Is Valentine's Day biblical?

Is Valentine's Day biblical?

Question

I want to buy my wife flowers and candy, but I don’t want to do this if it is a sin to celebrate Valentine’s Day. What are your thoughts on this?

Answer

The term “valentine" comes from the from the Latin word valens meaning to be in good health. Valentine’s Day occurs every year on February 14 in the United States. It’s also celebrated in Australia, Canada, France, Mexico, etc. It is customary for loved ones and friends to purchase candy, flowers and other gifts such as jewelry to share with others on this day.

But where did Valentine’s Day originate? Are there any saints associated with it? Who or what is Cupid? Should Christians celebrate this day?

St. Valentine – The Legend

Some have suggested that there is a patron saint associated with Valentine’s Day. Within Catholic theology, among many other things, Saint Valentine is considered the patron saint of love, marriages, engagements, young people, greetings, beekeepers and epilepsy. [1]

The Catholic Church officially recognizes Valentine as a real person who died in 270 A.D. [1] However, this was questioned as early as 496 A.D. by Pope Gelasius I. In fact, there are at least a dozen or so Valentines, including one pope (827 A.D.), associated with the celebration of Valentine’s Day. [2] One legend asserts that a Valentine of Rome was a priest martyred on February 14 under the rule of Claudius II. Others say that the patron saint of this day is Saint Valentine of Terni who was also martyred by the same emperor on February 14 but in a different year. Yet, others say that both of these two men are actually one and the same. So, the identity of St. Valentine is rather shrouded in mystery.

Although the truth behind St. Valentine’s existence is full of questions, all the stories seem to see him as a hero and a romantic figure, which became especially popular in England and France just as today in many romance novels and movies like, some might say, a Hallmark romance movie per se.

However, Christians shouldn't worship saints. St. Peter and St. Paul both refused to be worshiped (cf. Acts 10:25-25; 14:11-18).

Cute Cupid – The Legend

Have you ever seen a picture of a cute, rather chubby, naked, angel-type figure launching arrows of love at unsuspecting lovers? This character is Cupid, whose name comes from the Latin word Cupido meaning "desire." But his origin isn’t so cute. I remember learning in high school that the Roman god Cupid had his roots in Greek mythology. He was the Greek god of love known as Eros (from which we obtain our word “erotic”) and is symbolized by a bow and arrow. He too is a rather mysterious figure. Some say he was “the son of Nyx and Erebus; or Aphrodite and Ares; or Iris and Zephyrus; or even Aphrodite and Zeus.” [3]

In history, Eros is depicted as a handsome but threatening teen figure who would play with the hearts of mortals and gods to cause mayhem. Only later was he portrayed as the little child-like figure we observe on some Valentine’s Day cards today.

The Bible instructs us not to worship other gods (Exod. 20:3; 1 Cor. 10:20; cf. Mark 7:7; John 4:24). And Paul writes, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). Christians shouldn’t worship other gods or entertain myths.

Valentine’s Day – It’s Origins

Some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated to commemorate the anniversary of Saint Valentine’s death or burial. But others believe it was an effort by the Catholic Church to Christianize the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. According to Wiki, “Lupercalia was an ancient, possibly pre Roman pastoral annual festival, observed in the city of Rome between 13-15 February to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Lupercalia was also called dies Februatus, after the instruments of purification called februa, which gave February (Februarius) its name.” [4]

Lupercalia was a fertility festival. It was dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. In approximately 496 A.D., it was finally determined to be unchristian and outlawed when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day. Only later would Valentine’s Day be associated with love. The English poet and author of Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer, is thought to be the first to record Valentine’s Day as a day of romantic celebration in his poem called the Parliament of Foules (meaning the Parliament of Fowls). He wrote, "For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate” (interpreted as "For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate"). [5]

By the middle of the 18th century, it was common for loved ones and friends to exchange tokens of affection and/or handwritten notes on February 14th. In the 1900s printed cards began to replace the handwritten notes, and today Valentine’s Day is a multi-billion-dollar yearly industry. [6]

Reformed and Always Reforming

We have a tremendous calling in the Lord. Ours is a great heritage, but only as we look back and glimpse and grasp what was accomplished in the past. Look at the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. These were great feats for God's glory. But it didn't stop there, transformation continued. The Reformation was a changing point in history with the likes of Luther, Calvin, and Knox, etc. And now the mantel has been given unto us.

This motto of Reformed and Always Reforming is an important truth to keep in mind. It first reminds us of being devoted to the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). It also reminds us that we should be transforming all of culture for God's glory. Every single segment of culture needs to be transformed. Whether it be education, politics, our work, the arts, music, science, etc. everything needs to be redeemed for God's glory. It also includes each and every day.

While we surely shouldn’t worship saints, false gods, or entertain the thought of participating in ungodly festivals, every single second of every single day belongs to the Lord. The Psalmist writes, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psa. 118:24). And husbands are to love their wives every day, at all times (cf. Eph. 5:25). We don’t and shouldn’t need a named holiday to do this, but there is nothing inherently wrong with giving our wives candy, flowers and other gifts on this or any other day. They are more than deserving of such love and affection (cf. Prov. 31:10-31).

No matter what others may call any day, we should always be reforming each and every day for the glory of God alone (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31).

Footnotes

[1] Saint Valentine's Story, by Whitney Hopler. Learn Religions. (https://www.learnreligions.com/st-valentine-patron-saint-of-love-124544). Last accessed 12 Feb. 2020.

[2] 6 Surprising Facts About St. Valentine by Elizabeth Hanes. History (https://www.history.com/news/6-surprising-facts-about-st-valentine). Last accessed 12 Feb. 2020.

[3] Who is Cupid? By Laura Schumm. History (https://www.history.com/news/who-is-cupid). Last accessed 12 Feb. 2020.

[4] “Lupercalia.” Wiki (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lupercalia). Last accessed 12 Feb. 2020.

[5] Geoffrey Chaucer and the Birth of Saint Valentine’s Day. Oxford Home Schooling. (https://www.oxfordhomeschooling.co.uk/blog/geoffrey-chaucer-birth-saint-valentines-day/). Last Accessed 12 Feb. 2020.

[6] “In 2020, Valentine's Day shoppers plan to set new spending records. They will add $27.4 billion to the economy, according to the National Retail Federation.” Kimberly Amadeo, the balance. (https://www.thebalance.com/happy-valentine-s-day-retailers-feeling-the-love-3306043). Last accessed 12 Feb. 2020.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

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