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Jeremiah 10:1-4 KJV

Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:

“Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move.

Is this a warning to refrain from Christmas trees?

I am not attacking Christmas. I am not making parallels to ancient pagan traditions. I am asking if the bible says, "do not do this very specific act". If it doesn't, please explain. If it does, then should we continue this practice?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Narnian, fredsbend, David Stratton, Caleb Dec 28 '13 at 22:56

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

let us continue this discussion in chat –  Narnian Dec 27 '13 at 16:17
This is a better fit on the Hermeneutics site, where they discuss the meaning and context of Bible passages. –  fredsbend Dec 27 '13 at 20:43
@fredsbend I debated that. However it's about how we apply the scripture which makes me believe it's a better fit here. If others agree with you, migration should be done. –  The Freemason Dec 27 '13 at 20:54
Here is the tip off that this is an opinion question: "It's hard to argue that the Christmas tree is NOT a sign of vanity." Ummmm....except that lots of people do. Unless you want to anchor this question on something concrete that we can answer authoritatively, its just going to act as a fly trap. –  Caleb Dec 28 '13 at 22:59
@TheFreemason this questions shouldn't be closed i think they are attacking your beliefs. There are many denominations which have traditions about this topic and deal with it differently and it can be concretely answered. –  caseyr547 Feb 5 '14 at 3:14

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

An important question to answer about any prophecy is "What is its intended meaning to the people to whom it was delivered?" Not that it can't mean something more/different to people later, but it certainly had to mean something to the original audience.

If we look at v5 of this passage:

Jeremiah 10:5 (NASB) “Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, And they cannot speak; They must be carried, Because they cannot walk! Do not fear them, For they can do no harm, Nor can they do any good.”

This sounds more like a condemnation of idolatry (making an idol out of a tree) than a command not to decorate trees.

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I agree that at 10:5, the scripture starts a discussion about idols. However prior to that, the scripture is talking about customs of vanity, not idol worship. –  The Freemason Dec 27 '13 at 15:05
Jer 9 speaks of Israel departing from the law and the impending calamity that will befall her for it. Chapter 10 begins a new statement, primarily about idolatry. I don't see anything particularly pointed to (personal) vanity: adultery (9:2; perhaps figuratively), deceit/treachery (9:2-9), warning (9:10-22), admonishment (9:23-24), warning (25-26). v26 mentions "clip[ing] the hair on their temples" (NASB), but there is little else about vanity, and this is the kind of thing that is often forbidden because it was the practice of the idolatrous nations around Israel. –  mojo Dec 27 '13 at 19:20

Trees show up throughout the Old Testament, and almost always in reference to an encounter with a god or God. To wit:

You shall not plant a tree as an Asherah (Deut. 16:21); Ahaz sacrificed under every green tree (2 Kgs. 16:4; 2 Chr. 28:4); they sacrificed at every leafy tree (Ezek. 20:28); they made Asherim under every green tree (2 Kgs. 17:10); altars under every green tree (Ezek. 6:13); Judah committed adultery with stones and trees (Jer. 3:9); Israel was a harlot on every high hill and under every green tree (Jer. 2:20; Jer. 3:6); you have scattered your favours among strangers under every green tree (Jer. 3:13); destroy worship places under every green tree (Deut. 12:2); their Asherim by green trees on the high hills (Jer. 17:2).

Collin's Thesarus of the Bible, "Trees"

The Asherah Poles, for example, were always associated with deities at best and idol worship at worst. But, the Oaks at Mamre mentioned in Genesis, for example, mark where Abraham met with angels and with the True God himself.

The point then is that it is not the Tree itself but what it represents. If you want to make the argument that Christmas is the Pagan holiday of Saturnalia, and that the tree is nothing more than a manifestation of it, then, yes, you could say that a Christmas Tree is an idol. (Jon Acuff will rightly say you are being "that guy", but I digress.) But, you can also say that for a Christian, the tree is representation of the manifestation of Christ - not unlike the Oaks at Mamre.

As such, if you want to call it a vanity, I suppose you can. Just don't assume you are right in all cases.

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I'm not trying to debate the Christmas holiday. I'm pointing out that the bible directly and specifically mentions the custom of cutting down a tree and decorating it as an act of vanity. If that is NOT what Jeremiah is saying, then help me understand. If it IS what Jeremiah is saying, then we have a problem, no? This is distinct from being "that guy". I'm not making a parallel with ancient traditions, I'm saying, "the bible says do not do this." –  The Freemason Dec 27 '13 at 15:49
The words recorded in Jer 10 do not say explicitly why the practice is prohibited. It was either obvious to the people and wasn't said or is implied by the context. I don't see how the context points to anything other than idolatry, and certainly not to vanity (decorating yourself, your house, etc.). –  mojo Dec 27 '13 at 19:22
"... for the customs of the peoples are vanity" makes me think differently than you. –  The Freemason Dec 27 '13 at 20:56
"Vanity" (hebel, 1892) here means "emptiness" (lit. "breath"). The English word "vanity" can mean "futility" or "excessive pride in one's own appearance or accomplishments." The latter sounds like the definition you're referring to wrt decorating a Christmas tree, but I don't think that's the sense that's intended by Jer 10:3. "[Their] practices are worthless..." is a common translation. –  mojo Dec 28 '13 at 4:25
Or you could just say the tree is no different than the seasonal paintings that you hang in your house. It's something to do and something to look at that is different than the regular hum drum you do and see the rest of the year. I personally don't see the tree as relating to Christmas, though I do relate it to winter and family feasting. It's like going to the beach in the Summer and having barbecues. Or decorating for a Superbowl party. –  fredsbend Feb 5 '14 at 5:22

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