This post is the second in a 3-part series in defense of Christians celebrating Christmas. In part 1, we began by looking into the arguments against Christians celebrating Christmas. To read part 1, please go here. We now resume the defense by continuing to look at other arguments against celebrating the holiday before we go into arguments for celebrating Christmas.
2. The Bible Specifically Forbids Christmas Trees.
Besides the date itself, the most cited pagan element associated with Christmas is the decorating of a tree during the celebration. Those who believe Christians should avoid Christmastime celebrations often cite a passage in Jeremiah as a clear association of Christmas trees with paganism in the Bible:
Jeremiah 10:1-4: “Hear the word which the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: ‘Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, For the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, The work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers, So that it will not topple.’”
Certainly the passage seems to be discussing decorating a tree with gold and silver and how the pagans do this as part of their practices, but if you read the entire passage in context, it has no relation to a Christmas tree. Here are the following verses which clarify the meaning:
“’They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple. They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good.’ Inasmuch as there is none like You, O Lord (You are great, and your name is great in might), who would not fear You, O King of the nations? For this is your rightful due. For among all the wise men of the nations, And in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. But they are altogether dull-hearted and foolish; a wooden idol is a worthless doctrine.”
There is absolutely no confusion in context that this is referring to the pagans who take a tree, carve it up and decorate it into an idol, not someone who takes a tree and uses it in a symbolic way to celebrate a holiday. In the passage, the tree is not left as a tree, it’s carved and chopped and shaped into an idol – there is no connection to Christmas trees. The entire point is these wooden idols are not real, they have no power, they are not like the living God. They are dead, weak, foolish, and worthless. Even if the passage did refer to Christmas trees, the command to Israel to not do the same thing is not because there is an inherent evil in Christmas trees and decorating trees, it would be because the pagans do it and God’s people (Israel) are not to be confused with the pagan nations surrounding them. Actually, many prohibitions in the Old Testament (cultural) are simply to keep Israel distinct from the pagan nations, such as the type of clothing they wear. But Christians today wear jeans without fear of their connection to pagan practices thousands of years ago (mixed fabrics), because jeans are not associated with paganism in the minds of those to whom we are trying to shine the light of Christ toward.
Now, you may say, “The Christmas tree originates in pagan practice even if Jeremiah isn’t speaking of a Christmas tree,” and you may be correct. Many cultures used the evergreen tree in different celebrations and festivals, but again, that doesn’t mean they have copyright on the tree. Actually, the Christmas tree wasn’t popular for most of church history; it was a later element in the Christmas tradition and quickly became part of it, even if it originated in non-Christian festivals throughout history. Again, the only biblical principle applicable to this topic is to avoid the appearance of evil and not confuse the world into thinking Christians and the pagans are no different. But one can convincingly argue that Christmas doesn’t do that today.
One doesn’t need to look far in Scripture to find symbols which were originally used to symbolize evil but are now used to symbolize good. The cross itself began hundreds of years prior to crucifixion of Jesus. It was a symbol of death, disgrace, and humiliation, yet the symbol has been adopted by Christianity to be a sign of salvation, life, and hope in Jesus Christ. Christmas trees, in the mind of our culture, is not a pagan symbol. Instead it’s a Christian symbol that reminds us of God becoming flesh and dwelling among mankind.
3. Other Aspects Originate in Paganism
As a side note, there are other aspects of Christmas that people claim originate in pagan culture, such as Santa Clause, candy canes, etc. Here is my approach to dealing with these topics and choosing which is appropriate and which are not. First, is the practice, object, or tradition associated with paganism in the minds of people today? Second, is it associated with Christianity in the minds of our culture and does it point people to the Christian message of God becoming flesh? If it’s associated with paganism, don’t do it. If it’s associated with Christianity, there is no issue with doing it, but every believer has the freedom to choose if they want to observe these days or not (Romans 14).
Santa Clause would be one example of something that doesn’t match either criteria mentioned above in the minds of our culture, though there is an interesting (and possibly correct) argument that the character originates in paganism. I choose not to include Santa Clause in our celebration of Christmas because it detracts from the true message, and also feeds false ideas that tend to deceive rather than promote imagination. (Another topic for another paper.)
I should note here, the above is the reason why I celebrate Christmas, but not Halloween in any traditional sense. The things associated with Halloween (death, ghosts, candy, blood, costumes, etc.) remain pagan in their appearance and in the mind of our culture. And so, while I can make a biblical argument for providing alternatives and using Halloween as an opportunity to reach out and share the gospel, I cannot celebrate the holiday along with our culture and in the same way. (Again, another topic for another paper. I simply wanted to include this as a side note.)
Finally, I am not here to defend every aspect of Christmas in the eyes of our culture. Commercial companies use Christmas as an opportunity to sell their wares, and the commercialization of Christmas can be rightfully disliked by Christians. However, the only reason to dislike the commercialization of the holiday is if it’s a distraction from the appropriate reason for celebrating the holiday: The birth of Jesus.
Please join us next time for part 3 as we look into arguments for why Christians may celebrate Christmas.
This is the thirteen-hundredth (1,300) anniversary of the year of King Pelagius of Spain’s most famous battle; one which changed the course of European history. Because of his belief in the teachings of the Bible, he and a small band of Spanish Christians were able to demonstrate that a seemingly invincible enemy could be defeated. Without his courage and heroism, Spain may never have become a strong Christian nation since his time.
Beginning in 718 AD, an army of Africans and Arabs, under the banner of Islam, began their invasion of Spain. This army of Muslims had been conquering countries throughout Africa and the Near East since they began their “jihad” in the late 600s AD. They came across the Mediterranean Sea from Africa into southern Spain and were an unstoppable force that destroyed cities and towns wherever they went. A historian in 754 AD wrote that the Muslims “ruined beautiful cities, burning them with fire, condemning lords and powerful men to the cross; and butchered youths and infants with the sword.”
The objective of the invaders was to sow terror among the Christians so that they would either surrender without fighting or flee. The invaders slaughtered, cooked, and pretended to eat Christian captives, while releasing others who, horrified, fled and informed the people in Northern Spain that the Muslims were eating human flesh. In the face of such a fierce army the Christians had only two choices: acquiesce to Muslim rule or flee to the mountains, where they risked hunger and various forms of death.
Among the Christians that fled to the mountains was Pelagius (better known as Pelayo). He was born in 685 AD and died in 737 AD. He had survived that battle for the city of Guadalete. In Northern Spain the hold on the population by the Muslims was less than in Southern Spain, so there was less threat of attacks in that part of the country. Pelagius became the leader of a small Christian community at the foothills of the Asturian Mountains and was forced to pay tribute to the Muslim warlord in the area. Because the Muslim warlord chose to “marry” Pelagius’ sister, against his wishes (and those of his sister), Pelagius stopped paying tribute to the warlord. This resulted in the warlord sending troops to extract the tribute and to punish Pelagius.
Pelagius fled deep into the mountains with a band of Christians and set up a kingdom called Asturias in 718 AD. The Muslims were not willing to let this group of Christians survive, so they assembled an army of 180,000 men and surrounded the mountain stronghold of Pelagius. The Muslims chose a bishop who had acquiesced to Muslim rule to convince Pelagius that his cause was hopeless.
Pelagius replied to the bishop’s pleadings with the following words:
“I will not associate with the Arabs in friendship nor will I submit to their authority.” Then he made a prophecy (which was fulfilled over the next 8 centuries). “Have you not read in the divine scriptures that the church of God is compared to a mustard seed and that it will be raised up again through divine mercy?”
Pelagius and his fellow Christians held out in the mountain stronghold for four years suffering cold and hunger, but never giving up. Eventually the Muslims attacked the stronghold which was a small valley in the mountains. The Christians were able to surprise the Muslims by hiding in a cave at the rear of the Muslim army and were able to defeat them in this deceive battle. A second battle was launched a month later and again the Muslims were defeated. At this point they chose to leave the Christians alone. It was, as mentioned above, the first time the Muslims had been defeated and it stopped the spread of Islam from expanding into northern Spain and further into Europe and gave the Christians hope of taking back their country.
Because of the success of Pelagius, over the next 800 years (until 1492) the Christians were able to gradually push the Muslims further and further south until eventually they retreated back across the Mediterranean Sea and back to Africa.
Up until the last number of years, the answer to the title question, does sex equal gender, was an obvious “YES”. However, with the success of the homosexual community’s drive for “protected class” status under the law, that same community has now moved to bring into the fold the “transgender” community. While the number of homosexuals in the population is below 5% by any measure, the transgender community is even smaller at fewer than 1%. This is not to say that merely because a group is a minority they should not be treated appropriately, but rather the amount of attention to the “issue” far exceeds the “problem”.
In order to keep money flowing to “oppressed minority” groups, the homosexual community has now (as mentioned above) co-opted a new group of people. They have enlisted the help of the psychological profession with a subtle change in the classification of the “issue” that transgenders face. Prior to the 1980s, any male or female who believed he or she was the opposite sex was classified as having a gender disorder. Now, however, that diagnosis has been officially changed to gender dysphoria. By eliminating the term “disorder” people with this problem can be considered “confused” rather than needing real help.
In truth, these people do need real help, and not the kind that includes hormone therapy to enhance a chosen gender. In fact, just the opposite. Science is clear that the sex and gender of a child at birth is the one that child will have for the remainder of his or her life, and the body will adapt itself throughout life to maintain that gender, regardless of what treatments are used.
Sadly, many of the people with gender disorder do need serious help, as many of them have experienced childhood trauma, which science indicates may lead to gender confusion. In 2008, a study by Holly Devor, PhD showed that 60% of gender disorder individuals were abused as children. The study also showed that those who suffered abuse had long-term effects of this abuse. There are other studies with similar results both among the transgender and homosexual communities. These studies show gender confusion does not come from being born in the wrong body, but develop after birth.
It is unfortunate that today’s society has chosen to glamorize the issue and to encourage those who have the gender disorder to “come out” as a sex opposite to that which they were born. Such encouragement only leads to additional life-long problems and a significantly higher suicide rate. Additionally, such encouragement has led to parents allowing their male children to begin hormone therapy to prevent the development of puberty. It is now “cool” to be a boy who dresses like a girl or visa-versa. This does not even begin to touch on the other social issues of gender choice bathrooms, locker rooms, or sports activities. All of which have begun to raise their collective “ugly heads”.
Psychologists have known for many years that this mental problem is treatable and there are doctors available to help. Particularly in young people who go through many changes in their early lives counseling and therapy are able, in most cases to solve the problem. Also, as many doctors will tell you, most children grow out of this gender disorder by the time they complete puberty.
The Bible is quite clear on this issue. In Genesis 1:27 we read, “So God created man in His own image; male and female he created them.” Later in Genesis 2:18, “Then the Lord said, it is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper fit for him”. God defined the roles for both male and female so that they would always be compatible, not interchangeable.
There is real damage to innocent children that can be done by “gender fluidity” and the blurring of roles that God established for men and women. Certainly there are times when a single parent must assume both roles, but that is not God’s plan. God’s plan is for the man to be the spiritual head of the household and the protector of the family, while the woman is to be the caregiver for the family. Both these roles are vital for the survival of the family. Neither one is less valuable than the other.
As Christians we must stand against this trend in society to promote acceptance of gender disorder. It is not now, nor has it ever been, part of God’s plan. Our own children are at risk and need our prayers and our guidance.
The person who reads on one subject one hour a day for one year is considered to be an expert on that subject. When that person has read on the one subject one hour a day for five years, he is considered to belong in the top five percent of experts in the world on that subject.* Academic authority is the right to speak on a subject based on superior knowledge.
As Christ’s ambassadors to a lost and confused world, should we not be experts in His Word? Would saying we should know the Bible better than we know any other book be expecting too much? I think not. Nor does He. “Study to show yourself approved and unashamed; a right-divider” is His standard. Who we know counts, yes, indeed. But what we know counts, too.
Our foundation for witnessing of the Gospel is biblical authority. But what is our basis for making that statement? Why do we claim that the Bible has authority? The Bible presents itself as the unique and final Word of God; the ultimate authority of God Himself is clearly revealed in the Bible. It unequivocally reveals the mind and workings of God, speaking of Him and for Him to humanity throughout the ages.
To argue with the biblical scriptures is to argue with God Himself, for biblical authority is timeless, unconditional, and unusurpable. The Bible is the incontrovertible and final authority for truths regarding Christian doctrine, experience, ethics, culture, mankind and everything pertaining to our salvation and eternity. There are no continuing, completing, or competing revelations. In life’s decision-making process, the authority of the Bible is the highest appeal – “…the touchstone whereby Christians examine all…” stated John Wesley.
Don’t you love the word infallible? And inerrant? Plenary? Inspiration? Revelation? The Bible unfailingly and unerringly reveals the self-disclosure of God to humanity – infallible. It is inerrant in its clear explanation of all things necessary to the salvation of mankind, so clear, in fact, that any declaration of salvation not found in the Bible is fallacy. The word plenary informs us that, without fail, the Word of God is inspired by the Holy Spirit in its entirety. And inspiration explains the energizing power of the Spirit of God by which men of God were enabled to receive and deliver biblical truths without error. Revelation is how God made known the truths He intends us to believe and live by. Biblical authority, indeed. Powerful words we can stand on and never be shaken. Don’t you love it?
The Bible is the authority for revealing Jesus. Within its pages we are told exactly Who Jesus is, what He did, and what He said. The Bible message reveals to us the divine intervention into and the meeting of human need – the plan of salvation in place from before the foundation of the world. And that there is no other way whereby mankind can be saved. Biblical authority is foundational in setting forth right and wrong. And the concepts and precepts of spiritual growth.
The authority of the Bible rests in its unity and wholeness. All parts of the Bible are vital to the completeness of divine revelation. Old Testament authority is ascribed by the New Testament writers. The Word of God substantiates itself and is never in conflict with itself. Fidelity to the original languages qualifies its authority and is found in all faithfully translated versions.
As ambassadors and right-dividers of the Word of God, we are to become experts in distinguishing the timeless from the temporary, the fulfilled from that awaiting fulfillment, and that universally binding until eternity from that which was for the time and the place of the writing. Biblical authority holds forth the ultimatum that no matter how contrary to the Word of God current culture stands, the Word of God is the standard for the Christian. Our occupation with the Bible is to bear the fruit of understanding, obedience, and the confident holding forth of its authoritative truths as the hope within us. What we know counts, especially when we’re speaking to those who don’t know and are desperate to hear the message contained in the Bible.
* quoted by Charlie Hedges in Getting the Right Things Right
Many points of the blog adapted from Biblical Authority and Christian Faith by Richard S Taylor
To use a big word, hermeneutics is the science or art of interpretation, especially of the Scriptures. And eight rules of interpretation are used by literary, law, and theological scholars. With this stuffy introduction behind us, let’s jump right into the delight of rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
1. Rule of Definition – this rule states that the correct meanings of all words must be determined and accepted. Word definitions change as years pass. And the definition of words translated into English, or any other language, from an original language can be tricky to define with precision.
The word love is a classic example of difficult translation definition. The Greek words for love are narrow and precise in the New Testament. The English word love is broad and covers nearly everything everywhere. I love my dog. I love my family. I love my husband. I love the Lord. No distinctions here while using the same word love. But in the Greek, when defining love for a spouse, the word eros is used. When defining love for the family,phileo is used. Love for a dog uses the Greek word storge that defines love between a parent and child, or the love of an owner for his dog. Agape is used to reveal God’s love for mankind. Narrow and precise definitions.
A helpful tool in defining words in the Bible is Strong’s English/Hebrew/Greek Dictionary. You will be delightfully astounded at word meanings in Scripture as you explore definitions with this dictionary. It’s worth its price on CBD, or at your local Bible book store.
Look at the Scripture reference Genesis 35:1-4. This was a reference taught from during a Sunday School class I sat in years ago. Jacob instructs his family to get rid of their gods and idols. And their response is to take off their earrings! What was the connection? Did God see my wearing of earrings as a form of idolatry? I was genuinely puzzled. I came home and went to my Strong’s Dictionary for clarification.
Three Hebrew words were used for earrings. One meant an amulet, a charm, used to ward off evil spirits. The other two words both meant something round, a ring with a jewel for the ears. Ah. The Rule of Definition to my rescue. And my conscience is clear when I wear earrings. 🙂
2. Rule of Context – to rightly interpret the Bible, Scripture must be determined and accepted in its full context, in its full setting, in its full subject matter. Scripture agrees with itself, because the Trinity is undivided and indivisible. The Holy Spirit instructed holy men to write the Word of God, and He never contradicts Himself. The Bible, in the original languages, is inerrant – without error as the Holy Spirit gave it to the writers. Before taking off on a jag with a verse or two of Scripture out of context, follow it through the Word, search out all the references, and know exactly God meant to say in that Scripture. We save ourselves much trouble and are safe from misleadings as we make use of this interpretive Rule of Context. As we read the Word, hear it preached or presented in a class setting, God will impress us personally with His instruction or comfort. But He will never guide us in any way that isn’t consistent with Himself and His whole Word. And this leads us into the Rule of Unity.
3. Rule of Unity – accepting all Scripture as Scripture; accepting that all Scripture is in unity with, and supports, all Scripture in its entirety. The Bible is a glorious tapestry held together by the very unity of the Trinity. Tug on any topic of Scripture and follow that thread throughout the whole of Inspiration. It is tightly interwoven to provide profitability for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness that we may be perfected, supplied, and supported with all we need to know and do God’s will in this life. This Rule of Unity insures that the Rule of Context stands firm without deviation. And leads us into the Rule of Precedent.
4. Rule of Precedent – the process of comparison to determine an accurate interpretation of vague, obscure, or complex passages of Holy Writ. This rule states that when a text, standing in its context, could be interpreted in more than one way, it must conform to established fact and truth relative to the subject. In these cases, the established truth serves as precedent for the obscure or complex text. We must accept the standard of truth, and can stand spiritually and scripturally secure, interpreting within that boundary.
The Bible is a whole truth. The harder-to-understand sections agree with the whole. There are no contradictions or inconsistencies within the Trinity or the Word of God. You can count on and rest in that.
Are there Scriptures difficult to understand? Yes. Peter states that some of Paul’s writings are hard to be understood (2 Peter 3:16), and we are told of mysteries and secrets in Scripture. But Peter goes on to say that we take these out of context, or misinterpret them, to our detriment and destruction.
How much wiser to take the Word of God to God Himself and ask Him to open our understanding that we might understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45)! The Holy Spirit, the Author of the Bible, the Spirit of Truth, is also our Teacher (John 15:17&26). Take your questions and the harder-to-understand Scriptures to Him. He not only has the answer – He IS the Answer! He will open our eyes to see the wondrous things in His Word (Psalm 119:18). It’s His good pleasure to answer questions from the inquiring hearts of His dear children.
In the next writing, we’ll explore the last four rules of interpretation that complete the groundwork for rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
Rightly dividing the Word of Truth – dissecting correctly the divine message; dealing with Scripture accurately, carefully discerning each shade of meaning. “Meditate upon these things; give yourself wholly to them; that your progress may appear to all. Take heed to yourself, and unto the doctrine; continue herein: for in doing this you shall both save yourself and those who hear you” when you give answer of the hope within (1Timothy 4:15&16; 1 Peter3:15).
Blog authored by Jamie Tamez
1 Timothy 1:17