Thursday, August 03, 2006

Birthdays And The Bible

Some of our separated brethren have historically (since their inception 1500-1800 years after the birth of Christ and His Church, at least) submitted that the celebration of birthdays, specifically the Birth of Christ, is unbiblical and contrary to God's will. This piece will examine those arguments and shed light on whether the celebration of ANY birthday, Christ's or anyone else's is sinful and unbiblical.

1. Whenever the Bible talks about someone celebrating a person's birthday, someone dies so it can't be good to celebrate them.

Let's look at these events in Scripture.

Genesis 40:20-22 'The third day after this was the birthday of Pharao: and he made a great feast for his servants, and at the banquet remembered the chief butler, and the chief baker. And he restored the one to his place, to present him the cup: The other he hanged on a gibbet, that the truth of the interpreter might be shewn.'

Mark 6:21-28 'And when a convenient day was come, Herod made a supper for his birthday, for the princes, and tribunes, and chief men of Galilee. And when the daughter of the same Herodias had come in, and had danced, and pleased Herod, and them that were at table with him, the king said to the damsel: Ask of me what thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he swore to her: Whatsoever thou shalt ask I will give thee, though it be the half of my kingdom. Who when she was gone out, said to her mother, What shall I ask? But her mother said: The head of John the Baptist. And when she was come in immediately with haste to the king, she asked, saying: I will that forthwith thou give me in a dish, the head of John the Baptist. And the king was struck sad. Yet because of his oath, and because of them that were with him at table, he would not displease her: But sending an executioner, he commanded that his head should be brought in a dish. And he beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a dish: and gave to the damsel, and the damsel gave it her mother.'

JOB 1:4,18-19 'And [Job's] sons went, and made a feast by houses, every one in his day. And sending, they called their three sisters, to eat and drink with them. [...] [The messenger] was yet speaking, and behold another [messenger] came in, and said: Thy sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the house of their eldest brother, A violent wind came on a sudden from the side of the desert, and shook the four corners of the house, and it fell upon thy children, and they are dead: and I alone have escaped to tell thee.'

My first question to you would be where does Scripture actually say that these deaths occurred BECAUSE it was someone's birthday? The honest answer is 'nowhere'. To suppose or assume this connection is to approach Scripture insincerely and with a set of doctrines in mind already. There is just no rationale to assume that Job's kids were smote BECAUSE they were celebrating a birthday. In fact we already know why Job's kids died--because God allowed Satan to put Job to a test of faith--not because of any birthday celebration.

As for Herod's and Pharaoh's birthdays, would anyone expect them to be godly? Considering Herod wanted to murder God's Son and Pharaoh was obstinate against God's messenger, Moses, it's not hard to see that those birthday celebrations were probably not of God. Still, it would be wrong to assume that the deaths in those stories occurred BECAUSE they were birthday celebrations. Instead, the deaths occurred because Herod and Pharaoh were evil.

Secondly, wouldn't you expect an birthday to be a time of reflection on the good things God has done for us in our lives? It's a time to appreciate our family and friends and thank God for it all. Common sense tells us that a marker every year, in and of itself, cannot be evil. If we choose to celebrate it like Herod, then we MAKE it an evil work.

2. The Bible does not record the celebration of Christ's birthday or the anniversary of His birthday.

So what would you call 3 kings coming from the ends of the earth to give Jesus gifts? It's pretty clear that they were celebrating the birth of the Messiah and were under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and angels in doing so. I'd say that imitating persons under the Holy Spirit's guidance and inspiration is not ungodly at all.

I don't disagree that we do not see a celebration of the anniversary of Christ's birth in Scripture, nor do we see the word 'Christmas' therein. But using this standard, I see no prohibition of polygamy, wife swapping, or abortion either--are these OK? There's no prohibition against running over someone with a street sweeper since street sweepers weren't yet invented. There's no biblical basis for a marriage performed by a minister and there's no New Testament command to build a church building, yet we do. How far do you want to take this Bible alone thing?

Furthermore, John the Apostle writes that not everything that Christ did or taught is written down in the Bible! Does this mean that it's any less important to our salvation? I do not make that assumption and neither do the Apostles, who teach by word of mouth often. Look at the celebration of Channukah--Jesus observed it even though it was established by a human (Judas Maccabeus) and not by God. This is an example of a human tradition, established to commemorate yearly a wondrous event in which our own Savior celebrated! How much greater a celebration of the birth of the Son of God? If nobody established this celebration, someone would've had to! And lo and behold, it was the Church established by Christ that did this. The Church given authority to govern all followers of Christ by binding and loosing--the Catholic Church. That no celebration was present in Scripture is irrelevant.

3. The Church created Christmas as a traditition of men.

We've already seen that Christ himself celebrated certain customs and traditions so why do you hold me to a standard even Christ didn't have? Look at Judges 11:39-40:

"From thence came a fashion in Israel, and a custom has been kept: That, from year to year, the daughters of Israel assemble together, and lament the daughter of Jephte the Galaadite, for four days."

The Bible gives no indication that this custom was ever abandoned or forbidden later. Nor is there any command by God to observe it--yet God's people did it anyway. Look at Esther 9:19:

"But those Jews that dwelt in towns not walled and in villages, appointed the fourteenth day of the month Adar for banquets and gladness, so as to rejoice on that day, and send one another portions of their banquets and meats."

Here, there is no sign that God mandated this observation, God's people just did it. Gifts were exchanged and there was lots of celebration, yet God did not forbid it. There are others.

4. But Christmas is pagan in origin, hardly of Christ!

This assumption is based on a faulty idea that commonality=direct descendancy. In other words, this idea that Christmas is pagan comes from seeing elements of Christmas that are similar to pagan customs. Unfortunately, the CONNECTION between the two just isn't there. For example, pagans bow to their knees to pray to their false gods. Are we to understand that getting on our knees to pray to the True God is pagan in origin? Hindus are often plunged into the Ganges River as a purification right, does this mean that baptism by water into Christ's reign is pagan? See, observing the similarities without taking into account the vast differences results in a faulty assumption about Christianity. Moses warned the Israelites in Deuteronomy not to copy the rites of the pagans--specifically things like tossing their offspring into the fire. In fact, Moses himself warned against setting up pillars to worship false gods, yet himself set up pillars to worship the one, true God. If African devil worshipers celebrate their rites on a full moon--the same time as the Jews celebrated their festivals--does this make them Jews? Of course not. Christmas is right because it rightly celebrates and glorifies God. If there were no Christ, there'd be no Christmas as evidenced by there existing NO holiday which celebrated the birth of Christ before he was born. Were it pagan, it would have no link to God in any way--very much like the secular world celebrates it today.

5. December 25 is the day the pagans celebrated the 'Day of The Sun'.

First, I wonder if you could please provide proof for what you imply--that Christmas was chosen to be celebrated BECAUSE it was the pagan god feast day and in order to mix that pagan celebration with Christianity.
Second, some of the possible reasons December 25 was chosen are:
  • Jesus was actually born on December 25
  • Jesus was conceived on December 25
  • to insititute the true God and His religion with intent to replace the pagan rites

Second, when you think about it, Christmas is OUR 'Day of the SON'. Jesus was Son of God and we thank God for his incarnation as we should. and Malachi 4 call Jesus 'the SUN of justice'. The Church attempting to replace the pagan feast day with Christ is merely its way of following Paul's advice: "Be not overcome by evil: but overcome evil by good" (Romans 12:21). What better way to tell the pagans about the one, true SON than by replacing their holiday with one about Him? There also exists evidence that the Christian Church was celebrating December 25 as Christmas by the 3rd century--before this pagan feast day (called Sol Invictus) was being celebrated in the Roman Empire. If this is the case, then the argument presented is preposterous.

6. Early Church Fathers like Tertullian and Origen say that birthdays were not celebrated and they were against celebrating them and Josephus also says Jews did not celebrate them.

Did Tertullian and Origen speak on behalf of the Christian Church? No, they did not. Their personal opinions about birthdays did not have any relevance on what the Church taught about them. In fact, NO Church teaching existed with regard to birthdays.

Tertullian and Origen also believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in praying for/commemorating the anniversaries of the dead, do you?

One of the main reasons was that most Christians were poor and, therefore, could not afford birthday celebrations. Nobility were the only ones wealthy enough to have celebrations and, in many cultures, were the only ones considered important enough to observe these birthdays. If you compare this to Job's sons celebrating birthdays in Job 1:3, this would make sense considering Job's immense wealth at that time.

A few Early Church Fathers like Origen are on record as saying the first Christians did not celebrate birthdays but not a single one condemns the practice or suggests that it is contrary to Christian doctrine in the least. In fact, Tertullian talks about maintaining an anniversary yearly for the martyrs:

'As often as the anniversary comes round, we make offerings for the dead as birthday honours' (De Corona ch. 3)

Finally, Origen's contemporaries, namely Clement of Alexandria and Hippolytus disagreed and strove to assign a date for remembrance of Christ's birthday so it's clear that no defined date or teaching was in place but rather, cultural norms in different parts of the world.


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