Article ID: DB109 | By: Ronald Nash
The following is an excerpt from article DB109 from the Christian Research Journal. The full PDF can be viewed by following the link below the excerpt.
Pagan Ritual and the Christian Sacraments
The mere fact that Christianity has a sacred meal and a washing of the body is supposed to prove that it borrowed these ceremonies from similar meals and washings in the pagan cults. By themselves, of course, such outward similarities prove nothing. After all, religious ceremonies can assume only a limited number of forms, and they will naturally relate to important or common aspects of human life. The more important question is the meaning of the pagan practices. Ceremonial washings that antedate the New Testament have a different meaning from New Testament baptism, while pagan washings after A.D. 100 come too late to influence the New Testament and, indeed, might themselves have been influenced by Christianity.11 Sacred meals in the pre-Christian Greek mysteries fail to prove anything since the chronology is all wrong. The Greek ceremonies that are supposed to have influenced first-century Christians had long since disappeared by the time we get to Jesus and Paul. Sacred meals in such post-Christian mysteries as Mithraism come too late.
Pagan Ritual- Influence on the Christian Sacraments?
Unlike the initiation rites of the mystery cults, Christian baptism looks back to what a real, historical person — Jesus Christ — did in history. Advocates of the mystery cults believed their “sacraments” had the power to give the individual the benefits of immortality in a mechanical or magical way, without his or her undergoing any moral or spiritual transformation. This certainly was not Paul’s view, either of salvation or of the operation of the Christian sacraments. In contrast with pagan initiation ceremonies, Christian baptism is not a mechanical or magical ceremony. It is clear that the sources of Christian baptism are not to be found either in the taurobolium (which is post first-century anyway) or in the washings of the pagan mysteries. Its sources lie rather in the washings of purification found in the Old Testament and in the Jewish practice of baptizing proselytes, the latter being the most likely source for the baptistic practices of John the Baptist.
Pagan Ritual- The Mithraic cult
Of all the mystery cults, only Mithraism had anything that resembled the Lord’s Supper. A piece of bread and a cup of water were placed before initiates while the priest of Mithra spoke some ceremonial words. But the late introduction of this ritual precludes its having any influence upon first-century Christianity.
Claims that the Lord’s Supper was derived from pagan sacred meals are grounded in exaggerations and oversimplifications. The supposed parallels and analogies break down completely.12 Any quest for the historical antecedents of the Lord’s Supper is more likely to succeed if it stays closer to the Jewish foundations of the Christian faith than if it wanders off into the practices of the pagan cults. The Lord’s Supper looked back to a real, historical person and to something He did in history. The occasion for Jesus’ introduction of the Christian Lord’s Supper was the Jewish Passover feast. Attempts to find pagan sources for baptism and the Lord’s Supper must be judged to fail.