Did the early Christians cheat by copying everyone else?

admin/ June 8, 2014/ Uncategorized/ 1 comments

There is a fascinating introduction written  by Everett Ferguson to his book, “Backgrounds of Early Christianity” (Third Edition) that gets right to the heart of a question which all students of Christian history have asked.  Not much of early Christianity (or late Christianity for that matter), is unique.  It all seems to be taken from some pagan or competing religion.  Christianity, when taken in its historical context, seems to be more a product of its times rather than a unique interface between man and God.  If that is true, is it nothing more than another human institution?  How do we know that it is divine?

It’s hard for the mildly historically literate Christian not to notice that Christianity’s holidays seem to have been simply layered onto existing Pagan holidays (think Christmas) rather than be historically authentic celebrations.  The doctrines seem to run parallel to existing Greco/Roman/Persian philosophical strains.  Did Paul “borrow” these philosophies to explain the truth of the Lord or is the “truth” of the Lord an edited version of an existing philosophy.  Did early Christians “borrow” the ideas of a good God and an evil Satan from the Zoroastrians concept of good and evil deities or did contact with that culture simply emphasize and bring to the forefront neglected strains of similar Jewish thought.

Mr. Ferguson writes, “…What is to be made of these parallels?  Do they explain away Christianity as a natural product of its environment?  Must they be explained away in order to defend the truth or validity of Christianity?  Neither position is necessary.”

Neither position is necessary.  Why?  He gives three reasons:  (i) there are a finite number of options available so it makes sense that multiple groups will arrive independently at the same idea or method; (ii) Christianity is a historical religion so its members will think and act in concert with the culture of the time and choose to explain its truths using the vocabulary of the surrounding culture; and (iii) the uniqueness of Christianity lies in how the same facts, acknowledged by everyone at the time, are rearranged uniquely.  Christianity, when compared with other religions at the time, does have a distinct take on salvation and the purpose of life.  Writes Ferguson, “Questions of parallels are historical questions, not faith questions. ”

I believe he is correct.  Christianity is God’s truth filtered through the cultures it finds itself in.  I believe this is why there are so many different churches, denominations and sects.  The central truth of Christ’s redemption of us and our reconciliation with God speaks to us in different forms.  The study of Biblical History reveals bits of the their truths and of God’s message.

1 Comment

  1. Looking forward to reading more. Great blog article.Really looking forward to read more. Much obliged.

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