What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Using Christmas as an excuse, men have added foreign beliefs and practices to the worship of God the Father and Jesus Christ. They have combined pagan ideas, beliefs and practices with Christianity without examining whether God approves.
This implies presumption by the syncretizer. Presumption is "an attitude or belief dictated by probability." Facts play little part in presumption, just probability and likelihood. Its first synonym is "assumption," followed by "arrogance," "boldness," "impertinence" and "imprudence." Presume, its verb form, means "to undertake without leave or clear justification; to expect or assume especially with confidence; to suppose to be true without proof; to take for granted."
When combining the concepts of syncretism, presumption, and the Israelitish characteristic of misguided zeal for knowledge (Romans 10:1-3), it is easy to see why a holiday like Christmas could become and remain a practice in modern Israel. The Israelitish people—especially the sons of Joseph—seem to be imbued with a spirit of zeal that is both a blessing and a curse. It is almost paradoxical that Israel's zeal for God is often its greatest hindrance, as it retards true righteousness that comes by faith and submission to God. Virtually all of Israel's religious zeal is wasted because it stampedes in the wrong direction.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Christmas, Syncretism, and Presumption
In all sincerity, men and women have gone to great lengths to try to please God. Without seeking His permission, they presume to add things to the worship of God because they are attractive and have a vague attachment to the One whom they look upon as their Savior. They think their sincerity in worship is more important than the truth.
But God thinks differently: "Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:32). Christmas is a festival that has been added. It is syncretism, blending a practice from paganism into the stream of Christianity. Only the revelation of God shows how He will be worshipped, and He will not be served in imitation of other gods. God's way cannot be "improved" by human sincerity.
Deuteronomy 13:1-18 defines the law regarding apostasy. Those who led others to worship other gods or adopt the practices of the nations around them were to be stoned! Cities that fell under the sway of corrupt individuals were to be attacked, burned to the ground, and left as rubble! God considers tampering with His truth to be evil that must be eradicated!
Apostasy begins with the perverse drive in man to push beyond the bounds of what has been revealed by God as the basis for His way of life. When God gives instruction, He frequently does so in broad generalities. Within the perimeters of those broad generalities, He expects us to explore and to apply them in their spirit and intent. Unfortunately, history reveals that that has not been mankind's approach. Man has consistently tried to "improve" upon God's revelation using his limited reason and logic.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Christmas, Syncretism, and Presumption
God nowhere speaks of making Christmas a part of Christianity, nor does He say to celebrate His Son's birth. He does tell us, though, not to add to His worship anything that is a tradition of the heathen. Such additions hinder rather than enhance our journey to God's Kingdom.
What are the fruits of keeping Christmas? Has Christmas helped to glorify God? Has it clarified and aided man's spiritual life? We have a record of the fruits of the Jews' additions. Their intent may have been better than those who accepted Christmas into Christianity, since they at least attempted to obey the law of God. Still, when Jesus walked among them, they did not recognize their own Messiah! Adding to and subtracting from God's Word changes God's intended focus.
Christmas is no better. When the so-called Christians added Christmas to Christianity, it had nothing to do with true Christianity at all. It was a ploy to win converts from paganism. It was a deliberate grab for power. From the beginning, Christmas, rather than promoting the true God and His way of life, has only led people away from the truth.
Peter writes that we are redeemed from these very traditions (I Peter 1:18). These traditions, inherited from our fathers, are a part of our culture. Jesus used His ministry to repudiate every addition, subtraction, and distortion that had attained any kind of specious, "divine" authority, and He did this by clarifying and magnifying the truth. Christmas seems to have "divine" authority because "Christians" are doing it, but it is part of a world that is anti-God, anti-Christ. It is not a part of what God has shown is true.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Christmas, Syncretism, and Presumption
God is not to be mocked (Galatians 6:7)! In several places in the Bible, He states quite unequivocally that He is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 6:14-15)—He will not be worshipped like any other god (Deuteronomy 12:3-4, 30-31). When He instructed His chosen people Israel in the method of His worship, He warned them neither to add to what He had given them, nor take away from it (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; see Revelation 22:18-19).
For example, notice His terrible wrath when the children of Israel tried to worship Him through the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:1-9). They proclaimed "a feast to the Lord" (verse 5), but He would have none of it! He was so enraged at the people's idolatry that He considered exterminating the whole nation and starting over with Moses' family.
That same God—Yahweh, the Lord of the Old Testament—became Jesus Christ! Will our Savior be worshipped in any way that is based upon a lie? Certainly not! And this in no way takes into consideration the non-biblical (dare we say "pagan"?) traditions and customs that have taken over the commemoration of His sacrifice and triumphant victory!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'
So powerful has the belief in the Trinity become that it is the litmus test for whether or not a person is considered to be orthodox. According to The Watchmen Foundation, the acceptance or rejection of the Trinity idea tops their list as to what they consider to be a cult. If a group does not believe in the Trinity, they are considered a cult.
It is also true that there were ancient pagan trinities, and those concepts were undoubtedly drawn upon by those who forced this doctrine upon the church. However, these "change agents" still had to deal with the Bible, and so ways had to be devised to make this pagan doctrine appear to agree with it. They have done this by elevating the Holy Spirit to divine status as a personality, just like the Father and the Son. They label it "co-equal" and "eternal with them," and at the same time they make the "three" also to be "one." The result is this incomprehensible mixture"a mystery"that a true child of God, one who believes the Bible, cannot accept.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Nature of God: Elohim
When you put up that tree, tack a wreath on the door, and maybe hang mistletoe from the lintel, what are you signifying? John Williamson, in "Christmas Greenery" in the Dallas Morning News (December 6, 1986), encapsulates the pagan origin of decorating with evergreens:
Evergreen trees were important fertility emblems for pre-Christian ceremonies marking the winter solstice. People from ancient societies believed that by decorating their homes and temples with evergreen plants, such as holly, ivy and mistletoe, they were helping to carry the diminished sun through a critical period. . . . Mistletoe was the most sacred plant of the Druids. . . . [It] was given great reverence . . . because it grows on the venerated oak. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe comes from the ancient idea that mistletoe is the oak's genitals. And so it was believed that an embrace under its glistening berries was sure guarantee of a fruitful union. . . . The decoration of Christmas trees is a survival of pagan tree veneration. . . . For centuries before Christianity, holly was . . . used . . . for celebrating their midwinter Saturnalia.
While all the greenery in a home decked out for Christmas is beautiful to look at, these customs have nothing at all to do with Christ. In fact, they are sheer paganism directly descended from ancient rites practiced long before Jesus' birth (see Jeremiah 10:1-5). Do you really want to give the impression that you are worshipping a tree? Or that you desire a fruitful union because you give someone a kiss under the mistletoe?
So You Plan to Keep Christmas Now?
The general history of Christmas should be enough to send shivers of revulsion down our spine. The origin of Christmas and the traditional perversions surrounding this holiday should be an obvious reason to avoid this epitome of paganism. However, there is much more to it than origin and history.
What human being has the right to decide what God wants? If we were to celebrate Christ's birth, the Bible, God's instruction book to mankind, would command us to do so. Yet nowhere in the Bible are we told to celebrate the birth of Christ! It does not even tell us when it was! (For further information on the birth of Christ, see our article, "When Was Jesus Born?")
In John 13:15, Christ Himself gives us an important principle, "For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you." We have no example of Christ celebrating birthdays in connection with holy days or feasts—or at all. In fact, He says, "In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).
The Christmas holiday is spiritually misleading. The emphasis on the "mother and child" distracts from the Father-Son relationship that God's Word focuses on (John 10:30). Christ is reduced to a helpless baby, while Mary is deified and revered. Even Joseph is given more attention than Christ's real Father, the great God of heaven and earth!
Christmas keepers claim that they give gifts on that day because Christ received gifts. The truth is that the wise men brought gifts to the King of the Jews—not when he was born, or when He was an infant, but later when He was a young child (Matthew 2:1-2, 7-11). The gifts were not given to honor His birth, but to show esteem to a king as was the custom in the Middle East.
Further, the wise men did not exchange gifts with each other. So why do people today exchange gifts? Because the origins of these customs are based in paganism! It is interesting to note that offerings to churches decline at this time of year because people are spending their money on each other. How hypocritical!
The worst part of this holiday is that it turns people's hearts away from God. By receiving gifts and by drunkenness and gluttony, individuals are self-gratified, which inevitably leads to sin and crime. Police forces work rigorously to cope with the increased murders, suicides, robberies, and domestic disturbances.
The fruit of this revelry should of itself show us that this holiday is in no way related to the Father and Son of Righteousness. Their holy days lead to peace, joy, hope, and spiritual growth. That is why God instructed the Israelites not to follow pagan customs or worship Him as the heathen do. He says in Deuteronomy 12:31-32, "You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way. . . . Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it."
God knows that ungodly practices like these will not produce the purity of character He desires to see in each of us. James writes, expounding how something pure cannot originate from what is impure: "Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring can yield both salt water and fresh" (James 3:11-12).
Why meddle with the paganisms in Christmas when we can enjoy the purity of God's real holy days revealed in His Word? In following God's instruction, we will grow in developing the true and godly character that God expects in us.
Martin G. Collins
Where did we get this mistletoe custom? Among the ancient pagans the mistletoe was used at this festival of the winter solstice because it was considered sacred to the sun, because of its supposed miraculous healing power. The pagan custom of kissing under the mistletoe was an early step in the night of revelry and drunken debauchery—celebrating the death of the "old sun" and the birth of the new at the winter solstice. Mistletoe, sacred in pagan festivals, is a parasite!
Holly berries were also considered sacred to the sun-god. The Yulelog is in reality the "sun log." Yule means "wheel," a pagan symbol of the sun. Yet today professing Christians speak of the "sacred yule-tide season!"
Even the lighting of fires and candles as a Christmas ceremony is merely a continuation of the pagan custom, encouraging the waning sun-god as he reached the lowest place in the southern skies!
The Encyclopedia Americana says: "The holly, the mistletoe, the Yule log . . . are relics of pre-Christian times." Of paganism!
The book Answers to Questions, compiled by Frederick J. Haskins, found in public libraries, says: "The use of Christmas wreaths is believed by authorities to be traceable to the pagan customs of decorating buildings and places of worship at the feast which took place at the same time as Christmas. The Christmas tree is from Egypt, and its origin dates from a period long anterior to the Christian Era."
Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986)
The Plain Truth About Christmas
They did this in their ignorance and their impatience to get things moving. Even though most of the people wanted it, and a renowned religious figure proclaimed it "a feast to the LORD," it did not make it so. God was definitely not positively impressed, nor was Moses. In one of the gravest acts of presumption shown in God's Word, and one of the largest in terms of the number involved, they took it on themselves to add this to the worship of God. What they did was very seriously disrespectful to God; they attempted to configure the nature of God according to their own desires.
Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." People say they keep Christmas and Easter to worship Christ, but they are also defining the nature of God according to their own ideas. Just as surely as the ancient Israelites blended paganism with what God truly revealed, so people do today. This is the basic principle of acts of presumption, and each of us has done this, not once, but sadly, repeatedly, even though we may know better.
Jesus says in John 4:24, "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth," meaning we must worship to the fullest of God's intent as revealed in His Word, with every act guided and determined by His revealed truth. Yet, how many corners do we cut when we feel it serves us better at the time?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Presumption and Divine Justice (Part Two)
What did these men do that was so awful? They were priests, sons of Aaron, the High Priest, nephews of Moses. If anybody had a close relationship with God and would receive a measure of leeway in judgment, it was these two. Nevertheless, there was none; with God, there is no respect of persons in judgment (see Romans 2:11). He reacted swiftly and violently, wiping them out on the spot. This incident involved no Temple prostitutes, no human sacrifices, just "strange fire." Surely, such a little thing would not matter! God's reaction allowed no time for a trial; there was just a summary execution, a terrifying supernatural judgment by God.
Verse 6 contains an interesting sidelight to this violent event. Undoubtedly, Aaron was shocked into an emotional reaction that may have ranged from pitiful wailing to a consuming anger toward God, but Moses cautioned him to control himself and give no outward demonstration of his emotional state! Why? Moses understood that they had sinned grievously and got what they deserved. Aaron was told that, despite the shocking nature of what had happened, he should express no disagreement with God's judgment.
Consider this in a larger context. Beginning in Exodus 40:1, the Tabernacle, its altar, and the laver were erected and the interior furniture arranged, then all was consecrated in a solemn ceremony. At that point (verse 34), God came to dwell in the Tabernacle.
Leviticus 1 follows the sequence of events, showing God giving the sacrificial rituals to be performed at the Tabernacle. In Leviticus 8, Aaron and the priesthood are officially consecrated. In Leviticus 9:1, the priesthood's ministry formally begins. In verse 24, a startling occurrence takes place during that first offering: ". . . and fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar." This signaled God's acceptance, showing that all had been done according to His will.
However, there is more to this story, giving us understanding of the term "strange fire" that follows in chapter 10. Within the instructions regarding the sacrifices, Leviticus 6:12-13 gives the priests an interesting charge:
And the fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not be put out. And the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and lay the burnt offering in order on it; and he shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. A perpetual fire shall burn on the altar; it shall never go out.
The term strange means "what is alien to." Foreigners are called "strangers" in Scripture because they are aliens to Israel and to the covenant (Ephesians 2:12). In this case, the fire used by Nadab and Abihu was alien to what God had commanded regarding fire. Together with Exodus 30:7-9, their infraction becomes clear. The priests were to make the morning and evening incense offerings only with the special incense mixture God commanded, and they were to take the coals for these offerings only from the continually burning fire under the altar of burnt offerings, which He started in Leviticus 9:24.
Aaron was undoubtedly confused and displeased, not understanding what happened, but Moses gave him God's answer. In Leviticus 10:3, the Lord says, "By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified." Nadab and Abihu were among those chosen to come near Him in service. They revealed their disrespect for Him by treating His command regarding the fire as something common. They simply did not follow His instructions.
They added or subtracted to what God said and did, attempting to get by with what they carnally assumed was acceptable to Him. By this incident, holiness is defined. Among those who are consecrated to serve God, His instructions must be explicitly followed. Thus, this example appears especially pointed toward the ministry.
The instructions are not ambiguous. Each step and instrument in the process is designed to teach certain spiritual concepts. They had been completely instructed, so they blatantly twisted God's teaching. In response to Moses, Aaron remained silent, knowing the judgment was correct. This incident is of special importance to us because of the context and because of who we are. The context is the consecration of the priesthood in service to God, and we are, according to I Peter 2, a royal priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices. By this incident, God shows, perhaps more clearly than in any other place, what holiness is in relation to Him.
Holiness is not merely consecration or dedication to a god, but it is both moral and ethical as well. True holiness is what results from His consecration, but the consecration must be combined with our submission to His commands. In pagan religions, a person could be dedicated but not moral, as is clearly shown by the ritual prostitution practiced at their temples. The prostitute was indeed consecrated to her god, but she most certainly was not moral—nor were they who used her services.
Today, a person may claim that his god is the Creator God, but if he is not obedient to the Creator God's commandments, he is merely deluding himself. Sincerity is only part of the picture. We are to worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). The closer one is associated with God's work, the more necessary it is to ensure that the relationship with God is not marred by spiritual blemishes. Otherwise, the person cannot function properly as a channel for God to work through. God will not be glorified before the people unless His servants submit to His commands.
A similar careless notion got Cain into trouble. If we add or omit with knowledge, it is presumption, and presumption springs from pride. It is as if we are telling God He does not know what He is doing. We have elevated ourselves to His level. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else than His will must be our attitude.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Presumption and Divine Justice (Part Two)
Is it any wonder when the clergy—supposedly the guardians of religious purity—think so liberally, that the laity acts the way it does? The clergy shrug off the paganism in Christmas, claiming that it is harmless. Is it? Does it really make any difference whether we celebrate Christmas?
It certainly matters to God, the Lawgiver! It was because of these heathen practices that God drove out the inhabitants of the land. He did not—and does not—want His people to get caught in the process of judgment and punishment that results from broken law!
Notice that God says "that you are not ensnared." In the Bible, a snare is a figurative expression of destruction through deception. The snare itself does not destroy, but it leads to destruction. The Israelites heard these words in the last months before going into the Promised Land. God had set the land aside for them, but the people who inhabited it were still there. It was a ready-made nation for their use. The towns, fortifications, houses, farms, businesses—everything was ready for them to take over.
We too were born into an ready-made society. The world was already here when we came into it, and because we had no alternative, we accepted it without resistance. We absorbed the culture because our parents taught it to us. However, with our calling God now has us moving in the other direction, away from this world. We must reject the false practices of those who have inhabited the land before us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Christmas, Syncretism, and Presumption
Halloween is a custom of the nations. God Himself calls such things abominations, practices that He hates. If we strip away its façade of revelry and feasting, it is idolatrous false worship, honoring spirit beings that are not God. In addition, God never tells us to celebrate this day or in any way to honor the spirits of the dead.
Notice that He warns us not to be "ensnared to follow" the practices of the nations. A snare is a trap designed to catch an unwary animal. The trap itself is hidden, but what is visible is a kind of lure, an attractive trick designed to fool the prey into entering the trap. Once it takes the bait, the gate comes down, a hook comes out, or a spring slams closed on a limb, and the prey is trapped.
God is alerting us to the fact that heathen or ungodly practices—customs, ways of worship, traditions, celebrations—usually have characteristics that appeal to our human nature. They are the lures. We can become caught up in them before we are aware of it. God advises us to watch out for the hidden dangers, the appealing entrapments, that are designed into these holidays.
Many cultureshave a form of Halloween in their tradition. It seems that most of this world's peoples desire to celebrate the dead. The holidays or feasts may vary from place to place, falling on different days and following different customs. The common denominator is that they all honor or remember the dead or unseen spirits.
Mexico has its "Day of the Dead" in which participants give out candies in the shape of skeletons and visit graveyards to commune with the dead by leaving them food. In Japan, they honor their ancestors with various celebrations. Certain African tribes set aside days to honor the unseen spirits, warding off the evil ones and placating the good. German, Scandinavian, Spanish, Italian, and many other cultures have a Halloween-type holiday.
In English-speaking countries, Halloween derives primarily from the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced "sow-in"). Samhain, held on the three days around November 1, was a kind of New Year's celebration and harvest festival all rolled up into one.
The Celts believed that these three days were special because of the transition from the old year to the new. They felt that during this time the boundary between the physical and spiritual worlds relaxed or lifted, allowing spirits to cross over more easily. This idea, of course, terrifies superstitious people—that departed spirits could walk among us, especially those who died in the past year as it was thought these spirits desired to return to the mortal realm. For this reason, they believed they had to appease the spirits to make them go into the spirit world and stay there.
The Celts did this by putting out food and treats so that, when these spirits came floating by their houses, they would pass on. They thought that, if they did not appease the spirits, they would play tricks or put curses on them. Whole villages would unite to drive away the evil spirits, ensuring that the upcoming year would be good. Others among them would hold séances or conduct other kinds of divination by incantation, potion, or trance to contact dead ancestors in hope of receiving guidance and inspiration.
An interesting aspect of this transition time—the three days of Samhain—is that it was considered to be "no time," a time unto itself. Thus, it became a tradition that the order and the rules by which people lived were held in abeyance during them.
All laws went unenforced. The social order was turned upside-down—the fool became king, and the king became the fool. Men dressed as women and vice-versa. People took on different personas, dressing in disguise and acting the part. No work was done during this period of total abandon, for it was a time for revelry, drinking, eating, making and taking dares, and breaking the law. In a word, it was chaos.
Then Roman Catholicism arrived on the scene and "converted" the pagans. It also decreed a day to honor departed saints: May 13, All Saints' Day. The priests instructed the "converted" pagans to keep All Saints' Day, but they continued to celebrate Samhain because it was so much more fun than attending church to pray for the hallowed saints of yesteryear.
To keep them in the fold, in AD 835 Pope Gregory IV officially authorized moving All Saints' Day to November 1 to coincide with Samhain. He allowed the pagan "Christians" to keep their old customs as long as they put a gloss of Christianity on them. Thus, they kept Samhain in the name of Christ to honor the departed saints.
Like Samhain, All Saints' Day began the evening before, which was called All Hallows' Eve, All Saints' Eve, or Halloween. Since then, Halloween has evolved into its present form, in which nothing remotely Christian remains. It is known for all its pre-Christian Celtic practices—particularly the recognition of the spirit world in the form of fairies, witches, ogres, goblins, demons, ghouls, vampires, etc.
Today, "trick-or-treating" is the most recognized of Halloween activities, and it is simply a form of extortion. Children, whether they know it or not, are acting as the spirits who will play a trick or put a curse on the one who does not pay up in food or treats. Divination and séances are also commonly held on October 31. Hooliganism—tricks resulting in vandalism—often reaches its high point on Halloween. For many years, Detroit was the scene of "hell night," in which rampaging young people trashed large areas of the city, setting fires, smashing cars and windows, looting, and generally creating havoc.
The Celtic feast of Samhain still survives in Halloween. It has simply reverted to our ancestors' Celtic practice.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Two arguments are often used to justify Christmas observance.
1) Many will reason this way: "But, even though the exact date of Jesus' birth is unknown, should we not select some date to celebrate as His birthday?" The answer is positively no! Notice the statement quoted from the Catholic Encyclopedia: "Sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthdays." The celebration of birthdays is not a Christian, but a pagan custom, observed by sinners!
2) But, many still reason, "Even so—even though Christmas was a pagan custom, honoring the false sun-god, we don't observe it to honor the false god, we observe it to honor Christ."
But how does God answer in His Word? "Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them [the pagans in their customs] . . . that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the Eternal, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods" (Deuteronomy 12:30-31).
God says plainly in His Instruction Book to us, that He will not accept that kind of worship, even though intended in His honor. To Him, He says, it is offering what is abominable to Him, and therefore it honors, not Him, but false pagan gods. God says we must not worship Him according to the "dictates of our own conscience"—a term we often hear. But Jesus says plainly, "God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). And what is truth? God's Word—the Holy Bible—said Jesus, is truth (John 17:17); and the Bible says God will not accept worship when people take a pagan custom or manner of worship and try to honor Christ with it.
Again, Jesus said: "In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). Christmas observance is a tradition of men, and the commandments of God, as quoted, forbid it. Jesus said, further, "full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition."
That is precisely what the millions are doing today. They ignore the commandment of God. He commands, regarding taking the customs of the pagans and using them to honor or worship God: "Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God." Still, most people today take that command of God lightly, or as having no validity whatsoever, and follow the tradition of men in observing Christmas.
Make no mistake! God will allow you to defy and disobey Him. He will allow you to follow the crowd and the traditions of men. He will allow you to sin. But He also says there is a day of reckoning coming. As you sow, so shall you reap! Jesus was the living Word of God in Person, and the Bible is the written Word of God. And we shall be judged, for eternity, by these words! They should not be taken lightly or ignored.
Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986)
The Plain Truth About Christmas
1 Kings 12:26-33
The religion of Israel began with a man, Jeroboam I, who changed the true worship of God.
• He established a feast in the eighth month to replace the true Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh.
• He may have replaced the Sabbath with Sunday worship.
• He replaced the Levitical priesthood with men of his own choosing.
• Lastly, he replaced God with golden calves in Bethel and Dan.
A religion with such a beginning was doomed to fail, bringing the nation down with it.
When religion is ungodly, its power is destructive, and every institution in the nation suffers. For instance, Amos 2:7 describes a deliberate act of ritual prostitution in a pagan temple: "A man and his father go in to the same girl, to defile My holy name." What was the rationale behind this perverse, immoral act?
Because Baal was neither alive nor a moral force, his worshippers felt they could communicate with him only by ritual actions that portrayed what they were asking him to do. Since Baal was, like almost all ancient deities, a fertility god, the human act of intercourse demonstrated that they wanted Baal to prosper them. But what was its real effect on the participants and the nation? Ritual prostitution only served to erode the family, eventually leading to the destruction of the nation.
Baal was different from his adherents merely in that he was above them. God's difference from us is that He is holy; He is moral and we are immoral. After we accept His calling, He commands us to become moral as He is.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
2 Kings 17:5-17
II Kings 17:7-17 catalogs the sins of Israel:
» Widespread idolatry. Israel "feared other gods" (verse 7). "They built for themselves high places in all their cities . . . . They set up for themselves sacred pillars and wooden images on every high hill and under every green tree; and there they burned incense on all the high places, as the nations had done whom the LORD had carried away before them." (verses 9-11). Further, they "followed idols, became idolaters, and . . . made for themselves a molded image and two calves, made a wooden image and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal" (verses 15-16).
» Pagan Religious Practices. The Israelites "caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and soothsaying, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger" (verse 17).
» Rejection of God's Law. Israel "walked in the statutes of the nations whom the LORD had cast out from before the children of Israel." (verse 8). Verse 15 points out that the people "rejected [God's] statutes and His covenant that He had made with their fathers, and His testimonies which He had testified against them." The prophet Amos particularizes the epidemic of social injustice in the Kingdom of Israel. As an example, notice Amos 2:6-7, where Amos chides the Israelites: ". . . because they sell the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals. They pant after the dust of the earth which is on the head of the poor, and pervert the way of the humble." The Israelites displayed a pandemic failure to love their fellow man.
II Kings 17:5-6 relates the ultimate consequence.
Now the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years. . . . The king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.
Assyria, a kingdom known as much for its innovative weapons as for their brutal implementation, conquered the Kingdom of Israel in 718 BC. So it was that, about 250 years after it was established, the ten-tribed northern kingdom became extinct as a sovereign nation. The Assyrians deported the population en masse from its homeland in Canaan, transplanting it virtually in toto to the southern shores of the Caspian Sea. The Kingdom of Israel fell below the historian's radar.
Searching for Israel (Part Six): Israel Is Fallen, Is Fallen
2 Kings 17:33
This chapter reports on the behavior of the people placed in Israel after Israel's conquest and deportation by Assyria between 722-720 BC. These people, who became known as the Samaritans, feared the Lord but worshipped their own gods. They were afraid of God, but they did not really change their way of life. Thus, they developed a syncretic religious system, a blending of the truth of God and outright paganism. The Jews of Christ's day clearly recognized this putrid blend and despised the Samaritans for it.
What is so interesting is that, by verse 36, God is no longer reporting on the Samaritans but is addressing Israel. In other words, God is saying that He was driven to defeat and scatter Israel because they were guilty of exactly the same sin as the Samaritans! They too had blended the worship of the true God with outright paganism, utterly corrupting the relationship He had established with them.
It is urgent that we understand what is involved here because it reveals the cause of God's anger that led to Israel's defeat and scattering. We must understand that our god is not what we say we worship but what we serve. Our god is what we give our lives over to.
Theoretically, the Israelites did not believe in idols, but in reality, they did. They believed in a Creator God, but they worshipped Him at the shrines they erected to the Baals. While they gave lip service to the Creator, they adopted most of the Canaanitish religion with its lewd immorality, and in actual practice, patterned their life after it. In daily life, they conformed to and reflected the Babylonish system just as Israel does today. This is exactly what God warns us to flee, and the only way to come out of it is by developing and maturing in our relationship with God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Be There Next Year
Not all presumption is careless drifting. Unfortunately, strong evidence exists to show that much of modern liberalism in religion was deliberately planned and executed. A Layman's Guide to Protestant Theology by William Hordern, p. 74, refers to this:
The method of liberalism includes the attempt to modernize Christianity. The world, liberals argue, has changed radically since the early creeds of Christendom were formulated; this makes the creeds sound archaic and unreal to modern man. We have to rethink Christianity in thought forms which the modern world can comprehend. Fosdick argued that we must express the essence of Christianity, its "abiding experiences," but that we must not identify these with the "changing categories" in which they have been expressed in the past. For example, says Fosdick, an abiding experience of Christianity has been its conviction that God will triumph over evil. This has been traditionally pictured in the category of Christ's second coming on the clouds to destroy evil and set up good. We can no longer retain the outworn category, but we can still believe the truth which this ancient thought form was trying to express. We can continue to work in the faith that, through His devoted followers, God is now building His Kingdom and that there will be a renewing of life, individual and social, to bring it into conformity with the will of God. The essence of the faith is thus retained, argues Fosdick, which the thought form in which it was once clothed has been abandoned.
A second aspect of the method of liberalism is its refusal to accept religious belief on authority alone. Instead, it insists that all beliefs must pass the bar of reason and experience. Man's mind is capable of thinking God's thoughts after Him. Man's intuitions and reason are the best clues that we have to the nature of God. The mind must be kept open to all truth regardless of from whence it comes. This means that the liberal must have an open mind; no questions are closed. New facts may change the convictions that have become hallowed by custom and time. The liberal will venture forth into the unknown, firmly believing that all truth must be God's truth. In this spirit, the liberal accepts the higher criticism of the Bible and the theory of evolution. He refuses to have a religion that is afraid of truth or that tries to protect itself from critical examination. (emphasis added)
Is it any wonder, when those who are supposed to be the primary protectors of religious purity think the way they do, that the laity behaves as they do? Does it really make any difference? Certainly, because the almighty God on high definitely thinks it makes a difference!
Hardly anything more clearly illustrates the self-deceived perverseness of human nature as its presumptuous additions of the observation of Christmas and Easter to the worship of the God of the Bible. That Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea is indisputable, but among other things, He was not born on December 25, nor did anybody exchange gifts on that date. Scripture nowhere says there were three wise men, and it is clear they gave gifts only to Christ as King.
Regarding Easter, Jesus was not resurrected on a Sunday morning, nor was He crucified on a Friday afternoon. It is impossible to squeeze three days and three nights, which Jesus Himself said would be the length of time He would spend in the tomb (Matthew 12:40), between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning. Even so, fantastically detailed and emotionally appealing traditions have presumptuously been built around both these events and have been taught to a deceived public as though they were true.
Beyond what has been already mentioned regarding these days, where in God's Word does He command that we believe and do these commonly accepted practices? Men have presumptuously taken them upon themselves.
The addition of Christmas and Easter to Christianity happened so long ago that they have come to be accepted as part of the Christian religion, and most people celebrate them without thought. Nevertheless, adding to so-called Christian beliefs has not ended—in fact, it is still happening.
The late Pope John Paul II was an ardent ecumenist. He circled the globe many times in his travels and embraced in conference many non-Catholics in his effort to bring all into one fold. His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, has pledged to continue that effort. Recently, their representatives achieved a decisive victory in forging a much closer alliance with the Anglican Church. However, Anglican leaders could take this step only by abandoning the firm foundation of a former doctrine and thus joining Catholics in accepting a presumptuous addition that the latter already believe.
A headline in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, May 17, 2005, reads, "Catholics, Anglicans reach accord on Mary: Statement closes big gap between churches." The article explains:
The historical separation between Roman Catholics and Anglicans has narrowed after both found common ground on the position of Mary, mother of Jesus, according to a document conceived at the highest church levels. . . . Anglicans, already close to Catholics because of liturgy and traditions, have moved even closer through their understanding of Mary as outlined in the joint statement, which took five years and an international committee to complete.
Bringing back the departed brethren has been a strong focus of the Catholic Church since the Counter-Reformation that followed the Protestant Reformation, which had dealt Catholicism a powerful blow in the sixteenth century. However, it was not until the "New Age Movement" began in earnest during the mid-1970s—with its strong, insistent call for a paradigm shift toward greater tolerance and radical thinking in religious beliefs and values—that the stage was set for ecumenical efforts to succeed.
The following quotation from the same article publicly undressed, as it were, the Anglican Church:
The document seeks to transcend past controversies on Catholic dogma, including the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary. While not spelled out specifically in the Bible, such beliefs can be interpreted through Scripture, according to the 80-paragraph document.
The result might be an elevation, or at least a heightened acknowledgment, of the place of Mary—particularly for Anglicans, the denomination born in England during the Reformation and called the Episcopal Church in the United States.
Anglicanism is considered closest to Catholicism because it gives Mary a pre-eminent place among the saints, includes her in Communion prayers and holds six Marian feast days.
Among other matters, Catholics and Protestants disagree over the Catholic dogmas of the Immaculate Conception—the assertion that Mary lived a life free from sin from the moment she was conceived—and the Assumption, the belief that her body and soul were taken into heaven when her earthly life ended.
Those dogmas have "created problems not only for Anglicans but also for other Christians," the document said, largely because they are not explicitly supported by Scripture.
But those dogmas also "can be said to be consonant with the teaching of the Scriptures and the ancient common traditions," said the document, titled "Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ." (emphasis added)
How can either of these two doctrines be biblically derived? They cannot! The Catholic Church has long acknowledged that the role they give Mary cannot be supported by Scripture alone, so now both the Catholic and Anglican churches have admitted through the publication of this document that these teachings are based upon mere human tradition.
In the distant past, someone decided that honoring Mary in this way would be "nice," or perhaps he used the word "appropriate," because she was chosen by God to bear His Son in her womb, and besides, she seems to be such a good woman. However, the Scriptures call for no such elevation in status, and they certainly never claim that she lived a perfect, sinless life! Now the Roman Catholic Church has gone so far as to claim she is co-savior with Christ!
Such presumption seems beyond the bounds of honest, spiritual reasoning, but the Catholic Church has similarly declared Sunday to be the day of worship, replacing God's Sabbath. They have published articles openly admitting that, if one uses the Bible alone, then the Sabbath is the only acceptable day of worship. In those same articles, they have also been honest in stating that they have made this change from Sabbath to Sunday on their own authority. On these issues, their presumption is not hidden!
But this is arrogant and bold hubris on a massive scale, enabled only because Satan has managed to deceive the whole world (Revelation 12:9). The overwhelming majority of people calling themselves Christian are so unconcerned—that is, tolerant and careless—they live thinking that it does not matter to God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Presumption and Divine Justice
Here, God supernaturally reveals to the prophet some of the secret sins of the nation of Israel. One of these sins is lamenting for a pagan god named Tammuz. Who was Tammuz and why would women be weeping for him? The New Encyclopedia Britannica writes in the article "Tammuz": ". . . in Mesopotamian religion, god of fertility embodying the powers for new life in nature in the spring" (Vol. 11, p. 532).
This "nature god" was associated with two yearly festivals, one held in late winter and the other in early spring.
The cult of Tammuz centred around two yearly festivals, one celebrating his marriage to the goddess Inanna, the other lamenting his death at the hands of demons from the netherworld. During the 3rd dynasty of Ur (c. 2112—c. 2004 BC) in the city of Umma (modern Tell Jokha), the marriage of the god was dramatically celebrated in February—March, Umma's Month of the Festival of Tammuz. . . . The celebrations in March—April that marked the death of the god also seem to have been dramatically performed. Many of the laments for the occasion have as a setting a procession out into the desert to the fold of the slain god. (ibid. Emphasis ours.)
What does the worship of Tammuz have to do with the sign of the cross? According to historian Alexander Hislop, Tammuz was intimately associated with the Babylonian mystery religions begun by the worship of Nimrod, Semiramis, and her illegitimate son, Horus. The original form of the Babylonian letter T was † (tau), identical to the crosses used today in this world's Christianity. This was the initial of Tammuz. Referring to this sign of Tammuz, Hislop writes:
That mystic Tau was marked in baptism on the foreheads of those initiated into the Mysteries. . . . The Vestal virgins of Pagan Rome wore it suspended from their necklaces, as the nuns do now. . . . There is hardly a Pagan tribe where the cross has not been found. . . . [T]he X which in itself was not an unnatural symbol of Christ, the true Messiah, and which had once been regarded as such, was allowed to go entirely into disuse, and the Tau, "†", the sign of the cross, the indisputable sign of Tammuz, the false Messiah, was everywhere substituted in its stead. (The Two Babylons, 1959, p. 198-199, 204-205)
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
The Cross: Christian Banner or Pagan Relic?
Notice the emphasis on the personal pronoun "My." The source of the law or the values we submit to is the sovereign. This aids us greatly in determining whether idolatry is present and how our conscience will respond.
God forcefully contrasts His laws with pagan commands and practices. He clearly implies that those who submit to pagan commands are guilty of putting another god before the true God. The Israelites—in sincerity and a clear conscience, perhaps even fervently—brutally sacrificed their sweet and innocent firstborn in the fires to Molech, and all the while they were guilty of a horrible, vicious idolatry!
Today, we may not throw babies onto Molech's altar, but we abort 4,200 pregnancies a day, ending the lives of these potential members of God's Family in the name of free choice and self-concern. The law of the land permits this atrocity! If that is not idolatry, what is? What kind of morality, what religion, permits men to enact such heinous laws? People have become blinded by focusing on their own pleasure, failing to see even that murder is involved, let alone the idolatry. God's law nowhere permits such a depraved activity.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment (1997)
We can observe a connection between prosperity and the increase of altars and the Laodicean's making a poor judgment of his spiritual condition. The Revised Standard Version translates these phrases in Hosea 10:1 as, "The more his fruit increased the more altars he built; as his country improved he improved his pillars."
Both altars and pillars are references to religion - specifically, pagan religion. The plural terms reflect a typically carnal conclusion that numerical increase indicates growth and of a sort that is good because God must surely approve. Growth in the number of places of worship would convince most that religion is flourishing.
Religion, though, is different from secular pursuits. The greatest Teacher and Pastor who ever graced this earth preached to tens of thousands of people, yet ended His ministry with only 120 converts. Moreover, He calls the church a "little flock," signifying that it would never grow large (Luke 12:32). Using numbers as the standard, Jesus was an outright failure! Any large Billy Graham evangelistic campaign produces more "conversions" each night than Jesus had during His entire ministry.
Many comparisons are elusive and easily manipulated, not deserving to be depended upon as true evaluations of quality. For instance, Americans tend to rate the greatness of a city by the size of its population. But is New York City really the greatest American city? Does it really deserve to be called "the Big Apple"? In the public mind, the strength of a commercial business is measured by its income. If a business does a million dollars more business this year than last, then it is considered to be flourishing. Evaluating in this manner is one thing that gets the Laodicean in trouble. Religion, however, is not that sort of commodity at all; it is spirit.
We sometimes say, "So and so is a big man." What do we mean by this? The person may not be physically impressive, but we suggest the greatness of his influence. Isaiah 53:2 says of Jesus, "He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him there is no beauty that we should desire Him." Likewise, according to tradition, the apostle Paul was not a physically impressive man. The spirituality of these men made them great, but this quality cannot be measured numerically because spirit involves many intangibles. Thus, the ultimate measure of a Christian is qualitative not quantitative. It is not a question of how many but of what sort.
Hosea 10:1-2 is an almost perfect foundation for understanding the erroneous judgment the Laodicean makes - and thus the substance of his spiritual problem. An additional historical reference in Amos adds perspective to this condition. Amos approaches Israel's spiritual problems from a somewhat different angle than Hosea. He shows the people as having all the forms of the true religion, yet because it lacks substance, they are well off but almost totally lacking in social justice. They take care of themselves but not their relationship with God or with their neighbors.
Hosea says that Israel "brings forth fruit for himself." In Revelation 3, Laodicea is contrasted to Philadelphia. The Philadelphian loves God and his brother, but the Laodicean loves himself as exhibited by what he spends his time doing. The Laodicean carries the name "Christian," but he is not serving the Lord Christ except in a most passive manner. He serves himself, which is why he says he needs nothing. He does not need even God! Laodiceanism is perhaps the most subtle of all forms of idolatry.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Be There Next Year
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
It is essential that we look at the Old Testament as a Christian book that was purposely written with the Christian in mind.
It is easy for us to think of the Old Testament as the book of Judaism, and that Christianity's roots are in Judaism. In fact, this idea is readily accepted in the "Christian world," but it is not true—not true in the least, except that there are some shared beliefs. If it were true, its modern corollary would be that Christianity's roots are also in paganism, because some of the concepts that pagans have are also shared with Christianity. That, incidentally, is what one large church has claimed in its writings about the holy days—that they actually derive from paganism.
The truth is that Judaism is a corruption of the religion God gave to Moses. It, too, was syncretic: part pagan, part truth, bound together by their own reasoning. In many places, Jesus corrected and railed against the Sadducees, the scribes, and the Pharisees. He said directly that they had rejected God's commandments in order to keep their own traditions. God's commandments are in the Old Testament; the Jews' traditions are not, and they are what the Jews lived by. Therefore, how can we say that Judaism came out of the Old Testament? God called the people out of Judaism to bring them into Christianity, just as today God is calling people out of a syncretic Christianity in order to bring them into true, biblical Christianity.
If Judaism really were God's religion, why did He not fix it from within? The period between the Testaments—between Malachi and Matthew—covered roughly 400 years in which a great deal took place. The record of Judaism during that time, particularly the history of the high priests, is much like that of the Papacy during the Middle Ages.
True Christianity's roots are in the truth of God—not only in the Old Testament, but also in the New. Judaism, though, rejects the New Testament, claiming the Old Testament as their book exclusively, and that perception is very strong to all. This world's Christianity claims the New Testament as its exclusive domain and virtually—and practically—ignores the Old Testament.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 16)
Several years ago, WorldNetDaily published a controversial exposé that spotlighted one of the more frequent skirmishes in our current culture war. Masterfully written by Joe Kovacs, "Christmas in America becomes battleground" reveals the pagan origins of this esteemed tradition and demonstrates why increasing numbers of "fundamentalist Christians" are realizing that one cannot "put Christ" back into something in which He never was.
Apologist C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, asserts that one of Satan's most common ploys is to "send error into the world in pairs"—pairs of opposites—"and then he encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking, Which is the worst?" Satan persuades us to argue over two options, or two points of view, neither one of which is true. Regardless of which side carries the argument, Satan wins the day.
In the current war over Christmas and religious symbols, Satan has pitted the secular humanists, who want to blot out Christianity and encourage almost any other form of worship, against mainstream Christians, who are fighting for the right to worship as they see fit by putting evergreen trees in schools per Jeremiah 10:2-5. Atheists and agnostics arrayed against Christmas-bent "Christians"—for whom do we root?
The truth of the matter is that Satan is the real winner regardless of the outcome.
As Mr. Kovacs' article shows, the truth about the pagan origins of Christmas is easily researched. Any good encyclopedia will show that the timing and trappings of this celebration long predate Christianity. December 25 has been a focal point of sun-worship for millennia. The pagan origins of this day are so well-documented that the real question is, "What business do Christians have in trying to "Christianize" something that has been blatantly anti-God from the very beginning?" Is this worshipping God in spirit and in truth?
God was so concerned that ancient Israel would begin adopting the pagan ways of the Canaanites—even under the auspices of worshipping the true God—that He gave the children of Israel a categorical warning:
When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, "How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise." You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. (Deuteronomy 12:29-32)
God is very specific in the way that He wants to be worshipped! He has not given us permission to worship Him in just any way that seems right to us. He warns His people specifically in these verses, as well as in Revelation 22:18-19, not to add to His instructions, nor to take away from them, and this is clearly within the context of adopting pagan practices in conjunction with worshipping Him. Christmas may not involve physical child-sacrifice—although in spirit millions of children are being sacrificed on the altar of materialism—but the stench of this celebration is odious nonetheless because it is still idolatry: replacing the true worship of God with a false one.
The Bible does not specify when Jesus Christ was born (although the best deduction is that it was in the autumn—see "When Was Jesus Born?" Forerunner, December 1994). More importantly, the Bible does not give any instruction in celebrating His birth, nor any example of the first-century church doing so, nor any indication that the celebration of birthdays is pleasing to God at all! Even this idea has come from paganism, rather than from God's Instruction Book for mankind. Is this, then, worshipping God in spirit and in truth?
Is it any wonder that our Savior says, "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:8-9); and "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition" (Mark 7:9); and "[you make] the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do" (Mark 7:13)? Human nature has the rebellious proclivity to do only what it wants to do, even when told by God Himself to do things differently (Romans 8:7)!
We see, then, that on one pole are the secularists, who believe the lie that God should not be a part of their lives. On the other pole are mainstream Christians, who believe the lie that syncretism is an acceptable form of worship. But in either case, the trail of lies indicates who the real "holiday spirit" is.
David C. Grabbe
Cogitations on Christmas
Galatia was not a city but a province in Asia Minor. The church membership was undoubtedly composed mainly of Gentiles, and the males were physically uncircumcised (Galatians 5:2; 6:12-13). In looking at Paul's initial dealings with these people, we find that they had a history of worshipping pagan deities.
In Lystra, God healed a crippled man through Paul (Acts 14:8-18). The people of the area were so astonished at this miracle that they supposed Barnabas and Paul, whom they called Zeus and Hermes (verse 12), to be pagan gods! They wanted to sacrifice to them, and would have, if the apostles had not stopped them (verses 13-18). This shows that the people in Galatia were generally superstitious and worshipped pagan deities.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Does Paul Condemn Observing God's Holy Days?
In Romans 1:18-20, Paul asserts that things involving God's existence, power, and nature are clearly seen, but mankind suppresses the truth. What God wants man to know, man willingly ignores and suppresses through the addition of beliefs, customs, and traditions that cloak the truth. The truth is still there, hidden behind a screen of falsehoods that most never attempt to remove.
Theologians call this process syncretism. According to Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, it is "the combination of different forms of belief or practice." Syncretism could possibly describe other fields, like philosophy, but scholars use it almost exclusively in religious contexts. Syncretize, the verb form of the word, is very revealing. It means "to attempt to unite and harmonize especially without critical examination or logical unity." In other words, those who syncretize will frequently attach one belief or practice to their religion without trying to ascertain whether it is proper to do so.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Christmas, Syncretism, and Presumption
Paul is most likely still addressing Peter and the other Jews who were acting unfaithfully. This flows smoothly from what Paul said to Peter "before them all" (verse 14), and it is not until the beginning of chapter 3 that Paul directly addresses the Galatians again.
They were Jews by nature, or by birth, as opposed to the Gentiles, who were, by definition, of a different race. Paul does not mean that one race was inherently righteous and the other was inherently sinful. However, the Greek word used here for "sinners" is hamartoolos, which often signifies a pagan, one who had no knowledge of the true God. This is not a condemnation of Gentiles in general, but rather a statement that they had no connection with God by heritage as the Jews did. Romans 14:3 states the principle that whatever is not of faith is sin, so anyone not knowing God—and thus not having faith in Him—would be a "sinner." To show further that Paul is not playing favorites, Romans 3:9 shows that both groups of people (Jew and Gentile) were sinners in terms of coming short of the glory of God and breaking His law.
David C. Grabbe
The word translated here "foolish" means unintelligent or unwise, and by implication sensual. This implication is very interesting when considered in light of what the letter to the Galatians is fundamentally about: The Galatians were trying to use the rites and ceremonies and physical requirements of Gnostic Judaism to "work" their way into God's Kingdom. Their emphasis was on what they were doing, rather than on God's work in them. Their focus was on things dealing with the senses; things that would be, by definition, sensual—not in terms of being sexual or provocative, but rather indicating the emphasis on the physical senses.
This word (anoeetoi—Strong's #453) is a derivative of a negative particle and noeo (Strong's #3539), which means to exercise the mind, observe, to comprehend, heed, consider, perceive, think, or understand. So the word foolish is the opposite (because of the negative an) of all these things. The Galatians, then, were not exercising their minds; they were unobservant, uncomprehending, unheeding, inconsiderate, imperceptive, non-thinking, and non-understanding. They were not thinking things all the way through, and not fully considering all of the aspects of the way they were living. They were unable to see that their ideas and views did not add up—that there were some obvious gaps in their understanding that had brought them to the condition they were in.
Paul here is continuing with a theme from Galatians 1:4-9—namely, that the Galatians were falling away ("so soon removed") from the original teaching that had been given to them by God through His human servants. The very foundation of the New Covenant with God is that we can build a relationship with God directly—because of the sacrifice of Christ. For them even to make the covenant with God properly, it was a requirement that they understand that justification by means of a sinless sacrifice was the only way it is possible for us to come into God's presence! Our own righteousness is as "filthy rags" in comparison to God's; our works simply do not amount to enough to even out the scales. But this does not negate the necessity of working! The Galatians' problem was that they thought their personal righteousness was sufficient—and if that was the case, then truly there was no need for Christ to die.
Paul refers to the Galatians being "bewitched." This word means "to malign," or "to fascinate by false representation." The Galatians were drawn in—their fascination was piqued by these Jewish and Gnostic ideas. It did not take long for them to begin slipping spiritually, and a large part of this was because of their misplaced faith. They had more faith in themselves, in their own works, to save them than they had in Christ's crucifixion, resurrection, and intercession! They did not see or know God clearly enough, and the absence of Him in their lives created a void that was quickly and easily filled by these false ideas.
This is the only place in the New Testament where this word ("bewitched") is used (Strong's #940), but numerous other verses speak of this principle. Paul is speaking of this principle when he says in Galatians 1:7-9 not to deviate from this gospel message even if an "angel" from heaven gave them different instructions! The Galatians were weak enough in the faith that they could be easily deceived and drawn away if one of Satan's angels were to appear before them.
Matthew 24:24 speaks of false Christs—false ideas, pictures, impressions about Christ—arising, as well as false prophets, who will be able to manifest terrific signs and wonders to the extent that even the elect of God could be deceived. This is why we have to have such a concrete picture in our minds of what "Christ" is comprised of so that when we begin to hear about or see miraculous things, our faith will not be shaken as the Galatians' was.
David C. Grabbe
At this point in his epistle, it occurs to Paul that it would only be normal for someone to ask the question, "What, then, was the purpose of the Old Covenant?" Thus, verse 19 begins with, "What purpose then does the law serve?" This broad question covers many more specific ones: Why was it needed? Why did God call Israel out of Egypt? Why did God write His Ten Commandments on tables of stone with His own finger? Why did God have Moses write the statutes and judgments in a book? Why did God establish the Levitical priesthood, the Tabernacle/Temple worship, the washings, oblations, and the sacrifices? What was the purpose of all the rules and regulations of the Old Covenant? Such questions would naturally come to the mind of anyone reading Paul's letter since he emphasizes that our salvation through Christ fulfills the promise made to Abraham. What need is there for another covenant?
The answer he gives is a key to understanding much of everything else he says in Galatians: "It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made." "It was added" means that the Mosaic covenant was in addition to the one God had made with Abraham. But what "transgressions"? Abraham obeyed all of God's laws, commandments, statutes, and ordinances (Genesis 26:5). He taught God's laws to Isaac, who taught them to Jacob. However, after Israel was in Egypt for many years, they forgot them and lived in ignorant transgression of them. Having absorbed so much Egyptian culture in their sojourn, they were even ignorant of the Sabbath day. Paul explains that God "added" the Old Covenant because Israel had gone so far into sin when they lived in Egypt.
Therefore, God had to call Israel out of Egypt and teach them His laws all over again to prepare them for the coming of Christ. He wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone, and Moses wrote the statutes and judgments in a book so that Israel would have a permanent record of His laws and statutes throughout the centuries. God gave them rituals of worship that made them different from other nations, and He forbade them to have anything to do with foreign, pagan customs. Circumcision identified them as a separate and distinct people. These rules and regulations put a hedge around Israel (Isaiah 5:5; Matthew 21:33) to preserve them pure for the coming of Christ.
Just prior to the scripture Paul quotes in Galatians 3:12, God says in Leviticus 18:3,
According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances.
For years, people have wondered how anyone could have transgressed the laws before they were given. Simply put, Paul is talking about the laws of God which have been in full force since creation! When he writes that the Old Covenant was added "till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made," he means that the Old Covenant was temporary; Christ would replace it with the New Covenant. Rather than saying that any of God's laws had become obsolete, he is explaining how important it was to preserve the knowledge of God's laws in Israel to prepare them for the coming of Christ!
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
What Was the Law 'Added Because of Transgressions'?
The common, traditional explanation of Galatians 4:9-10 is that Paul is reprimanding the Galatians for returning to Old Testament observances that were a form of "bondage." Insisting that Paul taught that the Old Testament law was "done away" (Colossians 2:14), they conclude that Christians should not keep the days that God had commanded Israel to keep. In verse 10, Paul mentions observances of "days and months and seasons and years." Some contend that these observances refer to God's Sabbath and holy days commanded in the Old Testament. But this interpretation overlooks many foundational points.
Galatia was not a city but a province in Asia Minor. The church membership was undoubtedly composed mainly of Gentiles, and the males were physically uncircumcised (Galatians 5:2; 6:12-13). In looking at Paul's initial dealings with these people, we find that they had a history of worshiping pagan deities. In Lystra, a city in Galatia, God healed a crippled man through Paul (Acts 14:8-18). The people of the area were so astonished at this miracle that they supposed Barnabas and Paul, whom they called Zeus and Hermes (verse 12), to be pagan gods! They wanted to sacrifice to them, and would have, if the apostles had not stopped them (verses 13-18). This shows that the people in Galatia were generally superstitious and worshiped pagan deities.
The major theme of the Galatian epistle is to put them "back on the track" because someone had been teaching "a different gospel," a perversion of the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-7). The Galatians had derailed on their understanding of how sinners are justified. False teachers in Galatia taught that one was justified by doing physical works of some kind. The majority of evidence indicates that the false teachers were teaching a blend of Judaism and Gnosticism. The philosophy of Gnosticism taught that everything physical was evil, and that people could attain a higher spiritual understanding through effort. It was the type of philosophy that its adherents thought could be used to enhance or improve anyone's religion. In Paul's letter to the Colossians, we read of this same philosophy having an influence on the church there. It was characterized by strict legalism, a "taste not, touch not" attitude, neglect of the body, worship of angels, and a false humility (Colossians 2:18-23).
What, then, were the "days, months, seasons and years" that Paul criticizes the Galatians for observing? First, Paul nowhere in the entire letter mentions God's holy days. Second, the apostle would never refer to holy days that God instituted as "weak and beggarly elements." He honored and revered God's law (Romans 7:12, 14, 16). Besides, he taught the Corinthians to observe Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread (I Corinthians 5:7-8), and he kept the Sabbath and holy days himself (Acts 16:13; 18:21; 20:6; I Corinthians 16:8).
When the scriptures in question are put into context, the explanation of what these days were becomes clear. In Galatians 4:1-5, Paul draws an analogy in which he likens the Jew to a child who is waiting to come into an inheritance and the Gentile to a slave in the same household. He explains how, before the coming of Christ, the spiritual state of the Jew was no different from the Gentile because neither had had their sins forgiven nor had they received God's Spirit. Prior to the coming of Christ, both Jews and Gentiles were "in bondage under the elements of the world" (verse 3).
The word "elements" is the Greek stoicheion, which means any first thing or principle. "In bondage under the elements of the world" refers to the fact that the unconverted mind is subject to the influence of Satan and his demons, the rulers of this world and the authors of all idolatrous worship. Satan and his demons are the origin, the underlying cause, of the evil ways of this world, and all unconverted humans are under their sway. "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). Paul is saying that both Jews and Gentiles had been in bondage to sin.
In Galatians 4:8, Paul brings up the subject of the idolatry and paganism that they had participated in before their conversion. "But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods." This obviously refers to the worship of pagan deities (Acts 14:8-18). He is making it clear that God had called them out of that way of life. Paul continues this thought in verse 9, where his obvious concern was that the Galatians were returning to the way of life from which God had called them. The "weak and beggarly elements" were demon-inspired, idolatrous practices, NOT something God had commanded. "Elements" here is the same word, stoicheion, translated "elements" in verse 3. An extension of stoicheion can refer to the heavenly bodies that regulate the calendar and are associated with pagan festivals. The apostle condemns the practices and way of life that had been inspired by Satan and his demons, the principal cause of all the world's evil. Paul recognized that the Galatians had begun to return to their former slavish, sinful practices.
It is evident that the "days, months, seasons and years" Paul refers to in verse 10 were the pagan, idolatrous festivals and observances that the Galatian Gentiles had observed before their conversion. They could not possibly be God's holy days because these Gentiles had never observed them before being called, nor would Paul ever call them "weak and beggarly." Rather, they were turning back to their old, heathen way of life that included keeping various superstitious holidays connected to the worship of pagan deities.
Far from doing away with God's holy days, these scriptures show that we should not be observing "days, months, seasons and years" that have their roots in paganism, such as Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, Halloween, and any other days that originated from the worship of pagan gods.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Does Paul Condemn Observing God's Holy Days?
For centuries, people have tried to use Colossians 2:16-17 to say that Christians are not required to observe the Sabbath and holy days. This distortion stems partly from a misunderstanding of Colossians 2:14, which many claim says that the law was abolished and nailed to the cross, and partly from having a carnal mind, which is enmity against God and His law (Romans 8:7). They reason that Paul is saying in verse 16, "Therefore [since the law is done away] don't let anyone condemn you for eating unclean meats or not observing the Sabbath or holy days." Consequently, they interpret verse 17 to mean that Paul dismisses the Sabbath and holy days as unimportant symbols of future events, while emphasizing that the only truly substantive Christian need is belief in Christ. From this, they conclude that we should not concern ourselves about these days because, since Christ died, their observance is not required. This is not true.
The Colossians had been significantly influenced by pagan philosophies that taught that perfection could be achieved through self-denial and abstinence from pleasure. As a result, Colossae tended to be an ascetic community which adhered to a religion of severity, and its citizens thought anyone who was religious should behave as they did. Many of the people who had come into the Christian church in Colossae had brought their pagan philosophies with them, and they soon began to have an adverse influence on the entire congregation at Colossae. Paul corrects the people in the church who were doing this in Colossians 2:20-23. It appears some of the people had begun thinking that this self-imposed asceticism could somehow contribute to their salvation and had begun turning away from trusting in Christ. They had more faith in their unchristian works. Paul warns them about this in Colossians 2:8.
God had called the people in the church at Colossae out of their pagan, ascetic way of life, and they had begun to learn how to enjoy life in a balanced manner as God intended. This included eating meat, drinking wine, and enjoying food and fellowship when observing God's Sabbath and festivals.
Because the converted Colossians were learning how to enjoy life as God intended, the people in the ascetic community began to look down on them and condemn them. In addressing these problems, Paul reminds the Colossians that they are complete in Jesus Christ; they have no need for the pagan philosophies of this world (Colossians 2:9-10).
Paul explains in verse 16 why they need not be bothered by the attitude of the Colossian society toward their practices and way of life in the church. To paraphrase, "Do not worry about what the people in the community think about your enjoyment of eating good food, drinking wine, and joyously celebrating the Sabbath and the festivals. Christ has conquered the world and all of its rulers, so we do not need to be concerned about what the world thinks about us."
In verse 17, Paul mentions that the Sabbath and holy days are "shadows," symbols or types, of future events in the plan of God. The Sabbath is a type of the Millennium when Jesus Christ and the saints will rule the world for a thousand years. The holy days symbolize various steps in the plan of God and remind us annually of God's great purpose in creating mankind.
A literal translation of the last few words of Colossians 2:17 reads, "but the body of Christ." What is the body of Christ? I Corinthians 12:27 shows that the body of Christ is the church! The exact same Greek expression that is translated "body of Christ" in I Corinthians 12:27 (soma Christou) is used in Colossians 2:17. Paul tells the Colossians that they should not let any man judge them or call them into question about these things but rather let the church make those judgments. He is pointing the members to the example of the spiritual leaders of the church who set the tone and pattern of worship on the Sabbath and holy days, exhorting them not to worry about what anyone in the community thinks about them. A similar exhortation is given in Colossians 2:18-19.
Far from doing away with the observance of the Sabbath and holy days, Colossians 2:16-17 is one of the strongest proofs that the early church kept these days and that Paul taught the Gentiles to keep them.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Are the Sabbath and Holy Days Done Away?
1 Peter 1:18
Before repentance, our "love" for God was like what the uncalled in the world have for Him to this day. We loved a concept of God given us by tradition. We even had some part in devising it because we really did not know Him. If we acknowledge this reality, we will discover it was an idol! In principle, it was tantamount to bowing before a statue as the ancient pagans did. Those in the world cannot enter His Kingdom until they worship the true God, which is why the second resurrection is necessary. It is also why God says in such verses as Ezekiel 37:6, "I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord."
The God of the Bible says in His Word that not a single person has ever known Him until He chose to reveal himself because before this happens no one knows what to look for in God. Both testaments say, "There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God" (Romans 3:10-11; Psalm 14:1-3).
Human nature likes to think of itself as possessing certain virtues—that we were generous, kind, good-tempered, sincere, etc.—and that God saw these in us and chose us for His side. How can this be in light of these scriptures? Who is telling the truth? Though some do have virtuous qualities, God does not call such people because of them. Besides, these qualities fall far short of the image into which God is shaping us.
Some people like to say they have always believed God, yet what they believed was an idol, a syncretistic god devised by combining biblical truth and paganism. If what they say were true, Acts 18:27 could not also be true. We believe because faith is God's gift. We have what we have only because we are the objects of His choice. He chose the ones He did simply because He chose them. We can go no further. We have no claim to any praise in this regard. Instead, it should humble us, stun us, into overflowing praise, gratitude, obedience, and zeal that He has given so much to those so undeserving to receive it.
Humility begins when we properly recognize who and what we are in relation to the sovereign Creator and to fellow man, called and uncalled alike. We show humility by the choices we make, and these will largely be determined by our willing recognition of the immense value of God's loving revelation of Himself to us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Seven
1 John 2:15-17
I John 2:15-17 warns us that there is a profound gulf between the Father and the world, and that a Christian is faced with making a choice between them. Spiritually, morally, and ethically, Christianity does not allow for neutrality. God is bringing us into a position where we recognize truth, admit it is true, and make it a part of our lives.
We are learning a new way of life, so He does not want us to be ensnared by the attractiveness of many things that are in the world. We cannot presume that because something appears to be harmless, it would be fine to do "just this one time." Therefore, we have to learn to resist the urge to think and conduct our lives as the world does.
"World" in I John 2 is the Greek cosmos, and its basic meaning is "an ordered system." Because of the disparity between God and this world, it cannot possibly be the world for which God gave His only begotten Son. The world He created He called "very good." Nor is He referring to mankind, also part of His creation. He loves people and desires to save them.
Nevertheless, He does not like man's way of life. This ordered, human-centered system is anti-God and anti-Christ, and Satan sits at its head. This system occupies His creation and consists of people that God loves so much that He sent His Son to die for them, but He does not love the system! It produces people that need to be rescued, and it tends to make them worse and worse.
When God speaks of "the world," He is identifying all of man's purposes, pursuits, pleasures, practices, and places where God is not wanted. Much of this world is religious, cultured, refined, and intellectual, but it is still anti-God and anti-Christ.
Through His calling, God puts us into a position where He forces us to choose between disparate ways of life, and both of them are realities. We must choose either the eternal and worthwhile or the temporal and vain. God is not saying that this world is unpleasant, unattractive, or unappealing, but we have to choose between that reality and His. The sum of this passage is that this ordered system—anti-God yet appealing and attractive—has the power to seduce the believer, to ensnare him and turn him from God. We have to be vigilantly on guard against it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Christmas, Syncretism, and Presumption
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