Before reading this study, I would highly recommend you reading my study titled “I do not celebrate Christmas”. That study gives a thorough run down of the pagan origins of Christmas. This extra study, on the Christmas tree, has been the result of a reader challenging my use of Jeremiah 10, as evidence that God condemns them. Therefore, I am going to take on a more in depth look at the Christmas tree. Personally, I find it quite disturbing that a simple tree can cause so much controversy….but here we go!! Let’s see what God’s Word really says.
=> Is there a Christmas tree in the Bible?
The first question that should be asked in regard to this subject is the following: Is there a command anywhere in God’s Word that a human should cut a tree out of the forest, set it up in their home in December every year, and decorate it? No!! There is no such command nor suggestion that such a thing should be done.
Despite this, there are millions of Christian believers who do this very thing at the time of the Winter Solstice. It is well recognised by many people today that the practice is purely and simply a retention of pagan doctrines, and the custom has nothing to do with the teachings of the God’s Word.
=> The pagan origins of the Christmas Tree
Since the earliest of times evergreen trees were worshipped by pagans. The evergreen tree was chosen because of its ability to remain green during the winter season. The evergreen tree symbolised immortality, fertility, sexual potency, and reproduction, and was often brought into homes and set up as idols.
The significance of the evergreen can only be understood when you understand how much the pagans worshipped nature. "To them, Nature was everywhere alive. Every fountain had its spirit, every mountain its deity, and every water, grove, and meadow, its supernatural association. The whispering of the trees ... was the subtle speech of the gods who dwelt within" (W.M. Auld, Christmas Traditions).
The first known decorating of evergreen trees came from the pagans, honouring their god Adonis, who was slain and supposedly brought to life by a serpent. Mythology writes that he representation of the slain Adonis was a dead stump of tree, with a snake coiled around it. This was supposedly symbolising the restoral of life. An evergreen tree sprouted from the roots of the dead tree, symbolising the god that can never die.
- In Babylon, the evergreen tree came to represent the reincarnation of Nimrod as his new son, Tammuz.
- In Egypt, this god was worshiped in a palm tree as Baal-Tamar.
- In the land of Canaan, pagans also took on tree-worship, calling it the Asherah...a tree with its branches cut off and carved into a phallic symbol.
=> Christmas Tree’s condemned by early Christians
Due to the warnings of the apostle Paul in the New Testament that Christians should "flee idolatry" and John's statement to "keep yourselves from idols", the authorities in Post-Reformation England condemned the celebration of Christmas altogether, because of it's paganism. They actually made laws forbidding it to be celebrated, which were put into effect in the American colonies. Anyone found celebrating Christmas in any shape or form, was fined.
The reason that the pilgrims were forbidding the celebration of Christmas was because they were wise enough to realise that the Bible did not condone such customs of the early heathen that had nothing to do with the teachings of Christianity. In fact, they had many Scriptures that made it quite clear that God was not pleased with such idolatrous celebrations. One such command is found here…
"Hear you the word which the Lord speaks unto you, 0 house of Israel. Thus says the Lord. Learn not the way of the heathen [non-Israelite nations], and be not dismayed at the signs of the heaven; for the nations are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain."
=> What about Jeremiah 10?
The book of Jeremiah is used as strong Biblical proof to support why it IS and ISN’T okay to have a Christmas tree. Let’s look at both arguments more closely.
Firstly, it is crucial to understand that Jeremiah was a book of prophecy, and applies as much today as it did hundreds of years ago! Even though we have learnt that these Scriptures were applicable for the times of Jeremiah, we must keep in mind that the book is primarily prophecy. Just as with other prophecies, this was written for our time, to our people, and referring to the common customs of the modern world! For example, Jeremiah describes such things as hot-cross buns for Easter in Jeremiah 7:18.
Now, let’s look at the actual passage in question, Jeremiah 10:1-5 and 8,9. King James Version.
“Hear you the word which the Lord speaks unto you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord. Learn not the way of the heathen and be not dismayed at the signs of the heaven; for the nations are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain. For one cuts a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman with the axe. They deck it [the tree] with silver and with gold. They fasten it [the tree] with nails and with hammers that it move not. They [such trees] are upright as the palm tree, but speak not. The tree [KJV: stock] is a doctrine of vanities. Silver is spread into plates is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the workman, and of the hands of the founder. Blue and purple is their clothing. They [the trees] are all the work of cunning men."
The pronouns in this passage have been identified in brackets, and follows the Hebrew meanings of the words precisely.
=> First view….Jeremiah is referring to idols made from wood.
Now, some translators arrive at the conclusion that Jeremiah is speaking about getting some timber from the forest, carving it into the shape of an idol and then plating it over with silver and gold. In brief, they claim that Jeremiah is not really talking about a tree, but an idol carved from wood.
These translators claiming that this Scripture is just referring to the making of idols have some grounds to stand on. The early pagans were well know to take wood and carve it into an idol, and gild it with silver and gold. There are such examples in the Bible, particularly during the creation of the Ark of the Covenant….
Exodus 25:10, 11
“And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof. And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it, and shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about.”
Even in Isaiah, there is mention of images that were gilded…..
"The workman melts a graven image, and the goldsmith spreads it over with gold, and casts silver chains"
But, if you go on to read the following verses in Isaiah, you will notice that not all idols were gilded. It was the poor and impoverished pagans who could not afford gold or silver, who had to create an idol made out of wood alone.
"He that is so impoverished that he has no oblation chooses a tree that will not rot; he sees him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image that shall not be moved."
Though the majority of ancient idols were made of solid clay, stone, bone, metal or wood, most were not gilded over with gold or silver. They were on the other hand commonly decorated or painted with such substances, and this is why some translators say that this is what Jeremiah may have been talking about.
=> Second view….Jeremiah is referring to “tree worship” and the Christmas tree.
Other translators say that Jeremiah is talking directly about “tree worship”, and that this passage is referring to the “Christmas Tree.” And I also believe that Jeremiah is referring to an actual tree, and not a lump of wood. These trees were decked with silver and gold, and rich weavings of blue and purple fabrics. He compared the use of these decked-out trees to the practice of idolatry and such trees were being used in false worship.
Let’s look at the Scripture in question again…..
- In verse one, we are told to listen, because God is speaking to us.
- In verse two, God gives us a commandment. “Learn not…”. Don’t practice this heathen custom.
- In verse three, we begin the description....a custom where a tree is cut from the forest.
- In verse four, they fasten the tree upright so that it will not fall over, and it’s lavishly decorated.
- In verse five, we are told that it is fastened upright and cannot speak or walk, its needs must be met. And we are told not to be afraid of it, because it is a false god and has no power.
Is not this the perfect illustration of the Christmas tree??
Why these verses are not describing a wooden carving, as some have suggested, are as follows….
- No wooden carving is linked with the signs in the heavens
- The original Hebrew text uses the word “ets” means “a tree from it’s firmness”. It's the roots that give a tree it’s firmness...so it must be a tree rather than a plank of wood.
- Wooden carvings aren’t usually fastened upright. They sit on their own.
- It’s needs must be met. What ‘needs’ does a wooden carving have? You have to add water to the tree.
When Jeremiah said "one cuts a tree out of the forest," the word for "tree" is a Hebrew word that means a living tree that grows in the ground. As already stated, the very phrase “a tree from it’s firmness” confirms this point. The "trees" in the Garden of Eden, (like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life), were indicated as being ordinary "trees" by the use of this word. Sometimes it can mean a block of wood. But notice that Jeremiah said that they cut a tree "from the forest". A forest is made up of numerous trees usually over a large area of land....not many "blocks of wood" or "pieces of timber." The immediate context of Jeremiah shows he is really talking about a tree that one can cut down and that it can be decked or adorned with gold or silver or blue or purple cloths.
There is a further way to show that the context of Jeremiah is speaking of a literal tree. He states that the "tree" which is decorated with ornaments and is nailed in place is like a "palm tree" that is upright so that it remains upright. This is what Jeremiah wrote if one uses the simple meaning of the Hebrew words as a guide. A "palm tree" is being discussed by Jeremiah because the only other time the word is used in the Bible, it clearly refers to a living palm tree (that Scripture is found in Judges 4:5). The palm tree (also an evergreen) was being decorated with gold and silver spiral ribbons like those that were being made on a lathe and also with blue and purple cloth ribbons. These trees were known as asherahs, and they are mentioned several times in the Old Testament and often are translated by the English word "grove." But the word asherah has refers to a single tree that can be living, cut from a forest, or depicted in abstract forms. The most ancient form of all pagan religion is simple "tree worship." The fact is that long before most nations of the world took up depicting their gods and goddesses in human or animal form, most pagans were thoroughly engrossed in various forms of "tree worship." This "tree worship" was well known in the time of Jeremiah. In mountainous areas cedars and firs were worshiped. In more desert regions the palm was the tree most worshiped.
This kind of heathen activity is exactly what Jeremiah is talking about in chapter 10. He was telling the Israelites not to learn the way of the heathen, and the modern Christmas tree is a prime example in our day of what the heathen were doing in the time of Jeremiah.
=> Using pagan tradition to worship God
This subject alone deserves a full-blown study on it’s own. But let’s just touch on it briefly now. We have established that the Christmas tree has pagan origins, way back when the evergreen tree was used during the winter solstice festivals. We have also learned that the traditions of the pagan’s were embraced and Christianised by the Roman Catholic church, as a means of attracting them into their religion. We have established that neither Christmas, nor the Christmas tree are found anywhere in the Bible, and are not recorded as being acceptable ways of worshipping our Lord Jesus Christ. The celebrations were not apart of the early Church, and actually abhorred, rejected and prohibited by early Christians. So, what’s changed?? Why is it that Christians, all over the world, embrace Christmas and the beloved Christmas tree, and are seemingly trying to try a blind eye to all the facts? Has the Bible changed? Has God changed??
Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.
There are many Scriptures that the Lord Jesus has warned us about in dealing with idols and those things the HEATHEN do, of which we are commanded to NEVER do or imitate. As Christians, we are NOT to embrace heathen ways, especially as a means of worshipping our Holy God.
What is the harm?? Some argue that the days of our week, and the months of our years, and the very wedding rings on our fingers have pagan origins. We don’t disregard them. So what is the difference?? The difference is that we are using CHRISTMAS, the CHRISTMAS TREE, etc, as a means of worshipping God. And that is so very very wrong, because of it’s pagan origins, and because it is not a way in which God has asked us to worship Him. Does THAT really matter? Some argue that God looks at our hearts. But take a look at these verses…..
John 4:23, 24
“But the hour cometh, and not is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God (is) a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship (Him) in spirit and in truth.”
So, we must worship Him in truth….and not in any way that we like. God has laid out very clear and precise ways in which we ARE and ARE NOT to worship Him. God actually condemns using pagan’s forms of worship, to worship Him! Look at the very first instance of this in the Bible. God asked Cain and Abel to bring a burnt offering to Him. Abel obeyed, but Cain did not. He thought of a different way to worship God, and God condemned him for it. And Cain, filled with hatred, contempt and jealousy, killed his brother. Is this not a very clear example and illustration of the seriousness of worshipping God in any other way other than how we are commanded?
=> The conclusion
As has been seen, the interpretation of Jeremiah and it’s relevance to the case against the Christmas Tree is highly debated. I believe that the “Christmas tree,” as described in Jeremiah, is a “custom of the people” and is worthless. I believe that there is enough Biblical and historical evidence to prove that the cutting down and setting up a tree is termed "the way of the Gentiles [heathen]." We are commanded not to learn or follow that way, and taught that using a tree in this manner is idolatry. The basic commandment against idolatry, of course, is found in Exodus 20:4-6. If we try to honour God through any sort of idol or icon, we are guilty of breaking this commandment.
But, regardless of how you interpret these Scriptures found in Jeremiah, you must agree with the underlying message of Jeremiah. And that is that we are forbidden to use pagan traditions as a means of worshipping God. God forbids it. What does a Christmas tree, with all its decorations and pagan symbolism, have to do with our Lord Jesus Christ’s coming to save humanity from sin? I am hopeful and prayerful that this study opens eyes to the wickedness of white washing pagan festivals, and using them as a means of worshipping our Heavenly Father.
Written by Lee Lambert