Every year about this time, my late friend Warren Kenney would preach a sermon on the widespread myths or misunderstandings surrounding the Christmas holiday. He felt this was an issue so serious, so pervasive, that it warranted a full sermon every year. What are some of these misconceptions, and why does this issue matter so much? This article is an attempt to answer those important questions. Let’s look first at some of the common myths:
1. It is a myth that the Bible teaches that we should celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. The word “Christmas” is nowhere found in the Bible, much less commanded. A religious observance of Christ’s birth was apparently never practiced until at least A.D. 336, three centuries after Christ. There is no passage, no scripture reference, no command, no apostolic or other approved example or any other Bible precept authorizing such a practice.
2. It is a myth that the Bible teaches that there were “three kings” who came to Jesus’s birth. The Bible simply says there were “Wisemen from the east” lit. Magi, (Mt. 2:1), but their number is not specified. The assumption that there were three probably arises from the fact that three specific gifts are mentioned: “gold and frankincense and myrrh,” (Mt. 1:11).
3. It is a myth that the Bible teaches that Jesus was born on December 25th. The Bible nowhere specifies the day or date on which Jesus was born, and nowhere directs us to celebrate it as a religious holiday. The Bible does record the day of the Lord’s resurrection, namely the first day of the week, or Sunday. And the Scriptures direct all Christians to remember the Lord’s death each Sunday in the Lord’s Supper, (cf. Mt. 26:2t6f; Acts 20:7). If God had wanted us to observe a “holy day” on Jesus’s birth, the day would have been recorded. The 25th of December seems to have been chosen in response to an early Roman pagan holiday, because it aligns with the Winter Solstice.
4. It is a myth that the Bible teaches that the birth of Jesus was accompanied by a “little drummer boy,” with a star hovering over a barn or stable. The Bible does say that God used a star to guide the Wisemen (Magi) to Jerusalem, and then to Bethlehem (Mt. 2), to the house where Jesus was. There is no reference in the inspired record to a “little drummer boy,” nor are we told that Jesus was born in a stable or barn. The text does say that he was laid in a manger after he was born, but mangers were often found in houses, and there is no mention of a stable or barn in the biblical account.
5. It is a myth that the Bible teaches that Jesus was an only child. Many Roman Catholics have been taught that Mary was not only a virgin when Jesus was born, but that she remained a virgin perpetually, and that Jesus therefore had no brothers or sisters. Those who believe this are naturally confused by passages that speak of Jesus’s brothers and sisters. In Lk. 2:7, Jesus is referred to as Mary’s firstborn son, suggesting there would be others. In Lk. 8:19-21, Jesus is told that his “mother and brothers” are standing outside. In Mt. 13:55 Jesus’ brothers are actually identified by name. Also, Paul called James “the Lord’s brother.” Some attempt to explain these passages by saying that they are referring to Jesus’s cousins. But there is a perfectly good word for “cousins” in Greek, which Mark and Luke could have used instead of adelphoi, which means “brothers.” Many Catholic scholars maintain that Jesus indeed had brothers and sisters through an earlier marriage of Joseph, but it is far better to simply take the Bible at its word. Jesus was not an only child.
Someone may be asking, what difference does it make about these common stories regarding Christmas? What harm does it do to believe and perpetuate them? Well, in the first place, they are not true. I have never believed in preaching or perpetuating lies or falsehoods, and I do not know of any good which can ultimately be accomplished by telling people things about Jesus which are not true. A much better approach would be to enjoy the holiday season, give gifts and spend quality time with family, but when in comes to the religious aspects, simply stick to the Bible in all that it says—and respect its silence in what it does not say. There is a clear and straightforward passage which requires us to do that very thing, (Col. 3:17). God has told us how we should behave each day, and that should be sufficient for all of us.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.