This is Chaplain Bill’s space where he is able to articulate his views on theological, biblical, and philosophical matters. Chaplain Bill has also recently published his own book, Blue-Collar Believer, available in hard copy or for eBook purchase. Also visit his blogsite. The views expressed by Chaplain Bill, and other co-writers, are not necessarily the views of website owner, James Bishop.
Well it is that time of year again and among the list of problems with trying to be “politically correct,” and wanting to be sensitive to other peoples beliefs, everyone just has no idea what to say to anyone anymore.
If you say the wrong phrase to someone, it often feels like you are going in for an awkward “fist bump” while the other person is putting out their hand for a handshake, and you then end up doing an uncomfortable hug. Has that ever happened to you? It sure has to me on a several occasions; it’s very awkward.
Happy Holidays and Season’s Greetings seem to be neutral sayings for anyone to hear even if you are an agnostic or atheist. If you know that someone is Jewish, a “Happy Hanukkah” seems fit. If you are an African American you may want to be greeted with a “Happy Kwanzaa.” Maybe to sum it all up if you have no idea what the other person celebrates, it may just be appropriate to say, “I hope you have a happy, blessed, or merry season for whatever you choose to celebrate, so we can coexist with each other and be nice.”
But God forbid a Christian who says “Merry Christmas” to someone who does not celebrate Christmas. I said it once to someone just trying to wish them well, and I got a tongue lashing, “I do not celebrate Christmas. You need to be sensitive to people who do not.” After all, how was I supposed to know? Even worse one complained about me not being sensitive only for him to return that same insensitivity. Crazy how some things can go…
The icing on the cake is that Jesus followers all over the world are now being criticized and faced with the arguments that Christians should not celebrate Christmas because of its Pagan origins and that Jesus did not exist and is a myth. Such opinions and arguments stem from ignorance as opposed to careful study. Thus, the base for this article is not to debunk Christmas and its Pagan origins as time permits me not to do so; there are many great articles out there focusing on the issue. Rather, the two points I would like to address are:
- The false claim that using “Christmas trees” by cutting them down and decorating them, is prohibited by Scripture evidence of Jeremiah 10:1-16. If one takes the time to closely examine this Scripture, he or she will come to find that this certainly is NOT the case.
- Jesus is a myth.
1. Christmas trees are forbidden by Scripture.
The context is that Jeremiah 10:1-16 is addressing a person who would chop down a tree and then give the wood to a craftsman. It then would be covered with silver and gold and attached to a base. In turn, the craftsman would then make it into a “god,” which would become a false idol. That is the main problem, namely that man with his own hands fashions a product into a “god.” Jeremiah is addressing how foolish it is to worship something made of wood.
However, the Christmas tree is a symbol. It is not something Christians worship. Whether some Christians choose or choose not to participate in having a Christmas tree is a matter of conscience (Romans 14:5-6.) Don’t let an unbeliever tell you otherwise. If a believer has a problem with it, they may just be misusing their Christian freedom, creating an unnecessary division in the Body of Christ and by doing so dishonoring God in the process.
2. Jesus is a myth. I have heard Jesus mythicists say very openly this time of year, “Merry Mythmas.”
In all honesty, no credible scholar would take to this position. Even our very own James Bishop dismantles this notion in one of his lengthy article resources.
However, even Bart Ehrman, the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has published books extensively in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity, has shown the mythicists position to be unwarranted on historical and evidential grounds. Ehrman, a self-described agnostic with atheist leanings, is no friend of Christianity and has been sharply critical of it. Pertaining to accepting that Jesus once existed are the overwhelming number of scholars in the fields of historical Jesus studies, and who have looked extensively at the early Christian apocrypha, the apostolic fathers, and the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.
In Ehrman’s book, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, we find a concise summation of the mythicist position that “Large numbers of atheists, humanists, and conspiracy theorists are raising one of the most pressing questions in the history of religion: “Did Jesus exist at all?” Was he invented out of whole cloth for nefarious purposes by those seeking to control the masses? Or was Jesus such a shadowy figure—far removed from any credible historical evidence—that he bears no meaningful resemblance to the person described in the Bible?”
In his book, however, Ehrman confronts these questions, vigorously defends the historicity of Jesus, and provides a compelling portrait of the man from Nazareth. Even though he’s no friend of Christianity he conclude that “The Jesus you discover here may not be the Jesus you had hoped to meet—but he did exist, whether we like it or not.”
A well-known group in the relevant circles called the “Mythicist Milwaukee” put together and hosted a debate between Bart Ehrman and Dr. Robert Price back in October. The topic was on “whether or not Jesus existed?” As they discussed the event, I observed that 286 people attended the debate and 210 tickets were sold online and were able to watch live via stream. Roughly 70 surveys were filled out from 18 countries and 15 states. The surveys consisted of questions regarding if they thought Jesus existed. 46% of the surveys felt that Jesus did in fact exist. After the debate, the percentage moved up to 51% feeling that Jesus did exist. Apparently, as the discussion went, one of the mythcists said, “Bart Ehrman came in and did what he intended to do and changed some minds.” It is no easy task to give up a world view. This I will go into detail in another article but to go from thinking Jesus did not exist to existing is quite a transition!
I have had my own unique dialogue about the mythicist position with a family member who was someone very close to me, my dad. I wrote about it extensively in my book, Blue Collar Believer. After I persuaded him to believe that Jesus did in fact exist with historical evidence, we then went on to further dialogue. Seems fit, because we discussed Santa Claus, and we are in the Christmas season. Consider this extract from my book (p. 230-231)
My dad conceded, “Okay, well, maybe He did exist, but His miracles and resurrection were just made up and developed over time.”
I responded, “Oh. Like Santa?”
He confusingly asked, “Santa?”
“Yeah, sure, think about it. There was a real guy who lived in the fourth century who was a Christian bishop in Turkey. He was known as St. Nicholas of Myra. He was known to give gifts to the poor. He even had a reputation as a secret gift giver and put coins in the shoes of people who left them outside. It is even said that he tossed coins through a window, and if the windows were locked, then he would drop the coins down the chimney. It is said that he was known to be bearded and also wore the color red and even a red hat. Then as time marched on, more stories were added to this real individual that are not true. Some are based on other myths. In the pre-Christian Norse tradition, Odin would often enter through chimneys, and in the Italian Befana tradition, the gift-giving witch is covered with soot from her trips down the chimney.”
Dad then asked, “How do you know all this?”
“I like to read, Dad,” I replied. “I find this stuff very interesting. So the Santa Claus, St. Nick, Kris Kringle, or the jolly happy elf that we have come to know and kids love today, is based on an actual person, but as time went on, myths developed, and all of it certainly is not true. Now he lives in the North Pole, has reindeer, a magical sled, a work where his elves are employed, and goes around hits every house, gives kids gifts underneath a tree, goes up and down the chimney, and so on. This is what you think happened with the Jesus story?”
He agreed, “Well, why not?”
I said, “Because it takes time for a story handed down through history to develop like that. There just was no time for anything like that to happen to the Jesus story. The story was based on eyewitness accounts or secondhand testimony that was reliable, and it was too early for legendary development.
He asked me, “How so?”
Well,” I responded, “in the New Testament, Jesus’s closest disciple Peter discredits that notion of a myth or fable when he says… [I then grabbed my Bible, turned to 2 Peter, and skimmed through it quickly], “Here it is. Let me read it to you. ‘For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). Plus there just was not enough time for a myth to develop. Usually, several generations have to pass before added mythological elements can be mistakenly believed to be facts. Eyewitnesses would have been around before that to discredit any new, mythic versions.”
Dad: “Sounds good, but I’m not convinced.”
My dad was “not convinced” at this point that Jesus was raised from the dead, but the Jesus of pure fiction was clearly not an issue for him anymore which allowed us to move onto another subject. These are steps that we all must be patient with and be ready to take. Clearly Jesus did exist historically and I do think Bart Ehrman said it best: “The Jesus you discover here may not be the Jesus you had hoped to meet—but he did exist, whether we like it or not.” Once we establish this fact, we then can move on to the greatest question of all time asked by Jesus Himself: “Who do you say I am?” – Matthew 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20
So this festive season I wish you, my reader, and everyone a very Merry Christmas. If you use a Christmas tree to celebrate, I know you are not worshiping it. If you are by any chance worshipping it then I could only urge you against such a practice. And if you, whether you’re a skeptic or fellow believer, rather choose to not celebrate with a Christmas tree, please do not judge a believer who does.
Sometimes family traditions are created around the holidays and one that my wife and three children have done for the past couple of years is to have a little birthday cake. We place one candle in it, light it, and then we sing “Happy Birthday Jesus.” This helps all of us not to forget the true meaning of Christmas. Whether Jesus was born of the 25th of December or not is not the issue; we know He was in fact born and we are taking the time out on a certain day each year to reflect on his Birthday.
Merry Christmas! And most importantly, “Happy Birthday Jesus!”
Until next time,
William H Schnakenberg IV