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Modern denominations, that claim to be Christian, observe various holy days in celebration of religious events. These holidays include Christmas, Easter, Lent, and many others. While you may read in the Bible about the events these days are supposed to memorialize, you do not find that the gospel tells us to celebrate these holydays in memory of these events. They have been developed by men over the centuries since the New Testament was written.
Many people observe these days simply from habit. They may be awed or excited by the ritual surrounding Christmas, Easter, or Lent. Their churches celebrate the days, so the members participate without questioning whether or not they truly ought to be part of Christianity. It may never occur to these folks to question where these holidays came from or whether they are really right.
2 Corinthians 13:5 - Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 - Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
The question to be considered is whether these observances are pleasing to God. Note that we are studying the observance of the days as religious holy days. It is not our purpose to consider whether Christians may participate in various traditional or secular aspects of those days.
John 4:23,24 - Worship must be in spirit and in truth.
Matthew 15:9 - And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
The question we must consider is whether God has authorized these religious observances or whether they are human in origin.
To answer these questions, we must examine the various holy days to consider their origin and nature. We will do this by considering the claims made for these days by the groups that observe them (with a few general facts from competent encyclopedias). We will consider their own explanation of the days, what they mean, and where they came from. Then we will compare this to the Bible to find out if the Bible authorized them.
We will consider the three most commonly known and most widely practiced holy days or seasons (though there are many more that could be considered): Easter, Christmas, and Lent.
Catholic Dictionary: "Lent. A fast of forty days preceding Easter, kept, after the example of Moses, Elias, and above all, of Christ Himself, in order to prepare the faithful for the Easter feast ... It was a season of mourning, and hence the Church has always strongly discountenanced festivities of all kinds during Lent. Lastly, the body is mortified, in order that the soul may be invigorated ..." - p. 512, 514.
Ash Wednesday is the day when the Catholic church sprinkles ashes on the foreheads of members as a sign of penitence, especially for those who seek to be restored to communion on Easter.
A Catechism for Adults (Catholic): "The church's law of abstinence says that on certain days you may not eat meat ... What are the days of obligatory abstinence? Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent ... On these days, no meat may be taken at the full meal" - p. 132.
Baker's Dictionary of Theology (Protestant): "Lent. The forty days of fasting immediately preceding Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday ..." - p. 320
"There is no mention in Scripture of the observance of Lent, or, indeed, of any determined time for fasting among Christians" - Catholic Dictionary, p. 512. They do claim, however, that there is historical evidence of a fast of some type before Easter dating back to or nearly to the first century.
"Not until much later (ca. seventh century) did the forty days' period become universally recognized in honor of our Lord's fast in the wilderness (Matt. 4:2). ... The name is derived from the old English lenckten, meaning the 'spring.'" - Baker's Dictionary, p. 321.
Hence, according to the statements of those who participate in lent, it is a period of forty days prior to Easter. People are to humble themselves by denying various pleasures and repenting. Its origin is not known exactly, but as practiced today goes back to the seventh century.
The Catholic church admits the practice of abstaining from meat at lent is a law made by the church and not found in the Scriptures (see quotes from Catechism and Dictionary above).
In contrast, by observing the Bible we can learn: The Bible mentions Jesus' forty-day fast (Matt. 4:2), but never uses the word "lent," never tells us to fast in memory of Jesus' fast, and never gives any set time for fasting at all. It rebukes those who would require abstaining from meats (1 Tim. 4:1-4).
We conclude that religious observance of lent is without God's approval or authority (2 John 9). The practice is human in origin, and therefore vain worship (Matt. 15:9).
Easter is the "feast of our Lord's resurrection" - Catholic Dictionary, p. 283.
"The annual festival of our Lord's resurrection ... It is at once the oldest and greatest festival of the Christian church, having been observed from very early times" - Baker's Dictionary of Theology, p. 175.
"The celebration of a special Paschal or Easter feast among Christians goes back to the remotest antiquity, though it is impossible to determine the date of its introduction" - Catholic Dictionary, p. 284.
"The Jewish Christians in the early church continued to celebrate the Passover, regarding Christ as the true paschal lamb, and this naturally passed over into a commemoration of the death and resurrection of Our Lord, or an Easter feast" - International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. II, p. 889.
"The Jewish Christians linked it with the Passover, and so observed it on the 14th day of Nisan, regardless of the day of the week. But Gentile believers celebrated the Resurrection on the Lord's day, Sunday. This difference was settled by the Council of Nicea in 325 AD" (which set the date for the annual observance of Easter) - Zondervan's Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p. 230f.
"The word Easter is derived from that of the Saxon goddess Eastre, the same deity whom the Germans proper called Ostara, and honoured ... as the divinity of the dawn" - Catholic Dictionary, p. 283.
"The Eng. word comes from the AS Eastre or Estera, a Teutonic goddess to whom sacrifice was offered in April, so the name was transferred to the paschal feast" - International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. II, p. 889.
"According to Bede, the name Easter is derived from Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess whose festival was held in the spring." - Baker's Dictionary of Theology, p. 175.
"The English word 'Easter,' however, corresponding to the German Oster, reveals Christianity's indebtedness to the Teutonic tribes of central Europe. Christianity, when it reached the Teutons, incorporated in its celebration of the great Christian feast day many of the heathen rites and customs which accompanied their observance of the spring festival" - Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 7, p. 859.
"...it is impossible to determine the date of its introduction" - Catholic Dictionary, p. 284. This would, of course, be possible if the practice had been revealed in the Bible.
"There is no trace of Easter celebration in the NT, though some would see an intimation of it in 1 Cor. 5:7" - International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. II, p. 889.
"There is no celebration of the Resurrection in the NT" - Zondervan's Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p. 230f.
(1) All modern translations say "Passover" (cf. ASV, NASB, etc.)
(2) The original Greek word is pasca, which is always without exception elsewhere translated "Passover," even in the KJV.
(3) Even Catholic translations, such as the Confraternity version, use "Passover" here.
(3) V3 refers to activities of Jews during "the Days of Unleavened Bread." This was undeniably a Jewish feast associated with the Passover. Hence, the context proves the reference is to the Passover.
(4) Nothing in any way connects Christians with the day as though it was a Christian holy day.
(5) Even people today who celebrate Easter religiously will admit that this reference in the KJV does not refer to a Christian holy day but to the Jewish Passover:
"The word [Easter] does not properly occur in Scripture, although AV has it in Acts 12:4 where it stands for Passover, as it is rightly rendered in RV" - International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. II, p. 889.
"...rendered Easter in Acts 12:4 KJV, but correctly translated Passover in ASV" - Zondervan's Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p. 230f.
Based on statements from those who observe Easter, it is an annual holy day in memory of Jesus' resurrection. It is the result of Jewish and pagan influences combined into the present form by the Roman Catholic church. It is named after a pagan goddess, and many concepts associated with it are pagan in origin. As an annual religious holy day, Easter cannot be found in the Bible.
We conclude again that the religious observance of Easter is human in origin, begun in pagan and apostate religion. See Matt. 15:9; etc.
Christmas is: "The 25th of December, on which the Church celebrates Christ's birth" - Catholic Dictionary, p. 161.
"Christmas ... the anniversary of the birth of Christ, and its observance; celebrated by most Protestants and by Roman Catholics on December 25 ... The word Christmas is formed of Christ + Mass, meaning a mass of religious service in commemoration of the birth of Christ" - Zondervan's Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p. 162f.
"In the East, and later in the West, Christ's birthday was observed on January 6th in connection with his baptism, a day on which the pagan world celebrated the feast of Dionysus, associated with the lengthening of the days ... In Rome, December 25th is attested as the day of Christ's birth in 336. It was introduced perhaps by Constantine the Great who evidently chose the day because of the popular pagan feast of the sun" - Baker's Dictionary of Theology, p. 117.
"The first mention of its observance on December 25 is in the time of Constantine, about A.D. 325" - Zondervan's Pictorial Bible Dictionary, pp. 162f.
"In the south of Europe, in Egypt and Persia, the sun gods were worshipped with elaborate ceremonies at the season of the winter solstice, as a fitting time to pay tribute to the benign god of plenty ... The exact day and year of Christ's birth have never been satisfactorily settled, but when the fathers of the church in A.D. 440 decided upon a date to celebrate the event, they wisely chose the day of the winter solstice which was firmly fixed in the minds of the people and which was their most important festival...
"When missionaries were sent from Rome ... their instructions given by Pope Gregory I made clear the policy of the church: 'Let the shrines of idols by no means be destroyed but let the idols which are in them be destroyed ... And because they were wont to sacrifice oxen to devils, some celebration should be given in exchange for this ... they should celebrate a religious feast and worship God by their feasting, so that still keeping outward pleasures, they may more readily receive spiritual joys.' (Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation.)" - Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 5, p. 643.
"Whether or not the birth of our Lord really occurred on this day, ancient authorities are not agreed" - Catholic Dictionary, p. 161. Note that this clearly implies that the Bible does not tell us when Jesus was born.
"The date of the birth of Christ is not known ... Whether the early Christians thought of or observed Christmas is not clear" - Zondervan's Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p. 162f. Note that this clearly shows that we have no Bible authority or example of anyone observing Jesus' birth. If it was in the Bible, we would know that Christians observed it.
"The early Christians did not observe the festival of Christ's birth, to which they did not attach the importance ascribed to his death and resurrection" - Baker's Dictionary of Theology, p. 117.
Clearly, those who observe Christmas religiously are admitting that the Bible does not authorize the practice. It is of later origin.
According to those who practice Christmas, it is an annual celebration of Jesus' birthday. However, no one knows when He was born. The name means a mass to Christ (the mass being a Catholic worship ritual).
There is no evidence in the Bible that God told His people to have an annual religious observance of Jesus' birth, and no evidence the early Christians did so. The practice began as a pagan festival in worship of the sun god, and was adopted by the Catholic church as a memorial to Jesus' birth.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and this was a time of great joy (Matt. 1:18-2:23; Luke 1:26-56; 2:1-40). There are several factual errors associated with the modern religious observance of Christmas:
(1) The time or day of year when Jesus was born is unknown. The fact shepherds were in their fields at night makes it highly unlikely He was born in December (Luke 2:8ff).
(2) "Wise men" came to visit Jesus, but there is no indication of the number of them (Matt. 2:1,7,16). The concept of three of them is human tradition.
(3) The wise men visited Jesus at a "house," and Herod's reaction indicates that Jesus was not a newborn but older (Matt. 2:11,16; cf. Luke 2:6ff). There is no evidence the wise men visited Jesus at the manger in the stable.
(4) A "mass" is the Catholic practice of repeating the sacrifice of Jesus in the Lord's supper, so that it becomes Jesus' literal, physical body and blood. However, Jesus was sacrificed only once (Heb. 9:24-28; 10:8-10; etc.). The bread and fruit of the vine are not His literal body and blood but are memorials of them (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
No one in the Bible ever observed an annual religious holy day in memory of Jesus' birth, nor does the Bible ever authorize the practice. It is a human religious ritual, formed in pagan idolatry and religious apostasy. 2 Tim. 3:16,17 - The Scriptures provide to all good works. These holy days are nowhere found in the Scriptures, so how can they be good works?
Having accumulated the facts about these modern holy days, even according to the view of those who practice them, let us consider the application of Bible principles to these practices. We will examine the question of whether Christians should participate in these holy days religiously.
Consider the application of these Bible principles.
These errors are not the most fundamental objections to the days. One may argue that the days could be observed without these errors. But some of these errors are fundamental parts of the practices of these days, and it is inevitable that days that are originated by men and based on pagan and apostate practices will lead to perversions such as these.
This has been discussed above. The most fundamental and dangerous error is the Catholic concept of the mass which, to every Catholic, is part of the ChristMAS celebration. These masses are also celebrated in connection with Easter ("midnight mass") and Lent.
This is clearly identified in the Bible as a sign of apostasy - 1 Tim. 4:1-3.
Many tell their children there is a Santa Claus who rides a sleigh with reindeer and comes on Christmas eve to give presents to those who have been good. This might be harmless if it is presented as pretend or make-believe, like Mother Goose. But many present it as truth and assure children it is true when the children ask about it.
Revelation 21:8 - All liars will be in the lake of fire. What can the Santa Claus story be but a lie, if it is presented as truth to a child?
When the child finds out Santa Claus is not true, how will that affect his respect and trust in his parents' honesty? How can a parent punish his child for not telling the truth, when the parent has lied to the child in the name of religion?
When the child learns Santa Claus is make-believe, though his parents told him it was true, will he then put God, Jesus, the Bible, and other religious teachings in the same category? To lie to a child is to undermine your moral authority as a parent and to put doubts in his mind about other things that are true and must be believed.
Galatians 5:19-21 - Drunkenness, lasciviousness (sexual suggestiveness), and revelry (carousing, dancing, wild parties) will keep people out of the kingdom of heaven. Yet many people use the religious holy days as a time to do all these.
Mardi gras is a wild celebration with immorality of all kinds right before the beginning of lent. Knowing they will have to give up various vices during lent, people have a final fling in immorality before lent begins! Christmas season also becomes an excuse for much evil.
This is not just a matter of coincidence or perversion. Remember the Catholic church adopted these days expressly because they had been celebrated by pagan idol worshipers. But this is how the pagans celebrate, so why be surprised when those holy days are adopted into "Christianity" and people continue to celebrate them in immorality?
Commercialization of the "Christmas spirit" is well known. Many people emphasize physical gifts and money-making schemes. The so-called religious holy day becomes instead an occasion to emphasize material gain. Many people fail to contribute to the church as they otherwise would because they have spent so much on gifts, and they "couldn't disappoint the children." What about disappointing the Lord?
People are encouraged to "repent" and give up vices for lent (smoking, drinking, etc.). But everyone knows the sacrifice is temporary, and as soon as lent is over they will go back to the vices. What does this teach about the concept of repentance? If an act is sinful, it should be given up permanently. Anything less is not repentance.
Again, these ideas are not just incidental perversions. When pagan celebrations are adopted and become the basis of "Christian" holy days, what else can one expect? How can true spirituality come from pagan heathenism?
"How often are Catholics obliged to receive Holy Communion? At least once a year during the Easter Season ... Is this a serious obligation? It would be a mortal sin deliberately to ignore it. This is called the Easter Duty. How often do good Catholics receive Holy Communion? Every Sunday, and many receive every day" - Catholic Catechism, p. 71.
The majority of Protestants, while not claiming to accept the authority of the Catholic church, nevertheless believe it is more important to attend at Easter and Christmas than at other times. This is an inevitable perversion that occurs whenever people, on their own human authority, make a special time of year more important religiously than other times. People will inevitably begin to think it is more important to be religious then than at other times.
Hebrews 10:25 - The Bible says we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Meeting with God's people is not a once or twice a year obligation. We should be there whenever the church meets.
Acts 20:7 - Specifically, we should meet for the Lord's supper on the first day of the week, as often as that comes, not once a year nor even every day.
When people act by human authority and especially when they adopt pagan practices which are steeped in evil, immorality, and religious perversions, such errors as these are inevitable. They are not just incidentals but are an inherent part of the error.
They are not authorized in the New Testament, and this is admitted by those who practice them yet know something about the Bible.
They claim their modern holy days are modifications of Old Testament holy days or are the same kind of thing as those were. They reason that, if it was acceptable to have holy days in the Old Testament, then it should be acceptable to have holy days now.
Colossians 2:14,16,17 - The law was removed when Jesus died (nailed to His cross). These things, including holy days, were just a shadow of things to come. Therefore, we should allow no one to judge us regarding them. The law cannot be used as authority for holy days because it is no longer binding as law.
Galatians 5:1-4 - If we use the law to justify our practices, then we must keep it all, and we are fallen from grace because we have forsaken the gospel of Jesus. It is not proper to use the law to justify a few isolated concepts that we want to observe. It must be taken or rejected as a whole.
Specifically, if we seek to justify holy days on the basis of the law, then we must keep all the Old Testament holy days in the way the law said to keep them (Passover, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles, etc.). We cannot change them or add new ones to suit ourselves. And we must keep all the other requirements of the law: circumcision, animal sacrifices, seventh-day sabbath, etc. If we do so, we have fallen from grace.
In the Old Testament, God instituted a number of holy days. These are not in effect today, but the record of them in the Old Testament can teach us some useful lessons (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:1-12). One lesson is that God always clearly told His people what He wanted done on a holy day, what its purpose was, and when to do it.
Consider the following examples:
|Passover||Ex. 12:6,14,24ff||14th Day, 1st Mo||Memorial of death of firstborn|
|Trumpets||Lev. 23:24||1st Day, 7th Mo||Memorial of blowing of trumpets|
|Atonement||Lev. 23:27||10th Day, 7th Mo||To make atonement for sin|
|Tabernacles||Lev. 23:39-44||15th Day, 7th Mo||Memorial of living in wilderness|
|7th day of week||Memorial of creation
& delivery from Egypt
|Lord's Supper||Acts 20:7
|1st day of week||Memorial of Jesus' death|
Never did God leave men free to decide whether to observe these feasts, when to do so, or what the purpose was. These were always clearly revealed. If God wants us to observe such annual holy days as Christmas, Easter, and Lent, why are they not just as clearly revealed in the Scriptures?
People sometimes use the Old Testament to justify practices that are not mentioned in the New Testament. Actually, a study of the Old Testament ought to more strongly convince us God does not want these practices. When God accepted certain Old Testament annual holy days, He expressly said so in clear terms. If he wants annual holy days today, such as Christmas and Easter, why does He not clearly say what to do, when to do it, and what the purpose is? The contrast to what He said about Old Testament holy days is convincing evidence He does not want such days observed.
Matthew 26:26-29 - Jesus clearly taught us what to do and what the purpose is. We eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine remembering His body and blood.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 says this is a memorial to His death. The context shows we do it when the church is assembled together. This was to be done regularly (Acts 2:42).
Acts 20:7 - The disciples did this on the first day of the week whenever that day comes.
Again in this memorial God tells us what to do, when to do it, and what the purpose is, just as clearly as with Old Testament feasts. Yet this is a memorial of the major event of the New Testament by which our sins are forgiven.
Since God has clearly authorized the Lord's supper as the memorial He wants to Jesus' death, and since all admit that He never authorized these annual holy days, by what right do we observe them religiously?
2 Timothy 3:16,17 - The Scriptures instruct and provide us to all good works. When God wanted annual holy days, He clearly provided for them in His word. Today He clearly provides for a weekly memorial to Jesus' death. If these modern annual holy days are "good works," why are they nowhere taught in the Scriptures?
John 4:23,24 - God seeks those who worship Him in Spirit and truth. His word is truth (John 17:17). If annual holy days should be practiced in His worship, we ought to find them in His word. Yet all admit they are not found in His word. Hence, they are not part of truth. How can we practice them if we worship Him in spirit and truth?
Colossians 3:17 - What we do should be done in Jesus' name, by His authority. We can remember His death each first day of the week by His authority. Yet all agree His word never authorizes annual holy days, therefore they cannot be kept religiously in His name. Since we must do all things in His name, by what right could we observe them religiously?
The origin of these holy days clearly shows that they were begun by men and are not found in the Scriptures. They admittedly exist by human authority and are perpetuated by human tradition. What does God say about this?
Matthew 15:1-3,6-9,13,14 - Jews criticized Jesus' followers for not keeping their human traditions. Jesus taught that their human traditions made void God's word. Following human doctrines made their worship vain. He compared these doctrines to plants the Father had not planted that would be rooted up.
Admittedly, modern religious holy days are not in the Bible, hence they must be human in origin. They are man-made traditions.
Colossians 2:8,20-23 - Be on guard lest people spoil our service to God by human philosophies and traditions, not according to God's word. Why subject ourselves to human ordinances, precepts of men, regarding what should not be tasted? They constitute a show of humility, but don't really lead to overcoming fleshly indulgence.
Lent is a perfect example of the very thing described here. Human doctrines declare that certain foods (meats) should not be tasted. A show of humility is made in giving up certain vices, but it is only done temporarily, fully intending to go back to it later. Extra indulgence is done before and after Lent because there will be none during Lent. There is no real value in overcoming fleshing indulgence.
Galatians 1:6-9 - Those who preach a different gospel than that given by inspired men, are accursed. Yet it is agreed that these holy days are not in the teachings of inspired men anywhere. They are human in origin and constitute a change in the gospel.
2 John 9 - The teaching of Christ says to remember Jesus' death in the Lord's supper on the first day of the week. If we abide in His teaching, we have fellowship with Him and the Father. But if we do not abide in His teaching, we do not have that fellowship. Yet it is admitted by all that modern holy days are not found in His teaching.
Modern holy days are human in origin, not authorized by God. Hence, we must not participate religiously in them if we seek to please the Lord.
Again, the history of these days shows that they began in heathen paganism and were adopted by an apostate so-called Christian group, the Catholic church. To participate in them religiously is to participate in pagan, apostate religion.
2 John 9-11 - When people are not abiding in the doctrine of Christ and they bring these doctrines to us, we must not bid them Godspeed nor partake in their evil works.
1 Corinthians 10:19-22 - Participation in pagan religious rites provokes the Lord to jealousy. The same principle applies to false religion in general. To participate religiously in the rites of apostate groups is to have communion with demons. We cannot do that and still participate in true worship of God.
2 Corinthians 6:14-18 - What fellowship can light have with darkness, righteousness with iniquity, or God's people with idols? If we want God to be in us, we must separate ourselves from pagan, apostate practices and do not touch what is unclean. Then we are truly sons and daughters of God Almighty.
Galatians 4:8-10 - The Galatians were returning to practices different from the true gospel (1:6-9). This included returning to heathen worship (those that are by nature no gods) in observing days, months, seasons, and years. Such led Paul to fear that his efforts to teach them the truth had been in vain.
Yet modern holy days are pagan and apostate in origin. Easter is named after a pagan goddess! The dates of Christmas and Easter were chosen to coincide with pagan holy days. Many practices involved are pagan and apostate in origin. If we observe these religiously, we are returning to fellowship with pagan and apostate practices, just as Paul opposed here!
Ephesians 5:11 - Instead of having fellowship in such practices, we ought to rebuke them. [2 Tim. 4:2-4; 1 Sam. 15:22; Rom. 12:2]
In this study we have considered the dangers of religious participation in these holy days. While we have not discussed social, seasonal, or civil aspects of these days, yet in these areas we need to be concerned about the influence of our participation (1 Cor. 8 & 10; Rom. 14).
It is admitted by all that these days are without Bible authority, but are based solely on human doctrine and tradition. They involve many perversions of Bible principles. And they are fundamentally pagan and heathen in origin, adopted in the name of Christianity by an apostate religious body, Roman Catholicism. Many Scriptures warn us to avoid such religious practices.
Instead we ought to remember Jesus' death in the memorial God Himself has authorized. We should commune with His body and blood in the Lord's supper on the first day of each week.
Copyright 1999,David E. Pratte; www.gospelway.com
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The Day for Partaking of the Lord's Supper
Why So Much Religious Confusion and Disagreement?
The Bible vs. Denominational Creeds
Divine Authority vs. Human Authority in Religion
What Does God Think about Denominationalism?
Must We Keep the Law of Moses and the Sabbath Today?
How Many True Churches Are There?
How Can You Find & Identify Jesus' Church?
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.