The Hebrews kept records of the year one was born, as the Bible’s genealogical and chronological data reveal. (Nu 1:2, 3; Jos 14:10; 2Ch 31:16, 17) The ages of Levites, priests, and kings were not left to guesswork. (Nu 4:3; 8:23-25; 2Ki 11:21; 15:2; 18:2) This was also true in the case of Jesus.
According to the Scriptures, the day the baby was born was usually one of rejoicing and thanksgiving on the part of the parents, and rightly so, for “look! Sons are an inheritance from Jehovah; the fruitage of the belly is a reward.” (Ps 127:3; Jer 20:15; Lu 1:57, 58) However, there is no indication in the Scriptures that faithful worshipers of Jehovah ever indulged in the pagan practice of annually celebrating birthdays.
The Bible makes direct reference to only two birthday celebrations, those of Pharaoh of Egypt (18th century B.C.E.) and Herod Antipas (1st century C.E.). These two accounts are similar in that both occasions were marked with great feasting and granting of favors; both are remembered for executions, the beheading of Pharaoh’s chief baker in the first instance, the beheading of John the Baptizer in the latter.
While the expression “on the day of our king,” at Hosea 7:5, may possibly indicate a birthday party for the apostate king of Israel when the princes “sickened themselves . . . because of wine,” it could as easily be the anniversary day of his accession to the throne when similar festivities were held.
When Job’s sons “held a banquet at the house of each one on his own day” it should not be supposed that they were celebrating their birthdays. (Job 1:4) “Day” in this verse translates the Hebrew word yohm and refers to a period of time from sunrise to sunset. On the other hand, “birthday” is a compound of the two Hebrew words yohm (day) and hul·leʹdheth. The distinction between “day” and one’s birthday may be noted in Genesis 40:20, where both expressions appear: “Now on the third day [yohm] it turned out to be Pharaoh’s birthday [literally, “the day (yohm) of the birth (hul·leʹdheth) of Pharaoh”].” So it is certain that Job 1:4 does not refer to a birthday, as is unquestionably the case at Genesis 40:20. It would seem that Job’s seven sons held a family gathering (possibly a spring or harvest festival) and as the feasting made the week-long circuit, each son hosted the banquet in his own house “on his own day.”
With the introduction of Christianity the viewpoint toward birthday celebrations did not change. Jesus inaugurated a binding Memorial, not of his birth, but of his death, saying: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” (Lu 22:19) If early Christians did not celebrate or memorialize the birthday of their Savior, much less would they celebrate their own day of birth. Historian Augustus Neander writes: “The notion of a birthday festival was far from the ideas of the Christians of this period.” (The History of the Christian Religion and Church, During the Three First Centuries, translated by H. J. Rose, 1848, p. 190) “Origen [a writer of the third century C.E.] . . . insists that ‘of all the holy people in the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod) who make great rejoicings over the day on which they were born into this world below.’”
Clearly, then, the festive celebration of birthdays does not find its origin in either the Hebrew or the Greek Scriptures. Additionally, M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia (1882, Vol. I, p. 817) says the Jews “regarded birthday celebrations as parts of idolatrous worship . . . , and this probably on account of the idolatrous rites with which they were observed in honor of those who were regarded as the patron gods of the day on which the party was born.”