Some contemporary critics of Christianity argue that this religion is
not based in divine revelation but was borrowed from mystery
religions, such as Mithraism. Muslim author Yousuf Saleem Chishti
attributes such doctrines as the deity of Christ and the atonement to
the pagan teachings of the Apostle Paul and the doctrine of the
Trinity to pagan formulations of the church Fathers.
Pagan Source Theory
Chishti attempts to demonstrate a vast influence of
mystery religions on Christianity, stating, "The Christian doctrine of
atonement was greatly coloured by the influence of the mystery
religions, especially Mithraism, which had its own son of God and
virgin Mother, and crucifixion and resurrection after expiating for
the sins of mankind and finally his ascension to the 7th heaven." He
adds, "If you study the teachings of Mithraism side by side with that
of Christianity, you are sure to be amazed at the close affinity which
is visible between them, so much so that many critics are constrained
to conclude that Christianity is the facsimile or the second edition
of Mithraism" (Chishti, 87).
Chishti lists some similarities between Christ and
Mithra: Mithra was considered the son of God, he was a savior, he was
born of a virgin, he had twelve disciples, he was crucified, he rose
from the grave the third day, he atoned for the sins of humankind, and
he returned to his father in heaven (ibid., 87-88).
An honest reading of the New Testament data shows
that Paul did not teach a new religion or draw on existing mythology.
The foundation stones for Christianity are patently taken from the Old
Testament, Judaism generally, and the life of a historical figure
Jesus and the Origin of Paulís Religion.
A careful study of Epistles and Gospels reveals
that the source of Paulís teachings on salvation was the Old Testament
and the teachings of Jesus. A simple comparison of both Jesusí and
Paulís teachings will demonstrate the point.
Both taught that Christianity fulfilled Judaism.
Paul, similar to Jesus, taught that
Christianity was a fulfillment of Judaism. Jesus declared: "Do not
think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not
come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matt. 5:17). Jesus added,
"The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time,
the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is
forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to
disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law"
The Christ of Paul and Jesus is utterly at home in
Judaism and foreign to the mystery cults. Paul wrote to the Romans:
"Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for
everyone who believes" (Rom. 10:4). He added in Colossians, "Therefore
do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard
to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.
These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality,
however, is found in Christ" (Col. 2:16-17).
Christianity taught that humans are sinful.
Both Paul and Jesus taught that human beings
are sinners. Jesus declared: "I tell you the truth, all the sins and
blasphemies of men will be forgiven them" (Mark 3:28). He added in
John, "I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not
believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your
sins" (John 8:24).
Paul declared that all human beings are sinful,
insisting that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"
(Rom. 3:23). He added in Ephesians, "As for you, you were dead in your
transgressions and sins" (Eph. 2:1). Indeed, part of the very
definition of the Gospel was that "Christ died for our sins according
to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3).
Christianity taught that blood atonement is
necessary. Both Jesus and Paul insisted
that the shed blood of Christ was necessary as an atonement for our
sins. Jesus proclaimed: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be
served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark
10:45). He added at the Last Supper, "This is my blood of the
covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins"
Paul is just as emphatic. He affirmed that "In him
[Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of
sins, in accordance with the riches of Godís grace" (Eph. 1:7). In
Romans he added, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (5:8). Referring back
to the Old Testament Passover, he said, "Christ, our Passover lamb,
has been sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7).
Christianity emphasized Christís resurrection.
Jesus and Paul also taught that the death
and burial of Jesus was completed by his bodily resurrection. Jesus
told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise
from the dead on the third day" (Luke 24:46). Jesus challenged,
"Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.... But
the temple he had spoken of was his body" (John 2:19, 21).
After he was raised from the dead, his disciples
recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the
words that Jesus had spoken (John 2:22; cf. 20:25-29).
The apostle Paul also stressed the need of the
resurrection for salvation. To the Romans he wrote: "He [Jesus] was
delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our
justification" (Rom. 4:25). Indeed, Paul insisted that belief in the
resurrection was essential to salvation, writing, "That if you confess
with your mouth, ĎJesus is Lord,í and believe in your heart that God
raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom. 10:9).
Christianity taught salvation is by grace through
affirmed that every person needs Godís grace. Jesusí disciples said to
him, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man
this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matt.
19:25-26). All through the Gospel of John Jesus presented only one way
to obtain Godís gracious salvation: "Whoever believes in the Son has
eternal life" (3:36; cf. 3:16; 5:24; Mark 1:15).
Paul taught salvation by grace through faith,
affirming, "It is by grace you have been saved, through faithóand this
not from yourselves, it is the gift of Godónot by works, so that no
one can boast" (Eph. 2:8-9; cf. Titus 3:5-7). He added to the Romans,
"To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked,
his faith is credited as righteousness" (4:5).
A comparison of the teachings of Jesus and Paul on
salvation reveals clearly that there is no basis for speculating on
any source of Paulís teachings other than that of Jesus. Christianity
was rooted in Judaism, not in Mithraism. Indeed, Paulís message of the
gospel was both checked and approved by the original apostles (Gal.
1-2), demonstrating official recognition that his message was not
opposed to that of Jesus (see Habermas, 67-72). The charge that Paul
corrupted Jesusí original message was long ago answered by J. Gresham
Machen in his classic work, The Origin of Paulís Religion and
F. F. Bruce, Paul and Jesus.
Origin of the Trinity.
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity does not have a
pagan origin. Pagan religions were polytheistic and pantheistic, but
trinitarians are monotheists. Trinitarians are not tritheists who
believe in three separate gods; they are monotheists who believe in
one God manifested in three distinct persons.
Though the term Trinity or its specific
formulation does not appear in the Bible, it faithfully expresses all
the biblical data. An accurate understanding of the historical and
theological development of this doctrine amply illustrates that it was
exactly because of the dangers of paganism that the Council of Nicea
formulated the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. For a brief treatment
of the history of this doctrine see E. Calvin Beisner, God in Three
Persons. Two classics in this field are G. L. Prestige, God in
Patristic Thought, and J. N. D. Kelly,
Early Christian Doctrines.
Mithraism and Christianity
From the foregoing it is evident that Judaism and
the teachings of Jesus were the origin of Christianity. It is equally
clear that Mithraism was not. Chishtiís descriptions of this religion
are baseless. In fact he gives no reference for the similarities he
Unlike Christianity, Mithraism is based in myth.
Ronald Nash, the author of Christianity and the Hellenistic World,
Mithraism flowered after Christianity, not before,
so Christianity could not have copied from Mithraism. The timing is
all wrong to have influenced the development of first-century
Christianity (ibid., 147).
All the allegations of Christian dependence on
Gnostic or mystery religions have been rejected by the scholars in
biblical and classical studies (ibid., 119). The historic character of
Christianity and the early date of the New Testament documents did not
allow enough time for mythological developments. And there is a
complete lack of early historical evidence to support such
ideas. The British scholar Norman Anderson explains:
The basic difference between Christianity and the
mysteries is the historic basis of the one and the mythological
character of the others. The deities of the mysteries were no more
than "nebulous figures of an imaginary past," while the Christ whom
the apostolic kerygma proclaimed had lived and died only a few
years before the first New Testament documents were written. Even when
the apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians the
majority of some five hundred witnesses to the resurrection were still
alive. [Anderson, 52-53]
N. Anderson, Christianity
and World Religions
E. C. Beisner, God
in Three Persons
F. F. Bruce, Paul
Y. S. Chishti,
What Is Christianity?
G. Habermas, The
Verdict of History
J. N. D. Kelly, Early
J. G. Machen, The Origin
of Paulís Religion
R. Nash, Christianity and
the Hellenistic World
G. L. Prestige, God
in Patristic Thought
H. Ridderbos, Paul and