Silly Reasons to Abandon Christmas — #4 “It’s the Wrong Date”

We’ve seen a silly reason to abandon Christmas (the “Christ-Mass” argument), a flawed one (the “pagan / Catholic syncretism” argument), and a good but misapplied reason (the “God didn’t command it” argument).  Now, we return to silly season again.

“It’s the Wrong Date”

The argument is thus:  we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because Christ wasn’t really born on 25 December.  The shepherds were in the fields with their sheep (Luke 2), and the sheep would be in out of the cold in the winter.  It must have been March or April, when shepherds would be in the fields at night for lambing season.  Jesus couldn’t have been born in December, so it is dishonest to celebrate His birthday at the wrong time of year.

Geographical Myopia and “The Bleak Mid-Winter”

If we can’t set aside our British / American mindset, we’ll make silly mistakes.  “Myopia” is nearsightedness, and geographical myopia is seeing everything in terms of where we live.

Lambing Season?

This is an American / British oriented argument, similar to the English-only “Christ-Mass” argument.  Lambing season varies around the world — in New Zealand, it starts in August! It isn’t March or April everywhere — particularly in Israel.

Google “lambing season in Israel” and LOTS of people tell us when it is and what we should believe / do as a result.  But an expert with no religious agenda, the Professor Emeritus of Animal Breeding at the Hebrew Uni­versity of Jerusalem, Israel, might know something. 🙂  Writing on the Awassi sheep (the main breed in Israel), Dr Epstein said:

In Iraq, the principal lamb­ing season of Awassi ewes is in No­vember, and in Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic and Israel in Decem­ber-January.

It is silly to assume lambing season is the same in Israel as it is in Britain or North America.  If shepherds were in the fields at night for lambing season when Christ was born, they were apparently there in the “bleak mid-winter” — or not so bleak.

“Snow had Fallen, Snow on Snow”

To say it is too cold for sheep in the fields at night in December (but not in March) is more geographic myopia.

Seeing snow yesterday in Glenrothes, I’d say, “Get the sheep inside!”  But in Jerusalem at mid-day, it was 13 C/55 F and partly cloudy — almost like one of our summer days!  The average low in December is 5 degrees C (41 F), the average high 12 C (53-54 F).  In March, the averages are 6 C (43 F) and 15 C (59 F) — little difference.

This morning, the forecast shows no temperature below 5 C / 41 F in the next ten nights.  (Time to move to Israel!)  It isn’t too cold for sheep in the fields outside Bethlehem.  This argument may make sense in Britain, but it is silly in Israel.

A Reason to Think December MIGHT BE Right

Luke 1:5

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.

Edersheim (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Appendix 7) uses Jewish historical records (including Josephus) to try to calculate when the priestly course of Abia served in the temple and comes up with 2-9 October in the year we now know as 6 BC.  He concludes Elisabeth conceived in mid-October of 6 BC, and Mary conceived in the sixth month (Luke 1:24-26) after that (between mid-March and mid-April of 5 BC).  That would put Jesus’ birth in December of 5 BC or January of 4 BC, and December fits better with Matthew 2.

The Jewish records could be wrong, and Josephus may have erred, so we can’t know for sure.  More could be said about the date — perhaps someday I’ll write more on this.

The Real Date is Unknown

We don’t know the real date — if we needed to, the Bible would have told us.  The clues given by Scripture fit a late December date.  If the date matters, arguments for December are better than arguments against it, once we cure geographical myopia.  Anyone who says they know the date is shooting in the dark — as is anyone who claims it is wrong.  They can’t prove the date is wrong anymore than anyone can prove it is right.

The Date Doesn’t Matter, Anyway

Having answered the unproven charge of a wrong date, we can ask why it matters.  A commemoration does not have to be the exact date of the thing it commemorates.

Modern “Wrong-Date” Commemorations

Trooping the Colour is part of the Queen’s official birthday celebration, always celebrated in June.  Her actual birthday is in April.  No one says, “IT’S WRONG!”  No one pretends it is the “right date” or cares if the “real date” is different.  When the monarch changes, the “real date” will change.  The official celebration will still be in June, and still no one will care that it is “wrong.”

In America, possible “real dates” for Memorial Day include 3 June, 1 May, 30 May, 5 May, 25 April, etc.  Eventually standardised as 30 May, it changed again in 1968 to the last Monday in May.  No one, except perhaps one senator, really cares if it is the “real date.”

Our daughter was born in September.  We celebrated her birthday in August, before she left for university.  It was the “wrong date,” but she still received gifts even though her birthday hadn’t come.  She had a birthday cake so she could feel a year older, too. 🙂

No one really thinks a commemoration has to be on the “real date.”  The point is to remember, not to sanctify a date.

Biblical “Wrong-Date” Commemorations

The Jewish calendar is a Lunar / Solar calendar and varies from year to year.  The authorities have added a thirteenth month as needed to stay in line with the seasons.  As a result, every Jewish feast has a varying date.

Exodus 12:1-3

1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying,
2 This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.
3 Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house:

The lambs were chosen for Passover on the tenth day of the first Jewish month, and Passover was celebrated on the fourteenth day.  But sometimes Passover is a few days after the spring equinox (2013) and sometimes it is four weeks later (2011).  The precise scientific date (based on the earth’s rotation around the sun) changes every year.

God established Passover to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from Egypt.  He didn’t tell them to use a solar calendar so it would be the same every year.  He never told them which years to add a thirteenth month.  He allowed them to use a calendar that would cause the feast days to move from year to year, and He didn’t specify the limits of that movement.

The Scriptures totally ignore the moving dates.  God told them which month in their calendar to celebrate.  Every feast changed every year, because the months moved.  It doesn’t matter — the point was to teach and to remember.

I Corinthians 11:25

After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

The Bible does not specifically state how often we should do this, or which day(s).  The date doesn’t matter.

A person who makes this argument just hasn’t thought through either the climactic differences between where they live and Israel, or the nature of commemorations.  If they had, they might use another argument, but they wouldn’t use this one.

If the date of God-ordained commemorations don’t matter, it surely doesn’t matter when we keep one which He permits but does not require.  It would only matter if someone is lying and saying the Bible teaches a particular date, but I’ve never heard anyone claim that the Bible gives Jesus’ birth date.  It is silly to make an issue of a date which might or might not be right, when no one is trying to claim it IS right.

If you choose to celebrate Christmas, the actual date isn’t important.  Don’t let anyone tell you it is wrong to celebrate because the date is wrong.  They don’t know if it is wrong or not, and it might actually be right.  It doesn’t matter, anyway — commemorations don’t have to be on the “right date.”

Previous:
Silly Reasons to Abandon Christmas — #1 “Christ-Mass”
Flawed Reasons to Abandon Christmas — #2 “It is Pagan / Catholic!”
Misused Reasons to Abandon Christmas — #3 “God Didn’t Command It”

Next:
Solid Reasons to Scrutinise Christmas

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
This entry was posted in Rightly Dividing, The Christian and Culture and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Silly Reasons to Abandon Christmas — #4 “It’s the Wrong Date”

  1. Pingback: Laudable Linkage « Stray Thoughts

  2. Franc says:

    You’re mistaken about the mild temperature at Bethlehem in December. (And you “cheated” by quoting the temperature in Jerusalem.)

    Of course we know that lambing season is not the same all over the world. But that does not mean that it cannot be in April or September in Israel.

    Of course we know about the Hebrew calendar and that the dates “move”. This is inconsequential for the question at hand. No matter how the dates “move”, we’re talking at most a month. The question at hand deals with a few months’ difference.

    You got the Passover day wrong. It is not the tenth day of the first month but the 14th day. The tenth day is when they CHOOSE a lamb. Then they are to keep it for four days before slaughtering it at twilight. And on the 15th day (that is, beginning after sunset) they eat it.
    Herein lies the clue. The lamb has to be a year old. So when would the lamb have been born?

    Finally, I don’t anyone can credibly say “abandon Christmas”. Rather, that Christ Jesus was not born on December 25. That’s all one can say and not go further.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Franc, thank you for the comment. I’ll go through this one point at a time.

      1. Mild temperature. The source I used (I linked to it) has changed their figures for the averages. I have changed the article accordingly. The temperatures are still relatively mild with little difference between December and March. It is not too cold for sheep to be in the fields.
      2. “Cheating” using Jerusalem. I have not found a source for temperatures for Bethlehem. If you have one, I would be glad to use it. Bethlehem is just over five miles away from Jerusalem and at virtually the same elevation. The weather is the same. It isn’t cheating to use Jerusalem at all.
      3. Lambing season. It is NOT in April or September in Israel, it is in December-January. I gave a source for this. People who live in Israel know when their lambing season is. This is just simple fact.
      4. The point about the dates moving is that precise dates are not important. The value is in remembering.
      5. I corrected the article on the Passover day. Very careless of me, I knew better. Thank you for correcting me. The lamb was to be killed at evening on the fourteenth day, and eaten on the 15th.
      6. The lamb has to be a year old — but lambs from 12-24 months are called year-old lambs. It was not to be one just born, but one that had lived a year, yet was still a lamb. This is not saying it has to be precisely 12 months old. In fact, it couldn’t be, since lambs are born in December/January.
      7. The Bible does not even tell us why the shepherds were in the field watching their flocks. Some claim it was during lambing season, and try to argue against a December date. The actual fact of lambing season shows that is wrong. But perhaps they were in the field for another reason, maybe there had been a lot of trouble with wild animals that year. I don’t know the reason. I can’t pinpoint the date to December, nor does it matter to me. My purpose was to show that the argument that December must be wrong is flawed.
      8. Re: “abandon” Christmas, yes, there are those who will say it should not be celebrated at all because the date is wrong. I have called that a silly reason. It is silly because A) no one can prove the date is wrong B) there are reasons to think it might be right but most of all C) the date doesn’t matter unless someone tries to claim that the Bible teaches it. It would be different if God commanded us in the Bible to observe it on a particular day. Then, the date would matter. But since He didn’t command it at all, there is nothing wrong with choosing any date we wish.

    • joe joe says:

      We nkow the Messiah would NOT have been born in Decmber on the 25th which is the day of ALL pagan gods birthdays and it was NEVER celebrated by the early church anyway!!! It is a catholic concept created in the 3rd century and placed in December so all the pagens who were forced to “convert” to chirstianity under Constantine would keep it since all the days and “festivals” were already pagan and being kept by the masses…the same goes for ‘waster” another non biblical pagan concept created by Rome. GOD gave us his appointed feast days that we as believers are to keep and “chiristmas” and “easter” are not included on that list

      • Jon Gleason says:

        No one has ever claimed that 25 December was the birthday of Jupiter, or Apollo, or a host of other pagan gods. It is not the birthday of all pagan gods as you claimed. None of them even have a real birthday, they are all simply fictions. This day belongs to God as much as any other day, and there is absolutely no reason His Son could not have been born on this day. Don’t resurrect dead gods and act as if they have any power.

        “A Catholic concept” created in the 3rd century is impossible, since the Roman Catholic practice of syncretism didn’t begin until the 4th century.

        Your entire comment is based on doctrine by speculative history. The Bible simply doesn’t say the things you’ve said in your comment. It doesn’t tell us the birthday of pagan gods. It doesn’t tell us what happened in the 3rd and 4th centuries. It doesn’t tell us pagans were forced to convert under Constantine (they weren’t).

        You might believe the Bible, but you’ve just asserted a bunch of things the Bible doesn’t tell us. I’m not going to grant any authority to someone’s ideas of what happened historically. It’s all speculation. Some of your speculations may be right, some are obviously wrong, but it doesn’t matter — it isn’t Bible.

        The second article, linked above, addresses the supposed pagan and Catholic origins argument.

  3. Thomas Ross says:

    Dear Bro Gleason,

    Thank you for taking the time to write the article. I don’t intend to comment much on this one, but I wanted to point out that it was the Talmud that scholars reference for the evidence for the lambs not being out in December. Obviously, the Talmuds predate modern British or American thinking.

    Also, in relation to the December 25 date and the comment by “joe joe” above (which certainly has its problems, such as placing Constantine in the wrong century), some time ago at a secular college campus I was able to talk to a religion major who argued for Christianity’s dependence upon Mithraism. In significant part because of that discussion, I posted on my website here:

    http://faithsaves.net/mithraism/

    a summary of the article:

    “The Mithraic Cult and Christian Origins,” Allan Di Donato, Christian Apologetics Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 2007, 21-53

    by a professor who teaches about the ancient Greek and Roman at a secular college and who also earned a degree at Norm Geisler’s seminary (as I’m confident you are fully aware, a solidly neo-evangelical institution that is decidedly pro-Catholic as “Christian.”). He debunks the idea that Christianity derives from Mithraism, but concedes dependence of Christmas practices on paganism.

    The Sun god worship on December 25 is, even according to evangelical scholars who debunk claims of Biblical Christian dependence on paganism, not perhaps easy to simply dismiss.

    Thanks again.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Brother Ross, I think the question you raise here is not really relative to whether this is the right or wrong date, and whether that matters. The points you raise primarily have to do with whether or not the date is evidence of a pagan origin.

      This, perhaps, highlights the real difference between our views, if we can boil it down to the core theological issue. That is the question of discernment by origins. I do not believe such is taught in the Bible, and in fact, appears to be specifically rejected in Scripture. Properly, that discussion probably belongs under the article that addressed it rather than this one, but I would love to see you address that core question.

      Where does the Bible give any indication that we are to investigate the origins (in extra-Biblical history) of cultural practices to determine how to practice holiness? How could believers who haven’t had access to wikipedia 🙂 or quality libraries ever have been able to get this right, if the ancient origins of a practice are determinative? Doesn’t the Bible actually indicate that discernment by origins is deeply flawed? Doesn’t “ask no questions for conscience’ sake” tell a person that not knowing origins, even in cases of (for them) modern-day idolatry, is completely acceptable, and that we have no responsibility to delve into origins, ancient or more recent? If it is ok to “ask no questions” for the sake of the conscience of others, does that not indicate that the answer to the question would be no burden on the mature believer, and that the question of origins need only trouble us if it is a burden on the conscience of others? In other words, is it not true that the question of origins has no bearing on the rightness or wrongness of an action, but can have significant bearing on charitable behaviour when others are burdened by origins, and thus may be very important in what a church does but of much less relevance to how a family chooses to act in their own home?

      I think that much of the difference between us boils down to these questions, and if you can provide Biblical basis to your approach, and a response to the points on this that I raised above and in the earlier article (#2), I would be very interested.

  4. Adam says:

    Christmas is not biblical period. If the date of his birth were recorded in scripture and God said celebrate this day for all generations in remembrance of the saviors birth, than Christmas would be a valid holy-day. Abandon Christams! Why? It’s a tradition of man not of God. While Yeshua walked the earth he did not commemorate his birth with his disciples. His birth is significant and recorded in scripture, but our king is not instructing us to celebrate his birth. Christmas is sensual and good for the economy. Its a cultural practice blended with the birth of our savior. We don’t celebrate the day of all creation, or the birth of Moses. Read the scriptures in large chunks at a time and you will see that God does not approve of traditional man made days. The Jews practicing Judaism made up their own days, extra biblical days and regulations. Yeshua came to set us free from false teachings and religious yokes. There’s no argument needed, Christmas is not in accord with Gods instructions and commands. “Do not conform to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”

    • Jon Gleason says:

      To be precise, Christmas is extra-Biblical, neither forbidden nor commanded. It is an array of Christian freedom, though various Biblical principles apply.

      The Jews made up their own day of the Feast of Purim, and God approved. They made up their own day of the Feast of Dedication, and Jesus observed it in Jerusalem.

      You are free to not observe/celebrate the day if you wish, but before stating all these arguments as if they are indisputable fact, you might actually read the articles which answer most of them. This is the fourth in a series. You are welcome to read them all and substantively interact with the articles, or you can just proclaim your view as if it is fact — but the latter course is unlikely to convince anyone when your views have already been discussed in some depth.

  5. Vira says:

    Wow, I’ve read all the comments on this page. We have highly educated individuals, all of whom I have extracted new knowledge from. I would think Christ’s date of birth is irrelevant to our salvation. It prompts me to consider the possible futility of investing time and energy – regarding eternal salvation through Heavenly Father & Mother, who sacrificed immeasurably to provide for us, the ultimate blessing to eat from the Tree Of Life – to construct a website/blog/what have you, in which Christ’s birth date is presented to readers/researchers/truth-seekers as ultimately unknown, the possibility of which was deemed to incline furthermore towards the December-January time proximity. I would like to establish understanding between myself and any/every individual who might view and/or comment in regards to this post, that I am by no means stating that I am some superior “know-it-all” equipped with flawless perception/perspective. I am open to the possibility that my analytical thought process could be faulty, which is why I believe communication and feedback is critical while implementing a degree of receptivity. God bless you all!

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Vira. Yes, Christ’s date of birth is irrelevant to our salvation, and to whether or not we decide to remember His incarnation.

      However, we should be clear that one thing that is not irrelevant at all to our salvation, and that is Who provided it. The Bible makes no mention of a “Heavenly Mother.” The Bible tells us that “the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world,” and that the Son laid down His life for the sheep. Nowhere does the Bible talk about any woman making a sacrifice that provided salvation for us. I hope you will examine the Bible itself carefully on this point, rather than trusting human teachers.

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