In most Western countries, Christmas Day is celebrated on December 25th as the traditional birthday of Jesus, although no one knows for certain the exact day when Jesus was born, even though we know reasonably well when He was here on Earth. The Bible says: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4), so this was at exactly the right time in God’s master plan.
When this right time had come, God sent an angel named Gabriel to a young woman named Mary, who lived in Nazareth, to tell her that she would have a son and that she should call His name Jesus (Luke 1:26–33). Mary was greatly surprised to hear this because she was not married and so she was a virgin. However, the angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). One reason for this is that when Jesus lived on Earth, not only was He fully human, He was also God incarnate.
An angel from God also appeared in a dream to Joseph, who was engaged to be married to Mary. The angel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20–22).
The word Jesus is the English form of Iesous (Ἰησοῦς), which is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew name Yeshua, a shortened form of Yehoshua (יְהוֹשׁ֫וּעַ). This latter is an abbreviation of God’s four-letter name YHVH (יהוה Jehovah/Yahweh) combined with a form of the Hebrew verb yasha (ישע) meaning to save, deliver, or rescue. Hence the name Jesus means Saviour. The English word Christ is not Jesus’ surname, but is a title. It comes from the Greek Christos (Χριστός), meaning anointed one, which is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew Mashiach (משיח), usually rendered in English as ‘Messiah’. So Jesus Christ means Jesus the Anointed One, or Jesus the Messiah.
Caesar Augustus fulfils an Old Testament prophecy
In due time, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This came about because the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, wanted to have a census conducted and so everyone in the Roman world had to go to their ancestral home town to be registered there (Luke 2:1–7). The Greek wording suggests that this was a census before the famous one under Governor Quirinius (cf. Acts 5:37). Under God’s oversight, Augustus thus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy in Micah 5:2, which said that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
Joseph had to take Mary from Nazareth to his own home town of Bethlehem, a distance of about 110 km (70 miles). While there, Mary gave birth to Jesus (Luke 2:1–7).
The very first people to whom God announced this were some nearby shepherds. An angel told them that Christ the Lord had just been born. When this happened, the glory of the Lord shone around them and a great company of angels appeared, praising God (Luke 2:8–14).
Wise men wondrously worship and wittingly withdraw
A year or so later, some ‘wise men’ (magi, Greek μάγοι magoi) living in another country to the east saw a strange new light in the sky. They thought it was a special star that announced the birth of a new king, whom they were meant to go and worship. Later, when they got to Jerusalem, they went to the palace of King Herod, expecting that this was where any new king would be. Herod was dumfounded. He sent for the Jewish leaders and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They told him that the prophet Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1–6). So off the wise men went again.
The light led them to a house in Bethlehem where the infant Jesus now was. Stars, a conjunction of planets (formerly ‘wandering star’), or a comet, don’t normally move like that, and certainly don’t illuminate just one particular house. Therefore it is more likely that the light that the wise men saw and followed was the glory of God, sometimes called the Shekinah glory or a divine visitation of the presence of God. This was “the glory of the Lord” that had appeared to the shepherds.
When the wise men saw the child Jesus, they worshipped Him and gave Him costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold was a symbol of Jesus’ kingship. Frankincense was incense used by the priests in the worship of God and so represented homage to the Christ-child as God, as well as being a symbol of Jesus’ priesthood. Myrrh was oil used to embalm bodies for burial and so was a symbol of Jesus’ future suffering and death. The Bible doesn’t say how many wise men there were;1 just that there were three gifts.
God warned the wise men in a dream not to go back to Herod. This was because Herod was planning to murder all the male children two years old and under to make sure of killing Jesus, whom he now regarded as a rival. God also warned Joseph in a dream to take Mary and the child Jesus and escape to Egypt (Matthew 2:7–12). The gold was probably God’s provision to pay for their needs there before they could return to Nazareth after Herod died.
Does Christmas have anything to do with Genesis?
Yes, very much so. The Lord Jesus, is none other than the Creator God who brought the whole universe into existence. In his Gospel, the Apostle John, a great creation evangelist, referring to Jesus, tells us that, “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1–3). And the Apostle Paul, speaking of Jesus, tells us that all things “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible … were created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16).
The first reference to Jesus in the Bible is in the promise given to Adam and Eve immediately after they had sinned against God. In Genesis 3:15, God says to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Eve’s descendant would be the Lord Jesus Christ. He is called the “seed” of the woman because He had no human father, but through the miraculous power of God would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:20, 23). He would then live a sinless life, die on the cross for the sins of the whole world, and be resurrected back to life, thereby defeating the power of the devil (Hebrews 2:14). See The Importance of the Resurrection of Christ to our salvation.
Why was it necessary for Jesus to be a descendant of Adam?
In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah calls the coming Messiah a “Kinsman-Redeemer” (Isaiah 59:20). This meant that the Messiah must be a blood-relative of those He redeems. So it was necessary for Jesus to be born into the human race, via physical descent from Mary, a descendant of Adam, not just for Him to suddenly appear, as angels did from time to time in the Old Testament (nor was Mary a sort of surrogate mother). This means that only Adam’s descendants can be saved. Angels could not save us; indeed angels themselves that sinned cannot be saved through the death of Christ (Hebrews 2:16), because they are not Adam’s descendants.
Was Jesus born on Christmas Day?
Nobody knows exactly which day Jesus was born. But an argument against 25 December that some people have made is that shepherds would not have been watching their flocks by night in December because it would have been too cold. But it’s most unlikely that these people have ever been to Bethlehem, because shepherds really do have their flocks out in December. Actually Bethlehem is not usually very cold at Christmas—a ‘white Christmas’ is very rare (although it happened in the severe northern winter of 2013). The average minimum temperature in December is 6°C (43°F), so it is about the same as northern Florida. It is also a lot rainier in December than the previous half-year,2 so much grass had grown by then, so it is a good month for sheep.
These claimants are also likely unfamiliar with sheep farming. Sheep have their own home-grown insulation all over their bodies—their wool, which keeps them warm even in snowy weather, and the wool’s lanolin stops any moisture on the wool from penetrating to the skin. Jacob tended his uncle Laban’s flocks outdoors even when the nights were frosty (Genesis 31:38–40), and this was much further north in Paddan-aram (Haran), so a lot colder than Bethlehem.
If sheep are kept indoors in cold weather they are more likely to catch pneumonia due to a build-up in barns of ammonia and stale moisture that promote the spread of viruses. Sheep are much healthier living outdoors, provided they can shelter from winter winds, such as by means of a few trees.3 Finally, it would be very labour-intensive to provide all the water and grass for a large flock of sheep inside, as well as to regularly clean out their droppings—far better to let them forage.4
The reason that the early Christians chose 25th December as Jesus’ birthday is the Jewish ‘integral year’ tradition: a prophet’s lifespan would be an exact number of years from conception to death. Jesus’ death was calculated as 25 March by the Western Church, and 6 April by the Eastern Church. Therefore this same date was celebrated as the date Christ was conceived. Nine months later is 25 December or 6 January, and the latter date is still celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church (and many branches of the Western Church celebrate ‘Epiphany’ on the same day, now to commemorate the arrival of the magi and their three gifts). Thus Christians were celebrating Christ’s birth on 25 December over 70 years before the Romans copied that date for their Sol Invictus, or ‘Unconquered Sun’ festival. See discussion in Is there anything about Christmas that’s genuinely Christian?
What does Santa have to do with Christmas?
In countries today that celebrate Christmas, it is only Christians who truly worship Jesus for coming to Earth as God. Everybody else just has a party and perhaps a holiday. And, indeed, Christmas trees, lights, decorations, exchanging cards and presents, family reunions, and enjoying a delicious Christmas dinner are all fun things to have or to do.
However, all this means that Christmas for most people is just a giant shopping spree, with people giving gifts to each other, but not paying homage to Jesus as the shepherds and the Wise Men did. Also, nowadays, the celebration of Christmas often involves a jolly fat man in a red suit, who supposedly lives at the North Pole and travels all over the world by snow sledge on Christmas Eve distributing presents to children who have ‘been good’. This of course is a fairy story, but it is also idolatry when used as a substitute for worshipping Jesus. God, not Santa, is the One who knows all that we say and do.
The modern Santa Claus is a corruption of the name of a real man, Saint Nicholas (270–343). He was Bishop of Myra in modern day Turkey and famous for his generosity. A legend says that he provided dowries for three daughters of a poor man—under the cover of night, he threw three purses full of gold coins through the window. But the real Nicholas would be horrified at the claims about Santa Claus.5
So as we enjoy all the good things about Christmas, we also need to remember that the ‘reason for the season’ is that Jesus came to Earth to be born, to live, and to die for the sins of the world, and then to rise again to give new life to all who put their faith and trust in Him.
References and notes
The wise men would obviously have had a retinue of folk to protect them on their journey, carry provisions, prepare meals, and otherwise look after them. Return to text
See graphs in http://www.myweather2.com/City-Town/Israel/Bethlehem/climate-profile.aspx. Return to text
MYTH: Too cold for shepherds to Tend Flocks in December: Logistics of feeding a flock of sheep, jesus-reasonforseason.com/. Return to text
A very late legend says that Nicholas listened to the heretic Arius’s blasphemous denial of the Deity of Christ and slapped him. See Pearse, R., Did St Nicholas of Myra / Santa Claus punch Arius at the Council of Nicaea? roger-pearse.com. Return to text
The wise men would obviously have had a retinue of folk to protect them on their journey, carry provisions, prepare meals, and otherwise look after them.
See graphs in http://www.myweather2.com/City-Town/Israel/Bethlehem/climate-profile.aspx.
See Gessert, M., Winter Sheep Care – LittleHats.net.
MYTH: Too cold for shepherds to Tend Flocks in December: Logistics of feeding a flock of sheep, jesus-reasonforseason.com/.
A very late legend says that Nicholas listened to the heretic Arius’s blasphemous denial of the Deity of Christ and slapped him. See Pearse, R., Did St Nicholas of Myra / Santa Claus punch Arius at the Council of Nicaea? roger-pearse.com.
Although the Bible gives no command to celebrate Jesus' birth, it does indicate when Jesus was born.
Luke 1:5, "There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judæa, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth." Elisabeth was in her 6th month when Jesus was conceived: Luke 1:36 ”... this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.”
1 Chronicles 24:10 confirms that Abijah's was the 8th of 24 courses of priests serving in the temple. The year begins with Passover in March on the Gregorian calendar, so Zacharias' service in Abijah’s course would be in late June.
Adding nine months for John’s gestation, plus the six months in Luke 1:36 would place the birth of Jesus in Tishri, the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, (September/October).
As the feasts are all prophetic of Christ, it would be surprising if Jesus was not born on the Feast of Tabernacles, in the middle of that seventh Hebrew month of Tishri, coming to earth in the temporary tabernacle of the human body. Ironically, this would make his conception on Hanukah, 22–25 December.
But what year? Matthew 2:16 tells us that Herod was sent forth and killed all the male children 2 years and under according to the time he diligently enquired of the wise men. Jesus was obviously born before Herod died in 4 BC, which would suggest that Jesus was born in 5 BC.
Put the pieces together: Jesus was born in September 5 BC.
If we knew for certain exactly when the course of Abia functioned in the Temple, we could certainly determine very closely the exact time of year that Yeshua was born. Unfortunately, this source of information is in rabbinic writings which are contradictory. Because of the contradictions, we cannot be 100% sure which ones are right, or even if any of those rabbinic traditions are correct. For that reason, scholars who work with the sources must come to the conclusion that the date of the Lord's birth is still indefinite.
I personally have deep doubts that Yeshua was born on the Feast of Tabernacles (or during Passover as some others try to argue) or on any other Jewish holiday. One thing I have noticed in the Gospels is the fact that if Yeshua said or did anything on a specific Jewish Holy Day, the writer always mentions it. It would seem to me that if Yeshua was born on any specific Jewish holiday, Matthew and Luke would have mentioned it, as these are the writers who deal with the birth of the Messiah. This would certainly be true of Matthew, who was writing to a Jewish audience; he would have found this significant enough to mention. But the total silence of both Matthew and Luke in connecting Yeshua's birth with any Jewish Holy Day tells me that Yeshua was born on a normal day, therefore, the Gospel writers do not make mention of the date.
This is not an argument from silence, which in formal logical terms is a type of invalid argument called denying the antecedent (see the explanation in Conditional Statements and Implications). But the above is an argument from conspicuous absence, which is a valid argument called denying the consequent.
I think you are in the right ballpark with the year, and your reasoning is sound.
Malan G., South Africa, 25 December 2015
The statement “Iesous (Ἰησοῦς), which is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew name Yeshua, a shortened form of Yehoshua (יְהוֹשׁ֫וּעַ)” is incorrect. The word Yeshua is found in the Aramaic sections of the OT, e.g. Neh 8:17. It is the Aramaic form of the word “Yehoshua”.
Jonathan Sarfati responds
It’s doubtful that this verse was in Aramaic—it certainly looks Hebrew to me. The name Yeshua (יֵשׁ֫וּעַ) is also found in 1 Chronicles 24:11 and 2 Chronicles 31:15.
Ian R L., South Africa, 25 December 2015
I’m grateful to our Lord & Master Jesus Christ (Yeshua Ha Mashiach) for you publishing this info. For Scripture clearly states, the Truth of the matter. Christ Jesus clearly stated: “I and the Father are One! Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (see Jn 10:30; Jn 14:7–12). He also said: “Before Abraham was, I Am.” (Jn 8:58).
Tomislav O., United States, 25 December 2015
God doesn’t have a master plan. We have a plan for grocery shopping or a plan to build a house because we might forget something. God, however, does not forget things. God doesn’t have a plan, He has a will. It’s the will of God, not the plan of God.
Jonathan Sarfati responds
That’s an unusual definition of a plan. A chessmaster certainly doesn’t plan because he forgets something, but because he hopefully understands the depths of a chess position.
Alan S., United Kingdom, 25 December 2015
In English “Christmas” starts with “Christ”. It’s obvious; so is its meaning.
Praise His name!
Gian Carlo B., Puerto Rico, 25 December 2015
Great insightful article, Russell, like your work.
Regarding what you said about Santa, it’s also one facet of how many atheists and agnostics want to ‘take the Christ out of Christmas’ and just put ‘Xmas’ because supposedly it is imposing religious connotations especially to people who don’t believe. I of course, and many genuine Christians would agree that is a very ludicrous and outright immature tactic and actually makes pretty much every holiday the same holiday, so much for ‘celebrating diversity’, these babies want the same holiday for everyone yet they preach their double standard of diversity. We can argue the date for Christmas, but not the reason, which is literally the Gospel and his Redemption prophesied in the OT.
Jonathan Sarfati responds
It’s certainly likely that many christophobes write Xmas to take Christ out of it. But they are unaware that this expression was originally a Christian abbreviation, because the X was the Greek letter chi, the first letter of Χριστός. Here is one interesting off-site article.
Some of the earliest NT manuscripts also abbreviate sacred names (Latin term nomina sacra, singular nomen sacrum). E.g. they would abbreviate the nominative ΧΡΙΣΤΌΣ to ΧΣ, which was often written as ΧC, and the genitive ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ as XY, and the abbreviations would have a line over them, which I can’t do here. In this icon from the great Hagia Sophia cathedral in Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul, there are the nomina sacra ΙΣ ΧΣ standing for ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΌΣ, Jesus Christ
Gian Carlo B., Puerto Rico, 25 December 2015
Hi Dr Sarfati. I read your reply rather early, LOL.
It is interesting regarding the abbreviation history of Christ, and to my honesty, was not aware of that either, but as many atheists do (and to also prove your point of their unawareness [like their unawareness in theology and Scripture]), their motive to put X over Christ is because they are aware the Christ in Christmas is more than just a partridge in a pear tree or 12 gifts of ‘xmas’, it is actually the birth of our Saviour. But now that you mention the fact of the nomina sacra, it seems indeed atheists have nowhere to hide from God. :)
Neil F., Canada, 25 December 2015
Mary Christ Mass Sounds heathen to me. For centuries before the birth of Christ the heathen were worshiping on Dec. 25, see the Two Babylons by A. Hislop, pp 91–101. Jeremiah 10. Paganism is so deeply entrenched in the so called Christian church, that I am saddened. Worship GOD in spirit and TRUTH!! Worship HIM who made heaven, the earth, the sea, and the fountains of waters. Rev. 14:7. JESUS is Lord. The Bible says “learn not the way of the heathen” Jeremiah 10:2. Narrow is the way, and few be that find it. Matt. 7:14. The END is here and the true people of GOD are coming out of the darkness. Wake up!!!!!
Jonathan Sarfati responds
As is common with many pagan derivation theories, the pagan celebrations actually post-date the Christian ones, so if there was any borrowing, it was not by Christians but from them. See Was Christianity plagiarized from pagan myths? Refuting the copycat thesis. This was true of 25 December. The earliest recorded Sol Invictus or Mithra celebrations on this date were long after the earliest recorded Christian celebration (see Is there anything about Christmas that’s genuinely Christian?). And the Winter Solstice and Saturnalia were both a few days before the 25th, so are too early to have inspired this date.
I’m sorry to say that this is an exceedingly unreliable book. In my Genesis 1–11 commentary, The Genesis Account, I have a section as follows:
Nimrod and Semiramis? Fantasy masquerading as history
Alexander Hislop (1807–1865), a Free Church of Scotland minister, wrote a book called The Two Babylons (1853). Its subtitle tells us its main thesis: Papal worship revealed to be the worship of Nimrod and his wife. That is, Hislop tried to trace various Roman Catholic practices to ancient paganism. To do so, he proposed that Nimrod was not only the instigator of the Babel rebellion, but also had a wife called Semiramis. Together, they had a child called Tammuz, but Nimrod was killed before he was born. So Semiramis claimed that Tammuz was Nimrod reincarnated. Supposedly this triad of father, mother, and child was the founder of many pagan religions, e.g. Isis, Horus, Seth of Egypt. And this was allegedly the forerunner of many Roman Catholic practices.
However, to make his claims, Hislop pieced together characters from history and legend that were never connected in antiquity. Indeed, Semiramis was a legendary queen, but in the legends she was married to Ninus. So Hislop arbitrarily equates Ninus with Nimrod. Further, the legendary queen Semiramis might have been based on a historical queen named Shammuramat. She was queen of Assyria for a number of years around 800 bc. After the death of her husband King Shamshi-Adad V, she ruled Assyria as a regent for her son, King Adad-nirari III, until he was old enough to rule. He might have been the King of Nineveh in Jonah’s time who ordered city-wide repentance (Jonah 3:6–9).
But if Semiramis was a legendary version of this historical queen, then she is well over a thousand years too late to have been married to the biblical Nimrod. An inscription to Shammuramat was found in the city called Nimrud. Arabs named this ancient Assyrian city after Nimrod, but this is very different from Shammuramat being married to Nimrod. The city Nimrud was in ancient times called Kalhu, which might well have been the biblical Calah built by Nimrod.
Tammuz likewise has no historical or legendary connection to the Nimrod of Genesis. He was a Babylonian god of shepherds and crops, and had a life-death-rebirth cycle every year. Ezekiel mentions the pagans mourning his death at winter time (Ezekiel 8:14–15). However, none of this provides the slightest evidence that the biblical Nimrod had a son called Tammuz.
However, leaving aside all the Greek gods, there is nothing here to support Hislop. For one thing, this is from Shem, while Nimrod was from Ham. And Ninus is not the wife of Semiramis but a son (or maybe stepson).
It is sadly ironic—Hislop was a minister of a Church that taught Sola Scriptura, and was attacking Roman Catholicism which denies it. Yet Hislop’s whole thesis relies on a random mix of extra-biblical traditions, in contrast to the Bible, which mentions no wife or son of Nimrod.
A good critique comes from Ralph Woodrow, who was once an admirer of Hislop’s book, and wrote his own book based on this. But then Woodrow decided to research the primary sources, and found that Hislop’s claims simply didn’t follow from them. So to his credit, he withdrew his own book and wrote a replacement.
. See Woodrow, R., A case study in poor methodology, a review of The Two Babylons, Christian Research Journal22(2), 2000; equip.org.
See also Does Easter have a pagan derivation?
Julie M., United States, 26 December 2015
This article really blessed me, and I also read the one about Easter from the link in the comments. Thank you so much for encouraging information that is fascinating, even when it isn't directly about evolution. I had given a gift to you earlier, and now I'm even more glad that I did. You are such a blessing. Keep up the good work, and Merry Christmas!
Ronald W., United States, 26 December 2015
I really appreciate this timely article.
I also really appreciate Dr Sarfati’s response to Neil F. reagrding A. Hislop’s The Two Babylons. It is truly unfortunate that this book is used by many to ‘blast’ the celebration of Christmas and Easter even though it is profoundly unreliable. I personally find it very interesting that the Dec 25 / Jan 6 dates for Christmas can be traced to a Jewish tradition.
Keep up the great work and God bless CMI :).
So are we officially debunking the “The early Church merely appropriated Saturnalia” atheist lie then?
Jonathan Sarfati responds
Most definitely. Saturnalia was 17 December, and was thus too early to be the model for Christmas on 25 Dec, even when Saturnalia was later extended for a week so it lasted 17–23 Dec.
Thomas M., United States, 27 December 2015
The real question is “is Christmas even Christian?” Or the invention of men. Maybe somebody can show me from the Scriptures where God has authorized “Christ mass” as a day to worship Him, or maybe an approved apostolic example of the practice can be found, or maybe someone can deduce from other scriptures God’s approval. Has not God already given us a day, an approved day, the Lord’s day (Sunday) to celebrate the birth, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus?
Jonathan Sarfati responds
As I’ve replied to other people with similar objections:
We most certainly do base our thinking in every area on Scripture, and are concerned that a brother in Christ might think otherwise.
One of the texts we base this on is 2 Timothy 3:15–17
15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Scripture is able to make a man ‘wise unto salvation’ and ‘thoroughly furnished unto all good works’. This implies that Scripture contains all the doctrine and moral law we need. Thus all things necessary for our faith and life are either expressly set down in Scripture or may be deduced by good and necessary consequence from Scripture. So if something is sinful, it will be forbidden by Scripture, either expressly or by logical deduction. A corollary: if something is not forbidden by Scripture, then it is permissible.
We think Christmas is an example. Scripture neither commands nor forbids it. Therefore Christians have the freedom in Christ to celebrate or ignore it, as long as the means of celebration are not anti-scriptural.
Romans 14:5–6 says:
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Colossians 2:16 says:
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath [emphasis added].
Another point to add comes from the feast of Hanukkah. This celebrates the ‘re-booting’ of the Second Temple after the Maccabees got rid of the Seleucid defiler Antiochus IV, who proclaimed himself ‘Epiphanes’ meaning ([God] manifest). This included lighting the Menorah, the multi-part candle, and the story goes that one day’s supply of oil lasted all eight days.
In John 10:22–23, we see Yeshua/Jesus walking on the Temple Mount during Hanukkah, using this Feast of Lights to explain how He is the Light of the World, and God (the Second Person of the Trinity) come in the flesh! Thus He saw nothing wrong with celebrating a ‘man-made’ festival that was not commanded in Scripture.
Many Messianic Jews even make the celebration into an illustration of the Messiah. On Hanukkah, Jews light the middle candle, the Shamash, meaning ‘Servant’, then use this to light the other candles. This represents our Lord Jesus, the Suffering Servant prophesied in Isaiah 53, who is the Light of the World. The other candles represent believers in Him, both Jew and Gentile, who should show His light not hide it under a bushel (Matthew 5:15).
So likewise I see nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas, and the 25 December date comes from a Jewish tradition that later pagans plagiarized.
I hope this explains our position.
Craig F., South Africa, 28 December 2015
With respect to the tradition of giving gifts at this time, I note in Esther 9:20–23 that the 14th and 15th day of Adar (the 12 month) was made a festival in which gifts were sent to one another in rememberance of the ‘salvation’ of the Jews from Haman's plot to kill all the Jews. Could this not also be a forerunner of the gift giving that has continued? As indicated in CMI articles, the tradtion of celebrating Christmas was indicated to be already well established by the early Church Fathers.
Mitch C., United States, 28 December 2015
Even if Hislop was incorrect about the relationship of Nimrod to Semiramis and Tammuz, it seems to me a case of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ to dismiss everything he says in his book. Many of the practices associated with Christmas, such as mistletoe, gift giving and decorated trees has no basis in Scripture, but does have precedent in paganism. Likewise, rabbits and colored eggs have no basis in scripture, but are clearly fertility symbols borrowed from paganism. The name ‘Easter’ is an obvious variation of ‘Istar’, ‘Ishtar’, ‘Ashtoreth’, etc. and has its roots in pagan idolatry.
It was with good reason that Luther wrote his book The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and that the Reformers regarded many Roman Catholic customs (purgatory, praying for the dead, etc.) to have their origins in pagan superstition. Hislop’s thesis that many of the pagan religions had a common source is supported, for example, by parallels in the pantheons of Greece and Rome: Zeus=Jove/Jupiter, Hera=Juno, Artemis=Diana, Eros=Cupid, Ares=Mars, etc. And if there had been an ancient pagan story of the death and resurrection of a deity, then it was simply Satan’s perversion of the various prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, which dates all the way back to Eden (Gen 3:15). I think careful, objective research demands that we examine each of Hislop’s claims individually, and not that we dismiss his entire work because of one or two errors.
Jonathan Sarfati responds
My critique of Hislop in The Genesis Account was centred around the Semiramis connection on which he bases so much. I could have written about much more but didn't want to go too much off-topic in a Genesis commentary.
Elsewhere I have pointed out his fallacies about Easter—see Does Easter have a pagan derivation? The word has merely superficial sound similarities to the pagan Goddesses, and in reality it was a common term for Passover in German and in Old and Middle English, used frequently in Tyndale’s Bible.
Here’s yet another example of how atrocious Hislop’s book is. He claims that IHS on Catholic communion wafers really stand for Isis, Horus, and Seb, or “The Mother, Child, and Father of the gods”, which he claims is “the Egyptian Trinity” (p. 239). He doesn't even get that right, since in the Egyptian mythology, Horus’ father was Osiris, who was murdered by Seb (Set), his brother. But the real origin of the three letter is a faulty Latin transliteration of the Greek contraction ΙΗΣ for ΙΗΣΟΥΣ (Jesus), another nomen sacrum as I’ve explained above to Gian Carlo B. This was later rationalized to Iesus Hominum Salvator = Jesus Saviour of Men (mankind). This would also fit with the RC transubstantiation doctrine that regards the wafer as becoming the body of Christ.
Just as evolution deserves to be criticized but we should not resort to fallacious arguments against it, likewise as an Evangelical Protestant ministry we disagree with Roman Catholicism but likewise oppose fallacious arguments against this as well.
Mitch C., United States, 29 December 2015
I suggest that your etymology of the word Easter may not have gone far enough back in history.
Wikipedia (see “Eostre”) traces the origin of the word "Easter" to a pagan source, and cites an 8th century work by St. Bede (“the Venerable”, who was respected as "The Father of English History") in support ...
Ēostre or Ostara (Old English: Ēastre, Northumbrian dialect Ēostre; Old High German: *Ôstara (reconstructed form)) is a Germanic divinity who, by way of the Germanic month bearing her name (Northumbrian: Ēosturmōnaþ; West Saxon: Ēastermōnaþ; Old High German: Ôstarmânoth), is the namesake of the festival of Easter. Ēostre is attested solely by Bede in his 8th-century work The Reckoning of Time, where Bede states that during Ēosturmōnaþ (the equivalent of April), pagan Anglo-Saxons had held feasts in Eostre's honor, but that this tradition had died out by his time, replaced by the Christian Paschal month, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.