Christmas: Clearing Up Some Misconceptions

“So what about Christmas?” A friend asked me last year December. We had earlier discussed the pagan origins of Halloween, so I could see where she was heading with that question. I quickly changed her insinuations: what matters is that we are Christians, not whether we celebrate or don’t celebrate Christmas. I think she got my point. Over the years, I’ve encountered some topics that have become rather emotion-charged and controversial among Evangelical Christians e.g KJV onlyism, the Jewish sabbath, emphasis on the Hebrew name of God or Jesus and celebration of Christmas (or Easter).

When it comes to Christmas, there are two main camps Christians fall into: those who believe the birth of Jesus is worth celebrating regardless of its origin and the ultra-conservatives who reject Christmas, alleging its an innovative, pagan festival adopted by Roman Catholicism. I’ve observed a heavy dose of dogmatism and self-righteousness in the latter camp and such patterns of thought often calls for attention.

I believe Christians can (and should) respectably disagree with one another on minor issues but when one party relegates another to a pagan pit or condemns them to hell over a minor disagreement, there is a problem somewhere. There is always a balance to every extreme position.

Christ and Christmas

One of the merits of Christmas is how it annually brings a reminder of Jesus Christ’s birth. Indeed, its about the only time people who never darken the door of a church all through the year attend one. So if there is a time people should learn more about Jesus – who He is and what He came to do – its during Christmas. We mustn’t minimise the significance of Christ’s birth. His ancestral lineage, the place and timing of His birth were fulfillment of specific Bible prophecies about the Messiah.

The coming of the Messiah was primarily to die for man’s sins (Jn. 1:29, 33-34). Many Jews (including the disciples) didn’t believe the Messiah would first come to die, they were expecting Him to deliver them from the oppression of the Romans, reign as king and establish His kingdom. They failed to understand that the Messiah would come twice: first to die for man’s sins and second to reign as King.

Christ’s birth exemplifies the humility of God coming as Man and taking on the form of a Servant. He related with the despised, ministered to children, washed the feet of His disciples and humbled Himself to the death on a cross – the most shameful and painful death. Even in His teaching, He calls us to deny ourselves, carry our crosses and follow Him (Mt. 8:20; Jn. 6:12). Christmas should be a time when we examine our own lives to see whether we have displaced the cross from the centre of our lives. Christmas is a time to show love. God so loved the world that he gave His Son (Jn. 3:16). Where there is love, there is giving, forgiveness and fellowship.

Now, lets examine some misconceptions those opposing Christmas present to justify their stance.

#1. “Christmas makes people indulge in wasteful spending, frivolities, immorality and drunkenness.”

This is not an argument since it lacks a premise. Its more of an excuse. Any holiday can be used by people to commit excesses, drunkenness or frivolities, that doesn’t make that day “evil.” The problem is not with the day but with people who look for avenues to indulge their depravities – and they will choose even a housewarming or graduation party – to commit the same. People who throw around this banal line about Christmas need to get one fact: its not a day that makes an act sinful but the act itself, and it remains a sin regardless of the day on which its committed.

#2 “No where did Jesus command us to celebrate His birth.”

This argument presupposes that only holidays or celebrations directly commanded by God are to be observed. In other words, we are to do away with birthdays, holidays, anniversaries or any dated event because they are not commanded by the Bible. If we can voluntarily regard one day as higher than another, then a holiday doesn’t have to be directly commanded by God to be acceptable (Rom. 14:5). People who claim observing Christmas is a sin because it wasn’t commanded by Christ believe they are saved and approved by God because of their asceticism. That is legalism.

It was a reverse of this aberration that apostle Paul condemned among the Galatian Christians who added special days, months and seasons as conditions of salvation. These are “weak and miserable principles” (Gal. 4:9). No Christian is obliged to celebrate Christmas and no Christian is obliged to avoid it either, since its not essential to our salvation. Christians who reject Christmas should stop condemning those celebrating it. We are approved before God by faith in Christ not on the basis on which holiday we keep or don’t keep (Gal. 2:16).

#3 “Jesus wasn’t born on December 25. The shepherds were tending their flocks outdoor at that time so it couldn’t have been in the middle of winter.”

True, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25. This date came about in the early church because of a widespread Jewish belief that the great prophets died on the same dates as their birth or conception. Since March 25 (or April 6) was fixed as the date of Christ’s death, they dated His conception as March 25 and added 9 months to this date to arrive at December 25 (or January 6) as His birth date. This “potentially establishes 25 December as a Christian festival before Aurelian decree, which, when promulgated, might have provided for the Christian feast both opportunity and challenge.” (The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought, Oxford Univ. Press, 2000, 114)

#4 “December 25 was the birthday of the pagan sun god. Christmas was adopted from paganism!”

This is a standard argument based on an old hypothesis that Roman Emperor Aurelian instituted December 25, 274 AD as a pagan festival of the “birth of the unconquered sun” which was later adopted fully by Emperor Constantine. This theory has been set aside by modern scholars. First, when Aurelian made December 25 a pagan festival, it was almost an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Christians in Rome. The date seems to have been borrowed from Christians since it had no significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian’s time. The two temples of the sun in Rome celebrated their dedication festival on August 9th and 28th respectively.

Second, writings of early Christians before Aurelian, such as Hippolytus in his Commentary on the Prophet Daniel (204 AD), Irenaeus (130-202) in his Against Heresies, and Julius Africanus (160-240) made reference to December 25 as Christ’s birth date. This is also seen in post-Nicene sources as Philip Schaff stated:
“It was at the same time moreover, the prevailing opinion of the church in the fourth and fifth centuries, that Christ was actually born on the twenty-fifth of December; and Chrysostom appeals, in behalf of this view, to the date of the registration under Quirinius (Cyrenius) preserved in the Roman archives.” (History of the Christian Church 3:7:77)

Third, while its clear that Catholicism adopted many pagan ideas, we need to distinguish properly between what ancient pagans observed and what Christians today celebrate. Its irrational to claim that Christians today who observe December 25 as the date of Christ’s birth are unwittingly worshipping a pagan sun god.

Taking a stand against pagan origins must not be taken to foolish extremes. For instance, we don’t refrain from using the word “janitor” even though it came from Janus, the Roman god of doorways. We don’t eschew cereal because the word is from Ceres, the Roman goddess of grain. We don’t cease from going to museums because it came from Muses, the 9 daughters of Zeus who presided over learning and arts. All the months of the year and days of a week are named after pagan deities, but should this stop us from praying to God on the days of the week? Will so doing somehow make us pagans?

According to Browser’s Book of Beginnings, the earliest evidence of a game that featured two opposite teams kicking, tossing and aggressively advancing a ball in opposite directions was practiced 5,000 years ago in Egypt as a fertility rite. What would you think of a Christian who now writes to his football team disassociating himself because soccer purportedly originated from an ancient Egyptian fertility rite? Or if he cites popular promiscuous footballers as “proofs”? That some pagans in the past observed December 25 to honour their gods doesn’t mean Christians today who honour Christ on that date worship those deities.

#5 “Christmas is from the word Christ-Mass. Its a purely Catholic celebration.”

The word Christmas is from a Middle English word “Cristenmasse.” Though a shortened form of Christ’s Mass, the term was first used in the 11th century. To be sure, the Nicene church of 4th century is not the same as Roman Catholicism as we know it today. Therefore, what “Mass” means today isĀ not precisely what the early church believed. In any case, the Catholic Mass is unbiblical.

The intent and the purpose of a holiday also matter. This is what differentiates Halloween from Christmas. The former was instituted to honour the spirits of death and witchcraft while the latter seems to be intended to honour Christ. Even in so doing we need to avoid some pitfalls:

a) The fairy tales of Santa Claus driving through the night skies and dishing out gifts to obedient kids may work well on children’s imaginations and give them a good night sleep but it displaces the real focus of Christmas – Jesus Christ. It has even become a racial issue in America now as reported in the news of late. In Africa, the same tales of Santa coming from Rome are told to children. I was told the same too, but I threw it out of the window when I was about 9 or 10. When children grow up being lied to by their parents about Santa, they may also grow up to reject God and Bible stories altogether as myths. I can’t find a justification for lying to children in order to keep up with a tradition.

b) The alleged subservience of Jesus to Mary, by presenting Jesus as a baby in a crib to be adored by millions of people is another diversion. So many are deceived to believe they are Christians because they have a bubbly, sentimental feeling for “baby Jesus” but the real Lord and Saviour who calls men to repent and believe in Him has been obscured from their view by a cobweb of traditions. This also perpetuate the Catholic myth that Mary has the dominant role in showing compassion and offering salvation to sinners. This is a blasphemy that real Christians must not succumb to.

Regardless of our views of Christmas, one thing we must agree on is that, whether we choose to celebrate it or not, our decision doesn’t save us. What saves us is repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Tower Craft: Reworking Judgement Day

One day in 2011, two Jehovah’s Witnesses showed up at my door to preach. I decided to listen and engage them afterwards. We read Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 which says in part: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed unto judgment including every hidden things, whether it is good or bad.”

I later took over the discussion and pointed out to them that the Bible text we read refutes their belief about judgement day – as a period of education during which those who didn’t have the chance before death would become JWs. Instead, the Bible says God will judge both good and bad actions. Its not an “instruction program.” Both JWs became silent. They didn’t expect to be taken off their scripts from that angle. Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to “base their beliefs solely on the Bible,” but in the real sense of it, they are based solely on Watchtower Society’s teachings. Without this “Society,” no JW would adhere to their aberrant doctrines.

A prime example is their teaching about Judgement Day (italics mine):

Judgement Day will be a period of a thousand years during which humans will … regain what Adam and Eve lost …[It] will be not only a time of instruction from God, but also a time for those alive to apply what they learn and enjoy the blessings that result.” (Awake! Jan. 2010, 10-11)

“Judgement Day will give billions of people their first opportunity to learn about God’s will and to conform to it. This means that a large-scale educational work will take place.” (What Does the Bible Really Teach? 2005, 215)

“It will be a time of education for them. ‘Scrolls’ containing instruction from God will be opened, and they will need to follow these in making their minds over in harmony with God’s will. They will be ‘judged individually according to their deeds’; that is, the deeds they do after being resurrected and after learning the contents of the ‘scrolls.’” (The Truth that leads to Eternal Life, 1968, 110-111)

Here is what Revelation 20:11-15 says:
“I saw a large, white throne and the one who was sitting on it. The earth and the sky fled from his presence, but no place was found for them. I saw the dead, both important and unimportant people, standing in front of the throne. Books were opened, including the Book of Life. The dead were judged on the basis of what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead. Death and hell gave up their dead. People were judged based on what they had done. Death and hell were thrown into the fiery lake. (The fiery lake is the second death.) Those whose names were not found in the Book of Life were thrown into the fiery lake.”

This passage alone shatters the lies JWs are taught. In their New World bible, Rev. 20:13 is rendered “… and death and the GRAVE gave up the dead in them.” This is a deliberate mistranslation aimed at safeguarding their annihilation belief. The Greek word there is hades which according to Greek scholar W. E. Vine, “never denotes the grave, nor is it the permanent region of the lost; in point of time it is, for suchm intermediate between decease and the doom of Gehenna.” (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 1940, “Hades”)

Augustus H. Strong stated that “the future punishment of the wicked is not annihilation … the wicked enter at death upon a state of conscious suffering which the resurrection and judgement only augument and render permanent.” (Systematic Theology, 1907, 1036) Let’s examine the specific arguments in their “Bible study” book, What Does the Bible Really Teach? (pp 213-215):

Jehovah God is the ultimate Judge of mankind. However, he delegates the actual work of judging … This appointed Judge is the resurrected Jesus Christ

This line contradicts what the Watchtower Society said decades before: “All humankind on earth will stand as perfect creatures before the throne of the Supreme Judge, Jehovah God.” (The Truth, 1968, 112)
Who is the Judge sitting on the throne? Is it Jesus or Jehovah God? The Bible Teach book says on p. 219: “Jesus himself is the archangel Michael.” Why would God delegate the work of judging all mankind to an archangel? Where in the Bible do we find an archangel sitting on a throne as a Judge over humanity?

Daniel 7:22 says “until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High…” Who is this Ancient of Days? Michael the archangel? Not according to the Bible. These rather prove the Deity of Christ. JWs have to choose; either Jesus is one with God the Father as the Judge, or He is Michael the archangel. Both can’t be true.

The book of revelation shows that Judgment Day begins after the war of Armageddon, when Satan’s system on earth will be destroyed.

What the book of Revelation really shows is that there are 2 judgements after Armageddon. First, the judgement of the martyrs killed during the Great Tribulation “because of their testimony for Jesus” and for not worshipping the Antichrist or receiving his mark. They will come to life and reign with Christ for 1000 years (Rev. 20:4-5).

Second, the Great white throne judgement, which will take place “When the thousand years are over” after Satan release to deceive and gather the nations – Gog and Magog – against God’s people. “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown [at Armageddon]. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” (Rev. 20:7-10) There is a continuity between vs 1 to 15 of the 20th chapter of Revelation, but the Watchtower cuts it up and grafts its own theories on it.

After Armageddon, Satan and his demons will be imprisoned in an abyss for a thousand years. During that time, the 144,000 heavenly joint heirs will be judges and will rule “as kings with the Christ for a thousand years.” (Revelation 14:1-3; 20:1-4, Romans 8:17) Judgement Day is not some hurried event lasting a mere 24 hours. It lasts a thousand years”

This is where the tower craft falls apart. The “joint heirs” of Romans 8:17 refers to ALL of God’s children, not an elite “anointed class.” The 144,000 Jews of Revelation 14 are neither the “judges” nor the tribulation martyrs of Revelation 20. The Watchtower deceitfully picks up unrelated groups of people from different verses and lumps them together as the same. Dr Ed Hindson explains:

“John forsees the tribulation martyrs ruling with Christ in the millenial kingdom. He also sees “thrones” and those seated on them to whom judgement was given. The scene is similar to the one by Daniel (7:9-10,22). While it is possible that these are the thrones of the twenty-four elders, they are not specified as such (see Rev. 4:4; 5:8-10;7:13;11:15). Since Jesus promised the twelve apostles they would sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (see Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30), it seems likely that would be in view here during the earthly kingdom.” (Earth’s Final Hour, 1999, 156)

Its not surprising that the Watchtower couldn’t find any Bible text they could wrench from its context to support their claim that the final Judgement would last for 1000 years. This nonsense is a product of their wild imaginations.

During that thousand year period, Jesus Christ will “judge the living and the dead” (2 Timothy 4:1) “The living” will be the “great crowd” that survives Armageddon. (Revelation 7:9-17) The apostle John also saw “the dead…standing before the throne” of judgment

Here we go again. How could the “great crowd” in heaven 12 chapters away be the same as those who survived Armageddon on earth? Jesus’ judgement of “the living and the dead” indicates 2 main categories of judgements:
1. The judgement seat of Christ – testing and rewarding the good works of Christians – they are “the living” because they have received eternal life. (1 Cor. 3:12-15, Mt. 25:14-30, 2Cor 5:10, Eph. 2:2)

2. The white throne judgement – judgment of the unsaved dead for their sins. They are “the dead” because they will all be eternally consigned to the lake of fire (1 Thess. 4:16, Rev. 20:11-12) The first will take place in heaven whereas the second on earth after 1000 years when the “earth and the sky” will dissolve (2 Pet. 3:7).

According to the apostle John’s vision, “scrolls were opened”… Are these scrolls the record of people’s past deeds? No… The Bible says: “He who has died has been aquitted from his sin.” (Romans 6:7) Those resurrected thus come to life with a clean slate, so to speak. The scrolls must therefore represent God’s further requirements”

These scrolls are records of the deeds of all men and they are only for the purpose of condmenation (Isaiah 65:6 and Daniel 7:10). Notice how the Book of Life, which settles the eternal destiny of all men, was glibly dismissed by the writer (Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8).

The whole of Romans 6 speaks of symbolic death to the power of sin, not to physical death. JW leaders are experts taking a word here, another there and a different one from another place in the Bible to build their rafts in the air. God’s judgement is likened to “the wrath of God.” His sentence on Lucifer, fallen angels, Ananias, Sapphira and the world in Noah’s time were not “educational” neither will the final judgement (Rom. 1:18; 2 Pet. 2:4; Acts 5:1-11; Gen. 6).

By the end of Judgement Day, surviving humans will have “come to life” fully as perfect humans (Revelation 20:5)

The proof text refers to Tribulation martyrs who “come to life” 1000 years before the final judgement, so how could it refer to “the end of Judgment Day?” And how could Satan “be released from his imprisonment and allowed to try to mislead mankind one more time” (Ibid) when he has already been eternally consigned to the lake of fire before this final judgement in vs. 10?

Only those who rely on the uninspired Watchtower writings can be so fooled. If the Watchtower Society can be so flat-out wrong and sly on a clear topic as this, how can its teachings about God, Jesus or salvation be reliable? This is why truth is found in inspired Scripture, not in uninspired Watchtower writings.