Birthdays and the COG


This month, I have noticed that my article titled Did Early Christians Celebrate Birthdays? has become relatively popular.

Although I did update it sometime last month (mainly added some scriptures), since I did not announce it, I have been surprised that it is suddenly more popular.

Regarding birthdays, Herbert Armstrong taught,

“There is no command or instruction to celebrate it in the Bible–rather, the celebration of birthdays is a pagan, not a Christian custom, believe it or not!” (Armstrong, Herbert. The Plain Truth About Christmas. 1974, p.10).

However, HWA did acknowledge birthdays and sent his mother roses each year on hers once she was quite elderly.

Essentially, the Bible and early church history suggest that early Christians did not celebrate birthdays.  However, since the ages of various ones are mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, somehow the anniversaries of births were acknowledged.

Without naming specific COG groups, essentially the more liberal do allow the celebration of birthdays, while the groups on the opposite extreme essentially prohibit almost even the acknowledgement.

Here is something from the article:

Jews and the Old Testament

The first century Jewish historian Josephus noted that Jewish families did not celebrate birthdays:

Nay, indeed, the law does not permit us to make festivals at the birth of our children, and thereby afford occasion of drinking to excess (Josephus. Translated by W. Whiston. Against Apion, Book II, Chapter 26. Extracted from Josephus Complete Works, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids (MI), 14th printing, 1977, p. 632).

Now although there is no specific command against the celebration of birthdays in the Bible, the Jewish custom in those days was apparently based on the negative occurrences in the Bible surrounding birthdays, as well as the astrological implications of the celebration of birthdays (pagan practices were specifically prohibited in the law).

Since nearly all of the first Christians were Jewish, this may partially explain why the celebration of Jesus’ birth would not be consistent with that custom…

Gentiles and the New Testament

It is interesting to note that while the New Testament is clear about the specific time of certain holy days such as Passover (Matthew 26:17-20) and Pentecost (Acts 2:1), it never mentions the date, or even the precise month, of Jesus’ birth (see Matthew 1 and Luke 1;2:1-20).

Furthermore, there is no recorded instance of any of the apostles celebrating the birth of Christ (see also the article Did the Early Church Celebrate Christmas?).

There is, however, one birthday celebration mentioned in the New Testament, and it was not a good one. Actually, it was so bad, that the one Jesus had called the greatest “among those born of women” (Matthew 11:11) was killed because of it:

But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.” And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother (Matthew 14:6-11).

(The same account is also mentioned in Mark 6:21-28).

Originally, even as more and more Gentiles began to profess Christ (so much so that they outnumbered those of Jewish heritage that did), the early Gentile leaders also did not endorse the celebration of birthdays…

The writings of the late third century Catholic theologian Arnobius show that, even that late, most Catholics were against the celebration of birthdays as he wrote:

…you worship with couches, altars, temples, and other service, and by celebrating their games and birthdays, those whom it was fitting that you should assail with keenest hatred. (Arnobius. Against the Heathen (Book I), Chapter 64. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 6. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).  

More information, including scriptures of possible interest, are included in the article Did Early Christians Celebrate Birthdays?

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