Jeremiah 10 NIV
1 Hear what the LORD says to you, O house of Israel. 2 This is what the LORD says:
“Do not learn the ways of the nations
or be terrified by signs in the sky,
though the nations are terrified by them.
3 For the customs of the peoples are worthless;
they cut a tree out of the forest,
and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. 4 They adorn it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so it will not totter.King James Version
3For 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.Hebrew Masoretic Text3 For the customs of the peoples are vanity; for it is but a tree which one cutteth out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman with the axe.Septuagint3 because the precepts of the nations are vain: there is a tree from the forest, cut down, a work of a craftsman, and a molten image.
5 Like a scarecrow in a melon patch,
their idols cannot speak;
they must be carried
because they cannot walk.
Do not fear them;
they can do no harm
nor can they do any good.”
I originally posted this in 2010. The comments on this blog heat up every year. I changed the title from “God and the Bible Forbid Christmas Trees” to “Do God and the Bible Forbid Christmas Trees?” Like almost all Christian doctrines and beliefs, the answer to this question depends upon the interpretation of the scripture. I am reposting so comments can be more clearly directed.
This passage is often ignored by Christians at Christmas, because it appears to forbid cutting down a tree, bringing it into your home, and decorating it. There are several Christian sects today that forbid Christmas trees due to this passage. This first post laments the change of “axe” to “chisel” by some translations.
Other Christian sects claim that Christmas trees are fine.
Most Christians who are aware of this verse claim it is about idolatry and not about Christmas trees. This is an Old Testament passage, so obviously it could not be a Christmas tree. Also, they note that in many modern translations the word chisel is used, indicating that the tree was not really a tree but a carved idol. The NIV uses the word chisel. The KJV uses the word axe, as does the Hebrew Masoretic Text. The Septuagint does not use axe or chisel, but calls the tree a “molten image” in verse 3. Once again, the different translations are a source of confusion.
Further verses show that the context of this passage is clearly about the worship of idols. However, verses 3 and 4 are still strong statements against cutting down trees and bringing them into a house to decorate, and these verses are a direct quote from God.
Furthermore, God states clearly that he does not like the customs of other people (non Jews). There are multiple non-Jewish origins of decorating trees that pre-date the Christmas tree. Ancient (and modern) pagans would cut boughs of evergreens for decoration in their homes. Ancient Egyptians decorated their homes with palm tree branches. Greeks decorated evergreen trees as part of worship of their god Adonia. Pagan Romans would decorate trees with metal and replicas of Bacchus, a fertility god. Germans tied fruit and candles to trees in honor of their god Woden. Christians can not accurately claim that decorating a tree is not related to pagan idol worship.
The second-century Christian theologian Tertullian condemned those Christians who celebrated the winter festivals, or decorated their houses with laurel boughs in honor of the emperor: “Let them over whom the fires of hell are imminent, affix to their posts, laurels doomed presently to burn: to them the testimonies of darkness and the omens of their penalties are suitable. You are a light of the world, and a tree ever green. If you have renounced temples, make not your own gate a temple.” Other Christian leaders condemned the “pagan” practice of christmas trees, including the Pilgrim’s second governor, William Bradford. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Worldwide Church of God (recent post at http://worldwidechurchgod.blogspot.com/2009/12/call-for-christmas-tree-sellers-to.html) and many fundamentalist Christian groups still forbid Christmas trees. Notice the Worldwide Church of God link mentions Jeremiah 10 as well. And before I get lots of comments from members of the “true” church of God, I will acknowledge that there are multiple splinter groups of the Worldwide Church of God and they differ in beliefs on this issue.
Most Christians, however, continue to ignore this passage and any other passage in the bible that contradicts their opinions. Others are aware of this passage but interpret it differently.