ARE CHRISTMAS TREES PAGAN?


Every Christmas there is the inevitable talk about a “war on Christmas.” Not all of the opposition comes from secularists, atheists, and Muslims. Some Christians believe that the Bible does not set aside the birth of Jesus as a special calendar day to honor His birth. Such a celebration violates the “regulative principle of worship.”

Others believe Christmas hs a pagan origin and that the Roman Catholic Church turned a pagan celebration into a Christian holy day (holiday). Because of this religious metamorphosis, Christians should not celebrate Christmas.

A subset of this opposition is the Christmas tree. It, too, is said to be of pagan origin, thus, Christians should not bring them into their homes.

Should we stop using wood because some people seek out for themselves “a skillful craftsman to prepare an idol that will not totter” (Isa. 40:20)? Are all trees pagan because pagans have used trees to create idols? Of course not. The Bible tells us, even in a post-fall world that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4-5; cf. Gen 1:31).

For millennia idol worshippers have bowed down before heavenly bodies — sun, moon, and stars — calling them their gods. There were people in Isaiah’s day who looked to “astrologers, those who prophesy by the stars, those who predict by the new moons” seeking guidance (Isa. 47:13).

The people of Israel were warned by God not to lift their “eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven” (Deut. 4:19). God created the heavenly bodies to “be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years,” and to “be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth” (Gen. 1:14). These heavenly bodies were not to be worshipped or given divine status. They are created things that point back to God as their Creator: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:20; see Ps. 19:1-6).

Even with the misuse of the heavenly bodies, it did not stop God from choosing the sun, moon, and stars to symbolize His chosen nation Israel (Gen. 37:9–11; Rev. 12:1–2). And neither did it stop Him from using a star to announce the birth of Jesus (Matt. 2:2).

Pagans believe there is power in inanimate objects like the sun, moons, and stars, but we know better. Notice how the Bible ridicules those who turn God’s good creation into divine objects they claim should be worshipped (Isa. 44:12–20). God’s people know better. We are not fooled or intimidated; it’s just a piece of wood created by God to be used for our benefit and enjoyment. We can burn it for heat or fashion it into a tool. Should we cut down the trees in our yards because Jesus was crucified on a tree?

Some will turn to Jeremiah 10:1–10 to make a case against “Christmas trees,” actually, evergreen or more technically conifers, are pagan because idol worshipers used them in their religious rituals. Jeremiah is describing idol worship, and he ridicules it: “Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, and they cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk! Do not fear them, for they can do no harm, nor can they do any good” (10:5). Who among us believes that a “Christmas tree” is worshipped today? When people put packages under the tree, they are not bowing down to worship the tree. The gifts are not for the tree gods.

What happens when the Christmas season passes? The tree is either taken to a recycling center or burned in the backyard. No one would ever do this to an idol.

There are carved engraved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers in the inner and outer rooms of the temple (1 Kings 6:29). The two doors are made of olivewood with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers (1 Kings 6:32)

In addition, Jeremiah is describing trees that are shaped in the image of their god. Both wood and metal are used in this way (Jer. 10:3, 9–10). I wonder what the Christmas tree critics would say about building the tabernacle, the temple, and erecting a fiery bronze serpent (Num. 21:5–9). These seem to be a violation of the Second Commandment since these earthly creations were representations of heavenly things, the very thing the Second Commandment prohibited:

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them. . .” (Ex. 20:4–5a).

Of course, the key prohibition is worshiping and serving them, which we know the Israelites did with the brass serpent (2 Kings 18:4), something that God commanded Moses to manufacture and raise (Num. 21:8-9). This didn’t stop Jesus from identifying it with His redemptive work (John 3:14–15).

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