There are times when I don’t know whether to laugh out loud or just grieve quietly over some of the biblical ignorance and spiritual negligence of some preachers. Today was one of those days when I just shook my head while I listened to one of our local pastors spend an hour on a call-in radio program making the case that having a Christmas tree in your house or house of worship is idolatry. His sincerity outdistanced his logic. His dogma was made all the more dangerous when he based his opinion on one passage of Scripture. Anytime you seek to establish a “truth” you should have at least two to three biblical witnesses to establish the spiritual precedence (Matthew 18:16).
“The Christmas Tree Controversy” is rooted out of a wrong interpretation of biblical language and a misunderstanding of ancient customs. The scripture passage that this pastor chose to use to support his “anti-Christmas tree” position is Jeremiah 10:1-5. This passage uses the following language in the King James Version, “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. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers, that it move not” (vss.3-4). This was explained and exclaimed as proof positive that Christmas trees are pagan and anyone in possession of one was engaged in idol worship.
Please allow me to offer context and clarity to the Jeremiah 10:1-5 text. This passage is a word of warning to the “house of Israel” to not participate in idol worship. “The way of the heathen” is idolatry. This idolatry can be witnessed in how the unsaved allow the “signs of the heavens” to control their perspective of life. This would be referring to the wrong use of astrology. All astrology is not evil. God orchestrated astrology to be used by the wise men to locate Jesus (Matthew 2:9-10).
There is also a warning against idolatry that comes in the form of images that are crafted from earthy materials, like wood. This is the reference to, “the customs of the people“. The customs included going into the forest, selecting a tree, returning with it in order to have an artisan cut the trunk or the stock of the tree to create an image that would be worshipped as a deity.
“The work of the hands of the workman” is not describing cutting down a tree with an axe, but rather using a sharp chisel to fashion a piece of wood.The word “axe” in the Hebrew is ma’atsad. It is a small sharp cutting instrument used for graving. This word also describes the “tongs” used by a silversmith. The only other place where this word is used is in the Bible is in Isaiah 44:12 where it describes the work of a smith, craftsman and artisan.
The heathens were not worshipping trees that they cut down, decorated and placed in the living room. This passage is not describing a Christmas tree. This was not “the customs of the peoples”. Their “custom” was to cut down trees, bring them to idol makers and have the idol makers create an idol from the trunk of the tree. See Isaiah 40:19-20 and 44:14-17. These scriptures are parallel passages that describe the making of idols. There is not an instance or example in the Bible of someone worshipping a decorated tree.
If you continue to read the Jeremiah 10 text you will read, “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” (vs. 5). Is this describing a Christmas tree or an idol made from wood? This describes attributes idol worshippers sought to project onto their graven images.
Whether or not a Christmas tree distracts from the celebration of the birth of Jesus can be debated. Whether or not we should shop, buy presents, open gifts, attend office parties or hang stockings is up for scrutiny. What is not debatable is what the Bible says and what it means!
The Bible does not prohibit Christmas trees. In fact, the Bible is silent on the subject of Christmas trees! The Bible prohibits idolatry.
Celebrate Jesus for Christmas and thank God for Calvary’s Tree!