Tag Archives: Christianity

Did Christianity Plagiarize The Mystery Cults? — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

Plagiarism is serious business in academia. When most people hear the term, they might equate it with “copying” or “borrowing,” thus overlooking the seriousness of the offense. In truth, plagiarism involves not only the outright theft of intellectual property but passing off someone else’s ideas as one’s own.

Some critics today argue that Christianity plagiarized existing beliefs of the time, taking ideas from other religions and stitching them together in what we now call Christianity. These individuals, called “mythicists,” believe that early Christian writers created a fictional Jesus, drawing upon pre-existing pagan elements found in ancient mythology. Some of these ideas, they claim, came from the mystery cults popular at the time.

The term “mystery cult” was not one that the ancients used for their religions. Modern scholars created the term, which accurately captures the sense of the secrecy that governed the lives of those involved in these ancient religious groups. (Note: the word “cult” here means a system of religious belief associated with a specific figure, such as the cult of Attis, the cult of Cybele, or even the imperial cult which involved devotion to the Roman emperor.) These religions provided an alternative to the more institutionalized expressions of worship. Formal religious worship to the gods was part of public life. The mystery cults restricted participation to those who had gone through a secretive initiation process.

Mythicists frequently claim that nothing in Christianity is original. Indeed, the parallels they offer startle many believers unfamiliar with the issue. They claim that other divine figures—such as the Egyptian god Horus or the Persian Mithras—were born of virgins, had twelve disciples, died for the sins of the world, and resurrected after three days in a tomb. Figures as diverse as Attis, Krishna, and Thor supposedly suffered crucifixion. Further, most of these figures served as great teachers of wisdom who healed and performed other miracles. Christians must understand any close reading of the original myths will reveal these claims as patently false.

One of the most significant problems involved in this issue is the fact that critics of Christianity often adopt biblical language to describe pagan practices. This gives the illusion of similarity when Christian terminology would have struck pagans as quite foreign. We can see one example of this in descriptions of the taurobolium—the sacrifice of a bull or ram in which an initiate would stand under the animal and allow its blood to wash over him—which mythicists frequently call a “baptism.” Some writers have gone so far as to claim that the initiate was “washed in the blood.” This alleged parallel seems irrefutable if the reader does not understand that the ritual had nothing to do with baptism or washing away sins. Instead, it was a purification custom with only temporary benefits, unlike Christ’s sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-4, 10-14).

Mystery cults had several features that differed sharply from Christianity. Only initiates received the secret teachings of the cult and were given strict orders to share them with no one else. By way of contrast, Christians have always believed that the gospel message should be preached to everyone freely (Matt. 24:14; 28:19-20; Lk. 24:47). Further, mystery cults did not expect exclusive membership. A person could join more than one of them, contrary to the expectations of Jesus (John 14:6). Finally, mystery cults also expected a monetary contribution for joining, which was steep enough to exclude some people from participating. Genuine Christianity does not discriminate against the poor, nor does it offer privileges available only to the wealthy (Jas. 2:1-15).

Scholars see virtually no connection between Christianity and the mystery cults in the early Roman Empire. Only two of these cults seem to predate Christianity (the Eleusinian and the Dionysian Mysteries), while evidence of the others postdates the founding of the church. Some scholars believe that if any relationship existed, it is likely Christianity that influenced the mystery cults instead of the other way around.

Christians can evaluate mythicists’ claims for themselves by asking several simple questions. First, do they refer to alleged parallels in the original myths, or do they merely describe or summarize them? Numerous connections vanish upon close inspection of the ancient literature. Second, do they cite the work of recognized scholars? We can count on one hand the number of mythicists who have terminal degrees in the fields relevant to the discussion. Finally, do they use precise descriptions? The keys to mythicists’ arguments hinge upon using Christian terminology to refer to pagan practices and obscuring vital differences between biblical and mythological concepts.

Christianity provided a new and exciting way to look at the world and interact with its Creator. The suggested similarities between it and the other religions practiced in the first century cannot withstand scrutiny. Believers may rest assured that the biblical writers did not plagiarize pagan beliefs.

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. congregation in Arlington, TX.

The Uniqueness of Christianity — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

The story is told about a British conference on comparative religions attended by the famed apologist C. S. Lewis. During one session in which a number of scholars vigorously debated the uniqueness of the Christian faith, Lewis wandered into the room and asked, “What’s the rumpus about?” Those present told him they were debating whether Christianity offered any unique contributions in the world of religion. Without missing a beat, Lewis replied, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

While Lewis was correct, he only touched the hem of the garment. When Christianity first appeared in the context of the Roman Empire, it proved to be a faith unlike anything else the world had ever seen. Contrary to the beliefs of some critics, Christianity does not owe anything to pagan beliefs that preceded it. Here we will survey just a few of the things that made the Christian faith distinct from other religions available at the time.

Monotheism

The Judeo-Christian tradition stood apart from other religions because it advocated the worship of one God. In contrast, Roman religion was thoroughly polytheistic. The number of gods, divinities, and spirits recognized by Romans numbered into the thousands.

Human beings attached gods to peoples (1 Kings 11:7), forces of nature (1 Kings 18:24), and geographical areas (1 Kings 20:28). Throughout the Greco-Roman world, cities had patron gods, a practice that existed as far back as the earliest times in ancient Mesopotamia. The Romans went even further by revering divinities responsible for such minuscule things as the lock of a door or the first cry of a newborn child. Roman deities could very well be an example of micromanagement at its finest.

Unfortunately, the exclusive worship of God in the early church caused Romans to perceive it as dangerous and subversive. Romans feared that the Christians would offend the gods of Rome by failing to give proper respect. This would, in turn, cause the gods to withdraw their blessings from the empire. The authorities considered Christianity so potentially harmful that they punished believers with the death penalty, a fact illustrated by the correspondence between Emperor Trajan and Pliny the Younger in the early second century.

Christianity as a “Book Religion”

Today, religions can be identified by texts that most represent their teachings. This was not possible before the emergence of the early church. Pagan religions did not have sacred texts that served in an equivalent manner as the Bible. While important sacred texts did exist (such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead), these were not intended for public reading, nor were they used to reveal the will of the gods or shape the behavior of faithful believers.

Jews considered Scripture reading essential. In the Old Testament, God commanded the reading of the Law (Deut. 31:11). During the time of Ezra, the law was read publicly for hours on end while Jewish believers reverently stood at attention (Neh. 8:3). The importance of reading Scripture continued in the New Testament period with readings in synagogues (Luke 4:16-21; Acts 13:14-15; 15:21). This practice continued in Christianity with an emphasis on the written word (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; 1 Tim. 4:15; 2 Tim. 3:16). Although Jews valued the reading of Scripture, Judaism had always been concerned more with orthopraxy (proper behavior or religious observance) than orthodoxy (proper belief), the latter of which was distinctive to the early church.

The existence of such a vast number of manuscripts also implies the importance of doctrine. Pagans had little concern for proper beliefs concerning their gods, as numerous stories offer contradictory accounts of events during the experiences of the deities worshiped in the Roman Empire. Christianity has always been concerned with sound doctrine (1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2 John 9), which has no true parallel in any other religion, ancient or modern. Romans looked to philosophy, not religion, for teaching on proper living.

Exclusivity and Openness in Christianity

The contrast between Christianity and other religions regarding membership could hardly be more vivid. Formal cults offering the traditional worship of the gods were very open. Membership was not exclusive, unlike Christianity which recognized only those as members who had gone through specific steps including expressing faith, repenting of sinful behavior, adopting a holy lifestyle, and being immersed for the forgiveness of sins (cf. Acts 2:14-41).

The mystery religions—so-called because of their secrecy—opened their doors to almost anyone who had sufficient resources to cover the cost of initiation. Membership in one did not preclude membership in another (although the expense of initiation could be cost-prohibitive). The price of admission finds no parallel in Christianity.

Mystery religions valued secrecy so much that a mob nearly murdered the Greek playwright Aeschylus (c.523–c.456 BC) because an audience perceived one of his play as revealing secrets of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Christianity, on the other hand, has always been open to all regardless of gender or socioeconomic status and offers membership to any who would follow Christ. While the mystery cults were open to a select few, the gospel is for all (Rom. 1:16; Gal. 3:26-29).

Efforts made by critics to show that Christianity evolved from other religious traditions in the ancient world cannot withstand scrutiny. This is familiar territory in critical scholarship, as various writers have attempted to connect both ancient Judaism and early Christianity with other religious movements and ideas. If Christianity emerged independently from upon other religions, then its distinctiveness must be explained. It bears the marks not of invention or evolution, but of divine revelation.

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX. He serves as a staff writer for Apologetics Press and the Apologia Institute, and as a professional associate for the Associates for Biblical Research.

Why Are We Christians? — Stephen Scaggs

Our inquiry is a personal one.  “Why are we Christians?”  Indeed, each of us owes an enormous debt to those who have gone on before us, from the faith of Abraham to the courage of restorationists like Guy N. Woods.  Many of us would not be Christians if it were not for our familial heritage, which seemed to be the case with Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15).  Yet when it boils down to it, each of us is a Christian because each of us chose it.

The inspired physician tells us “in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26c).  Since that day, this name “Christian” has bound all disciples together, whether Jew or Greek, whether male or female, whether black or white.  In a short time, this name infiltrated the houses of royalty and spread across the Roman Sea (Acts 28:14ff).  By sharing some of the reasons that we are Christians, we might persuade those who hear us each day to become just as we are (Acts 26:28-29).

We Are Christians Because God Has Called Us 

No list would be complete without mentioning God.  The apostle Peter wrote that we are Christians because of God who called us “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (2 Pet. 2:9).  Our English word “call” is quite vague, but the Greek word kaleo can either refer to the act of naming (e.g., as in Acts 11:26 mentioned earlier, or “He was called Jesus” [Luke 2:21], or summoning as in a court summons).  Peter uses the latter sense.  How does God summon us?  He beckons to us through the preaching of His gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 2:14).  When people believe and surrender to the gospel call, God has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.

The apostle Peter repeatedly refers to our calling (i.e., when man responds to His calling) as a point of reference for the excellence of moral character.  His calling sets the precedence for our holy conduct (1 Pet. 1:15); that we may proclaim His excellencies (1 Pet. 2:9); for our following in Jesus’ steps (1 Pet 2:21); for how we retaliate (1 Pet. 3:9); and His calling is how we will inherit His eternal glory (1 Pet. 5:10; cf. 2 Pet. 1:3).

Let us “give the more diligence to make [our] calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10) by living up to His holy calling.

We Are Christians Because We Believe In Jesus

At the very heart of Christianity is the person and work of Jesus Christ.  After all, He is the namesake of our religion.  Fifty days after Passover during the Jewish festival of Pentecost, the apostle Peter stood up and preached, “God hath raised [Jesus] up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it” (Acts 2:24).  The Christ, “though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:8-9).

At the center of Christianity are Jesus and His resurrection.  The fact of Jesus’ present living gives Him precedence over all false religions.  Indeed, as one poet writes, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow/Because He lives, all fear is gone/Because I know He holds the future/And life is worth the living, just because He lives.”

By inspiration, Peter and John declared boldly before the Sanhedrin, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  And there is salvation is no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12).

We Are Christians Because It Matters

The motivation for the Christian walk is the prize.  This was the case for the apostle Paul.  He wrote, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).  This was Paul’s driving force behind all that he did.  Paul pressed on because he understood his labors mattered.  As the apostle concisely wrote after discussing the general resurrection, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

“The uttermost hevel, says the Preacher, the uttermost hevel!  All is hevel!” (Eccl. 1:2, paraphrased).  This word hevel is a difficult to translate (and it is repeated several times in the Hebrew, simply underscoring the intensity of the word).  In an effort to translate it, some have rendered it “meaningless” (NIV, NLT); “vanity” (ESV; KJV; NASB; YLT); “futility” (HCSB); “pointless” (ISV).  While these words try to capture the meaning of the Hebrew word hevel, the point is not the life has no meaning, but that its meaning is not always readily apparent.  The Hebrew word hevel literally refers to “smoke.”  Just like being in a thick cloud of smoke, the meaning of life is not readily visible.  Yet there is meaning in what is concluded: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the totality of man” (Eccl. 12:13).

One day when Jesus returns, He will clear the smoke (hevel) and all the pains of this life will dissolve into eternity.  As we often sing, “Soon we will see our dear loving Savior/Hear the last trumpet sound through the sky/Then we will meet those gone on before us/Then we shall know and understand why…Farther along we’ll know all about it/Farther along we’ll understand why/Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine/We’ll understand it all by and by” (W.B. Stevens, “Farther Along”).

Conclusion 

While this list is by no means exhaustive, it contains sufficient reason for this writer to be a Christian.  We are Christians because God has called us, because we believe in Christ, and because it matters.  If you have never surrendered to Jesus Christ, I encourage you to do so.  If you have any questions, the writers of the Carolina Messenger publication would be pleased to give you a Bible answer to any query you may have.

Stephen is a 2012 alumnus of the Memphis School of Preaching in Memphis, TN.  He is currently living in Dublin, GA, where he is seeking to further his education in ministry.  He is married to Rebekah and they have two children, Emmett and Edison.

 

 

First Stop: Homosexuality. Next Stop: Pedophilia – Spencer Strickland

The lengths to which society and government have gone in order to force acceptance of certain sinful behaviors is nothing short of appalling.  As of this year, 9 states in the United States have legalized same-sex marriage (Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington).  Additionally, it is legal in the nation’s capital for two members of the same gender to marry.  Those who know what the Bible truly says about homosexuality sigh in disgust at such abandonment of basic moral principles.  Both Old and New Testaments condemn the practice of homosexuality (in spite of the efforts by some to suggest otherwise).  Sodom and Gomorrha’s sin of homosexuality was at the heart of God’s reason for destroying them.  As one recalls the incident at Sodom with Lot and the two angels who appeared as men (Gen. 19:1-3), the men of Sodom asked Lot, “Where are the men which came in to thee this night?  Bring them out unto us, that we may know them” (Gen. 19:5).  The Hebrew word for “know” is the same word used in Gen. 4:1:  “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord.”  Thus, it is obvious what went on in Sodom and it is clear that God destroyed Sodom because of their wickedness (Gen. 19:24-25).  One might say the divine commentary on this event is found in Jude 7:  “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities around them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire [emphasis mine, SS].”  A few passages in the Old Testament describe homosexuality as an “abomination” (Lev. 18:22; 20:13) which credible and reliable Hebrew lexicons define as “a disgusting thing.”  Finally, Paul’s discussion of women changing “the natural use into that which is against nature” along with “the men, leaving the natural use of the woman” and consequently lusting after one another is a clear condemnation of homosexuality (Rom. 1:26-27).

Faithful gospel preachers have striven to inform folks of the sin of homosexuality based upon God’s Word.  In addition to informing folks about this sin, there is a warning preachers sometimes attach to it.  Namely, if homosexuality is viewed as “normal” and same-sex marriage is accepted, then what is to stop society from embracing other perversions of God’s definition of marriage?  Now that homosexuality is being embraced by government and society, efforts are being made to suggest that pedophilia might be viewed as normal and acceptable behavior.  Pedophilia is defined as “sexual desire in an adult for a child” (“pedophilia”).  According to a recent article published in the British newspaper The Guardian, “There is a growing conviction, notably in Canada, that paedophilia [alternate spelling of the term, SS] should probably be classified as a distinct sexual orientation, like heterosexuality or homosexuality” (Henley).  In this article, Sarah Goode who is both an author of two studies on pedophilia and a university lecturer is quoted as saying, “There are a lot of people […] who say: we outlawed homosexuality, and we were wrong.  Perhaps we’re wrong about paedophilia” (ibid).  This article underscores the fact that when sin is tolerated and accepted on any level, it opens the door for any and all toleration of sin.  Returning to the first chapter of Romans, where he wrote of the condemnation of homosexuality, Paul went on to give a laundry list of other sins that Gentiles were openly practicing like fornication, covetousness, maliciousness and murder – just to name a few (Rom. 1:29-31).  The final verse of that chapter says of these Gentiles: “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (Romans 1:32).  How is it that anyone could “take pleasure” in folks practicing these sins?  How could American society and government take pleasure in championing the cause of same-sex marriage?  How could anyone ever take pleasure in viewing pedophilia as “normal”?  The answer is found in Romans 1:28 – “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge.”

The legalization of same-sex marriage and the acceptance of homosexuality as normal behavior is a clear step towards an all out rejection of God and His will.  If the entire country legalizes same-sex marriage, it is only a matter of time before such perverted behavior as pedophilia is accepted as indicted by the article cited.  Once this behavior is accepted, what is next?  For instance, what will stop such perversions as bestiality (sexual desire of humans towards animals) from being viewed as normal behavior and just another “sexual orientation”?  Long ago, Isaiah proclaimed, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20).  In essence, government and society are “calling evil good and good evil” by accepting and legalizing these ungodly behaviors.  It is important, then, that Christians stand against these behaviors and stand up for the Word of God (Jude 3).  It is important that preachers inform congregations of the wickedness that continues to be promoted in society and government.  It is important that Christians insist that the home be defined as God defines it and to teach others that definition (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-5; Eph. 5:31).  Finally, it is important that every child of God beseech the Heavenly Father for help in stemming the tide of gross immorality practiced, endorsed, and legalized in this country.