Why Do Jehovah’s Witnesses forbid birthday celebrations?
Questions From Readers section in The Watchtower magazine dated October 15, 1998, page 30 poses this question:
Many of Jehovah’s Witnesses observe wedding anniversaries. A birthday is an anniversary of when you were born. So why celebrate wedding anniversaries and not birthday anniversaries?
The article starts by saying the following:
there is no need for a Christian to celebrate either.
Further along it has this to say:
God specifically instructed the Israelites to celebrate annually the day when his angel passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and the resulting exodus of his people …
The Jews also treated as special the anniversary of the rededication of the temple. Though commemorating this historical event was not commanded in the Bible, John 10:22, 23 suggests that Jesus was not critical of its being done.
Keep this in mind: Jesus was NOT critical of a celebration that did not originate with God. In fact, the rededication of the temple, or what we know today as Hanukkah, is not mentioned in the bible, nor is the desecration of the temple by Seleucid Greeks. In the next paragraph it reads:
What about wedding anniversaries? … Certainly, the Bible does not put marriage in a bad light. Jesus both attended a marriage celebration and contributed to the pleasure of the occasion.
The Watchtower is relating how some choose to celebrate wedding anniversaries yet do not celebrate birthdays. It is now setting the table for its defense, although they already shot themselves in the foot by saying that Jesus was not critical of a celebration that was not authorized by God. Reading on it goes on to say:
What, though, about taking special note of a birthday? … Jesus was not born on December 25, a date linked to pagan religion. The Bible directs us to commemorate the date of Jesus’ death, not the anniversary of his or anyone else’s birth. Doing so accords with Ecclesiastes 7:1 and the fact that how a faithful person’s life turns out is more important than the day of his birth. The Bible has no record that any faithful servant celebrated his birthday. It records birthday celebrations of pagans, linking these occasions with cruel acts.
The Watchtower is correct in stating that Jesus commanded his followers to celebrate his death, but not his birth date. Just because a command is not made to celebrate one’s birthday does that make it wrong to do so? Just because there is no mention of any faithful servant shown celebrating their birthday, does that make it wrong? There is no biblical record of any faithful servant celebrating their wedding anniversary. Does that make it wrong? The bible is very clear on what is acceptable and not acceptable to God. There is no ambiguity on that front. Even the Watchtower will admit this:
“You must not commit adultery.” (Rom. 13:9) “Flee from fornication.” (1 Cor. 6:18) “Neither . . . men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men . . . will inherit God’s kingdom.” (1 Cor. 6:9, 10) There is nothing ambiguous about what those scriptures say: adultery, fornication and homosexuality are condemned by God.
– The Watchtower, Feb 1, 1970 p.84, para 26.
However, the Watchtower is indicating that the bible is ambiguous on the birthday front: It records two birthdays where cruel acts took place and the reader is supposed to read between the lines and interpret from this that birthdays are wrong. They attempt to justify this ambiguity by quoting Eccl 7:1:
A good name is better than good oil, and the day of death is better than the day of birth.
A good name is better than good oil, but there is nothing wrong with good oil either. In the same way, the day of death may be better than the day of birth, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with the day of birth either. After all, isn’t someone’s birth a special occasion? Don’t we get excited when there is a new addition to the family, or when a friend gives birth? Luke 1:57, 58 says:
The time now came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. (John the Baptizer) And the neighbors and her relatives heard that Jehovah had magnified his mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
Further on in Luke 2:10-14 it states:
But the angel said to them: “Do not be afraid, for look! I am declaring to you good news of a great joy that all the people will have. For today there was born to you in David’s city a savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this is a sign for you: You will find an infant wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying: “Glory in the heights above to God, and on earth peace among men of goodwill.”
If Jehovah God was against celebrating birthdays, and if the day of death was more importance than the day of birth, why would these accounts be in the bible? Why did it put these births in a favorable light? Yes, even an army of angels congratulating God and blessing humanity when Jesus was born. Why would the bible give these two accounts of joyful births, and then we are to interpret ambiguously that birthday are wrong?
Consider an instance of a lesser known birthday celebration in Job 1:4, 5:
Each of his sons would hold a banquet at his house on his own set day. They would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 After a series of banquet days was complete, Job would send for them in order to sanctify them. Then he would get up early in the morning and offer up burnt sacrifices for each of them.
These verses do not say that Job, one of the most faithful persons to God in the bible, celebrated anything. However, it does say that each of his sons celebrated his own set day. If it is not talking about their wedding anniversaries, what other celebration could one reasonably conclude each son was celebrating? If they were celebrating something so wrong in the eyes of God, would not this faithful man put a stop to it? This man was practically faithful face to face against the devil. Certainly his children celebrating their birthdays was no mountain-like obstacle for him.
Please read Romans chapter 14. We won’t discuss the entire chapter but lets look at some verses. Romans 14:1-4:
Welcome the man having weaknesses in his faith, but do not pass judgment on differing opinions. One man has faith to eat everything, but the man who is weak eats only vegetables. Let the one eating not look down on the one not eating, and let the one not eating not judge the one eating, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for Jehovah can make him stand.
Apparently there was a controversy of eating meat bought at the market that was previously offered in pagan rituals. The eating of such meat stumbled some. Others were okay with eating this meat. What did the Apostle Paul say? Basically in a nutshell: Who cares? Don’t judge!
Romans 14: 5, 6:
One man judges one day as above another; another judges one day the same as all others; let each one be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day observes it to Jehovah. Also, the one who eats, eats to Jehovah, for he gives thanks to God; and the one who does not eat does not eat to Jehovah, and yet gives thanks to God.
(Romans 14:10) But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you also look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
Romans 14:13, 14:
Therefore, let us not judge one another any longer but, rather, be determined not to put a stumbling block or an obstacle before a brother. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; only where a man considers something to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses conveniently forget about these verses? If One man judges one day as above another (i.e. a birthday); another judges one day the same as all others (i.e. doesn’t think much about birthdays); … why do you [Jehovah’s Witnesses] judge your brother for celebrating them?
Really, where is the condemnation in these verses? According to these verses, any day a person celebrated above others should be a conscience matter in which another person should not judge or look down on another. No one has the right to judge and look down on another person who chooses to celebrate any day above another. We all stand before the judgement seat of God for our own actions.
This chapter in Romans should be consulted whenever any celebration is questioned, not just birthdays.
Referring back to The Watchtower, Oct 15, 1998, it made this admission:
Well, early in this century, Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known, did take note of birthdays. Many of them kept small books called Daily Heavenly Manna. These contained a Bible text for each day, and many Christians put a tiny photograph on the pages corresponding to the birthdays of fellow Bible Students. Also, The Watch Tower of February 15, 1909, related that at a convention in Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.A., Brother Russell, then president of the Society, was ushered onto the platform. Why? He was given a surprise birthday present of some boxes of grapefruit, pineapples, and oranges. That gives us a glimpse of the past. To put matters in their context, recall that during that period, Bible Students also commemorated December 25 as the anniversary of Jesus’ birth, or birthday. It was even customary to have Christmas dinner at the Brooklyn headquarters.
Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrated birthdays and Christmas until the 1920’s. This begs the question: If Jehovah God supposedly chose the Bible Students (known as Jehovah’s Witnesses since 1931) as his sole channel of communication – because of the “fine spiritual food” they were serving when the Master made his inspection in 1919 – Why didn’t he mind the fact that they celebrated birthdays and Christmas? If he didn’t mind then, what changed his mind some years later? To be quite frank, nearly everything we do today, in our everyday lives, has some sort of connection to paganism. We cannot escape that. So why pick and choose which ones are acceptable and which are not?
The Writer’s Opinion
If there is enough evidence for celebrating birthdays as there is against it, why then does WT insist that they know that birthdays bring dishonor to God? The clue is in the scripture that Jehovah’s Witnesses use often. It’s John 15:19:
If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you.
It is my opinion that the leaders want to be so different from everyone else – since they believe they are God’s sole channel of communication – that they rigidly enforce man-made rules to make their followers stand out like a sore thumb. This, in turn, leads to persecution for being different. Pushing their different beliefs on others doesn’t help either. Lastly, this feeds their “persecution complex”, thus proving that they have “the truth”, as they like to call their religion.
If you are an ex-Jehovah’s Witness, and have a hard time celebrating birthdays, perhaps even feeling guilty, just remember that there is enough evidence – and weightier evidence in my opinion – to celebrate birthdays than there is not to celebrate. The biggest piece of evidence that can be found is what the bible does not say. Nowhere can you find a single verse, chapter or book in the bible that strictly forbids birthday celebrations. Just because two cruel acts occurred in the only instances where the bible mentions birthday celebrations, this does not make it wrong to celebrate. Just because the Watchtower claims that birthdays have pagan origins does not mean they cannot be celebrated, especially when they pick and choose which everyday pagan practices are acceptable to themselves.
So, go ahead. Close your eyes, make a wish, and blow out those candles to the Happy Birthday song. Have your cake and eat it too! Someone was happy and proud when you were born and there are many more that continue to be happy each year you are on this wonderful planet. I have 36 years to catch up on the birthdays that I lost out on. (Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that!)
About the Writer
My mother was a single mother of four children. We did not have much materially, therefore, I do not recall having a birthday party. My mother just could not afford it. One Saturday morning, my mother received a fateful knock on the door. Even though my mother couldn’t afford birthdays, she had a lady in her 80’s telling her that birthdays were bad in the eyes of Jehovah. From about the age of 6, growing up in the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, until my 36th birthday, I was forbidden to celebrate my birthday.
On July 24, 2014, I was disfellowshipped (kicked out) of the Jehovah’s Witness religion. Hence, when I turned 36 later in the year, I had a small modest birthday party for the first time in my life. There was a small twinge in me that did not feel right. I had not given much thought about defending why I thought it was okay to now celebrate, other than the fact that I am doing everything the religion forbade me to do. That was, until recently when I was having a back-and-forth discussion with a Jehovah’s Witnesses on social media. So, it was time to debunk the whole birthday thing Biblically.
– Israel Ricky Gonzales