Holydaze – the Origins of the Holiday Season Part 2

by | Dec 18, 2020

hol·i·day  /ˈhäləˌdā/
Origin: Old English hāligdæg ‘holy day’

Christian Vs. Roman Evangelism

What better place to delve deeper
into the subject of purity vs harlotry than an examination of the Greek behind
the word “gospel?” That is precisely what we will do since it will reveal the
difference between Christian evangelism and Roman evangelism. Yes, there is a
such thing as Roman evangelism, although very few seem to have heard of it.

In December of 2019 I was
researching the word “gospel’s” in Mark 8:35 when I ran across
something particularly appropriate for the time of year. I wasn’t looking for
it, but I stumbled on information that connected some of the pagan traditions I
had heard of, but didn’t quite understand how they historically connected to
Christmas. Let’s first read the verse for context.

For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but
whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it
profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?
Mark 8:35–36

I noticed the Greek word translated as “gospel’s” is the
word “evangeliou” (εὐαγγελίου). This caught my attention, enough to
look further into the meaning and history of evangelism. The Theological
Dictionary of the New Testament
says (translations and definitions added
for clarity):

εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion or good news) in the imperial cult.
This is the most important usage for our purpose. Note must be taken of what is
said concerning the θεῖος ἄνθρωπος (Theos anthropos or God man → 712), τύχη (tyche
or governing deity, usually Fortuna) and σωτηρία (soteria or salvation). The
emperor unites all these in his own person. This is what gives εὐαγγέλιον (good
news) its significance and power. The ruler is divine by nature. His power
extends to men, to animals, to the earth and to the sea. Nature belongs to him;
wind and waves are subject to him. He works miracles and heals men. He is the
saviour of the world who also redeems individuals from their difficulties (→ σωτήρ
or soter, meaning savior). Τύχη (Tyche) is linked up with his person; he is
himself τύχη. He has appeared on earth as a deity in human form. He is the
protective god of the state. His appearance is the cause of good fortune to the
whole kingdom. Extraordinary signs accompany the course of his life. They
proclaim the birth of the ruler of the world. A comet appears at his accession,
and at his death signs in heaven declare his assumption into the ranks of the
gods. Because the emperor is more than a common man, his ordinances are glad
messages and his commands are sacred writings. What he says is a divine act and
implies good and salvation for men. He proclaims εὐαγγέλια through his
appearance, and these εὐαγγέλια treat of him (→ 713). The first evangelium is
the news of his birth: ἦρξεν δὲ τῶι κόσμωι τῶν διʼ αὐτὸν εὐανγελι[ων ἡ
γενέθλιος] τοῦ θεοῦ. “The birthday of the god was for the world the beginning
of the joyful messages which have gone forth because of him.” Other εὐαγγέλια
follow, e.g., the news of his coming of age and esp. his accession: ἐπεὶ
γν[ώ]στ[ης ἐγενόμην τοῦ] εὐαγγελ[ίο]υ περὶ τοῦ ἀνηγορεῦσθαι Καίσαρα τὸν τοῦ
θεοφιλεστάτου κυρίον ἡμῶν … Joy and rejoicing come with the news. Humanity,
sighing under a heaven burden of guilt, wistfully longs for peace. Doom is
feared because the gods have withdrawn from earth. Then suddenly there rings
out the news that the σωτήρ (savior) is born, that he has mounted the throne,
that a new era dawns for the whole world. This εὐαγγέλιον (evangelion) is celebrated with
offerings and yearly festivals.
All cherished hopes are exceeded.
The world has taken on a new appearance.

The imperial cult and the Bible share the view that accession to the throne,
which introduces a new era and brings peace to the world, is a gospel for men.
We can explain this only by supposing a common source. This is generally
oriental. To the many messages, however, the NT opposes the one Gospel, to the
many accessions the one proclamation of the → βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ (Kingdom of
God). The NT speaks the language of its day. It is a popular and realistic
proclamation. It knows human waiting for and hope of the εὐαγγέλια, and it
replies with the εὐαγγέλιον, but with an evangel of which some might be
ashamed, since it is a σκάνδαλον (skandalon or stumbling block) (Mt. 11:5 f.;
R. 1:16; 1 C. 1:17, 23; 2 Tm. 1:8; Mk. 8:35). The Gospel means for men σωτηρία
(soteria or salvation), but σωτηρία through → μετάνοια (metanoia or repentance)
and judgment (→ 728 f., 732). For many this Gospel may be ironical when they
hear it (cf. Ac. 17:32). But it is real joy; for penitence brings joy, and
judgment grace and salvation. Caesar and Christ, the emperor on the throne and
the despised rabbi on the cross, confront one another. Both are evangel to men.
They have much in common. But
they belong to different worlds.

In reading this one might feel
like this perfectly justifies celebrating Christ’s birth. After all He is the
One who was born, proclaimed by men and miracles, brought the Good News,
ushered in the foundation stone of His spiritual kingdom… I mean the
description of how the Roman culture honored Caesar is spot on with the coming
of Christ. Why not simply apply it to Christ and give credit where credit is
due? Ah, but here is the line that brings it all into focus, the best line,
saved for last:

“But they belong to different
worlds.”

This is the kicker of this
entire exposition. The Christian gospel is not the same as the Roman gospel. In
fact, it is polar opposite, even if it has similar concepts. It goes on to say:

“For many this Gospel may be ironical when they hear it (cf. Ac. 17:32). But it is real joy; for penitence brings joy, and judgment
grace and salvation.”

Why would good news be ironic?
Because it doesn’t sound like good news to those who don’t like the message. Can
you see how it would be easy for churches to syncretize with the Roman gospel seeing
that there are so many similarities to the messaging found in Scripture? It
would only be out of misunderstanding the Gospel that someone would do such a
thing, though. That or a desire for the world above Christ.

Christ’s Birthday

Perhaps Yahshua’s birthday was
never recorded by the apostles for a good reason. We aren’t supposed to worship
like the heathen do. In this case, the Roman traditions associated with the
worship of the Caesar. Christ’s birth was not calculated (over-curiously, I
might add) or, even celebrated until centuries after His death. Early apostolic
fathers criticized bishops who were pushing so hard to make this a yearly
celebration. There were several theories as to the day, but no consensus. Why?
Because no one knew the day. Then by necessity they would have to make it up.

The earliest attempts to
calculate Yahshua’s birthday were based on assumptions and superstitions. One
common superstition used to calculate His birthday is that Jewish tradition
teaches great
men are born and die on the same day of the year
. Another fallacy contrived
by Hippolytus of Rome in the 3rd century is that Yahshua was
conceived on March 25th so He must have been born on December 25th.
Interestingly enough, Hippolytus also incorrectly calculated His second advent
to 500AD. This certainly doesn’t lend him credibility in regard to Christ’s
birthday. Besides, all reasonable evidence points to Christ being born in the
Spring or Fall. I’d still like to know, though, why an unbiblical celebration would
be such a priority to contrive anyway? Let’s look at some of the hoops people
jump through to arrive at a date.

“There are those who have calculated not only the year of our
Lord’s birth, but also the day. They say that it took place in the
twenty-eighth year of Augustus, on the twenty-fifth day of Pachon [May 20] …
Others say that He was born on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth day of
Pharmuthi [April 19 or 20].”
Clement of Alexandria (c. 195)

In the fourth century, a tract
falsely attributed to John Chrysostom called The solstices and equinoxes,
the conception and birth of Jesus and John the Baptist
(II), says:

“But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December . .
. the eight before the calends of January [25 December] . . ., But they call it
the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered’. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord . .
.? Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice.”

We can see here that the writer
of this tract is attempting to detract away from the pagan association of the
winter holiday and instead point towards Christ, using a metaphor from the
Bible as support for his statement. Notice the implication is that pagans were
first using this symbolism and the argument is a response to that. One such
justification some Christians hold supporting the Christianization of The
Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun is that the Bible uses the metaphor of the
sun to refer to the Son of God:

But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall
arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like
stall-fed calves. Malachi 4:2

I hardly see this as a
justification for converting a pagan holiday to a Christian one. Just because a
metaphor is used in the Bible doesn’t mean we have to go out of our way to use
it in justifying our traditions.

Besides not having any evidence
in Scripture of people celebrating birthdays annually, according to Origen, many
early Christians appeared to have an aversion to celebrating birthdays because
of the importance placed on the birthday of the Caesar in association with the
birthdays of Roman gods.

“…of all the holy people in the Scriptures, no one is
recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is
only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod) who make great rejoicings over the day on
which they were born into this world below.” (Origen, in Levit., Hom.
VIII, in Migne P.G., XII, 495)

Let’s get this straight, birthdays
aren’t necessarily bad, yet I have heard it said that because Psalm 90:12 says,
“So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom,” we are
actually encouraged in the Bible to celebrate birthdays. That’s not really the
case. Look at the context of the Psalm. It is about Yahweh’s anger and wrath,
and the fear of Him. This same sentiment is echoed in Psalm 39:4 in the same
context of the fear of the wrath of God:

Yahweh, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my
days, that I may know how frail I am. Psalm 39:4

This numbering of days is
specifically to remind us of the majesty and glory of God through a heart of
humble  repentance. This is the opposite
of the Roman concept of life, which is to “eat, drink and be merry! For
tomorrow we die!” Remember what Paul said in response to Christians of his day
teaching there is no resurrection of the dead:

I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Yahshua our Lord, I die daily. If, in the manner of men, I have fought with
beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me?
If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” 1
Corinthians 15:31–32

Paul is telling us not to live
for today, but for the resurrection to come. Our celebration is in taking up our
cross and living in service to our Lord, Yahshua. I can see why Christians
would want to be set apart from such elated celebrations as Roman birthdays. I
can see why they wouldn’t want their lives to be perceived as corrupted by
pagan practices. This is what Spurgeon and Tertullian were getting at. The
Roman midwinter festivals which gave rise to the Holiday Season as we know it
are not in honor of Christ because they are in the manner of men.

Just to be clear, I don’t
discourage anyone from being thankful of the years God has given them, nor to
refrain from celebrating their birthday with friends and family, but just
remember what you are celebrating. It is another day God has given you. Does it
really matter if the day happens to be on the anniversary of your birth? My
personal conviction is that I don’t care either way whether anyone remembers my
birthday or not so long as they remember what Yahshua told them to remember,
that is, the breaking of His body and the spilling of His blood for us. That is
something we should do every day. Recall Spurgeon’s words, “Regarding not the
day, let us give God thanks for the gift of His dear Son.” Yahshua never told us
to remember the day He was born, nor any day in particular but the day of the
Lord. We also count the number of our years, not for the sake of the flesh, but
in thankfulness towards God for atoning for our sins and doing His good works in
us. No ceremony, ritual or tradition will suffice for that, but what God has
ordained. What He ordained is above days or seasons or years. Let us honor Him
in like fashion.

If the emperor’s gospel is
celebrated with yearly festivals does that mean Christ’s Gospel should too? If
these two gospels belong to different worlds then why should those who are
“little Christs,” that is, “Christians” mimic that of the world? As Paul says
in Hebrews 11:13, we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”

“The kingdom [domain] of God does not come with
observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the
kingdom of God is within
you.” Luke 17:20-22

This made no sense to most Romans because
they were altogether focused on the tangible domain of this world, which they
believed Caesar was the anointed ruler over. Tacitus describes why the Romans
hated Christians.

“Therefore, first those were seized who admitted their
faith, and then, using the information they provided, a vast multitude were
convicted, not so much for the crime of burning the city, but for hatred of the human race.”
-Tacitus, The Annals (c. 116 CE)

It’s interesting that some
things never change. Those who proclaim the love of God and the rejection of
the world are invariably labeled as “haters” by unbelievers, and even
worse, by those who are believers. How much has humanism infiltrated and
changed the Gospel so that it will avoid this label? Do you fear being called a
hater because you proclaim FIRST the love of God? Is the love of God separable
from His chastening if “He whom He loves He also chastens?” (Hebrews
12:6) So those who speak hard truths in exhortation are evil because they are
not creating “peace and security.” Is this not the mind of the
Romans, who persecuted Christians for being haters of the human race?

The Romans took it to the
extreme by framing Christians for crimes they likely did not commit (at least,
not true Christians). So too is the present condition of humanity placing blame
on Christianity for hatred of the human race and crimes against humanity.
Perhaps it is rightly so, for many who call themselves Christians have given
the title a bad rap by following the world first and Christ second.

The Christian Gospel is polar
opposite of the Roman gospel, even if it contains similar symbolism. Why is it
despised so by the world? Because the world’s gospel is focused on the world.
The Christian Gospel is focused on Christ. The two cannot be mixed and maintain
purity. The Gospel tells us we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Hebrews
11:13), citizens of a heavenly kingdom (Philippians 3:20). It is a rejection of
the world (James 4:4), and so it is a rejection of humanism. Humanists would
say that if you reject humanism then you must hate humans. This is the line of
thinking that began with the Roman persecutions of Christians. Rome may have
been sacked and the Empire felled, but the spirit lives on to this day.

The spirit of Rome (aka
Babylon, aka Humanism) is alive and well, and it may have even found its way
into your heart, believer or unbeliever. Christian writer, Joseph Herrin wrote,
“Much of what Christians do today is the result of tradition and the influence
of other professing believers around us. Yet if we only go as far as those whom
we observe in our devotion to Christ, and we do not press on any further, then
it is certain that we will fall short of Yahweh’s desire for us. We must all
press in ourselves. We must demonstrate our love for God by manifesting
initiative in our pursuit of Him. We must ask Him to reveal everything that is
not pleasing to Him and to lead us in the path of righteousness.” Paul concurs
with:

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the
faith.” 2 Corinthians 13:5

(Continued in the next post…)


Heart4God Website: http://www.heart4god.ws  

 

Parables Blog: www.parablesblog.blogspot.com  

 

Mailing Address:
Joseph Herrin
P.O. Box 804
Montezuma, GA 31063

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