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Mystery Religions = Jesus Christ?

This article was first written for the CCK Reason Blog here: http://www.cck.org.uk/reason/isn’t-story-jesus-creation-based-mythology-came-christian-era

Introduction

In the last few centuries, there has been an attempt to relate the life, work and message of Christ to earlier mythology. Some of the arguments have led some to the conclusion that Jesus didn’t exist, but was mythological like the gods that came before him.

The most scholarly and influential works that champion the alleged similarity between Jesus Christ and pagan mystery religions and mythology are by Franz Cumont and Richard Reitzenstein, from the late 1800s and the first half of the 1900s. These theories today are thought inaccurate due to recent research:

‘In recent years, however, the critical discussion of principles and concepts have been advanced, especially by Italian scholars. As a result a gradual erosion of Cumont’s and Reitzenstein’s positions is taking place’ (10/p.2)

Yet, there has been a revival of Cumont’s theories in recent years, most of which has been produced on a popular level in the form of the Zeitgeist Internet movie, and works by Tom Hurpur and Achrya Sanning. These works claim similarities between Jesus and dieties such as Mithra, Horus, Attis, Dionysus, Adonis and Zoroaster.

Understandable similarities

On a basic level, similarities should be expected between Greek and Egyptian mystery religions and Christianity. This is because the term ‘religion’ suggests foundational principles that are held in common. For example, they all seek ‘salvation’ in some sense of the word, though the various definitions of salvation involved may be so diverse that the similarity stops there. It is perhaps also true that in other secondary, non-doctrinal issues, Christians in the first four centuries were influence by the surrounding pagan culture, as there are similarities in art and the dating of festivals (18, 20/pp.24-25). But these parallels cannot be used to judge the veracity of the New Testament, as they do not affect the prescribed tenets of the faith, but are rather a matter of taste and culture. Much like most churches today worship with a guitar, which is an influence of contempary culture, but which does not rewrite the historic principles of the faith.

Dating the sources

It should be mentioned that this debate revolves around the dating and placing of the sources. Many online articles claim parallelism due to the belief that Christians copied mythology that came before the birth of Christ. Often these articles do not study the connection between Christianity and Judaism, and therefore do not consider the Old Testament prophesies regarding the Messiah, that he would be born of a virgin (parthenos: Greek translation of the Old Testament, Hebrew version translates ‘young woman’: almah), would suffer to redeem Israel and the world (Isaiah 52:13-53;12, Psalm 22). These prophesies precede most myths the proponents of parallelism would use to discredit the New Testament (11/p.169,19).

Also, although most of the worship of the gods of parallelism did exist before Jesus was born, the textual sources, which are alleged to prove parallelism, postdate the 1st Century. As a result, we cannot be certain that these texts themselves were not influenced by Christianity, and not rather than the other way round (11,19).

Horus/Osiris

It has been argued that Jesus Christ has much in common with Horus and Osiris, who were gods of Egyptian mythology. Some, but by no means all of the supposed similarities are as follows: Firstly, that Horus was conceived by a virgin (Isis), and secondly, that Osiris was killed and resurrected.

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Firstly, Isis was not a virgin when she conceived Horus. Osiris was killed by his brother Seth, and dismembered into parts. As Osiris’ wife, Isis magically restored the body of Osiris, except the penis (which had been eaten by a fish). Therefore, Isis fashioned him a new member, and they coupled together. Thus Horus was conceived. There are different accounts of the tale some including direct sexual contact, and others metaphorical. In either case, Horus was the result of the intercourse between Isis and Osiris. (23, 21/p.77)

Secondly, it is true that Osiris was killed and resurrected, but the surrounding events are vastly different to that of Jesus’ life (and there are various versions of the Osiris myth). After Isis had restored him, Osiris was assigned god of the underworld, as he was not allowed to return to the land of the living (19), which suggests quite a different resurrection to that of Jesus Christ.

Lastly, W. Ward Gasque, theologian and author, contacted twenty leading Egyptologists on the issue of the comparison between Horus and Jesus. All denied the validity of such comparisons. (16, 15, 11)

Mithra

Common statements about Mithra by the proponents of parallelism, which are claimed to be identical to that of Jesus Christ, are: Firstly, that Mithra was born of a virgin on December 25th in a cave. Secondly, as the “great bull of the Sun,” Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace. Thirdly, He was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again, among many other claims.

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Firstly, Jesus was not born on 25 December, this is nowhere mentioned in the New Testament, the date was chosen for convenience in later church history to coincide with the winter solstice for social reasons. Therefore, this parallel is null and void. Likewise, Mithra was born from a rock, which cannot be argued to be a virgin, as a rock is a non-sexual object. (18,11/p.171, 19, 17)

Secondly, online resources (see references) suggest that Cumont’s theories about Mithra and the Bull were discredited mainly due to his presupposition that Ancient Iranian Mithraism was identical to its later Roman counterpart, which had been affected by Zoroastrianism. But Iranian Mithraic sources do not conclusively match the Roman legends of the slaying of the bull (12, 18). The Second Mythraic Congress of the 1970s in Tehran came to similar conclusions (18,11/p.168). In any case, Mithra (in Roman mythology) did not die for humanities redemption, but rather killed a bull, the blood and semen of which fell to the ground and symbolises the rebirth of all living things (21/p.58). Note that it was the blood (and semen) of the bull, rather than that of Mithra (unlike Jesus, who shed his own blood). And the rebirth of all living things, as in the time of spring, is quite different to the rebirth of those who accept Jesus as their saviour, which is eternal. It is also worth noting that the expression “he (Jesus) suffered under Pontius Pilate” in the Apostle’s Creed serves to link the death of Christ to a specific historic time and context, which again differs from the timeless, or seasonal, account of Mithra.

Thirdly, in response to the claim that Mithra was buried and rose after three days, there is no evidence that Mithra ever died; therefore he could not have risen from the dead. (17, 18, 19, 21/pp.58-59)

Conclusion

Although we have not looked at every parallel comparison in the short space available, it is very clear to see that the key comparisons between Jesus and the mythological gods are (on closer inspection) negligible. The terms ‘resurrection’ and ‘virgin birth’ have been used by proponents of parallelism to give credence to what is in truth, a very far fetched conspiracy theory, which has been widely discredited by scholars today.

Additionally, to suggest that Jesus did not exist on the basis of such comparisons is illogical on two levels. Firstly, because the comparisons are not convincing, and secondly, because there is good historical evidence for the existence of Jesus, and no such evidence for the gods of mythology.

Further Reading:

Proponents of Parallelism:

1. Cumont, Franz. Texts and Illustrated Monuments Relating to the Mysteries of Mithra (1894-1900, with an English translation in 1903)

2. Reitzenstein, Richard. Hellenistic Mystery Religions, (trans. 1978, Pittsburgh: Pickwick)

3. Acharya Sanning, The Christ Conspiracy. Acharys’s website: http://www.truthbeknown.com/

4. Timothy Freke, Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries

5. Fideler, David. Jesus Christ: Sun of God: Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism. (The Theosophical Publishing House,1993): http://books.google.com/books?id=hAB2s6-xeoQC&pg=PA143&dq=jesus+and+mithras&hl=en&ei=RpRpTL6AIIiNOKewvLgF&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CDoQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=jesus%20and%20mithras&f=false

6. Hurpur, Tom. The Pagan Christ.

7. Massey, Gerald. Ancient Egypt in the Light of the World

Other:

8. Nash, Ronald. The Gospel and the Greeks

9. Yamauchi, Edwin M. Persia and the Bible

10. Burkert, Walter. Ancient Mystery Cults, Harvard College, 1987. p.3: ‘Now it is true that some ancient Christian writers were struck by certain similarities between Christian worship and mysteries, and they denounced the latter as devilish counterfeits of the one true religion . . . and even orthodox Christianity adopted the mystery metaphor that had long been used in Platonic philosophy: to speak of the ‘mysteries’ of baptism and the Eucharist has remained common usage. Yet this does not imply that Greek mysteries by themselves should be seen as predestined to move towards Christianity. The constant use of Christianity as a reference system when dealing with the so-called mystery religions leads to distortions as well as partial clarification, obscuring the radical differences between the two.’ http://books.google.com/books?id=qCvlvqCXF8UC&printsec=frontcover&dq=the%20gospel%20and%20the%20greeks&source=gbs_slider_thumb#v=onepage&q=the%20gospel%20and%20the%20greeks&f=false

11. Stroble, Lee. The Case for the Real Jesus. (Zondervan, 2007)

12. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Mithraism#Cumont.27s_hypothesis

13. By Stanley E. Porter, Stephen J. Bedard, Unmasking the Pagan Christ: An Evangelical Response to the Pagan Christ. (Clements Publishing, 2006).

14. Metzger, Bruce. Historical and Literary Studies: Pagan, Jewish and Christian. (E. J. Brill, 1968)

15. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Christ_in_comparative_mythology

16. http://www.canadianchristianity.com/cgi-bin/na.cgi?nationalupdates/040623was – Ward Gasque

17. http://conspiracyscience.com/articles/zeitgeist/part-one/

18. http://www.tektonics.org/copycat/mithra.html

19. http://www.thedevineevidence.com/jesus_similarities.html

20. Chadwick, Henry. The Early Church, (Revised Edition 1993, Penguin Books)

21. Essential Visual History of World Mythology, National Geographic Society.

22. http://www.tektonics.org/harpur01.html

23. http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/HORUS.htm

1 Comment

Comment on the following text: ‘The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Was the only messenger of God. And his word that he committed to Mary and a spirit from him. So believe in God and his messengers, and say not ‘Three’’ (Sura 4:171)

1.Opening Comments

With a cursory glance this ayah may seem to affirm Christian truths about Jesus. But although the terms use to describe Jesus may be very similar in Islam and Christianity, they are understood in very different ways. This essay will aim to comment on the names Jesus is given in this text.

2.Messiah

The first name that is given Jesus in this ayah is ‘Messiah’, which is particularly interesting because it is a term that was first defined in the Judao-Christian tradition. Even though it is used in the Qur’an eleven times, Qur’anic commentators have admitted that Masih ‘Messiah’ is a foreign word, originating from the Hebrew Mashiah.[1] In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it was translated ‘Christos’[2], and Christians still call Jesus by this title derived from the Greek, hence why we see ‘Jesus Christ’ written on the pages of the New Testament, rather than ‘Jesus Messiah’. Geoffery Parrinder explains in his book Jesus in the Qur’an that although the term Messiah was understood in a Jewish context as the Deliver that was to come, but also as a term to describe the Lord’s anointed, it was not so well understood in the Gentile context. Therefore, as Christianity grew and an increasing majority in the church were Gentile, often the meaning of ‘Messiah’ was not understood except as a title of honour.[3]

This is likely why there are many differing understanding of the term in Islam. If the term was used of Jesus as a title in Arabiain the 7th Century, it is likely that Muhammad likewise used the term as a title without understanding it’s Jewish history. However, as the term frequently appears in the Qur’an, and Muslims believe the title to be given to Jesus by Allah, the all-knowing, then the term must mean something. Whether it derive it’s meaning from Jewish history, or it is redefined, or corrected, by the Qur’anic meaning is the decision of the commentators. Likewise, ‘Messiah’ cannot be defined by Christian doctrine because that would contradict Islamic doctrine. ‘Messiah’ by Christian definition means the one that has delivered humankind from sin and death and restored us to a relationship with the Father God. For Messiah to be defined as such would raise questions about the need for Muhammad to come at all, if Jesus has already brought eternal life.

This is why there are many theories Muslim commentators have presented concerning what ‘Messiah’ actually means. Some commentators believe that Messiah is a personal name.[4] Others have tried to link the meaning to the Old Testament ‘anointed’, claiming that Jesus had been specially ‘blessed’ by Allah during the course of his life. Others linked meaning to a root word msh ‘to touch’, and extrapolated that Jesus’ touch had special religious properties.[5] Parrinder records that there are up to fifty different interpretations for ‘Messiah’ in Islam. However, what is clear is that, whatever the definition, the Qur’an is very clear that Jesus was the Messiah, which is stated unequivocally by Muhammad Ata’ur-Rahim:

There is absolutely no doubt about the fact that Jesus was the promised Messiah[6]

3.Son of Mary

The phrase ‘son of Mary’, is used to refer to Jesus in the Gospels (Mark 6:3 ESV) as well as the Qur’an. The difference lies in the frequency with which it is used in the Qur’an compared to the New Testament, twenty three times for the former, and only once for the later. Clearly, the Biblical use of the phrase was descriptive, whereas the Qur’an seems to have made a title of it. The title is used so often that scholars have asked why the name became so popular. One view is quoted below By Eric Bishop in his work Jesus of Palestine:

The Qur’an repeatedly speaks of him as ‘Jesus the messiah, son of Mary’ . . . it must have been the Ethiopic church which gave it to the Muslims[7]

However Parrinder disagrees with this view, because the migrants returning from Ethiopiadid not arrive in time to influence the Meccan surahs, but only the later Madinan surahs, but both categories of surah use the phrase extensively. Parrinder looks to other sources that may have caused the popularity of the title. The New Testament only uses it once, and even apocryphal and heretical works rarely use it. However the Arabic and Syriac infancy Gospels are the only heretical works that do use the title enough that it be significant. There is uncertainty regarding the dating of the Arabic version, but the Arabic was translated from the older Syriac, which could have been accessible in Arabiain the 7th century.[8]

It is interesting to note that this title that is so often used for Jesus in the Qur’an could have, without doctrinal hesitation, been used in Christian worship. The only reason it wasn’t, it seems, was due to inopportunity in church history and the fact that is not mentioned enough times in the Bible to cause it to roll naturally off the Christian tongue.

3. His Word

In this ayah Jesus is described as the Word of God, but this is understood very differently to the ‘Word’ in Christian thought. The context in which it is given is: ‘his Word which he bestowed on Mary’. Fakhruddin Razi, the 12th century Muslim theologian, emphasises that Jesus is given this title because of his virgin birth.[9] Jesus was created at the word of God, as was Adam, and unlike any of the other prophets who were all procreated in the normal way. Due to context, this is an understandable and reasonable explanation.

4.Spirit from him

Jesus is called a Spirit from God in this ayah. ‘Jesus’ and ‘Spirit’ are titles that Christians are used to hearing in conjunction with each other. Jesus was lead by the Spirit in Matthew 4:1, and in the opening chapter of 1 Peter, he exhorts his readers: according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ.

However, for the Muslim, references to Jesus and the Spirit are treated as synonymous. Whereas in Christian texts there is a clear definition between Jesus and the Spirit, in Muslim theology both terms refer to Jesus. Parrinder quotes from a letter Muhammad sent the Negus of Abyssinia in which Muhammad confirms that Jesus is ‘the spirit of God.’[10] This is very important in Christian-Muslim relations because of what this might imply in Muslim theology, and whether there is any indication here that Jesus was different to other prophets, and perhaps even more highly esteemed?

Razi gives us a list of five possible interpretations of ‘a Spirit from him’, some of which are: Gabriel was the spirit that breathed on Mary in order that she might conceive, and therefore this is why Jesus is called a Spirit from God. Also, Allah’s revelation is sometimes referred to by the same word that is translated ‘Spirit’, and therefore, this passage means that Allah had given Jesus revelations as he has the other prophets. Lastly, in surah 58:22 we read: God has engraved faith in the hearts of such believers and strengthened them with a spirit from himself, and therefore in the sense that Allah is here giving ‘mercy’ to his people, so too dose 1:171 refer to the mercy of Allah that was given to Jesus.

5.‘Three’

5.1.Islamic Monotheism

Islam is monotheistic, as is Christianity; however, Islamic understanding of monotheism is dissimilar to Christian understanding due to the different definitions of the concept of monotheism. The Islamic doctrine is called Tawhid, which teaches that Allah is an absolute unity without parts. The Qur’an uses two words to describe Allah’s oneness; Ahad and Wahid. Ahad is an adjective, and describes Allah’s oneness as a single entity. Allah is not one in a unity of parts, but has no parts at all, and no associates.[11]

As such, the Christian doctrine of Trinity has been criticised heavily by Muslim and Qur’anic commentators for the last 1,400 years.

5.2.Questions Regarding Interpretation 

The beginning of the ayah we are looking at reads ‘Oh People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion . . .’, and ends with the exhortation ‘say not three’. This is one of the main passages in the Qur’an in which the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is criticised, along with 5:116 and 5:73. What the ayah in question begins to affirm about Jesus in common with Christian thought, at the end sharply contradicts.

Muhammad Ata’ur-Rahim’s argument is just that, a criticism of Trinity, in his book Jesus: Prophet of Islam. He argues that Jesus was a monotheist in the Islamic sense, and that the early church was also Unitarian until the official doctrine of the Trinity was enforced at the council of Nicaea.[12] Al-Rahim paints Jesus in Muhammad’s likeness; he is portrayed as a zealot ‘prepared to fight anyone who tried to prevent [him] from living as [his] Lord wished’[13], and a monotheist in line with Essene[14] doctrine, which is close to the Islamic understanding of monotheism than Christianity. Al-Rahim further enforces this picture of the Tawhid-teaching Jesus by pointing to The Gospel of Barnabas and the Sheppard of Hermas, the first explicitly Islamic, the second implicitly. He claims that these Christian books were as authoritive in the early church as any other New Testament book, but were simply voted out at Nicaea. He also insists that many early Church Fathers and theologians, including Iranaeus, and later church theologians were anti-Trinitarian. He points to the fact that Iranaeus quoted extensively from the Gospel of Barnabas in the 2nd Century.[15] But Al-Rahim has made a mistake; it is the Epistle of Barnabas that is quoted not the Gospel of Barnabas:

On examination one finds that Irenaeus in his writings quoted from the Epistle of Barnabas and not from what Rahim calls the Gospel of Barnabas.[16]

This revisionist interpretation of Christian history indeed fits nicely with Islamic theology, but does not cohere with current scholarly opinion. Al-Rahim’s assertion that Jesus adopted Essene monotheism is based on the fact that similar language is used in the Gospels as in the Dead Sea Scrolls; but this reasoning is unsatisfactory. Similar wording and phrasing is common to particular cultures and contexts all around the world. It is not the turn of phrase that synthesises two texts, but the message within them. Therefore, one need only compare the teaching of Jesus, on the relationship between the Father and himself, with the Essene teaching of God to notice the difference. Similarly, Al-Rahim refers to Jesus’ words in Luke 22: 36 to prove that Jesus was willing to use violence: and let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. But he fails to consider context, for just a few verses on we read: And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Likewise, Al-Rahim’s assertion that Iranaeus ‘believed in One God and supported the doctrine of the manhood of Jesus’ is not controversial and shocking, as he presents it. These things are believed to be true by any Trinitarian. Al-Rahim’s claim that Iranaeus was anti-Triniatarian is misleading, as Iranaeus writes:

He [John] thus plainly points out to those willing to hear, that is, to those having ears, that there is one God, the Father over all, and one Word of God [Jesus, as described in John’s Gospel], who is through all, by whom all things have been made; and that this world belongs to Him, and was made by Him, according to the Father’s will[17]

However, Al-Rahim’s reconstructions of Christian history are felt necessary by many in the Muslim umma if one holds to the literal teaching of the Qur’an, and in particular ayah 4:169/4:171.

Yusif Ali also agrees that this ayah is directly addressing the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, and forbidding that any Muslim believe that Jesus is a part of it. He even goes so far as translating thalathatun as ‘Trinity’ instead of ‘three’[18]. This makes a significant difference when considering what this ayah means. It is commanded of Muslims that they do not think of Jesus as a member of a three-way God-head. The crucial point being that thinking of Jesus as one God in a three-way God-head is also heretical to Christians, and orthodox Christians could agree with the sentiments of this ayah. However, with the translation ‘Trinity’ this changes the meaning, and will forbid Muslims from believing the Christian doctrine even though Jesus’ relationship to the Father is defined differently in Christian thought than it is in the Qur’an. And, of course, Christians could not agree with this ayah if ‘Trinity’ is what is actually meant by ‘three’.

However, there are other ways that some Muslims interpret this ayah and its meaning. Mahmoud Ayoud believes that ‘this theological barrier is not an impenetrable wall dividing the two communities’.[19] He basses his hope on the word used in the Qur’an to describe ‘offspring’. The Qur’anic condemnation of the supposed Christian three-God is closely linked in Muslim thought about the reprehensible notion that God would physically procreate a Son. This idea is not explicitly stated in the Qur’an, but can be implied from certain references to a three-way God-head between Allah, Mary, and their son Jesus.[20] Ayoud attempts to resolve this conflict by studying the word the Qur’an uses to describe Jesus’ relationship with Allah: ibn and walad. Ibn is used to describe a filial relationship, but can be taken metaphorically, to imply adoption. Walad, on the other hand implies physical generation.

The Qur’an no-where accuses Christians of calling Jesus the walad offspring of God[21]

Therefore, Ayoud argues perhaps Qur’anic commentators have been to hasty to criticise Christians for claiming that Jesus is the Walad of God, when the Qur’an and Gospel accounts both treat Jesus’ birth as spiritual rather than physical.[22]

6.Conclusion

Therefore, in conclusion, although traditionally this ayah has been the cause of some misunderstanding between the Muslim and Christian communities, and still causes misunderstanding today, there are those that are working to present the Muslim umma with the correct understanding of Christian doctrine, especially of the Trinity. And evidently there are Muslims who are also thinking critically about the Qur’an and studying what the Qur’an is really saying about Christianity. Dose this ayah contradict Christian doctrine, or does it actually affirm it? I would say the later.


[1] Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, p.30

[2] Ibid, p.31

[3] Ibid, p.33

[4] Moucarry, C., Faith to Faith, p. 179

[5] Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, p.31

[6]Al-Rahim, Jesus: Prophet of Islam, p. 280

[7] Bishop, E. F. F., Jesus of Palestine, 1955, pp.61

[8] Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, p.27

[9] Moucarry, C., Faith to Faith, p. 177

[10] Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, p.50

[11] Geisler N. L. & Saleeb, A., Answering Islam, p. 18

[12] Al-Rahim, Jesus: Prophet of Islam, p.36

[13] Ibid, p.36

[14] The Essenes were a Jewish sect/community that lived in the desert and created the writings we now call the Dead Sea Scrolls.

[15] Al-Rahim, Jesus: Prophet of Islam, p.86

[16] The Gospel of Barnabas. 2012. The Gospel of Barnabas. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.itl-usa.org/barnabas/evidence.html. [Accessed 09 July 2012].

[17] Iranaeus, Against Heresies, Book VI. XVIII.  ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus – Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2012. ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus – Christian Classics Ethereal Library. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.vii.xix.html. [Accessed 02 July 2012].

[18] Abdullah Yusif Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary. P. 234

[19] Mahmoud Ayoud ed. By Irfan A. , A Muslim View of Christianity,  p.118

[20] Qur’an 5:116: O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, ‘Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah ?'”

[21] Mahmoud Ayoud ed. By Irfan A. , A Muslim View of Christianity,  p.118

[22] Ibid, p.119

6 Comments

Murray has always been so misunderstood . . .

I have sometime heard people say, ‘I know Andy Murray is one of our best, but I don’t really like him’, or ‘he’s just always angry’. To be honest, I had never agreed with this view of the man, and have always held him in high regard. Perhaps this is due to the fact that my younger brother plays tennis often, and use to play at county level, being reasonable good for his age (He used to have to travel quite far to find someone that matched his skill). In some ways I have always thought that Murray may be a little bit like my brother, I even think they have a similar look! My brother is not an ‘emotional’ man, I of course when I say that I mean that he just doesn’t show it. But knowing him as I do, I knew that tennis games could bring deep emotional strain. Those who didn’t know him, or who didn’t understand the pressures of the game, wouldn’t perhaps have realised this about my brother. His emotions would only ever come out a high pressure moments, and even though I was aware of how he felt, I would always be slightly surprised to see his public displays of emotion. How much more then, would those who didn’t know my brother personally, find these moments surprising?

This is why I was not very surprised to see Murray’s emotions displayed so clearly for the whole world to see yesterday. I remember thinking ‘yes, of course you feel like that, you’re like my brother, I think he would feel the same’. On the other hand, I was also not surprised that the news reporters and tennis supporters were a little shocked. Wasn’t this the man that was always grumpy and seemed not to care?

My heart goes out toMurray, for he is a great tennis player, but he has never been good at ‘public relations’. And why should he be? His job is to play tennis, not to people please – although the two are connected, I know. But the ironic thing in all of this is that while Murray was trying so hard to repress his tears for fear of the shame they might bring, they were what brought him his glory. Although he may not have wanted to seem ‘weak’, the fact is what he showed us was that he cared, and he cared as much, and more than, us. And this is what has won the hearts of the nation.

I read the following this morning and thought it an excellent summary of Murray’s Victory (you can find it here: http://sport.uk.msn.com/blog/wimbledon-blogpost.aspx?post=24192a56-6e17-47d9-9f2a-e14c0d7cf434&_nwpt=1)

A Hero, if not a champion

Today was a lose/lose situation for Andy Murray. He was facing the best player in the world ever in a home tournament where he could – theoretically – have ended Britain’s search for a Grand Slam trophy. And as every Englishman knows, Murray is a man who can even turn a win/win situation to his own disadvantage, right?

Wrong. Murray may not have done the impossible in beating the Emperor of tennis but he did achieve the unthinkable in winning over the hearts of a nation.

In a venue that stands for everything he is not – neatness, suavity, privilege and the establishment – Andy Murray produced an unchoreographed and inspirational performance that overshadowed even a record-breaking feat by Wimbledon’s best-loved champion.

  • Federer:      an old man is master of a young man’s game

It was like a scene from Gladiator. The plucky Celt, after beating off a few worthy but expendable challengers, was brought onto the stage in a battle the promoters had billed as deciding the future of the empire. He was supposed to spit and curse defiantly before surrendering meekly to be spared to fight another day only by the magnanimous and forgiving crowd.

But Murray hadn’t read the script. He came out with confidence and gusto, keen to win every point, not just stay in them. This was a figure that bore no resemblance to the mumbling, muttering, awkward, overgrown teenager that BBC viewers had come to know, often begrudgingly, as their number 1.

Even so, Murray was not to find redemption in victory, that would have been too easy. Once Federer awakened to the threat and raised his game it became clear that he had too much for his challenger: too much skill, too much power, too much authority. As we’ve seen before, he seemed to float above the court effortlessly hitting the lines or dropping the ball over the net.

In chasing shadows, Murray slipped and fell heavily. For a few moments he lay on the turf and in front rooms around the country the munching of Pringles was interrupted by an echo of the criticisms of his detractors. “This is where he pretends to be injured,” or “First it was his shorts, now he’s bound to start blaming his shoes.”

There was the barest hint of angry fire in his eyes as he regained his feet but a couple of points later he was throwing himself – heroically, not despairingly – across the court to chase another thunderbolt fired from whatever mountain the Swiss gods live on.

The brilliance which he showed in the first and second sets and the bravery of the third and fourth would have been enough to dispel any negative headlines from the thoughts of Fleet Street subs. But what happened next was truly extraordinary. Barely had Roger Federer lifted the trophy when a microphone was thrust into Murray’s face and his pain and disappointment was exposed to the scrutiny of millions of strangers. 

This was the time for shifty, uncomfortable Andy, whose eyes glance furtively anywhere except for into the camera, as though looking for a means to escape. Instead we were presented with a human being who did what he felt was right even when every sinew of his body was urging him to run off and hide.

He’d endured the spotlight for more than a month but spoke with heartfelt thanks to the people on whose behalf he had been hounded and persecuted by camera crews and flashbulbs. Time and again he broke down but refused to give up. Suddenly it occurred that Andy Murray needed and deserved our sympathy, wanted our approval.

It had never occurred before that his failure to deliver the honours that our proud history and, well, general Britishness so richly deserved was a matter of any personal angst on his part.

Then the penny dropped.

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Quote-down

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Have you ever been in discussion with someone who holds a different opinion to you, on a subject that you are both are passionate about? Perhaps this conversation has taken place on the internet? Or by text? Have you ever had your friend or acquaintance pass on some quotes that contradict your position by way of end note to the discussion? I have.

Being a Christian, I have had people sending me quotes saying that ‘religion is evil’ or ‘those who have faith throw away their intelligence’. When this has happened they have been very nice about it. Usually they are sending me something they think I would find interesting, or they are highlighting the fact that an intelligent and influential person agrees with them. As a result these questions occur to me: do they agree with the sentiment of the quotes? And, are the quotes meant to aid their argument? I’ll ask these questions about a few quotes that can often find their way to Christians:     

  1. ‘Faith means not wanting to know what is true.’ — Friedrich Nietzsche
  2. ‘Belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence.’ – Robert Anton Wilson
  3. ‘Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.’ — Kurt Vonnegut
  4. ‘Religion is the most malevolent of all mind viruses.’ – Arthur C. Clarke

Do they agree with the sentiment of the quotes?

This question makes me laugh, because these quotes can come across so harsh when I don’t think it is normally (I hope) meant by the sender. Even if a friend or acquaintance is violently anti-belief they are usually respectful and value me as a person. Therefore they will find ways of saying things that are not harsh or offensive. For example, a friend might say to me ‘I think religion causes wars’. Fair enough, I can engage with that. But I wouldn’t expect a friend or acquaintance to say ‘I think you are more likely to cause a war because you are religious.’ That’s quite harsh and extremely judgmental. (I have never been told the latter, thankfully!)

When I am sent quotes like these, however, it gives you the harsh side of someone’s opinion. It is evident that the sender agrees with the quotes, and so, from looking at the above I can deduce that the sender believes I, a) don’t want to know the truth, b) I have put to death my intelligence, c) I am ‘terrifying and absolutely vile, and, d) have contracted a malevolent mind virus. 

Flattering isn’t it? 

That’s why it makes me laugh, because put like that it sounds almost ridiculous because it’s so insulting. And it’s also funny because often I don’t think the sender ever has the intention to insult! Therefore, I think we must remember to take this into account and not allow ourselves to get hot under the collar.

Although I would say to potential readers who are prone to quoting their favourite authors, celebrities and scholars, try and be sensitive and consider how you might come across!      

Are the quotes meant to aid their argument?

So, on the other hand, are the quotes meant to aid their argument? I really don’t see how. Because I can also quote famous and influential people:

  1. ‘A string of opinions no more constitutes faith, than a string of beads constitutes holiness.’ – John Wesley
  2. ‘While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.’ – George Washington
  3. ‘Today not only in philosophy but in politics, government, and individual morality, our generation sees solutions in terms of synthesis and not absolutes. When this happens, truth, as people have always thought of truth, has died.’ – Francis Schaeffer
  4. ‘Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods.’ – C. S. Lewis
  5. ‘Atheists themselves used to be very comfortable in maintaining that the universe is eternal and uncaused. The problem is that they can no longer hold that position because modern evidence that the universe started with the Big Bang. So they can’t legitimately object when I make the same claim about God-he is eternal and he is uncaused.’ – William Lane Craig

So that cannot be the goal of the sender. Is it that the other person wants to me to know that intelligent and prominent people agree with them, and not me? Again, it would be unkind of me to think so little of my friend or acquaintance, but even if this were one of their motives, it can never add anything to their argument because, as shown above, many famous and influential people have disagreed with them.        

My last guess is that my friend or acquaintance would like me to engage with the truth claims made in each quote. So I will attempt to link to pages which may do that better than I:

  1. Faith means not wanting to know what is true. — Friedrich Nietzsche

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rKXKMCYmqM

  1. “Belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence.” – Robert Anton Wilson

http://www.reasons.org/articles/faith-and-reason

  1. Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile. — Kurt Vonnegut

http://www.smithvillechurch.org/html/christianity_misunderstood.html

  1. “Religion is the most malevolent of all mind viruses.” – Arthur C. Clarke

Richard Dawkins famously popularised the idea that religion is a meme (An element of a culture or behaviour that may be passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means, esp. imitation.) or even a ‘mind-parasite’[1], below the link will take you to a friendly debate between Dawkins and a Christian professor.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0UIbd0eLxw

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Climate change, and our change?

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This was written by Jay Butcher here: http://www.licc.org.uk/engaging-with-culture/connecting-with-culture/politics/one-life-with-each-other-rio20-1359#fb-comments

In 1992, the Rio Earth Summit recognised sustainable development as being a top priority for the UN and international community. Twenty years later world leaders have gathered again…

We all know the mantras that inwardly drive an increasingly insatiable desire for more, for the new, and for the latest shiny product. Whether we truly believe it’s ‘because we’re worth it’ or that it really is ‘the best a man can get’, our culture screams at us to ‘just do it’. Just do it in a world of finite resources, where global economies teeter on the brink of collapse, and where climate and environmental changes threaten delicate ecosystems, increase the spread of disease and hit the lives of the world’s poorest, hardest, now.

Just do it.

U2’s anthemic One was released in March 1992 with proceeds benefitting HIV/AIDS research; but the song that has since provided the UK’s favourite lyric – ‘One life, with each other, sisters, brothers’ – set a tone of equality, connectedness and interdependence just months before one of the most significant global gatherings in recent times.

Twenty years later, Gary Barlow is riding high with the Diamond Jubilee track Sing which topped the charts, and features the Commonwealth Band and the Military Wives. With climate change being a direct threat to the very survival of some Commonwealth countries, it is poignant that the lyrics, whilst celebrating the Queen’s reign, sing of a bigger hope – a stronger unity and a people who are ‘shouting love tonight’.

In an interconnected world, human-made climate change is a reality that the whole world needs to face. The church surely has a distinct role to play in advocating on behalf of, and living differently for, men, women and children formed in the image of our Father, even though we may never meet them. We have the opportunity to be salt and light in a broken and hurting world, displaying life – lived differently in its completeness, abundant in its simplicity, lavish in its love.

How we go forward from Rio+20 depends on world leaders, whom we can influence. But it also depends on the lifestyle choices we make – frequency of flights, where we holiday, our consumption of meat and seasonal produce, to name but a few – and the communities in which we are scattered where we can cultivate a different culture.

We can and need to just do it.

I (Ruth) thought the above was a very interesting read. Honestly, I thought to myself, when do I really think about climate change? Being frank, I often begrudge the effort I have to put in to wash up the baked bean cans for the recycling! Bad, I know, but true.

I have heard other Christians argue that responsibility for the environment lays primarily with us, and we should be leading the way, but I confess, the urgency I once felt has faded into the background as ‘more interesting’ things such as theology and apologetics have clamoured for my attention. It has been so easy to place these things in the foreground, because they are immediate, popular and one can acquire qualifications in these subjects. Not so with climate change. But nevertheless sometimes, often in fact, the things that don’t provide profile, but rather heart, are the things worthy if our time and attention.

Butcher’s article has made me consider my emphasis. Do I really consider the climate change issue serious? Does God want me to care? Interesting questions. However, one solid reform I will try to make as a result of this article is I will be more thoughtful of the recycling, and I will try not to do a hodg-Podg job of the beaked bean cans!

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Prometheus and the ‘who made us?’ question.

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The following was written by Rachel Giles here: http://www.licc.org.uk/engaging-with-culture/connecting-with-culture/entertainment/monster-questions–1357#fbcomments

Maybe they were hiding from the rain, but an awful lot of people went to see Ridley Scott’s sci-fi blockbuster, Prometheus, over the Jubilee weekend. The prequel to his 1979 film Alien, it grossed £6.24 million over those four days – and it’s still topping the UK box office.

There’s plenty to please fans of the Alien series: a strong female lead, shocks, slime, a rapidly dwindling spaceship crew and, of course, scary aliens. But it also asks some big questions: where does human life come from? Who, or what, made us?

The film’s mythology – that humans were created by extraterrestrials who visited Earth – isn’t original, alluding to Erich von Däniken’s 1968 Chariots of the Gods. Nor is it one that would sit too happily with most Christians.

But here’s a surprise: the heroine, Dr Elizabeth Shaw, a scientist determined to find answers to these questions, is a Christian; she wears a cross and is ‘a true believer’. She trusts that the evidence (cave paintings and stone carvings from ancient civilisations) points to something ‘out there’. And she has faith that when the crew of the Prometheus arrive on LV223, two years from Earth, they will, literally, meet their makers – and ask them ‘why they even made us in the first place’.

Her beliefs aren’t shared by the crew. It’s 2093, and Darwinism, the prevailing explanation of life on earth, has been around for three centuries. Interestingly, her hunch about the aliens doesn’t clash with her faith in God, for if they exist, ‘who created the aliens?’ she says.

The mission has potentially disastrous consequences for Earth. But the film is less about humans overreaching themselves (like the Prometheus of Greek myth), and more about our unquenchable thirst for truth. Writer Damon Lindelof, who wrote the series Lost, said in a recent interview, ‘The entire point of being alive is to ask these questions and search for some meaning.’

It’s encouraging to see a popular film grapple with these ideas, even if it doesn’t provide answers. We’re regularly told that science has explained everything, but some questions won’t go away. Prometheus presents huge opportunities to share what we believe about God’s creation and purposes with others. But it challenges us, too. Would you pursue the truth, even if it cost you? And if you met your maker, what would you ask?

Not every slime-shocker blockbuster makes you wonder that.

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The Place of Works & Faith in Salvation: Do Paul and James contradict each other?

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I recently wrote an essay on the supposed contradiction between Paul and James on the place of works and faith in salvation (the particular areas of contention are found in two specific passages Romans 3-4 and James 2). I thought I would share with you the 5 solutions to the problem that I have come across in my research . . .

1. There is no ‘solution’

This position states that the two simply cannot be reconciled, because we are encountering an issue of diversity in early Christianity. This is of course one way of viewing the differences between Paul and James, but such a view would give rise to other questions of uniformity and inspiration . . .

2. Using the word ‘Faith’ and ‘Works’ in different ways

If James and Paul were united in their theology, scholars have theorised, there must be an alternative explanation for the differences in Pauline and Jacobean theology. Some resolve the apparent contradiction by defining what Paul and James meant when using the words ‘works’ and ‘faith’, within their specific contexts. John Drane argues that when Paul uses ‘faith’ he refers to it in a technical and general sense that characterises the Christian life; both belief and action being components of this faith. James, on the other hand, refers to a faith that is specifically belief; belief in God, as opposed to atheism. Therefore on the basis of this reasoning Paul and James’ views of justification do not contradict.

This understanding of the Pauline and Jacobean views of justification seems reasonable for contextual reasons. Paul makes it clear in Romans that Christians are to live a life worthy of their calling, in other words, faith is supposed to be accompanied by good works.[1] Likewise, it is clear that when James is referring to faith-without-works it is defined primarily by belief, as he writes you believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder! This is clearly not referring to the same type of faith that Paul describes as producing good works through the Spirit.

3. ‘Works of the law’ opposed to ‘Works’

Another way of reconciling the two authors is by looking through the lens of recent scholarship connected with the New Perspective on Paul. James Dunn invented the phrase ‘boundary markers’ to refer to the 1st century Jewish understanding of salvation, i.e. circumcision, food laws and the Sabbath.[2] This is what, Dunn states, is referred to when Paul uses the phrase ‘works of the law’. Therefore, when we approach the tension between Paul and James’ views of justification, we see that Paul refers to saving faith apart from works of the law,[3] hence revealing that he is referring to ritual boundary-markers, instead of moral works. Also, when Paul argues that the promise was achieved by faith alone he says that it was received before Abraham was circumcised. Therefore, he argues that the ‘works of the law’ are not necessary for salvation. From other parts of his letters it is clear that Christian faith is supposed to be accompanied by (moral) ‘works’, or ‘living by the spirit’, by which he means right living.[4] Whereas when James refers to ‘works’, he means moral actions rather than ritualistic requirements of the law. Therefore, James uses an example to explain the type of ‘works’ he is referring to: If a brother or sister is poorly clothed (and you don’t) give them the things needed for the body, what good is that?[5]

Tom Schreiner argues that this interpretation fails:

The new perspective solution fails . . . for it is not evident that Paul restricts ‘works of the law’ or ‘works’ to ceremonial works or those that divide Jews from Gentiles.

In addition to Schreiner’s comment there does seem to be one anomaly with the solution provided by the new perspective. Romans 4:6-8 links Abraham’s blessing to a prophetic Psalm where David writes: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.[6] Paul specifically related this quote to the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works. As such it does seem that when Paul writes about ‘works of the law’[7] or ‘works’[8] when explaining the doctrine of justification by faith, he does indeed relate works to moral works, perhaps in addition to ritualistic works defined by Dunn. Paul explains that their ‘lawless’ deeds are forgiven. i.e. it refers to moral requirements that are not met, rather than ritual requirements that are met.

4. ‘Can that faith save him?’ The accusative pronoun.

R. T. Kendall brings an additional solution to the mix. He looks at the Greek grammar in the text. The pronoun in the sentence Can that faith save him?[9] is accusative, he argues. Thus, he says that James is not talking about the Christian who is the possessor of the faith in question, but rather the poor man in James 2:6. Therefore James is not referring to the salvation of the Christian, but rather the salvation of the poor man, as faith without works will not save the poor non-Christian, as there is no evidence of a changed life in the Christian wishing to bring him to faith.[10]

Kendall pre-empts the obvious retort to his solution: It is strange that James refers to a person reasonably far back in the text. But Kendal argues that this is not an unusual occurrence in the New Testament.[11] However, I would argue that it is also strange that later James writes: . . . faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Therefore the person with the faith-without-works in effect has no faith. Death means that something is no more. Therefore even if were to agree with Kendall on the reference to the poor man, it would still be odd that James would say that faith was dead without works, if James thought that faith without works was still active in saving.

5. James is responding to a distortion of Pauline teaching

Lastly we come to a solution that I think best fits with both the text and the historical context: Works are the outward evidence of saving faith. Therefore, faith without works is indeed dead. A persistent lifestyle of sin would suggest that one did not posses saving faith. Paul also makes this clear in Romans 6: . . . you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness.[12] Paul and James’ use of faith and works in regard to justification differ because of the context in which each author was writing. Paul was an Apostle to the Gentiles and wanted his congregants to know that they were free from the works of the law, defined by both Jewish boundary markers and moral requirements. He instead emphasised being ‘in Christ’, and following the Spirit, which would lead to moral living. James, on the other hand, although teaching the same things as Paul (i.e following God, and therefore teaching his congregants to follow the Spirit) was leading a church that contained a faction who were ‘zealous for the law’[13] as we saw above. These Christians seemed to believe that Gentile believers needed to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses.[14] Rumours had reached Jerusalem that Paul taught a theology that ‘forsook Moses’[15], and presumably Jews also believed, as a consequence, that Paul taught an antinomian theology. As such, James is countering this twisted version of Paul’s teaching. Tom Schreiner also argues for this interpretation because the two authors address different situations and circumstances, and those situations must be taken into account.[16]

Conclusion?

I would love to hear your thoughts . . .


[1] Romans 6: 12-14

[2] Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul. 2011. The New Perspective on Paul. [ONLINE] Available at: http://markgoodacre.org/PaulPage/New.html. [Accessed 14 November 2011].

[3] Romans 3: 28

[4] Romans 6: 12-14

[5] James 2: 15-17

[6] Psalm 32:1-2

[7] Romans 3: 28

[8] ‘works’ is used instead of ‘works of the law’ in the passage concerning Abraham: Romans 4:1-12

[9] James 2: 14

[10] Kendal, R. T., Justification by Works, p. 168

[11] Kendal refers the reader onto James, Preaching through the Bible by M. A. Eaton, ch, 13 & 14

[12] Romans 6:16

[13] Acts 21:20

[14] See above in section ‘Background: Jewish & Hellenistic split’ & appendix

[15] Acts 21: 21

[16] Schreiner, Tom, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, p.603

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