History & Mystery

Joy to the world: Jesus is a myth.

In the midst of your hustle and bustle to put on and pull off a solitary day devoted to gift giving and food eating, you might not have taken time to consider the fallacious ancestry of your Christian faith.

Don’t you know that Jesus was born of a pagan and memorialized in the mythology known as Christianity?

Merry Christmas.

While this sentiment once enjoyed a season of popularity among skeptical scholars, it has been shown to lack historical foundations.  Christianity does not find its origin in pagan mystery religions or myths.

Consider the words of some pretty smart guys:

#1: A Kentucky Philosopher

Ronald Nash served for nearly thirty years as the Chairman of the philosophy department at Western Kentucky University. He served most recently, prior to his death, on faculty at Southern Seminary. In his book Jesus and the Greeks he outlines the allegations of Christianity’s pagan roots, concluding that this is now a dead issue among biblical scholars:

“During a period of time running roughly from about 1890 to 1940, scholars often alleged that primitive Christianity had been heavily influenced by Platonism, Stoicism, the pagan religions, or other movements in the Hellenistic world. Largely as a result of a series of scholarly books and articles written in rebuttal, allegations of early Christianity’s dependence on its Hellenistic environment began to appear much less frequently in the publications of Bible scholars and classical scholars. Today most Bible scholars regard the question as a dead issue.

#2: A Swedish Scholar

Tryggve N.C. Mettinger from Lund University in Sweden provides one of the most recent scholarly works on this topic.  In his book The Riddle of Resurrection: Dying and Rising Gods in the Ancient Near East, he writes:

“There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct, drawing on the myths and rites of the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world.”

He goes on to note that scholars today who allege a pagan or mythological explanation of the understanding of Jesus’ resurrection are few. He specifically says they are “residual members of an almost extinct species.”

#3: A British Atheist

Most of C.S. Lewis’ atheist friends had turned to theism and to Christianity before Lewis himself encountered the “Hound of Heaven.” It was one of his atheist friends, however, that dealt a fatal blow to Lewis’ own skepticism.

He describes the occasion in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. He doesn’t give the name of his friend, but simply describes him as the “hardest-boiled atheist he’d ever known” and as the “cynic of cynics.”

His friend casually remarked that he was surprised by the good evidence for the historicity of the Gospels. He then proceeded to say, “Rum thing. All that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.”

This fell upon Lewis, with a weight of other evidence, and turned him to belief in God and later to Christianity.

From a Kentuckian, a Swede, and a Brit: it seems the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ is surprisingly good. No myth here.

There was a time when scholars claimed that Christianity borrowed from the mystery religions. The evidence now reveals that the opposite is true. Thus, you have a number of pagan myths that adopted a resurrection story into their narratives sometime in the second, third and fourth centuries.

This points to a common practice of myths, which is to “mythologize” history.  There seems to be something real that happened – something behind all of the new resurrection elements emerging well after the establishment of Christianity.

A historical resurrection? Rum thing, it really must have happened once.

So as you go about your commercialized Christmas traditions, consider the fact that you are celebrating something that actually happened in real time and space.  The Word has become flesh and dwelled among us.

Behind all of the tinsel and trappings there is an implicit recognition of a divine birth: giving way to a pure life: leading to a substitionary death: resulting in an atoning sacrifice: followed by a historical resurrection.

Christmas points to something that actually happened once.

Joy to the world: the “myth” is fact.