Deconstructing Birthdays

The following is adapted from a blog post I made shortly after my phone conversations with a Jehovah’s Witness elder:

Watchtower rationale, then, on why birthdays are sinful can be boiled down to the following reasons:

1) Two birthday parties are mentioned in the bible. Neither of the birthday boys were worshippers of Jehovah. At both birthday parties, someone was killed. True, most birthday parties don’t end in murder, but since everything is in the bible for a reason, we must conclude that birthdays are not for true Christians.

2) Birthday celebrations involve giving undue attention to the individual; setting them up in a place of importance.

3) There is no indication that first century Christians celebrated their birthday.

4) Birthdays often include pagan traditions, such as cakes topped with candles and an encouragement of materialism via the giving of gifts.
Okay, let’s break these down.

1) First, the two biblical birthday party-related deaths:

The first birthday celebration is that of the Egyptian Pharaoh of Joseph’s time (Genesis 40:20-23). Pharaoh hosted a feast on this day, during which he had both his cupbearer and baker released from prison (he had thrown them in prison three days earlier). Pharaoh returned the cupbearer to his place of employment. But the baker, he had hanged.

The second birthday celebration noted in the bible occurred approximately 1,900 years later. It was Herod’s birthday (Matthew 14:6-10). During the celebration, a woman danced for him, and he was so pleased with the dance, that he offered the woman anything she wanted. At her mother’s coaching, she asked for the head of John the Baptist.

Both the baker’s and John’s deaths fulfilled prophesy, so the deaths weren’t all bad – had the deaths not occurred, God and Jesus’ words would have not come true. Also, if God really wanted us to abstain from birthdays, doesn’t it seem reasonable to conclude that he would have said so somewhere? After all, he spent pages and pages detailing sex crimes and proper disposal of human waste (see the entire book of Leviticus), so surely He didn’t leave out anything important. Why is there no law in either the Old or New Testament that simply says: “Thou shalt not celebrate birthdays”? God even saw fit to command women not to braid their hair or wear gold or pearls (1 Timothy 2:9), yet Witness women routinely flout this dictate. If we are to assume that all birthdays are evil because two birthdays are mentioned in the bible under negative connotations, then what about dogs?

Yes, dogs. Dogs are mentioned in the bible 40 times, and never once are they spoken of in a positive way. They are described as low, unclean animals that eat corpses and their own vomit. But don’t take my word for it; here’s a partial listing of scriptures speaking of dogs in a negative fashion:

Exodus 22:31
And YOU should prove yourselves holy men to me; and YOU must not eat flesh in the field that is something torn by a wild beast. YOU should throw it to the dogs

Deuteronomy 23:18
You must not bring the hire of a harlot or the price of a dog into the house of Jehovah your God for any vow, because they are something detestable to Jehovah your God, even both of them.

1 Samuel 17:43
So the Phi·lis'tine said to David: “Am I a dog, so that you are coming to me with staves?”

1 Samuel 24:14
After whom has the king of Israel gone out? After whom are you chasing? After a dead dog? After a single flea?

2 Samuel 3:8
And Ab'ner got very angry at the words of Ish-bo'sheth and went on to say: “Am I a dog’s head that belongs to Judah?

2 Samuel 9:8
At that he prostrated himself and said: “What is your servant, that you have turned your face to the dead dog such as I am?”

2 Samuel 16:9
Finally A·bish'ai the son of Ze·ru'iah said to the king: “Why should this dead dog call down evil upon my lord the king? Let me go over, please, and take off his head.

1 Kings 14:11
The one dying of Jer·o·bo'am’s in the city, the dogs will eat;

1 Kings 16:4
Anyone of Ba'a·sha that is dying in the city the dogs will eat

1 Kings 21:19
And you must speak to him, saying, ‘This is what Jehovah has said: “Have you murdered and also taken possession?”’ And you must speak to him, saying, ‘This is what Jehovah has said: “In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Na'both, the dogs will lick up your blood, even yours.”’

1 Kings 21:23
The very dogs will eat up Jez'e·bel in the plot of land of Jez're·el

1 Kings 21:24
Anyone of A'hab’s that is dying in the city the dogs will eat up

1 Kings 22:38
And they began to wash off the war chariot by the pool of Sa·mar'
i·a, and the dogs went licking up his blood (and the prostitutes themselves bathed there)

2 Kings 8:13
Upon that Haz'a·el said: “What is your servant, [who is a mere] dog, that he could do this great thing?” But E·li'sha said: “Jehovah has shown me you as king over Syria.

Job 30:30
And now they have laughed at me, those younger in days than I am, whose fathers I would have refused To place with the dogs of my flock.

Psalm 22:16
For dogs have surrounded me; the assembly of evildoers themselves have enclosed me

Psalm 22:20
Do deliver from the sword my soul, My only one from the very paw of the dog

Psalm 68:23
That the tongue of your dogs may have its portion from the enemies.

Psalm 59:5 & 6
Do not show favor to any hurtful traitors.  They keep returning at evening time; They keep barking like a dog and go all around the city.

Proverbs 26:11
Just like a dog returning to its vomit, the stupid one is repeating his foolishness.

Proverbs 26:17
As one grabbing hold of the ears of a dog is anyone passing by that is becoming furious at the quarrel that is not his.

Ecclesiastes 9:4
For as respects whoever is joined to all the living there exists confidence, because a live dog is better off than a dead lion.

Isaiah 55:10 & 11
His watchmen are blind. None of them have taken note. All of them are speechless dogs; they are not able to bark, panting, lying down, loving to slumber. They are even dogs strong in soul[ful desire]; they have known no satisfaction.

Isaiah 66:3
The one sacrificing the sheep is as one breaking the neck of a dog.

Jeremiah 15:3
And I will commission over them four families,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘the sword to kill, and the dogs to drag away, and the flying creatures of the heavens and the beasts of the earth to eat and to bring to ruin.

Matthew 7:6
Do not give what is holy to dogs, neither throw YOUR pearls before swine.

Matthew 15: 25-26
When the woman came she began doing obeisance to him, saying: “Lord, help me!” In answer [Jesus] said: “It is not right to take the bread of the children and throw it to little dogs.”

Mark 7:27
First let the children be satisfied, for it is not right to take the bread of the children and throw it to the little dogs.

Luke 16: 20 & 21
But a certain beggar named Laz'a·rus used to be put at his gate, full of ulcers and desiring to be filled with the things dropping from the table of the rich man. Yes, too, the dogs would come and lick his ulcers.

Philippians 3:2
Look out for the dogs, look out for the workers of injury, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

2 Peter 2:22
The saying of the true proverb has happened to them: “The dog has returned to its own vomit, and the sow that was bathed to rolling in the mire.

Revelation 22:15
Outside are the dogs and those who practice spiritism and the fornicators and the murderers and the idolaters and everyone liking and carrying on a lie.

Anyone who condemns birthdays on the basis of the two bible citations, must likewise condemn dogs. And pigs. And hair-braiding.

2) Next, what is so wrong with giving an individual special attention on one particular day? If this truly is a reason to avoid birthday celebrations, then why are graduation parties, retirement parties, wedding receptions, wedding anniversaries and baby showers acceptable? Incidentally, a baby shower is a birthday party. What Witnesses really condemn, then, is technically not birthday celebrations, but the anniversaries of birthdays. This is especially bizarre considering they celebrate the anniversaries of weddings. I once asked an elder why wedding anniversaries were acceptable practices, while birthday anniversaries were not. He said: “Because marriage is God’s arrangement”. What, then, is a birthday? Satan’s arrangement? God commanded humans to be fruitful, thus creating billions of birthdays. Never once did he command people to marry.

3) In the 1998 Watchtower (October 15, page 30-1), the Watchtower Society expounds upon roots of such birthday practices, but then goes on to say
Admittedly, true Christians today are not preoccupied with the roots and possible ancient religious connections of every practice or custom
So, evidently the origins of birthday celebrations are irrelevant to a Witness anyway.

While first-century Christians may not have celebrated their birthdays, neither is there any record that they insisted upon clean-shaven faces, or that they used birth control, or that they attended meetings three times a week, or that they produced their own literature, or that they held wedding anniversary parties or graduation parties. Yet all these things are practiced by twenty-first century Witnesses. Why the inconsistency?

4) Finally, the pagan tradition of candle-topped cakes surely can not be that sinful as I myself have had such a dessert placed before me on numerous wedding anniversaries. Each time I have been presented with such a cake, it has been from an active, faithful Witness. The same is true of gift-giving. While I by no means condone the rampant materialism in this country, Witnesses do not frown upon the giving of gifts on special occasions for anything besides birthdays. During my graduation party, at which every attendee was a Witness, I received 54 gifts. At our wedding and every subsequent anniversary, my wife and I receive scores of gifts, usually from faithful Witnesses. Some Witness parents even use the occasion of their wedding anniversary to give gifts to their children, as a way of making up for not celebrating their birthdays. At any rate, a birthday can be celebrated without the giving of gifts.

P.S. For the record, no one was beheaded at any birthday party I ever attended.