Published: 25 December 2016 (GMT+10)
Every Christmas, CMI publishes a Christmas Day article, and offers Christmas specials. From time to time, some people object to the use of the word ‘Christmas’ and claim that by using it we are not following Scripture. However, we most certainly do base our thinking in every area on Scripture, and are concerned that brothers and sisters in Christ might think otherwise.
One of the texts we base this on is:
from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:15–17; compare The authority of Scripture and Are biblical creationists guilty of circular reasoning?)
This implies that Scripture contains all the doctrine and moral law we need. Therefore all things necessary for our faith and life are either expressly set down in Scripture or may be logically deduced from Scripture. So if something is sinful, it will be forbidden by Scripture, either expressly or by logical deduction. A corollary: if something is not forbidden by Scripture, then it is permissible.
We think Christmas is an example. Scripture neither commands nor forbids it. Therefore Christians have the freedom in Christ to celebrate or ignore it, as long as the means of celebration are not unscriptural. The key passages about Christian liberty are:
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. (Romans 14:5–6)
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath (Colossians 2:16)
But some critics claim that Christmas violates Scripture because it derives from paganism. First, even if this were true, this commits the genetic fallacy, the error of trying to disprove a belief by tracing it to its source. For example, Kekulé thought up the (correct) ring structure of the benzene molecule after a dream of a snake grasping its tail. However, chemists don’t need to worry about correct snake biology or dream psychology to analyze benzene! Similarly, the rightness or wrongness of these celebrations is independent of the truth or falsity of their alleged parallels. Most importantly, the truth of Christianity depends on the historical facts of the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ, not on Christmas traditions.
Furthermore, the pagan derivation claim is not supportable by history. Many alleged pagan parallels are either nothing of the kind, or actually post-date Christianity, so were borrowed from Christianity. See Was Christianity plagiarized from pagan myths? Refuting the copycat thesis and Copycat copout: Jesus was not made up from pagan myths. But let’s take a few common claims.
Inconsistency of critics
There are far more familiar things that really are derived from paganism, but about which few people worry. It is illogical to avoid a Christian-based holiday that brings people together in worship (a good thing) because of some perceived tie to paganism, while using everyday products and ignoring their obvious pagan heritage. You might have your muffler replaced by Midas, wear shoes designed by Nike, chew Trident gum, or watch a movie by Orion Pictures. Several days of our week and months of our year are named after Norse gods, except for Saturday that comes from the Roman god Saturn, and Sunday and Monday after the sun and moon. Several months are named after Roman gods. The eight planets and many of their moons are named after Roman deities. Mazda cars are named for a Zoroastrian deity, and many people drive a Saturn, Mercury, Ares, Aurora … etc. Even the Latin alphabet with which the critics write to us was invented by pagans.
But even in God’s Word, some of the heroes in the Bible had paganized names. E.g. Mordecai, the real hero of the book of Esther, has a name related to the Babylonian high god Marduk. Consider also Daniel’s three friends who were prepared to be thrown in the furnace rather than worship any but the true God. They were originally named Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, but are better known by the names the Babylonians gave them: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 1:7). Abednego means ‘servant of Nebo’, the pagan god. And the New Testament was written in the Greek alphabet, invented by pagans.
There is no evidence of a 25 December date for Mithraic mysteries, as liberal theologians once asserted. There was a 25 December date for Sol Invictus, or ‘Unconquered Sun’, but this did not specifically pertain to Mithraism, which had no unique public festivals. Furthermore, this celebration post-dates Christian celebrations of the same date. Observation of this date by Christians goes back at least as far as AD 202 by Hippolytus of Rome in his Commentary on Daniel:
For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, eight days before the kalends of January [December 25th], the 4th day of the week [Wednesday], while Augustus was in his forty-second year, [2 or 3 BC] but from Adam five thousand and five hundred years. He suffered in the thirty third year, 8 days before the kalends of April [March 25th], the Day of Preparation, the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar [29 or 30 AD], while Rufus and Roubellion and Gaius Caesar, for the 4th time, and Gaius Cestius Saturninus were consuls.
But it wasn’t until AD 274, 72 years later, that Roman Emperor Aurelian proclaimed a celebration of Sol Invictus, and no clear evidence that this celebration on this date actually took place until AD 354. One article, ‘Calculating Christmas’, concludes:
Thus, December 25th as the date of the Christ’s birth appears to owe nothing whatsoever to pagan influences upon the practice of the Church during or after Constantine’s time. It is wholly unlikely to have been the actual date of Christ’s birth, but it arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ’s death.
And the pagan feast which the Emperor Aurelian instituted on that date in the year 274 was not only an effort to use the winter solstice to make a political statement, but also almost certainly an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already of importance to Roman Christians. The Christians, in turn, could at a later date re-appropriate the pagan ‘Birth of the Unconquered Sun’ to refer, on the occasion of the birth of Christ, to the rising of the ‘Sun of Salvation’ or the ‘Sun of Justice.’1
So clearly the pagan celebration on that date is the counterfeit, not the original.
In that case, what is the real source of the 25 December date? It is an extra-biblical Jewish tradition, called the ‘integral year’. This means that a prophet’s lifespan would be an exact number of years, so he would die on an anniversary of his conception, the real beginning of life. Jesus’ death was calculated as 25 March by the Western church, and 6 April by the Eastern Church. Therefore this same date was celebrated as the date Christ was conceived. Nine months later is 25 December or 6 January, and the latter date is still celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox church (and many branches of the Western church celebrate ‘Epiphany’ on the same day, now to commemorate the arrival of the unknown number of magi and their three gifts).
Objections to 25 December
It’s common to object to 25 December with claims that Jesus could not have been born on this date. CMI doesn’t say that Christ was definitely born on this day (we doubt that it’s possible to know for sure), or what we should or should not do then. But we do say that many common arguments against this date are fallacious—see Christmas–Why? and the answers to critics below the article.
E.g. one claim is that late December is too cold for shepherds to be out in their fields. However, even if shepherds in Canada or Montana don’t watch their fields by night in December, it doesn’t follow that they don’t in Bethlehem. Actually, they do. Indeed, December is a very good time, because the grass is lush, because December is one of the three rainiest months in the year in that land, after the dry summer. And it is not that cold; it’s about the same temperature as northern Florida. A ‘white Christmas’ in Bethlehem is rare; most Decembers are never below freezing.2 For comparison, Jacob, living much further north in Paddan-Aran, tended his uncle Laban’s flocks outdoors even during freezing nights (Genesis 31:38–40; Hebrew qerach קֶ֫רַח = ice, frost). So shepherds in the Ancient Near East were hardier than modern critics think.
Others claim that Jesus must have been born during the Feast of Tabernacles, in September. However, it is unlikely that Jesus was born on a Jewish feast day. Matthew’s Gospel in particular often linked Jesus’s sayings and actions as a fulfilment of an Old Testament saying, and mentions any time He did something on a Jewish Holy Day. So if He had been born on a feast, at least one of the Gospel writers would have mentioned it. This is not an argument from silence, which in formal logical terms is a type of invalid argument called denying the antecedent (see the explanation in Conditional Statements and Implications). But the above is an argument from conspicuous absence, which is a type of valid argument called denying the consequent.
This name is a corruption of ‘Saint Nicholas’, via the Dutch Sinter Klaas. He was no pagan, but a real historical Christian figure, Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) in the 4th century (270–343). He was known for his generosity. Hanging stockings comes from an instance where he gave some three daughters of a poor man money for their dowries by putting it in their stockings, which were drying by the fireplace.
Saint Nick was equally famous in his day for defending the deity of Christ very strongly. Indeed, one legend says that at the Council of Nicea, he slapped the heresiarch Arius for his blasphemous denial of that vital truth.
Of course, the mythology that has grown around this figure distracts from any remembrance of the Saviour’s birth. But this is hardly the fault of the original Nicholas.
This originated from both the gifts of the Magi (albeit about a year later than Jesus’ birth) and from Saint Nicholas. And if people are buying gifts for others at this time (again, neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture), then it seems fair to promote Creation magazine or, say, the new book The Genesis Account, as a worthwhile gift. Such a Bible-centred gift will do much more good than much of the junk that people often receive.
Again, just because Christmas can be a time of associated rampant commercialization, it doesn’t mean that gift giving itself is a bad thing. Rather, in itself, this is morally neutral, and should not be condemned because some can abuse it. We don’t condemn all food because some people misuse it, for example, or refuse to drive cars because some use them to commit crimes.
This is also a modern innovation that has no origin in either Christianity or Paganism. There is no evidence of this earlier than the 15th century, in what is now Estonia. Then in the next century, Christians in what is now northern Germany performed mystery plays with an evergreen ‘Paradise tree’ hung with apples, and one apple was plucked. 24 December was a traditional ‘name day’ for Adam and Eve. We can appreciate this link of Christmas to the Fall, which is the whole reason Jesus came to die, according to the New Testament (cf. 1 Corinthians 15).
The Christmas tree was introduced to England by Queen Victoria’s German consort, Prince Albert. In fact, many of what we think of as ancient Christmas traditions began in Victorian England only a little over a century ago!3
Some appeal to Jeremiah 10:2–4 to prohibit Christmas trees. But this was written 500 years before Christ was even born, and is referring to a tree chopped down for the wood to make an idol. This has nothing to do with modern Christmas trees, which are not worshipped.
Icon of Jesus Christ with nomina sacra, from Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
It’s certainly likely that many christophobes write ‘Xmas’ to take Christ out of it. But they are unaware that this expression was originally a Christian abbreviation, because the ‘X’ was the Greek letter chi, the first letter of Χριστός (Christos). Some of the earliest NT manuscripts also abbreviate sacred names (Latin term nomina sacra, singular nomen sacrum), and they were written in all capitals (i.e. uncial manuscripts). E.g. they would abbreviate the nominative ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ to ΧΣ, which was often written as XC, and the genitive ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ as ΧΥ, and the abbreviations would have a line over them, which I can’t do here. In this icon from the great Hagia Sophia (‘Holy Wisdom’) cathedral in Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul in Turkey, there are the nomina sacra IC XC with wavy lines over them, standing for ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, Jesus Christ.
Some critics object to the derivation of the word, making a connection to the Roman Catholic Mass. In reality, the word ‘mass’ in both cases derives from the Latin missa, which originally meant ‘dismissal’, but in the Christian world, took on the meaning of ‘sent out on a mission’. So the Christ Mass is the celebration of God the Father sending God the Son on a specific mission to man, in becoming one of us.
The Hanukkah precedent
Another point to add comes from the feast of Hanukkah. This celebrates the ‘re-booting’ of the Second Temple after the Maccabees expelled the Seleucid defiler Antiochus IV, who had proclaimed himself ‘Epiphanes’ meaning ([God] manifest). This included lighting the Menorah, the multi-part candle, and the story goes that one day's supply of oil lasted all eight days.
In John 10:22–23, we see Yeshua/Jesus walking on the Temple Mount during Hanukkah, using this Feast of Lights to explain how He is the Light of the World, and God (the Second Person of the Trinity) come in the flesh! Thus He saw nothing wrong with celebrating a ‘man-made’ festival to proclaim the good news of His coming.
Many Messianic Jews even make the celebration into an illustration of the Messiah. On Hanukkah, Jews light the middle candle, the Shamash, meaning ‘Servant’, then use this to light the other candles. This represents our Lord Jesus, the Suffering Servant prophesied in Isaiah 53, who is the Light of the World. The other candles represent believers in Him, both Jew and Gentile, who should show His light, not hide it under a bushel (Matthew 5:15).
Taking the analogy of Jesus’ celebrating Hanukkah, I personally see nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas. Under the Law of Christ, we are all free to choose whether to celebrate Christmas or refrain from this celebration. The claim that Christmas is pagan fails on objective historical and logical grounds, and the 25 December date originally came from a Jewish tradition that later pagans plagiarized. Finally, God is the creator of the day-night cycle, so He owns all days; no day is owned by Satan or pagans.
References and notes
- Tighe, W., “Calculating Christmas” touchstonemag.com, accessed 20 January 2012. Return to text.
- See Bethlehem Climate History, myweather2.com, accessed 11 November 2016. Return to text.
- Abshire, B., Rethinking the Pagan Origins of Christmas, christian-civilization.org, accessed 20 January 2012. Return to text.
Should we avoid celebrating the most important day in human history simply because we weren’t commanded to? It was likely unthinkable that we would need to be! And there actually was much celebration because of that first Christmas: wise men traveled great distances to worship, a star appeared in the sky for guidance at which “they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy,” baby John leapt for joy before he was even born, Christ’s mother composed a song, Zacharias gave a prophecy, multiple angels brought announcements, shepherds praised God, a dying man’s wish to see Christ was granted by God, the prophetess Anna gave thanks to the Lord, kingly gifts were brought to Him in the manger, and angelic choirs performed for shepherds.
Legalists want to give up everything to any pagan who might have made some use of anything, no matter how insignificant or temporary—as though they have some claim to anything in God’s Creation simply because they were the first to use something in some way. But Scripture gives some indication of the things we’re not to imitate, in Deuteronomy 18:9–14: human sacrifice, witchcraft, soothsaying, sorcery, etc. Notably missing are such things as decorations, gift-giving, and the like. Pagans don’t own any day or activity. I won’t hand over any “day that the Lord has made” to pagans to determine how such a day must be used. As Dr Sarfati said in an earlier response, “the pagans own no days; God the Creator of the day-night cycle owns them all.” He’s exactly right.
It’s specifically because each of us may have his own ideas regarding neutral (arguably, good!) customs that Romans 14:5b tells us, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind”—in other words, follow your own inclination (where Scripture is silent), but let others do the same.
If we can’t use Jeremiah 10 (green trees are associated with pagan worship in scripture) then you can’t use Romans to defend Christmas for the same reasoning you use. I believe it boils down to this … we are obligated to worship in spirit and in truth! There is nothing accurate about the Christmas celebration; from the age of the savior when the wise men arrived to the reasons for the gifts (a reading of the event in Matthew will let you know how accurate the Christmas celebration is). Look at everyone who celebrates Christmas but never worship Jesus Christ otherwise. The Christ of Christmas is loved by all but the Christ of the Bible is hated.
There is no comparison. Jeremiah 10 forbids making idols from trees, not decorating them. Romans 14 says we may celebrate a day or not celebrate it.
I am not sure what you mean about the Matthew nativity account.
It’s also notable that among the main opponents of Christmas celebrations are the various atheopathic grinches (not supported by Dawkins though)—precisely because they realize that they are about Christ!
Jonathan, thanks for your response to my earlier comment. As you say, your article indeed states that celebrating Christmas is not commanded by Scripture, and that Christians are free to refrain from this celebration.
But your article does not come across as neutral: its main aim is evidently to support those people who choose to celebrate Christmas. But since an annual celebration of Christ’s birth is not something commanded (or even considered) by Scripture, I'm wondering why you would do this.
I know that CMI declines to take a position on a variety of issues that are peripheral to your main focus. For example, you tend not to write articles about the mode or subjects of baptism, or about the details of eschatology. So in that case, why would you take the time to write a long, detailed article in defense of one side of a debate that involves something not even touched on, let alone recommended, by Scripture?
By the way, I see no comment in John’s gospel that Jesus “celebrated” Hanukkah. Might it not be the case that he simply attended (a part of) the festival with the purpose of teaching the assembled crowds?
We wrote this article for several reasons. One is to refute some falsehoods; it’s a matter of historical fact that the 25 December date was not a pagan copycat, for example. It’s the same reason we have Arguments we think creationists should NOT use and A flat earth, and other nonsense.
Another is that like most people in the west, we have Christmas holidays and Christmas specials, and a few people complain about it, usually based on false history, sometimes based on that historically atrocious Hislop book The Two Bablyons.
A third is to remind readers of the liberty we have in Christ to choose to celebrate or not to celebrate, just as we have the right to eat all animals or abstain from eating them. Defending this freedom may not appear ‘neutral’ to those who deny that we have this freedom.
It seems like special pleading to think that Jesus went up to the Hanukkah celebration without celebrating it. I seriously doubt that He went there to protest against celebrating it, since surely that would have been mentioned.
I agree that Christmas is not explicitly condoned or condemned in scripture, but would like to add my perspective to the matter. Christmas is a celebration of human origin, unlike baptism or communion, which are commands to be followed by believers. One serious problem with Christians celebrating something without clear scriptural origins is that there are no boundaries defining what is or is not acceptable practice to be included in that celebration. Therefore the introduction of decorated trees, mistletoe, Santa travelling around the world in one night giving gifts to ‘nice’ children, are all included because there are no clear boundaries as defined in scripture to include or exclude any practices.
I believe that we need to be extremely careful with engaging in religious practices of human origin, which Christmas and Easter are, in spite of Biblical connections. Colossians 2:22 warns against rules based on human teachings, as does The Lord Jesus in Matt 15:9, quoting Isaiah 29:13. Christmas and Easter are not ‘rules’ as such, but I believe the principle applies; do not teach man made traditions as though they are ordained or sanctioned by God, or give the impression of being so. I see Christmas and Easter as poorly mixed conglomerates, Christian observances coexisting with practices of decidedly unchristian origins, and I think we need to approach them with extreme care and discernment.
If certain customs are antibiblical, e.g. a quasi-divine Santa Claus totally unlike the real Saint Nick, then we should not celebrate them. If they are biblically neutral, such as gift giving, then we are free to partake or refrain from partaking.
I always think that theology and maths have a lot in common. However, in maths ‘x’ stands for an unknown variable. In theology, ‘X’ stands for a known unvariable.
Your claim in the comments section that “The Reformers would agree” with “your interpretations” is only true of some. Even Calvin in the link you provide for him, refers to Christmas having been ceased by the Reformers (Farel, etc.) who began the Reformation before him in Geneva. Zwingli and the Reformation in German Switzerland abolished Christmas. John Knox and his co-reformers in Scotland opposed Christmas, the Scottish General Assembly stating in 1566, “the festivals of our Lord’s nativity … obtain no place among us; for we dare not religiously celebrate any other festival day than what the divine oracles prescribed.” Outside of the state churches, the Anabaptists, Baptist, Congregational and most Presbyterian movements all abstained from Christmas from their beginnings until well over 200 years after the Reformation. Our authority is not church history, but if we are going to refer to church history, we should do so in a fair and realistic manner.
As for who was copying who: Tertullian in early 3rd Century wrote in ”On Idolatry”, “By us, who are strangers to Sabbaths, and New Moons, and festivals, once acceptable to God, the Saturnalia, the Feasts of January, the Brumalia, and Matronalia, are now frequented. … oh, how much more faithful are the heathen to their religion, who take special care to adopt no solemnity from the Christians.”
We are not being stubborn, or following myths, or relying on misinformation, but rather find that the sad facts of church history contradict the claims that McGowan, yourself and others are asserting.
Well, the original KJV-1611, as opposed to the 1769 Blayney revision that most people read, had a list of “Leſſons proper for Holy dayes” at the front, and included “Chriſtmas day”.
Nothing in Tertullian says that Christmas was a copy of any of these pagan festivals. Saturnalia is too early: it was on the 17th, and was later extended to the 23rd.
You assert repeatedly that Jesus “celebrated” Hanukkah, but the passage you cite in John 10 does not say this at all. The fact that Jesus “walked in the Temple” and taught the Jews in Solomon’s porch at this time does not mean He “celebrated Hanukkah”, anymore than when, D.V., I preach this coming Lord’s Day 1st Jan that means I am “celebrating” New Year’s Day.
Likewise, the fact that one writer, Hippolytus, gives Dec 25th as his date when the Lord was born is no evidence that Christians at Rome or elsewhere were celebrating the Lord’s birth on that date at that time—if they were, we’d expect references to it in letters and other documents from that period. This was just one of many suggested dates: Clement (c.150–c.215) favoured May 20 but noted that others had argued for April 18 or 19, and May 28. November 17, November 20, and March 21 or 25 were also suggested—this doesn’t mean the Lord’s incarnation was being celebrated annually on all or any of these dates.
Chrysostom wrote about AD 386, “It is not yet 10 years since this day [Christmas] was first made known to us. It had been observed before in the West, from whence the knowledge of it is derived”. Christmas was celebrated in Rome AD 336 under Constantine, and spread from there.
If you have any real evidence of Christians annually celebrating Christmas on Dec 25 before Aurelian chose that date for Sol Invictus in 274, please provide it.
It is special pleading to deny that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. Although critical of ‘traditions of men’, there is no record of His protesting against this Feast of Dedication.
There was a lot of unity about the date of Jesus' conception date around the same date as His crucifixion. Then, very early on, the Western church came to accept the 25 December date, while the Eastern church, based on the same reasoning, came to 6 January. There are no early pagan festivals on those dates.
If you think that the evidence for a 25 December date for Christmas is thin, then also note that the evidence for that date for Sol Invictus is thinner. The AD 274 date by Aurelian comes from the Philocalian Calendar or around AD 350, but this actually says N.INVICTI.CM.XXX, an abbreviation for Natalis (“birthday/nativity”) INVICTI” = “Of the unconquered one”; CM = circenses missus (“games ordered”); XXX = 30; i.e. “Thirty games were ordered for the birthday of the unconquered one”. But it doesn't specify which unconquered one; it may well be the sun, but there are other feasts that mention the sun explicitly so its absence here is curious. This calendar also mentioned on 25 December the tradition that Jesus was born on that day: VIII kal. Ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae (“the Christ was born in Bethlehem in Judea on the 25th of December”). So even the earliest (ambiguous) source of the pagan celebration also mentions the Christian celebration as well, so that would make it a tie at best for paganism. [From The Great Myths 2: Christmas, Mithras and Paganism by the Australian atheistic historian Tim O’Neill on his “History for Atheists” blog, a sort of ‘Arguments Atheists Should Not Use’ page. Also J.P. Holding, Christmas is Pagan and Other Myths, 2013.]
It wasn’t until the 12th century that there was any suggestion that Christians borrowed the dates from paganism; it is not found in the early writings.
But even if you’re right that the pagan celebrations came first, I maintain what I said in the article: the pagans own no days; God the Creator of the day-night cycle owns them all.
Deeply saddened and distressed you felt that arguing your points on this subject yet again, should not only be part of the public ministry of CMI, but such top priority as to be given the number 1 spot on your covering email: “Should Christians celebrate Christmas? Why Dec 25?” It’s heartbreaking to read your self-assessment at the beginning, “we most certainly do base our thinking in every area on Scripture.” Great to have it as an aim, dangerous to have as a claim. Humbleness of mind says, we all “know in part” and are learning and unlearning as we get to know Scripture better for the whole of our Christian lives. CMI’s important work is not helped by going into more and more side issues and trying to prove “we are right” about every one of them.
When quoting Romans 14:5–6 this year, it’s a great pity you omitted the second part of verse six, “and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it”. Instead, you paint those who differ with you on how we celebrate the Lord’s incarnation in entirely negative terms, saying we are free to “ignore” Christmas, and using the label “critics”, almost exclusively for the rest of the article. Then follows in the comments—which are on public display at the foot of your article—denunciations of such as “legalistic” “legalists” following “demonic lies” and not “giving glory to God for sending His Son”!!! Many Christians who don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter, dedicate over an hour every Lord’s Day to remembering the Lord Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. Please have some respect and consideration for those who are being hurt and accused.
Our letters page has reasonable freedom for critical comments as long as they are not personal attacks.
Why would we not want to affirm our biblical basis, especially in the face of contrary claims?
We didn’t cite the second part of Romans 14:6 because there is a textual issue involved. Most modern translations, such as our default ESV, don’t have this, because the underlying Greek texts lack it. According to the textual scholars who made this text, it seems like a typical later Byzantine scribal addition to balance the previous clause, just as the clause about eating animals is balanced by the clause about refraining from eating. Regardless of whether you prefer the Majority or UBS text, my article affirmed that it was fine to refrain from Christmas celebration. That is, my article would be unchanged if I cited the Geneva, KJV, or NKJV which have that clause.
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col 2:8).
Also, Sarfati ignores the very next verse showing how he ripped Col 2:16 out of the context.
“Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col 2:17).
Elsewhere Paul warned the Galatians not to return to the vain Jewish observance of days.
“But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Gal 4:9-11).
As a former Romanist, now called out, all the Roman church did was invent new holy days (holidays). These are the new traditions of men.
Some days, like Christ-Mass, are appointed high holy days. You'd better be in attendance or else.
Christ-Mass involves the sacrifice of their jesus over and over and over as they believe the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ.
This is a most heinous and wicked dogma that denies the once for all sacrifice of Christ in the behalf of the elect.
A true elect, regenerate child of God would never celebrate the unholy, wicked christ-mass day.
The elect hold no day above any other.
The elect come away from the shadows.
Why? Because they now look exclusively to Christ.
Like Paul instructed the Galatians, they have no more need for shadows.
It is hardly “ignoring the context” because I didn’t quote as much as you wanted. None of what you say argues that we are forbidden from celebrating either Jewish or pagan festivals if we want to, just that we are not required to either.
I also showed that Christmas has nothing to do with the Roman mass in its current form; rather, both words have the root of the Latin word for ‘send’.
I have heard some Bible scholars date Jesus’ birth to late September based on the time of Zachariah’s (John the Baptist’s father) service in the temple. Can you shed any light on this idea?
The problem is, we don’t know what time of year Zechariah’s temple service was, because we have only rabbinic sources that themselves don’t agree. I explained more in a reply to Kevan Q., New Zealand, 24 December 2015 under last year’s Christmas article.
Many congrats and thanks to Dr Sarfati for clear logic in engaging matters of Scriptural and historical interpretation regarding the Christian observance of Christmas. Readers will necessarily forgive my unapologetic promotion, but many of the same matters are given more treatment in my When Was Jesus Really Born?—Early Christianity, the Calendar, and the Life of Jesus (Concordia, 2013). A longer treatment of the alleged pagan connections to Christmas and Easter (or lack thereof) is given in my next work still in progress.
Perhaps if the Christian Scriptures of the New Testament had been written over a period of 1,000 years or more, as is the case with the Old Testament, we would have some notation of the historical occurrence of these festivals and a hint at when they began. As it is, however, Dr Sarfati is on the mark in noting Jesus’ attendance at the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22), which we know as Chanukah—a feast which has no Biblical command to support it, yet is observed by Jews worldwide. While observance or non-observance of feast days is certainly not determinative of one’s eternal destiny, the feasts themselves are a natural result of early Christians seeking to celebrate the redemptive hand of God in human history.
Kyle H., If Jeremiah 10:1–5 is not a reference to idols and idolatry, then what do you think it is referring to? Verse 5 in some translations reads, “Their idols are like …”
It’s certainly not referring to Christmas trees.
Holy smokes Jonathan, I just reread your view of the non-connection between the Roman mass and Christmas. All I can say is your [sic] a bald face liar. What a papal toadie.
Fortunately the above ↑↑ is not representative of those who oppose Christmas.
And just when I was showing where your wrong about holy days, you cut me off. Oh well, typical evangelical.
The above was unreasonable, expecting same-day or next-day replies to repeated comments—and when I and the rest of the CMI-US was on holiday/vacation.
So are we to take it that you are not even evangelical? (So are we evangelicals or papists? You don’t seem to have made up your mind.) We do note that cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deny the deity of Christ, oppose Christmas celebrations. One difference is that we don't resort to guilt-by-association arguments against genuine Christians who refrain from Christmas, which they have every right to do under the freedom we have in Christ.
Dr Sarfati, is there a logical fallacy that involves believing that everything man-made (i.e. traditional) is automatically evil? It seems to me that many of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ think that if we do anything that does not have its origin in divine inspiration that God will impute sin to our record the moment we indulge in such an activity. If this were true then life would be one unbearable round of seeking purification from all man-made customs, an impossible feat. Which ironically leads a person into the very thing they claim to want to avoid, gross legalism. I understand the folly of this mentality but I want to know if there is a better way to articulate what I am observing.
Thank you Jonatham Sarfati for your brilliant and informative essay. For long I have been a Creation magazine reader and follow the CMI blog quite often. I find them really informative. Your writing on “Celebrating Christmas” is an open minder. As a Christian, it’s of great importance to know everything goes around the figure of our Creator and Saviour Jesus Christ. There is only one point on which I disagree on your writing, and is your interpretation of Colossians 2:16 on the importance of the singular term of “Sabbath” and its plural form “Sabbaths”. but I will write to you a letter about it. Thank you for now for yours and CMI’s appreciated work.
Rare among Christians is a criticism of celebrating Easter (personally I’ve never heard such).
Some do say that Easter should be more important to Christians than Christmas. But if Christ came to Earth to provide through His death a substitutionary atonement for our sinning AND to provide through his perfect life a righteousness to be imputed to us (2 Corinthians 5:21 and elsewhere), then the two celebrations are both appropriate: Christmas for His ‘active obedience’ and Easter for His ‘passive obedience’. Discard Christmas and you’d better discard Easter also.
In other words, Dr Sarfati, I fully agree with your essay.
Good to know, thanks.
Actually, some have criticized celebrating Easter, but I answered such criticisms a few years ago:
I have in my possession the book titled The Two Babylons by the Rev. Alexander Hislop. This was first published in June 1916. The copy I have was reprinted in 1965. This is a very scholarly work repleat with references. I suggest that you acquire a copy and read it carefully; it is very informative.
Your brother in Christ
The passover and over feasts and festivals were appointed by God Himself. Christmas and Easter have no such authorization from God, they are the traditions of, at best, unfaithful men.
As I said in my article:
- Christmas and Easter are not forbidden by God either.
- Hanukkah (the Feast of Dedication) was not commanded by God, but Jesus celebrated it anyway.
“So if something is sinful, it will be forbidden by Scripture, either expressly or by logical deduction. A corollary: if something is not forbidden by Scripture, then it is permissible.”
As I understand it, the quoted sentences are what the Lutherans historically believed concerning the Worship of God, called the Normative Principle of worship.
The Calvinists however refer to the Regulative Principle. (They seem to apply this only to the Public Worship of God and I’m not sure why it is thus restricted). This says that only those things prescribed by the Scriptures are allowed for the public worship of God. A corollary would be that we are not to add to the Worship of God anything outside of what God has asked for in the Bible.
The gathering of God’s people in public worship on Christmas day, if the days it falls on are not the Lord’s Day, not being commanded in Scripture either explicitly or by logical necessity, is therefore seen as forbidden by Calvinists. Once can garner the Scripture proofs for this from several websites.
This is what the two streams of the Reformation churches have taught regarding events like Christmas and Easter.
Yet Calvin himself had no problem with celebrating Christmas! The Anglican Book of Common Prayer, by Protestant Archbishop Philip Cranmer, also had Christmas celebrations.
And which Reformers would that be? By the way, your interpretation of Romans 14 is grossly wrong.
Jonathan makes a lot of interesting points. However, my concern is that church leadership ought not to be imposing a man-made celebration upon the church of Christ. There should not be a standard ‘expectation’ that, as a church, we will do something for Christmas. (What individuals wish to do is, of course, up to them.)
The Incarnation was a wonderful event, which was celebrated by angels, shepherds, and Magi. But the Bible does not mandate an annual, ongoing celebration of that event. The only regular celebration required by the New Testament is the Lord's Table, or communion, which recalls Christ’s death for us and looks forward to his return.
How much time does the church devote to Christmas (practising cantatas for months ahead, etc.; even cancelling Bible classes!), compared to how much time we spend on the Lord's Table? Jesus observed, in Matthew 15, that mere human ‘traditions’ have the tendency of overtaking and nullifying the actual Word of God.
Whether or not Christmas derives from pagan sources, it is not required by Scripture and should not be in any way enforced on Christian believers.
But didn't I say near the beginning:
We think Christmas is an example. Scripture neither commands nor forbids it. Therefore Christians have the freedom in Christ to celebrate or ignore it, as long as the means of celebration are not unscriptural.
Then in the conclusion:
Under the Law of Christ, we are all free to choose whether to celebrate Christmas or refrain from this celebration.
The Popes would agree with your interpretations.
This article makes several points that need to be made and people need to learn them. Unfortunately, atheopaths and legalistic Christians have their own inaccurate opinions, and dislike being contradicted by facts. Even so, I have been pleased to link to this on my Weblogs, The Question Evolution Project, and other places. There are a few people who are willing to learn. Thanks, Dr Sarfati and CMI for this, and your other work. Wishing you a blessed Christmas and happy 2017!
Is there any reliable resources on Saint Nicholas for separating as much fact as possible from the mythos around him today.
Re: Your quote; Of course, the mythology that has grown around this figure distracts from any remembrance of the Saviour’s birth. But this is hardly the fault of the original Nicholas.
You say this is hardly the fault of the original
Nicholas, but may I enlighten you to the fact that the fault lies with us Christians, who gave the heathen world a reason to celebrate Xmas not to Christ alone! but to worship a dead man, along with animals, a star, an angel, an evergreen tree, covertousness, gluttony, drunkenness, revelry, family arguments etc.
It also reminds people of their misery and loneliness at this time of the year even more so. And lastly, we have taken and given away God’s judgements to a Christian-Heathen Demi-god who now decides for us who has been good or bad. All of this which smacks of Idolatry to me.
Again, this has to do with means of celebration that are anti-scriptural. They have no bearing on the scripturally neutral means of celebration, which are neither commanded nor forbidden.
What a pity some legalists are so bound up as to actually need a refutation like this. But the need exists and must be met, as was well done here. For myself I invoke the liberty of Christ to largely ignore the thing but have nothing against those who keep it even with the trimmings and may in the future do the Christmas thing if the fancy takes me
Can you provide more information on “integral year”, the Jewish tradition? Can you back it up with ancient Jewish sources? Is the “integral age/year” or “the fullness of the days” an apologetics myth? Please respond to my questions. God bless.
Andrew McGowan, Dean and President of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and McFaddin Professor of Anglican Studies at Yale Divinity School, explains something similar in How December 25 Became Christmas, Biblical Archaeology Society 2012/2016. He shows that the common pagan copycat theory wasn’t recorded before the 12th century.
Then he documents that many early Christians made a connection between Jesus’s death and conception. E.g. Tertullian of Carthage (AD ca. 150–225) calculated the date of His death on the Roman calendar, and this was early on also commemorated by the Feast of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Many eminent Christians in both the eastern and western branches of the early made this connection.
So why was this connection so common? McGowan explains a likely reason akin to integral age:
The notion that creation and redemption should occur at the same time of year is also reflected in ancient Jewish tradition, recorded in the Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud preserves a dispute between two early-second-century C.E. rabbis who share this view, but disagree on the date: Rabbi Eliezer states: “In Nisan the world was created; in Nisan the Patriarchs were born; on Passover Isaac was born … and in Nisan they [our ancestors] will be redeemed in time to come.” (The other rabbi, Joshua, dates these same events to the following month, Tishri.)
Thus, the dates of Christmas and Epiphany may well have resulted from Christian theological reflection on such chronologies: Jesus would have been conceived on the same date he died, and born nine months later.
I am a Catholic Priest and read CMI often, thank you for a great article Jonathan, I enjoy reading your articles because of their clear logic. I am perturbed to no end that Biblical Creation is not at the forefrunt of the Church’s teachings, but do what I can in my little Parish.
Jonathan I appreciate you often referring to historical Christianity and the ancient Church Fathers who were steeped in Scripture, now I know, I know, you don't agree with them regarding Communion being Christ’s Body and Blood (Beautiful book Eucharistic Miracles on that topic) and that the Catholic Church preceded the New Testament and decided what documents to put into it because it is Infallible in Faith and Morals. Still we do agree on many things.
It’s interesting to question why would the Catholic Bishops of the 4th century at the Council of Hippo include in the New Testament Hebrews, 2 Peter, and Revelation, if nobody knows who really wrote these documents. Yet as St. Augustin said, “I would not believe the Gospels unless the Church told me to.” Ultimately I have to trust the Infallible Church when it tells me what’s Gods Word and what isn’t, and we can't fall back on 2 Timothy 3:15–17 since that was written before the Gospel of John so should we exclude John’s Gospel? :) Anyway there will always be things we disagree with, but do appreciate your knowledge of historical Christianity overall.
Merry Christmas to all at CMI!
Thank you for your kind words. It’s good to see some Catholic priests standing up for the truth of creation. As you are fully aware, this was the teaching of the men you regard as ‘Doctors of the Church’, such as Basil the Great and Thomas Aquinas.
Another Catholic priest friendly with CMI is Fr Dr Brian Harrison, also Australian born but has lived in the USA for decades; and we have favorably reviewed The Doctrines of Genesis 1–11: A Compendium and Defense of Traditional Catholic Theology on Origins by Fr Dr Victor P. Warkulwiz. The late Australian Catholic layman Gerry Keane, author of the book Creation Rediscovered, was a friend.
We don’t really want this page on Christmas celebration to become a Catholic vs. Protestant debate on this page (from either side, please). So I will just point out that CMI’s position is that of NT scholar Frederick Fyvie Bruce (1910–1990), author of a book on the Canon:
The NT books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognising their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect. … [Church] councils [did] not impose something new upon the Christian communities but codif[ied] what was already the general practice of those communities. (The New Testament Documents, IVP, Downers Gr, Ill, IVP, 1960)
Christians should be celebrated according to how Christians would. How is that? The wise men gave to Christ the gifts. They did not give to one another! This is where Christians fall short. It becomes a selfish day as it is all about what I can get. How many children are taught to have the character of Christ in giving to others? I grew up in a Christian family and was unfortunately taught about Santa and his elves that watch me to see if I am good. Well that is not Biblical, is it? It is the angels that write what we do down.
I find it sad how Christians will lie to their children about Santa and yet they must believe in Jesus! We have no idea what we do to our children and their faith in their Saviour when we lie to them.
So give the gift of life to somebody else this Christmas!
This doesn't mean that Christmas gift-giving is sinful, as the article stated. It is indeed most unwise for parents to impute quasi-divine qualities to Santa; the real Saint Nick would certainly not have approved.
A well balanced and informative article! Thank you! I enjoyed reading this and will pass the link on to friends.
Like many I was always told that it was a Christianisation of the winter solstice made by Pope Gregory I in the hope to keep new Christians celebrating Christ instead of their traditional pagan festivities. Shows how ingrained some lies really are. (It’s yet another demonic ‘double speak’ lie intended to stop Christians from giving glory to God for sending us the Saviour!) So good to know it’s the other way around.
Thank you, and warm merry Christmas from Australia!
Where in Jeremiah 10:1–5 does God’s Word mention idols? This is the same mistake as made with the Gap Theory—clever dudes pencilling in their own ideas—not such a clever thing to do. Proverbs 30:6. This is a worry when scientists are again looked up to as authorities on all things biblical.
Why would we not celebrate our Saviours birth?
The Jews rightly celebrated Passover that they were passed over through the application of blood on the pillars and door frames of their homes.
Although this is more relevant to Easter both Easter for Christ's death and resurrection being significant for Christ's blood being the covering for those who make the decision to follow and commit.
Jesus Christ was not going to selfishly institute celebration for His coming and departure. He spoke of communion being partaken of to do in remembrance of Him until He comes.
Significantly He also participated in the passover celebrations of the Jews and their feasts and festivals.
The Bible also speaks of the marriage supper of the lamb as a festival to be looked forward to.
How would Our heavenly Father and Lord and Saviour respond to His children celebrating Jesus birth and death and resurrection?
What is our choice, man's response or that which we find accord in the Spirit with Christ?
Agreement: Yes we certainly would not find accord with the way the world celebrates these events. We are in the world but not of the world and therefore our aim is to please God not to please man.
Lets celebrate as Christians celebrate.