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 call 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 controvercial, due to its inaccuracy concerning the actual birth of Jesus / Yeshua, and also because December 25th evidently has pagan roots.
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 most 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]
Now, researchers and Christian apologists such as Lenny Esposito and Sean McDowell have argued for Christmas (observed December 25th) as having truly Christian origins. The articles are found linked below:
- No, Christmas is Not Based on a Pagan Holiday
- Christmas, the Solstice and December 25th
- The Date of Saturnalia Doesn’t Line Up with Christmas
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 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 that, Mr. Esposito gathers,
the charge of Christians chose December 25 in order to “Christianize” or even just appease a pagan populous is weak at best.
One is tempted to see it Lenny Esposito’s way. His argumentation is fairly persuasive. However, there are 2 major flaws with his reasoning.
- 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 tradition. As biblicists, we place Scriptural data above tradition, even from the 3rd Century A.D.
- 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 accepted by 3rd Century, pre-Constantine, “paganized” 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 them repeatedly. Amid those persecutions were attempts to pollute pure Christianity. The Apostles attest to these kinds of onslaughts in their letters.
Genuine Christians 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? That false Church began its compromise 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.
2 Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
Jeremiah 10:2-4 (KJV)
All this being said, I am careful not to judge the motives of current-day believers who celebrate the incarnation of Yeshua / Jesus on December 25th. 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 holyday, 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 when Christians are persecuted everywhere. 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 (besides the apostate Roman Catholic Church) claim Christmas, I will not abandon celebrating Christmas. But, 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.