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 was supposedly murdered by his brother and buried in the Nile. The goddess Isis recovered the cadaver, only to lose it once again to her brother-in-law who cut the body into fourteen pieces and scattered them around the world. After finding the parts, Isis “baptized” each piece in the Nile River and Osiris was “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 mystery religions, this example 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 mystery religions flourished long after the closing of the canon 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 conscious- ness 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 worshipped 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 placed their faith solely 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).
Since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.
Acts 17:29–31 NJKV
For further study, see Ronald H. Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks (Richardson, TX: Probe Books, 1992); see also Hank Hanegraaff, “Answering More Prime Time Fallacies.”
***Note the preceding text is adapted from a new Revised and Updated version of The Complete Bible Answer Book that is forthcoming in Fall 2023. When available for pre-order we will update this page with corresponding information. Until then you can still purchase or receive for your partnering gift the current version by clicking here for purchase or here for partnering gift. ***