Worshipping the Christmas Tree? Responding to the Anti-Christmas, Anti-Easter Cult

Is it sinful to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25? A growing number of professing Christians are claiming it is, but their arguments are extremely poor.

Is it sinful to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25? A growing number of professing Christians are claiming it is, but their arguments are extremely poor.

It’s that time of year again. Many Americans will be stressed due to a frenzied schedule of shopping, ugly-sweater contests, Christmas parties, baking, and family gatherings. Meanwhile, a small, but growing and increasingly vocal group of people are making their own mark on the holiday season. I call them the Anti-Christmas Cult. Oh, they also come out at Easter time.

To be fair, I don’t really believe these people have formed a cult, but this description does not seem too far from the mark when you witness the way many of them behave when the words “Christmas” or “Easter” are used. If you are not really familiar with this group, you won’t have to look hard to find them. Actually, they will make an effort to find you to tell you how pagan and evil it is to celebrate Christmas and Easter.

I work for a ministry that uses this time of year to share the good news that the Son of God became one of us so that through His sacrificial death, burial, and Resurrection, we could be saved from our sins. Every year in December we post articles that help clear up some of the misconceptions that people have about the birth of Christ as described in Matthew and Luke. We do not tell anyone that they must celebrate Christmas, but encourage those who decide to celebrate the holiday to focus on Christ rather than all the extra-biblical traditions. And every year dozens, if not hundreds of people jump all over our Facebook posts to tell everyone how pagan Christmas is and how sinful it is for people to celebrate the birth of Christ at this time of year.

Many of the attacks come from people involved in what has been called the Hebrew Roots Movement. These are not Jewish people, but professing Christians who have been caught up in the idea that Christians are supposed to follow selected portions of the Mosaic Law. It’s one thing to seek to understand Old Testament teachings to gain a deeper understanding of Scripture, but these people go far beyond that. Just as the heretical Judaizers of the 1st century added works of the Law to the gospel message (making it a false “gospel”), the Hebrew Roots Movement has added arbitrarily selected elements of the Law to the Christian message.

There are some really sad elements to this movement. First and foremost, many of the folks are in danger of denying the gospel because they behave as if a person can only be saved if he follows the Law of Moses—well, at least the portions of it that they highlight (primarily the Levitical feasts and dietary laws). A brief study of Galatians should disavow them of such legalizing practices, but sadly they ignore Paul’s plain instruction in this book (see especially Galatians 5:18 and James 2:10). Second, I believe they unwittingly disparage the Jewish people through their actions—they mispronounce and misspell Hebrew names while acting as if they are true Jews. Third, they use a vast array of fallacious arguments based on careless research and misinterpretations of Scripture.

Neo-Judaizers are quite vocal in their opposition to Christmas and Easter.

Neo-Judaizers are quite vocal in their opposition to Christmas and Easter.

One of the major claims of this group is that the Bible forbids the use of Christmas trees in Jeremiah 10. This notion is an absurd interpretation of a passage that speaks against the carving and decoration of wooden idols to be worshipped. I have never heard of a Christian worshipping a tree, and I have never put up a tree in my house, but that has not stopped these folks from accusing me of violating the supposed prohibition against Christmas trees in Jeremiah 10.

I have written elsewhere to deal with many of the false claims and faulty arguments of this movement so I won’t elaborate on them here (see links at end of post for more details). I want to close this post by sharing a piece of satire I worked on with a friend a few years back. This is not directed at those who simply choose to not celebrate Christmas at this time of year; Christians have every right to not celebrate Christmas since we are not commanded to do it. But Christians also have the right to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25 or on any other day of the year. This satirical article is directed at those who obnoxiously attack Christians with Jeremiah 10 whenever they hear the word “Christmas” uttered or see it posted in social media.

Seven Ways to Avoid Worshipping Your Christmas Tree
(A satirical critique of a fallacious argument against Christmas trees by Chuck and Tim)

Thus saith 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.
For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good. (Jeremiah 10:2–5, KJV)

Right here in Scripture we see a clear condemnation of the abominable practice of decorating Christmas trees. Yet God is merciful. Repent, and you will be forgiven for your past transgressions.

However, the appeal to decorate a Christmas tree may be a strong one. In many cases, this pagan ritual has become so deeply entrenched in our family traditions that it can be hard to give up.

With that in mind, and with Scripture as our guide, here are seven principles you can use to continue decorating your tree, while preventing yourself from inadvertently worshipping it.

1. Know where your tree comes from.
The Bible specifically warned about one who “cutteth a tree out of the forest.” Therefore, you must obtain your tree elsewhere.
You certainly can’t risk buying one from a store. Who knows where those came from?
It’s probably best to just find a tree growing by the side of the road—far from a forest—and cut it down.

2. Cut it down the correct way.
The Bible also talks about pagans cutting down their trees “with the axe.” We must eschew this detestable instrument of demolition.
Stick with safer tools like chainsaws or laser beams.
Alternatively, you may avoid both of the pitfalls above by simply buying a fake tree.

3. Get a tree that talks and/or moves.
There is yet another advantage to purchasing a fake tree. Some of them come with a built-in speaker, allowing them to “sing” or “talk.” This would counteract the warning that trees “speak not.”
Other fake trees are mounted on a base that rotates, thus invalidating the warnings about their being unable to “move” or “go.”

Is this really what Jeremiah 10 speaks against? Only the Christmas tree is an idol that you worship.

Is this really what Jeremiah 10 speaks against? Only if the Christmas tree is an idol that you worship.

4. Be careful how you mount it.
This is one of the more important warnings. When the pagans get a Christmas tree, “they fasten it with nails and with hammers.” We must not do likewise.
Instead of hammers and nails, try using duct tape, glue sticks, or zip ties.

5. Mount it in the correct position.
The tools you use to mount your tree aren’t the only things that matter. The position of the mounted tree is also vitally important.
The Bible warns about trees that are as “upright as the palm tree.” Therefore, your tree should at the very least be mounted at a distinct angle.
But just to be safe, we’d advise mounting it completely sideways from a wall.

6. Decorate it properly.
This is probably the most obvious piece of advice, but it is extremely important. Whatever you do, do not place any gold or silver decorations on your tree!
All other colors should be fine, but there had better not be a scrap of silver tinsel on there!

7. Place presents carefully.
One final obstacle will stand in your way. When placing a present under the tree, you run the risk of accidentally bowing to it. This would be an unacceptable act of pagan worship!
Your best bet is to order presents online. Then, when delivery men show up, have them place the packages directly under the tree themselves. Thus, they will act as scapegoats, averting any wrath away from your own household.
However, you may at times have to place the packages yourself. If that is the case, I would advise holding the present behind you going backward to the tree with it, similar to how Shem and Japheth covered their father, Noah (Genesis 9:23, KJV).

We said we have seven principles for you, but we actually have one more: Learn to interpret your Bible in context.

Whether you choose to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25 or choose not to celebrate it, serve the Lord wholeheartedly in whatever you are doing that day and every other day of the year.

Here are links to my responses to some of the other arguments against celebrating Christmas:

Common Misconceptions about Christmas
More Christmas Misconceptions—Part One
More Christmas Misconceptions—Part Two
Christmas Misconceptions: Legalism or License
Merry Christmas!

Thanks for reading!

King Saul, a Witch, and an Elohim—Part Two

The Witch of En Dor by William Blake

The Witch of En Dor by William Blake

Who or what appeared at En Dor when King Saul asked a medium to call for Samuel? In the first article I posted on this subject, I discussed the two primary views held by Christians: the spirit was either a satanic impostor or God actually sent Samuel’s spirit to pronounce judgment on the disobedient king.

Many Christians favor the idea that an evil spirit simply impersonated Samuel, but the text seems to say otherwise. The narrative calls the entity “Samuel” five different times and gives no indication that we should look for another meaning. Also, the words that the spirit spoke were completely true—Saul and his sons did die that day. This post will explore other passages that help us properly interpret 1 Samuel 28, and we’ll also clear up some confusion about one of the most important words in the Bible.

Do Other Passages Provide Clues to the Proper Interpretation?

King Saul had previously disobeyed a command from the Lord to completely destroy the Amalekites and their cattle. After Samuel pronounced judgment on the king for his unfaithfulness we are told that they went their separate ways—Samuel to Rama and Saul to Gibeah. Then the author tells us that “Samuel went no more to see Saul until the day of his death” (1 Samuel 15:35).

In both English and Hebrew, it is ambiguous if the “his death” refers to Samuel’s death or Saul’s death. The NET Bible translates the passage as referring to Samuel’s death: “Until the day he died Samuel did not see Saul again” (1 Samuel 15:35), but there are problems with this rendering. The NASB and ESV remain ambiguous about whose death is referenced, but they did not translate the preposition “to.” For example, the NASB states that “Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death” (1 Samuel 15:35). As we’ll see, this minor textual decision strongly impacts one’s interpretation.

There are at least two reasons why “his death” in 1 Samuel 15:35 should be viewed as a reference to King Saul’s death. First, if the NASB’s rendering is accurate (that Samuel did not see Saul again until the day one of them died), then it creates a contradiction in the text. In 1 Samuel 19:18, David fled from Saul to Samuel in Ramah. After sending messengers to capture David, Saul himself came to Ramah. The Spirit of God came upon Saul and he “prophesied before Samuel” (v. 24). So Samuel did see Saul again, but the prophet did not go to see Saul again until the incident at En Dor—Saul came to him. The translation of the preposition “to” makes a huge difference in 1 Samuel 15:35.

One concern about this interpretation has to do with how it could be said that Samuel’s spirit went to Saul, particularly when it was the medium who summoned him. I believe there is a reasonable solution. Samuel’s spirit still had to travel some “distance” from wherever he was (Sheol or heaven?) to where Saul was. Samuel asked, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” and the medium said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” Both of these statements imply that the spirit was traveling from somewhere else to arrive there. Daniel 10 may also shed some light on the subject. The angel that spoke to Daniel had to travel to get to the prophet, but he was held up by the prince of Persia for 21 days (Daniel 10:13). Again, this implies some degree of movement to go from the spiritual realm to the physical world. Since they are not omnipresent, spirits are localized entities, thus they must move if they are to go from one place to another.

A classic depiction of Saul's infamous visit to the medium at Endor from Sadducismus Triumphatus by Joseph Glanvill.

A classic depiction of Saul’s infamous visit to the medium at En Dor from Sadducismus Triumphatus by Joseph Glanvill.

The second reason we should view “his death” as a reference to Saul is found in 1 Samuel 25. In the brief record of Samuel’s death, there is no indication at all that Saul was present. After being told that Saul went home (Gibeah) sometime earlier, the text states, “Then Samuel died; and the Israelites gathered together and lamented for him, and buried him at his home in Ramah” (1 Samuel 25:1). It seems highly unlikely that, in his final day, the dying prophet would make a trip to Gibeah to see Saul. Even if Saul should be included in “the Israelites” who gathered and lamented for Samuel, this did not happen until after Samuel had died.

Based on these passages in 1 Samuel 19 and 25, we can be fairly confident that “his death” in 1 Samuel 15:35 refers to the king’s death. That being the case, it lends good support to the interpretation that it really was the spirit of Samuel that appeared at En Dor. The prophet then announced that the king would be with him (i.e. the king would die) later that day. So we see that other passages help us understand that 1 Samuel 15:35 tells us Samuel did not go to see Saul until the day that Saul died.

An Elohim?

Perhaps the greatest cause of confusion in this passage has to do with the word that is used by the medium when she describes what she saw.

And the king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What did you see?”
And the woman said to Saul, “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.” (1 Samuel 28:13)

The word translated as “spirit” in this verse is ’elohim. Roughly ninety percent of the time this word is used in the Old Testament—over 2000 times—it refers to the one true God, a fact which has led to much misunderstanding. ’Elohim is not God’s name; it is better understood as a title or a description for God whose name is Yahweh.

So what does ’elohim refer to the other ten percent of the time it is used? It can refer to angels.

For you have made him a little lower than the angels (’elohim), and You have crowned him with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:5)

Some Bibles, such as the NASB, translate this verse to say that man was made “a little lower than God.” While the word certainly can refer to God, it does not on this occasion. Hebrews 2:7 quotes this verse and uses the Greek word for angels, which is how the Septuagint translated it too.

’Elohim is also used to refer to demons.

They sacrificed to demons, not to God, to gods (’elohim) they did not know, to new gods, new arrivals that your fathers did not fear. (Deuteronomy 32:17, italics in original)

The NKJV quoted above makes a curious formatting error here. It italicizes words that are not in the Hebrew but are added when necessary for a sentence to make sense. The problem here is that the first time gods is italicized, the Hebrew word is there. And that word is ’elohim.

In six verses, ’elohim is used as part of the term “sons of God” (bene ha ’elohim). These “sons of God” are a class of heavenly beings who rejoiced at creation (Job 38:7), met with God regularly (Job 1:6; 2:1), rebelled and married women (Genesis 6:2, 4), and were apparently charged with overseeing the Gentile nations (Deuteronomy 32:8, ESV).

In the majority of cases where ’elohim does not refer to the one true God, it is used in reference to the false gods worshiped by the nations. For example, Deuteronomy 6:14 states, “You shall not go after other gods (’elohim)…” This type of command is found many times in Deuteronomy. ’Elohim is also used this way in the first of the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods [’elohim] before Me” (Exodus 20:3).

So what did the spirit of Samuel have in common with these other uses of the word? Put another way, how could God, the spirit of Samuel, false gods, angels, and the sons of God all be called ’elohim? I can think of only one shared attribute: they are all residents of the spiritual realm, or more accurately, the spiritual realm is their primary place of operation.

If this is accurate, then we need to realize that ’elohim is not God’s personal name (as the Mormons teach), but a title for Him. His personal name is Yahweh (YHWH). Yahweh is an ’elohim but no other ’elohim is Yahweh. He is unique, and He created all of the other ’elohim.

Understanding this important truth clears up some of the confusion about what took place in 1 Samuel 28. Yes, an ’elohim truly did appear to the medium and Saul, but it was not a god. While the term can refer to a demonic being it can also refer to the spirit of a deceased person since they primarily inhabit the spiritual realm. As such, we can be fairly certain that it was the spirit of Samuel who was permitted to pronounce judgment upon the rebellious king of Israel.

Conclusion

Much more could be said about this intriguing passage, but there are no compelling reasons to reject the straightforward understanding of the text—that Samuel really did appear to pronounce judgment on Saul.

I believe those who think that Satan or a demon appeared rather than Samuel are allowing their theological views to override the meaning of the text. Of course, our theology will always influence how we interpret a passage, but we must be careful not to let our ideas get in the way of rightly dividing the word of truth.