Has a bible skeptic told you that the resurrection account of Jesus was borrowed from pagan myths, and therefore was not real history? Your child may come home from college with a shattered faith after hearing from a professor that many pagan religions had saviour-gods who died and rose again, and so the story of Jesus was made up history. Even though most well-informed scholars have abandoned this idea, it is still very popular among internet skeptics and atheist web sites, and may sway someone who is not properly informed. I want to show you in this series of articles that these so-called parallels to pagan myths in these “copycat” theories do not in the least call into question the historical reliability of the resurrection of Christ.
First, I want to list six examples of fallacies used by the critics, and then we will look at some examples cited by skeptics.
Combinationalism: Combining features from various ancient religions into one composite “mystery religion” that never existed in Jesus’ day, but is actually just a creation of the critic. Ideas in later writings of different pagan religions are read back into doctrines and practices that came long before Christ.
Sloppy use of terminology: Describing pagan beliefs and practices in Christian terminology, and then being amazed at the “close parallels!” Similarities are often over simplifed and exaggerated. For example, a ritual in the religion of Cybele and Attis involves a pagan priest being bathed in the blood of a slain bull, called the taurobolium. Copycat theorists often refer to this with Christian terms as a “blood baptism”, or when a lamb is used instead of a bull, being “washed in the blood of a lamb.” (These rituals had nothing to do with death and resurrection, and they also post-date the time of Christ-see below).
Dependency assumption: Parallels in ideas, language and practice do not prove one depended on the other. One must show that borrowing was likely to have occurred based on the culture and convictions of the borrower. For example, would first century Jews would have needed to or been likely to have borrowed from pagan myths, when they were very much against the mixing of religions and had an exclusive mindset? (See:article showing why the New Testament authors would’nt have borrowed from pagan myths Why not consider the source for these as real historical events?
Chronology problems: There is usually little mention by skeptics of the date of so-called dying and rising god myths. All of the ones that are closer to Christianity can be shown to post-date the time of Jesus, even if earlier forms of the same religion existed. There is evidence that these later accounts were written to compete with the growing popularity of Christianity. If there was borrowing, it was likely in the wrong direction.
Misread intentions: Many pagan religions had death and resurrection cycles that were linked not to salvation or forgiveness of sins, but to seasons and crop cycles. Furthermore, as N.T. Wright outlines in his excellent book, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2003) the concept of bodily resurrection was not the belief of the pagan religions, rather they believed only in the resurrected spirit in an otherworldly afterlife.
General similiarities are to be expected and therefore cannot be used to prove borrowing: Ideas and practices such as belief in immortality, sacrifices to forgive sins, common ritual meals, and attributing supernatural deeds and characteristics to an outstanding person are the norm in any religions. These can often be explained from the universal needs and desires of the human race. as well as interaction with the God of the Bible, who according to biblical teaching reveals Himself to people through creation (Romans 1: 19-20) and conscience (Romans 2:14-16). Missionaries have often encountered cultures where people had been given visions and other revelations preparing them for the arrival of the gospel. For more, see Article showing why there should be some similarities between Christ and “savior gods.”
In the next article in this series, we will look at some examples of the so called parallels of the resurrection of Christ that critics charge were borrowed from pagan myths.
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