Easter: Something Borrowed, Something New?

Every Easter those who oppose the Christian biblical faith surface the notion that Christians borrowed the celebration of Easter from pagan sources.  Accordingly, they say Christians developed their own traditions that buried the pagan sources and resurrected the story of Christ.  Consequently, the entire Christian religion, according to them, stands on pagan sources as a relatively new holiday for Christians to use for their claim of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  For pagans who deny the resurrection, they claim Christians raise up Easter from something borrowed and something new.  However, is this notion true?  Additionally, how does such a notion affect Christian faith in the claim that Jesus did rise from the dead that first Easter morning?

First, consider the origin of Easter.  Many have attributed Easter to the ancient English monk and historian, Bede (673-735 AD).  In identifying names to the months of the year ancient cultures assigned to them, Bede wrote the following in his work De temporum ratione,

“In olden time the English people — for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other people’s observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s — calculated their months according to the course of the moon.  Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans (the months) take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month monath.

The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli, the same name by which January is called.  …

Nor is it irrelevant if we take the time to translate the names of the other months.  … Hrethmonath is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time.  Eosturmonath 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 points to a particular goddess for the month of Eosturmonath (April) as the origin for the name of Easter.  Those who wish to associate the Christian celebration of Easter seem to have a case for their claim that paganism is its source.  Such a claim, according to Anthony McRoy is suspect, speculation, and far from the truth (“Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday?”  Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2009/april/was-easter-borrowed-from-pagan-holiday.html).  He points out that Bede’s claim of Easter deriving from the goddess Eostre has no substantiation anywhere else in history.  He also points out a timeline conflict,

“The first question, therefore, is whether the actual Christian celebration of Easter is derived from a pagan festival.  This is easily answered.  The Nordic/Germanic peoples (including the Anglo-Saxons) were comparative latecomers to Christianity.  Pope Gregory I sent a missionary enterprise led by Augustine of Canterbury to the Anglo-Saxons in 596/7.  The forcible conversion of the Saxons in Europe began under Charlemagne in 772.  Hence, if “Easter” (i.e. the Christian Passover festival) was celebrated prior to those dates, any supposed pagan Anglo-Saxon festival of “Eostre” can have no significance.  And there is, in fact, clear evidence that Christians celebrated an Easter/Passover festival by the second century, if not earlier.  It follows that the Christian Easter/Passover celebration, which originated in the Mediterranean basin, was not influenced by any Germanic pagan festival.”

Not only did Augustine celebrate Easter in Britain, but earlier Christian authors also affirmed its celebration well before pagan stories surfaced, showing that Easter could not have arisen from pagan stories.  Gregory Naziansus (329-390 AD) gave an Easter homily (Second Oration 45.5, Thomas Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology, 132).  In the beginning of the 4th century, Christians sang an earlier Easter hymn (Oden, 273).  Cyril of Alexandria (378-444 AD) gave a sermon called On the Incarnation in his Easter Homily 1.6).  Even farther back, Chrysostom (349-407 AD) narrates Paul’s written account of Christ’s resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3; Homily on Corinthians, 38.2, Oden, 479) on the first Easter.  Before him, Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339 AD) wrote “On the Celebration of the Pascha [Easter].”

The actual name of the event does not really rise to the level of significance as the event itself.  Words pass through many languages, alphabets, cultures, and time periods.  Some point to Bede as the source of the word Easter from pagan sources.  Yet others, including Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Luther in their translations brought the word for Easter from the word Pascha, signifying that Christ was the lamb sacrificed for all humanity.  While Bede speculated about the connection between Easter and the goddess Eostre, he associated the month named after Eostre as “Paschal month,” demonstrating that the earliest celebration of Easter dates to the original biblical truth and not to pagan sources.

More could be cited of early church Fathers who preached Easter sermons.  Suffice to say, these early Church Fathers give overwhelming evidence of Easter’s celebration and the event it commemorated – Christ’s resurrection.  Oral tradition of actual events precedes their written authorship showing that Christians of earlier centuries dating back to the Apostles passed on to the next generation what they learned from the original eyewitnesses through hymns and actual historical oral accounts.

What do we then learn from all of these authors dating to the earliest centuries after Christ?  Easter arose from the actual event, Christ’s resurrection, and not pagan sources. Easter signified the earliest remembrance of Jesus rising from the dead!  Eyewitnesses (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) recorded what they saw and heard from Jesus after His resurrection.  They passed this good news to their disciples in the gospels they wrote some 20-30 years later.  Paul also saw Jesus and recorded his encounter of Jesus even earlier (Galatians, 53-55 AD) than when the Apostles wrote their gospels.

Eyewitnesses and subsequent authors recorded actual historical events about Christ’s resurrection.  They put to rest any fictitious notion of pagan sources for it.  Speculations cannot overturn historical fact.  Rather, they highlighted that behind the myths lie actual events.  We only need to view contemporary celebrations of Christian remembrances to see how rapidly pagan innovations occurred.  The mind stirs up fanciful creations consisting of bunny rabbits hiding eggs for little children to find.  These mimic actual events with changes to align with fresh ways of expressing paganism.  They bring to mind celebration of the freshness of the earth’s resurrection from a wintery dead state and the correlation to Christ’s resurrection from death.

The truthful themes of the first resurrection surface in the fanciful pagan rites of the contemporary.  The wretchedness of the human condition splashes across theater screens.  One need only turn to Hollywood to view resurrection played out in one movie after another.  Deus ex-machina (God of the machine) descends from the heavens in the form of humanity (Superman).  Captain AmericaThe X-Men, and the salvation of Frodo and Sam on Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings provide one fictitious example after another of resurrection and redemption.  They supply deliverance from human tragedy.  In such cases, paganism depends on established Christian truth and its preservation and not the other way around.  The evidence for the foundational truth of Christ’s resurrection is overwhelming.  Paganism uses and twists historical truth for its own means and message.

Christians need not fear fables, fiction, and allegations of the pagan sources for Easter.  These pagan sources do not exists. Paganism rests on speculation and novelty resulting from becoming “futile in their thoughts” (Romans 1:21, NKJV).  Pagans borrow from the truth to create their own myths for their leap of faith.  Given the continuous line of written testimony from the first century forward, we can take heart and have hope in the resurrection of Christ as we also celebrate Easter.  Paganism cannot just brush aside truth having its foundation in history.  We can rest in Christ’s promise that as He rose from the dead and went to be with His Father, He will come again and take us with Him to be with His Father and ours (John 14:1-3).

Advertisements

Delusional Philosophy

The atheist Richard Dawkins authored a book entitled “The God Delusion.”  In it, he ridicules Christians specifically for believing God’s existence.  While Dawkins travels through a litany of stories, anecdotes, and diatribes, he never really gives a defense for his own position and why it ranks superior than that which he pegs as a delusion.  He simply pokes fun at the Christian faith, his primary goal as he stated at the outset.  However, stories, anecdotes, and ridicule are not defenses of one’s position.  Rather, they are irrational.

While Dawkins does refer to arguments of evidence, proof, and science, he provides little to defend his position of atheism from those arguments.  All he concludes in his reference to them is that they offer no reason to believe in God without providing syllogistic arguments in support from them.  His arguments are not from syllogistic reasoning but based on speculation and ridicule without support. Additionally, he spends an extensive amount of print on defining delusion while referencing other people’s claims and then making his own claim. He then meanders into a defense of his own claim by stating his book is “less shrill” and “tame” compared to other published works.  However, “less shrill” and ridicule remain shrill and irrational.  Shrill and ridicule are traits of intolerance and irrationalism.  Such traits not only show opposition to different ideas, philosophy, and religion, but they also engage in intentional acts to destroy these ideas, philosophy, and religious beliefs.  Today’s atheism delivers such actions by pursuing court actions, demonstrations, and in some cases violence against religious activity, specifically Christian beliefs.

Delusion consists of not only actions but thoughts.  A belief system and worldview guides thinking and behavior.  Consider the atheistic belief system.  It is the belief in the non-existence of God and regularly rails against God and those who believe Him.  How rational is it to believe in what a person alleges does not exist?  That equates to believing in magic and pixie dust.  In doing so, atheism affirms what it denies – God.  For one could not know what does not exists, for there is no knowledge in non-existence.  One cannot conjure up in one’s mind that which does not exist.  Try thinking of non-existence.  What would non-existence look like?  Can a person entertain non-existence in one’s mind if there is no knowledge of that which does not exist? If one thinks or speaks of God, that person affirms knowledge of God.  That is, one imagines what God or some god looks like and formulates it into a straw man when associating it with a particular religion or specifically biblical faith.  That straw man is formulating an argument based on what one believes another holds.

One cannot escape this logic by claiming that superman, trolls, or fairies do not exist, and one can imagine them.  These fictitious characters are extrapolations of what exist in the real world.  Someone simply imagined a man who could fly or a flying tiny human-like creature with wings one calls a fairy sprinkling pixie dust everywhere.  We witness wings on birds and imagine them attached to a small human form.  Humans are creative in their imaginations.  Movies and television exhibit this creativity.  However, creating out of imagination and believing that such created objects are actually real or that they become real when we imagine them is fantasy, child-like, or delusional.

Many have created gods in their imagination.  However, they have done so as extrapolations from what exist in the real world.  Virtually all of the Greek and Roman gods possess features of humans or animals.  One cannot find a god or gods in the world religions, except the Christian faith, not extrapolated from the real world and imposed on some god or gods.

Such a stance is a belief in alleged non-existence and non-knowledge.  Such thinking and actions are delusional and irrational.  It is a true leap of faith, because no basis exists at all for such belief.

The psalmist affirms the irrationality and delusion of those who refuse to accept God,

How long will you people turn my glory into shame?

How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?” (Psalm 4:2)

 The psalmist claims in rhetorical questions that seeking after that which does not exist is delusional.  Religious leaders in the nations surrounding Israel created gods extrapolated from the created order.  The Greeks did that as did the Romans in elevating gods they created from their imaginations after observing objects in the created order.  They glorified non-existence and non-knowledge.  It is one thing to create fiction by extrapolating characteristics of that which exist in the real world and admitting that it is fiction, but it is quite another to claim that such created fiction is real and then worship this fiction.

Atheism follows the same pattern as polytheism by continually thinking about and speaking of that which they claim does not exist.  Such thinking and acts are just as delusional as creating gods in one’s mind, which atheists must do to speak of them.  Atheism must imagine some sort of god to speak of the Christian biblical God, for it cannot think or speak from non-knowledge.  Atheism cannot speak of the biblical God without having read or studied God from the source – the Bible.  Quite frequently, atheists ignore the Bible in talking about the biblical God and thereby create a straw man god, and not the biblical God and ridicule it.  That is tantamount to a person continuously having a conversation with oneself as though that person’s other self actually existed or thinking of or speaking with an imaginary friend created in one’s mind.  Atheism creates in their own mind some god it believes Christians believe.  That is also a delusion.  The psalmist had such delusion in mind when he wrote his words.  A delusion is claiming that which is false true and that a person can think of or have a conversation with what one created in one’s own imagination, that is non-knowledge.

Psalm 4 brings us back to reality by having the psalmist’s words correspond with reality, not gods that are false but the God of all existence, not gods created from the created order but the one true God separate and distinct from it and over it.

Taking Counsel

Family, friends, political leaders, and professors all have counsel to give to us.  Much is wise learned from experience and wisdom gathered over the years.  We do well to listen to such tested counsel.  However, some counsel is just plain wrong and foolish.  If a person took you to the edge of the Grand Canyon and suggested that you jump, informing you that you would fly.  Would you do it?  Would you invest in a risky business enterprise without performing due diligence?

There is good and wise counsel and evil and foolish counsel.  Sometimes, it is difficult to separate them out due to circumstances, cultural setting, and many other variables.  The laws of many lands have good counsel and foolish counsel integrated.  One question we must asked to know the difference between the good and bad and wise and foolish is, “What is the basis or source?”  Is the source limited to culture or circumstance?  Or can it be applied universally with all cultures and peoples without exception?

The psalmist who penned Psalm 1 is very straight forward with absolute statements with counsel and the person giving and taking it.  He does not not mince words about what is wise and foolish, good or evil, or the nature of individuals giving counsel.  He identifies the blessings that come to people who take counsel he defines as godly, upright, or sound words by stating it in a negative,

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly

Nor stands in the path of sinners

Nor sits in the seat of the scornful”


Psalm 1

At the very beginning he speaks of the ungodly, sinners, and scornful intimating that the godly, upright, and people with sound words exist.  In doing so, he offers a polemic for the presence of God, the recognition of sin and sinners, and evil speech.  By giving attention to the ungodly, the psalmist immediately renounces atheism and its foolish philosophy or counsel.  Atheists, agnostics, and polytheists have written and published hundreds of thousands of books giving people the advice of their philosophy.  At the basis of this advice is to ignore God and His existence.  Live as though God does not exist and that all that exist is material.  Scorn those who believe in Him.  Stay away from God’s word but rather call it dangerous.  The psalmist has a message for such people.  They are like chaff without power, taken up by the winds, and scattered across the landscape.  They and their words do not last.

However, those who worship God, listen to Him, associate with His people, and speak words of wisdom receive blessings from God.  They find their place in the presence of God and prosper.  This psalm is an apologetic worthy of continued thoughtfulness over the span of a lifetime for gathering from it eternal wisdom that dwells with God and applies universally to all peoples for all times to eternity.  Its reading is a great way to begin a new year.

 

The Spirit of Truth Vs. the Spirit of Error

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:1-3).

I recently had two Jehovah Witnesses come to the door.  After answering the door, one of the men immediately drew out a pamphlet and began handing it to me.  I greeted them and then asked the question, “Do you believe in the Trinity?”  The reason for this question was twofold: I knew their answer would be “no,” and the Bible raises the Trinity as the basis for the identity and nature of God.  The man replied that the Bible does not mention the Trinity.  This reply is the spirit of error.  It is based on the logical fallacy of argument from absence.  That is, just because the Bible does not mention the word “Trinity” does not mean that it does not teach it.

He then surfaced an argument that the Bible says that the Father is greater than the Son without giving reference to or providing any knowledge of context.  This Jehovah Witness never even made an attempt to explain what he quoted out of context.  It was a statement devoid of reason or thoughtfulness.  If we were to arrange this man’s statement in an argument, we can see just how deceptive and unreasonable it is.  The below is an example of the reasoning underlying this Jehovah Witness’ statement:

Premise: There is only one God

Premise: He is greater than everything that exists.

Premise: God is greater than the Son

Premise: The Son exists

Conclusion:  Therefore, the Son could not be God since His Father, who is God, is greater than Him

Another argument shows how defective the above argument is:

Premise: All humans are of equal kind

Premise: A Catholic priest is human

Premise: A bishop is greater than a priest

Conclusion: Therefore, a bishop is not human

This argument turns on the use of the word “greater,” and assumes it has only a single meaning.  Since neither argument defines the term “greater,” both use it to arrive at a false conclusion.

Let us add another premise to the one about the priest:

Premise: All humans are of equal kind

Premise: A Catholic priest is human

Premise: A bishop is greater than a priest

Premise: The pope is greater than a bishop

Conclusion: Therefore, a bishop is not human

Conclusion: Therefore, the pope is neither human nor not non-human (double negative used for showing the irrationality of this type of argument)

Of what kind of existence would that make the pope?  A rock?  No.  Rocks are non-human.  A plant?  No.  Plants are also non-human.  This type of logic draws ridiculous and irrational conclusions.  Such arguments do not stop the spirit of error from deception.  The Jehovah Witnesses and other erroneous cults like them begin from a departure from the truth.  From that point they introduce deception in attempts to counter the truth.  They prepare their own sacred scriptures, indoctrinate initiates into these deceptions and fallacies, and place the fear of rejection on them if they depart from their teachings.

The spirit of error uses such tactics to draw unsuspecting people away from biblical faith by claiming they are Christian and believe the same Bible.  These two tactics actually reduce to the following: the use of logical fallacies for raising deception and twisting the Scriptures.  The Apostle John calls the spirit of error deception because it:

  • denies what the Bible teaches and twists the Scripture with deceptive arguments, using Scripture hopping, ignoring contexts, and disregarding the grammar and word meaning of the original languages
  • makes generalized statements without contexts and without interpretation
  • shows no knowledge of God and His word
  • accepts what false teachers proclaim without question
  • denies the identity and nature of God.

Those who hold to biblical faith  must be aware of such tactics and be prepared to handle them.  Fallacious arguments and simply quoting a passage, with or without citation, on the surface seem to offer sound replies.  The spirit of error always attempts to make a lie sound reasonable.  However, what seems reasonable coming from the spirit of error is far from truthful.

The Apostle John teaches believers how to discern between truth and error and how to counter the spirit of error.  He called upon the believers in Ephesus in his letter of 1 John to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (4:1).

John then identifies the truth by which to test the words of the spirit of error:  Jesus came in the flesh.  The incarnation identifies the truth of Jesus coming in the flesh.  The false teachers of John’s day did not believe He came in the flesh or rose bodily from the dead.  The Jehovah Witnesses today hold to a similar belief.  Rather, they believed He was an illusion and did not have a physical presence.  Of course, this test was not the only one believers can use to test false teachers.  They also separate Jesus from the Christ and view each as distinct entities.  In doing this, they misuse and misapply the term “Christ” as an equal name like Jesus rather than recognizing it as an office or title.  Consequently, they make Jesus an illusion and material being at the same time while identifying the “Christ” as a spiritual being separate and distinct from Jesus.  John claims that this spirit of error comes from Satan himself (2:13-14; 3:8-12; 5:18).

This error received the name of Docetism, which derives from the Greek word “dokien,” which means to appear or to seem.  The early representation of Gnosticism taught that Jesus did not have a real body, but He was a phantom or illusion.  He seemed to be real.  They held this position because they believed matter was evil, and Jesus could not have inhabited an evil substance as flesh.  Given this conclusion, there was no incarnation or bodily resurrection of Jesus.  For this reason, John continued to focus forcefully on the historical bodily appearance of Jesus (1 John 1:1; 2:28; 3:2, 8, 4:1-6) and His physical second coming (2:28; 3:2).  Yes, John does teach the second coming of Jesus Christ.

We must be careful when hearing people discuss God, Jesus, the human condition and its remedy.  If they raise teachings contrary to the Bible, they are of the evil one and antichrist.  If they deny the Trinity and do not hold the final authority of the Scriptures, they are of the evil one and antichrist.  If they deny Jesus came in the flesh (incarnation), they  are antichrist.  If they deny Jesus died for our sins and rose bodily from the grave, they are  antichrist.  Many from the cults or even among Evangelicals may sound biblical.  However, if they use strange or deceptive arguments and misuse the Scriptures to teach what the Bible does not claim, they are antichrist.  If they generalize with the Scriptures or engage in Scripture hopping (going from one passage to another without regard for context to prove their position), they are antichrist.  If they quote or cite the Scriptures to create new teachings, be careful and listen well.

People use the Scriptures to justify their way of life, behaviors, belief system, and for gaining a following for themselves.  The early Gnostics during John’s time did this.  Cults today also do this.  The best way to counter false teachers is to be knowledgeable of the Scriptures and grounded in sound doctrine.  If you  hear strange teachings, seek out the view of another you trust and whom you believe knows the Scriptures well.  Knowing the Scriptures act as a sound protection against false teachers.

Copyright 2016 Action Faith Books Press

Understanding God’s Message or Will

Recently, I had someone ask the question,

By what process do I discern God’s message?”

This question arose from the context of a discussion on a Christian website (The Gospel Coalition, (http://bit.ly/25BQ00I) about transgenderism and God’s acceptance of people regardless of their false beliefs about themselves and God.  One person actually commented earlier in the discussion,

­
Christ accepts us in our current state (which includes any categories mentioned in regards to gender and gender change) because of grace and love. We as ministers of reconciliation are to treat all equally, offering Christs love to believers and non believers alike. Their current state is not as relevant as you might think when it comes to knowing Christ.”
The following is a reply to the question, “By what process do I discern God’s message?”
The Scriptures make clear how we discern the message (God’s will) of the Scriptures.  Both Jesus and the Apostle John inform us that a person must be born again (John 3:1-8; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18).  Without new birth that comes from God, no one can practice righteousness, repent, truly love one another and God, place faith in Christ, or overcome the evil world.  If God has not given new birth to a person, one cannot even rightly discern God’s will or the “the things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  In fact, the person not born of God does not even accept God’s will.  Read the cited passage.

Afterwards, a person needs to devote oneself to the reading and study of God’s word.  That is a discovery process, a discovery of the mind of God through the agency of the authors.  That is, we must always seek the author’s intent within the contexts in which he speaks.  Scripture hoping and proof texting are not valid approaches to the Bible.  Those ways are not the ways we read a regular book.  We do not isolate a sentence or paragraph from a book’s context and then claim, “To me, in means…”

Devotion to the Scriptures does not simply mean reading and studying the Scriptures, but also applying and obeying them.  When we hold to the Bible as nothing more than a “conversation,” we devalue it for our lives and fail to understand how it applies to us.  We cannot really know God’s will, though we can understand His message, unless we live faithfully in obedience to him.  Obedience by faith gives way to true knowledge (Romans 1:5; 6:16; 16:26).  One cannot really know the things and will of God without obedience by faith.  One thing neglected in this discussion around “transgenderism” is it ignores God’s will and word, because it rejects it.  It also overlooks faithful obedience to God’s will for our identity in favor of one looking inward for a fictitious identity.  It does not seek to discover the identity God gave us but rather seeks to establish one’s own.  The entire message of 1 Corinthians 2:14 elude those who follow this path.  All the arguments in the world for attempting to justify one’s self-identity and lifestyle are arguments that reject God.  In essence, they are atheistic.  Arguments are not application or living by faith.  Arguments over the Bible, lifestyles, and philosophical speculations amount to resistance to God.

What follows the engagement of Scripture is then living by faith.  As I mentioned before, faith subscribes repentance.  If there is no repentance, there is no faith.  They are inseparable.  The faith that sets one’s sights on God involves repentance that turns to Him.  Arguing over God’s word does not lead to a life of faith but rather to a life of speculative darkness.

The gospel is clear.  Christ died and rose again on our behalf to bring about faith in Him and remission of sins.  Believing the gospel (good news) leads one from the bad news, the result of rejecting it – eternal death.  Read carefully through 1 John, and you will learn how to know God and His will: a) the new birth, b) living by faith (repentance), c) practicing righteousness, and d) loving God and others.

Maunday Thursday

Yesterday many worldwide commemorated Maunday Thursday.  Many others pass over it and set their sites on Good Friday and Easter Sunday on which children run around in parks and back yards to locate colored eggs an Easter bunny hides.  The days that precede Easter are those for shopping for new colorful clothes, eggs to paint, and delicacies for a gourmet lunch or dinner.  Easter PreparationThe meanings and messages of Maunday Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter become lost in the frenzy.