Annual Christmas Comic 2015! Merry Christmas from GFTM!

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Merry Christmas!

–Steve & GFTM Blog

Click on the comic to enlarge it….

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Read past Christmas comics: 2014, 2013+, Early 2000’s

New from GFTM Blog: Available in paperback for $9.00 (or less) and Kindle version for $3.50 (or less) on Amazon. Or learn more here.

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Christmas Comic 2014! Merry Christmas from GFTM Blog!

Here is my annual Christmas comic for 2014!

No king but Christ, and the King is born!  Merry Christmas!

–Steve & GFTM Blog

Click on the comic to enlarge it….

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Christmas Comics from past years: Click HERE and HERE!

Articles:

Christmas in the Old (Yes, Old) Testament

Christmas According to History

Christmas According to an English Teacher

Jesus Ain’t Born on December 25th

How We Know About Jesus

Is There Evidence of Jesus Outside the Bible?

GOD FROM THE MACHINE has published it’s first book! Searching the Bible for Mother God is for educating both those outside and inside the growing “Mother God cult.” Visit our page HERE.

Christmas in the Old (Yes, Old) Testament

What can we learn about Christmas from the Old Testament? Are the passages Matthew cites really about Jesus? What is typology?

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What can we learn about Christmas from the Old Testament?

Since it’s Christmas time, it’s a good time to read through the birth narrative of Jesus as told by Matthew, comprising of only two short chapters of his Gospel. (Go ahead and do it right now. I’ll wait!)

In Matthew 1:1, Matthew calls Jesus “the son of David, the son of Abraham” and then goes on to give us Jesus’ genealogy. This is important for Matthew’s readers to know because all Jews knew the Messiah would be a descendent of Abraham and King David. Matthew is often called the “most Jewish” Gospel because Matthew is clearly concerned with showing that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and the fulfillment of the Jewish Scripture.

Thus, to truly understand Jesus, we need to understand the Old Testament (OT), and this is exactly why the writers of the New Testament (NT) constantly refer back to the OT. In fact, Matthew does this more than any other Gospel writer.

When reading the Christmas story in Matthew 1-2, you’ll notice that Matthew references the OT four different times in this short narrative – four references to four different OT prophets: Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, and Jeremiah. But when we turn to the OT to read these passages, we run into some problems: It’s not so clear they’re about Jesus!

So, let’s look at these passages more closely and see what the Old Testament tells us about the first Christmas.

Bethlehem Christmas. Star in night sky above Mary and Joseph

Matthew 2:15 / Hosea 11:1

After Jesus’ birth, Joseph, Mary, and the newborn Jesus flee to Egypt to escape the persecution of Herod, and they would not return until after Herod’s death. Matthew tells us this was to fulfill what the LORD had spoken in Hosea 11:1:

“Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Now, when we turn to Hosea 11:1 and read the context of the passage, we run in to a problem: this passage is not a prediction about Jesus! In fact, it’s not about the Messiah at all! Hosea is clearly speaking about the nation of Israel, and the line “Out of Egypt I called my son” is clearly referring to the Exodus, when God liberated Israel from slavery under Pharaoh.

What’s going on here? How does Jesus “fulfill” something not even about him?

Often, when we think of prophets and “fulfillment,” we think of prophets making specific Nostradamus-like predictions about the future and those predictions coming true. Though these types of predictions do occur in the Bible, often this is not the type of “fulfillment” the NT writers have in mind. What they have in mind is something called typology.

What is typology? Events, persons, or institutions that become patterns – that “echo” throughout God’s redemptive history as recorded in Scripture – are called types. These types or patterns are seen throughout Scripture and foreshadow a future, ultimate fulfillment, called an antitype.

For example, the Passover lamb and the Jewish sacrificial system are types that point forward to Jesus’ sacrificial death for the sins of the world. Jesus’ death (the antitype) fulfills the purpose of the Passover lamb and the OT sacrifices (the types).

When Matthew refers to OT verses like Hosea 11:1 and says they were “fulfilled,” he is speaking of typology. Here, he isn’t saying Jesus fulfilled specific predictions about the Messiah, but that Jesus is the fulfillment of a pattern seen throughout God’s redemptive plan. After all, Jesus says in Matthew 5:17,

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

To illustrate, Israel is often referred to as “God’s son,” but Jesus is considered the true Israel because he is God’s true Son. Just like God liberated Israel from slavery in Egypt, Matthew is telling us that Jesus is the new Exodus, because through Jesus, God will liberate us from our slavery to sin. Scholar R.T. France writes in his commentary on Matthew that the Exodus is a powerful symbol of “the even greater work of deliverance” which God will accomplish through Jesus Christ.

What Matthew is doing by using these OT passages is pointing us to the prophets’ larger message. This connection to the larger story of the Bible would not have been lost on his original Jewish audience as it is often lost on us today. Usually, we’re only looking at the little details; we want to know how this one NT verse fulfills this one OT verse, yet we miss the big picture Matthew is painting.

Christmas_Donkey

Matthew 2:18 / Jeremiah 31:15

Now, let’s keep in mind what was just said about typology and fulfillment as we look at Matthew’s use ofJeremiah 31:15:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Matthew uses this OT reference after he reports that Herod killed all of the male children age two-years-old and younger in Bethlehem. Again, we run into a similar problem as before: This section of Jeremiah is about the Babylonian exile; it has nothing to do with the Messiah! The Babylonian Empire had conquered Jerusalem and destroyed their Temple, and now the Jews were being deported to Babylon.

This is a catastrophic event for the Jewish people. What’s worse is that they brought it upon themselves. Since their rebellion against God had become so great, God withdrew his protection and allowed this to happen to Israel.

Typologically, we can say the suffering of children due to evil is certainly a pattern we see in Scripture. But is Matthew pointing us to Jeremiah to make a bigger point? I certainly think so.

Despite the messages of God’s judgment and wrath, this section of Jeremiah is not one of gloom and punishment, but one of hope and restoration. I recommend you read the whole chapter of Jeremiah 31 to see.

If nothing else, take note that shortly after the verse Matthew quotes, we’re told of the coming “new covenant” (31:31) where God “…will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people… For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (31:33-34)

Clip Art Illustration of a Silhouette of the Three Wise Men Foll

Matthew 2:6 / Micah 5:2

Matthew Chapter 2 begins with the story of the magi, who come looking for the new king of the Jews. When they inquire in Jerusalem, Herod goes to the chief priests and scribes and asks where this new king will be born. Matthew tells us:

They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (2:5-6)

Finally, we have an undeniable prediction about the future Messiah (and one written approximately 700 years before Christ)! This passage, Micah 5:2, clearly speaks of a future leader coming from Bethlehem, and Jews have always understood Micah 5:2 to be about the Messiah. But is there even more to this passage than that?

It’s safe to say that when most of us think of the prophets, we think of messages of doom and gloom for Israel, but often – maybe even more than we realize – during their tirades we find messages of a future hope. Often these messages of hope include God’s future restoration of his people, his protection of his faithful remnant, and sometimes even words about a mysterious future leader.

Micah 5 speaks of this new ruler and a new peace. He will be born in Bethlehem (like Jesus) and from the tribe of Judah (like Jesus) and he will come from “of old, from ancient days,” a reference to the covenant God made with King David in 2 Samuel 7:12-13:

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”

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Matthew 1:23 / Isaiah 7:14

To end, we come to perhaps the most hotly debated prophecy in the Bible. Matthew tells us Mary, an unwed virgin, finds herself “to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (1:18), and Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14, telling us:

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel’

(which means, God with us).”

Some of the controversy concerning Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14 has to do with the word “virgin.” In the ancient Hebrew of Isaiah, the word could be translated “young woman.” A young woman is not particularly a virgin, some argue; yet, it’s a weak argument since the word is understood to refer to an unmarried, sexually chaste maiden.

Moreover, why would Isaiah not write the much more commonly-used Hebrew words for “woman” or “wife” if there was nothing unique about his woman? Instead, he chose to use a word scholar R.T. France describes as “unusual” and rarely used in the OT. (Furthermore, Matthew, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, used the Greek word that undeniably means “virgin”!)

But there is another problem with Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14. This passage doesn’t seem to be about the far future; the “son” which is to come seems to be coming during the time period of Isaiah’s writing. Frankly, the passage is perplexing. Yet, again, our understanding of typology helps us here: If this passage does, in fact, refer to a child other than the Messiah, this child is a foreshadow of the coming Christ.

If this is not a satisfying answer for you, then we only have to ask again, Why does Matthew point us to this particular Scripture? We only have to read a little farther in Isaiah to Chapter 9 to find out. Here, we again come across a child born, and this time it is clear whom this child is:

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (9:6)

Amen! Grace and Peace and Merry Christmas!

This post appears in longer form in the GFTM-published book Who Jesus Ain’t, available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

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Here are some other Christmas-related articles on GFTM blog:

Christmas According to History

Christmas According to an English Teacher

Jesus Ain’t Born on December 25th

Jesus Ain’t Born to Privilege

Christmas Comics!

More Christmas Comics!

GOD FROM THE MACHINE has published it’s first book! Searching the Bible for Mother God is for educating and evangelizing those in the growing “Mother God cult.” Visit our page HERE.

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.

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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).

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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!

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

READ:

 

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?

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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.

 

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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.

 

Jesus_tomb

 

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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