O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How Debatable is Your Presence

Did you know, that it’s a sin to have a Christmas tree? As it says in Jeremiah 10:2-4:

Thus says the LORD:

“Learn not the way of the nations,
    nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens
    because the nations are dismayed at them,
 for the customs of the peoples are vanity.
A tree from the forest is cut down
    and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman.
 They decorate it with silver and gold;
    they fasten it with hammer and nails
    so that it cannot move.

Many don’t believe that owning and decorating a Christmas tree is a sin, but there are many others who interpret this passage in a different light, and believe that such trees are indeed sinful. One must be careful when interpreting the Bible, for you can make it say whatever you wish of it, if you take it out of context. For example, I can tell you that all you need to do in life, is to curse God and die. For as Job’s wife told him in Job 2:9, Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” This is one extreme example to show the care which should be taken when quoting the Scriptures. This verse is in the Bible; however, it’s within the context of Job being tested, and the Bible provides enough evidence to show that his wife is not a trustworthy narrator. Or what would happen if I picked Genesis 9:7 to be my verse to live by: “And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”?

God did say this, and He is the one who invented sex, and even made it pleasurable. I mean, He could have made it miserable and tortures, like stubbing your big toe. Yet, God designed sex to be between one man and one woman within the covenant of marriage, which other passages fully defend. Therefore, when interpreting and quoting the Bible, we must make sure we don’t take it out of context, nor ignore the other passages which also discuss the same topic.

Therefore, what is the context of Jeremiah 10? Well, let’s take a look:

Hear the word that the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the LORD:

“Learn not the way of the nations,
    nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens
    because the nations are dismayed at them,
 for the customs of the peoples are vanity.
A tree from the forest is cut down
    and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman.
 They decorate it with silver and gold;
    they fasten it with hammer and nails
    so that it cannot move.
 Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
    and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
    for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
    for they cannot do evil,
    neither is it in them to do good.”

There is none like you, O LORD;
you are great, and your name is great in might (Jeremiah 10:1-6).

At first glance, with a literal interpretation in mind, it would be very easy to see why some would believe that these verses are proof why Christians shouldn’t have Christmas trees within there homes. After all, some are literally decorated with gold and silver garland and ornaments. However, let’s look at the heart of this matter first and see how this passage affected the Jews in their time before we apply it to our own (which is important for interpreting any passage of the Bible).

What I’m suggesting are the crucial first steps of applying hermeneutics, the science of interpretation, especially the interpretation of biblical texts. Five steps which should always be taken when interpreting any passage or verse of the Bible are as followed:

  1. Grasping the Text in Their Town: What did the text mean to the biblical audience?

2. Measuring the Width of the River to Cross: What are the differences between the biblical audience and us? (ex. language, customs, time)

3. Crossing the Principlizing Bridge: What is the theological principle in this text?

4. Consult the Biblical Map: How does our theological principle fit with the rest of the Bible?

5. Grasping the Text in Our Town: How should individual Christians today live out the theological principles? (Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, pgs. 39-49).

Too often we like to jump to Step 5 to try and figure out how a passage or verse should apply to us, without having done the groundwork of the previous four steps. However, I hope you notice by seeing what the other four steps are how this can lead to faulty ideas and interpretations. Now, if you follow all five steps and still end with the conclusion that Christmas trees are sinful, then that’s okay, I’m not going to try and convince you otherwise. I do not wish to be a stumbling block in your life, nor do I wish for you to ignore your own conscience. However, you should also relay the same respect to your fellow brothers and sisters who believe that it’s not sinful to possess such a tree. Just like in I Corinthians 8, there are both Christians today who have and do not have Christmas trees, just as there were Christians in Corinth who believed it was and was not sinful to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Paul wrote them this letter and did not say who was right nor wrong within this debate. However, he did tell them how they should treat each other, with love and respect. Within the body of Christ, we need to love each other, and we can have diversity within unity. Satan wishes to divide us over silly issues, such as if we should or should not have a Christmas tree, or even if we should or should not celebrate Christmas. But God tells us to love each other, just as He loves us (Colossians 3:12-17).

Now, this blog post is quite long already, so I’m not going to fully go step by step in describing the Interpretive Journey of this passage within this post; however, here are a few things which to consider when studying Jeremiah 10:

1. What is the context of this command? This command to not decorate trees is in the midst of God’s disgust of the people’s idolatry. His people are breaking the Ten Commandments and are worshiping other gods, such as Ba’al and his wife Asherah. In Asherah worship, sometimes her worshippers would decorate poles or trees and dedicate them to her, creating idols in which to worship this fertility goddess in hopes for a child. Sometimes, the act of sex would even happen in the midst of these idols to please the goddess, in hope she would bless them. And Yahweh is displeased, and He’s telling His people to STOP IT!

Stop it! Do not be like these other nations. Worship Me. And Me alone, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3).

2. What does God mean when He says, “Learn not the way of the nations . . . for the customs of the peoples are vanity”? If God’s people are not supposed to do anything that Pagans do, then we need to drastically change our ways of life, for this means we can’t use toilets. Pagans use toilets. We can’t use doorknobs. Pagans use doorknobs. We can’t take showers. Pagans take showers. We can’t eat pizza. Pagans eat pizza.

See how silly this is if we take these words super literally? Is God really saying here that His people are not supposed to do anything that Pagans do, such as decorating trees? Or He is really saying, that He doesn’t want us to take part in sin like the Pagans do? For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. . . . The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:3, 7-8).

But wasn’t the Christmas tree originally Pagan? some of you may argue. And truthfully, we don’t know the answer to this question. On one side of this debate, some believe that the origins of the Christmas tree grew out of the customs of the Egyptians and other peoples who worshipped their sun gods during the winter solstice, using green palm rushes or evergreens to decorate their houses, or from how some cultures used special trees in worship of their gods, such the Asherah pole or the Saxon’s Donar Oak. On the other side, some believe that the Christmas tree originated from Christian traditions, such as from Martin Luther decorating an evergreen with candles, or from the tree of paradise, which was a decorated tree used to represent the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Medieval mystery plays performed on December 24.

So the Christmas tree may have actually sprung from Christian traditions, which means, it was never Pagan. However, if on the other hand the Christmas tree was Pagan, we should know these two facts. Firstly, before anything was Pagan, God made it and said it was good (Genesis 1). Trees did not begin as symbols of fertility, man made them into such symbols. Everything was created by God for God; therefore, nothing is inherently Pagan. Secondly, even if the Christmas tree was Pagan, it doesn’t have to remain so. The thing about Jesus, is that he can transform anything. He was not made unclean when he touched a leper, but he made the man clean (Matthew 8:1-4). And it is by his blood by which we are cleansed of our sins. Jesus can transform and purify anything. And as Christians, aren’t we supposed to be like Christ? And no, we can’t take away the sins of the world, only our Savior can. However, if we’re supposed to be like Jesus, doesn’t that mean we should transform and purify this world too, in order to reflect him?

(Additionally, if we need to instead rid ourselves of all things Pagan, then we also need to change the names of the days of the week, which are named after Nordic gods, as well as the names of the months and the planets, which are named after Roman gods.)

3. What is the purpose of your Christmas tree? If it’s to celebrate Jesus, then I don’t believe it’s a sin. But, if you’re deliberately setting up and decorating a tree as an idol of fertility, then this Jeremiah passage definitely applies, and you should tear down your tree, burn it, throw the ashes into a drinking cup, and consume it immediately. (Or if more money is being put into your tree than into feeding your family, then you should probably get rid of it too.)

The people whom Yahweh are calling out are not accidentally sinning. The hands of skilled craftsman are forming and crafting these idols. The people were committing monstrosities before their God, so their God is commanding them to stop it. To stop being like these other nations. To instead be set apart and be His people. Therefore, if getting rid of your Christmas tree is a way to not be like the other people in celebrating your Christmas and rids your house of commercialism, go for it.

 

Are Christmas trees sinful? I don’t believe so, but maybe you do, and that’s fine. Let’s not fight over who’s right. Instead, let’s just focus on using this season to spread the Gospel. To not put so much time and energy into proving if every home should or should not have a Christmas tree, but instead, share what the Father has given to us: hope, love, and Jesus.

Merry Christmas!

 

~Photos Obtained

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