By O. C. Birdwell
The New Testament writers completed their work during the first century. Anything that originated after the first century must be discussed from the viewpoint of secular or uninspired history. Exception to this would be the foretelling by inspired men of events that would come to pass, such as the apostasy foretold by Paul in Acts. 20:28, 30. The modern day celebration of Christmas is not found in scripture. It is essential for us to look elsewhere if an article is written on the subject. In view of the extensive acceptance of the day as a holy day it seems imperative that we write on the subject. Also, we were asked to do so by the Editor!
An account of the birth of Christ is found in scripture. The event was prepared, prophesied, and presented in historical reality through the almighty power of God. While affirming the reality of the birth of Christ, we remind the reader that the birth is ,not synonymous with “Christmas.” The word “Christmas” is defined as, “lit., Christ’s mass.” “Mass” is “a sequence of prayers and ceremonies forming the Eucharist office esp. of the Latin rites . . . . a celebration of the Eucharist.”(1) There is no such celebration in scripture relating to Christ’s birth. It all came into being this side of completion of the New Testament. Christmas did not, therefore, originate with inspired men.
New Testament Observances
Before his death, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper to be eaten in His memory and in the kingdom (Matt. 26; Mk. 14; Luke 22). After the church was established disciples began immediately the practice of “breaking bread” in their worship assemblies (Acts 2:42). The church at Troas came together on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7). Paul gave detailed instructions about the communion (1 Cor. 11). This observance related to the death, not the birth, of Christ. It was observed on the resurrection day, the first day of the week. The practice of eating the Lord’s Supper on each first day was authorized by inspired men, practiced by first century Christians, and continued for two or three hundred years before anyone ever practiced or heard about the practice of an observance of the birth of Christ. There is no indication of an accepted feast of Christ’s birth until the fourth century. The acceptance at that time was by those who had no faith in the final authority of the New Testament.
Historical Accounts of Christmas (1) Some hold to a Gnostic origin. It is affirmed that Christmas originated with the Basilidians of Egypt.(2)These people were Gnostic disciples of Basilides who in the second century began observing January 6th as the date of Jesus’ baptism. Later, this same day, January 6th, began to be regarded in the East as the time of Christ’s birth also, since they affirmed him to be exactly 30 years old when he was baptized.(3) Luke affirmed that he was about 30 years old when he began to teach (Lk. 3:23). There are at least three things wrong with this theory of the birth of Christ. First, there is no scriptural proof that January 6th was the baptism date of Jesus. Second, the time Jesus began teaching was when he was about thirty. This does not mean that he was baptized and began to teach on his birthday. In the third place, even if both the baptism date and birth day could be established, there is no indication from scripture that they are to be regarded as religious feast days, or days of special worship.
(2) Others hold that Christmas was the transformation of pagan festivals. Schaff lists the festivals as, “the Saturnalia, Sigillaria, Juvenalia, and Brumalia-which were kept in Rome in the month of December, in commemoration of the golden age of universal freedom and equality, and in honor of the unconquered sun, and which were great holidays, especially for slaves and children.” In a footnote he describes these festivals . in the following words: “The Saturnalia were the feast of Saturn or Kronos, in representation of the golden days of his reign, when all labor ceased, prisoners were set free, slaves went about in gentlemen’s clothes and in the hat (the mark of a freeman), and all classes gave themselves up to mirth and rejoicing. The Sigillaria were a festival of images and puppets at the close of the Saturnalia on the 21st and 22nd of December, when miniature images of the gods, wax tapers, and all sorts of articles of beauty and luxury were distributed to children and among kinsfolk. The Brumalia, from bruma (brevissima, the shortest day), had reference to the winter solstice, and the return of the Sol invictus.”(4)
As one can see even from the quotations given, the earliest and greatest corruptions of the church Jesus built came about through the injection into the organization, worship, and work, foreign and scripturally unknown elements. There was a tendency to mix with the pure religion of Christ the pagan superstitions and ceremonies. This was done, seemingly, in order to make the religion of Christ less offensive to the world in general, and to get them to accept Jesus as the Christ. When the mixing was done, however, the only result was a corrupted and perverted gospel. The church developing out of such a marriage of paganism and Christianity cannot be the one Jesus built. It is an apostate body. The Roman leadership in this corruption and apostasy has some forty special holy days in a year. Of these observances Benjamin Franklin says, “Protestants are patronizing them in this, and recognizing their holy days, and at the same time making nothing of celebrating the suffering of our Lord, on the first day of every week, as all history assures us was the practice of the first church!”(5)
(3) There were many later additions to Christmas. Many of these were taken from the pagan practices. We are told of old English Christmas festivals as follows: “It was customary to light candles of large size, and to lay upon the fire a huge log, called a Yule clog or Christmas block, a custom not yet extinct in some parts of England. Yule (from huel, a wheel) was a sunfeast, commemorative of the turn of the sun and the lengthening of the day, and seems to have been a period of pagan festivals in Europe from ancient times.”(6)
The Puritan William Prynne (1600-1669), tells us about the Christmas celebration in his day and also gives his attitude toward it. “Our Christmas lords of misrule, together with dancing, masks, mummeries, stage players, and such other Christmas disorders, now in use ‘with Christians, we derived from these Roman Saturalia and Bacchanalian festivals, which should cause all pious Christians eternally to abominate them.” During the same period as Prynne, John Selden, described as a man of “stupendous learning in all kinds and in all languages,” paid his respects to the Christmas celebration. He said the dishes most in vogue were formerly, for breakfast and supper on Christmas eve, a boar’s head stuck with rosemary, with an apple or orange in the mouth, plum porridge, and minced pies. Eating the latter was a test of orthodoxy, as the Puritans conceived it to be an abomination; they were originally made long, in imitation of the manger in which our Lord was laid.(7)
More could be presented about the origin and development of the Christmas celebration. This should suffice to show it is not from the Bible. Truly it is an unscriptural holy day!
Concluding remarks maybe should be made about what, if anything, Christians may do during the Christmas period, that is done by those who celebrate Christmas. May a family get together during the season and exchange gifts? May they have a large turkey dinner? May they decorate a tree? If these things can be done with the understanding that Christ’s birthday is not being celebrated and that they are not related to our worship and service to God, this writer has no objection. People are known to wear new clothing on “Easter Sunday” who do not observe annually the resurrection of Christ. Just remember that Christmas must not become a special holy day to us. It is not in scripture. The most that can be said for the day is that in a time of appalling unbelief it is gratifying to know that so many still, at least, believe in Christ’s birth!
Truth Magazine XXII: 1, pp. 13-14
January 5, 1978