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(From Forerunner Commentary)
Two key figures in the origin of Christmas are Nimrod, a great grandson of Noah, and his mother and wife, Semiramis, also known as Ishtar and Isis. Nimrod, known in Egypt as Osiris, was the founder of the first world empire at Babel, later known as Babylon (Genesis 10:8-12; 11:1-9). From ancient sources such as the "Epic of Gilgamesh" and records unearthed by archeologists from long-ruined Mesopotamian and Egyptian cities, we can reconstruct subsequent events.
After Nimrod's death (c. 2167 BC), Semiramis promoted the belief that he was a god. She claimed that she saw a full-grown evergreen tree spring out of the roots of a dead tree stump, symbolizing the springing forth of new life for Nimrod. On the anniversary of his birth, she said, Nimrod would visit the evergreen tree and leave gifts under it. His birthday fell on the winter solstice at the end of December.
A few years later, Semiramis bore a son, Horus or Gilgamesh. She declared that she had been visited by the spirit of Nimrod, who left her pregnant with the boy. Horus, she maintained, was Nimrod reincarnated. With a father, mother, and son deified, a deceptive, perverted trinity was formed.
Semiramis and Horus were worshipped as "Madonna and child." As the generations passed, they were worshipped under other names in different countries and languages. Many of these are recognizable: Fortuna and Jupiter in Rome; Aphrodite and Adonis in Greece; and Ashtoreth/Astarte and Molech/Baal in Canaan.
During the time between Babel and Christ, pagans developed the belief that the days grew shorter in early winter because their sun-god was leaving them. When they saw the length of the day increasing, they celebrated by riotous, unrestrained feasting and orgies. This celebration, known as Saturnalia, was named after Saturn, another name for Nimrod.
Martin G. Collins
Many historical sources show that Christmas was not observed by Christians from Christ's time to about AD 300. Saturnalia (December 17-24) and Brumalia (December 25) continued as pagan celebrations by the Romans well into the fourth century. The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911 edition, in the article "Natal Day," records that the early Catholic church father, Origen, acknowledged:
In the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners like Pharaoh and Herod who make great rejoicings over the day in which they were born into this world.
During the fourth century, the emperor Constantine "converted" to "Christianity" and changed Sabbath keeping from the seventh to the first day of the week. Sunday was the day he had worshipped the sun as his god. This made it easier for the Romans to call their pagan December 25th winter solstice festival, in which they had celebrated the birth of the sun god, the birthday of the "Son of God."
The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, says:
According to the hypothesis . . . accepted by most scholars today, the birth of Christ was assigned the date of the winter solstice (December 25 in the Julian calendar, January 6 in the Egyptian), because on this day, as the sun began its return to northern skies, the pagan devotees of Mithra celebrated the dies natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of the Invincible Sun). On Dec. 25, 274, Aurelian had proclaimed the sun-god principal patron of the empire and dedicated a temple to him in the Campus Martius. Christmas originated at a time when the cult of the sun was particularly strong at Rome.
Only in the fifth century did the Roman Catholic Church order that the birth of Christ be observed on December 25, the day of the old Roman feast of the birth of Sol, the sun god. They renamed this day "Christmas."
Martin G. Collins
The date of December 25 to celebrate Christ's birth was chosen to conform to the old, pagan Roman holidays called "Saturnalia" and "Brumalia." The ancient Romans kept these holidays around the time of the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. Here are some excerpts about this festival from The Book of the Bible by Riedel, Tracy & Moskwitz:
Because the Roman emperor Aurelian fixed December 25th for the winter solstice holiday in AD 274, it is thought that the early Christians adopted this day for their Christ-mass so that they would be less conspicuous in the observance of their holiday.
Most scholars believe that the birthday of Jesus was never known and that the December date was chosen solely for convenience.
The earliest known observance of Christmas on December 25th was the year AD 336 in Rome, as recorded in a calendar of the period.
Throughout antiquity other dates for the birth were advanced: March 25, April 19, November 17, among others, but there is no evidence, literary or historical, that supports any of these dates.
Almost everywhere in Europe, in both Roman and Teutonic [northern European] countries, the period around the winter solstice was celebrated with lights, to celebrate the increase of sunlight to come, and with greenery, usually evergreens, to represent the coming of spring and eternal cycles of growth. At the Saturnalia festival (December 17-24), Romans would present each other with sprigs of holly as gifts for the holiday. When Teutonic tribes began to usurp power from the Romans in Europe, they brought their Yule, or winter feast, traditions with them. The Yule log and wassailing (i.e., toasting each others' health with alcoholic drinks) are two of these traditions.
The origin of the Christmas tree is usually traced to Saint Boniface, who in the 8th century persuaded the Teutonic tribes to abandon worship of the sacred oak of Odin, a remnant of Druidism, and to confer it instead on the fir, a more appropriate symbol of Jesus and eternal life. [Trees, however, have been used in pagan, idolatrous worship for many thousands of years. Numerous references to this can be found throughout the Old Testament (I Kings 14:23; II Kings 16:2-4; 17:10; II Chronicles 28:4; I Samuel 40:18-20; 57:5; 66:17; Jeremiah 2:20; 3:6,13; 10:1-5; Ezekiel 6:13).]
'Tis the Season: Help for Our Young People
How did this pagan custom creep into the Western Christian world?
The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge explains clearly, in its article on "Christmas": "How much the date of the festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (Dec. 25) following the Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24), and celebrating the shortest day in the year and the 'new sun,' . . . cannot be accurately determined. The pagan Saturnalia and Brumalia were too deeply entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian influence. . . . The pagan festival with its riot and merrymaking was so popular that Christians were glad of an excuse to continue its celebration with little change in spirit and in manner. Christian preachers of the West and the Near East protested against the unseemly frivolity with which Christ's birthday was celebrated, while Christians of Mesopotamia accused their Western brethren of idolatry and sun worship for adopting as Christian this pagan festival."
Remember, the Roman world had been pagan. Prior to the fourth century, Christians were few in number, though increasing, and were persecuted by the government and by pagans. But, with the advent of Constantine as emperor, who made his profession of Christianity in the fourth century, placing Christianity on an equal footing with paganism, people of the Roman world began to accept this now-popular Christianity by the hundreds of thousands.
But remember, these people had grown up in pagan customs, chief of which was this idolatrous festival of December 25th. It was a festival of merrymaking, with its special spirit. They enjoyed it! They did not want to give it up! Now this same article in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge explains how the recognition by Constantine of Sunday, which had been the day of pagan sun worship, and how the influence of the pagan Manichaeism, which identified the SON of God with the physical SUN, gave these pagans of the fourth century, now turning over wholesale to "Christianity," their excuse for calling their pagan-festival date of December 25th (birthday of the SUN-god) the birthday of the SON of God.
And that is how "Christmas" became fastened on our Western world! We may call it by another name, but it is the same old pagan sun-worshipping festival still! The only change is in what we call it! You can call a rabbit a "lion," but it is still a rabbit, just the same.
Again from the Encyclopaedia Britannica: "Certain Latins, as early as 354, may have transferred the birthday from January 6th to December 25, which was then a Mithraic feast, the birthday of the unconquered SUN. . . . The Syrians and Armenians, who clung to January 6th, accused the Romans of sun worship and idolatry, contending . . . that the feast of December 25th, had been invented by disciples of Cerinthus. . . ."
Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986)
The Plain Truth About Christmas
An anonymous quotation that made the rounds of the Internet last year runs, "Christmas is weird. What other time of year do you sit in front of a dead tree and eat candy out of your socks?" Though it may induce a chuckle from its readers, most people either miss or ignore the larger point: Christmas is a bundle of contradictions, inanities, and outright lies.
The astounding fact is that most people are aware of this. On a Christmas Eve radio show, a local preacher substituted for the regular host. His topic of discussion centered on the greeting "Merry Christmas!" and he asked if, in our multicultural, multi-religious society, this was offensive. One caller said, no, Christianity was still the majority religion in America, but what really troubled her was the fact that professing Christians promoted the traditional lie that Jesus was born on December 25.
Without missing a beat, the preacher/talk-show host then explained to the audience that his caller was correct, Jesus could not have been born around the winter solstice, and that, in the early fourth century, the Catholic Church had combined the Roman winter solstice festival, the Saturnalia, with a celebration of Jesus' birth to help new converts adjust to Christianity. He treated these facts as common knowledge.
His "resolution" to the conundrum, however, was revealing. The gist of his answer to the troubled caller was, "If Christians would live according to the teachings of Jesus, these contradictions would not matter." I had to shake my head. Neither the host nor the caller could see the self-contradictory nature of his answer. Did not Jesus teach that we are to be honest? Certainly, He did!
He tells the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-18 that, to have eternal life, he should not bear false witness, which is the ninth commandment (Exodus 20:16). In the Sermon on the Mount, He says, "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one" (Matthew 5:37). We could say, then, that keeping a celebration to Christ on a day that is not His birthday—with customs and traditions that derive from paganism—is from the evil one. It is a lie, and the Devil is the father of it (John 8:44).
This is what makes the oft-heard phrase, "Let's put Christ back into Christmas!" so laughable. It is another self-contradictory statement. How can we put Christ back into something in which He never was in the first place? Search the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and no command—not even a suggestion—to commemorate the Savior's birth will be found. It is amazing to consider that professing Christians around the world keep days and festivals never once enjoined on them in God's Word (Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, Halloween, Christmas), yet the ones God tells them to keep (the Sabbath, Passover, God's holy days), they ignore!
What about the real central character of Christmas, Santa Claus? Today's jolly old elf—a roly-poly old man in a red suit trimmed in white; big, black boots; spectacles; long, white beard; and a "ho-ho-ho"—was the brainchild of Coca-Cola's marketing department early in the last century. He was based loosely on the English Father Christmas and the German Kris Kringle. This figure, in turn, has blended with the early "Christian" Saint Nicholas, a churchman who was known for spreading the wealth to needy members of his community, sometimes throwing sacks of coins through open windows and down chimneys. Where is the biblical basis for such a character? He may be present in the modern crèche, but no one like him appears in the gospel narratives of Jesus' birth.
Then there is the season's alternate name, Yule. Where does that come from? Check the origin in the dictionary: "a pagan midwinter festival." Another contradiction! The preacher/talk-show host made mention of this point too, chuckling about how so many people do not realize that their Yule log hearkens back to the heathen practice of driving away evil spirits with bonfires on the night of the winter solstice! Now, however, it is just another way to stir up Christmas cheer! No harm in that, right?
If these pagan, unbiblical elements are so commonly known, why does the Christmas tradition continue? Three reasons come to the fore:
» Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. (Romans 8:7)
» The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
» The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so. (Jeremiah 5:31)
Christmas continues because human nature deceives itself into practicing things that are not right because they are enjoyable. Human nature allows people to justify self-contradictory things because they appear to produce benefits for them. In such a case, truth does not matter; all that matters is that a person receives presents and has a good time. And if a religious significance—real or imagined—can be attached to it, all the better!
We should not expect people to give up Christmas anytime soon just because it has pagan origins. Human nature has a long history of explaining such pesky details away.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Cogitations on Christmas
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