Birthdays are a time of celebration and joy, as we mark the anniversary of our birth and give thanks for another year of life. For Christians, birthdays also provide an opportunity to reflect on God’s sovereignty, grace and faithfulness in our lives over the past year.
In the Bible, there are a few instances of birthday celebrations being mentioned. By examining these examples, we can gain some insights into how birthdays were viewed and celebrated in biblical times.
- Pharaoh of Egypt celebrated his birthday with a lavish banquet
- The wicked King Herod celebrated his birthday with a banquet and had John the Baptist beheaded
- Job’s children held feasts on their birthdays and Job regularly made sacrifices for them
- Nowhere does the Bible explicitly condemn the celebration of birthdays
- Biblical examples show birthdays as times of feasting and rejoicing, but also as potential occasions of sin and pride
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The Pharaoh of Egypt
The first biblical mention of a birthday celebration is in Genesis 40, regarding the Pharaoh of Egypt. When the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker offended him, he had them imprisoned. While in prison, both the cupbearer and baker had mysterious dreams on the same night. Joseph, with God’s help, interpreted their dreams – the cupbearer would be restored to his position, while the baker would be executed.
Genesis 40:20-22 then states:
Now it came to pass on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. Then he restored the chief butler to his butlership again, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them.
Here we see the first mention of a birthday celebration, as Pharaoh holds a lavish feast for all his servants on his birthday. As part of the birthday feast, Pharaoh restores his chief butler as Joseph had foretold, but also orders the execution of his chief baker, again fulfilling Joseph’s interpretation.
This account presents the Egyptian Pharaoh’s birthday as an occasion for both feasting and displaying his power and authority. The executions of the baker on Pharaoh’s birthday illustrates how birthdays could also potentially be times of injustice and arbitrary abuse of power.
The Wicked King Herod
Another infamous biblical birthday celebration is that of King Herod in Matthew 14 and Mark 6. As Herod the tetrarch was celebrating his birthday, his daughter Herodias’ daughter (also called Herodias or Salome) danced before him and his guests. Herod was so pleased that he offered her whatever she asked for, up to half his kingdom. After consulting with her mother, Herodias told her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
Although King Herod did not want to execute John, he gave in to his foolish oath and had John beheaded in prison. John’s head was brought on a platter to the birthday banquet, to the great sorrow of John’s disciples:
But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.” And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. (Matthew 14:6-11)
This grisly account shows how the celebration of Herod’s birthday led to drunkenness, foolish promises, immorality (through Salome’s seductive dancing), pride and ultimately murder. While Scripture does not explicitly condemn the celebration of birthdays, this incident serves as a stark warning against such potential vices associated with birthday festivities and the abuse of power.
Job’s Birthday Feasts
The next mention of birthdays is in Job 1:4-5, regarding the celebration of Job’s children’s birthdays:
And his 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. So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did regularly.
Here we see that Job’s sons celebrated their birthdays by hosting feasts in their respective houses. Job’s daughters were also invited to these birthday celebrations and feasts.
Interestingly, the passage presents these birthday feasts as part of the regular cultural and religious practices of Job’s family. Job saw these feasts also as occasions where his children may have sinned or “cursed God in their hearts”, so he regularly made burnt offerings and consecrated them after their birthdays, indicating his priestly role as intercessor and atonement for any sins committed.
Some key things to note:
- Job’s sons hosted birthday feasts in their own homes, suggesting these were significant events warranting special celebrations
- The whole family, including Job’s daughters, participated in these birthday feasts
- Job was concerned about the potential for sin and cursing God during these birthday celebrations
- To rectify this, Job regularly made sacrifices on their behalf after their birthdays
So while Job permitted the celebration of birthdays, he also took spiritual precautions and performing religious rituals to sanctify his children and atone for any sins committed during these times of feasting and revelry. This shows how birthdays could be both times of rejoicing, but also potential occasions of sin.
Principles We Can Learn
While Scripture does not explicitly prohibit the celebration of birthdays, these passages give us some principles that can guide how believers approach birthdays:
- Birthdays should be centered on thanking and honoring God, not self-glorification or pride (Romans 14:6-8; 1 Corinthians 10:31). The focus should be on God’s grace and sovereignty in bringing us through another year.
- Birthday celebrations should be characterized by joy and celebration, not wild partying, drunkenness or immorality (Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Peter 4:3-5). Moderation and self-control should be exercised.
- Birthday celebrations should promote love and community, inviting others to rejoice with us (Romans 12:10; Hebrews 10:24-25). Special attention should be given to include family members, as in Job’s case.
- While birthdays can be times of feasting, be careful of excess and overindulgence (Proverbs 23:20-21; Philippians 3:19). Practice wisdom and temperance.
- Be aware that birthdays can also unfortunately be occasions for sin, pride and abuse of power. Make it a priority to honor Christ (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Application for Christians Today
Based on these biblical principles, here are some practical suggestions for how Christians can celebrate birthdays in a God-honoring way:
- Make it a day of thanksgiving and praise to God for His sovereignty, grace and faithfulness in bringing you through another year. Reflect on how He has worked in your life over the past year.
- Spend time in prayer, asking God to search your heart and rid you of any sin or pride related to celebrating your birthday. Repent of specific ways you may have failed to honor Him this past year.
- Celebrate God’s love and mercy by doing acts of charity or kindness to help those in need on your birthday. Use it as a special day to be a blessing.
- Bring Christ into the center of your birthday celebration by singing worship songs, reading Scripture, and sharing testimonies over a meal with loved ones.
- Be careful to exercise self-control over your passions. Enjoy celebratory food and fun but be on guard against overindulgence, drunkenness or lust. Keep Christ at the center.
- Make special efforts to connect with and honor family on your birthday. Celebrate relationships God has given you.
- Consider using your birthday as a special day of fasting and prayer for God’s work locally and globally. Intercede for others.
Birthdays are a gift from God, marking the beginning of another year He has granted us by His grace. By celebrating Christian birthdays in a way that honors Christ, gives thanks to God, connects us in love to others and remembers those less fortunate, we can truly make them joyful occasions that glorify God. Our prayer should be that God is pleased with how we acknowledge and celebrate the gift of life and time He has given us.
In conclusion, while the Bible does not explicitly prohibit birthday celebrations, the few accounts where birthdays are mentioned provide both positive and negative examples that can guide us. Birthdays emerge as times of feasting and rejoicing with loved ones, but also as potential occasions for indulgence, sin and the abuse of power. As Christians, we need wisdom so that our birthday celebrations honor Christ, give thanks to God, promote love and community with others and avoid excess. By keeping the focus on God’s grace in our lives, birthday commemorations can be redemptive occasions where God is glorified. The testimony of our lives is most important, not the party.