Does a shared vocabulary mean that Christianity is just rehashed paganism?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: Since Greek mythology came before Christian mythology, doesn't that mean that when the Bible uses words like “Hades,” that it is stealing doctrines from the pagan Greeks?

Answer: Greetings friend. It will be my pleasure to answer your question today. I see that you are skeptical about the Bible and Christianity, so I’ll try to keep that in mind as I go. However, the “problem” you have posed is not a problem at all. Here’s why.

Pagans and Christians are both theists. As such, we agree that spiritual (metaphysical) realms exist, and we believe that “gods” exist… Christians believing in the God of the Bible and pagans believing in as many different types of gods as their imaginations will allow — but at the end of the day — we are both theists. As such, not only is it logical that we might share some vocabulary, such sharing should be expected. So, what exactly is the problem? All humanity shares vocabulary! Does this mean that carpentry is not a true, worthy or peaceable enterprise because it shares history and vocabulary with the people who built ancient war machines that were designed to capture, enslave or kill their enemies?

But there’s a more basic problem — one involving the argument itself. You object that since paganism came first — and that since Christianity seems to have “borrowed” some things from paganism — it is merely rehashed paganism, and it is therefore worthless. This is a logical fallacy — one called the “genetic fallacy.”

A person commits the genetic fallacy when he does not examine a claim directly and on its own merits. Instead, he dismisses the claim as wrong because of its history or origins — and that’s what you’re doing with the word Hades.

According to the standard rules of logic, it is not reasonable to say that Christians are wrong to appropriate a term because it has pagan origins — and this is a good thing. Christianity is awash in pagan vocabulary, practices and “origins.” But how could we not be? On the most basic level, we are theists — and theism is theism! It’s just that we, as Christians, have been taught a better way (Acts 18:24-28).

Take Judeo-Christian history for example... which is the history of our faith. Abraham — who was the father of all of God’s faithful people (not just the Jews) — was a pagan before he came to understand the One True God (Genesis 12 ff). Jacob, too, whose 12 sons defined the nation Israel, sired those sons through four pagan women — one of whom (his favorite, no less) stole the idols from her father’s house because he was a pagan priest and those were her gods! (Genesis 31:19). How’s that for the start of a nation that will be called “God’s people”? It’s in Scripture — and God doesn’t flinch!

My point here is that we Christians understand — through the Bible and secular history — that people who dismiss the account of Adam and Eve can make a case that paganism came first... but that’s neither the point nor a problem. It doesn’t matter where people get their religious vocabulary or teachings. What matters is, do they have a “right” religion now… and we must answer the question directly… without considering the history of its terms or how the ideas came to be understood as true.

Reasonable Faith Ministries has a series of five-minute videos that do just that! This collection gives a positive case for the truth of Christianity and the reasonability of maintaining a Christian worldview. Please watch them all. Click here to see that list.

After watching those videos, consider reviewing one more document by way of summary. Click here to review that document.

Those videos and that article contain some of the reasons why Christianity claims to have the “right” religion. And although many believers are uncomfortable with its pagan influences, I’m quite comfortable with them! But this is because I’m an apologist... and I understand that theism is better than atheism... that Judaism is better than Paganism... and that Christianity is better than Judaism — and here’s why I don’t worry about pagan influences.

Even if Christianity has been substantially influenced by pagan DNA, it would still have done so through God-ordained processes and a God-ordained history. For this reason, it is illogical to assume something is wrong with Christianity because of where it came from. I’m a long-term Bible student who is conversant in philosophy, history and science, and I affirm that God shepherded the processes... even the ones influenced by pagan religions. Where we are today as Christians is where God wants us.

Let’s look at the word Hades before we go... because you mentioned it in your question. Greek mythology, Roman mythology and Judaic history (the Old Testament) agree that there was an “abode of the dead.” In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for this place was Sheol. The New Testament Greek word for this place is Hades — and we’ve adopted that word without change for use in English.

The New Testament introduces us to the word Hell, but Hades is not a direct equivalent. The New Testament has given us more information, not only about the place of hell but about the peril of the people who will go there! The terms Sheol, Hades and Hell speak with one voice that there is a place where the dead go. What varies are the historical understandings of the terms, and a better understanding of Hell because of God’s progressive revelation. But these have no bearing on the truth about Hell or its perils.

I hope by now you can see why objecting to Christianity’s habit of borrowing things is a logical error. Irrespective of whether or not Hades is a real place, you do not have the warrant to say it is not a real place just because the pagans named it first. This question is all about warrant, and you had none.

I hope that this helps clarify your thinking. Since you have visited us at Mainsail Ministries, I am convinced that God is drawing you to the truth (John 6:44; 14:6) — and no one who seeks him earnestly has ever failed to find him! I pray that this new information about the limits of what can be brought into an argument logically will help convince you that Christianity is not just for weak-minded people. Christianity is a thinking man's game.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20201221 Is Christianity just rehashed paganism?).

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