Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
October 31, 2004
Halloween – An Historical & Biblical Perspective
This evening is Halloween. A festival that a generation ago was considered
even by the Christian community to be pretty innocuous. As a child, I, like many
of you, participated in all the fun activities commonly associated with this
There was of course going around the neighborhood saying, "trick or treat,"
at every house on the block with the major goal being to see who could get the
most candy and who could get the best candy (a full size chocolate candy bar
being the prize of prizes). We would dress up in some silly costume. As little
kids we all rotated through the "panda bear" costume, but later our family
specialized in being hobo’s complete with charcoal on the face and holes in the
pants and coat. My older brother went one year wearing my dad’s Army Air Corp
uniform. Other kids were dressed as princesses, batman, superman, clowns,
assorted zoo animals, and of course, the occasional skeleton or ghost which was
a white sheet with some eye holes.
The public grammar school across the street from where we lived had its
annual fall carnival just before Halloween complete with a costume contest and
one of the favorite teachers dressed as a "witch" who gave out all sorts of
little gifts. No one really thought much about it, except it was fun. Even the
evangelical churches were involved. The largest Baptist church in the area, a
strong Bible teaching church that would annual send its teens around the world
on mission trips, would allow its facilities to be used as a haunted house.
Inside were the usual assortment of macabre scenes with coffins, foggy
graveyards, screeching owls, etc. and the horror film personalities of the time
including Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Werewolf and the Creature from
the Black Lagoon.
Forty years ago there was little thought given to Halloween except as an
enjoyable cultural tradition. Thirty years ago some warnings were given, but
they had to do with being careful of who you take treats from and checking them
for possible sabotage with razor blades, needles or drugs. Twenty years ago
Halloween had become a subject of more serious discussion among parents because
of a sinister element that was becoming more prominent. These days it is a
subject that must be addressed strongly. Why? Because things have changed a lot
in the last 30 years and Halloween is no longer a harmless cultural festival. It
has gone back to its roots, and the sinister element is prominent.
Do you have any doubts about what I am saying? Then take note of the amount
of effort that goes into the celebration of Halloween now. Were you aware that
Americans will spend an estimated $6 Billion in Halloween related activities?
Consider the nature of Halloween decorations now used. Ghoulish and gruesome
lawn scenes are no longer rare, but quite popular. Consider the costumes
children dress in now to go trick or treating? I dare say that there are very
few panda bears, clowns and princesses among the ghouls that haunt the streets
these days. Consider the real danger that has arisen that has driven so many
children away from the local neighborhood and into the malls for fear of what
some wacky neighbor might put in a treat. Consider the gruesome movies on
television this past week in honor of Halloween, and it is not just the grisly
scenes that are of concern, but even more the glorification of the occultic that
takes place in them. And consider that the real practice of religious rites
based on ancient paganism has grown to the point where it is semi-respectable by
society. There are real witches and warlocks in such groups as Wicca, the Church
of Satan, etc. that celebrate Halloween as one of, if not the, "holiest" days of
the year in their worship of Satan and the Satanic.
Halloween is not what it was 30 years ago. Now my purpose this morning is not
to give you a list of things which you should and should not do in regards to
the celebration of Halloween, for that, even if done for pure motives to protect
you, would quickly degenerate into a legalism which both saps your spiritual
strength and leaves you vulnerable to anything I have not specifically
mentioned. Instead I want to help you think through a Biblical grid so that you
can see for yourselves what is good and right before God. Then you will be able
to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and do what is right before
I want to present this material to you in three sections. First, the
historical background of Halloween. To understand what is happening today we
need to know the origin of the event. Second, the Biblical principles we must
think through when we consider our participation in Halloween or any cultural
event. Third, some practical suggestions on how to respond in a positive way
that is honoring to the Lord.
THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND.
This will only be a brief sketch partly because of time limitations, partly
because my emphasis this morning is not on Halloween itself, and partly because
there is much that is not known about the origin of the various rituals
associated with this festival. The reason for this lack of knowledge is because
most of the practices come from the religion of the Celts who lived in Ireland,
Britain, Scotland and France (Gaul). Their priestly cast, the Druids, did not
write down their religious principles or practices, but passed them down orally.
What little that is known is pieced together from various artifacts, early Roman
visitors to the region, and from the Irish Druids where a small amount of
information was written.
Among the celebrations of the Druids was the festival to their Sun god in
May, and another to the god of the dead, Samhain, celebrated on the first day of
their new year – our November 1. This was the end of the harvest and the
beginning of the cold & dark of Winter. The most significant part of the
celebration occurred on the night before the new year began – our October 31.
The Druids believed that corresponding to this event the veil between the
living and the dead was thin or open and the spirits of those who had died the
previous year were able to come back and walk among the living. Many of their
rituals had to do with dealing with these dead souls and taking advantage of the
opening in the veil between the living and the dead. Many of the practices today
are related to those rituals. Trick or treat is related to both the food that
was left out to appease these dead spirits and the practice of dressing in
costume to fool any spirits that might have been looking for you. Generally, it
was considered that the more hideous the costume the better chance of not being
recognized by a spirit. Bonfires were built to keep both these spirits and
witches (from ‘wicca’ meaning "wise ones" or "female magicians") from coming
near. Practices such as apple bobbing, "snap apple," throwing apple peels over
the shoulder and roasting nuts all were related to divinations to tell the
The most horrible practice during this festival were the sacrifices made by
the Druids. The sacrifices were both for divination purposes and to ward off
disease, defeats in battle, etc. These sacrifices were both animal and human.
Most often the human killed would be a criminal, but captured enemies,
volunteers and kidnap victims were also used. Four different methods of killing
the individual could be used corresponding to the purpose and to which one of
the gods the individual was being sacrificed. I need not describe these except
to say that they were gruesome and the divination was based on how the person
reacted as they died. Caesar said, "They believe that human life must be
rendered for human life if the divinity of the immortal gods is to be appeased."
Cannibalism was also practiced apparently for medical and cultic purposes.
How did all this get transferred into "Halloween?" Rome conquered the Celts
in the first and second centuries. While Rome suppressed some of the practice of
the Druids, such as human sacrifices, the real effect was just some mixing of
the two pagan religions and some of the Celtic gods being confused with Roman
gods. The Roman Catholic Church became the "official" religion of the empire
under Constantine in the 4th Century. On May 13, 609 or 610, Pope
Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon at Rome to "Blessed Virgin and all the
martyrs." This replaced "Feralia," the pagan festival of the dead that had been
previously practiced. Part of the festivity in remembering those who had died
for the Christian faith included a pageant where people would dress up as one of
these departed "saints" and some as the devil. Pope Gregory III (d. 741) shifted
this to November 1 as day to commemorate "All Saints" that had died. Pope
Gregory IV in 835 established the "Feast of All Saints" to be universally
observed on November 1. November 2 was called "All Souls’ Day" and it honored
the souls of the dead, especially those who had died the previous year. Another
name for All Saints Day was "All Hallows Day" and the night prior then would be
"All Hallows Eve" which then became shortened to "Halloween."
This was another case in which the church tried to change a pagan custom by
substituting a quasi-Christian celebration for it. The end result was not
Christian, but a pagan hybrid as seen in the fact that as late as the 17th
century it was said in France that, "the greater part of the priests are
witches." Many of these hybrid rituals came to America with the various
immigrant groups. The practices of Halloween specifically coming from Scottish
and Irish immigrants whose culture had the strongest influence by the ancient
The celebration of Halloween in the U.S. has changed over the last century.
Throughout the late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s it had been much more of a
serious affair by those celebrated it. There was also much mischief associated
with it. Some of the mischief was relatively harmless, i.e. putting a carriage
on top of a house. Some of it was not so harmless, such as breaking windows,
setting fires, etc. As Halloween became more commercialized during the 1950’s &
60’s, the celebration quieted down into harvest parties and children in cute
costumes collecting candy. In the last 20 years we have seen its real nature
becoming strongly manifested again, especially with the occultic overtones that
now surround it. It is no longer fun and games, but a serious affair.
Obviously the Scriptures say nothing about Halloween specifically since it
came into being after the Scriptures were written. However, the Scriptures have
much to say about the nature of this festival.
Turn first to Deut. 18:9-14. Here we find a warning to the second generation
that is about to enter the promised land that they should not get involved with
the religious practices of the people that they are going to conquer. 9 "When
you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to
imitate the detestable things of those nations. 10 "There shall not be found
among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one
who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens,
or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one
who calls up the dead. 12 "For whoever does these things is detestable to the
Lord; and because of these detestable things the Lord your God will drive them
out before you. 13 "You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. 14 "For
those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice
witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed
you [to do] so.
Why such a strong warning about occultic practices? Two reasons. First, it
was the reason these nations were going to be destroyed. Second, these things
are real – divination, witchcraft, omen interpretation, sorcery, casting spells,
being a medium or spiritist – and God wants to protect His people from it. I
know these things are often depicted as fun and games, but they are not. Ouija,
Dungeons & Dragons, many of the fantasy video and computer games, seances and
many more all invoke demonic activity. It is safer for your children to play
with real guns than with such demonic stuff. What is scary is that all these
things are practiced in this country as part of Halloween celebrations.
The first principle then is that God warns against any thing associated with
the occultic because it is dangerous. In the New Testament the warning is
repeated in Galatians 5:19,20 where sorcery is listed among the deeds of the
flesh. If you are thinking in joining in some Halloween activity, take warning
of the nature of what you participate in. If it is occultic in any manner, you
are in danger.
The second principle we need to recognize is that true Christianity involves
a change of character in the individual. Peer pressure exists, but the true
Christian resists it because they have a different purpose of life than pagan
friends. (And if your friends are not under the lordship of Jesus Christ, then
they are heathen and need to be saved and follow Christ. You are not to be
In 2 Cor. 5:17 the Apostle Paul states it plainly that "if any man be in
Christ he is a new creation." There will be a change in that person’s life.
People can claim anything they want, but that does not make it true. In Matthew
7 there are false prophets who claimed to know the Lord and did all sorts of
things in His name, but as Jesus said in verse 20, "you will know them by
their fruit" and in 7:23 Jesus judged them on the fruit of their lives which
was iniquity saying, "I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice
In several places in the New Testament we find that turning away from
occultic practices was evidence of the change of heart and character that had
occurred in people that were saved. Acts 26:17,18 records the Apostle Paul’s
commission to go to the Gentiles "to open their eyes so that they may turn
from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they
may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been
sanctified by faith in Me." That is exactly what happened. In Acts 19:18,19
we find that when salvation came to the Ephesians, they responded by "coming,
confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic
brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of all; and
they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver."
Those books were worth a lot of money, but when salvation came, there was a
change of character and what had been the center of their lives was now seen as
dangerous to all, and so the books were burned. Similar language is used of both
the Corinthian and the Galatians believers who turned to the Lord God from their
previous bondage to the occultic and demonic.
You see, it would be against a Christian’s very character to be involved in
the demonic. A Christian is to have a character as described in the Beatitudes
of Matthew 5. A Christian is to be poor in spirit, mourning over sin, meek,
hungering and thirsting after righteousness, merciful, pure in heart and a
peacemaker. A person who is controlled by the Holy Spirit, and all Christians
are to be controlled by Him, will demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit which
Galatians 5:22,23 describes as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness and self control. If you are lacking in them you need
to have a serious talk with God and confess your sins asking for His forgiveness
and empowerment to live for Him.
That is a lot easier said than done. How does a person develop these
qualities? Through increasing obedience to the Holy Spirit in one’s life. That
is accomplished by presenting your body as a living sacrifice to God, which is
the only reasonable thing to do in response to His great mercy to you (Rom
12:1). Then you resist the pressures of the world to mold you into its image by
being transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:2). Apart from Christ we
were of the world and in love with it and all that was in it. Our desires were
to gain for our physical comfort and pleasure, surround ourselves with the
world’s treasures and place ourselves in positions of power and prestige where
our ego would be satisfied (1 John 2:15,16). But in Christ, our love for the
world diminishes, and our love for Him increases.
In practice, the more time you spend in the Scriptures and in communion with
God the more you will even think differently. You no longer see things from the
self-centered perspective of mankind, but from the eternal perspective of God.
Paul even tells us in Phil. 4:8 the type of things we should think about. Those
things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, of good report,
praise-worthy. Those are the things we are to let our minds dwell on.
Tell me now how anything in Halloween fit with the virtues listed in
Philippians 4:8? Do ghoulish and macabre movies with various hideous monsters
fit? Do those that present occultic power as a positive force? What about
dressing up as one of these monsters or occultic characters? What about the
occultic games played at Halloween parties or the attempts at divination? Are
any of these things God honoring?
The Scriptures tell of God’s warning against occultic practice and show that
a true Christian has a changed character that is incompatible with occultic
practice. How then should the Christian respond to Halloween and many other
First, ask yourself what the Scriptures say directly about the issue. In this
case anything involving the demonic, occultic or paganism is directly against
the Scriptures and sinful. There are many things out that are promoted as games,
but they are not innocent games, they are demonic. Things such as seances
(calling up the dead); any sort of divination practice; fortune telling games
such as ouija, palmistry, tarot cards, etc.; occultic fantasy games such as
dungeons and dragons and a host of similar computer games; spell casting;
witchcraft; and satanic worship rituals are all absolutely incompatible with
being a Christian.
Second, ask yourself if the activity is compatible with Biblical morality?
Does your participation conform you to the world or to Christ’s image? If it is
against God’s commandments then it is sinful and contradictory to Christianity.
Destructive mischief is clearly sinful for it steals from another person the use
of their property which is either damaged or destroyed. Even practical jokes
must be carefully considered for Jesus’ injunction in Matthew 7:12 of treating
people how you would like them to treat you must be followed.
Third, does the activity promote holiness or evil? God’s command to us is to
be "holy as He is holy" (1 Peter 1:16). This may not affect a neutral activity
such as a child in a teddy bear costume asking a neighbor for candy, but it does
eliminate many things which glorify evil such as the imitation of evil
characters and most "horror" movies, haunted houses, etc.
Fourth, does it allow you to think on the things Paul mentioned in Phil. 4:8,
that which is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, of
excellence, worthy of praise? That would eliminate most other "horror" films,
visiting haunted houses, and imitating any other questionable characters.
Fifth, maybe a good way to some up all the above. Would Jesus do it? If He
would not, then there is good reason for you to refrain too.
Sixth, how can I use this cultural practice to promote the gospel. While
there is much that is evil in the celebration of Halloween, there is one aspect
that could be beneficial if taken advantage of properly. That is the fact that
neighbor whom would rarely open the door to you on other occasions will do so on
Halloween. Let me suggest a few ways you may be able to use that to spread the
message of the gospel. I am sure you may think of others.
First, if you are going to dress up in a costume, whether for a party or
going trick or treating, dress up as a Bible character worth imitating such as
Moses, David, a prophet or Apostle. Girls could be Miriam, Esther, Mary,
Priscilla, etc. Then use your character to tell other people about the Lord. You
can open your talk by explaining to people that Halloween has an origin in "All
Saint’s Day" and this is the saint you are remembering and this is his or her
message. A "Moses" could talk about his intimate relationship with God and how
fantastic it is that people now can have the same kind of relationship with God
through Jesus Christ. A "David" could talk to others about the Lord being His
shepherd. A "John the Baptist" could repeat His message of "repent, for the
kingdom of Heaven is at hand."
You can reverse Trick or Treat. Go door to door and give out treats and
tracts to your neighbors instead of getting things from them. You could do that
as an individual or in a coordinated effort. Imagine Moses, Miriam, John the
Baptist, Mary, Priscilla and the Apostle Paul going door to door sharing the
gospel and giving out tracts instead of saying trick or treat ?
Another suggestion is to not run away and hide from trick or treaters, but be
sure to have gospel tracts to place in their bags along with the candy. We have
quite an assortment of tracts in the back. Please take all you can use.
There is not much good in the cultural practice of Halloween, but a Christian
who is sensitive to the Holy Spirit will know how to glorify the Lord both by
what he or she refrains from doing as well as what they do. There is to be a
distinction between the lifestyle and behavior of a Christians and a
non-Christian, but we are also to use every opportunity to spread the gospel. I
pray you will today, tonight and at every holiday.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives.
Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the
sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children –
Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the
sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the term "Halloween"is
used in the sermon. Talk with your parents about the dangers & opportunities in
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What changes in the celebration of Halloween have you noticed in your
lifetime? What was your view of Halloween before hearing this sermon? What is
the origin of Halloween? What were some of the things the Druids did & why? How
did the Roman Catholic Church change the festival? How did these practices come
to America? What principle do we find in Deut. 18:9-14 that can be applied to
Halloween? What should the character of a Christian be like? What aspects of
celebrating Halloween would match that character? What aspects would be
contrary? What should a Christian think about? Examine your Halloween practices
by the following: Is there anything demonic in it? What Biblical moral
principles apply? Do your Halloween activities promote holiness? Do they cause
you to think about things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous,
praiseworthy? Would Jesus do what you are doing? What ways can you use Halloween
to spread the Gospel?
Sermon Notes – 10/31/1999 a.m.
"Halloween: An Historical & Biblical Perspective"
Halloween in the United States
Historical Background of Halloween
1) Warnings against the demonic –
2) Living as a new creation in Christ
Practical Suggestions on Halloween activities
1) What Biblical principles apply to the activity?
2) Is the activity compatible with Biblical morality?
3) Does the activity promote holiness or evil?
4) Does the activity match Phil. 4:8?
5) Would Jesus do that activity?
Using Halloween to Spread the Gospel
1) Bible Character Costumes
2) Reverse Trick or Treat
3) Gospel literature