Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe Jesus was born 1830 years before the Church's organization on 6 April 1830?

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Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe Jesus was born 1830 years before the Church's organization on 6 April 1830?

The common Latter-day Saints belief that Jesus was born on April 6th is based on a single scripture

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 — D&C 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

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.[1]


D&C 20:1 was added later, probably by John Whitmer, and is not a revealed date of Jesus' birth

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.[2]

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 did not believe it was possible to determine the exact date of the Savior's birth

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."[3] He went on to observe, in a footnote:

What is the date of our Lord's birth? This is one of those fascinating problems about which the wise and the learned delight to debate. There are scholars, of repute and renown, who place his natal day in every year from 1 B.C. to 7 B.C., with 4 B.C. being the prevailing view, if we may be permitted to conclude that there is a prevailing view. How much the answer really matters is itself a fair question since the problem is one, in part at least, of determining whether there have been errors made in the creation of our present dating system....

Elder James E. Talmage takes the view that he was born on April 6, 1 B.C., basing his conclusion on Doctrine and Covenants 20:1, which speaks of the day on which the Church was organized, saying it was "one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in the flesh." April 6 is then named as the specific day for the formal organization. Elder Talmage notes the Book of Mormon chronology, which says that the Lord Jesus would be born six hundred years after Lehi left Jerusalem. (Talmage, pp. 102-4.)

Elder Hyrum M. Smith of the Council of the Twelve wrote in the Doctrine and Covenants Commentary: "The organization of the Church in the year 1830 is hardly to be regarded as giving divine authority to the commonly accepted calendar. There are reasons for believing that those who, a long time after our Savior's birth, tried to ascertain the correct time, erred in their calculations, and that the Nativity occurred four years before our era, or in the year of Rome 750. All that this Revelation means to say is that the Church was organized in the year commonly accepted as 1830, A.D." Rome 750 is equivalent, as indicated, to 4 B. C.

President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., in Our Lord of the Gospels, a scholarly and thoughtful work, says in his preface that many scholars "fix the date of the Savior's birth at the end of 5 B.C., or the beginning or early part of 4 B.C." He then quotes the explanation of Doctrine and Covenants 20:1 as found in the Commentary, notes that it has been omitted in a later edition, and says: "I am not proposing any date as the true date. But in order to be as helpful to students as I could, I have taken as the date of the Savior's birth the date now accepted by many scholars,—late 5 B.C., or early 4 B.C, because Bible Commentaries and the writings of scholars are frequently keyed upon that chronology and because I believe that so to do will facilitate and make easier the work of those studying the life and works of the Savior from sources using this accepted chronology." This is the course being followed in this present work [i.e., the work being written by Elder McConkie.]

However, at least two Presidents of the Church and an apostle have affirmed that April 6th was the actual birth date of the Savior

On the other hand, 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.[4] (President Kimball's address was printed with different textual details than those of his oral remarks, as is not uncommon when preparing addresses for publication. The original author may make and approve changes.[5]

This view was repeated by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during a conference address in April 2014.[6]

It's unclear, however, if these remarks were based on revelation or on personal interpretation. Elder McConkie would have been aware of both leaders, yet does not seem to have regarded their declaration as official statements of revealed doctrine.

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. (As Elder McConkie noted, the suspicion that the dating in D&C 20:1 was more stylistic or rhetorical than revealed was raised by Elder Hyrum M. Smith's Commentary as early as its writing between 1913-1916.[7]

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. Jeffrey R. Chadwick, "Dating the Birth of Jesus Christ," Brigham Young University Studies 49 no. 4 (2010), 28–29, fn. 12.
  3. Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 4 vols., (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1980–1986), 349–50, n. 2.
  4. Harold B. Lee, "Strengthen the Stakes of Zion," Ensign (July 1973), 2. Spencer W. Kimball, "Remarks and Dedication of the Fayette, New York, Buildings," Ensign (May 1980), 54.
  5. The original spoken text is: "My brothers and sisters, today we not only celebrate the Sesquicentennial of the organization of the Church, but also the greatest event in human history since the birth of Christ on this earth 1,980 years ago. Today is Easter Sunday."
  6. David A. Bednar, "Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease," Ensign (May 2014).
  7. Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjödahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1972), viii, of revised edition.