With the rise in popularity of movies like Zeitgeist: The Movie and The God Who Wasn’t There, skeptical objections to the historicity of Jesus sometimes take the form of comparisons between Jesus and ancient mythologies preceding Him. Skeptics highlight similarities between Jesus and Horus, Mithras, Osiris or other ancient examples of “dying and rising” saviors. How should we, as Christians, respond to such objections?
1. Expose the False Claims:
Close scrutiny of pre-Christian mythologies reveals they are less similar to the story of Jesus Christ than critics claim. The gods of mythology were not born of a virgin as Jesus was born to Mary, they did not live a life that was similar to Jesus in detail, they did not hold the titles attributed to Jesus, and they were not resurrected in a manner remotely similar to the resurrection of Christ. Primitive mythologies simply fail to resemble the Biblical account of Jesus when they are examined closely. Expose the false claims of those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies.
2. Expose the Errant Strategy:
Critics typically “cherry pick” from the mythological attributes of a variety of pagan gods and exaggerate the alleged similarities to construct a profile vaguely similar to Jesus. They search for singular similarities to the Christ of the Bible and then assemble these similarities from a variety of gods spanning the centuries and originating in geographically diverse regions (as if the 1st Century creators of the Jesus story would have access to these mythologies in the first place). Given this strategy, nearly any person from history can be said to be a recreation of preceding characters, either fictitious or historical. There is no single prior mythology significantly similar to Jesus. Expose the selective strategy of those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies.
3. Expose the Common Cultural Expectations:
Many alleged similarities are extremely general in nature and would be expected from any group of humans considering the existence of God. The primitive cultures who were interested in God’s nature reasoned He would have the ability to perform miracles, teach humans and form disciples. These are universal expectations failing to invalidate the historicity of Jesus. As Paul recognized on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31), men thought deeply about the nature of God prior to His arrival as Jesus. Sometimes they imagined the details correctly, sometimes they didn’t. Expose the common cultural expectations of ancient people groups to those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies.
4. Expose the Unlikely Approach Being Offered:
It is unreasonable to believe Christian conspirators would create a story designed to convince Jewish believers Jesus was God by inserting pagan mythological elements into the narrative. Judaism is a uniquely monotheistic religion, and the God of Judaism provides strict prohibitions against the worship of pagan gods. It is unreasonable to think the New Testament authors would utilize pagan mythology in an attempt to influence adherents of Judaism. Expose the unlikely nature of this claim by those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies.
5. Expose the Reliable Nature of the Gospel Eyewitness Accounts:
There are sufficient reasons to believe the history of Jesus is reliable, even if there are marginal similarities between Jesus and pagan mythologies. The evidence for the early dating of the Gospels, the corroboration of their claims (both internally and externally), the reliable transmission of their content, and the lack of bias on the part of their authors provides sufficient reason to believe they accurately describe the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Prior mythologies were not written, nor were they intended to be considered, as true history; the Biblical account of Jesus is a reliable historical record. Expose the reliable nature of the Gospels to those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies.
Take the time to study the truth about alleged similarities between Jesus and ancient pre-Christian mythologies of “rising and dying” saviors. Claims of similarities are extremely exaggerated and based on the selective promotion of the common expectations of cultures contemplating the nature of God. The ancient Jewish audience of the Gospel authors would never have accepted such claims, and the reliable nature of the Gospels can be established beyond reasonable doubt.
Be sure to visit the Cold Case Christianity homepage to download the FREE Bible Insert summarizing this strategy for responding to claims Jesus is a “Copycat Savior”.
For more information about the reliability of the New Testament gospels and the case for Christianity, please read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. This book teaches readers ten principles of cold-case investigations and applies these strategies to investigate the claims of the gospel authors. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Cold-Case Christianity DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.
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