Jesus vs Mithras

This video is quite typical of claims that the story of Jesus was taken from the stories of Mithras.  This video is full of errors in numerous ways.  The most obvious is the statement of the church having theological controversies in the 4th century BCE, four hundred years before Jesus!

But there are more serious errors than petty typos.  The connection between Mithraism and Zorastrianism would be contested by scholars.  Perhaps the name and figure of the Roman mystery came from the older Persian religion, but there is almost nothing in common.  Scholars teach that the Roman Mithras was basically a new creation.

A few other problems include the fact that Mithras had a much different birth (he was born of a rock not a virgin), he did not die for his followers (he never died but killed a bull).  What about Dec. 25?  That seems to be important in Mithraism but that date is not mentioned in the Bible as the date of Jesus’ birth.  It is no shock that the church took over a pagan feast date as it is more easy to transform a good party than it is to ban it.  Finally, most of the evidence we have for Mithraism is from the second century or later.  It is difficult to prove that a religion known to us from the second century is responsible for documents written in the first.

Unfortunately, people take these claims too seriously.  Before taking the word of Jesus myth theorists, take a look at the evidence and the actual myths.

Mormons and the Restoration of the Gospel

Next we are going to take a look at the Mormon understanding of the Restoration of the Gospel. This article is correct that it was a time of great religious excitement at the time Joseph Smith lived.  But it is strange that he would say that every minister and every church had a different claim to the Gospel and truth.  If you were to ask a Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and most other denominations, they would tell you about the atonement of Jesus on the cross and the coming of the Kingdom of God.  That is the Gospel and the Gospel does not change from denomination to denomination, even if there are differences of style and polity.

I will not go into the Father having a body but I will comment on Jesus restoring the priestly authority that the church had lost.  What priestly authority?  This theme does not appear in the New Testament.  How could Jesus restore the priestly authority when he never taught it during his earthly ministry?  How could the church lose it if it was never taught?

Regarding Peter’s prophecy in Acts 3:19-21 and the restoration, that is a complete misinterpretation.  Peter is not talking about an apostasy in the church and a restoration to the church.  Peter says that this is about what the prophets foretold.  Read Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the eschatological restoration that they looked to.  This is something that will happen with the return of Jesus and the establishment of the kingdom in fullness on the new earth.

Christian Apologetics Journal

I just subscribed to the Christian Apologetics Journal put out by Southern Evangelical Seminary.  So far I have found it quite interesting and enjoyable.  The articles for the volume 8, no. 1 are:

Intelligent Design: Its Nature, Limitations, and Future by J. Thomas Bridges

Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Is There a Limit to the Medical Imperative to End Suffering and Disease? by Mark Foreman

An Assessment of Brain Death as a Means for Procuring Transplantable Organs by D. Scott Henderson

Divine Foreknowledge: Two Accounts by Matthew Graham

Two Notions of the Infinite in Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae I, Questions 2 and 46 by Richard G. Howe

20,000 Hits!

It was at the end on January 2008 that I set up this apologetics blog hoping to provide opportunities for conversation and to present the Christian faith in a reasonable way.  Just less than two years later, we have reached 20,000 hits!  Thank you for your support and do not hesitate to request posts on certain topics.

Lost Scriptures

I just finished reading Bart Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures.  I quite enjoyed this book.  It is a collection of non-canonical gospels, acts, epistles and apocalypses.  It also includes the earliest canonical lists.  There is a wide variety of theological views presented as texts are included from the Apostolic Fathers, New Testament Apocrypha and the Nag Hammadi Library.  It is quite interesting to see the theological diversity even within each of these categories.  This book is meant to be a companion volume to Ehrman’s Lost Christianities.  In that book, Ehrman suggests that the canon was wide open and then after an ecclesiastical victory, the orthodox imposed their own canon.  Reading through Lost Scriptures, one can see that the right books were chosen for the New Testament.  There really is no comparison between the quality of the canonical and the non-canonical books.  This book also blows away the theory that the church destroyed the heretical books in that for some texts all we have is what the church fathers preserved for us.  This is a good book that is worth reading.

Good New Testament Podcast

I have been listening lately to a very good New Testament podcast.  It is by biblical scholar Mark Goodacre.  I do not necessarily agree with everything he teaches but he has some great things to say.  The podcasts are scholarly thorough but also are presented in a way understandable to laypeople.  The podcasts can be found in numerous places including iTunes but you can also find them here.

Journal of Biblical Literature

I just received my first issue of the Journal of Biblical Literature.  These are the articles in volume 128, no. 4.

The Text of Genesis 17:14 by Matthew Thiessen

Deuteronomy 24:4 and King Asa’s Foot Disease in 1 Kings 15:23b by Jeremy Shipper

Eglon’s Belly and Ehud’s Blade: A Reconsideration by Lawson G. Stone

Rehabilitation Jephthah by Alice Logan

Framework and Discourse in the Book of Judges by Susanne Gillmayr-Bucher

In the Eyes of the Beholder: Unmarked Attributed Quotations in Job by Edward Ho

Rhetorical Reversal and Usurpation: Isaiah 10:5-34 and the Use of Neo-Assyrian Royal Idiom in the Construction of an Anti-Assyrian Theology by Michael Chan

“Taxo” and the Origin of the Assumption of Moses by Edna Israeli

Descending Spirit and Descending Gods: A “Greek” Interpretation of the Spirit’s “Descent as a Dove” in Mark 1:10 by Edward P. Dixon

The Johannine Prologue and Jewish Didactic Hymn Traditions: A New Case for Reading the Prologue as a Hymn by Matthew Gordley

Two Neglected Textual Variants in Philippians 1 by Brent Nongbri

A Note on 5 Ezra 1:11 and 2:8-9 by Theodore A Bergren

A Nomen Sacrum in the Sardis Synagogue by James R. Edwards

Mormons and the Great Apostasy

Our next section looks at the concept of the Great Apostasy.  According to Mormons, soon after the death of Jesus, the church fell into a great apostasy.  Reformers such as Luther and Calvin knew there was something wrong but without proper understanding, they were unable to restore the Gospel.

Now, Christians would agree that throughout the history of the church there has been a fight to retain the truth.  Heresies such Gnosticism and Arianism and others attempted to take over the church.  However, we believe that throughout the history of the church, God has raised up men and women who returned us to the message of Scripture and there there has always been a Gospel voice available.

This is different from what Mormons believe.  While including theological error, it is not primarily theology that was lost.  It was the priesthood authority that Jesus and the apostles established, the authority that allowed ongoing revelation to guide the church.  There are two problems with this.  First, there is no biblical evidence that Jesus or the apostles established a priesthood or that they expected ongoing authoritative revelation beyond the time of the apostles.  Secondly, it seems a little strange that God would allow the church to be in complete error from soon after the death of Jesus until the mid-1800’s.  If the church is so important, why would God wait almost two millennia to correct the church?  The Mormon concept of the Great Apostasy is not very convincing to me.

Mormons, Jesus and the Church

Our next section is on the issue of Jesus Christ Establishing His Church.  If you read any of the history and background of Mormonism, you will quickly find that positions, titles and offices are very important.  I have a few issues with this.  First of all, the core message of Jesus was not the establishment of a church but the coming of the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom and the church are not the same thing.  Hopefully the church is reflecting Kingdom values and is working to bring about the Kingdom (literally the reign of God), but the church is not the equivalent of the Kingdom of God.

The other problem that I have is that they claim that Jesus himself established all of these many offices of the church.  The biblical basis for this is lacking.  Jesus established disciples and apostles but that is it.  The other offices were later developments as the church sought to become more organized as the church grew.  These offices are not bad but it can hardly be said that they were established by Jesus.

I am also confused about the idea of Jesus establishing a priesthood.  That is not what the New Testament says.  There is no office of priests in the New Testament, established by Jesus or not.  There are a few references to all believers as priests in the sense that we all have direct access to God and do not require a human mediator.  The fact is that organizational authority is extremely important in Mormonism.  To get to that strong and particular position, they must go beyond the New Testament understanding of the church.

Mormons on the Prophets

The next section that we are going to look at is the Heavenly Father Reveals His Gospel to All.  There is a very subtle movement in this section.  They begin with looking at Old Testament prophecy and then the way God worked in the New Testament.  It is argued that if God worked through a ruling prophet such as Moses and if prophecy continued throughout the Old and New Testaments, then today’s church should be ruled under the authority of a prophet.  This means that the head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints does not speak out of his own wisdom for how an organization should be run but rather he has the same prophetic authority as Moses.  There are a number of problems with this.

1) It is true that the prophet Moses had a legal and political role as the leader of the people of Israel.  But that is not the general picture of Old Testament prophets.  Prophets such as Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah and the rest of the OT prophets did not have authority over an organization but rather called the people to turn back to God in repentance.  It is far the concept of the ruling prophet in Mormonism.

2) Mormons claim that the Mosaic style of prophecy continued in the New Testament.  While John the Baptist and a few others such as Agabus are described as prophets.  In fact the New Testament idea of prophecy is that with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2), all Christians possess the prophetic Holy Spirit.  There is no ruling class of prophets in the New Testament.

3) Mormons combine prophecy with priesthood in their attempt to create a position of authority.  However, in the New Testament the only priestly authority is the Jewish high priest who is not portrayed in a positive light.  Rather, all Christians are now priests with one high priest who is Jesus Christ.  Every Christian has as much access to God as the Old Testament priests.

It is true that God reveals his Gospel and that he uses prophets.  However, there is no evidence in the Old or New Testaments with regard to a prophetic priestly authority to rule over an ecclesiastical organization.