Did pagan traditions influence Christianity?

Monday Musings for February 06, 2017

Good morning, Musers,

Have you ever heard an accusation that Christianity got a lot of its ideas from more ancient pagan traditions… but that, therefore, the biblical God is not the true God?  I’ll not unpack the details about whether or not the setup to that accusation is true here, but I will ask, if such a statement were true, would it be a defeater of God’s truth? Would that make the Judeo-Christian histories untrue… and would it, therefore, make their claims invalid? Not even remotely! Three reasons come quickly to mind.

First, God out-and-out uses pagans… so who cares! Cultural elements will overlap. That’s an expectation, not a surprise. You remember Rachel — mother of Joseph and Benjamin… 1/6 of the Nation Israel? She was a pagan — daughter of a pagan priest — and she stole and lied so that she might incubate her paganism (Gen. 31:19) while on route to serving God! So if God out-and-out uses pagans by saving them and working with them to accomplish his will, what would be the objection if part of their heritage comes along and gets changed? I mean, that’s how God does things! Even today we understand the value of a “before” and “after” photo. Would it makes sense to argue that the “after” is not valid because the “before” existed… or because some of the “before” imagery still exists in people’s minds — and therefore shows up in the culture?

Second, God foresaw that the world would be full of skeptics — so he turned the tables on them. The very fact that they can make such metaphysical accusations about God’s creation shows that they have sufficient information to condemn themselves. How so? God is of the opinion that his truths are “clearly seen” … in fact… even a Ph.D. can see them! It’s just harder for a person who has prior philosophical commitments (such as a commitment to naturalism) to deal objectively with the empirical evidence.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18–20, NIV, emphasis mine)

Third, God is “in the air” so to speak. Not only is God apparent in the physical creation, but he is also apparent in the metaphysical creation. Natural theology and philosophy agree with what biblical theology says about God… and so much so that if we just sit and postulate what a true God must be — and even sans biblical revelation — we come up with a God who is consistent with the biblically revealed God. Furthermore, God shows up in human morality. (Note that the existence of immorality does nothing to counter the fact that morality also exists.) The fact that altruism exists in all cultures… and even among atheists… frustrates naturalistic worldviews. Their model predicts that a species' success relies on selfishness, not sacrifice.

So, if God is “in the air” so to speak, is there really a problem if every creature under the sun draws from that information pool while growing their cultures? I think not… and I think that the Bible gets it right. Given our common resources, I would expect cultures to be very much the same. But given sin, I would expect that some cultures would grow away from God. That’s why God set up Israel — as a light. In its salad days, Israel was God’s fix for the whole world — not proof that we are all just different flavored pagans. But — then and now — people prefer the darkness to the light.

As such, people do not get things wrong passively; they are proactively wrong; they suppress the truth… and that’s more work than just letting the truth be. If you think about it, letting the truth be is no work at all. Christians call that “resting in God” (Matthew 11:28).

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