I’ve had several debates lately, one a Christian and an unbeliever re: the paganism involved in our holidays (i.e. Christmas/Easter). I’ve already forwarded the article you had on Christmas to them, however, now there’s the debate w/ Easter and my believing friend is even arguing that if the OT law is obsolete, than why did Jesus use the scriptures from it to fight Satan in the desert while fasting. I think the obvious answer is that that’s all he had to go w/ at that time. He was also saying that tatoos were wrong because Jesus wouldn’t have one, even though I reminded him that was also part of the old covenant. He said, “well yeah, but so was selling your daughter into prostitution”! I feel like saying; “Arguments about the law are useless and unproductive”, yet since he’s a brother in the faith, I didn’t want to just dismiss him. Are there any “easy” answers here?
I agree that it is frustrating dealing with people who seem to love controversy and to debate for the sake of debating. However, our churches will always have these types of people, as we will have all other types of people as well. I appreciate your attitude, which is that even though this person is a bit annoying, you realize that love requires you to do your best to answer and not simply brush him off.
I cannot tell from you question what kind of response you want about Christmas and Easter. Neither holiday is a “Christian” one if we use as the definition of a Christian holiday as one which is mentioned and encouraged in the New Testament. It is true that much of what is traditionally done around these holidays come directly from pagan tradition and is definitely NOT Christian. Christmas trees, stockings, Easter eggs, bunnies and the like have clear pagan, not Christian origin. What should a Christian do about this? Before responding, let me make a very brief comment about the history. There is no evidence of Christmas or the birth of Jesus being celebrated for the first 150 years or so after Christ was resurrected. This holiday is not only not biblical, it is almost certainly not apostolic. No apostle encouraged the celebrating of the birthday of Jesus that we know of. This situation with Easter is different. We know that the holiday was being celebrated by Christians by the very early second century based on the statements of Church “Fathers.” It is not unreasonable to extrapolate and conclude that it is fairly likely that even during apostolic times the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus had begun. Therefore, Easter has a stronger “Christian” pedigree.
Nevertheless, there is so much of pagan “stuff” attached to the traditional celebration of these two holidays that some Christians teach they should not be celebrated or even recognized by believers. It is my opinion that this is an overreaction. To take this stand appears to me to risk being legalistic. I believe that whether or not we celebrate these holidays is a debatable matter which should be left in the grey area and should not be a source of division in the church. If someone insists on arguing about this, you should gently refuse to continue such an argument.
Your friend is extremely far off if he thinks that the Old Testament is obsolete. It is true that Jesus fulfilled the law (Matthew 5). It is also true that the Law was good. We are not under the requirements of the law in order to obtain salvation. That is for sure. This is proved by reading Galatians or Colossians, among other scriptures. To say that Jesus using the Old Testament to defeat Satan is in conflict with the fact that Christians are not under the requirements of the Mosaic Law is to think very poorly. First of all, Jesus was a Jew and he followed the requirements of the Law. Secondly, if we use this person’s argument, then none of us should use the Old Testament any more at all. This is clearly ridiculous! Clearly the New Testament writers used the Old Testament. You should help your friend by correcting him gently and perhaps very gently suggest that he think more critically and carefully about such questions.
I find his next argument to have perhaps just a little bit of validity, but it should be used with grace and not as a legalistic approach. Here is what I mean by this. Obviously, Jesus would not have had a tattoo while in his ministry because he was practicing Jew and submitted to the Law. Therefore at first glance the argument that he would not have had a tattoo is not relevant to whether a Christian can get a tattoo. But, I think we could frame the question differently. We could ask whether, if Jesus were alive today and living in a situation not under the Old Testament Law, would he get a tattoo? I think that most Christians would agree that probably Jesus would not get a tattoo. It is just really hard imagining him going under the needle and putting such a thing on his body. One could argue that if we can reasonably predict that Jesus would not get a tattoo if he were alive today and not under the Law, then we can conclude that a Christian also should not get a tattoo. Personally, for me, this is a good enough reason that I personally would not get a tattoo. However, I think that we can accept that this is in the area of opinion and is a grey area. If we are not under the Mosaic Law and therefore do not have a specific commandment not to get a tattoo, one can argue that to give as a command that no Christian can get a tattoo under any circumstances is probably too strong a position. We should allow believers some room to reach their own conclusion on a matter which the Bible does not specifically address. There is much in Romans and 1 Corinthians on matters of conscience which applies here. To say that getting a tattoo is a bad idea is to apply a biblical principle, but not a biblical command, so giving freedom of conscience seems to be advisable here.
I am not sure I appreciate the attitude expressed by your friend “well yeah, but so was selling your daughter into prostitution.” This is arguing by logical fallacy. There is no parallel between selling one’s daughter into prostitution and the getting of a tattoo. The first is extremely clearly out of the question based on New Testament teaching. This is a kind of “straw man” argument. Do not be sucked into this kind of emotional rhetoric. Bottom line, we are not under the requirements of the Law. I believe we can use the “Jesus would not do this” argument, but we cannot then suddenly switch arguments to “Yeah, so if we buy your argument, then we can also sell our daughters into prostitution.” At this point, we are in “avoid foolish controversy” territory (1 Tim 6:4, 2 Tim 2:23).
Let me summarize with 1 Peter 3:15 in which Peter advises us to be prepared to give an answer to questions people ask, but we should do it with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience. Although this passage probably is about sharing with non-believers, I think you could apply this advice to how you handle your somewhat frustrating friend, even if you end up “suffering for doing good” (1 Pet 3:17) to your brother.