Sunday, October 11, 2009

Question: Is Christmas Pagan?

Last week I re-posted an article by Ken Samples entitled The Tricky Topic of Halloween. We have received some positive feedback and comments regarding the article. Many Christians struggle with this issue and don't know exactly how they should approach the holiday from a biblical perspective.

Recently we received a question regarding the issue of Christmas:

Hello there. I am a woman who grew up in a Christian household that always celebrated Christmas. My fiance was raised a Jehovah's witness and did not. We have a 7yr. old little girl who loves the holiday season as much as I do but needless to say the concept of having a Christmas tree is a source of contention in our house. For me Christmas is about the "reason for the season" and the spirit of giving. It also allows us to spend much needed time with family from near and far. And while my fiance kind of gets that, the whole Christmas tree thing is a problem for him. About a year ago he presented me with an article that stated how Christmas trees were originally used to hang people on etc....and in reading your post on Halloween, and how you stated you have to look at the origins and then look at how things have evolved since then and what they mean to you (or something along those lines), it got me to thinking.

Do you have any info regarding the origin of the Christmas tree and why its okay to put it up? Also, do you know why Jehovah's witness do NOT celebrate anything? I've asked but am slightly confused by the conflicting answers I receive. Please help! I want to be able to discuss this intelligently and KNOW what I am talking about! Thank you!!

Thanks so much for the question.

First, let me direct you to an article by Greg Koukl entitled Is Christmas Pagan? As you will note, there are some striking similarities between the origin of Halloween and Christmas from a Christian perspective. For example, in both cases the Church, in establishing these holidays and infusing them with Christian significance, was seeking to counteract pagan influence and give Christians an alternative celebration to avoid their being lured into pagan practice. This also allowed Christians the opportunity to proclaim the gospel at the same time. Because of these similarities in origin, the same arguments Ken Samples provides in his article can be used with regards to Christmas, and vice versa.

Second, Jehovah's Witnesses (JW's) do not celebrate Christmas, as well as many other holidays, because of what they consider "pagan" origins and associations. But I think the information and arguments provided in the two articles above explains well enough why discounting a holiday today because it may have had pagan origins or associations in the past is not a justifiable reason in and of itself. Like the meaning of words, the meaning of holidays can change over time. Christians may celebrate holidays for different reasons and motivations, none of which have anything to do with paganism.

Along these same lines, the Watchtower Society prohibits JW's from celebrating birthdays and will often seek to provide support for their beliefs from scripture. Regarding birthdays, their reasoning is that in both Genesis 40:20-22 and Matthew 14:6-10, the only biblical passages to specifically mention birthdays, both occasions are portrayed in a negative light and involve someone being put to death by a pagan. In Genesis, Pharaoh had his chief baker put to death. In Matthew, Herod had John the Baptist put to death. Therefore, we shouldn't celebrate birthdays.

But this line of reasoning commits a logical fallacy: guilt by association. There is no justification for concluding that a day is "evil" simply because something bad may have happened on that day. It was Pharaoh and Herod who were evil, not birthdays. Birthdays are nowhere forbidden in scripture.

Third, if I could recommend a book, you may want to check out Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah's Witnesses by Ron Rhodes. This is an extensive critique of JW theology and practice. You may want to use discretion with a book of this sort so as to not cause unnecessary offense with your fiance, especially if he views it as "apostate" literature.

Hope that helps! Feel free to e-mail or comment with a follow-up.

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