Monday, December 18, 2017
We are quickly approaching Christmas. For centuries December 25th has been celebrated as the birth of Jesus. Bible students know that Matthew through Acts do not mention Jesus’ birth being celebrated. Early Christian writers like Irenaeus (c.130 – 20), Tertullian (c.160 – 225), and Origin of Alexandria (c.165 – 264) never mentioned a birthday celebration. Most people never ask nor understand why this information isn’t mentioned. According to the first century historian, Josephus, Jews did not have special birthday celebrations. They believed it was contrary to the Law of Moses. It was also thought that celebrating birthdays and anniversaries was following “pagan practices”! Until the fourth century, Christians did not observe birthdays due to the belief that all babies were born into sin. Are we engaged in such activities today by observing birthdays and anniversaries?
Biblical writers do speak of the time associated with Jesus’ death. In fact, Paul refers to Jesus as “our Passover” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). They also mention Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke. It is not until the mid-second century that an Egyptian writer mentions Jesus’ birth. Clement of Alexandria mentions several dates that were suggested for the Lord’s birth, but none of them were December 25th. He gives March 21, April 21, and May 20. By the fourth century the western church had decided on December 25th as his birth and the eastern church January 6th. Augustine of Hippo mentions a group of Christians keeping the December 25th date in 400. It is doubtful that in setting those dates that they observed any of them as we do the 25th.
There are two main theories as to why December 25th became the birthday of Jesus. The most popular one suggested that pagans worshiped their false deities on that day. To influence converted pagans, that date was made Jesus birthday, so they could continue their worship, but give honor to the Lord rather than their false gods. Others negate this by showing that earlier Christians celebrated that date before the pagan practices were known. So, whose theory is credible?
Another theory pointed out that Jesus conception took place on the same day as his death on the cross. Nine months later his birth would have been on December 25th. However, when proving the exact “how” December 25th became Christmas, we do not have a viable answer. Theories are just that, nothing more!
Because some accept the first theory as truth, they believe it is sinful to observe the date due to its pagan origins. They believe that if it originated from pagan roots, to practice such gives honor to that source and is sinful! Others enjoy and practice it as a cultural celebration rather than a religious one. Some are thankful that people throughout the world celebrate it, because it points to the Savior despite some misconceptions being attached.
If borrowing a practice from a questionable source is sinful, then we are in a heap of trouble! The days of the week, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are etched from pagan beliefs. The names of the months January, February, March, and June also have their pagan origin. When we mention an event being on Sunday, are we honoring the pagan deity it is named after? When we look forward to a vacation in June, are we glorifying the god from which it gets its name? There may be some people who honor those gods. What they do doesn’t associate us with them in their recognition or practice. Just because we have a green pseudo tree with decorations doesn’t mean we accept the views of those who made it part of their pagan ritual. I have no personal knowledge of anyone who puts a gift under that tree as worship to a tree god. Just because we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries doesn’t mean we are pagans nor that we promote such.
When Jesus established his memorial supper, he did so during the Passover meal. Years before his birth, four cups of wine were added to that feast by man. Jesus accepted that manmade innovation and Luke tells us about the third and fourth cups without any guilt over their origin. Jesus borrowed one of those added cups and included it in his supper. Each participant brought his own cup for that occasion. A vessel containing wine was used to replenish each of the four times participants needed to consume its content. When we partake, are we engaged in the Passover’s fourth cup since that is its origin? Since the cups were added by man, are we supporting unscriptural additions by drinking the fruit of the vine from one of those cups? If we are practicing paganism by enjoying Christmas, why aren’t we guilty of engaging in keeping Moses’ Law by using the Passover’s unleavened bread and fourth cup? That is their origin. Why are we and Jesus not guilty of adding manmade doctrines by accepting the four cups introduced by man rather than God?
Some believe we “must practice only those things which are specifically mentioned in the Bible.” That rule itself, is not expressed per se in scripture. Those who espouse it are seldom consistent followers. The divisions it has caused is heartbreaking.
According to the Bible, when Gentiles were added to the saved, two different styles developed. Jewish Christians continued to keep the Law of Moses with its ramifications. The Gentile church was only obligated to abstain from meat sacrificed to an idol, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality (Acts 15:29). Since the Roman church had a mixed membership, Paul wrote to settle several differences. One concerned the principle of “one day” over “every day” (Romans 14:5). His questions to them may also be addressed to us, “Why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother?” (Romans 14:10).
My convictions? On the 25th? Merry Christmas! On January 1st? Happy New Year! On September 16th? I celebrate my birthday! On February 6th? We celebrate our anniversary! Pagan origins? That is not my reason for celebrating each. By the way, the wedding ring has a pagan origin too! Do you wear one? If so, why? Christian wedding ceremonies and marriage licenses are man made rather than divinely commanded! Consistency is a hard item to possess, much less to maintain!