What does the Bible say
about birthdays?

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What is the origin of celebrating birthdays? Does the Bible say they are pagan and therefore condemned? Are they just another deception by the devil and a SIN to observe? One of the oldest known birthdays on record is that of an Egyptian Pharaoh at the time of the patriarch Joseph. Son of Jacob (renamed Israel) Joseph lived from 1724 to 1614 B.C. and spent the majority of his life in Egypt. The celebration account is in Genesis 40.

The story begins with a baker and a butler who served Pharaoh. They were both prisoners for bringing the wrath of their ruler upon themselves. While languishing in prison they meet Joseph. He had falsely been thrown into jail by a married woman whose advances to have an affair were rejected.

One night both the baker and butler have strange dreams. In the butler's dream he sees a vine that has three branches. He describes the dream to Joseph and states that he held in his hand the cup of Pharaoh. With cup in hand he then "took the grapes (from the vine) and squeezed them into the cup and gave it to him (Pharaoh.)" (Genesis 40:11).

The baker then says to Joseph the he dreamt he had three baskets on top of his head. The very top basket held Pharaoh's baked goods, where the birds were eating them (verses 16-17).

What the dreams would ultimately mean for the butler and baker, as was foretold by Joseph under God's inspiration, would come to fruition three days later on Pharaoh's birthday. The butler was given back his job serving the ruler, while the baker was hanged (verses 20-22).

Some people have reasoned that since a hanging occurred on Pharaoh's birthday it therefore means that all celebrations of a person's birth are wrong. This is a 'guilt by association' argument that does not make much logical sense. While it is true one person lost his life during the celebration another person gained their freedom! Not only that, but it was eventually through the butler that Joseph's life was ultimately spared!

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Map of Land of Palestine under
Herod the Great
Map of the
Egyptian Empire

After HE was saved Joseph goes on to save his entire family - the literal patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel - from famine in the land of Canaan (see Genesis 45 and 46)! Note also that NONE of this would have happened if it were not for God giving Joseph the ability to interpret dreams. Added up, what occurred would be a strong argument for birthdays since far more good happened during their celebration than bad.

Did You Know . . . ?

From 1973 to 1999 the most common day of birth date in the United States was September 16 and the least common was December 25th.

The current most common date of birth in the U.S. is October 5th. This makes the most common date of conception around New Year's Eve.

On any given day around 750,000 Americans celebrate their birth.

Herod's Celebration

The only other mention in the Bible of a birthday being celebrated is that of Herod Antipas (one of Herod the Great's sons). The account can be found in Matthew 14 and Mark 6. Briefly, Herod had thrown John the Baptist in prison because of comments condemning his marriage to Herodias. Although Herod wanted to put John to death his "fear of the people," who saw John as a prophet, kept him from doing so.

Herodias, who also wanted John killed, knew of her husband's attraction to her daughter, Salome. On the day Herod's birthday was celebrated she and Salome conspired to trick Herod so that he would HAVE to kill John. Salome's dance so pleased Herod that he promised her anything up to half his kingdom. (Mark 6:23). She requested John's head on a platter. Though surprised at the request, Herod felt he had to fulfill it since he made his promise in front of all his guests. John, the voice in the wilderness the heralded the coming of Jesus, was then martyred.

The birthday celebration was incidental to the overall desire of Herod and family to want to get rid of John. Using John's death on this day as a reason to shun rejoicing over the day of one's birth is another fallacious "guilt by association" argument.

Dead or Alive

One of Job's great laments, while in the trial of his life, is used by some as some sort of proof text that celebrating a birthday is BAD.

I wish I had died in my mother’s womb or died the moment I was born. (Job 3:11)

Job is suffering terrible pain and wondering what happened to him. It is no wonder that he laments his life and wishes he had never been born. It takes a big stretch to use such cries of despair and depression generated out of losing virtually EVERYTHING one hold's dear as justification to view the day of your own birth as meaningless and insignificant!

The Answer

What does the Bible ultimately say about birthdays? There simply is no teaching in God's word concerning these celebrations one way or the other. There is no scripture from Genesis to Revelation which says it is wrong for us to keep track of the passing years. Neither is there a single scripture which says it is forbidden for families to rejoice at a patriarchal father reaching a great age, or hugging and loving a child, giving them a gift and congratulating them on the occasion of their birthday! In the end, it is not a sin for a person to observe the day they, or others, were born.

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