Chapter 7
Why Keep the Holy Days?


I heard a radio commercial for a Christian bookstore promoting a sale they were having for Easter. The ad stated that Christians should celebrate the real meaning of Easter. I remember thinking how strange it would be if the listeners actually did what the commercial was asking them to do.

The original Easter was a holiday named after a fertility goddess. That is why rabbits and eggs are still associated with the holiday to this day. How did Christianity move from a religion that worshiped the One God to a religion that celebrates an ancient holiday that still bears the name of the pagan deity?

Just how much influence did Greek society have on the early church? In a Q & A column of Dr. James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” magazine he was asked the following question.

Q “Does our celebration of Christmas have some roots in pagan religious practices? How do you feel about Christians participating in that sort of thing?”

A “It’s true that the timing of our modern Christmas season coincides with that of an ancient Roman festival, the Saturnalia. There’s even an historical connection between the two. In the fourth century, Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and outlawed all pagan religious practices.

“But it seems Constantine also had a fair understanding of human nature and was something of a diplomat. He didn’t want the public outcry that would be sure to result if he simply banned the Saturnalia. He declared that the festivities should

continue from year to year, but be given a new meaning. The old pagan holiday was transformed into a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ – the most important event in human history! In time, the old pagan associations faded and were eventually forgotten.

“Despite the secular origins of the Christmas holiday, I am not troubled by its celebration. I do understand why other believers are, and I respect their point of view. “To my mind, it’s what you make of the event that counts – as the old Emperor seems to have understood so well.

“I seriously doubt that any of us today are in much danger of being lured into the worship of Roman deities. For us, a much more serious threat is posed by the gods of materialism and secularism, who have so successfully established themselves on what Constantine intended to be holy ground.

“But it doesn’t have to be that way. For our family, Christmas has traditionally been one of the spiritual highlights of the year, as well as the focal point of many treasured memories. It is my opinion that this holy holiday can be the same for any family that chooses to make it so.”

Dr. Dobson’s response sounds reasonable enough; but we need to ask a few questions: What was the full context in which Christianity adopted these pagan holidays as their own, and how much influence have they had on our modern observance?

The Christmas Tree

In his book How it Started, Webb Garrison writes:

Many countries claim the distinction of having launched the custom of erecting Christmas trees, but

it may have begun independently in several parts of Europe. Ceremonial worship of trees in ancient pagan rites almost certainly led to the decoration of trees at the time of the winter solstice. [pp 52]

We read about this practice from the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 10:1.

1 Hear the word which the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel:
2 Thus says 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.
3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cuts a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax.
4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

Who made this a “holy day,” and what days were replaced by these pagan observances?

December 25th

Again, Webb Garrison writes:

The festival of “Christes Masse”…was celebrated very early – at a variety of times and seasons. In AD 350 Pope Julius 1st formally designated December 25 as Christmas. He chose that date because it coincided with important pagan festivals. [pp 54]

From the book All About Christmas, Maymie Krythe writes:

A celebration at the time of the winter solstice, when all were looking forward to the coming of spring, was not an original idea with the Christians. For many years before Christ’s birth, other religious groups had held festivals (connected with the earth’s fertility) at the same season. The Romans, for example, observed the lavish Saturnalia – honoring Saturn, their god of agriculture – from the middle of December to the beginning of the new year. They exchanged gifts, and indulged in much eating, drinking, gaming, and visiting. Masked revelers on the streets often went to excess during this riotous celebration.

Since primitive peoples realized their dependence upon the sun as the source of light and life, sun worship was prevalent among them. In Persia at the winter solstice, they observed a notable feast to show their reverence for the sun, and they kindled great fires in homage on Mithra, their deity of light. Many of the Roman soldiers were adherents of Mithraism, a religion that for a time was a strong rival to Christianity in the Empire. Its most important feast day, Dies Solis Invicti Nati (Birth of the Unconquered Sun), occurred on December 25. [pp 1-3]

So we see that the adoption of this celebration into Christianity came about, not through a desire to more fully follow God’s word and wishes, rather, it was through a purely political move to maintain control of the Empire.

In Exploring the New Testament World, Albert A. Bell Jr. writes:

Another eastern mystery cult, which proved enormously popular in Rome, especially among the army, was that of Persian Mithra. The cult first appeared in the eastern Mediterranean in the early first century B.C., when Rome was consolidating its control over the area. There is evidence that it reached Rome by about A.D. 80.

The cult grew so popular by the fourth century that it seriously rivaled Christianity, especially among the business classes and the army, two segments of the population that the church had to win over if it was to consolidate its control of the empire. The mystery religions were nonexclusive. Initiates of one cult could join another, as long as they paid the fees and went through the rites. To judge from sermons that survive from this time, some Christians were also taking part in other cults, especially Mithra’s.

One of the most popular aspects of Mithratic worship was the feast of the god, which fell on December 25, the day of his birth from a rock. According to Mithratic legend, shepherds brought gifts to the newborn god. It’s worth noting also that the priests of this cult were called magi. [pp 140-141]

Where did the Mithra religion acquire its beliefs?

In Baptized Paganism, Dennis Crews writes:

Throughout history, the practice and horrors of sun worship have reached every region of the world. The Babylonians called the sun-god Shamash; the Egyptians, Ra; the Assyrians, Baal; the Canaanites, Moloch; the Persians, Mithras; the Greeks, Helios; the Druids, Hu; and the Romans, Sol Invictus -- the Unconquerable Sun. The list continues down through history and encompasses cultures as diverse as the Hindus, the Japanese, and the Aztecs and comes as close to home as virtually every Indian tribe in North America. Most scholars trace the beginnings of sun worship to Babylon.

Nimrod & Semiramis

Babylon, the first metropolis, was founded by Nimrod soon after the flood (Genesis 10:8-10). Countless recitations of his mighty exploits elevated his status to superhuman proportions, and the rapidly expanding society at his feet finally began not only to honor him as their king, but to worship him as their god.

Nimrod's arrogance was ultimately surpassed only by that of his wife, Semiramis. Notoriously beautiful and cunning beyond imagination, she wielded her own power with an iron hand. Nimrod and Semiramis in their terrible strength and beauty were exalted as the sun and moon in human form.

Though historical accounts of Nimrod's actual death are vague, it is certain that he left Semiramis with a large dominion and an equally large dilemma. How was she to maintain her hold on the empire he had built? There was but one solution, and she pursued it with diabolical zeal. Nimrod's spirit had ascended into the sun itself, she claimed. With breathtaking eloquence she described to the people his new and elevated role as their benefactor and protector. Each morning he would rise, bringing light and life to the land as he traveled across the sky. In the evening he would plunge below the edge of the earth to battle the subterranean evil spirits and demons that would otherwise crawl over and annihilate mankind.

Tammuz and Ishtar

One spring not many years following Nimrod's death, the voluptuous Semiramis was found to be with child. Calling the scribes of Babylon together, she issued a most remarkable press release. Nimrod had impregnated her, she claimed, through the lively rays of the sun.

As the offspring of the sun-god, the anticipated child would itself lay claim to deity, and by proxy, she, Semiramis, would henceforth be the "mother of god."

On December 25 Tammuz, the child of the sun-god, was born. His birth was hailed as a great miracle. Falling as it did during the slowly lengthening days immediately after the winter solstice; it was also seen as an omen of the sun's rebirth and was heralded by tumultuous rejoicing.

December 25 was thereafter observed as the birthday of the son of the sun-god, and became a yearly feast day throughout the kingdom.

Like his supposed father Nimrod, Tammuz was reputed to have been a great hunter. Perhaps his greatest conquest of all, however, was his mythical union with Ishtar, the mother goddess who embodied all the reproductive energies of nature. Also variously regarded as the moon goddess and the queen of heaven, Ishtar was the principal female deity of the Assyrians. This same goddess, with certain variations, can be identified in other cultures as Ashtoreth (Phoenecian), Astarte (Greek and Roman), Eostre (Teutonic), and Eastre (Saxon). Rabbits and eggs were both symbols of life and fecundity that early came to be identified with Ishtar. The yearly celebration honoring her took place around the first full moon after the spring equinox, when all of nature seemed to be bursting with reproductive vitality.

Unfortunately, the youthful Tammuz (also known as Adonis, meaning "lord," in classical mythology) met an untimely death at the tusk of a wild boar. Some accounts say that after three days Tammuz miraculously resurrected himself; others say that the grief-stricken Ishtar journeyed far into the netherworld to find him.

It may be unsettling to learn that virtually every religious holiday now observed throughout Christendom originated in paganism, many hundreds of years before Christ; but ancient history proves it beyond a doubt. [pp 3-5,7-10,12]

There is not even a debate about the origins of the holidays celebrated by Christians today. They are not Biblical; and the specific dates have no historical significance connected with Yeshua. Should Christians continue to observe days that were adopted from paganism?

Deut. 12:29

29 When the LORD your God shall cut off the nations from before you, where you go to possess them, and you succeed them, and dwell in their land;
30 Take heed to yourself that you be not snared by following them, after that they are destroyed from before you; and that you inquire not after their gods, saying,
How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.
31 You shall not do so unto the LORD your God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hates, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.
32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

But if a Christian does not observe “Christian holidays,” then which days should he observe? God gave the children of Israel the dates that He wanted them to observe in Leviticus 23. He did not change them. They are the ones that Yeshua himself observed; he was a Jew. They were the ones that the Apostles and first followers observed; they were all Jews.

Leviticus 23:1

1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
2 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are my feasts.


H4150 (feasts) mow'ed: an appointment, i.e. a fixed time or season.
Strong’s H4150 (feasts) mow'ed: an appointment, i.e. a fixed time or season.
Strong’s H4744 (convocation) miqra': a public meeting, also a rehearsal.

There are a few important points to notice here:

         1) These are the feasts of God. They are not created
               or appointed by men.
         2) The word, “mo-ed,” means an appointed time.
            God is making an appointment; he is giving us the
            specific dates that HE wants to meet.
         3) They are to be public meetings where we gather
             with other people. And they are a rehearsal.

The first “feast day” that God tells the children of Israel to observe is the Sabbath.

3 Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, a holy convocation; you shall do no work therein: it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.

This is so important to God that he also includes this day as one of the Ten Commandments, which are listed in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. God ALSO puts emphasis on the Sabbath when giving Moses the two tablet’s of stone.

Exodus 31:13

13 "Say to the Israelites, 'You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.
14 "'Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people.
15 For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.
16 The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant.
17 It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.'"
18 When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablet’s of the Testimony, the tablet’s of stone inscribed by the finger of God.

Although Gentiles were never required to obverse the Holy Days, anyone who was a "descendent of Jacob" (any Jew) was.

150AD JUSTIN: ...those who have persecuted and do persecute Christ, if they do not repent, shall not inherit anything on the holy mountain. But the Gentiles, who have believed on Him, and have repented of the sins which they have committed, they shall receive the inheritance (along with the patriarchs and the prophets, and the just men who are descended from Jacob), even although they neither keep the Sabbath, nor are circumcised, nor observe the feasts. Assuredly they shall receive the holy inheritance of God. (Dialogue With Trypho the Jew, 150-165 AD, Ante-Nicene Fathers , vol. 1, page 207)

When did the observance of the Sabbath and the Biblical Holy Days stop, and worship on Sunday and the celebration of pagan deities begin? Much of the confusion began by people unfamiliar with the customs of those they were attempting to follow. Even today there are many Christians who believe that the Apostles and early followers of Yeshua met on “the first day of the week,” or Sunday.

In the book Towards a Home Church Theology Eric Svendsen writes:

Luke records in Acts 20:7 “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.” Many who do not subscribe to NT patterns for church practice object to viewing Luke’s words as normative for the church. Luke’s words are purely narrative (it is argued) and do not have prescriptive force. Besides, this is the only place in Scripture that records the church meeting on Sunday. Even if we were to subscribe to NT patterns, one mention of meeting on Sunday does not constitute a pattern.

In answer to this it must be admitted that this is indeed the only place in Scripture that expressly states that the church met together on Sunday. On the other hand, it must be stated with equal force that this is the only place in Scripture that specifically records on which day the early church met together.

Is that true? What does the New Testament say about the Sabbath?

Sabbath in the New Testament

Yeshua and the Sabbath

Mark 1:21 On the Sabbath he entered the Synagogue
Mark 2:27 The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath
Mark 6:2 And when the Sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the Synagogue
Luke 4:16 As his custom was, he went into the Synagogue on the Sabbath day, stood up for to read.
Luke 4:31 Taught them on the Sabbath day
Luke 6:6 On another Sabbath, he entered the Synagogue and taught
Luke 13:10 And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath
Luke 14:1 As he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath day
Luke 23:56 Rested on the Sabbath day according to the commandment

The Apostles and the Sabbath

Acts 13:14

They went into the Synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down

Acts 13:27

Prophets read every Sabbath day

Acts 13:42

The Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath

Acts 13:44

And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city

Acts 15:21 For Moses of old time has in every city them that preach him, being read in the Synagogue every Sabbath day
Acts 17:2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures
Acts 18:4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks

Many well known, Sunday observing, scholars have commented on the Sabbath.

Peter K. Kraemer, Catholic Church Extension Society writes:

Regarding the change from the observance of the Jewish Sabbath to the Christian Sunday, I wish to draw your attention to the facts:

1) That Protestants, who accept the Bible as the only rule of faith and religion, should by all means go back to the observance of the Sabbath. The fact that they do not, but on the contrary observe the Sunday, stultifies them in the eyes of every thinking man.

2) We Catholics do not accept the Bible as the only rule of faith. Besides the Bible we have the living Church, the authority of the Church, as a rule to guide us. We say, this Church, instituted by Christ to teach and guide man through life, has the right to change the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament and hence, we accept her change of the Sabbath to Sunday. We frankly say, yes, the Church made this change, made this law, as she made many other laws, for instance, the Friday abstinence, the unmarried priesthood, the laws concerning mixed marriages, the regulation of Catholic marriages and a thousand other laws. It is always somewhat laughable to see the Protestant churches, in pulpit and legislation, demand the observance of Sunday, of which there is nothing in their Bible.

It says in The Sunday Problem, a study book of the United Lutheran Church:

We have seen how gradually the impression of the Jewish Sabbath faded from the mind of the Christian Church, and how completely the newer thought underlying the observance of the first day took possession of the church. We have seen that the Christians of the first three centuries never confused one with the other, but for a time celebrated both.

Why is it that many Christians believe that the Sabbath has changed from Saturday to Sunday? One reason for this is not understanding the term “first day of the week.” In a Hebraic culture, this would have been an awkward phrase. Instead of saying “first day of the week,” you would have simply said “first day.” If you were going to meet with someone on the “second day,” you were probably not referring to a day two days later. Rather, you were saying, “Let’s meet on the day we know today as ‘Monday’.”

Throughout the Bible you will NOWHERE find references to events that happened on the second day “of the week,” third day “of the week,” or any other day “of the week.”

Then what is being talked about in the New Testament when it says “first day of the week”? If you are reading the King James Version of the Bible, you will notice that the word “day” is in italics. It will appear as “first day of the week.” This means that the word “day” was added by translators to make the meaning more clear. What it should say is “on the first of the weeks.” What is meant by the phrase “first of the weeks”?

During the Passover season, there is a day on which the wave sheaf offering is cut. This day begins the first of seven weeks of counting. The day after the counting of seven weeks is when Shavuot or the day of Pentecost falls. The barley harvest takes place during these seven weeks, but the harvesting cannot

begin UNTIL the first sheaf of grain is offered to God. The day of the wave sheaf is “the first of the weeks.” The places in the New Testament that say “first day of the week” are referring to this day.

Although the day of cutting the wave sheaf should be an important day to Christians (as should all of the Biblical Holy Days), the seventh day Sabbath remains the most important messianic observance.

Jewish tradition says that if all of Israel were to keep the Sabbath for just one day, then Messiah will come. Many believe that the prophecy is talking about every single Jew keeping the Sabbath. However, another explanation is possible ... It is the time that ALL ISRAEL -- BOTH HOUSES (the house of Judah AND the house of Israel) keep the Sabbath. There will always be secular Jews and secular Israelites, but when both houses of Israel come together and keep the Sabbath, Messiah will come.

If we look at the end-time prophecies we see why God is upset with the house of Israel.

Sabbath in Ezekiel

Ezekiel 20:12 …gave them my Sabbaths to be a sign between me and them.
Ezekiel 20:13 And my Sabbaths they greatly polluted
Ezekiel 20:16 …polluted my Sabbaths…
Ezekiel 20:21 …polluted my Sabbaths…
Ezekiel 20:24 …polluted my Sabbaths…
Ezekiel 22:8 …profaned my Sabbaths…
Ezekiel 22:26 …hid their eyes from my Sabbaths…
Ezekiel 23:38 …profaned my Sabbaths…

Notice that it says Sabbaths (plural). That means both the weekly Sabbath and the annual Sabbaths.

Continuing again in Leviticus 23:4

4. These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which you shall proclaim in their seasons.

In the following verses, we find the Biblical Holy Days listed.

1) The Passover in verse five.
) The Days of Unleavened Bread in verses six through eight.
) The Wavesheaf in verses 10 through 14.
) The Counting of the Omer in verses 15 and 16.
) The Day of Pentecost (or Shavuot) in verses 17 through 20.
) Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashana) in verses 23 through 25.
) The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in verses 26 through 32.
) The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) in verses 33 through 36.
) The Eighth Day in verse 36.

So, should Gentile Christians observe Jewish days?

Although at this time there does not appear to be any requirements on Gentiles to observe the Sabbath and the annual Holy Days, Ezekiel certainly says that those from the nation of “Israel” (both kingdoms) are expected to do so, and the prophet Zechariah writes about a time ALL nations are required to attend the fall Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot).

Zechariah 14:16

16 And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came up against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.
17 And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, on them there shall be no rain.

Elsewhere we see that the mixed multitude that came out of Egypt with the Israelites were suppose to observe the Sabbath (as long as they were with the Israelites).

Exodus 20:10

The seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor the stranger who is within your gates.

Yet, a Gentile was forbidden to eat the Passover lamb unless he WAS circumcised.

Exodus 12:43

No outsider shall eat it. But every man’s servant who is bought for money, when you have circumcised him, then he may eat it. A sojourner and a hired servant shall not eat it. … When a stranger sojourns with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it.

This may explain why Paul seems to institute a new observance, different from a traditional Passover seder, (1Cor. 11:17) for the Gentile believers.

A New Religion

As Christianity began to grow among the Gentiles, however, a new religion emerged.  This was never the intention of the early followers of "the Way".  What was NOT holy became holy, and what was holy lost it's holiness.

This leaves us with some hard questions to answer.  If all Christians have the Bible as their sacred text, it would seem to follow that the days which are observed should be those found in the Bible rather than days created in honor of pagan deities.

It would also seem wise to not ONLY look into our observances, but also some of the basic themes and beliefs that developed early in Christian history.  If Christian holidays come from paganism, where do basic beliefs like salvation come from?



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