5 Apologetics Questions Every Christian Should Learn How to Answer: Christmas Edition

By Alisa Childers

In a previous post, I offered quick answers to 5 apologetics questions that I think every Christian should be familiar with. With many misconceptions and misunderstandings about Christmas, here are 5 Christmas-themed questions with “barebones” quick answers that can easily be committed to memory.
Christmas Questions

  1.  Was Jesus born on December 25th, AD 1?

Although we celebrate His birth on December 25th, there is no biblical evidence that this is the actual date He was born. “AD” is an abbreviation for anno domini, which means “in the year of our Lord” in Latin. When scholars came up with the BC/AD system, they intended to divide world history based on the birth of Christ. However, they miscalculated the year of His birth, and it wasn’t recognized until later that Jesus was actually born somewhere between 6-4 BC. (1) Matthew 2:1 records that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great.  History tells us that Herod died in 4 BC, so Jesus would have been at least 4 years old by AD 1.

 

  1.  Is Christmas a pagan holiday? 

Every year, I see the inevitable “Christmas was a pagan holiday so Christians shouldn’t celebrate it!” claim circulated on social media at Christmastime. Let’s put it to rest, shall we? Christmas was never a pagan holiday. However, in the Roman Empire, there were certain pagan winter ceremonies such as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, celebrated on December 25th, and  Saturnalia, a week long festival that culminated around the same date.

In the early third century, Christians began to associate Jesus’ birth with December 25th. In the fourth century, they made it an official holiday. Why? Some argue it was because it coincided with the date of the Resurrection, others report that it was to challenge and contrast the existing pagan traditions.(2) Either way, it’s interesting to note that Dies Natalis Solis Invicti honored the Roman sun god, and in Malachi 4:2,  a prophecy about Jesus calls Him the  “Sun of righteousness.” I can’t think of a better way to contrast the festival than to laud the birth of the true Sun—the Light of the world!

  1.  We three kings of Orient are?

There are three inaccuracies just in the first line of this beloved Christmas carol.

  • Three? The wise men brought three gifts, but the Bible doesn’t specify how many actually made the journey.
  • Kings? Matthew 2:1 tells of “wise men from the East” who followed the star to see the boy Jesus. Because of their high standing in court, early church father Tertullian wrote, “The East generally regarded the magi as kings,”(3) but they were not actual monarchs.
  • From the Orient? The wise men did not come from as far east as the Orient but were more likely from somewhere a little closer like Babylon. That was where a certain captive named Daniel was taken centuries earlier and was eventually made “chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon” (Dan. 2:48). The wise men would have likely been familiar with the prophecies about Jesus through the writings of Daniel.(4)
  1.  Is the story of Jesus’ virgin birth just a re-telling of ancient mythology?

This frequent claim on social media disintegrates when we actually examine the evidence. Consider the three most common examples—Buddha, Horus, and Mithras. None of the earliest and most reliable sources indicate that these figures were born of a virgin.(5)

  • The earliest sources on Buddha specifically mention that he was born of a royal human bloodline. Later stories record more unusual elements surrounding his conception, but they are nothing like the virgin conception of Jesus.
  • Horus was an Egyptian deity whose parents were Osiris and Isis, and early stories actually mention Osiris’ seed being in Isis to conceive him.
  • Mithraism is an ancient mystery cult with no surviving scripture. All we have are sculptures and paintings, which can be tough to interpret. The earliest version of the birth of Mithras portrays him emerging out of the side of a mountain, leaving a hole in the rock. Unless the mountain was a virgin, that is hardly a “virgin birth story.”
  1.  Was Jesus born in a stable?

Although it is commonly assumed, the biblical account doesn’t actually mention a stable, or a cave, as early church tradition suggests.(6)  However, Luke chapter 2 mentions a couple of important details—that He was “laid in a manger” (a type of feeding trough for animals,) and that there was “no room at the inn.” There’s no mention of an innkeeper, and the word translated as “inn” is the Greek word kataluma, which might be better translated “guest room.” In fact, Jesus uses the same word in Luke 22:11 in reference to the Upper Room, the site of the Last Supper.

As I’ve written previously, Mary and Joseph most likely did not attempt to stay at an inn, but it would have been customary for them to stay with Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem. With the house overcrowded due to the government-mandated census and the guest room occupied, Jesus was probably born on the lower level of the dwelling. This is where animals were sometimes brought inside at night to keep warm and safe from theft, which explains why there was a manger.(7)

Have a well-informed and Merry Christmas!

 


Visit Alisa’s website here ? www.AlisaChilders.com ?

References:
(1) Alden A. Mosshammer, The Easter Computus and the Origins of the Christian Era (Oxford University Press, 2008) p. 319-356.
(2) Lee Strobel, The Case For Christmas: A Journalist Investigates the Identity of the Child in the Manger (Zondervan, 1998,2005) p. 20.
(3) Tertullian, Against Marcion, 3:13.
(4) William Stob, “The Gospel of Matthew: Righteousness Through Obedience” The Four Gospels: A Guide to Their Historical Background, Characteristic Differences, and Timeless Significance (Ambassador Group, 2007).
(5) J. Warner Wallace, Was the Virgin Conception of Jesus Borrowed From Prior Mythologies? Cold Case Christianity Podcast #53, 2015.
(6) Justin Martyr, Dialogue of Justin, Philosopher and Martyr, with Trypho, a Jew, LXXVIII.
(7) John McRay, Archaeology & the New Testament (Baker Academic, 1991) p. 80-82; Kenneth Bailey,The Manger and the Inn, 2008.


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18 replies
  1. toby says:

    In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. (Luke 2:1–5)
    The census is thought to have been 6CE. As atheists using biblical quotes in arguments are often told, “You’re cherry picking/taking things out of context.” So I don’t think you can leave out the above verse in connection to your first point. The timing appears to be way off between Herod and the census. And why a census demands you go to the home of your family rather than staying and being counted where you are is a bit fishy.

    Reply
    • Spencer says:

      Toby,

      This objection is something biblical scholars have been aware of for a long time (http://christiananswers.net/q-aiia/census-luke2.html).

      However, even if the objection succeeds, I’m hard pressed to see exactly what it would prove. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the author of the Gospel of Luke messed up the date of the census. This might disprove an assertion that the account is inerrant but it would not undermine the overall veracity of the account contained therein.

      The passage cited above does not begin with “Once upon a time in a far away kingdom.” It gives specific details so that the reader can deduce specifically where and when the events occurred. Maybe Luke made a mistake, but it’s clear he intended for his readers to regard the event as actual history. Had he completely made up the account, it’s hard to imagine that the readers of his day would’ve given any credence to his writing, which raises suspicion as to how the account ever got off the ground.

      Reply
    • Sandy says:

      Let’s get into context here. A census then could take YEARS to do, and one had to return per Roman law to one’s house of origin so that other members or townspeople could verify them. They had no other way to verify who was who. Historical Context, people, Historical context.

      Reply
      • Ed Vaessen says:

        “Let’s get into context here. A census then could take YEARS to do, and one had to return per Roman law to one’s house of origin so that other members or townspeople could verify them. ”

        You are sure that was the reason?

        Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        That makes no sense. Why are people more likely to be able to verify you in the street you were born in? Back then when life expectancy was much shorter, likely as not people who remember when you were born are dead, or wouldn’t recognise you now you’re grown up.

        Reply
        • toby says:

          And just think of how hairy people were! Once a boy got past puberty he’d probably be unrecognizable to his nearest friends and family. Hurray for razors!

          Reply
  2. Ed Vaessen says:

    ” Maybe Luke made a mistake, but it’s clear he intended for his readers to regard the event as actual history. ”

    Tell that to the fundamentalists who think not one mistake, however small, can exist in the Bible.

    Reply
  3. Anders says:

    I was suprised to see well founded arguments. However, I find one contradiction. You say that even if christmas was pagan, you couldnt think of a better way to contrast the pagan festival.

    Does the Bible not tell you not to worship him like the pagan worship their Gods?

    Reply
  4. Samuel says:

    About point #2 I’d like to say that is strange to me that the date was set only after Constantine made christianity the official religion of the empire, so I see it more like a syncretism instead of the answer of christians to a pagan celebration; also for me is strange that there is no mention of christ-mass in the early church, not to mention the Bible itself, by the way Scripture tells us to “celebrate” the death of Christ, not his birth. I understand that many people say that is a date to remember Jesus, but the date bugs me, because is taking a pagan celebration and mix it with the Bible to obtain something and label it as christian, so if this is right, then do we can do the same in halloween and any other pagan celebration,, which I don’t think is what the Bible teach us.

    Reply

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