In late 2019, The Washington Post’s religion editor Sarah Pulliam Bailey interviewed Tom Wright about his thoughts on Brexit, American President Donald Trump, and the so-called “war on Christmas” that has recently emerged in the U.S. but fails to resonate in the UK. Wright compared the importance of Christmas and Easter by saying, “You can take Christmas out of the New Testament, and you lose Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. But if you take Easter out, the whole Bible collapses like a house of cards with no resurrection.”
I wholeheartedly concur. Without belief in the Jesus’ resurrection, I believe there never would have been any Christianity. That is why I have written only one screenplay, and it is about Jesus’ resurrection.
(Mel Gibson and Randall Wallace have been making a sequel to Gibson’s 2004 blockbuster film, “The Passion of the Christ.” They said back in 2016 that they planned for it to be released in late 2019 or Easter of 2020.)
Tom Wright continued in his interview with Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Christmas has always teetered on the edge of not really meaning that much.” Indeed, Christians of the first couple of centuries did not celebrate Jesus’ birthday.
One reason is that the New Testament does not say when Jesus was born. In fact, we don’t even know for sure the year Jesus was born. Most scholars place Jesus’ birth between 6 and 4 BCE and his death at 30 CE, though some scholars prefer 33 CE.
Another reason is that many of the early Christians dismissed the concept of celebrating birthdays, attributing it to the self-centeredness of paganism. Wow, does that ever fly in face of our practice of celebrating birthdays.
When you look at the several statements in the New Testament that either define the gospel or salvation, there is nothing in them about Christmas, whereas many of them of them include mention of Jesus’ resurrection.
One of my favorite such texts is Paul’s declaration of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15.3-5 (NRSV): “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”
Another one of my favorites is Romans 10.9-10: “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and confesses with the mouth and so is saved.”
So, Tom Wright is right on! That is, if you take Christmas out of Christianity, you haven’t lost much; but if you take Jesus’ resurrection out, you’ve lost everything.