Are Christmas Trees Idols?

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One of the arguments presented by Christians who oppose Christmas celebration is that Christmas trees are idols.

I think the first material where I encountered this teaching was one of the Alberto series titled “The Force” published by Jack Chick. In it, Alberto Rivera, a self-acclaimed ex-Jesuit priest, said without a shred of documentation:

“As time passed, all over the world on the 25th of December, the sun was worshipped by these various names: Tammuz, Horus, Osiris, Sol, etc. It was a time for orgies, sacrificing of babies to Baal, drunkenness, and merriment. Semiramis ordered trees to be decorated with little balls representing the sun. God fought this evil holiday by forbidding the Jews to decorate trees as the heathens were doing (Jer. 10:1-4).” (The Force, The Crusaders Vol. 15 by Jack T. Chick, 1983, p. 26).

You don’t have to be a scholar to see how groundless these statements are. All you have to do is enter the names of these idols into a search engine and you will realize that there were no specific fixed dates on which they were worshipped, much less on December 25th.

The hackneyed tale of Nimrod, Semiramis and Tammuz often tied to Christmas by some religious groups is not my issue here. I’ve addressed that hypothesis in my article, The Mirror Image Syndrome.

Also, if you need more info on the yak milk and powdered sparrow eggs being put out by Chick Publications, you can read this. My main concern here is that Bible passage often trotted out, Jeremiah 10:1-5 (KJV):

“For one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree…”

Using the principles of sound Biblical interpretation, here are reasons why these Bible verses do not refer to Christmas trees:

1. One of the ways to properly interpret the Bible is to cross reference, to examine parallel passages. It’s dicey to build a doctrine on just one verse of the Bible, especially when other passages go in an opposite direction.

For instance, the passage says, “One cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman.”

Reading this, one would picture a lumberjack going into the forest to cut down a Christmas tree, but this is not the intended meaning.

When you read the entire chapter, you will see that this “workman” was one who took material—in this case the wood from a tree—and formed it into an idol.

Later in this passage, the “workman” is portrayed as plating an idol with silver and gold. He was clearly not a lumberjack; he was fashioning a “graven image… they are all the works of cunning men” and they are “the gods that have not made the heavens and the earth” (vv. 9-14)

In a parallel passage, we read, “The workman melteth a graven image…”

Then he makes an idol with wood from a tree:

“He… chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image…” (Isa. 40:19, 20).

Therefore, the “workman” was an idol carver. The Hebrew word is “charash” meaning “an engraver” or “artificer.” And we all know images of idols were fashioned out of wood, gold, silver, brass or adorned with them.

2. One of the ways to have a good understanding of the Bible is to read it in a clearer and more accurate modern translation.

For instance, the tool the workman uses is called an “ax.” Though the word ax (or axes) appears 18 times in the King James Version, the Hebrew word here (maatzad) translated ax is a different word.

It is not the ax that a lumberjack would use to cut down a tree, but is a carving tool or tong. The workman would use this tool to form an idol from the tree already cut down.

Some translations, more correctly, use the word chisel: “…they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel” (NIV).

3. Just quoting a Bible passage isn’t enough, we must look to see if the passage actually describes what we are saying. Otherwise, we are unfairly reading our preconceived notions into it.

The idol described in Jeremiah 10, was carved from the “stock” of a tree (margin: “wooden idol,” vs. 8). Positioned “upright as a palm tree,” it was fastened with “nails and hammers” so it would not fall over (vv. 4, 5).

While this could be true of a Christmas tree, what is described here is a wooden idol in a standing position. Being lifeless, it cannot stand on its own, and must be fastened down to avoid falling over.

4. Reading the preceding and proceeding verses of a passage is vital to Bible interpretation.

When we take a look at the whole of Jeremiah 10, it’s contrasting the Living God who made the heavens and the earth to man-made idols that “cannot speak…have to be carried, for they cannot walk.”

It speaks of “the living God and the everlasting King” and derides man’s idols “for his images are false, and there is no breath in them” (vv. 5, 10, 14 RSV).

The prophets commonly pointed out the foolishness of believing in “idols…the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: they have ears, but they hear not; noses have they, but they smell not: they have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not” (Psalms 115:4-7).

The idols Jeremiah described, “speak not”— implies a mouth, but no speech. This would make no sense if Jeremiah was speaking of a Christmas tree— after all, no one expects a Christmas tree to talk!

These idols apparently had legs, yet could not walk. They must be carried, “because they cannot go” (Jer. 10:5).

Had Jeremiah’s subject been a Christmas tree, his whole argument would break down at this point since everyone knows a Christmas tree must be carried—no one expects a Christmas tree to walk.

5. The idols that Jeremiah was describing were dressed in clothing: “…blue and purple is their clothing” (Jer. 10:9).

A Christmas tree may be decorated, but no one puts clothing on it—not blue, purple, red or any other colour of clothing.

The fact that he even uses the term “graven [carved] image” (v. 14) to describe them is proof that he was not referring to a Christmas tree but an idol carved in the likeness of a man.

Isaiah described the same thing (Isa. 44:9-15). Though the wood from a tree can be carved into the shape of an idol resembling a man, it is merely a lifeless idol. “There is no breath in them” (Jer.10:14).

Again, the subject could not be a Christmas tree – no one supposes a Christmas tree has breath! (cf. Hab. 2:18, 19).

It has been documented that the custom of decorating with a Christmas tree, as we know it, extends back 500 years to Europe, especially Germany. But the custom originated among Christians.

They were not apostates trying to inject paganism into the church. Fruit or round decorations placed on the tree, to them, spoke of the fruit on the Tree of Life in Scripture. The traditional star at the top represented the star that guided the wise men to the place of Jesus’ birth.

While the Bible condemns worship of trees and fertility deities (such as Baal and Asherah) under green trees, it also shows us that trees were created by God. There were trees in the garden of Eden and even trees in the New Heaven.

Yes, we need to guard against pagan influxes, but at the same time, we also need to guard against extreme and fanatical teachings that see paganism behind every wall, shadow and everything God has created. That mindset is not typifying freedom but spiritual bondage.

That a Christian decorates a tree doesn’t imply idolatry unless he/she is worshipping or praying to it. That I have pictures of a dozen birds in my room doesn’t mean I worship birds or I’m a sorcerer.

I don’t know of any Christian that bows to Christmas trees or looks up to them as a conduit of sympathetic magic, so what is this false accusation based on?

Come to think of it, if Christians regarded these decorations as deities would they be throwing them out in the trash after a while?

The true Christian conduct is to avoid passing judgement on issues that are disputable. If you believe Christmas trees defile your faith, fine, don’t buy one, but then, don’t judge others doing so as idolaters.