Much like any major Christian holiday, there are the usual arguments and accusations about how it’s all just pagan festivities with a “Christian mask”. Easter is no different, and usually gets hit the hardest over its so-called “pagan roots”, or in the month or so preceding it, Lent being some “invention of the Catholic Church”.
I like to try and observe Lent, as it is one of the most ancient customs in the Church, which led me to researching its origins, along with the Easter celebration, to see where they have their basis. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that much of the accusations against Easter and Lent as “pagan” are either fabricated or is just misinformation. So let’s examine the different aspects of Easter to see how we got from Passover to resurrection, to little bunnies and chocolate eggs!
The Lenten Fast
A forty day fast prior to Easter has been a long established practice within the Church dating back to possibly within the first century. This is well established from ancient letters we still have available, such as from Irenaeus in the second century:
For some consider themselves bound to fast one day, others two days, others still more. In fact, others fast forty days … And this variety among observers [of the fasts] did not have its origin in our time, but long before in that of our predecessors.
Notice here that Irenaeus mentions that this was a practice passed onto them by their “predecessors”, a term often used in conjunction with the Apostles themselves, or those who immediately came after them, putting the origins of this Lenten fast much earlier than when Irenaeus wrote in 180, and also possibly having Apostolic origin.
The Easter controversy and why we celebrate it when we do
Back in the days of the early church, there arose a controversy around the celebration of Easter (or “pascha” as it was known then). But no, before your imagination runs wild, it wasn’t quite as exciting as it sounds and still had nothing to do with “paganism”. The dispute was over which day to hold the festival!
Yep, the controversy really is as mundane as that. In fact, it was one of the issues raised at the council of Nicea to be discussed and hopefully settled, and is officially known as the Quartodeciman (lit. Fourteenth) controversy/dispute. It’s called this due to the issue being over whether the Easter celebration should follow the Jewish pattern of Passover on the 14 Nisan or not and simply follow the days of the week (Friday and Sunday). It became a bigger issue when the not only the Jewish community of believers wanted to follow this method, but when the Gentile Asian communities also claimed that their Quartodeciman practice was of Apostolic origin!
It was a disciple of John the Apostle, and bishop of Smyrna, called Polycarp (c.69–c.155) who followed this practice in one of the seven churches of Asia as well as Melito, bishop of Sardis (died c.180). Irenaeus tells us that, in his old age, Polycarp visited the bishop of Rome to discuss this matter with him as the Roman church had diverged from the Quartodeciman custom and celebrated the resurrection according to the day Jesus rose instead: Sunday (the first day of the week).
We gain an important glimpse about this whole dispute from Irenaeus though, when he tells us of the meeting between Polycarp and Anicetus:
Neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John the disciple of our Lord, and the other apostles with whom he had associated; neither could Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it, as he said that he ought to follow the customs of the presbyters that had preceded him. … And they parted from each other in peace, both those who observed, and those who did not, maintaining the peace of the whole church.
Despite their differences in how they celebrated Easter, they both agreed that it ultimately didn’t matter because at the end of the day, they were both celebrating the risen Lord! Sadly, this peace didn’t last and the tensions grew until the Roman custom was eventually set as the “right” way to observe the feast. Constantine wrote a letter after Nicea to send to all those who couldn’t attend so they would know the decision about when to celebrate. It almost begins with good intentions so “that it would be convenient that all should keep the feast on one day” since “what could be more beautiful and more desirable, than to see this festival, through which we receive the hope of immortality, celebrated by all with one accord, and in the same manner?”. But then the real reason behind this desire displays itself: “We ought not, therefore, to have anything in common with the Jews”, as it would be “unworthy” to follow their customs concerning Passover! Seems a shame really if it truly does deviate from apostolic tradition.
But what this does show for certain is that Christians have been celebrating (and debating) Easter/Passover since at least AD 150, long before Constantine or even any other “pagan” influence could take hold.
Is the Name “Easter” really the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre?
In short: no.
There’s also no link between “Ishtar” and “Easter” either. Ishar was an ancient Near Eastern fertility goddess, but just because the names sound somewhat similar in English, it doesn’t mean there is any etymological connection at all. Ishtar is also originally Akkadian, which was a language spoken in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq and Syria) between about 2,800 BC and 500 AD, and was also the goddess of war and sexual love. Not really anything there to do with “rebirth”, rabbits or Spring, nor even a historical connection to ancient Britain.
Eostre on the other hand, actually does originate in ancient Britain from the Anglo-Saxons and there is one (yes, only one) historical mention to a supposed Anglo-Saxon goddess by this name. The only problem is that this historical reference only comes about in the 8th century from a Northumbrian monk known as the Venerable Bede. Here’s what he has to say:
“Eostremonath has a name which is now translated Paschal month, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.”
–Bede, De temporum ratione (“The Reckoning of Time”), XV
This is the one and only source for this claim though. No other document in history mentions or gives credence to a goddess by this name. Even if Bede was correct and there was some minor and relatively unknown goddess associated with the Spring equinox, it’s a rather large leap to assume that the 8th century Christian Church was somehow influenced enough by European “paganism” to incorporate (or blend) the Eostre tradition into itself when the actual Easter/Pascha festival had been celebrated since the second century at the very least.
If we look closer, the older root of the word Eostre simply means “East” or “dawn” in some other renditions, according to An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, Ester and oster, the early English and German words, both have their root in aus, which means “east”, “shine”, and “dawn” in various forms. Thus it is more likely that “Eostre” is simply a word that describes the season (Eostremonath = East Month) due to the position of the sun, and not a name that belongs to anyone, least of all a goddess.
But an even more primitive root is where these words derive: Auferstehung which means resurrection! That seems more fitting for the Easter season, don’t you think? Other than English and German, pretty much all other languages have a word with its root meaning coming from pascha — ie. Passover. Which is what the original Christians called this time of year too.
By the time of the Council of Nicea (AD 325), Easter celebrations within the Church was a standard event which was preceded by at least forty days of fasting. Athanasius had a custom of writing his “paschal (Easter) letters” to the churches at this time of year to give encouragement for fasting, self-control and moderation, linking the 40 days to the length of Jesus’ fast in the desert. His letters are useful as they show quite clearly that the time of Lent and Easter have been established for many centuries in the Church, and have nothing to do with paganism as they predate any Anglo-Saxon or German goddess by about 600 years (if they even existed)!
The beginning of the fast of forty days is on the fifth of the month Phamenoth [Ash Wednesday]; and when, as I have said, we have first been purified and prepared by those days, we begin the holy week of the great Easter on the tenth of the month Pharmuthi [Palm Sunday], in which, my beloved brethren, we should use more prolonged prayers, and fastings…
–Athanasius, Letter III (c. AD 332)
Chocolate eggs and bunnies?
So if the recognition and celebration of Pascha or the “Easter festival” dates back to the early second century of Christianity, and is wholly and totally centred around the resurrection of Jesus (and not so-called “pagan goddesses”)… How did chocolate eggs and rabbits come into the mix?
This is another thing which is also surrounded in murky pseudo-history and internet myth too, but that, again, has nothing to do with the generic catch-all “paganism” claim.
In a similar way that aspects of Santa Claus originated in Dutch culture, and were imported to the United States in the 17th century via immigrants, so the Easter Bunny (or Oschter Haws) was imported from Germany to the States around this era. And much like Christmas and Santa, the character was widely commercialised and used to make money and popularise the Easter holiday.
The history of the decorated eggs is much older, but surprisingly, a medieval Christian tradition! During the Lenten fast during the middle-ages, the restrictions on what you could or couldn’t eat came to rule out meat, dairy and eggs. This was first solidified as a rule at the Council in Trullo (aka the Quinisext Council) in AD 692:
It seems good therefore that the whole Church of God which is in all the world should follow one rule and keep the fast perfectly, and as they abstain from everything which is killed, so also should they from eggs and cheese, which are the fruit and produce of those animals from which we abstain.
Thomas Aquinas also writes about the dietary restrictions during Lent in his Summa Theologiae (1265–1274), showing that this tradition of abstaining from meat and dairy had prevailed for centuries:
Eggs and milk foods are forbidden to those who fast, for as much as they originate from animals that provide us with flesh: wherefore the prohibition of flesh meat takes precedence of the prohibition of eggs and milk foods. Again the Lenten fast is the most solemn of all, both because it is kept in imitation of Christ, and because it disposes us to celebrate devoutly the mysteries of our redemption. For this reason the eating of flesh meat is forbidden in every fast, while the Lenten fast lays a general prohibition even on eggs and milk foods.
This practice is where we get our traditions of Shrove Tuesday from as well as the decorated eggs. Before the Lenten fast began, everyone would use up what they had in their houses which they wouldn’t be allowed to eat for the next forty days, and thus pancakes were born (well, maybe not “born” but this is why we have a ‘pancake day’ even today). Obviously, chickens don’t stop making eggs during this time, and so they were collected up ready for the end of the fast. At some point around this time in history (c. 13th century) the eggs also began to be painted as part of the tradition. It’s also worth noting that during Passover, Jews place a hard-boiled egg on the Passover ceremonial plate, and they all eat hard-boiled eggs dipped in salt water as part of the ceremony — so maybe the egg tradition has older roots too.
It was then when the fast was ended on Easter Sunday that everyone could enjoy eating eggs again and so another tradition which still prevails today was born, and that is why we have eggs associated with Easter. Another tradition which came out of this has it that the eggs represented the empty tomb, dead on the outside but life of the inside, and were dyed red to symbolise the blood of Jesus. So once again, nothing even remotely “pagan” at all.
Chocolate eggs first appeared in the 17th century in France in the court of Louis XIV and in 1725, solid chocolate eggs were produced. The first chocolate Easter egg appeared in Britain in 1873 and then in 1875, Cadbury’s created the modern Easter egg we know today. Fancy chocolate is obviously easier to market than colour boiled eggs, so it’s no wonder they became more popular as Easter gifts!
To conclude with a brief rundown then:
The name "Easter" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Eostre meaning "East", and may or may not have a tenuous connection to an unknown Springtime goddess. Bede, in the 8th century, is the only person in history to make this connection.
The Easter Rabbit/Hare is a German folk legend which was imported to America between the 15-17th centuries and then became widely commercialised later on.
Easter Eggs or painted eggs are a Middle Ages tradition which is borne out of the Lenten fast. Since people were fasting, eggs weren't being eaten and were stored up until Easter Sunday. During this time, people began to decorate them to give to children. They were often painted red to symbolise the blood of Jesus, and the shell used to represent the empty tomb of the resurrection. Chocolate eggs only came along in the 1700s, based on this tradition.
Christians have been celebrating Pascha since the first century, primarily remembered via the Eucharist, and so the ancient practice of celebrating around Springtime predates any connection to paganism by centuries, if there even are any connections!
That’s all for the history of Lent and Easter (or Pascha), but I hope you can see from this article that the practice has been well established in the historical Church since the beginning, and isn’t a “new” or invented thing merged from/with paganism and fertility goddesses. Most of the traditions are firmly rooted in Christian history, Biblical events and as an outworking and devotion to our faith in Christ and his resurrection as being the fulfilment of the Passover. If you're interested in reading more about how Christ is our Passover lamb and the way he fulfils these things, see my other article How was Jesus a sacrifice?
Have a blessed Easter and know that you are celebrating something that thousands of Christians have celebrated before you for nearly two millennia!
Further Reading and Sources
An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed., s.v. “Easter.” (Walter W. Skeat, 1893).
Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ! What a wonderful day to remember and praise, but not just because Jesus was raised to new life, but because in that moment it sealed the promise of our own hope in God.
Through Jesus' death and resurrection, we can now be partakers in that new, eternal life!
1 Corinthians 15:54-55
When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
"Where, O death, is your sting?" Paul writes, showing the fulfillment of this prophecy in Christ. This should now be our battle cry as we go forward in Christian life; death has no hold over us who are sealed by the Holy Spirit through baptism, raised to new life in Christ.
I won't go into this topic too much now, as I've written on it plenty before here and here. I just wanted to focus our minds on the victory we have because of Jesus and what he did for us this day, centuries ago.
I'll close with this worship song which celebrates the resurrection, which I really like. Focus on the words of the song and praise God for Jesus!
Happy Easter, everyone.
Table of Contents
Jesus was raised bodily – and historically
The resurrection is what makes Christianity unique!
Evidence from Paul
The mystery of the resurrection
The nature of the resurrection
The resurrection is more than physical
What with Easter still ringing in our ears, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the topic of resurrection, but from a historical standpoint and why we can trust it as a real, world-changing event. So, what really is the resurrection? How will we be resurrected, and what does it mean for us that Jesus rose again? Let’s explore what this means for us as Christians, and see what the Scriptures say.
Jesus was raised bodily – and historically
Let’s look at the way Jesus was resurrected first, since he is the “firstfruits” of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-23).
The historical, bodily resurrection of Christ is central to our faith. Without it, we may as well pack up and go home, which Paul makes clear to the Corinthian church:
1 Corinthians 15:12-15
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.
I saw a survey recently about this very topic, which suggested that a worrying amount of self-identifying Christians in Britain don’t believe that the resurrection of Jesus happened at all!
Fewer than one-in-three Christians in Britain believe “word-for-word” the Biblical story of Jesus rising from the dead … A survey for the BBC carried out to mark Palm Sunday found that 23 per cent of those calling themselves Christians “do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” at all. [Source: telegraph.co.uk]
The resurrection is what makes Christianity unique!
Despite the misinformation that circulates on the internet, Jesus isn’t just a carbon-copy of previous “dying and rising gods” from Egypt and Greece – mainly because none pre-date Christianity!
The consensus among modern scholars — nearly universal — is that there were no dying and rising gods that preceded Christianity. They all post-dated the first century. [Source: y-jesus.com]
It’s this uniqueness and reality which impacts our lives and changes us from within, because the “Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells” in us (Rom 8:11)! Think about that for a moment. The power that raised Christ from the dead – that incredible force of God; the very life giving Spirit of the universe, dwells in US!
Christians might do all those [good works], but that is not the core of their faith. It is the result of their faith. They do those things as the musician plays music or the athlete plays his sport. They do those things because they are talented and it gives them joy. So the Christian does these good things because he has been filled with the Spirit of the risen Jesus Christ and he does those things with joy because he wants to. [Source: patheos.com]
Recently, the Shroud of Turin has been in the news again, as it has been recently authenticated again, which shows that it may not be a medieval forgery or piece of art! If you’ve not heard of this “Shroud of Turin”, it’s an ancient burial cloth which bears the image of a man who has been crucified, obviously meaning to be of Jesus. It attracts attention because of its unique nature and that it appears to be a negative image somehow imprinted on the cloth in an inexplicable way:
Giulio Fanti of Padua University ... In 2012 … concluded that an electrical charge in the form of radiation is what likely caused the man’s image to be imprinted on the Shroud. He has also dated the Shroud to th...
Easter is upon us once again! Lent is over, Good Friday has passed and now the time for mourning and fasting is complete. It's a time to feast, a time to remember and celebrate the resurrection of Christ as we look forward to our own final resurrection!But what really is the resurrection? How will we be resurrected, and what does it mean for us that Jesus rose again? Let’s explore what this means for us as Christians, and see what the Scriptures say.
The resurrection is spiritual!
That heading may cause some reading this to question me, but do read on – this is actually what the New Testament teaches us (though not only this type of resurrection).
Many times in Scripture when speaking of baptism, it is used and described as a symbolic act of dying and being raised with Christ into a new creation, despite keeping our “old” bodies in the meantime. This, I believe, is why there was such an emphasis on the importance of baptism in the early Church, and why it’s something sacred we should also highly esteem and not take lightly.
As another blogger puts it, “baptism conveyed the gift of the Spirit and his illuminating and sanctifying roles … in being baptized, the new Christian experienced death (to self) and rebirth. Finally, baptism proclaimed the eschatological hope for restoration in the new creation.”
With that in mind, let's take a look at how baptism and resurrection relate to one another:
Colossians 2:12When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
Colossians 3:1So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
…[God,] even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus
Romans 6:4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
While these verses (and many others) make it clear that through baptism we die to our old selves and are raised anew in Christ, we must also understand that this prefigures our future resurrection when we finally “put on immortality”. Though we will eventually die physically in the body, we won't die at all because death is defeated and it has no sting nor power over us!
What happens in death?
You may have heard of the term “soul sleep”, which is the doctrine that when a person dies, their soul (or spirit) “sleeps” in the grave until the resurrection, knowing and experiencing nothing until that time. Some people accept this, especially certain other groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists (based mainly on Eccl. 9:5), except that there are actually various Old Testament passages which speak of Sheol (the “grave”/underworld) as not necessarily being asleep, but as having some limited activity (Isa 14:9), despite it being described as a shadowy and sobre place, with no light nor joy (Job 10:20-22; Psalms 88:6).
New Testament theologian, N.T. Wright, describes this intermediate stage as being "conscious," but "compared to being bodily alive, it will be like being asleep". So sort of like a ‘dream state’ in that the level of awareness is limited; in God’s presence but not active in our own bodies and will.
By the time of Jesus, this doctrine or belief about the afterlife had developed, and Sheol (Hades in Greek) had become more defined in its description and how the dead were handled there. We can see an example of this in the parable of Jesus about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) where the wicked are punished in a separate ‘section’ to where the righteous wait peacefully, kept apart by a huge gulf.
But this was said and taught pre-crucifixion and...
A week or so ago, I stayed the night at a local monastery with a friend. We got to see, and be partially involved in the day to day life of the Monks there, especially during mealtimes. We sat and ate in silence together while someone read to us, which was actually more enjoyable than I expected it to be. I can't remember what the book was called now, but it was to do with the Passion and what the crucifixion meant, and the point they were reading about was when the Roman soldier stabbed Jesus in the side.
This is where it got interesting and gave me something to think about that I'd never heard taught before. Normally most preachers and sermons talk about the blood and water flowing out as prefiguring baptism, but that's not what was pulled out of in this book we were listening to. No, the main point its author took was that this in fact symbolised the new birth we have now in Christ! Baptism by water was only secondary to this emphasis.
I'd never thought of it this way before but it struck a chord with me. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have a new birth and are born again, just as we are born naturally into this world in blood and water, we can now be born again through Jesus who bled blood and water for us in his death.
But the similarities don't end there. Baptism obviously follows on from this, as does the other sacrament of the Eucharist. The sacraments themselves are all centred around blood and water which point back to the cross which that in itself points to the forgiveness of sin and new birth.
Through “the water of rebirth” we receive the “renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5) that gives new life, and, as Peter says, “as an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism brings about forgiveness and displays our repentance over our former life.
Similarly, it is through the partaking of the Eucharist that we take on the eternal life that Jesus gives, to become a “partaker of the Lord’s immortality” as Clement of Alexandria wrote, and to make a reality the eating of the bread of life and being sustained by “every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3). Just as Jesus taught his listeners that they must “eat of the flesh” and “drink his blood” in order to attain eternal life and be raised up on the Last Day (Jn 6:53-54), so we must continue in this practice – though obviously not in a cannibalistic sense (which many early critics of Christianity misunderstood!).
When Jesus first taught about this, many of his disciples abandoned him and turned away saying that it was a “difficult teaching” that was hard to accept. The metaphor is gruesome and vivid, but I believe that that was due to it prefiguring in what was to come when the crucifixion arrived, something which his disciples needed to be prepared for. Jesus later uses this flesh and blood analogy again in the Last Supper when he tells his disciples that the bread and wine are his body and blood which was to be “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:26-28).
The Message of the Cross
Paul writes that “the message of the cross is foolishness” in his letter to the Corinthian church – but only to those who can’t accept it. To us who believe, it is the “power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). The sacraments, and Easter time especially, is the constant reminder of that!
It’s easy to see how it may look like foolishness; a man who preached so much about having eternal life and being from God was suddenly (and without resisting) taken away and killed in the most gruesome way known to human history. And then his followers for centuries afterwards celebrate this day and even call it “Good Friday”!
What’s so good about Good Friday though if the saviour is barbarically killed on this day? I wondered that for many years when I was younger, until one day it ‘clicked’. It may not have been a very good day as far as Jesus was concerned, by the fact he wa...
For most people, the question of the origins of Christmas is probably far from their minds. Some may recognise and give a cursory glance towards the Biblical narrative on the birth of Jesus as something to do with it (although a 2017 study showed that almost 1 in 20 Brits thought Easter was the birth of Jesus!);—but in some Christian circles the question (accusation?) that “Christmas is pagan” is at the forefront of their minds.
Table of Contents
When was December 25th celebrated?
The Christian Calendar
Further Reading & Sources:
As time goes on and we move further and further into the future, away from the initial events of the first Nativity, the festival of Christmas has morphed into something altogether different than how the first Christians recognised and celebrated it (if they even did).
We know from historical records and study now that a lot of what has been incorporated into the festivities surrounding Christmas does have pagan origins, but does that make the holiday itself still pagan today? Are you inadvertently worshipping “the birthday of the Unconquered Sun” (Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) when you celebrate on the 25th of December?
Let’s trace a little bit of history and see how the early church viewed these festivals, as they were still happening in full force whilst the Church was still young and were a contemporary concern, and what date they pinned the birth of Christ on to.
Much of the earliest references to the Nativity occur in a passing way as a commentary on the event rather than anything celebratory about it. Justin Martyr in his First Apology (~160 AD) mentions that Jesus was born 150 years before him, in the time of Quirinius (or Cyrenius as some translations have it – cf. Luke 2:2), where his readers could “ascertain also from the registers” the accuracy of his statement. Tertullian (197 AD) also references this census as a place where “Mary is described”, in which New Testament scholar W. M. Ramsey saw as proof that Tertullian at least, had access to documents which we no longer do. Origen (~248 AD) even mentions that in his own day, “there is displayed at Bethlehem the cave where Jesus was born”, and that “this sight is greatly talked of in the surrounding places—even among the enemies of the faith” (now known as The Church of the Nativity)!
The first person we see write about a specific date of the birth is Clement of Alexandria around 195 AD in book one of The Stromata, and he speaks about others who have tried to pinpoint the exact day and month of Jesus’ birth, which brings up a variety of dates:
From the birth of Christ, therefore, to the death of Commodus [December 192 AD] are, in all, a hundred and ninety-four years, one month, thirteen days [18th November]. And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord's birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, and in the twenty-fifth day of Pachon [20th May]. And the followers of Basilides hold the day of his baptism as a festival, spending the night before in readings. […] Further, others say that He was born on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth of Pharmuthi [19/20th April]. — Clement of Alexandria, 195 AD
So from this quote, we have Clement calculating the birth of Christ to around the 18th of November, 2 BC by our calendar today, and others still who he mentions have worked it out to be around April or May time. He also mentions other people who placed the date of birth on January 6th in 2 or 3 BC, which for any liturgical people reading this, will recognise as another important date in the Christian calendar (we'll come back to this date later).
Keeping and celebrating birthdays was a very Roman thing to do, so it’s no surprise that earlier Christians from a more Jewish heritage didn’t see any importance on marking the exact day and month that Jesus was born, as...
I saw this video doing the rounds on Facebook, and thought it was too good not to share here as well.
Very few people tend to articulate the Trinitarian doctrine well enough to: a) still make sense, and b) not slip into heresy. Just reading the comments section on this video proves point b) quick enough, with many people giving their take on it (and usually espousing some form of Modalism).
I won't make a big post on the Trinity now, but I may do one soon off the back of this one, as it's clearly still something believers (and non-believers) struggle to understand, or explain without heresy!
For now though, sit back and take about 5 minutes to listen to this former Muslim explain one of the core beliefs of Christianity very well:
Some additional information: The man in the video is Nabeel Qureshi who has wrote a few books on his journey to Jesus from the Muslim faith; one of them being: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. He also has sadly died in 2017. I haven't read his books, and only just found out about him after looking up more info on this video, though his book is definitely on my wish list now....
It's that time of year again when certain groups of people like to share memes and videos that apparently "prove" Jesus to be a carbon-copy of ancient Egyptian gods.
This has been debunked so many times, yet it's still so pervasive on social media, mindlessly shared over and over again. This myth about Jesus being a copy of other pagan "dying-and-rising gods" doesn't have its roots in Egyptian legend, but rather in the claims of a film called Zeitgeist.
A quick search online will bring up many websites which have gone through the claims of this film with a fine tooth comb, and debunked each one. Here's one such example, which lists out the major claims and gives a detailed response to each: Analysis and Response to Zeitgeist Video.
To quote a pertinent part of the above website, Dr. Norman Geisler, a Christian systematic theologian and philosopher, gives a good response to the major claims against the resurrection:
Dr. Norman Geisler, author or coauthor of more than 80 books, writes, “The first real parallel of a dying and rising god does not appear until A.D. 150, more than a hundred years after the origin of Christianity. So if there was any influence of one on the other, it was the influence of the historical event of the New Testament [resurrection] on mythology, not the reverse.
If you don't want to read a long essay of the subject though, this video by Inspiring Philosophy breaks it down nicely in just under 5 minutes:
Other myths debunked
If not Osiris, Jesus is often claimed to be copied from the Egyptian god Horus... or the Roman god Mithras. Apparently everyone just copied whoever came before them, and hoped no one would notice!
All of these claims are equally as nonsensical as the others, and have "facts" which are completely fabricated to push an agenda of causing Christianity disrepute. But if you look into the actual myths of these ancient gods, you will see that none of them have any resemblance to Jesus or the New Testament.
Here is another video which summarises these claims and counters them in a humorous way, this time by Lutheran Satire:
So let us go forward in the knowledge that Jesus was truly born, truly lived and truly rose again; and that he was unique and not a copy of other so-called gods. In the words of Leo the Great, let us celebrate "the birthday of Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity"!
Merry Christmas everyone....
Table of Contents
Jewishness and the Trinity
1. God Is A Plurality
The Name Elohim
Plural Verbs used with Elohim
The Name Eloah
Plural Descriptions of God
II. God Is At Least Two
Elohim and YHVH Applied to Two Personalities
III. God Is Three
How Many Persons Are There?
The Three Personalities in the Same Passage
New Testament Light
I was recently in some discussions/debates online about the nature of God and whether the "Trinity" exists, or if God is purely singular and exists in different forms rather than different persons.
This idea that God has different "forms" or "modes" is what is known as Modalism (also sometimes called Sabellianism). This doctrine was condemned as heresy by Tertullian around 213 AD, and later by the bishop of Rome around 262 AD. A more modern sect of Christians, often called "Oneness Pentecostals", still hold to this heretical doctrine today.
Now, to be clear: I do believe in the Trinity and accept that it is the orthodox position to hold. But that doesn't mean I've always fully grasped the concept. This is something Christians have struggled to define for centuries, hence the sometimes confusing and lengthy language of the creeds (see here, here, here and here for example).
So after reading this debate online with some Oneness believers, I decided to look more into the Trinity to try and get my head around it as much as possible.
On my searching and reading, I came across an article by Arnold Fruchtenbaum on the Jews for Jesus website. He had taken the time to really look into the Tri-unity of God from a Jewish/Hebrew perspective to bring some clarity to the issue.
I found the article to be very helpful for my own understanding, and very illuminating to see the plurality of God in oneness hidden within the Hebrew language, something that is often lost in translation to our English bibles.
I'm no Hebrew scholar, so rather than try (and probably fail) to explain the language nuances to you, I sought permission to post a copy of the original article here. I hope that the information provided is as helpful to you as it was for me.
The original article begins below. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Jewishness and the Trinity
In a recent question-and-answer article, Rabbi Stanley Greenberg of Temple Sinai in Philadelphia wrote:
Christians are, of course, entitled to believe in a trinitarian conception of God, but their effort to base this conception on the Hebrew Bible must fly in the face of the overwhelming story of that Bible. Hebrew Scriptures are clear and unequivocal on the oneness of God . . . The Hebrew Bible affirms the one God with unmistakable clarity. Monotheism, an uncompromising belief in one God, is the hallmark of the Hebrew Bible, the unwavering affirmation of Judaism and the unshakable faith of the Jew.”
Whether Christians are accused of being polytheists or tritheists or whether it is admitted that the Christian concept of the Tri-unity is a form of monotheism, one element always appears: one cannot believe in the Trinity and be Jewish. Even if what Christians believe is monotheistic, it still does not seem to be monotheistic enough to qualify as true Jewishness. Rabbi Greenberg’s article tends to reflect that thinking.
He went on to say, “…under no circumstances can a concept of a plurality of the Godhead or a trinity of the Godhead ever be based upon the Hebrew Bible.” It is perhaps best then to begin with the very source of Jewish theology and the only means of testing it: the Hebrew Scriptures. Since so much relies on Hebrew language usage, then to the Hebrew we should turn.
1. God Is A Plurality
The Name Elohim
It is generally agreed that Elohim is a plural noun having the masculine plural ending “im.” The very word Elohim used of the true God in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” is also used in Exodus ...
This is a guest post by David Jakubovic. The views are that of the author and don't necessarily reflect the views of That Ancient Faith.
A 20 year update of the 1996 book by the same name, this slim volume (211 pages) is a helpful cross-section of current evangelical thought on Final Punishment, sampling Denny Burk on Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT hereafter), John Stackhouse Jr on Conditional immortality (CI hereafter), Robin Parry on Christian Universalism (CU hereafter) and Jerry Walls on (a Protestant) Purgatory. Preston Sprinkle pens both Introduction and Conclusion, plus there are Scripture, Author and Subject indices.
The Introduction sets the scene, listing the 3 historically available views along with speculation about post-mortem purgatorial sanctification, before clarifying that it is not the existence of hell that is here in doubt: “They agree that hell exists, but they differ on what this hell is like.” (11) Sprinkle lists verses used by all 4 views, then introduces the academic background of the 4 essayists. He finally issues a substantial challenge to the reader:
“You, of course, will probably agree with only one of the following essays and disagree with the other three. But keep in mind: disagreement is not refutation. We must be able to refute the evidence of the views that we disagree with and then provide more compelling biblical evidence for the view that we uphold.” (15)
Burk kicks off Chapter One (‘Eternal Conscious Torment’) with a startling parable. He visualizes a man torturing creatures in increasing order of complexity and dignity: first torturing a grasshopper, a frog, a bird, a puppy and finally a human baby. Burk states:
“In each of the scenarios above, the ‘sin’ is the same – pulling the legs off. The only difference in each of these scenarios is the one sinned against…The seriousness of the sin is not measured merely by the sin itself (pulling off the legs) but by the value and the worth of the one being sinned against.” (19, italics his)
This macabre thought-experiment is of course a gruesome version of Anselm’s ‘Status Principle’, namely that to sin against an infinitely good God merits infinite or eternal punishment. But fellow pro-ECT essayist Walls squashes this analogy:
“There is profound disanalogy in the parable that undermines the central point he wants to establish. This resides in the fact that we do not have the power to do anything to God that is remotely analogous to the harm the character in the parable inflicts on helpless creatures ranging from grasshoppers to human
infants. Indeed, God is so far above us in power, glory, and moral perfection that we are utterly incapable of harming him.”1
Burk even ventures that ECT “will ultimately become a source of joy and praise for the saints as they witness the infinite goodness and justice of God.” (20) Yet it is grossly incongruous to place ECT side by side with notions of ‘joy’, ‘goodness’ or ‘justice’ as these are universally understood. The very philosophical logic behind the ‘Status Principle’ is itself highly suspect, as Kronen points out when dismantling the ‘Classical Doctrine of Hell’ (CDH):
“It is by no means obvious that an offense against an infinite being must be punished by the sorts of torments envisioned by CDH. One might sin more or less gravely against such a being, and in that case it does not seem that just any sin against an infinite being would merit eternal, continuous, and excruciating pain.”2
Spiegel adds that “human guilt is at most maximally great, not infinitely great”3, meaning that human guilt is still finite: “Finite guilt, however great, presumably does not warrant endless punishment in the form of ECT.” (Spiegel, op. cit. 41) He adds that, under the ‘Status Principle’, even the first sin you commit as a child is enough to incur ‘infinite guilt’, but this does not allow for the vast spectrum of p...
For many people today, non-Christians and (low church) Christians alike, when they hear the word “Catholic”, certain images spring to mind: the Pope, the rosery, Catholic school, big old churches buildings, choirboys, maybe monks or statues of Mary even; and sadly more recently, sex abuse scandals.
But generally speaking, all of these are actually aspects of Roman Catholicism — a particular branch of Christianity, and not what the word “catholic” truly means as we’ll see when examining how the early church used the word and what the original Greek word means.
The Greek word where we get the English word “catholic” from is καθολικός (katholikos) meaning “universal”, which comes from the Greek phrase καθόλου (katholou), meaning “on the whole”, “according to the whole” or “in general” (catholicus in Latin). In non-ecclesiastical use, it still retained its root meaning in English in some literature from the 1800s, though that usage has fallen out of common use in modern times.
The first reference to this word can be found in Acts 9:31 when speaking about “the church throughout [all] Judea, Galilee, and Samaria...”. The words “throughout” and “all” are καθ (κατά) and ὅλης (ὅλος) respectively in Greek, which together come to form the word καθολικός.
The earliest historical use of the word in the context of the Church can be found in one of the letters of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, written around AD 107, where he writes:
Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.
From here on we begin to see that the word catholic was used in reference to mean “orthodoxy” (the word “orthodox” means “right belief”) as opposed to the non-orthodox heretics who were then by definition not catholic as they were not ‘according to the whole’ which was, as Jude wrote, “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The Catholic Church, in its original and Apostolic sense, would have meant the entirety of the Body of Christ across the world; i.e. all of the believers wherever they may be, rather than it being “universal” in the physical sense that the institution of “church” should be all encompassing (like as an official, global institution that all must attend). The difference may be subtle, but it’s an important one.
Historical Use of the Term
As we saw above, Ignatius was the earliest Christian writer we have who applied the word katholikos to the Church. Some people object to using Ignatius as evidence of this, as some of the letters attributed to him are considered spurious (not authentic), though scholarly opinion on this is pretty universal in which are genuine letters as neither Eusebius nor Jerome makes any reference to the eight spurious epistles.
Justo L. Gonzalez explains in his book, The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Reformation, Volume One:
The original meaning of Catholic church referred to this episcopal collegiality, as well as with the multiform witness to the gospel in several canonical gospels. … It was the church “according to the whole,” that is, according to the total witness of all the apostles and all the evangelists. The various Gnostic groups were not “Catholic” because they could not claim this broad foundation. … Only the Church Catholic, the church “according to the whole,” could lay claim to the entire apostolic witness. (pp.81,82).
The other early uses that appear after Ignatius are in the Martyrdom of Polycarp (around AD 150), “…and to all the congregations of the Holy and Catholic Church in every place…”, and then also in the earliest New Testament list from around AD 177, the Muratorian fragment the phrase is found three times: “…in the esteem of the Church catholic …...
Most people have some idea about what the rapture is – or do they? Generally there is an idea or concept of a form of escapism from the world when Jesus returns, which happens pre, mid or post tribulation and in some connection to the millenium. Now, if you understood any of those terms, you are most likely on, or aware of, the Dispensationalism side of things.
There’s a lot of doctrine all bundled together in “end times” beliefs, and a fair bit of speculation around “the rapture” with its timing and logistics etc. which makes the whole thing a but murky, but nonetheless, it’s pretty much taken for granted as a staple belief within the Evangelical world. But has this always been so, and does it have any biblical basis?
In short: sort of.
What is The Rapture?
This is the primary verse where the doctrine finds its footing:
…then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. — 1 Thessalonians 4:17
On the face of it, that is a pretty obscure (and short) text, yet so much has been written on and speculated about around this event.
I’m not going to cover every aspect of rapture doctrine here, but rather want to just highlight the context of this verse and its parallels in Paul’s other letters, as this seems to get lost under centuries of doctrinal baggage, which, incidentally, also the leads to the next point to look at: is the rapture biblical?
The origin of The Rapture
The word “rapture” itself comes from the Latin word rapere, which means: “to seize” or “to abduct”. It is a translation from the Greek word that is rendered as “caught up” (ἁρπάζω / harpázō) in our English Bibles today.
For many, asking if this belief is biblical is a non-starter because it is assumed so based on 1 Thess. 4 so obviously it is. But this is a presupposition, reading the modern ideas of what “the rapture” means into the text. The modern idea being that Jesus comes back briefly (and maybe secretly), whooses all the Christians into the sky and takes them to heaven, away from all the troubles on the earth, before coming back later to do a proper “second coming”.
John Nelson Darby, a 19th-century theologian, is often credited with creating this premillennial rapture doctrine, followed closely by C.I. Scofield who wrote a best-selling annotated Bible which promoted Darby’s rapture views in its footnote commentary. This particular Bible became wildly popular across America in the early 1900s and ended up solidifying the futurist dispensational viewpoint for generations to come within Evangelicalism.
Despite the popularity of Scofield’s Bible, what it (and Darby) taught was a novel idea which had not been seen nor heard of before in the previous 1800 years of Church History, yet many Christians accepted it without hesitation, likely due to it being part of the exposition alongside the Scripture they were reading, and therefore a seeming authority.
I realise there is somewhat of an irony here in that I’m acting similarly like an authority telling you that this belief is wrong whereas Scofield was writing as though it were accurate, but in an even more ironic twist, just a handful of verses later, the same letter to the Thessalonians says to “test everything; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). This is what I would invite you to do: don’t just take my word for it, test everything and see if what I say is accurate.
The context of The Rapture
So what is the context of these verses, if not about being whisked away into the sky with Jesus? A couple of things, but one slightly more obvious than the other, though still overlooked by people, I’ve noticed; the other requires knowing some more about the ancient Greco-Roman culture of the time.
Firstly, we only need go back a few verses to see what Paul is writing about here: he begins the passage in verse 13 by say...
This is a guest post by Joshua Spaulding from eternalanswers.org. The views are that of the author and don't necessarily reflect the views of That Ancient Faith.
As you read through the Scriptures, you will come across some passages that seem to suggest that slavery is not condemned by God. Some who think this to be the case are sincerely seeking truth, while others are only looking for reasons to discount the Bible.
Some of the passages in question are Exodus 21:2-6, Deuteronomy 15:12-15, Ephesians 6:5 and Colossians 4:1 which provide instruction on the treatment of slaves.
In light of these Scriptures, does God condone slavery?
Before diving too deep into the topic, there is one very important thing we must understand before we can rightly interpret these Scriptures, and others. Forced slavery, like that which was ended in the U.S. in modern-day history, is not always the same as the slavery mentioned in the Bible. This is significant! (Just a side note: there are still to this day an estimated 21-36 million people¹ in slavery across the world.)
Additionally, seeing something such as forced slavery in the Bible does not necessarily mean God approves of it. The Bible consists of legal, historical, poetic, and prophetic books. The historical books are historical accounts of times past and sinful things are not excluded. God knows the heart of man. The laws He gave in regards to slavery were given as grace for those in slavery.We see at least two forms of slavery in the Bible and God gives guidelines, seemingly approving of one of those forms of slavery. We see the type of forced slavery that the Jews, God’s own people, were forced into (Exodus 1:13-14). The Lord delivered Israel from that slavery. So we know that this type of slavery certainly does not have God’s approval (Exodus 6:6). God would not need to “deliver” a people from something that is not sinful and wrong.
So God gives guidelines on one from of slavery, seemingly approving of it to a certain extent, while condemning another form of slavery and delivering His people from it. Herein lies the seed of the confusion. Some innocently read the Bible and don’t realize this, but most who bring this topic up are skeptics just looking for a reason to discredit the Bible. They do not realize, or willingly suppress the fact, that the type of slavery that God gives guidelines for, and seemingly approves of to a certain extent, is not the same type of slavery that God clearly condemns. God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33) and God’s Word does not contradict God’s Word.
In Bible times (1st century Greco-Roman times and prior) slavery was not exclusive to any one particular race or language, nor were slaves segregated². They were just like everyone else. These slaves were willing bond-servants. They were often times very well educated contributors to society. Their servitude was rarely for life, but sometimes they willingly agreed to it out of love for their master.
These servants were not kidnapped and forced into slavery, which God condemns (Deuteronomy 24:7, 1 Timothy 1:9-1:11). These servants were willing bond-slaves.
There is even a book (actually a letter) in the Bible (Philemon) that was written by the Apostle Paul to Philemon (a slave master) emphasizing the fact that all who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness of their sin should be treated in the same way … with the same love and respect.
What about Leviticus 25:44-46?
It is true that God specifically made room for forced slavery, as seen in Lev. 25:44-46. However, this passage should not be seen in the same context as other passages we have considered when dealing with the moral implications of slavery. The reason being that this slavery was a form of judgement by Holy God on a paganistic, rebellious people. It was actually mercy that the Lord allowed them to live in slavery, rather than to be destroyed for their extreme rebellion against God in embr...