Was Sunday Observance adopted from Paganism?

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The myth that Sunday was formerly a pagan day of worship of the sun adopted by the church, is a proverbial horse that has been ridden to death. Even worse, this ghostly horse has taken on a life of its own and has moved beyond the religious fringes where it was initially stabled.

The basic idea is this: Sunday was the established day of rest, the weekly holiday in the ancient pagan world. On this day each week, the Romans, Greeks, and other pagans, gathered in temples to worship their pagan gods, particularly the Sun-god—hence the term Sun-day.

This misinformation has been repeated so much that it’s time we threw it in the dustbin for the falsehood that it is.

In two previous articles (one/two), I’ve examined the erroneous claims made by Seventh Day Adventists regarding the Jewish sabbath and the Lord’s day from historical and biblical perspectives.

Now, I still intend to refute the tortuous, incoherent and intellectually suicidal connections they (and other religious groups adhering to the Jewish sabbath) forge between Sunday as a day of worship and ancient Greek or Roman Paganism.

1. Those making this claim of “Sunday stolen from the pagans” usually fail to back it up with historical sources. They will quote virtually anyone but a reputable historian – and by this, I mean someone whose credentials are in History and has published academic works in that field.

If you scan through SDA materials, you will observe the curious absence of citation of primary sources to corroborate their assertion of Sunday being a pagan day. Instead, they conveniently declare this information to be historical “fact” and quickly move on to their next rhetoric.

But on the odd occasion that a source is cited, it’s usually Arthur Weigall’s 1928 work “The Paganism in Our Christianity,” in which he states that the church made Sunday sacred “largely because it was the weekly festival of the sun; for it was a definite Christian policy to take over the pagan festivals endeared to the people by tradition, and to give them a Christian significance” (p. 136).

Aside from the fact that this man had cultic agenda (he was a Unitarian), SDA writers who cite him don’t disclose to their readers that he also declared:

  • The virgin birth is of pagan origin (p. 44)
  •  Jesus’ miracles are of pagan origin (p. 58)
  • Jesus didn’t really die (p. 93)
  • The Jewish Sabbath is of pagan origin (p. 136)

It’s clear that Weigall’s work is a sword that cuts three ways. If it proves Sunday to be a pagan day, it must also prove Saturday to be a pagan day, and if either assertion is to be accepted as valid, then Christianity as a whole would have to be rejected as pagan! Certainly, this is not a source a believer would want to appeal to.

2. A competent study of history and ancient Greek and Roman religions shows that neither the Romans nor the Greeks ever had a regular weekly day of rest from secular work.

Neither did they have a regular weekly festival day. They didn’t have a regular day of the week on which they gathered for pagan worship. These are facts of history.

Dudley M. Canright, a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor, researched these facts early in the 20th century. He sincerely believed Sunday worship came from paganism—since this teaching had been passed on to him. But when he began to look into the subject more fully, he came to a different conclusion.

It was at his time (c. 1913-1914) that he contacted four Greek and Roman history scholars with ten questions that he submitted to them separately. These scholars were:

F. N. Pryce of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum.

R. Rathborn of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.

George F. Moore, Professor of Ancient Roman and Greek History, Harvard University in Cambridge.

Prof. W. H. Westerman of the University of Wisconsin.

D. M. Canright reminds us that: “All four of these specialists in ancient history agree in answering these questions though neither one knew that they had been submitted to the others yet all four exactly agree in every particular, though widely scattered … Such a unanimous agreement would settle any question in a court of law.”

These findings were published in his work, The Lord’s Day From Neither Catholics or Pagans. I reproduce here only two of the historians’ answers:

From the world renowned British Museum in London, England, Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities

Sir: I am commanded by the Assistant Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities to reply as follows to your questions on the ancient week:

Q. 1. Did the pagan Romans and Greeks ever have any regular weekly day of rest from secular work?
Ans. No.

Q. 2. Did they have any regular weekly festival day?
Ans. No.

Q. 3. Did they have any regular weekly day when they assembled for pagan worship?
Ans. No.

Q. 4. Did they have any special day of the week when individuals went to the temples to pray or make offerings?

Ans. No; both for Greeks and Romans the month was the unit and not the week. The Greek calendar varied in different states but the month was generally divided into three periods of ten days. The Romans reckoned from three fixed points in the month, the Kalend or first, the Nones fifth or seventh, the Ides thirteenth or fifteenth. These subdivisions in themselves had no religious significance.

Also in the Roman calendars were nundinal, or market days, at periods of eight days, or, as the Romans reckoned time. On these days farm work, etc., stopped and citizens flocked into the town markets. To some extent this may be a regular stoppage of secular work.; but it had no religious significance, except that it was considered an evil omen when the nundinal coincided with other festival days, e. g., the: Nones. The nundinal period seems derived from a blundering reminiscence of a quarter of a lunar period, and there seems no connection with the later seven days’ week (see below).

Q. 5. As Sunday was sacred to the Sun, Monday to the Moon, Saturday to Saturn, etc., were those supposed deities worshipped on their own particular days more than on any other days?

Ans. No; the old worship of the gods was disappearing when the seven-day week came about. The significance of the deities’ names was astrological, not religious, e.g., if a person were born on Monday, the moon would influence his horoscope, but the moon was never an object of common worship.

Q. 6. When was our week of seven days first introduced into the Roman calendar?

Ans. There are traces in the literature of the late republic (first cent. B.C.) that the Romans used the week of seven days for astrological purposes, in connection with the many Eastern superstitions of the period. It was probably the third century, A.D. before the seven day week came into common use.

Q. 7. From whom did the Romans learn the week of seven days?

Ans. From the Jews, alternately the Assyrians and Babylonians; the names were probably fixed by the Hellenistic Greeks.

Q. 8. Did the pagan Greeks ever adopt in common life, or in their calendar, the week of seven days?
Ans. No.

Q. 9. Did Apollo, the Sun god, either among the Romans or Greeks, have any special day on which he was worshipped with prayers or offerings more than on any other day?

Ans. There were certain set festivals at various temples; these were annual, not weekly.

Q. 10. Did the pagan reverence for Sunday have anything to do in influencing Christians to select that day as their rest day?

Ans. No; it can hardly be said that there was any special reverence for Sunday in pagan times (see answer to No. 5).

I am, sir,
Your obedient servant,
F. N. PRYCE.

3. The following was the response from George Moore, Professor of Ancient Roman and Greek History, at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Dear Sir:

There are two seven-day weeks: the Jewish week, with a Sabbath on the seventh day; and the Astrological week, with days named after the sun, moon, and five planets, in our order determined by the theories of astrology, but without any day of rest

The Astrological week first appears in Greek and Latin writings about the beginning of the Christian era … It had no use in ordinary life. Abstinence from labor on the seventh day, or on one day in seven, is a distinctively Jewish institution.

The edict of Constantine (321 A.D.) closing the courts on Sunday and prohibiting some kinds of labor on that day, is the first recognition of a seven-day week in Roman law. The ancient Romans had a market day every eight days, when the peasants came to town to market, but it was in no sense a day of rest.

In the old Roman calendar there were many days when the courts were closed and other public and private business was not done. They had also many festivals on which the people left their ordinary occupation to take part in the celebrations, but these have no periodicity like that of the week

The planetary week in which the days were named from their regents, Saturday, Sunday, etc., was an invention of the astrologers, probably in the second century, B.C., and has no relation to religion or influence upon it. Saturn, for example, was not worshipped on Saturday, nor Jupiter on Thursday. The festivals of the several gods were never weekly festivals, nor did they occur on days fixed by other divisions of the month, say the tenth day …

Private persons went to the temples when they had occasion to offer prayers or sacrifices or to make vows, etc. There were no stated days for such visits-though some days were in some temples luckier than others, and there was nothing like a stated day for the assembling of a worshipping congregation except the festivals of the local calendar.

Very truly yours,
George F. Moore.

4. One of the most detailed works on ancient Roman religion that I’ve read is, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic by Warde W. Fowler (The Project Gutenberg, e-book released in 2009).

In it, Fowler describes Roman festivals in detail but says nothing about a weekly day of worship. This would have been a strange omission if Sunday had been “a venerable day of the sun” observed by pagans in Rome. Instead, the work shows that their festivals were seasonal or monthly.

The Roman annual calendar started on March 1; April was regarded as the month of opening or unfolding vegetation; May was the month of growing and June, the month of ripening and perfecting.

The Roman calendar at the time of Christ was divided into months, not weeks; they didn’t use our modern calendar. Therefore, the idea that the Romans specially worshipped the sun on Sunday, the moon on Monday or Frigg on Friday is a hoax.

5. The Encylopedia Britannica, article “Week” says: “For a time the Romans used a period of eight days in civil practice, but in AD 321 Emperor Constantine established the seven-day week in the Roman calendar and designated Sunday as the first day of the week.”

The Encylopedia Americana on the same topic says, “The Romans and Greeks …were not acquainted with the week till a late period. The Romans had, however, for civil uses, as the arrangement of market days, a cycle of eight days, the ninth being the recurring one, instead of the eighth as with us.”

In other words, the edict of Constantine in 321 A.D. was the first time in Roman law that Sunday was set aside as a holiday. It simply means before then it wasn’t recognized as a pagan holiday of the Empire. Before Constantine, the Roman Empire had eight days in a week (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, then 1, 2, 3, 4 etc.), but he made it into seven (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 then 1, 2, 3, 4 etc)

Assuming the Roman or Greek festivals were observed weekly, this calendar eliminates the possibility of pagans holding a feast for the same deity on the same day of the week, let alone being adopted by the church. Ralph E. Woodrow aptly pointed this out:

“Now this should be carefully noticed. IF pagans gathered on the first day of the week to worship Apollo, Mithra, or some other Sun-god, this would not correspond, week after week, to what we call Sunday. For example: Suppose our calendar had eight days in a week (instead of seven), and we met for Christian worship at seven day intervals. This would require a change of day each week!

“If we met the first week on Saturday, seven days later we would meet on Friday. Seven days later we would meet on Thursday. Seven days later we would meet on Wednesday, etc. There is simply no way that the first day—of an eight-day cycle—will consistently correspond with the first day of a seven-day cycle. This cries out in a loud voice, then, that the pagan Romans did not observe what we call Sunday as a weekly sacred day!” (Did Sunday Worship Come from Paganism? Palm Springs, CA., February 1999, p. 3).

It’s one thing for a denomination to say, “We meet for worship on Saturdays because we believe the New Testament does not really impose any particular day on believers, but gives us freedom to choose our own day of gathering for worship in church” – which is biblically fair. And I personally respect such sincere differences.

But it becomes a totally different ball game when a sect dogmatically says, “Sunday observance came from paganism! It originated from the worship of the Sun god in Rome and it won out because church leaders rebelled against God’s law. Sunday means ‘day of the sun,’ so if you go to a church on a Sunday, you are worshipping the sun god – Satan, and God told us through a 19th century visionary that Sunday worshippers will receive the mark of the Beast!”

This is a rhetoric laden with gross misinformation, falsehoods, fanaticism, poisoning the well, and religious mind control.

Refutation of “Constantine’s Creation of Jesus”

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One of the fans of this blog’s Facebook page sent me a pamphlet entitled Constantine’s Creation of Jesus Christ by Kerrie French.

This title alone betrays the book’s conspiracy theme. Reading its first two pages, it became clear to me that the write-up is aimed at misleading folks into the Sacred Name Movement (SNM), a sect linked to the Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM).

The SNM began within the Church of God (Seventh-Day), propagated by Clarence Dodd in the 1930s.

It seeks to conform Christianity to its ‘Hebrew Roots’ in practice, belief and worship. SNM groups advocate for the use of the “sacred name” of God as Yahweh (though there’s no agreement on this) and Jesus as Yahshua (varied as well) and keeping Old Testament laws.

Now, when a new religious movement claims to have “the only truth,” or an exclusive understanding of an old truth, its truth claims need to be critically examined.

To this end, I will be rebutting the main arguments in this pamphlet. Quotes from it will appear in blue:

It appears that in A.D. 325, a new god was conceived within the black and white marble halls of Roman Catholicism … Constantine’s intention at Nicea was to create an entirely new god for his empire who would unite all religious factions under one deity. Presbyters were asked to debate and decide who their god would be. Delegates argued among themselves, expressing personal motives for inclusion of particular writings that promoted the finer traits of their own special deity (pp. 1-2).

Each sentence here is patently false. There was no Roman Catholicism in the 4th century. Not one single person at the Council of Nicea adheres to the definitive doctrines of Roman Catholicism.

The intention of the Council of Nicaea was to settle a Christological controversy caused by a presbyter named Arius who denied the deity of Christ. It was never about “creating a god.”

It is a rather shameless and deceptive undertaking for someone to distort a documented historical event that is well-attested to by ancient sources in the name of presenting the truth. Even a heathen shouldn’t stoop that low. Here are three standard reference works on the council of Nicea:

Encyclopedia Britannica

New World Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia.com

Throughout the meeting, howling factions were immersed in heated debates, and the names of 53 gods were tabled for discussion. “As of yet, no god had been selected by the council, and so they balloted in order to determine that matter. . . For one year and five months the balloting lasted. . .” God’s Book of Eskra, Prof. S.L. MacGuire’s translation, Salisbury, 1922, chapter xlviii, paragraphs 36, 41 (p. 2-3).

Again, we are treated to mythical assertions. I personally wonder why, of all the councils in church history, Nicea seems to be the favourite dream works studio of conspiracy fiction writers and anti-Christians who re-write history when it doesn’t play their game.

Kerrie laces this paragraph with a source to feign legitimacy, but that is a smoking gun right there.

An entry of the quote and God’s Book of Eskra into Google search engine shows that this quote and its alleged source is identical on all SNM websites. These guys just mindlessly parrot and copy one another without any recourse to intellectual scrutiny.

God’s Book of Eskra is not a historical source. It was an occult legendary book called Oahspe, written by a dentist named John Ballow Newbrough and published in 1882.

Newbrough admitted his work came from spirits (“automatic writing”) without any prior text before him.

The translator “Prof. S. L. MacGuire” was obviously made up since the Oahspe was already written in English.

A search of “S. L. MacGuire God’s Book of Eskra” on WorldCat (a compendium of 71,000 library catalogues in 112 countries) turns up no relevant hit.

These SNM websites got the quote in question from one original source: Tony Bushby’s Forged Origins of the New Testament (2007). Bushby must have fabricated “Prof. S.L. MacGuire” and his alleged “translation” to make Newbrough’s book appear as an ancient source.

So there are three strikes against this one: a false claim, a fraudulent reference and a demonic source. Absolutely invalid.

I invite my readers to read about the council of Nicaea from both Judaic and Catholic sources and draw their own conclusions:

Encyclopedia Judaica

Catholic Encyclopedia

Constantine was the ruling spirit at Nicaea and he ultimately decided upon a new god for them. To involve British factions, he ruled that the name of the Druid god, “Hesus,” be joined with the Eastern Saviour-god, Krishna (Krishna is Sanskrit for Christ), and thus “Hesus Krishna” [Jesus Christ] would be the official name of the New Roman god (p. 3).

The post-Nicene detour of Roman churches into Arianism and the necessity of the Council of Constantinople to redress this is one proof that Constantine wasn’t the ruling spirit at Nicaea.

The Gaulish god, Esus, has no connection with Jesus (an Anglicized name). This writer fondly imagines that the people at Nicea and the Celtic Druids spoke English language.

According to this goofy reasoning, Constantine picked a Celtic god, joined it to an Indian god to become a “new Roman god”! This nonsense is beyond belief.

The name Jesus is an English transliteration of the Hebrew Yeshua or Yehoshua and Greek Iēosus. It literally means “the LORD (or Yahweh) is salvation.” Centuries before a council held in Nicaea, the Bible speaks of several people bearing this name:

Jesus Barabbas, a prisoner released by Pontius Pilate before Jesus was crucified (Mt. 27:16-17 REB); an ancestor of Jesus (Lk. 3:29); Joshua, son of Nun (Acts 7:45); Jesus Justus, a Jewish Christian who with the apostle Paul sent greetings to the Colossians (Col. 4:11) (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Ronald Youngblood, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995, p. 658).

Whether it’s spelled Jesus, Joshua or Yeshua, it means the same: the Lord our salvation (Matt. 1:21).

Changing a name from one language to another doesn’t change the meaning of the name nor does it change the character or identity of the person.

Following long-standing heathen custom, Constantine used the official gathering and the Roman apotheosis decree to legally deify two deities as one, and did so by democratic consent. A new god was proclaimed and “officially” ratified by Constantine (p. 3).

This is straight from the fevered imaginations of Tony Bushby, but with a twist. While Bushby asserts the Bible was formed at Nicea, Kerrie French and his SNM comrades claim a “new god” was proclaimed there.

Notice his choice of words too. He vaguely refers to “heathen custom,” that a man gathered people to “legally deify two deities as one” by “democratic consent.” This is gobbledygook, even by heathen standards.

If there was such a decree, it would be documented. The writer resorts to demagoguery in place of facts. He strings together big words to dazzle his uninformed readers when in actual fact, he’s saying nonsense.

Some authorities, who have spent their entire lives studying the origins of names, believe that “Jesus” actually means— “Hail Zeus!” For Iesous in Greek is “Hail Zeus.” That is, “Ie” translates as “Hail” and “sous” or “sus” is Zeus. Dictionary of Christian Lore and Legend, J.C.J. Melford, 1983, p. 126.

 No quotation from the source is given, but on some SNM websites where this line was copied from, the quote appears to have been astutely wrenched from its context.

Notice that the writer talks about “some authorities who have spent their entire lives studying the origins of names,” but gave only one source that can’t even be termed an authority. This is cultic politics of language: maximal claims, minimal output.

Initially, he says Jesus was an amalgam of a Celtic and Indian god which became a Roman god, now he says the name is of a Greek god. This writer couldn’t even convince himself.

The Greek word for “hail” is xaipe or xaipete and it’s not a constituent of the name Iēosus. The name Iēosus is found in the Greek Septuagint, a translation dating to the B.C. era.

First century works of Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, written in Koine Greek also refers to at least 20 different people with the name Iēosus (Jesus) (Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd, The Jesus Legend, Baker Pub., 2007, 129).

That the name ends with “sus” or “sous” furnishes no evidence that it’s from Zeus. That a certain word or word part sounds like another is no proof of commonality.

For instance, it would be insane for someone to say that Yahuwah was stolen from the Sumerian monster deity named Huwawa because of the phonetic similarity. Yet this is the dark, twisted logic being touted by SNM adherents.

Apparently, this new fabricated name was applied throughout the pages of the Scripture’s Renewed Covenant (NT), radically altering every reference of Yahusha יהושׁע (H#3091) the Messiah to “Hail Zeus-Krishna” (Jesus Christ). Deceptively, the reference to Christ was never a Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah, but it specifically comes from the name of a pagan god, Christna, most commonly spelled Krishna (p. 3)

Bear in mind that Sacred Name and Hebrew Roots adherents deny the validity of the Greek New Testament, asserting that it was “originally” written in Aramaic – a claim that is rather a testament to their profound delusion.

Thus, when this writer calls the NT “Renewed covenant,” he is peddling an agendum that denies the plain differences between the Old and New covenants.

He also alleges that the Bible has been “radically altered.” On pg. 4, he writes: “Who said the Scriptures remain pure and undefiled? Should we not be wise to discern what else has been changed, manipulated, or removed?”

This is the convenient cop out cultists mouth when they realise their folly cannot be substantiated by Scripture. The NT was written in Greek, so there wasn’t any need for the Hebrew name of Jesus to be expunged from it. Moreover, His Hebrew name is Yeshua (or Jeshua) not Yahusha.

John F. Sawyer, Professor of Religious Studies at University of Newcastle, England, has this to say about the word “Christ”:

“The word is derived from the common biblical Hebrew word māšîah, meaning ‘anointed.’ In Greek it is transcribed as messias and translated as christos. In the Hebrew Bible, the term is most often used of kings, whose investiture was marked especially by anointing oil” (The Oxford Companion to the Bible, eds. Bruce Metzger and Michael Coogan, Oxford Press, 1993, 513).

The birth of what is known today as CHRISTIANITY did not exist until Constantine united his empire under the name of his newly fabricated god “Jesus Christ” … Simply, no one was a Christian prior to A.D. 325. All the churches that claim to be Christian today are merely daughters of the Roman stylized system of false worship of “Hail Zeus-Christna” (p. 4).

Certainly, once you eliminate the Lord Jesus from the equation and dismiss the validity of Scripture, the next logical step is to throw 17 centuries of historic, orthodox Christianity under the bus. What you end up with might appear ‘Christian’ but it’s the kingdom of the cults.

This is the logical plinth on which Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, and Christian Science cults are based.

They first have to abjure church history to justify their own existence. That way, they can easily claim to be “restoring ancient Christianity.” The logic is: no one got it right until we alone came on the scene.

At least, most of them aren’t ridiculous to the extent of declaring that no one was a Christian prior to 325 A.D.

The Christianized churches continue to utilize the fabricated terms to replace Yahuah יהוה with “the Lord,” and perpetuate the contrived tradition of replacing Yahusha ,יהושׁע the Messiah, with “Jesus Christ” (Hail Zeus-Christna) (p. 5).

Notice a pattern: Each time the writer refers to Jesus, he finds it necessary to include Zeus-Krishna in brackets beside it. This is aimed to program an unwary reader’s mind to associate the name of Jesus with pagan deities even though this lacks a factual basis. This is Pavlovian brainwashing, utilized by most cults.

In the Old Testament, we see that God revealed Himself by different names. In more than 6,000 times, He is revealed as YHWH (often pronounced as Yahweh) which is likely related to the verb “to be” (Ex. 6:6; 20:2).

He is designated as Adonai, which means “lord” or “master” 449 times. Adhon reveals God’s authority as Master, One who is sovereign in His rule (Ps. 110:1; Hos. 12:14).

He is also designated as Elohim, a plural Hebrew form more than 2,000 times (Dt. 32:17; Josh. 3:10) (Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Moody Press, 2008, 201).

Therefore, when a group places an extreme emphasis on a certain name of God and builds a castle around it, alleging it is “suppressed information” a cultic mindset is being instilled into its adherents.

Interestingly, in Scripture, the term elohim is also used as a generic term for “god” as when speaking of the Philistine god Dagon (“elohim” 1 Sam. 5:7); Chemosh, the god (“elohim”) of Ammon and Moab (Jgs. 11:24) and Milcom (1 Kgs 11:33). But SNM don’t push out articles on the name elohim.

Here is the point: the context and usage of “lord” determines who is being referred to. When apostle Paul quotes Psalm 117:1 “Praise the LORD (Yahweh), all you nations…”, and then writes, “Praise the Lord (Kurios), all you Gentiles…” (Rom.15:11), every right thinking reader can see that Yahweh is equivalent to the Lord Jesus.

Whether in Greek (Iēsous), Latin (Iesus), Arabic (Yesu), French (Jésus) or Yoruba/Igbo (Jesu), the name of Jesus carries the same power and authority in setting free men from sin and Satan.

The writer says false religious organizations don’t observe “Yahuah’s sacred seventh-day Sabbaths and/or set-apart Feast Days of Scripture … [They are] lacking in the knowledge of the truth unto salvation and the power bestowed in the true sacred names” (p. 7).

Let no legalist or “sacred name” nutter lead us to make an idol out of any earthly language and bring us back under bondage of the Old Testament laws.

This pamphlet states its agenda when it says: “Names have meanings, but it is not proper to translate them” (p. 10).

SNM heretics have so much idolized Hebrew language that they believe any translation of Jesus’ name into any language on earth other than Hebrew must be despised and demonized in every sort of way – whether by hook or crook. That is the fundamental assumption underlying this excuse of a pamphlet.

Nothing in it is new however. For many years, enemies of the Gospel have tried in vain to parallel Jesus with Attis, Mithras, Krishna or Horus.

The difference now is that the atheists, agnostics and skeptics have left it up to modern day Judaizers who claim to be Christians to regurgitate their delusion.

Christmas: Clearing Up Some Misconceptions

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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 those who see it an innovative, pagan festival adopted by Roman Catholicism.

I have observed a heavy dose of dogmatism and self-righteousness in the latter camp and such patterns of thought often call 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, then there is a problem somewhere.

There is always a balance to every extreme position.

Christ and Christmas

One of the merits of Christmas celebration is how it annually brings a reminder of Jesus Christ’s birth. Indeed, it’s 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 – it’s 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.

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, let’s examine some misconceptions that 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. It’s 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: it is not a day that makes an act sinful but the act itself, and it remains a sin regardless of the day on which it is 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. This 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 it’s 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 University Press, 2000, p. 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 it’s clear that Roman Catholicism adopted several pagan ideas, we need to distinguish properly between what ancient pagans observed and what Christians today celebrate.

It is 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 throw away the word “panic” even though it came from Pan, the Greek god of the wild, flock and rustic music.

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 the word concept 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. It’s 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 is 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.

In Nigeria, the same tales of Santa coming from Rome are also 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.