For most of the religious community, Christmas is celebrated as the day of Jesus’ birth. We often see signs and other items with phrases such as “Let’s keep Christ in Christmas ,” or “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

What does the Bible have to say about Christmas? Should we celebrate the birth of Jesus? What is the origin of Christmas? These are some of the many questions we hope to answer in this study.

What is the origin of Christmas?

History records that some celebrated Jesus’ birth as far back as the 2nd century A.D., being noted in the reign of the Roman emperor Commodus, who died in A.D. 180. During the reign of Diocletian, (A.D. 284-305), a group of Christians had gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the city of Nicomedia. Diocletian ordered the building doors sealed and then set fire to the building, killing all those inside.

The date for the celebration of Jesus’ birth was not settled until the late 4th or early 5th century. Prior to that time, it was celebrated by the “Eastern Church” (now known as the Greek Orthodox Church) on January 6 in conjunction with the feast of Epiphany (the day of the visiting wise men). Some celebrated Jesus’ birth as late as April or May. A case has also been made for the date being October, based upon some history of the family of John the Baptist, the son of the priest Zacharias, “of the course of Abia” (Luke 1:5).

Whenever “official” discussion of setting a date began, dates were proposed from nearly every month of the year. The Catholic Bishop Liberious (circa A.D. 354) suggested the date of December 25, not because of any special significance, but because many parishioners were taking part in the pagan holiday festival of Saturnalia, or the feast of the pagan god Saturn. (Saturn was the god of agriculture.) This festival was instituted by decree of Caesar Augustus and was celebrated from December 17-23. It was reasoned that local church members could continue to celebrate the pagan holiday under the guise of celebrating the birth of Christ.

However, the Eastern Church continued to press for the date of January 6. The Western Church (now known as the Roman Catholic Church) was the more influential of the two, so the date was set at December 25. However, the feast of Epiphany was set at January 6 in order to appease the Eastern Church. There are twelve days from December 25 until January 5, thus “the twelve days of Christmas.” These twelve days are followed by the festival of Epiphany.

The word “Christmas” was not in existence until around the 11th century and comes from the Roman Catholic “Christ”+”Mass”. But as we have already seen, the celebration of Jesus’ birth predates the “official” origin of the Catholic Church by more than four hundred years.

What does the Bible have to say about Christmas?

In a word—NOTHING! There are two accounts of the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-3). These accounts tell of Jesus’ ancestry, the conception of Mary by the Holy Spirit, the place and circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. There are also other confirmations of the fulfillment of prophecies contained in these accounts. However, there is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus’ birth was on or anywhere near December 25.

In fact, circumstances surrounding the wise men and shepherds suggest a different time of the year. December is in the middle of the rainy season in that part of the world. The Bible speaks of the “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night” (Luke 2:8). The Bible also speaks of the wise men, who knew to seek out Jesus, “for we have seen his star in the east” (Matthew 2:2). These are not phrases which indicate the presence of the rainy season.

There is also no reference to the early church celebrating the birth of Jesus until after the apostolic age had ended (A.D. 150). Of all the commandments given to the church by the apostles, there is no indication that Christians were to celebrate the birth of Jesus. If Christians were expected to celebrate Jesus’ birth, God would have told us the date. Jesus told the twelve in John 14:25-26, “These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” It is evident that Jesus did not see fit to reveal anything about His birthday to the disciples.

We believe everything concerning the life of Jesus is noteworthy, but the only thing Christians are commanded to remember on a regular basis is His death (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). This remembrance is to take place each Lord’s day, which is Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:18,20).

Jesus taught that we are to observe all things whatsoever He has commanded (Matt. 28:20). We are also told to do all things, whether in word or deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:17). This means to do things by His authority. There is no authority for the celebration of Jesus birth. “Whosoever goeth onward, and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). Paul warned the Corinthian brethren “not to go beyond the things which are written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). To celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25 or any other day violates these scriptures.

 

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16 COMMENTS

  1. Christmas gives a Christian the wonderful opportunity to teach others. You know, walk with them a little way as did Paul while teaching them about Jesus and the resurrection. Sorta what you just did. So, Christmas served you well to teach the lost.
    “Think on these things all of thy days if there be virtue if there be praise, think on these things.”

  2. Luke 2 7-15 Tells of the angels celebrating the birth of Jesus. Vs 13 is especially important to the celebration 2:15 “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.
    Simeon was moved by the Holy Spirit and praised God for the birth Lk 2:29-32. Anna, a widow praised God for the birth in Luke 2:38,,,Matthew 2:11 show that the wise men bowed down and worshiped him and gave him gifts.

    Seems to me they have been celebrating his birth since he was born.

    • To Linda: The individuals you sited were under the Old Law. No individuals under the New Law every celebrated Christ’s birth, and no-where in the New Testament are we instructed to celebrate his birth. These individuals you sited worshipped him once because the prophesy of the Messiah had come true. They did not worship him yearly, and it is recorded nowhere that “they (those in the Bible) have been celebrating his birth since he was born.” The yearly celebration of Christ’s birth is simply man made. We must worship in “spirit and in truth” and there is no truth to Christ being born on Christmas Day, let alone in December, and further and most importantly, we have no authorization to worship Christ’s birth. John 4:24, John 17:17. We are however instructed to observe his death, burial, and resurrection 1 Cor. 11:24-25.

    • In Matthew 2:11 it does say the wise men entered the “house” of Mary and brought gifts to Jesus. In the house not the stable where he was at His birth. I love the Lord and his sacrifice. I do feel we have to be cautious about taking man’s story of the events, “3 wise” men bearing gifts at the manger, and teaching the entire world that this is a biblical celebration every December 25. I wonder what Gid’s thoughts are.

  3. Good article. I agree with 3 reasons we so celebrate Christmas in a religious. Way. His death is what we ar e required to observe.

  4. No holidays are biblical that we celebrate today. They are all created by men, not God. If we celebrate them, it should be traditionally, not as a command of God’s.

  5. I love the thought and research that went into writing this article. I have one passage that seemingly conflicts with your study, and I was hoping you could help me understand it as you do.
    Rom. 14:5 “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.”

    Rom. 14:6 “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.”

  6. Don’t you think instead of saying we shouldn’t celebrate Jesus’s birth on December 25 or January 6, you should say that we SHOULD celebrate Jesus’s birth every day? I celebrate Jesus’s birth, life, death, and resurrection EVERY day. If on one day I focus more on the miracle of his birth, and one day I focus more on the miracle of his resurrection, isn’t that praiseworthy? We all should take time to meditate on each aspect of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. I am astounded that so many church of Christ Christians say we are not to celebrate Jesus’s birth (a historically accurate event even if the exact date is unknown) and the next minute encourage belief in elf on the shelf, Santa Claus, and flying reindeer. May God forgive us for catering to American culture and customs while condemning other sincere believers who are taking time to meditate on the birth of Christ.

  7. The author sets forth Biblical authority for the reason why Christians are not to observe the birth of Jesus and that we are only to do those things that Jesus commanded. Let’s follow this argument through to its logical conclusion. If it is wrong and sinful for Christians to observe the birth of Christ, then we should all stop celebrating the birthdays of friends and family as well. No where in the New Testament do we have authority to celebrate birthdays, nor do we have examples of the early church celebrating birthdays. In fact, the only example we have of anyone celebrating a birthday is King Herod. And we are also told in the New Testament not to esteem one day above another. I wonder if the author would agree that celebrating our own birthday or someone else’s birthday is also without Biblical authority and therefore sinful?

    • Regarding our celebration of our own birthdays and those of family members, we know those dates. We have records of those dates, but we do not have that information regarding Christ. We just know he was born and that he came for a special purpose, to save the world from sin.
      For many in the world, that one day mean so much. It’s almost like a worship of the day; afterwards it seems everything goes on as usual, and there is no real significance. Too many people put more emphasis on the day and not enough on Christ and what he stands for.

  8. The word Christmas bears his name… we can’t say it or write it without his name… We come up with all kinds of reasons to participate in the traditions of Christmas… even if it is not when Christ was born… and we are not given a commandment or choice to do so….what is the Right way to handle this? … and what about the man that died over 1700 years ago … the one we call Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus? The book of Jeremiah says to not cut a tree and nail supports on it to help it stand up..and decorate it. How did we come to have trees in our homes for Christmas and it be OK with God? When did it become OK and not wrong? I don’t want to cause problems. I just want to know we are doing what is right according to God… Doing all in the name of the Lord. Thanks!

  9. I love this teaching,but if we look at colossian 2:16..it says no one should judge you of what you drink,eat or even festivals(maybe days of worship onto him God)

  10. Truly we must face the facts that the celebrating of Christs birthday has no authority. It was a pagan holiday taught to us by pagans that learned about Jesus but could not give up their habits of idol worship. Thus the idols of Mary and the prayer to Mary instead of our father God.

  11. Just an added thought. Our family uses this time to celebrate gathering together in family time and exchanging gifts with those we love. Purchasing something one might not buy for themselves, foods we don’t cook regularly, you know, things like that. Laugh, and enjoy the family God has given us.
    If we were to celebrate this day to remember Jesus birth, we would gather together, but not in the same as we do now. We would fellowship together as a family in study of God’s word, prayer, meal and discuss all that God has given us, it would all center around Christ, his reason for coming to earth, and what he has given us. No tree, decorations, spending money some folks don’t have, no hangovers for those who drink, all the things society does in connection with Christmas. Today, while there may be some who put out the manger scene, etc and thoughts of Jesus are there, so many are so wrapped up in the other parts that Jesus is rarely thought about, if even at all. Folks say Jesus is the reason for the season, but I just can’t see Jesus happy with the things that go on under the idea of celebrating his birth.

    As one person noted, I remember Jesus each day, (not mainly one day a year, when for some that’s the only time they’ll be in worship, ) but each morning and as I travel through the days activities, each Lord’s day as we gather together to partake and remember his sacrifice for me, for myself each day is a day to Christ. We each must search our hearts whether it’s in regards to celebrating Christmas as Jesus birth, or in any other activity we do, yet love and respect others who may have a different thought, always keep the door of communication open, and let God take care of the rest. HAve a great day.

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