Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Mithras and Jesus Christ

I have been involved in conversations with a striking, new but regular commenter on both of my blogs. He goes by JoeG and he has raised some interesting questions at another blog he and I both patronize. I have promised to begin some threads here to talk about some of these issues and this is the first in what I hope to be a series of installments about what we have been talking about, "supposed" pagan origins of Christianity. I have been exploring this issue for a while and hope to speak with some coherence. In my digging I have found several similarities between Mithras and Christ, and notably, the Mithras story predates the birth of Christ. We here at The RP will kick off our discussion by simply noting those similarities.

  • Mithra was born of a virgin on December 25th in a cave, and his birth was attended by shepherds.
  • He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.
  • He had 12 companions or disciples.
  • Mithra's followers were promised immortality.
  • He performed miracles.
  • As the "great bull of the Sun," Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace.
  • He was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again.
  • His resurrection was celebrated every year.
  • He was called "the Good Shepherd" and identified with both the Lamb and the Lion.
  • He was considered the "Way, the Truth and the Light," and the "Logos," "Redeemer," "Savior" and "Messiah."
  • His sacred day was Sunday, the "Lord's Day," hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ.
  • Mithra had his principal festival of what was later to become Easter.
  • His religion had a eucharist or "Lord's Supper," at which Mithra said, "He who shall not eat of my body nor drink of my blood so that he may be one with me and I with him, shall not be saved."

My initial contention would be that any similarities between the two don’t necessarily mean that one borrowed from the other. Moreover, does Christianity need any outside influence to develop its doctrines? All of the teachings of Christ have significant foundation in the Old Testament. These initial observations do not reconcile the similarities, but it gives us a place to begin.

92 comments:

Luke said...

OR, you could look at it from this point. Satan knows prophecy though why he doesn't heed it is beyond me. Well, I do know the answer to that but it is not my point. Satan borrowed the ideas from God's plan. It is the way he works. He distorts the real to draw others away from Christ which is why, sometimes, the distortion looks so close to the truth.

Liked the information though.

Bernard Shuford said...

I am absolutely void of any worthwhile input, but I am really looking forward to what you guys come up with here. :)

nephos said...

This list seems a little to "pat," and raises a number of questions in my mind. There's just too much uncertainty about ancient religions, and too much prophecy from the OT in the Christ story for me to accept this list at face value.

I look forward to reading your elaboration on this topic.

Karma Shuford said...

In order to have a semi-intelligent comment, I went researching. What I find interesting is a lot of the same things being said over and over, used to support "both" sides.

However, there is also a lot of what I call speculative logic jumping (from A to B, so R must be next) and circular arguments going on around the topic as well.

Very interesting topic, though, and I too, am going to enjoy watching this. . .

JoeG said...

Tony -
I truly appreciate your willingness and enthusiasm in getting involved in this conversation with me. I am already encouraged by the replies so far that this will be an interesting conversation for many people, and I hope we can all have a dialog about it without getting nasty and personal.
Let me add to what you have already stated. Mithras is not the only pagan god where the similarities took place. Most of the items in your partial list, along with others, are also shared with the gods Horus and Osiris. There are also similarities with Jesus and Krishna, though I must say I haven't explored those enough to have a conversation about them.
The first response I expected to hear to this list is exactly the first response that was posted by Luke - that Satan used the other stories to deceive people into doubting the divinity of Christ by making other people believe the same things about other gods before Jesus' birth. To this, my only response is that I just don't buy it. The reason for that, mainly, is that my faith does not believe in the existance of Satan. We believe Satan is a man-made myth to explain evil and symbolize repercussions for bad behavior in the afterlife. I don't think there is any deception going on here.
In response to nephos, that is part of the second argument I expected. Ancient religions are uncertain, and based in mythology and not on real people. Christ lived and was the only real person to go through the items on the list in the flesh. Tony is well familiar with my thoughts on this, as I have posted repeatedly on another blog. When the bible was being written and the early Christians were trying to bring people over to their religion, the main competing pagan religion at the time was Mithraism. The stories of Horus and Osiris overlapped with it in some regions, but for the most part came even earlier. The early Christians adapted the story of Christ to mirror Mithraism to made him more of a god-man and more acceptable to the pagans. This way they could spread his teachings to more people and grow their following. This, of course, did not happen overnight and took a few hundred years, culminated by the conversion of Constantine and Theodosius making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the late 300's AD.
So that has been my take. Comment away, and let's discuss, but let's not make this personal please. Understand that I have respect for your beliefs and your right to follow them. I'm not trying to insult any of you or put your religion down at all, and I ask the same of you for me. I wish nothing more than to learn your opinions on this topic and talk about them.

Tony said...

Joe,

I am grateful to you as well; you have in a sense stepped into the proverbial lions' den. Let me first guarantee the discussion will not get out of hand here. It will be just that, a discussion. It may get passionate, I cannot bar against that, but there won't be any foolishness. Thanks for joining us!

Responding in the same order, I believe in a literal Satan (and angels, demons, and other such created beings). The Scriptural evidence for a literal Satan is manifold. Satan was there in the Garden of Eden at the Creation event, even present before then, Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 seem to confirm. Jesus also believed in a literal Satan. Numerous Gospel references will confirm that as well as other NT references.

While I disagree with you on the reality of Satan, I don't necessarily disagree that you have been deceived by a supernatural being.

Ancient religions are uncertain, and in my studies (and I am NOT alluding to the fact that I know more about this than you! No way!) I discovered that one of the contentions against Mithraism was its historical reliability. Much of the manuscript evidence has been tainted or there isn't very much to begin with. Oral tradition is by its very nature suspect.

However, the NT boasts more manuscript evidence than any other ancient literature; some 5,000 scripts and fragments. The OT is even more historically reliable claiming script evidence in the tens of thousands. And you have to add in the dedication and loyalty in the scribal tradition that guaranteed a near-perfect copy (though it didn't preclude errors).

I must also state that roughly one-third of the NT is OT allusion with a couple hundred direct quotations.

Thirdly, I don't doubt that there has been some pagan-accomodation in the propagation of the Gospel. It still goes on in many ways. I cannot help but think that many of the allegations you make against Christianity are not necessarily against Christ Himself, but rather against the adopted pagan practices of the church. Maybe that dichotomy would help us to better understand this.

Thoughts? I'm sure you've got 'em!

Luke said...

Well, I guess, first up then, I'd like to argue which came first, Mithraism or Christianity. I am going to state that Christianity did. Christianity is a direct birth out of Judaism and Judaism was a direct birth out of the patriarchs. My link is thus, Pre-Jesus looked forward to the Christ, Post-Jesus looks back to the Christ. And I am stating that there is only ONE true faith since the beginning of Creation. The beliefs bound in Egypt, Persia, Palestine all devolved from the truth that was first foretold by God Himself, both directly(Genesis 3) and indirectly(Genesis 1:14) A single truth thus is the fountain-head for all that is false. Whether you can accept Satan's reality or not changes not the fact that the foretold truth of Christ predated ALL false religions. All false religions kept parts here and there and added to and took away that which was unpalatable. So even when we speak of the word "Christianity", we are not simply speaking of a first century word but rather, the culmination of most(some left to be fulfilled) that was foretold about the Christ. There is a line of believers from the beginning(Able) down to the birth of Christ(Simeon). These men all lived by faith(Hebrews 11). The patriarchs looked forward in faith, we look back in faith.

As to the existence of Satan himself, I certainly believe. Scripture testifies of such. The passage I am speaking from tonight, Leviticus 17, even addresses such. The book of Job confirms his existence as well as other passages in the Scriptures. While you may dismiss this argument because you have rejected the idea of a real enemy(Satan), it does not mean that the whole argument fails for then man himself becomes the enemy in altering God's plan since the beginning of time. But I am assured that is because of their blindness and rebellion because of the influence of Satan upon them. With a big grin, I might add that even Jesus believed in Satan and devils.

Tony, thanks again for bringing this up. Hadn't thought of this in some time.

JoeG said...

Oh, I got 'em! :)
There is no doubt that there are good and evil forces at work in our lives all around us. Where I differ with you on the existance of Satan is that I don't believe there is good and evil, per se, in the spirit world. I believe in souls, spirits, angels if you will. But all of this good and evil, and the vengence and anger that God shows in the Bible is all human emotion. We believe that there is no need for human emotion on the other side. God/Goddess, as a perfect being(s), is not subject to the degredation of human emotion. That is what makes us imperfect. When we die, our souls return to their purest form, unihibited by the body and the emotions and ego that go with it. It is from those emotions, the need for guilt, and the need for a being to "scare us straight", so to speak, that Satan was born. And, incidentally, the common visual portrayal of Satan is based on the pagan god Pan, who was not an evil being. He was just drawn that way. :)
As far as I am concerned, ALL religions are uncertain. You just happen to benefit from being created at a time when written documentation of beliefs was easier, more available, and more preservable. Even then, as you state, human error is a possiblilty, from mistranslation to embellishment to leaving out crucial documents from the final biblical manuscript. There is a lot of reference in the gospels and the words of Jesus and his followers about knowing the "secret" and the "mysteries", but obviously those are never clearly spelled out. What are they? What impact would knowing them have on modern Christian faith? The most glaring problem with the gospels is that there are about 25-30 years of Jesus life NOT documented anywhere. Why not? What was he doing? There is historical evidence (I am not claiming it to be strong, mind you, just that it is there) that Jesus spent his "Lost Years" studying both in India and with the Essenes. Both believed in a feminine aspect of the divine, and both taught reincarnation. The Dead Sea Scrolls seem to support that this belief existed among certain Jewish sects and the early Christians, including Christ himself. Is it so? I think it is very possible. Read "The Lost Years of Jesus" by Elizabeth Claire Prophet and "Jesus and the Essenes" by Dolores Cannon. Pretty good stuff. Why then did Jesus only refer to God as Father? Was this a purposeful omission by the gospel writers to make their religion a whole new path apart from the widely accepted male/female divine? This is one thing I honestly don't have a good answer for...yet. :)
And finally, yes my allegations are absolutely nothing against Christ himself. Wiccans/pagans do revere him as a prophet, a Reiki Grandmaster, and a spiritual model. We just believe the story was taken from us, as were many of our practices that Christians still, quite hypocritically in my opinion, practice today. Christmas trees, mistletoe, caroling, exchanging Christmas gifts, Yule logs, Easter eggs and bunnies, Halloween (All Saints/Souls Day), are all pagan in origin, just to name a scant few. Christians openly condemn us for being pagan, yet have no problem celebrating using our symbology and rituals.
OK, my hand is getting tired. :) Let me stop there for more comments and see where it goes.

Bernard Shuford said...

Okay, I'm confused.

What are we discussing? This sounds a little like an "I'm right, you're wrong" argument. Okay, a lot. I either missed something or... Okay, I missed something :) What did I miss?

Tony said...

Luke,

You're welcome and thanks for the contribution. You and I are on the same page. I think to argue that Mithraism predates Christ overlooks that Christianity was birthed from ancient Judaism, which has its roots all the way back into creation itself. Christ was prophesied as early as Genesis 3:15.

And on Satan, we agree there as well. however, Satan need not be present to influence to do evil; James made that clear in 1:14. Our flesh, or propensity to do sin, tempts us just as Satan does. "We are drawn away by our own desires and enticed."

Joe,

Ahh man, we also differ on the presence of evil in the spiritual realm. There are numerous examples in the Bible that evil's presence is very real in the form of demons and Satan himself. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."

Neither do I believe that it is emotion that makes us imperfect; it is our natural bent to sin that makes us that way. Sin also taints our emotions, which the Bible teaches that there are righteous ways to deal with emotions as well as sinful ways. (Be angry, and sin not...) Jesus was the perfect demonstration of this in that he handled all of His emotions perfectly. Emotions are not the problem, sin is.

Moreover, emotions are not people trying to paint a veneer on God to make Him more palatable, but rather people fail to express their emotions in a righteous fashion that makes us see God as vindictive, angry, wrathful, malicious, etc. though I must admit some of the OT renderings of God and His demand, for instance to slaughter the Amalekites (men, women, children, even the suckling baby) in 1 Samuel 15 I have trouble with. God expresses Himself perfectly all the time.

re: Satan, Pan is the caricature, no doubt, but rather the Bible paints him as a very appealing character in some places. Paul described him as an angel of light; a beautiful creature that causes people to desire to follow after Him (a stunning contrast is that of Christ in Isaiah 53, that He has no features that would cause anyone to desire Him, yet they do).

[My fingers are tiring :)]

I'll respond to the 25 or so years that we don't have of Christ's life; I see the Gospel's not as chronological accounts, though they are orderly (Luke 1:1). John 21:25 records that not everything was recorded about Jesus, which assumes that a vast majority of material has been lost.

In believing that the Bible is inspired by God, there must have been a reason God did not desire to have that material recorded about His Son. That may be a simplistic explanation, but one that satisfies me. The Gospels are like photo albums. They picture that which was important about the life of Christ and necessary for a person to put their trust in Him.

What was important to the Gospel writers was His birth and then His entering into the earthly part of His ministry and eventually when he was crucified, giving His life as that sinless sacrifice for your sins and mine.

So while it is entertaining to speculate about those "lost years" in the end it is just that; speculation. What Christians need for faith and practice is adequately preserved in the Bible.

(Phew!)

B,

We're comparing Mithras and Christ. I don't think you have missed anything. You got a good word?

Streak said...

Perhaps I read this too quickly. Are you guys saying that the oral tradition of the OT is rock solid enough to say that it prophesied the existence of other religions--those other religions, who, of course, rely on problematic oral histories?

As Tony and Joe know, I am a Christian (albeit a very cynical and angry one right now) so am not joining JoeG's faith. But I do wonder why Christians think that their faith has not evolved syncretic-ally out of other belief systems.

And lastly, I must say that blaming other beliefs or their use of common Biblical imagery on Satan reminds me of someone who told me that God had created dinosaur bones--not dinosaurs, mind you--to give people a little faith test.

Tony said...

Streak,

I don't think I referred to an oral tradition of the OT; I referred to the scribal tradition and their dedication and loyalty that has us a near-perfect copy.

And I think I also alluded to the fact that Christianity's practices have evolved syncretistically; here, I don't doubt that there has been some pagan-accomodation in the propagation of the Gospel. It still goes on in many ways. I cannot help but think that many of the allegations you make against Christianity are not necessarily against Christ Himself, but rather against the adopted pagan practices of the church, the sixth comment down. Joe clarified in the eighth comment.

I am not denying the reality of Satan; I think there is ample evidence that he does deceive people. But I think to "blame" Satan for initiating any faith tradition is to give him too much credit. Humans can fabricate enough on their own without Satan's help.

Streak said...

See, I knew I read it too quickly.

Tony said...

See? Reading comprehension is your friend after all. :)

How ububian of me to say such.

JoeG said...

OK, first a clarification.
Tony, I did not mean to imply that evil does not exist in the spirit world. It does, in the form of negative energy, which is necessary to balance positive energy. While some pagans believe this negative energy exists in the "embodiment" of demons or evil spirits, I do not. I believe it is negative energy that is out there that we can invite (intentionally or not) as an influence in our lives and in our world. Sorry for that confusion. It's been a long day. ;)

I think you and Luke are illustrating the main obstacle we are going to face in having this conversation. Correct me if I am wrong, but both of you believe that the Genesis story is real history, and Adam and Eve were real people. If the OT happened exactly as Genesis were written, then yes, we have no choice but to believe that Judaism is the original religion on this planet. However, I (and many millions of others) do not. We see it as a mythology, a story to describe how people came to be here, made up by people who did not yet understand the concept of evolution. The OT was originally passed down through oral history, and was eventually transcribed. Nobody was writing this all down as it happened! Moses wasn't travelling with his own personal autobiographer. There are several historical accounts of Moses, but they vary significantly with the biblical accounts. I think I agree with what Streak said in his post (not that he believes it, but it was his question) that the oral tradition of the OT is NOT rock solid enough to say that it prophesied the existence of other religions that would confuse the "true" fulfillment of OT prophecy, ie Jesus.
I believe humans have been here for tens of thousands of years, in various parts of the world, and many religions existed before Judaism. You believe that the Bible is historically accurate, and that the Genesis story is what is. That is, in my opinion, a major stumbling block in this conversation.
Let's hold off on the conversations on emotion, Satan, and the missing years of Jesus for the time being. I think that is what is leading to Bernard's confusion, as it is getting off-topic. Let's try and stay as close to the original topic as possible - why are there so many similarities between the gospel stories of Jesus and the life stories of Mithra, Horus, Osiris, etc., who historically came before Jesus.
Tony, you acknowledge that there has been some pagan accomodation in the propogation of the bible. How does this affect your view of the infallible truth and accuracy of the bible? If there is pagan accomodation, then the NT story can't be all accurate. How do you reconcile pagan accomodation with biblical inerrancy? Streak, can you answer the same since you seem to be coming from a different point of view than Tony? If I remember right, you don't believe in biblical inerrancy. What's your take on Christianity evolving out of other belief systems?

Streak said...

Correct me if I am wrong, but both of you believe that the Genesis story is real history, and Adam and Eve were real people. If the OT happened exactly as Genesis were written, then yes, we have no choice but to believe that Judaism is the original religion on this planet.

I suspect you are correct, here Joe, and I would suggest further that in the millions that don't believe Genesis is real history, you can count a large number of orthodox Christians who would see that as myth as well. Certainly describes me (though, at this point, I am not sure "orthodox" does).

Karma Shuford said...

In the *little* bit of study I have had time to do, one of the conclusions I seem to be coming to is that "mithrasism" does pre-date Christ. However, based on what I read, it was kind of a "catch all" religion, from the beginning and ended up changing and evolving greatly from the beginning until several hundred years after Christianity had "taken root," and essentially took on whatever characteristics were popular at the time.

If I have time tonight, I'll try to re-track down my sources, though there were several that gave me that impression.

Also, like Tony (I think it was) alluded to, the "history" of the mithras is very intermittent for lack of a better word. From what I understand, very little is written down or recorded outside of artwork. Much of what is know is speculation based on the pieces of art that have been found, etc.

Bernard Shuford said...

Is Jesus Christ God in the flesh, or just another man that people made up stories about?

Streak said...

Could be both God and someone that people made up stories about. Or at least someone who people created mythologies around.

For me that has always been the problem of the Josh McDowell approach (Lord, lunatic, or liar). Could be simply "misquoted."

Luke said...

Out of curiosity, and I think this is germane or I would not ask it, does it necessarily follow that if there is good there must be evil? Certainly, we can have truth without a lie, but we cannot have a lie without truth for a lie is the distortion of a truth. I am arguing then that it is not necessary that we have Evil just because we have Good, but it is necessary that we have Good if we have Evil.

Joe, you are correct. Our conversation does hinge on the veracity of the Scripture. As Paul wrote, if Christ be not raised up from the dead, we(Tony and myself) are fools. Though there are some I am sure that would argue that about me anyway. Thus, if I were to admit that the Bible is not true, then the possibility of what you propose might be true. A fact that I am not willing to assent but willing to acknowledge if the scenario were true.

And finally, my understanding of Mithraism is that it did not develop until the 1st century A.D. It did seem to spring from Zoroastrianism but it only seems to have fully developed as we know it into the 1st and 2nd centuries. If that is the case, then Mithraism is contemporary with Christianity proper and I might would say that the birth of Christ would predate or at least occur at the same moment. It would be impossible then to say that Christianity "borrowed" from something that itself was only in infant form. And I have come to the same understanding as Karma, that there are no written records of Mithraism but only oral tradition that was used to keep it secret.

Never-the-less, because of the resurrection of Christ, I am convinced that the Word of God is true. Thus, I would argue ad nauseum that Mithraism borrowed from Christianity and not the other way around.

I am willing to concede as well that there are aspects of other religions that "christians" picked up and "added" to Christianity but that is not surprising since the Jews did the same thing with Judaism. In the final conclusion though, just as Judaism was dealt with for adding to God's Word, so will "Christianity".

Bernard Shuford said...

Streak - ya dodge muh question, man :)

Is Jesus Christ God in a human body?

Karma Shuford said...

there is definitely no shortage of information out there, that is certain.

Karma Shuford said...

quick question -- in your first "similarity," you state that mithras was born of a virgin, in a cave.

everything I am reading says he was born from a rock, which would have resulted in a cave forming.

where can I find a virgin reference?

Tony said...

Joe,

Yes, let's set aside for now the discussion about Satan, emotions, and the lost years of Christ. Good call.

I don't believe in any kind of dualism. Evil is not necessary in any sense to "balance" good. It seems this could be proven from practical experience though certainly the Bible sees no dualistic sense at all. There will be no "balancing spirits" in the age to come, where evil will be done away with permanently.

God is self-existent and the Bible teaches that He Himself is the perfect expression of good and requires no evil to "balance" Himself. This does not preclude the existence of Satan or any other demonic spirits.

And yes--I do believe Genesis 1-11 is literal history. Now that I need to qualify. I believe Adam and Eve were real people; the earth was created in six 24 hour days; but I don't necessarily believe in a young earth. That point is arguable and some noted OT scholars/theologians hold to a "gap theory" or a modification of it.

I simply see no textual evidence for a young earth. Most of YEC is based upon conjecture based upon the various genealogies (I know, most of this you probably already know, but for the sake of argument...). I do not think YEC is necessary to hold a historical view of Genesis 1-11. As a matter of fact, most orthodox theologians of 150 years ago still believed in an old earth.

I am not convinced this is a stumbling block to our discussion, though.

Regarding the OT scribal tradition, my argument does hinge, as Luke rightly stated, on the veracity of the OT. Your argument is based upon the solidarity of the OT oral tradition, but I have made no claim for its veracity. The scribal tradition is veracious. Scribes were diligent in their copying of the manuscripts down to counting letters to ensure that on every page the same letter was the exact center; if it was the same letter compared to the original, then the copy was sufficient; otherwise, it was destroyed immediately.

Now I think we need to clarify the usage of some terms; you said Tony, you acknowledge that there has been some pagan accomodation in the propogation of the bible.

What I actually said was, I don't doubt that there has been some pagan-accomodation in the propagation of the Gospel. Big difference! I think you may be confused as to how I am using the term "Gospel". In this context I am talking about the spread of the Good News of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I think you took it to mean I was referring to the whole corpus of Scripture, and I was not.

What I meant was that there are certainly some accomodative aspects in church practices, but not in the Bible; the use of an altar, the celebration of Easter and Christmas, etc.

There actually is a very significant movement within Christianity to restore it to the purity of the Scriptures and abandon the usage of these pagan practices in worship. It is something that I have also become increasingly interested in. Perhaps my good friend Steve Sensenig will join the thread or in another post and he can address any questions you have on that matter.

Luke has hit on a question already that I had wanted to ask and will pose to you now; the book of Acts records the very early history of Christianity beginning with its inception and continuing for about thirty-five years. How can Christianity borrow from something when itself was only having barely begun? Acts (chapter 15 for instance--the Jerusalem Council) is clear that they were still codifying their own doctrine, much less "borrowing" from other sources.

Plus, it seems that Mithraism just does not have the textual evidence that undergirds Christianity. Very little documentary evidence survives.

Karma,

Those have been some of my observations, too. Little is recorded of Mithraism, plus its own internal consistency seems suspect to me. I have found references that differ on Mithras' birth; some say of a virgin in a cave, some say born from a rock.

Check here and here for conflicting sources on Mithras' birth.

I listed those similarities just to get the ball rolling on some discussion here.

And Joe, once again, I have got to thank you for participating in this discussion!

Gary said...

Streak,

Unless you are defining "orthodox" in an unorthodox way, all orthodox Christians believe that Genesis is real history and not myth.

Tony said...

Gary,

I am a little apprehensive allowing you to post. I'll allow it--for now. My finger is near the delete button, though.

And if you continue to post--no double aliases.

Streak said...

Gary, you are wrong here as well. Many orthodox Christians see Genesis as story.

Gary said...

Everything in the Bible depends upon the historical truth of Genesis. Every major Bible doctrine finds its beginning in Genesis (creation, sin, salvation, redemption, etc.). Jesus taught and lived and died as though Genesis is real history, as did all of the believers mentioned in the Bible, and as did all of the writers of Scripture.

Those who deny that Genesis is history create problems they cannot solve and questions they cannot answer.

Bernard Shuford said...

Gary - At the same time, those of us who believe Genesis to be literal history also have problems we can't solve and questions we can't answer, outside of faith. Nearly every answer to the "age of the earth" question that YECs come up with involves "created with the appearance of age". I believe God is able to do just that - Adam was created as a grown man - but it's a laughable concept to Old Earthers and we have absolutely no Scriptural support for it. As JoeG mentioned, why would God create dinosaur bones if there were never any dinosaurs?

Just food for thought. This isn't an easy question to solve. It's also pretty far off topic, in one sense, so I apologize for continuing in the "wrong" direction.

Tony said...

Bernard,

That's a good word. I do believe Genesis 1-11 as literal history but I will quickly concede that there are still questions that cannot be answered.

There is a clash between faith and science in this area, no doubt. I don't think evolution has explanatory power where origins are concerned, but YEC has no real explanatory power where much of proven science is concerned; i.e., speciation, the fossil record.

Certainly God 'could' have created something with the appearance of age, but I think that begs a simple question; "Why?"

Great discussion, everyone. More to come, I hope.

Bernard Shuford said...

Another quick scientific problem that we have is the raw size of the universe and the speed of light. If the creation is less than 10,000 years old, how do we explain the fact that we can see stars and galaxies that are millions of light years away, based on astronomical calculations using trigonometry, red shift, etc. that are accepted even by young earth scientists? We can maintain that God simply created all light at one time, even the "beams" that appear to be hundreds or millions of miles. Light travels 670 MILLION miles per hour. It travels even faster in a vacuum. The CLOSEST star besides the sun is 4.2 light years away. The CLOSEST galaxy is the Large Magellanic Cloud, and it is 160,000 light years away. What are we who believe God's creation to be historical and accurate to do with that?

These are not easy questions. They ARE related to the discussion of Mithras in a critical way, because JoeG has given us a challenge, in a sense, to tell him why we see Christianity as valid while Mithras is not.

I throw this little discussion in because I DON'T KNOW. I will admit that I don't know. I don't tell the atheist that he is an idiot; he probably is much SMARTER than I. Neither do I adopt a position of saying "God said it, I believe it, and that's all that matters." If God actually said it, I do believe it. But I perfectly well realize that there are some very difficult things about this to explain.

And I'm willing to talk. I admit this - I believe something that is quite fantastic, quite difficult to believe, and in many ways, quite unbelievable. I realize that the faith to believe in Jesus Christ is indeed a gift from God. I often question - do I REALLY believe this?

I BELIEVE that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that He died and was buried and rose again on the third day. That's a SIMPLE version. There's a LOT more to believing in Jesus Christ than just saying those words.

And a lot of it is baffling. Just baffling.

Tony said...

THAT kind of humility is what is essential in a discussion of this nature, Bernard. Thanks for modeling it for us.

Your observations are accurate. Sure, God COULD have created things that way, but that just seems like the easy way out to me; a cop-out if you will, intellectually dishonest, and a failure to deal with empirical data.

The fact is some things ARE nearly impossible to reconcile and faith is, in a sense, necessary in almost every discipline--not just theology.

As a further illustration, I once pointed out in a discussion about origins and YEC that a giraffe has valves in the ARTERIES in his neck. Certainly this is evidence of a Creator; to a degree it is, but more so it is evidence of complexity. And some things are so complex they are difficult to reconcile. There is some intellectual grasping at straws on both sides; hence the need for humility.

JoeG said...

"There is some intellectual grasping at straws on both sides; hence the need for humility."

I couldn't have said it better myself. Tony and Bernard, thank you for putting yourselves out there and laying this stuff on the table. Bernard, you are right, this discussion IS on topic for the exact reason you mention, and I am glad you are so willing to talk about it. Whether Mithraism came before or was coexistant with Christianity is, in my opinion, a non-issue for this reason. The stories of Horus and Osiris have many similarities as well, and both of those clearly came before Christ and Mithra. Elements of Tony's list have existed in many religions for thousands of years. The bottom line argument is, as Bernard and Tony said, why is Christianity the valid one and all of these other ones not acceptable?
I think Streak is closest to my line of thinking here. Jesus could have been a highly revered prophet or holy person around whom people created mythologies...ones they may have already been familiar with.
In response to Luke, you ask why it must follow that if there is good there must be evil. You need to have one in order to define the other. I guess "balance" wasn't the right word to use, you don't need equal parts of both. Let me try to explain it better. The concept of good cannot be understood without the concept of evil to contrast it with. One cannot exist without the other, it cannot go one way as you state it. In the same way, we could not understand healthy without the concept of illness. We cannot understand happiness without the concept of sadness. How could you explain light unless darkness existed? Kind of a "what is the sound of one hand clapping" topic to contemplate.
Tony, I agree that God/Goddess is self existant and is the expression of perfection. Evil is not there to balance God. Satan is not necessary just for God to have a counterpart. Evil just is. Good just is. God created the perfect space for it all to exist. And so it does, and so we are here to do what we can with those forces around us. And thanks for clarifying about the pagan accomodation, I understand your viewpoint better now.
I understand that the scribal tradition of the OT was very strict. My issue comes down to what they were transcribing. They trnascribed an oral history that had been passed down like any other oral history, including the pagan ones. They were diligent about copying it as perfectly as possible once it was first transcribed. But how closely what they transcribed matches what the original stories were or where they came from is what I am calling into question. To me, that makes it just as (un)reliable as the heiroglyphs, pottery pictures, and artifacts that help us understand Greek and Roman mythology and Mithraism. It leaves a lot of open questions that you and Bernard bravely put forward with the proviso that even you don't understand it. How can we see stars millions of light years away? Where were the dinosaurs in all of this? How do you explain the existance of giants such as Goliath when no evidence of them has been found? If the theory of evolution is ever conclusively proven, what does that do to the veracity of Genesis and, in turn according to Gary, the veracity of the entire Bible? If Genesis turns out to be a mythology, does that really destroy the entire Christian faith? Same question goes for what if the story od Jesus is part true part mythology as Streak and I suggest? Is Christianity then invalidated entirely? I don't happen to think so. But Bernard said it best - to just ponder these concepts shows how truly baffling this is, how complex God and all of creation are, and how little we really know what God's plan for all of us is. I think anyone of any faith to turn around and tell me that they have the right answer without question is laughable. And, as I've said many times before, none of us will know the truth until we die - and I'm sure all of us will be a little surprised at what we find! :)
Awesome discussion, I'm stunned at the number of posts so far!

Gary said...

If evolution is true, then the Bible, including Genesis is not true. And then Christianity would be false. If Genesis is just a fictional story, then Christianity would be just another fairytale.

In order for the rest of the Bible to be true, Genesis must be real history. Every Bible doctrine depends upon the historic accuracy of Genesis, including Christ. If Genesis is myth, then there is no reason for God to come as Savior.

Those who claim Christianity can be valid, but be based on a myth, are either ignorant of the facts, or they are hallucinating.

Streak said...

then count me among the hallucinating. Better that than any group Gary is a member of. When doubt is considered degeneracy and proof of a lack of faith, then I am out.

Bernard, thanks for your very kind and inclusive comments. I am sorry I have not gotten back to you. Perhaps I am the wrong person to ask right now about the divinity of Christ.

Luke said...

Joe,
I think you changed ideas on me there. You have gone from balance to understanding but I’ll restate my opinion using your illustrations. Illness does not have to exist for Health to exist. Darkness does not have to exist for Light to exist. Sadness does not have to exist for Happiness to exist. Evil does not have to exist for Good to exist. Illness is the absence of health. Dark is the absence of light. Sadness is the absence of happiness. Evil is the absence of good. By the way, cold is the absence of heat. Just thought I’d throw that one in for good measure. Our ability to understand or explain light is not predicated upon the fact that there is darkness. Health can exist where there is no illness. But illness cannot exist where there is no health. Back to the truth/lie. Truth can exist without a lie. But a lie does not exist without truth. So I am back where I started. There is a single Truth and Jesus embodied all that is Truth. Everything else is a distortion of that Truth. Whether it be Osiris, Mithra, Buddha or any else, they are a distortion of that which is True. Why? Because Jesus claimed to be the ONLY Truth as well as He was the direct revelation of God to man.

Streak,
Without trying to justify Gary’s comments, I do add this. It would be difficult for me to understand how someone can believe in Jesus and believe that Genesis is a myth because to truly receive Jesus means to receive the Father and Genesis is the recorded word of the Father to men. To me, it would be like trying to understand how someone went swimming but denied they were in water. Swimming and water just go hand in hand to me as does believing in Jesus and believing in the veracity of Genesis.

Thanks again Joe for your interaction.

Streak said...

Luke,

My background is in history. I teach some Native American and Western US history, and as such, am well familiar with the numerous origin stories out there. I read them in class. They are all beautiful and poetic and interesting. And for me, it seems the height of arrogance to so easily dismiss the Maidu story of Turtle and earth initiate yet claim that Adam and Eve were real people. --when the stories are so very similar in form and function.

And I don't understand why I have to accept such a poetic story as literal truth. For me, the mythology is beautiful and meaningful (that is what myth is, after all). Making the meaning dependent on the historicity of the story makes no sense to me.

JoeG said...

Luke -
Yes, I did switch ideas, I stated that "balance" was not the proper word to use as it implies equal parts of both, which is not what I am trying to convey. Again, sorry for that confusion.

Luke, think of it like this. We can both explain and understand that light is the absence of darkness, just as darkness is the absence of light. It goes both ways, not just the one way you state. However, say there was no such thing as darkness. You could no longer describe the concept of light as the absence of darkness, as nobody would understand what you were talking about. Light would take on a whole new meaning. The same goes for good and evil. If evil did not exist, yes, everyone would act "good", but they would not understand it as "good" as there would be no alternative. There would be no merit to acting "good" because there would be no other choice. There would be no temptation to fall into, there would exist no negative actions for us to be judged on, whether as you believe by God after death or as I believe in the form of karma or your negative actions returning to you threefold while here. What would be the benefit of acting good if there were no such thing as evil to avoid? Evil would have to exist in order for good to mean absolutely anything.
(OK, that's either going to help or make your head asplode. I'll supply the paper towels if the latter.)

Tony, I realized I neglected to address your question about the book of Acts. The Acts of the Apostles is a partial record of the early church. It does not discuss the writing of the gospels, which historically would have taken place a few decades after the events of Acts. It would not contain any details of how the gospels were written, how, if at all, other religions would be assimilated. There is no way to know strictly from Acts whether or not other "competing" religions were borrowed from in the writing of the gospel stories. Acts discusses certain aspects of codifying doctrine and how early Christians were viewed among the Jewish community. Other religions were not mentioned. But much as Christians say that just because Jesus didn't mention homosexuality doesn't mean he supports it, so too does it stand to reason that just because it isn't mentioned in Acts doesn't mean it didn't happen. That's about the best I can explain it, and I know that is a fairly simplistic explanation in comparison to any full-on discussion we can have on it. But I at least thought I could take the long winded version and give you a bumper stiker version for now. :)

JoeG said...

Streak -
Sorry for the quick second post, but I just saw your comment. I completely agree on your assertion about the Turtle story.
Plus, it would stand to reason that Jesus would speak to the Jews about the story of Adam and Eve when referring to creation, as he would discuss with them the story they were familiar with. If he knew evolution to be true and told them all "no, Adam and Eve is not how it happened, this is really how man came to be", he would have lost them all and the message he was trying to convey would have been lost. He knew that his message did not depend on whether the story of Adam and Eve was literal or not. So he spoke to them in their own terminology to get his own point across. Why give a science lesson when science is not the point? His message and his teachings were not dependent on creationism or evolution being true. It simply didn't matter.

Luke said...

"The height of arrogance"? So am I to understand from that statement that you believe that ALL beliefs are equally valid? If it truly is arrogance to dismiss any belief that does not give the glory to Jehovah God then I guess I am guilty of arrogance. But the witness of Scripture is not that we were formed from a turtle but rather by the very hand of God. While both state that the earth was formed, they both cannot be true. Either one is or the other is or some other truth is. But 1+1=2 is not the same as 1+1=3. I am quite confident that two people who hold to each respectively cannot both be right and I do not think that it is arrogant for one to assert that he is right and the other wrong. Otherwise, your opinion of Jesus would have to be the same and if you think Jesus was arrogant about His beliefs/teachings, then I do not think that our conversation will go very far.

Streak said...

Luke, I apologize. When I used the word "arrogance" I was thinking of me, not others. I almost changed it and then didn't. It was a poorly chosen phrase.

And no, I am not suggesting that all beliefs are equally valid--otherwise I would not consider myself a Christian. But I do consider all mythogenesis stories to be essentially equal. They are deeply tied to culture and history in a rather primordial fashion and so represent the various cultures efforts at understanding the incomprehensible.

But again, remember, I don't consider Genesis literal, nor do I believe that I have to accept it as literal to see what I believe is much more convincing, new, and different about Christianity--which are the teachings of Christ.

Luke said...

Joe,
That is where I disagree. Darkness is not something. Rather, it is solely the absence of light which we do know is something.

Light is.

Darkness is the absence of light.

Follow? And if not, you can use the rest of my roll of Bounty. It may be the quicker picker upper but it still gets on your hands.:)

Luke said...

Will be back later. About to head home and so it will probably not be until after I do my chores and eat supper that I'll be back.

Tony said...

Gary,

Try seasoning your remarks with a little more grace, please.

Joe,

Acts is a record of the advent of the early church. My point was not that Acts would have referred to Mithraism's development alongside of it; there would have been no need. My point was that I'm not so sure Christianity could have borrowed from Mithraism given that both religions were in their infancy. Acts clearly shows that the early church was grappling with codifying their own doctrine, and not just what to believe, but also how and why. (Plus where, incidentally, because temple worship was rendered superfluous; though not significant for this argument.)

It doesn't follow that Christianity could have followed from Mithraism if Christianity was itself in its primordial beginning. It seems more logical to me that Christianity would have to have taken on a "personality" (not the best choice of words, admittedly) of its own before any outside influence crept in.

But much as Christians say that just because Jesus didn't mention homosexuality doesn't mean he supports it, so too does it stand to reason that just because it isn't mentioned in Acts doesn't mean it didn't happen.

I don't know if that is the best illustration and might be a tad unfair to bring into this discussion. I'll lay the comparison to homosexuality aside.

There is no way to know strictly from Acts whether or not other "competing" religions were borrowed from in the writing of the gospel stories.

However, and I think you will agree, arguments from silence are the most tenuous and it still seems the burden of proof rests upon you to show where Christianity has borrowed from Mithras and not vice versa.

I could make the same allegation--
there is no way to know strictly if Christianity has borrowed from Mithras. I think the scant textual evidence supports this claim.

***Joe, I must say you are a trooper. Thanks again for hanging out here. Hope we haven't scared you off yet. :)

Luke,

You said to Streak, It would be difficult for me to understand how someone can believe in Jesus and believe that Genesis is a myth... I agree here, it is hard for me to follow and understand as well because I hold the Bible in as high regard as you do. However, I know some very sincere Christians who believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (and are more evangelistic than probably you and I put together) yet still have not accepted Genesis 1-11 as literal; they still look at it as allegorical. (As a matter of fact, the pastor of my home church believes that Adam and Eve are representative of humanity and were not human themselves. However, I have heard him preach the Gospel--and he does.)

I think we make a misstep if we add literal belief in Genesis (or the entire Bible, for that matter) as a Gospel requirement. The Bible is explicit in what a person must do to be saved, and belief in a literal Genesis isn't required.

Trust me, though, I am not accusing you of doing this. I myself have fluctuated in this particular area for quite some time.

JoeG said...

Luke -
I still think you are missing my overall point. I get what you are saying about darkness and light, though I still look at it myself from a slightly different perspective. Let's put that aside and stick with the conversation on good and evil. How would anyone know what good was if the concept of evil did not exist? What merit would there be in being good if it were the only option and everyone was doing it? Evil must exist in order for good to have any merit of benefit - in any belief system.

Tony -
You can't keep getting hooked on the Mithraism link. Many of the same elements existed in the story of Horus and Krishna. Check out this page for Horus similarities: http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jcpa5.htm
And these two for Krishna:
http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jckr.htm
http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jckr1.htm
There are over 200 striking similarites between Horus and Jesus recorded, and even more between Jesus and Krishna. The story of Horus existed thousands of years before Christ, and Krishna was even earlier. It is likely that Mithraism and Christianity BOTH borrowed from these. As I've said on the other blog, and I likely have not made clear enough, my contention is not solely about Mithraism and the gospels, they just happened to be the closest at the time. My overall point is that the elements of the stories of Jesus (and Mithra) existed for thousands of years in multiple faiths. So to me, your point about Acts and Mithraism, while valid, is rather moot in light of this.

I apologize if the homosexuality argument was offensive, I did not mean it to be. I was not trying to make a comparison to homosexuality. That is just one of the discussions in past topic threads where the "lack of mention" argument was made. I could have used another subject.

Maybe for the next topic on this you open, we can focus on the Horus and Krishna similarities and see how these permeated over the thousands of years to the Christ story. These back up my contentions, and go toward my burden of proof. I am not simply making an argument from silence.

And don't worry about me being scared off. I am as strong in my beliefs as you are in yours. If I am scared off by what seems to so far be a productive conversation, then I have no business starting this discussion in the first place!

Bright blessings to everyone participating in this discussion, and thank you all for your input. This is going even better than I anticipated! :)

JoeG said...

Quick clarification to anyone who reads the items in the links I posted. I understand that some of the Horus similarities are shaky. For example, I don't believe Horus was actually baptised or crucified. A number of other ones are valid though. The Krishna page does a better job at pointing out the more solid claims from the shaky ones. Check out this page for more accurate info on Horus and ties to Jesus:
http://www.crystalinks.com/horus.html

I also encourage others to comment on my response to Streak about my idea on why Jesus spoke about Adam and Eve, and the creation story in general. Curious as to the responses.

I'll try and check in over the weekend. If not, have a good one and I look forward to reading more on Monday!

Bernard Shuford said...

JoeG - In response to your comment to Streak: That seems to me to be a very convenient re-writing of history to fit your thesis. Similar to "the Jews had a death wish, and Hitler was actually their friend." You are basically saying this - "Jesus lied intentionally to keep from confusing the idiots who were listening so that he could tell them a great truth."

You have a massive problem to get around, for me, if you maintain the story of Adam and Eve to be purely allegorical. The problem is that Adam is listed in the NT genealogy of Jesus Christ. As well, if "Adam" represents thousands of years of evolution, how did Adam have two certain children, Cain and Abel? Sure, there were others, but those two were specifically listed as being born to Adam and Eve. Parenting is very individual. Children are born to one mother. No more, no less. As well, Adam is given an age at which he died. It is a very large number, which lends a certain credence to your proposal that "Adam" represents mankind over a long period of time, but the fact that Adam DIED is a most convincing argument, for me, that he was a singular human being.

You'll have a hard time convincing me to not regard the Bible as authoritative :) But I can acknowledge your position without threatening my own.

To mildly change the direction of this comment, I must say this - the most convincing proof of Christianity is the change that happens in the life of a person who places their entire trust in Jesus Christ. It is villified by the gift of faith that God provides. As one who has experienced it, I can only say that I know my God is real. I wish there were some qualitative evidence that I could provide to "argue" you to belief, but I cannot. I cannot provide irrefutable science or evidence. If I could do so, I would, but you would then have been convinced by fact, and not by faith. I cannot - and should not - tease you with "Try it and see." It doesn't work that way. My faith in Christ is not an experiment. I cannot turn to something else if this "doesn't work out for me." My faith is completely in him. I know that's hard to grasp. I know that's hard to accept, and difficult to believe. I can fully see the fact that there are many competing philosophies and religions, but I believe Christ is the true way. The only way. Anything less would be to not believe him at all.

JoeG said...

"But I can acknowledge your position without threatening my own."

Bernard, that's the best I can ever ask for! :) I can only offer the same to you.

The geneology given cannot be proven to have been true. Cain and Abel, in my opinion, were jsut as much a part of the myth as Adam and Eve. There are glaring questions there too. Who was it that Cain married? Where did she come from? How did they alone build the city in which they lived? Horus died too...and he was mythological. Just because someone wrote it on paper doesn't make it so.

I don't believe for a second that Jesus lied, nor did he think the people he was preaching to were idiots. He was trying to get a message across. The story of Adam and Eve had nothing to do with his great message. Why is it so hard to believe that he was just speaking to the story and scripture that they, and he, were most familiar with?

"most convincing proof of Christianity is the change that happens in the life of a person who places their entire trust in Jesus Christ."

I can understand this better than you know. I have seen, and am very close friends with, a few people who have undergone this change. It truly affected their lives in every way. But I have also seen this change in others who have embraced a faith other than Christianity - including myself. I grew up Catholic. I went to a Baptist church first for a few years once I left the church. I've read the bible. I've studied the bible. I tried, I really did, to experience what you did, but it never happened - until I embraced Wicca. I've seen miracles happen after praying to my Goddess as well. I'm just as convinced that my God and Goddess are real as well.

Streak said...

"villified?"

I am assuming you meant a different word here?

Bernard Shuford said...

Streak - You're right, thanks. I think I sort of meant "vindicated", but I don't know if that works there, either.

Probably better just move on to the next contestant.

Tony said...

Joe,

I understand the links between Horus and Osiris; however, I have been keeping on topic--Mithras and Jesus--like you exhorted earlier in the stream. :)

I will look at those links and I may respond in the form of a post, or some more of my own thoughts. Comment threads beyond fifty get really cumbersome and unwieldy (but don't let that keep anyone from participating!!!).

You said, My overall point is that the elements of the stories of Jesus (and Mithra) existed for thousands of years in multiple faiths.

I may have a disconnect here, but I don't think it logically follows that Christianity had to have borrowed anything from any other faith tradition. If my contention is right, that Christ was prophesied in the OT and Judaism is the archetypal religion from which Christianity springs, then it isn't necessary or probable that Christianity borrowed from any source, but rather vice versa. I will admit my thinking is still a bit fuzzy here.

One of the particular areas I am thinking is the use of the Greek word "logos" in the NT in its reference to Christ. In Greek thought and discourse, the "logos" was seen as that which was quintessential, that "word" (or argument) which brought harmony to all others, that which made sense (hence the derivative "logic").

"Logos" was used in Greek oration for hundreds of years before the birth of Christ and John purposefully applied it to Jesus in the opening of his Gospel; In the beginning was the word (logos) and the word (logos) was with God and the word (logos) was God.

Not decisive or conclusive but I hope that works to show you the direction of my thoughts.

Also, one other thought--if Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel are all allegorical, or representative if you will, then when in the OT do we cease looking at people as representative and begin looking at them as literal?

There are genealogies as early as the conclusion of chapter four (family line of Cain incidentally)--are we to dismiss those? Bernard raises a fair question that I don't think can or should be outright dismissed. Judaism saw Abraham as a real, historical figure, as did Christ. The Pharisees acknowledged Abraham's death and that their faith is based upon him as a real, historical person; John 8:48ff. I don't think it is fair to say they based their faith on the 'idea' of Abraham. Jesus as well acknowledged that Abraham was very real--in John 8:58 Jesus said, "Before Abraham was, I AM." Christ was pointing toward his preexistence and moreover, His identification with God Himself. And if He was preexistent, there would have been no need to draw from other sources; that would make Him the source, even the "logos".

Chapter five of Genesis is a compelling chapter that if you would like to hear it, I would LOVE to share my thoughts there. :)

Alright, stopping now! *Bright* blessings upon you as well, my friend. And as I am prone to saying, God bless you, and may you know the peace of Christ.

JoeG said...

"I don't think it logically follows that Christianity had to have borrowed anything from any other faith tradition."

It's not to say that Christianity HAD to borrow from any other tradition. To me, it's a logical conclusion that if there are so many common elements among Christianity and other faiths going back thousands of years, then at the least some borrowing likely took place. Where we differ most greatly is that I contend these other religions came first and Judaism is just one line of many religious threads that developed over the many years that humans have existed. Again, the literal vs mythological Genesis comes into play here. As to your question about where in the OT we cease seeing people as representative and start seeing them as literal: I don't know. It isn't something I have studied as deeply as other topics. I believe that point exists, I just can't say I have looked for the answer as to where it is. I'd like to defer on giving a clearer answer until I have one.

Your piece on "Logos", I agree, is not decisive, but it does clear up your thought pattern for me.

I don't think the geneologies should necessarily be completely dismissed, though I must admit I need to read them again. However, I think there may be some stretch of logic in there to consider them 100% accurate to the beginning of mankind. It could be that the geneology was kept starting with this historic figure named Adam and was kept very accurately after that. The story of Adam and Eve may then have been conjured to explain in the Judaic tradition where Adam came from as there was no historic information prior to him. I'm not saying this is what happened, but it is one interesting theory of many.

Yes, I would love to hear your thoughts on Genesis Chapter 5. I will read it again in the meantime to re-familiarize myself with it.

Amazing that we hit over 50 comments on this, I was hoping for 30! :) I look forward to continuing this here, at least in another new posting if you have one. I agree it starts getting crazy when it gets this long. But here's to 50 more, one way or the other! :)

Bernard Shuford said...

Joe - I think part of the basic Christian contention that sticks in your logic is the belief in the truth of the Scriptures. I believe - I won't speak for Tony even though I think we're pretty well on the same page - that the Bible is an inspired book. I believe it is true, and I basically believe it is inerrant in its original writings, even though we don't have those and never have. I believe there are "stories" in the Bible, and I personally believe that much of Revelation may be figurative rather than literal. However, I believe the "facts" that are presented in the Bible are true.

If we set out either to disprove what I regard as fact based on its Biblical account or inclusion, or with the presumption that the stories in the Bible may be "recordings of orally traditionalized myths", we are actually calling into question my belief in the truth of the Bible. That's a weighty question, you must admit.

To be fair, I'm curious as to whether the myths that you refer to regarding Mithras and other "gods" have ever been subjected to the same rigorous investigation that Christianity has. As for sheer volume of work, thousands upon thousands of scholarly books have been written by scholarly men affirming the truth of Christianity. Do these myths have this kind of scholarly investigation to support their veracity? Or are they simply accepted by the worldwide community of intelligencia as myths and nothing more?

Our discussion this far seems to be centralized on the premise that, since Christianity seems to be just a retelling of older myths / legends that are of much the same content, Christianity is no more true than they are.

I'm not mentally capable of settling all these issues, and though I believe you to be a very intelligent person, I doubt you are able to do so as well.

A CERTAIN percentage of "belief" in the story of Jesus comes from the fact that generation upon generation has studied the story and carried on the truth of it to following generations. That's not the real test, but it is one test. Is this true of Mithras?

Genuine curiosity - I hope this doesn't sound like a taunt or a bullying tactic. I'm genuinely interested in the perception here.

JoeG said...

I am not trying to single-handedly invalidate the Christian religion. I feel that some of the story of Jesus was mythologized, borrowing from ancient religious traditions, to emphasize the divinity of Jesus. That does not make his teachings invalid, or his position as a moral beacon invalid. However, I feel that my religion is just as valid is yours. I'm trying to defend my own without diminishing yours in the process - a difficult task indeed.

I can't say any religion went under the intense scrutiny Christianity has. As you stated, Mithraism and other pagan religions are generally accepted as myths, hence the study of Greek and Roman "mythology", not "religious history". Even some pagans accept many elements of the ancient religions to by mythology as well, to different degrees. We do, however, firmly believe in a God and Goddess, some as two separate entities, some as different aspects of a singluar divine, but either way active in our lives and in nature. Some believe in multiple other gods as well, I do not.

I think only Christianity invites such intense scrutiny and study is the fact that it is one of the few religions, and largest by far, to make claims of exclusivity - you either follow Christ, or you are damned to hell. Buddhism, Hinduism, paganism, Judaism - while I'm sure their followers all believe they are following the right path, they also show more respect for others following different paths than Christianity does. We of other faiths, especially mine, feel looked down upon by most Christians, like second class citizens who don't deserve to be here or to share in the richness of the afterlife. This is why I embrace Tony and Streak and you and discussions like this - I don't feel that way here. But in my experience, this is rare. Are there other Christians that feel the way you do? Absolutely, I'm sure of it. I wish there were more.

Of course, the next logical question is, why hasn't Christianity crumbled under all of this scrutiny? Why has it stood the test of time? Well, first, at this point in time, it can't be proven or disproven. No religion can, in any definitive way. If they could, there wouldn't be more than one. Second, true believers like yourselves are passionate about your faith. No religion can survive without that. To be fair, that is also the reason Wicca is the fastest growing religion in the US at this time - we are passionate too, and more of us are coming out and standing up for our faith in the face of hatred, discrimination, and misunderstanding. Same for all other world religions. Some religions were assimilated or decimated without any thoughtful investigation of their validity, so in a way your question cannot be answered fairly in terms of that. Hope this answers most of what you were looking for. And yes I took this as curiosity, no bullying going on here!

Bernard Shuford said...

Joe - Part of the "exclusivity" problem you mention is the fact that our founder, Jesus Christ, made the statement that He was the only way to the Father. Our belief in Christ is mutually exclusive to there being "multiple approaches". Sadly, I fully understand your perspective of feeling rejected - it even happens WITHIN the Christian community. We have a hard time, in general, even as "Christians", with the idea of loving those that we disagree with. We claim to "love our enemies", but we really aren't very good at even being friendly to the guy next door. Sometimes we try really hard, but the temptation to only associate with people who are like us is incredibly difficult to escape. We screw up a LOT.

There are thousands out there with your story, or something similar. I, too, wish there could be more people who are genuinely interested in other people, not just in throwing a tract at them and telling them they are going to hell. I understand your frustration, even while I must sit here and tell you that I DO honestly believe that Christ is the only way to God. My belief in Christ pretty much guarantees that I am going to believe that.

I hope that there is no spite, condemnation, or "get away from me" being translated through the electrons that make up the Internet. I must confess, I would love to see you become a believer in Christ. I honestly and genuinely believe that you are mistaken to place your faith elsewhere. My purpose in pursuing this conversation is largely to learn about the mindset that drives those who do not believe in Christ. I also believe that it is fully my duty to MODEL Christ to you and to the millions of other people out there in the world, and to do that, I need to be genuinely concerned, not just pound you over the head with something that you don't or can't understand or believe.

I truly believe there is a literal hell. It's a frustrating thought, and it doesn't sit well with a lot of people. However, we as Christians typically believe in this very strongly. Thus, we feel an important urge to provide guidance to folks that, according to our convictions, are destined for an eternity there. Again, we often do a bad job, many times using the fear of hell as our primary motivation for salvation. I see that as misdirection, because Christ's purpose in death was to renew men to a relationship with God and to the eternal life that was destroyed when Adam chose to sin in the garden of Eden. (This is part of why that "literal Genesis" stuff can be so important to us... If sin is just a figure of speech, we have no need for a Saviour, and all men can find God however they choose, as long as they find Him.) The "get out of hell free" ticket probably results in more false conversions than any other tactic in Christianity, in my opinion.

This sure doesn't mean that I don't often scratch my head, wondering why God did this or that, or how it all works.

But the difficulty comes in this - our founder also told us to tell "the world" about Him. Being passive, again, is somewhat mutually exclusive with being truly Christian. We feel a holy calling to tell the Gospel, and the Gospel includes bits about sin, hell, judgment, love, salvation, and eternity. Our whole belief system is rooted in that, and thus it's almost impossible for "we Christians" to discourse in a way that doesn't seem disagreeable. I hope I am able to do so, but I also believe that I must be careful to not give you the impression that I agree with you or that you have chosen a valid way to find God. I feel it is incredibly important that I present truth to you as I understand it.

We are in a bit of classic catch 22, as I think I mentioned in another comment. We (Christians) care, and we believe that it is important that you and others who may feel much like you do know that there is, indeed, only one way to approach God, and that it through Jesus Christ. But simply because we say those words, so often we are closed out of the conversation as being "unloving, harsh, and closed minded." I desperately want to tell you, and others, that there is genuine life and hope in Jesus Christ, but it is incredibly difficult - even impossible - to do that without confronting the fact that we believe Christ to be the only way.

Am I trying to defend "exclusivity" of Christ? In a way, yes, but my intent is to make it "understandable" why you're going to find so many Christians who bump into that roadblock. To ask us to "allow" other approaches to God is to ask us to repudiate everything that we believe. It's not just a matter of us being kind or being understanding; you're asking us to do something that we really cannot do.

Good stuff. I'm enjoying the conversation; I hope you are as well.

JoeG said...

Bernard -
I am enjoying this as well. I am not looking to change anyone's mind or anyone's beliefs. My only hope through all this is to open people's minds and let them know how they are making us feel, whether you agree with us or not. I seem to have done that in your case. I truly understand your difficulty in having this conversation, and know the exclusivity is part of your belief system. I'm not so much asking you to "allow" other approaches, as to show respect for those who choose otherwise while disagreeing with us. It is possible. In fact, one of our dearest friends is a Baptist minister, just as set in his beliefs as you and Tony. There are times he and my wife and I go toe-to-toe in the same way we are here. But we are able to break bread after doing so, and love each other unconditionally. He doesn't play the hell card, as you put it, and has shown that he walks the walk, and doesn't just talk the talk. He has stated that he is concerned for our souls. We have taken that as a sign of love, but an even greater sign of love that he doesn't sit in judgement of us. We consider him and his wife family, closer to us than many of our blood relatives. He has gien a sermon at our Unitarian Universalist society, and did so without betraying his own beliefs. Next month, he is giving another sermon there as my wife and I renew our wedding vows. This is what I mean when I say we can all live side by side and get along, and how we can exist peacefully in a world with so many different religious viewpoints.

Bernard, the bottom line is that you believe you will be in heaven after you die, and I believe just as strongly that I will meet you there. And we will all find a loving God waiting for us, and neither of us will feel the fool for believing the way we did here on Earth. We will all understand when we get there. The frustration is we think we do now, or at least try to the best of our earthly ability, when there is no way that we actually can. It is human nature that makes conversations like this part of our earthly life. It is God's infinte and perfect love and grace that will eventually bring us all together into Her loving arms where human nature need no longer interfere.

Steve Sensenig said...

Man, it looks like I missed most of the fun. :( I was away with my family on a little vacation, and didn't have internet access the way I thought I would. So I'm just now getting to read all 56 comments.

Great discussion, everyone!

Joe, are you saying that there is more textual evidence for Krishna and the other one you mentioned (sorry, I'm too tired to scroll back right now! hehe) than for Mithras? Because I had done a little bit of research when I found out Tony was going to be addressing this, and found that evidence for Mithras is really scant and poor. Enough to make me think the whole comparison is not a discussion worth taking the time to have.

But if you say there is more evidence for the others, can you point to some primary sources?

Secondly, Tony pointed out the "Logos" concept. I think this is perhaps a good example of how the message of the Gospel can be presented. Some could say that since the Logos concept already existed, Christianity must have borrowed it. And indeed, they would be correct in that assertion.

But I see this as very similar to how Paul began his speech in Acts 17 on Mars Hill when he said, "Hey, I notice you have an altar to 'The Unknown God'. Let me introduce him to you...." (my paraphrase)

So, if our Father chose to enact his plan in a way that mirrored the events found in other religions, would that necessarily be a problem?

In other words, let's assume for the sake of argument that the Christian perspective of "those others are just myths, but Jesus is real" is correct. Wouldn't that be similar to Paul's approach, in saying things like, "Hey, I notice that your god was reported to have been born of a virgin. Well, allow me to introduce you to the one who truly was."

I dunno. I'm somewhere in the middle of all the sides here because I have my own questions about "inspiration" and "inerrancy", not to mention how vital a literal Genesis 1-2 is for salvation (I can't see past all the hype about the importance to see if there's any validity to that argument) -- I identify with a lot of what Streak has written here, and understand some of Joe's concerns/questions -- yet my faith is solidly placed in Jesus, the anointed one that our Father chose as the means of reconciliation between us and him.

According to Gary here, I guess that would make me something of a crazy lunatic. But I assure you that if I am a crazy lunatic, it is not a problem with my faith! ;)

Tony said...

Guys,

I am very sorry I missed the latter half of this conversation. I had a wildly hectic day yesterday and finally, upon getting home about 9:30, I was wiped out.

I only want to address one thing to clear it up before I open a new thread in the next day or two because I would genuinely LOVE to see this conversation continue--its just comment threads over 30 or so get unwieldy to manage.

Bernard asked my views on the Bible; he said I believe - I won't speak for Tony even though I think we're pretty well on the same page - that the Bible is an inspired book.

I do believe in the inspiration, sufficiency, and authority of the Bible and that the Bible is inerrant in the original autographs. I typically get in trouble with a lot of my conservative brethren because I like to qualify my interpretation of inerrancy. I don't like the word because it carries such political baggage with it.

I also believe there is an appropriate place for reason and tradition, though both of these should be submitted to the authority of the Bible. I think that what the Bible communicates as scientific and historical it is accurate. But I also think there are things the Bible does not address--like we have talked before, there is no textual evidence to support a 6,000-10,000 year old earth.

That is about where I stand--and will be happy to talk about it further.

And Steve you are a crazy lunatic without Gary's qualification. :) :) :)

JoeG said...

Steve -
Yes, there is much more textual evidence in the Hindu religion for Krishna than there is for Mithra. The link I posted above gives some sources for its information. The Wikipedia page for Krishna also points to the actual Hindu texts that speak of him, some of which originate as far back as 500BCE. As for Horus, the evidence is the same as what gives us our understanding of Egyptian mythology today - archaeology finds, hieroglyphics, etc. The Egyptian pantheon is fairly well understood from that evidence.

"So, if our Father chose to enact his plan in a way that mirrored the events found in other religions, would that necessarily be a problem?"
In essence, no. But why screw with thousands of years of human existence with similar false stories only to drop the "real thing" in later on down the line? What happens to all those people who came before Christ and believed these "similar yet myhological" stories? Are they in hell? Is everyone up until the birth of Christ "safe" and everyone else after that screwed? What of the Native Americans who didn't have any Christian contacts until the 15th century? Did God forsake them by keeping them isolated? Are they in hell for not believing? I can't believe in a God that would do that do His/Her own creations, made out of love, but damned to hell because of the circumstances of their birth. That defies logic, in my opinion. I can't help but feel that God chose to reveal him/herself in many ways. I strongly feel that God did not mean for 95+% of human creation to suffer in hell just because the Bible says so. There's something inherently wrong with that coupled with the image of a loving, merciful God.

Bernard Shuford said...

Joe -

"There's something inherently wrong with that coupled with the image of a loving, merciful God. "

This speaks volumes to me, but leaves me in another conundrum. :)

See, I feel that this statement, in effect, cuts God in half. However, my "proofs" for that are in Scripture. To a certain extent, your perspective tosses Scripture to the wind, so I'm left empty handed, with no evidence (that you will accept) to oppose this viewpoint.

I see God as a LOT of things. Kind, merciful, and gracious are just SOME of his attributes. Not ALL of them.

How we paint God is controlled largely - if not completely - by our acceptance or rejection of the Bible. If we toss the Bible, we are free to "paint" God with whatever colors we choose, rather than the ones He has revealed to be the truth. Our colors are often erroneous.

I will try to hush, so that Tony can open a new post if he would like. :)

Tony said...

Y'all talk all ya want...unless things get out of hand, which I know they won't, but I'll be on the sidelines for a bit. :)

Steve Sensenig said...

Joe, I'm not entirely sure how to respond to your last comment because you've pulled in an entirely new subject -- namely that of eternal hell for not knowing about Jesus.

I'm not going to address that one, at least not at this point in the thread, because I think it gets way off the topic, and also because I'm doing a lot of thinking about that topic lately and don't want to offer something half-baked that might only cause me to look like the heretic that I secretly am anyway ;)

JoeG said...

LOL! Fair enough, Steve. :)
I agree, that is a can of worms unto itself. Keep baking until fully cooked (or stewed, given the day), and lets save that for another thread.

Bernard -
You and your conundrums! :)
I am going to take issue with only one of your statements and then also hush until Tony posts a new related thread. I think we've taken this one quite far, and we're going to end up talking in circles at this point. Like Tony, I still invite fresh input and perspective, as I am not tiring of this conversation in the least!

You said: "If we toss the Bible, we are free to "paint" God with whatever colors we choose, rather than the ones He has revealed to be the truth."
I am going to have to disagree here, at least in part. You know my contention is that God has revealed and continues to reveal him/herself in many ways. Because I have tossed the Bible, I don't think I have the freedom you speak of. I paint God in the way God has been revealed to me in my heart. It's not something I am making up as I go along. It is what I see, what I feel, and what I experience, just as with you. I think this is true of most non-Christians. To be fair, there are those who do as you have said, and paint God in their own image to justify personal behaviors, excuse shortcomings, etc. I think those people are fairly obvious and superficial. I also don't think their souls will experience much growth, and they'll have that much more to do the next time around. It is their challenge here to overcome that mindset and allow God to speak to them rather than them forcing God into a particular mold.

Streak said...

It will be a cold day when I will obey Tony's orders to wait for another thread!

Actually, just wanted to make a point to Bernard about relying on scripture. I see your point about cutting God in half, but would also argue that people have been quite adept at creating a God of their own liking within the Bible. You want a God of war? No problem. You want one who believes in national identity (hates the other too)? No problem. Likewise if you want a God who believes in tolerance and peace.

As a historian, I find the OT stories much more problematic in that they seem to clearly come out of a very tribal and desert society. In other words, they reflect a rather ethnocentric and self-focussed group. (Actually, it is of note that in the middle of that are several challenges to the supremacy of the home group.) (I should also note that I am not an ancient historian, so am out of my element in the ancient world.)

The model of Jesus is, it seems to me, a more clear and consistent one. There, justice and peace are prized more than war and violence.

Anyway.

Tony said...

Streak,

Obviously you are addressing a Tony of your own design. I commanded no one to cease commenting on this thread. (Matter of fact I have encouraged discussion.) Sigh...

No one needs to "hush"! Good grief. I may have to call the blog administrator or something. I wonder if she is in today? :)

Bernard Shuford said...

Streak - The different characteristics of God that we see in the Bible are not invalidated by the fact that many of us erroneously pick and choose which ones to emphasize. I agree strongly that we ALL pick the Scriptures that we like and then ignore the rest. Every Southern Baptist in the world, just for instance, will grab "have no other gods before me" pretty quickly while ignoring "thou shalt not build a fire on the Sabbath..."

Joe - God has definitely revealed Himself in many ways. I believe that the general truths of the Bible would apply to all general revelations of God. The Native Americans you mention are obviously responding to that general revelation when they worship the Great Spirit. Does that mean that I agree with the beliefs of the Native Americans? No, but I recognize that they were responding to general revelation. I draw the line, however, at the idea of "individual revelation" which contradicts "general revelation" and "recorded revelation". I believe that God does reveal himself to individuals, but I believe he does it in a way that is "faithful" ('scuse the Christianese...) to the Scriptures and to other general revelation.

I still think we all paint God to suit us, but I genuinely believe that the basis for that should be Scripture. That's why I regard it as God's revelation to all of us. I think that when we claim "my version of God doesn't get angry", we are ignoring a section of the Bible, which I believe is God's revelation of Himself. That doesn't mean he's ALWAYS angry.

Yeehah.

JoeG said...

Bernard -
Again, I have to go back to the fact that anger is a human emotion. God is perfect, and not subject to the whims of human emotion. God being angry is how the writers of the OT interpreted God's mood to explain why he allowed a worldwide flood (for which I agree there is scientific evidence), allowed the battles written about, etc. Other ancient societies blamed God's anger for causing floods, drought, poor crops, disease, etc. It is our interpretation. We experience anger. I truly believe that God does not.

I completely agree with your analysis of individual vs. general revelation. I believe that God was individually revealed to me in a way that led me to my pagan beliefs. I share that revelation with a few million others around the world - making it general.
Like you have said, the basic tenets of Christianity are common to almost all other world religions. Seems pretty general. So why the exclusivity? Why did God, after tens of thousands of years, decide to close the doors of heaven to all but a select few? Seems most of the belief in this stems from Jesus saying "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. Nobody comes to the father except by me." As I saw someone explain on another web site, "For me, John 14:6 means that the way to get to Heaven (whatever Heaven may turn out to mean) is to set your feet firmly on the path laid out for us by Jesus (and not only by Jesus) and walk that path. Love God with all your heart; love your neighbor as yourself. Return good for evil; love your enemies. Feed the hungry; clothe the naked; take care of the needy as best you can. Remembering always that you will reap what you sow."

Tony said...

I think most of what the last several comments entails is the argument of subjective versus objective truth.

Many conservative Christians place a higher value upon objective truth (i.e., the Bible) However, that truth can still become tainted with outside sources. Some notable examples are tradition (which SB's are heinously guilty of, despite constant mocking of Catholics) and systematic theologies.

I have found many conservative Christians who claim an inerrant Bible yet their theology really does undermine their use of Scripture to justify their claims.

Moreover, Christianity has some very subjective aspects to it. Prayer for one, and the very nature of conversion itself is highly subjective. Often I have heard Christians slight one another over answered prayers.

However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, we see someone like Joe, and to a lesser degree Streak, place a very high value on subjective truth. Subjective truth is typically highly suspect by conservative Christians because there is always the possibility that we can "paint" God with any brush we so choose.

Yet Joe maintains that his subjective experience with God is real and contends he still has these experiences. In some sense we (the proverbial we) become threatened by Joe's dependence upon subjectivity.

I think a pertinent Scripture that Steve Sensenig raised is the one about the unknown God in Acts 17. We both contend to "know" God yet through different means.

Am I close to correct about where we are?

JoeG said...

Seems to be correct to me, Tony, a very fair analysis of the last several posts.

Funny you bring up the mocking of Catholics. I have always wondered - Jesus promised that his church would always have a leader, ie the Pope, stemming from a line starting with Peter. Yet those who are born-again Christians today do not follow the Pope, yet claim to be the chosen ones of God. I've heard many Christians claim that Catholics are not saved because they have not truly acepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, yet they are following the leader of the Church appointed by Christ. The permanency of the church and the papacy is, by your definition, objective truth defined by the bible. Only the Catholic Church has a continual, unbroken lineage directly back to Jesus. All other Christian branches are offshoots of this main line, most of them broken off completely as they reject the authority of the pope. It seems to me that while these Christians put such a high value on objective truth from the bible, their criteria for being saved and being the true followers of Christ is completely subjective, as they are no longer true followers of the original Church of Christ.

Tony, I think I just started another thread with this one. Sorry! :)

Bernard Shuford said...

Joe - "Like you have said, the basic tenets of Christianity are common to almost all other world religions."

I'm not sure I said that. Did I say that???? We might have to clarify "basic tenets". My basic tenets, I'm pretty sure, disagree with those of Mithras and Krishna. If I said something close to what you think I said, I need to unscramble my eggs and say whatever it was that I really meant to say. Yeah, that.

JoeG said...

Bernard -
Maybe it wasn't you. I don't have the strength to scan the last 70 posts to see who it was. Sorry for the confusion. I can blame Tony if you'd like - it sounds like something he'd say! ;)

But to clarify what I meant anyway, SOMEONE here agreed that the basic moral tenets on how to live one's life were common to most world religions. IE, killing, stealing and lying are wrong; love one another; forgive those who wrong you; etc. Those, I believe, are a common ground that the overwhelming majority of us share. To me, that had to come from somewhere, it's no coincidence that we all believe those to be strong moral characteristics. It's that "somewhere" where we start to get divvied up.

Tony said...

Joe - "Like you have said, the basic tenets of Christianity are common to almost all other world religions."

I just scanned all the comments and I cannot find where anyone intimated at this idea. Joe must be mixing threads again. :)

It follows that several world religions share many common elements of morality (loving your neighbor, forgiveness, wrongness of stealing and lying, etc.) but as far as doctrinal teachings, that would be a different story.

As far as the reference to the Catholic tradition, I don't see the Catholic church as authoritative in my faith. This is where Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation and I would see myself as hailing more so from that tradition.

I also take a MUCH different interpretive slant on Matthew 16 and Petrine succession. Catholics claim an absolute line to Christ but they don't really have an unbroken lineage there. (Which, it is odd that you would defend that view, given that you stated earlier in this thread that the OT genealogies are nearly impossible to trace, yet they are recorded in the Bible. Can Catholics really trace papal succession all the way to Christ? Don't think so.)

And I'll say, I once blogged on an issue that was important to Catholics and when I did I got a lot of Catholic trolls that swamped the blog. It wasn't fun. So, you won't see a post on Petrine succession anytime soon at The RP.

JoeG said...

Tony -
Geez, I'm having a bad afternoon. Inviting trolls. Mixing up threads. I think it's time to go home for a beer and a nap! :) My apologies.

I also should have been clearer about my "support" of the Catholic lineage. I heavily edited my post before submitting, and missed the wording on one part. It should have said "only the Catholic Church claims to have an unbroken lineage". I acknowledge that the lineage is in doubt, and impossible to trace directly back to Peter. Also the issue of popes and anti-popes, and all higgledy-piggledy broke loose at several points in papal history. My point was they claim the line is still unbroken, while every other Protestant branch made a clean break from that line with Martin Luther. My view on this lineage and the OT geneology are, in fact, not different. I'll go whack myself with the wet noodle and promise to triple-check my posts before submitting again. Sorry for the confusion.
*thwack!*

Steve Sensenig said...

I think most of what the last several comments entails is the argument of subjective versus objective truth.

Yes, this almost always seems to be the rub. A lot of evangelicals are incredibly scared of subjectivity when it comes to their faith.

I'm not one of them, though. It has gotten me into big trouble in blog discussions before. But I just can't read the Bible without seeing subjective experiences all over the place. People actually hearing the voice of their Father. People actually sensing in their spirit the way to go, the path to take, the decision to make.

How did those poor 1st-century Christians ever do anything right without a complete canon of 66 books to guide them?

I don't mean that to be snarky, but seriously. Paul told the Thessalonians (1 Thess 5) to examine all things carefully and hold to that which was good. He told the Corinthians (1 Cor 14) to weigh prophecies (probably a similar concept as what he told the Thessalonians since the 1 Thess 5 instruction is also dealing with prophecy). John told us (1 John 4) to test the spirits.

And in none of those instances were we told to test things specifically against the Bible.

The notion that the Bible is the sole authority for living not only is incredibly anachronistic, but goes against its own record. Jesus said he would send us the Spirit who would guide us into all truth. Paul tells us to live by the Spirit and we won't fulfill the deeds of the flesh.

Yet many times (elsewhere) when I use the wording that "God speaks to us through the Spirit", I get pushback from others who want to make sure that I change it to say, "God speaks to us through the Bible."

All of this makes me wonder whether the notion that the Bible is the measuring stick is a red herring that ends up keeping people from experiencing God personally.

When Jesus said things like, "You've heard it said to you [at which point he quotes Moses], but I say unto you [at which point he gives different instructions]," couldn't people have said, "Hmmmm, this guy contradicts our Scripture. So he must be a false prophet"? Yet, we sit comfortably back in our 21st-century ivory tower and say, "Well, yeah, but now that the canon is complete...." Except that the "canon" never makes such claims for itself.

Sheesh, who knew I'd be taking the pagan's side in this?! ;) (Yes, Tony, I see that hand!! hehe)

Tony said...

Steve,

I know you're probably gonna fall out of your chair reading this from the sola scriptura guy, but I really have been pondering things along a similar line.

And it crosses up with how often literal interpretation is held up as a "requirement" for salvation. Salvation, by its very nature, is subjective. None of us have had the same experience with Christ.

Conversions in the NT carry the same quality--when the Samaritan woman was saved, she told her people, "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did." Zaccheus sold half of his possessions and gave it to the poor. S(P)aul saw a blinding white light.

However, I have yet to find in any conversion story a requirement for belief in a literal Bible. I have not found either any Scripture that claims that if someone is saved, then belief in the literalness of the Bible follows; the "b necessarily follows a" pattern that is typically held up.

And your point still stands. Those poor schmoes in the NT period didn't have a complete canon, so obviously they COULDN'T have been saved.

And I find it strangely ironic that we implore people to trust Christ for salvation but then to trust the Bible for faith and practice. I think we then get into what Streak has already pointed to--we can create a god of our own making right out of the Bible without any help from our own subjectivity.

We fail to teach the balance, I think. One needs the other--the subjective experience of the leadership of the Holy Spirit should be delimited by the words of Scripture, and the objectivity of the Scriptures should be interpreted (illuminated?) by the Spirit.

Or did I completely miss your point? You know how highly probable that is!

Steve Sensenig said...

We fail to teach the balance, I think. One needs the other--the subjective experience of the leadership of the Holy Spirit should be delimited by the words of Scripture, and the objectivity of the Scriptures should be interpreted (illuminated?) by the Spirit.

For the most part, I think you were hanging with my point. I managed to stay in my chair, but I have to admit that I'm always relieved when you don't finally go, "OK, Steve, now you've gone too far." After you see my golf swing tomorrow, you might, but that's a whole 'nother category ;)

But seriously...I'm still struggling with the "delimited by the words of Scripture" part of this. What does that really mean?

For example, we often pay lip service to God speaking today, but always with the caveat that "it'll never contradict Scripture". But what does that entail?

Hence my example of people in Jesus' day perhaps having good reason to believe (albeit incorrectly) that because Jesus was saying something different than their Scripture, he must be a false prophet. We might understand that Jesus wasn't really contradicting, but was taking it to a different level. But that's hindsight. His audience then? Not so fortunate. And many of them did think that he was teaching/doing stuff that more resembled Satan than the Father.

So how could we think that in our own present situation we would be able to draw such a hard line?

That's exactly why I think we have been given the Holy Spirit (I realize we're way off topic here, and I'm sorry, but it flowed this direction). It is the Spirit that testifies with our spirit.

As you know, I'm experiencing parenting a toddler for the first time in my life (even though she is my second child). And I'm struggling with what/how to teach her. We're obviously not raising her "in church" as I always knew it. And all the things that I start to automatically say and do make me go....huh? For example, I started singing "Jesus loves me" to her. And I realized that I don't know that Jesus loves me "because the Bible tells me so." Oh, I might know it factually there. But emotionally, spiritually, subjectively -- I know that Jesus loves me because His Spirit testifies with my spirit that it is true (Romans 8:16).

So, I sing to her, "Jesus loves me this I know, for His Spirit tells me so." I want her to grow up knowing that the Spirit of God wants to lead her. Paul talks about this sooooooo much! Being led by the Spirit. Christ living in us. Paul never says "Be filled with the Bible". He says to be filled with the Spirit.

David says, "Your word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you." And so we say, "See? Spend time in the Bible. Memorize it. Learn it. It can keep you from sin."

But is that the NT revelation? Other than a very poor KJV translation that says "study to show yourself approved" -- a translation which is fraught with bias and error and has perpetuated this incorrect elevating of the written word -- we don't have any evidence that the Bible is to be used in such a way. (And even in the KJV, the context of "study" has absolutely nothing to do with the written revelation.)

"The word" became flesh...the word is Jesus, not the Bible! It is Christ in us that gives us the power not to sin. It is not memorizing scripture that accomplishes it. (As a corollary, I don't think David was referencing memorization. I think he was talking about making the revelation of God so much a part of his being from the inside out that he wouldn't want to drift from the path on which God's Spirit led him.)

And so, to conclude this long comment, the Bible is quite useful for pointing us to Jesus (John 5:39). But it is by no means the resting place. It is by no means the foundation itself. It is by no means the guide and rule itself.

Bernard Shuford said...

"Eeeeeeek!" says the little boy in the corner of the locker room, as all his friends decide to join forces with the classroom bully and tell the little boy how stupid he is for believing what the teacher said.

Then he gathers his courage, screws up his face, bunches his little fists, and screams out in a passion that only a mother could appreciate, "Stop trying to make me feel dumb and ugly!"

:)

Steve Sensenig said...

Bernard, I really hope that's not how you're perceiving my comments here. If so, I need to seriously reconsider commenting until I figure out how to communicate with the graciousness and kindness that is really in my heart.

Bernard Shuford said...

Steve, bro, we're good. That was a reflection of how suddenly the "tide" shifted and I found myself on the conservative right of the "discussion center" as opposed to the mid-point or even mild left that I was in at an earlier snapshot. The further this discussion goes, the more issues are touched where various ones of us are far "left" of others, even though the viewpoints were inverted just one "subject" previously.

You keep commenting, man. I'm pretty sure I disagree with some of your thoughts, but you're just making me dig. I'm pretty sure I'm not intellectually or theologically grounded enough to even challenge your thought trains, so I'll probably go with a lot of "I'm not sure", but please don't feel that I was asking you to be silent. Not at all :)

Bernard Shuford said...

Oh, and by the way, about halfway into Tony's backswing on a par 5 dogleg left, pull out your best sneeze and tell him it's from me. No fair getting to golf during the week. Not at all.

Karma Shuford said...

Don't you know? Preachers only work three hours a week. The rest of the time, they just sit around and read the Bible and stuff.

Tony said...

Karma,

Shhhh! We preachers don't want our secrets to get out!

Bernard,

Don't abandon the discussion, bro. You have a lot more to offer than you realize.

Steve,

My question then becomes, how much "authority" do we then give our own subjectivity? We could marshal enough evidence of kooks [and I'm not calling anyone a kook! 'cept maybe Bernard... ;)] who went off the deep end "because God told me to."

I also realize it isn't subjectivity per se because I am filled with the Spirit and to be led by the Spirit. But I also realize how fallible I am, how stubborn I can be to follow the Spirit's leadership, and that my fallen nature taints the work of the Spirit in my life.

Like Paul, there is much good I desire to do but don't do.

I want to offer this verse for your consideration; Colossians 3:16: Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your heart.

I also want to note its similarity to Ephesians 5:18-19. So, in Colossians where it says to let the word of Christ dwell within you richly and Ephesians says to be filled with the Spirit, do you take these two ideas to be synonymous or mutually exclusive, or somewhere in between?

I clearly remember in seminary being taught in a class called "The Ministry of Worship" that these two ideas are synonymous; however, the Spirit is of course, the Holy Spirit, and then the word of Christ, is--I am sure you don't even need me to type it out--biblical revelation. So, to be filled with the Spirit is in effect to be filled with Scripture.

Even though I'm not quite sure what to do with that yet, I am not certain what exactly Paul means by "word of Christ".

My next question then becomes, what place should I then give the Bible? I believe it is absolutely essential in the life of a believer, and I am certain you believe that, too.

When David said, "your word have I hidden..." was he not talking about the OT law? David's sentiment seems very Psalm 119ish; "O how I love your law!"

But...hmmm...the OT law has been effectually superseded by Christ, the living Word...hmmm. I need to think some more.

I hope you can see that I have been thinking about these questions for some time now. This is something we need to keep talking about.

Steve Sensenig said...

Bernard, I'm with Tony. Hang in the convo. No need to belittle your ability to contribute. I'm nothing special intellectually or theologically. Your input is appreciated and needed!

Tony, good questions. All of them. And I don't have the answers to all of them -- or probably even most of them. We'll keep talking for sure. And maybe together, we can figure out the right balance! :)

I love the Bible. I love the revelation God has given to us in it. I love the Holy Spirit who illumines that revelation.

As for "word of Christ = the Bible", I'm not entirely sure about that, but we'll have to continue that discussion later.

I hate that I've totally derailed this thread. Poor Joe!! ;)

Bernard Shuford said...

I'm okay, guys, no sweat.

Tony said...

Don't worry about Joe. He's a big boy. He can take it. ;)

And Bernard, I am right there with Steve--I may be "theologically trained" but that doesn't mean YOU have nothing meaningful to contribute. And besides, we here at The RP really like you. :)

Karma Shuford said...

Bernard is easy to like. :)

Steve, (I think it was you), that is an interesting point about "Jesus Loves Me." I remember being in elementary school and wondering where the verse was that said, "Jesus loves me." or even "Jesus loves you." It was a search I continued through High School and even into college. I finally figured out that it was not in there, but that Jesus's love was, and I guess that is what the songwriter was referring to. :) I'm just waiting for one of my little SS students to ask me where that verse is.

The other verse I wrestled with was, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." For the life of me, I could not figure out, WHY, if he was my shepherd, I wouldn't want him. I remember being about 8 years old, and so unnerved because that was obviously an important verse, and there was something seriously wrong with it. :) As my vocabulary grew, I figured it out.

JoeG said...

"Don't worry about Joe. He's a big boy. He can take it. ;)"

*sniff*

"Sheesh, who knew I'd be taking the pagan's side in this?! ;)"

Welcome to the dark side, Steve! ;)

Man, this conversation took a few turns last night, huh? Teach me to go home from work! :) I don't think this is as "off topic" as you might think, and I have been enjoying reading last night's posts immensely. I don't know that I have much to add to what you have said. (Well, I do, but it will send this conversation in a WHOLE different direction!) I will say that I take comfort in seeing you all struggle with issues within your faith as well. To me, that struggle is an essential part of faith, no matter what faith that is. I feel more comfortable conversing with people having their own similar struggles than someone like Gary, who claims to have it all figured out already and doesn't struggle at all. To me, that is disingenuous and makes productive conversation impossible.

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian said...

I don't know how long ago this entire conversation took place, but I just felt the need to tell all of you anyway that I just sat her and read the entire thing and I'm just blown away, flabbergasted, wowed at the civility,the intelligence and the humanity on all sides. I have been struggling with my faith for a very long time and recently told my fiance that I feel as if I am experiencing what they call an existential crisis. You see, I was raised in a Southern Baptist family and most of my family still are Southern Baptist. But I, and I seem to be the only one in my family, came to reject that Christian upbringing when I got into my teenage years and especially in college. I could just never find a way to reconcile the intellectual side of myself with the faith I was raised with. I've always seen myself as a good person though and have never understood many Christians attempts to demonize those of us who are struggling with faith. I write about these issues quite a bit, even on facebook where experience and good sense should have informed me not to, and have upset and angered lots of people,all the while that I feel misunderstood. There are times when I feel completely alone in the world. Even though my fiance's opinions closely jive with mine, she doesn't think too much about existential questions, but then again she wasn't raised with the fear of hell fire instilled into her from a very young age as I have been. I have said before that I am angered by this upbringing because no matter how much a person learns in later life, they can NEVER get rid of that fear that religious institutions seem to have no qualms about instilling in young children.
Anyway, even as I struggle with fait, I have NEVER been able to call myself an Atheist because I have issues with them as well, sometimes just as strong if not stronger than my issues with Christians. So I have called myself an Agnostic over the years. I have always wondered why the vast majority of the world's greatest minds, from Einstein, Mark Twain and many others, have almost to a man, been Atheists or Agnostics. This has tripped me up. I can't be a Christian, I tell myself, because it would require me to turn my mind off. I even made that comment to an aunt of mine just yesterday. Then... I come here, stumble upon this blog quite accidentally when I googled Christian intellectualism, wondering if there was such a thing. Imagine my surprise to read Tony in a more recent post decrying the same lack of intelectualism in Christian circles as I have been and noting that trusting Jesus does not require one to turn off their mind.
Imagine my surprise at reading all the cogent and well thought out arguments right here. Apparently, there ARE Christians out there with their brains intact who do think, and value the intellectual side of their person.

Brian said...

I told my fiance the other day that I need something to believe in and that is what Atheism misses, they tell people what NOT to believe and so they take away, but they don't offer anything in return and so they leave a gaping hole that just can not be filled. I think so incredibly much, that lately I feel on the verge of emotional collapse. I feel as if I can't take it anymore. I need somewhere to rest my tired bones. My tired brain, my tired soul.
So I want to say thank you for this blog and for this conversation here. It just about brings tears to my eyes. You may not realize it when you are writing or having these conversations who you may reach, how far reaching it may be, that someone may come along and stumble upon it years later. I sincerely hope that someone still monitors this blog and responds because I would love to converse and see if maybe I can be finally be convinced, once and for all, no more going back and forth, vacillating constantly between belief and unbelief.
Everyone here was very insightful and helpful, but I want to get a huge shout out to two. As I said, this in no way takes away from all the participants but two her who particularly touched me with their eloquence and their heart was Bernard and obviously Tony.
Thanks guys I look forward to becoming a friend, dare I say even a friend in Christ? Don't know yet, but we shall see.

Steve Sensenig said...

Brian, this conversation was a little over two years ago, but finding your comment in my feedreader gave me the opportunity to re-read it, and I agree with you about the tone of this thread. It was a great conversation, and I am glad I was a part of it.

I'd be more than happy to email with you if you are interested. You can find an email address for me by clicking through to the site my name on this comment links to.

blessings,
steve :)

James Jordan said...

People make up a lot of similarities between Jesus and Mithras. The only real ones I'm aware of are:

1. Both are human sacrifices of god-men.

2. Both have a meal about eating their flesh and blood. Two church fathers, Justin Martyr (circa 150 AD) and Tertullian (circa 208 AD), both mention this. Justin to ask the Roman emperor to not persecute Christianity as odd, but accept it in similar manner. Tertullian to dismiss the complaint of a fellow Catholic that he shouldn't call Marcionites non-Christians because they observe the Eucharist: So does the Mithraists in the kingdom of Satan, eating Mithras' flesh and blood.

3. Some form of baptism. Justin Martyr again mentions this one, and Tertullian, but none of the details.

In any case, just the similarity of Christian theology to Mithraic sculpture is troubling enough.