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.
The purpose of this study is to examine these holy days and see what the Bible says about them.
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.
To please God, religious observances must be authorized in His word.
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.
I. Nature and Origin of the Days:
The meaning of the day:
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
Origin and authority for the day:
“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 Origins of Easter:
“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 Term “Easter”
“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.
Bible authority for Easter?
“…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.
What about the word “Easter” in KJV Acts 12:4?
(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.
(4) 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.
(5) Nothing in any way connects Christians with the day as though it was a Christian holy day.
(6) 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.
The Origins of Christmas
“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.
Does the Bible really authorize Christmas?
“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.
Further, by observing the Bible, we can learn the following facts:
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 Holi(e) days are nowhere found in the Scriptures, so how can they be good works?