Q: Does the Bible allow or prohibit birthday acknowledgements and celebrations?


A: The Bible specifically mentions two birthday celebrations of kings, ending with the deaths of certain individuals (John the Baptist and Pharaoh’s chief baker, compare Mark 6:21-27 and Genesis 40:20-22). There is another possible reference to birthday celebrations in Job 1:4: “And his [Job’s] sons would go and feast in their houses, each on his appointed day, and would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them.” The German Menge Bible explains that this is a reference to the “birthdays” of the sons (A similar expression is used in Job 3:1, referring to Job’s day of birth). The children’s conduct prompted righteous Job to “sanctify them,” for he said, “It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” (Job 1:5).

Job’s reaction is interesting. He did not feel that the children HAD sinned by celebrating their birthdays, but that they MIGHT have sinned. On the other hand, we do not find any Biblical record that righteous people celebrated their own birthdays — nor do we find that Jesus Christ celebrated His birthday and that He told His disciples to celebrate it.

A birthday celebration with its accompanying elaborate parties and the giving of expensive gifts tends to emphasize the attitude of get and vanity — rather than the way of give which Christians are to follow. God’s Word condemns the glorifying of oneself. Compare Galatians 5:26: “Let us not be desirous of vainglory.” (AU). It appears that Job was concerned that his children might have engaged in selfish and vainglorious conduct during their birthday celebrations.

On the other hand, there is a difference between elaborate birthday celebrations and the acknowledgment that someone has become a year older. Obviously, the date of one’s birth is not pagan (regardless of whether one recognizes and counts by the Hebrew or the Roman calendar). It is not wrong and does in fact obey the command to honor our parents, to call, visit or send a modest gift to our parents on the day of their birth. Likewise, there are certain milestone years in the lives of young persons that can be acknowledged, such as reaching the age of 14, 16, 18 or 21. (For instance, the Jews have traditionally acknowledged the fact when a boy turns 14.) Also, in ancient Israel, young men being twenty or older were considered old enough to go to war, and a census was held to record the ages of the people (compare Numbers 1:2-3).

The distinction between simple acknowledgements and elaborate celebrations of birthdays may not always be that clear. God has given us a spirit of a sound mind (compare 2 Timothy 1:7), and if we are honest with God and ourselves, we will learn how to better please Him in everything we do (compare Ephesians 4:13). As long as the principles stated herein are adhered to and problems such as the danger of supporting vainglory and vanity are avoided,
acknowledgments of certain birthdays of special people close to us are individual decisions.
However, we must keep in mind that we must not violate our own conscience in this regard, as everything “not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

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