Watchtower Society and Birthdays

B J Kotwall

(Investigator 76, 2001 January)


Guilt by Association

Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) are strictly forbidden to celebrate birthdays – even sending birthday cards under the penalty of disfellowshipping,

The Watchtower Society's (WTS) argument is that there are only two references in the Bible to birthdays and in both cases the pagan individuals (King Herod and the Pharaoh of Egypt), who celebrated their birthdays, had someone put to death. (Matthew14:6-10; Genesis 40:20-22)

To conclude that a particular day is evil because something bad happened on that day is warped logic. Herod and the Pharoah were arbitrary and cruel rulers who not only put to death persons on their birthdays but on other occasions throughout the year! All that the above two verses show is that the Pharaoh and King Herod were evil not birthdays.
 

Superior Righteousness

The WTS says:

The only two birthdays the Bible does mention were for rulers who were enemies of God.
(WT 1994 July 15, p. 15; cf. Reasoning from the Scriptures 1985 pp. 68, 69)  
This statement is incorrect. Other birthdays are mentioned in the Bible and not in any pejorative sense either: Several scholars hold that birthdays ("day") are mentioned in Job 1:4-5. Among them are Albert Barnes, Adam Clarke, Robert Jamieson, Andrew Fausset and David Brown.

The Living Bible's paraphrase of Job 1:4-5 says:

Every year when each of Job's sons had a birthday, he invited his brothers and sisters to his home for celebration. On these occasions they would eat and drink with great merriment. When these birthday parties ended...   Job appears to define the "day" as a birthday in Job 11:1-3.

Nothing in the Bible text indicates that Job's children did anything evil. Their celebration is not portrayed as a pagan practice. And Job does not condemn the celebration. Moreover regarding Job it is said that he was "a man of blameless and upright life...who feared God and set his face against wrongdoing." (Job 1:1) So if God did not approve of observing birthdays Job obviously would not have allowed the celebrations among his children.

The birthday of John the Baptist was also celebrated. The "angel" who announced John's birth said:

And you will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice over his birth. (Luke 1:14)  (The New World Translation 1984)   And most importantly, angels in song and glory celebrated the birth of Christ:

But the angel said to them: "Have no fear, for, look! I am declaring to you good news of a great joy that all the people will have, because there was born to you today a Savior, who is Christ [the] Lord, in David's city..." And suddenly there came to be with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying: "Glory in the heights above to God, and upon earth peace among men of goodwill." (Luke 2:10,11,13,14. NWT)   This positive event was left out of the WTS's consideration because it negates their assertion that only two birthdays are mentioned in the Bible and both in a negative sense!
 

 

Devastating Effect on Children

The ban on birthday celebrations per se may seem innocuous and minor. However, where children are concerned, the prohibition has far reaching and often shattering consequences. I have seen small children overcome with shock when told the first time that they cannot ever have their birthday celebrated or attend any other child's birthday celebration. It’s simply impossible for children to understand and accept. JW children feel left out and isolated from their peer group. Other children, who could be quite cruel, look upon the JW children as freaks and treat them as such. I am aware that many JW children hate going to school because they are ostracised and are the butt of cruel jokes and objects of ridicule.

David Reed in his book Blood on the Altar says:

Birthdays and holidays are especially difficult time for Witness kids in school. A kindergarten or early elementary class of thirty children finds itself singing "Happy Birthday" to someone nearly every weekwhich furnish occasions for the (Witness) child to be excused. (1996 p. 228)


Pagan Customs Observed by WTS

While giving undue attention to birthdays in an effort to show pagan origins the WTS glosses over other "pagan" practices which JWs follow.

An example is wedding rings – JWs use wedding rings although their own publication ranks "the ring in marriage" as pagan! (What Has Religion Done For Mankind? 1951 pp. 276-277)

There appears to be no indication that Christians in early centuries celebrated wedding anniversaries. But JWs have no objection in doing so.

The WTS uses the same names for the days of the week as other people, yet the names come from pagan objects of worship (the sun the moon) and from the names of gods and goddesses Twi, Woden, Thor, Frei, and Saturn. The names of some of the months are also pagan based.

In 1999,  323,439 JWs were baptized. (WT January 1, 2000 p. 20) But baptism has undoubted pagan origins. Egyptians, Persians, Brahmins, followers of Mithra, and many other civilisations practiced baptism long before Christianity arrived. The WTS admits that:

The practice of baptism...predates the Christian faith. It was employed in Babylonia and ancient Egypt, where the cold waters of the Nile were thought to increase strength and bestow immortality. (WT 1993 April 1 p.4)   The WTS had no compunction in declaring their July 1, 1979 Watchtower a "special issue" celebrating a century of publication. The Watchtower Corporation also celebrated its own hundredth birthday as a Centennial to Remember in 1984! (WT 1985 January 1 p. 16)
 

 

Conclusion

From its inception the WTS has itself dabbled in "paganism" and the occult. (See further details in Investigator No. 58 and No. 41) Nevertheless the WTS condemns innocuous pursuits like birthday celebrations supposedly because pagans celebrated them.


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