HEROD AND HIS BIRTHDAY
This account is found in Mark 6:21-29 and elsewhere in the
other gospels. It is often given as a proof-text that birthday
celebrations are evil/sin, because evil was done by Herod - he
had John the Baptist beheaded!
But, could Herod have done ANYTHING against John if God did
not allow it? Why the Lord could have sent ten thousand angels to
protect John if He had chosen. Not one of God's servants can be
harmed unless He first allows it.
God had chosen that John would not live out his life in
retirement somewhere or become a disciple of Christ's. The Lord
was to let John be a MARTYR in death for the TRUTH of the word,
just as many others have been throughout the ages. So Herod's
evil must be held within the light of the totality of the purpose
and will of God. Even Herod was exceedingly sorry, BUT HE HAD
UTTERED WORDS OF PROMISE THAT COULD NOT BE TAKEN BACK (THE WORD
OF A KING COULD NOT BE BROKEN). God did not intervene in the
death of John - it was his time to go as they say, and the Lord
allowed it to happen around the birthday of Herod.
Mark gives us the historical time setting of this event. He
even tells us that Herod gave his promise to the daughter of
Herodias because she pleased him by her DANCING! Now, is dancing
a SIN per se? Welllll....some will tell you it is (some of those
fundamentalists of North America), yet like birthday
celebrations, there is not ONE VERSE in the Bible that says
"dancing is a sin and an abomination to the Lord." But like
those who tell us birthday celebrations are evil, they also will
have a few verses (maybe this one right here in Mark) that to them
are proof-texts that dancing is a sin. You try to show some of
these funny-mental people they are wrong and it is like talking
to the wall. They know the pagans danced to their gods, so it
just has to be sin.
Is dancing a sin because it was done on a birthday
celebration? Probably someone somewhere will say that is so, two
sins were being committed which led to a third sin - the killing
of John. I often wonder why those who preach against birthday
celebrations, don't at the same time preach against dancing,
because some will dance the night away but run from a birthday
celebration as fast as their dancing legs will take them.
Again, there is not a word in this passage that states Herod
was sinning by holding a birthday celebration. Mark could have
easily inserted such a comment about it being evil or sin or
pagan idolatry, after using the word birthday, i.e., "Herod on
his birthday (which celebrations are unrighteous and abhorrent to
God..." If Mark was wanting us to learn from this history that
celebrating birthdays was sin in the sight of Go, he could also
have said, being inspired of the Lord, something like: "Herod on
his birthday (which celebrations the children of God do not
observe and should not observe as such are evil in the sight of
God)..." But he did not!
Once more, the words sin, evil, paganism, abomination,
unrighteous, and the like are not used or connected with the
words "on his birthday." Those words are not connected with the
word "dance" either!
Mark was not here entering the DOCTRINAL THEOLOGICAL issue
of birthday celebrations and/or dancing! That was not the point -
that was not why he recorded this for us.
The MAIN point of this section of Mark's writing is to tell
us that John had spoken TRUTH to Herod and Herodias (v.16-19),
that Herodias held it against him (John) and WANTED HIM KILLED -
DEAD, but couldn't UNTIL an opportune time came to TRICK Herod,
get him backed into a corner with no way out. That opportune time
came on Herod's birthday by the means of dancing and human lust!
That is the MAIN THOUGHT of Mark, to tell us HOW, under what
literal circumstances, the Lord allowed John the Baptist to die,
be killed as a martyr for the truth of God.
This account, mark(pun intended) it well, HAS NOTHING TO DO
WITH THE RIGHT OR WRONG OF DANCING OR OF CELEBRATING BIRTHDAYS!
But it does have everything to do with WHY John died, HOW
John died, and under WHAT circumstances he died. In relating all
this to us Mark chose to ADD the HISTORICAL details and setting.
Mark could have just told us Herodias did not like John's
preaching and finally got Herod to take off his head. Only a few
lines needed - right - yes, but writers do not write that way,
they like to give some details and story to their main topic, add
a few facts of historic events, quote some words from some of the
characters involved. That is good journalism. I am a writer, I
know. Yet many facts or historical events are not given to
PROVE ANYTHING either way - that was not the purpose at all in
One writer may be giving you a detailed account of how a man
was up a tree with a rifle shooting and killing people as they
walked by. In describing one death he may say that the person was
sitting on the park bench DRINKING WINE when he was shot in the
head and killed. The journalist gives you a little historic fact
about the park bench and wine, but he is not trying to prove to
you that sitting on a park bench or drinking wine per se was
RIGHT or WRONG! The right or wrong of those two facts must be
taken up elsewhere under a different court of law where other
rules and laws apply.
The journalist was not entering the right or wrong of WINE
drinking, he was just enlarging his MAIN THEME to make that theme
more interesting and human. No journalist wants to merely
say, "A man with a rifle killed five people today, this is
.....reporting for ........back to you at the studio." Such
reporting would soon be dry and uninteresting to listen to or
Mark gave HISTORICAL facts to his story of John's death - a
BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION - DANCING - PROMISE - REQUEST. He was not
entering any theological study or trying to teach the right or
wrong of those facts.
Now where THEOLOGICAL views can really mess things up is
when someone who believes DRINKING WINE per se is SIN. From
where he comes from the man on the park bench that was shot in
the head and killed, was SINNING because he was drinking wine!
"Ah," he may say, "that fellow was a sinner for drinking wine, if
he had not been sinning he may not have been there to be killed."
On the other hand, the person who sees that the word of God
does not say it is a sin to drink wine, will approach the story
from an entirely different perspective. He may comment with, "I
guess he was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Those who approach the account of Herod's birthday
celebration with the theological view of "celebrating birthdays
is wrong/sin" will immediately acquaint the word "on his
birthday" with SIN! They will do this even when no such words as
sin, or evil are found with the word "birthday." Then their mind
now jumps into second gear. As Herod was already sinning by
celebrating his birthday, it is not surprising he sinned even
more by killing John, so they reason.
To them birthday celebrations are truly evil because another
evil act was performed on top of an evil act, so the wheel turns
on itself, and the reasoning keep going in circles. The man who
sees that God's word says nothing about birthday celebrations
being sin per se, sees that Mark just added some historical facts
to his main thought, that Herodias used cunning devices on Herod,
knew his human weaknesses, waited for the right time - his
birthday celebration, and Herod fell for it hook-line-and-sinker,
and had John beheaded.
But it was all allowed of God to fulfil His purpose He had
for John the Baptist and His Son - Christ Jesus.
If we are not to celebrate birthdays because EVIL was done
by Herod on his birthday towards a man of God, if that is the
logic we are to use, then the same logic should apply and be used
elsewhere in similar circumstances. What is good for the goose
should also be good for the gander. If evil towards a person of
God does away with the celebration of that day for all
Christians, then we should, using that logic, be at least
Turn to Acts 12 and read verses 1-4. The context shows that
James was killed during the days of Unleavened Bread. And Peter
was cast into prison during the same feast. Evil was done by
Herod towards a servant of God. It was celebration time - the
days of celebration - the feast of the Passover (all eight days).
Using the same logic about Herod's birthday and evil being
done, God's people should cast away, "do away with" the eight
days of the Passover feast.
Of course that is nonsense!
Turn to Matthew 26, read from verse 17 through to the end of
chapter 27. All this evil towards a man of God - the Son of God -
Christ Jesus, took place on ONE particular feast day of
celebration - the Passover day - the 14th of Nisan.
Jesus was killed as was John on a feast celebration day.
John on Herod's birthday, Jesus on the feast of the Passover day.
Both were celebration days. The gospel writers simply mentions
the days - nothing is commented about the right or the wrong of
them, or the right or wrong of the celebrations done on those
If we use the logic that EVIL was done on Herod's birthday
and that alone means Christians should not celebrate anyone's
birthday, then to be consistent, the same logic should apply to
the EVIL done to Christ on the 14th of Nisan. The "evil alone"
logic should then also abolish the celebration of the Passover
day for all Christians, if that is all we are going to use and
forget about the totality of the word of God.
No, the "evil done on a day" logic, whether it's the
celebration of the Sabbath, a Feast day, Mother's Day, Father's
Day, Secretary's Day, or the birthday of our loved one,
does not "do away" with the day. Evil is being done in this world
every hour of every day of every year, and that evil does not
abolish the calendar.
Writers of the Bible books often added HISTORICAL data
without any comments about them as to "theological" correctness.
We must use our minds to search the Scriptures for truth and
correctness on theological DOCTRINE.
A recent example is how of late some in the Church of God
understand Matthew 26:17.
Jesus kept the Passover (His last on earth) at the beginning
of the 14th (He died in the late afternoon). So some see this
verse of Mat.26:17 and seeing the Greek reads, "Now on the first
of unleavens" and realizing this was the beginning of the 14th,
they claim the 14th was kept by Jesus and His disciples as a
COMPLETE day of unleavened bread. But Matthew DOES NOT SAY Jesus
and His disciples kept the 14th as a day of
NO LEAVEN in their homes or in their eating.
Matthew stated an HISTORICAL JEWISH PRACTICE of the day
(many Jews did, and still do, unleaven their homes on the 14th -
history shows this fact) WITHOUT going into the THEOLOGICAL
correctness of this practice. It was not his purpose to dwell on
the historical fact or statement he gave. The theological issue
of that historical fact must be taken up elsewhere by a study of
God's word. But if we do not, and by using our mind to interpret
this ONE comment of Matthew's, we can find ourselves ADDING to
the words of Matthew, drawing wrong conclusions, and ending up
teaching false unfounded ideas.
The theological issue on this is explained a number of times
in the OT. God said the Passover was to be eaten with unleavened
bread(see Exodus 12), the Passover meal itself, but NOT ONE WORD
is said that the whole day of the 14th is to be a day of
unleavened bread in your homes or in your eating. All leaven was
to be put away by the time the 15th day arrived, and then for 7
days, only unleavened bread was to be eaten and in the home.
By the time of Christ, the Jews had got into the tradition
of putting out leaven on the 14th day. They had quite the
ceremonies on the night of the 14th, and in the morning of the
same day. The Jewish books explain it all. Matthew uses this
Jewish historical fact as he related when the disciples came to
Jesus to ask Him where they should prepare the Passover. He was
not trying to teach that the 14th day was now in the NT age to
be observed as a complete day of unleavened bread. Such a change
in the old law would have been given very plain and clear
language and instruction somewhere in the NT. Such a revision of
the law of Moses cannot be found in the writings of the NT
The book of the law makes it very clear that God only ever
instructed a 7 day period of unleavened bread, starting with the
15th day and finishing at the end of the 21st day. Those books
make it plain that the Lord never commanded the 14th day of the
first month to be a total day of unleavened bread. With that
truth clearly set in mind, with the knowledge that God's word
never changed this law, we can understand that the comment
by Matthew was only an "historical Jewish practice of the day"
REMARK! He never said Jesus practiced this tradition. He never
said the Church of God was to practice it. Matthew surely would
have said more if God was instituting a NEW DIVINE LAW. The
change of the law of circumcision is made very plain in the NT.
When all the evidence is in, Matthew is only giving us an
historical fact comment of a custom and tradition of the time,
with no theological teaching implied.
Likewise Mark, gave us only the historical fact that it was
Herod's birthday when he was tricked into having to execute John
the Baptist. He gave us the historical fact that it was through a
young lady dancing for him that he promised anything to her up to
half his kingdom. He gave us the historical fact that her mother
told her to ask for the head of John the Baptist. No theological
doctrinal truth about celebrating birthdays was in his mind when
he included that fact of Herod's birthday, just as it was not
when he included the historical fact of dancing by the young
To be continued
Written November 1995