— In order to understand how and why Christmas came into the Christian church back in those early centuries, we need to understand the tremendous influence of pagan Mithraism in the first few centuries after the time of Christ — and how Christian leaders decided to adopt the customs of paganism in order to win the battle against it.
The following information is vital and comes from an earlier study by the present writer:
THE PLANETARY WEEK—The various days of the week were, in ancient times, called the first day, second day, etc.; for these were their Biblical names. But about the time of Christ, they were given new names. The non-Christians began calling them the Day of the Sun, the Day of the Moon, etc., in honor of different heavenly bodies. This was known by the pagans as the “planetary week.” Each day was ruled over by a different god; but the most important of all gods was given the rule of the first day of the week, with the idea in mind that the first is always more important than that which follows it. The most important of all the heathen gods was given the rule over the first of the seven days. It was his day, the day of the Sun. And Mithra, the Sun god was worshiped each week on his day, the Sun day.
Now, although these names for the days of the week were new, the day devoted to the Sun god was not new. The worship of the sun arose from a devotion to that most powerful of natural objects. It was one of the most ancient forms of worship and is represented by solar-disk images found on nearly every continent of our world.
“Sun worship was the earliest idolatry.”—A.R. Fausset, Bible Dictionary, page 666. The Arabians appear to have worshiped it directly without using any statue or symbol (Job 31:26-27). Abraham was called out of all this when he went to the promised land. Ra was the Sun god of Egypt; and On (Heliopolis, which means “city of the sun” in Greek) was the center of Egyptian Sun worship (see the He- brew of Jer 43:13).
Entering Canaan under Joshua, the Hebrews again encountered Sun worship. Baal of the Phoenicians, Molech or Milcom of the Ammonites, Hadad of the Syrians, and later the Persian Mitras or Mithra.
Shemesh was an especially important Sun god in the Middle East. Later, in Egypt, Aton was the name of the god of the Sun Disk. The temple at Baalbek was dedicated to Sun worship.
By associating with Sun worshipers, the Israelites frequently practiced it themselves (Lev 26:30, Isa 17:8). King Manasseh practiced direct Sun worship (2 Kgs 21:3, 5). Josiah destroyed the chariots that were dedicated to the Sun and worship processions (2 Kgs 23:5, 11-12). Sun altars and incense were burned on the housetops for the sun (Zeph 1:5). And Ezekiel beheld the “greatest abomination”: direct Sun worship at the entry way to the temple of the true God. This was done by facing eastward to the rising sun (Eze 8:16-17).
MITHRA AND THE DAY OF THE SUN — All during those earlier centuries, there was no particular day that was used for heathen worship of the Sun god. But then, about the time of Christ, or a little before, the various days of the week were dedicated to specific pagan celestial gods—dies Solis—the day of the Sun, dies Lunae— the day of the Moon, and so on.
The sacred day of the Jews and Christians was the memorial of Creation—the true Sabbath—the seventh-day—the only weekly Sabbath given in the Bible. But, in marked contrast, the sacred day of paganism was the memorial of the Sun god—the first day of the week. His day was called “the Venerable Day of the Sun.”
Sunday-keeping never occurred in the Old or New Testaments, nor was it commanded. In the time of Christ and the Apostles, the official religion of the Roman government did not have a sacred day, but gradually Sundaykeeping began to become common among the non-Christian people of the empire.
The planetary week, each day named after a different planet in the sky, played a very important part in the worship of the sun. By the time of Christ, Sun worship was most powerfully represented in Mithraism. Now, Mithra (also called Mithras) was originally an ancient god of Iran, and for centuries had been worshiped as the god of strength and war by the descendants of the Persians. But, by the first century A.D., Mithra had been transformed, oddly enough, into the leading Sun god—and foremost pagan god of any kind—throughout the Western civilized world. The Romans often called him by a new name, Sol Invictus, “the Invincible Sun.”
During the early centuries of the Christian Era, Mithra was the greatest pagan rival of Christianity. And this was not without a carefully developed plan; for Satan had arranged that Mithraism would closely approximate, in several ways, the only true religion in the world—Christianity. It had such similar features as a dying-rising Saviour, a special religious supper, a special holy day out of the weekly seven—the Sun Day, and baptism of converts to the faith by having blood from a slaughtered bull sprinkled upon them. It counterfeited the religion of the true God more cleverly than any other religion up to that time in history.
Gradually, large numbers of non-Christians began observing Sunday as a holy day in honor of Mithra. He was especially adored by the Roman soldiers; for his worship included athletic feats of skill and “war-like manliness.”
Gradually, the worship of the Invincible Sun became even more popular and widespread among the Roman Empire. Then, about 200 years after the last book of the Bible had been penned, Emperor Aurelian (A.D. 270- 275) whose mother was a priestess of the Sun, made this solar cult the official religion of the empire. His biographer, Flavius Vopiscus, says that the priests of the Temple of the Sun at Rome were called pontiffs. They were priests of their dying-rising Saviour, Mithra, and vicegerents in religious matters next to him.
According to historical records, by this time (the middle of the second century) worldly Christians in Alexandria and Rome, in order to be better accepted by their pagan neighbors, began keeping Sunday. “Lord Mithra” was a favorite name given him by his pagan worshipers, and they called his day “the Lord’s Day.”
The Christians in Alexandria and Rome, anxious to also copycat this aspect of paganism, began calling Sunday “the Lord’s Day,” claiming that Sunday was the day mentioned in Revelation 1:10, even though it was obvious that this verse said nothing about Sunday.
In reality, when he spoke of the “Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10, the Apostle John meant that he saw Christ on the Bible Sabbath; for Christ had earlier said that He was “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matt 12:8, Mark 2:28). The terms, “Lord’s day” and “day of the Lord,” were repeatedly used in the Bible in describing the seventh-day Sabbath. It is the day unto the Lord (Ex 16:23, 25; 31:15; 35:2). It is the day of the Lord (Ex 20:10, Deut 5:14, Lev 23:3). It is the Lord’s holy day (Isa 58:13). It is the day blessed and hallowed by the Lord (Gen 2:3). God had called it “My holy day” (Isa 58:13).
Sun worship continued to be the official religion of the empire until Constantine I defeated Licinius in 323, after which it was replaced by Romanized Christianity.
In every historical incident that the present writer can locate, the only Christian leaders advocating Sundaykeeping prior to A.D. 400—were the Christian philosophers at Alexandria and the Christian bishops in the city of Rome.
Along about this time, a youngster was growing up that was destined to powerfully affect the Christian world for all time to come—a boy named Constantine.
CONSTANTINE AND A STATE CHURCH
—On the retirement of Emperor Diocletian in A.D. 305, it was an uphill fight among several men for the coveted title of Emperor. Fighting continued on and off, from 305 till 323. But out of it, Constantine emerged as the sole ruler of the vast Roman Empire. The crucial battle occurred just north of Rome in October of 312. Just afterward, by the Edict of Milan, Constantine gave Christianity full legal equality with every other religion in the empire. More favors to the church soon followed. Then, on March 7, 321, the first national Sunday Law in history was decreed. This was the first “blue law” to be issued by a civil government. Here is the text of Constantine’s Sunday Law Decree: “Let all judges and townspeople and occupations of all trades rest on the Venerable Day of the Sun [Sunday]; nevertheless, let those who are situated in the rural districts freely and with full liberty attend to the cultivation of the fields, because it frequently happens that no other day may be so fitting for ploughing grains, of trenching vineyards, lest at the time the ad- vantage of the moment granted by the provision of heaven be lost. Given on the Nones [seventh] of March, Crispus and Constantine being consuls, each of them, for the second time.”—The Code of Justinian, Book 111, title 12, law 3.
Five additional Sunday Laws were to be issued by Constantine, within a very few years, to strengthen this, his basic one.
It is to be observed that Constantine’s Sunday Law was just that—a Sunday Law—and nothing more. It was a Sunday law that both Mithraists and compromising Christians could easily accept. In that law, Christian- ity is never mentioned. The day is called “the Venerable Day of the Sun” (venarabili die solis). This was the mystical name for the Day of Mithra, the Sun god. Both the heathen and the Christians well-knew this. It is a historical fact that, when Constantine issued that first imperial Sunday edict of 321, enforcing the obser- vance of Sunday by the people of the Roman Empire— he was still a worshiper of Sol Invictus, “the Invincible Sun,” as well as being the Pontifix Maximus (supreme pagan pontiff or priest) of Roman heathen worship as the state religion. Constantine intended that the law be a political means of uniting all contending religions into one giant compromising conglomerate: the Christian church. He believed that this would make the empire stronger and better able to defend itself against the marauding northern tribes. But Christian leaders in Rome saw it as a great victory for the authority of the Roman Bishop (later given the title of “pope”) over all other Christian congregations. And that is what happened.
— The Roman bishop had encouraged Constantine to enact that law. Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea (270-338), generally considered to be Constantine's outstanding flatterer in the church, made this remarkable statement: “All things whatsoever it was duty to do on the [seventh day] Sabbath, these we [the church] have transferred to the Lord’s day [Sunday].”—Commentary on the Psalms, in Migne, Patrologia Graeca, Vol. 23, Col. 1171. Commenting on this heaven-daring statement, one historical writer made this comment: “Not a single testimony of the Scriptures was produced in proof of the new doctrine.
Eusebius himself unwittingly acknowledges its falsity and points to the real authors of change. ‘All things,’ he says, ‘whatever that it was duty to do on the Sabbath, these we have transferred to the Lord’s day.’ But the Sunday argument, groundless as it was, served to embolden men in trampling upon the Sabbath of the Lord. All who desired to be honored by the world accepted the popular festival.”—Great Controversy, 574. This was the beginning of something new and ominous within the Christian church. Rome, itself, the capital of the mammoth empire, was more licentious, dissipated, and political than any other city. The Chris- tian leaders in that city were more liberal and corrupt than Christian leaders elsewhere. Gripped by a concern to meet the world’s standard and dabble in the power politics of the empire, the Roman bishop had Constantine convene church councils so the apostasy could spread outward to other Christian churches.
In A.D. 325, the Council of Nicaea met; at which time the church leaders decreed that all must honor the resurrection of Christ by keeping the pagan Easter festival, but only on a certain Sunday of each year. Immediately, following this ruling, Constantine issued an imperial order, commanding all Christians everywhere to obey the decrees of that council. Church and State had united; and, whenever in history this has happened, persecution of religious dissenters has eventually followed. Trouble was ahead for the people of God.
—From A.D. 350, onward, the persecution of Christians by their fellow Christians began. In order to placate church and government authorities, there were those who attempted to keep both days— Sabbath as well as Sunday holy—thus endeavoring to obey God as well as man; for religious persecution against non-observance of Sunday was growing stronger. For this reason, Sozomen, a church historian of that time, told us this: “[Many Christians] were assembling together on the Sabbath as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria.”— Sozomen, quoted in Ecclesiastical History, book 7, chapter 19; now in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series, Vol. 2 (Luke 16:13, Acts 5:39).
Even at this late date, Rome and Alexandria continued to be the only bulwarks of strict Sunday–keeping. The keeping of both days might seem a practical solution, but it wasn’t. The seventh-day Sabbath was the divinely ordained day for the worship of the Creator. God had never changed it. The Sun-day was a man-made in- stitution of worship in honor of a pagan god. To obey both was impossible (Matt. 6:24).
This was exactly the problem the three Hebrew worthies faced at Dura (Read Daniel 3.)
Those three men were not, at that time, forbidden to worship the true God. They need only bow down, that day, with others in an appearance of worship to the false. But, of course, to do so would show an acceptance of heathen worship. And this they could not do. They would rather die first. They would rather lose their lives than lose something that many in our day consider to be of little value— the Sabbath of the
Fourth Commandment given by the God of Heaven Himself. Thus it was that Christ-mas—the birthday of the Sun god—and Sunday sacredness both came into the Christian church; because early church leaders in Rome and Alexandria, working with government leaders, wanted to unite Christianity with Mithraism—by requiring Mithraic practices in the worship of Christ.
Gradually, more and more Sabbathkeepers were slain until, by the eleventh century, there were only a few people left who kept the Bible Sabbath.
Christmas, Easter, and Halloween by Vance Ferrell