Saturday, June 23, 2012

Church History: Laying a foundation

I decided to open up my old Church history textbook, Christianity through the Centuries by Earle Cairnes, and try to comment on that.

Chapter 1 – The Fullness of Time

Galatians 4:4, “When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son.” 

Jew, Greek, and Roman all paved the way to make the time perfect for God to send his Son to save us.

I. The Environment

A. The Romans

1. The Romans had developed this unity of mankind under a universal law (Cairnes, 35).  They had the law codified in the Twelve Tables and taught them to foreigners all over the empire.  They also let non-Romans become roman citizens.  All this united Rome into “one political organization [that] anticipated a gospel that proclaimed the unity of the race both in setting forth the penalty for sin and the Savior from sin” (Cairnes, 36).

2. Before the Roman empire, city states and tribes would compete against each other, meaning someone could not pass through from point A to point B easily.  After the Roman empire, the Romans developed peaceful cities and their developments and kept crime away all over the Mediterranean.

3. The empire had an “excellent system of roads” (Cairnes, 36) extending from the Roman forum.  These roads helped Paul on his missionary journeys.

4. The Roman army would have outposts all over the world with its soldiers mingling Roman culture with the culture of wherever they were stationed.  Many of these soldiers became Christian, and Britain possibly has Christianity because of these outposts.

5. Because Rome conquered many lands, many people lost faith in their gods who did not protect them from the Romans.  Instead, they partook in mystery religions that seriously rival Christianity: Cybele worship, Isis worship, and even Mithraism, have death and resurrection myths along with a savior-god.

B. The Greeks

1. Because Alexander conquered the world and converted it to Greek, everybody on three continents spoke the same Koine Greek by the time Rome conquered it.

2. Greek philosophy destroyed many old religions but did not satisfy spiritual needs (Cairnes, 39).  Some philosophers like Socrates and Plato believe in a world that transcends the visible realm, making this world temporal and the unseen world the true reality.  This lead to Gnosticism later on that thought all matter is evil.  They believed in an immortal soul but no resurrection of the body.

3. Epicurus founded Epicureanism, an early deism, which believes in god, but he has no interaction with the world and people make their own decisions.  People need to make their own decisions for maximizing themselves on earth.  Zeno founded Stoicism, a belief that there may be a god but he's not transcendent.  It's more of a pantheism.

II. Jewish contributions to religion: the church started in the Garden of Eden with Adam, passed down to Abraham, and created a heredity (Cairnes, 41) that became Christianity.

A. Monotheism: This aspect made the Jews stand out among all the other cultures.  All the cultures had many gods for their cities.  The Greeks and Romans had a god for about every aspect of life.  The Jews only had one God who transcends geography, and they worship no other god without serious consequences.

B. Messianic Hope: The Jews hoped in a Messiah who would bring righteousness back to the earth.  Romans expected him to be born to Caesar Augustus.  The Jews expected him to come down from the sky, slay all the Romans, and make Israel an empire again.

C. Ethical System: “the purest ethical system in existence” (Cairnes, 42).  While the Romans and Greeks saw sin as a failure within the heart of man, the Ten Commandments gave a stark contrast by making sin a violation against God himself.  This magnified the doctrine of sin and the need for a savior.

D. Old Testament Scriptures: These were sacred books, greatly used by Paul and Jesus, that were not given by the founder.  The Holy Spirit, however, inspired the words of both testaments.

E. Philosophy of History: The Greeks and Romans had a meaningless cycle of evolution that went on endlessly.  The Jewish historical philosophy sees history as one line with a beginning and an end.  It’s started by God and will end with a triumphant God and a purpose.

F. The Synagogue: After the Babylonian exile, Jews settled all over the world and discussed religion in synagogues.  They built synagogues and discussed the Old Testament with its Messianic promises in Asia, Africa, and Europe.  According to Paul, Christianity was not “done in a corner” (Acts 26:26).  It has always been public and confirmed by witnesses, and now it is practiced in an increasingly unified empire.

Reading this causes me to recall the myths that Christianity borrowed its ideas from pagan religions at this time.  Rob Bell is the most recent proponent of this.  James White made a video response to this where he calls Rob Bell utterly naïve to accept such assertions.  The New Testament is its own context for Jesus.  He needs no cultural influence.

Then in classic James White analysis, he examines these pagan beliefs that supposedly have a virgin birth, a death, a resurrection, and render Christianity not so unique or special.
Mithra: The only real source on the internet for Rob’s sayings is just Rob Bell saying it.  According to White, who extensively studies these things, Mithraism was limited in popularity when Christianity was being formed.  Even in its best case scenario, Mithra was not popular until after the time of Christianity and the apostles.  Which makes more sense: a religion not rooted in history borrowing its ideas from Christianity or a religion that repudiates pagan idolatry borrowing ideas from pagan religions?

Attis supposedly was virgin born and resurrected.  This is how he was born: his mother ate some fruit that somehow had Zeus’s DNA in it and she became pregnant.  This does not compare to our Virgin Birth at all.  And his resurrection?  Somehow Attis emasculated himself and a tree grew from the ground from his blood.  Ew.  No, this is not the same thing.

We only know about these goofy myths because centuries later, Christian writers commented on them from the culture.  These characteristics don’t define the Gospel.

Caesar: as for the idea that Caesar is Lord and people celebrated an Advent for him, the only source James White found was from Ovid’s poetry about some god taking Caesar’s spirit and placing it to be seen in the stars.  This does not even relate to our exalted Jesus, not even if you mention some god’s right hand.

Bell seems to rely on a book called Christ and the Caesars, by this “Christian” universalist who makes such grand claims without backing it up with references.  The true stories of these myths, according to White, are so bogus that a reasonable person would have to check his brain at the door to believe them.  The Greeks, who believe that the body was evil, even scoffed at Paul for mentioning a resurrected body.

So, Christianity is unique.  If there are any similarities with pagan beliefs, the beliefs more than likely borrowed from Christianity much like they do today, making their lies that much more believable.

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