Does Jeremiah 10 forbid Christmas trees?

Question
Does Jeremiah 10 forbid Christmas trees?
Answer
Thank you for your question. And my answer is that unless a Christmas tree is worshiped as an idol, no, it isn’t forbidden. Jeremiah 10:1-5 (cf. Isa. 44:14-17) states:

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. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good."

In this text Jeremiah is referring to carving idols for worship, not making a festive decoration such as a Christmas tree. He is clearly speaking of lifeless idols that are weak and can't even speak or walk (cf. Jer. 10:5). He calls such idols "stupid and foolish" (Jer. 10:8-9) as compared to the true, living, everlasting, almighty God (Jer. 10:10).

This said, it is possible to turn anything into an idol (cf. Acts 17:29). Throughout the world Christmas is very commercialized and the true meaning of Christmas has been lost, if indeed it has ever even been known by some. Because the heart is very deceitful and continuously looks for idols to replace God (cf. Jer. 17:9; Rom. 1:21-23), anything can can become an idol. A golden calf can take other forms, whether it be trees, decorations, gifts, meals, etc. Hopefully this is not what Christmas is to you.

There are also oft-repeated phrases surrounding Christmas that say the reason for the season is Jesus. He is, in fact, the only reason. Yes, there may be decorations, meals, and the gatherings with family members and friends. This is all very fine. Many will be in soup kitchens feeding the poor or the hospital visiting the sick, etc. This is even better, especially when the entire family is involved. But the real reason for the season is Jesus alone. What’s more, this is what true believers should celebrate each and every day of the year — “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” (WSC 1).

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus’ birth and the fulfillment of numerous prophecies represents the moment in redemptive history where God became man. Jesus then lived a perfect, sinless holy life. He performed numerous life-changing miracles. He taught the truth concerning God, man, and the very universe he created. After some thirty years he literally gave his life as a sufficient sacrifice for his people. Three days later he resurrected from the dead and then a while later he ascended to the right hand of God. His birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension saved his people from their sins!

At Christmastime be in awe of the Savior and be careful to avoid idolatry. And don't merely remember and celebrate Jesus at Christmas. Do this continually, every day.

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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).