Sunday, 13 September 2015

Checking the New Testament for Plagiarism

Critics of Christianity often say that the life of Jesus is not based on inspiration but on plagiarism. Indeed, it is a commonly held view among skeptics and polemicists that the story of Jesus was borrowed from pagan mythology that predates Christianity.

Now the nature of this blog doesn't allow us to discuss each and every (alleged) parallel between the life of Jesus and it's (supposed) pagan origins. Hence, I will look at one example and try to draw some general principles that will help you in further examining this subject.

The example I will take up today is the virgin-birth of the Greek god Dionysus. The argument is that since we already have gods being born of virgin mothers like Dionysus, then what is so unique about Jesus, and more importantly, doesn't this prove that the story of Jesus is a fabrication based on borrowed myths?

To answer these questions, we will have to look at:

i) The evidence of the alleged parallels
ii) The implication of the alleged parallels

The Evidence

To cut the long story short, there is no evidence to prove that the virgin-birth story found in the Gospel has been plagiarized from the myth of Dionysus (or any myth for that matter).

First, let us look at what the sources tell us:

'The most common story runs as follows: Zeus disguised as a mortal, had a secret love affair with Semele,........ jealous Hera disguised herself as an old neighbour, advised make her mystery lover that he.....reveal himself in his true nature and form........., when Zeus refused her plea, denied him further access to her bed. Then, in anger, he appeared as thunder and lightning, and she was consumed. But Hermes saved her six-months son; sewed him up inside Zeus's thigh, to mature there for three months longer, and, in due course, of time, delivered him. Thus Dionysus is called 'twice-born'. The Greek Myths pg 56

The story of Jesus runs as follows:

  • Mary is engaged to Joseph
  • An angel visits Mary and tell her that she will conceive a son miraculously 
  • Joseph weds Mary knowing that he is pregnant as he is also visited by an angel
  • Joseph and Mary abstain from physical intimacy until the son is born (Matthew 1:25)

So where is the parallel? 

But more interesting is the fact that the documentary evidence is found wanting when compared with the New Testament. For example, a major source of the Dionysus myth is Plutarch, but he was writing in the late first century, after the time of Jesus.

Of course, some mythographers did write before the time of Jesus, but the existing manuscripts of the New Testament predate the existing manuscripts of their works. In other words, we can make the case that they borrowed from Christianity!

The Implication
Despite the lack of evidence, most Christian scholars have chosen not split hairs and argue needlessly about the historical credibility of these myths from which the Gospel was "plagiarized".

This is because even the parallels exist, they do not discredit the truth of Christianity. John Stott writes:

We know very well that there is a literary genre called 'myth' which sets out  to present truth in historical form without claiming that it is historical. That is not in dispute between us. Many pagan myths were current in the first century, including one of Greek and Egyptian origin, about a saviour-god born of a virgin mother who ruled both sky and sea. But these stories were self-evidently myths. People did not believe they were historical. The question is whether the evangelists where deliberately writing myth, when they told the story of the virgin birth, and whether they intended us to understand it as such. My answer is 'definitely not'. The Authentic Jesus pg 50-51
In other words, while the writers of the Dionysus myth (and their audience) knew that what they conveying was not historical truth, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not claim allegorize anything (Luke 1:1-4, John 1:14, John 20:30-31 etc).

As Peter (narrator of Mark's Gospel account) says:

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 2 Peter 1:16
To sum up:

  • Any parallels between pagan myths and the Gospel are superficial if not non-existent
  • It is difficult to establish which came first, the myth or it's 'borrowed' form
  • There is a difference of genre which should not be ignored

Sunday, 6 September 2015

You are 666: The Folly of 'Exposing' Celebrities, Church Leaders, and Politicians

We all have that one Christian friend who talks about certain celebrities, church leaders, or politicians 'selling their soul to the devil', or something like that.

For a greater part of 2010-2011, I was that friend in my social circle!

So I had seen all these 'documentaries' on YouTube about how making certain hand gestures makes you part of the 'illuminati', how playing a song backwards (why would someone even do that is still beyond me) initiates you in the cult of satan, and how Bible prophecy applies to our modern geo-political events with no relevance to the original hearers.

In short, I had it all figured out. Of course, conspiracy theory is a great way to look at the world, in that you can fit any recent event in the grand scheme of things. 

However, it didn't take long for me to figure out the flaws in this system.

Firstly, conspiracy theory can be used by anyone to prove their point. For example, who brought down the Berlin Wall? 

Was it the US, the Vatican, or the Muslims? You can use the same arguments (and video editing software) to prove any of the 3. That's how this system works. 

But secondly and more importantly, the ministry of 'exposing' individuals, governments, or organizations is a dangerous one because it is free-for-all.

There are no rules as to how you prove someone to be a member of the illuminati or to be Antichrist himself.  All you have are assumptions and an arbitrary selection of images (some real, some photoshopped), but there is no real evidence.

In other words, you can literally prove anyone to be 666, all you need is an internet connection and some free time on your hands!

And this is what ticked me off and got me thinking. There are some usual suspects who are considered by all to be 'satanists', including but not restricted to:

  • The Beatles
  • Elvis Presley
  • George Bush
  • Obama 
  • Led Zeppelin
However, the internet crusaders who preach these theories were sparing no one, so I realized that even Christians celebrities like the U2 are also satanists. However, they didn't stop there. 

Soon they 'proved' that Harry Potter is also satanic. And so was WWE. Even The Lion King apparently had illuminati symbolism in it. Childhood ruined. 

Even up to this point, I was hooked on these videos. You have to admit that they have entertainment value; you don't have to think much, and you get a kick out of demonizing the rich and the famous!

But what snapped me out of this dangerous addiction was a video series entitled: 'Billy Graham: Forerunner to Antichrist'

Yes, Billy Graham, the world's most famous evangelist is not preaching the Gospel. According to this video series, he is doing satan's bidding. And all those who step forward to receive Christ at his rallies are actually going to hell. The proof, Billy does not use the King James Version

Now, let me make it clear that I am all for freedom of speech. You can have your opinions and no one can stop you from expressing them.

Nor do I think that church leaders are above criticism. And I certainly believe that some of the most dangerous heresies are preached from the pulpit. 

The point I am trying to make is that when you call out individuals and say they are 666, you make your audience hate these people. What really needs to be done is educating people so that they can think for themselves. 

But the greatest danger of this approach once again is that no one is spared. When Martin Luther called the Pope  666, the RCC came back and demonstrated how Luther's own name spelled the Number of the Beast:

The suggestions as to the meaning of 666 are endless. Since it is the number of the beast, everyone has twisted it to fit his own arch-enemy; and so 666 has been taken to mean the Pope, John Knox, Martin Luther, Napoleon and many another. Dr. Kepler provides us with an example of what ingenuity produced during the Second World War. Let A = 100; B = 101; C = 102; D = 103 and so on. Then we can make this addition:

H = 107
I = 108
T = 119
L = 111
E = 104
R = 117
and the sum is 666!
William Barclay 

You see the problem of projecting your theology on individuals? Just think about your favorite church leader that brought you to faith and helped you grow in the Lord. Then just type his name on Google with words "exposed" or "satanist", and you will see that this conspiracy mafia spares no one. 

John the Baptist called out Herod, but to prove his point he did not use Photoshop or allude to a secret society that is controlling the world. Herod's sin was public knowledge, and the Baptist just pointed it out. Jesus also called out the Pharisees, but he gave up His life to prove his point. But these internet crusaders are hiding behind an IP, demonizing the people who educate and entertain us.

I am going through one of the roughest patches in my life. My mood as at an all-time low, and nothing seems to uplift my spirits. But I thank God that even when I am depressed, I still possess the common sense of looking at the world as it is and not how I think it is.