A Response To Jim Staley On Halloween

Is Halloween an unholy day? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Kudos first off to Michael Brown. I managed to get in touch with him about the Halloween meme. Which one am I talking about? The one I have written about here and here. Dr. Brown thanked me for the information and has said if they cannot find a source for the quote, they will not put up the image next year. I have to say I think such intellectual humility is quite gladdening. Dr. Brown is someone I have much more respect for as a result.

However, someone else in the comments asked me to watch this video instead. This one is Jim Staley. I have encountered Staley’s work before when some old friends from church were trying to convince me Christmas and Easter was pagan. These are claims I am used to. Why?

When you deal with the Jesus mythicist crowd, paganism rears its head. After all, pagans have virgin births and turning water into wine and feasts with eating the body of the deity and resurrections and all the other stuff. Naturally, the Christians ripped off the pagans and put it together and attached it to a man named Jesus who never even existed.

When you hear those claims and see how bogus they are after doing basic research, after awhile, you start to question a lot of the claims of things coming from pagans. Not only that, but when you see claims that are common knowledge, such as Columbus sailing to prove the Earth was round or that the Middle Ages were the dark ages and you see those are nonsense, you start questioning so-called common knowledge. It is more often common ignorance.

So now I have reached the point that if you want to convince me of this stuff, you had better have some really good evidence of it.

Jim Staley does not. Most of the time he gets up with a powerpoint that has a paragraph on there that looks really nice, but there are no citations given. There are no sources cited. Things that you would think by Staley’s speaking all historians agree with are not agreed with.

Some of this is an anti-Catholicism. He mainly references traditions of praying to the saints and connects that with Halloween and communicating with the dead. Now I as a Protestant could even say I disagree with praying to the saints and with purgatory and all these other things. I would ask my friends who are Catholics and Orthodox to please put this stuff to the side for now as best as possible.

Staley still doesn’t have a case either way. Kids who dress up as a power ranger for Halloween are not trying to talk to someone who’s dead anyway. Kids are not going out and engaging in rituals to try to bend demonic powers to their will. They are just going to get candy.

So what are some of the problems Staley has? For one, he says Saturnalia was extended to twelve days, which goes with the twelve days of Christmas. Hardly. Saturnalia at most from what I understand lasted seven days and not on the 25th at all. As expected, Staley gives no source for his claim.

Staley, of course, believes that Easter and Christmas are pagan holidays. He does say he explains those in other videos and works and if he doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel in a Halloween lecture, that’s fine. I, in turn, will point people to references by my ministry partner on this. The Christmas one is here and the Easter one is here. Videos on Christmas can be found here and one on Easter is here.

He tells a story of a Kenyan man who visits and gets scared saying that all of this material comes from his culture and that the treats are involved with a witch doctor and preventing curses. For one thing, I could find nothing like that and this is just anecdotal evidence at best. From what I could find, Kenyans celebrate Halloween like we do.

Second, I could have sworn Staley was saying this stuff comes from the Celts and others. Now he jumps over to Kenya? What’s going on with this?

Third, supposing they do celebrate it in Kenya this way. So what? Perhaps some people celebrate weddings by having huge orgies take place. Does that mean we cannot celebrate a wedding here? Kids going door to door for candy are not trying to make a deal with a witch doctor to avoid a curse. They are eating candy.

Naturally, he switches for a bit to speak about Christmas trees and goes to Jeremiah 10. Obviously, Jeremiah was addressing an issue that wasn’t going on in ancient Israel, but was rather going to be going on in Europe around the sixteenth century. I have written about this here.

He also has a picture of Egyptians with a tree. Of course, it makes sense that 16th century Europeans would go and find obscure pictures of what Egyptians did and take their practices from that. Trees have always been pictures of life and things to beautify. Evergreens are just easier because they stay green all year round.

He asks if we can see Jesus giving out candy on Halloween. This comes with added claims to it such as Jesus celebrating a day that belonged to satan and that the people took and tried to redecorate and claim for Jesus. That part is begging the question about what Halloween is, but can I see Jesus giving out candy on Halloween? Yes. I can actually see Him going out to the kids and giving them candy directly if anything.

A brief note here also. Luther didn’t nail the theses in 1511. He nailed them in 1517.

Staley also is one who insists we go back to the Old Testament feasts. You can’t help but wonder if he ever heard of this guy named Paul. The old covenant was not made for all people for all time. It was made for the people of Israel and as the writer of Hebrews says referencing Jeremiah, it had disappeared.

Staley will also regularly say that this day did not originally belong to God. Not at all! Satan can’t create a single day. All days belong to God. If a pagan took a day for his own purposes, that doesn’t mean we can’t take it back for the purposes of God. The calendar belongs to Him after all.

So why do I care about this so much?

First off, facts matter. We can’t rewrite history to make it something else. Christians especially need to be discerning with what they take in. When someone says something just ask “Why should I believe that?” The people that made Zeitgeist sound just as authoritative as Jim Staley.

Second, this kind of information as I implied does give more credibility to Jesus mythicists and makes it more likely that some Christians will go down that route. After all, will it be “Well we stole this and this from the pagans, but not this and this.” If you want your children to be more prone to abandoning Christianity, keep following people like Staley.

Finally, this puts a burden of legalism on several Christians. The overwhelming majority of people on Halloween are dressing up in fun costumes and just going door to door for candy. You give them a picture of a God who is ready to judge them for anything like that. Been there. Done that. God the T-shirt.

For another perspective on this, I recommend this article written from the perspective of a Christian in the Orthodox tradition.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Many Prophets, One Message on the Trinity

Does the Trinity have pagan origins? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I had planned to write a book review again today, but then in a discussion on if Christianity copied from pagans, someone shared this to respond to my claim that they did not. What we saw from the last election cycle in our country is sometimes it’s tempting to get people to move away from a candidate by claiming they’re racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. (Didn’t work too well this time.) In religion, it can be tempting to label something as pagan and think everyone will back away. Of course, labeling is not the same as being able to demonstrate.
The post under question is from Many Prophets, One Message and can be found here. The post is from a Muslim so I won’t be commenting on everything. For instance, when we start talking about the Muslim belief, I won’t be saying anything. Islam is not a specialty area of mine and when I dialogue with Muslims, I stick to what I know, the New Testament. Others who have studied Islam more might want to say something about that part.

So let’s see what they say.

In order to understand the influence of paganism on the doctrine of the Trinity, we need to first understand the world into which Christianity was born and developed. The disciples, the first believers in Jesus, were Jews. In fact Christianity started out as a movement within Judaism. Like Jews since the time of Moses, these first believers kept the Sabbath, were circumcised and worshiped in the Temple: “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.” [Acts 3:1] The only thing that distinguished the early followers of Jesus from any other Jews was their belief in Jesus as the Messiah, that is, the one chosen by God who would redeem the Jewish people. Today, many Christian scholars agree that authors of the New Testament such as Matthew were Jewish believers in Jesus. The influence of Judaism on the New Testament is important because it helps us to correctly understand its message. The New Testament is full of terminology like “son of God.” Such language is interpreted literally by Trinitarians to mean that Jesus is God the Son, but is this correct? What was the intention behind the Jewish writers of the New Testament when they used such language? What did these terms mean at the time of Jesus?

I’m pleased that there is some right stuff here, such as the authors of the New Testament being Jewish believers in Jesus, though I’d say it’s quite a good possibility that Luke was a Gentile believer. Still, the claim that the first believers kept the Sabbath, were circumcised, and worshiped in the Temple is flimsy. All we have is one verse and it only describes the Temple.

I meet many Seventh-Day Adventists who think that Paul had to worship on Saturday because he went into the synagogues on Saturday to speak to the Jews so he was still observing the Sabbath. If he was, it will need to be established on other grounds. Why would Paul go on Saturday? He went on Saturday because that is the day the Jews were there. If he had gone on Sunday, no one would have been there to hear the message, or at least if some were there, it would not be the usual crowd.

In the same way, when the first believers went to the temple, this is only the believers in Jerusalem and they went there because that was a central meeting place to spread the message of Jesus. Of course, we learn later in Acts 12 about them meeting in the homes of believers as well. As for circumcision, if they were Jews, they were indeed circumcised, but as we learn in Acts 15, circumcision was not seen as essential for Christianity. This was the first great debate. (And aren’t we men all thankful for how it turned out?)

Our writer also says “Son of God” in interpreted literally by Christians. Unfortunately, He does not state what this means. For instance, if I say Jesus is the Son of God, I don’t mean in a literal sense such as God having sex with Mary. I also realize it can be used in a figurative sense as it has been used of angels and of great men and yes, the pagans used the title for their kings. Our author, unfortunately, cites no Trinitarians who are doing what he claims.

In fact, I would argue that Son of God is not the greatest claim to deity Jesus made. Son of Man is far more persuasive. With this, Jesus is consistently pointing to the figure in Daniel 7. This is the figure that will rule alongside the Ancient of Days and whose Kingdom has no end.

When we turn to the Old Testament we find that such language permeates its pages. For example, Moses calls God “Father”: Is this the way you repay the Lord, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you? [Deuteronomy 32:6] Angels are referred to as “sons of God”: Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. [Job 1:6] The Old Testament even goes so far as to call Moses a god: “And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.” [Exodus 7:1] The Israelites are also referred to as “gods”: “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’”  [Psalm 82:6] What we can conclude is that such highly exalted language was commonplace and is intended figuratively; it is not a literal indication of divinity.

The problem here is that this is not enough to make a case and it can be cherry picking. Just pick verses that agree with your position and hey, you’ve got it! The reference to Moses is one that is being seen as a metaphor and not a claim about what it means to be the son of God. As for Psalms 82, I interpret this as sarcasm. The rulers of Israel prided themselves as being favored since they were the leaders and got to judge Israel, but God says they’re not gods, they’re mere men. Jesus used this passage to back His claims in John 10. If the title can be used of sinful men, how much more the righteous one? Note He used it to back His claim to deity and not to lessen it.

Even as late as the end of the first century, when the New Testament writers started penning their accounts of the life of Jesus, Jewish people were still using such language figuratively. In a conversation between Jesus and some Jewish teachers of the law, they say to Jesus: “…The only Father we have is God himself.” [John 8:41] The Gospel of Luke calls Adam a son of God when it recounts the lineage of Jesus: “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.” [Luke 3:38] Jesus even says that anyone who is makes peace is a child of God: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” [Matthew 5:9] If the New Testament writers understood such language to be a claim to divinity, then they would have used it exclusively in relation to Jesus. Clearly, it denotes a person that is righteous before God and nothing more.

So we can see that such language, in and of itself, does not denote the divinity of Jesus. So where did such ideas come from?

Again, Son of God depends on the context. It’s not the same meaning every time, and our writer makes the mistake of thinking that it is. Note that passages like John 10 are ignored. Still, he asks a good question. Where does the idea that Jesus is divine come from?

The turning point in history came when Christianity ceased being a small movement within Judaism and Gentiles (non-Jews) started to embrace the faith in large numbers. We need to look to the pagan world of the Gentiles in order to understand the mindset of the people that received the New Testament message. Since the time of Alexander the Great, Gentiles had been living in a Hellenistic (Greek) world. Their lands were dominated by Roman armies, with the Roman Empire being the superpower of the world at the time. The Roman Empire itself was heavily influenced by Hellenistic religion, philosophy and culture. Greek gods and goddesses like Zeus, Hermes and Aphrodite, as well as Roman gods and goddesses like Jupiter, Venus and Diana, dominated the landscape. There were temples, priesthoods, and feasts dedicated to the patron god or goddess of a city or region; statues to the deities dotted the forums of the cities. Even rulers themselves were frequently worshipped as gods.

Aside from the first sentence, I really don’t have a problem with what is said here. We do need to understand the Gentile world and the pagan world to understand the New Testament. Much of what is said here about the pagan world is in fact accurate.

Gentiles from such a polytheistic background would have naturally understood Christian preaching about the “son of God” in light of a Greek or Roman god having been begotten by another. We can see this mindset manifested in the New Testament. In the Book of Acts there is an incident where the Gentile crowds think that Paul is Zeus come among them when he heals a crippled man:

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”

Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker.

The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. [Acts 14:11-13]

In checking this, I found something interesting. When I went to the book of Acts, I did a search for the words “son” and “God.” Only two places do I see references to Jesus being the Son of God. One is in Acts 9:20.

“And straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that he is the Son of God.”

Note that here we have Paul in a Jewish synagogue and saying “He is the Son of God” about Jesus. The question to ask is how would the Jews understand this? In light of the resurrection, it would mean the claims of Jesus were true, and I would include deity in that. Acts 13:33 is the next and could in fact contain early creedal material.

that God hath fulfilled the same unto our children, in that he raised up Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.

This would include the idea that as the resurrected Son, Jesus is the rightful king of this world. He is the one meant to rule. Already, we have exalted language of Jesus. This isn’t counting what we find in the Pauline epistles that leads us to conclude that the earliest Christology is indeed the highest.

Still, what about Acts 14? As our writer goes on to say:

It is worthy of note that Paul and Barnabas did not take this opportunity to explain that it was not they but rather Jesus who was God come in human form. Such a clarification is what you would expect, if Trinitarian beliefs about Jesus are correct. Instead, they argued against such pagan beliefs and practices:

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting:

“Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. [Acts 14:14-15]

Here we see that the Greco-Roman peoples that Paul and Barnabas were preaching to were in the habit of taking humans for gods. Despite Paul protesting that he was not a god, the people persisted in their belief: “Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.” [Acts 14:18] From this example we can see that according to Christian history, it was a common practice for people to attribute divinity to other humans. In spite of Paul openly denying being a god, the people continued to worship and sacrifice to him. We can conclude that even if Jesus himself rejected being God at that time, the mindset of the people was such that they would still have found a way to deify him. This is not an isolated incident, as we read elsewhere that Gentiles believed Paul was a god because he survived a bite from a venomous snake:

It is actually not at all surprising. For one thing, I think Luke is speaking in a mocking tone about the people of Lystra. Yet why would Paul not be out spouting full Trinitarian theology at once? One problem is that a lot of people think that if the Trinity is true, that the earliest believers needed to be quoting the Nicene Creed. Not at all. They grew in their understanding like we all do. Paul himself spent three years in the wilderness rethinking everything he knew when he found out Jesus was the Messiah, and in many ways actually understood the ramifications of that better than the others.

Why would Paul not say Jesus was God in human form? Because the people of Lystra would be thinking of Zeus or some other polytheistic deity. Paul would start with where they were. We don’t know for sure what arguments he made as we’re given a picture and a paragraph, but all our writer has is a picture and a paragraph. You need more than that.

He also claims that since people were easily deified, it’s not a shock to think of that happening to Jesus. However, as has been shown, the claims of deity that we’ve already seen aren’t made to a pagan audience but a Jewish one. Jews would not be the ones to do that unless they had really good reason to believe that there had been an incarnation that had taken place. We also have to ask still “How did the idea that Jesus is deity ever come about?” Many people had risen from the dead in the Bible. None were said to be deity. Why Jesus? This is indeed a central question.

Let’s go on.

Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta.

The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.

Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand.

When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.”

But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.

The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. [Acts:28:1-6]

With this background in mind, it’s easy to see how Judaic phrases like “son of God” took on a different meaning when transported out of their Jewish monotheistic context into pagan Greco-Roman thought. The Trinity doctrine arose neither in a vacuum, nor strictly from the text of Scripture. It was the result of the influence of certain beliefs and attitudes that prevailed in and around the Church after the first century. The Church emerged in a Jewish and Greek world and so the primitive Church had to reconcile the notions they had inherited from Judaism with those they had derived from pagan mythology. In the words of the historian and Anglican bishop John Wand, “Jew and Greek had to meet in Christ”

Except the Gentiles never claimed Paul was a son of God. They were claiming he was a god. The Jews were the ones using the Son of God claim. Note that already our writer is claiming the church received ideas from pagan mythology. All we’ve seen so far is that some pagans thought Paul was a god. We have seen no evidence that the Jews received these ideas or that the early church did and if Luke is indeed mocking the people, then it is quite likely they did not.

It’s interesting to note that the Greco-Roman religions were filled with tales of gods procreating with human beings and begetting god-men. The belief that God could be incarnate, or that there were sons of God, were common and popular beliefs. For example, the chief god in the Greek pantheon, Zeus, visited the human woman Danae in the form of golden rain and fathered Perseus, a “god-man.” In another tale Zeus is said to have come to the human woman Alcmena, disguised as her husband. Alcmena bore Hercules, another “god-man.” Such tales bear a striking similarity to Trinitarian beliefs of God being begotten as a man. In fact, the early Christian apologist Justin Martyr, considered a saint in the Catholic Church, said the following in response to pagan criticisms that Christianity borrowed from their beliefs about the sons of God:

Well, not really. That a god could take on a human guise is one thing. That they would take on a human nature is entirely different. This is the claim about Jesus. Jesus entered into every aspect of human life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Not that Jesus Himself did anything bad of course.) That is in no way a similiarity to the Christian claims. Gentiles would be quite horrified by the thought of the gods doing something as shameful as actually becoming human. Still, let’s look at what our writer has to say about Justin Martyr.

When we say that the Word, who is our teacher, Jesus Christ the first born of God, was produced without sexual union, and that he was crucified and died and rose again, and ascended to heaven, we propound nothing new or different from what you [pagans] believe regarding those whom you consider sons of Jupiter.

And the comment on this is:

According to ancient Roman myth, Jupiter was the king of all the gods. Here Justin Martyr is telling Roman pagans that what the Christians believe about Jesus being the son of God is nothing different than what they believe about the sons of the god Jupiter. That the Church Fathers’ conception of the Trinity was a combination of Jewish monotheism and pagan polytheism can be seen in the testimony of Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century bishop who is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. He also happens to be one of the great figures in the history of the philosophical formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. He wrote:

We’ll see what comes from Gregory next, but let’s look at what Justin Martyr is saying. What is he defending? He is trying to defend the claim that the Christian religion is NOT shameful. Justin thought the parallels were there because the devil in the myths of the pagans was trying to imitate…..what was he trying to imitate?

The prophecies of Moses.

In fact, I find Justin’s parallels to be stretches. Why would he do this? To get the emperor to stop persecuting the Christians based on their believing something new and strange. In Justin’s time, new beliefs were viewed with suspicion so you tried to connect your beliefs to something old. That’s why Justin points to the Hebrew prophecies. (Get that. Justin believes that all about Jesus is prophesied in the Old Testament, not taken from pagans.) He is wanting pagan audiences to see parallels, indicating they probably didn’t see them before. Note also that there is no indication that the Christians took this on to be more hospitable to pagans. After all, here we are about 100 years later and if that was the plan, it has failed miserably.

I also want to be clear I don’t agree with Justin’s argument, but just because I don’t agree doesn’t mean I think we should misunderstand it. It can only be disagreed with truly if one truly understands it. Let’s make sure we are interpreting Justin rightly.

Now moving on to Gregory:

For the truth passes in the mean between these two conceptions, destroying each heresy, and yet, accepting what is useful to it from each. The Jewish dogma is destroyed by the acceptance of the Word and by belief in the Spirit, while the polytheistic error of the Greek school is made to vanish by the unity of the nature abrogating this imagination of plurality.

The Christian conception of God, argues Gregory of Nyssa, is neither purely the polytheism of the Greeks nor purely the monotheism of the Jews, but rather a combination of both.

There’s a little bit of error mixed in with the understanding here. The Trinity that Gregory accepted is montheistic, but it is not a unitarian monotheism. In fact, this is one of the first mistakes made in Trinitarian discussions. There’s an assumption that God must be one in person. In fact, Jews in the time of Jesus were open to a plurality in the Godhead and even afterward. Afterward, look at figures like Metatron. Before, look at figures like Wisdom and the Logos and sometimes the Son of Man as well.

Even the concept of God-men who were saviours of mankind was by no means exclusive to Jesus. Long before Jesus was born, it was not uncommon for military men and political rulers to be talked about as divine beings. More than that, they were even treated as divine beings: given temples, with priests, who would perform sacrifices in their honour, in the presence of statues of them. In Athens for example, Demetrios Poliorcetes (Demetrios the Conqueror of Cities, 337–283 BCE) was acclaimed as a divine being by hymn-writers because he liberated them from their Macedonian enemies:

How the greatest and dearest of the gods are present in our city! For the circumstances have brought together Demeter and Demetrios; she comes to celebrate the solemn mysteries of the Kore, while he is here full of joy, as befits the god, fair and laughing. His appearance is solemn, his friends all around him and he in their midst, as though they were stars and he the sun. Hail boy of the most powerful god Poseidon and Aphrodite! For other gods are either far away, or they do not have ears, or they do not exist, or do not take any notice of us, but you we can see present here, not made of wood or stone, but real. So we pray to you: first make peace, dearest; for you have the power…

Note that there is a difference between being a divine being, and being seen as ontologically equal to one supreme God. What is the claim of Jesus? Was Paul just preaching that Jesus was a divine being? Note also that you can show all day long other humans were turned into divine beings. That does not show that when it was done to Jesus, that it was done falsely. That would be like saying “Other Jews thought other figures were the Messiah, so when they thought it about Jesus they thought wrongly.” It doesn’t work.

The Athenians gave Demetrios an arrival that was fit for a god, burning incense on altars and making offerings to their new deified king. It must be pointed out that as time passed by, he did some other things that the Athenians did not approve of, and as a consequence they revoked their adoration of him. It seems that in the days before Jesus, divinity could be stripped away from human beings just as easily as it was granted. Perhaps the best known examples of God-men are the divine honours bestowed upon the rulers of the Roman Empire, starting with Julius Caesar. We have an inscription dedicated to him in 49 BCE discovered in the city of Ephesus, which says this about him

Descendant of Ares and Aphrodite

The God who has become manifest

And universal savior of human life

What of it? Claims were made of Caesar like this. Again, our writer will have to show that the claims were made falsely about Jesus. This has not been done. In fact, as we saw earlier, the claims were first made in a Jewish context. I plan on showing more of that later on.

So Julius Caesar was God manifest as man, the saviour of mankind. Sound familiar? Now prior to Julius Caesar, rulers in the city of Rome itself were not granted divine honours. But Caesar himself was – before he died, the senate approved the building of a temple for him, a cult statue, and a priest. Soon after his death, his adopted son and heir, Octavian, promoted the idea that at his death, Caesar had been taken up to heaven and been made a god to live with the gods. There was a good reason that Octavian wanted his adopted father to be declared a God. If his father was God, then what does that make him? This deification of Caesar set the precedent for what was to happen with the emperors, beginning with the first of them, Octavian himself, who became “Caesar Augustus” in 29 BCE. There is an inscription that survives from his lifetime found in the city of Halicarnassus (modern Turkey), which calls Augustus

…The native Zeus

and Savior of the human race

There’s something interesting about all of this. It does indeed sound familiar, but not for the same reasons. Let’s consider what is said by a Bart Ehrman blog which can be found here. If you will look through, the exact same references are used and many times, the same language is used. Ehrman is also a favorite of Muslims, so this doesn’t surprise me, but again, can the writer show that this happened with Jesus in a Jewish context?

This is yet another example of a divine saviour of mankind. Now Octavian happened to also be the “son of God” by virtue of his divine father Julius Caesar. In fact Octavian became known as ‘Divi filius’ (“Son of the Divine One”). These, of course, are all titles widely used by Christians today to describe Jesus. We must realise that the early Church did not come up with these titles out of the blue, they are all things said of other men before they were said of Jesus. For early Christians, the idea was not that Jesus was the only person who was ever called such things, this is a misconception. The concept of a divine human being who was the saviour of mankind was a sort of template that was applied to people of great power and authority. We’ve seen that the history of paganism is littered with such examples, and Jesus was just another divine saviour in a long list of divine saviours that had preceded him.

And this is it. There is no interaction with the divine claims found in the New Testament. There is no indication that pagans believed in a Trinity. Instead, we have the idea of “Pagans turned humans into deities so the same happend with Jesus.” That needs to be shown on all counts and not just asserted. Let’s look at some divine claims about Jesus.

Chris Tilling has a wonderful book called Paul’s Divine Christology. I have reviewed it here. Tilling’s hypothesis is that if there was something that set YHWH apart as deity it was His position as being in covenant relationship with Israel. When we go to the New Testament, we see this same language, but it’s not so much YHWH and Israel as it is Jesus and the church. The parallel is that Jesus is seen as the one the people of God honor in the New Testament in the way that God is honored in the Old Testament.

Another work worth reading is that edited by Michael Bird called How God Became Jesus. I have also reviewed that here and interviewed three of the authors here. You can get an excellent lesson on Christology there.

I regret that I haven’t read Larry Hurtado’s massive work Lord Jesus Christ yet, but I have read How On Earth Did Jesus Become A God?. Hurtado points to some of our early creedal traditions. Jesus is spoken of as the Lord. The language is saying “Anathema, Maranatha.” It refers to the coming of the Lord and is in Aramaic, something Gentiles were not known for speaking. This is high language of Jesus referring to the coming of the Lord. Romans 1:3-4 referring to the divine nature of Jesus fits in this as well as this is also a creedal statement.

The writer might also be interesting in my talk with Rob Bowman on the Trinity. For John, there is my talk with Paul Rainbow on Johannine theology. There are plenty of other authors that could be read like Bauckham and O’Collins and others. Our writer did not interact with any and it’s very easy to make a case if you ignore all the best arguments against your position.

Also, I point to statements such as Paul’s of Jesus being in the divine nature in Philippians 2 and then the language of Isaiah that was applied to God alone. Revelation has all creation in chapter 5 worshiping Him who sits on the throne and the Lamb. Note that the Lamb is separated from all creation. In fact, a fascinating way to study Revelation is to go through and see not what it says about whatever your view is of end times, but what does it say about Jesus?

Matthew also begins with early on having Jesus being seen as Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” In the end, Jesus says He has been given all authority and says “I am with you always.” These are bookends. In the middle, He also says that when two or three are gathered, He is in their midst, which is a reference to what was said about YHWH in the study of Torah by the Jews.

We could go on and on with Jesus forgiving someone in the book of Mark and Mark 1 having Scripture that applied to YHWH being applied to Jesus, with Hebrews, a thoroughly Jewish book, having an opening chapter that is a massive tour de force on Jesus being fully equal with God, and with Jesus saying that all must honor Him as they honor the Father in John. The person wanting to know more about this is invited to go to the best scholars on both sides and study the issue.

In conclusion, I find that the writer just hasn’t made his case. He has spent so much time looking at the pagans, that he has not looked at Jesus at all really. What happened in the life of Jesus? What is the evidence? A suspicion is not the same as an argument. The same arguments made could be used to argue that Jesus wasn’t really the Messiah, which Islam would not want to say.

If the writer wants to show true pagan influence, I hope they do better next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

My Annual Halloween Post

What are my thoughts on Halloween? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

You have to love it when the holiday season comes around. We get all the regular crowd coming out and condemning Christians for following pagan festivals. How do we know they’re pagan? Well, we read it on the internet and we know it is. Either that or we heard it from a preacher and we know it is. Unfortunately, many such people have not done their own research at all. So what do I think of the matter?

Having seen so many of these claims show up bogus, I just don’t take them seriously anymore, but I’ll go further than that. I’ll go further and say it doesn’t even really matter. If you go out on Halloween and dressed up in a costume or your kids are dressed up and you’re getting candy, you are not preparing their souls to be possessed by demons. In fact, if you think going out and getting candy is enough to send your children flying into the arms of satan, then I think you have worse problems, such as what kind of flimsy faith are you passing on to your children?

One illustration I like to use is a wedding ring. Let’s suppose you could convince me beyond a shadow of a doubt that wedding rings are really pagan in origin. Am I taking mine off? Not a chance whatsoever. I know why I put on that ring, to begin with. I didn’t do it to honor a pagan deity. I did it to honor God and my wife. No pagan deity is involved. What I did I did in service to God because the pagan deities aren’t real.

In fact, it’s sad to me that so many Christians are concerned about their children falling into the arms of the devil, but have done nothing to equip their children with good Christian apologetics to overcome the lies of the culture around them. Even if not that, what other threats are out there? Are you preparing your children with good sexual ethics and a worldview that has a place for sex for when that temptation comes up? Are you preparing them to answer questions they’ll get from an atheist professor in a classroom someday about their faith? Are you preparing them to not fall in love with their possessions or other addictions out there? I guarantee you we are losing more young people to a culture of wanton sexuality, atheism, and materialism than we are to Halloween.

I don’t doubt that many of you do want to be God-honoring in this, and that’s great, but also try to realize that your fellow Christian can celebrate Halloween and do so with a clear conscience. Too many Christians don’t do that and then think that they are more righteous for their neighbor for doing such. In that case, then they have fallen into pride. Now, of course, you can give your reasons why you don’t, but listen to what your neighbor says. Maybe something you’ve believed is wrong.

If you hear a preacher or someone else say something about Halloween, by all means, look it up. To use an example, I had some friends getting into Jim Staley’s material on Christmas once. I emailed Staley’s organization and asked for references to Mithras being born on December 25th. The references I received had nothing specific and were quite outdated. I pointed this out to them and asked them for something more.

That was over a year ago. I’m still waiting to hear back.

You might say that this is common knowledge, but common knowledge is commonly wrong. I have seen so many claims disproven such as people used to think the Earth was flat that I have learned to question all these claims. Unfortunately, this time of year Christians fail at that.

If you showed up on our door this evening, you’d find candy waiting there for you. We would love to have you. By the way, we’re also not giving out tracts. I’m all for sharing the Gospel, but make your house one a child will be happy to come to and one they don’t think they’re being preached at. Give the best candy on the block. Show them that you’re a house they are welcome at. This is one day that you have little children coming to your door. Welcome them.

When Jesus came to this Earth, He didn’t come just to redeem sinners. He came to redeem the world. This planet is not an accident. He means to reclaim it for the Father. That means every day belongs to Jesus. Halloween does too. Could some occultists and others misuse the day? Sure. They can do that with any day. That does not mean fear of them dominates us. We’re Kingdom people. Let’s live like it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Can Christians Celebrate Birthdays?

Is it wrong to celebrate someone’s birth? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was thinking of doing a book review today, but then someone sent me an article about birthdays wanting my response to it. I decided to write something to first off be of service to this person and second, because as someone who responds to mythicists, this article is full of the exact same kinds of mistakes that they make. I figure it’s a good illustration of how not to do this kind of thing. The article under question can be found here.

Of course, the question right at the start is “Do birthdays have pagan origins?” Now I think this is something that in fact really doesn’t matter a bit. Who cares if the pagans came up with an idea? What matters is why I am observing that idea. For instance, suppose you convinced me that wedding rings had their origin in paganism. Would I take mine off? Absolutely not! Why? Because I don’t wear a wedding ring to honor a pagan deity. I wear a wedding ring to honor my wife.

The article begins this way:

Although many who profess Christ celebrate birthdays, did you know that birthdays were simply not celebrated by those in the early church? Interestingly, there is no hint in the Bible or early writings that Jesus, the apostles, or any true Christians ever celebrated birthdays.

Okay. I get that.

And?

We could just as well say “Did you know the early church didn’t have a commandment to gather books and call them the New Testament?” And yet, that is exactly what we did. The early church did not use air conditioning or drive cars or anything of that sort, and yet we have no problem doing such today, and how many of our cars have names that could be called “pagan” as well?

Like many mythicist arguments, this starts with an argument from silence. It is as if because Jesus and His followers never did this, we shouldn’t as well. We have to ask why they didn’t do this. Was it because they thought it was immoral? Was it because they thought it was pagan?

Consider a parallel on the opposite end. Jesus said we ought to wash one another’s feet. As someone who has moved multiple times in the past few years, never did I go visit a church for the first time and have someone offer to wash my feet. Never. I don’t hear of that going on period. What are we to say? Are we disobeying Jesus? Should we all repent and get buckets and go clean each other’s feet now?

No. Jesus in that passage did the position of the lowest servant in the household. He washed the feet of his disciples. The point is not to do exactly what Jesus did, but to serve exactly as Jesus did. That could be something entirely different today.

Another example can be found in the Biblical admonition to greet one another with a holy kiss. (Although to be fair, I remind my wife during the greeting time at church that this is how we are to greet one another.) How many of you guys have kissed another dude in church? How many of you have kissed another man’s wife in church? I suspect it’s a very low number. Are you being disobedient to the command? No. The principle behind the command is what matters and today it could often be a handshake instead.

The article goes on to say the following:

“Originally the idea [of birthday greetings and wishes for happiness] was rooted in magic. The working of spells for good and evil is the chief usage of witchcraft. One is especially susceptible to such spells on his birthday, as one’s personal spirits are about at that time. Dreams dreamed on the birthday eve should be remembered, for they are predictions of the future brought by the guardian spirits which hover over one’s bed on the birthday eve. Birthday greetings have power for good or ill because one is closer to the spirit world on this day. Good wishes bring good fortune, but the reverse is also true, so one should avoid enemies on one’s birthday and be surrounded only by well-wishers. ‘Happy birthday’ and ‘Many happy returns of the day’ are the traditional greetings” (The Lore of Birthdays, Linton, p. 20)…

The giving of birthday gifts is a custom associated with the offering of sacrifices to pagan gods on their birthdays. Certainly the custom was linked with the same superstitions that formed the background for birthday greetings. “The exchange of presents… is associated with the importance of ingratiating good and evil fairies… on their or our birthdays” (ibid.).

The traditional birthday cake and candles also have their origin in ancient pagan idol worship. The ancients believed that the fire of candles had magical properties. They offered prayers and made wishes to be carried to the gods on the flames of the candles. Thus we still have the widely practiced birthday custom of making a wish, then blowing out the candles. The Greeks celebrated the birthday of their moon goddess, Artemis, with cakes adorned with lighted candles…

“The Egyptians… discovered to which of the gods each month and day is sacred; and found out from the day of a man’s birth, what he will meet with in the course of his life, and how he will end his days, and what sort of man he will be” (Herodotus, Persian Wars, Book II, ch. 82)

Since it was believed that the positions of the stars at the time of birth influenced a child’s future, astrological horoscopes came into being, purporting to foretell the future, based on the time of birth. “Birthdays are intimately linked with the stars, since without the calendar, no one could tell when to celebrate his birthday. They are also indebted to the stars in another way, for in early days the chief importance of birthday records was to enable the astrologers to chart horoscopes” (The Lore of Birthdays, p. 53). Rawlinson’s translation of Herodotus includes the following footnote: “Horoscopes were of very early use in Egypt… and Cicero speaks of the Egyptians and Chaldees predicting… a man’s destiny at his birth”…

When we examine the principles of God’s law closely, as they relate to birthday celebrations, we can understand why neither Christ, nor His Apostles, nor their true followers, observed their birthdays. As noted earlier, the practice has its origin in idolatry and the worship of the sun, moon and stars…Some may view birthday customs as purely secular, lacking any religious significance. Yet we need to be aware of the broader perspective of their origins, and the religious significance they have had—and still have—for vast multitudes of people. (Reynolds, Rod. Should Christians Celebrate Birthdays? LCN, May-June 2002. pp.16-18).

The religious significance they still have for vast multitudes of people? Seriously? I haven’t seen many birthday parties that take place to honor pagan deities lately. Maybe I’m missing something.

Let’s suppose that all of the above was true? My question is “So what?” Seriously. So what? Ancient people took the opportunity of birthdays to celebrate pagan deities. Okay. That means that I take the opportunity for the same reason? Ancients lit candles in honor of their deities. Okay. That somehow means that if I light candles on a birthday cake that I’m necessarily honoring a pagan deity? No. I know why I do what I do.

Let’s also keep in mind another reason why birthdays would not normally be celebrated. For one thing, most people did not have the resources to know when their birthday was. They could give a general idea, but in their calendar, dates of important events kept changing. (This is why your mythicist friends who make arguments about astrological dates have particularly weak arguments.) The main way you could find this out is if you were extremely wealthy. Most were not.

Also, a lot of this talk about birthdays is not about an annual celebration but about finding the date of when the original birth was. Again, this was for the wealthy so that they could determine their destiny by astrology.  Most of the people in the world were just trying to survive. (For that matter, most would not have the money or resources to get gifts.)

As we go through the article, we get to Judaism and the announcement that Jews did not celebrate birthdays. Again, much of the reasoning of above would apply here. Still, there is one comment worth sharing from here.

The tradition also holds that your birth alone is not as significant as the way you live your life. After all, King Solomon is thought to have said, “The day of death is better than the day of one’s birth (Ecclesiastes 7:1). As a midrash explains, ‘When a person is born, it is not known what he will be like when grown and what his deeds will be – whether righteous or wicked, good, or evil.

And who would disagree? Of course how you live your life is more important. That does not mean that the birthday cannot be celebrated. When people celebrate your birthday, they are saying that they are happy that you are in their life and you are a part of it. They are thankful for your existence. Are we not supposed to give thanks?

From here, let’s look at some Scriptures that they present.

Now it came to pass on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. Then he restored the chief butler to his butlership again, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. But he hanged the chief baker (Genesis 40:20-22).

Pharaoh did something evil on a birthday.

Therefore, birthdays are evil.

Okay. Let’s see how this applies. Pharaoh did something evil at a feast. Therefore, feasts are evil. Anyone want to go that route? I didn’t think so. That Pharaoh did something evil does not mean that the day he did so is ipso facto evil. Every day belongs to the Lord and we can use it for good or for evil.

There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).

You are wearied in the multitude of your counsels; Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, And the monthly prognosticators Stand up and save you From what shall come upon you. Behold, they shall be as stubble, The fire shall burn them; They shall not deliver themselves From the power of the flame (Isaiah 47:13-14).

I’ve done many things for my wife on her birthday, but I think I’m good here. I don’t think I’ve ever hired or a soothsayer or a medium or consulted stargazers about her birthday. I suspect many of you have never done such a thing. Therefore, there’s no reason to think these verses apply to us because none of us are doing the actions mentioned.

After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job spoke, and said:

“May the day perish on which I was born, And the night in which it was said, ‘A male child is conceived.’ May that day be darkness; May God above not seek it, Nor the light shine upon it. May darkness and the shadow of death claim it; May a cloud settle on it; May the blackness of the day terrify it (Job 3:1-5).

Job cursed the day of his birth, therefore we should not celebrate birthdays….

Are you kidding me? Seriously?

Job is in a time of lament. He is not making a statement about birthdays. He is making a statement about how miserable he is in life right now. If the writer wants us to be consistent, perhaps we should all curse the day of our birth. Does he really think that this is the way Christians should be acting? Keep in mind, God had some pretty tough words for Job in the end for his attitude.

Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house; and a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, when the Sabeans raided them and took them away–indeed they have killed the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you!”…If your sons have sinned against Him, He has cast them away for their transgression (Job 1:13-15; 8:4).

Although, I have heard some say that the “day” referred to in Job 1:13 was a birthday celebration, the passage in Job is not explicit and Job himself indicates he was more concerned with what his sons might have said, than done, in their other celebrations (Job 1:4-5). However, it should be noted that there are no positive statements in the Old Testament related to birthdays.

Indeed, some think his sons and daughters met on their birthdays and celebrated. Keep in mind Job would have the resources for that. He had abundant wealth. Yet this is something the article gets right. Assuming that it was a birthday, Job says nothing about the fact they are celebrating one. He is more concerned with their behavior than the celebrations. Would that the article writer had followed through consistently!

The prophet Jeremiah wrote:

14 Cursed be the day in which I was born!
Let the day not be blessed in which my mother bore me!
15 Let the man be cursed
Who brought news to my father, saying,
“A male child has been born to you!”
Making him very glad.
16 And let that man be like the cities
Which the LORD overthrew, and did not relent;
Let him hear the cry in the morning
And the shouting at noon,
17 Because he did not kill me from the womb,
That my mother might have been my grave,
And her womb always enlarged with me.
18 Why did I come forth from the womb to see labor and sorrow,
That my days should be consumed with shame? (Jeremiah 20:14-18)

And this is exactly like the prior Job passage. It’s incredible that the author takes this and says that this is to be our example. Of course, we do like Jeremiah have the freedom to complain to God and be heard, but that does not mean we should take this as a statement on birthdays.

The Hebrew calendar itself makes the celebration of birthdays somewhat difficult when one attempts to superimpose it on our modern (essentially Roman-derived) calendars. And the reason for this is that it is about 11 days shorter than the annual orbit around the sun, and hence it adds a thirteenth month seven times in every nineteen year cycle. Thus, one’s “birthday” on a modern calendar will vary 11 or so days from year to year–and the positions of the constellations in the sky would always to some degree be different. Therefore, from an astrological perspective, one’s alleged “sign” would often be different. If God wanted birthdays celebrated, He probably would have given the children of Israel the type of calendar which would have made it possible to for the “birthday” to fall on the same solar calendar day each year–instead that basically cannot happen but a relatively few times in a life. (Bold mine)

I’m sorry, but the bold part has to be one of the most ridiculous arguments in all of this. If we follow this to its conclusion, matters get absurd.

If God wanted the text to be handed down faithfully, He would have given the Hebrew children Xeroxes.

If God wanted people to know Jesus was the Messiah, He would have had Him appear to everyone and write Jesus Saves on the moon. (And yes, people make this argument.)

If God wanted the Great Commission to be completed, He would make us all like Superman so we could fly everywhere and give the good news.

If God wanted ISIS to be stopped, He would rain down fire from Heaven on them.

You can come up with your own, but this kind of argument is one that we should never be making. We can justify not doing any sort of action by saying “If God wanted it done, He would have.” Well who are you and I to tell God how He should run His universe?

A lot of the next stuff is still more arguments from silence and such, until we get to Herod.

There is, however, one birthday celebration mentioned in the New Testament, and it was not a good one. Actually, it was so bad, that the one Jesus had called the greatest “among those born of women” (Matthew 11:11) was killed because of it:

But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.” And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother (Matthew 14:6-11).

Once again, the same argument applies. Herod did something evil on a birthday, therefore all birthdays are evil. What do we do with the fact that another Herod killed thousands at Passover? Does this mean that Jews should have stopped celebrating Passover because something evil happened on it? Of course not.

Originally, even as more and more Gentiles began to profess Christ (so much so that they outnumbered those of Jewish heritage that did), the early Gentile leaders also did not endorse the celebration of birthdays. No early church writer endorsed the observance of birthdays by Christians, nor are they ever listed in the early observances of the Christian church.

Therefore, the celebration of birthdays, was clearly not part of:

… the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

Well no. Of course it isn’t, but neither is air conditioning part of the good news. Neither is the idea of forming the New Testament. Neither is using deodorant or any number of things that we do today. The faith once and for all delivered to the saints is about the content of the Gospel. Why should we expect to find birthdays mentioned in that?

We next get to a statement of Origen.

…of all the holy people in the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod) who make great rejoicings over the day on which they were born into this world below (Origen, in Levit., Hom. VIII, in Migne P.G., XII, 495) (Thurston H. Natal Day. Transcribed by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to Margaret Johanna Albertina Behling Barrett. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

And yet the exact same reasoning given above applies here. Considering that we have to go to the third century to find someone, we could just as well say this wasn’t a major issue in the early church. (And of course, Origen probably wrote something on everything.) Again, the question is why do we do what we do?

The writings of the late third century Catholic theologian Arnobius show that, even that late, Catholics objected to the celebration of birthdays as he wrote:

…you worship with couches, altars, temples, and other service, and by celebrating their games and birthdays, those whom it was fitting that you should assail with keenest hatred. (Arnobius. Against the Heathen (Book I), Chapter 64. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 6. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).

I bring this one up just to be complete. The same argument applies. Why do we do what we do?

As we go on, things get worse. The writers want to tell us how birthday celebrations began.

Wikipedia notes:

History of celebration of birthdays in the West It is thought that the large-scale celebration of birthdays in Europe began with the cult of Mithras, which originated in Persia but was spread by soldiers throughout the Roman Empire. Before this, such celebrations were not common; and, hence, practices from other contexts such as the Saturnalia were adapted for birthdays. Because many Roman soldiers took to Mithraism, it had a wide distribution and influence throughout the empire until it was supplanted by Christianity (Wikipedia. Birthdays. July 12, 2007 version).

Yes everyone. Wikipedia. The abomination that causes misinformation raises its head again. Of course, I want to key in on the first major part. “It is thought that the large-scale celebration of birthdays in Europe began with the cult of Mithras.”

Okay. Let’s suppose it’s thought that. It’s also thought that the medieval church thought the world was flat. (They didn’t.) It’s thought by many atheists on the internet that Jesus never existed. It’s thought by many YECs that evolution is a grand conspiracy by scientists. It’s thought by many that Reptilians are in Congress and the Illuminati is controlling everything.

Which beliefs do we have evidence for?

For Mithras, good luck. We don’t have any writings of Mithraism. We pretty much have artwork, temple remains, and the critiques of the church fathers. That’s it. One would think if Mithraism was big on celebrating birthdays, that that would have been mentioned by the church fathers above, but I see no connection with Mithraism there.

Christmas is also relevant because December 25th was the day of celebration of the birthday of the sun-god Mithra. Perhaps it should also be mentioned that one of the key features of Mithraism was Sunday observance. The reason that this seems to be relevant is that the Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to make a profession of Christ, was also the first Emperor to make Sunday laws–which he began to do on March 7, 321. Also, a few years later, the Council of Nicea that Constantine convened in 325 A.D. declared Sunday to be the “Christian day” of worship

Yes. Everyone’s favorite whipping boy. Constantine. If you want to blame someone in church history for Christianity going wrong somewhere, you always have to drag out Constantine. By all means, Constantine was not a saint, but to read articles online, you would think he was practically the spawn of satan himself sent to destroy Christianity. Let’s look for instance at the Sunday claim. Really?

The First Apology of Justin, Chapter 67
“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things … But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.”

That Constantine! He influenced Justin Martyr even though Justin lived a couple of centuries before the events! How horrible! Or wait. Maybe Christians just met on the first day of the week because that was the day that Jesus rose from the dead? Could that be it? But hey, it’s a lot easier to point at Constantine and say “pagan!” and have that be the end of it.

For all the material on Christmas, I recommend my ministry partner’s book here.

Let’s go on to some more Scripture.

Actually, the Bible is clear that God does NOT want His people to make up additional religious days to celebrate, especially if they have any ties to paganism:

29 “When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, 30 take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ 31 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.

32 “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. (Deuteronomy 12:29-32)

And yet, the Bible itself contains the establishment of the feast of Purim. Many Jews celebrate Hanukkah today. The writer also acknowledged that many modern Jews have no problem celebrating birthdays. To add to the Law meant to add no more requirements to the Law and to take away meant to not remove any commandments. No one took the feast of Purim or the celebration of Hanukkah and put them as Law.  You were free to celebrate what you wanted. In fact, Paul says this for us in Romans 14 and how we honor days.

The Apostle Paul warned Christians to NOT combine pagan observances with Christian ones:

20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. 22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He? (1 Corinthians 10:20-22)

This is also in the very section where he was telling people it was okay to eat meat offered to idols because those gods are no gods at all. What was he against? He was against participating in a service to an idol. What does this mean? Well it means that if at your birthday party or the one you’re throwing, you’re offering a sacrifice to an idol, then you are doing something wrong. Okay. So please, at your birthday parties, don’t offer sacrifices to idols. Avoid that and you’re okay!

Now our authors want to put the real fear in us by going to satanists.

THE highest of all holidays in the Satanic religion is the date of one’s own birth. This is in direct contradiction to the holy of holy days of other religions, which deify a particular god who has been created in an anthropomorphic form of their own image, thereby showing that the ego is not really buried.

The Satanist feels: “Why not really be honest and if you are going to create a god in your image, why not create that god as yourself.” Every man is a god if he chooses to recognize himself as one. So, the Satanist celebrates his own birthday as the most important holiday of the year. After all, aren’t you happier about the fact that you were born than you are about the birth of someone you have never even met? Or for that matter, aside from religious holidays, why pay higher tribute to the birthday of a president or to a date in history than we do to the day we were brought into this greatest of all worlds?

Despite the fact that some of us may not have been wanted, or at least were not particularly planned, we’re glad, even if no one else is, that we’re here! You should give yourself a pat on the back, buy yourself whatever you want, treat yourself like the king (or god) that you are, and generally celebrate your birthday with as much pomp and ceremony as possible.

After one’s own birthday, the two major Satanic holidays are Walpurgisnacht and Halloween (or All Hallows’ Eve).

(Lavey A, Gilmore P. The Satanic Bible.  Avon, September 1, 1976, p. 96–note it is on page 53 of an online version I found also).

Okay. And?

I suspect satanists also drive cars and use air conditioning. I suspect they take showers regularly and tend to eat three square meals a day. So what? Again, it comes down to how you celebrate your birthday. When I celebrate mine, I am giving thanks to God for letting me make another trip around the sun and looking back on how I’ve lived my life and planning how I will live it in the future and celebrating the people around me who make it special.

There is really nothing more to respond to. Let’s look at the question of my post. Note how I phrased it. Can Christians celebrate birthdays? I am not saying you are obligated to. If you think that it would be wrong to do so, don’t do it. You have that freedom. If, on the other hand, you are simply wanting to acknowledge and celebrate people you care about, then don’t worry about it.

Overall, I encourage people to not worry about something being “rooted in paganism.” I’ve come across the charge so much that I just don’t pay attention to it any more. It looks like paganism is trumped out any time people want to condemn any practice. I serve a God who redeemed not just humanity but the calendar as well and what others might intend for evil, He uses for good.

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

The Christian Who Cried Pagan

Are some Christians overplaying the danger in a field? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf there is a little boy tending the flocks and he gets bored so he cries out that there’s a wolf coming. Twice the people of the town come out to help him deal with the wolf, and twice they find out that he was making it up. The third time he cries, he does so because there really is a wolf, and no one heeds the call, and the boy has to take responsibility for a destroyed flock.

A lot of Christians are like that boy, especially as we get closer to Halloween, although to be fair, most are certainly not intentionally or even unintentionally pulling a prank. What they are often doing is getting it so people will either not listen at all or will listen too much.

Let’s start with the danger of listening too much. How is that possible? What happens is often a pagan paranoia is developed where it is seen that most everything is pagan and we must avoid any mixture of Christianity with paganism. Now of course, I’m not for combining Christianity with pagan beliefs, but let’s make sure that’s what is really being done.

When it is said too often, a Christian unprepared will see paganism in everything around him and especially think that the Christians stole ideas from the pagans. What about Christmas? It was pagan! What about Easter? It was pagan! All this is believed usually on someone else’s say so. Halloween can easily fall into that category. What’s a possible end result?

Ever heard of Mithras?

If you go this route, then what is going to happen when Christians meet internet atheists who will be more than happy to tell them that Jesus is based on pagan myths of the time like the story of Mithras? They’ve believed you on Christians copying from the pagans in every other area so why not believe you on this one? The constant cry of pagan has led them to believe that indeed, everything is pagan.

Now what about the other end? I don’t deny there are some real dangers out there with people really trying to contact other spirits, like the usage of the Ouija Board, but the danger in this one is it does become a boy crying wolf and after awhile, people just don’t really listen. There are many things in my life that I assure you many well-meaning Christians have told me are pagan/demonic/etc. It has reached the point where it gets so bizarre I don’t even really listen any more.

That’s not as much to worry about if you think the person has discernment, but if they don’t, then when you make claims they are sure are absolutely ridiculous, they will be less prone to hear you on other claims. “Yeah. I know that person said that Transcendental Meditation is dangerous, but they also told me that watching that Disney movie was dangerous as well. They’re just scared of everything.”

The reality is that we are to be careful, but we are not to live in fear. Jesus is Lord of all and is claiming the world for Himself. That includes the days of the year. (By the way, those days of the week are named after pagans but I don’t see these Christians making a loud cry to change the names of the days of the calendar.) The main question I want to ask you is about your intent. Who do you want to serve?

For instance, let’s suppose you told me and convinced me that wedding rings were really pagan in origin. Let’s suppose you told me they were used to commemorate a pagan deity in a covenant.

Okay. That’s nice.

I’m still wearing mine.

Why? Because I know why I wear it. I wear it to honor my wife and to proclaim to the world that we are married. I didn’t make a covenant before a pagan god. I made it before the God of Scripture and fellow believers. I say the same for Halloween. If today on Halloween what we do is dress up in costumes and get candy, I think any pagan deities would be insulted. Here a day meant to worship them has turned into getting candy in costumes?

Sounds like if that were the case (And I’m not saying Halloween is a pagan holiday. I doubt that very much in fact.) then we’ve made a spectacle.

If you want to say something is pagan, make sure you have some real solid evidences for that. It can’t just be speculation. We’re to be people of truth, that includes not just representing ourselves, but representing others. To claim something is pagan when it is not is in fact to bear false witness and can only lead to more trouble.

In Christ,

Nick Peters