30 Nov 2019

Defending Christmas … From Christians

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christmas, Church History, Culture, Hanukkah, Sectarianism
Example of Christian Fake News Paraded on the Web

Fake News

It is not even “Thanksgiving” and misguided Christians are already rolling out the “Christmas is pagan,” “Christmas is a departure,” “Christmas is sin,” nonsense. You would think these well meaning, but misguided, disciples had suddenly joined hands with the ACLU šŸ™‚

I love Christmas. Not every one does. (I do not necessarily love the crass commercialism in America). Indeed already this very morning, I have had three things in my Facebook feed that claim Christmas is pagan and related to the Sun/Sol (or Saturnalia). Even Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory has spouted this made up tripe.

All of this goes back to what some historians now call the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century War on Christmas, which was part of liberal Protestantism’s attempt to unhinge everything they deemed Roman Catholic by rooting it in late paganism. The same was done with “Easter.” It is easy to find a myriad of old (often blatantly sectarian) Protestant sources, especially in “restoration” circles, that regurgitate this fake news.

Modern historical scholarship (Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and even atheist), however, has recognized the baselessness – and agenda driven – nature of that fake news. Frankly, I blame preacher training schools and even our colleges who do not require some basic learning in Christian history, for the continued passing on of this nonsense. C. S. Lewis once said he “pitied the man who imagined the world began with the dawn of his own consciousness.”

Pre-Black Friday Defense of Christmas

First, Paul wrote that Holy Days were both good and acceptable to God. Paul and the early church kept Holy Days. Jesus kept them all, including the “unauthorized” Hanukkah (John 10.22ff, See Jesus the Jew and Hanukkah). Paul notes that no one was/is obligated to keep them as conditions of justification. However we (he) are not only free to do so but that they are “unto the Lord“(Romans 14.6). But Paul also says these words,

Therefore do not let your good be spoken as evil” (Romans 14.16).

There are those who are not satisfied with Christian liberty. They rail against what other believers consider valuable and even “holy” . Paul spends a chapter telling us not to do that. But he also says believers do not have to sit idly by and let their freedom be attacked and spoken of as evil. And contrary to popular thinking Paul never associates days – or even food – with the “weak” in Romans 14. He never uses the word “strong” until chapter 15. (cf. Beverly Roberts Gaventa’s, When In Romans, pp. 91-92, 107-113).

So I will defend Christmas liberty from the misguided gainsayers. In fact I grow weary of nonsense ripped off from various internet sites and memes created that contain nothing but made up stuff.

Second, Christmas did not evolve from the celebration of the Sun or Saturnalia. Constantine, much less Rome, had anything to do with origin and meaning of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, nor for that matter why December 25 became associated with the birth of the Messianic Savior. These claims were all manufactured beginning in the 17th and 18th centuries (see sources below) but there is no evidence to support them in the first thousand years of Christian history. Today historical scholars of all religious persuasions even nonbelieving ones, recognize the fallacious nature of these claims. It is sad that some would rather gainsay something than take the time to learn some basic historical facts. But the Ninth Commandment does not seem to apply to things we do not agree with.

It is true that the word “Christmas” is not in the Bible. No one denies this. But guess what the word Bible is not in the Bible either (the Greek word “biblio” is not simply “the Bible”). Yet, just because the English word “Christmas” was not used by early Christians (they did not speak English) does not mean that early disciples did not have an interest in the birth of Christ that has more space devoted to it than other event in Jesus’s life except his Cross. Luke 1-2 are fairly long!

It is without a doubt true that the early church placed far more emphasis on the death of Jesus and thus Pesch/Easter has been with Christianity since the very beginning. By the end of the second century, long before a Pope existed btw, Christians were quite interested in Jesus’s birth and by the 4th century AD two basic dates were accepted for the birth of Jesus, December 25 and January 6. These dates were not chosen because of paganism nor because of the Pope (who did not exist as people think of a pope today) but related to how redemption was understood.

There are parts of the modern traditions of Christmas that come from northern Europe (1800 miles away from the Holy Land!) and may have pagan roots but that has nothing to do with either the origin and significance of the day be it Dec 25 or Jan 6. The day was arrived at by the early church because of the death of Jesus.

I celebrate the Incarnation of God as a hinge of redemptive history. I make no apologies for it. See the Links below.

See also (Links in title):

A Doctrinal Christmas: Two Theological Gifts of Christmas

Emmanuel: Why Christmas is Essential to Biblical Faith

Some Historical Resources

Andrew McGowan, How December 25 Became Christmas, Biblical Archaeology Review (2002) (Linked in title)

McGowan is a premier authority on early Christian worship and professor at Yale

C. P. E. Nothaft, “From Sukkot to Saturnalia: The Attack on Christmas in Sixteenth Century Chronological Scholarship,” Journal of the History of Ideas 72 (2011): 503-522

C. P. E. Nothaft, “The Origins of the Christmas Date: Some Recent Trends in Historical Research,” Church History 81 (2012): 903-911

Nothaft is professor in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College in London

Thomas C. Schmidt, “Calculating December 25 as the Birth of Jesus in Hippolytus’ Canon and Chronicon,” Vigiliae Christianae 69 (2015): 542-563

Schmidt is a Professor at Yale University

Thomas Talley, “Constantine and Christmas,” Studia Liturgica 17 (1987), 191-197

Thomas Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year.

Talley is one of the foremost historians of early Christian worship.

William J. Tighe, “Calculating Christmas: The Story Behind December 25,” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity (linked in title).

Tighe is Professor of History at Muhlenberg College

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas

3 Responses to “Defending Christmas … From Christians”

  1. Dwight Says:

    I have mixed feelings about Christmas, being that I find that if you put away Christmas you also are putting away Christ, but then again many Christians wholly embrace the secular aspect of Christmas in defiance of the religious and actually embrace a mythos built around Santa/elves/trees/reindeer, etc.
    It is a shame that Santa is the giver of good things, while God gets left in the dust.
    Houses get decorated with Christmas mythos stuff and God is nowhere to be seen.

  2. Ray Hawk Says:

    Good article. I went through that faze. The days of the week have their history too, but few apply to those named days, the same arguments applied to Christmas.

  3. Warren Baldwin Says:

    Good article. Thanks for the sources.

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