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
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.
“Does our celebration of Christmas have some
roots in pagan religious practices? How do you feel about Christians
participating in that sort of thing?”
“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
“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
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.
We read about this practice from the prophet Jeremiah in
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
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
In Exploring the New Testament World,
Albert A. Bell Jr.
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
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 --
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),
(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
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
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?
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
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.
1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
2 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the
of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are
(feasts) mow'ed: an appointment, i.e. a fixed time
(feasts) mow'ed: an appointment, i.e. a fixed time
(convocation) miqra': a public meeting, also a
There are a few important points to notice here:
1) These are the feasts of God. They are not created
or appointed by men.
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
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.
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
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
Although Gentiles were never required to obverse the Holy Days,
anyone who was a "descendent of Jacob" (any Jew) was.
...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.
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
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
Is that true? What does the New Testament
say about the Sabbath?
Sabbath in the New
Yeshua and the Sabbath
||On the Sabbath he entered the Synagogue
||The Sabbath was made for man, not man
for the Sabbath
||And when the Sabbath day was come, he
began to teach in the Synagogue
||As his custom was, he went into the
Synagogue on the Sabbath day, stood up for to read.
||Taught them on the Sabbath day
||On another Sabbath, he entered the
Synagogue and taught
||And he was teaching in one of the
synagogues on the Sabbath
||As he went into the house of one of the
chief Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath day
||Rested on the Sabbath day according to
The Apostles and the Sabbath
They went into the Synagogue on the
Sabbath day and sat down
Prophets read every Sabbath day
The Gentiles besought that these
words might be preached to them the next Sabbath
And the next Sabbath day came
almost the whole city
||For Moses of old time
has in every city them that preach him, being read in the Synagogue
every Sabbath day
||And Paul, as his manner was, went in
unto them and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the
||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
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
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
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
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
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
||…gave them my Sabbaths to be a sign
between me and them.
||And my Sabbaths they greatly polluted
||…polluted my Sabbaths…
||…polluted my Sabbaths…
||…polluted my Sabbaths…
||…profaned my Sabbaths…
||…hid their eyes from my Sabbaths…
||…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.
Wavesheaf in verses 10 through 14.
4) The Counting of the Omer in
verses 15 and 16.
5) The Day of Pentecost (or Shavuot) in verses 17
6) Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashana) in verses 23 through
7) The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in verses 26 through 32.
8) 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
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.
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
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).
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.
… 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
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
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
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?