Category Archives: Ecclesiology (QA)

Could Seventh-day Adventist Celebrate Christmas?


Could Seventh-day Adventist Celebrate Christmas?

By Jaymark Molo

.christmas tree

.christmas tree (Photo credit: ]babi])

Christians, Seventh-day Adventist in particular, keeps on asking whether they should celebrate Christmas or not. The topic has been subjected into a hotbed debates inside church. Multiple views have risen. Conservative Adventist would love to assert that the idea of celebrating Christmas on December 25th is pagan. Therefore, honest and devoted Christian should not observe it.[1] Some, who are less conservative on this view, would like to maintain the idea that celebrating Christmas has pagan origins, but contends that Christmas “is a good evangelistic opportunity.”[2] Others would argue that the date had no connection to pagan gods or ideas, and therefore it is not syncretistic for a Christian to celebrate this day.[3] Meanwhile, the Church has never taken an official position on this matter so this issue calls to be evaluated carefully in the light of history, Scriptures and Spirit of Prophecy.

1. Christmas and History. It is generally accepted that “Christmas” is a compound word originating in the term “Christ’s Mass”.[4] It is derived from the Middle English Cristemasse, which is from Old English Cristesmæsse. On the other hand, historians were still divided on the origin of Christmas. Some still strongly contend that this practice has some pagan beginnings.[5] Others would like to maintain the idea date had no connection to pagan.[6] The complexity of this study can be elucidated by the lack of available historical evidences. A respected scholar, Angel Manuel Rodriguez expressed well the difficulty of this issue:

 “The history of this Christian feast remains unclear. Historians have indicated that the nativity feast began to be observed by Christians during the fourth century. Some Christians calculated it based on the death of Christ taking place on March 25… But the most common explanation is that Christmas is somehow connected with the Roman cult of the Invincible Sun (Latin, Sol Invictus), the rebirth of the sun, which was celebrated on December 25… It is therefore common to hear it alleged that Christians adopted and adapted a pagan feast. This is possible, but it’s difficult to demonstrate from available historical evidence.”[7]

Since our historical evidences are not sufficient enough[8] to determine objectively the origin of this practice—spirit of dogmatism should be avoided and attitude of realism should be promoted.

2. Christmas and Spirit of Prophecy. A careful reading to the writings of Ellen White will give us a balance approach on Christmas.[9] On her treatment to the said subject, we will notice the major concern of her writings focuses not to the historical origin of Christmas (such as paganism, etc.), nor to the date of Christmas, but to the alarming widespread of materialism.[10] Materialism seeks “to find their own amusement in vanity and pleasure seeking” which “can be detrimental to their [the] spirituality.”[11] This is the issue that she mainly dealt. Thus, it is an unfruitful attempt to look for passages where the prophet condemns the day of celebrating Christmas per se. We cannot simply find one. But it is noteworthy to emphasize that we can find numerous warnings on the perversion of practice, which robs the place of Christ as the “supreme object”[12] of the celebration. Thus, for the inspired prophet, celebrating Christmas is not a problem itself, if and only if, it is Christ centered. He should be lifted as the central motivation, reason and force for celebrating it!

3. Christmas and Scripture. We must admit that there is not any commandment in the Bible that ordains to remember the birth of Jesus Christ in the context of one special day designated by God for any social or religious celebration,[13] but there is no biblical condemnation to the said command either. So, how could a Christian settle this issue biblically? Answer: By looking at the biblical principles to decide theological issues. Looking at the biblical principle, the liberty of observing this practice seems find a support in Romans 14:5.[14] That implies that the conscience of any Christian shouldn’t be tied in any sense of duty to observe in any way December 25th[15] as a day that should be kept to remember the birth of Jesus Christ, because the Bible does not command it.[16] However, one should put in mind that even though we don’t have the duty to observe that date in the Calendar, we have the liberty in Christ to observe it.


[1] Ronald Obidos, “Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?” (http://angtinigsailang.org/featured/should-christians-celebrate-christmas/).

[2] General Conference Ministerial Association, “A Right Way to Celebrate Christmas,” Elder’s Digest, vol. 15 no. 4 (October-December 2009): 18.

[3] Marvin Moore, “Dialogue,” Signs of the Times (December 1996): 14. Interestingly, even though he asserts that Christmas has roots in paganism. He quickly adds: “Does modern celebration of Christmas include worship of pagan gods?” “Of course not, the only thing that comes to the minds of people is the birth of Christ. Remember all the English names of the week also have roots in paganism.”

[4] Cyril Charles Martindale, “Christmas,” The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 3.  (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908).

[5] Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,1996) 116, 153. There might be no problem for those who believe that Christmas came from paganism, but the problem will arise if one will use the argument from pagan association. A well-known Adventist scholar, George W. Reid, reveals the inconsistency of this argument: “Many things we have come with pagan connections. The world’s first glass windows were placed in ancient pagan temples, but we still use glass windows with no sense of reverence to anything pagan. Roman bridges, aqueducts, highways, walls, etc., were generally dedicated to and often named after Roman gods. The water system in cities, famous from Roman times, also had pagan connections, but we still have water systems in our houses with no sense of honor to pagan gods.” See, Lori Pettibone Futcher, “Ask the Church,” Adventist Review (March 1, 2010): 35. Consistency calls not just to reject Christmas celebration alone, but all articles that are related to pagan deities.

[6] Andrew Willis, “Is Christmas pagan, Christian or just convenient?” (http://news.adventist.org/en/archive/commentary/2010/12/17/is-christmas-pagan-christian-or-just-convenient).

[7] Angel Manuel Rodriguez, “Christians and Christmas,” Adventist World (December 2010): 26.

[8] The extrabiblical evidence from the first and second century is lacking: “There is no mention of birth celebrations in the writings of early Christian writers such as Irenaeus (c. 130–200) or Tertullian (c. 160–225). Origen of Alexandria (c. 165–264) goes so far as to mock Roman celebrations of birth anniversaries, dismissing them as “pagan” practices—a strong indication that Jesus’ birth was not marked with similar festivities at that place and time.” See: Origen, Homily on Leviticus, 8. As far as we can tell, Christmas was not celebrated at all at this point.

[9] Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home (Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 2932), 477-490.

[10] If paganism would become the issue today, then Ellen White would be guilty of endorsing paganism. That would reasonably disqualify her as a prophet. However, there are some (this seems the stand of Ronald Obidos) who are willingly to adapt the radical view of Graeme Bradford to discredit the writings of Ellen G. White. On this manner, we can easily dismiss her writings as fallible at the same time have no problem to accept her as a genuine prophet. See: Graeme Bradford, Prophets are Human (Victoria, Australia: Signs Publishing Company, 2004) 91pp. This view was reasonably critiqued by the following scholars, see: Angel Manuel Rodriguez, “Prophets are Humans: Book Review,” Reflections BRI Newsletter 10 (April 2005): 8-10. See also, William Fagal, “New Testament Era Prophets—Are They Less Reliable?” (http://www.whiteestate.org/issues/NTProphets.htm). A more balance approach can be found in the works of Juan Carlos Viera, The Voice of the Spirit: How God Has Led His People through the Gift of Prophecy (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Assn., 1998). See also, Herbert E. Douglass, Messenger of the Lord: The Prophetic Ministry of Ellen White (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 1998).

[11] Ellen White, Review and HeraId, Dec. 9, 1884.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Even Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, wasn’t given by God in the Scriptures.  It’s something that they do to recollect deliverance, a special deliverance, that God gave them during what we call the intertestamental period, those 400 years between Malachi and Jesus.  Theirs is a festival that is commonplace now but which does not have its source in a direct command in Scripture; but it does function like many of those other things that are in Scripture. Jesus himself probably observed this non-biblical command (cf. Jn. 10: 22-23).

[14] There are four hermeneutical approaches when questions are not mention in Scriptures: (1) What Scripture does not allow is prohibited; (2) What Scripture does not prohibited is not allowed; (3) Choosing the Two Aforementioned Simultaneously; (4) Biblical Principles to Decide Theological Issues. The author of this article believes the last approach should be favored. See, Ekkehardt Mueller, “Hermeneutical Guidelines for Dealing with Theological Questions,” Reflections BRI Newsletter 40 (October 2012): 1-7. See also: Walter C. Kaiser Jr. and Moises Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 204, 205.

[15] Finally, in about 200 C.E., a Christian teacher in Egypt makes reference to the date Jesus was born. According to Clement of Alexandria, several different days had been proposed by various Christian groups. Surprising as it may seem, Clement doesn’t mention December 25 at all. Clement writes: “There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of [the Egyptian month] Pachon [May 20 in our calendar] … And treating of His Passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the 16th year of Tiberius, on the 25th of Phamenoth [March 21]; and others on the 25th of Pharmuthi [April 21] and others say that on the 19th of Pharmuthi [April 15] the Savior suffered. Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi [April 20 or 21].” See: Clement, Stromateis 1.21.145. In addition, Christians in Clement’s native Egypt seem to have known a commemoration of Jesus’ baptism—sometimes understood as the moment of his divine choice, and hence as an alternate “incarnation” story—on the same date (Stromateis 1.21.146). See further on this point Thomas J. Talley, Origins of the Liturgical Year, 2nd ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991), pp. 118–120, drawing on Roland H. Bainton, “Basilidian Chronology and New Testament Interpretation,” Journal of Biblical Literature 42 (1923), pp. 81–134; and now especially Gabriele Winkler, “The Appearance of the Light at the Baptism of Jesus and the Origins of the Feast of the Epiphany,” in Maxwell Johnson, ed., Between Memory and Hope: Readings on the Liturgical Year (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000), pp. 291–347. I am indebted to Andrew McGowan, on his article entitled, “How December 25 Became Christmas,” (http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/how-december-25-became-christmas/).

[16] In the absence of such command—there will be no transgression (cf. Rom. 4:15). So one cannot sin by not observing Christmas; however, one would become a legalist by legislating this non-command into a command.

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