticket?" Did you ever hear that? "How should we vote in this forthcoming election?" Now, with most all of those questions, if you answer them, you're going to be in trouble. Most all of them. Now, it's the smart man that will say, "There's only one man in this church that speaks for the Church, and I'm not that one man."
- I think nothing could get you into deep water quicker than to answer people on these things, when they say, "What does the Church think?" and you want to be smart, so you try to answer what the Church's policy is. Well, you're not the one to make the policies for the Church. You just remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He said, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). Well now, as teachers of our youth, you're not supposed to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. On that subject you're expected to be an expert. You're expected to know your subject. You're expected to have a testimony. And in that you'll have great strength. If the President of the Church has not declared the position of the Church, then you shouldn't go shopping for the answer. (Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 445. GospeLink (requires subscrip.))
This was recently reiterated by the First Presidency (who now approves all statements published on the Church's official website):
- Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency...and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles...counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.
- —LDS Newsroom, "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," lds.org (4 May 2007) off-site]
In response to a letter "received at the office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" in 1912, Charles W. Penrose of the First Presidency wrote:
- Question 14: Do you believe that the President of the Church, when speaking to the Church in his official capacity is infallible?
- Answer: We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President of the Church has claimed infallibility. — Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).
- [note] See, for example: Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjödahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1972), 138. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Our Lord of the Gospels: A Harmony of the Gospels (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1954), vi–vii.
- [note] Jeffrey R. Chadwick, "Dating the Birth of Jesus Christ," Brigham Young University Studies 49 no. 4 (2010), 28–29, fn. 12.
- [note] Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 4 vols., (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1980–1986), 349–50, n. 2.
- [note] Harold B. Lee, "Strengthen the Stakes of Zion," Ensign (July 1973), 2. off-site Spencer W. Kimball, "Remarks and Dedication of the Fayette, New York, Buildings," Ensign (May 1980), 54. off-site