lundi 19 décembre 2011

The Meaning and 0rigin of CHRISTMAS!

Update: - Don't forget to check my book. -

Two thousand years ago, the founder of Christianity was born. He was called Jesus and he became known as Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus-Christ. The events surrounding His birth is told only twice in Bible. First in the Gospel of Mathew 1-2 and the second one, in the Gospel of Luke 1-2. However the exact day of his birth wasn't recorded, leaving hence, a room for speculation about the time of his birth. Each December 25th, millions and Billions of people celebrate the birth of the savior God has sent to humanity. That day is remembered as Christmas. However, in certain circle, some folks just get angry and obnoxious about this day. In one of the many case against Christmas I have heard and read, the religious authors shew their disdain about Dec. 25 because they see in it a pagan feast. However it is usually forgotten that a non pagan origin for Christmas is equally an historical facts.

Greg Peters, an assistant professor at Biola University, an expert in early church history, Peters told ... that there are at least two theories about the way that Dec. 25 was decided on as the observation date of Christ’s birth. “One is that Dec. 25 was this pagan feast. There is also a theory that Dec. 25 was picked based on some early Christian sources that say that Jesus’ death would have been on March 25, based on the year and when the Passover happened.” Peters explains that according to ancient rabbinic practice, one’s death date was one’s birth date. In case of Jesus, it was March 25. Also in rabbinic tradition, birth is the same as conception. Therefore, if Jesus was “conceived” on March 25th, you add nine months and get Dec. 25. “Some scholars believe this and say you don’t have to see Christmas just as a Pagan feast day,” says Peters.
“It’s also possible to read early Christian authors and see that early Christians appropriated pagan holidays for themselves. The fact that Dec. 25 was a pagan holiday and they could usurp a pagan holiday- I’m sure it wasn’t far from their minds either.” 
 What is Professor Greg Peter saying? He said essentially two things. 1) people can argue for either a pagan origin to Christmas or argue for a theological/phylosophical origin for Christmas. 2) he also said that in the case it would fall under a pagan origin, we shouldn't look insulted because Christians seemed to have appropriate pagan holidays for themselves and hence redefining the meaning of those events while stripping pagans of their celebration because they became Christianized. Lets start with the first one.

0rigin of Christmas: Christian source

From Wikipedia, I read this info which lend support to what professor Greg Peter said:
For centuries, Christian writers accepted that Christmas was the actual date on which Jesus was born. John Chrysostom preached a sermon in Antioch c. 386 which established the date of Christmas as December 25 on the Julian calendar since the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:26) had been announced during the sixth month of Elisabeth's pregnancy with John the Baptist (Luke 1:10-13) as dated from the duties Zacharias performed on the Day of Atonement during the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar Ethanim or Tishri (Lev. 16:29, 1 Kings 8:2) which falls in September–October.

The argument above is rather simple. If you remember in the Lukan account (Luke 1:26,27,31-KJV), it is said that "And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary ... And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS." When the bible says 'and in the sixth month' it is clear that it means that something else has preceded those sixth month. The what preceded it are found in earlier verses in the same chapter 1 of Luke. The verse 24 give us the meaning: 'And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months,'. What does it mean 'after those days'? Earlier verses tells us what those days were. It was the days that preceded Elisabeth conception. Before her miracle few days earlier, her husband - a priest named Zacharias- was visited by the angel that visited Mary at the Annunciation day 6 months later. Those days were days when priest went to the temple as offered burned incense 'according to the custom of the priest's office,' (Verse 9). Those days when priests did those offering were known as the month of TISHREI - the seven month on the Jewish calender (Leviticus 16:29 and 1 King 8:2). The seven month in the Jewish calender was the beginning of the period of autumn which means during September or 0ctober in our modern non-Jewish calender.

Now this is very interesting because it puts the start of Elisabeth pregnancy either in September or 0ctober. Elisabeth was Mary cousin (verse 36) and she was without a child up until her old days. After an angel visited her husband, she conceived and probably for some cultural reasons she hid herself for 5 months before she broke the news to people. 'And in the sixth month' the same angel came back to Israel but this time not to Elisabeth family but to Mary. The second coming of the angel is now known as the Annunciation. So if you add 6 months to 'those days' when Elizabeth pregnancy begun (September-0ctober) you'll end up in either March or April in our modern calender. Which might make Marry to have started her pregnancy of Jesus upon the Angel annunciation of the coming of the King in either March or April. 

This lead to the inevitable conclusion that Jesus' birth nine months later - assuming that the Virgin Mary had a normal pregnancy of 9 months - will fall between December or January. December if Jesus' conception was in March. And January if Jesus' conception was in April. Hence the logic of early Christians such as St. Chrysostome to speak of Jesus' birth in December as early as the 4th Century. By the way, Easter Christianity such as 'Ethiopia, Russia and Ukraine celebrate Christmas, both as a Christian feast and as a public holiday, in January'.

0rigin of Christmas: Pagan source

If some see clearly a christian and biblical reason to approximate Jesus Christ birth around December through calculatuions based on Zacharias' temple services, their enthusiasms are not shared by all. As one source puts it: "In the early 18th century, scholars began proposing alternative explanations."
 Isaac Newton wargued that the date of Christmas was selected to correspond with the winter solstice, which the Romans called bruma and celebrated on December 25. In 1743, German Protestant Paul Ernst Jablonski argued Christmas was placed on December 25 to correspond with the Roman solar holiday Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and was therefore a "paganization" that debased the true church. 
I have few things to say about this. First, What the detractors usually forgets is that the law of logic, as would say Dr. Ravi Zacharias, demands of us not to assume that because two entities have two things or many things in common means that that they are the same entities. That would make a mistake in logic. If my neighbor John has ears and my dog BUBA has ears, does it follow that John is a dog? 0fcourse not. Having two things in common doesn't make them the same thing.  

Second, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti means "the birthday of the unconquered sun". Which certainly might have appeared attractive to Christians who had a strong bend in Evangelism as these ancient testimonials suggests: "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born...Christ should be born", Cyprian wrote. John Chrysostom also commented on the connection: "They call it the 'Birthday of the Unconquered'. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord . . .?" Their reaction looks to me normal. They saw through the coincidence an opportunity to present Christ as the reality in contrast to Pagan myths and legends. St. Paul the apostle acted similarly when he visited Athens in ancient Greece, "while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. ... Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you." (Acts 17: 16, 22, 23).

What Paul did at the Areopagus debate meeting in Athens was just brilliant, just like Cyprian and Chrysostom few centuries after him. St. Paul saw intense idolatry and he used one of those altar used in the Athenians idolatry to attract their attentions to the only true God and away from their superstition and false gods. Did Paul compromised with paganism? 0fcourse not. St. Paul saw a fortunate providence in the Athenians idolatry to combat their false belief by substituting them with that which was true. This is not compromising with paganism. This is strategic evangelism. The kind that I like. As for me, I don't really think it matters if the calculations are correct nor that the celebration bare some resemblance of day with pagan celebration. I rather share this view:
"While they were aware that pagans called this day the 'birthday' of Sol Invictus, this did not concern them and it did not play any role in their choice of date for Christmas," according to modern scholar S.E. Hijmans. Today, whether or not the birth date of Jesus is on December 25 is not considered to be an important issue among mainstream Christian denominations; rather, celebrating the coming of God into the world in the form of man to atone for the sins of humanity is considered to be the primary meaning of Christmas.


It is been some time since i had this document written by an expert in the Jesus studies - NT Wright. It was originally published in Gospel in Paul: Studies on Corinthians, Galatians and Romans for Richard N. Longenecker, eds. L. Ann Jervis and Peter Richardson, 1994, pp. 222–239. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Supplement Series 108. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. Reproduced by permission of the author. Simply put the paper was entitled: GOSPEL AND THEOLOGY IN GALATIANS.

In the paper, the author addressed the fact that even the word 'Gospel' - εὐαγγέλιον in Greek Evangelion- has two sources: “The two backgrounds regularly proposed for Paul’s use of Gospel – Evangelion- are, predictably, the Hebrew scriptures on the one hand and pagan usage on the other. The line between the two tends to follow the old divide between those who suppose Paul to be basically a Jewish thinker and those who see him as having borrowed his fundamental ideas from Hellenism."

So let's assume that even the word 'Gospel', evangelion - εὐαγγέλιον had a pagan source or origin. Does it mean that we should stop using it and assume that Christianity has been compromised from the start? I think not. Words have meaning and it is in the hand of the speaker to infuse them with meaning or even to redefine them:In the Greek world the word Gospel, ‘evangelion’, is a technical term for “news of victory”. More specifically, it refers to the announcement of the birth or accession of an emperor. Not least at the time of Augustus, who became the first Roman emperor following a long period of civil war, the coming of a new ruler meant the promise of peace, a new start for the world. The birthday of the god [Augustus] was the beginning for the world of the glad tidings (εὐαγγέλιον) that have come to men through him. . .

I still remember a time when as a kid i used to sing song where the word 'gay' was used in songs because at that time it simply meant 'happy'. Today, our lexicon has changed. We no longer use the word 'gay' with the same ease as before because the term, the word has changed its meaning. Now to be 'gay' doesn't mean to be 'happy', it rather means to have a 'homosexual affinity'. You change the word, you change the world - said Dr. Ravi Zacharias. As you look closely at the meaning of the word 'Gospel' either from the Hebrew Bible prophecy of Isaiah 40 or the pagan source as quoted above - we should be intellectually alerted and spiritually astute in order to recognize an opportunity to use the cultural language for the sake of our cause. For our cause is Christ. Always, Christ and His Kingdom.

NT Wright said that, ‘The trouble with history-of-religions study is that it regularly fails to see that what matters is not so much where an idea has come from as where it is going to. To announce that YHWH is king is to announce that Caesar is not. The death of one king means the accession of another; the acclamation of a would-be king spells a dire threat for the present one.'

In the same length, the proclamation of Jesus as being the true "Unconquered Sun" is to say that all other pretender to that divine position are 'not Unconquered'. This was the genius of the first Christians and they have won. Jesus is celebrated every year and all other pagan divinity who once shared that day have now faded in oblivion. But Jesus is now and forever more remembered as the TRUTH that all those superstitions only tried to point toward.

 Dethroning principalities and powers was the purpose. Here is how N.T Wright puts it:
"The Isaianic hope (Is40) was always conceived as a challenge to paganism at every level; … in declaring that Israel’s hope is fulfilled in her Messiah, ipso facto declares also that the pagan world is confronted with a new ruler." "[The] ‘gospel’ itself decisively confronted and overthrew the pagan powers that had dominated (Gal2.1-5)” "I believe in the essentially apocalyptic nature of Paul’s covenantal theology, and vice versa [when] rightly understood, [it] is not about the destruction of everything that happened before Jesus and the ushering in of a totally new world. It is about the new creation breaking into the old.’

The dethroning of paganism have happened by adapting their symbols like: statutes (Samson the biblical  strong man instead of Hercules the strong mythical demi-god), terminologies (Gospel found in Jesus and not in Augustus) and days of celebration (historic birth of Jesus instead of mythical birth of legendary gods). It was and it is still about the reality vs the fictitious, the unreal, the superstitious or the false. St. Paul in the Bible says this:
For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you. (1 Corinthians 9: 19-23 - The Bible)
As we remember the birth and the meaning of his advent, coming to earth- let us rejoice as the angels did when the Son was given, when the Child was born.


6 commentaires:

  1. Interesting views. Merry Christmas to you to Eric

  2. Thanks. Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones.

  3. Waoh Eric!!! Believe me, this is the best defense on Christams I have ever read. I have learnt a lot and I could not wait to have Jehovah witnesses on my doorstep. May I please share it with some friends with your permission?

    God bless


  4. Hahaha. Glad to hear that you like it. This is an open source. Feel free to share the content of this blog bro'! ;)

  5. Amen l'homme de Dieu! Merci beaucoup pour cette explication sobre, soutenue et precise qui revele la verite. Nzambe a pambola yo ndeko...
    Jesus est le Roi de l'univers, le Soleil levant, le Printemps de Dieu, etc. Je benis son nom! Tu ne sais pas combien ca me fait la joie d'avoir lu ceci. Je sauvegarde la page pour reference ulterieure comme nous sommes en mode open source...;)

    Bonana 2012

    Jean Paul T.

  6. Tres content de te lire J.P. Bonana 2012 aussi et beaucoup de benediction!