The modern celebration of Hanukkah (the Feast of Dedication mentioned in John 10) has come to be almost a Jewish substitute for Christmas, with gift-giving and other accommodations to our culture which did not exist in the ancient celebration. Then, it focused more on the victory of the Jews over a culture that attempted to force pagan practices on them. (The history is related in the book of 1 Maccabees.)
Thus it is an especially appropriate time of year in which to ask ourselves the question that is always pertinent--whether any paganism has sneaked into our own lives. Most of us would deny this right away, since we do not participate in obvious activities like horoscopes, palm reading, ouija boards, or Halloween activities. But when we study the question carefully, it becomes painfully clear that most, if not all, of us (even those who grew up in "Bible-believing" churches) have at some point participated in the worship of foreign deities without realizing it.
The "tares" in Yeshua's parable (Matt. 13) look exactly like wheat until harvest-time. They look so innocent that people hardly notice them. Thus it behooves us to be more aware of just how paganism took on the friendly face that deceives even those with the best of intentions.
Most of paganism has to do with manipulating the gods into giving humans victory in war, good crops, or safe passage through the afterlife. But every one of these somehow ended up being connected to fertility rites which included temple prostitution and vivid sexual imagery. (Fornication with the priests, a practice Eli's sons found appealing, was counted as intimacy with the god itself.) Valentine's Day preserved much of this, but it is not as well known that Easter and Christmas did too. (Credit for much of the information below goes to Alexander Hislop's The Two Babylons, Lew White's Fossilized Customs, Ralph Woodrow's Babylon Mystery Religion, and teachings by Joseph Good.)
Nearly all paganism seems to stem back to one source: Nimrod, the "great hunter" of Genesis 10, who appears in mythologies around the world under dozens of names (some of them being Osiris, Tammuz, Mithras, Bacchus, and Adonis). In brief, he found YHWH's requirements too oppressive, and began
Shortly after Nimrod died, his wife, Semiramis, revealed that she was pregnant, and she claimed that her son was a reincarnation of Nimrod. The promise of the "seed of the woman" (Genesis 3:15) was still remembered, and so it was claimed that this was that child. Statues of this mother and her "supernatural" child appear in every pagan religion, and were transferred, like so many other customs, into the church when it rose to power and paganism as such was again frowned on. They were renamed "Mary and Jesus".
Seeking a broad base of power, Constantine's new state church, realizing people were not going to stand for not being allowed their holidays when they were used to them, recast the meanings of each of the practices. For the most part, the stories about the planetary gods were kept the same, and only the names were changed or a thin veneer of Christian concepts were pasted over them. Pagan gods were just renamed with the names of the apostles, and the stories about countless goddesses worshipped in the New World were just changed to variations on the "Blessed Virgin".
Ignorance about when Yeshua was born made it easy to say that the day formerly known as Saturnalia or Baal's birthday was now to be marked as Jesus', thus, in the public's eye, fusing the true "seed of the woman" with the earlier counterfeit.
”Baal” means "husband", and was sometimes innocently used of YHWH (though it has the connotation of being overbearing). But this led to confusion in Israel because of the pagan use of the same word, and the rituals became mixed.
Christmas trees were originally a form of the decorated trees used in the groves forbidden in Jeremiah 10, where cutting of trees to bring into the house is also specifically prohibited. But the passage is dealing more specifically with the Abomination of Desolation; thus Christmas trees are associated with the False Messiah. Presents under the tree are just like the offerings to the baby born to Semiramis. The evergreen brought into the house was considered an altar. It was associated with reincarnation. Mistletoe is also connected to the sexual rites of Asherah. The star on top comes from worship of the "hosts of heaven", and the silver and golden balls on the trees were hung over 500 years before Yeshua's birth, to represent the planets. We even find tinsel in ancient depictions, especially from Mesopotamia. It stemmed from the worship of the Milky Way around the winter solstice. Jeremiah details what the "hosts of heaven" mean in idolatrous terms.
It is easy to misconstrue certain Biblical passages to say there is a "holy trinity" if we view the Bible through a Gentile grid. But the Apostles never taught this explicitly, and an essential doctrine would not be left to only be deduced four centuries later. Three-in-one deities are found in the mythologies of ancient Babylon, Assyria, Rome, and even India, the land that has preserved pure paganism best.
Yeshua is unique: being without sin, he was the only one worthy to open the title deed to the earth. He is due high honor as our King, but honor was conferred on Him because He obeyed Torah perfectly, making possible the restoration of YHWH’s image to mankind. We'd do best to focus on what Scripture actually does say about him. Adding to Scripture is heresy (Deut. 12:32; Rev. 22:18). Non-Hebraic logic has led to unique and subtle forms of idolatry such as images of the “Jesus” who is made out to be “God”. From the start there was controversy about His nature, but Constantine (whose very conversion is even suspect) wanted the issue settled quickly so his empire could be unified. He chose the side of the contender he knew and liked better. The churches farthest from Hebraic culture (through which all of Scripture was given) accepted it most readily.
Other common carry-overs from paganism include Lent, which confused the practice of wailing for Tammuz (Nimrod) for 40 days with the 40 days of repentance before the Day of Atonement, taken out of context.) Giving prominence to Sunday over other days of the week was a Roman custom long before Christianity was ever heard of, but YHWH stated in no uncertain terms, giving it far more press than any other of the ten commandments, that the Sabbath (the seventh day of the week) is the day He has chosen. The idea of nuns came from vestal virgins, and monks from male temple prostitutes. These are more than just extra-biblical; they are outright obscenity once we know their history.
Jacob and Moses set up pillars as symbols of Yahweh’s intervention in their lives. But the association of such pillars with phallic fertility symbols became so rampant that they were forbidden as savoring of idolatry (Deut. 16:22; Lev. 26:1; Isa. 17:8). It became a way to tell which buildings were pagan temples. In the Byzantine period, many of them were simply converted into churches "as is”. The obelisks were put on the roofs, and
became steeples! Does this mean they were redeemed and again put to holy use?
Well, there is nothing inherently evil about adding new feasts to commemorate special acts of YHWH in history (Hanukkah and Purim are just that), but we have to test their fruits. When the date of the resurrection was intentionally divorced from Passover and no one was to worship on the Jewish date (which was based on YHWH’s own command), it immediately showed that church council’s true colors.
He clearly specified that we are not to worship Him in a way that imitates pagan practices. (Lev. 20:23; Deut. 12:4) Throughout the Torah and the Psalms He tells us how He does want to be worshipped. There is more than enough there to keep us occupied, and nothing of any substance in the added days that was not already there in less diluted form in the holy days He Himself commanded. (Even Yeshua's birth has been fairly solidly traced to Sukkoth, the "feast of Booths".) And when “new” holidays are used as an excuse to perpetuate former practices, we know they are an abomination to YHWH. The new “resurrection day” was rescheduled in relation to the vernal equinox, preserving the date of the festival named for the Babylonian fertility goddess Ishtar, mentioned in Scripture only in a negative light as Astarte/Ashtoreth and later as Diana of the Ephesians. The one place the King James uses “Easter” actually says “Passover” in the original!) Of course we want no such association. But even mentioning the names of pagan deities is an abomination to YHWH as well. (Exodus 23:13)
“God” is pronounced exactly like the Hebrew name for “Fortune” (Gad, as used in Isaiah 65:11), which was considered a personal deity, and thus is one of those whose names Yahweh said should not be upon the lips of His people. (Ex. 23:13; cf. Deut. 12:3) ”Lord” is another translation of “Baal”; the English word itself stems back to a deity associated with pig-farmers, so we do not need it in our liturgical or prayer vocabulary!
But some other names of foreign deities appear in our language without our realizing it. Who are we giving credit to when we say, “Unfortunately...”? The word “opportunity” also stems from “fortune”. “Future” was another pagan deity, so its name should not be found on our tongues either.”Destiny” is yet another. ”Chance” is a concept foreign to those who believe in YHWH’s sovereignty, and was actually the philosophy of Amalek, His sworn arch-enemy! And how about “luck”? It comes from "Lucifer".
It doesn’t take us long to conclude that much of our everyday speech is
inadvertantly profane. But Zephaniah said that one day Yahweh would restore His people to a pure language. (3:9) In mercy toward the scattered “lost sheep of the House of Israel”, He let New Testament be disseminated in a language that most of the world could understand, to make returning to Him less of a formidable prospect. But linguistic diversity was the result of a curse, and all the names prior to Babel make perfect sense in Hebrew, the language in which He revealed the terms by which His truth was to be understood.
It doesn’t take us long to conclude that much of our everyday speech is inadvertantly profane. But Zephaniah said that one day YHWH would restore His people to a pure language. (3:9) In mercy toward the scattered “lost sheep of the House of Israel”, He let New Testament be disseminated in a language that most of the world could understand, to make returning to Him less of a formidable prospect. But linguistic diversity was the result of a curse, and all the names prior to Babel make perfect sense in Hebrew, the language in which He revealed the terms by which His truth was to be understood.
YHWH overlooks our ignorance, but the time has come to repent and leave these Christo-pagan mixtures behind. (Acts 17:30) Keeping them up once we know better is inexcusable. We must not perpetuate earlier errors “just so the masses can understand”.
A “strong delusion” is coming that will “deceive, if possible, even the elect”. (Mark 13:22) Thus it is not going to be something blatantly wicked. It is going to appear good, and it will probably even claim this is “the return of Christ” since this has become so widely known by many who have a surface familiarity with the Bible. So we need to be able to immediately recognize subtle differences.
A detector of counterfeits does not spend much time studying counterfeits, but becomes intimately acquainted with the real thing, so he can readily spot anything that deviates from it. We must study the commands and teachings that Yahweh actually gave, instead of using precious time learning the ways of the nations. (Jer. 10:2)
We have to think in Hebrew, not Greek, terms. Learning the range of meaning of Hebrew words sets the parameters for what the New Testament can and cannot mean. The cardinal rule is, "To the Torah and to the Testimony! If they do not speak in agreement with this word, it is because there is no light in them!" (Isaiah 8:20) It is not impossible. Many helps are available today, and “if anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of YHWH, who gives generously and does not shame [us for asking].” (James 1:5) Our very holiness depends on it.