Was Jesus an Egyptian god?

horus_thesun_adI was watching Bill Maher interview while promoting his documentary Religulous. At one point he stated that what sealed his rejection of the Christian religion was his realization that it all happened before. The Christian story consisted merely of pieces-parts from various pagan myths. Bill claimed that the son of God, born of a virgin, born in a stable on December 25th, announced by a star in the east, visited by three wise men, baptized at age 30, delivering the sermon on the mount, having 12 disciples, walking on water, being crucified between two thieves and rising on the third day, were all derived from pagan myths. He then launched into his familiar bit about how rational, scientific people don’t believe in “drinking the blood of a 2,000 year-old space god.”

I was shocked. I am pretty familiar with the 1st century and the ancient near east, and the contours of ancient religious belief, and I am very familiar with Biblical scholarship. The suggestion that Christianity is substantially like ancient mythological religion is a highly improbable thesis. Of course I am aware that there are plenty of myths about dying and rising gods. But this dying and rising always signified the change of the seasons – the conquering of winter by spring. This parallel is utterly unremarkable.

Although these myths spoke of the cycle of nature, the ability to overcome death answers our deepest longings and fears. The uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection is not that Christians were the first ever to conceive of a resurrection. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it actually happened! Some also have suggested Christian dependence upon the mystery religions that were popular at that time, although this theory has been thoroughly exploded. The New Testament is utterly distinct in character and world-view from these mystery religions and from pagan mythology in general.

But Bill was suggesting that there are very specific parallels in mythology to the life of Christ – to the extent that it would be easy to convict the Gospel writers of plagiarism. I wondered, however, why I had never come across the particular parallels in the scholarly literature I have read. I soon discovered the reason. These parallels do not exist.

Nevertheless, the Internet is filled with these claims. There are perhaps hundreds of “cyber scholars” repeating these claims: cutting and pasting their evidence. The “evidence” is always the bald assertion, never accompanied by primary source documentation. Most of this seems to trace back to Acharya S’s book, The Christ Conspiracy, and to a handful of other Christ-mythers. Jesus is most frequently compared with the Egyptian god Horus, the son of the gods Isis and Osiris, who bestowed divinity upon the Pharaohs as incarnations of his life.

To debunk the particular examples of the Jesus/Horus connection all you need to do is to wade through the Egyptian book of the Dead or look up books or Encyclopedia articles on Egyptian Mythology and Horus. You can link here to an article that debunks these claims with the same brevity with which they are made. In the end you will discover that the closest we come to a substantial parallel between Horus and Jesus is that one of the three birth dates given for Horus corresponds to December 25. This date also appears in other myths as well. Unfortunately for the Christ-mythers this is not a date given in the Bible and there is no evidence Jesus was born on Dec 25. The reason the Church picked that day to celebrate the nativity was precisely so that Christians might commandeer the pagan celebration of the winter solstice and appropriate it for new use.

The Horus = Jesus thesis has as much credibility as 2012 doomsday predictions that supposedly draw from the Mayan calendar and coded messages of the Tao Te Ching. And yet Bill Maher, smugly claiming the side of logic and enlightenment, relies on these pseudo-scholars and pajama-bloggers in an effort to debunk Christianity!

As our nation becomes increasingly secular, the popular case against Christ has become increasingly sensational and absurd. We saw this clearly illustrated a few years back with Dan Brown’s runaway bestseller, The De Vinci Code. Certainly an intelligent person can find reasons to disbelieve the Gospel accounts, if they desire to find such reasons. But perhaps the case against Christ is too subtle for those with less than a professional interest in the subject. Perhaps more people can see through the enlightenment presuppositions on which the case against Christ is built (if you preclude God and the miraculous a priori, then you are in fact concealing the conclusion in the premise, thus begging the question). Or perhaps as we become more religiously ignorant as a culture, we become more easily swayed by lazy and fantastical arguments.

It is easy also for an intelligent person to discover cogent reasons to believe. The books of the Bible fit very comfortably within the context of their contemporary culture, and hold up well under rigorous scholarship. Internally, they are remarkably consistent, with parallel narrative accounts containing just enough dissonance to disprove collusion. These are large topics which if you are interested in exploring in depth, I would recommend, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, by Kenneth Kitchen and Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, by Richard Bauckam. Both are top-tier scholars and offer extensive interaction with the primary sources and current scholarship.

C.S. Lewis, the Renaissance English scholar, once bought into popular atheistic theories regarding the mythological origins of Christianity, without giving it much serious thought. In Surprised by Joy he writes of the event that caused him to look a second time at Christianity. He writes,

“Early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. ‘Rum thing,’ he went on. ‘All that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.’ To understand the shattering impact of it, you would need to know the man (who has certainly never since shown any interest in Christianity). If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the toughs, were not – as I would still have put it – ‘safe,’ where could I turn? Was there then so escape?” Subsequently, writes Lewis, “God closed in on me.”

If God is closing in on you, why not let him close in all the way? We all ought to acknowledge that the ultimate problems of our existence, such as death and the self-centeredness that gives death its sting, finds its only remedy in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Biggest Idea Impacting Your World Right Now

globe-bulbThe March 23, 2009 special edition of TIME Magazine listed the 10 biggest ideas today. According TIME, the third biggest idea impacting your world right now is a resurgence of Calvinism. That “Calvinism” (Reformed Theology) was anywhere near their radar is amazing. Even more amazing is the other nine “ideas” are really only cultural and economic trends: jobs (rather than homes) are the new asset, or, increased public works.
Calvinism is the only idea on TIME’s list that is a comprehensive system for understanding the world and everything in it.
Calvinism is not a strange new cult. It is so named after John Calvin (1509-1564), who, next to Martin Luther, was the preeminent Protestant Reformer. When Calvin took up his carrier as a Reformer, the Reformed theology was mostly formed. His fame is not for spinning wild new ideas, but for being in his day the most articulate defender of the Protestant Reformation.
The Reformers stood on the authority of the Bible alone, the Word of God. They were also careful students of Church history, but they understood that antiquity, piety and church authority are not sufficient authorities on which to base church doctrine. Ultimately everything must answer to the Word of God.
Every pious person knew that the Christian church in the 16th century needed reforming. But Luther and Calvin insisted that at its heart this reformation must be doctrinal rather than ethical. The corrupt practices, they argued, are merely symptoms of corrupt doctrine.
But what makes Calvinism such a powerful idea for our time? I think that Christian churches in America are closer to the church of the medieval ages than at any point since the Reformation. We are living now in an age where American Evangelicals have forgotten, for the most part, what it means to be Evangelical. The promise of success and influence has seduced us. We have become so fixated on being “relevant” that we have become irrelevant. Our salt has lost is savor.
The Reformers did not focus on misty or abstract points of theology. They focused on this one question: how is a sinner justified before a holy God.
The medieval church believed that the merits of Christ are deposited in the church and dispensed piecemeal through its ordinances. The sinner must to his best and let the church take care of the rest. The “grace” they receive from the church makes the sinner more gracious. One is finally justified before God only when they become fully just – without sin. But what is it to try ones level best? And what person can claim to be without sin. Therefore the Church acknowledged that most Christians would pay for their sins in the fires of purgatory.
John Calvin wrote to Cardinal Sadoleto and expressed to him the Reformed doctrine of how the sinner is justified before God.
“First, we bid a man begin by examining himself, and this not in a superficial and perfunctory manner, but to city his conscience before the tribunal of God, and when sufficiently convinced of his iniquity, to reflect on the strictness of the sentence pronounced upon all sinners. Thus confounded and amazed at his misery, he is prostrated and humbled before God; and, casting away all self-confidence, groans as if given up to final perdition. Then we show that the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by His obedience, He has wiped off our transgressions; by His sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by His blood, washed away our sins; by His cross, borne our curse; and by His death, made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy. When we embrace Christ by faith, and come, as it were, into communion with Him, this we term, after the manner of Scripture, the righteousness of faith.”
The “righteousness of faith” is not whereby we are ourselves righteous, but whereby we receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ credited to our account, as if we have never sinned nor been a sinner, and as if we have perfectly kept God’s law as Christ himself. Reformed churches therefore understand the importance of dividing Law from Gospel. We declare the law in all its sternness and the Gospel in all its sweetness and maintain, “We are justified by faith apart from works of Law” (Rom 3:28). This is good news to those who are hurting and broken, and whose consciences are loaded with guilt. The relevance of this message does not decrease with age.
The Reformation stood on the authority of Scripture alone, and maintained that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone, unto the glory of God alone. Some of the historic Reformed denominations unfortunately regard their heritage as a museum artifact, while other independent churches are discovering the vitality of Reformation teaching for the first time. There are a number of denominations, however, that remain faithful to Calvin’s articulation of Biblical teaching. One such denomination is the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), which has churches all over the United States.
I am proud to serve at Redeemer Church (OPC) in Santa Maria. We are a Reformed church, but we are also ecumenical in the sense that we are not exclusive. We are a place where you are free to learn and grow. You do not need to be a hardheaded Calvinist to worship with us, and to be a member you need only to be Christian. Our commitment to you is that the Word of God will always be faithfully taught, and the Gospel of free grace will be ever present in our teaching. If you are in the area I encourage you to stop by and discover the difference at Redeemer.

Reformed and Restless?

Colin Hansen, a journalist from Christianity Today, has written a book describing the latest movement sweeping the evangelical landscape. Contrary to what many might expect, it is not the Emergent (and Emerging) church movement(s). His book is entitled Young, Restless and Reformed (YRR). Reformed theology – also known as Calvinism – is apparently attracting young adults by the thousands.

What is attracting young evangelicals to this older understanding of the Christian faith? I believe I can answer this question, as I was young and restless myself and my own experience is reflected in Hansen’s book.

Long gone are the days when most Protestant churches diligently instructed the youth through a specific set of questions and answers. When the youth become young adults they realize that they do not have a good grasp of what and why they believe. In the early to mid nineties, while I was still in high school, I realized how little I really understood the Bible and I began studying it in earnest. I soon noticed that the Bible taught very clearly things touching on salvation in Christ that received little or no emphasis in the teaching I received. Later I discovered that Calvinists often refer to these teachings in shorthand as “The doctrines of grace.”

The doctrines of grace unpack the Bible’s teaching on God’s predestination. I understood that predestination was a controversial and debated topic among Christians, but it struck me that the Bible does not treat this subject ambiguously, but clearly and explicitly (e.g., Eph 1:1-11; Rom 9:6-29). Nor did the question center solely on the sovereignty of God. Of equal concern is the effect of human sinfulness on our minds and wills. Scripture teaches that human sinfulness corrupts the will to such an extent that all are by nature haters of God that will not freely respond to an offer of salvation. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14, see also Rom 3:9-20; 8:5-8). Now this is certainly not the place for a full-length exposition, but the conclusion is inescapable: God’s sovereign work in the heart of the sinner is necessary before any can come to faith in Christ. Faith itself is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8).

Obviously this raises all sorts of difficult questions and there are many good books that treat this topic in detail. The first two I read were Chosen by God (R.C. Sproul) and Putting Amazing Back Into Grace (Michael Horton). There I learned that my “controversial” conclusions were the same as St. Augustine, the (ecumenical) Council of Orange, and, of course, John Calvin, the Puritans, John Edwards, George Whitfield, Charles Spurgeon and many others. It is also the historic position of Reformed and Presbyterian churches.

More importantly, I came to understand that these teachings result in awesome humility. I was – and still am! – deeply humbled before God, realizing that there is nothing I have done to contribute to my salvation. Yes, I trust in Jesus. Yes, I responded to the Gospel invitation; not because I am better or smarter than anyone else. It is by God’s grace alone that I believe. And it is God’s grace that protects my faith throughout my whole life.

I continued to follow the pattern of the YRR that Hansen describes. This “Reformed” revival is taking place in a post-denominational context. It never occurred to me that I should seek out a Reformed or Presbyterian Church. Why should I? Everybody knows that Presbies play fast and loose with the Bible, and even if I could find a conservative church, I assumed they would have ditched Calvinism long ago. When I moved away to college I found a small group of young Calvinists and we began meeting Sunday morning at the Harbor in Dana Point. We hired a graduate of London Theological Seminary who was a spectacular preacher. Our little fellowship exactly fit the profile of the New Calvinism described by Hanson. Our church was contemporary, casual, mostly baptistic, a little charismatic, totally independent, and featured vigorous and powerful teaching.

I was not raised in a legalistic church but my years in Dana Point taught me to see Christ and his grace in a totally new way. The teaching was not “do this; don’t do that” nor was it “seven steps to a better you” or “a more successful”… whatever.  Everything always came back to Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2). Week after week I was presented with a grand vision of God and our redemption in Christ. Grace was not just something that “gets you saved,” it was also the source of strength for the Christian life. I began to understand that Calvinism was much, much bigger than predestination.

Within five years the totally independent character of this church was its undoing and I witnessed the leadership self-destruct. Our little church family voted to dissolve. By this point I had already enrolled at Westminster Seminary California and had doubts about independence and other characteristics of the New Calvinism. I soon learned that I was wrong to overlook the Calvinistic denominations. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is one denomination among others that remains faithful to Scripture and the Protestant Reformation.

In YRR, Colin Hansen judged the Orthodox Presbyterian Church unfavorably. He described the church as ridged, stuck-in-the-mud traditionalists. In my experience I have found this characterization to be false and slanderous. The people I have met are warm, transparent, and accepting. I have also come to appreciate that the “Old Calvinism” is not frail, but wise and mature. Today, I proudly serve Redeemer Church in Santa Maria, and I am convinced that our little Reformed denomination is exactly what so many people are longing for, but do not know exists. We are certainly not a perfect church. We are not typically known for slick, professional programs. But we have it where it counts – and that is the faithful proclamation of God’s Word, which centers on the work of Jesus Christ. I am encouraged that Reformed teaching is making a comeback of sorts, but I am also hopeful that the young and restless will grow as I did in appreciation for the full richness of Reformed Theology.