The expression that Christmas is a pagan holiday has been exploited for many years by many cults (Jehovah Witnesses, Armstrongism, etc.). Because sound evidence is not established from strawman arguments, it is not worth the time to refute the foolishness of heretics. For this purpose, I have selected the writings of Dr. Thomas Ross, who is a scholarly fundamental independent Baptist, which I greatly respect, recommend his material 1)visit which I have often quoted favorably (though disagreeing on this topic) and consider a personal friend. “In every period of Christian history the observance of Christmas has been opposed by a minority of Christian leaders. Usually one or more of three factors have been involved in this opposition: (1) a rejection of ecclesiastical authority in its attempt to establish official feast days, of which Christmas is one; (2) an objection to the drinking, partying, and immorality associated in every age with Christmas festivities; (3) the long-standing and continuing associations of Christmas with pagan religious ideas and practices. Some Protestants, especially those in the Calvinistic tradition—including Calvin himself, Knox, the English and American Puritans, and many Presbyterians—refused to celebrate Christmas.”2) O. G. Oliver, Jr., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (edited by Walter A. Aelwell) Baker Books (Grand Rapid, MI: 1984), p. 220-221 I have, myself, for a short time fallen into this view. In answering the “Christmas is pagan” myth, we will present answers for the two major lines of the argument. First, does Jeremiah 10 presents a Christmas tree as pagan idolatry; and second, is December 25th connected with paganism and has no valid historical association with Christ’s birth.


Jeremiah 10:2-4 states: “thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.” With the only exception of David Cloud,3)David Cloud, Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity 5th Edition, Way of Life Literature (Port Huron, MI: 1993, 2008), p. 126 this passage is cited universally by every individual who has presented the “Christmas is pagan” myth that I am aware of. “Since Christmas is a pagan holiday, having a Christmas tree is a pagan custom, and the church is not to follow the way of the heathen.  Furthermore, the very passage [Jeremiah 10:2-4] where God’s people are warned against the adoption of heathen ways gives the example of a heathen custom that, on its face, sounds very similar to what is done with a Christmas tree.”4)Thomas Ross, “The Christmas Tree:  Should it be in the Christian Church?,” February 8th, 2015; If we ignore the most elementary principles of hermeneutics (methods of interpretation) this passage does sound like a Christmas tree is being described. However, if we took this same face value interpretation, we could say that Christ died by being lynched in a tree (Acts 5:30; 10:39; Galatians 3:13), as this can be compared to Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), Hamans’ sons hanged on gallows (Esther 9:25), and Judas (Matthew 27:5).


Biblical hermeneutics at its very basic level demands we examine the context. Is Jeremiah describing a tree being cut down, placed in a house and decorated with gold and silver? No! The context explicitly reveals that this tree is being carved into a figurine used as an idol. The phrase in Jeremiah 10:3 “the work of the hands of the workman” is identifying the carving process to make an idol. Verse 5 says: “They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not…” The “as” mean a comparative expression is used so it is not saying that an entire tree is being set up to stand in the house. Furthermore, by explaining these idols “speak not” is evident that they have mouths carved onto these figurines as all cross-references would force us to understand. For example, pay attention to the similar phrase used in the context of Jeremiah 10 placed in brackets while the phrases in Psalm 115 which are in bold letters being clearly presented as an idol carved figurine. “Their idols are silver and gold [Jer. 10:4 “They deck it with silver and with gold”], the work of men’s hands [Jer. 10:3 “the work of the hands of the workman” also Jer. 10:9 “the work of the workman, and of the hands of the founder … they are all the work of cunning men.” Cf. Jer. 10:14 “every founder is confounded by the graven image for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them.” And Jer. 10:15 “They are vanity, and the work of errors”]. They have mouths, but they speak not [Jer. 10:5 “but speak not” as well as Jer. 10:14 “the graven image for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them.” Meaning the carved idol figurines do not speak]: eyes have they, but they see not: they have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: they have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not [Jer. 10:5 “they must needs be borne” meaning men carry these idols though they are carved with feet]: neither speak they through their throat [Jer. 10:5 “but speak not” and Jer. 10:14 “the graven image for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them.”].”(Ps 115:4-7, also see Psalm 135:15-18).


It is argued that “the church would need to prove that having a Christmas tree is not a heathen custom.”5)Thomas Ross, “The Christmas Tree:  Should it be in the Christian Church?,” February 8th, 2015; Since this same author uses the Encyclopaedia Britannica in another article claiming Christmas is pagan6)Thomas Ross, “The Encyclopaedia Britannica on Christmas and Epiphany,” November 30th, 2013; , we will cite it also to identify selective evidence is being presented to prove one’s presupposition. “The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands as a symbol of eternal life was an ancient custom of the Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews.”7)The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. (Chicago, fifteenth edition: 1988), Vol. 3, p. 284 Note first, the word “symbol” does not imply an idol being worshipped, but merely a symbol of an abstract concept—eternal life. Practically every religion has the concept of eternal life so it would be a false equivocation to simply argue that other religions used the same symbol proves it is a pagan symbol. Christianity has symbols that have long standing historical relevance dating back to the first century such as the cross and the symbol of the fish, yet this does not imply bowing and worshipping as idols. Secondly, the mention that Hebrews recognized this symbol indicates that it probably has been carried over from the Jewish roots of Christianity, not adopted from pagan customs. The Encyclopedia article continues, “The modern Christmas tree, though, originates in western Germany. The main prop of a popular medieval play about Adam and Eve was a fir tree hung with apples (Paradise Tree) representing the Garden of Eden. The Germans set up a Paradise tree in their homes on December 24, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve.”8) The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. (Chicago, fifteenth edition: 1988), Vol. 3, p. 284 So a Christmas tree is not a pagan custom but has its origin in Germany during the medieval ages but carries a concept that extends back to the Hebrews which the Germans evidently connected with the Tree of Life and the symbol of eternal life. All this is very biblical symbolism, not pagan.


It may be argued that “The fundamental Biblical truth that in worship whatever is not commanded is forbidden requires the rejection of the Christmas tree… “9)Thomas Ross, “The Christmas Tree:  Should it be in the Christian Church?,” February 8th, 2015; This same line of logic would eliminate the piano from accompanying singing as a form of worship. Nowhere in the New Testament are we commanded to use any instruments in worship. This argument from silence could not be held with absolute consistency if applied elsewhere. The same author revealed such an inconsistency when criticizing “[Brian] Schwertley [who] is a Presbyterian who is for exclusive psalmody and against instrumental music, positions not mandated in Scripture.”10)Thomas Ross; What about “in worship whatever is not commanded is forbidden”? Furthermore, it would be necessary to give one example of evidence that the Christmas tree itself is part of the worship in a church or the individual’s home. The piano is obviously part of the worship. Surely the Christmas tree carries meaning as a symbol, but that does not mean it is incorporated into the worship. The cross is also a symbol which nowhere in the New Testament is commanded to be placed on or in a church edifice. However, removing a cross from a church building, or the lack of one’s presence in the sanctuary would not affect the worship atmosphere to the same degree of removing a piano would affect the worship.  Everyone would agree that the cross is a symbol, but who will say the cross is part of the worship? Than how can it be interpolated that the Christmas tree is part of worship?

In a personal discussion of this article with Dr. Ross, he mentioned that Psalms gives credence to utilizing instruments in worship; but my emphasis is, it is not command to the churches for worship in the New Testament. Surely the worship in the Jewish dispensation is significantly different from the church (Hebrews 8:13-9:1, 10), and since the churches are nowhere commanded to use instruments it remains in the prohibition according to Dr. Ross. I believe instruments are an acceptable form of worship but do not argue from silence as a prohibition either for instruments or Christmas. Dr. Ross defended his position by referencing the strange fire event in Leviticus 10:1-7; implying that this meant any form of worship not commanded was prohibited, and pianos/instruments are different being circumstantial elements in worship. My response to this is that the strange fire was a circumstantial element in worship being interpreted not in general terms but strict exegesis. The fire that was supposed to be used was the fire that came from the Lord in Leviticus 9:24. This fire being sent from the Lord Himself was to be kept burning perpetually (Leviticus 6:12-13) and used in the Tabernacle, but the strange fire was a fire from a different origin, hence strange or foreign; and the bad decision to use this strange/foreign fire was apparently due to the priests being intoxicated, which is why wine was immediately prohibited for the priests (Leviticus 10:9). This is why I see the strange fire as circumstantial element in the worship. According to his argument, I can not see a consistency in strange fire and justification of pianos or instruments in a church. He also correlated the mention of “will worship” (Colossians 2:23) being worship according to one’s own will which becomes a contradiction to the commands of God’s word. I take the same interpretation of “will worship” as brother Ross here, however, it expressly speaks of worshiping angels and “a voluntary humility” which the context is clearly speaking of asceticism (Colossians 2:18). The context presses liberty from the Old Testament prohibition in worship as was being perverted by Ebionite Gnostic heretics. This passage specifically marks a distinction between Old Testament and New Testament worship. At best, remaining exegetically specific and logically consistent, this would again cause one to question instruments not being directly commanded to churches in the New Testament. The fault I find in these passages as proof texts is an over generalization of what is meant, and ignoring the dispensational distinctions of worship. The Jews had more specific commands in all cases while the churches have more generalized commands such as: “as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup” (1 Corinthians 11:26), which is not dictating how often or when  (as being in morning service or evening service) the Lord’s table is to be observed.

He also expressed that he viewed Romans 14:5-6 as Jewish converts to Christ in Rome were keeping Jewish festivals in their houses but not in the church. This position is depending on the understanding that the church at Rome was predominantly Jewish convert and thus the epistle was written to address them. This is debated among scholars. As I have identified in a former article,11)Heath Henning, Do You View the Rapture fro God’s Perspective, Dec. 10, 2016; it is evident that Romans was written to a Gentile population. Robert Gundry states:

A number of passages demonstrate the predominantly Gentile composition of the Roman churches. Paul writes in 1:5-6, “among all the Gentiles… including yourselves.” In 1:13 he writes, “among you just as also among the rest of the Gentiles.” His statement, “I am speaking to you Gentiles” (11:13), characterizes the Roman churches as a whole, not a minority within them; for in 11:28-31 the audience is said to have obtained mercy because of Jewish unbelief. In 15:15-16 he speaks of his writing to them in conjunction with his ministry “to the Gentiles.”12)Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament (third edition), Zondervan Publishing House (Grand Rapid, MI:1994), p. 377

Being a Gentile recipients of the epistle of Romans, I find it more relevant to parallel the discussion of chapter 14 with the early churches controversy over celebrating Resurrection Day (back then called Paschal but is commonly called Easter today). “The Pashcal controversy concerned the day on which the Christian Passover (Gr. pascha), known today as Easter, was to be celebrated. In the pre-Nicene church, the main issue about Easter was whether it was to be celebrated on a fixed date each years, Nisan 14, or whether it was to be celebrated on the Sunday following Nisan 14–regardless of the date on which the Sunday falls.”13)David W. Bercot (Editor) A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1998), p . 500 Irenaeus recorded this controversy between Polycarp and Anicetus as it occurred in the city of Rome.

And when the blessed Polycarp was sojourning in Rome in the time of Anicetus, although a slight controversy had arisen among them as to certain other points, they were at once well inclined towards each other [with regard to the matter in hand], not willing that any quarrel should arise between them upon this head. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp to forego the observance [in his own way], inasmuch as these things had been always [so] observed by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor, on the other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading Anicetus to keep [the observance in his way], for he maintained that he was bound to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him.14)Irenaeus, “Fragments From the Lost Writings of Irenaeus,” chap. III; The Ante-Nicene Father, (ed. Allen Menzies, D.D.), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1896, Fifth Printing, 2012) Vol.  1, p. 569[brackets and italics in original]

Many other quotations could be cited to identify this controversy, but Irenaeus being the disciple of Polycarp himself  who was a disciple of the apostle John gives us strong precedence to understand historically that annual festivals were held as early as the first century by Christians. No annual festival is commanded to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection, yet here it is in the first century. As we will see, there is also strong evidence of Christmas being held on December 25 just as early in church history as well. Romans 14 clearly presents liberty to esteem individual days above others if one finds it fitting. Irenaeus relates the controversy between Polycarp and Anicetus at Rome ended in allowing each man his liberty for their own custom. “And in this state of affairs they held fellowship with each other; and Anicetus conceded to Polycarp in the Church the celebration… by way of showing him respect; so that they parted in peace one from the other, maintaining peace with the whole Church, both those who did observe [this custom] and those who did not.”15)Irenaeus, “Fragments From the Lost Writings of Irenaeus,” chap. III; The Ante-Nicene Father, (ed. Allen Menzies, D.D.), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1896, Fifth Printing, 2012) Vol.  1, p. 569[brackets and italics in original] Because Christianity is established on the  historical event of the Resurrection of the incarnate God-man Jesus Christ, we do have historically viable reasons to accept Christmas and not reject it based on an argument of silence. If we reject Christmas we should also reject instruments not being commanded to churches in the New Testament in order to remain epistemologically sound. I am not arguing against instruments as they are also historically viable to worship in  churches but mention it just to express inconsistencies in those who reject Christmas by saying it is not commanded and is therefore a sin.

Another inconsistency from this point of rejecting worship which is not directly commanded is evident in brother Ross’ view of praying to the Holy Spirit. Though he does not engage in it himself, he has expressed sympathy towards those who do, stating, “The only way I can conceive of denying the lawfulness of prayer to the Holy Spirit is either to deny that prayer is an act of worship, or to deny that all three divine persons are the proper object of worship.”16)Thomas Ross, “Ought We to Pray to the Person of the Holy Spirit?” April 12, 2003; Why has he not conceived “of denying the lawfulness” because it is not commanded in worship? Notice he has clearly indicating this as a form of worship, yet nowhere in Scripture is such a practice commanded. The biblical pattern of prayer is to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:18, John 15:16, 16:23).

Another objection raised was that a Christmas tree may be a stumbling block to some people. “Third, the Christmas tree must be shown to never be a stumbling block.  If the tree causes even one believer to offend, or disturbs the conscience of even one Christian… if a Christmas tree hinders even one unconverted person from entering the kingdom, then Christ pronounces an awful woe upon any who would bring it into His house (Matthew 23:13).  However, it is clear that Christmas trees both cause offense to many Christians and hinder many lost people from coming to Christ.”17) Thomas Ross, “The Christmas Tree:  Should it be in the Christian Church?,” February 8th, 2015; Though the “stumbling block” argument is established on a biblical principle (1 Corinthians 10:32), it is not an advisable argument to stand on as it becomes a subjective special plead fallacy, essentially stating “I’m offended by it so you need to stop doing it.” How about this Brian Schwertly character mentioned above, who is offended by singing hymns with music? Should Christians stop worshiping God because this man (assuming he is a born again Christian) is offended? Or the unregenerate masses deceived by the baptismal regeneration heresy in Churches of Christ denomination who are offended by instruments accompaniment of hymns?18)see Ron Rhodes, The Complete guide to Christian Denomination, Harvest House Publishers (Eugene, OR: 2005), p. 125 Simply put, the “stumbling block” argument can and is used universally for any pet opinion which renders it a meaningless line of argument as it in itself offers no substantial information on any topic. If a Christmas tree is truly idolatry than it is condemned as a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 8:7-9). But it is not so it should be cleared for conscience sake. Similarly, if December 25 is truly a pagan holiday synchronized with Christianity, it should be rejected as a stumbling block (Romans 14:6, 13). But it is not so the facts should be explained to clear the conscience so people no longer stumble from being misinformed.


Other objections against a Christmas tree were raised but all of them are dependent on the preconceived and unproved notion that Christmas itself is a pagan holiday. This article began with this assumption by stating “However, Christmas is clearly a pagan holiday.  The Encyclopedia Britannica demonstrates that Roman Catholicism adopted the festival from pagans and heretics who held special celebrations to worship the devil on the 25th of December.  The Lord Jesus Christ was confounded with the sun god of Mithraism and worshipped on the winter solstice, the Day of the Unconquered Sun.”19)Thomas Ross, “The Christmas Tree:  Should it be in the Christian Church?,” February 8th, 2015; This is neither well established in history nor soundly argued, but relies essentially as a genetic fallacy and an ad hominem argument. Simply claiming Catholic heretics synchronized pagan devil worship as the origin of Christmas has proven nothing. Similarly, David Cloud writes, “It refers to Christ’s mass, which obviously has a Roman Catholic origin.”20)David Cloud, Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity 5th Edition, Way of Life Literature (Port Huron, MI: 1993, 2008), p. 125 But “mass” is simply Latin for “send.” Such is a sweeping generalization; as if everyone who ever spoke Latin obviously is Roman Catholic. These ad hominem arguments often correlate with claims that Constantine was the first pope, which is incorrect in many ways. First, the pope is supposedly the bishop of Rome. Constantine was not a bishop. He could not be one since he was not baptized until his death bed. His baptism was not accepted by most Christians in that day because it was performed by a semi-Arian heretic. Furthermore, Constantine was not in Rome but Constantinople. Phillip Schaff considered Gregory I. (590-604) to be the man who “marks the transition of the patriarchal system into the strict papacy of the middle ages.”21)Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: originally published 1867, fourth printing 2011), Vol. 3, p. 328 David Cloud considers Leo I (440-461) the first pope,22)David Cloud, Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity 5th Edition, Way of Life Literature (Port Huron, MI: 1993, 2008), p. 510 which is later than the development of Christmas according to his own reckoning. How does he reconcile in his own dating scheme that Christmas is a “Catholic myth” when it predates Catholicism?

Christmas was held on December 25 before Constantine reigned. “In about 400 C.E., Augustine of Hippo mentions a local dissident Christian group, the Donatists, who apparently kept Christmas festivals on December 25, but refused to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6, regarding it as an innovation. Since the Donatist group only emerged during the persecution under Diocletian in 312 C.E. and then remained stubbornly attached to the practices of that moment in time, they seem to represent an older North African Christian tradition.”23)Andrew McGowen, “How December 25 Became Christmas,” 12-3-2017; David Cloud also makes reference to Constantine as well as expressing many pagan religions hold mid-winter festivals that carry similar practices to Christmas. “For instance, in Hinduism, there is a festival of lights in early winter that features bright lights, special foods, and giving gifts…”24) David Cloud, Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity 5th Edition, Way of Life Literature (Port Huron, MI: 1993, 2008), p. 125 But Jews have Hanukah, which is also a festival of lights in the winter with special food and often gifts are exchanged. The Jewish festival origin is from the re-dedication of the temple after the Maccabees revolt and has no correlation with pagan festivals accept such superficial things. It does appear that Christ participated in Hanukah, as it is also called “the feast of dedication” (John 10:22), without concern that it was not a scriptural ordained date for celebration or that it coincided with similar festivities in pagan cultures.


The evidence supporting this from Dr. Ross was linking to his other article which only source presenting this position was the Encyclopedia Britannica.25) Thomas Ross, “The Encyclopaedia Britannica on Christmas and Epiphany,” November 30th, 2013; The oddest thing about that article was that it cited an outdated edition from 191126)pgs. 293-294, The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., vol. VI. New York:  Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1911 which in my 1988 edition is significantly different. Duplicating this outdated edition is not excusable simply by mentioning copyright laws as he did to me in are personal discussion, but is essentially propagating lies as it is misinformation and should be removed from his website. Dr. Ross said the same thing about Dan Barker who makes the claim that Christianity stole from Mithraism in one of his books and since it has been refuted to Barker, he should remove it from his book. However, Dr. Ross would have a much easier opportunity to change what is on his website than Dan Barker who would have to rewrite and print a new edition of his book which would incur a cost for a new ISBN number as well as printing. If brother Ross does not remove his article, or at least update it with some sort of generic disclaimer, it is a double standard; and as a Christian he should uphold a higher moral standard than what we would expect from the atheist Dan Barker.27)I do want to take this opportunity to recommend the two debates between Dan Barker and Thomas Ross: “The Old Testament is Mainly Fiction, Not Fact” November 17, 2015: The second debate between them was “Prophecy and Archaeology Validate the Bible as the Word of God” November 10, 2016 This second debate was phenomenal, and anyone who would enjoy watching an atheist get embarrassed about how foolish their position is should watch it! Also, Dr. Ross’ booklet The Book of Daniel:  Proof that the Bible is the Word of God, is excellent and I consider the best books on the topic defending Daniel. I would strongly recommend downloading the PDF here We should also question the accuracy of the Encyclopedia Britannica in many cases as the secular authors have erroneous presuppositions such as the idea the Christianity evolved out of pagan religions. Such claims that Christianity developed by borrowing from pre-existing pagan mystery religions, particularly with the virgin born God-man’s death and resurrection, was commonly expressed by the secular scholars in the early 1900s. The major influence of this view was propagated by Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (1890) and was repeated by skeptic scholars until the 1990s when it was finally laid to rest with the publication of Mark S. Smith article “The Death of ‘Dying and Rising Gods’ in the Biblical World.”28)Mark S. Smith, “The Death of ‘Dying and Rising Gods’ in the Biblical World,” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament, 1998, Vol . 12, pp. 257-313 Scholarly consensus has relegated this opinion to an embarrassing expression of the past. Is this the same reason The New Encyclopedia Britannica (1988) differs so much from the 1911 edition on the discussion of Christmas and Christmas tree?

It’s not until the 12th century that we find the first suggestion that Jesus’ birth celebration was deliberately set at the time of pagan feasts. A marginal note on a manuscript of the writings of the Syriac biblical commentator Dionysius bar-Salibi states that in ancient times the Christmas holiday was actually shifted from January 6 to December 25 so that it fell on the same date as the pagan Sol Invictus holiday.29)A gloss on a manuscript of Dionysius Bar Salibi, d. 1171; see Thomas J. Talley, Origins of the Liturgical Year, 2nd ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991), pp. 101–102. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Bible scholars spurred on by the new study of comparative religions latched on to this idea.30)Prominent among these was Paul Ernst Jablonski; on the history of scholarship, see especially Roll, “The Origins of Christmas,” pp. 277–283. They claimed that because the early Christians didn’t know when Jesus was born, they simply assimilated the pagan solstice festival for their own purposes, claiming it as the time of the Messiah’s birth and celebrating it accordingly.”31)Andrew McGowen, “How December 25 Became Christmas,” 12-3-2017;


Also, the accusation of Mithraism is inconsistent when stated by this author who elsewhere has accurately stated: “First, archaeology indicates that the earliest Mithraic temples or mithraeum in the Roman Empire post-date the rise of Christianity by over a century. The earliest known Mithraic inscription also dates to the second century. Christianity cannot be dependent upon Mithraism because there is no evidence for the Mithraic mysteries prior to A. D. 100.… Christianity could not have borrowed its teachings from Mithraism because Christianity antedates the Mithraic mystery religion in the Roman Empire.”32)Thomas Ross, “Did New Testament Christianity Borrow from Mithraism?,” March 1st, 2015; The fact is that the Mithraic cult borrowed from Christianity as did many pagan cults after Christianity arose. N. T. Wright discussed how the idea of resurrection in pagan literature was exploited after Christianity arose. “The truly striking thing about all these apparent deaths, and their strange reversals or overcoming, is how they suddenly proliferate in the [pagan] literature of the middle to late first century AD onward.”33)N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, Fortress Press (Minneapolis, MN: 2003), Vol. 3, p. 75 Thus it is likely that the date of December 25th shows a very early expression from Christianity that the Mithraic cult stole.


Another common claim that errs significantly is presented in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, which states, “December 25 eventually became the officially recognized day for Christmas because it coincided with Saturnalia and the winter solstice.”34)O. G. Oliver, Jr., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (edited by Walter A. Aelwell) Baker Books (Grand Rapid, MI: 1984), p. 220 This repeated error of the “Christmas is pagan” myth is that the winter solstice is not the 25th but the 21st of December; as well as equating Christmas with Saturnalia which was actually celebrated December 17th through 24th. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica relates “The traditional customs connected with Christmas have developed from several sources as a result of the coincidence of the celebration of the birth of Christ with the pagan agricultural and solar observances at midwinter.”35) The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. (Chicago, fifteenth edition: 1988), Vol. 3, p. 283 My 1988 edition of The New Encyclopaedia Britannica relates:


It is commonly supposed that the emperor Constantine was influential in the institution of a Christian feast of “the birthday of the Sun of Righteousness” Mal. 4:2) as a rival to the popular pagan festival of the Unconquered Sun at the winter solstice…. But the exact circumstances of the beginning of Christmas Day at Rome remain obscure.36) The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. (Chicago, fifteenth edition: 1988), Vol. 16, p. 361


Historical problems with this common view is that the pagan festival arose at a relatively late date to claim the Christians borrowed it from the pagans. Andrew McGowen stated, “in 274 C.E., the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), on December 25.”37)Andrew McGowen, “How December 25 Became Christmas,” 12-3-2017;   In addition to this, “From the mid-fourth century on, we do find Christians deliberately adapting and Christianizing pagan festivals. A famous proponent of this practice was Pope Gregory the Great, who, in a letter written in 601 C.E. to a Christian missionary in Britain, recommended that local pagan temples not be destroyed but be converted into churches, and that pagan festivals be celebrated as feasts of Christian martyrs. At this late point, Christmas may well have acquired some pagan trappings. But we don’t have evidence of Christians adopting pagan festivals in the third century, at which point dates for Christmas were established. Thus, it seems unlikely that the date was simply selected to correspond with pagan solar festivals.”38)Andrew McGowen, “How December 25 Became Christmas,” 12-3-2017; It therefore appears more accurate to say that the pagans stole the date from the Christians who had celebrated it at an earlier date.

However, the pagan festivals of the winter may have something to do with why December 25 was utilized as the date for Christmas. Phillip Schaff, writing in the late 1800s when the common thought was of borrowing from paganism, records, “The Christmas festival was probably the Christian transformation or regeneration of a series of kindred heathen festivals—the Saturnilia, Sigillaria, Juvenalia, and Brumalia—which were kept in Rome in the month of December, in commemoration of the golden age of universal freedom and equality, and in honor of the unconquered sun, and which were great holidays, especially for slaves and children.”39)Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: originally published 1867, fourth printing 2011), Vol. 3, p. 396 Of the festivals mentioned, only Brumilia was celebrated on December 25th, but it is most likely that the date was specifically adapted by Christians during the age they suffered persecution (being prior to Constantine as he is usually accused of causing the pagan syncretism most often by erroneously claiming he was the first pope of the Catholic church) because the large number of slaves that converted to Christ were released from their toils and this week of festivities in the Roman empire was the only of such celebrations that all Christians alike could be freed to commemorate Christ’s incarnation. For example, Tertullian spoke of “Saturn’s, which must necessarily be celebrated even by little slaves at the times of Saturnilia.”40)Tertullian, “On Idolatry,” Chap. X; The Ante-Nicene Father, (ed. Allen Menzies, D.D.), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1896, Fifth Printing, 2012) Vol. 3, p. 66 Since even one who opposes Christmas can say “churches have the liberty to meet on any day of the year and to preach on any Biblical topic on any day of the year, so they can preach on the incarnation on December 25.”41)Thomas Ross; So it is reasonable for the Christian slaves to gather during one of the only days they have off all year to celebrate their faith in Christ by gathering with other Christians and have preaching about the incarnation of their Lord and Savior Who humbled Himself to become a servant. December 25th was actually the least significant of the pagan dates of festivities during the winter season which is probably why the day was chosen (assuming the conclusion it was chosen).


With that being said, there is also strong evidence that December 25th is the actual date of Christ’s birth, and arguments against this fact have been heavily resting on presumptions unproven. It is frequently assumed in popular level commentaries that based on Luke 2:8, the shepherds would not be out at night in the winter. J. Vernon McGee says, “It could not have been the dead of winter or the shepherds would not have been out at night with their sheep.”42)J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Thomas Nelson (Nashville, TN: 1983), Vol 4, p. 252 However, if it is thought shepherds would not be outside at night because it is cold in the winter, that is wrong. The winter in Israel is the rainy season (obviously not that cold or it would be snowing) commonly called the “early”, “former” or “first rain” (James 5:7; Jeremiah 5:24; Joel 2:23; Deuteronomy 11:14), while the spring season around Passover is known as the “latter rain” (Proverbs 16:15; Hosea 6:3). This rain obviously causes grass to grow (Zechariah 10:1), which would make it a good time to feed the flock. Yet, the idea that no shepherds would be in the fields during the winter is also argued by David Cloud,43)David Cloud, Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity 5th Edition, Way of Life Literature (Port Huron, MI: 1993, 2008), p. 126 and seems to be what is meant by Dr. Ross, when saying, “there is no evidence that Christ was born in winter at all…”44)Thomas Ross, “Christmas Carols that Lie,” December 7th, 2015; Merrill Unger says, “Apparently the nativity did not occur in the winter, since shepherds in Palestine customarily do not remain in the open with their flocks, except from spring to autumn.”45)Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Handbook, Moody Press (Chicago, IL: 1966, 1977), p. 516 If Unger is mentioning ancient customs of the Jews, he must have misunderstood, as the rabbis argued this topic in the Talmud, but it was only pertaining to flocks for sacrifice, which they referred to as “domestic animals” in contrast to other grazing flocks called “desert animals” that would be out all year long with their shepherds.


The Gemara challenges this: And does Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi not hold that there is a prohibition of set-aside? Didn’t we learn in a mishna that on a Festival, before they are slaughtered, one may neither give water to, in order to ease removal of their hides, nor slaughter non-domesticated, desert animals, animals that are always grazing in the fields? Since people do not generally tend to them, they are considered set-aside and may not be used. However, one may give water to and slaughter domesticated animals. And it was taught in a baraita that these are non-domesticated, desert animals: Any animals that leave their sheds on Passover and only enter their sheds with the advent of the rainy season. Domesticated animals are any animals that go out to graze beyond the city limits, and come and sleep within the city limits. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi says: These and those are both domesticated. And these are the non-domesticated, desert animals that are prohibited due to the prohibition of set-aside: Any animals that graze in the grazing area and neither enter the town during the summer nor during the rainy season. It is these animals that it is prohibited to give water to or slaughter on a Festival. Apparently, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi holds that there is a prohibition of set-aside even in the case of animals.46)The Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 45b;


 MISHNA: On a Festival one may not water or slaughter desert animals, which graze mainly outside the town, as they are considered muktze. However, one may water and slaughter domestic animals. The mishna elaborates: These are considered domestic animals: Those that sleep in the city at night. Desert animals are those that sleep in the pasture and come into town only rarely…. The Sages taught in a baraita: Which are desert animals, and which are domestic ones? Desert animals include all those that go out to pasture at Passover time and graze in the meadows day and night and enter the town again only at the first rainfall, at the start of the rainy season. And these are domestic animals: All that go out in the morning and graze outside the town’s boundary but come and sleep within the boundary at night. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi says: Both these and those are considered domestic animals and may be slaughtered on the Festival. Rather, these are desert animals that may not be slaughtered on the Festival: All those that go out and graze in the meadows and do not enter the settled area, neither in the summer nor in the rainy season. …in any event, that with regard to a case where they go out and graze on Passover and enter again at the first rainfall, they are considered domestic animals and should be permitted.47)The Babylonian Talmud, Beitzah 40a;


The seemingly petty and constantly contradicting arguments of the rabbis in the Talmud reveal that there was indeed grazing flocks out at night during the rainy season and all year long. It is also never reasonable to argue a historical point based on weather patterns as they can and often are irregular. Here in Wisconsin, we have had weather in January with temperatures hitting record highs in the 50s and 60s as well as record lows with negative 17 degrees in the last few years. Who can really argue that the weather over 2,000 years ago in Israel on some particular night definitely hindered shepherds from going out?


The 1911 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica cited as evidence the Christmas is pagan referenced Theophilus of Antioch (A.D. 115-181) as the first to mention the date of December 25th. Theophilus was a chronographer which the editors of The Ante-Nicene Fathers, stated “he seems to be the earliest Christian historian of the Church and the Old Testament.”48) The Ante-Nicene Father, (ed. Allen Menzies, D.D.), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1896, Fifth Printing, 2012) Vol. 2, p. 87 Even Bishop Usher tipped his hat at Theophilus for his historical works in the prolegomena of his Annals of the World. This Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911) article suggests the reference being mentioned is “preserved in the Latin by the Magdeburg centuriators” and is considered “spurious.”49) The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., vol. VI. New York:  Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1911, pp. 293-294 as cited by Thomas Ross, “The Encyclopaedia Britannica on Christmas and Epiphany,” November 30th, 2013; If there is any validity to the statement from Theophilus, it would actually carry significant weight in confirming the date.


The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911) is also quoted as having said: “The next mention of the 25th of December is in Hippolytus’ (c. 202) commentary on Daniel iv. 23. Jesus, he says, was born at Bethlehem on the 25th of December, a Wednesday, in the 42nd year of Augustus.”50) The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., vol. VI. New York:  Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1911, pp. 293-294 as cited by Thomas Ross, “The Encyclopaedia Britannica on Christmas and Epiphany,” November 30th, 2013; They claim this passage is “interpolated” but other sources offer no insinuations of corruption of this text but simply assert “Hippolytus seems to have been the first to fix upon Dec. 25.”51) The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (ed. Samuel Macauley Jackson),Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI: 1952), Vol . 3, p. 47 This too is significant. First, it is important to realize that Hippolytus was the disciple of Irenaeus, who in turn was the disciple of Polycarp, who was in turn the disciple of the Apostle John. Thus Hippolytus holds a strong spiritual lineage to make such statements. Secondly, his major written work was a ten volume text entitled “The Refutation of All Heresies,” in which he argued that all apostasy was caused by the adoption of pagan philosophies by men claiming to be Christians. Hippolytus is not the man to point the finger at when claiming Christians adopted a pagan holiday and pagan customs. People unaware of the historical relevance of these two men being the earliest citations of the December 25th date will obviously miss how weighty of a line of evidence this actually is to confirm the date.


Tertullian made many comments to deride the pagan festivals of his day. In the context of the following quote he  was expressing the principle of separation from pagan festivals that revolved around the emperor when writing to the Christians: “You have your own registers, your own calendar; you have nothing to do with the joys of the world; nay you are called to the very opposite…”52)Tertullian, “The Chaplet, or De Corona,” Chap. XIII; The Ante-Nicene Father, (ed. Allen Menzies, D.D.), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1896, Fifth Printing, 2012) Vol. 3, p. 101 The Christians had their own calendar of festivals which they rejoiced on and not the pagan festivals. This was written in A.D. 212 and offers strong indication that a Christmas festival existed prior to the alleged date of the fourth century. The Apostolic Constitution composed in the late fourth century commands, “Abstain, therefore, from all idolatrous pomp and state, all their [the pagans] public meetings, banquets, duels, and all shows belonging to demons.”53)The Apostolic Constitution, Book 2, Chap. LXII; The Ante-Nicene Father, (ed. Allen Menzies, D.D.), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1896, Fifth Printing, 2012) Vol. 7, p. 424 This same document, later expresses, “Brethren, observe the festival days; and first of all the birthday which you are to celebrate on the twenty-fifth of the ninth month…”54)The Apostolic Constitution, Book 5, Sec. 3, Chap. XIII; The Ante-Nicene Father, (ed. Allen Menzies, D.D.), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1896, Fifth Printing, 2012) Vol. 7, p. 443 This ancient document was written before the adoption of our modern Gregorian calendar. The ninth month is defined by the context which in the next chapter references the “first month which is Xanthicus…”55)The Apostolic Constitution, Book 5, Sec. 3, Chap. XIV; The Ante-Nicene Father, (ed. Allen Menzies, D.D.), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1896, Fifth Printing, 2012) Vol. 7, p. 443 Comparing this with other ancient documents, such as The Martyrdom of Polycarp, which states his martyrdom occurred on “the second day of the month Xanthicus just begun, the seventh day before the Kalends of May…”56)The Martyrdom of Polycarp, Chap. XXI; The Ante-Nicene Father, (ed. Allen Menzies, D.D.), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1896, Fifth Printing, 2012) Vol. 1, p. 43  The word “Kalends” means first day of the month. This would indicate Xanthicus correlates with our month of April although Bishop Usher expressed that the Smyrneaens began the month of Xanthicus on March 25th. Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna, so Ushers’ date of March 25 would be settled here with nine months later would land on December 25. Should it be supposed that these texts can say avoid pagan festivals but its just fine to synchronize with the celebrations of these pagan festival?

One reason the early church calculated the date of Christ’s birth as December 25 is because they adapted a familiar theme from the Jewish rabbis. “Rabbi Eliezer says: In Tishrei the world was created… and in Tishrei in the future the Jewish people will be redeemed in the final redemption with the coming of the Messiah. Rabbi Yehoshua disagrees and says: In Nisan the world was created… and in Nisan in the future the Jewish people will be redeemed in the final redemption.”57) The Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashana, 10b-11a; Thus the creation and redemption are to happen on the same day according the Jewish tradition being the season of Passover–Nissan 14th in the Jewish calendar. Paul played on this theme in referencing the καινη κτισις being literally translated as “new creation”58)“of individual things or beings created, creature… The Christian is described by Paul as… a new creature 2 Cor. 5:17, and the state of being in the new faith by the same words as a new creation Gal 6:15…” A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (ed. Walter Bauer and trans. Wm. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. Danker, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL: 1979), pp. 455-456 (2 Corinthians  5:17, Galatians 6:15, also see Galatians 4:24) as a rabbinical theme. Early Christians also understood this theme. Tertullian mentioned Christ’s death was “in the month of March, at the times of the Passover, on the eighth day before the calends of April”59)Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews, Chap. VIII; The Ante-Nicene Father, (ed. Allen Menzies, D.D.), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1896, Fifth Printing, 2012) Vol. 3, p. 160 which the editors identified as March 25 in a footnote. “March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception. Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.”60)Andrew McGowen, “How December 25 Became Christmas,” 12-3-2017;

Augustine, too, was familiar with this association. In On the Trinity (c. 399–419) he writes: “For he [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.”61)Andrew McGowen, “How December 25 Became Christmas,” 12-3-2017;

In the East, too, the dates of Jesus’ conception and death were linked. But instead of working from the 14th of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, the easterners used the 14th of the first spring month (Artemisios) in their local Greek calendar—April 6 to us. April 6 is, of course, exactly nine months before January 6—the eastern date for Christmas. In the East, too, we have evidence that April was associated with Jesus’ conception and crucifixion. Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis writes that on April 6, “The lamb was shut up in the spotless womb of the holy virgin, he who took away and takes away in perpetual sacrifice the sins of the world.”62)Andrew McGowen, “How December 25 Became Christmas,” 12-3-2017;; Epiphanius is quoted in Thomas J. Talley, Origins of the Liturgical Year, 2nd ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991),  p. 98

Furthermore, Luke is well known for his accurate recording of history with precise details, as well as the fact that he wrote the inspired words God revealed to him which are absolutely infallible. Luke 1:5 records “Zacharias, of the course of Abia…”


Zechariah was of the course of Abia (“Abijah” in the OT). David was the one who first organized the priests into twenty-five divisions (1 Chron. 24:1-19), allowing for an orderly rotation for ministering in the Temple. His organizational work was still in place one thousand years later. The division of Abia was the eight of the twenty-four divisions. Each division ministered for one week twice a year. Some have tried to ascertain the exact week when Zechariah would have been on duty, in order to determine when John and Jesus were born. Any such effort to identify precisely Zechariah’s week of Temple service requires assumptions that are difficult to prove with certainty given current information.63)Timothy W. Berry, From Eden To Patmos: An Overview of Biblical History, self-published, 2015, p. 117


There is a matter of assumptions in ascertaining a specific date; however, there does appear to have good ground to find a fairly confident date based on a few ancient documents that agree with one another. Josephus records the date of when the Second Temple was destroyed, being from it construction “by Haggai, in the second year of Cyrus the king, till its destruction under Vespian, there were six hundred and thirty nine years and forty-five days.”64)Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chap. 4, para. 8; in The Complete Works of Josephus (trans. William Whiston), Kregel Publication (Grand Rapids, MI: 1981), p. 581 The Jew’s Talmud indicates that both the first and second Temples were destroyed on the same day, the 9th of Av, during the administration of Jehoiarib. “And the mishna further taught that the Temple was destroyed for the second time also on the Ninth of Av. The Gemara asks: From where do we derive that the Second Temple was destroyed on this date? It is taught in a baraita: A meritorious matter is brought about on an auspicious day, and a deleterious matter on an inauspicious day, e.g., the Ninth of Av, on which several tragedies had already occurred. The Sages said: When the Temple was destroyed for the first time, that day was the Ninth of Av; and it was the conclusion of Shabbat; and it was the year after a Sabbatical Year; and it was the week of the priestly watch of Jehoiarib… And likewise, the same happened when the Second Temple was destroyed.”65)The Babylonian Talmud, “Taanit” 29a; Based on this, Alfred Edersheim has calculated Christ’s birth at the end of December. “If this calculation be correct (of which, however, we cannot feel quite sure), then counting ‘the courses’ of priests backwards, the course of Abia would, in the year 748 A.U.C. (the year before the birth of Christ) have been on duty from the 2nd to the 9th of October. This also would place the birth of Christ in the end of December of the following year (749), taking the expression ‘sixth month’ in St. Luke i. 26, 36, in the sense of the running month (from the 5th to the 6th, comp. St. Luke i. 24). But we repeat that absolute reliance cannot be placed on such calculations, at least so far as regards month and day.”66)Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Macdonald Publishing Co. (Mclean, Virginia: 1886) Vol. 2, p. 705


Based on the culminating voices of antiquity as well as the circumstantial evidence, we find the date of December 25th very reasonable and the most likely accurate day for the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Whether this correlates with pagan festivals of the past is irrelevant and such coincidence could be viewed within God providence and purpose, or Satan’s attempts to pervert truth by mimicking it within pagan festivals. David Cloud relates:

We don’t have to reject every social pleasantry of the Christmas season…

As for the Christmas tree, we have often enjoyed one in our home, but we see it as merely a pleasant social thing that has nothing to do with our faith in Christ.67)David Cloud, Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity 5th Edition, Way of Life Literature (Port Huron, MI: 1993, 2008), p. 125

Though David Cloud considers a Christmas tree in a church “a step toward Catholicism.”68)David Cloud, Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity 5th Edition, Way of Life Literature (Port Huron, MI: 1993, 2008), p. 126 He equates it with crucifixions and statues of Mary, but never explains why one in his house does not move his family towards Catholicism. He claims “The bottom line is that Christmas is a Catholic myth.”69)David Cloud, Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity 5th Edition, Way of Life Literature (Port Huron, MI: 1993, 2008), p. 126 But this argument is built around a myth that it arose in the day of Constantine though Catholicism cannot be substantiated with that early of a date for its origin. We can see that there is frequently inconsistencies in the logic, historical views, and practices of people who hold the Christmas is pagan position, which is why I discarded the opinion many years ago. To hold the position to its utmost consistency would mean one needs to reject all cultural bound practices that originated from pagan cultures, including many wedding traditions and the wedding rings themselves which are not in the Bible, but originate from pagan cultural traditions.

On this evidence, I agree with the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia which laments: “The religious significance of Christmas has been too commonly minimized among Christians…”70) The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (ed. Samuel Macauley Jackson),Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI: 1952), Vol . 3, p. 48 Surely there are pagan aspects that have been traditionally adapted in the  cultural celebration of Christmas which I do not defend participating in, such as Santa Claus, and yule logs, etc.. However, these things addressed in this article should be sufficient to clear anyone’s conscious on intellectual grounds to celebrate Christ’s Incarnation on the December 25th as embracing Christian liberty (Romans 14:5-6), yet it remains on the individual to decide “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)


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