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.
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.
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).
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.