Popular Customs That Displease God
1. By seeking to please God, do we gain or lose?
WE HAVE everything worth while to gain and nothing of true value to lose by seeking to please God in all things. To him the psalmist says: “You will cause me to know the path of life. Rejoicing to satisfaction is with your face; there is pleasantness at your right hand forever.” (Psalm 16:11 [15:11, Dy]) However, Satan the Devil tries to turn persons away from true worship and direct them into ways that displease Jehovah God. One of the means he uses to accomplish this is the practice of popular customs that go contrary to Bible teachings.
2. What determines whether a popular custom is wrong?
2 Not all popular customs are wrong. But they are displeasing to God if they are rooted in false religion or if they are in some other way in conflict with Bible principles. (Matthew 15:6) Interestingly, most of the popular customs that have survived till today are of a religious nature. Since we have already seen that worldly religion has turned aside from the Bible’s standard of pure worship, it should not surprise us to find that many of their customs are based on pagan religious practices.
3. (a) What warning did Jehovah give his people against pagan religious customs? (b) How can we be helped to apply the counsel found at Romans 12:2
3 In warning the Israelites against the religious customs of the surrounding nations, Jehovah told his people that they should “not learn the way of the nations at all.” (Jeremiah 10:2) This was a loving warning, because those pagan customs were based on falsehood, misrepresenting God and his purpose. Often those customs had a bad effect on the morals of those practicing them. For a like reason the Bible counsels us today: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2) A sincere desire to please Jehovah God will help us to do so.
THE USE OF THE CROSS
4. What does The Catholic Encyclopedia admit about the cross?
4 Many churchgoers wear a cross, or have a crucifix in the home, and crosses are found in many church buildings. But did you know that the cross actually has a pagan origin? The facts show that, rather than being the exclusive symbol of Christianity, the cross was in use centuries before the birth of Christ. This is admitted by The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908 edition, Vol. IV, page 517):
“The sign of the cross represented in its simplest form by a crossing of two lines at right angles, greatly antedates, in both the East and the West, the introduction of Christianity. It goes back to a very remote period of human civilization.”
5. What does the book The Ancient Church say about the pagan origin of the cross?
5 Showing the pagan religious origin of the cross, the book The Ancient Church by clergyman W. D. Killen says (1859 edition, page 316):
“From the most remote antiquity the cross was venerated in Egypt and Syria; it was held in equal honour by the Buddhists of the East; . . . about the commencement of our era, the pagans were wont to make the sign of a cross upon the forehead in the celebration of some of their sacred mysteries.”
6. Where did the cross have its origin, and of what god was it a symbol?
6 And, further showing its connection with Babylonish religion, W. E. Vine, in An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Vol. 1, page 256), says that the cross “had its origin in ancient Chaldea [Babylon], and was used as the symbol of the god Tammuz (being in the shape of the mystic Tau [or T], the initial of his name).”
7. (a) According to the Bible book of Acts, was Jesus put to death on a two-beamed cross? (b) How do ancient Greek writers use the word that is translated “cross” in some Bible versions?
7 But was not Jesus put to death on a two-beamed cross? The Bible indicates that he was not. At Acts 5:30 and Ac 10:39, in both Catholic and Protestant Bible translations, we are told that Jesus died on a “tree.” The word “tree” here translates the Greek word xylon (or xulon). Concerning this word and the word stauros, translated “cross” in some versions, The Companion Bible says on page 186 in the “Appendixes”:
“Homer [ancient Greek poet] uses the word stauros of an ordinary pole or stake, or a single piece of timber. And this is the meaning and usage of the word throughout the Greek classics. It never means two pieces of timber placed across one another at any angle, but always of one piece alone. Hence the use of the word xulon [or xylon, meaning a timber] in connection with the manner of our Lord’s death, . . . The evidence is thus complete, that the Lord was put to death upon an upright stake, and not on two pieces of timber placed at any angle.”
8. When did the use of the cross begin among professed Christians? And why did they adopt a pagan sign?
8 Showing how and when such use of the cross began among professed Christians, W. E. Vine, in his book, says:
“By the middle of the 3rd century A.D. the churches had either departed from, or had [made a distorted imitation of], certain doctrines of the Christian faith. In order to increase the prestige of the apostate ecclesiastical system pagans were received into the churches apart from regeneration by faith, and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or T, . . . with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the cross of Christ.”—Vol. 1, page 256.
9. (a) Is it normal to cherish an instrument used to murder a loved one? (b) If one has been using a cross, what decision must he make? What will help in making the right decision?
9 It is not normal to cherish and adore the instrument used to murder someone we love. Who would think of kissing the revolver that had been used to murder a loved one, or of wearing it around one’s neck? This being so, and the cross being proved to be a pagan religious symbol, persons who have worn such an object or had crucifixes in their homes, thinking that this honored God and his Son Jesus Christ, are faced with an important decision. Will they continue to use them? Will they even keep them? Love of the truth and the desire to please God in all things will help in making the right decision.—Deuteronomy 7:26.
RELIGIOUS IMAGES AND PICTURES
10. (a) How far back does the use of religious images, shrines and pictures date? (b) In this connection, what questions deserve our consideration?
10 Ever since the time of ancient Egypt and Babylon, the use of religious images, shrines and pictures in the home has been popular. These have been cherished by persons who believed that they would bring safety and blessing to their homes. But is Jehovah pleased with this practice? Does he approve of those who look to material objects of devotion instead of putting full trust in him, the true and living God?
11. (a) Did God allow the ancient Israelites to use religious images as aids to devotion? (b) Why did the early Christians also avoid the use of images?
11 Showing his displeasure with religious images as aids to devotion, God gave his law to the Israelites forbidding their use. Moreover, he warned them against desiring the gold and silver on images they found among pagan peoples. (Exodus 20:4, 5; Deuteronomy 7:25) Did God’s attitude change with the introduction of Christianity? No, for the Bible shows that Christians likewise avoided the use of images. (Acts 17:29) Following the apostle John’s counsel to “guard yourselves from idols,” they walked “by faith, not by sight.” They put their complete trust in the invisible God.—1 John 5:21; 2 Corinthians 5:7.
12. How did images of Christ get started? So, did early Christians have images of Jesus’ mother?
12 Secular history agrees with this. As M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopœdia (Vol. IV, page 503) tells us: “Images were unknown in the worship of the primitive Christians.” Since the early Christians kept their homes free from religious images, where did images of Christ get started? The book The History of the Christian Religion and Church, During the Three First Centuries (by Dr. Augustus Neander) (Second edition, 1848, page 183) tells us: “Heathens, who, like Alexander Severus [Roman emperor of the third century C.E.], saw something Divine in Christ, and sects, which mixed heathenism and Christianity together, were the first who made use of images of Christ.” Since no images of Christ were used by the early Christians, it is evident also that they had no images of Mary, Jesus’ mother.
13. (a) What determines whether a statue or picture displeases God? (b) What is the origin of the halo or “nimbus”?
13 Does this mean that it is wrong to have any art object, such as pictures or statues, in the home? No, for there is a difference between mere objects of art and objects of religious devotion. What is it that determines whether a statue or picture is displeasing to God? This: is it reverenced or worshiped, perhaps candles or food being placed before it, as in some countries? Does it misrepresent the Bible? Or does it portray pagan symbols? You may have noticed that some pictures of Jesus Christ have a circle of light around his head. This is called a halo or nimbus. If you look up “nimbus” in an encyclopedia, you will learn that it was used by ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans in their pagan religious art. The halo can be traced back to Babylonian sun-worship, and it appears with representations of gods of Babylon.
14. What did faithful servants of God in the past do when they found such false religious items in their midst?
14 Do we have guidance from the past as to what we should do if we find such religious images and pictures in our midst? Well, what did faithful Jacob do when he found false gods among the members of his household? He got rid of them. (Genesis 35:2-4) And what did young King Josiah do as a result of starting to search for the true God? He cleaned the graven images out of Judah, breaking them to pieces. (2 Chronicles 34:3, 4)a What fine examples of zeal in giving glory to Jehovah God!—Psalm 115:1-8, 18 [113:1-8, 18, second set of numbers, Dy].
HONORING HUMANS AND INSTITUTIONS
15. (a) Are holidays that give worshipful honors to creatures pleasing to God? (b) Holidays in memory of the “spirits of the dead” are based on what false doctrine? So, what is the truth about All Souls’ Day?
15 In many places it is the custom to set aside days to honor “saints,” or famous persons, dead or alive. Is this pleasing to God? The Bible warns against giving worshipful honors to creatures, so holidays that tend in that direction are not in harmony with God’s will. (Acts 10:25, 26; 14:11-15; Romans 1:25; Revelation 19:10) Further, holidays in memory of the “spirits of the dead” are actually based on the false doctrine of the immortality of the human soul. So it should not surprise us to read, in the Encyclopœdia Britannica (1946 edition, Vol. 1, page 666), that “certain popular beliefs connected with All Souls’ Day are of pagan origin.” Persons who love the way of the truth are careful to avoid such celebrations.
16. (a) What is wrong with holidays or celebrations that honor nations or worldly institutions? (b) How do the Scriptures show what course Christians should take?
16 Other holidays or celebrations honor and exalt nations or worldly institutions. The wrong custom here is giving credit to such organizations for benefits that really should be credited to God, or crediting such institutions with the power to save and protect in a way that actually only God can do. (Jeremiah 17:5-7) So, participants in these celebrations play false to God. True Christians will be guided by the principle that they are to be “no part of the world.” (John 15:19) Rather than imitate the world, they will “quit being fashioned after this system of things.”—Romans 12:2.
17. (a) At a birthday celebration, who is exalted as the center of attention? (b) Who are the only persons whose birthday celebrations are reported in the Bible? (c) How did the early Christians view birthday celebrations?
17 Some customs that may seem quite innocent lead in the same direction as the practices mentioned above. Thus, while the celebration of birthdays may seem of little consequence, they exalt the creature, making him the center of attention rather than the Creator. We should note, too, that the only two birthday celebrations mentioned in the Bible are those of Egypt’s Pharaoh and Herod Antipas, rulers who followed false religion. (Genesis 40:20-22; Matthew 14:6-10) And what of the early Christians? Historian Neander says: “The notion of a birthday festival was far from the ideas of the Christians of this period in general.” (Page 190) They shunned birthday celebrations as of pagan origin. Those who earnestly seek to please God wisely avoid customs that exalt any creature or that have their origin with false religion.—John 5:44.
EASTER AND CHRISTMAS
18. (a) Did the early Christians celebrate Easter? (b) What is the origin of Easter’s popular customs? (c) Does the Easter celebration find any support at all in the Bible?
18 Easter is Christendom’s chief religious holiday, said to be held in memory of Christ’s being raised from the dead. But did Christ give a command to celebrate his resurrection? No, he did not. History books tell us that Easter was not celebrated by early Christians and that it is based on ancient pagan practices. The Encyclopœdia Britannica says:
“There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament. . . . The sanctity of special times was an idea absent from the minds of the first Christians.”b
Dr. Alexander Hislop says of Easter customs:
“The popular observances that still attend the period of its celebration amply confirm the testimony of history as to its Babylonian character. The hot cross buns of Good Friday, and the dyed eggs of Pasch or Easter Sunday, figured in the Chaldean [Babylonian] rites just as they do now.”c
The word “Easter” that appears once in the King James Bible at Acts 12:4 is a wrong translation for the word “passover.”d “Easter” appears nowhere in the Catholic Douay Bible. Christendom’s chief holiday, Easter, therefore finds no support at all in the Bible. It is of pagan origin, and therefore displeasing to God.
19. (a) Was Christmas celebrated by the earliest Christians? (b) What memorial did Jesus instruct his followers to keep?
19 What about Christmas? By checking reference works in a public library, you will find that it was unknown among the earliest Christians. Jesus instructed his followers to observe a memorial of his death, not of his birth. (1 Corinthians 11:24-26) Says The Catholic Encyclopedia: “Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the church. . . . The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt.”e
20. (a) How do the facts show that Jesus could not have been born in the cold of winter? (b) When was the date December 25 chosen, and why that date?
20 What, then, of the date December 25, celebrated by many as the birthday of Christ? It could not have been the date of Jesus’ birth. The Bible shows that at the time shepherds were still in the fields at night. As the Encyclopœdia Britannica (1907, Vol. V, p. 611) acknowledges, they would not have been there in the cold, rainy season of winter. (Luke 2:8-12) As for the origin of the date, The World Book Encyclopedia says:
“In A.D. 354, Bishop Liberius of Rome ordered the people to celebrate on December 25. He probably chose this date because the people of Rome already observed it as the Feast of Saturn, celebrating the birthday of the sun.”f
21. What do the facts of history show as to the origin of most of the Christmas customs?
21 Since the date of Christmas is of pagan origin, it should not seem strange that the customs of Christmas are also of pagan origin. Thus the Encyclopœdia of Religion and Ethics tells us:
“Most of the Christmas customs now prevailing . . . are not genuine Christian customs, but heathen customs which have been absorbed or tolerated by the Church. . . . The Saturnalia in Rome provided the model for most of the merry customs of the Christmas time.”g
Also, The Encyclopedia Americana points out that among the customs borrowed from the pagan Roman feast of Saturnalia was “the giving of gifts.”h
22. (a) How should Galatians 5:9 influence our attitude toward Christmas? (b) For what sound reasons do true Christians shun the celebration?
22 There is no escaping it: Christmas is of pagan origin. Knowing this, we should pay attention to the apostle Paul’s warning against mixing the true and the false. He says that even “a little leaven ferments the whole lump.” (Galatians 5:9) He reproved some of the early Christians for observing days that had been kept under the law of Moses but that God had canceled for Christians. (Galatians 4:10, 11) How much more important it is for true Christians today to shun a celebration that was never authorized by God, that stems from pagan Babylon, and that falsely bears the name of Christ!
FINER THAN PAGAN CELEBRATIONS
23. What do true Christians have that is finer than the once-a-year “Christmas spirit”?
23 True Christians have something finer than pagan celebrations. They have the “fruitage of the spirit,” which is “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22, 23) This fruitage produces a generosity that is much more beautiful and genuine than the “Christmas spirit” that blooms just once a year. God’s spirit produces kindness and unselfishness that can plainly be seen every day of the year. This prompts Christians to give, not with the hope of repayment or because they are pressured into it, but out of genuine Christian love.—Luke 6:35, 36; Acts 20:35.
24. (a) When do real Christians give gifts and have good times together? (b) How is this better than what the world does?
24 Real Christians can give gifts and have good times together throughout the year. (Luke 6:38) Parents do not have to wait for birthdays or for Christmas, but they can bring gifts to their children at various times during the year. This makes for many happy occasions instead of one or two. Further, the children know that it is their parents who are giving them the gifts, doing so out of love for them. This helps to cement the bond of love between parents and children. Moreover, children are not encouraged to be unthankful to man or God, because of thinking that they are entitled to receive gifts on certain days.—Colossians 3:14.
25. Learning the truth about popular customs frees us from what, and with what goal in view?
25 Learning the truth about the pagan origins of popular customs can have a marvelous liberating effect. No longer do we feel obligated to follow practices that have proved to be a burden, financially and otherwise, to people of the world. And, most important, our knowing the truth frees us to pursue the course that is pleasing to Jehovah, so that we may find everlasting life in his righteous new system.—John 8:32; Romans 6:21, 22.
a 2 Paralipomenon 34:3, 4, Dy.
b The Encyclopœdia Britannica, 1910, Vol. VIII, p. 828.
c The Two Babylons, pp. 107, 108.
e The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908, Vol. III, p. 724.
f The World Book Encyclopedia, 1966, Vol. 3, p. 416.
g Encyclopœdia of Religion and Ethics, by James Hastings, Vol. III, pp. 608, 609.
h The Encyclopedia Americana, 1956, Vol. VI, p. 622.