The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, December 17, 2021

Christmas Customs and Hyper-Protestant Killjoys


Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.  – Phil. 4:4


In an earlier essay I debunked the neo-Cromwellian, hyper-Protestant claim that Christmas is actually a pagan holiday and demonstrated that it is of Christian origin.   It is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, which early Church Fathers had calculated to have fallen on the twenty-fifth of December at least a century before the events – the legalization of Christianity, the conversion of Constantine the Great, the making Christianity the official religion of Rome – that the hyper-Protestants believe initiated the syncretism that in their view corrupted Christianity with paganism, and, indeed, before there was even any pagan significance to the date of the twenty-fifth of December.   I also demonstrated that the information that St. Luke provides us about the timing of the birth of Christ in his Gospel – the Annunciation took place in the sixth month of St. Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist, which pregnancy began shortly after St. Zechariah was visited by Gabriel in the Temple, which most likely occurred during the week of Yom Kippur if not the exact day – supports the placing of Christ’s birth in December-January.    The exact process by which the Church Fathers calculated more specific dates is not clear, although the date of the Annunciation seems to have been calculated first and some theorize that it had to do with the idea that Christ was conceived on the same day He died.   That the Church Fathers were looking for dates when the Jewish holy days that the events in St. Luke’s chronology fell on or around – Passover for the Annunciation, Hanukkah for the Nativity – matched up with the events on the solar calendar that they approximate (the spring equinox and winter solstice) is perhaps a likelier explanation than the influence of the Jewish concept of “integral age”.   The twenty-fifth of March and December would not line up with the precise date of the solar events by our calculations today, but these were calculated differently back then.   Looking for such convergence does not indicate a pagan influence.   That the sun, moon, and stars were placed in the firmament for “signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years” by God Himself is asserted in the first chapter of the Bible (Gen. 1:14).


Having debunked the hyper-Protestant claims about the date of Christmas, let us turn to their claims about the manner in which it is celebrated.   In one sense they seem to be on firmer ground here.  Every place in which Christmas is celebrated has its local customs as to how it is celebrated and many of these seem to have been adopted from traditions that were around before the area was evangelized.   Nevertheless, this hardly makes Christmas “pagan”.  


The sort of things we are talking about here are the accidents of Christmas, not its essence.   What makes Christmas Christmas, is not the goose or turkey and pudding, the gift-giving, the holly and mistletoe, the stockings and Yule log, the wreathes and wassail, or any such thing.   It is the Christmas story, which comes directly from Sacred Writ, the early chapters of the Gospels of both SS Matthew and Luke.   Many of the most beloved of Christmas carols either retell the Christmas story in verse or proclaim the theological significance of the events narrated in the story or both.   I am not talking about “Jingle Bells” and “Frosty the Snowman”, obviously, but carols like Charles Wesley and George Whitefield’s “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, Dr. Martin Luther’s “Silent Night, Holy Night”, and “Adeste Fidelis” and its English translation “O Come All Ye Faithful”.    The very name of the holiday speaks of Christians celebrating the Nativity of Christ by participating in the Holy Sacrament.   Christmas is a contraction of “Christ’s mass”.   Hyper-Protestants will no doubt read every last bit of Romanist doctrine regarding transubstantiation into the word “mass” but this word, taken from the Latin words used to dismiss (another word that we get from the same Latin source) the congregation at the end of the service, simply means a liturgical service in which the Eucharist is celebrated.   Things are defined by their essence, not their accidents.   Christmas is defined by the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, not by the decorations, food, and merry-making.


That having been said, if our hyper-Protestant friends persist in objecting some of the food and drink, gifts and games, and decorations having had roots in pre-Christian traditions, then the manner in which these came to be incorporated into the celebration of Christmas needs to be pointed out to them.   This is because hyper-Protestantism is based upon the idea that everything in the pre-Reformation Christian tradition that the hyper-Protestants object to, which is basically everything for which they cannot find an exact Scripture verse either authorizing or commanding it, is something that was imposed upon the unsuspecting Christian laity by an evil clergy out to rob them of their Christian liberty.   This is precisely the opposite of how elements from pre-Christian winter festivals became a part of Christmas celebrations.   It was the people who brought these sorts of things into Christmas, not the Church that imposed them upon the people.   If anything, the Church may have initially tried to dissuade the people from doing this, but tolerated and eventually accepted it on the grounds that these sort of things are not intrinsically pagan, are minor matters, and that what Scripture does not prohibit it permits (the hyper-Protestants operate on the reverse of this, John Calvin’s regulative principle, that what Scripture does not permit it prohibits, which is clearly far less compatible with the Pauline doctrine of Christian liberty).  


One of the silliest examples of hyper-Protestant opposition to Christmas traditions with pre-Christian origins has to do with the Christmas tree.   A Christmas tree is an evergreen tree – spruce, pine or the like – that people set up in their homes, usually in the living room, and decorate with stars, angels, tinsel, candles or electric lights, and other ornaments, and under which they place the presents to be opened at Christmas.   It is a relatively recent addition to Christmas traditions and appears to be of Germanic origin.   Dr. Luther is known to have decorated Christmas trees with candles and some have attributed the start of the tradition to him, others trace it back to the pre-Christian Germanic traditions of Yule.   Either way, some hyper-Protestants maintain that it is explicitly condemned in the prophecy of Jeremiah in the Old Testament.    They are referring to a passage found at the beginning of the tenth chapter of Jeremiah - specifically the third and fourth verses.   Here are those verses:


For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.   They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.


Now, the hyper-Protestants who interpret these verses as referring to Christmas trees, might have a point if the people who put up Christmas trees erected altars in front of the Christmas trees, offered sacrifices to them and burned incense to them, prayed to them, trusted them to deliver them from their enemies, and did any of that sort of thing.   I don’t know of anyone who does this sort of thing with his Christmas tree, nor do I know of anyone who knows somebody else who does.    


The entire passage in which these verses are found – the first sixteen verses of the chapter, make it abundantly clear that what is being talked about is not a custom of erecting a tree and decorating it for festive purposes, but the making of an idol.    Consider the verse that immediately follows the ones quoted above:


They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go.   Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.  


When Jeremiah talks about how they “are upright as the palm tree, but speak not” this very similar to the places in which the Psalmist says of idols “they have mouths, but they speak not” (115:5, 135:16), and when he adds “they must needs be borne, because they cannot go” this brings to mind the verse that says “feet have they, but they walk not” (115:7).   There would have been no need to point anything in this verse out if the decoration of trees for festive purposes were the custom being condemned here.   If that is what the prophet had in mind, those to whom he was addressing the prophecy could have legitimately come back with “Well duh, what’s your point?”    Jeremiah is speaking of images that the heathen make and worship instead of the True and Living God.      In this case they are carved from wood and plated with gold and silver.   The folly of placing faith in the works of men’s own hands, that cannot use the anthropomorphic features they are given by their crafters, and which cannot save their worshippers as the True and Living God can, is the point of all of this.


Anyone seeking a present day equivalent of what Jeremiah was speaking about in the tenth chapter of his book of prophecy may find one in the practice of the many who put their faith in their savings accounts, government social programs, or modern technology for their safety, security, and the solution to their problems.   This is far closer to what Jeremiah was condemning  than the practice of decorating trees to celebrate Christmas.   Idolatry is giving to that which is created, especially the work of man’s own hands, that which belongs only to the Creator.   Decorating a Christmas tree may superficially resemble what Jeremiah was talking about in the third and fourth verses of his tenth chapter if the context is ignored but the resemblance is only superficial.  


The hyper-Protestants who think that Christmas trees are condemned by Jeremiah are being incredibly silly indeed.   They have allowed their hatred of the pre-Reformation Christian tradition, the pre-Reformation Church, and anything they associate with these, such as the celebration of Christ’s birth, to blind them to the obvious meaning of passages like Jeremiah 10:3-4 so that they can twist these verses into condemnations of entirely innocent things like Christmas trees that are part of a holy festival that brings joy to people’s hearts.


H. L. Mencken once said that Puritanism “is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, is happy”.   We are in the third week of Advent, which began with the Sunday that is customarily called Gaudete Sunday.    Gaudete is the plural imperative of a Latin verb that means “to rejoice” and thus is a command to rejoice.    The commandment to “rejoice” is repeated over and over again throughout the Scriptures.   Deut. 32:43; 1 Chr. 16:10, 31; Psalm 2:11, 5:11, 32:12, 33:1; Rom. 12:15, 15:10; Phil. 2:18, 4:4 are but a few examples.   The last mentioned of these, quoted as the epigraph of this essay, is the traditional Introit for the third Sunday of Advent, which is the origin of its name.   God is the Author of joy.  It would be unseasonably uncharitable to speculate as to where Puritanism – the original name for hyper-Protestantism in the English-speaking world- gets the aversion to human joy, happiness, and merry-making that is prominently on display in its condemnation of everything associated with these things in Christian festivals and traditions as “pagan”, but this, at least, is clear - it does not come from God.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Bad Politicians Pass a Bad Bill

As anyone who has followed my writings for any significant length of time will know when I identify my politics and general philosophy as Tory this is not in reference to the Conservative Party.   This is something that I wish to emphasize in light of the disgraceful behaviour of that party in the last couple of weeks.   To me, being a Tory means being loyal to and supporting traditional institutions that have proven themselves over long ages of time.   In the political sense the primary such traditional institution is hereditary royal monarchy.   The second such institution is parliament.   True Toryism means placing these institutions ahead of abstract ideals like democracy, equality, and even freedom although freedom is not just an abstract ideal but also a basic human good, a good which over the long run is better protected by traditional institutions than by political crusades launched in its name as an abstract ideal.   It also means suspicion and skepticism towards the utopian schemes of those who think that either such ideals or what they consider to be "science" should be the basis of a new, re-ordered, engineered society.    It is a confidence in traditional institutions over the long term, rather than the people who make them up in the short term.   This needs to be stressed especially in regards to parliament.   Earthly human institutions, even traditional ones, are not infallible.  They are of necessity made up of people, and therefore fallible due to the flaws in fallen human nature.   Parliaments are made up of politicians, who have more than their fair share of those flaws.


The recent actions of our Canadian Parliament alluded to above in reference to the disgraceful behaviour of the Conservative Party illustrate the point.   In passing Bill C-4, a bill which is objectively not only evil but insane, Parliament failed big time.   This was not because of some flaw in the Westminster System as it evolved over time that can be fixed by social and political engineers.   The problem is entirely in the character of the human beings who make up both the House and the Senate.  


Bill C-4 is a new version of a bill the Liberals introduced in the last Parliament which failed to pass the Senate in time to become law, itself a re-worked version of an earlier bill that had expired when Parliament was prorogued last summer.   It was introduced on the twenty-ninth of November, passed the House of Commons on the first of December when all parties extradited it, and passed the Senate on the seventh of December.    The bill that had been introduced in the last Parliament had been quite controversial and this new version, rather than remove the objectionable elements, made them worse.   Therefore, for the Conservatives led by Erin O'Toole to help the Grits pass this bill unanimously was for them to abdicate their duties in the role of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.   For the Senate to pass the bill so quickly was for them to abdicate their duty as the chamber of "sober second thought".  The Liberals, in this Parliament as in the last, are a minority government.   Even if they were a majority, they ought not to be able to fast-track controversial legislation like this.    Something is very, very, wrong here.


Bill C-4 amends the Criminal Code to forbid “causing another person to undergo conversion therapy”, “doing anything for the purpose of removing a child from Canada with the intention that the child undergo conversion therapy outside Canada”, “promoting or advertising conversion therapy” and “receiving a financial or other material benefit from the provision of conversion therapy”.   Now, some explanation may be required here.


There are people who, like almost everyone else, were born either biologically male or biologically female but who, unlike most other people, either a) think that they are of the other sex than what their body would indicate, b) think that they are some option other than male or female, c) identify as their biological sex but are sexually attracted to members of their own sex either instead of or in addition to members of the opposite sex, or d) are some combination or minute variation of the above.   Those among these who have politicized their gender/sexual identities – or allowed ideologues of the cultural revolutionary far-left to politicize these for them - and who collectively refer to themselves by an ever-increasing stretch of letters standing for the various labels they identify themselves with and which currently goes something like LGBTTQAEIOUandsometimesY, have demanded that “conversion therapy” be banned. 


Now, among those in the aforementioned group who believe their true “gender” to be different from the biological sex they were born with, some seek out reconstructive surgery that would make their bodies, at least in outward appearance, conform to the gender with which they identify.    This is not what is meant by “conversion therapy” and those who have been pushing for the ban on “conversion therapy” would be appalled at the thought of banning this sort of thing.   Indeed, many of them wish to see it available to young children with or without parental approval or consent.


No, “conversion therapy” could be said to be the opposite of the above mentioned procedure.   Whereas gender reassignment surgery is cosmetic surgery that makes the appearance of the body conform to the self-image, that makes the physical conform to the psychological, on the assumption that the physical is “wrong” and the psychological “right”, “conversion therapy” is psychological treatment aimed at correcting the psychological so that it conforms to the physical, on the opposite assumption, the assumption that the physical is right and the psychological wrong.


Now, among those who support legislation like Bill C-4 that bans “conversion therapy”, there seem to be many who base their support on the assumption that “conversion therapy” entails something like the Ludovico technique that features into Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange and the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film of the same title featuring Malcolm McDowell.   In that story, you might recall, Alex – the character portrayed by McDowell in the film – is the leader of a gang of “ultraviolent” youth that he calls his “droogs”, who, after robbing and beating an eccentric elderly woman, the last in a string of such thuggish acts, is abandoned by his friends, arrested, and charged for the murder of the woman who dies from her wounds.   In prison, he is offered the chance to get out early if he will undergo the experimental Ludovico technique that would make him incapable of reoffending.   The jumps at the opportunity.   The technique involves strapping him in a chair, with his eyes propped open, and forcing him to watch hours of extremely violent film footage, while he is injected with drugs that cause pain and nausea.    He is thereby so conditioned to experience pain and illness at the slightest thought of violence that he cannot even defend himself.   Proponents of Bill C-4 have certainly encouraged people to assume that this is how “conversion therapy” works.   The legislation itself, however, is worded in such a way as to cover a lot more than just this sort of thing.


The bill introduces into law a definition of “conversion therapy” as meaning:


a practice, treatment, or service that is designed to

(a)    change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual;

(b)   change a person’s gender identity to cisgender;

(c)   change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth;

(d)   repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour;

(e)   repress a person’s non-cisgender gender identity; or

(f)    repress or reduce a person’s gender expression that does not conform to the sex assigned to the person at birth.


Notice the following about this definition:


First, if someone were to create something like the Ludovico technique designed to turn a heterosexual person into a homosexual person, or a cisgender person into a transgender person, it would not meet the definition of “conversion therapy’ introduced in the bill.   Thus, although this sort of legislation has been sold to the public as a ban of a harmful technique akin to brainwashing it is no such thing.   No technique that has been used in “conversion therapy” in the past is banned by this legislation and remains legal under it provided the conversion is in the opposite direction of what the bill forbids.


Second, the definition is broad enough to take in any sort of counselling or advice that encourages people to recognize, acknowledge and identify as their birth sex and to live within the limits of traditional sexual ethics.   Indeed, (d) could be interpreted as banning the teaching of traditional sexual ethics altogether.   It would not surprise me if the clowns that now occupy Her Majesty’s bench in most jurisdictions in the Dominion were to interpret it in just this manner.


So what we have here is a definition that errs by being too broad and too narrow at the same time.   It is too broad in that it takes in things that government has no business legislating against – traditional sexual ethics and counselling based on the same.  It is too narrow in that it does not ban what the public has been told it bans – coercive and abusive techniques qua coercive and abusive techniques.


In its previous incarnations as Bill C-8 (first attempt) and C-6 (second attempt), this legislation met with opposition on precisely the grounds that the definition of “conversion therapy” was too broad and could take in professional and pastoral counselling, pulpit teaching and preaching, and even ordinary conversation in which traditional views of sexual identity and ethics are expressed.   The present bill has done nothing to assuage such concerns and, indeed, is worse than its predecessors in that whereas the earlier bills were attempts to ban “conversion therapy” for children the bill which actually passed Parliament also bans “conversion therapy” for adults.   The earlier versions were bad enough in that given the broad definition of “conversion therapy” they would have made criminals out of parents who seek out help for their children in accordance with their own consciences and beliefs rather than those of the left-wing ideologues in the Liberal Party of Canada.   With the passing of this bill, however, when it comes into effect the state of the law will be such that those who identify their gender as something other than the biological sex with which they were born will have no problem obtaining the kind of “conversion therapy” that consists of physical surgery to make the body conform in appearance to “gender identity”, and should someone for some reason or another want professional help in converting from heterosexuality to homosexuality or from cisgender identity to transgender identity  (1) the law would not prohibit some quack from providing this service even if it involves dangerous, pain-inducing, methods, but those who want help in accepting their biological sex or controlling same-sex desires that they believe it is wrong to act upon will be prevented from finding such help and anyone offering such help, even in the form of conversational counselling, will face criminal punishment for doing so.


A bill of this sort is fundamentally and thoroughly rotten legislation that is clearly aimed at imposing “woke” ideology as it pertains to sex and gender on Canadians at the expense of traditional religious and moral beliefs as well as personal freedom of choice.   It ought never to have passed Parliament at all, much less without debate and with unanimous support in both chambers, and with Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and the Upper Chamber of “sober second thought” both patting themselves on the back for refusing to do their jobs.    Parliament is an institution that has stood the test of time and proven itself over and over again, but if we keep sending to it the sort of people who currently fill its seats – and I include those on the Opposition bench as well as those in government in this – then cruddy legislation like this will keep making it into law.


(1)     A case can be made that what goes under the name “education” today in most schools (other than private and parochial ones) and universities amounts to little more than just this sort of “reverse conversion therapy” inflicted upon unsuspecting youth.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Christmas and the Birth of Christ

 BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen. – Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent


ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever.  Amen. – Collect for the First Sunday in Advent


We are once again at that time of the year when the Christmas haters come crawling out of the woodworks.   I don’t mean the sort of people who object to Christmas as being Christian and wish to replace it with a generic “season” or “holiday”.   Nor am I referring to those who have problems with the commercialized version that has for many replaced the solemn and joyous Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.   I am talking instead about the sort of people that we might call hyper-Protestants.   Ordinary Protestants “protest” the errors that are particular to the Patriarch of Rome and the Churches in his Communion.   Hyper-Protestants oppose what is Catholic – belonging to the entire pre-Reformation Christian tradition as a whole.   Hyper-Protestantism is inescapably sectarian and in its extreme form rejects even the Trinitarian faith of the ancient Creeds.    Hyper-Protestantism regards Catholicism as a synthesis between Christianity and paganism, in which the Christianity is the outward veneer and the paganism is the dominant, inner, reality.   It usually dates the origin of this synthesis to the fourth century, the legalization of Christianity, the reign of Constantine the Great, and Christianity’s becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire.   Hyper-Protestants maintain that Christmas and Easter are pagan festivals that were given a superficial Christian makeover as part of this process.


Some hyper-Protestant ideas have become so widespread that they are now commonly accepted assumptions even among regular Protestants and non-Protestant Christians.   The pagan origin of Christmas is one such idea.   Indeed, until quite recently my answer to this argument would not have been to challenge the assumption but the spin placed on it.   I would have said something along the lines of “Okay, so the ancient pagans had a holiday around the winter solstice, and the Church took the day over and made it Christmas, big deal, it is far better that we honour Christ than some pagan idol in December, and anyway, the Jews did exactly the same thing, they set their ‘festival of lights’ to occur around the winter solstice, in commemoration of an event that isn’t even recorded in books they regard as canonical, yet Jesus is described as participating in that celebration in the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John and I don’t see you complaining about that!”    While I would still regard that reasoning as valid, I would no longer concede to the hyper-Protestants the idea that Christianity borrowed the holiday from paganism.


What initially led me to reconsider this concession was the article “Calculating Christmas” by William J. Tighe, Associate Professor of History at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which appeared in the December 2003 issue of Touchstone Magazine.    In this article, Tighe argued that the pagan festival of Dies Natalis Sol Invictus (“the day of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun”) was actually more recent than Christmas.   It was the emperor Aurelian who established the cult of Sol Invictus in 274 AD, towards the end of his brief reign.   This, Tighe argued, “was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians”.   He explains that long before this Christians had attempted to determine the calendar date of Christ’s death, which was important to the debate over when to celebrate Pascha/Easter, and that Christians in the Greek-speaking East had determined in to be the sixth of April, while Latin-speaking Christians in the West had calculated it to be the twenty-fifth of March.   Both were wrong in these calculations, Tighe argued, but influenced by the then extent Jewish idea of “integral age”, that a prophet of Israel would live a whole life and die either on the day he was conceived or born, concluded that these were also the dates of either Christ’s birth or conception, eventually settling upon the latter and declaring the twenty-fifth of March to be the Feast of the Annunciation, which, of course, is exactly nine months prior to the twenty-fifth of December.


Was Tighe correct?


He was certainly right that Christians had concluded that Christ was born on the twenty-fifth of December long before Aurelian established the cult of Sol Invictus on that day.   St. Hippolytus of Rome had written in his Commentary on Daniel (IV.23) that the birth of Christ in Bethlehem had taken place eight days prior to the Kalends of January, on a Wednesday, in the forty-second year of Augustus (he was obviously counting from the rise to power of the Second Triumvirate, not from either Octavian’s birth or his becoming emperor) and five thousand, five hundredth after Adam.   St. Hippolytus died in 235 AD, almost forty years prior to the establishment of the cult of Sol Invictus, and  his Commentary on Daniel was written about thirty years before that.   The Kalends of January is, of course, the first of January, New Year’s Day, and eight days prior to that is the twenty-fifth of December.   In his very next sentence he went on to say that the Lord died in his thirty-third year, eight days before the Kalends of April, which is, of course, the twenty-fifth of March.    Tertullian also testified to the twenty-fifth of March as the date of the Passion in a work, Adversus Judaeos, (VIII.17) that came out around the same time as St. Hippolytus’ Commentary, possibly a few years earlier.    That the date of Christ’s birth was calculated from the date of the Annunciation, considered to be identical to the date of the Passion, is indirectly testified to by another work of St. Hippolytus, his Chronicon, written shortly before his death, which makes the twenty-fifth of March not only the date of the events mentioned, but of the Creation of the world.   He was not the only one to make these connections.   Sextus Julius Africanus in his Chronographiai, also maintained that the twenty-fifth of March was the date of Creation and that the Incarnation took place five thousand, five hundred years to the day later.   This five-volume work, no longer extent except in fragments and insomuch as it is quoted at length by later writers such as Eusebius of Caeserea, was completed in 221 AD.   While there were some who followed Julius Africanus and St. Hippolytus in seeing the twenty-fifth of March as the date of Creation who did not join them in identifying it as the anniversary of the Incarnation and Passion – the author who wrote De Pascha Computus (243 AD), falsely attributed to St. Cyprian of Carthage is one example – even this testimony supports the point that great significance was attached to the twenty-fifth of March first, and that the date of Christmas was calculated from this rather than the other way around.  


The weakest part of Tighe’s argument is the explanation of the dates by means of the Jewish tradition of integral age.   The Patristic writers referred to do not use this explanation in their own writings and, indeed, it would have been strange if they had for two reasons.   The first is that they were writing in a period in which the Jewish and Christian traditions were distancing themselves from each other – note the title of the Tertullian work mentioned above.   The second is that the Jewish tradition in question is about men who died on their birthdays.   Moses is the primary example of this, and the only one of whom Old Testament support for the idea can be found (Deuteronomy 31:2 can be interpreted as saying that it was Moses’ one hundred and twentieth birthday when he gave his final address to Israel).   The Babylonian Talmud also says of the patriarchs in the Rosh Hashanah tractate that they died in the same month that they were born, which might suggest that they died on their birthdays.   That Moses died on his birthday is asserted several times in the Babylonian Talmud.   In one place (Kiddusin 38a) this is discussed at length and explained it as a fulfilment of Exodus 23:26’s “the number of thy days I will fulfill”.   The Patristic writers, however, assigned Jesus’ day of conception rather than His day of birth to the same day He died.    This does not necessarily mean that the integral age tradition did not influence their calculations.   It is possible that they chose date of conception rather than date of birth to distinguish a Christian version of the concept from the Jewish one.   A theological case for doing this can even be made.   The moment Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit was the moment God became Man.    This was not true of the conception of Moses or of anyone else other than Jesus.   Therefore in His case the fullness of the number of His days was counted from the moment of Incarnation rather than the moment of birth.   If this sort of thinking figured into the calculations of the Patristic writers, however, they neglected to inform their readers of it.


The important point, of course, is not whether the Church Fathers were influenced by this Jewish tradition in their calculations of the date of the birth of Christ, but that they calculated that date as having been the twenty-fifth of December for reasons that have nothing to do with paganism, idolatry, or the festivals associated with the same.   While this does not necessarily mean that their calculations were correct, a strong case can be made from the New Testament that both the Western calculation of the twenty-fifth of December and the Eastern calculation of the sixth of January, fall within the span of time in which the birth of Christ had to have occurred.


Consider the part of the calculation that dates the birth of Christ to exactly nine months after the Annunciation.   Some might quibble over whether the nine months had to be exact to the day or not, but that the birth took place nine months after the Annunciation, whether approximately or to the exact day, we can take from the Gospel according to St. Luke, the sixth chapter of the second verse which states “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered”.  


So does St. Luke tell us anything about when the Annunciation took place?


Yes, he does.   The first chapter of his Gospel begins the account of the Annunciation by saying “And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.” (Lk. 1:26-27)


What is meant by “in the sixth month”?


The verses immediately preceding the account state that St. Elizabeth, the wife of St. Zechariah, “conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.”   (vv.24-25)


So the Annunciation took place in the sixth month of St. Elizabeth’s pregnancy.   Well, does St. Luke tell us when St. Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist?


Again, the answer is yes.   The twenty-third verse and the first part of the twenty-fourth read: “And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.   And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived” which brings us back to the start of the previous quotation.   So the conception of John the Baptist took place immediately after the days of St. Zechariah’s ministration in which the same angel Gabriel had been sent to him to tell him of the upcoming birth of John the Baptist.


So do we know when the time in which St. Zechariah was ministering in the Temple actually was?


To answer this, I will first point out that there is a very early tradition in the Church that would pinpoint the exact day on which Gabriel came to St. Zechariah.   This tradition states that St. Zechariah was acting in the capacity of High Priest that year and that this was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.   A very early attestation to this is found in the pseudepigraphal Protoevangelium of James which dates to the second century and it seems to have been commonly held by many, probably most of the Church Fathers.   While the Gospel of St. Luke does not state this explicitly, I will show a bit later that it does not actually contradict it either, and drops a few hints in support of the idea.   


Before doing so, however, I will point out the interesting fact that even if St. Zechariah was just an ordinary priest the evidence would strongly suggest that the day in which Gabriel appeared to him was the Day of Atonement, or at least in the week of the Day of Atonement. 


It is stated in the fifth verse that he belonged to the course of Abijah.    In I Chronicles 24, the priests were divided into twenty-four courses or divisions.   All priests were required to do priestly service on three weeks of the year – the weeks in which Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles occurred.   For the rest of the year, the priestly courses would be assigned weeks of service according to their lot in a rota, which, after it was completed, would start again in the same order, so that each course ended up with two weeks assigned especially to it each year, other than the ones common to all priests.     I Chronicles 24:10 tells us that Abijah was assigned the eighth lot.    It is doubtful that the priests of any other course envied them the spot.  This meant that their first week fell after the week of Pentecost in the Jewish month of Sivan, and their second week fell immediately before the week of Tabernacles in the Jewish month of Tishri.   Twice a year, in other words, they had two weeks of service in a row.      Yom Kippur falls on the tenth day of Tishri – five days before the first day of Sukkot (Tabernacles) and thus in the second week assigned to Abijah.  


If the second week assigned to Abijah is the time that St. Luke had in mind this could explain the language that hints at the Day of Atonement even without St. Zechariah being the High Priest, and even how the mistake of the author of the Protoevangelium of James, if it is indeed an error, came about.    Further evidence identifying the day Gabriel spoke to St. Zechariah as the Day of Atonement, or at the very least the week as the week of the Day of Atonement, can be found in the thirty-ninth verse of the second chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel.  


This verse follows immediately after the account of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, when the period of Purification for His mother was completed, forty days after His birth.   The verse says “And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth”.   This means that either a) the Holy Family moved to Bethlehem at some point after this but before they received the Visit from the Magi, then moved back to Nazareth after the Flight into Egypt, b) the Magi went to Nazareth rather than Bethlehem (which would torture the meaning of the second chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel and make the Flight into Egypt unnecessary as Herod targeted Bethlehem and the surrounding coasts in the Slaughter of the Innocents), or c) the Visit of the Magi, the Flight to Egypt and the Holy Family’s return had all taken place between the Circumcision of Christ, eight days after His birth, and His Presentation in the Temple, forty days later.


Yes, option c) is a real possibility.  You can walk to Egypt from Bethlehem in a little under a week, and with the gifts the Magi had brought – gold, frankincense and myrrh - it was hardly necessary that the Holy Family walk.   Option c) is the option that best fits the texts of both St. Luke and St. Matthew.   That places the death of Herod the Great in the forty days between Jesus’ birth and His Presentation in the Temple.   This rules out the first week assigned to the course of Abijah, the week after Pentecost in Sivan, as the week of service mentioned by St. Luke.   If St. Zechariah had been ministering in Sivan this would place the birth of Jesus around the time of Tabernacles (the way the conception of John the Baptist, his birth, the conception of Jesus, and His birth are spaced, Tabernacles and Passover, and the equinoxes approximate to them, appear in connection to these events, albeit different ones, regardless of which week of Abijah it was).   There are those who prefer this version on the grounds of the fourteenth verse of St. John’s Gospel – “and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” because this verse uses the word ἐσκήνωσεν for “dwelt”.   This verb is derived from the word from which our English word “scene” is derived, the word used in the LXX for the Tabernacle.   Liddell and Scott give the primary definition of the verb as to “pitch tents, encamp” with the derived meanings of “live or dwell in a tent” and more generally “settle, take up one’s abode”.  This is one word, however, in a chapter which describes Jesus the following way:


In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.   There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.   He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (vv. 4-9)


If the use of ἐσκήνωσεν in John 1:14, which those who support the theory ludicrously suggest ought to be rendered “tabernacled” in English, is grounds for thinking the Lord was born at Sukkot, the dominant theme of light earlier in the passage in which this verse is found would be a counterargument that He was born in Hanukkah.   Note that the Gospel of John is the only book in the New Testament – or, for that matter, the undisputed books of the Christian sacred canon - to mention Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. 


At any rate, my point is that Flavius Josephus tells us that Herod the Great died in the early part of the year before Passover, following a lunar eclipse.   If he died in the first forty days of Jesus’ life, as the best of the options for fitting the events recorded in the second chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel into the account in St. Luke’s indicates, then it had to be John the Baptist who was conceived around the time of Tabernacles and not Jesus Who was born around then, which confirms what the Church has pretty much universally thought since the earliest centuries of Christianity.   Josephus also tells us that after mourning his father for seven days, Herod’s son Herod Archelaus, whom Herod had named his successor in his will shortly before his death,  arrayed in white, ascended a golden throne in Jerusalem and declared this his reign would be one of leniency and benevolence. (Antiquities of the Jews, XVII.8.iv)  The crowd then began to make demand after demand, and eventually degenerated into a riotous mob.   Archelaus then sent his troops in to crush the rebellion, and, after about three thousand had been killed, ordered the cancellation of Passover.   (Antiquities of the Jews, XVII.9.i-iii)  The Gospel according to St. Matthew tells us that after Joseph had received the message from the angel of the Lord in a dream telling him it was safe to return from Egypt he did so but hearing that Archelaus had succeeded his father, he took Mary and Jesus to Nazareth in Galilee (2:19-23).   If Joseph brought Mary and Jesus to the Temple to fulfil the requirements of the Law immediately upon returning from Egypt, then, hearing of Achelaus’ succession took them back to Nazareth before the slaughter of the three thousand and the cancellation of Passover, this would accommodate the narratives of both Evangelists.


Therefore, the narratives of Christ’s birth and infancy in both SS Luke and Matthew, taken together, make a powerful case that St. Zechariah had to have been ministering in the Temple, on or about the Day of Atonement, when Gabriel appeared to him.   This is true regardless of whether he was an ordinary priest, doing the ordinary priestly duties of his course for that week, or whether he was the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.


The fact that the first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel does not state the latter explicitly does not rule it out either.   St. Luke does not assert anything about St. Zechariah in this chapter that could not be taken as the account of an ordinary priest, serving at the altar of incense at one of the ordinary sacrifices that took place twice a day, during his course’s week of duty.   Nor does he assert anything that would rule out the interpretation that he was serving as High Priest on the Day of Atonement.    Interestingly enough, both Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, XVII.17.iv) and the Babylonian Talmud in numerous places, tell us that on one occasion around this time the first Matthias ben Theophilos to serve as High Priest (the second served just before the destruction of the Temple and was possibly the Theophilos to whom St. Luke was writing) became ritually unclean the day before Yom Kippur and so a substitute, Joseph ben Elem, was chosen to fulfil his duties in his place, and then excused from all subsequent priestly duty, even the common ones.   It is not entirely out of the range of possibility that this Joseph ben Elem was the same person as St. Zechariah.   St. Luke does not mention St. Zechariah’s father’s name, there were plenty of individuals who went by more than one name, and the only other extent information about this Joseph ben Elem was that he was related to Matthias ben Theophilos and lived in Sepphoris.   The latter would be an argument against the identification of the two – Sepphoris is in lower Galilee, about 85 miles away from Hebron, where SS Zechariah and Elizabeth lived.   This detail is not found in the oldest account of the incident, however, that of Josephus.  A bigger obstacle to the identification is the fact that Josephus indicates that the incident occurred on the Day of Atonement immediately prior to Herod’s death, which is a year too late.   However, the fact that something happened once suggests that it could have happened more than once, and, given how easy it was to become ritually unclean – in Matthias ben Theophilos’ case it was by dreaming about his wife – it is likely that this sort of thing happened more than once.   The year prior to the incident recorded by Josephus, Simon ben Boethus, one of Herod the Great’s fathers-in-law, was High Priest.   If something similar happened to him, and St. Zechariah was chosen to fulfil his duties out of the common priests whose course was on duty that week, the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 12b) indicates that the same thing would have happened to him, he would have been dismissed from all priestly duty, high and common, immediately after Simon was ritually cleansed.   If this is what happened, this would bring the day of John the Baptist’s conception even closer to the Day of Atonement.  


If this is what happened, the absence of any explicit mention of it in St. Luke’s Gospel is harder to explain than the same absence in Josephus and the Babylonian Talmud.   It is only to be expected that the rabbis who compiled the latter and were blatantly hostile to Jesus Christ and all things Christian would not want to bring up such an incident involving the father of John the Baptist and cousin-in-law of Mary, and irregularities in the affairs of the Temple were not Josephus’ primary concern, although it is strange that he would only mention the second of two such incidents if they occurred two years in a row, unless, of course, his own sources of information were incomplete.  


Why, if it happened something like this, would St. Luke not mention it?


St. Luke does drop hints at the Day of Atonement in the chapter.   Again, his narrative is worded in such a way that everything mentioned could be accounted for by ordinary priestly service.   However, the way he describes how “the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense” (v. 9) could point to the Day of Atonement.  The word rendered “whole multitude” is πλῆθος from which we get our “plethora” which indicates a very large number and can mean “the entirety”.   It is modified by the phrase τοῦ λαοῦ (“of the people”) which could just mean the laypeople as opposed to the priests (our words “lay” and “laity” come from this word), but could also mean “the people” in the sense of the nation, and if this latter meaning is intended and the meaning of “the entirety” is intended by πλῆθος then the image of the Day of Atonement is what is conjured up here.   Further support for this interpretation is found in the references to how when St. Zechariah “saw him, he was troubled and fear fell upon him” (v. 9), the angel’s assuaging his fears (v. 10), and the reference to the people waiting for him to come out and marveling at how long he was taking (v. 21), all of which could suggest that the “time of incense” indicated was not just the ordinary burning of incense, but the censing of the Ark in the Holy of Holies.   Only the High Priest could enter there and only on this one day.   If, upon returning the censer to the altar of incense from the Holy of Holies (Lev. 16:12-13) he found someone standing by the altar when nobody else was supposed to be inside at all (Lev. 16:17), this would very much produce the described reaction, while the people would have been wondering if the delay meant he had been struck dead inside and whether they would have to pull him out by the cord attached for precisely that purposed.


While the question remains as to why St. Luke would have made allusion to it in this way without outright stating it, the answer might very well be that it was a style of narration that he picked up from the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Consider two parables that he records Jesus telling, one of which is entirely distinct to his Gospel, the other of which is similar to one that St. Matthew records Jesus’ having told on a different occasion.   The latter is the parable of the pounds in the nineteenth chapter (vv. 12-27).   It was told by Jesus following His encounter with the tax collector Zacchaeus at Jericho.   It is similar to the parable of the talents that He told as part of the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 25:14-30).    The amounts and kind of money is different.   There is one other big difference.   That is that in the parable of the pounds (minas), Jesus gives a lengthy explanation of the nobleman’s journey.   The details are taken from the life of Herod Archelaus.   In fact, they are the events from his life that immediately follow the ones related above.   After wreaking vengeance on the rebelling Jews in Jerusalem, Archelaus sailed to Rome to have Caesar confirm his succession to his father’s kingdom, but was followed by his own opponents, including his brother Herod Antipas who contested the will,  an entourage of pretended supporters led by his aunt Salome, the sister of Herod the Great, and one of the greatest female schemers of all time (1) who actually went to support Antipas and condemn Archelaus, and a later delegation of Jews from Jerusalem who pleaded with Caesar not to confirm the appointment because of the aforementioned atrocities.   This was to no avail – Augustus confirmed the succession and named Archelaus Ethnarch of Judea, Samaria and Idumea. Josephus tells the whole story in Antiquities of the Jews, XVII.9.iii-vii;11.i-v)   Jesus’ allusion to all of this might seem strange, considering that Archelaus was a despised figure, and the nobleman in the parable obviously represents Himself, but the parable was a prophecy of the judgement that would soon be coming upon those who rejected His rule (v. 27).


The other parable is the parable of Dives (Latin for “rich man”, not a proper name) and Lazarus found at the end of the sixteenth chapter (vv. 19-31).    The entire parable is an ironic counter-factual allusion to the events recorded by St. John in the eleventh chapter of his Gospel.   The rich man, while not named, is clearly identified as Caiaphas from the description of him as wearing the high priestly robes (v. 19) and his telling Abraham that he had a father and five brothers and home (vv. 27-28), which is a reference to Caiaphas’ father-in-law Annas, and Annas’ five sons each of whom served at one point or another as high priest.   One of those sons was Theophilos, the father of Matthias ben Theophilos II, both of whom are among the possible candidates for being the Theophilos to whom St. Luke was writing.  The entire point of the parable is found in its final verse in which Abraham tells Dives, the parabolic caricature of Caiaphas in response to his request that Lazarus be sent to his father and brothers “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead”.   In the actual events, of course, Lazarus was raised from the dead, and it was in response to this and the publication of the fact, that Caiaphas launched the conspiracy to kill Christ (Jn. 11:47-53).   In the parable Jesus was also taking aim at the doctrines of the sect/party of the Sadducees to which Caiaphas and all of his aforementioned relatives – including the ones to whom St. Luke might have been writing – belonged.   The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, even the resurrection at the end of time prophesied in the Old Testament.   This was because they did not have “Moses and the prophets”.   They recognized only Moses (the books of Moses, the Torah or Pentateuch) as sacred Scripture.


Since St. Luke records Jesus making such cryptic but extensive allusions to figures and events that His audience would have been familiar with in order to say something without saying it directly, a characteristic that appears to be distinctive of the parables which he alone of the Evangelists recorded it is not improbable that he would have attempted to follow His Lord’s example in his own writing style.   Later in St. Luke’s Gospel, his account of the Last Supper (22:14-20) mentions two cups of wine.   Jesus is described as blessing both of them, but drinking of neither Himself, with the explanation given with the first cup mentioned that He would not drink of the fruit of the vine with them again until the Kingdom of God.   This alludes to the four cups of a traditional Passover Seder.   The cup over which the Eucharist is instituted, the second mentioned in St. Luke’s text, is undoubtedly the third of these, the Cup of Redemption.   This makes it likely that the first mentioned in the text was the second up, the Cup of Deliverance, with the implication that Jesus had already drunk with His disciples from the Cup of Sanctification.  (2) It can also be inferred from this that the fourth Cup – the Cup of Praise – was omitted altogether that night or rather deferred until after the Resurrection when the Eucharist both took its place and fulfilled the promise that He would eat and drink with them again in the kingdom (the Sacrifices of the Old Covenant suggest the idea of God sharing a meal with His people – this becomes explicit in the Sacrament that takes their place in the New Covenant).   If this is not quite the same thing, consider the numerous allusions to the best known stories of classical Greco-Roman literature that St. Luke employs in narrating the Acts of the Apostles, in the sequel to his Gospel.   (3)  That this is so characteristic of his style helps explain why the language suggestive of the Day of Atonement in his account of St. Zechariah’s service in the Temple, written in such a way that he could merely be describing an ordinary priest doing common service, might have been hinting to Theophilos that St. Zechariah was serving as High Priest that day, even if only for that day for reasons similar to that for which Joseph ben Elum was known to have so served.


Either way, however, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that it was at least the week of Yom Kippur in which this encounter took place.  The Day of Atonement falls from late September to early October, near the fall equinox.   John the Baptist was conceived shortly thereafter.   This places the Annunciation in March-April, near both the spring equinox and the time of Passover.   It places the birth of Jesus in December-January.   When the early Christians attempted to narrow it further, some to the sixth of January, others to the twenty-fifth of December which latter won out,  (4) they might have been wrong in their calculations, but they would not have been far off either way.


So when a hyper-Protestant comes up to you and says in true Pharisaic spirit “I thank God, that I am not like you pagans, celebrating an idolatrous sun holiday and thinking you are keeping the birthday of Jesus” pay him no heed.


Have a very Merry Christmas.


(1)   This Salome should not be confused with the other Herodean Salomes.   Herod the Great had a daughter by that name as well.   The best known Herodean Salome was the daughter of Herod Philip and Herodias who, after her mother re-married Herod Antipas (Herod Philip’s brother), danced for her step-father and asked for the head of John the Baptist.   None of the Gospels name her, but we know her name from Josephus.   Although it is not uncommon for family dynasty’s to reuse names the Herodeans made things especially confusing.   Salome – the one mentioned in the text of the essay, the notorious intriguer who was the sister of Herod the Great had a daughter named Berenice, who is frequently confused with the Berenice who was the daughter of Herod Agrippa I, who appears with her brother Herod Agrippa II in the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth chapters of the Book of Acts in which they hear St. Paul plead his case at Caesarea, and whose doomed love affair with Titus of Rome is the subject of countless plays, novels, and operas.

(2)   Later that evening, in His prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus refers to the suffering of His Passion as a “cup”.   (Lk. 22:42)  As His disciples had just drunk of the literal cups at the Passover, He would drink from this cup alone.    Earlier He had referred to the same sufferings as both a “baptism” and a “cup” in His response to the sons of Zebedee’s request that they sit at His right and left hand in the kingdom (Mk. 10:35-40).   On another occasion (Lk. 12:50) He referred to those sufferings as just a “baptism”.   It is through His partaking of this “baptism” and “cup” that He obtained for us the grace of the New Covenant of which baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the outward marks.

(3)   I will give only a few examples.   St. Luke alludes to Homer’s Iliad in his narration of the lives of both SS Peter and Paul.   St. Peter’s escape from prison in the twelfth chapter of Acts calls to mind King Priam’s escape from the Greek camp after pleading with Achilles for the body of Hector in the twenty-fourth book of the Iliad.    St. Paul’s farewell address to the elders of the Church of Ephesus in the twentieth chapter of Acts calls to mind Hector’s words to Andromache in the sixth book of the same.  Note that the parallels drawn are between the Apostles and the Trojans.   Priam was king of Troy and Hector, his son, was its war leader.   The Trojans were believed to be the ancestors of the Romans – less than a century before St. Luke wrote, Virgil told the story of how Aeneas, a survivor of Troy, travelled to Latium in Italy, having a disastrous relationship with Dido of Carthage along the way foreshadowing the Punic wars, and in Italy fathered the line from which Romulus would come.    Of all the heroes depicted in Homer’s Iliad, the most well-known and loved epic poem of the ancient world, Priam and Hector would have been the ones the Romans would have admired the most.   That St. Luke uses language evocative of them to tell the stories of SS Peter and Paul makes sense when we consider that the latter’s arrival in Rome brings the book of Acts to its conclusion and that the former we know from the universal testimony of the ancient Church to have arrived there at about the same time and to have ministered with St. Paul there before both were martyred there.  Another example is the allusion to the story of Philemon and Baucis in the eighth book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the fourteenth chapter of Acts.   In this example, the people of Lystra mistake SS Barnabas and Paul as Jupiter and Mercury in reference to Ovid’s story in which the said Olympians had visited the title characters, an elderly couple in Phrygia under the guise of poor human travelers.   In Ovid’s story the couple are the only ones who offer the deities hospitality and are rewarded while their countrymen are punished.  In Acts, it is rather the opposite of this that occurs – the Apostles heal a crippled man and the entire community tries to worship them as gods.   Many other examples of this sort of thing could be given.  Acts abounds in them.

(4)  Some Christians continue to celebrate Christmas on the sixth/seventh of January.   Of these, the Armenian Church celebrate it on the sixth of January qua the sixth of January because they accept the rival set of calculations from the early Church.   Others celebrate Christmas around then as the twenty-fifth of December on the Julian Calendar which was for a long time twelve days off of the Gregorian Calendar and is currently thirteen days off, moving towards a fourteen day difference in about seventy years.   That the change in calendars would put the twenty-fifth of December of the old calendar onto the rival date for Christmas on the new calendar can only be described in Nabokov’s words as “one of those dazzling coincidences that logicians loathe and poets love”.   There are also some who celebrate Christmas on the Julian sixth of January which is currently the nineteenth of January.   The Western tradition, in which the sixth of January is the Feast of Epiphany and the twelve days prior to it from the twenty-fifth of December are the Twelve Days of Christmas accommodates both of the early Church dates.



Friday, December 3, 2021

Christianity - Faith, Tradition, and Religion


This week began with the first Sunday in Advent for the part of the world that uses the Gregorian as its civil calendar.   This is the first day in the new ecclesiastical or liturgical year.   The Old Testament reading assigned to Morning Prayer for that day in the revised Table of Lessons (1922) in the Book of Common Prayer is Isaiah 1:1-20.   The older Table of Lessons in the Restoration Book of Common Prayer, which used civil calendar dates rather than liturgical calendar dates, assigned the same reading to Evening Prayer for the eighteenth of November.   Both lectionaries, however, follow the ancient tradition of reading Isaiah in the weeks leading up to Christmas.   The tradition seems appropriate.  The prophecy of the event commemorated on Christmas, the Virgin Birth, and of its theological significance, the Incarnation of God is found in Isaiah (7:14).   This is the book from which Jesus read when He announced in the synagogue of Nazareth at the beginning of His ministry that He was the fulfilment of Messianic prophecy (Luke 4:16-30).   It is full of Messianic prophecy, so much so that it is often called the Fifth Gospel, and is the prophetic book most often quoted in the New Testament.


There is an important lesson in this first reading from the Book of Isaiah with regards to a subject that always comes up this time of year.   It begins with a general introduction to the prophecies that follow - that it is the record of the vision given to Isaiah, son of Amoz, concerning the Kingdom of Judah and its capital of Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Johtham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, that is to say, as the Babylonian Captivity that would sweep away the Southern Kingdom was rapidly approaching.   Towards the end of the reading is a plea for repentance (vv. 16-17) followed by this well-known offer of cleansing and forgiveness:


Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (v. 18)


Leading up to this is the LORD’s complaint against Judah – they are His children who have rebelled against Him (v. 2), who do not know Him (v. 3), a sinful and corrupt nation of evildoers (v. 4), who have brought upon themselves sickness and desolation (vv. 5-8), comparable to Sodom and Gomorrah (vv 9-10).  Between these complaints and the plea for repentance is the following:


To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams , and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.   When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?   Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.   Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.  And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. (vv.11-15).


The religious observances here decried are those instituted by God Himself for Israel in the Mosaic Covenant, commonly called the Law.   Although the idolatry that would shortly bring down the Northern Kingdom – the prophesy of the Virgin Birth was given to Ahaz in the context of telling him that the confederacy between the Syrians and the Northern Kingdom against Judah would fail because these were both about to be conquered by Assyria– would also play a role in Judah’s fall to Babylon, that is not what is in view here.   The point here is that the external, ceremonial, and ritual elements of the very religion that God Himself instituted for Israel are repugnant to God in the absence of righteousness.


Lest this be misunderstood, let me make it clear that under the Old Covenant as much as under the New, righteousness in the eyes of God was not something obtained by keeping the Moral law perfectly without ever sinning, which only Jesus Christ ever did (and in His case it was not that He was righteous because He kept the Law but rather He kept the Law because He was righteous) but by humbling oneself before God, acknowledging one’s sin and wrong-doing, and trusting God to fulfil His Promises.   It was Moses, not St. Paul, who first declared that when Abraham believed God, God “counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6) and it was Habakkuk who first declared “the just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4).   That God Himself cleans those who humble themselves, confess their sins, and trust Him is not only the teaching of the passage in question – consider the eighteenth verse quoted above again (1) – but of the penitential fifty-first Psalm, written by David after Nathan had rebuked him over his sin with Bathsheba.   The themes of this Psalm are closely parallel to those of this passage at the beginning of Isaiah. The Psalmist pleads with God for mercy, (v. 1) and for God to cleanse Him from his sin and iniquity (vv. 2, 7, 9, 10, 14), while confessing his sin (vv. 3-5).   God does not want ritual sacrifice from one with an uncleansed heart (v. 16), the sacrifice God does accept is humility – “a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart”- (v. 17), only after which will God be pleased with ceremonial sacrifice (v. 19).


Now, in the light of this passage from Isaiah, let us consider another passage from the Gospel according to St. Matthew.   The first nine verses of the fifteenth chapter of this Gospel tell of an interaction between the Lord Jesus Christ and the scribes and the Pharisees.   The latter ask the Lord why His disciples “transgress the tradition of the elders” because “they wash not their hands when they eat bread” (this is in reference to a ritual washing, not handwashing for the sake of hygiene).   The Lord turns the question on them by asking “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?”   He goes on to explain that the commandment He refers to is “Honour thy father and mother” – He also makes reference to a similar commandment “He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death”.   The way the Pharisees transgressed this by their tradition, He went on to explain, was by declaring the money that should have gone to supporting their parents – that the support of elderly parents is in view here is implicit – to be a gift:


But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightiest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free.   Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. (vv. 5-6).  


This same account can also be found in the seventh chapter of the Gospel according to St. Mark.   This Gospel provides more details that make this interaction a bit clearer.   It specifies that the commandment was evaded by designating the money for parental support as “Corban, that is to say, a gift” which lets us know that a gift to the Temple was in mind here.   Corban is the Latinized spelling (2) of a Hebrew word that was originally used for sacrifices and offerings in the books of Leviticus and Numbers in the Old Testament Law, but which by the time of the New Testament was more often used in the sense of “vow”.   This is how it is used in the passage in question – a vow designating a portion of one’s income as a gift to the Temple treasury.


As with our passage from Isaiah, what is rebuked here is the misuse of the Ceremonial Law to excuse disobedience to the Moral Law.   The commandment to “honour thy father and thy mother” is one of the famous Ten given by God to Moses at Mt. Sinai in the twentieth chapter of Exodus and repeated in Moses’ exhortation to the people on the border of the Promised Land in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy.   The Corban tradition was an interpretive spin on the Ceremonial Law as it pertained to gifts and offerings to the Tabernacle/Temple that seems to have twisted the latter almost beyond recognition.   Nevertheless, the theme of the first chapter of Isaiah, that divinely established external ceremony and ritual are without value when used as substitutes for righteousness clearly comes across here as well, as it does in most if not all of Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees.   


The Lord speaking through Isaiah rebukes the Kingdom of Judah for practicing the Ceremonial Law that He Himself had given them while living in rebellion against His Moral Law.   In the Gospels of SS Matthew and Mark He rebukes the Pharisees for using part of their traditional interpretation of the Ceremonial Law to annul a Commandment of the Moral Law.   To take the Lord’s words from the Gospel accounts, as many do around this time of year and again in spring as Easter approaches, as an indictment of the Church for establishing festivals like Christmas and Easter in honour of Christ rather than keeping the feasts given by God to the nation Israel in the Old Testament, is to pervert His meaning entirely


I encounter people who pervert His meaning in just this way every time Christmas and Easter approach.   The reference to “tradition” in Christ’s words is taken as condemnatory of tradition in general.   It is no such thing, however.   Tradition is derived from traditus – the passive, perfect participle of the Latin verb trado.   Trado means “I hand across, I give over”, traditus therefore means “having been handed across, having been given over”, and its derivative “tradition” simply means that which has been handed down to us by those who have preceded us, often with the implication that it is held by us in trust to be handed down to those who come after.   While bad things can be passed down as well as good, tradition itself is a good thing.   St. Paul tells the Thessalonian Church: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (II Thess. 2:15).   While he does not use the word “tradition” in I Corinthians 15, when he says “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4) he clearly speaks of the Gospel itself in terms that denote a tradition – something that he had received himself, and had passed on to them.   Those who set Scripture and tradition in opposition to each other, fail to observe that the Scriptures, the Bible in its entirety, are themselves a tradition.   We have the Bible today because the believers who went before us passed it down to us faithfully through multiple generations.


The sort of people who dismiss Christmas and Easter as “man-made traditions” also have a tendency to get hung up on another word – “religion”.    Some of these claim that Christianity is something other than a religion.   Others say that Christianity is a religion and that this is what is wrong with it because Jesus Christ did not intend to found a religion.   Either way, the meaning of the word “religion” has to be tortured to arrive at these ludicrous positions.


Christianity is first and foremost a faith.   While other religions are also called faiths, this word is most appropriate for Christianity because Christianity places the sort of emphasis on belief that other religions place on doing.   Central to Christianity is its message about Who Jesus Christ is and what He has done.   As Christianity’s kerygma – the Christian message proclaimed to the world – it is called the Gospel, literally meaning “Good News”, a message to be believed.   As a personal/communal confession of faith it is called the Creed, from the Latin word credo – “I believe” (in the early centuries of Christianity when Greek was still the predominant language spoken by Christians these were called “symbols” or “rules of faith”).   The shortest version of the Creed, the Apostles’, consists of twelve articles.   By contrast, the closest thing to a Creed in Judaism, the religion nearest of kin to Christianity, is the Shema Yisrael, a single article: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD”.   Similarly, the closest equivalent to the Creed in Islam is the Shahada, the first of the five pillars and the only one that pertains to belief rather than practice, which is a lot like the Shema Yisrael:  “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet”.


The emphasis on faith/believing over doing in Christianity comes straight out of the New Testament.   It is particularly prominent in the Fourth Gospel and in the Pauline corpus.   This elevating of believing over doing, does not render doing unimportant.   Every time St. Paul talks about how faith rather than works is the means of receiving the freely given grace (favour) of God in Jesus Christ, he also talks about the importance of good works.   The second chapter of Ephesians is a good example of this because here the verse proclaiming the believer to be God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works”, (v. 10) immediately follows the proclamation of salvation as a free gift by grace through faith (vv. 8-9).   Similar passages can be found in Romans and Galatians where the discussion of salvation by grace through faith is much more extended.   The most well-known passage in the New Testament stressing the importance of works is that which occurs in the second chapter of the epistle of St. James (vv. 14 to the end).   At the end of the first chapter of this same epistle the word religion appears.   This is the only time this word is used in the New Testament except in reference to Judaism as St. Paul uses it in the first chapter of Galatians.   The Jacobean passage does not disparage religion, the way the people I have been talking about do, but it does re-iterate the point of the passages from Isaiah and the Gospels discussed above that moral doing takes precedence over ceremonial doing.    Here is the passage:


If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.   Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (vv. 26-27).


So in the Christianity that the New Testament teaches, believing comes before doing, and moral doing comes before ceremonial doing.   Does that mean that New Testament Christianity is something other than a religion?


Not at all.  A comparison of everything established by Jesus Christ for the New Covenant with everything established by God for Israel in the Old Covenant easily demonstrates that the Christianity of the New Testament is a religion, even if that term is used sparingly in the New Testament.


Under the Old Covenant, there was an external sign marking one as belonging to God’s people.   Note that in the Old Testament, the concept of “God’s people” was that of a literal, ethnic, nation into which God had entered into Covenant agreement, He to be their God, they to be His people.   The external sign of membership in this nation was circumcision.   This was established in the seventeenth chapter of Genesis.  The previous chapter had seen Abram, who had been promised in his old age that his seed would be as numerous as the stars (15:4-5), sire Ishmael with his wife’s handmaid Hagar.   In the seventeenth chapter, The LORD appears to Abram, tells him that “thou shalt be a father of many nations” (v. 4), changes his name to Abraham because “a father of many nations have I made thee” (v. 5) and then promises that He will give Abraham’s seed the land of Canaan (v. 8) and that as “a token of the covenant betwixt me and you”, (v.  11) Abraham was to circumcise his own foreskin, and that the male children born into Abraham’s house were to be circumcised, (vv. 10, 12-13) and that “the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken his covenant” (v. 14).   Immediately after this God promised the birth of Isaac as the heir of the promise and covenant by Abraham’s wife, whose name was then changed from Sarai to Sarah (vv. 15-21).   Note how the external sign, that would mark the one nation that was to be formed as the people of the Old Covenant, was given in the context of the promise that Abraham would become the father of many nations.


The New Covenant also has an external sign that marks one as belonging to God’s people under that Covenant.      Under the New Covenant, the concept of “God’s people” is radically different from that in the Old.   It is that of a strictly spiritual people (I Pet. 2:5-10) that would be assembled – the name given to it in Greek is ἐκκλησία the word for assembly – from people called out of every kindred, tribe, and nation, (Rev. 5: 9-10) united as heirs of the promise to Abraham, (Gal. 3:26-29) by faith like Abraham’s, (Gal. 3:6-9) in Abraham’s Seed (singular) Who is Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16).   As different as this is from the Old Covenant concept, it was, as we saw above, foreseen in the very passages that promised Abraham that he would be a father of many nations, even as a specific Covenant nation was being formed.   The external sign marking one as belonging to this spiritual people of God – the Church – is baptism.   This was a ritual washing that symbolized cleansing from sin.   John the Baptist, the prophesied “voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Is. 40:3), administered baptism to those who came to hear him preach in the wilderness near the river Jordan, confessing and repenting of their sins.   Jesus Himself came and was baptized, and while John the Baptist objected to this on the grounds that it ought to be Jesus baptizing John - Jesus as the “Lamb of God Who taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29) had no need of the repentance and cleansing signified by baptism Himself -Jesus said that it was necessary to “fulfill all righteousness”.   As He was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove, and the Father spoke from heaven (Matt. 5:16-17, Mk. 1:10-11, Lk. 3:21-22, Jn. 1:32-33)   After He had risen from the dead and prior to His Ascension He commanded His disciples to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19).


That baptism is to the New Covenant what circumcision was to the Old was made plain by St. Paul in his epistle to the Colossians.   In his epistle to the Romans St. Paul had distinguished between external circumcision and Jewishness, and internal circumcision and Jewishness (Rom. 2:28-29), which is another way of making the point discussed above from Isaiah and the Gospels – and which is found in many other places in the Bible – that external religion is an empty shell in the absence of the righteousness of faith.    In the second chapter of his epistle to the Colossians he again mentions a non-literal circumcision by saying that in Christ “ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:” (v. 11) immediately after which – it is still the same sentence – he says “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” (v. 12).   This interpretation of the significance of baptism – the believer’s union with Jesus Christ, and specifically with His death, burial, and Resurrection – is distinctly Pauline, having been discussed at greater length in the sixth chapter of Romans.   There is no contradiction between this and the interpretation elsewhere in the New Testament that it signifies cleansing from sin – it is through the Gospel events of His death, burial, and Resurrection that Jesus Christ cleanses us from sin.   The important point for our discussion here is that since St. Paul in Colossians then goes on to link the union with Christ in His Resurrection in baptism with having been “quickened” from the state of being “dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh” (v. 13) this entire passage is an equation of baptism with "the circumcision of Christ".


Now it ought to go without saying that if baptism is to the New Covenant what circumcision was to the Old then what St. Paul asserted regarding circumcision is also true of baptism - the outward ritual alone does not unite one to Christ spiritually in the absence of inner faith.   The flip-side to this - that faith effects union with Christ even in the absence of external baptism is the obvious implication of Mark 16:16.    Nevertheless, this comparison demonstrates that like the Jewish religion of the Old Testament, New Testament Christianity has an outward ritual that marks one as belonging to the Christian covenant people of God.   This is hardly consistent with the claim that New Testament Christianity is not a religion.


The details of the religion given to Israel at Mt. Sinai are outlined in the book of Exodus, and then provided at greater length in the book of Leviticus.   The sacrificial system of Israel in particular is dealt with at great length in Leviticus which is named after the tribe whose priestly duty it was to offer the sacrifices.    This system was the central element of the ceremonial and worship aspect of the Law.    By contrast with circumcision, which took place only once in a Jewish male's life - it could not be repeated even if someone actually wanted a second one - the sacrifices and offerings were an everyday occurrence.   It was a complex system.   There were daily sacrifices that the priests had to make every morning and afternoon.   There were sacrifices that had to be made on set days every year – the most important being those of the Day of Atonement.   Then there were the sacrificial offerings that Israelites were told to bring under specific circumstances.   Some offerings signified thankfulness and praise, others were brought on occasions of sin, guilt or ritual uncleanness.   Provision was made for less expensive offerings for Israelites of lesser means.   While most of the sacrifices involved the offering of animals - bulls, rams, goats, lambs, doves, pigeons, depending upon the economic status of the offeror, these usually had to be male and always had to be without blemish - there were also grain offerings and drink offerings.   The former could be of unbaked flour, olive oil, and frankincense, or of the flour and oil baked into unleavened cakes of bread, or in some cases unground grain.   The drink offerings or libations were part of the shorter account of the Law in Exodus and are mentioned in Leviticus in connection with the sacrifices on set days but the fuller explanation is given in the book of Numbers.   These involved specified amounts of wine that were offered in connection with the other offerings by being poured on the altar.


In the New Testament Jesus Christ is presented as the fulfilment of this entire system.   In the epistle to the Hebrews, St. Paul (3) explains at great length how the offering of the blood of animals signified the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross Who through the offering of His body and blood accomplished what animal sacrifice could only point towards - the removal of the guilt of sin that comes between man and God.    He also makes it plain that the death of Jesus Christ terminated the sacrificial system - "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins" (10:26).    In each of the Synoptic Gospels, however, we find Jesus, at the Last Supper - a Passover Seder - immediately prior to His arrest, trial, and Crucifixion, establishing a second ritual for His disciples under the New Covenant.   He took the unleavened bread of the Passover, gave thanks, and broke it, then distributed it to the Apostles telling them to eat it, saying "This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me" (Lk. 22:19).   He then took the cup of Passover wine - there were four of these by Jewish tradition and the wording in St. Luke's Gospel  suggests that this was the third cup (4) - and told the Apostles to drink of it, saying that "This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you" (Lk. 22:20).   This was the institution of the Sacrament that is variously called the Lord's Supper, Holy Communion, and the Eucharist (this is the Greek word for "thanksgiving").


In the Sacrament the body and blood of the Final Sacrifice is given to the faithful as a meal to sustain their spiritual life in the only manner in which such a Sacrifice, the voluntary Sacrifice of Himself by the Man Who is God, could be so offered without being utterly repugnant, that is, through the means of representative elements taken from the non-bloody sacrifices – bread and wine.    That the Sacrament is intended to take the place in the Christian religion that the Levitical sacrifices occupied in the Old Testament religion of the Jews is therefore so blatantly obvious on the face of it that a passage like Colossians 2:11-13 is hardly needed to establish the point.   In the book of Acts we find that the first Church in Jerusalem celebrated this Sacrament, to which the “breaking bread” mentioned at the end of the second chapter refers, on a daily basis.


That Jesus Christ in establishing the New Covenant instituted a new external mark of membership in Baptism in the place of Circumcision, and the Sacrament of Holy Communion which looks back to His Crucifixion in the place of the Old Covenant sacrifices that looked forward to it, makes it quite evident that those who sneer at the word “religion”, say that Jesus Christ did not found a religion, and that New Testament Christianity as opposed to the Christianity of the Church of the last two millennia was not a religion, simply do not know what they are talking about.   


In my next essay I intend, Lord willing, to show just how nonsensical are the arguments these people make against Christmas specifically.    I will conclude this essay by explaining why the fact that the New Testament does not prescribe a sacred calendar of holy days and feast days to correspond to that established for the Israelites in the Old Covenant does not translate into a prohibition forbidding the Christian Church from doing so.


As we saw above, one of the biggest differences between the Old Testament religion and New Testament Christianity, was that the Old Testament religion was given to a specific people in the literal sense of a nation, whose cultural and ethnic identity was largely shaped by that religion, but Christianity was given to all peoples, establishing the Church which was a people only in a spiritual sense, and which was to include members from every tribe and nation.   The Old Testament contained elements that were universal.   It repeatedly declares the God of Israel to be the One, True and Living God, Who is the Creator of the entire world and Ruler of the entire world.   The part of the Mosaic Covenant that is called the Moral Law consists of prohibitions against acts that are mala in se (bad in themselves) either because they harm other people (murder, theft and adultery, for example) or because they fail to give God the honour due Him as the One, True and Living God, Creator and Ruler of the entire world (idolatry, for example, places the creations of man’s own hands, which have mouths, eyes, ears, noses, hands and feet but cannot speak, see, smell, handle or walk, in God’s place).   This is universal in the sense that the acts prohibited, being wrong in themselves, are wrong for everybody.   These elements are reintroduced, often in amplified form, under the New Covenant.    The part of the Old Covenant that is called the Ceremonial Law, however, the calendar of feasts and holy days, the dietary restrictions, and the entire Tabernacle/Temple system of sacrifice and worship was particular.  Its purpose was to shape Israel’s national identity so as to keep the nation holy – separate and distinct – from the other nations that surrounded them.   This purpose was subservient to that of the universal elements of the Old Covenant.   Israel was to be holy, in the sense of being separate and distinct from the nations around it, to help keep it from falling into the idolatry and immoral ways of those nations.    Note how this point underlies the rebukes from Isaiah and the Lord Jesus discussed at the beginning of this essay.   The Old Testament itself testified to the fact that it was not itself the ultimate answer to the problems of sin and idolatry.    It promised that one day God would establish a New Covenant in which all the nations of the world would unite with Israel in the worship of the One True and Living God.


Jesus Christ fulfilled that promise by establishing the New Covenant when He offered Himself up as the Final True Atoning Sacrifice on the Cross and rose from the grave as Triumphant Victor over all the spiritual foes of mankind – sin and the devil, death and hell.   When the Apostolic Church met in Jerusalem to decide the controversy over whether Gentile converts to Christianity had to become Jews (be circumcised and told to keep the Mosaic Law) in order to become Christians, they ruled in the negative.   They told the Gentile converts to abstain from idolatry and fornication, instructions taken from the aforementioned universal elements of the Old Covenant.   They also told them to abstain from meat that had been strangled or contained blood, instructions that look back to the Covenant which God made with all mankind through Noah in Genesis that predated the Mosaic Covenant and are thus universal in a slightly different sense.    


The ruling of the Apostolic Council did not make the controversy go away – St. Paul dealt with it again and again in his epistles, defending the Apostolic position and providing a theological foundation for it in terms of Christian unity (Eph. 2:11-22), liberty, (Gal. 4:1-5:3) and both (Col. 2:16-17).   That Christian liberty meant that Christians were not obligated to keep the Ceremonial Law is what is emphasized in the Pauline epistles.   That it also meant that they were free to do so – at least until they were prevented from doing so by unbelieving Jewish leaders – is evident by St. Paul’s own example in the book of Acts.   In his missionary journeys, he would go to the synagogues to proclaim the Gospel first.   When driven out of the synagogues he would preach to the Gentiles in the market, the Areopagus in Athens, or whatever place was available to him.   In Jerusalem, he like the other Apostles continued to go to the Temple until a mob was stirred up against him by unbelieving Jews from Asia Minor (Acts 20:27-30) leading to his arrest.


Christian liberty also means that the Christian Church, in which Jewish and Gentile Christian believers are united, is free as a collective body to make new, distinctly Christian, holy days and festivals.   Those against whom I have been arguing in this essay might dispute this on the grounds of what is called the “regulative principle of worship”, i.e., the idea that Christians are only to observe and practice what is explicitly enjoined upon them in Scripture.   Ironically, the chief theological work of the man who came up with this principle is entitled The Institutes of the Christian Religion.  (5)  It is a principle that would condemn Jesus Christ and His Apostles.   If you think otherwise, show me from the Old Testament where Israelites were commanded to meet and worship in synagogues. (6)


In the twentieth chapter of the book of Acts, St. Luke says that the disciples “came together to break bread” on the “first day of the week”, i.e., Sunday.    There is no prescriptive commandment to do this in the New Testament, only this descriptive account of the custom.   The reason for it is not explained, although it can be reasonably deduced.   St. Luke’s extended account of the Sunday service at Troas, in which St. Paul delivers an extremely long sermon, putting Eutychus to sleep and causing him to fall out of a window, would suggest that apart from the inclusion of the Eucharist, the service was modelled after a synagogue service.   Indeed, the portion of traditional Christian liturgical services that includes Scriptural readings, the singing of Psalms, and preaching/teaching is an adaptation of the synagogue model.   The Jewish synagogues met to worship on the Sabbath, which is the seventh day of the week, or Saturday (more precisely, Friday evening to Saturday evening).   There are both practical and theological reasons for the Church meeting on the following day instead.   The theological reason is that this is the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead – hence its having been dubbed “The Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10).   The practical reason is that St. Paul’s practice mentioned above, of going to the synagogues in the cities he visited to preach the Gospel until he was kicked out of them, necessitated a different day for the distinctly Christian assembly – the Church – to meet.   That the Church early adopted the practice of meeting on Sunday is also implied by St. Paul’s instruction to the Corinthian Church to take up a collection on that day (I Cor. 16:2).   Clearly the Church in the days of the book of Acts, when led by the Apostles themselves, like the majority of Christians over the two thousand years that followed, held to the “normative principle” – that Christians are free to observe and practice in their worship, whatever is not prohibited them in Scriptures, which principle is manifestly more consistent with the concept of Christian liberty than the “regulative principle”.


 (1)  Note also the prophet’s personal experience of this in the sixth chapter, verses 5-7.

(2)   “Corban”, the spelling in the English Bible, is the Latinized transliteration.   The Greek New Testament contains Κορβᾶν, which is, of course, the same Hebrew word spelled out in Greek letters.

(3)   The Pauline authorship of Hebrews is evident in the style of the epistle – note both the structure of the argument and the closing exhortation/salutation – and in the few details about the author given – he was in Italy and had been in bonds (13:24, 10:34, and was a companion of Timothy 13:23).   Hebrews is also the only epistle in the canonical New Testament to which St. Peter could have been alluding when he referred to a Scriptural letter written by St. Paul to the same people to whom he was writing (II Pet. 3:15-16)

(4)   It is interesting that the only one of the Evangelists to allude to such details from the Jewish tradition was the only Gentile of the four.

(5)   This has nothing to do with what I have been arguing in this essay, but in my opinion John Calvin’s most valuable writings are his Commentaries not his Institutes.

(6)   You will find no such commandment.   Synagogues – this is a Greek word that is similar in its basic, non-religious, meaning to that of the Greek word for Church – were likely established before the last book of the Old Testament was written.   Historians generally believe that they originated out of the necessity generated by the destruction of the First Temple at the time of the Babylonian Captivity and the reforms instituted in and following the return in the Ezra-Nehemiah period, but this is not recorded, let alone commanded by God, in the canonical Old Testament.   This is but one of many examples of practices in the tradition of Second Temple Judaism that had no Scriptural ordinance behind them that Jesus and His Apostles nevertheless kept – see the clause to which the fourth note above is a comment for another such example.