Also See Was the New Testament Influenced By Pagan Religions?
Was the New Testament Influenced by Pagan Philosophy?
The freshman college student walked into his first class of Comparative Religions 101. He had come to the university prepared—or so he thought—for whatever college might throw at him. After all, he was a faithful Christian, and had been reared by dedicated Christian parents who, throughout his upbringing, had taught him about the unique, heaven-sent, virgin-born, miracle-working, resurrected-from-the-dead Son of God that he revered, served, and loved. His Bible class teachers, and the ministers to whose sermons he had listened for the past eighteen years, similarly had reinforced in his mind the concept that there was no one in the entire history of the world quite like Jesus Christ. In fact, truth be told, the young student had grown up thinking that no one even came close to resembling, or imitating, the carpenter’s son from Nazareth.
This young student, however, was about to receive the shock of his life. Practically the first day of class, the professor began to recite a slew of similar stories about various “saviors” of other religions from the past—many of whom, supposedly, also were born of virgins, were able to perform miracles, were crucified to save mankind, and were resurrected after their deaths. This freshman was ill prepared to hear his professor suggest that the story of Jesus Christ as the Savior of mankind is not totally unique. In fact, he was completely astonished as he watched the professor document the fact that stories with similar heroes had circulated decades—and even centuries—before Jesus of Nazareth was born. As he saw what he believed to be the uniqueness of His Lord essentially evaporate before his very eyes, the young man began to wonder: Had he been taught incorrectly? Was Jesus really the unique Son of God, or was He simply one among many characters of the past who claimed to be a unique, personal savior but who, in the end, was not? Who were these other allegedly “unique saviors”? Were they as distinctive as they, or their followers, claimed? And how do such claims impact the Bible’s teachings about, and a person’s individual faith in, Jesus Christ as the Son of God?
During his struggle to cope with the new information that was being presented so eloquently (and so forcefully!) by his professor, this young man encountered what is known as “cognitive dissonance”—the confusion one experiences when presented with new information that contradicts what he or she believes to be true. As he struggled for consistency, the young man realized that he either had to abandon what he believed to be true, or somehow disprove (and thereby discount) the new, challenging information.
The more he pored over the matter, the more likely—and unsettling—the first option seemed to become. And the more impossible the second seemed to appear. Left unchecked, his struggle would reach the level of full-blown doubt, and his confidence in the singular uniqueness of the Savior he had loved and obeyed for so long would disappear completely. How could he be helped—or could he? Was the material to which he was being exposed trustworthy? Or could it be refuted—thus leaving his personal faith in Christ intact? The answers to these questions form the basis of this two-part series of articles on “Jesus Christ—Unique Savior or Average Fraud?”
WHO ARE THESE OTHER “UNIQUE SAVIORS”?
History is filled with examples of those whose lives—real or imagined—share certain traits with the well-documented life of Jesus of Nazareth. Such accounts often compose a portion of the curriculum in college-level comparative religion courses, and provide a fine starting point for any study about the uniqueness of Jesus.
Consider, for example, Dionysus, a well-known, mythological god. The usual story of his birth relates that he was the offspring of Zeus, the immortal leader of the Greek gods who impregnated a human female by the name of Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, King of Thebes (see Graves, 1960, p. 56). Dionysus is said to have descended to the underworld and conquered death, ultimately bringing his dead mother back to the land of the living. He also is said to have died and been raised again. His followers called him Lysios or Redeemer, and grape juice commonly was used to symbolize his blood.
Philip J. Brown noted: “Many Christians would be horrified to think that Jesus is in some way a manifestation of Dionysus, but the parallels are complex and deep.... Like Jesus, Dionysus is a god whose tragic passion is re-enacted by eating his flesh and drinking his blood” (2000). The Dionysus cult reached Rome in 496 B.C., but had been around long before that. The similarities in the accounts of Dionysus and Jesus [as well as in that of Osiris, the Egyptian god of fertility and ruler of the underworld, discussed below]—from their unique births, to their resurrections, to their lives being commemorated in a similar fashion by their followers—are striking indeed. In fact, in their 1999 book, The Jesus Mysteries, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy discussed at length such similarities in support of the idea that the Jesus of Christianity never existed, but in fact was little more than a mythological character of antiquity. They wrote:
The more we studied the various versions of the myth of Osiris-Dionysus, the more it became obvious that the story of Jesus had all the characteristics of this perennial tale. Event by event, we found we were able to construct Jesus’ supposed biography from mythic motifs previously related to Osiris-Dionysus:
· Osiris-Dionysus is God made flesh, the savior and “Son of God.”
· His father is God and his mother is a mortal virgin.
· He is born in a cave or humble cowshed on December 25 before three shepherds.
· He offers his followers the chance to be born again through the rites of baptism.
· He miraculously turns water into wine at a marriage ceremony.
· He rides triumphantly into town on a donkey while people wave palm leaves to honor him.
· He dies at Eastertime as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
· After his death he descends to hell, then on the third day he rises from the dead and ascends to heaven in glory.
· His followers await his return as the judge during the Last Days.
· His death and resurrection are celebrated by a ritual meal of bread and wine, which symbolize his body and blood.
These are just some of the motifs shared between the tales of Osiris-Dionysus and the biography of Jesus. Why are these remarkable similarities not common knowledge? (p. 5).
However, Dionysus hardly is the only character from the past whose life parallels that of Jesus. Prometheus is another legendary, mythological god who experienced a death similar to that of Christ. The following poem describes his purported death.
“Lo! Streaming from the fatal tree,
His all atoning blood.
Is this the Infinite?—Yes, ‘tis he,
Prometheus, and a God!
Well might the sun in darkness hide,
And veil his glories in,
When God, the great
For man the creature’s sin.”
(Graves, 1875, p. 124)
The fact that Prometheus is called “God” who died for “man the creature’s sin” is similar enough to the New Testament account about Christ’s atoning visit to Earth to raise eyebrows. But the fact that the story first circulated around 547 B.C. could well cast a shadow of a doubt on the claim that Christ is the unique, one-of-a-kind Savior-God.
Or, consider Krishna, the ancient Hindu deity who is alleged to have shared a doom similar to Christ’s. He has been portrayed as hanging on a cross, with holes through his hands and his feet. His title?—“Our Lord and Savior.” Krishna supposedly “rose from the dead” and then “ascended bodily into heaven” (Doane, 1882, p. 215). He even is purported to have said: “Do good for its own sake, and expect not your reward for it on Earth” (Graves, 1875, p. 112). Christ employed the same idea in Matthew 6. But Krishna’s story dates to 1200 B.C.
The parallels continue. In the Egyptian Papyrus of Ani (also known as The Egyptian Book of the Dead), which is dated between 1450 and 1400 B.C. (see Budge, 1960, p. 220), the god Osiris commands the titles of King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Prince of Princes (Budge, p. 352). In his intriguing book, Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, T.W. Doane observed: “Osiris, the Egyptian Saviour, after being put to death, rose from the dead, and bore the title of ‘The Resurrected One’ ” (p. 221, emp. in orig.). Osiris’ scribe, Ani, is described as one “whose word is truth” (Budge, p. 384). In the latter part of the papyrus, a specific creed is provided that supposedly is capable of providing justification for the person who recites it upon his or her entrance into eternity. That creed reads as follows: “I have given bread to the hungry man, and water to him that was athirst, and apparel to the naked man, and a ferry-boat to him that had no boat” (Budge, p. 587). The writer of this papyrus could have copied the words of Jesus as found in Matthew 25:31-46—except for one small fact: the Papyrus of Ani dates to 1400 B.C.—over a thousand years before Christ made His earthly appearance.
Furthermore, in 550 B.C., Confucius said: “Do not to another what you would not want done to yourself.” Christ uttered an almost identical statement approximately 600 years after Confucius when He said: “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31).
Similarities also exist between the stories of Buddha and Jesus. In the cover story article he authored for the March 27, 2000 issue of Newsweek on “The Other Jesus,” Kenneth L. Woodward commented that “the life stories of Jesus and Buddha are strikingly similar,” and then went on to note that both of these religious leaders challenged the religious teachings of their day, allegedly were born of virgins, and were supposed to have worked miracles (135:58-59).
Some Bible critics have suggested that it would be a simple matter to cite stories with similarities such as these by the dozen. In fact, in a public debate with theist Norman Geisler (held at Columbus College in Columbus, Georgia on March 29, 1994), Farrell Till, a former-Christian-turned-skeptic, stated exactly that when he said to the audience:
People, I want you to stop and think seriously for just a moment. I know how much emotionalism is involved in this, but please understand this. Crucified, resurrected savior-gods, who had been born of virgins, were a dime a dozen at this time (1994).
Stephen Franklin—although an avid defender of Christ’s uniqueness—corroborated Till’s statement in an article in the Evangelical Review of Theology when he wrote: “Incarnation, far from being unique to Christianity, seems to be a universal possession of the religious heritage of mankind” (1993, p. 32).
Christ’s critics have used such parallels time and again in an attempt to establish their contention that Jesus of Nazareth is neither a unique character nor a worthy, personal savior. For example, three weeks after Kenneth Woodward’s article on Jesus was published in Newsweek, a letter to the editor from Don Zomberg of Wyoming, Michigan appeared in the April 20 edition of the magazine. In response to a quotation from Woodward’s article which suggested that “Christ is absolutely original and absolutely unique,” Mr. Zomberg wrote to dissent when he said: “Nothing could be further from the truth. The legend of Jesus is little more than a variant of older religions common to the Middle East thousands of years ago” (2000, 135:17). Such an attitude—which stems from the fact that historical and mythological parallels between Jesus and other religious personalities do exist—likely is much more prevalent than many people realize. And while it is true that none of these historical/mythological parallels is exact, it is true that they are close enough to elicit serious investigation on the part of those who believe Jesus Christ to be the unique Son of God.
Of course, contemporary skeptics who use such an argument in attempts to debunk the uniqueness and deity of Christ cannot take credit as its originators. History records that almost two thousand years ago the early Christian apologists were busily engaged in responding to the exact same argument. For example, Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-426) stated in his Christian Doctrine:
The readers and admirers of Plato dared calumniously to assert that our Lord Jesus Christ learnt all those sayings of His, which they are compelled to admire and praise, from the books of Plato—because (they urged) it cannot be denied that Plato lived long before the coming of our Lord (2:28, parenthetical item in orig.).
Augustine refuted the argument by suggesting that Plato had read the prophet Jeremiah and then conveniently incorporated Jeremiah’s teachings into his own. The point, however, is clear: as early as A.D. 400, skeptics and enemies of the Cross were launching fiery darts of alleged plagiarism at both Christ and His followers.
Further investigation into the history of Christian apologetics manifests something even more startling. The earliest apologists not only recognized that the story and teachings of Jesus bore striking similarities to ancient mythological accounts, but even emphasized these similarities in an attempt to get pagans to understand more about Jesus and His mission. Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165) set forth an argument in his First Apology that was intended to put Christ at least on an equal playing field with earlier mythological gods.
And if we assert that the Word of God was born of God in a peculiar manner, different from ordinary generation, let this, as said above, be no extraordinary thing to you, who say that Mercury is the angelic word of God. But if any one objects that He was crucified, in this also He is on a par with those reputed sons of Jupiter of yours.... And if we even affirm that He was born of a virgin, accept this in common with what you accept of Ferseus. And in that we say that He made whole the lame, the paralytic, and those born blind, we seem to say what is very similar to the deeds said to have been done by Æsculapius (Chapter 22).
Tertullian (c. A.D. 160-220) observed that the story of Romulus, another character from ancient Greek mythology who was seen after his death, was quite similar to the story of Christ being seen after His death. However, Tertullian went on to note that the stories of Christ were much more certain because they were documented by historical evidence (Apology, 21).
While ancient pagans saw, and modern skeptics still see, such similarities as militating against the originality and uniqueness of Christ, the writings of such men as Augustine, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and others document the fact that early Christians could see obvious—yes, even welcome—similarities between the story of Jesus and the accounts of mythological, pagan gods. Furthermore, some of those early Christians even seized upon those very similarities to defend Jesus’ position as the unique Son of God. The apologists’ point, of course, was two-fold: (1) men of the past had searched for a unique savior-god and, finding none, resorted to inventing him and bestowing upon him certain distinct characteristics; and (2) that Savior—who, although in the past had been endowed with unique traits of their own feeble creation—actually had come!
Christians need to recognize as an undeniable fact—a fact confirmed by mythology, history, and even early Christian apologists—that ancient documents reveal that the story of Christ is not the first story ever told of a virgin-born, crucified, resurrected, miracle-working savior-god who supposedly died for the sins of humanity. These documents further reveal that many of Christ’s teachings can be gleaned—at times almost verbatim—from sources that were in circulation hundreds or thousands of years before Jesus was born. Early apologists acknowledged these facts because they were, and are, quite indisputable.
And that leads us back to the issue that plagued the college freshman mentioned earlier. How, in light of such facts, can we affirm that Jesus Christ is the unique, authentic Son of God—when stories similar to His circulated decades or millennia before He ever came to Earth? What response can we offer to the Bible critics’ charges? And what assurance may we offer to the young student about the genuineness of his faith?
Also See Was the New Testament Influenced By Pagan Religions?
WHY AN UNORIGINAL JESUS?
Before we address the major question of this two-part series of articles, the obvious question must be asked: Why would anyone want to claim that the story of Jesus is unoriginal or plagiaristic? There probably are several answers that could be offered to such an inquiry. Due to space restrictions, however, we would like to concentrate on only two. First, it is a simple fact that those who do not believe in God, and who consequently accept a completely naturalistic view of the origin of the Universe and its inhabitants, must find some way to explain the uniqueness of Christ and the uniqueness of the system of religion He instituted. In addressing this point, the late James Bales wrote:
If one accepts a naturalistic and evolutionary account of the origin of religion, he will believe that Christianity can be explained naturally. His very approach has ruled out the possibility of the supernatural revelation of God in Jesus Christ (n.d., p. 7).
Eminent British evolutionist Sir Julian Huxley asserted:
In the evolutionary pattern of thought there is no longer need or room for the supernatural. The earth was not created; it evolved. So did all the animals and plants that inhabit it, including our human selves, mind, and soul as well as brain and body. So did religion (1960, pp. 252-253, emp. added).
Those who believe that the Universe and life within it evolved in a purely naturalistic fashion likewise must find a totally naturalistic cause for every facet of life. Religion itself is one of those facets, and therefore, according to the naturalist, also must have evolved—exactly as Huxley suggested it did. It is not difficult to see why an evolutionist would believe it to be inevitable that the story of Jesus originated from earlier, primitive stories. In fact, to say that the story of Jesus “evolved” from older, more primitive stories is to assert nothing more than what the theory of evolution already teaches in every other area of human existence. Atheist Joseph McCabe explained: “What we see, in fact, is evolution in religion. The ideas pass on from age to age, a mind here and a mind there adding or refining a little. The slow river of human evolution had entered its rapids” (1993, p. 72, emp. added).
See Section on Evolution
Second, while some may be motivated by a search for a purely naturalistic origin of religion, others teach that the story of Jesus is derived from earlier Jewish and/or pagan myths and legends. As Bales went on to observe, some have suggested that “Christ and Christianity are viewed as natural developments out of Judaism and paganism” (n.d., p. 7). That very position has been defended by former-believers-turned-apostates, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, in The Jesus Mysteries (which is an all-out, frontal assault on the divinity of Christ).
We had both been raised as Christians and were surprised to find that, despite years of open-minded spiritual exploration, it still felt somehow dangerous to even dare think such thoughts. Early indoctrination reaches very deep. We were in effect saying that Jesus was a Pagan god and that Christianity was a heretical product of Paganism! It seemed outrageous. Yet this theory explained the similarities between the stories of Osiris-Dionysus and Jesus Christ in a simple and elegant way. They are parts of one developing mythos....
The Jesus story does have all the hallmarks of a myth, so could it be that that is exactly what it is.... Why should we consider the stories of Osiris, Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, Mithras, and the other Pagan Mystery saviors as fables, yet come across essentially the same story told in a Jewish context and believe it to be the biography of a carpenter from Bethlehem?...
We have become convinced that the story of Jesus is not the biography of a historical Messiah, but a myth based on perennial Pagan stories. Christianity was not a new and unique revelation but actually a Jewish adaptation of the ancient Pagan Mystery religion. This is what we have called The Jesus Mysteries Thesis....
The obvious explanation is that as early Christianity became the dominant power in the previously Pagan world, popular motifs from Pagan mythology became grafted onto the biography of Jesus.... Such motifs were “borrowed” from Paganism in the same way that Pagan festivals were adopted as Christian saints’ days.... The Jesus story is a perennial myth...not merely a history of events that happened to someone 2,000 years ago (1999, pp. 9-10,2,6,13, emp. in orig.).
And so, while there actually may have been a literal person known as “Jesus Christ,” he was nothing more than that—literally a person. The traits claimed for him by his followers (e.g., unusual entrance into the world, unusual activities during his pilgrimage on Earth, unusual exit from this world, etc.) arose “after the fact” as a result of having been derived or plagiarized from ancient pagan and/or Jewish sources.
It is not Christ’s historicity that is at stake here (see, for example, Butt, 2000); unbelievers and infidels of every stripe have long acknowledged His existence. Rather, the issue has to do with whether or not Jesus of Nazareth was Who He claimed to be—the unique, “only begotten,” incarnate Son of God.
MAN’S RELIGIOUS FACULTY AND “SAVIOR SIMILARITIES”
The truth of the matter is that many stories over the course of history resemble that of Jesus of Nazareth in one way or another. And why should this surprise us? After Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, man became keenly aware of both the presence and the consequences of sin. From the time of Cain and Abel, God had established sacrifices and decreed specific rules regarding those sacrifices. Since that time, all humans have had at least some perception—however slight or flawed—that they needed to “do something” to stand justified once again before their Creator. One way to do that was to invent a “stand-in”—someone who could take their place—as the epitome of sinless perfection to plead their case before the Righteous Judge of all the Earth (cf. Genesis 18:25).
Additionally, however, it can be argued that the similarities we have listed (and, indeed, many others just like them) are only similarities, not exact parallels. It further can be argued that Jesus’ story, even though it seems similar to some others, is not exactly the same and, in fact, differs substantially in the minute details. For example, Krishna allegedly was crucified via an arrow through his arms, while Jesus was nailed to the cross. Confucius offered the negative form of the so-called “golden rule” (“Do not do to others”), while Jesus stated the positive (“Do unto others”). Dionysus’ mother, Persophone, reportedly had intercourse with Zeus, while Mary was a virgin. This line of reasoning possesses some merit, because it certainly is true that none of the ancient stories sounds exactly like Christ’s.
A closer look at the Egyptian legend of Osiris provides a good example of the many important differences between the account of Jesus and other stories. Legend says that Osiris was killed by his evil brother Seth, who tore Osiris’ body into fourteen pieces and scattered them throughout Egypt. Isis, the goddess-consort of Osiris, collected the pieces and buried them, thus giving life to Osiris in the underworld. Afterward, she used magical arts to revive Osiris and to conceive a child (Horus) by him. After fathering Horus, Osiris remained in the underworld, not really ever rising from the dead (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1997, 8:1026-1027). This legend, taken as a whole, provides few (if any) real parallels to the story of Jesus. Furthermore, when all the stories about characters who supposedly were similar to Christ are told in their entirety, it is obvious that each of them contains only a few characteristics that come anywhere close to resembling those contained in the life story of Jesus. Additionally, some of the alleged parallels rest upon tenuous documentation and may even be fabricated.
However, there are some common threads that weave their way through many of the various legends: a superhuman hero does miraculous things, is killed to save mankind (sometimes even by crucifixion), and is brought back to life in some form or another, thereby defeating death. Although the minute details are quite different, the general similarities are close enough to demand scrutiny—and an explanation. As an illustration, suppose someone were to take our copyrighted article, use a thesaurus to change hundreds of its words, and then put his or her name on it without our knowledge or permission. We would view such a person as an obvious plagiarizer. Although the new article might be “unique” in its minutia, in its broad strokes it still would be a copy. In a similar vein, it is not enough for Christians to claim that the story of Jesus did not originate from one (or more) of the hundreds of ancient stories simply by saying that the minute details of His particular life are different from the others. We must offer a better, more thorough, and more convincing argument than this if the story of Jesus Christ is to be defended as genuinely unique.
Independent Nature of Similar Stories
In the early part of the twentieth century, Joseph McCabe, one of the most outspoken atheists of his day, published several works, including The Myth of the Resurrection (1925), Did Jesus Ever Live? (1926), and How Christianity “Triumphed” (1926). In 1993, Prometheus Publishing Company (note that the title of this secular publishing organization is the name of one of the Greek gods supposedly similar to Jesus) republished these works in a book titled The Myth of the Resurrection and Other Essays. McCabe painstakingly documented the similarities between the story of Jesus and pagan stories such as those of Osiris, Adonis, Tammuz, and Attis, yet specifically noted: “It is a most important feature of our story that this legend of a slain and resurrected god arose in quite different parts of the old civilized world. Tammuz, Attis, and Osiris are three separate and independent creations of the myth-making imagination” (1993, p. 45, emp. added).
McCabe thus acknowledged that these pagan stories with similar themes did not copy either one another or some earlier, predominant story. Rather, they arose separately—and even independently—of each other. McCabe admitted: “For some reason.. the mind of man came in most parts of the world to conceive a legend of death and resurrection.... In fact, in one form or other there was almost a worldwide belief that the god, or a representative [king, prisoner, effigy, etc.] of the god, died, or had to die every year” (pp. 52,53, emp. added; bracketed material in orig.). In his conclusion, McCabe wrote: “In sum, I should say that the universal belief in a slain and resurrected god throws light upon the Christian belief by showing us a universal frame of mind which quite easily, in many places, made a resurrection myth” (p. 63, emp. added). McCabe—even as an infidel—willingly acknowledged that numerous (but different) resurrection myths arose from various regions around the globe, each similar in its facts yet original in its derivation. These stories apparently arose because of what he referred to as a “universal frame of mind.” And yet in spite of such evidence, on page 69 of his book, McCabe concluded: “Man has no religious instinct.”
Mankind’s Religious Instinct
People around the world—due to a “universal frame of mind”—independently concocted stories that revolved around a god dying and then rising again. These stories span both time barriers and geographical limits; they are—in a very literal sense—“worldwide” and “universal.” Yet we are asked to believe that the people from different countries and cultures who concocted these stories possessed “no religious instinct”? How McCabe could make the concessions he did, yet reach such a conclusion, defies rational explanation.
In truth, man does have a religious instinct—one that is keener than even many theologians would like to admit. In speaking of God, the writer of Ecclesiastes remarked: “He hath made everything beautiful in its time: he hath set eternity in their heart” (3:11). Paul said that mankind always has been able to understand God’s “everlasting power and divinity” (Romans 1:20). God did not place man on Earth to abandon him. Instead:
He made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons and bounds of their habitation; that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him and find him though he is not far from each one of us; for in him we live, and move and have our being; as certain of your own poets have said, for we are his offspring (Acts 17:26-28, emp. added).
God has indeed “set eternity” in the hearts of men and given them a universal instinct that is intended to cause them to seek Him.
In his book, Why We Believe the Bible, the late George DeHoff commented: “No nation or tribe has been found which did not believe in a Supreme Being of some kind and practice religion in some form” (1944, p. 42). He is absolutely right. But it is not just believers who have presented and documented this kind of information. Even nonbelievers have been forced to such a conclusion by the historical and scientific evidence.
Over seventy years ago, Clarence Darrow and Wallace Rice joined forces to edit a book titled Infidels and Heretics: An Agnostic’s Anthology. On the inside cover, a description of the book’s contents suggested that it contained “the best gleanings from the most important works of the great agnostics, skeptics, infidels and heretics of the world.” On page 146, the compilers quoted the famous skeptic, John Tyndall:
Religion lives not by the force and aid of dogma, but because it is ingrained in the nature of man. To draw a metaphor from metallurgy, the moulds have been broken and reconstructed over and over again, but the molten ore abides in the ladle of humanity. An influence so deep and permanent is not likely soon to disappear... (1929).
Approximately fifty years later, Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University (who is known as the “father” of the biological discipline of sociobiology) penned a book titled On Human Nature. The inside front cover stated that Wilson’s goal was “nothing less than the completion of the Darwinian revolution by bringing biological thought into the center of the social sciences and the humanities.” Wilson wrote: “The predisposition to religious belief is the most complex and powerful force in the human mind and in all probability an ineradicable part of human nature” (1978, p. 167). He went on to say that “skeptics continue to nourish the belief that science and learning will banish religion, which they consider to be no more than a tissue of illusions,” yet the idea that increased learning and technology will strip mankind of his religious nature “has never seemed so futile as today” (p. 170).
THE PERFECT SACRIFICE
How, then, did the instinct to worship God lead to the concoction of numerous stories about a virgin-born savior-god who dies as a sacrifice for mankind’s wrong doings? First, it started with the idea of sacrifice. From the moment Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden, man was acutely aware that he was a sinful being in need of redemption. Humans also understood that some type of atoning sacrifice was required to absolve them of sin. The writer of the book of Hebrews observed that “by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain” (11:4). Oddly, skeptics seem to understand this point quite well. In the late eighteenth century, T.W. Doane caustically attacked the doctrines of Christ and the Bible. His work, Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions (1882), gnawed at every mooring of Christian doctrine. Yet even he understood that mankind always has realized its own sinfulness and its need for an atoning sacrifice. He wrote: “The doctrine of atonement for sin had been preached long before the doctrine was deduced from the Christian Scriptures, long before these Scriptures are pretended to have been written” (p. 181). Bible scholar R.C. Trench commented:
Nations which it is impossible could have learned it from one another, nations the most diverse in culture, the highest in the scale and well nigh the lowest, differing in everything besides, have yet agreed in this one thing, namely, in the offering of things which have life to God,—or, where the idea of the one God has been lost,—to the “gods many” of heathenism—the essential feature of that offering in every case being that the life of the victim was rendered up (n.d., p. 177).
Those who might wish to challenge Trench’s assessment can examine any book on world history or world religions and see that he is correct. Abel offered the first of his flock, and from that day forward, humanity began offering live sacrifices to a deity in the hope of absolving anger and forgiving sin. In fact, mankind has sacrificed living things to a deity from the beginning of time. But which particular sacrifices did humanity think had the power to forgive sins? The general rule for the atonement value of a sacrifice was: the more costly and perfect the sacrifice, the more sins it would absolve.
When God initiated the ritual sacrifice of animals for the religious ceremonies of His chosen people, He laid down strict rules. In Leviticus 22:19-20, God told the Jews: “You shall offer of your own free will a male without blemish from the cattle, from the sheep, or from the goats. But whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it shall not be acceptable on your behalf ” (NKJV). The Lord always has demanded that blood be shed for the remission of sins. Hebrews 9:22 reiterates that point: “And according to the law...all things are cleansed with blood, and apart from shedding of blood there is no remission.” This should not be at all surprising, since “the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life” (Leviticus 17:11).
Men and women of ages past knew all too well God’s commandments regarding atonement by blood. It began with Cain and Abel, was reaffirmed by Noah (Genesis 9:1-6), was regulated by Old Testament law, and was carried through to fulfillment by Jesus. When God instituted the Law of Moses, He did not introduce animal sacrifices as an innovation never before seen by the Israelites. Rather, He showed the Israelites the proper manner in which to sacrifice such animals, until the time that the fulfilling sacrifice of His Son would bring to a halt the need for any further blood atonement via animal sacrifices. In showing them the proper way, God made strict provisions to keep the children of Israel from turning from God-approved sacrifices to sacrificing their own innocent children like the pagans around them. In Leviticus 18:21, God told the children of Israel:
“And thou shalt not give any of thy seed to make them pass through the fire to Molech; neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am Jehovah.”
God went to great lengths to warn the Israelites against offering their children as sacrifices because it was well known that the nations around them took part in such infanticide. The question arises, “What in this world could convince a mother or father to offer their children to a god?” Let us investigate this matter further.
Wendy Davis writes for Widdershins, a self-proclaimed journal of unadulterated paganism. In an article on the World Wide Web, As Old as the Moon: Sacrifice in History, she stated:
“The act of ritual murder is probably as old as we [humans—KB/BT] are. Throughout the ages, people sacrificed when they needed something. Our ancestors often gave the best they had, their first-born, to save themselves” (1995, emp. added).
The most precious possession of a mother or father would be their first-born child. That child, however, would be not only precious, but also sinless. Sacrifice of anything less than that which is spotless and pure diminishes the inherent value of the sacrifice. Thus, it was believed that a sinless and pure sacrifice of such magnitude could wash away the sins of the parents (or, for that matter, the sins of an entire village!). Therefore, corrupt, perverse religions sprang up around the sacrifice of children, one of the most famous of which was that of Molech (see 2 Kings 23:10).
Yet even though the sacrifice of infants fulfilled the sinless aspect of a perfect sacrifice, it was lacking in other areas. For example, an “ordinary” infant born of peasant parents was not the most costly sacrifice available; a royal child of a king would be even better. Thus, as Davis went on to observe, kings ultimately sacrificed their own children to appease “the gods.”
But the sacrifice of a king’s child still did not represent the perfect sacrifice, because the child did not go of his (or her) own free will. A free-will sacrifice of royal blood would come closest to the perfect offering. In an article titled No Greater Sacrifice, which appeared in Widdershins, one writer suggested: “Willing sacrifice is more interesting. Why does someone want to sacrifice himself or herself for what they believe in? Historically speaking, we must consider the sacred kings who sacrificed themselves for the Land” (see Andy, 1998). Yes, a king who offered himself of his own free will would be almost the perfect sacrifice. The only problem with such a concept was the fact that no king ever had lived a perfect life. As the Widdershins writer correctly observed, in an attempt to solve this, “Finally someone came up with the idea of one final sacrifice. One sacrifice to count for all the rest for all time. But who could be offered? It had to be someone very important; even kings were not good enough. Clearly, only a god was important enough to count as the last one” (Andy, 1998). Thus, it becomes clear why even the pagan world demanded a sacrifice that was sinless, royal, and higher in stature than other humans. Doane stated:
“The belief of redemption from sin by the sufferings of a Divine Incarnation, whether by death on the cross or otherwise, was general and popular among the heathen, centuries before the time of Jesus of Nazareth” (1882, pp. 183-185).
Once we comprehend the need for the death of the savior-god, it is not difficult to see why humanity would want (and need) to see him defeat death. The writer of the book of Hebrews addressed this very point when he wrote that Christ allowed Himself to be sacrificed so that He “might deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (2:15). Death holds more terror for man than perhaps anything else on Earth. It was for this reason that the Greeks invented Hercules—half man and half god—to conquer the Underworld, and the Egyptians formulated Osiris. Surely a savior-god who offered himself voluntarily as the sacrifice for all humanity could defeat mankind’s dreaded enemy—Death. So, the idea of a sacrificial savior-god who victoriously defeats death through his resurrection came easily to the minds of people who knew that they needed forgiveness, and who desperately wanted to live past the grave.
And so, from a “universal frame of mind” different tribes and religions—spanning thousands of years—formulated their personal versions of what they thought a resurrected savior-god should be and do. Some said he was torn into fourteen pieces and scattered throughout the land of Egypt (e.g., Osiris). Others said he would look like a man but would possess superhuman physical strength and descend to the underworld to conquer Hades (e.g., Hercules). Yet one thing is certain: tales about a hero who saved mankind were on the lips of almost every storyteller. Trench stated correctly:
No thoughtful student of the past records of mankind can refuse to acknowledge that through all its history there has run the hope of a redemption from the evil which oppresses it; and as little can deny that this hope has continually attached itself to some single man (n.d., p. 149).
But how can it be maintained, then, that the one savior for whom all humanity waited was, and is, Jesus?
Continued In Part II
Andy (1998), “No Greater Sacrifice,” Widdershins, 4:no page number, [On-line], URL: http://www.widdershins.org/index.html.
Bales, James D. (no date), The Originality of Christ (Searcy, AR: Privately published by author).
Brown, Philip J. (2000), Dionysus [Online], URL: http://www.belinus.co.uk/mythology/Dionysus.htm.
Budge, E.A. Wallis, Trans. (1960), Papyrus of Ani: The Egyptian Book of the Dead (New York: Gramercy, 1999 reprint).
Butt, Kyle (2000), “The Historical Christ—Fact or Fiction,?” Reason & Revelation, 20:1-6, January.
Darrow, Clarence and Wallace Rice (1929), Infidels and Heretics: An Agnostic’s Anthology (Boston, MA: Stratford).
Davis, Wendy (1995), “As Old as the Moon: Sacrifice in History,” Widdershins, June 21, 1:no page, [Online], URL: http://www.widdershins.org/index.html.
DeHoff, George W. (1944), Why We Believe the Bible (Murfreesboro, TN: DeHoff).
Doane, T.W. (1882), Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions (Kila, MT: Kessinger).
Encyclopaedia Britannica (1997), “Osiris” (London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.) 8:1026-1027.
Franklin, Stephen T. (1993), “Theological Foundations for the Uniqueness of Christ as Hope and Judge,” Evangelical Review of Theology, 17:29-53, January.
Freke, Timothy and Peter Gandy (1999), The Jesus Mysteries (New York: Harmony Books).
Graves, Kersey (1875), The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors (Escondido, CA: The Book Tree, 1999 reprint).
Graves, Robert (1960), The Greek Myths (New York: Penguin).
Huxley, Julian (1960), “The Evolutionary Vision,” Issues in Evolution [Volume 3 of Evolution After Darwin], ed. Sol Tax (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).
McCabe, Joseph (1993), The Myth of the Resurrection and Other Essays (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, reprint of 1926 edition).
Till, Farrell and Norman L. Geisler (1994), Debate held at Columbus College (Columbus, GA) on March 29. Quotations are from written transcript of the debate.
Trench, R.C. (no date), Christ the Desire of All Nations; or the Unconscious Prophecies of Heathendom, (Searcy, AR: Bales Publications).
Wilson, Edward O. (1978), On Human Nature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).
Woodward, Kenneth L. (2000), “The Other Jesus,” Newsweek, 135:50-60, March 27.
Zomberg, Don (2000), “Letter to the Editor,” Newsweek, 135:17, April 10.
PART II... JESUS—UNIQUE SAVIOR OF MANKIND
One important fact that cannot be ignored is that Jesus is the only historical figure Who fulfills the criteria necessary to justify, sanctify, and redeem mankind. No human’s creative mind concocted the narrative of Jesus of Nazareth. Human eyes saw Him, and human ears heard Him. He walked and talked—lived and loved—on the streets of real cities and in the houses of real people. His life is the only life of any “savior-god” that can be (and has been) thoroughly documented. As Stephen Franklin remarked: “[T]he specific character of Biblical religion and, thus, of Christianity stems from the priority given to the historical-factual dimension of the Bible’s basic teachings and doctrines” (1993, 17:40).
Therefore, the story of Jesus Christ does not occupy a place amidst the pages of Greek mythology or ancient religious legend. But oh, how the skeptics wish that it did! As Freke and Gandy observed in The Jesus Mysteries:
Early Literalist Christians mistakenly believed that the Jesus story was different from other stories of Osiris-Dionysus because Jesus alone had been a historical rather than a mythical figure. This has left Christians feeling that their faith is in opposition to all others, which it is not (1999, p. 13, emp. added).
Indeed, skeptics would delight in being able to place the story of Jesus on the same playing field as the stories of other legendary savior-gods, because then the parallel stories easily could be relegated to myth, due to the fact that the stories cannot be verified historically. Trench wrote of such skeptics:
Proving, as it is not hard to prove, those parallels to be groundless and mythical, to rest on no true historic basis, they hope that the great facts of the Christian’s belief will be concluded to be as weak, will be involved in a common discredit (n.d., p. 135).
If infidels were able to create a straw man that could not stand up to the test of historical verifiability (like, for example, pagan legends and myths), and if they could place the story of Jesus in the same category as their tenuous straw man, then both supposedly would fall together. However, the story of Jesus of Nazareth refuses to fall. The stories of other savior-gods are admitted to be—even by those who invented them—nothing but fables (e.g., the Greeks realized that their fictitious stories were merely untrue legends that were totally unverifiable; see McCabe, 1993, p. 59). But the story of Jesus demands its rightful place in the annals of human history. Osiris, Krishna, Hercules, Dionysus, and the other mythological savior-gods stumble back into the shadows of fiction when compared to the documented life of Jesus of Nazareth. If the skeptic wishes to challenge the uniqueness of Jesus by comparing Him with other alleged savior-gods, he first must produce evidence that one of these savior-gods truly walked on the Earth, commingled with humanity, and impacted people’s lives via both a sinless existence and incomparable teachings. Humanity always has desired a real-life savior-god; but can any of the alleged savior-gods that have been invented boast of a historical existence any more thoroughly documented than that of Christ?
In addition, Jesus has a monopoly on being perfectly flawless. He lived life by the same moral rules that govern all humans, yet He never once made a mistake. The writer of Hebrews recorded: “For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (4:15; cf. also 1 Peter 2:21-22). Renowned religious historian Philip Schaff wrote:
In vain do we look through the entire biography of Jesus for a single stain or the slightest shadow of his moral character. There never lived a more harmless being on earth. He injured nobody, he took advantage of nobody. He never wrote an improper word. He never committed a wrong action (1913, pp. 32-33).
Bernard Ramm commented in a similar vein when he stated of Christ:
There He stands, sinless. Whatever men may claim for being great, this is one thing they cannot. They may be brilliant or strong, fast or clever, creative or inspired, but not sinless. Sinless perfection and perfect sinlessness is what we would expect of God incarnate. The hypothesis and the facts concur (1953, p. 169, emp. in orig.).
Examine the stories of other savior-gods. See if they subjected themselves to the same rules as humans. See if they learned human nature and suffered unjustly, all the while never sinning with either their lips or their hearts. Try to find a savior like Christ who lived 30+ years on the Earth and yet never committed one shameful act. Norman Geisler summarized the situation as follows: “All men are sinners; God knows it and so do we. If a man lives an impeccable life and offers as the truth about himself that he is God incarnate we must take his claim seriously” (1976, p. 344). Jesus did “offer as the truth about himself that he is God incarnate.” As John Stott noted:
The most striking feature of the teaching of Jesus is that He was constantly talking about Himself.... This self-centeredness of the teaching of Jesus immediately sets Him apart from the other great religious teachers of the world. They were self-effacing. He was self-advancing. They pointed men away from themselves, saying, “That is the truth, so far as I perceive it; follow that.” Jesus said, “I am the truth; follow me.” The founders of the ethnic religions never dared say such a thing (1971, p. 23).
There is another important point to be considered, however. Who better to deny the fact that Jesus was perfect than those who spent the most time with Him? There is a grain of truth to the adage that “familiarity often breeds contempt.” Surely His closest friends would have observed some small demerit. Yet when we read the comments of His closest followers, we find that even they lauded Him as the only sinless man. The apostle Peter, who was rebuked publicly by Jesus, nevertheless called Him “a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19). One chapter later in the same epistle, Peter said that Jesus “did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (2:22). Indeed, Christ even went so far as to invite anyone who dared, to convict Him of sin when He said: “Which of you convicteth me of sin” (John 8:46). No one alive in His day could convict the Lord of sin; neither can anyone today. However, when one begins to examine the lives of the other alleged savior-gods, it soon becomes evident that these “heroes” committed fornication with humans, allowed their sinful tempers to flare, and raged with overt jealousy. Every supposed savior of mankind besides Jesus had an Achilles heal. If any such “savior” existed (other than Jesus) who did not have a vice or a sin, his life certainly cannot be documented historically. And if any savior-god besides Jesus could be documented historically, his life easily could be proven to be laden with sin.
Christ Was Unique in His Teachings
Not only have the specific details of Christ’s life come under allegations of plagiarism, but His teachings also have undergone intense scrutiny. Some have complained, for example, that Jesus’ teachings were little more than warmed over Old Testament concepts. In the feature article he authored on Christ for the March 29, 1999 issue of Newsweek (the cover of which was titled “2000 Years of Jesus”), Kenneth Woodward suggested: “As scholars have long realized, there was little in the teachings of Jesus that cannot be found in the Hebrew Scriptures he expounded” (135:54). The non-Christian Jew and the skeptic frequently view Jesus as an ancient teacher Who borrowed much of His material from the Hebrew text that had been in existence hundreds of years before He entered the global picture, since many of His sayings can be traced back centuries to the Jewish psalmist David, the prophet Isaiah, and a host of other ancient Hebrew writers. Others have complained that Christ’s teachings had their origin in ancient pagan lore. Freke and Gandy suggested:
...[W]e discovered that even Jesus’ teachings were not original, but had been anticipated by the Pagan sages.... Pagan critics of Christianity, such as the satirist Celsus, complained that this recent religion was nothing more than a pale reflection of their own ancient teachings (1999, pp. 6,5).
Thus, if it is to be argued successfully that Jesus truly is unique in His teachings, the incontrovertible fact that He used a considerable amount of ancient Hebrew literature must be explained, and certain important dissimilarities must be made manifest (between either Old Testament material or that from previous pagan sources). Otherwise, we have merely another Jewish rabbi who knew both heathen sources and the Scriptures well—just as a host of other Jewish rabbis did.
In order to explain why Jesus employed so much Hebrew literature, we must understand His relationship with that literature. A statement from Peter’s first epistle is quite helpful in this regard:
Concerning which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto (1 Peter 1:10-11, emp. added).
Peter’s point of emphasis was that Christ was not just an interested reader of ancient Hebrew scripture; rather, He was its Author. He wrote the Jewish Old Testament through His Spirit that worked through the prophets. When He quoted Isaiah or Jeremiah, He neither copied their material nor plagiarized their truths. Quite the contrary, in fact. He simply quoted the texts that He personally had inspired and published through the ancient holy men. As the famous “church father” Tertullian wrote in his Apology, “There is nothing so old as the truth” (chapter 47). To suggest that Christ’s teachings were not unique because He quoted passages from the Old Testament would be like saying that the author of a particular book could not quote from that book in later lectures or publications, lest he be charged with plagiarism of his own material. [Also See Jesus and The Law]
There are those, of course, who will discount the above argument by claiming that the New Testament has no authority to answer such questions. Thus, they will continue to claim that Jesus “borrowed” His ideas from the pages of Israel’s texts. If they wish to defend such a viewpoint, then let them find in the Old Testament any description of eternal punishment comparable to the one Jesus provided in Mark 9:42. Where in the Old Testament Scriptures do we find that it is more difficult for a rich person to enter heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle? Where in the Old Testament is the idea of loving one’s neighbor developed to the extent that Christ described in the parable of the Good Samaritan? Jesus of Nazareth did not merely regurgitate Old Testament passages, adding jots and tittles as He went along. Instead, He came to fulfill the Old Law, and to instigate a New Law with distinctive concepts and commands—a point the writer of Hebrews made quite clear when he stated: “In that he saith, ‘a new covenant,’ he hath made the first old. But that which waxeth aged is nigh unto vanishing away” (8:13).
Even though it can be proven that Jesus did not plagiarize the Old Testament, the battle for the uniqueness of His teachings does not end there. Traces of concepts that predate Christ’s earthly existence also can be found in His teachings. Earlier, we quoted from Augustine, who noted that Plato’s followers claimed Christ had copied their philosophical hero (except, they opined, that Christ was not nearly as eloquent). Further, rabbi Hillel, who lived approximately fifty years before Jesus, taught: “What thou wouldest not have done to thee, do not that to others” (see Bales, n.d., p. 7). Confucius (and a host of other ancient writers) taught things that Jesus also taught. From China to Egypt, a steady stream of pagans uttered things that Christ, centuries later, likewise would say. How, then, can the teachings of Christ be considered unique if they had been surfacing in different cultures and civilizations for hundreds of years before His visit to Earth? Perhaps this would be a good place to ask: What is the alternative? As Bales noted:
If Christ had been completely original, He would have had to omit every truth which had been revealed in the Old Testament, or which had been discerned by the reason of man. If He had done this, His teaching would have been inadequate, for it would have omitted many moral and spiritual truths (n.d., p. 21, emp. added).
Jesus came not to reiterate ancient truths, but rather to synthesize those truths into a complete unit. He embodied every spiritual truth the world had ever seen or ever would see. As Bales commented: “Christ embodies all the moral good which is found in other religions, and He omits their errors” (p. 7). In his letter to the Christians in Colossae, Paul described Christ as the one “in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden” (2:3, emp. added). Christ’s teachings are like gold; tiny amounts can be found in almost every area of the world—from ocean water to the human body. However, in order for that gold to be usable, it must be collected into a mass large enough to refine. Christ is the “refining pot” of all knowledge and wisdom, wherein the dross of error is purged from the precious metal of divine truth. While tiny specks of His teachings emerge from practically every religion, they can be refined only when collected as a whole in the essence of Jesus the Nazarene. Stephen Franklin put it like this:
By providing echoes of Christian themes in every culture and in every religion, he [God—KB/BT] has given the entire human race some “handle” that allows them at least a preliminary understanding of the gospel when it is preached (1993, p. 51).
Furthermore, consider both the power and the authority evident in Christ’s teachings. Even His enemies were unable to refute what He taught. When the Jewish Sanhedrin decided to take action against Him and dispatched its security force to seize Him, those officers returned empty handed and admitted: “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46, NKJV, emp. added). When He was only twelve years old and His parents accidentally left Him behind in Jerusalem, they returned to find Him in a discussion of religious matters with the learned scribes, “and all that heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47).
The Jews had long yearned for a Messiah (“Christ”) Who would save and deliver them. The Samaritan woman Christ met at the well spoke of this very fact, to which He replied: “I that speak unto thee am he” (John 4:26). When Jesus was on trial before the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas the high priest asked: “Are you the Christ?” His reply was firm: “It is as you said” (Matthew 26:63-64). He spoke with authority regarding the pre-human past, because He was there (John 1:1ff.). In the present, “there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight, but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13). And He knows the future, as is evident from even a cursory reading of His prophecies about the building of His church (Matthew 16:18), the sending of the Holy Spirit to the apostles (John 14:26), and His many descriptions of His ultimate return and the Day of Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46, et al.). All of this, and more, explains why Paul referred to Him as “King of King, and Lord of Lords” (1 Timothy 6:15). No one ever possessed, or spoke with, the kind of authority with which Christ was endowed, which is why He taught: “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Fraudulent saviors never claimed such, nor had their own enemies confirm such. Perhaps this is one reason why, in the feature article from Time magazine’s December 6, 1999 cover story (“Jesus at 2000”), author Reynolds Price wrote:
It would require much exotic calculation, however, to deny that the single most powerful figure—not merely in these two millennia but in all human history—has been Jesus of Nazareth.... [A] serious argument can be made that no one else’s life has proved remotely as powerful and enduring as that of Jesus. It’s an astonishing conclusion in light of the fact that Jesus was a man who lived a short life in a rural backwater of the Roman Empire [and] who died in agony as a convicted criminal... (154:86).
Mythical saviors never had such an assessment made of their lives.
Christ Was Unique in His Fulfillment of ProphecySurely, one of the most undeniable traits of Christ’s uniqueness was His fulfillment of prophecy. In his book, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell discussed the fact that “the Old Testament contains over three hundred references to the Messiah that were fulfilled in Jesus” (1999, p. 168). Hugo McCord observed: “Testimony about Jesus was the chief purpose of prophecy. To him all the prophets gave witness (Acts 10:43)” [1979, p. 332]. Every prophecy in the Old Testament had to have been written at least 250 years before Christ appeared on the earthly scene. Why?
[The] Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures—was initiated in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.). It is sure that if you have a Greek translation initiated in 250 B.C., then you had to have the Hebrew text from which it was written (McDowell, p. 168).
Indeed, the Old Testament—which had been written hundreds of years before Christ actually lived—foretold the minutest details of His life. The Prophesied One would be born of a woman (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4) who was a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22), from the family of Abraham (Genesis 22:18; Luke 3:34), of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10; Hebrews 7:14), of the royal line of David (2 Samuel 7:12; Luke 1:32), in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), in order to bruise the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 2:12).
The prophets had foretold His Galilean ministry (Isaiah 9:1-2), as well as the fact that a precursor would proclaim His arrival (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:1-3). He would appear during the time of the Roman Empire (Daniel 2:44; Luke 2:1), while Judah still possessed her own king (Genesis 49:10; Matthew 2:22). He would be murdered about 490 years after the command to restore Jerusalem at the end of the Babylonian captivity (457 B.C.), i.e., A.D. 30 (Daniel 9:24ff.). He was to be both human and divine; though born, He was eternal (Micah 5:2; John 1:1,14); though a man, He was Jehovah’s “fellow” (Zechariah 13:7; John 10:30; Philippians 2:6). He was to be kind and sympathetic in His dealings with mankind (Isaiah 42:1-4; Matthew 12:15-21).
He would submit willingly to His heavenly Father (Psalm 40:8; Isaiah 53:11; John 8:29; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22). He would be abandoned and know grief (Isaiah 53:3), and be betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9) for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12). He was so betrayed (John 13:18; Matthew 26:15). He would be spit upon and beaten (Isaiah 50:6; 53:5), and in death both His hands and His feet would be pierced (Psalm 22:16). This is precisely what occurred (Matthew 27:30; Luke 24:39). The Scriptures foretold that He would be numbered among criminals (Isaiah 53:12), which He was (Matthew 27:38). He would be mocked, not only with scornful words (Psalm 22:7-8), but with bitter wine (Psalm 69:21). And so He was (Matthew 27:48). Although He would die and be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9; Matthew 27:57), His bones would not be broken (Psalm 34:20; John 19:33) and His flesh would not see corruption, because He was to be raised from the dead (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:22ff.) and then ascend into heaven (Psalm 110:1-3; 45:6; Acts 1:9-10). [See Section on Prophecy]
The previous paragraphs present an overview of just a fraction of the numerous predictions fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Time and again biblical prophecies are presented, and fulfilled, with exacting detail. Jeremiah wrote: “When the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that Jehovah hath truly sent him” (28:9). Thomas Horne was correct when he said:
The book which contains these predictions is stamped with the seal of heaven: a rich vein of evidence runs through the volume of the Old Testament; the Bible is true; infidelity is confounded forever; and we may address its patrons in the language of Saint Paul, “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder and perish!” (1970, 1:291).
On Tuesday, prior to Christ’s crucifixion the following Friday, Jesus engaged in a discussion with the Pharisees, who made no secret of their hatred for Him. When Matthew recorded the scene in his Gospel, he first commented on an earlier skirmish the Lord had with the Sadducees: “But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, gathered themselves together” (22:34). Jesus—with penetrating logic and an incomparable knowledge of Old Testament Scripture—had routed the Sadducees completely. No doubt the Pharisees thought they could do better. Yet they were about to endure the same embarrassing treatment. In the midst of His discussion with the Pharisees, Jesus asked: “What think ye of the Christ? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42). They were unable to answer the questions satisfactorily because their hypocrisy prevented them from comprehending both Jesus’ nature and His mission. The questions the Lord asked on that day, however, are ones that every rational, sane person must answer eventually.
Both questions were intended to raise the matter of Christ’s deity. The answers—had the Pharisees’ spiritual myopia not prevented them from responding correctly—were intended to confirm it. Today, these questions still raise the issue of Christ’s identity. Who is Jesus? Is He, as He claimed to be, the Son of God? Was He, as many who knew Him claimed, God incarnate? Is He, as the word “deity” implies, of divine nature and rank?
The series of events that would lead to Jesus’ becoming the world’s best-known historical figure began in first-century Palestine. There are four primary indicators of this fact.
First, when Daniel was asked by King Nebuchadnezzar to interpret his wildly imaginative dream, the prophet revealed that God would establish the Messianic kingdom during the time of the Roman Empire (viz., the fourth kingdom represented in the king’s dream; see Daniel 2:24-45). Roman domination of Palestine began in 63 B.C., and continued until A.D. 476. [Also See Daniel’s Amazing Prophecies]
Second, the Messiah was to appear before “the scepter” departed from Judah (Genesis 49:10). Bible students recognize that this prophecy has reference to the Messiah (“Shiloh” of Old Testament fame) arriving before the Jews lost their national sovereignty and judicial power (the “scepter” of Genesis 49). Thus, Christ had to have come prior to the Jews’ losing their power to execute capital punishment (John 18:31). When Rome deposed Archelaus in A.D. 6, Coponius was installed as Judea’s first procurator. Interestingly, “the...procurator held the power of jurisdiction with regard to capital punishment” (Solomon, 1972, 13:117). Hence, Christ was predicted to come sometime prior to A.D. 6 (see also McDowell, 1999, pp. 195-202).
Third, Daniel predicted that the Messiah would bring an end to “sacrifice and offering” before the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70; cf. Daniel 9:24-27 and Matthew 24:15). When the Lord died, the Mosaical Law was “nailed to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). [Also See Jesus and The Law]
Fourth, the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea (Micah 5:2). It is a matter of record that Jesus was born in Bethlehem while Palestine was under Roman rule, before Judah lost her judicial power, and before the destruction of Jerusalem (see also Matthew 2:3-6; Luke 2:2-6).
The Old and New Testaments paint a portrait of Christ that offers valuable evidence for the person desiring to answer the questions, “What think ye of the Christ?,” and “Whose son is he?” In Isaiah 7:14, for example, the prophet declared that a virgin would conceive, bear a son, and name him “Immanuel,” which means “God with us” (a prophecy that was fulfilled in the birth of Christ; Matthew 1:22-23). [See Later, Isaiah referred to this son as “Mighty God” (9:6). In fact, in the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah said he saw “the Lord” sitting upon a throne (see Isaiah 6:1ff.). Overpowered by the scene, God’s servant exclaimed: “Woe is me,...for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts” (6:5). In the New Testament, John wrote: “These things said Isaiah, because he saw His [Christ’s] glory; and he spake of him” (John 12:41).
[Also See The Virgin Shall Conceive... A Reflective Analysis of Isaiah 7:14
Isaiah urged God’s people to sanctify “Jehovah of hosts” (8:12-14), a command later applied to Jesus by Peter (1 Peter 3:14-15). Furthermore, Isaiah’s “Jehovah” was to become a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (8:14), a description that New Testament writers applied to Christ (cf. Romans 9:33, 1 Peter 2:8). Isaiah foretold that John the Baptizer would prepare the way for the coming of Jehovah (40:3). It is well known that John was the forerunner of Christ (cf. Matthew 3:3, John 1:23). Isaiah pictured Christ not only as a silent “lamb” (53:7), but as a man Who “a bruised reed will he not break, and a dimly burning wick will he not quench” (42:3; cf. Matthew 12:20). Various biblical scholars have suggested that this imagery was intended to portray a leader Who,
wherever he finds men wounded and bruised by the harshness of life’s experience, or wherever he finds wounded and bruised consciences, whether among the Gentiles or in Israel, there he is most tender and delicate in the gentle handling of these souls (Leupold, 1971, 2:62; see also Oswalt, 1998, p. 111-112; McGarvey, 1875, p. 106).
Other Old Testament writers illuminated Christ in their writings as well. The psalmist suggested He would be known as zealous for righteousness (Psalm 69:9), that He would be hated without cause (Psalm 22), and that He would triumph over death (Psalm 16:8-11). Daniel referred to His coming kingdom as one that would “stand forever” (2:44). The prophets’ portrait of Christ was intended not only to foreshadow His coming, but to make Him all the more visible to people in New Testament times as well (see Bromling, 1991).
The prophets had said that He would be raised from the dead so that He could sit upon the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7). This occurred, as Peter attested in his sermon on Pentecost following the resurrection (Acts 2:30). He would rule, not Judah, but the most powerful kingdom ever known. As King, Christ was to rule (from heaven) the kingdom that “shall never be destroyed” and “shall break in pieces and consume all these [earthly] kingdoms, and...shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44). The New Testament establishes the legitimacy of His kingdom (Colossians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:24-25). The subjects of this royal realm were to be from every nation on Earth (Isaiah 2:2), and were prophesied to enjoy a life of peace and harmony that ignores any and all human distinctions, prejudices, or biases (cf. Isaiah 2:4 and Galatians 3:28). This King would be arrayed, not in the regal purple of a carnal king, but in the reverential garments of a holy priest (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6). Like Melchizedek, the Messiah was to be both Priest and King (Genesis 14:18), guaranteeing that His subjects could approach God without the interference of a clergy class. Instead, as the New Testament affirms, Christians offer their petitions directly to God through their King—Who mediates on their behalf (cf. Matthew 6:9; John 14:13-14; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 10:12,19-22). It would be impossible for the New Testament writers to provide any clearer answers than they did to the questions that Christ asked the Pharisees. Furthermore, no similar “savior” from mythology ever had his entire life prophesied, or personally fulfilled predictive prophecy (in whole or in part), like Jesus.
WHAT WOULD YOU EXPECT?
In his fascinating book, What If Christ Had Never Been Born?, D. James Kennedy discussed at length both the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and His singular impact on the Earth’s inhabitants. In assessing that impact, Dr. Kennedy wrote:
...Jesus Christ has had an enormous impact—more than anybody else—on history. Had He never come, the hole would be a canyon about the size of a continent. Christ’s influence on the world is immeasurable.... Whatever Jesus touched or whatever He did transformed that aspect of human life. Many people will read about the innumerable small incidents in the life of Christ while never dreaming that those casually mentioned “little” things were to transform the history of mankind (1994, p. 4).
Philip Schaff discussed Christ’s influence when he wrote in his book, The Person of Christ: The Miracle of History:
This Jesus of Nazareth, without money or arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon; without science and learning, He shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of schools, He spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, He set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and songs of praise, than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times (1913, p. 33).
It has been said that Christ changed the course of the River of History and lifted the centuries off their hinges— a stirring verbal tribute that is quite apropos, considering the evidence. When unbelievers write books to challenge His deity, even they (albeit inadvertently) acknowledge not only His existence, but His uniqueness, when they place the copyright date in the frontispiece of their tomes, admitting that the volume was published in, say, A.D. 2001. That “A.D.” stands for Anno Domini—in the year of the Lord. No one dates time from Osiris, Dionysus, Hillel, or Confucius. But the entire inhabited world recognizes the designations of “B.C.” (before Christ) and “A.D.”
In The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell listed seven things that people could (and should!) expect from the Savior of the world: (1) an utterly unique entrance into human history (prophecy and virgin birth); (2) the ability to live a sinless life—none of the Jewish heroes was presented as perfect, nor were the mythological heroes presented as viceless; (3) control over all the forces of nature—“Who then is this that even the wind and the sea obey him” (Mark 4:41); (4) the capability to speak the greatest words ever uttered by human lips; (5) a lasting and universal influence on humanity; (6) the power to satisfy the spiritual hunger of mankind (see Matthew 5:6, John 7:37, 4:14, 6:35, 10:10); and (7) the ability to defeat both death and sin.
The simple fact is, Jehovah left no stone unturned in preparing the world for the coming of the One Who would save mankind. Through a variety of avenues, He alerted the inhabitants of planet Earth regarding the singular nature of the One Who was yet to come, as well as the importance of believing in and obeying Him. Humanity’s sins can be forgiven only by a sinless Savior. A mythological sacrifice can forgive only mythological sins, but Jesus truly is the Lamb of God “that taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). As Norman Geisler put it:
It is one thing to claim deity and quite another to have the credentials to support that claim. Christ did both. He offered three unique and miraculous facts as evidence of his claim: the fulfillment of prophecy, a uniquely miraculous life, and the resurrection from the dead. All of these are historically provable and unique to Jesus of Nazareth. We argue, therefore, that Jesus alone claims to be and proves to be God (1976, p. 339).
Who, then, is Jesus Christ? Is He a unique Savior, or an average fraud? The choices actually are quite limited—a fact reiterated by Josh McDowell when he titled one of the chapters in his New Evidence that Demands a Verdict: “Significance of Deity: The Trilemma—Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?” His purpose was to point out that, considering the grandiose nature of Christ’s claims, He had to be one of the three. As McDowell began his discussion, he presented for the reader’s consideration a quotation from the famous British apologist of Cambridge University, C.S. Lewis, who wrote:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to (1952, pp. 40-41).
Lewis’ point needs to be explored. Consider, for example, the cover story of the March 27, 2000 issue of Newsweek, “Visions of Jesus.” In that issue, staff writer Kenneth Woodward penned the feature article, “The Other Jesus,” in which he defended the idea that the Jesus of the Gospels may not be the “real” Jesus. In fact, Woodward said, “the lack of extra-Biblical evidence for the existence of Jesus has led more than one critic to conclude that he is a Christian fiction created by the early church” (2000, 135:53). But, Woodward admitted, “the Christ of the Gospels is certainly the best-known Jesus in the world. For Christians, he is utterly unique—the only Son of God” (p. 52).
One month later, in its April 17, 2000 issue, Newsweek’s editors ran in the “Letters” section a sampling of responses from readers. One letter was from a young lady by the name of Jennifer Rawlings of Gaithersburg, Maryland, who wrote:
I am a 17-year-old student, and I was disappointed by your cover story “Visions of Jesus.” It seems that Newsweek attempted to find a middle ground in presenting a view of Jesus as a character who could appeal to all people. But that is impossible. Either Jesus was in fact the son of God, as he claimed, or he was a lunatic. No one who claims to be the Son of God is simply a “good teacher”! Other great religions will never accept Jesus to be who he said he was. If they do, then they are not Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist. They are Christian (2000, 135:17).
Apparently one does not have to be a distinguished Cambridge University professor (like C.S. Lewis) to understand what 17-year-old Miss Rawlings so eloquently stated in her simple-but-accurate reply to Newsweek’s “scholarly” approach. Jesus not only existed as a historical character, but also claimed to be God incarnate (John 5:17-18; 8:42; 10:30; 12:45; 14:7,10-11; 17:21-23; 19:7). He therefore cannot be viewed merely as a “good teacher” since, if His claim were false, He would have been either a liar or a lunatic. In Mark 10, the account is recorded concerning a rich young ruler who, in speaking to Christ, addressed Him as “good teacher.” Upon hearing this reference, Jesus asked: “Why callest thou me good? None is good, save one, even God” (Mark 10:18). So, is Christ God?
Was Christ a Liar?
Was Christ a liar? A charlatan? A “messianic manipulator”? In his book, The Passover Plot, Hugh J. Schonfield claimed that He was all three. Schonfield suggested that Jesus manipulated His life in such a way as to counterfeit the events portrayed in the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. At times, this necessitated “contriving those events... contending with friends and foes to ensure that the predictions would be fulfilled” (1965, p. 7). Schonfield charged that Jesus planned to fake His own death on the cross, but had not counted on a spear being thrust through His side. Thus, rather than recovering from His stupor, Jesus died unexpectedly. On Saturday evening, His body was moved to a secret place so that His tomb would be empty on the next day, thus leaving the impression of His resurrection and, simultaneously, His deity (pp. 161ff.).
In considering the possibility that Christ was little more than an accomplished liar, biblical historian Philip Schaff asked:
How in the name of logic, common sense, and experience, could an impostor—that is a deceitful, selfish, depraved man—have invented, and consistently maintained from beginning to end, the purest and noblest character known in history with the most perfect air of truth and reality? How could he have conceived and successfully carried out a plan of unparalleled beneficence, moral magnitude, and sublimity, and sacrificed his own life for it, in the face of the strongest prejudices of his people and ages? (1913, pp. 94-95).
Furthermore, what sane man would die for what he knows to be a lie? As McDowell summarized the matter: “Someone who lived as Jesus lived, taught as Jesus taught, and died as Jesus died could not have been a liar” (1999, p. 160).
Was Christ a Lunatic?
Was Jesus merely a psychotic lunatic who sincerely (albeit mistakenly) viewed Himself as God incarnate? Such a view rarely has been entertained by anyone cognizant of Christ’s life and teachings. Schaff inquired:
Is such an intellect—clear as the sky, bracing as the mountain air, sharp and penetrating as a sword, thoroughly healthy and vigorous, always ready and always self-possessed—liable to a radical and most serious delusion concerning His own character and mission? Preposterous imagination! (1913, pp. 97-98).
Would a raving lunatic teach that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us? Would a lunatic teach that we should pray for our enemies? Would a lunatic teach that we should “turn the other cheek,” and then set an example of exactly how to do that—even unto death? Would a lunatic present an ethical/moral code like the one in the Sermon on the Mount? No. Lunacy of the sort ascribed to Christ by His detractors does not produce such genius. Schaff continued:
Self-deception in a matter so momentous, and with an intellect in all respects so clear and so sound, is equally out of the question. How could He be an enthusiast or a madman who never lost the even balance of His mind, who sailed serenely over all the troubles and persecutions, as the sun above the clouds, who always returned the wisest answer to tempting questions, who calmly and deliberately predicted His death on the cross, His resurrection on the third day, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the founding of His Church, the destruction of Jerusalem—predictions which have been literally fulfilled? A character so original, so completely, so uniformly consistent, so perfect, so human and yet so high above all human greatness, can be neither a fraud nor a fiction (1910, p. 109).
Was Christ Deity?
If Jesus was neither a liar nor a lunatic, then the question He asked the Pharisees still remains: “What think ye of the Christ?” Is Jesus, in fact, Who He claimed to be? Was He God incarnate? The evidence presented here suggests that the answer to both questions is “Yes.” Could anyone, taking into account all the evidence, really suggest—and expect to be taken seriously—that He was merely an “average fraud”? We think not.
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