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'
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
To most people, Valentine's Day would seem to be nothing more than kids exchanging Valentine cards and adults giving chocolates or flowers. But it is harmless only in the eyes of those who do not know any better. As with most worldly festivals with religious overtones, its origins go back long before Christ. And, as we have come to recognize, the Roman Catholic Church "Christianized" it, assimilating pagan beliefs into its own.
Any good encyclopedia or reference material will state where Valentine's Day originated. The American Book of Days by Jan M. Hatch (3rd edition), reads, ". . . association [of Valentine's Day] with lovers is a survival, in Christianized form, of a practice that occurred on February 14, the day before the ancient Roman feast of the Lupercalia. . . " (p. 178).
Holidays and Anniversaries of the World by Laurence Vrdang and Christie N. Donohue, in the article "Valentine's Day," says, "[Valentine's Day is] also believed to be a continuation of the Roman festival of Lupercalia."
The New Standard Encyclopedia, under the article "Valentine," states:
Saint Valentine was an obscure, possibly legendary, martyr who by tradition was put to death by the Romans on February 14, about [AD] 269. This day was made a feast day by the Roman Catholic Church. The date of his death almost coincided with that of the Roman feast of the Lupercalia. . . .The celebration of the two occasions merged.
So Valentine's Day is nothing more than a continuation of Lupercalia.
There is nothing mysterious or secret about this pagan observance, as most of these reference works also have information about Lupercalia. The Encyclopedia Americana, 1996, from the article "Lupercalia," says:
. . . an ancient Roman rite held each February 15 for the fertility god Lupercus. Goats and a dog were sacrificed, and goats' blood was smeared on the foreheads of two young men and wiped off with wool dipped in milk. Young men, wearing only goatskin about their loins, ran around the base of the Palatine hill, striking with goatskin strips any women they met. This was to ease labor for pregnant women and to make the others fertile.
The American Heritage Dictionary, under "Lupercalia," reads, "a fertility festival in ancient Rome, celebrated February 15 in honor of the pastoral god Lupercus." Even the month of February gets its name from this pagan ceremony. The Latin februaue means "to purify" after this so-called "Feast of Purification." Some sources say that the thongs from the skins of sacrificed animals—which the priests used on the evening of February 14 to whip women—were called februa.
Be My Valentine?
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)
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)
A popular question during the Vietnam War was, "What if they threw a war and nobody came?" This illustrates that we condone and lend support to activities we attend. If everyone obeyed God by refusing to keep pagan holidays, one of Satan's ploys to obscure God's plan for mankind would be thwarted. The Bible is very clear that we should avoid, flee, or turn away from the ways of this world and beware of their entry into the church of God (II Timothy 3:1-5).
Martin G. Collins
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
Jeremiah 10:1-5 reveals a principle that we need to consider in terms of Halloween. The context is the heathen practice of idolatry. In this sense, it is ironic that Halloween comes primarily from the Celts, descendants of the Israelites.
God commands us not to learn the way of the Gentiles, the nations who do not have the revelation of God. The Israelites were different from all the nations chiefly because God had revealed Himself to them and given them His law (Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Amos 3:1-2). The Gentiles invented their own futile, meaningless ways of worship because they did not have the truth.
This is the first reason why we should not keep Halloween. It adds nothing good, that is, nothing of God or godliness, to our character. Being devoid of God's truth, it is simply worthless and a waste of time.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
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?
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 Sixteen)
Several years ago, WorldNetDaily published a controversial exposé that spotlighted one of the more frequent skirmishes in our current culture war. 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
What we observe in the world around us confirms that end-time Israel is following the same spiritual pattern that our ancestors established anciently. Human nature does not change. These verses verify that some knowledge of God remains within the Israelitish nations.
However, theirs is not an enlightened, discerning, and intelligent zeal for God. Rather, God says in Hosea 4:6 that His people—in this case meaning ancient Israel—are destroyed for a lack of true knowledge. God then lays the greater blame on the teachers for their failure to teach truth. The Interpreter's Commentary says that "ignorant" in Romans 10:3 can correctly be translated as "ignoring," revealing a deliberate disregarding of God's righteousness.
The broader history of Old Testament Israel shows that God's Word was available, but the people did not access it to seek God. Thus, their ignorance was not completely the teacher's fault; the people should have studied the Bible on their own. Paul explains in Romans 1:18-21 that man is without excuse before Him because knowledge of God is available. The contrast Paul provides in Romans 10:1-3 indicates that the teaching the Israelites received produced at best a vague, superficial base of knowledge about God. This is not a foundation of true knowledge that will work to produce a good relationship between God and man.
We can see an example of this kind of teaching in our time. Most of us have seen what is happening in so many churches these days, most especially in the mega-churches. Their services come across as superficial entertainment that gives people an upbeat social experience that contains some religious instruction. They come up short in teaching high-quality biblical truths to enhance people's relationships with God. It has produced a people who believe that they are saved and going to heaven immediately after death, and who think God's laws are done away. They keep Christmas and Easter, which are obviously pagan holidays, and at the same time fail to keep the Sabbaths, which both Jesus and Paul clearly kept.
How can they be following Christ when they do not do what He did and in fact do what pagans do? Where is God in the minds of those who conduct their lives like this? In truth, what they think about Him is nowhere near the truth because neither they nor their teachers make the effort to know Him (John 17:3).
They know some things about Him, but they do not know Him. If they did, they would be seeking Him, and He would be revealing truth. Where should they be seeking Him? They must begin in the Scriptures. In them, two things are beyond dispute: first, that God is the Supreme Sovereign over His creation, His purpose for creating it, and His plan for fulfilling it; and second, that man is responsible to this awesome Creator.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Sovereignty
The "days and months and seasons and years" of verse 10 do not refer to God's holy days, but rather to pagan, Gentile holidays that the Galatians observed before conversion in service to "those which by nature are not gods," as verse 8 says.
This, in turn, reinforces our understanding of "the elements of the world" in verse 3. It clearly does not say "the elements of God." Just like in Colossians 2, the "elements of the world" are clearly identified as being demons—personal powers that are capable of being worshipped. We are not dealing with something from God. However, they are elements, foundations, of the world.
A second important facet is that verse 3 mentions being "in bondage," that is, we were enslaved to the elements of the world. Bondage suggests something difficult to be borne, of oppression, of captivity, of withholding liberty. Notice James 2:11-12:
For He [God] who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.
Consider this in relation to the bondage of Galatians 4:3. It puts these two concepts into direct opposition. There is a great difference between bondage and liberty; they are, in this sense, mutually exclusive. Galatians 4 is not talking about the law of God being a means of bondage.
Similarly, I John 5:3 says, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome." Bondage is grievous, but keeping of God's law is not. Bondage gives a person difficulty, but keeping the commandments do not, for they are a law of liberty. Keeping God's commandments is freeing, liberating. It is not a burden. Love is never a burden but always supports, frees, and liberates.
It becomes very clear that the "elements of the world" and "bondage" of Galatians 4:3 do not refer to the law of God, nor does verse 10.
Judaism, though it was a very poor interpretation of God's Word, did at least have some basis in the Old Testament. When people read the book of Galatians and see all these references to "law" and "bondage," they immediately assume that Paul is speaking about Judaism. Indeed, Judaism is part of the picture, but not all of it. We can prove this from verse 9: "How is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements. . . ?" It would be about as close to blasphemy as one could get if a person—in this case, God's apostle—were to call something that God gave, intended to be good and liberating, "weak and beggarly" and tending to "bondage"!
Thus, the "days and months and seasons and years" is not something Paul wrote in reference to the law of God or even to Judaism. Instead, they are something apart from both of them.
Though Judaism is clearly within the context of Galatians, so also is pagan Gnosticism—which wormed its way into the church primarily through people in the area becoming members of the church, and through church members' contacts with friends outside of the church. We can tell from books like I, II, and III John that Gnosticism eventually grew to dominate the church of God in Asia Minor.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Four)
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?
An alternate translation may help us to understand what Paul is getting at here: "These are a shadow of future things, but the reality [what is real or firm] belongs to Christ."
Old Testament activities or types point to spiritual realities under the New Covenant. He is not saying that Old Covenant activities no longer have to be observed, but rather that they need to be raised—elevated—to be understood and applied in their God-intended, spiritual sense.
Protestant scholars understand this fact, and they will even remark on it in their commentaries. Notice Conybeare and Howson's The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, page 346: "The festivals observed by the apostolic church were at the first the same with those of the Jews; and the observation of these was continued, especially by the Christians of Jewish birth, for a considerable time."
On page 574, they write: "Nay, more. He himself [Paul] observed the Jewish festivals." This clarifies that Colossians 2:16-17 is not telling us that the festivals—those so-called "Old Testament laws"—are done away. Rather, he is saying that they are to be raised, elevated, understood in a spiritual sense, rather than something that is merely material and physical.
Conybeare and Howson's conclusion is that, contrary to the common misunderstanding of these verses, the Bible and history show that the apostolic church kept God's holy days. Congregations dominated by Gentiles were the first to break away from them, as being too "Jewish," and begin to keep festivals like Christmas and Easter.
However, did keeping pagan festivals show forth the praises of God? The apostles clearly did not think so, or they would have kept them. It begins to become clear that Old Testament activities contain valuable instruction for the new covenant church.
John W. Ritenbaugh
New Covenant Priesthood (Part One)
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