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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Accusations Against Jesus Answered

Don Stewart :: Was Christianity Similar to the Different Mystery Religions in the Roman Empire?

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Was Christianity Similar to the Different Mystery Religions in the Roman Empire?

The Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ – Question 14

The mystery religions of the ancient Roman Empire are alleged to have been the basis as to where Christianity received its belief system. In other words, the Christian religion is not unique. Instead, it has borrowed its beliefs from popular religions of that time.

The Arguments for Christianity Being a Mystery Religion

There are a number of arguments put forward that attempt to link Christianity with the mystery religions of the Roman Empire. The can be summarized as follows.

1. The God Died and Then Rose

One of the consistent features of the mystery religions is the fact that there was a dying and rising redeemer god. In each one of these religions, the god died and then later came back to life. Therefore, in the death and resurrection of Jesus there is nothing really unique since we find that the same sorts of things were believed by other religions at that time.

2. The People Were Baptized into the New Religion

Those who accepted the idea of this new religion were initiated into it by means of water baptism. Again, this shows that the Christian faith was merely one of many similar religions which were practiced at that time.

This has convinced some people that Christianity owes it origins to the mystery religions which were popular in the ancient world.

Response to the Idea That Christianity Is a Mystery Religion

There are a number of responses we can make to the claim that Christianity is merely another mystery religion.

1. The Dying Rising Gods Were Mythical Figures

To begin with, these dying and rising gods were not actual people who existed. They were mythical figures. We contrast that to Jesus who was a genuine human being who lived at a particular time in history. Indeed, the New Testament gives numerous historical references which make clear that Jesus was an actual Person living at a particular time in history.

Consequently, there is no comparison whatsoever between Jesus and these mythical figures.

2. They Came after Jesus, Not before Him

Many of these accounts where Christianity allegedly received its belief system actually came about after the Christian era. In fact, there is no real evidence that any of these mystery religions predated Christianity. This being the case, their influence could not have been felt by Christians. Any borrowing would have come from Christian sources. It was not the other way around.

3. Similarity Does Not Necessarily Mean the Same

There is also the logical fallacy that something similar means it is the same. Simply because there are similar elements in Christianity and the mystery religions does not mean that one necessarily borrowed from the other. Different explanations are possible. Furthermore, while there may have been superficial similarities the differences are profound.

4. The Jews Did Not Incorporate Pagan Ideas in Their Worship

It is also important to note that the Jews were careful not to be influenced by pagan thought. They strictly observed the Old Testament law as well as their own traditions. Any type of Gentile, or Greek, influence was strongly resisted. They would not have accepted the teachings of these mystery religions.

5. Baptism Was a Jewish Practice

In addition, water baptism was not limited to pagan religions. Jews would also practice the rite of baptism. Therefore, the Christian practice of baptizing converts comes from a Jewish, not a pagan, background.

These are just a few of the many reasons as to why the idea that Christianity is somehow indebted to these mystery religions is not based upon fact.

The Miraculous Nature Of The Christian Faith Must Be Explained

We again emphasize that when Jesus Christ performed His miracles, miraculously fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, and came back from the dead three days after His death, all of this occurred in front of eyewitnesses. His miraculous deeds were always linked to actual events where there were people who could verify what He said and did.

This fact separates Jesus from every other religious leader as well as every other religion. The Christian faith does not stand or fall on surface comparisons to other ancient religions; it stands or falls on the claims made by the New Testament writers about Jesus Christ. His claims have never been refuted by the evidence.

Summary – Question 14
Was Christianity Similar to the Different Mystery Religions in the Roman Empire?

It has been fashionable in some circles to accuse Christianity of being another one of the mystery religions that were in the Roman Empire. The idea that a god would die and then rise from the dead was popular at the time of Jesus in the Roman word. In addition, the converts were initiated into the religion by means of water baptism. Therefore, it is argued that Christianity is merely a mystery religion.

Yet, there are many contrasts between Christianity and the mystery religions. We can cite a few of them to show there is really no comparison between these religions and the Christian faith.

For one thing in the Christian faith we are dealing with an actual flesh and blood person. In the mystery religions we are dealing with mythical characters. The dying and rising gods never existed. In contrast, Jesus Christ was an historical person. The four gospels are filled with historical reference of persons, places, and events which we know are real.

There is also the fact that most, if not all of these mystery religions, came after the time of Christ. Consequently, it was not possible that Christianity borrowed from these religions.

Add to this that similarity to another religion does not mean they are the same. Indeed, as we examine the mystery religions in depth we find that they are completely contradictory to the main beliefs of the Christian faith.

We also emphasize that the Jews would never borrow beliefs and practices from these pagan sources. Indeed, they were strict observers of the Law of Moses which forbade such practices. The religious Jews in Jesus’ day made it a point to separate themselves from the Gentiles and their beliefs.

Baptism was not merely a practice of the mystery religions. Indeed, the Jews practiced water baptism of their converts. Consequently, we cannot accuse the Christians of borrowing water baptism from the pagan world of the mystery religions.

While so much more could be said about the differences between Jesus Christ, the Christian faith, and these mystery religions, it becomes clear that they do not have much, if anything, in common.

Finally, we again stress that Christianity claims to be an historical faith. The supernatural deeds of Jesus were always done in an historical context in front of eyewitnesses. These witnesses could either verify His claims or contradict His claims.

We find that in each and every case, His claims were verified by those who were there. This is what separates Jesus Christ from every other religion and religious leader.

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