What the Bible says about Christmas
Webmaster's note: This four-part letter by George Seese was sent in response to the series of articles in the Jonal articles from December 13 through January 6.
Letter No. 317 | January 4, 2005
You agree that the Bible is the most important source. The information I'm sending is based on that book, with a few secular sources.
Try to focus on the actual scriptures, and "Let your reasonableness become known to all men." Philippians 4:5.
I draw attention to what Christians in the first century actually did, especially those with a Jewish background. I assume you agree they had God's blessing.
Please don't be anxious about "where I'm coming from".
More on that later.
What the Bible says about Christmas - Part 1
Basic information about the birth… The Bible describes the birth of Jesus in the first two chapters of Luke. Matthew describes a later event when Jesus (an older infant living in a house) was visited by wise men or astrologers. Matthew and Luke also provide information showing the ancestry of Jesus. All this information served to identify Jesus and fulfill prophecies recorded in earlier parts of the Bible by God’s servants, although the most important identification would come after Jesus’ baptism.
Something had to be written to show how God’s son appeared on earth. This information does not provide a basis for continually celebrating Jesus’ birth.
“And all that heard marveled over the things told them by the shepherds, but Mary began to preserve all these sayings, drawing conclusions in her heart.” The “sayings” referred to the message given by the angel to the shepherds. Luke 2:18-19.
When Jesus was twelve years old, the account says “Also, his mother carefully kept all these sayings in her heart.” Again, Mary is making special note of Jesus, this time what he said about his talking at the temple. Luke 2:51.
There is no basis of saying Mary celebrated the birth of Jesus just because she made notes of the shepherds’ visit. Would you say Mary started a celebration of children talking at temples because of what verse 51 says?
The memories of these events and others would help Mary later to make a decision to accept Jesus as the promised Messiah. She may have been baptized by John, who was sent to prepare the people and encouraged confession of sins (Matthew 3:5). She may have been present when Jesus gave his sermon on the mount. Hopefully she not only listened to Jesus’ words but did them (Matthew 7:24-27).
If so, she would have been there at Pentecost at which God’s holy spirit was poured out as Joel prophesied “I shall pour out some of my spirit upon every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy” Acts 2:15-17.
Mary, along with other Jewish persons who became Christians, would no longer be involved with the true worship established in Moses’ time that involved offering animals at the temple in Jerusalem, but a new arrangement. “Through him (Jesus) let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name” (Hebrews 13:10-16). Truth would still be important. What did they talk about? See next part of this series.
There is no mention of God’s servants celebrating any birthdays, from Genesis to Revelation. The only time birthdays are mentioned in the Bible, someone was killed Genesis 40:20-22, Matthew 14:6-10.
Mary would no doubt be familiar with Ecclesiastes 7:1 “A name is better than good oil, and the day of death than the day of one’s being born.” She would also be aware of the command of Jesus to commemorate his death 1 Corinthians 11:24.
Some secular information about birthdays: “The notion of a birthday festival was far from the ideas of the Christians of this period in general.” The History of the Christian Religion and Church, During the Three First Centuries (New York, 1848), Augustus Neander (translated by Henry John Rose), p. 190.
“The later Hebrews looked on the celebration of birthdays as a part of idolatrous worship, a view which would be abundantly confirmed by what they saw of the common observances associated with these days.” – The Imperial Bible-Dictionary (London, 1874), edited by Patrick Fairbairn, Vol I, p. 225.
“The Greeks believed that everyone had a protective spirit or daemon who attended his birth and watched over him in life. This notion was carried down in human belief and is reflected in the guardian angel, the fairy godmother, and the patron saint. Originally the idea was rooted in magic. “ - The Lore of Birthdays (New York, 1952), Ralph and Adelin Linton, pp. 8, 18-20.
What the Bible says about Christmas - Part 2
He said “If you love me, you will observe my commandments; and I will request the Father and he will give you another helper to be with you forever, the spirit of the truth, which the world cannot receive, because it neither beholds it nor knows it. You know it, because it remains with you and is in you. I shall not leave you bereaved. I am coming to you. A little longer and the world will behold me no more, but you will behold me, because I live and you will live. In that day you will know that I am in union with my Father and you are in union with me and I am in union with you. He that has my commandments and observes them, that one is he who loves me. In turn he that loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will plainly show myself to him.” -- John 14:15-21.
What commands did Jesus provide about his birth that his followers should observe? None. Yet Jesus said persons could show love to Jesus, and be loved by his Father. Without Christmas.
At Pentecost after Jesus’ death, the promised holy spirit (the spirit of the truth) was indeed poured out upon the congregation at Jerusalem. (Acts 1,2) There was No mention of Christmas or celebrating the birth of Jesus.
When the Apostles met at Jerusalem to discuss important things for the Christian congregations and sent out a letter, it would have been a great place to add “remember to celebrate the birth of Jesus”. They didn’t. -- Acts 15:27-29.
The followers of Jesus Christ prospered in the first century without Christmas. Their preaching of the gospel was spread to the known world. (Colossians 1:23) In all the letters written by Paul and others, they talked about important matters of faith such as the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Kingdom, their conversions, the need to stay strong in faith etc., but there is no mention of the birth of Jesus.
What the Bible says about Christmas - Part 3
Jewish persons living in the first century (including Mary) would be familiar with the system of true worship established in Moses’ day. Sadly there were those who did not appreciate these provisions. For whatever reason, they merged other religions with the one provided by God. Prophets were sent to provide warnings, but these were ignored so Jerusalem was destroyed and God’s people were taken to Babylon. Christian writers said these things are examples to us. – 1 Corinthians 10:6-11.
Bible precedents of apostasy…
When Moses was receiving instruction, the people talked Aaron into making a golden calf to worship. “This is your God, O Israel , who led you up out of the land of Egypt.” This obviously angered God. -- Exodus 32:4.
King Jereboam I of the ten-tribe nation of Israel tried a similar trick, to prevent people from going to Jerusalem to worship. “Jereboam went on to make a festival in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the festival that was in Judah, that he might make offerings upon the altar that he had made in Bethel.” (1 Kings 12:32) Note that Jereboam tried to make his version respectable by making it look like what was done at Jerusalem. If many of today’s church leaders had been there they would have accepted it as another OK way to worship God. But according to Amos 5:21-24, God said “I have hated, I have rejected your festivals, and I shall not enjoy the smell of your solemn assemblies.”
Many times, Jesus renounced the apostate leaders of his day. Consider how he described their attitudes, which are sadly found in some professing to be Christian. Matthew chapter 23 is one example.
Verse 5: “enlarge the fringes (borders) of their garments.”
In contrast, Jesus evidently did not wear distinctive garb. Judas had to arrange a sign of identification: “Now his betrayer had given them a sign, saying: “Whoever it is I kiss, this is he; take him into custody.” And going straight up to Jesus he said: “Good day, Rabbi!” and kissed him very tenderly. But Jesus said to him: “Fellow, for what purpose are you present?” Then they came forward and laid hands on Jesus and took him into custody. “ (Matthew 26:48-50) Jesus set the example of humility - not wearing distinctive garb.
Verse 6: “they like the most prominent place at evening meals and the front seats in the synagogues”
Verse 7: “and the greetings in the marketplaces and to be called Rabbi by men”
Verse 9: “Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One.”
Of these apostate leaders, Jesus said “You are from your father the Devil.” (John 8:44) Why shouldn’t people be concerned when their church leaders show similar attitudes?
History has revealed the “Christian” church leaders of the third and fourth centuries who invented Christmas were building an organization of power and oppression. Whereas the first-century congregation had no political or governmental affiliation, these leaders operate differently, often using the sword to conquer and merging the native worship to aid in conversions. It’s only natural these leaders would try to unite their congregations with customs that are easily and already accepted by the world. The result has been no true unity as enjoyed by the first-century congregations despite existing in many nations. (1 Corinthians 1:10), but a mere merging of beliefs so that “anything goes,” as long as you go to some church.
If the Bible does not teach Christmas (see previous part in series), but was introduced by people having attitudes similar to Jewish apostates, is it not reasonable to conclude that Christmas is an apostate teaching? Ignore the popularity and sentiment heaped on this holiday. Focus on the actual evidence.
What the Bible says about Christmas - Part 4, Final
There were Jewish people down through the years who stayed faithful to God, despite the majority of those who rejected His wisdom and merged with others.
When people today read the Bible as it describes the first-century Christian congregations, they should be impressed with Jesus’ teachings and the faithful activities and encouragement of those who obviously enjoyed God’s blessing. They should expect to find that kind of religion today. A Christian religion that excludes man-made teachings such as Christmas, one that is not controlled by men with attitudes like the Jewish apostates.
Hebrew prophecies such as Micah 4:1-5 describe a time when peoples from many nations would be learning the wisdom of God and showing obedience to God’s Kingdom arrangement. A multi-national Christian group started at Pentecost and has spread earth-wide. The United Nations has quoted part of this prophecy but is not the tool God purposes to utilize. His Kingdom is described many times in the Bible as the way in which all families of the earth will be blessed, as God promised His friend Abraham. (Genesis 22:18, Matthew 6:9-10) The one problem for nations today, is that the Bible describes their removal. – Daniel 2:44, Revelation 19.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are active in 96,000 congregations found in over 200 lands. Their attitudes and activities reflect what was found in first-century Christianity. They are not perfect, but have solved many divisive factors still plaguing most of the world, by applying Bible principles. They are serious Bible students and are looking forward to the time when God’s heavenly Kingdom will bring blessings of peace and security to this earth.
They’re not following any man. Their leader is Christ Jesus. They recognize God and his Son as separate individuals. “Jesus saith unto her, touch me not; for I am not ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” (John 20:17) First-century Christians believed in a loving Father who provided a wonderful gift by sending Jesus. But later Church leaders again borrowed ideas from pagan religions, introduced the mysterious Trinity, and said “Behold Christians, this is your God!” (See previous part about apostasy in the Bible.)
Jehovah’s Witnesses strive to speak the truth with their children, including the miracle of Jesus’ birth, but refusing to tell lies about Santa Claus.
Is this so terribly difficult to understand?
Well Jon, I’ll bet few people give you so much stuff as I do. I hope it has been helpful to you. If you don’t agree, at least you may know a little more.
George Seese , Ohio