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

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

Christmas&Easter 

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

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

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

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

 

THE SHORT ANSWER

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

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

 

 THE LONG ANSWER

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

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

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

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

But… who cares?

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

 

TRADITION VS. DOCTRINE

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

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

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

Mohawk_Rancid

 

CLAIMING IT FOR CHRIST

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

 

WHAT’S SYNCRETISM?

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

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

Easter_rabbint_eggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

HALLOWEEN?

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

(1)  What biblical teaching may I be violating?

and

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

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

 halloween

 

THE EXCEPTION: STUMBLING BLOCKS

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

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

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

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

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

zeus_statue

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

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

As Paul writes:

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

and

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

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

CONCLUSIONS

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

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

Thoughts?  Share ’em below please!

Santa-Claus-The-Easter-Bunny

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

READ:

 

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

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

————–

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

——-

TRUE STORY

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

Superman.

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

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

OK, Seriously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(*Corny, actually.)

ME:  But what about the other stuff I said?

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

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

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

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

YOU:  Now you’re getting carried away again.

Superman

Is the Man of Steel actually the Son of Man?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horus

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

Here are the issues with these copycat theories:

1. A Bad Start

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

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

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

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

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

asclepius

Asclepius

2.  Exaggerations & Blatant Fabrications

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

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

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

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

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

Krishna

Krishna

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dionysus

Dionysus, in all his glory

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

3.  Wrong Chronology

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.  Logical Leaps

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

5. Christianity’s Nature

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

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

Cybele_Attis

Cybele & Attis

So, What Now?

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

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

Links:

Some of my articles:

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

ComeLetUsReason

Recommended Reading

 

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

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

Easter_rabbint_eggs

THE AGE OF MISINFORMATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pagan_Ishtar

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

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

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

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

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

FIRST, A FEW WORDS ABOUT CATHOLICISM

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

THE ORIGIN OF “EASTER”

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

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

This is clear.

 

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

DOES THE ACTUAL WORD “EASTER” HAVE PAGAN ROOTS?

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

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

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

Case closed, right?

Well, no.

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

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

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

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

ANOTHER THEORY

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

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

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

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

Old English, Middle English, and Modern English.

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

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

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

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Example of Middle English. Click for a better view.

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

HE IS RISEN!  HAPPY “ESTER”!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ONE LAST POINT

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

QUESTION: How come God isn’t speaking through prophets now, updating his words for us today?  Why do you think God played such a clear and visible role in people’s lives in biblical times, speaking to them and instructing them; however, an active and interventionist God seems much more silent today?

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BIBLICAL THEOLOGY – THE PROGRESSIVE REVELATION OF GOD

(I’ve covered biblical theology before on my blog, so if you’re familiar with it, skip ahead to “The Purpose of Miracles.”)

First, we must start with a general understanding of biblical theology, the study of the story of the Bible as a whole.  The Bible is not a collection of random, disconnected episodes; it tells the story of God’s progressive revelation throughout history.

Christians believe the Bible (and history) moves through 4 major events/eras:

Creation – Fall – Redemption – Restoration.

At The Creation, God made the world good, but man (because he was given freewill) sinned and rebelled against God (The Fall), and all creation was affected, and humankind was forever separated from an eternally good, holy God by their sin.  God chose Israel as his special people and prepared them for the coming of Christ (the Messiah).  Christians believe the whole Old Testament (OT) is preparing the world for the coming of Christ.  (Most Jewish theologians would agree with this but disagree that Jesus is the Christ.)  Then, Jesus the Christ came, lived the sinless life that none of us can, and died for the sins of the world in our place (The Redemption).

This puts into action The Restoration; people will be redeemed through Jesus Christ.  This is where we are now in history, but the Restoration won’t reach fulfillment until Jesus’ 2nd Coming, at which time there will be the Final Judgment and creation will be made right again.  The phrase already/not yet is often used to speak of the time period we now live in within biblical history; Jesus Christ has already started the Restoration, but the completion of the Restoration has not yet arrived.

Since the Creation and the Fall happened all within only the first 3 chapters of Genesis, and the Redemption doesn’t happen until Jesus’ life, the majority of the OT tells of the period between the Fall and Redemption, covering about 2,000 years once God appears to Abraham.  (It’s unclear how much time passes during the earlier events recorded in Genesis to Abraham.)  During these 2,000 years, God prepared the world for the Redemption, the coming of the Christ, by choosing Israel as the people through whom he will bless the whole world (Genesis 12:1-3).

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THE PURPOSE OF MIRACLES

So, the Bible tells the story of God’s good creation falling into sin and God’s acts to redeem his creation.  This is often called the Redemptive History of the Bible.  And just as the Bible is not an arbitrary collection of stories, true miracles are not random events either.

Understanding the purpose of the miracles God displays in his progressive revelation/redemptive history will help to answer your question.  Simply put, miracles are to confirm a new message (revelation) and a new messenger to confirm the truth of their message and to show explicitly that the messenger and message is from God.

Often we make the mistake of thinking miracles happened regularly in biblical times; we often forget that the Old Testament (OT) covers a time period of about 2,000 years from Abraham to Jesus and no one knows how much time elapsed from the Creation, the days of Noah, or other events early in Genesis until Abraham.  Within these time periods, there are long periods where God is silent.  For example, the Israelites who received God’s new revelations and witnessed these unique events are told to pass on this information to their children.  But, inevitably, later generations begin to “forget,” some as quickly as just one generation later (which is a failure on the older generation’s part to teach them).

Sometimes centuries passed before God acted again within history.  For instance, the Israelites were enslaved for four hundred years in Egypt, and God was silent all that time until he appeared to Moses in the burning bush.  Moreover, about four hundred years passed between the last book of the OT (about 435 BC) and the coming of Jesus.  Ancient Jewish historian Josephus (37-100 AD) wrote: “From Artaxerxes [464-423 BC] to our times a complete history has been written, but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records, because of the failure of the exact succession of the prophets” (from Against Apion 1.41).  Here is non-biblical evidence that the Jews did not consider anything written after about 435-420 BC to be equal to the accounts in their scripture, our modern OT, because the prophets had disappeared.

God was silent all those years, and the Jews recognized that no new prophets had come to give them God’s Word.  This is why when John the Baptist appears, proclaiming that Israel must repent from their sins and speaking of one coming who will be far greater than him, it’s a big deal.

The majority of miracles in the Bible fall within the lifetime of 3 major people and the events surrounding them: Moses, Elijah (and Elisha), and Jesus (and the apostles).  Why?  Because these men were God’s spokesmen (and one was God himself), and God was doing something major in the redemptive history of his fallen creation.

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DO MIRACLES HAPPEN TODAY?

As Christians today, there are those who believe miracles have passed away with the last of Jesus’ apostles and they have ceased.  Most Christians believe miracles still happen today.  I believe both are correct in a sense.

First, many Christians throw around the word miracle too easily.  Miracles are unique events that are undoubtedly the work of God.  Today, often when someone knows that God has intervened in some way, such as answering prayer, this is in theological terms God’s providence, not a miracle.  God’s providence is God’s everyday working and interaction with his creation.  And though we may know through the Holy Spirit that God was at work, it would be hard to prove it to be so to anyone else.  A miracle, on the other hand, would be hard to deny (though the Bible clearly shows people will deny them).

Secondly, within God’s progressive revelation/redemptive history, there’s no need for miracles any more.  We are in the Restoration era – the already/not yet era.  There is no new revelation coming; no new scriptures will be written – and there is no new revelation or scripture needed.  God accomplished all he wanted to do (for our benefit) by dying for our sins on the cross and making sure these events (and the significance of these events) were recorded in his new scripture, the New Testament (NT).  The miracles Jesus performed weren’t arbitrary works of magic to impress his audience; each miracle was a sign of who he truly was, and these signs continued on with his chosen apostles to confirm that what we find in the NT is God’s Word.

In Galatians 1:6-9, Paul writes:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we [Paul and the other apostles] or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” 

Thus, no new revelation is coming until Jesus Christ’s return, and any addition or subtraction from God’s Word is not God’s Word.  So, even if an angel appears to you, if what he says contradicts scripture, it’s not from God.

With Jesus Christ’s death, he ushered in the Restoration, the already/not yet era.  As Christians are led by the Holy Spirit, we’re to continue our Lord and Savior’s redemptive work by telling people of him in truth and love so they can be resolved of their sins and not eternally separated from our good and holy Creator.  And we also wait, wait for Christ to return to complete his work and end sin and death once and for all.

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Book Review: “Date Your Wife”

BOOK REVIEW:  Date Your Wife: A Husband’s Guide by Justin Buzzard (Crossway Books)

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“The most rebellious, countercultural thing you can do in our culture is to be happily married until death do you part,” states Justin Buzzard in his book Date Your Wife.  Now, this might be a bit of hyperbole, but I don’t think he’s too far off.

Date Your Wife is a quick read that reminds us, as husbands, to (you guessed it) date your wife.  Buzzard explores the biblical definition of manhood, and quite bluntly tells us husbands: You’re the man.  If your marriage stinks, it’s your own fault.

Men, being goal-oriented, often work hard to court their wives, but once married, men sometimes check that goal off as accomplished and move on to other goals, forgetting that marriage is a life-long endeavor.

With this, Buzzard focuses on how all marriages must be Christ-centered.  As anyone who has been married for any amount of time can tell you, without a strong understanding of grace, no marriage can survive.

Date Your Wife is a quick, light read.  The tone is humorous but blunt.  Just what a man needs.  Each short chapter ends with “Take Action” tips, and at the end of the book are 100 recommendations on how to date your wife.

Being steeped in books on theology for seminary, I chose this complimentary ebook from Crossway’s Beyond the Page program as something lighter to read.  I have also just passed my six-year wedding anniversary.  And though after six years (and no kids), my wife and I still date plenty, Date Your Wife is a helpful reminder to never forget to treat my wife like the special woman God gave me.

Also, even if none of the “tips” catch you, the book gets your brain working, thinking of ways to treat your special woman in special ways.

For men who have been married for much longer than me, who have children, who have high-pressure jobs and many other distractions, Date Your Wife may be the kick in the butt you need.  Marriage is a beautiful gift from God, and if we neglect it, it’s nobody’s fault but our own.