Bible Secrets Re-revealed! How Do We Differentiate Between What is Scripture & Other Ancient, Religious Writings?

**How did the ancient church know what to consider Scripture?**

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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How do we know the right books are included in Bible?

Often skeptics and TV shows like Bible Secrets Revealed make a big deal about other ancient writings not in the Bible that include Jewish or Christian themes or may even include biblical characteristics or people.  Often the mistaken idea they’re promoting is that these written works are just as worthy of being Scripture but the church excluded them for some unscrupulous reason.

My question is, Why does everything have to be a conspiracy?  (The obvious answer: scandals sell.)  The truth is usually much less scandalous (and exciting).

Think of it this way: If I write a story involving Adam, Eve, Moses, Paul, and the angel Gabriel, and I even include some Christianity-themed lessons in it, does that mean it’s Scripture?  Of course not!  Likewise, just because an ancient piece of writing has biblical elements, it does not immediately make it Scripture worthy of the Bible.

It also should be noted, some of these works not included in the Bible teach flat-out heresy, but others may still be considered faithful books that teach biblical truths, but this still doesn’t make them Scripture.  They may be great reads for historical or religious insight (or just for quality entertainment), and, as I said, they may even include a lot of godly truth.  But they’re still not scripture, any more than works by, say, C.S. Lewis, John Piper, or Tim Keller are scripture. All 3 men are godly men who are wise in the Lord, and reading their books will benefit you, but their writings still do not hold the authority of Scripture.

So, why were some ancient writings considered Scripture and others not?

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THE NEW TESTAMENT

There are primary 3 requirements a written work must meet in order to be considered New Testament Scripture:

1.  Apostolic Authority

2.  Universality

3.  Orthodoxy

Apostolic Authority

First: Is the work written by an apostle of Jesus or by someone closely associated with an apostle of Jesus?  For example, John and Matthew were apostles of Jesus, but Mark was a disciple of the Apostle Peter, and Luke was a close companion of the Apostle Paul.

If a work was written long after the time period when the apostles lived, then it obviously cannot be closely related to an apostle.  No book in the New Testament is more than two persons removed from Jesus; thus, if the writer was not an eyewitness himself, he recorded the teachings of an eyewitness.

Universal & Orthodox

Next: Is the work universal and orthodox?  Do the teachings of the work apply to the whole Christian church, not just to specific sects or denominations (or cults)?  And are the teachings in line with traditional beliefs as given by Jesus and the apostles?

For example, many of the Gnostic Gospels taught things that were contradictory to the four earliest Gospels and the letters of Paul, which are the earliest Christian writings.  The Gnostic Gospels were also written long after the apostles lived, so they obviously don’t have apostolic authority.  (More about the Gnostic Gospels below.)

Likewise, failure to meet these simple standards is one of the reasons (among many) that current, traditional Christian churches consider, for instance, the Book of Mormon heresy.

To give another example, the only reason the TV show Bible Secrets Revealed gives for the ancient work The Protoevangelium of James not being included in the New Testament is that the work focuses on Mary, so it would have to be placed before the Gospels in the New Testament and it would take too much time for a reader to get to Jesus!

This is an absurd assumption!  Even the TV show tells us that The Protoevangelium of James was written 100 years after the life of James.  This alone would exclude it from being written by an apostle or during the time of the apostles.  Further, the teachings aren’t in line with the undisputed works of the New Testament, such as the 4 Gospels and the majority of Paul’s letters.

Interesting to note, we do have a book in the New Testament that meets the requirements for Scripture that was written by James, the brother of Jesus.

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THE OLD TESTAMENT

Why are the “hundreds” of other ancient Hebrew manuscripts not included in the Old Testament, like The Life of Adam and Eve and The Book of Jubilees?

 

The Old Testament was written so long ago, it’s hard to know the exact details, but various prophets of God – like Moses, David, Solomon, and Isaiah – wrote the books of the Old Testament.  If the ancient Jews recognized a certain book to be Scripture, they must’ve had good reason, such as the writer was a prophet.  The Old Testament itself gives us insight on how they recognized prophets:

“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my [God’s] name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

There is no evidence from Old Testament times – or any other times – of any other Hebrew works being considered as authoritative and sacred like the books included in the Old Testament.  Some books that are in the Old Testament were disputed, but the major works never were.  Further, no other books were ever considered to be worthy of placement into the Old Testament canon by the Jews.

Based on the evidence, the only works ever considered to be worthy of inclusion in the Old Testament are in the Old Testament.  Further, Jesus and the New Testament writers only refer to works found in our present Old Testament specifically as Scripture.

Forgery = Pseudepigrapha

Why is Enoch 1 not considered part of the biblical canon, but it’s part of the Ethiopian Orthodox church’s canon?

 

The ancient writing called Enoch 1 is what is called an Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, a work attributed to an ancient Old Testament patriarch or important figure who lived long before the work was written.  Thus, it’s a forgery and the author is unknown.  Interestingly, Jude, in his letter in the New Testament, does quote 1 Enoch, but he doesn’t call it Scripture.  Further, there’s no evidence that the Jews ever considered Enoch 1 Scripture.

Thus, it appears the Ethiopian church is incorrect in including Enoch 1 in their Bible.

1 Enoch and other Pseudepigraphaical works are useful in some ways, but they’re still not to be considered on the same level of authority as Scripture.  Other Pseudepigraphaical works, as well as the Apocrypha, have never been considered sacred, divine scripture by the Jews.

The Apocrypha is comprised of Old Testament works (written in Greek) that are included in the Roman Catholic Bible and Eastern Orthodox Bible but not in the Protestant or Jewish Bibles.  In fact, the Roman Catholic Church didn’t make the Apocrypha officially part of their Bible until 1546 in response to the Protestant Reformation.

 Apocrypha

New Testament Forgeries

Why is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which is written by Jesus’ brother, not included in the New Testament, but the letters of James and Jude, other writings by Jesus’ brothers, are in the New Testament?  Is it only because the Infancy Gospel of Thomas has “scandalous” stories about Jesus, which the church did not want people to know?

Bible Secrets Revealed makes it sound like the only reason the church didn’t include the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in the New Testament is because it has “scandalous” information in it, but notice that the show also dates the writing of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in 125 AD.  This late date alone is the problem and a “deal-breaker” of whether the Infancy Gospel of Thomas should be in the New Testament or not.

All of the New Testament was written by the end of the First Century – by at least 100 AD.  The Gospel of John is widely considered the last Gospel of the New Testament to be written, sometime around 95 AD.  Since the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written around 125 AD, it was written too long after the events to be considered a candidate for inclusion in the New Testament.

Eyewitnesses or close associates of eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry wrote the four Gospels included in the New Testament.  If the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written in 125 AD, it wasn’t written when those who knew Jesus Christ were still alive.  Therefore, Jesus’ brother Thomas couldn’t have written it.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is another pseudepigraphic writing, because it falsely claims its writer is a key figure in Jewish/Christian history.  It’s also considered a Gnostic Gospel.  Gnostics mixed pagan philosophy with Christian beliefs.  They believed the physical world was evil, so God couldn’t have come in the flesh.

Along with the late dates of origin for the Gnostic Gospels, their contents alone illustrate these so-called gospels didn’t belong with the traditional teachings of Christianity.  Finally, no Gnostic document was ever considered worthy for inclusion in the New Testament.

One Last Important Point 

Finally, it must be pointed out that the biblical truths given by the prophets and apostles were confirmed by godly signs and miracles.  To explore this further, two of my earlier articles may help:

Why is God’s Presence So Obvious in the Bible but Not Today?

Is the Bible Any More Accurate than Other Religious Texts?

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?

Has the Bible Been Lost in the Translation?

SOURCE & RECOMMENDED:

can-we-still-believe

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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Bible Secrets Re-revealed! Could Jesus and His Disciples Even Read & Write?

**How did Jesus’ disciples write the New Testament if they were illiterate fishermen?  How could a poor carpenter be as knowledgeable about Scripture as Jesus? **

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.

Other articles in this series: Did Constantine compose the New Testament? & Did God have a wife?

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Could Jesus & his Disciples Read & Write?

So, the idea goes, Jesus’ disciples were a bunch of uneducated, working-class dudes, so there’s no way they could’ve written the New Testament.  In fact, Jesus was just a poor carpenter, so he probably couldn’t read or write either.  This isn’t much of an argument against the validity of the New Testament, but — if nothing else — it’s an interesting thing to consider: Is it possible that Jesus and his disciples knew how to read and write?

The style and skill level of the original ancient Greek of the different books of the New Testament show us that, though as Christians we believe the Scriptures are divinely inspired, God didn’t dictate word-for-word to the writers.  Likewise, the New Testament writers didn’t go into some sort of trance where God moved their hands as they wrote.  The unique writing styles of the New Testament books and letters show us that the writers’ own style and education level influenced the writing as the Holy Spirit guided them.

WERE ONLY THE RICH EDUCATED?

Often people today assume only the rich in ancient times could afford the privilege of education, so only the rich (and often urban) population had the privilege of learning to read and write.  Yet, in fact, evidence points in the opposite direction.  For example, a second-century clay tablet was discovered with a memo written on it in Latin by an assistant of a bricklayer.  This shows that even poor, working class people could read and write.  We also know that public notices were posted in rural villages throughout the Roman Empire, and a “vast amount of personal letters, legal deeds, divorce certificates, writings on coins, and ossuary inscriptions” show that writing was not just reserved for the elite few, but the common people. Like today, there were varying degrees of literacy in the ancient world.

LEVELS OF LITERACY

Today, there are more than just two opposite extremes of literacy.  Between literate (able to read and write) and illiterate (unable to read and write), there is a wide range of literary levels.  Today, those who graduate college are considered highly literate, but this is a small percentage of the world.  Many of the literate world wouldn’t be labeled “highly literate,” though they’re far from illiterate.  Many people can read and write basic sentences, but wouldn’t be able to read and summarize a college-level article.  Likewise, in the ancient world, many people were “semiliterate.”

WHAT DOES HISTORY (OUTSIDE THE BIBLE) TELL US?

Furthermore, it’s very likely that the Jews were much more literate than the Romans since the Jewish faith is centered around a collection of writings: what Christians call the Old Testament.  To be able to read and explain the Jewish Scriptures was a “revered goal” to Jews.  Thus, the importance of reading in the Jewish world was “unparalleled” in the Roman and pagan world.  Evidence shows that synagogues often functioned as schools for Jewish boys, and it’s not unreasonable to believe that Nazareth had a synagogue where the young Jesus could learn to read and write.

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WHAT DOES THE BIBLE TELL US?

Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus is literate.  Jesus illustrates that he has closely studied the Jewish Scripture in his many debates with the scribes and Pharisees.  For instance, in Matthew 22:32, Jesus refers to Exodus 3:6 to argue for the future resurrection of the dead, and his argument is based on a very close reading of Scripture.  Jesus quotes God in Exodus 3:6 as saying, “‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’”  Jesus then says God is “not the God of the dead but of the living.”  Jesus’ whole argument here is based on the use of one word: “am.”  Since God said “I am,” not “I was,” (present tense vs. past tense), Jesus concludes God is still the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, though they’re long dead.

Further, Jesus was also viewed as a teacher, which would imply literacy in his culture; he amazed crowds with his “learning,” the Greek word used in the original texts usually included reading skills (John 7:15); and we clearly see Jesus reading from the Book of Isaiah (Luke 4:16-30).

Skeptics may say these details were simply invented by the Gospel writers, but if so, this only further proves that the idea of a literate Jew from a working class family from a small, backwater town of Judea could be literate.  If this idea had been absurd to the Jews of Jesus’ day, why would the Gospel writers make up such a thing that others would find utterly implausible?

AND SO…

If we can safely conclude that it’s certainly plausible that Jesus – the son of a carpenter, and a carpenter himself before his ministry – was literate, then it’s not a stretch to believe his disciples were literate too.  Even if we doubt the high literacy of Peter and John, both fishermen before following Jesus and described as “uneducated and ordinary” (Acts 4:13), Matthew was a tax collector, Paul was a Pharisee, and Luke (not one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples, but a Gospel writer) was an ancient physician — all positions which would require a certain level of education.

Also, who is to say Peter and John didn’t sharpen their literary skills after deciding to follow Jesus?  After all, John didn’t write his Gospel and letters until about 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.  That’s a good amount of time!  Interestingly, one of my professors, Dr. Timothy Paul Jones, in his book Misquoting Truth writes, “…the simplest Greek in the New Testament is found in the Gospel According to John and the Gospel According to Mark, the two Gospels whose traditional authors might have been less than literate.  In fact — even after translating hundreds of Greek epigraphs, papyri and writings from prominent second- and third-century Christians — I still haven’t found a document written as simply as the Gospel According to John.”

Finally, we also know from historical records that it was common in the ancient world for people to dictate their thoughts to a professional scribe or secretary who would do the writing for them.  The evidence even shows that the scribes or secretaries would often record the speakers’ thoughts in their own style, even using their own words to rephrase ideas, and the speaker would then approve the writing and sign off on it.  There is even evidence that the Apostle Paul used a secretary in this way when writing some of his letters (that are now in the New Testament; See Romans 16:22), even though Paul, being a Pharisee, would’ve been highly educated and literate and he was able to write Greek (Gal. 6:11; Phil. 1:19-21).  There is also evidence that Peter used a profession scribe or secretary in 1 Peter 5:12, which reads, “Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!”

Sources:

Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd. The Jesus Legend. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007.

Timothy Paul Jones.  Misquoting Truth.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007.

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Bible Secrets Re-revealed! Did Constantine Control What Books Went into the Biblical Canon? Why Were Some Books Almost Rejected?

** Did Roman Emperor Constantine compose the New Testament Canon?  Why was the Canon closed?  Why were some New Testament books almost left out? **

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.

 

Constantine

Did Constantine control the decisions about what books were included in the Bible?

So, the popular conspiracy theory goes that Constantine, the first Roman emperor to become Christian, and those at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, decided which books would be included in the Bible.

The Old Testament was set long before Constantine was born.  Moreover, there is plenty of evidence that shows that the books of the New Testament were considered Scripture long before an “official” canon for the New Testament was set.

For example, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul gives two quotes and calls them both Scripture.  The first quote is from Deuteronomy 25:4, and the second quotes Jesus from Luke 10:7.  This illustrates that Paul considered the Gospel of Luke — or at least the words of Jesus — as equal in authority to the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament.  Then, in 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter refers to Paul’s writing as Scripture.  This clearly shows that the first generation of Christians already considered certain written works the new, divine written words of God.

Further, in the writings of the early church fathers – including Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp – in the first half of the second century (about 100-150 AD), they quoted extensively from the works of the New Testament, showing that they found them authoritative, even explicitly calling them Scripture at times.

Early challenges to the traditional teachings of Christianity gave the young church good reason to clarify which writings taught proper Christian doctrine.  For instance, a rich, influential man named Marcion, who believed there were two Gods in the Bible (an evil God of the Old Testament and a good God of the New Testament) attempted to rid the church of anything he perceived as “Jewish.”  This included getting rid of the whole Old Testament and putting together his own version of  the “New Testament,” with only the Gospel of Luke and 10 of Paul’s letters, editing out anything he perceived as too Jewish.  His teachings were official rejected by the church in 144 AD.

Also, Gnosticism, a belief that mixed Christian beliefs with the philosophy of Plato, believed the material world was wholly evil and unredeemable, and because of this, Gnostics believed God never became “evil” flesh.  Thus, Jesus Christ only appeared to have a human body.  The Gnostic produced many false “gospels” written in the 2nd Century and after.

Thus, these situations showed the church a need to be clear what written works were truly Christian.  Lists exist from the early church fathers, dated about 200 years before Constantine, listing authoritative Christian writings, including all four Gospels, Acts, and most of Paul’s letters.

The Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, which was arranged at Constantine’s request, is not where the New Testament canon was made “official” as many people wrongly think.  The Council of Nicaea is where the church worked out the proper biblical understanding of the nature of Christ’s divinity in relationship to the Father, as well as some other odds and ends, like how to determine the date of the observance of Easter.  No evidence of any debates or discussions about which books belonged in the Bible exists from the Council of Nicaea.  The “official,” “closed” list of the New Testament Canon occurred not until 367 AD, a whole generation later.  But, as stated above, the books of the New Testament were long established as the scripture of Christianity long before this, as evident by the “Muratori Fragment,” a list which includes nearly of the book of the New Testament dating from the mid-second century in Rome.

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Why was the inclusion of James, 2 Peter, Jude, 2 John and 3 John in the New Testament disputed?

The Book of James has been questioned because the teachings of James appear to contradict the teachings in Paul’s letters.  James teaches that faith needs to be joined with works, meaning that faith needs to be complimented with actions.  James says, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).  But Paul, in several places in his letters, emphasizes that Christians have salvation only through faith apart from works.  Thus, Christians have salvation through God’s grace alone; only through God’s work, not their own, can sinful man be redeemed.  On a closer reading, we see that James and Paul do compliment each other.  James is stating that works is the outcome of salvation, not the means of salvation – something Paul would agree with.  A person’s actions are the evidence of salvation in that person.

2 Peter is disputed because the written style of 2 Peter is very different than the style of 1 Peter.  Often, ancient letter writers dictated their ideas to scribes, who wrote them down.  We see evidence in Paul’s letters that he used a scribe at times.  It was not uncommon for the scribes to not record the thoughts of the speaker word-for-word, but in their own words.  This means that they recorded the ideas but wrote them out in their own style.  It can be safely assumed the author dictating the ideas would approve of the final product, perhaps signing it or writing some closing sentences in their own hand.  Again, we see evidence of this in Paul’s letters.

Jude, 2 John, and 3 John are so short that some have questioned whether they should be in the New Testament simply because they are so brief.  Can such short letters convey any significant information?  Of course, this comes down to opinion, not factual evidence, and Christians today still find godly wisdom in these three short letters.

Why was Revelation included in the New Testament Canon despite controversy?

Revelation is a notoriously difficult book to understand.  The genre (or style) in which Revelation is written is called apocalyptic literature, which has a lot of strange symbolism depicting spiritual things.  Revelation is unique to other apocalyptic literature because it also includes prophecy and letters to churches.  Despite all of this, the authorship of Revelation by the Apostle John, one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples, is secure, and Revelation meets the requirements for inclusion in the New Testament.

Main Source of information for this post:

Craig L. Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014).

can-we-still-believe

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

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