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Jeremiah 10 and the Christmas Tree

Last week I posted a blog entitled A Kosher Christmas Tree? which received quite the response on both the blog itself and Facebook. At First Fruits of Zion, we neither endorse nor condemn the Christian celebration of Christmas. As advocates of Messianic Judaism, a discussion about Christian Christmas tradition is outside of our purview. My family and I do not celebrate the holiday in our home. Nevertheless, there is an annual question about whether or not the observance of Christmas should be avoided by Messianic Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. Plus, it's always interesting to see the explosive results when Christmas tradition, superstitious paranoia, and fanatical dogmatism collide.

christmas-tree-with-presents.jpg

In the responses to my blog, one issue that came up, again and again, is the supposed connection between Jeremiah 10:3-5 and Christmas. Many of the most outspoken critics of Christmas in the Hebrew Roots movement see a direct link between the pagan practice Jeremiah condemns and the modern Christmas tree. But let's examine the verse in context.

For the customs of the peoples are delusion; because it is wood cut from the forest, The work of the hands of a craftsman with a cutting tool. They decorate it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers So that it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, Because they cannot walk! Do not fear them, for they can do no harm, nor can they do any good. (Jeremiah 10:3-5)

While at first glance one might be tempted to connect this passage with the Christmas tree, upon closer examination of the context, it becomes obvious that the passage is about cutting down a tree and then carving it into an idol. It is not about cutting down a tree and putting it whole, foliage and all, into one's house.

tokenz-ghjprd001.jpg

The tradition of putting up a Christmas tree most likely was derived from some superstitious, winter custom of pagan religions, but we must be careful not to retrofit this back into biblical texts that do not fit the context. To directly link the Christmas tree with Jeremiah 10 is anachronistic and a violation of context.

If we want to argue against observing non-biblical Christian and secular holidays, we have to be careful to leave the emotion and junk scholarship out of the discussion, otherwise our criticisms lack credibility. For a balanced and fresh perspective on Christmas, paganism, and all things idolatrous, I recommend checking out our audio teaching, What About Paganism.

About the Author: Toby Janicki is a teacher, writer, and project manager for First Fruits of Zion and Vine of David. He contributes regularly to Messiah Journal and has written several books including God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel.

Discussions & Comments

Please keep each of your comments short (around 250 words or less). Comments beyond this length, or of an unreasonable antithetical nature, could be subject to editing or removal.


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Archived Comments


I'm with Kevin.

It's very simple.

It's about Holiness. Not hate or any other such foul thing.

Interesting thing about the "tree"...did not Elohim tell Adam and Eve to not only not EAT of the "tree", but don't even TOUCH it?

Our Father means every word He says. He's neither flippant, nor disingenuous like we are.

If only I could even come close to being more like Him.

Pedat | March 14, 2012 2:10 PM

Christianity today seems to forget Gods righteous (and loving) judgement. Did God condemn setting up images in His mighty name or not? Of course He did, and knowing that He never changes Mal 3:4 we need to look at everything we partake in, watch on tv and listen to. The main point I take from Jer 10:2 is don't do what the unbelievers do and this includes their customs. As it is written in Philippians 2:12 (KJV) work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. We must all learn HIS ways, or what use will we be to Him in His Kingdom. Starting with Ex 20 (ten commandments) they are the essence of loving God and our neighbour. Praise to the Lord! P.S. It is not out of hatred, but love for others that convicts Gods people to share His word with others. Pulling some out of the pit and setting each other back on the paths of righteousness is our duty.1 Pet 1:16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. Ecclesiastes 12:13 and Revelation 14:12

Kevin | January 15, 2012 4:36 PM

I am a gentile who has recently come to question Christmas (prior to even hearing about this site, and signing up for your lessons--thank you for them). While reading through Jeremiah, the picture of the tree had caught my attention. Yes, Jeremiah does describe an idol, but I find it cooincidental that we have sang songs over the years like, "O Christmas Tree...how lovely are your branches" to a tree on which we've hung little graven images. And then we place presents underneath it (similar to having prepared food and left it for an idol), which we then give out to be consumed by friends and family (a picture of the meats offered to idols being consumed by the people). Okay, I may sound ridiculous... But what about the coveting, which is the core to all sin and is emphazised often throughout the Bible. We hint at what we want, and then hope that we have obtained man's approval through our choices of gifts. How does this tradition of man accomplish the two greatest commandments?

Denise | January 9, 2012 1:06 PM

Elijah had a problem, the people did not know who to serve. Priests taught the people things like "we neither endorse nor condemn". Not hot or cold, lukewarm. Today, we really could use Elihah to help us understand what is holy and what is not. To help us rightly see what side we are on and understand the difference between who serves the almighty and who does not. To teach us to observe all things that Yeshua commanded us and to leave the rest alone and untouched. "Touch not the unclean thing".

Steven | January 1, 2012 2:13 PM

Do you really feel that Syria spying on dissidents?

***Toby's Response*** I am not sure I understand your question.

Hayden Foster | January 1, 2012 5:25 AM

My family and I DO NOT celebrate the pagan holiday of christmas, and we DO tell people the truth about it...whether it offends them or not. Even the Bible says that the truth will be offensive to those who aren't living in it. No matter how nice the truth is shared, it will likely be offensive to somebody, at sometime. To avoid speaking it or compromising IS NOT an acceptable alternative. Having said that, the importance of having one's facts straight before sharing such truths are essential. I agree that Jeremiah 10 DOES NOT refer to the christmas tree and it was a christian friend of mine who pointed out this reasoning, using the same analytical methods I've used to correct incorrect christian doctrine. So, just my two cents here, while I disagree with the mediocre stance FFOZ has been drifting towards on many issues lately, I do agree with the author's position on this work. Lets continue to study and show ourselves approved...Shalom!

Jeremiah | December 31, 2011 6:34 PM

Interesting article, in hopes of my other half of my family will study Torah. However, this year they Celebrated Chanukah with us. Thanks for your knowledgeable articles.

Rachel Limas | December 29, 2011 3:53 PM

We have not done Christmas in 5 years but we are thinking next year we will. We have decided it is best to see our grown children on holidays such as this than them going to inlaws all the time. I think Christmas can be a custom as well just like Thanksgiving can be. I think can celebrate Hanukkah and still put up a tree and open gifts on Christmas day without it having any meaning to it being Christ's birthday.

pachipres | December 26, 2011 4:14 PM

Is a Christmas tree pagan? Yes. Does that mean those that have them are celebrating Saturnalia? No. Many people, Believers included, do what they have been raised culturally and taught to do without a single thought about what it really means. Is that responsible behavior? No. There comes a point when each of us should examine our actions and measure them by Torah. Becoming Torah observant means that every detail of life, including eating, becomes an act of worship. Since Christmas is completely a man-made holiday, you won't find it in Torah to measure it by. But everyone needs to decide for themselves if it's worth their time to practice pagan-rooted customs. Wouldn't that time be better spent doing mitzvot?

Karen Gloyd | December 21, 2011 11:32 AM

I am still "in progress" regarding Christmas. However I can't help but wonder how it is that the idea of "metaphor" doesn't resonate with folks regarding Christmas trees, etc. Certainly, these things can all become paganistic distractions in our hyper-materialistic culture; however, C.S. Lewis, I think, has a great approach to such things through a positive approach to the use of metaphor in language. For instance, he writes: "If we are going to talk at all about things which are not perceived by the senses, we are forced to use language metaphorically." (Miracles, ch. 10, para. 10) Here, he speaks of language; but what of created "things" such as the sun, moon, stars? Do not the heavens declare the glory of HaShem? I see every tree on the Earth (decorated or not) as I do a flame or a waterfall: as a symbol that lifts the eyes of my heart toward HaShem. This is the power of metaphor: taking "every thought captive to obey Messiah." (2 Cor 10:5) Thanks, Toby, for your work in this area.

Daniel Hennessy | December 20, 2011 8:22 AM

I agree with Jacob Fronzack (hi Jake!). After spending too many years listening to others ridicule and put down Christian believers in Messiah during this time of year and watching how it literally tore my own family apart. It is time to focus on our own walk and stop judging others. Most of us at one time celebrated Christmas with a tree and loved Messiah no less than we do now. Hashem will do the judging when the time comes and many who are filled with hate and judgement towards Christmas celebrators now will find that He uses the same measure of judgement against them. Sobering thought, in my opinion. Although we do not celebrate Messiah's birth at this time of year in our home, nor would we put up a decorated tree, I no longer resent my friends and family members who still choose to. Ridicule and judgement is never the way.

Jennifer | December 19, 2011 1:38 PM

Jodi, I agree with you. While some do focus their Christmases around the tree, there are many who don't. And about the previous comment of memories and religious scenes placed on it, what's wrong with that? Singing songs about the tree is pushing it, but that doesn't mean that what is an idol for some, is one for all. I could start a cult worshiping my pillow, but does that mean that followers of Yeshua should stop sleeping with pillows? Given, if someone chooses not to have a Christmas tree for whatever reason, then ok. But to condemn others for having one without even knowing their reasoning, that's pretty rough.

Isaac Brocato | December 16, 2011 1:20 PM

IF I can get someone to see the "Spirit" of Christmas by having a tree in my house, and by them seeing the "Spirit" of giving and love which comes from our love of God, what is the problem? If someone leaves a life of drugs, alcohol, adultery, thievery, etc etc because of the love of God they see in my life at Christmas, with a tree in my business or home, is that a problem? I've never "worshiped" the tree. I've never "given the tree" gifts... yet, the spirit of giving at Christmas by most people is the most wonderful thing that happens all year. IF ANYONE continues that "giving" from their heart and comes closer to what God would have them do/be because of a Christmas experience, what's the problem with having a tree? My birthday isn't in July, but if you want to celebrate it with a pool party, should I be upset? Do you really think God/Jesus is upset that we celebrate the birth of Christ in the wrong month? Just wondering?

Jodi McClellan | December 16, 2011 10:22 AM

Toby argues that Jeremiah 10 wasn't about bringing whole trees in, but carving idols out of trees. Toby concedes the tree has false-god rite backgrounds, and is part of the culture of the nations.

Carved or whole, it's still a kind of idol: decorated with silver and gold, made the centerpiece of the home, angels set atop it, memories hung on it, gifts opened beneath it, families gathered around it, religious scenes placed under and upon it, songs sung about it and to it.

That's a form of worship.

Jeremiah 10 addresses all these things. So while calling the Jeremiah 10 tree a "Christmas tree" is anachronistic, Jeremiah 10 nonetheless addresses the very thing the tree is acting as today: a gentile cultural practice in which a tree is brought into the home, exalted, tied to false-god rites. No place in the lives of Yeshua's disciples.

And while on the topic of anachronism, FFOZ & VOD would be wise to apply that same no-anachronisms standard to kabbalistic concepts in the gospels.

***Toby's Response:*** For our "no-anachronisms standard to kabbalistic concepts in the gospels" I recommend you read this: http://ffoz.org/_php/download.php?file=Mystical_Hermeneutics_Kabbalah.pdf

Judah Gabriel Himango | December 15, 2011 10:47 PM

Wow. Read this blog and all the comments. Things like this scare me. I study Torah to become closer to God. I don't understand why people worry so much about what others do in their homes (as to Christian/Jewish customs). Worship of and becoming closer to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit must be our focus so that we can spread the Gospel of God's great love through our Messiah.

Dr. S. Perry | December 15, 2011 10:48 AM

In fact, I'll add this: "What About Paganism?" has set my family free, especially at this time of the year, by helping us to see these issues more clearly and biblically. I think WAP is one of the most important materials ever produced by FFOZ. I can actually listen to Silent Night or O Come All Ye Faithful without feeling guilty!

Mike Miller | December 15, 2011 10:07 AM

Thanks, Toby.

We don't celebrate Christmas, either, but we've learned not to be critical of those who do for the right reasons: honoring the Messiah's incarnation. I agree with you that the Jeremiah passage is not about a Christmas tree, but I also think it's still kind of creepy to bring a tree inside one's home, dress it, "give" it presents, and have one's home centered around it for several days. And that's coming from someone who used to love to decorate an Xmas tree. That said, we've learned to restrain our tongues and judgment over Christmas celebration in general (altho the Christmas AND Hanukkah materialism still drives us nuts). No one's going to be encouraged to embrace all of Torah if they're being told in the meantime that they're a bunch of Babylonian pagans. Especially if they're faithful Christians who are bearing great fruit.

Mike Miller | December 15, 2011 10:05 AM

well,, if we are to be planted like trees as in Psalm 1.. rather than trees cut off of the base.. or pulled out from the roots.... I'll take the planted one.. and i do not need to celebrate a pagan fertility ritual as Yahushua was not born Dec 25th.. but Nimrod was.. even they say Thor was...too. and many others.. I choose to forsake xmas since christ has nothing to do with mistletoe charms and other fertility worship.

I want [HaShem] to hear my prayers.. I'll gladly give up the idolatry.
anyone else can choose for themselves.. "for I the Lord will not hear them." Jer 7. but. If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves....(want to learn) and seek My face, turn from their wicked/evil ways... THEN I WILL HEAR them and Heal their land." 2 chron... anyone else can read Rev 2:20 to find out what idolatry is, sexual immorality. mixing the seed with religion and the world. "Come out of her My people."

***Note:*** Sacred name replaced with HaShem.

jessica evrist | December 15, 2011 1:00 AM

I agree with the writer when he says "At First Fruits of Zion, we neither endorse nor condemn the Christian celebration of Christmas. As advocates of Messianic Judaism, a discussion about Christian Christmas tradition is outside of our purview. My family and I do not celebrate the holiday in our home. Nevertheless, there is an annual question about whether or not the observance of Christmas should be avoided by Messianic Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. Plus, it's always interesting to see the explosive results when Christmas tradition, superstitious paranoia, and fanatical dogmatism collide." Never the less I Don Not do Christmas at all so don't bring it around me. LOL. However these Modern Day Judaizers (Most of these people I see condemning everyone are Not Jewish) making my stomach and are dead wrong to blast people for it. Nevertheless Christians should study the origins of Christmas and devide it from there.

Word Millah | December 14, 2011 9:47 PM

So what is it FFOZ, are you going to endorse the pagan-based Christian holidays by simply poo-pooing them but being content with the status quo OR will you speak with a Prophetic voice calling Christians to repentance once they have been enlightened by the Truth? Fence-sitting is an unbecoming posture!

**Toby's Response:** This post was not about denying that there are pagan roots to the Christmas or the Christmas tree but rather to educate people that Jeremiah 10 does not directly refer to a Christmas tree.We are not sitting on the fence but rather defending what we believe is Biblical truth. I would recommend you listen to the What About Paganism teaching for our full perspective.

michaEL | December 14, 2011 5:13 PM

"Paganism and idolatry are real. Those who live in the West seldom see people worshiping or offering sacrifices to idols, but paganism is as real today as it was in the time of the Bible. Idolatry is not just a metaphor for materialism, it exists in a physical and tangible way as well. Paganism is not just something for the history books, but it is something every believer must guard against even today. This study will attempt to answer questions like:.
•What are the origins of Christmas and Easter?"
This obviously contradicts FFOZ's above mentioned position (which seems to have been an attempt to not put them at odds with the Christians). One would think the producing of such material would be for the purpose of exposing the pagan origins of the Christian holidays (vs. holy days)?

***Toby's Response:*** Have you listened to the CDs? Where in this blog post do I deny that there are pagan origins? Just trying to help people get their facts straight.

michaEL | December 14, 2011 5:12 PM

You are a great researcher.
I’m sure you have heard all this before but let me add my witness as well.
First off this passage starts with a reference to a sign in the Heavens that could be the winter solstice 2. This tree is decked with silver and Gold and placed in the house whether it is sometimes or always carved into an image is irrelevant because with all the decorations adorations Angles on top that is what being done to tree as well it being decorated into something.. In some versions this passage makes a reference to it being like a Palm tree which was the custom of the Egyptians to place gold orbs (the testicles to the phallic symbol) as part of the same central religion. Something the Hebrews could relate to the from antiquity. Information relating to Christmas tree being Pagan is in my old World book encyclopedia not from some HRM group.

The tree aspect goes back to Babylon was carried over into Cannon and Egypt then went to parts of Scandinavia, Europe.

***Toby's Response:*** Scholarly commentaries are unanimous that this refers to making idols and not bringing a tree foliage and all into the house. If it does then we should not have house plants either.

Bryan | December 14, 2011 3:39 PM

Ironically, this time of year one can perceive in the Hebrew Roots movement a lot more hate for other people's customs than love for other people. I know it's not the anniversary of our Master's birth, but I'd rather spend Christmas with a loving Christian family than mock and deride Christmas with a bunch of haters. Some of us need to get our priorities straight... seriously.

Jacob Fronczak | December 14, 2011 2:54 PM

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