If Jehovah's Witnesses can celebrate wedding anniversaries, why not birthdays?
I am a Witness and want you to know that I appreciate your website (perimeno.ca). I look up the Scriptures you use and often do additional research to satisfy myself that they agree with other scriptures on the subject. It has helped me in clearing up a number of things that I had difficulty explaining before, while it also has confirmed some things that I already knew. But there is one thing I have not been able to explain to myself scripturally, and I haven't seen discussed on your site and that is, why don't we celebrate birthdays? I recently went to a party of a relative of mine, which turned out to be on his birthday, and which an elder counseled me about later when he found out I had been there. (I don't know how he found out.) I told him that when I went I was not aware that it was a birthday party and asked him why it is wrong to celebrate birthdays anyways. I must admit that even if I had known I probably would have gone anyways. This relative recently moved to our state and last year I went to his 10th wedding anniversary. I asked the elder why it is ok to celebrate wedding anniversaries but not birthdays. He gave me the usual reply that the Society gives, which I already know, but no Scriptures.
The question you ask was explained by the Society in the issue of The Watchtower, October 15, 1998, Questions From Readers: "Many of Jehovah’s Witnesses observe wedding anniversaries. A birthday is an anniversary of when you were born. So why celebrate wedding anniversaries and not birthday anniversaries?"—w98 10/15 pp. 30-31
You can look up for yourself the lengthy reply that followed, which I am not going to post here, as we are concerned with what Jehovah tells us in his Word, rather than the Society's view which carries no weight when they are not in harmony with the Scriptures. But I will provide their short summary on that question which appeared a couple of months later, in the December 15th issue of The Watchtower, under the heading "Do You Remember?"— Why do Christians celebrate wedding anniversaries but not birthdays? It said: "The Bible does not put marriage in a bad light. It is entirely a private matter whether Christians choose to take note of a wedding anniversary, reflecting on the joyfulness of that event and on their resolve to work for success as a couple. However, the only birthday celebrations of Biblical record are those of pagans, and such were linked to instances of cruelty.—10/15, pages 30, 31." (End of quote)
If it is, as they say, "a private matter whether Christians choose to take note of a wedding anniversary," why can the same not also be said when it comes to birthdays? If a wedding anniversary is acceptable because "the Bible does not put marriage in a bad light," and is a time for "reflecting on the joyfulness of that event," is that not also true of one's birth, which the Bible likewise does not put in a bad light? When Eve gave birth to her first son, she exclaimed: "I have produced a man with the aid of Jehovah." (Gen. 4:1) And Insight on the Scriptures acknowledges: "For parents, the day their baby is born is usually one of great rejoicing." (it-1 p. 318 Birth) The anniversary of the birth can also be a time for "reflecting on the joyfulness of that event," both, for the parents and for the child. The other argument, that the only birthday celebrations mentioned in the Bible are those of two pagan rulers, Pharaoh of Egypt and king Herod, does not make birthdays a pagan celebration. We are not celebrating their day of birth, but rather our own.
Job was a man who "proved to be blameless and upright, and fearing God and turning aside from bad." In fact, Jehovah said that "there is no one like him in the earth." (Job 1:1; 2:3) Job had seven sons who "held a banquet at the house of each one on his own day; and they sent and invited their three sisters to eat and drink with them." (Job 1:4, 13) What was that about? Did Job's sons celebrate their birthdays? The Society claims that that could not be for the word "birthday" is not used there. This is how they address that question: "Did Job’s children observe birthdays? No, they did not. The original-language words for 'day' and 'birthday' are different, each having its own meaning. (Genesis 40:20) At Job 1:4, the word 'day' is used, denoting an interval of time from sunrise to sunset. The seven sons of Job apparently held a seven-day family gathering once a year. As they made the circuit, each son was the host of the banquet held at his house on 'his own day'. (w06 3/15 p. 13 Highlights From the Book of Job; Bold mine) It should be noted that at Genesis 40:20 in the Hebrew Scriptures it does not say Pharaoh's "birthday," but rather "the day of the birth of Pharaoh." The word for "day" here is the same word that appears in Job 1:4. (You can verify this for yourself in any Interlinear Hebrew Translation.)
Also, the account in Job nowhere suggests that the seven sons came together once a year to party for an entire week. There is no mention of any "seven-day family gathering," just as the Watchtower says that there is no mention of any "birthday." If, according to the Society, the main issue in this case is that the word "day" is used rather than "birthday," then it would appear that like the sons of Job, it would be acceptable to celebrate "each one on his own day," and also invite other family members "to eat and drink with [us]," as long as we avoid calling it a birthday. We might want to call it an "anniversary of a joyful event." Thus it would become a "private matter" like any wedding anniversary, as explained in the Watchtower.
What is God's view on birthdays? He has not told us! What others do or don't do is no argument for or against it, as Paul wrote: "Who are you to judge the house servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for Jehovah can make him stand. One [man] judges one day as above another; another [man] judges one day as all others; let each [man] be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day observes it to Jehovah. Also, he who eats, eats to Jehovah, for he gives thanks to God; and he who does not eat does not eat to Jehovah, and yet gives thanks to God." (Rom. 14:4-6, 13,14; NWT) There are no Scriptures where Jehovah has forbidden his people to observe in some personal way the day of their birth, perhaps by celebrating that joyful occasion while reflecting on how he has lived his life in harmony with God's will, while "giving thanks to God." Another person might in a similar way consider the day of his baptism as being special to him. God has not told us that such things offend him. But on the other hand, there are numerous Scriptures that condemn those who place heavy burdens on God's people, enslaving them by means of their own laws, which they judge as equal to God's laws, as was the case of the religious leaders in Jesus' day. (Prov. 30:5,6; Matt. 23:1-5; 2 Peter 2:17-19; Rev. 22:18,19) Of course, Jehovah does condemn excessive eating and drinking. Job offered sacrifices on behalf of his sons in case they had become guilty of that. (Job 1:5; Deut. 21:20)
Jehovah has not given anyone the authority to "go beyond the things that are written," by deviating from what he himself has told us, not even an angel out of heaven. (1 Cor. 4:6; Gal. 1:8,9) Such a man becomes guilty of making God's Word invalid, and consequently his worship becomes futile; which would also be true of anyone who follows him. (Matt. 15:6-9; 2 Thess. 2:10-12) And besides, deviating from God's word always causes divisions! This became the situation in the Corinthian congregation with its "superfine apostles," as Paul called them, who were dominating their fellow brothers and caused them severe problems. These "false brothers" opposed Paul, accepting nothing with respect from him, as is also the case with those today who reject what Paul says on this issue: "For you gladly put up with the unreasonable persons, seeing you are reasonable. In fact, you put up with whoever enslaves you, whoever devours [what you have], whoever grabs [what you have], whoever exalts himself over [you], whoever strikes you in the face." (1 Cor. 1:10,11; 4:6-8; 2 Cor. 11:19,20, 26; 12:11, 20; Gal. 2:4,5) Just because Jehovah has tolerated lawlessness within his household does not mean he approves of it!
Celebrating one's wedding anniversary or birthday does not even qualify for being a matter of conscience, for God's word has not ruled on these things. It does not involve the worship of demons or the teaching of lies, as do many worldly holidays such as Christmas, which God does condemn. (1 Cor. 10:21; James 1:27) It does not fall into the category of eating foods that are offered to idols, which in itself is not wrong, as Paul explained, but could become a conscience matter as it involves true worship and the consciences of those who are weak. (Rom. 14:1-3; 1 Cor. 8:4-13) Keep in mind the apostle Paul's warning that "the inspired utterance says definitely that in later periods of time some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to misleading inspired utterances and teachings of demons, by the hypocrisy of men who speak lies," who forbid all sorts of things that are not wrong in themselves, but merely give "an appearance of wisdom in a self-imposed form of worship and mock humility." (Col. 2:18-23; 1 Tim. 4:1-3) Whether a person observes the anniversary of his marriage, or of his birth, or ignores them, is entirely a personal matter. That is why Paul said, "let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day observes it to Jehovah."
Paul's counsel is just as applicable today as it was in the first century. And this does not just concern birthdays and anniversaries, but also anything else on which God has not expressed his clear opinion. Jehovah never leaves us in doubt on matters he forbids! (Acts 15:28,29; 21:25) Just because the Bible does not specifically say that God's people in times past did or did not do something, does not provide us with any clear guidance as to what we can or cannot do today. Therefore, the argument that the Bible does not mention the Israelites celebrating their birthdays—and that the only two birthdays that are mentioned are cast in a bad light—is no argument against celebrating our own. With that sort of logic, some elders might view the owning of dogs as being unscriptural, and forbid the brothers in their congregations to own them, with the nonsense reasoning that the Bible does not mention the Israelites keeping dogs as pets; and that dogs are cast in a negative light, such as when dogs ate the flesh of Jezebel; or Jesus said not to "give what is holy to dogs"; or Peter comparing a person who leaves the path of righteousness to a "dog who has returned to its own vomit." Perhaps to someone all good reasons to keep abstaining from dogs. (2 Kings 9:35,36; Matt. 7:6; 2 Peter 2:21,22) The possibility of this actually happening in some congregations is not too far fetched.
I have witnessed over the years many brothers and sisters, in different congregations, who have judged their fellow brothers and sisters by their own personal views on a lot of different matters which they believed to be "unscriptural." Is this a problem because we have been led to believe that the worship of the true God is restrictive and confining, or because of the influence of some previous religious affiliation? For example, here is a partial list of some 32 items that I had compiled over the years of what some, including some elders in their congregation, taught at one time (maybe still today) as being unscriptural, or worldly, and therefore to be avoided by "mature" Christians: Facial hair, in most cases referring to a beard (although Jesus wore one, Joseph Rutherford didn't); any sort of make-up for the sisters, especially lipstick and eye shadow (makes them look like Jezebel); most jewelry (except a wedding band); playing chess (it's a war game); playing cards (it's associated with gambling); bowling (the brother claimed its origin as a pagan religious ceremony); a calendar with pictures of monkeys dressed up and posing as business men (teaches evolution); reading News magazines, such as Time or Newsweek, or even Reader's Digest (they are worldly); a bolo tie at the meetings (too casual); the use of certain words, such as "lucky" (when I asked this elder what word I should use instead, he answered "fortunate." I pointed out that they mean the same); no colored shirt for any brother on the platform allowed (we shouldn't follow worldly fashions); reading the Society's magazines in the bathroom (shows disrespect for sacred things); etc. I'm sure many of you have heard of other restrictions that can be added to my list. Perhaps you might even have a few of your own "unscriptural" restrictions!
We belong to Jehovah! We are His servants! Therefore do not let yourselves be "confined again in a yoke of slavery," from which Christ set us free. "For the kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking, but means righteousness and peace and joy with holy spirit." (Gal. 5:1; Rom. 14:17) Jesus said that his true disciples are identified by the love they have for one other. Judging our brothers is the opposite of loving them! (John 13:35; Matt. 7:1-5)