Was Christianity influenced by ancient pagan mystery religions?

This article is from Hank Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book—Collector’s Edition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008)
Get the Book

A common refrain sung by those determined to demolish the biblical Jesus in the court of public opinion is that his life, death, burial, and resurrection are myths borrowed from ancient pagan mystery religions. Once reverberating primarily through the bastions of private academia, this refrain is now also commonly heard in public arenas.

The first prevailing myth widely circulated in this regard is that the similarities between Christianity and the mystery religions are striking. Purveyors of this mythology employ biblical language and then go to great lengths to concoct commonalities. Take, for example, the alleged similarities between Christianity and the cult of Isis. The god Osiris is supposedly murdered by his brother and buried in the Nile. The goddess Isis recovers the cadaver, only to lose it once again to her brother-in-law who cuts the body into fourteen pieces and scatters them around the world. After finding the parts, Isis “baptizes” each piece in the Nile River and Osiris is “resurrected.” The alleged similarities as well as the terminology used to communicate them are greatly exaggerated. Parallels between the “resurrection” of Osiris and the resurrection of Christ are an obvious stretch. And, sadly for the mysteries, this is as good as it gets. Other parallels typically cited by liberal scholars are even more far-fetched. Not only that but liberals have the chronology all wrong—most mysteries flourished long after the closing of the cannon of Scripture. Thus, it would be far more accurate to say that the mysteries were influenced by Christianity than the other way around.

Furthermore, the mystery religions reduced reality to a personal experience of enlightenment. Through secret ceremonies initiates experienced an esoteric transformation of consciousness that led them to believe that they were entering into a higher realm of reality. While followers of Christ were committed to essential Christian doctrines, devotees of the mysteries worked themselves into altered states of consciousness. They were committed to the notion that experience is a better teacher than words. In fact, the reason mystery religions are so named is that they directly involve secret esoteric practices and initiation rites. Far from being rooted in history and evidence, the mysteries reveled in hype and emotionalism.

Finally, the mystery religions were syncretistic in that adherents not only worshiped various pagan deities but also frequently embraced aspects of competing mystery religions while continuing to worship within their own cultic constructs. Not so with Christianity. Converts to Christ singularly placed their faith in the One who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

For further study, see Ronald H. Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks (Richardson, Texas: Probe Books, 1992). See also Hank Hanegraaff, “Answering More Prime Time Fallacies,” available at www.equip.org.


“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not
think that the divine being is like gold or silver or
stone—an image made by man’s design and skill.
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he
commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has
set a day when he will judge the world with justice
by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of
this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

Acts 17:29–31

More Bible Answers with Hank

Will the Created Cosmos Be Resurrected or Annihilated?

How Can the Eternal Son of God Be the “Firstborn over All Creation”?

Will Adam and Eve Receive Brand-New Bodies in Eternity?

Do Naturalists Consider Chance the Singular Cause of Evolution?

Why Did Heliocentrism Triumph over Geocentrism?