MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: JEREMIAH 31:22 (World Missions Society Church of God)

The World Mission Society Church of God (or simply, the Church of God) believes “Mother God” not only exists in the Bible, but exists in the flesh today in South Korea.

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In the previous article of this series I analyzed the Church of God’s use of Genesis 1:26-27 and Isaiah 6:8 to justify their belief in Mother God. Below, I’ll continue to analyze the Scripture they cite as biblical proof of Mother God.

(God From the Machine has published a book titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.)

As I did in my earlier articles, I’ve purposely avoided exposing myself to any negative websites or information about the Church of God (COG) and have based my analysis strictly on their explanation of their own beliefs a stated on their official website.

 

Since they use the Bible to defend their views (and they appear to believe the Bible is the Word of God), I’ve used the Bible to analyze and refute their beliefs as unbiblical and as a corruption of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. (See below for other articles concerning the COG.)

 

Before reading further, I would recommend you pause and first read an earlier article I wrote about poor biblical interpretation and how certain churches, sects, and cults misuse Scripture. The principles in that article certainly apply here, as you will see.

 

The following practices of poor biblical interpretation (manipulation-?) are the most evident in the COG’s use of Scripture:

  • Isolating verses and taking them out of context.
  • Imposing views on the text rather than letting the text speak for itself.
  • Jumping from one part of the Bible to another with utter disregard of context to “prove” ideas, beliefs, or opinions.
  • Inconsistent decisions on what should be taken literally or figuratively, often based on preconceived ideas.

 

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JEREMIAH 31:22

“How long will you go here and there,

O faithless daughter?

For the Lord has created a new thing in the earth—

A woman will encompass a man.”

 

Like many of the passages the COG cites as evidence of Mother God in the Bible, Jeremiah 31:22 sounds mysterious, and may even lead you to suspect there is some sort of hidden meaning behind it, but by simply looking at the verse in context, the meaning of the passage becomes clearer.

 

CONTEXT

The prophet Jeremiah wrote his book during the harsh, tumultuous times after the fall of the Assyrians and the rise of the Babylonians, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the deportation (the Exile) of Jews to Babylon. Like the other prophets, Jeremiah states God allowed this calamity to fall on the Jewish people as just judgment for their sin and idolatry.

 

But, also like the other prophets, Jeremiah isn’t all negative: he also gives a message of hope, where God will redeem the faithful.

 

This message of hope is seen in the verses preceding 31:22. Take a moment to read it, covering 31:15 to 31:22.

 

Rachel is Weeping

 

Verse 15 refers to Rachel weeping for “her children,” the exiled Jews:

 

“Rachel is weeping for her children;

   she refuses to be comforted for her children,

   because they are no more.”

 

We find Rachel way back in the book of Genesis. Rachel was Jacob’s second, but favorite, wife (Genesis 29:30) and the mother of Joseph, the father of Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 30:22-24; 41:50-52). Notice Ephraim is mentioned in Jeremiah 31:18 as also grieving.

 

Like many of the prophets, Jeremiah uses a lot of poetic imagery. The idea here is that the Exile is so devastating to the Jews that even Rachel is mourning.  It would be similar if I said to an American today, after someone had burned an American flag, that Betsy Ross (the woman traditionally credited with sewing the 1st American flag) is weeping over the treatment of the flag.  The person would know that I didn’t mean this literally, since Betsy Ross lived in the 1700-1800’s, but poetically.

 

But Jeremiah moves on to the good news. God will have mercy, and a faithful remnant will return to their land. Note the imagery of roads in 31:21, implying their return:

 

“Set up road markers for yourself;

   make yourself guideposts;

consider well the highway,

   the road by which you went.”

 

Israel, the Jewish people, are then poetically personified as a young woman, a “virgin” and “faithless daughter” in 31:21-22:

 

“Return, O virgin Israel,

   return to these your cities.

How long will you waver,

   O faithless daughter?”

 

And then we have the mysterious and infamous words of 31:22 used by the COG as evidence of Mother God:

 

“For the Lord has created a new thing on the earth:

   a woman encircles a man.”

 

First, it’s clear from the context of the rest of Jeremiah that jumping to the conclusion that this verse is about a female deity of any sort has no textual or logical grounding. If you continue to read the rest of Jeremiah, you will find so such evidence of “Mother God” either.

 

Admittedly, this single line “a woman encircles a man” is a bit of a mystery. One commentator even says the clear meaning of this line is “enigmatic.” Yet the only way to justify that this is about Mother God is to read a preconceived idea into the text, not by letting the text speak for itself.

 

Unorthodox sects and cults often grab onto unclear lines of Scripture and insert their own meaning into them. Further, the same commentator who labeled this line “enigmatic” also writes that though this one line is unclear, the rest of the chapter surrounding it is perfectly clear and unambiguous.

 

Though Israel is a “faithless daughter,” God will still give her a “new thing” – a new life as he brings her back to her land from exile. “Encircles” in 31:22 (“a woman encircles a man”) can also be translated “encompasses” or “protects.” What the line is most likely symbolizing is that the “woman” (Israel) will grow in strength, even to the point of being strong enough to protect “a man.”

 

As you can see, nothing in Jeremiah supports the claim that Mother God appears in this ancient book of prophecy.

 MotherGod& Aha

***God From the Machine has published a book for evangelizing, educating, and refuting the World Mission Society Church of God titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.

NEXT:

MOTHER GOD: Analyzing the Biblical Evidence: GALATIANS 4:26-31.

My earlier articles on the Church of God:

“World Mission Society Church of God, Mother God & Christ Ahnsahnghong – The One True Church or Cult?”

The Trinity Mashup & the Schizophrenic God! “Mother God,” “Christ” Ahnsahnghong, & World Mission Society Church of God – The One True Church or Cult?

Mother God & the World Mission Society Church of God – Is There Evidence of “God the Mother” in the Bible? (Genesis 1:26-27)

Also, I do not intend to debate here if the World Mission Society Church of God is a “cult” or not, and I prefer my readers to decide. (Please feel free to comment, discuss, & debate below!) Earlier articles I wrote will hopefully be helpful:

How Do We Identify “Christian” Cults? What’s the Difference Between a Cult & a Denomination?

Interacting with “Christian” Cult Members: Tips & Strategies

About (Poor) Biblical Interpretation: Responding to “Christian” Cults… or Anyone Who Misuses Scripture.

Bible Secrets Re-revealed! Has the Bible Been Lost in the Translation? How Do We Know the Words in Our Bibles Today are the Original Words?

**Has the Bible been translated & re-translated so many times that we have no idea what the originals said?  How can we know what the original manuscripts said?**

 

SERIES INTRO: Have the right narrator and ominous music and anything can sound scandalous.  Recently, I watched several episodes of the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed TV show.  It was amusing but troubling at the same time since these sort of sensationalist shows aren’t about history or education, but preying on people’s lack of knowledge.  The sort of one-sided, half-information thrown around on these TV shows is sure to resurface.  So, here are some quick responses to some questions that might arise from such quality TV programing.

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Has the Bible been “translated and retranslated” so many times that the meanings of the original texts are “muddled” and lost?  Is the Bible corrupted and altered beyond ever knowing what it truly said?

First, do you know anyone who is bilingual?  Are you bilingual?  Trilingual?  Have you ever heard someone translate anything into another language, like, say, something in English to their non-English-speaking parents?  Did the parents understand?  Of course they did!  Though a 100% literal word-for-word translation from one language to another is sometimes difficult, that does not mean words, sentences, and whole books cannot be accurately translated.  Accurate translation is an everyday occurrence.

Our modern English translations of the Bible are translated directly from the original languages the books of the Bible were written in – ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek – and we have more ancient manuscripts of the books of the Bible today than ever before in modern times.

It’s true that sometimes translators have to use some personal interpretation to choose the right words if there are no exact parallel words, but this doesn’t mean we can’t have accurate translations.  For example, Greek has several words for love, but English has only one.  The Greek word eros is the type of love that has to do with sexual passion.  So, a translator translating a Greek-language sentence into English may translate a sentence using eros…

The adulterous man loves the woman.

But it probably could be better translated:

The adulterous man has passionate love for the woman

or The adulterous man has lust for the woman

or The adulterous man has an irrational passion for the woman.

Each translation is correct, and the main idea of the sentence is preserved, but picking the right words or phrases makes it more precise and clear.

This is an advantage of having so many English translations today available for people who cannot read the Bible in the original ancient Greek or Hebrew; they can compare translations to gain a better understanding of the nuances of some of the words and phrases.

Some translations are more “literal” and try to translate word-for-word.  These translations – like the NASB – may read a little awkwardly at times, but they’re useful if you don’t speak the original ancient languages of the Bible and you want to closely examine a section of text.  Other translations have more interpretation and translate the passages idea-by-idea.  These translations – like the NLT – are smoother to read, especially if you’re reading a whole book or through the whole Bible.  The NIV translation falls in the middle of the two types, which is why it’s one of the most popular translations today.

I prefer the ESV, which is a word-by-word translation, but it’s much more readable than the NASB.  Again, comparing translations helps with understanding perplexing passages, leading to more clarity.

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TEXTUAL CRITICISM

We can trust the modern translations of the Bible are accurate to the original manuscripts because of what is called textual criticism.  Textual criticism is the discipline of comparing all of the available ancient manuscripts we have today to make sure we have the most accurate version of the Bible possible.

Today, we’re in a better position than ever before in modern times to accurately reconstruct the wording of the original manuscripts of the Bible because of the sheer number of manuscripts that have been discovered.

Because people are imperfect, there are mistakes and variations in the manuscripts made by the scribes who copied them by hand, but because we have such a large number of quality ancient manuscripts, it’s easy to compare them and identify the errors.

The New Testament is easily the written work with the best evidence to support it from the ancient world.  We have about 5,500 ancient manuscripts.  The only ancient work to come anywhere close to this is Homer’s Iliad, which only has about 700 ancient copies.  But even this high number of manuscripts is rare.  In fact, we’re lucky if any ancient manuscripts that have survived until today are numbered even in the double-digits.

DATING THE MANUSCRIPTS

The dating of the New Testament manuscripts we have are extremely close to the dates the originals were written.  The earliest piece of a manuscript we have is a fragment from the Gospel of John, dated to about 125 AD.  Most scholars date John’s Gospel as being written in 95 AD.

Over eighty New Testament manuscripts are dated to the third and fourth centuries, and five mostly complete texts of the New Testament date from the fourth and fifth centuries.  Since all of the New Testament was written by the end of the first century, this may still sound like a long time, but compared to other ancient writings, this is extremely close.

It’s important to understand that the ancient New Testament manuscripts we have are from all over the ancient world as Christianity spread.  Had there been radical differences in the supposed “earliest versions” of the New Testament, it’s doubtful the network that spread and formed new churches in new areas (think of it like a tree growing with new branches) would all have the same New Testament texts.  At least one of those branches, isolated from the others, would’ve passed on and preserved the “older version.”  So, say, for instance, churches in Spain or Asian Minor would’ve had a much different version of the Gospel of John than we have today.  But this is not the case.

Because we have such a wealth of New Testament manuscripts – 5,500 (and this only includes the Greek texts and isn’t counting the thousands of ancient manuscripts in different languages) – which come from all over the ancient world, we can be secure that we have the original readings in our hands.

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Earliest fragment of the New Testament. From John’s Gospel. Dated about 125 AD.

BART EHRMAN’S SKEPTICISM

Agnostic New Testament scholar and author Bart Ehrman speaks a lot about how we can never find the “original text” and how he believes the New Testament books have been radically changed over time.  For example, he mentions 2 Corinthians may have been anywhere from two to four letters originally.  Can we find the “original text”?

Much of Ehrman’s protests about finding the original texts seem to come down to how a person prefers to define “original text” and his assumption that all of the written works of the Bible have been in a constant state of constant change.  Though there are variations found in the vast amount of ancient manuscripts we have, much of Ehrman’s assumptions that the books of the New Testament, like 2 Corinthians and the Gospel of John, are hopelessly corrupt are just that: assumptions.  Where is the evidence for these massive changes?  Where are the manuscripts that show the works in their earlier forms?

Ehrman may respond that those manuscripts are so old they probably no longer exist, but that doesn’t solve his problem, because he has just admitted there’s no evidence for his assumptions.  Almost all of the theories of composition Ehrman sites, “however probable, remain entirely speculative in the sense that no manuscripts have ever been found of the supposed sources that a biblical writer used,” including, for example, a version of the Gospel of John without the prologue and epilogue, 2 Corinthians split into two or more individual letters, or even the widely accepted theoretical Q document.

Due to the over 5,500 ancient manuscripts we have of the New Testament, variations are easy to identify and correct.  Further, even with over 5,500 manuscripts, none of those manuscripts show any of the massive editing or changes Ehrman imagines.

Further, even if they did exist, what would it matter?  This would only mean they may have served as a source for the future, completed work as we now know it.  Even conservative evangelical New Testament scholars agree that some of the Gospel writers most likely referred to earlier written texts for some of their information.  In fact, there’s even evidence from the early church fathers that there may have been a Hebrew or Aramaic version of the Gospel of Matthew before the Greek version we know today.  Just because some of the material or even a majority of the material appeared in an earlier form, it doesn’t mean it’s a corruption of the text.  What matters is whether the information is accurate or not.

FOR HOW LONG WOULD A MANUSCRIPT SURVIVE?

The material used to make ancient manuscripts was fragile and perishable (which is one of the reasons ancient manuscripts are hard to come by today), but some manuscripts may have lasted much longer than originally believed.  In a study of late antiquity libraries, collections, and archives by George W. Houston, published by Oxford University Press in the book Ancient Literacies: The Culture of Reading in Greece and Rome, he proposes that manuscripts could be used from 150 to 500 years!  For example, the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus (B) was re-inked in the tenth century, which proves a manuscript can last and be used for at least 600 years!  This fact seriously improves the plausibility that the original texts existed to be copied for much longer than previously suspected.

 

Other articles in this series: Did Constantine compose the New Testament? & Did God have a wife? & Could Jesus & the Disciples Read & write? & Was the Oral History Before the Gospels Were Written Reliable?

SOURCES & RECOMMENDED:

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World Mission Society Church of God, Mother God & Christ Ahnsahnghong – The One True Church or Cult?

** Who is Mother God? Who is Christ Ahnsahnghong? Is the WMSCOG the one true church? Is their interpretation of the Bible legit?**

 FIRST, A STATEMENT OF CONCERN

Please note: This isn’t an exercise in “I’m right” and “You’re wrong.” I’m engaging these questions on whether certain churches are teaching a distorted Gospel because Jesus Christ’s true Gospel alone saves us from eternal separation from God.  I believe what the writers of the Bible teach, which is that all people are made in God’s image and are of eternal worth to God, and neither God nor I wish to see anyone live apart from Him.

Secondly, the purpose of this article (and all articles in this series) is not to argue whether certain churches, sects, or religious groups are “cults” or not.  These articles are to inform and respond.  Whether these groups are “cults” or not, I prefer my readers to decide themselves. The following articles will be helpful:

(God From the Machine has published a book titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.)

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The Church of “Mother God” and “Christ Ahnsahnghong”

In the past few years, I’ve had several people share that they’d been approached by members of a church that believed in “Mother God.” Many of the encounters took place on the Rutgers University campus and in northern New Jersey. The people I know who had encounters with these people came to refer to them as the “Mother God Cult.”

Recently, I learned this “Mother God Cult” is actually the World Mission Society Church of God. If I didn’t know better, the name of the church wouldn’t have caught my attention much; I probably would’ve figured it was just another denomination I’ve never heard of before. Based on their website, the home church in South Korea appears to be simply called the Church of God. (For simplicity’s sake, I’ll just use “COG” to refer to the World Mission Society Church of God/Church of God throughout this article.)

Within the past few months, I’ve come into closer contact with the COG. A housemate of some friends started dating a girl who is a member of the COG and the housemate is now deeply involved. Shortly after, I found out a student of mine grew up in the COG and is currently a member. I learned of this because she had invited another student of mine to a COG service; he accepted, not realizing it wasn’t a traditional Christian church.

Considering all of this, I decided it was time to look deeper into the COG. Some people have provided me with links to websites criticizing the COG, mostly by former members, but I decided first, before considering what critics have to say about the COG, to let the COG speak for itself.

Before I read any criticisms of the COG, I visited the COG’s own website to see how they explained their own beliefs.  Let it be noted that at the time of the writing of this article, I’ve not looked at any other websites concerning the COG.  This article is a response strictly to the COG’s beliefs as explained on their own website: http://usa.watv.org/

 

History: Church of God

The COG started in South Korea. Here is a brief overview of their history gathered from their website:

  • 1948 – Baptism of “Christ” Ahnsahnghong “according to the prophecy of King David.”
  • 1964 – “Christ” Ahnsahnghong established the Church of God.
  • Feb. 1985 – “Christ” Ahnsahnghong “ascended” (which I assume means he died).
  • 1987 – Twenty COG churches established in Korea.
  • Late 90’s- early 2000’s – Church spreads outside of Korea to several countries, including to the USA in LA.
  • Sept. 2000 – Completed New Jerusalem Temple in Bundang-gu, Seongnam, South Korea.
  • Dec. 2000 – New York church established.
  • 2008 – One million members registered worldwide
  • 2009 – 2nd NY church established.

*Oddly, nothing in their history on their website mentions Mother God.

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Overview: Church of God’s Beliefs

The COG explains history as three 2,000-year eras with 3 saviors, a savior for each era: The Age of God the Father (Jehovah), the Age of God the Son (Jesus), and the Age of the Holy Spirit (Ahnsahnghong). Ahnsahnghong, a Korean man, was the 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ, though he has since died. Despite this, we’re now in the Age of the Holy Spirit.

According to the COG, without accepting the current savior, Ahnsahnghong, we will not have salvation. Thus, Jesus Christ is not enough: “…salvation will never be given to those who are stuck on the name of Jesus in this age.” We must accept “Christ Ahnsahnghong” for salvation in this age and pray in his name.

The COG partakes in 7 “feasts” or ritual celebrations throughout the year. All 7 of these have grounds in the Old Testament, but, according to the COG, each of them should’ve been practiced throughout all 3 ages in slightly different forms. For example, the COG has a yearly mass gathering where they partake in the “Passover,” though it appears to more closely resemble the Lord’s Supper. Other examples include the Day of First Fruits/Resurrection Day and the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost. Partaking in the COG’s version of the Passover is required for salvation.

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The COG also believes in Mother God, also called Jerusalem Mother. She is “the Second Coming Jesus’ [Ahnsahnghong’s] wife.” Jesus didn’t give his people eternal life 2,000 years ago because he was waiting for the appearance of his wife, through whom eternal life will come. God the Mother is currently living in South Korea.

In a video on the website, Mother God is shown at the New Jerusalem Temple in Korea, surrounded by many happy, well-dressed admirers. The video shows her holding their hands, walking with them, and hugging them. In a testimony, Nathan from Memphis, USA, says, “This is the place where our heavenly mother dwells, the land of prophecy, so I came here to receive the water of life that you can only receive here in Korea from God the Mother.” A female Korean teen states, “If God the Mother does not exist, there would be no happiness in the world.”

The COG website clearly teaches that eternal life can only come through Mother God.

Who is Ahnsahnghong?

God?  Christ?  Holy Spirit?  All of the above?

 ahnsahnghong

The COG makes a lot of claims about Ahnsahnghong. From the COG website:

“For our salvation, God divided six thousand years into three ages : the age of the Father, the age of the Son, and the age of the Holy Spirit, and He allowed a different Savior’s name for each of these ages—the name of Jehovah in the age of the Father, the name Jesus in the age of the Son, and the name Ahnsahnghong in the age of the Holy Spirit.”

“Now we are living during the last age of the Holy Spirit. Thus, God has been administrating His plan of salvation, using the new Savior’s name, the name of the Holy Spirit-Ahnsahnghong. Salvation is only given to those who believe in the name of the Savior that God has allowed to the people living in that particular age. Because we are now living in the age of the Holy Spirit, we must receive the Holy Spirit, Ahnsahnghong, as the Savior of this age.”

“The name is Ahnsahnghong, Jesus’ new name.”

“The God in heaven is our God the Father. Just as we have a physical father on this earth, we have a spiritual Father in heaven. He is God the Father, Ahnsahnghong.”

 

JESUS’ 2nd COMING: IT AIN’T A SECRET

 *Is Ahnsahnghong the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?*

Since the COG uses the Bible extensively to explain their beliefs, I will use the Bible to critique their beliefs.

Could Ahnsahnghong possibly be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ? First, let’s look at what’s written in the Bible about Jesus’ Second Coming. The Bible writers clearly teach three facts about Jesus’ Second Coming:

(1)  Jesus will return in the same way as he left.

(2)  Jesus’ return will be visual and known by everyone.

(3)  With Jesus’ return will come the resurrection of the dead.

Let’s look at these 3 facts closer…

After Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection, he taught his disciples for 40 days and then ascended into heaven. Christians call this event “The Ascension.”

Acts 1:9-11

“And after He [Jesus] had said these things, He was lifted up while they [the disciples] were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

Before going, Jesus had promised he would return for his believers:

John 14:1-3

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

In the meantime, Jesus’ disciples were to spread Jesus’ good news of salvation, bringing more and more people to salvation through Christ until he returns. (See the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20.)

As the angels say in Acts 1:11, in the same way Jesus left, he will return. It will be visual and known by all:

Luke 21:27

“Then they will see the Son of Man [Jesus] coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

Revelation 1:7

“Behold, He [Jesus] is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”

The bodily resurrection of the dead is a regular teaching throughout both the Old and New Testament. (See all of 1 Corinthians 15 and Matthew 22:23-33, where Jesus criticizes the Sadducees, who don’t believe in the resurrection.  He says they don’t understand Scripture or the power of God.) The resurrection will occur at the Second Coming:

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.   Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

With Jesus’ Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead will also come the Final Judgment. (See Chapters 19-21 of Revelation.)  Depending on a person’s interpretation of  “The Millennium,” which is only taught in the Bible in Revelation 20:1-6 (even traditional, conservative Christian scholars understand it in different ways), the Final Judgment may occur at the same time as the resurrection of the dead or later, after Jesus’ Millennium reign.

Interestingly, Jesus also gives a warning when speaking of his Second Coming. He warns not to be fooled by frauds claiming to be the Second Coming of Christ:

Matthew 24:23-27

[Jesus said,] “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.”

This is particularly interesting because Jesus is saying, yes, there will be false Christs, even ones that seem real with “great signs and wonders” but don’t believe them because it’ll be clear to all when the real Christ comes because of the specific manner of his return.  Further, no one will need to tell us Christ has returned; we will know.

So, let’s recap: Jesus will return by descending from the sky to earth; everyone will clearly understand that this is Jesus; and once he returns, the dead are resurrected.

 

And So…?

Does Ahnsahnghong fulfill any of these biblical requirements of Christ’s Second Coming? In fact, does he fulfill even one of these biblical truths? How many times have false Christs appeared in history, claiming to be Jesus’ Second Coming – only to die?

There’s a very good reason why Christianity has flourished for 2,000 years: Because Jesus died but didn’t stay dead.

Moreover, when Jesus returns, he’s here to stay.

“Christ” Ahnsahnghong is dead. He’s been dead since February of 1985. He’s not coming back. He is not the Christ. He is a fraud.

NEXT: Ahnsahnghong, The Mashed-up Trinity & Mother God

**God From the Machine has published a book for evangelizing, educating, and refuting the World Mission Society Church of God titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.

MotherGod& Aha

Does Christianity Have Pagan Roots? (Part 3) Easter Eggs & Christmas Trees Have Pagan Roots… Yeah, but so what…?

Early Christianity has no connection to paganism, but what about later traditions – like Easter eggs & bunnies & Christmas trees?  Aren’t they pagan?  Probably… but so what?

Christmas&Easter 

In the first two parts of this series, I argued:

(1)  The name “Easter” itself has no pagan origin.  (Read Part 1 here.)
and
(2)  There is no evidence that ancient pagan religions had any influence on early Christianity or modern Bible-based (Sola Scriptura! – “by Scripture alone”) Christianity (Read Part 2 here.) 

But there are always loose ends:  What about Easter eggs?  And rabbits?  What about Christmas trees?  Or Santa Claus or mistletoe?

Since the first two parts of this series were somewhat long, I want to give you a short answer for this third and final part…  followed, of course, by a long answer because I can’t seem to address any issue quickly…

 

THE SHORT ANSWER

QUESTION“May I ask what the chocolate and coloured eggs have to do with the death and resurrection of Christ?”  (This was asked in the comments section for Part 1 of this series.)

RESPONSE:  “… The answer to your questions is: absolutely nothing… whether bunnies and eggs have pagan roots doesn’t matter.  The practices are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Bible.  Thus, the practice is neutral.  It’s similar to how the music used in churches is essentially neutral as long as it glorifies God; it doesn’t matter if the music is contemporary or traditional.  So, if people want to have an egg hunt with their kids on Easter, there’s nothing wrong with that from a biblical standpoint.  On the other hand, if a Christian doesn’t feel comfortable with the practice/tradition (not doctrine) of egg hunts because it may have pagan roots and that person chooses to abstain from it, that is what they should do and it is perfectly acceptable as well.”

 

 THE LONG ANSWER

 Do eggs, bunnies, mistletoe, and decorated trees have pagan roots?  Probably.

Even Bruce Metzger – one of the most influential New Testament scholars of the 20th Century and highly respected by both evangelical scholars and liberal theological scholars – in his essay arguing against any pagan influence on early Christianity (Read it here), wrote that post-Constantine Christianity in the fourth and fifth Centuries, long after the New Testament had been written, did adopt some pagan-influenced practices.  (Yet the Protestant Reformation and Sola Scriptura did away with all of the practices he cites.)

But this is what happens when something – whether it be punk music or Christianity – goes “mainstream.”  The devout few grow into the nominal many.  The strict core remains, but they’re surrounded by the lax masses.  And somewhere along the way eggs, bunnies, mistletoe, and decorated trees joined in.

Do eggs, bunnies, mistletoe, and decorating trees have pagan roots?  Probably.

But… who cares?

To be honest, I didn’t even research this question because it doesn’t matter…

 

TRADITION VS. DOCTRINE

There is a difference between church doctrine based on biblical teachings and traditions from outside the Bible.  There is a difference between biblical practices and non-biblical practices, even if those non-biblical practices are practiced by Christians – even practiced by Christians at a church or during a holiday celebration.

At my church (and most churches), we pass out bulletins.  Did Jesus command us to do this?  No.  Do the writers of the Bible tell us to do this?  No.  Did the first Christian churches do this?  I doubt it.  Does this mean we have corrupted Christianity with a secular practice?  No.

Say I’m in a jazz band, but I really like that mohawk I saw on that guy in that punk rock band.  So, I grab an electric shaver and give myself a mohawk.  Does that mean my jazz band is now a punk rock band?

Mohawk_Rancid

 

CLAIMING IT FOR CHRIST

The God of the Bible is Truth and Creator of all things.  Even if something is connected to something sinful, it can be reclaimed for Christ.  For example, I know there are exceptions, but the majority of popular hiphop artists I’ve heard rap about embarrassingly shameful subjects – celebrating materialism, misogyny, ego, drug culture, violence.  But Christian hiphop artists like Shai Linne, Lecrae, and Andy Mineo have claimed rap for Christ, using their lyrics not to objectify women or glorify themselves, but for glorifying their Lord and Savior.  Likewise, we can claim anything for Christ and use it in honor of Him.

 

WHAT’S SYNCRETISM?

When speaking about religion, syncretism is the combining or uniting of religious beliefs.  For example, we see a combination of Catholic Christianity and tribal African religions (often called voodoo) in places like New Orleans.  This would be an example of syncretism completely unacceptable to a strictly Bible-believing Christian because certain practices of tribal African religions clearly contradict the teachings in the Bible (and, thus, Christian doctrine) in many ways (whether we’re speaking about Protestantism or Catholicism).

On the other hand, say you go to church on Easter Sunday to worship God and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, and then you come home and hide colored eggs, which most likely are originally pagan symbols.  Is this syncretism — perhaps a “lighter” type?  Many strictly Bible-believing Christians find no problem with this tradition because it doesn’t defy nor contradict the teachings in the Bible.  No other deity is being worshipped in the act of an egg hunt.  No pagan rituals are being performed.  No sin is being committed.  Yes, colored eggs may have pagan origins, but the pagan significance has lost its meaning.

Easter_rabbint_eggs

Music is a good example to understand this idea.  Certain passages in the Bible definitely speak of worshipping God with music.  But does it state a specific style of music?  No.  If the music glorifies God and can be sung in unison as a congregation, few should find any issue from a biblical standpoint concerning the style of music in Christian churches.

Just as popular music styles change over time, the songs Christians were singing in honor of Christ in the 1st Century in Jerusalem or Rome were certainly a different style than the songs sung in American churches today.  (This is why it’s so baffling to me when Christians get hung up on traditions and get into battles over not having contemporary music in churches.)  The style of music used in church is tradition and preference, not biblical doctrine.  Thus, churches in Africa, Asia, Indonesia, and Northern Europe can worship God with music specific to their cultures.

Another illustration borrowed from one of my professors at SBTS, Dr. David Sills – professor of missions and anthropology, and author of Reaching and Teaching – will help:

In the New Testament, Jesus clearly teaches that those who repent and believe in the Gospel of Christ Jesus should be baptized – a symbolic, public declaration of their faith.  This is an example of a command from Jesus, and thus, a biblical doctrine.

Dr. Sills shared how the people of a certain tribe in Africa wore many necklaces and bracelets with all sorts of talismans — amulets, charms — hanging from them, according to their traditional religious beliefs.  Some of the natives, after accepting Christ, would cut off the necklaces and bracelets and throw them into a fire before being baptized.  As a new Christian, the necklaces, bracelets, talismans, and amulets would certainly have to be left behind because this would be syncretism that contradicts the teachings in the Bible.  But what about the part concerning casting them into the fire?

Was it acceptable for them, as Christians, to do this?  Of course.  There’s no biblical reason why they shouldn’t throw the talismans into the fire.  The act was a powerful statement of their belief in the one true God, but should they make it a requirement, an addition to the act of baptism?  No!  To add anything to or to take away anything from baptism as given by Christ would be against Scripture.  Can this act be made an optional tradition?  Sure!  Likewise, in many American churches, people often give their testimonies before being baptized.  Is this required by Scripture?  No.  Is this forbidden by Scripture?  No.  Can it be an optional tradition?  Sure.

Likewise, does a Christian have to hide eggs on Easter?  No.  Is it forbidden to hide eggs according to Scripture?  No.  Can I hide eggs if I want to?  Sure.  Can I decide to not hide eggs because I’m uncomfortable with the idea of it having pagan roots?  Yes, that’s okay too.

 

HALLOWEEN?

Let’s look at one more example: Halloween.  Now, many claim Halloween has pagan roots. I recently learned more about the origins of Halloween, and this doesn’t appear to be the case, but there’s no reason to go into all of that here. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say Halloween does have pagan roots.  Should Christians participate in Halloween?  That’s a question individual Christians have to make.  Two questions have to be honestly considered by all Christians, whether it concerns trick-or-treating or hiding eggs or decorating a tree:

(1)  What biblical teaching may I be violating?

and

(2)  Have the pagan “meanings” of Halloween been lost in our current culture to the extent that it no longer can be considered “pagan”?  (Similar to how Christmas has become a secular holiday for many, and the true reason for celebrating it has been lost – or ignored – in secular society.)

The possible ways of answering these questions can be seen in how different churches have responded:  Some churches (like the one I grew up in) had no problem with Halloween.  (We even did a haunted house in the church basement!)  Other churches carve pumpkins, hold (non-scary) costume contests, and pass out candy, but call it a “Fall Festival.”  Some churches ignore Halloween (or Fall Festivals) all together.  Likewise, some churches have decided to simply call Easter Resurrection Sunday because of the possible pagan origins of the name Easter (though I showed in Part 1 that this is most likely inaccurate).

 halloween

 

THE EXCEPTION: STUMBLING BLOCKS

What I’m writing about here is sometimes referred to as “Christian Freedom.”  Yes, there are clear commands and prohibitions in the Christian life, but there is also a considerable amount of freedom (despite the tendency of both misguided Christians and non-Christians throughout history to demean our faith to simply being about following legalistic rules).  For example, is there a way all Christians should dress?  No.  We have freedom to dress as we please.  Of course, there are Christian principles that should guide how we dress to an extent.  For example, women shouldn’t dress in ways that cause men to lust after them.

Another big exception to Christian Freedom is explored in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  In his letter (See 1 Corinthians, Chapters 8-10), Paul addresses a debate in the Corinth church about whether Christians should eat meat sacrificed to idols.  People would bring bulls and other animals to the pagan priests for sacrifice for one reason or another, and that sacrificed animal would more than likely end up being someone’s dinner.  As odd as this seems to us today, it was a common practice in the Roman world in the 1st Century, and it gives us an important biblical principle for today.

Paul explains that eating meat sacrificed to idols is harmless because, after all, what is an idol?  An idol is nothing but a statue.  There is no god behind it because there is only one God (8:4-6).  But then Paul goes on to explain that not all Christians are as insightful or mature in their understanding of these things, and if eating meat sacrificed to idols will cause them to struggle in their faith – such as causing an unclear unconscious – the more mature Christian should willfully abstain from such practice for the sake of his or her brother or sister in Christ (8:7-13).

Furthermore, Paul continues, if a non-Christian has you over for dinner and offers you meat, accept it graciously and don’t ask where it comes from.  But if the non-Christian tells you that the meat comes from a sacrificed animal, then don’t eat it – not for your own sake, but for the sake of the non-Christian (10:27-29).

This is the “stumbling block” concept (8:9).

zeus_statue

If your actions cause a brother or sister in Christ to “stumble,” than you are to show grace and patience – the same grace and patience God has shown you – and refrain from those practices.  Likewise, if your actions (though they may be allowed by Christian Freedom) somehow damage the perception of our faith by non-believers, we should refrain from them as well.

A good illustration concerns drinking alcohol.  The writers of the Bible tell us not to get drunk, but the drinking of alcohol is not prohibited.  Jesus, after all, turned water into wine (John 2), and Paul recommended to Timothy to drink some wine for his stomach problems (1 Timothy 5:23).  But if a friend of yours, who is not yet strong in the faith, feels strongly that Christians shouldn’t drink, it’s better not to have a beer with dinner when you invite him over.  This is even truer if you have a friend who has a drinking problem.  Have no doubt about it: To cause your brother or sister in Christ to stumble is a sin.

As Paul writes:

“‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful.  ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.  Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (10:23-24)

and

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (10:31)

(To be clear, in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, Paul further explains that though eating meat offered to idols is essentially harmless, a Christian shouldn’t participate in any rituals dedicated to idols or pagan gods.)

CONCLUSIONS

  • There is a big difference between doctrine and tradition.
  • If a tradition or practice doesn’t contradict or disobey biblical teachings, it’s fair game.
  • Conversely, if a tradition or practice becomes a “stumbling block” to others in their faith in Jesus Christ or in coming to faith in Jesus Christ (or even if it doesn’t sit well with your own conscience) it should be refrained from out of Christian love and grace.

Frankly, it may be worth ceasing the traditions of eggs, rabbits, Christmas trees, mistletoe, and even the use of the word “Easter” simply so Christians no longer have to address these weary matters.

Thoughts?  Share ’em below please!

Santa-Claus-The-Easter-Bunny

Do meaningless secular holidays have their origin in religious pagan myths?… Possible future article idea??

READ:

 

Does Christianity Have Pagan Roots? (Part 2) The Pagan Myth Myth… No, I’m Not Stuttering

Every Easter & Christmas seasons the claims that Christianity is a rip-off of old pagan myths are abound.  So, is there any truth to these claims?  Is Jesus just another god like Horus or Mithras or Dionysus? 

————–

*Read the INTRO & PART 1 (How Did “Easter” Originate?) of this series here*

——-

TRUE STORY

There was once this guy.  He was a really nice guy, and he helped a lot of people with his amazing powers.  He could even control the weather.  One time, this nice guy brought someone back from the dead.  In fact, if you think that’s impressive, he was killed and placed in a tomb, but he was resurrected.  He was the one and only son of his father, who sent him to earth as a child.  And this guy’s name is…

Superman.

In this article, I will be arguing that the creators of Superman blatantly borrowed from the life of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the New Testament.

After all, Jesus was a really nice guy who helped a lot of people with his amazing powers.  In Mark 4:35-41, Jesus controls the weather by calming a storm while on a boat.  He also brought Lazarus back from the dead in John 11.  Furthermore, he was killed and placed in a tomb, and he was resurrected.  He was the one and only Son of God the Father, who sent his eternal Son to earth to be born as a child by Mary.

OK, Seriously

Actually, I have no intentions of arguing here that Superman is just a rip-off of Jesus, but if you had read my arguments as I presented them above, and you didn’t know any better, and you let the discussion end there, you probably would have been convinced.

But… you may be the suspicious type… or you may know a little something about both Jesus and Superman and ask some questions and raise some objections:

Wait, Superman couldn’t control the weather!  When did Superman bring anyone back from the dead?  In fact, when did Superman die and resurrect?

And this would be where my arguments start to break down…

ME:  Superman at times would use his super breath and blow really hard and it produced powerful wind.  And at the end of the first Superman movie, the 1978 version with Christopher Reeve, when Lois Lane dies, Superman flies around the earth so fast in the opposite direction of the earth’s spin that he changes the direction of the earth’s rotation and literally rewinds time so he is able to rescue Lois Lane before she dies*.  Then, in the early 1990’s, DC Comics ran the storyline “The Death of Superman” where Superman was killed in a battle with Doomsday, but Superman returned after a long hiatus.

(*Thankfully, for all our sakes, Superman also corrected the spin of the earth.  Even when watching this as a young boy, I thought this ending was ridiculous and spoiled what was an otherwise cool movie.)

YOU:  Having super breath isn’t anything like controlling the weather.  Rewinding time by flying around the earth to save someone before they die – though incredible* – is not the same as bringing someone back from the dead.  And maybe Superman sort of “died” for a time and returned, but he was restored in a “regeneration matrix” in the Fortress of Solitude.  In fact, if there’s anywhere where people are killed and brought back to life, it’s in comic books!  It happens all the time!  None of this is anything like Jesus’ life, nor do I see any connection.

(*Corny, actually.)

ME:  But what about the other stuff I said?

YOU:  Superman was from the planet Krypton and his father was Jor-El.  Jesus was the incarnation of the eternal Son of God of the Trinitarian God.  Jesus and Superman were both usually nice guys and do help people with their powers, but Jesus performed miracles because he was divine.  For instance, he healed the sick and the lame.  Superman had powers because he was an alien from space.  Jesus didn’t perform feats of incredible strength like Superman.  Or fly.  Or shoot lasers from his eyes.

ME: They were both their fathers’ one and only son.

YOU:  OK, I guess I’ll give you that one.

ME: Also, the regeneration matrix in the Fortress of Solitude was like the tomb Jesus was placed in and emerged resurrected from.

YOU:  Now you’re getting carried away again.

Superman

Is the Man of Steel actually the Son of Man?

Did Superman copy Jesus, who copied Horus… or Mithras… or Dionysus…or Krishna… or Attis… or Asclepius?

Did you find the argument above about Superman and Jesus ridiculous?  Sadly, this is hardly any different than serious arguments about Jesus being a copycat of any number of pagan myths.

Whenever someone tries to argue that there are similarities between Christianity and pagan mystery religions – sometimes called the Pagan Copycat Theory or what I like to call the Pagan Myth Myth – the arguments often go like the one above about Superman and Jesus… Or they should go like that anyway.

Thus, we need to know how to reply to those who make these claims (and it’s fairly easy).

The copycat theory, the idea that Christianity is simply a Frankenstein-like cut-and-paste religion made from long dead pagan mystery religions, is the actual dead thing here.  The debate has long been over in scholarly circles because the “evidence” was weak from the start, and true evidence clearly points to what we all knew from the beginning: Christianity started in the ancient Jewish land of Judea, spread by the Jewish followers of the Jewish Jesus of Nazareth.

The copycat theory is an old theory that has long been refuted, and no new evidence to support it has arisen.  Yet, the Misinformation Age keeps the pagan copycat accusations coming back every Easter and Christmas holiday season like that bad mayo on that club sandwich you keep burping up and tasting.

Thanks for the prolongation of these copycat theories can be given to the Internet and to conspiracy videos like Zeitgeist.  As Mark W. Foreman writes in his essay “Challenging the Zeitgeist Movie: Parallelomania on Steroids” in the book Come Let Us Reason, “Arguments don’t stop being bad simply because of their upgraded, flashy attire.”

Horus

Egyptian god Horus… My interpretation of this art is Horus is on a hot date.

Here are the issues with these copycat theories:

1. A Bad Start

To begin with, many making these claims are starting off with a poor understanding of the specific pagan mystery religions they’re citing anyway.  These pagan religions are called “mystery religions” simply because, well… they’re mysteries.

Pagan mystery religions held to secret teachings that only those indoctrinated into the religion knew.  The followers of these religions took vows of secrecy.  Thus, there’s not a lot of material out there about their specific beliefs and practices.

Unlike Christianity, the mystery religions didn’t have books – scriptures or any records – that explained their beliefs.  Moreover, because of this, there was a lot of diversity; for most, no one authoritative story exists.  Knowledge of these religions come from scattered sources, such as inscriptions or art.  For instance, all we know about Mithrasim, a late Roman mystery religion, comes from graffiti, statues, and some writings from Christian and neo-Platonist outsiders.

So, it’s sort of like putting together a puzzle, but we can’t use the shape of the pieces to guide us on how they fit together.  For example, Mark W. Foreman points out that the conspiracy documentary Zeitgeist does this with Horus, the Egyptian god.  The Zeitgeist version of Horus is “pieced together from a number of sources, some of which conflict.”

Thus, some of those proposing a connection between Christianity and pagan religions often not only have a poor understanding of Christianity, but also are basing their understanding of pagan religions on what are probably not even accurate portrayals of the pagan mystery religions to begin with.

asclepius

Asclepius

2.  Exaggerations & Blatant Fabrications

This is the biggest issue with these copycat theories.  As with the Superman argument above, many of the supposed parallels between Christianity and paganism are unabashed exaggerations, which call for large leaps in logic, or downright lies.

(To be fair, some people passing along these theories – perhaps on Facebook or a blog – may not be aware they’re passing along lies, but some of these claims are so outrageous someone had to know they were being dishonest in starting them.)

For instance, it has been claimed that Krishna was born to a virgin.  Krishna, a Hindu god, was the eighth son of his mother!  (That’s a pretty loose definition of “virgin.”)  My favorite claim is the one that says the Roman god Mithras was born of a virgin.  How this idea ever came about is befuddling because Mithras was born from a rock!  (Well, I guess rocks can be considered virgins, right?)

One strategy used to mislead is to use Christian terminology to describe events or details in pagan myths to make them sound much more Christian than they actually are.  Above, I describe Superman’s emergence out of the regeneration matrix in the Fortress of Solitude after his sort-of death as him being resurrected.  I even attempt to call the regeneration matrix a tomb to illustrate this point, and though it may seem like a stretch, it’s no more of a stretch than the actual claims of some of these copycat theorists.

There have been claims that Krishna and Attis, a Greek god, were “crucified.”  Actually, Krishna was shot in the foot with an arrow.  Attis castrated himself and died!  I have a feeling neither case is quite what would come to mind for the Romans when they heard the word “crucified.”

Krishna

Krishna

D. M. Murdock in his book Christ in Egypt: The Jesus-Horus Connection claims that artistic depictions of Egyptian gods, including Horus, show many of them crucified.  Yet, what he means is simply these gods had their arms extended or outstretched!  (Does that mean every time someone stretches out their arms, they’re being crucified?)

Further, just like my Superman argument above, proponents of the Christian/pagan myth myth like to cherry-pick information to “expose” supposed parallels.  Yet, when the Christian and pagan accounts are read as a whole and compared, the similarities are hardly similarities at all.

For example, claims have been made that dying and resurrected gods were a regular theme in pagan myths.  Often Osiris, an Egyptian god, is one of the prime examples.  Yet, Osiris didn’t return to life in the world of the living; he became the king of the netherworld – the underworld, the land of the dead.  The only dying and rising gods found have all been related to the continuous, never-ending life-and-death cycle of vegetation and the seasons.  These are hardly comparable to the death by crucifixion and the one-time resurrection of Jesus three days later.

Christian apologist William Lane Craig tells of a time he once debated Robert Price on Jesus’ resurrection.  Price claimed that Jesus’ healing miracles were copied from the healing stories of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing.  So, Craig insisted Price read to the audience from his primary source about Asclepius.  Once Price read the primary source, the lack of similarities became obvious to all.  (Read Lane’s full article here.)

This is an “overemphasis on (supposed) similarities between two things while ignoring the vast and relevant differences between them,” Mark W. Foreman writes.

The only similarity I’ve come across that may be legitimate is with the Greek god Dionysus – called Bacchus in Roman mythology.  Dionysus certainly turned water into wine.  Jesus performed his first known public miracle in John 2 by turning water into wine.  But the similarities end there.  And, as one blogger astutely points out, Dionysus was, after all, the god of wine – and sexual ecstasy – and he liked to party.

Dionysus

Dionysus, in all his glory

Since there are other articles about this, I’m not going to run through every purposed pagan god to have supposedly inspired stories about Jesus.  But here are some links to quick sources that do so:

3.  Wrong Chronology

As stated above, pagan mystery religions changed over time because they did not have scripture that was strictly held to like Christianity.  Furthermore, they were open to blending other religions and beliefs.  Today, Christianity may have many denominations with different traditions or different interpretations of minor doctrines, but the core of Christianity has stayed the same for 2,000 years because we have the Bible to always refer back to.  On the other hand, there are many versions of the pagan mystery religions and their myths.

Often, when some sort of parallel is made between paganism and Christianity that looks legitimate (and not an extreme exaggeration or fabrication), it has been found the similar characteristic doesn’t appear in that pagan religion until long after Christianity had been established.  Thus, it appears Christianity influenced the pagan religion, not the other way around.

For example, the Christian similarities with the mystery religions of Mithras, Osiris, Horus, and Attis/Adonis are all found over 100 years after the rise of Christianity, and claims of the Hindu god Krishna’s resurrection don’t appear until the 6th or 7th Century.

Mithras, whose worship was popular with Roman soldiers, is often connected to Jesus.  Mithras was a Persian god dating as far back as the 14th Century BC, but in an interview with Lee Stobel in The Case For the Real Jesus, Dr. Edwin M. Yamauchi explains that Mithras didn’t appear in Rome until 66 AD.  But this is still “not the same” version of Mithras found in the Roman mystery religion.  Moreover, most of the evidence for Mithraism comes from the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Centuries AD.  Evidence refutes the claim that Mithras was called “savior” before Jesus, because the evidence is from an inscription dated after Christianity was proclaiming Jesus as savior.  The Roman mystery religion of Mithraism developed after the New Testament was written.

There is “no evidence that there was any pagan mystery influence in first-century Palestine,” Mark W. Foreman writes.  Mystery religions reached their peak in the Mediterranean in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries, and there is little evidence of these beliefs being there in the 1st Century.

Mithras… My interpretation of this art is that Mithras coined the phrase: “Beef — it’s what’s for dinner.”

4.  Logical Leaps

Logically, we have to remember that even if a similarity exists between Jesus and a pagan god (and it doesn’t run into the issues mentioned above), even that doesn’t automatically mean they are related, copied, or influenced.  A connection must be proved.  Religions, by nature, will have some general things in common, like beliefs about an afterlife.  Further, many religions have some sort of tradition with a common meal.  Similarity doesn’t prove dependence.

5. Christianity’s Nature

Finally, Christianity, like Judaism, has always been an exclusivist faith.  Throughout the New Testament, Christians are explicitly warned against mixing their faith with other beliefs and from straying away from the Gospel as it had been originally given to them. (See the letter to the Galatians, for example.)  Jesus, Peter, John, Paul, and Jude all warned against false teachers who corrupt the message of Christ.  (See Matthew 7:15; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; 1 John 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1-3.)  Unlike Christianity, paganisms emphasized feelings and experience over doctrine and belief, and the mixing of religions and beliefs was normal.

Moreover, Christianity is rooted in history.  Unlike these pagan myths (and most other religious myths), Jesus was a historical person; the Gospel records of Jesus’ life provide information that show that the events took place in a specific place and time in history; and all of the Christian scriptures were written within the lifetime of those who witnessed these events.  The New Testament lacks the vague “other-worldliness” of myth.  (Read earlier articles I wrote exploring these ideas: “Is the Bible Any More Accurate than Other Religious Texts?” “Is There Evidence of Jesus’ Existence?” & “How Do We Know About Jesus?”)  The pagan mystery religions cannot make these same claims.

Cybele_Attis

Cybele & Attis

So, What Now?

So, when someone claims there are similarities between Christianity and pagan religions, simply respond this way:

  • Where did you get your information?
  • Is it reliable?
  • If it’s not a primary source, where did they get their information?
  • Have you read the primary source(s) of the information we have about this pagan myth?
  • Can you get your hands on the primary text?  I’ll bring my Bible.  Let’s read and compare.
  • When did these similarities appear — before or after Christianity spread?
  • And always remember: Context! Context! Context!

Links:

Some of my articles:

**Much of the information for this article is from Mary Jo Sharp’s essay “Does the Story of Jesus Mimic Pagan Mystery Stories?” and Mark W. Foreman’s essay “Challenging the Zeitgeist Movie: Parallelomania on Steroids” from the book Come Let Us Reason, and Lee Strobel’s interviews with Dr. Michael Licona and Dr. Edwin M. Yamauchi in Chapter 4 of the book The Case for the Real Jesus.

ComeLetUsReason

Recommended Reading

 

Does Christianity Have Pagan Roots? (Part 1) How Did “Easter” Originate?

Aren’t rabbits & eggs pagan symbols for fertility?  Isn’t the word “Easter” from a pagan goddess?  Didn’t Christianity just borrow from earlier pagan myths and practices?

Easter_rabbint_eggs

THE AGE OF MISINFORMATION

It’s inevitable.  During this time of year in the (Mis)Information Age, skeptics are going to start posting blog articles and memes declaring that Easter is a pagan holiday high-jacked by the oppressive, monotheistic Christians.

In one such blog article I read at this time last year, the author performed the most death-defying acrobatics I’ve ever read to attempt to show how Christianity is just a bootlegged copy of pagan religions.  The comments below the article praised the author’s brilliance.  One comment that stayed with me was a woman who unabashedly wrote: “There you go making sense again!”  Sadly, the article wasn’t just death-defying but logic- and history-defying too.

Around the same time, I came across a meme showing the goddess Ishtar and claiming Easter originated with her (because, hey, the names sort of sound alike, right?).  The comments below, again, celebrated this exposure of Christian lies, with some vehemently stating how Christianity as a whole is based on pagan myths and Easter takes place on the spring solstice.

So, I simply wrote: “Easter takes place during this time of year because Jesus was arrested and crucified during the Jewish Passover.  As any legit historian will tell you, Christianity came from the Jewish religion and started in Jerusalem.”

What did I hear back from the comment-writers?  Silence.

As I’ve heard cops say on TV before: Usually the most obvious suspect – the one you first think of – is the responsible party.  No death-defying acrobatics were needed on my part.

 

Pagan_Ishtar

At Easter time, be prepared to see a lot of memes like this. Click for a better look.

Whether Christianity is a copycat of pagan mystery religions is no longer discussed in the academic world.  The debate is over.  As I stated above, Christianity grew from the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Jew from Judea, like his followers, the first Christians.

Unfortunately, due to the Internet Misinformation Age, conspiracy documentaries like Zeitgeist, and even (going back a few years) Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and even TV personality and outspoken atheist Bill Maher, this myth that Christianity is just a photocopy of pagan myths is still meandering around like a zombie even though it’s long been dead.

But what about some of the things involved in Easter that do appear to come from pagan cultures?  Like eggs?  And bunnies?  Aren’t eggs and bunnies symbols of fertility in pagan cultures?  And what about the word “Easter” itself – where does that come from?  And, while we’re at it, what about Christmas trees?  And where did the date December 25th come from since the Bible doesn’t say the exact date Jesus was born?  In fact, what about some of the things that the Catholic Church practices that sure seem pagan in origin?

rabbit-easter-eggs

Is this the face of the dark underbelly of Christian history?

FIRST, A FEW WORDS ABOUT CATHOLICISM

There are quite a few accusations out there about the Catholic Church adopting many pagan rituals, symbols, and practices.  The Protestant Reformers broke away from the Catholic Church in the 1500’s and declared Sola Scriptura (“by Scripture alone”) because the Catholic Church holds to many practices not found in the Bible.  Whether the Catholic Church has or has not adopted some practices with pagan origins I do not know and it will not be explored here.  Here, I am concerned with the Protestant branch of Christianity and, even more specifically, with Christianity unapologetically dedicated to Sola Scriptura.

THE ORIGIN OF “EASTER”

The reason why Christians celebrate Easter is clear.  Christians believe that God, in order to solve the problem of sin eternally separating us from him, became a man –  Jesus of Nazareth – lived a perfect, sinless life that none of us could live, and then willingly died on a cross to take the punishment we deserve.  Then, three days later, Jesus rose from the dead, as he predicted, to confirm his identify and his message.  Forgiveness of our sins, a free gift from God, is not deserved or earned by anyone; all we can do – as with all gifts – is accept it.  To accept God’s free gift of salvation is to repent of your sins and accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, believing in his redeeming work.

This is the good news of Jesus Christ.  This is the Gospel.  This is reason to celebrate.

This is clear.

 

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Now, what isn’t so clear is finding solid answers to questions about eggs, rabbits, and the word “Easter.”  Where there is definitely a lot of material available to refute the theory that Christianity has pagan roots (this will be covered in a future article), I’ve so far found information specifically about Easter hard to come by.  Perhaps the reason for this is simply because there isn’t enough hard evidence out there for a lot to be written about it.  (I’ve run into a similar challenge with researching the December 25th date for Christmas.  Click here to read the best explanations I’ve found so far.)

DOES THE ACTUAL WORD “EASTER” HAVE PAGAN ROOTS?

The first known claim that the word “Easter” comes from the name of a pagan goddess is by English monk Venerable Bede (673-735), writer of the first history of Christianity in England and whose writings are the main source of information about early Anglo-Saxon culture.  He wrote that “Easter” comes from the pagan fertility goddess Eostre.

Much later, another claim that “Easter” has pagan origins says the word comes from the Babylonian goddess Astarte, who is called Ishtar in Assyria.  This theory seems to have been started by Alexander Hislop (1807-1865), a minister of the Free Church of Scotland, in his book The Two Babylons.

So, here we have two Christians claiming the name “Easter” comes from pagan goddesses.

Case closed, right?

Well, no.

First, notice they don’t agree with each other.  That’s the first sign that something is wrong.

Next, the big problem with Bede’s claim is that there is no evidence anywhere outside of his writing of an Anglo-Saxon goddess called Eostre.  Further, there’s no evidence of the goddess in Norse or Germanic paganism either.

Moreover, Hislop’s claims have also been shown to be unfounded by scholars.  Hislop was a vehement critic of the Catholic Church and seems to have been a 19th Century conspiracy theorist long before the current heyday of Internet nuts that somehow see conspiracies in every possible place imaginable.  (Had someone been able to get Hislop a really powerful wireless connection to the 21st Century, it sounds like he would’ve fit right in.)

Hislop makes many of the same errors as those who try to promote the Christian/pagan copycat theories today (more about this in a future article), making large jumps in logic to try to show connections where none exist and basing much of his theory simply on the idea that if words sound similar, they must be related.  This overlooks the fact that many languages that have no influence on each other make similar sounds.

ANOTHER THEORY

So, is there another theory of the origin of the word “Easter” – one that has nothing to do with paganism?

I’m not a linguist, but I do have a basic understanding of the evolution of the English language and knowledge of the history of the translation of the Bible from the original languages of ancient Hebrew and Greek into early English.  This helped with understanding this theory.

FIRST, A BRIEF LESSON ON THE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

The modern English language is a Germanic language, a branch of the Indo-European language family, so it is related to other modern languages such as German, Dutch, Yiddish, and Norwegian.  So far, English has moved through 3 major stages of development:

Old English, Middle English, and Modern English.

One may think that English-speakers today could read Old English, but Old English is nothing like English today; though related to Modern English it is, for all practical uses, another language.  The epic poem Beowulf (written about 1,000 years ago) was originally written in Old English.

OldEnglish_Beowulf

Old English on the left. Modern translation on right. Click on pic for a much better view.

Middle English is closer to the English we use today, so if you were to read, say, The Canterbury Tales (written in Medieval England) in the original Middle English, you may recognize many words, probably even be able to figure out the meaning of some sentences, but it is still essentially a different (though related) language.

MiddleEnglish

Example of Middle English. Click for a better view.

Finally, we get to Modern English, what we speak today.  Despite what some who bemoan the difficultly of reading Shakespeare think, Shakespeare, in fact, wrote and spoke in Modern English.

HE IS RISEN!  HAPPY “ESTER”!

The theory about the origin of the word “Easter” says Old English (also called the Anglo-Saxon language) is the origin of the word.

Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection took place during the Jewish Passover, and early Christians appear to have simply referred to this time in the same terms – meaning they referred to what we call Easter today as Passover.  So, in a way, we could say early Christians simply thought of Jesus’ death and resurrection as the Christian Passover.

The Hebrew word for Passover is pesach from the verb pasach, to pass over.  When the Old Testament was translated into the Greek, it remained basically the same, pascha.  The punk rock, power-to-the-people John Wycliffe (1330-1384), who translated the first English Bible in 1382 (getting him declared a heretic), continued to use a form of the same word pascha (pask, paske) in his translation for the word Passover.

But when the equally punk rock William Tyndale (1494-1539) produced the first printed English Bible (which got him strangled and burned on a stake), he used the most common word of his native language of Old English for Passover, Ester.  Germans used the word Oster or Ostern for Passover, such as when Martin Luther (1483-1546) first translated the Bible into German in 1545.

So, where Tyndale used the English Ester, Luther used the German Oster.  Sounds a lot like the Modern English word Easter, doesn’t it?

Thus, the word “Easter” comes from the Germanic language, from the Old English word meaning Passover.

What makes more sense: Christians, who are often criticized by pluralists and polytheists for holding strictly to biblical teachings, for declaring their faith as being the one true religion and all others as false, would borrow and absorb into their strictly monotheistic faith other religions?  Or the word “Easter” simply comes from a natural progression of the ever-changing English language?

ONE LAST POINT

The Anglo-Saxon and Germanic culture may have influenced the word we use today to refer to the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection, but there is no possibility that those cultures influenced, inspired, or originated the celebration itself.  The Nordic and Germanic people, including Anglo-Saxons, were not introduced to Christianity until almost 600 AD.  There is undeniable evidence that the Christian Passover/Easter/Resurrection celebration was practiced in the Second Century, and even evidence of it as early as the First Century.

CONCLUSION

So, next time someone says the word “Easter” has pagan roots, tell them that this is far from conclusive, and more likely, it’s simply the Old English word for the Passover, which is when Christ was crucified and resurrected.

*Read PART 2 here: Is there a connection between Jesus and pagan gods? and PART 3 here: Aren’t Easter eggs & Christmas trees pagan?

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