Whence Christmas?

[Revised and Updated, November 29, 2017]

These days, Christians everywhere face persecution for their beliefs. One example is in the name “Christmas.” Non-believers, let alone overt pagans, do not like the name. For example, the U.K. just decided that it’s ok to say Christmas, …for now. But others are enduring lawsuits over display of a “Christmas tree.” Nativity scenes are just as contested, if not moreso.

Within Christendom, Christmas is also controversial for 2 distinct but intertwined reasons:

  1. due to its debatable inaccuracy concerning the actual birth date of Jesus / Yeshua. Does the celebration of December 25 have an ancient (1st–3rd C. A.D.) pagan origin or not?
  2. because current-era Christmas has been inundated with pagan rituals and materialistic secularism. Some of these add-ons attached during the Middle Ages, when the Roman Catholic Church was “christianizing” (rather, colonizing) Western Europe. Other add-ons are purely 19th & 20th Century modern cultural aberrations/pollutions.

Leaving aside Christian history’s oppressive & exploitative expansion West, it is important to establish a correct date for the birth of Christ and to decide if celebrating that birth on a given day is right or wrong.

The Birth Date of Jesus: Clues from the Bible

A few weeks ago, Lamb’s Harbinger posted an article by Dr. David Reagan and Dr. James Ya’akov Hugg at Lamb & Lion Ministries. The article asks the question, “When was Jesus Born?” It precisely uses data from the Bible record as well as historical data to arrive at an accurate date of Feast of Tabernacles (late September / early October)… in the years B.C. 5-4. [The Jewish calendar runs through 2 years, similar to the way a modern school calendar spans 2 years. See timeline below, all credit due Dr. James Ya’akov Hugg]

chart_jcbirth.jpg

Also notice, according to these biblically informed dates, the Magi arrived to worship and honor the birth of Yeshua in what would be European midwinter… late December.

Educated Guessers

Now, researchers and Christian apologists such as Lenny Esposito and Sean McDowell have argued for Christmas (observed December 25th) as having truly Christian origins. They do so from what only can be called educated guessing. Example articles are found linked below:

Like his peers, Mr. Esposito goes to great lengths, exhuming ancient records of the early church and 3rd Century Rome—which precede the time of Constantine—in order to prove that Christmas is not based off of Pagan religious festivals such as Saturnalia, Ophelia, Winter Solstice & Sigillaria. Mr. Esposito’s fine research features a pièce de résistance. He shows that the Roman way of calculating months places these feasts from December 17th – 23rd (3-7 days). From that, he asserts no early Christians could have been copying a pagan holiday, when first celebrating what we now call Christmas. Amid these arguments, Mr. Esposito also inserts that Dies Natalis Solis Invictus—a Roman celebration of Sun worship (at the Winter Solstice, “birth of the new sun”)—began to be celebrated on December 25th, 354 A.D. From all that, Mr. Esposito asserts,

the charge of Christians chose December 25 in order to “Christianize” or even just appease a pagan populous is weak at best.

Pause for Thought

One is tempted to see it Lenny Esposito’s way. His argumentation is truly persuasive. However, there are 2 major flaws with his reasoning.

  1. Mr. Esposito completely omits any mention of the biblical data presented by scholars such as Dr. Hugg and Dr. Reagan. He instead relies almost solely on tradition, going so far as to cite teachings from Augustine (who admits he quotes tradition) that mystically align Jesus’ conception and birth (“Christmas”) to his death and resurrection (“Easter”)… on a Roman [equinox and solstice] calendar. Even ancient tradition is still mere tradition.
  2. Mr. Esposito fails to account for variances in the Julian and Gregorian calendars, and also, astronomical variances, such as shift in earth’s axes and the adjustment of Solstices.

For the first error, Dr. Reagan and Dr. Hugg precisely and accurately prove the biblical data is accurate for reaching an appropriate date.

For the second error, I offer the following. Calculating Winter Solstice to the time of 1 A.D. – 48 A.D., [as far back as calculators generally tabulate] reveals December 22nd and 23rd as the dates between which Winter Solstice oscillated at the time of Jesus’ life and the first 15-20 years of the early Church. Since Mr. Esposito concedes that Saturnalia and Sigillaria center around this Solstice and last a total of 3-7 days, one can see December 25th falls directly at the Mid-point of the pagan festival set. If we forward those calculations to the time of the 3rd Century A.D., we arrive at December 21st and 22nd as the placement of Winter Solstice… still plenty of time for December 25th to fall within the 3-7 day set of pagan festivals.

Taking this more nearly accurate astronomical data into account, it is easy to say that December 25th was probably recognized by 3rd Century, pre-Constantine Christianity as a date that would consistently fall within the pagan winter festivals of Rome.

Mr. Esposito takes the view that Christianity always was prevailing in Roman society. That is simply not historically honest. The first 10 emperors of the Church’s existence persecuted Christians repeatedly. Amid those persecutions were attempts to pollute pure Christianity. The Apostles attest to these kinds of onslaughts even in their 1st Century A.D. letters. Are we to think that kind of subterfuge just stopped after the Apostles’ deaths? Genuine Christian groups—as opposed to the Roman Catholic Church—have never attempted to “Christianize” anything pagan, according to the biblical command found in 1 Corinthians 6:16-18. However, pagans have always tried to “paganize” Christianity.

While Lenny Esposito correctly states “the charge [that] Christians chose December 25 in order to “Christianize” or even just appease a pagan populous is weak at best,” he also needs to consider another possibility. From 30’s A.D. to 354 A.D., Rome took advantage of 320+ years worth of time to persecute, distort and pollute genuine Christianity. Given that view, is it not possible that Romanization and paganizing led to a divergent Christendom? Some might say one of the ways a false church began its compromise was by complying with Saturnalia and Sigillaria in early centuries… and eventually (by 354 A.D.) embraced the pagan Dies Natalis Solis Invictus date of December 25 as the commemoration of the birth of Christ.

Hippolytus On the Other Hand

This said, other strong and reliable evidence arises for a December 25 date of the birth of Jesus…. from the works of Hippolytus of Rome (the 3rd Century pastor, far predating Constantine). Hippolytus was in a line of discipleship that streams directly back to John the Apostle (i.e. Hippolytus > Irenaus > Polycarp > John the Apostle).

Scholar Tom Schmidt translates:

the Commentary on Daniel of Hippolytus, especially with regard to the passage in 4.23.3:

“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 3BC] 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.” (tr. Tom Schmidt). (http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/tag/hippolytus/ , retrieved November 29, 2017)

A Biblical Balance: Romans 14:5; 1 Cor. 9

One can see evidence weighs on both sides of a date for Jesus’ birth, whether late September or late December. Therefore, per Romans 14:5, I am careful not to judge the motives and actions of current-day believers, who celebrate the incarnation of Yeshua / Jesus on December 25th. I am not willing to claim they want to worship or are worshipping foreign deities while celebrating the incarnation of the Messiah.

As a very good friend and wise brother says,

I think it would be good for us, as a church, to move away from using the word “Christmas” to describe the day in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Much like using the word “Easter” has become synonymous with bunnies distributing eggs, Christmas has become synonymous with obsessive self-centered commercialism that has nothing to do with celebrating the birth of Jesus….

Paul said “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days” (Colossians 2:16)….

There are certainly some parallels that could be drawn regarding an ancient pagan rituals that include similar things we see in what has become traditional Christmas customs. Does that mean that the redeemed must abandon any and all practices that some pagan group decides that they want to include in their rituals? Certainly not. When researching several years ago, I could not find any pagan group that claimed December 25th as a day to worship their false gods/idols or conduct satanic rituals. It doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen in the past, I think that it most certainly did. I am just stating that I couldn’t find any contemporary pagan groups claiming the day….

It is important to note that all of the Earth and all things on & in the Earth were created by God. While God created all things… Satan created nothing. The evil one is an imposter, thief, a liar & deceiver, and while wickedly inventive and resourceful; the devil is not a creator. Satan, while originally cognizant of the truth of God, has promulgated the body of lies he spins to humankind for so long that I would not be surprised if he hasn’t somehow convinced himself that the lies are truth. Why else would he continue to rage against God if he believed he was truly doomed? We know that it is simply Satan’s nature to lie about God’s truth and elevate his own prominence and power while promoting his rebellious agenda.

My point is this; if pagans claim a day of the year to hold celebrations, has God somehow lost the day or is no longer in control of the day? Is the day no longer HIS? Certainly not. My guess is that most Christians would say that they celebrate Christ’s incarnation on and or around what has become known as the Christmas holiday season.

Just because several centuries ago some pagans used a day in December for their worship of idols and false gods, it does not mean that Christians cannot celebrate the birth of our Lord on whatever day(s) they choose. There is nothing inherently sacred or evil about any particular day. It’s what is in an individual’s heart that defiles him or her.

The Apostle Paul—in 1 Corinthians 8—clarifies that there is nothing evil in meat itself, but placed the prohibition on eating such meat which came from the pagan temple only IF it offended a weaker brother. He said they should abstain in order not to offend or put a stumbling block before a young Christian or the Jews who thought is was wrong. The meat itself was not tainted because it came from pagan temple. That is a substantial lesson to be grasped.

The principle God is teaching is clear. A specific day of the year is not sinful. There is nothing evil about the 25th day of December. If true believers want to honor and worship the Lord on Dec. 25 and remember His birth there is no scripture that prohibits it. True Christian believers are not involved in sinful behavior… on December 25 or any other day of celebration.

When born-again, Blood-washed believers celebrate Dec. 25, they are celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus (even though you and I both know that He was born around late September or early October)!

We see Sha’ul (Paul) writes that the mature balance in such matters is to “become all things to all men that by all means [we] might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). We should be ready to change custom, cultural habits, societal status, and dietary restrictions for the Good News’ sake, so long as these do not lead us to worship in pagan ways and thought, or join with them in their worship (2 Cor. 6:14).

IN CONCLUSION, …

…this is a time period in which Christians are persecuted everywhere. Yet, strange as it seems, there is a lot of in-fighting among Christians about celebrating Christmas. THIS SHOULD NOT BE!

Christmas is so closely associated with celebrating Yeshua / Jesus as the incarnate Messiah that whole nations and the international community are trying to decide if it’s ok to say “Christmas.” Since this is a matter of being salt and light—a chance to preach Jesus; and since no pagans claim Christmas itself (only some deplorable rituals* tied to paganism), I will not abandon celebrating Christmas with my fellow brothers and sisters all over the globe. Besides, even if one rejects the December 25 date in favor of the late September date, the Magi undeniably arrived to honor the birth of Yeshua in what would be European midwinter… late December. If it was good enough for the Wisemen to honor Him at that time, it’s good enough for me.

However, I will abandon the pagan and/or materialistic symbols and rituals. And, if a believing brother or sister think celebrating Christmas is wrong for them, then I will do everything in my power to show deference by not celebrating in their presence or forcing them to celebrate. But they will not Lord it over my conscience, as I will not Lord it over theirs.

The more I hear the debate about pagan Christmas, the more it is clearly a Romans 14:5 thing:

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.

As Romans 14 further reads, let’s not judge each other as either foolish or sinful on such matters; but, it is clear that where pagan (Roman or Norse/Germanic/Celtic) and/or humanistic secular (commercial) practices* have been adopted into such worship days (Santa Claus, Tree/Astarte Pole, Yule, etc.; commercialism and materialism, or whatever), then let’s not offer that to God. Instead, try something like this biblical Advent Calendar.

*[For some “Christmas” traditions that are clearly rooted in European paganism, see below]

_________________

OTHER RESOURCES:

Norse Religion is making a significant comeback, especially in Iceland. http://bigthink.com/ideafeed/iceland-to-officially-worship-norse-gods-again

If I were living in Iceland, I would not have a tree or a ham or Yule log or other historical, Norse traditions. My reasons are as follows:

A. The far Northern European and Icelandic people are reclaiming their paganism as a way to reject Jesus and Christianity, in order to relish their pagan heritage. Given their reasons, it is not like the Middle Ages, when they were ignorant of Jesus and the typology of Odin hanging on a tree. Their rejection is informed and intentional.

B. Given “A” (above), a Christian in Iceland had better either:

1. openly declare Christ to all who see his decorations, so as to make s distinction.

2. Not put up traditional Norse Yule decor, in order to make a clear statement: “I am s Christian.

I base the above reasoning directly on 1 Corinthians 8 & 10:14-33: To a Christian, false gods are simply that: empty, vain, false deities made up by mankind and promoted by the Adversary of our souls. When one overcomes the fallen world and its false Gods by placing faith in Christ Jesus, all these things are seen for what they are–empty religions (1 Cor. 8:4). That being said, Christians are supposed to and should eat dinner and “hang out” with lost people, so they can have the chance to know a Christian and the Gospel (John 17:15-18, 1 Cor. 5:10, 10:27). HOWEVER, if someone offers you their food while proudly stating that it is in honor of their god, then the Christian must not partake. Yet, if they set it before you and say nothing about it’s being religious, then assume the best and eat it with thanks to God (1 Cor. 10:25-28). In the same vein, God commands the new believer to “avoid idolatry,” and again eating anything from the temple meat stands is okay if one doesn’t ask questions about it (1 Cor. 10:25). This sort of principle can be applied to many situations, and so, at certain times you may hear another Christian say, “don’t ask,” and they are referring to the principle found in 1 Cor. 10:25. That being said, it is never acceptable for a Christian to mix his worship with non-Christians (1 Cor. 10:21,22).

Please note the above passage ABOUT GOING TO SOMEONE ELSE’S HOUSE/DINNER AND THEY WANT TO GIVE YOU IDOL OFFERINGS AS A WAY OF RECOGNIZING AND/OR WORSHIPPING THEIR GOD WITH THEM. The analogy to joining in Norse pagan celebration, if invited, should be apparent.

I think this kind of thing will happen increasingly more, as all of Europe goes back to its pagan roots. The old Germanic, Greek and Roman gods are going to resurge, not to mention the Middle Eastern and Asian ones. We Christians need to be ready to make a difference.

Naked Bible 195: Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday? – The Naked Bible Podcast

Christians, Christmas, and Such | Dr. Michael Heiser

HIPPOLYTUS OF ROME: COMMENTARY ON DANIEL AND ‘CHRONICON’

the Commentary on Daniel of Hippolytus, especially with regard tothe passage in 4.23.3:

“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 3BC] 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.” (tr. Tom Schmidt). (http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/tag/hippolytus/ , retrieved November 29, 2017)

*I do not agree with or condone the microagressions toward Africans stated in this video. The views of the video maker are not my own. It is presented here for study purposes.

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