Only two birthday celebrations are referred to in the Bible. Ironically, both are marred by tragedy. In Genesis 40:20-22 we read, “And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand: But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them.” This birthday celebration tragically involved the death of an individual.
Another example of a birthday celebration which had a terrible event occur can be found in Mark 6:21-27: “And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison.”
The only two birthday celebrations mentioned in the Bible were associated with the death of other men. If birthdays were a positive thing, we certainly would not find such horrific events listed in the same context as their celebrations.
Equally interesting is the fact that there are no examples in the Bible whatsoever of any true Christian having participated in a celebration of his or her own birthday. Jesus Himself never observed the anniversary of His birth in any fashion. Focusing on the birth of Christ takes our minds off His death as our Passover—His ultimate sacrifice for us as our personal Savior. Why would we think that our birth is of greater importance?
The date on which we happen to be born is not as important to God. He is far more concerned with the development of our individual spiritual character toward eventual birth into His Kingdom (Ecclesiastes 7:1; Revelation 21:7; John 12:24-25). If we repent, turn to God’s true way, receive His Spirit and perhaps die before Christ’s return, wouldn’t the day of our death be much more meaningful than the day of our birth?
Revelation 18:4, for example, makes it quite plain that God does not want His people to mimic the world in any way. Rather, He wants us to remove ourselves as far as possible from its wrong habits, customs and traditions. Just one tiny area would be how we think about and treat the birthdays of others.
There is a vast difference between a simple acknowledgment that someone is a year older and a step closer to the grave and observing the occasion with a celebration. The date of one’s birth is not pagan, nor is the fact that someone is a year older. Certainly, there are a number of milestones in life which are significant. A person’s reaching their teens and then becoming old enough to drive, living to the age of 70, 80, or more years of age, are just a few events which are perfectly proper for family members and friends to acknowledge. Simple recognition is not wrong.
Conversely, a birthday celebration with its usual trappings, inviting guests, giving of gifts, baking and decorating a cake, lighting candles, and so forth, is an entirely different matter. This kind of festivity tends to accentuate flattery and vanity—the I-me-my attitude—and the get, rather than the give way of life! Vanity and glorifying the self are thoroughly condemned in God’s Word (see Galatians 5:26; 2 Peter 2:18; Colossians 2:18; 1 Corinthians 5:6 and Psalm 24:3-4).