Christmas And The Saturnalia -- By: Joseph P. Thompson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 012:45 (Jan 1855)
Article: Christmas And The Saturnalia
Author: Joseph P. Thompson

Christmas And The Saturnalia

Rev. Joseph P. Thompson

In a former Article, we intimated the resemblance of the? Christmas festival at Rome to the Saturnalia of the old Pagan city.1 The recent recurrence of Christmas, and the growing consideration of this festival among communions of the Reformed and Puritan families may give interest to the inquiry: how far that resemblance can be traced in authentic history. We would not be understood to object to a religious observance of even the conjectural anniversary of the birth of Christ, by any who regard such observance as a means of edification; though to exalt the birthday of Christ, seems rather to degrade Christ himself to the level of heroes and benefactors whose memory mankind are accustomed to honor upon their natal days. In comparison with the spirit of Christ, with his life, his doctrine, his works, his sufferings, his death—which should be had in daily remembrance — the special remembrance of the day of his birth, is of the least

possible moment as an expression of fidelity to Him. And, if the observance of this day is made prominent as a religious duty; if there is attached to it any peculiar sanctity or any putative merit; then it comes under the denomination of those “days, and months, and times, and years,” observed “after the commandments and doctrines of men,” which are the “weak and beggarly elements” of form and tradition, in contrast with the spirit and life of the Gospel.

The religions and festive observance of the twenty-fifth of December as the anniversary of the birth of Christ, is wholly of human appointment. The New Testament contains no injunction for the observance of such a day, and no record of its having been observed by the first disciples. The day of the Saviour’s crucifixion may be ascertained with definiteness from the well-known time of the Jewish passover. But there is nothing in the New Testament to fix the date of his birth, even within a month or a season of the year. This omission of a fact that might have been well ascertained, and that could have been recorded in a single line, shows conclusively that it was not the design of Christ or the mind of the Spirit, that the day of the Saviour’s birth should be magnified above any other day of the year. The day cannot even be fixed proximately by a reference to any of the great Jewish feasts; for the occasion of Joseph’s going to Bethlehem was not a religious festival, but an enrolment of the inhabitants of the land, each in his native town, for the purpose of taxation.

Sir Isaac Newton, who has given an historical and astronomical calculation of the time of the Saviour’s passion, ob...

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