Book Plunge: 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus Part 7

Who was the historical Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look at Asher Norman’s book Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus and today, we come to the cream of the crop. Yes. This is the post I have been wanting to deal with because it’s one of my favorite topics to expose. That is the topic of Jesus mythicism.

Yes. Norman is open entirely to Jesus mythicism. Yes. He uses the exact same arguments that have been debunked time and time again. No. He doesn’t deal with the scholarship on this issue at all save Robert Price. (At least we have a work that doesn’t quote Carrier finally)

Norman tells us that according to Price, Jesus fits an archetype of someone who is supernaturally predicted and conceived, escapes attempts to kill him as an infant, has great wisdom as a child, receives divine commission, defeats demons, wins favor and is treated as a king, loses that favor and is betrayed and executed, normally on a hill, and then is vindicated and taken to heaven.

He lists four figures that fit this. Hercules (Because we all know the great wisdom he had where he killed his teacher and had to do twelve labors), Apollonius of Tyana, (Best devastated by David Marshall in Jesus Is No Myth.) Padma Sambhava (An eighth century figure so good luck saying this was an influence on Jesus) and the Buddha (Who we have no contemporary biographies of but hey, we only need contemporaries when it comes to Jesus).

Naturally, he goes to Remsburg’s list. He wasn’t taken seriously in his own day, but conspiracy theorist skeptics take him as Gospel today. We get the usual list of people who never mentioned Jesus. He also says that they failed to mention Matthew’s raised saints (Because, you know, Romans were all about talking about miraculous events in Judea.) Still, let’s go through this list in the footnote of people who never mentioned Jesus.

Apollonius —- Who is this one? There are a number of people with this name. It needs more context. Without that, then we’re left wondering why we should care about this.

Appian — He was indeed a historian, but his interest was in Roman conquests. Last I checked, Jesus wasn’t involved in any of those. What’s Appian to say “And Caesar went and battled his enemies and yo, there was this dude named Jesus who claimed to do miracles in Judea also!”

Appion of Alexandria — He wrote a history of Rome. Again, it has to be asked, why would he talk about Jesus?

Arrian — His area of interest was Alexander the Great. Last I checked, that bears no connection to Jesus.

Aulus Gellius — He was a lawyer. Big shock that he wrote on law. No need to mention Jesus here.

Columella — Someone who wrote about agriculture was supposed to write about Jesus?

Damis — He wrote about Apollonius of Tyana. No desire to mention the competition in this case.

Dio Chrysostom — He was an orator. He wrote on literature, philosophy, and politics. Jesus made no major waves to Rome in this area, so why bother?

Dion Pruseus — He was also an orator. He wrote on how to speak well. No need to mention Jesus.

Epictetus —- He was a second-century philosopher. His main interest was stoicism. Why would he care about Jesus? Besides that, his writings are not his, but rather those of his students. They want to show him as a great teacher, not Jesus.

Favorinus —- He was a second-century philosopher. He wrote on the subject of rhetoric. Why would he mention Jesus?

Florus Lucius — He was a Roman historian. He wrote about pre-Christian history. Nothing there says he should have talked about Jesus.

Hermogones Silius Italicus — Unclear who this is, though he could be a poet who wrote about the second Punic War. I don’t think that involved Jesus.

Josephus — We will cover this later. Norman says both mentions are forgeries.

Justus of Tiberius — We only have a 9th century work saying this doesn’t mention Jesus, but it was a Jewish work interested in writing about kings. Jesus was not seen as a king by most of the Jews. Why mention a failed crucified Messiah?

Juvenal — He wrote satires. No need to speak of Jesus there.

Lucanus — This guy was the nephew of Seneca. We have a poem he wrote and a work describing the war between Caesar and Pompey. Jesus was not a major combatant in that war.

Lucian —- See next part

Lysias — Who? There was someone who lived with that name, but it was from 400-300 B.C. There’s a good reason they wouldn’t talk about Jesus.

Martial — He wrote poetry and satire. Why should he talk about Jesus?

Paterculus — He wrote a history of Rome. His work was published just when Jesus started His ministry and we have no record of Jesus visiting Rome.

Pausanias — His work is Descriptions of Greece. Remember when Jesus went to Greece? Neither do I.

Persuis — Again, a satirist (How many of these historians are not historians?).

Petronius — Wrote works like The Satyricon. His work was often quite vulgar. Why mention Jesus?

Phaedrus — He wrote fables. Again, why mention Jesus?

Philo-Judeaeus — Philo is at least an understandable figure, but Jesus would be seen as a flash in the pan to him. There were numerous figures being put to death. Philo mentions no other Messianic figures. We go to Josephus for those. More of this can be found in my article on how Jesus is not worth talking about (At least to the ancients).

Phlegon — This one is questionable. It could be he did mention the darkness at the time of Christ.

Pliny the Elder — He wrote Natural History. This dealt with science and morality. There was no need to mention Jesus to make his case.

Pliny the Younger — See next part.

Plutarch — This one is another one that could very well have possibly referred to Jesus. Why didn’t he? I’d chalk it up to a bigotry against people like Jews and Egyptians. He was more interested in Greco-Roman heroes.

Pomponius Mela — This guy was a Roman geographer who came from Spain. A geographer has no need to talk about Jesus.

Ptolemy — He wrote the Almagest. His main area of interest was astronomy. No need to talk about Jesus.

Quintilian — He wrote about Greco-Roman rhetoric. Jesus has no need to be mentioned here.

Quintius Curtius — Jesus was supposed to fit into the history of Alexander the Great? Who knew?!

Seneca — This one could have mentioned Jesus, but he probably would have had no interest in what he would deem superstitious nonsense and was more interested in the philosophy he knew well and trying to save himself from Nero.

Statius — He wrote poetry, a story about the seven against Thebes, and the life of Achilles. Jesus played no role in any of this.

Suetonius — See next section.

Tacitus — See next section.

Theon of Smyrna — His work was on mathematics and astronomy. Why talk about Jesus?

Valerius Flaccus — He wrote about Jason and the Golden Fleece. Was Jesus a part of that voyage?

Valerius Maximus — He wrote anecdotes and just when Jesus was getting started. Again, why mention Him?

As we can see from this list, Norman has not done any checking. He just saw the list and went with it. Norman has just reached the point where he’ll believe any argument provided it argues against Christianity.

So let’s look at the more disputed figures.

Josephus

There is no doubt that Josephus has interpolations in what he said, yet the overwhelming majority of scholars here say partial interpolation. The argument worth mentioning is that Origen says Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, but that does not show that the whole passage did not exist. It just shows the part that says “He was the Messiah” did not exist. There is also no need for the church fathers to mention this passage. The existence of Jesus was not debated. Norman says nothing about the second reference to Jesus which is even more accepted than the first.

Tacitus

Norman really shows his lack of knowledge here. He says Tacitus never mentions Jesus. He just mentions someone named Christus. Here’s my challenge then to Norman. Find another person named Christus who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and had a group of people named after him and this group’s teachings had reached Rome by the time of Nero and several of them were put to death by him. Go ahead. Find one other figure.

He also says that this information was probably hearsay. There’s no evidence given for this and even when he received information from Pliny the Younger, his best friend, he still treated it with skepticism. Tacitus as a Senator would have access to records now lost to us.

Norman also says Tacitus spoke of pagan gods as if they really existed, to which we could say this could first off be used to argue against the historicity of anything Tacitus wrote if accurate, but second, Norman gives no examples of this. Without that, we cannot comment. All we can say is the again overwhelming majority of scholars of Tacitus have no problem with this reference.

Suetonius

I could understand this one being more questionable. Norman does say the name Chrestus can refer to the good man. This would be too vague for a Roman historian to write about. What good man? It also doesn’t need to mean that this Chrestus was in Rome. It could just as well mean he was the subject of the debate and this would fit in with the expulsion of the Jews from Rome at the time.

Pliny the Younger

Norman is right that he never mentions Jesus but does mention Christians worshipping Jesus, but this is consistent with all that we have as well.

The Talmud

I am skeptical of this claim since it gets a lot of information about Jesus wrong and hence, I don’t use it.

There is no mention of Lucian here nor is there any of Mara Bar-Serapion.

We also issue this challenge to Norman. If you think this is a convincing argument, show where Gamaliel, Hillel, or Shammai are mentioned by these writers. These are Jews you would no doubt hold to be historical figures. Find them mentioned.

So where does Norman think the idea of Jesus came from? Pagan gods. Norman does get something right in that much of the life of Jesus is patterned after the Old Testament, but this is what we would expect. Great teachers would try to reenact the great figures of the past. It would be seen as honorable to do so.

Still, Norman isn’t satisfied with that. He goes with the mystery religions and what a shock that one of his great sources is Freke and Gandy’s The Jesus Mysteries.

Norman thinks showing a god dying and coming to life is sufficient, but that does not equal resurrection in the Jewish sense. (Note the irony of having to explain to Norman the Jewish context) Baal would die and rise, if he did at all which can be disputed, with the vegetation cycle.

As for Adonis, the stories about him come from the second century. If any influence was going on, it was Christians influencing the story of Adonis. Norman is free to try to show us the scholarly support. Again, we want scholars, not sensationalists like Freke and Gandy.

We could just as well say that for all of these claims we want to see the scholarship. Attis was born on December 25th? The NT makes no such claim for Jesus, but can Norman show us the dating on this? Can he show an account of the resurrection of Attis that pre-dates Christianity?

For Isis, Horus, and Osiris, we issue this challenge to Norman. Find one living Egyptologist that will think that this idea is on the right path. They could say “Eh. It needs a little bit of tweaking here and there, but it’s generally right.” Find one.

Naturally, we have Mithras on the list. It’s fascinating to hear what Mithras did after death especially since we have no record of his death whatsoever. Mithras was also supposedly born on December 25th which is also supposedly the date of the winter solstice. I challenge Norman to back any of these claims.

For all of these claims, about the only ones that could have some accuracy are the sharing of a meal and the doing of miracles. Miracles would be the work of any deity and meals were common rituals in the ancient world for fellowship. It should also be known that we have no writings of the followers of Mithras and we learn all we do about them from artwork and the writings of the church fathers.

How about Dionysus? We find more of the same in the list. Again, here’s my challenge to Norman. You make the claim. You back it. Where are these events backed by scholars of Dionysus?

Next, Norman goes to Their Hollow Inheritance by Michael Drazin to argue about Jesus, Krishna, and Buddha. Drazin is not a scholar but another anti-missionary. I have ordered his book from the library, but it looks like he relies on the same 19th century works and not modern scholarship.  Mike Licona contacted two specialists on Hinduism and Buddha. I refer you to those here.

Finally, if Jesus did exist, He was likely a zealot. This book was published before Aslan’s work, but Norman again doesn’t make much of a case.

Norman does say Jesus was referred to by titles that implied Kingship. Yes. And? This means that He was a zealot? Where do we see Him actively instigating the conquest of Rome?

Norman also tells us that John the Baptist was likely a zealot also since according to Josephus, Herod put John the Baptist in prison for fear of a military uprising. Strangely enough, we have no record of John’s disciples planning a rescue mission or partaking in any aggression. Ancient kings back then would be wary of anyone being more popular than they.

Paul arrested Christians in Damascus. Obviously, this was for anti-Roman reasons wasn’t it? No. Paul was zealous for Judaism and saw Christianity as a dangerous sect.

It also only makes sense supposedly that the high priest went after Jesus since the high priest had to protect Roman interests. No. It also makes sense if Jesus is gathering honor from the populace and the high priest thinks he’s losing his.

Norman also thinks that Jesus and His disciples, killed fruit trees like the fig tree, plucked corn on the sabbath, and refused to let someone bury their father because they were on the run from Herod. We hope Norman will start writing fiction because he has quite the vivid imagination to think this is a case.

Some of Jesus’s disciples did have nicknames of zealots. Sure. One of them was also a tax collector. Whoops! A zealot would not work with a tax collector would they?

In John’s Gospel, the people want to make Jesus king by force. Of course, it couldn’t be because they had just seen a miracle in their midst and said “This is the Messiah! Let’s make Him king!” One would think a zealot Jesus would welcome that.

Jesus attempted to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy. Indeed He did. Yet if Norman accepts this, He needs to accept that Jesus went into Jerusalem expecting not to take it over, but expecting to die.

Was Jesus arrested for being a zealot threat? No. Jesus was arrested for being a threat to the honor of the Jewish leaders.

Norman says the large force the Romans sent to arrest Jesus only makes sense if He was a zealot. No. Jesus was not well-known in Jerusalem and the Romans would have no idea how many He would have or what they would do. Other Messiah figures did require an army and Rome just didn’t want to take chances. It doesn’t mean they were right in their assessment. Note that others seeing Jesus as a zealot is insufficient to say He was one, unless Norman wants to say my opinion is sufficient to show that he has no clue what he’s talking about.

The Romans charged that Jesus was the King of the Jews. We Christians no doubt see irony here, but Pilate would see mockery. He wrote this to humiliate the Jews he didn’t care for.

Jesus was crucified between two brigands. Yes. And?

We have already dealt with the sign on the cross.

When Peter was arrested, he was heavily guarded. Sure. What prisoner wouldn’t be?

Paul was arrested because he was thought to be a zealot ringleader. Supposing this is true, what of it? How does Paul present himself? This might be a shock to Norman, but major figures can be badly misunderstood by the public.

Jesus was preached to be another king by Paul. Of course he was. Yes. Paul did challenge Rome, but he didn’t challenge Rome on a military basis. Someone who was challenging Rome would not write Romans 13. Amazing that Norman says Paul was undercover working for Rome and then says Paul was a zealot against Rome. Which is it?

James was executed in 62 A.D. Surely this was because he was a threat to Rome. It’s difficult to understand any other reason! Well, no it’s not. It’s easy to. James was a more popular figure and a threat to the honor.

The final chapter of this book is how the Torah already provides for Gentiles. I have nothing of interest there. The main work is done.

I really encourage any Jew wanting to learn about Christianity to avoid Norman’s work. It’s full of hideous errors. The reason I engaged with it was for the debate he is having with Michael Brown.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Merry Christmas Huffington Post

Is Christmas based on paganism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Ah yes. Christmastime. A time for love and joy and celebration and for people to come out and suddenly start taking an interest in history by declaring that everything is pagan once again. Yeah. The pagan copycat thesis died a long time ago for Jesus, and that doesn’t stop many from writing about that on the internet, but many still like to say it for Christmas. Many Christians in fact like to say that Christmas is based on pagan traditions that we just happened to steal and use for ourselves. It’s understandable. It’s also in much of pop culture. My wife and I enjoy watching The Big Bang Theory (A show about four ordinary normal guys), yet as much as I can delight in the antics of Sheldon Cooper, he’s just wrong on this count.

The article today I plan to respond to is written by Philip Greywolf Shallcrass. Let’s see what he has to say.

Pagans have deeper links with the season though. Virtually every part of Christmas has its origin in Pagan celebrations of Midwinter. Christmas Day is on December 25th because that’s when pre-Christian folk throughout the Roman Empire celebrated the birth of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. In 274 CE, Emperor Aurelian promoted Sol Invictus as a god that all citizens of the Empire could worship alongside their own deities. He combines aspects of other pagan gods, including Mithras, a Middle Eastern deity born to a virgin mother on December 25th. The birth of Christ was first celebrated on this day in 336 CE.

Okay. Sol Invictus. Lets’s start it out. Is any primary source given that says Sol Invictus was celebrated on this day? Nope. Not a one. There’s a reason for that. You won’t find one. In fact, this kind of thing is so ludicrous even Cracked has an article on this. Last I checked, they’re not hardline defenders of evangelical Christianity. They refer to this article in fact. The point is rightly made that Saturnalia lasted from December 17th to the 23rd and that there would not be another holiday celebrated since most people would still be hungover and then preparing for the New Year. In fact, they contend that Aurelian, who was not a fan of Christianity, set up the date to challenge the birth of Christ.

Now does this mean that Jesus was born on December 25th? Not really, though we can be open to the date and I would say there is more evidence for that than for the other figures in history. At least with the case of Jesus you have people from the past actually making such claims.

Also, Shallcrass claims Mithras was a Middle Eastern deity born to a virgin mother. Again, what is the source of this claim? Good luck finding one. We have no Mithraic writings out there and most of what we know of Mithras comes from artwork and in fact from the early church fathers. The viewpoint now is that in fact Mithras was born out of a rock carrying a dagger and wearing a cap. I suppose you could try to make a case that the rock was female and I’m pretty sure that rocks don’t have sex so the rock would be a virgin, but other than that, there really isn’t a case there. Shallcrass may be an authority on modern pagan rituals, but that does not equate to ancient pagan rituals.

The original significance of the date is that, in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the first day on which the sun’s rising position on the horizon begins to move northward following the winter solstice. Our ancestors took the sun’s renewed movement as a welcome sign that there would be an end to winter and a return of warmth and growth. Hence they celebrated the rebirth of light, personified as a divine child.

Did they? Well it would be nice to see some evidence of that. It’s also important to note that if that was the case, it should be known that December 25th does not fall in the winter solstice. Now surely if the Christians were co-opting a date to show the birth of their divine child, they would know enough to put it on the right date back then. To put it on the wrong date would just be more embarrassing for the Christians. (And no Shallcrass, a link to wikipedia does not convince me you’ve done real historical research.)

Midwinter celebrations represented a metaphorical shaft of light in the depths of winter, when sources of food were limited and when cold, snow and frost ended many lives, particularly those of the frail, elderly and very young. Celebration lifted the spirits, and feasting was a reminder of good times promised by the sun’s return, as were the exchange of gifts and the decorating of homes and temples with evergreen foliage.

Okay. Any primary sources for this? No. Again, I’ll gladly state that Shallcrass would know more about modern pagan rituals than I do, but why should I think he has a clue on ancient pagan rituals? That would be like claiming your average churchgoer must know more about the church fathers than Bart Ehrman simply by the fact of the churchgoer being a Christian. Unfortunately today, most Christians don’t have a clue about the early church fathers. You’d frankly be lucky to find many who know history past the Reformation. Many of our ideas of church history would go more like this:

Sally Church History

Let’s consider something however. What about evergreen foliage being used? Well there’s a simple reason for that. If you want to decorate your home in the winter and you want to use something that’s a plant, you pretty much have one choice. You have to go with an evergreen because nothing else is really alive at that time of year. This kind of idea did not really catch on until around the time of the Reformation so if the church was copying something, it’s ludicrous to think they would go back 1,000+ years and get an idea. While we do not know for sure the origins of the Christmas tree, it’s a stretch to think people reach back 1,000 years for a tradition.

From here, Shallcrass has some writings on how pagans celebrated the solstice that really have as much to do with Christmas as the price of tea in China. Even still, it looks like Shallcrass did all of his research online entirely. Where are the books on the topic?

You won’t find any.

While the ending might be interesting, this is not at all a true historical investigation. Shallcrass has just made some assertions and then linked to wikipedia and then said he should be considered an authority on the topic. Well he’s not.

Does this mean Jesus was born on December 25th? No. Could a case be made, yes. It’s inconsequential however. Just celebrate the birth of Jesus. Don’t let the ones who oppose it steal your joy. If you know you are not worshiping pagan deities and not honoring pagan deities at all, you have nothing to worry about.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Including you Mr. Shallcrass.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

Is this the season to be jolly or is it the season to avoid? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I had originally set a post on this to be published today, but something seems to have gone wrong. If a similar post shows up again, I will deal with it and go with this one. Also, for those wondering where I’ve been, my wife and I both have had the stomach bug and so it had been a hard week. Today, we are resuming our regular schedule and it’s starting with a topic that came up with some friends.

You see, around the time of Christmas, one thing I can always predict on the internet is that there is a strong anti-Christmas crowd. Now these people don’t want to celebrate Christmas on their own. If that’s your choice, well I disagree and we can discuss it, but that’s your choice. An anti-Christmas person however is worse and no, my friends are not like this. These are the people who are not only convinced the day is pagan, but that if you are celebrating it, you are endorsing a pagan holiday. You are less Christian if you celebrate Christmas.

Look. If you don’t want to celebrate Christmas, that’s fine. We can talk about that. But if you want to go after others who do for not being as “Christian” as you are, I think that is in fact decidedly anti-Christian and not a biblical stance at all.

Most of us aren’t like that. Instead, many of us have simple questions. So I think of my friends who had the concerns many of us often have. Isn’t Christmas based on a pagan holiday such as Saturnalia? Doesn’t the book of Jeremiah condemn Christmas trees? Aren’t we caught up in a gross materialism this kind of year when it comes to the buying of and exchanging of gifts? What should we do about Santa Claus?

Let’s start with the first. Is it based on Saturnalia? Well, no. Consider this from the Commentary on Daniel from Hippolytus of Rome who lived from the late second to early third century.

For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, eight days before the kalends of January [December 25th], the 4th day of the week [Wednesday], while Augustus was in his forty-second year, [2 or 3BC] but from Adam five thousand and five hundred years.  He suffered in the thirty third year, 8 days before the kalends of April [March 25th], the Day of Preparation, the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar [29 or 30 AD], while Rufus and Roubellion and Gaius Caesar, for the 4th time, and Gaius Cestius Saturninus were Consuls.

The text at this can be spurious, but my source is actually the excellent work of Roger Pearse and he defends it and shows it to be reliable. This would be an early Christian testimony to Jesus being born on December 25th. More on this can be found here.

Those wanting to say Christians did this based on Saturnalia will need to provide documentation on when the ancients celebrated Saturnalia and that the Christians either stole this or set up something in competition. The main sources I know touting this are those who already hold the position and just cite one another instead of pointing to an external source. The reality is Christians were extremely resistant to paganism. There was only one exception. Artwork. They would use the artwork, but that’s because that was reclaiming it for Christ as God is the original artist through creation.

It’s also worth pointing out that many people will claim Mithras, Dionysus, Horus, and other pagan deities were born on December 25th. As always, be suspicious of these claims. When they are given, do not ask for just a web site, but ask for primary sources. If you are given a web site, look and see if the site itself provides any primary sources for the claim. So far, the evidence for these claims has been negative.

Those wanting more on this are invited to read the excellent book of my ministry partner here.

Okay. But don’t we have pagan practices today? What about Christmas trees? I mean, look at the text in Jeremiah!

This is what the Lord says:

“Do not learn the ways of the nations
    or be terrified by signs in the heavens,
    though the nations are terrified by them.
For the practices of the peoples are worthless;
    they cut a tree out of the forest,
    and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
They adorn it with silver and gold;
    they fasten it with hammer and nails
    so it will not totter.

On the face of it, this can seem convincing. However, one problem with reading a text is that we often read modern notions and usages into the text. What we have to ask is “What was Jeremiah specifically talking about?

In the passage, he is talking about idolatry. Why would you cut down a tree? Because many people made idols from trees. Wood was easy, cheap, and renewable. Working with metal cost more and required special skill. Now of course adorning with silver and gold would cost something if you did that, but it was still far easier. They would also fasten it with hammer and nails because they didn’t have the same precision tools we have today necessarily. (Although they were quite good with those pyramids and the temple and other ancient works)

But Jeremiah was NOT talking about Christmas trees. If you are concerned that this is what is being talked about, well here are some criteria to follow.

If you bring us a Christmas tree into your house, you may not bow down to it to worship it. (Bending down to put gifts under a tree is not an act of worship and more than bending down to turn on an electric blanket by your bed or plug in your IPhone is an act of worship.) If you do this, you may not burn a sacrifice to it. You are to treat it as a tree and not hold any rituals of pagan worship around it. Avoid this and you should be fine.

But when Christmas trees were started, didn’t that come from pagans?

No. The pagans had long since been dead by then. Why Christmas trees? Picture yourself living in say the 16th or 17th century in Europe. It’s the time to celebrate the birth of Christ. You want to decorate your house some. How about a tree? Okay. What will you bring in. You have to use an evergreen! Every other tree is dead at the time. So to add a touch of beauty to your house, you bring in a tree. Does that sound odd? If it does, why do so many of us bring in plants to our own homes throughout the year for a touch of beauty? Why do so many of our wives like it when we bring home flowers to them?

Okay. What about the materialism?

Okay. Gifts can distract children at Christmas. I get this. However, let’s also remember children learn on a graded scale. If I want to raise my children to be Christians, I’m not going to start by reading them Aquinas’s Summa Theologica when they’re five years old. They have to work their way there. When we start teaching children right from wrong, we don’t give them a moral dissertation. We instead give them rewards, such as cookies when they do good, and punish them when they do wrong, such as going to bed early without TV. As they get older, we expect that with maturity, they will grow into a state where such rewards and punishments are not needed and even if they are, the rewards and punishments disagree. Sorry, but your 16 year-old will not be as happy at the prospect of getting a cookie as will your 6 year-old.

I have no problem then with you letting your children see this as a happy time of year by getting them gifts. In fact, there is a danger that if this is not done, they will come to see this as an unhappy time of year. They could see religion as something that is meant to keep them from other things and when they get old enough, they will be more than happy to break away from that religion. Do they have an incorrect view of religion? They sure do, but it is hard to get past the first impressions.

I was one who grew up looking forward to the gifts, but you know what happened? Now I still like the gifts. When you put a gift in my hands on Christmas day, I enjoy opening it and seeing what I’ve got, but that just doesn’t matter as much. In fact, aside from books, it is harder and harder to think of things that i want for Christmas. How did that come about? Because as I matured, I came to appreciate my Christian worldview even more on my own. No one had to tell me the gifts weren’t the focus. I just learned it.

Okay. So what about Santa Claus?

Now this one I understand can be a bit more difficult. We want to be honest with our children, and we want them to still have some magic about Christmas. My personal recommendation is that if you do the Santa Claus, then be sure to tell them also about the original Saint Nicholas. This was someone who was even said to have been at the Council of Nicea on the side of orthodoxy and according to legend, punched the arch-heretic Arius in the face.

puncharius ariusduck Santaclauspunch

In fact, you can have some fun by looking at Christmas traditions all around the world. Not every place has Santa Claus for instance. Some have a woman who gives gifts. Some have an animal. It can differ and looking into each of these can give insights into how different cultures celebrate Christmas. One culture even for awhile had a creature called Krampus, a devilish looking beast who was meant to be a sort of anti-Santa. He certainly was not worshiped and/or respected.

This can also bring us to another point. Christmas is celebrated all the world around. That makes Christmas an excellent time for the spread of the Gospel. It’s easier to talk about Jesus. You don’t just talk about God in a generic sense. You talk about Jesus specifically. This would be a great time to educate yourself some on the reality of the Christmas faith.

So what do you do in the end? Well if you choose to not celebrate. That’s your call. Don’t think yourself better than those who do and don’t consider them as if they’re giving into pagan celebrations. If these people are fully justified in their own minds, let them be. Again, by all means have discussions on the nature of Christmas and why you celebrate it. Even if you disagree, you could have a wonderful chance to learn why someone believes and practices the way they do.

If you do celebrate, don’t look down on those who don’t. Let them be fully convinced in their own mind. This is like the case of meat offered to idols in 1 Cor. 8-10 and in Romans 14.

But just like any other day, when December 25th comes, whether you have a tree or not, whether you give gifts or not, and whether you have visits from Santa Claus or not, do whatever you do to the Lord and for His glory.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/21/2013

What’s coming up this Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

This will be the last show before Christmas comes, a time that I hope we’re all looking forward to. For my part, I look forward more to the time of getting to give the gifts more than getting. I have several gifts that are being given to me and my wife says “Do you wonder about what you got?” “No.” It seems shocking, but I can get curious at times, but really, there isn’t much I want for Christmas so most anything I get is a blessing. Maybe it’s an age milestone.

But yet, this is a joyous time of year still and my wife and I enjoy decorating the house (And yes, I did insist on hanging up mistletoe. Maybe I should keep that up perpetually…) and driving down the road looking for Christmas music on the radio. (And local radio stations, why is it a week before Christmas I have a hard time finding Christmas music?)

A lot of us also have Christmas traditions, but where did they come from? We tell our children about Santa Claus normally, but where did the idea of Santa Claus even come from? We have Christmas trees, but where did the tradition of Christmas trees start? Do some of these instead have roots in paganism? For this kind of question, you need someone with the scholarly authority to speak on the issue.

That’s why Anthony McRoy is my guest. Dr. McRoy is a visiting lecturer at the Wales University dealing with topics on Islam, but he has also dealt with questions about the nature of Christmas and other holidays. For those who don’t know, he was a guest on a special episode of Unbelievable? devoted to answering questions about Christmas. The link to that can be found here.

That’s why I plan to put to him the same kinds of questions that I am regularly asked about Christmas. There are several people out there who worry that the celebration of Christmas is in fact a celebration that Christians should not participate in and that the whole of it came from pagan traditions or at least a sizable part thereof. Are they right?

Some of you don’t have that concern and I think you are right in not having it, but still, like me, you like to know things and you want to know the history behind the traditions. Where did the big man in the red suit come from? Does this have any historical root in it at all? Why is it that we celebrate this on December 25th? Is there any evil in having a Christmas tree in one’s house?

I hope you’ll be listening in on the show as we discuss these questions and call in, especially for parents who might be wondering about questions involving Santa Claus, and I do plan on asking how parents should approach this subject. The show time is 3-5 PM EST. The call in number is 714-242-5180. The link to listen to it live and when it is archived, which is shortly after the show ends, can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters