Which Came First?

It is commonly reported, and accurately, I might add, that in the fourth century the Western Church either replaced the christmas-calendarpagan festivities surrounding the phenomenon known as the winter solstice, or the pagan Roman holiday called “The Birth of the Unconquered Sun.” Almost any resource you consult will yield this information. For example, Encarta reports that “most scholars believe that Christmas originated in the 4th century as a Christian substitute for pagan celebrations of the winter solstice.” Wikipedia builds on this fact with, “December 25 is not thought to be Jesus’ actual date of birth, and the date may have been chosen to correspond with either a Roman festival, or with the winter solstice.” And even the Evangelical “The Theology Project” sponsored website “Theological Word of the Day” concurs in their current entry on “Christmas.”

But is this all there is to know about the origin of the Christian association of the date December 25 with the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ? The Roman Catholic Associate Professor of History at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania writes in the Touchstone Magazine article, “Calculating Christmas,” that  . . .

“the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals. Rather, the pagan festival of the ‘Birth of the Unconquered Son’ instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance.”

Intrigued yet? How about this?

“It is true that the first evidence of Christians celebrating December 25th as the date of the Lord’s nativity comes from Rome some years after Aurelian, in A.D. 336, but there is evidence from both the Greek East and the Latin West that Christians attempted to figure out the date of Christ’s birth long before they began to celebrate it liturgically, even in the second and third centuries. The evidence indicates, in fact, that the attribution of the date of December 25th was a by-product of attempts to determine when to celebrate his death and resurrection.”

What does the date of Christ’s death have to do with that of his birth?

“At this point, we have to introduce a belief that seems to have been widespread in Judaism at the time of Christ, but which, as it is nowhere taught in the Bible, has completely fallen from the awareness of Christians. The idea is that of the “integral age” of the great Jewish prophets: the idea that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception.

“This notion is a key factor in understanding how some early Christians came to believe that December 25th is the date of Christ’s birth. The early Christians applied this idea to Jesus, so that March 25th and April 6th were not only the supposed dates of Christ’s death, but of his conception or birth as well. There is some fleeting evidence that at least some first- and second-century Christians thought of March 25th or April 6th as the date of Christ’s birth, but rather quickly the assignment of March 25th as the date of Christ’s conception prevailed.

“It is to this day, commemorated almost universally among Christians as the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel brought the good tidings of a savior to the Virgin Mary, upon whose acquiescence the Eternal Word of God (“Light of Light, True God of True God, begotten of the Father before all ages”) forthwith became incarnate in her womb. What is the length of pregnancy? Nine months. Add nine months to March 25th and you get December 25th; add it to April 6th and you get January 6th. December 25th is Christmas, and January 6th is Epiphany.”

Very interesting, don’t you think? If you want to read more about it here.


6 responses

  1. I have been looking at this subject for some time now. The NASA computer that computes astronomical points has added fuel to some chronologists and astronomers laying out key dates from the Scriptures and making predictions based on their studies.

    Just the other day, one guy showed from his charts and studies and timelines that Jesus had a public ministry of 70 weeks or 490 days. He lays out the Daniel 9 prophecies and it shows a lot of sense in it to me.

    There is another guy, can’t remember his name, who also does something similar. Both these guys, one Jewish, the other, a Texan and claims no ethicity to Israel, have points and times and seasons that are remarkably similar. They both lay out their charts based on the lunar calendar.

    The one point that converges on the timeline of these guys is the United Nations, Nov. 29, 1947 date. The United Nations established that date as the count down for Israel becoming a nation again in 1948, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 66 that Israel would be become a nation in one day. From that date, both converge on other similar events including Ariel Sharon’s visit to the temple mount on Sept. 28, 2000 that started the next round of war between the Jews and the Palestinians and Arabs, Syrians and other Islamic nations hell bent of their destruction anew.

    Interestingly enough, they both start their counting at Ex. 12, I believe it is when God starts the “counting” according to the first day of the first month of the first year into all generations after, when they were to celebrate the Passover and lay out for that next period the various and asundry “God” festivals that the Jews were to celebrate before the Lord annually in all generations after that first year, month and day.

    Also of interest to me, at least, is an understanding of the meaning of the phrase, “no one knows the day or the hour”. Both these men develop a logical understanding of what that means and why no one knows according to the Jewish Lunar count calendar whether there will be 12 or 13 months in the coming year. As it goes, every month is counted anew. According to God’s direction, two witnesses were to look to the east at sundown or just before sunrise to “spot” and record the next moon. At the moment the two witnesses saw the sliver of the new moon, they recorded it and brought that information back to the Levitcal Priest in charge of the counting of the months and the Jewish calendar. It is fasinating to me that God set up the six days, seventh day of rest for “all” mankind. He also guided the Jews living before Him a certain way starting with Moses a system where they were, by necessity, brought face to face with God routinely, daily, weekly and monthly. There were the seven sevens of sabbaths and the 50 year jubilee celebration. Every generation, a 70 generation, not a 40 year, every 50 years were to “start” over, new and fresh and holy to the Lord!

    I know from other research that the calendars set up in history were to “take” the inconvienence out of living in such a relationship with God. The rulers wanted a more certain and convenient way of counting, not this way of looking for the new moon and then laying out 30 days, not knowing if there would be 12 or 13 months that year. Only God controlled the weather and growing seasons and times of rest. It makes sense with the god of the world loose upon the minds and hearts of rebel men, men would want to stear clear of God’s ways.

    Now, I count every day I live another day here on earth a gift and blessing. I want to see God’s Names lifted up and glorified and His words known in the land. I want His festivals understood in my own mind and heart.

    Think about it, our God wants to so bless us we celebrate with a joyful feast before Him for His bounty and blessing! It inspires thanksgiving. Sadly, during these “christian” festivities, when gathering at family and friends homes and around the room full of food and drink and t.v. games and children, God is left out. I am pious. I want true piety. I cannot do it on my own. I have fallen and sinned and do not have His Glory. I am, as all men called and elected, to be His servant, in need of His solution, His Savior, Christ the Lord and because of the words of some of the Apostles, I am freed up to love God and mankind now til the day I die.

    Col 2:6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,
    Col 2:7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
    Col 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

    One last thing, we are all going to die. I believe there will be one last day, hour, minute and second of earthly breath I will breathe and I too will slip out of this sinful nature, leaving it to rot and rust and decay as I slip into that New Heavenly Body. Most of what I have read, those folks are all dead and now know for sure if their understanding was correct.

    So, for what its worth, I want to major on the major things and enjoy these reads on this subject without losing sight the power of the Gospel of the Kingdom and what it does to a lost soul.

    Some die, convinced they know and understand these things. If they sadly have died in their sins, what did that knowledge accomplish? Now I pray daily, build for a thousand years, one day at a time, and when I too pass away from law law land, I will know as I have been known.

    In the mean time, I will be taking it one day at a time. Hopefully, I will be counting correctly too! 🙂

  2. Yes, Michael, it is interesting and enjoyable to read on subjects like the date of Christ’s birth, knowing they are far from the major things of the faith, but that does not make them inconsequential. My primary motive in posting on this article, which just happens to be one Roman Catholic college professor’s view of the origin of the date of Christmas is to work against the tendency to simply accept uncritically, and perpetuate by rote, the dominant view of whichever school of thought from which one comes.

    Some criticize Christmas for it’s pagan origin, some attempt to whitewash it altogether and claim it to be absolutely Christian in every detail, and perhaps the writer of this article is standing in the middle of the road to some degree. Either way, endeavors such as this, like the thought process you’ve outlined above, can be consequential, and every Christian ought to engage such topics at some point and to some degree.

    The reason I believe it is profitable is because where such thinking leads you will either drive you further down one of two roads: superstition or truth. Some may be lead further down the road toward superstition, and while this is unfortunate in the short term, it has the promise of leading the person to the dead end of the road, where by God’s grace he can have the opportunity to realize it’s time to turn around and work his way back up away from the superstitious dead end toward the truth. Jesus said it best, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

    I don’t know if the writer is correct in his interpretation of the facts of history, but I felt his case to be compelling and worthy of consideration. Why do we celebrate Christmas? Why on December 25th? Is that when Christ was really born, and does it matter? Is there Scriptural warrant for celebrating Christmas, or prohibition against it, or is it an indifferent matter? Our practices ought never remain unexamined, for in so doing, we can keep ourselves from “losing sight of the power of the Gospel of the Kingdom and what it does to a lost soul.”

  3. AMEN John!

    We do have warrant to celebrate. Is it profitable for us and them, though?

    It seems, because we are now “free men”, we can become slaves to all. That doesn’t make too much sense until the Holy Ghost makes it plain and gives you the understanding.

    I leave off with Paul’s great wisdom again:::>

    1Co 10:23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
    1Co 10:24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
    1Co 10:25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.
    1Co 10:26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”
    1Co 10:27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.
    1Co 10:28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience–
    1Co 10:29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?
    1Co 10:30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
    1Co 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
    1Co 10:32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,
    1Co 10:33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

  4. And what sense has the Holy Spirit illuminated to you regarding how this passage applies to Christmas?

    If an unbeliever or a brother is offended by Christmas because it is at least associated with historic paganism, then out of a desire for the glory of God and for the benefit of the offended unbeliever or brother, we should, by the grace of God, refrain from our celebrating of it? It certainly does make sense in the case of the offended brother, but is there a pagan who is offended by the pagan origin of Christmas? Other than Jehovah’s Witnesses, that is?

    Indeed, great would be the sanctification of a believer who would refrain from his Christmas festivities out of love for another’s soul!

    So, when would you say it’s appropriate to help a brother with such weak faith to gain confidence in his liberty to celebrate without sinning by causing him to sin against his conscience?

  5. When? When he is ready to be helped. I think that would be the appropriate time.

    To my point and those scriptures, I was leaning towards being with pagans celebrating the winter solistice. I like to talk to people who have a position clearly understood about Jesus and Christmas. I don’t have a problem mixing it up during national or state holidays or being with a worldly friend or two.

    There is no prohibition for me to be social with unbelievers during this seasonal time.

    Whenever I can make a distinction between idolatry and True Worship in those settings, I do. I am more mindful of the weaker among us if one or more got wind of me going out and having a social with them. If that was offensive to them and it got back to me, then I would cease and refer to my action plan, above, as to when it would be appropriate to help my weaker brother.

    I remember the story told of a friend of mine who was drinking a sparkling apple cider one day. Across the street in a restraurant were two members of his Church fellowship. One man was newly saved and newly a member with this group. He was having a drinking problem. When he saw this guy drinking, it stumbled him because from the distance it looked like he was drinking a beer.

    He commented that that was way to difficult from him to see his Pastor drinking a beer in broad daylight outside in a public place and he knew he couldn’t.

    When my friend heard about that conversation, he stopped drinking sparkling apple ciders in public. He didn’t realize that it looked like a beer bottle!

  6. […] the question of the true origin of Christmas continues to be an issue of interest for me. In the past I have promoted Touchstone Magazine‘s interesting article,” Calculating Chri…” This article takes the “Mere Christianity” approach to defending the Christian […]

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