As he does every week, Dr. Hugh Ross responded to a question sent to his ministry. Usually I ignore his feedback responses. They’re almost always shorter than anything I write, rarely footnoted, and often seem to be little more than the thoughts off the top of his head when he received the question. While there is a place for that kind of format, its not something I would generally bother to respond to. Not this time. This time, Ross managed, somehow, to botch Christmas.
In an article that ran on Christmas day (because of course it did), Ross argued that, even though Christmas and Easter were modified pagan holidays, celebrated on pagan dates, it was still ok for Christian’s to celebrate them. Ross could not be more wrong, on both counts. I’m not surprised that Ross is wrong, but I am rather embarrassed for him that he could not be bothered to do the two minutes of research it would have taken to realize he was in error. Literally, it takes less than a minute to find everything I am going to say on google, with the potential exception of Hippolytus of Rome. Let’s walk through (in more detail than Ross), exactly what the claims are, and why they are false. Note that I will only be dealing with the Christmas claim in this article. I’ll reserve the Easter claim for its own article at the appropriate time.
We’ve dealt with the Christmas is pagan claim before, but for a refresher, here are the two most common claims. The first is that Christmas is borrowed from the pagan holiday Saturnalia. Saturnalia was a Roman holiday celebrated with drunkeness and debauchery that occurred in the month of December. Except, even though Saturnalia was celebrated prior to Christmas, it never overlapped with the modern date Christmas is celebrated, December 25th. It lasted, at its longest, from December 17th through to the 23rd. It is logically impossible to argue that Christmas is a pagan holiday, when it fails to overlap with, or carry any of the characteristics of the pagan holiday in question.
The more common claim that Christmas is pagan centers around the pagan Roman holiday, Sol Invictus. Unlike Saturnalia, Sol Invictus did fall specifically on December 25. However, this holiday was not instituted in the Roman Empire until pagan emperor Aurelian declared it a holiday in AD 274. Note that Christianity was already widespread in the Empire by this time. Further, writing in roughly AD 202, Hippolytus of Rome, a noted separatist, pointed out that Christ was born on December 25, or at least the church believed He was. Note, Hippolytus was writing long before Aurelian even considered making Sol Invictus a holiday. Thus the date of Christmas is not drawn from pagan myth. In fact, it is more likely Aurelian, looking to slow the spread of Christianity, borrowed the Christian date for his new pagan holiday!
However, let us suppose Ross had been right. Let us assume that the date of Christmas had been drawn from paganism. Should it still be celebrated? The answer is no. Ross is wrong on that count too. The Bible teaches we are to be a peculiar people, set apart for His use. That means we do not attempt to redeem the wicked aspects of the culture for our use. Just because the church made that mistake a long time ago (supposedly) with the date of Christmas, does not give us the license to continue to make the mistake, even if the paganism has long since been stripped from the date. Unfortunately, Ross fails to understand that the Bible places truth above all other considerations, including cultural comfort and eisegetical concerns.
While it is after Christmas, it is important to point out the Dr. Ross is far from alone in making this kind of claim. However, the mere fact that he makes this large of an unforced error tells me two things. One, he has never bothered to read creationist material (CMI in particular has amazing articles debunking the Christmas is pagan myth). Second, he cannot be trusted to answer any apologetics question. If he cannot do basic research into the origins of Christmas, why should he be trusted to correctly answer any question into any issue? Of course, that assumes he is telling the truth, which, with Ross, is an open question (see my podcast, “Is Hugh Ross a False Teacher?” for why I can say this). In this case, I do not believe Ross is lying. I simply think he took the lazy way out and did no research. Which leads me to ask why I should trust anything else he writes?
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