There is nothing in the Bible that specifically prohibits Christians from celebrating the date of one’s birth. Where this misconception that observing birthdays (along with holidays and other days of national observance) is evil, stems mainly from the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses that state they are unscriptural due to their claims of pagan origin, evil events associated with these celebrations and their claims that persons receiving such honor are actually being worshiped.
While it is true that in the two instances where birthdays are specifically mentioned in the Bible two deaths occurred, I believe this speaks more to the circumstances surrounding these events then with the actual birthday celebrations themselves. As a side note, the Jews obviously do not share the same concerns as the Jehovah’s Witnesses since the observing of their holiday Purim is a celebration centered around “the death” of Israel’s enemies (Esther Chapter 9).
Genesis 40:20-23 And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand: But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him.
Mark 6:21-28 And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.
It should be noted that Pharaoh and Herod were passing judgment as sovereign heads of state (or as in Herod’s case an appointed head of a province). We, as a democracy with our civil laws may be shocked by the lack of “due process” given to those condemned but we must remember these rulers wielded totalitarian authority. As such, they possessed the power and authority to order the execution of any that offended or displeased them as noted many other times in the Scriptures by both Jewish and Gentile rulers alike. Is it any wonder then why Solomon warned against getting on the “bad side” of those who were seated in positions of authority?
Ecclesiastes 8:2-4 I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God. Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him. Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?
In the case of the baker’s death it can be attributed to him displeasing Pharaoh in the service of his office. However, John the Baptist’s death was an all together different matter. Apparently it was Herod’s wife who was the chief instigator, plotting all along for his death (Mark 6:19) because of John’s rebuke of their unlawful marriage arraignment. It just so happened that her daughter’s lewd dancing exhibition at Herod’s birthday feast afforded her the perfect opportunity to carry out her wicked intentions. Herod, unlike Pharaoh, was not passing judgment on a disobedient servant but was simply guilty of being a morally corrupt leader who swore a vow before thinking. Fearing man more than God and faced with losing his standing before his guests, he chose the path of least resistance.
- Ecclesiastes 5:6a - Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin;
- James 5:12 - But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.
Therefore for the Watchtower to claim that all birthday celebrations are somehow in and of themselves wicked based on these two events (as though the celebrations themselves possess some inherit evil) is akin to those that erroneously misquote 1 Timothy 6:10 and proclaim that, “money is the root of all evil.”
Now after saying all of this I will admit that the Bible clearly places much more emphasis on the importance of a person experiencing a spiritual birthday then with being concerned over some trivial celebration of a person’s physical birth.
- John 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
- John 3:7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
- 1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
Psalms 116:15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.
- Ecclesiastes 7:1 A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.
The teaching that believers are not to get caught up in the vain, materialistic, party lifestyle that permeates our present day society is also warned against in the Scriptures as well:
1 Peter 4:1-4 Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you:
Romans 13:13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.
Galatians 5:21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Timothy 5:6 But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.
Temperance and moderation are always a good rule of thumb for the Christian to practice (Galatians 5:23, Philippians 4:5).
As to the arguments from the Watchtower that honoring an individual is wrong the Bible seems to take exception with this teaching. Many instances we are told to give honor to those who it is due (Leviticus 19:32, Romans 12:10, 1 Corinthians 12:23, Ephesians 6:2, 1 Timothy 5:17, Romans 13:7, etc.). Therefore to proclaim that all such honor is a form of worship is in error and contradicts the Scriptures that tell us that it is not only acceptable but also commanded. In light of Ephesians 6:2 where we are told to, ”honour our father and mother,” I find it especially perplexing as to how the Watchtower Society can deem the observance of Mother’s and Father’s Day as evil?
Obviously Biblical honor entails much more then some sort of celebration but as evidenced by the feast and gifts the father gave in honor of the prodigal son (Luke 15) it must not be totally unacceptable either. I wonder how a Jehovah’s Witness would also interpret the passage where the Lord told his disciples, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” – Matthew 7:11
Finally, Paul tells us that we, as believers, have liberty in the Lord (Galatians 5:13) and warns us that we are to be wary of those that would spy out this liberty and would seek to bring us back into bondage with their man made ordinances. However, he also warns us that with this liberty comes a responsibility that we are not to abuse this privilege for an occasion to the flesh.
On one occasion, when faced with a similar situation where there was a conflict between believers over whether or not partaking of certain foods affected their spiritual standing Paul had this to say:
Romans 14:1-6 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
Therefore, when it comes to matters where there is no clear violation of Scripture then the decision is to be settled between an individual and the Lord. One of the blessings of being saved and kept by God’s grace is having liberty of conscience and is quiet foreign to various cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their Elders who lord over their congregations with their man made ordinances instead of preaching and rightly dividing the Word (1 Peter 5:1-3, 2 Timothy 2:15).
A celebration can be either good (Prodigal Son – Luke 15) or bad (Israel’s Idolatry – Exodus 32) and is totally dependent on the circumstances and events that accompany it. Therefore, if your celebration consists of revellings, drunkenness, rioting, excess of wine or any other questionable practices then you have crossed the line for what would be considered acceptable for a Christian to partake in. However, if you with a conscience void of offense gather with family or friends where the Lord is honored then I personally see no problem with it. On the other hand, if by personal conviction you choose not to partake of such festivities then that is also acceptable to the Lord. In light of what the Bible teaches we as believers are not to force our own convictions on such matters upon those who may stumble at our liberty because of their weak conscience and they are not to judge us wrongfully as a heathen (1 Corinthians 10, Colossians 2).
Man has marked his days on this Earth from the day of his birth ever since the time of Adam and whether it was recognized with or without some sort of festivity is irrelevant. What there can be no doubt about is how much more important it is what we do with the time the Lord allots us.
Psalms 90:12 So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
In closing, I find it bewildering how Jehovah Witnesses can be so dogmatic in following a man made precept such as this and many others, while they have no qualms at all with denouncing such clear, Biblical truths such as the deity of Jesus Christ, the Godhead (Trinity), a literal Hell, eternal existence of the soul, etc. Talk about your “straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel”- Matthew 23:24.