Many young adults who once frequented church have now lost trust in the God Who redeems. They no longer believe the Easter story, Christ’s Resurrection. They have found the logic of the modern skeptic more reasonable sounding even after years of attending Sunday School and being raised on this sacred belief. What angers me to tears is that the arguments to discredit the resurrection account have no more validity or evidence going for them than the prefabbed story of Easter bunnies delivering chocolate to children. But because the natural mind cannot fathom the idea of a God Who can do miraculous things, the skeptic’s story, built of the selective details from various ancient authors and held together by dreamt up hypotheses, appears intellectually solid in construction. It is a “house of cards” …and they have our youth believing in it. And I’m tearful and angry!
Our most sacred and cherished faith in our Redeemer God and Savior Jesus Christ is not an offshoot of some ancient myth, even though this sounds sensible to young, impressionable minds. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar and textual critic turned agnostic, blogged
Resurrection was, … part and parcel of ancient Zoroastrian thought [Persian]. …Israel had been for a time subject to the Persian Empire, for about two centuries… from the time Persia defeated the Babylonians … Therefore it makes best sense, by this logic, to think that Jews got the idea of a future resurrection from the Persians. Hey, they had to get it from somewhere, right?1
“They had to get it from somewhere.” He got that right! But the Persians didn’t imagine the idea of bodily resurrection of a Savior who had been crucified. That idea is provably from GOD! I use the same reasoning: “They [the apostles] had to get it from somewhere.” And it didn’t come through the evolutionary process. There is no connection between what happened on Calvary followed by Christ’s resurrection and any religious meme!
Yes, ancient religions maintained that a war between good and evil was afoot. And scholarship correctly finds similarities between myth and christian teaching. But the trick is to get the unwary religious traveler to presuppose that an idea, like the vicarious atonement, came through ancient religious thought even though mythology did not have an inkling of this blessed truth.
Payam Nabarz, a Persian-born Sufi and practicing Dervish, concluded,
“The Zoroastrian dualistic idea of Good versus Evil was inherited by Judaism and then Christianity; indeed, it is possible to trace the axis of evil-versus-good theology and mentality from Zoroaster to all the current monotheistic world religions.”2
“Mentality!?” Some theology is similar but how dare you confuse my faith in a Savior with a paganism that never came close to understanding even the possibility of such a salvation. The conflict of the ages between good and evil was fought and won by our Savior on that cross! [an idea that is only developed in Scripture.]
Franz Cumont,3 an insightful scholar of the ancient Persian religions, shows—and we concede the point—that Persian influence was everywhere in evidence in Roman religious thought:
Mithraism in the West was Romanized Mazdaism, thus still at its core a Persian religion….4
Payam Nabarz tells the same, that ancient Persian religious thought and myth made its way up through time in a kind of religious evolution into the Christian era. [Incidentally, the idea of religious evolution is unprovable but sounds reasonable if you believe in the biological version.]
“Mithra is an ancient Indo-Iranian god who was worshipped in polytheistic Persia at least as early as the second millennium B.C.E., … The myths of this ancient god contain elements that link him with the mythologies of all the Indo-European peoples.”5
And we must admit if we are intellectually honest that Persian mythology tainted much of the religious thinking during the early days of Christianity. [This footnote tells the story]6
But here’s where we look closer! Cumont concluded, though,
“We cannot presume to unravel today a question which divided contemporaries and which shall doubtless forever remain insoluble. We are too imperfectly acquainted with the dogmas and liturgies of Roman Mazdaism, as well as with the development of primitive Christianity, to say definitely what mutual influences were operative in their simultaneous evolution. But be this as it may, resemblances do not necessarily suppose an imitation.7
What Mazdaism (the Roman version of the Persian religions) did not have—and for the matter no dogma or religion outside christianity had—was the Cross of a Redeemer, a vicarious atonement. As Dr. Gregory Boyd, a professor at Bethel College, St. Paul, Minnesota, wrote:
“There is no other belief which does this… Only the Gospel dares to proclaim that God enters smack-dab into the middle of the hell we created. Only the Gospel dares to proclaim that God was born a baby in a bloody, crap-filled stable, that He lived a life befriending the prostitutes and lepers no one else would befriend, and that He suffered firsthand, the hellish depth of all that is nightmarish in human existence.”8
In the words of Franz Cumont:
“It was a strong source of inferiority for Mazdaism that it believed in only a mythical redeemer. That unfailing wellspring of religious emotion supplied by the teachings and the passion of the God sacrificed on the cross, never flowed for the disciples of Mithra.”9
“…the God sacrificed on the cross, never flowed for the disciples of Mithra [Ancient Perisan religions].” In Zoroastrianism, an offshoot of Mithraism or Mazdaism, salvation was linked to the sacrifice of a bull!
A savior figure, Sošyant, will sacrifice a bull from whose fat, mixed with hôm, the drink of corporal immortality will be prepared.10
As we know through Paul’s writings, the Resurrection of Christ is an essential part of the divine plan of salvation.
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. – I Corinthians 15:12-14
Beyond the academic inquiry into our Savior’s death and resurrection, one cannot give their life to Christ and say, in all clear conscience, nothing happened.
Jesus, we maintain, was totally God and totally man. [Philippians 2:6-8] The profound thought here: if Jesus is God, then when Jesus died, God died for the sins of all mankind. [I John 2:2] And if Jesus is totally man, then when He was raised again from the dead, man was resurrected. [I Corinthians 15:20]
Lord, open eyes to see truth!!!
2 Payam Nabarz. The Mysteries of Mithras: The Pagan Belief That Shaped the Christian World (Rochester,VT: Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. 2005), (Kindle Locations 214-216).
3 Franz-Valéry-Marie Cumont a Belgian archaeologist and historian, a philologist and student of epigraphy, who brought these often isolated specialties to bear on the syncretic mystery religions of Late Antiquity, notably Mithraism.
5 Payam Nabarz. The Mysteries of Mithras: The Pagan Belief That Shaped the Christian World (Rochester,VT: Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. 2005), (Kindle Locations 185-193). “…the Vedic Mitra (Indian) and the Iranian Mithra (Perisan) have preserved so many traits of resemblance that it is impossible to entertain any doubt concerning their common origin. Both religions saw in him a god of light, invoked together with Heaven, bearing in the one case the name of Varuna (Hinduism) and in the other that of Ahura (Perisan Mithraism); in ethics he was recognized as the protector of truth, the antagonist of falsehood and error.” – Franz Cumont . THE MYSTERIES OF MITHRA p 2. Kindle Edition.
The rites which they practiced offered numerous analogies.The sectaries of the Persian god, like the Christians:
- purified themselves by baptism;
- received, by a species of confirmation, the power necessary to combat the spirits of evil; and
- expected from a Lord’s Supper salvation of body and soul. Like the latter,
- they also held Sunday sacred, and
- celebrated the birth of the Sun on the 25th of December, the same day on which Christmas has been celebrated, since the fourth century at least.
- They both preached a categorical system of ethics,
- regarded asceticism as meritorious, and
- counted among their principal virtues abstinence and continence, renunciation and self-control.
- Their conceptions of the world and of the destiny of man were similar.
- They both admitted the existence of a Heaven inhabited by beatified ones, situate in the upper regions, and
- of a Hell peopled by demons, situate in the bowels of the earth.
- They both placed a Flood at the beginning of history;
- they both assigned as the source of their traditions a primitive revelation;
- they both, finally, believed in the immortality of the soul, in a last judgment, and in a resurrection of the dead, consequent upon a final conflagration of the universe.
7 Cumont noted [THE MYSTERIES OF MITHRA p. 195f.]
8 Boyd, Gregory A. Letters From A Skeptic (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communication Ministries, 2004), 151.
9 Franz Cumont. THE MYSTERIES OF MITHRA. p. 196. Kindle Edition.