Christmas Tradition Vs. Scripture: Pt. 1

There are a few things I love about the Christmas season and then there are some things that just straight up bother me. One thing that really irks me is when Christmas tradition replaces Scriptural truth and teachings. So, I am going to do a short series of posts this month exploring areas where I see Christmas tradition encroaching on or even overriding Scripture. It is my conviction that in a world where Christianity often has little credibility, is viewed with great skepticism and is often asked questions of, as believers, we "must" have our facts and our story straight. We must be honest and knowledgeable about our faith and its narrative. That said, the current post will focus on a few select Christmas carols.

1. We Three Kings of Orient Are - Okay, even the title of this song is off. Firstly, the Scriptures never say that kings brought gifts to Jesus. What the Scriptures do teach, however, is that magi came bearing gifts. If one does their homework, they will find out that magi (magoi) were astronmers of antiquity (and usually not looked upon very favorably; I will say more about the magi in a forthcoming post). Secondly, though magi is in the plural in the Scriptures, it never says how many of them there were. It is simply tradition that there were three because there were three gifts. For all we know, there could have been two or ten.

2. Silent Night - My biggest problem with this song is that it doesn't fit contextually. When you read the Scriptures you get the idea that the night Jesus was born, the world was everything but silent and calm. Indeed, Jesus' parents can't find a place to stay, angels are coming to Joseph in dreams, angels are singing aloud before shepherds, the empire is broiling, etc.

3. The First Noel - One of my problems with this tune is that it refers to the magi as "wise men", a nomenclature assigned to them much later, around the 8th century AD. The text never portrays them as wise men or kings but as magi (astronomers). Again, I believe that as Christians we need to get the details right.

I'm sure that there are more examples I could give but at present, I cannot think of any others. When I come across these songs or I am in a group that is singing them, I do one of two things: 1. I either do not sing, or 2. I consciously change the lyrics. Personally, I see no point in teaching the story incorrectly through sermon or song!


  1. As I've interpreted it, the three wise men were actually kings with stogies. Hence,
    we three kings of orient are
    smoking on a rubber cigar

    Apparently, here was only one smoke to go around. Depressed economy??? Too much invested in the gold, frank. and myrrh???

  2. That's the best exegetical research I've read in months!

  3. eh...I agree, but its not that big of a deal to me.

    I think we need to get rid of "Little drummer boy," and "Mary, Did you know?"

    mainly because they are both really annoying.

  4. I always have a chuckle when "I saw three ships" gets to the point where they are "sailing into Bethlehem"! :-)

  5. Stephen,
    For some reason I have an affinity for Little Drummer Boy. Don't know why, I just do. I love the lines "Mary nodded" and "The ox and lamb kept time". Again, not sure why, I just like them.

    My question to you is: What's Christmas without someone playing the role of grump? Come to think of it, after your admission to being a big bellied englishman and after having met you, if you had stuck around the States for a bit longer, I probably could have landed you a position as Santa at Wal-Mart or the mall or something.

    Your chuckle is right on target! In fact, it's that kind of crap that makes me grumpy! We can kind of blame Chris for this one. After all, it was an englishman who penned that tune.

  6. I've always had a bone to pick with "Away in a manger"... The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes; but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes... Give me a break!

  7. hahahahah. yeah, any parent knows that's bullcrap!