Are Birthdays Pagan?

Question: “Are birthdays pagan? Birthdays are mentioned three times in the Bible: In Genesis 40, and Pharaoh’s chief baker was killed; in Matthew 14:6-11 on Herod’s birthday, and John was beheaded; and how many children, including babies that were boy’s and two years old and under had to die at Christ’s birth. Yes, this is in the Bible. It seems that in the Bible bad things are associated with celebrating birthdays?” (R. in Virginia)

My Answer: To be frank, I personally like celebrating my birthday. Even more, I like celebrating my spiritual birthday each year. It is true that in the early church birthdays were somewhat frowned upon. It was considered self-serving, and a pagan invention. (Often the birthdays of the gods would be observed.) Those early Christians tended to focus more on one’s death then birth… sort of in line with Ecclesiastes. That is why we celebrate the day of someone’s passing or martyrdom, e.g. Nicholas, Valentine, Patrick, etc. But the Scriptures give no censure or approbation regarding this. If someone has personal convictions about birthdays, I respect that. But there is no Biblical injunction against it.

Yes, birthdays are mentioned only a few times in the Bible. And there are some negative happenings associated with those particular celebrations. But other than that, the Scriptures are basically silent on this topic, especially as to whether it right or wrong. As regards those negative happenings… On the occasion of Pharoah’s birthday, while the baker was killed, the other servant was exalted… both of which fulfilled a prophetic dream given by God. So it wasn’t all bad.

Some Bible scholars have noted that the Bible mentions someone’s age with a specific number over 100 times. For example, when Abraham was 99 years old (Gen. 17:1) or when Jesus was 12 years old (Luke 2:42). To know when someone has attained a certain age must mean that note of taken of the day when they were born. How else can you know how old they were? Indeed, to be of a certain age was a requirement for service in the Temple, or retirement from such service (Numbers 8:23-26); as well as military service (Numbers 1:20-21). It should also be noted that Job, who was righteous and blameless (and surely raised his children this way) had sons who each celebrated on “his day,” an apparent euphemism for one’s birthday (see Job 1:4).

Bottom line when it comes to holidays and birthdays: “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it” (Romans 14:4-6).

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