A Little Birthday Cake Can Leaven the Whole Lump
Not that long ago we understood the pagan roots of day of birth observances, we now have day of birth observance parties in homes, in restaurants, and in pubs with everything from standard “birthday cakes” to common revelry with strong drinks all around. Indeed, “Happy Birthday” exclamations abound with a little “birthday” ditty that was itself stolen in the first place!
I write this to keep it before the frontlets of our eyes… some will ignore it, some won’t. Some even in the Church of God will defend day of birth celebrations and their right to observe it, and even attack those who point out its fallacy and therefore choose not to partake in it.
Conflicting Perspectives about Day of Birth Observance
First: a few facts about day of birth observances.
One thing I just learned is that day of birth observance cakes were originally used by Greek worshipers of Artemis. The custom was for pagans to take cakes to the temple where they engaged in perverted sex rites with prostitutes, and put candles on the cakes to make them glow like the moon. They also believed that the smoke rising from the candles would carry their prayers up to their pagan gods. Nowadays children are taught by day of birth observers to “make a wish” and then blow the candles out. This is diametrically opposite of what Christians are to do. God does promise that He will give us the desires of our heart, but His promise is predicated upon our will being aligned with His will (Psalm 37:3-5).
“The most important holiday in Satanism is one’s own birthday, as it is the birth date of one’s own god. This is a reminder that the Satanist, committed to true “vital existence”, should consider himself (or herself) the most important person in his own life. LaVey recommends that a Satanist celebrate his own birthday in any way he chooses, with as much pomp and ceremony as he sees fit.” (See Wikipedia, LaVeyan Satanism.)
No doubt Satan the Devil, the Master Deceiver is happy, is just tickled pink, to see such goings-on within the Church of God.
While there is no place that says, “You shall not observe days of birth” (or smoke cigarettes, cigars, or pipes for that matter), we can look and find specific principles and examples to see how God views the practice. There are examples where we find day of birth parties taking place, or described in God’s Word. None of them are favorable.
In the Book of Genesis chapter 40 and verse 20 we find that Pharaoh (Pharaoh is a type of Satan in the Bible) was throwing himself a dandy day of birth party, and for fun, he killed one of his servants (Genesis 40:20-22).
In the New Testament we find a similar situation.
King Herod was throwing himself a dandy little ol’ day of birth party, and he decided to go ahead and lop off the head of the Prophet John, who was one of the greatest servants of God who ever lived (Matthew 14:6-11; Mark 6:21-28; Luke 7:28).
Another possible day of birth observance we find in the Bible is in the Book of Job.
Job had children, and they would all go to feast at each others’ homes, “each on his day” (Job 1:4). Quite a number of scholars believe this is speaking of day of birth observance (cf. Job 3:1 KJV). (See Clarke, Barnes, JFB, Gill.) Whatever the manner of the days, Job was compelled to make sacrifice and supplication to God on their behalf after they were done partying (Job 1:5).
We see in Scripture that pagan Gentile kings of old (Pharaoh and Herod) practiced day of birth observances. God tells us to not learn the way of the heathen, or Gentile (Jeremiah 10:2). Interestingly, day of birth observances by their very nature are tied to astrology. Reading horoscopes which correlates directly to when people are born, is a form of astrology. In this same verse the Prophet Jeremiah was inspired to reveal God’s mind, “Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven….”
In the New Testament we find the Apostle Paul addressing issues in various Church areas. One particular Church area had the problem of Judaizers who were insisting that Gentile converts had to be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15:1-2; Galatians 2:3-4, 14-16; 3:1-5). Some of these Gentile converts, becoming discouraged by the belief that they must keep this big legal system and be circumcised to be saved, started sliding back into the paganism from which they came (Galatians 4:8-9). Thus, Paul addresses them about observing “days and months and times and years” (Galatians 4:10 KJV). In this section of Scripture Paul is pointing back to the Law concerning divination, soothsaying and astrology (Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 17:3; 18:10 KJV).
So we have God’s revelation about day of birth observances and the things associated with them, and we also have Satan’s view on them. God reveals in the Bible that the self-absorbed pagan kings of old (Pharaoh and Herod) practiced day of birth observances, and that He doesn’t want His children following their ungodly pagan example (Jeremiah 10:2; Leviticus 18:3; 20:23). Satan desires that all people – especially God’s elect – to be as those pagan kings of Babylon, self-centeredly observing their own days of birth.
God equates the observance of “days and months and times and years” in this context with astrology, false gods and idolatry, and Satan just loves it when God’s people trifle in such things.
How Did God’s People of Old Keep Track of Their Age?
A common question that comes up is, “How did people in Bible times know their age if they didn’t observe their birthday?” The answer is quite simple, and some cultures still use similar methods of reckoning their age today. In the Book of Genesis we find that God ordained the sun, the moon and the stars, not only for the dividing of night from day, but also to keep track of time; “for signs and seasons, and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14). So, one purpose for the sun and moon and stars was to help keep track of time, of seasons and the passing of years. No day of birth observances needed to keep track of one’s age in God’s way of doing things!
In fact – as previously stated, in certain nations of the Far East people still keep track of their age by the passing of each lunar year, rather than their birth date, and both New Moons and Full Moons are used. (See Wikipedia, East Asian Age Reckoning.)
Something I think needs a bit of clarification, as a brief digression, is the difference between worshiping the sun, moon, and stars as it is done in divining and astrology, and paganism, and using those heavenly bodies to tell time, which is just that – telling time. You tell the time of day by the location of the sun and/or moon; you tell the time of the month by the waxing or waning of the moon; you tell the time of the year by the season, etc…. Telling time has nothing to do with false idolatrous worship of the visible celestial bodies. You can use your Rolex watch to tell time, or you can put it on a pedestal and worship it, because it is a magnificent work of art. That’s the difference.
Again, Adam and Eve wouldn’t have kept any “birthdays” at all, since they were not born (Genesis 1:26-27) and yet we know how old Adam was when he died (Genesis 5:5). Furthermore, there is no record of the Second Adam, i.e. Jesus Christ, ever observing His day of birth either. Is it any wonder that there is a false Christ who has always had his followers observing a day of birth for him?
The Bible says we are to follow the real Jesus’ foot steps (1 John 2:6). That He left us an example we are to follow (1 Peter 2:21). The Apostle Paul says we are to follow him as he followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Yet there is no example of Jesus or the Apostle Paul, or any other true servant of God ever observing their day of birth, or anyone else’s day of birth.
So the choices are clear – we can follow the example of the real Jesus of the Bible, and not observe our day of birth, or we can follow the example of Satan’s counterfeit Christ, and practice day of birth observances. Incidentally, we may as well go ahead and start keeping his day of birth, too. Happy Day of Birth & Merry Christmas… ho ho ho!
Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, the servant of God who was used by God probably more than any other servant of God at the end of this age-whom many believe held the rank and/or office of an apostle, had this to say about Christmas and day of birth observances: “December 25th is not the birthday of Jesus the true Christ! The apostles and early true Church never celebrated Christ’s birthday at any time. There is no command or instruction to celebrate it in the Bible—rather, the celebrating of birthdays is a pagan, not a Christian custom, believe it or not!” (Herbert W. Armstrong, The Plain Truth About Christmas, 1974.)
Many of us have also heard Mr. Armstrong state that, “Only insofar as I follow Christ should anyone follow me.” Of course he was referring back to what the Apostle Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 11:1.
Mr. John Ogwyn, another highly regarded servant of God, had this to say about Christmas and day of birth observances: “Out of all the billions of births that have occurred on this earth, what was the most significant birth, far and away? It totally surpasses, was of greater significance than the sum total of every other birth. It was a whole lot more significant than my birth or your birth, right? So, I’ve sort of operated on the premise that if the most significant birth that ever took place (Jesus Christ’s) was not to be an occasion of a great celebration then it’d be a little bit presumptuous of me to think that mine ought to be. … God gives us the information to know the approximate time (of Jesus’ birth), but there are some things God wants us to know the EXACT time of! Like, He makes very plain that Christ was crucified at the Passover.” (John Ogwyn, Bible Study Comments.) (In parentheses mine.)
Back in the early 2000’s, I asked Mr. Ogwyn why it seemed like so many people in God’s Church were observing days of birth, and his reply to me was, “The bottom line is that people do what they really want to do.”
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus understood clearly that God had no intention of His people ever observing, even in a trifling way, this pagan tradition. He states, “Nay, indeed, the Law does not permit us to make festivals at the births of our children.” (Josephus, Against Apion, Book 2.)
Arguments for Keeping Days of Birth
One argument I’ve heard repeatedly is that we have to have “milestones” for children. I agree. However, milestones should be for actual accomplishments like finishing the first part of school, or even finishing every school year. Or if the child is very young, learning to crawl or walk could be milestones. A teenager or young adult could have writing an essay or commentary on the Book of Proverbs as a milestone. Aging isn’t automatically a yearly series of milestones; it is what naturally occurs through the process of time. Achievements should be enthusiastically acknowledged when they’re made, and encouragement offered always. Day of birth observances sound rational and like they are an opportunity to express love, and in a sense they are, but if love is misguided it leads children astray from godly values.
Another argument I’ve heard is that it is a way to “honor the hoary head”. Recently a dear friend of mine, who was also like a Mother to me, had a surprise birthday party sprung on her. I was invited but I did not go because of my understanding of day of birth observances, and thus going would have defiled my conscience. I expressed to her, after the fact, that I loved her very much, but I couldn’t be at the party because of my conscience. She replied that she understood totally, and that she felt the same way about day of birth observances as I. But her daughter surprised her with it, and my friend did appreciate the kind gesture – however misguided.
God gives us instruction on how to honor the elderly in His Word… there’s not a single sentence in the entire Bible instructing us to throw day of birth parties to honor them.
Another argument is that days of birth had to be observed in order for people to keep track of how old they were. We have already addressed that above.
There’s no Biblical record of Jesus Christ who is the standard and primary example we are to follow, ever observing His day of birth. There is no Biblical record of any other true servant of God, in either the Old Testament or the New Testament, ever observing their own day of birth, or anyone else’s day of birth.
With the exception of John the Baptist who was murdered at Herod’s day of birth observance party, there is no record of God’s servants being involved with day of birth observances at all.
The Time of Birth Christians Should be Interested In
We have ascertained that day of birth observance is historically a pagan custom, and the Bible bears that out in both Old and New Testaments.
God shows us which days He wants us to observe clearly in His Word (Leviticus 23).
With these truths in mind, why would we, as Christians who supposedly have the Truth of God, want to practice day of birth observances for any reason whatsoever?
Jesus said that we should seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). This will involve being “born again” (John 3:3). For true Christians today our hope is the better resurrection – the First Resurrection (Hebrews 11:35; Revelation 20:6).
Those who are counted worthy will be the Firstfruits to God and the Lamb (Revelation 14:1, 4; James 1:18). We are to be like Christ, in every way, He being the Firstborn from the dead (Revelation 1:5; Colossians 1:18; Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:10).
We can choose to follow the real Jesus of the Bible and not observe “birthdays”, or we can follow the phony, Satan-spawned false Christs of this world.
That’s what it boils down to…