W. E. Vine on December 25th as a Pagan Holiday
W. E. Vine, respected author of the well-known Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, exposes the pagan origins of the Christmas celebration in his little-known but equally scholarly work, The Origin and Rise of Ecclesiasticism.
Excerpt from Chapter 4, Further Developments Towards The Papal System
"...We have noticed the combined effect upon the churches, in the third century, of the desire for worldly aggrandizement on the part of the Church leaders, and of the patronage of the Emperors, who on their part saw possibilities of unifying the elements of the State through the instrumentality of the Church. With a view to establishing his throne on a secure basis, the Emperor Constantine the Great reconstructed the official arrangements of the Imperial Government, and adjusted the constitution of the Church so as to model it approximately to that of the State. The ecclesiastical organization of the churches, by this time so vastly different from the New Testament pattern designed for them, lent itself easily to the adaptation... As it has been well said, ‘A compound religion had been manufactured, of which...Christianity furnished the nomenclature, and Paganism the doctrines and rites.’ The idolatry of the Roman world, though deposed from its ancient pre-eminence, had by no means been demolished. Instead of this, its pagan nakedness had been covered with the garb of a deformed Christianity....
The churches had already taken up in great measure with the observance of heathen feast days. There is a stirring protest by Tertullian early in the third century against the celebration of the feast of Saturn, the winter solstice, etc. 'Oh, truer fidelity,' he says, 'of the nations to their own religion, which claims for itself no solemnity of the Christians! They would be afraid lest they should be thought Christians: We are not afraid lest we should seem to be heathen.'
Again, December 25th was observed throughout the heathen world as the birthday of the sun god. That was one of the high festivals of the Romans, and was celebrated by the great games of the Circus. A Church imbued with worldly ambition must not, forsooth, be behind the heathen in their celebrations, and hence it must be decreed that the Birth of Christ should be celebrated on the same day. Chrysostom, remarking upon the fact that on this day 'the Birthday of Christ was lately fixed at Rome,' supports the procedure by the argument that, as the Pagans called that day the birthday of the Invincible One, that is, the sun god, it was reasonable for the Church to observe it, as Christ, as the Sun of Righteousness, was Conqueror of death. December 25 was most certainly not the day on which our Lord was born. The establishment of that day in the way mentioned lent itself to such abuses that in the middle of the fifth century we find Leo the Great blaming the Christians for stumbling their weaker brethren by keeping the festival, not on account of Christ’s Birth, but on account of the rising of the new sun. But what else could be expected when the whole drift and policy of the time was by way of the combination of Christianity and Paganism?
How little heed had been given to the warnings of the Apostle Paul in reference to the departure of Israel in the former age from the Word of the Lord! They turned away from God to follow the manners and customs, and to worship the idols, of heathen nations around them. 'All these things happened unto them,' says the Apostle, 'by way of example, and they were written for our admonition.' To-day we are furnished with a twofold solemn example, both that of Israel and that of the Church. The evil effects of the early departure of the churches from the will of the Lord as revealed through His Apostles, are being witnessed now in a special manner, in the tendency towards a revival of the apostate system, and a turning away of many under its evil influences. It becomes us to give heed to the warning to 'come out from among them and be ye separate.' Surely there is a tremendous call from the Lord today to separation both from worldliness and from religious departure from the Word of God."
W.E. Vine, The Origin and Rise of Ecclesiasticism, pages 26-30.
Reprinted in The Collected Writings of W. E. Vine, vol. 5, Gospel Tract Publications, Glasgow, Scotland, 1986