Christmas Trees & Jeremiah 10

jeremiah-10a

Christmas Trees & Jeremiah 10

For over a decade I was opposed to Christmas and especially customs such as the Christmas tree.  I believed that Jeremiah chapter 10 was speaking of the Christmas tree but the more I looked into the text the more I saw this was not a legitimate interpretation.

Jeremiah 10 isn’t speaking of Christmas trees. Using Scripture to interpret Scripture (cross referencing Isaiah) displays that the prophet Jeremiah is talking about idols being made and placed in one’s home, not putting an evergreen in one’s house and decorating it.

The Christmas tree is not an idol, it is a symbol and decoration.  Even if Jeremiah is speaking of an ancient custom of putting a tree in the home, Jeremiah 10 speaks of it being done in an idolatrous manner.  This has never been the custom of Christians with the Christmas tree.

Historically, the Christmas tree is not seen until the middle ages.  Jeremiah 10 is not a prophecy but speaking of a custom done during his times.  To say that Jeremiah is speaking of Christmas trees is a very long stretch especially when one sees that historically the custom of putting a tree in one’s house and decorating it for Christmas does not trace back to ancient times but rather to Medieval times.

There is not legitimate history tracing the Christmas tree back to the days of Jeremiah.  Various cultures put plants in their homes during winter but they put plants in their homes at other times too.  There is evidence that during Saturnalia evergreen plants were brought into the home but not in the same manner as the Christmas tree.  Candles also had significance for the heathen during this holiday and they gave coins as gifts and played with “dreidel” like gambling devices like what is done in modern day Hanukkah customs.  Equal weights and measures actually shows “Christian Hanukkah” customs of today have more Saturnalia equivalents than does Christmas.

It is not the purpose of this article to go into depth into these things but is mentioned for those who use this Saturnalia line of reasoning to condemn the Christmas tree while celebrating Hanukkah customs which have even more connection to Saturnalia.

Jer 10:2  Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
Jer 10:3  For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
Jer 10:4  They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
Jer 10:5  They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.
Jer 10:6  Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O LORD; thou art great, and thy name is great in might.
Jer 10:7  Who would not fear thee, O King of nations? for to thee doth it appertain: forasmuch as among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like unto thee.
Jer 10:8  But they are altogether brutish and foolish: the stock is a doctrine of vanities.  (Jeremiah 2:27; Hosea 4:12; Isaiah 44:19)
Jer 10:9  Silver spread into plates is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the workman, and of the hands of the founder: blue and purple is their clothing: they are all the work of cunning men.

On the surface level one can try to apply this text to Christmas trees but cross referencing Isaiah 40, 41 and 44 displays that the custom was not about putting a tree in one’s house but putting an idol made out of a tree into one’s house.  Isaiah uses the same language as Jeremiah in describing idols being put into one’s home, not decorated trees.

Isa 40:17  All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.
Isa 40:18  To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?
Isa 40:19  The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains.
Isa 40:20  He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved.
Isa 40:21  Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?
Isa 40:22  It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:

Isa 41:6  They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage.
Isa 41:7  So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith, and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smote the anvil, saying, It is ready for the sodering: and he fastened it with nails, that it should not be moved.

Isa 44:8  Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.
Isa 44:9  They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed.

Isa 44:10  Who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing?
Isa 44:11  Behold, all his fellows shall be ashamed: and the workmen, they are of men: let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, and they shall be ashamed together.
Isa 44:12  The smith with the tongs both worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with the strength of his arms: yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth: he drinketh no water, and is faint.
Isa 44:13  The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house.
Isa 44:14  He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it.

Isa 44:15  Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.
Isa 44:16  He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire:
Isa 44:17  And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.
Isa 44:18  They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.
Isa 44:19  And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?
Isa 44:20  He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?
Isa 44:21  Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me.
Isa 44:22  I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.
may be like?
Isa 46:6  They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they worship.
Isa 46:7  They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove: yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble.
Isa 46:8  Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors.
Isa 46:9  Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,

Is it wrong to bring trees into one’s home and decorate them?  Apparently not, as God’s house was decorated with trees (Isaiah 60:13).  We’ll discuss this more in the next article: Christmas Trees & the Bible

Jeremiah 10 and Christmas Trees?  – “As Bereans Did”

There is a certain belief that is wildly popular in Armstrongism and it goes something like this, “There is a condemnation of a Christmas tree in the Old Testament.” But is this really so?

It doesn’t matter how you feel one way or the other, we are after truth are we not? Then we need to get to the truth of the matter. If the truth is that Jeremiah 10 speaks of Christmas trees, then that is the truth, and you’d better distance yourself from that tree post haste!! But if not, then only a person who has no interest in truth would persist in propagating a known falsehood.I used to propagate this idea heavily, especially around Christmas. To be bluntly honest, I was taught that Christmas was wrong, so I very much wanted to dislike Christmas, and so I allowed myself to be convinced by a simple argument because that’s what I wanted to believe. Whether or not the claim really was true, it agreed with what I wanted to be true, and that was good enough for me. And many others!
Well, it’s getting to be about that time of year, so I thought it might be a good idea to put this claim through the As Bereans Did patented gauntlet to see if it can survive. I’m going to put this claim to the test as I should have long, long ago but never did. Is it true, or is it a convenient lie. Let’s test and prove this condemnation of Christmas trees, shall we?

HONESTY AND EVIDENCE   (JER. 10: 3-4) 3 For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. 4 They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple.This was so convincing to me that I went around for years of my life telling people that these two verses spoke about Christmas trees. But let’s think about this critically.

If I took a person who was familiar with Christmas trees but had never read Jeremiah 10 before, handed them these verses and asked them what they think, would they look at me in astonishment and remark, “That’s speaking about nothing other than Christmas trees!”? I have to tell you, I doubt that would happen (believe me, I’ve tried this quite a few times and I’ve never seen it happen).
Billions of people have lived and died, reading Jeremiah 10 several times – not just casual readings but scholarly readings as well – and have not come to this conclusion. They have to be “helped” into it.

Have you ever heard the brain teaser when you are asked to spell a few words that rhyme with “toast” and then you are asked “what do you put in a toaster”? Most people don’t think, and just respond “toast.” Well, that’s a possibility, sure, but highly improbable. The correct answer is “bread.” You put bread in a toaster. The brain-teaser is a trick. It purposefully leads you into answering “toast.”

In the exact same way, Armstrongists purposefully lead people into a loaded discussion on Christmas trees, and then introduce Jeremiah 10. It’s a trick; akin to slight of hand. You are meant to see verses 3 and 4 after your mind is already conditioned to be thinking of Christmas trees, and then you’re far more likely to see what they want you to see. Of course they accompany the trick with a generous amount of commentary.
So what is really going on here? It’s the power of suggestion. We call this “proof-texting.”

We burst into chapter 10 of Jeremiah’s book, abscond a very few verses from their proper context, set them aside as if they are an island unto themselves, conjure up a whole new meaning for them, then go about telling the whole of Christendom how God is angry with them for such and such a thing. OK. And nobody has a problem with this?

“I’m just reading God’s word straight from the Bible,” we would plead. Oh really? Just innocently reading straight from God’s word? No commentary whatsoever to nudge people towards the desired conclusion? I see.
Then what is this, “There is a condemnation of a Christmas tree in the Old Testament”?
I don’t see those words in Jeremiah.

If the “plain truth” is so plain and so true, why do the verses always come packaged with the suggestive commentary? Because this is not just reading the Bible!

Are we so certain that Jeremiah is unambiguously speaking of Christmas trees, and there is no other possible explanation because it’s so very clear and so very well spelled out that all you’re doing is reading “God’s word” and not proof-texting whatsoever? So very confident, in fact, that you would go around judging others to be pagan and condemning others over it? Well, let’s just challenge that and see if it holds up.

One oft-repeated argument from Armstrongists is to say “The word ‘Trinity’ never appears in the Bible, therefore it isn’t a Biblical concept.” But Trinitarians counter that they believe the additional Biblical evidence points to a God in three Persons. Even though Trinitarians cite multiple verses across the Bible, Armstrongists reject all of it outright. I’m not arguing for or against the Trinity doctrine here. I’m speaking to standards of evidence. If this is the standard, then let’s be even-handed about it. By the Armstrongists’ own standard, the phrase “Christmas tree” never appears in the Bible, ergo Jeremiah is not talking about Christmas trees. To be fair, we should dismiss any additional evidence outright (good thing there is none). Sophomoric, but fair play. If you’re going to have a standard of proof, then have a standard.

I think that’s the real root of this issue. It’s about standards of evidence and being honest with ourselves.
The foundation of the Christmas trees in Jeremiah claim is constantly changing standards. One standard in one verse, a different standard in another. One standard here, another there. The claim absolutely relies on it. But is that Godly?

Usually, standards are low when people don’t want to find out what really is actually, honestly true. Some just want to find what upholds their predetermined view. They’ve compromised truth in favor of the ideology. We all do it in one way or the other. The challenge is to stop that once we learn the truth. If standards of evidence were higher, and truth the priority, then in my opinion this wouldn’t happen. And blogs like this one wouldn’t be necessary.

ALL TREES PAGAN?

Someone might point out that trees were used in ancient pagan worship practices, but so what? Correlation does not imply causation. That “cum hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy has absolutely no bearing on whether or not Jeremiah 10 speaks about Christmas trees.

When I mention the very many other things people do in church that were also practiced by pagans (singing, praying, sermons, etc), usually the response is “But God lists those things in the Bible.”
OK, let’s go with that idea. The reasoning is – if it’s something God approved in the Bible, then it’s approved.

Did God approve using trees in His worship?
If Herbert Armstrong had taught the keeping of the whole law then Armstrongists would know that God commands the use of trees in His worship.

(LEV. 23: 40) And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.

(NEH. 8: 13-15) 13 Now on the second day the heads of the fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and Levites, were gathered to Ezra the scribe, in order to understand the words of the Law. 14 And they found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, 15 and that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.”

So, according to the reasoning, use of trees and greenery in the worship of God is OK because God approves of it in the Bible.

God also lists the use of statues in His worship (EXO. 25: 17-19), garland, bells, and fruit (EXO. 28: 33; II COR. 3: 16), and other things I could list but won’t.
All of these things are used at Christmas, and condemned by people as pagan. Is this a double-standard? Once again we’re right back to talking about having a standard and sticking to it.

Did pagans use trees in their celebrations? Yes. And so should you (if you truly believe that you must observe the Feast of Tabernacles)! So why don’t you?
The Bible prescribes the use of trees at the Feast of Tabernacles, yet that is ignored. It says nothing directly about Christmas trees, yet they are condemned.

JUDGMENT AND CONDEMNATION

You want to read something that’s clear and unambiguous? Here:

(ROM. 2: 1-4) 1 Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. 3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

To make a personal decision to not have a Christmas tree is one thing. Nothing ties salvation to Christmas trees. To judge someone based on a highly questionable reading of Jeremiah is something else entirely.

We had better be beyond certain that Jeremiah 10 is speaking of Christmas trees, my friends, because regardless of what God may think about idolatry, He is certainly not happy with judgment and condemnation – most especially that based on false accusation.
Truly one had better be exceedingly certain that Jeremiah 10 is talking only about Christmas trees. Because if it isn’t, then what happening in reality is people are going around proof-texting Jeremiah 10, propagating falsehoods, and violating the 10 Commandments to boot…

(EXO. 20: 16) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

…that is not something I would take lightly. No, not at all.

Let’s ask if Jeremiah 10 condemns Christmas trees. But let’s start at the start.

CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT

If Jeremiah isn’t speaking of Christmas trees, then what is he speaking about?
Is it not clear that from the beginning that God is making a case against Jerusalem and Judah regarding their idolatry?

We focus on Jeremiah 10, so go up and read the many times in Jeremiah 3 and 5 where God describes “treacherous Judah.”
So we know to whom God is speaking – Judah.

From the start, from Jeremiah 1: 16, the case is laid out against Judah for worshipping what their own hands have made. Not just decorating the home. Worshipping! Kneeling down, praying to, expecting help from. Before, during, and after chapter 10, God is clearly angry about bowing down and worshipping idol gods.
So we know what God is angry at Judah about- worshipping gods who are no gods.

And by what standard is God measuring Judah? Go down and read Jeremiah 11 and see that this is specifically about the violation of the now abrogated Old Covenant.

We’ve gone to prior and post chapters. The context of this portion of Jeremiah is that God is angry at Judah for violating the Old Covenant by worshipping idol gods.
That is the greater context.

Now that we have some of the context framed in, let’s focus again specifically on chapter 10 so we can see the surrounding verses.

NOT SIMPLY A TREE

Have you ever noticed how the argument usually stops at verse 4 or sometimes 5? Why is that? Because the context undoes the argument! These verses must be proof-texted because if we look closely at them the argument will fail. Let’s do that now. Let’s look closely at these verses.

(JER. 10: 5) They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good.”

Cannot speak??? No one believes a Christmas tree can speak. But since Jeremiah is talking about false gods carved of wood and covered in precious metals, we would expect such an idol to have a mouth. Now it makes sense.
Must be carried because they cannot go by themselves??? No one carries around their Christmas tree. (Note this is after it was fastened.) But since Jeremiah is talking about false gods carved of wood and covered in precious metals, we would expect such an idol to have feet. Now it makes sense.
Cannot do evil or good??? No one expects a Christmas tree to do either evil or good. But since Jeremiah is talking about an idol god, to which people would pray for blessings or mercy from cursing, we would expect good or evil. Now it makes sense.

(JER. 10: 6-7) 6 Inasmuch as there is none like You, O LORD (You are great, and Your name is great in might), 7 who would not fear You, O King of the nations? For this is Your rightful due. For among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You.

Why this inset? Because we are contrasting the idol god, that was built and fastened, that cannot speak nor move nor dress itself, that cannot bless or curse, with the actual and Living God, who is King of nations! We are not contrasting God with a holiday decoration.

(JER. 10: 8-9) But they are altogether dull-hearted and foolish; a wooden idol is a worthless doctrine.

“A wooden idol.” Says everything we needed right there. A Christmas tree is not an idol. It is not a false god. That can’t be stressed enough. It’s a decoration, plain and simple.

(JER. 10: 11) Thus you shall say to them: “The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under these heavens.”

A Christmas tree is not a false god. Christmas trees didn’t make heaven and earth. Yet Jeremiah is talking about false gods!

I have met some who insist that Christmas trees are idols. Not so. Just look at the definition of the word. The first definition of “idol” from Merriam-Webster, paying attention to the definition that fits a religious context, is this:

a representation or symbol of an object of worship; broadly : a false god”
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/idol

I have seen Armstrongist websites and literature replete with mentions of Herbert Armstrong or the current leadership, pictures and references to HWA or the current leadership everywhere, yet virtually absent any mention of Christ (I go into detail on this in the post “On Following Men” and Martha goes over it from another angle in “Herbert W Armstrong and Today’s Churches of God“). So Christmas trees are idolatry, but this is not?

“But don’t people sing songs to their Christmas tree?” one might ask. The answer is no. No Christian sings songs to the tree.
Christians might sing songs about the tree. But so what? Don’t Armstrongists sing songs about Zion? Or about the law? Are those things idols now, too, because you sing about them?

“But don’t people kneel before the tree. for example to get the presents?” one might ask. There is a universe of difference in kneeling to reach an item and kneeling in worship. Do we not also kneel to reach items out of our kitchen cabinets? They are wood and metal, too. So do you worship your cupboards? Preposterous.

(JER. 10: 9) Silver is beaten into plates; it is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the metalsmith; blue and purple are their clothing; they are all the work of skillful men.

Metal beaten into plates??? Christmas trees are not coated with metal beaten into plates. There are various things hung on the tree for decoration, but that isn’t beaten plates of metal from Tarshish coating the tree. But an idol god is covered in precious metals. Now it makes sense.
Clothing??? Not on a Christmas tree! There are tree-skirts, but that isn’t clothing by any stretch of the imagination. But an idol statue would be clothed to cover its nakedness. Now it makes sense.

Look back at verse 3. Read it again, slowly, and pay attention to what it is saying.

(JER. 10: 3) 3 For the customs of the peoples are futile; for one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

Look closely at the words there, “the work of the hands of the workman.” The indication of the phrase “work of the hands” is that there is a final product here; an artwork or something complex. The next several verses go on to describe this craftsmanship in greater detail. Verse 3 is not merely describing the mindless chopping of a tree. And “workman” indicates a craftsman, a carpenter or other artists.

This didn’t escape the notice of the commentary writers. Look at Matthew Henry’s commentary on this verse:

“It was a tree cut out of the forest originally. It was fitted up by the hands of the workman, squared, and sawed, and worked into shape.”

Read what John Gill’s Exposition has to say on this verse:

“the matter and substance of it the body and trunk of a tree cut down with an axe, and then hewed with the same, and planed with a plane, and formed into the image of a man, or of some creature; and now, to fall down and worship this must be vanity and madness to the last degree”

This is no mean tree. This is an idol god, fashioned by artists and worshiped.

Some insist that this workman in verse 3 is simply a lumberjack and nothing more, because they very much want this idol to remain a tree. These very same people insist that silver beaten into plates refers to decorations hung on a tree because they very much do not want this to remain silver beaten into plates. If in one verse the tree must be nothing but a simple tree, why in another verse can’t silver plates be nothing but silver plates? Why the double standard?

Jeremiah is also not talking about Judah using pagan traditions in their worship of YHWH. No. This is Judah worshiping another god altogether. This is a replacement for God. God does not say, “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles,” and then proceeds to describe festivities and ornamentation. No, He says, “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles,” and then proceeds to describe false gods.

Context is key!

Having specifically looked at Jeremiah 10, in the context of the book of Jeremiah, we do not see a tree decoration but a carved idol god. Let us now turn and look elsewhere in the Bible and see if we can’t get some other examples that support this conclusion.
Look! Isaiah is very similar to Jeremiah. But obviously Isaiah isn’t speaking about Christmas trees either.

IGNORED PARALLEL IN ISAIAH

(ISA. 40: 18-20) 18 To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him? 19 The workman molds an image, the goldsmith overspreads it with gold, and the silversmith casts silver chains. 20 Whoever is too impoverished for such a contribution chooses a tree that will not rot; he seeks for himself a skillful workman to prepare a carved image that will not totter.

 
It’s speaking about idols; carved images, false gods. Not decorations. Not Christmas trees. But does anyone quote Isaiah? No. Because Isaiah is much more difficult to twist.
Look again!

(ISA. 41: 7) 7 So the craftsman encouraged the goldsmith; he who smooths with the hammer inspired him who strikes the anvil, saying, “It is ready for the soldering”; then he fastened it with pegs, that it might not totter.

24 Indeed you are nothing, and your work is nothing; he who chooses you is an abomination.
 
The idol god cannot tell the future. It cannot speak. It cannot be compared to God. This is the exact same thing God is trying to get across in Jeremiah. It is not that Isaiah is talking about idol gods and Jeremiah decorations. Both are talking about idols. Neither are talking about Christmas trees. God is upset about the vain worship of bits of wood and gold. God is not concerned with decorating the home.
Look yet again!
 
(ISA. 44: 9-17) 9 Those who make an image, all of them are useless, and their precious things shall not profit; they are their own witnesses; they neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed. 10 Who would form a god or mold an image that profits him nothing? 11 Surely all his companions would be ashamed; and the workmen, they are mere men. Let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, they shall be ashamed together.
12 The blacksmith with the tongs works one in the coals, fashions it with hammers, and works it with the strength of his arms. Even so, he is hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The craftsman stretches out his rule, he marks one out with chalk; he fashions it with a plane, he marks it out with the compass, and makes it like the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man, that it may remain in the house.
14 He cuts down cedars for himself, and takes the cypress and the oak; he secures it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it shall be for a man to burn, for he will take some of it and warm himself; yes, he kindles it and bakes bread; indeed he makes a god and worships it; he makes it a carved image, and falls down to it.
16 He burns half of it in the fire; with this half he eats meat; he roasts a roast, and is satisfied. He even warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his carved image. He falls down before it and worships it, prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

A Christmas tree is not a god; it is not an idol. No Christian bows down to and worships a Christmas tree. No Christian prays to the tree and hopes for a response. When we put away the proof-texting and allow the Bible to interpret the Bible, this whole bit about Christmas trees crumbles to dust.

CONCLUSION

I have given you an explanation of Jeremiah 10 that is in context, has clear support from other parts of the Bible, is subject to one evenly-applied standard, and is supportable from history.
What do the “Jeremiah 10 speaks of Christmas trees” proponents give you? After ample commentary, they give you an explanation proof-texted completely out of context with absolutely zero additional Biblical support; one that relies on holding one verse to one standard and another verse to another standard entirely; not only that, but there is no support from history for their explanation either. No one has ever demonstrated that Christmas trees existed in ancient Israel nor the surrounding regions. The earliest that anyone has convincingly traced a Christmas tree is to about the 15th century AD. If they weren’t there, then Jeremiah simply could not be reprimanding Judah about them.
(For more on the origin of the Christmas Tree, I highly recommend this article at ORLutheran.com: “O Christmas Tree: The Origin and Meaning of the Christmas Tree“.)

Of course you see how silly it was to answer “toast” after you realize you’ve been tricked. I hope this post has helped you to realize that you’ve been tricked!

This is not some distanced, objective, unbiased pursuit of truth we’re getting from Armstrongism. I would hope that people who claim to be so very in favor of God and truth would put an exceedingly high value and priority on truth, and pursue it regardless of where it takes them. Yet, these claims of Christmas trees in Jeremiah are not truth. They’re barely even opinion. And they’re just wrong.

So in the end, what do we have? Another lesson on how proof-texting works.
They take only a few verses that appear to say what they want, they take them completely out of context, then they conjure up a new and improper context, and they accompany it with commentary in order to ‘help’ us reach the new and desired conclusion. Voila! Christmas trees!
The trick depends on our thinking the new context is interesting, and not doing our job of following through and proving it out. It depends on us having low standards of evidence.

How do we combat proof-texting? We PROVE! Read the surrounding chapters and verses. Look for parallel accounts to help explain the topic. And once we’ve proved, we abandon the lie and expose it for what it is.

“Now you know the rest of the story.”

 
idol-trees 
Many say that the Christmas tree traces back to the reference to “under every green tree” in the Scriptures….the argument is that the green tree is pagan.  It is not the trees that are pagan, it is the acts of worship under them.  It is not the trees that are idols…it is the idols that are.
Isa 57:5  Enflaming yourselves with idols under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys under the clifts of the rocks?
Isa 30:21  And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.
Isa 30:22  Ye shall defile also the covering of thy graven images of silver, and the ornament of thy molten images of gold: thou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth; thou shalt say unto it, Get thee hence.

The Scriptures use the evergreen as a symbol of Christ and the Church.  Christ is spoken of in tree imagery numerous times.

Hos 14:5  I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon.
Hos 14:6  His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.
Hos 14:7  They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon.
Hos 14:8  Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found {מצא ‘matsa’}.
Hos 14:9  Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the LORD are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein.

מצא ‘matsa’ means to find or reveal, to display a thing that was hidden.  The decorating of evergreen trees comes from Paradise plays in which the fruit of the tree of knowledge was displayed along with the Eucharist displaying Christ’s victory over sin and death.  The Eucharist was foreshadowed in the unleavened bread of Passover.  The word for unleavened bread is מצצה ‘matsah’ and is a cognate of this word מצא ‘matsa.’

  xmas-tree-jesus

Gifts under the tree point to the gift of salvation which came through Christ’s sacrifice on the tree/cross.

Isa 60:13  The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir tree {בּרושׁ ‘berôsh’}, the pine tree {תּדהר ‘tidhâr’}, and the box {תּאשּׁוּר ‘te’ashshûr’} together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious.

The fir, pine and box trees are all evergreens. תּאשּׁוּר ‘te’ashshûr’ is a cognate of the Hebrew word תשורה ‘teshurah’ which means a gift or present, as in the gift brought by a traveler (Isaiah 9:7).

The word merry is translated from the Hebrew word הילול ‘heylool’ which also means to give praise. הילול ‘heylool’ comes from the root הל ‘hal’ which literally depicts a traveler moving in the direction of his home and the joy and desire in which that person has in coming home after a long journey. The traveler would use the stars as his directional guide to get home. As an ancient traveler would draw near to his home, he would see the light of the tent shining in the distance which would bring joy and praise.  This is what the ‘wise men’ experienced as they traveled to meet the King of Heaven (Matthew 2:9-10).

Mat 2:9  When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

Mat 2:10  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

הלל ‘halal’ which comes from this root הל ‘hal’ means to give praise as in הללויה ‘halleluYah’ (praise ye the LORD).  This word הלל ‘halal’ also means to shine, to celebrate and to give thanks to another.  This is origin of giving gifts during this time of year. Winter was a time which people gathered together and it has always been a custom of people to bring gifts to those they are visiting (Genesis 43:11; 1 Samuel 25:27; Proverbs 19:6).

This custom of bringing a gift to one who you are visiting is seen in a number of Hebrew words.  The first is תשורה ‘teshurah’ which is speaking of a present brought by a traveler, in specific a traveler who is a part of a caravan.  This word comes from the root שור ‘shur’ which is speaking of a caravan whose loads are pulled by an ox (שור ‘shor’).

The English word ‘gift’ comes from the Old Norse word ‘gift/gipt’ meaning gift or good luck and is linked to the Germanic word ‘mitgift’ meaning dowry.  In the shadow pictures of the winter solstice, it is seen that betrothal is linked to to the winter and is associated with the crucifixion of Messiah which is the gift of the Father to mankind of redemption.  The Old English word ‘gift’ also meant bride price or marriage gift.
Isaac Mozeson traces the English word ‘gift’ back to the Indo European root ‘ghabh’ which means to give or receive and the Anglo-Saxon word ‘gifan.’  These words trace all the way back to the Hebrew word הב ‘hav’ which means love, as in the love of the Father revealed in giving His Son as a propitiation for our sins (John 3:16).

God’s  name is love revealed in the custom of gifts under an evergreen tree.  The Hebrew word for name is שם ‘shem’ which literally means one’s breathe or character.  What is the character of the Almighty?  Love (1 John 4:8).

The Hebrew word for love is אהב ‘ahav’ which is consists of the letters  אב ‘av’ which means father and the middle letter ה ‘heh’ which has the meaning of revelation.  The Father revealed.  In ancient Hebrew, the letter ה ‘heh’ was depicted as a man with outstretched arms, like unto Messiah on the cross. How was the love of the Father revealed?  Through the giving of His only begotten Son on the cross as an atonement for the sins of mankind (John 3:16).

Isa 55:13  Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

The cross reveals the name of God.  The book of Revelation speaks of God’s name in the forehead of believers (Revelation 14:1; 22:4) which can be linked to Ezekiel 9:4 which speaks of a mark (תו ‘tav’ – which was displayed in ancient times as a cross) being put on the foreheads of true believers.  What is the symbol for Christ?  An X (a cross), for the letter ‘Chi,’ the first letter in Χριστός ‘Christos.’  We see this in Xmas as an abbreviation of Christmas.

The origin of the Christmas tree traces back to the Paradise plays of the middle ages which centered around the tree of knowledge of good and evil in which the first Adam brought death to the world but victory over sin and death came on another tree, where the Last Adam, Jesus Christ brought everlasting life on the cross.

Hence, the Christmas tree is a representation of the cross.

The Scriptures associate Messiah with the smell of the evergreens of Lebanon (Hosea 14:6; Song of Songs 5:15).
Hos 14:6  His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.
Son 5:15  His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold: his countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.
In Hosea 14:6 this association with the evergreen tree likens His beauty to the olive tree which further links to the menorah as olives were used to make the oil for the light (Exodus 25:6).

The word Christmas comes from the Old English word ‘Cristes mæsse’ which means “Christ’s Mass”.  Mass comes from the Latin word ‘missa’ which means to “send abroad” as in the message of a missionary with the Gospel which makes Jesus known to the world.  Believers are said to “make known the knowledge of Him” as a “sweet smell”.  The Christmas tree displays this Gospel message and “sweet smell” in concrete form.
2Co 2:14  But thanks be to God, the One always leading us in triumph in Christ, and the One revealing through us the odor of the knowledge of Him in every place.
2Co 2:15  For we are a sweet smell to God because of Christ in those being saved, and in those being lost;
2Co 2:16  to the one, an odor of death unto death, and to the other, an odor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?
2Co 2:17  For we are not as the many, peddling the Word of God; but as of sincerity, but as of God. We speak in Christ, in the sight of God.
Christ comes from the Hebrew word meaning to anoint with oil.  This anointing is related to the Hebrew word רקח ‘raqach’ which means to rub an ointment bringing forth a perfume.  The “smell” of Christmas with the evergreen tree in the home points to the love of God in Christ.
Eph 5:2  and walk in love, even as Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell.
The Hebrew word for name is שם ‘shem’ which literally means the “breath” or “aroma” of a person, referring to the breath of man being his character, or what makes him what he is.  The character of God is love, revealed in the work of Christ on the cross.
The Christmas tree is a representation of the ‘Light of the World’ which traces back to both the Tree of Life and the tree of knowledge and the serpent in the Garden of Eden (in Hebrew the word for serpent is נחש ‘nachash’ which means the shining one, ie. Lucifer the ‘light bringer’).

Christ Jesus took upon Himself the ‘serpent on a tree’ imagery to destroy the works of the devil where His death could bring life to the world (John 3:14; Colossians 2:15; 1 John 3:8).
The Christmas tree is a great tool to preach the Gospel.  Sin and death (darkness of winter) entered the world through a tree and sin and death was conquered on a tree (light).  The Christmas tree points back to the tree of knowledge, as does the cross.  Yet, in the cross the Messiah triumphed over His enemies, as the Tree of Life (Colossians 2:14-15).

Jeremiah 10 and the “Pagan” Christmas Tree – Dr. Richard P. Bucher
A number or well-meaning readers of the “Origin and Meaning of the Christmas Tree” article have written me with questions or accusations based on Jeremiah 10. These readers state that Jeremiah 10 proves that the Christmas tree is a pagan custom and is forbidden by God. Therefore, they argue, all those who decorate a Christmas tree in their home are sinning in God’s sight. This is quite the serious charge. Let us briefly examine Jeremiah 10 and the argument based upon it to see if there is any merit to this argument.

What exactly does Jeremiah 10 say? Below is Jeremiah 10:1-10:

This is what the LORD says: “Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. 3 For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. 4 They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. 5 Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.” 6 No one is like you, O LORD; you are great, and your name is mighty in power. 7 Who should not revere you, O King of the nations? This is your due. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you. 8 They are all senseless and foolish; they are taught by worthless wooden idols. 9 Hammered silver is brought from Tarshish and gold from Uphaz. What the craftsman and goldsmith have made is then dressed in blue and purple– all made by skilled workers. 10 But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath.

The verses that the concerned readers repeatedly cite are 10:2-4: “Do not learn the ways of the nations . . . For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. 4 They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.” “Aha!” these readers say. “Jeremiah is talking about the Christmas tree!” But closer examination reveals that he certainly is not!

First, there is the immediate context of this passage. The very next verse, 10:5, goes on to say, “Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.” This passage and the passages that follow make it crystal clear that the “decorated tree” that Jeremiah was talking about in 10:3-4, was a tree that was cut down and made into an idol, a very common custom in the ancient world. 10:8-10 also confirms this, where the wooden idols are contrasted with the LORD, who is the true and living God. Keil and Delitsch, the well-respected Old Testament commentary, confirms this interpretation that the trees in question were idols that were then worshiped (C. F. Keil and F. Delitsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, “Jeremiah, Lamentations,” vol 8 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eeerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), 196-199).

Second, when we search the rest of the Old Testament, we find many other examples of trees being planted, cut down, or carved into idols. One of the most common examples of a tree idol was the Asherah, mentioned often in the Old Testament. Asherah was a pagan goddess that was worshiped throughout the Mediterranean world. She was considered to be the goddess of the sea, the consort of El, and the mother of Baal. She was always represented as a tree or pole, either planted or erected, then decorated. There are many warnings in the Old Testament about the Asherah tree. For example, in Exodus 34:12-14, we read, “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. 13 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. 14 Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” From a more thorough study we learn that the Asherah idol was sometimes planted (Deut. 16:21; Micah 5:14), sometimes erected at high places (1 Kings 14:23, 2 Kings 17:10), with altars and incense stands next to them where they would be worshiped (In Judges 6:25, Gideon is commanded by God to “Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.” See also Isaiah 17:8 and Jeremiah 17:2). The Asherah, along with other man-made idols, were often decorated with various cloth hangings (2 Kings 23:7), as well as gold and silver.

Isaiah 44:14-19 gives a detailed picture of how a tree was cut down and fashioned into an idol – and the absurdity of it all.

He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. 15 It is man’s fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. 16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” 17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me; you are my god.” 18 They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. 19 No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?”

From the foregoing, it is abundantly clear that the “decorated tree” to which Jeremiah 10 refers is an idol, very likely the Asherah. Therefore, it is very superficial Bible interpretation and pure silliness to understand this passage as directly referring to the use of a fir tree for Christmas! If, and I repeat, if those who set up a Christmas tree fall down and worship it as a god or goddess, complete with altars and incense stands, then Jeremiah 10 applies here. Or if someone loves their Christmas tree more than God, then such a thing might also be considered spiritual idolatry. But apart from these exceptions, I think it is abundantly clear that Christians who erect Christmas trees are NOT worshiping them as gods or goddesses, nor are they loving them more than their Savior Jesus Christ. They are simply using the Christmas tree as a fun custom, one that can remind them of Jesus who is the branch of David (Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15), the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1). One that can remind them of the tree that led Adam and Eve to sin, but more importantly, the tree on which Christ Jesus died to make atonement for the sins of the whole world (Acts 5:30; Gal. 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24).

 
Christians should know that they can use a Christmas tree with a good conscience. It is unfortunate and wrong when well-meaning Christians call something sin that is not sin, and enslave the consciences of their fellow believers with imaginary sin! Shame on such Christians! Those who continue to believe that the Christmas tree is pagan and sinful, even after having their conscience correctly informed, should not use them. For it is not right to sin against conscience. This is regrettable, however, since there is absolutely nothing wrong with using a Christmas tree.
Previous articles:

Christmas 2016

In Defense of Christmas

Christmas & Herbert Armstrong

Christmas and the Bible

Christmas – Little Guy in the Eye

December 25th

YES! Evidence Indicates Jesus Really Was Born Dec. 25th – Kurt Simmons

“Unto You is Born this Day” – Kurt Simmons

John the Baptist Six Months Older than our Lord – Kurt Simmons

The Nativity of Christ & Death of Herod the Great – Kurt Simmons

Star of Bethlehem or Nazareth? – Kurt Simmons

Objections to Christmas and the Dec. 25th Birth of Christ Answered – Kurt Simmons

Refutation of Ernest Martin’s “The Star that Astonished the World” – Kurt Simmons

Dating the Birth of Jesus of Nazareth – Michal E. Hunt

How December 25 Became Christmas – Biblical Archaeology Society

Calculating Christmas: The Story Behind December 25 – William J. Tighe

Christmas – Throwback Christianity

December 25th & Paganism

Is Christmas Lawful, or Is It Pagan? – Kurt Simmons

Presbyterian & Puritanial Curmudeons and the War Against Christmas – Kurt Simmons

Christmas Was Never a Pagan Holiday – Marian T. Horvat

Is Christmas Really a Pagan Holiday? – Come Reason Ministries

Next article: Christmas Trees & the Bible

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