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Information on Cults- 2

Introduction:

This is a continuation of page one and it will be filled with a variety of tidbits and excerpts. The question you need to ask yourself when you read these pages is: Am I a member of a cult? Then compare the principles discussed with your groups behavior, beliefs and activities.
 
 

#1. (2004). Tabletalk Magazine, August 2004: A Defining Era: The History of the Church in the Fourth Century, 7–8.

Constantine attempted to bring the church and state together; the church was conceived as an institution of public usefulness. Reparation was made for the destruction of Christian property during the persecutions; clergy were given tax concessions and judicial authority to decide private litigation. Emperor worship ceased, gods disappeared from coins, and officials were forbidden from presiding over pagan rites. Constantine destroyed pagan temples, rewarded cities that suppressed cult worship, and banned the gladiatorial games. A Christian calendar was adopted making Sunday a holy day.

-The very word gospel in that world meant “the celebration of the accession, or birth, of a king or emperor.” Thus, the Christian message was essentially political in that it stood against the claims of the would-be savior-state. Christ, not Caesar, is Lord of all. The Caesar cult demanded loyalty and honor; Christians said that such honor was to be rendered only to Christ, the King of kings.

That is why the proconsul commanded Polycarp: “Swear by Caesar and revile Christ. Then I will release you.” Polycarp replied: “For eighty-six years I have been His servant, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” He then offered to personally instruct the proconsul in the Christian faith. That’s class, kingdom class.

(2002). Tabletalk Magazine, July 2002: The Church Takes Shape: The Acts of Christ in the Second Century, 53.

-Religion in England at the beginning of the reign of Henry VIII in 1509 was typical of the Christian West. The advent of the printing press had made devotional books in Latin and English popular. However, deficiencies in the church and its religion were to be the basis of the call for reform in thirty or so years time—deficiencies such as inadequate instruction of the laity before and after confirmation in biblical content, creedal doctrine, and moral law; the low level of theological education of most parochial clergy and their failure to preach biblically based sermons; widespread superstition especially in the use of the cult of the Virgin Mary and the saints; preoccupation with ways of passing smoothly through purgatory after death; the over emphasis on the Mass and the function of the celebrant therein; too much regard for the bishop of Rome; apparent decline in the spiritual and moral life of the monks and nuns; and too many senior clergy involved in secular and financial matters. In relation to the last point, Thomas Wolsey combined the highest offices in the church and state, serving in the 1520s simultaneously as Lord Chancellor, archbishop of York, and special emissary to the pope

(2007). Tabletalk Magazine, November 2007: The English Reformation, 10.
 
 

#2. (1996). Bible and Spade (1996), 9, 50

Three of the cities had been granted the status of asylum in AD 22 due to the standing of their civic sanctuaries.18 These were Salamis (Olympian Zeus; Mitford 1990:2189–90), Amathus (Aphrodite; Mitford 1990: 2185), and Paphos (Paphian Aphrodite). It should be noted that although these deities may sound like anthropomorphic Olympian gods, in fact some had a more regional feel. Paphian Aphrodite was in fact represented by a sacred rock or baetyl rather than the cult statue of a goddess.19 A similar cult of sacred rocks is recorded near Amathus. An inscription found at Agios Tychon near Amathus records a cult of “Cyprian Aphrodite” and the sanctuary of “the Seven within the Stelai” (Mitford 1980: 1302, no. 28; 1946:40–42, no. 16).20 The dedication was made by the Roman governor of Cyprus, L. Bruttius Maximus (79/80). This was presumably a sanctuary with a central baetyl with other sacred rocks around it. The worship of sacred rocks is not uncommon in the east. In particular the famous baetyl of Emaesa was to be taken to Rome by Elagabalus21 or the cult of Artemis at Perge (Butcher 1988: 90, fig. 6.114). The sanctuary of Paphian Aphrodite also came to be linked to the imperial cult. The imperial cult was linked to the sanctuary of Aphrodite at Palaipaphos. For example Livia was identified as the new Aphrodite (Gardner, Hogarth and James 1888:242, no. 61), and Augustus’ daughter Julia as Augusta (Inscriptiones Graecae ad Res Romanas Pertinentes III.940). Other inscriptions relating to the imperial cult include and honorific inscription for Amyntor son Lysias, “high priest for life for the well-being of the imperial household” (Mitford 1990: 2197).
 
 

#3. (2007). Christian Apologetics Journal, 6(1), 17

One of the most challenging objections to the historicity of the New Testament documents and the uniqueness of first century Christianity is the accusation of wholesale borrowing from earlier pagan sources. Such accusations are common in the fields of comparative religion and mythology. Parallels have been drawn between the story of Jesus and other religious leaders, heroes, and pagan dying and rising gods. Though these parallels are found in stories from various cultures going back several millennia before the Christian era, the most prevalent challenge comes from what are known as the mystery religions or mystery cults. From among these numerous cults, Mithras, or Mithraism, presents the greatest challenge and most striking parallels.

Any credible argument for Christianity’s dependence on Mithraism would hinge on Mithraism’s early development in the east. This, however, would not, in and of itself, prove such a position. Arguments based purely on chronology face the danger of committing the post hoc ergo proctor hoc fallacy. Early development cannot support claims of dependence without proof of a causal connection. On the other hand, if chronological priority is not on the side of Mithraism, the argument has no hope of success.

To make a substantial claim, one must not only prove that Mithraism predates Christianity, but also that (1) minimally, their adherents had direct contact with the stories, rituals, and beliefs to clearly display real and significant parallels, and that there are no better candidates that serve as a model for understanding nascent Christianity, and (2) maximally, there is an oral or literary dependence of the latter on the former.

Before discussing any possible relationship between Mithraism and Christianity, first one ought to be familiar with the category of religion to which both Mithraism and Christianity have been attached. Though few scholars would disagree as to the classification of Mithraism as a mystery cult, many have argued against including Christianity. The disagreement stems from an analysis of the traits defining a mystery cult, and how well Christianity lines up with those traits.

Mystery cults derive their name from their most fundamental aspect, that of initiation. The Greek verb myeo means “to initiate,” and the cult initiates themselves were called mustes. A certain sense of group identity and personal belonging followed one’s initiation into the mysteria. However, initiation into a mystery cult is not to be confused with adherence to a religion, for in the context of ancient polytheism, the mystery cults were not exclusive in the same way Judaism or Christianity would be understood.2  Participants in one cult could be initiated into several others, without any theological contradiction or conflict. Such is not the case with Christianity’s emphasis on exclusivity.

Often viewed as a reaction to the impersonal and spiritually unfulfilling traditional civil religions of the ancient world, the mystery cults were opened to those who desired a personal connection to the divine. Participation was generally a private matter which promised some change in one’s life, a type of salvation. This salvation is a concept that evolves over time, and seems to have its roots in earlier personal votive religions, where vows and offerings are made to the gods in expectation of aid.3

The mystery religions thrived during the early centuries of Christianity and  were not a development of late antiquity. Such cults are documented as early as the sixth century B.C. among the Greeks.4  The early form of these Greek mysteries slowly began to change, and their popularity grew with the cultural amalgamation of the Hellenistic period which followed the conquests of Alexander the Great. Yet, it was not until the Roman Empire united the Mediterranean world that many of these cults really began to develop into their recognizable forms. It was not until the third or fourth centuries A.D. that the previously distinct cults began to manifest a synthesis.5 

The fully developed cults had a number of defining traits that are important for comparative study. The most important was the initiation ceremony, which provided esoteric knowledge that bound the community together, and after which participants were sworn to secrecy. The exact nature of the revealed secret was secondary to the shared experience which created the group identity.  The cult story normally possessed a central theme dealing with a seasonal cycle of growth, death, and rebirth, usually symbolized in agricultural or solar motifs. This central myth also focused on a victory over death, whether the return of a god from the realm of the dead, or the destruction of an enemy. They generally had no essential doctrine that shaped the lives of participants. The ultimate goal was a mystical union with a polytheistic god as a means for attaining a type of salvation
 
 

#4. Geisler, N. L., & Rhodes, R. (1997). When cultists ask: a popular handbook on cultic misinterpretations. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

What Makes Cults Dangerous?

Cults present many dangers both to the church and to individuals. These dangers are spiritual, psychological, and even physical. Consider the following:

Spiritual Dangers of Cults

Cults are involved in serious error, and error is always dangerous because it misleads people. The Bible declares that the devil is the father of lies: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has not stood in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks falsehood, he speaks of what is his own; for he is a liar and its father” (John 8:44). Ultimately all error is inspired of the devil. As the apostle Paul put it, “Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).

Those who believe lies are already deceived. And if they act on these lies they are in danger. Some everyday examples make the point well. If you believe a railroad flashing sign is just stuck when it isn’t, you are in serious danger of being hit by a train. If you believe ice on a lake is very thick when it is thin, you are in danger of drowning. If you think you are on a two–way street when it is one–way, you are in dire danger of a head–on collision.

The spiritual danger of believing a lie is even more serious—it has eternal consequences! To die while believing in the Jesus of the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Jesus of Mormonism is to die believing in a counterfeit Jesus who preaches a counterfeit gospel which yields a counterfeit salvation (which, in fact, is no salvation at all).

Psychological Dangers of Cults

The psychological damage done by cults can be immense. Cults often prey on vulnerable people. Many cults seek out “loners” and lavish affection upon them (sometimes called “love bombings”) until they become “hooked.” Cult leaders become the absolute authority for weak individuals who have had little or no authority in their family background. In some cases this authority can extend to every area of life—how long you sleep, what you eat, what kinds of clothes you wear, and so forth. Such individuals become psychologically enslaved to the whims of the cult leader.

Physical Dangers of Cults

In view of recent occurrences, every cult should have a warning label: “WARNING: This religion may be dangerous to your health and life.” In 1983, Hobart Freeman, leader of the Faith Assembly in Fort Wayne, Indiana, died having thrown away his heart medicine. Some 52 other members of his group died, many of them babies and children. Jim Jones led 900 of his followers in an alleged suicide pact. Likewise David Koresh led some 80 of his followers in a fiery suicide in Waco, Texas, in 1992.

Little wonder the Bible constantly warns against false doctrine. Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matt. 7:14).

Scripture–Twisting and the Cults

In view of this deluge of counterfeits, believers have an unparalleled need for a deeper understanding of authentic Christianity. For it is impossible to recognize a fraud unless we have an understanding of the genuine. Error can only be correctly measured over against the truth of God’s inerrant Word.

The fact is, the cults are notorious Scripture–twisters. When dealing with cults, one must keep in mind that they are always built not upon what the Bible teaches but upon what the founders or leaders of the respective cults say the Bible teaches.

The present book was written to help you, the reader, lovingly turn the tables on the cultist and “untwist” the Scriptures so the cultist can see what the Scriptures really teach. Remember—Jesus said his words lead to eternal life (John 6:63). But for us to receive eternal life through his words, they must be taken as he intended them to be taken. A cultic reinterpretation of Scripture that yields another Jesus and another gospel (2 Cor. 11:3–4; Gal. 1:6–9) will yield only eternal death (Rev. 20:11–15).

This book was also written to help you “untwist” the faulty interpretations of aberrant groups that fall short of the definition of a cult. The Roman Catholic Church is an example. Though it is essentially a Christian church and not technically a cult (at least not in its official teachings), there are nevertheless many aberrant doctrines that are taught within Roman Catholicism. These doctrinal aberrations are so serious that aspects of orthodoxy are undermined, thus warranting the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century and the continued separation of present–day Protestantism from Catholicism. You will find that this book will help you answer Roman Catholic aberrations from Scripture.

We must remember that one way we can shine as lights in our world (Matt. 5:16) is to set a consistent example before others of what it means to correctly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). By so doing, others may come to imitate us in this regard. And as others learn to imitate us in correctly handling Scripture, so they too can be used of God to set an example before still others.

The process begins with a single person—you! Together we can curb the growth of the cults and aberrant groups.
 
 

#5. Geisler, N. L., & Rhodes, R. (1997). When cultists ask: a popular handbook on cultic misinterpretations. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

What Is a Cult?

There is no universally agreed–upon definition of a cult; there are only some generally recognizable traits. Actually, there are three different dimensions of a cult—doctrinal, sociological, and moral. Below we take a brief look at these. Keep in mind, though, that not every cult manifests every single trait we discuss.

Doctrinal Characteristics of a Cult

There are a number of doctrinal characteristics of cults. One will typically find an emphasis on new revelation from God, a denial of the sole authority of the Bible, a denial of the Trinity, a distorted view of God and Jesus, or a denial of salvation by grace.

New Revelation. Many cult leaders claim to have a direct pipeline to God. The teachings of the cult often change and, hence, they need new “revelations” to justify such changes. Mormons, for example, once excluded African Americans from the priesthood. When social pressure was exerted against the Mormon church for this blatant form of racism, the Mormon president received a new “revelation” reversing the previous decree. Jehovah’s Witnesses engaged in the same kind of change regarding the earlier Watchtower teaching that vaccinations and organ transplants were prohibited by Jehovah.

Denial of the Sole Authority of the Bible. Many cults deny the sole authority of the Bible. The Mormons, for example, believe the Book of Mormon is higher Scripture than the Bible. Jim Jones, founder and leader of Jonestown, placed himself in authority over the Bible. Christian Scientists elevate Mary Baker Eddy’s book Science and Health to supreme authority. Reverend Moon placed his book The Divine Principle in authority over all his followers. New Agers believe in many modern forms of authoritative revelation, such as The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ.

A Distorted View of God and Jesus. Many cults set forth a distorted view of God and Jesus. The “Jesus Only” Oneness Pentecostals, for example, deny the Trinity and hold to a form of modalism, claiming that Jesus is God, and that “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” are simply singular names for Jesus. The Jehovah’s Witnesses deny both the Trinity and the absolute deity of Christ, saying that Christ is a lesser god than the Father (who is God Almighty). The Mormons say Jesus was “procreated” (by a heavenly father and a heavenly mother) at a point in time, and was the spirit–brother of Lucifer. Mormons do speak of a “Trinity,” but redefine it into Tritheism (i.e., three gods). The Baha’is say Jesus was just one of many prophets of God. The Jesus of the spiritists is just an advanced medium. The Jesus of the Theosophists is a mere reincarnation of the so–called World Teacher (who is said to periodically reincarnate in the body of a human disciple). The Jesus of psychic Edgar Cayce is a being who in his first incarnation was Adam and in his thirtieth reincarnation was “the Christ.”

Related to the above, cults also typically deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, say that Jesus was raised from the dead as an invisible spirit creature. Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God, also denied the physical, bodily resurrection of Christ. (Note that in recent years the Worldwide Church of God has repudiated many of Armstrong’s teachings and has taken significant steps toward orthodoxy.)

Denial of Salvation by Grace. Cults typically deny salvation by grace, thus distorting the purity of the gospel. The Mormons, for example, emphasize the necessity of becoming more and more perfect in this life. The Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize the importance of distributing Watchtower literature door–to–door as a part of “working out” their salvation. Herbert W. Armstrong said that the idea that works are not required for salvation is rooted in Satan.

From the brief survey above, it is clear that all cults deny one or more of the fundamental, essential doctrines of Christianity.

Sociological Characteristics of a Cult

In addition to the doctrinal characteristics of cults, many (not all) cults also have sociological traits. These include authoritarianism, exclusivism, dogmatism, close–mindedness, susceptibility, compartmentalization, isolation, and even antagonism. Let us take a brief look at these.

Authoritarianism. Authoritarianism involves the acceptance of an authority figure who often uses mind–control techniques on group members. As prophet and/or founder, this leader’s word is considered ultimate. The late David Koresh of the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas, is a tragic example. Other cults that involve authoritarianism include the Children of God (now called “The Family”), the Unification Church, and Jonestown (headed by Jim Jones).

Cult prophets/founders should not be confused with legitimate reformers/revivalists, such as Martin Luther and John Wesley. The differences are significant. A reformer, in contrast to a cult founder, leads people by love, not by fear. He influences by love, not by hate. He tries to motivate the heart but makes no attempt to control the mind. He leads his followers like a shepherd leads sheep; he does not drive them like goats.

Exclusivism. Another characteristic of cults is an exclusivism that says, “We alone have the truth.” The Mormons believe they are the exclusive community of the saved on earth. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they are the exclusive community of the saved.

Some groups manifest exclusivism in their practice of communal living. Under such conditions it is easier to maintain control over cult members. Examples of this kind of cult include the Children of God and the Branch Davidians.

It is important to note that there are some religious groups that practice communal living that are not cults. The Jesus People USA in Chicago are an example of a good Christian group that lives communally.

Dogmatism. Closely related to the above, many cults are dogmatic—and this dogmatism is often expressed institutionally. For example, Mormons claim to be the only true church on earth. The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that the Watchtower Society is the sole voice of Jehovah on earth. David Koresh said he alone could interpret the Bible. Many cults believe they have the truth in a suitcase, as it were. They alone are in possession of the divine oracles.

Close–mindedness. Hand in hand with dogmatism is the characteristic of close–mindedness. This unwillingness to even consider any other point of view often has radical manifestations. One educated Mormon we encountered said he did not care if it could be proved that Joseph Smith was a false prophet; he still would remain a Mormon. A Jehovah’s Witness we met once refused to finish reading an article that proved the deity of Christ because, said he, “It is disturbing my faith.”

Susceptibility. The psychological profile of many individuals who are sucked into cults is not flattering. All too often, though not always, people who join cults are highly gullible. Sometimes they are even psychologically vulnerable. But above all, the cultic mentality is characterized by an unhealthy compartmentalization (that is, they “compartmentalize” conflicting facts and ignore anything that contradicts their claims). Many Mormons have a “burning in the bosom” which makes it nearly impossible to reason with them about their faith. Cultists often accept teachings by a kind of blind faith that is impervious to sound reasoning. One Mormon missionary said he would believe the Book of Mormon even if it said there were square circles!

Isolationism. The more extreme cults sometimes create fortified boundaries, often precipitating tragic endings, such as the disaster in Waco, Texas, with the Branch Davidian cult. Deserters are considered traitors, and their lives are sometimes put in jeopardy by more zealous members of the cult. In many cases cult members are told that if they leave the group, they will be attacked and destroyed by Satan. The erection of such barriers, whether physical or psychological, creates an environment of isolation, which in turn often leads to antagonism.

Antagonism. In a context of isolation, both fear and antagonism toward the outside world is often generated. All other groups are considered apostate. They are considered “the enemy” and “tools of Satan.” In extreme cases this may lead to an armed conflict, as in Jonestown and Wa
 
 

#6. Geisler, N. L., & Rhodes, R. (1997). When cultists ask: a popular handbook on cultic misinterpretations. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Moral Characteristics of a Cult

On top of the doctrinal and sociological traits of cults, there are also some moral dimensions to be considered. Among those that crop up most often are legalism, sexual perversion, intolerance, and psychological or even physical abuse. Again, though, not every cult manifests every one of these traits.

Legalism. Setting down a rigid set of rules by which the devotees must live is common to many cults. These standards are usually extrabiblical. The Mormon teaching forbidding the use of coffee, tea, or any drink with caffeine is a case in point. The requirement of the Watchtower Society for Jehovah’s Witnesses to distribute literature door to door is another example. Monastic-type asceticism, with its rigorous rule–keeping, is often seen as a means of gaining favor with God. As such, it is a manifestation of the common cultic rejection of God’s grace.

Sexual Perversion. Along with legalism, the twin vice of moral perversion is often found in the cults. Joseph Smith (and other Mormon leaders) had many wives. David Koresh claimed to own all the women in his group, even the young girls. According to a 1989 revelation, this reportedly included girls as young as ten. The Children of God cult throughout its history has used “flirty fishing” techniques to sexually lure people into the cult. Sex between adults and children has been reported in this cult.

Physical Abuse. Tragically, some cults engage in forms of physical abuse. Ex–cult members often accuse their former leaders of engaging in beatings, sleep deprivation, severe food deprivation, and beating children until they are bruised and bleeding. Sometimes there are charges of satanic ritualistic abuse, though these seem to be much more rare than advertised. However, psychological abuse, such as fear, intimidation, and isolation, is more common. The ultimate physical abuse is illustrated in the person of cult leader Jim Jones, who led all the members of Jonestown to drink poisoned punch.

Intolerance toward Others. Toleration is not one of the virtues of the cultic mentality. Intolerance is often manifest in antagonism and sometimes culminates in killings. Both Mormon and Branch Davidian history have examples of this kind of violent intolerance. Of course, other religious groups, such as radical Muslims, are known for the same. Closer to home, the Spanish Inquisition is a manifestation of Christian cultic zeal.

Cultic Methodology

Cults are well known for their questionable methods. For example, cults often engage in moral deception and aggressive proselytizing. Let’s take a brief look at these.

Moral Deception. Moonies are known for their so–called heavenly deception. Duplicity and lies are used to win converts into the movement. Mormon founder Joseph Smith also engaged in fraudulent tactics which, on occasion, even landed him in court, where he was once found guilty and fined. Modern leaders of Transcendental Meditation have also been deceptive in trying to further their cause.

Far more common is the cults’ use of Christian terms infused with new meanings, thus deceiving untrained Christians into believing the cult is Christian. For example, New Age cults sometimes use the Christian terms “resurrection” and “ascension” when they really mean the “rise” of Christ–consciousness in the world. The familiar Christian term “born again” is often employed by New Agers to support the doctrine of reincarnation. The term “the Christ” is used by New Agers to seek Christian approval when to them it actually means an occult office held by various gurus throughout history.

Aggressive Proselytizing. There is, of course, a good sense in which every missionary religion proselytizes. That is, they attempt to win converts for their faith. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and even forms of Hinduism and Buddhism attempt to convert people to their beliefs.

Cults, however, carry proselytizing activities to an extreme. Often their excessive proselytizing is an attempt to gain God’s approval. They work for grace rather than from grace as the Bible teaches (2 Cor. 5:14). Sometimes their efforts are exerted in satisfaction of their own egos. Many times their overzealous proselytizing involves impersonal evangelism or buttonholing people. Followers of the Boston Church of Christ are known for overzealous attempts to make converts on college campuses throughout the United States. Both Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have extensive door–to–door programs of proselytizing, though they are usually less obnoxious in their approach.

Of course, it is important to note that while almost all cults are aggressive evangelizers, not all aggressive evangelizers are cults. Campus Crusade for Christ and Jews for Jesus are ministries that are zealous in evangelism, but they are not cults. Indeed, if the Christian church were more zealous in true evangelism, the world would have less cultic proselytizing.
 
 

#7. Geisler, N. L., & Rhodes, R. (1997). When cultists ask: a popular handbook on cultic misinterpretations. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Why Are the Cults Growing?

One noted cult researcher observed that the cults are “the unpaid bills of the church.” The church has failed to doctrinally train its members; it has failed to make a real moral difference in the lives of its members; it has failed to meet people’s deepest needs; and it has failed to provide people with a sense of belonging. The failure of the church is wide and deep, and this has made it easy for the cults to flourish.

But, of course, the growth of the cults is attributable to many other factors as well. Among other things, the cults are multiplying because of the growth of relativism, selfism, subjectivism, and mysticism. Further, moral rebellion and the breakdown of families have contributed to the increase in cults worldwide. Consider the following:

Doctrinal Failure. Walter Martin once said that the rise of the cults is “directly proportional to the fluctuating emphasis which the Christian church has placed on the teaching of biblical doctrine to Christian laymen. To be sure, a few pastors, teachers, and evangelists defend adequately their beliefs, but most of them—and most of the average Christian laymen—are hard put to confront and refute a well–trained cultist of almost any variety” (The Rise of the Cults, 24). The failure of the church to teach sound doctrine leads to the acceptance of false doctrine. One cannot recognize error unless one first understands the truth. Counterfeits are known only by comparison with the genuine.

Increase in Relativism. The growth of relativism in our culture has also contributed to the rise of cults. The statements, “That may be true for you but not for me” and “Everything is relative to the situation,” are almost proverbial today. This plague of relativism has nearly inundated the land. Along with the “Do your own thing” mentality has come the “Have your own religion” syndrome. Secular humanism’s denial of all God–given absolutes has led to a God–sized vacuum in our society into which Eastern mysticism has rapidly moved.

Mystical Turn East. “The Turn East,” as Harvey Cox of Harvard University titled his book, has been as natural as it is phenomenal. Once American society rejected its Judeo–Christian roots for secular humanism, which cannot satisfy the heart–desires of people, the only major force left was Eastern mysticism. Christian theism affirms that God created all. Secularistic atheism declares there is no God at all. Both of these being found unsatisfactory, our culture has now turned to Eastern cults that proclaim that God is all and all is God.

This turn Eastward has been accompanied by a turn inward. The mystical cults, stressing as they do subjective experience and inner feeling, have grown rapidly in the wake of mysticism. We have turned as a culture from exploring the universe out there to exploring the universe in here—inside of us. The focus is not so much on outer space as on inner space. This, of course, is what the Eastern mystics have always taught, and it plays right into the hands of New Age cults.

Emphasis on Self. The growth of selfishness has also contributed to the proliferation of the cults. The “Do your own thing” mentality leads naturally to the “Start your own cult” movement. We might say the cults are religious freedom gone to seed. The humanistic “Every man for himself” philosophy is a perfect fertilizer for the growth of new religions that cater to the felt needs, rather than the real needs, of the individual.

Stress on Feelings. Another factor leading to the rise of cults is the growth of subjectivism and existentialism. Granted the seemingly insatiable appetite for religion, the “If it feels good, do it” syndrome leads naturally to seeking out religions that feel good. While some still seek the psychedelic shortcut to Nirvana through mind–expanding drugs, others seek a subjective mystical experience that transcends the routines of daily life. This accounts in large part for the growth of New Age cults, such as Transcendental Meditation.

Moral Rebellion. Beneath all the sociological and psychological factors giving rise to cults is moral depravity. The Bible makes it very clear that human beings are in rebellion against the God who is there (Rom. 1:18f.). One dimension of this rebellion is moral. People turn to more comfortable religions when their chosen lifestyle is contrary to the moral imperatives of a transcendent and sovereign God. The moral perversion existing in many cults is ample testimony to the depravity found in the world of the cults. The followers of the Hindu guru Rajneesh engaged in orgies in Oregon. David Berg’s Children of God cult is well known for its sexual perversions. In fact, moral perversion is characteristic of many cults. This moral rebelliousness was manifest in the antiestablishment, antigovernment, and antifamily movement growing out of the 60s, and its inertia has carried it into the 90s.

Social Breakdown of Families. Walter Martin once said, “We see a generation without a sense of history—cut off from the past, alienated from the present, and having a fragmented concept of the future. The ‘now’ generation is in reality a lost generation” (The New Cults, 28). Many cults have capitalized on the breakdown of families in our society and have become surrogate families for the “lost generation.”

It is not without significance that many cult members address the leaders of their cult in parental terms. For example, New Ager Elizabeth Clare Prophet, who heads the Church Universal and Triumphant, is affectionately known among her followers as “Guru Ma.” David “Moses” Berg, founder of the Children of God, was often called “Father David” by cult members. Likewise, Reverend Moon is often called “Father Moon” by members of the Unification Church.
 
 

#8. Coutras, A. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Hellenistic Religions. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press

The Mystery (μυστήριον, mystērion) Religions

Mystery religions where characterized by rites that were only revealed to those who were initiated into the cult. The secrets of the rites were so well kept that very little is known about them (Burkert, Greek Religion, 276). Mystery religions had sanctuaries, priests, and sacrifices and were often practiced by guilds, clubs, and cult associations (Peters, Hellenism, 455). The most widespread mystery religions were:

  •      The Eleusian mysteries, which were named after the town of Eleusis where they were centered. The term describes several mystery cults dedicated to Demeter and Persephone, Kore, and Dionysus. They were extremely popular, even among the emperors (Peters, Hellenism, 454 n. 7).

  •      The Great Mother cult, which developed and spread from Cybele’s cult in Phrygia (Bøgh, “Mother of the Gods,” 32–67). It became widespread, including such iterations as Artemis of the Ephesians (Arnold, Power and Magic, 26). It was eventually accepted by the Romans in 209 BC as Magna Mater (Peters, Hellenism, 453–6). The non-Roman forms were practiced with ecstatic rituals and self-mutilation (Peters, Hellenism, 474–5).

  •      The mysteries of Mythra, which were of Iranian origin. Mythraism was mostly practiced in Anatolia but spread to Rome through its popularity with the military. Due to Mythraism’s association with “masculine” virtue and characterization as a savior god, Mythra was eventually adopted as the patron of Rome in AD 307 (Peters, Hellenism, 478).

  •      The cult of Isis, which originated in Egypt and was popular among the elite Roman classes. It was distinguished by its highly structured cult (Peters, Hellenism, 471–3). Several of the Roman emperors sought to suppress the Isis cult due to its foreign nature (Moehring, “Isis Cult,” 293–304)

The Ruler Cult and Imperial Cult

The ruler cult, which eventually developed into the imperial cult, represents an amalgam of Greek and Eastern influences. These cults established temples and included rituals, prayer, and sacrifice. While the deification of rulers was an established practice in the ancient Near East (e.g., Egypt and the pharaohs), Greek precedent came from the hero cult of the deified Herakles (Ἡρακλῆς, Hēraklēs). Alexander made use of this practice by letting conquered cities and nations ascribe him divine honors. The Seleucid and Ptolemaic rulers amplified this practice (Bunge, “Antiochos-Helios,” 164–88; Johnson, “Ptolemies,” 50–6). The practice spread westward after Roman conquest but stayed especially popular in Anatolia. It included the worship and deification of the emperor and of Rome as the goddess Roma (Beard, et all, Religions of Rome, 140–8, 348–63; Long, “God-like”).
 
 

#9. Biblical Studies Press. (2006). The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Ge 38:21). Biblical Studies Press

Notes for  38:21

40 tn Heb “the men of her place,” that is, who lived at the place where she had been.

41 sn The Hebrew noun translated “cult prostitute” is derived from a verb meaning “to be set apart; to be distinct.” Thus the term refers to a woman who did not marry, but was dedicated to temple service as a cult prostitute. The masculine form of this noun is used for male cult prostitutes. Judah thought he had gone to an ordinary prostitute (v. 15); but Hirah went looking for a cult prostitute, perhaps because it had been a sheep-shearing festival. For further discussion see E. M. Yamauchi, “Cultic Prostitution,” Orient and Occident (AOAT), 213–23.
 
 

#10 Thomas Nelson, I. (1995). The Woman’s Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

  CULTS: A FRAUDULENT FAITH

  A “cult” is a religious group that has been established upon a special message not found in the Bible. Most cultic leaders testify of visions, revelations, spirit guides, or audible voices from heaven that have revealed truth to them alone. Their messages are characteristically apocalyptic and are often presented as “inspired.”

  Cultic leaders are nearly always authoritarian. They typically encourage their followers to adopt a legalistic lifestyle and persecution mentality, leading to an exclusivistic outlook for the group.

  Many people have suffered from the brainwashing and other fraudulent tactics of cults. Grievances include the lack of full disclosure when luring potential members into the cult through extortion, poor nutrition, sleep deprivation, auditory bombardment, as well as far more severe instances of slavery, physical abuse, and sexual exploitation. Cults tend to entice followers with what appear to be generous expressions of concern and a desire to meet the deep needs of people who are confused, suffering, dejected, or searching for meaning in life. In the minds of many Christian leaders, the increase in cult membership worldwide is a direct indicator of the church’s failure to meet these needs genuinely and fully.

11:14, 15 Satan is the father of all lying, and there is no truth in him (John 8:44). His proper sphere is darkness (Eph. 6:12; Col. 1:13). However, he has the ability to transform himself or masquerade as an angel of light. He can change his outward form to appear to be what he is not. Christ has His ministers, and so has Satan. If Satan is able to present himself in a guise so foreign to his real nature, it is no surprise that those who serve him would be able to do the same. The false apostles in the church in Corinth were perverting the truth. Outwardly they appeared to be religious (ministers of righteousness), but neither their character nor their doctrine conformed to the Word of God. They were simply masquerading as messengers of light.
 
 

#11 Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Je 3:3–9). Nashville: Thomas Nelson

3:6, 7 The northern kingdom of Israel becomes a personification of “backsliding,” (meshuvah, Heb., “apostasy”). They have given themselves over to the practice of the fertility cult (vv. 2, 8, 21; 2:20) and will not return to YAHWEH. Her “treacherous” (bagad, Heb., “faithless, deceitful;” cf. Mal. 2:10–17) sister Judah is watching, yet does not learn from Israel’s sin and God’s judgment, for she also “played the harlot” (v. 8).

3:9 This verse contains the solemn warning not to treat sin lightly. The people of Judah treated adultery casually (qol, Heb., “light, frivolous”) and joined their sister in the practice of the fertility cult. There is also bitter irony here. Forsaking the “fountain of living waters” (2:13), Judah has turned to gods of “stones” and “trees” (cf. 2:27). These were instruments of the fertility cult.
 
 

#12 Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1996). BAR 22:06 (Nov/Dec 1996).

Distinctive Edomite vessels are turning up by the hundreds at sites in southern Judah. At Qitmit alone, excavators have found more than 800 cult stands, bowls, figurines, reliefs and other objects—including the collection shown. Uniquely Edomite are the large anthropomorphic cult stands at the right side of the photo; their only parallels are from ‘Ein Hatzeva, another Edomite site in the Negev. These stands, fitted on top with a bowl (such as the one decorated with a pomegranate, second from the left in the photo), were probably used to make offerings of burnt incense or fragrant oil at Qitmit’s Edomite shrine. Many of the Edomite pieces, including the three-horned goddess, at left, and the sphinx, at right, are quite small, as is clear in comparison with the cult stands, which are about 20 inches high.

{We disagree with many archaeologists and scholars on their classification of different ancient artifacts as cult items.}
 
 

#13 Jupp, J. P. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Fertility Cults. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Biblical Relevance

The Old Testament attests to the existence of fertility cults in the ancient world. The Caananites living in the fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates perceived their regional gods to be fertile. One such Caananite god was Asherah, a fertility goddess believed to be the mother of the gods. According to Becking, Ugaritic texts describe Asherah as “the Creatress of the gods” who nursed princes and gods (Becking, Only One God?, 62). The Old Testament refers to trees and wooden objects (often called Asherim or Asherah poles) that ancient peoples used to represent and worship Asherah (1 Kgs 14:23; 2 Kgs 17:16). Another example of a fertility cult mentioned in the Old Testament is the cult dedicated to the Canaanite god Baal. Other Caananite gods included:

  •      El, husband of Asherah

  •      Anat, a consort of Baal

  •      Astarte, a consort of Baal

Israelite Participation in Fertility Cults

The Israelites, who depended on agriculture for survival, faced temptation to worship the Canaanite fertility gods and goddesses (Cross, Canaanite Myth, 219–28). Martin posits that when the Israelites saw the flourishing crops of their neighbors, some credited the success to Baal, who oversaw the fertility of crops (Martin et al., A Visual Guide to Bible Events, 67). Dever argues that, over time, these fertility deities infiltrated Israelite worship (Dever, Did God Have a Wife? 271).

According to Lemaire and Shanks, a pottery inscription from the eight century BC may attest to such syncretistic religious practices in Israel. According to Lemaire, the inscription bears the words “Yahweh and his Asherah” (Lemaire, “Who or What Was Yahweh’s Asherah?” 42–51). In Shanks’ view, whether this inscription refers to a sexual partner or prohibited religious objects, it demonstrates that some Hebrews engaged in syncretistic religious practices (Shanks, “Persisting Uncertainties,” 28–37, 76).

Van Der Toorn emphasizes that Israelite involvement in fertility cults differed from other ancients’ involvement. He argues that while Israel’s neighbors used prostitutes in their fertility cults as a form of “sympathetic magic” to produce fertile crops, livestock, and children, ancient Israelites incorporated prostitution to support temple funds (Van Der Toorn, “Female Prostitution,” 202). However, Israelite involvement in fertility cults conflicted with the prescribed worship of the Mosaic law.

Later Developments

The regions populated by Israelites after the exile lack archaeological evidence of cult sanctuaries and figurines, indicating that Jewish participation in fertility cults waned after the exile. The discovery of what seem to be intentionally destroyed idols on the Mediterranean coast of Israel further supports this conclusion (Stern, “What Happened to the Cult Figurines?” 22–29, 53–54). Davidson has argued that fertility cults eventually made a comeback (Davidson, Flame of Yahweh, 132). However, Baugh emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between sexual symbolism and fertility cults and concludes that fertility cults did not exist in the Graeco-Roman world (Baugh, “Cult Prostitution In New Testament Ephesus: A Reappraisal,” 445–60).

Artifacts and Literature Associated with Fertility

Archaeologists have uncovered hundreds of figurines of women with exaggerated breasts, hips, and pubic areas that attest to the importance of female sexuality in ancient times. These figures may depict mothers, prostitutes, sexual partners, and entertainers. Some plaques, which may be connected with temple practices, depict brothel scenes with women drinking beer while engaging in intercourse. Bahrani suggests the naked female body represented power, divinity, and fertility (Bahrani, Women of Babylon, 46–69, 80).

Many ancient cultures developed myths involving fertility, and most ancient myths attribute the creation of the world to a sexual encounter (Davidson, Flame of Yahweh, 85). In most of these myths, a mother goddess (as a symbol of fertility) would engage in sexual relations with a male consort. Leick notes that ancient Near Eastern cosmologies are structured as “retrogressive genealogies” that first detail the creation of the world and then the creation of people (Leick, Sex and Eroticism, 12).
 
 

#14 Jupp, J. P. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Ancestor Worship. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

ANCESTOR WORSHIP The adoration or deification of the dead by the living members of the family or community. Cults of the dead surrounded Israel in the pagan religious practices of the Canaanite world and were rejected by the circumscribed religion of Israel (Deut 14:1; 18:10–11; 26:14; Jer 16:5–8).

Rituals of ancestor worship included invoking the deceased, offering food, and pouring a libation (Tsumura, Samuel, 39–40). It was common for ancient people to respect the dead and offer sacrifices in an attempt to appease the forefathers, in the hope of receiving a physical or spiritual blessing.

While the Israelites may have followed some ancestor-veneration practices, as a whole, they did not worship their ancestors as deities (Miller, Religion of Ancient Israel, 237; de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 60). Nonetheless, priestly texts within the Old Testament suggest that ancestor cults were a legitimate and persistent temptation for Israel (King and Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, 376–77). The Levitical priesthood can be understood as standing in contrast to the practices of other ancient religious contexts, in which the firstborn was expected to venerate and regulate worship of the ancestors (Milgrom, Numbers, xxxvi). The Historical Books describe how good kings (e.g., Josiah) worked to eliminate ancestor cults, while evil kings (e.g., Manasseh) promoted them (Tropper, “Spirit of the Dead,” 808)
 
 

#15 Sarlo, D. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Cult of the Dead. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

CULT OF THE DEAD The practice of communicating with and worshiping the dead, which was common in the ancient Near East and is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Deut 18; 1 Sam 28).

Sheol as a Place of Inquiry

According to the Hebrew Bible, the soul travels to Sheol (שְׁאוֹל, she'ol) upon death (Psa 89:48). Johnston and Bar argue that Sheol is the abode of the wicked (Johnston, Shades of Sheol, 81–83; Bar, Biblical Perspectives, 158–59). Jewish texts such as 1 Enoch 51 and 2 Baruch 52 reflect the belief that all souls go to Sheol and will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment—the wicked will be sent to the fire pits of Gehenna, while the righteous will live on earth. Jarick notes that the notion that one can communicate with their dead relatives is reflected in the etymology of Sheol as the “place of inquiry” (Jarick, “Questioning Sheol,” 25). Deuteronomy 18:11 and 1 Chronicles 10:13 use the verb “consult” or “inquire” (שׁאל, sh'l) to refer to the consultation of the dead. The biblical text indicates that at times in Israel’s history, some Israelites practiced necromancy and ancestor worship. Most notably, King Saul sought out a medium to help him communicate with the prophet Samuel from beyond the grave (1 Sam 28:7–19).

Provision for the Dead

Archaeological discoveries and texts from the ancient Near East reflect the belief that taking care of the dead and providing comfort and rations for them improved their existence in the afterlife, in turn ensuring they were able and willing to help the living. For example, a Ugaritic letter from a home in Ras Shamra states, “[May] all the gods of our family keep you in good health and give you favor and satiate you with old age” (RS 20.178; Lewis, “Family, Household, and Local Religion,” 67). Bloch-Smith notes that ancient Israelite food, drink, furniture, and lamps have been discovered buried with the dead (Bloch-Smith, Judahite Burial Practices, 63–108), possibly reflecting this belief.

Evidence

Texts from Ugarit provide insight into Ugaritic beliefs regarding the dead. Most god lists recovered from Ugarit reference Ilu-ibi first, which has traditionally been interpreted as the “god of the fathers”—that is, the god worshiped by a person’s ancestors. However, Lewis has interpreted this as evidence of the worship of one’s father as a god (Lewis, “Family, Household, and Local Religion,” 68–70). Ancient Ugaritic texts also attest to the consultation of deceased kings and leaders among the elite. For example, the dead heroes and kings (rpʾim) are equated with gods (ʾilm) in KTU 1.6 (Van der Toorn, “Ancestors and Anthroponyms,” 5–6). KTU 1.161 describes a ceremony during which deceased kings are asked to bless the monarchy. Such royal beliefs may have spread to the common people (compare Del Olmo Lete, Canaanite Religion, 328; Van der Toorn, Family Religion, 169).

Evidence from the Hebrew Bible

Necromancy and ancestor worship are primarily viewed negatively and condemned in the Hebrew Bible (Lev 19:31; 20:6, 27; Isa 8:19). Communication with the dead was outlawed; however, it is, at times, shown to be an effective method of receiving important information, such as with Saul’s consultation of Samuel’s spirit in 1 Sam 28 (though Saul is condemned for this consultation).

Deuteronomy 18:10–11 contains the most comprehensive list of biblical terms relating to the practice of necromancy. These verses list nine categories of professionals and describe them as “detestable.”

On the other hand, Bloch-Smith has interpreted the yearly sacrifice that David speaks of in 1 Sam 20:6 as akin to the Mesopotamian kispu ritual—a family reunion that included offerings for dead relatives (Bloch-Smith, Judahite Burial Practices, 124).

Some argue that personal names in the Hebrew Bible provide further evidence for the practice of necromancy. The theophoric nature of many ancient Near Eastern names provides insight into the religious beliefs of the people bearing those names (Van der Toorn, “Ancestors and Anthroponyms,” 1). Of the 61 theophoric names in the Bible that date to the early monarchy, 32 percent contain the name of a family member as the divine element, while 19 percent contain some form of the name Yahweh. In contrast, out of the 57 theophoric names that date to the time after Josiah’s reforms, only 2 percent contain the name of a dead relative, and 78 percent contain the name Yahweh (Albertz, “Family Religion,” 104). Biblical passages written after this time depict the dead as incapable of being raised from Sheol (Job 14:12), having no special knowledge, and needing no provisions or remembrance (Eccl 9:5).
 
 

#16 (1991). Bible and Spade (1991), 4(4), 123.

Polytheism in Ancient Israel

  A number of studies in recent years have promoted the idea that archaeological evidence indicates that the religion of the common man in ancient Israel and Judah was grossly polytheistic (for example, Shiloh 1979; Ottosson 1980; Biran 1981; Miller, Hanson and McBride 1987). The evidence considered in these studies is that of excavated shrines and temples, and cult objects (fertility figurines, etc.). Yahwehism was the official state religion, according to this view, and, as such, was documented in the Bible, the “official” version of history and religion. The man on the street, however, knew little of this and was, for all practical purposes, a pagan.

  The problem with much of this supposed evidence is that one is not certain who was making use of the cultic material — Israelites or non-Israelites. The Bible certainly reflects the fact that there were pagan practices among the Israelites and this was a continuing problem. But to say that only the priests worshipped Yahweh and nearly everyone else worshipped pagan deities, is a gross distortion of the Biblical record. A new study has now come out which presents a balanced viewpoint, one that is more in keeping with what is reflected in the Bible.

  Jeffrey Tigay, professor of oriental studies at the University of Pennsylvania, investigated the occurrence of the names of gods in Hebrew inscriptions (Tigay 1986). The largest category of such inscriptions is that of personal names. Usually Hebrew names contain a “theophoric” element, that is, the name of a god. Tigay found that 94% of ancient Hebrew names had Yahweh as a part of the name, while only 6% had theophoric elements referring to some other deity. It is possible, of course, that the personal names simply reflected the official national theology, regardless of the personal beliefs of those who chose them for their children. Nevertheless, the preponderance of Yahwehistic names must reflect the dominance of the worship of Yahweh compared to that of other deities. Other inscriptions, such as invocations for blessings, greetings, oaths, etc., show very little evidence for worship directed at any other deity but Yahweh.

  Tigay concluded that the data clearly indicate that Israel and Judah were unquestionably “Yahwehistic societies.”
 
 

#17 Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

MYSTERY RELIGIONS — secret religions that flourished in Syria, Persia, Anatolia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and other nations several centuries before and after the time of Christ. The mystery religions were quite popular in the first century A.D. and thus provided strong religious competition for Christianity. They were called mysteries because their initiation and other rituals were kept secret. These religions included the cults of Eleusis, Dionysus, Isis and Osiris, Mithra, Cybele (the Magna Mater, or Great Mother), the Dead Syria, and many local deities, all of which promised purification and immortality.

By means of the secret rituals of these religions—which might involve ceremonial washings, blood-sprinkling, drunkenness, sacra-mental meals, passion plays, or even sexual relations with a priest or priestess—their followers became one with their god and believed that they participated in the life of that god.

Because of his contact with the Greek world, the apostle Paul was probably familiar with these mystery religions. But there is no evidence that his theological ideas were influenced by these pagan ideas and practices. Paul preached the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.
 
 

#18 Geisler, N. L. (1999). In Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics (p. 772). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Christianity and Mystery Religions. Contrary to Wells, accounts of Christ’s life was not based on the mystery religions (see MITHRAISM). According to a contemporary account by Paul (1 Corinthians 15), the Gospels were based on eyewitness testimony. In view of this, Wolfhart Pannenberg concludes, “Under such circumstances it is an idle venture to make parallels in the history of religions responsible for the emergence of the primitive Christian message about Jesus’ resurrection” (Pannenberg, 91).

Christianity was monotheistic, and the mystery religions by nature were polytheistic (see POLYTHEISM). The gods of the mystery religions were not incarnated as human beings (see John 1:1, 14). The stories of gods coming back from the dead are not resurrections in the Christian sense, but rather examples of reincarnation (see MITHRAISM).

And the final, fatal flaw is that these stories postdate the time of Christ and the Gospels (see NEW TESTAMENT, DATING OF).

Historical Methodology. Wells’s contention that the Gospels were guesswork or fabrications about Jesus is without foundation. It is based on the disproven assumption that they were late books, and it neglects the overlap in Paul’s writings and the presence of eyewitnesses who could set the record straight. Also, the Gospels and Paul present the same basic picture of Jesus.

If the same criteria are applied to the life of Christ as are generally used to evaluate ancient writings, the historicity of Jesus must be accepted. Evaluated by these standards, critical historian Michael Grant noted, “we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned” (Grant, 199–200).
 
 

#19 Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Eph 3:3–14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson

3:3 A mystery, in N.T. terminology, refers to a truth long hidden but eventually revealed to man by God at the appointed time. Most of the 27 occurrences of the word in the N.T. refer to some aspect of the plan of salvation: e.g., the kingdom of God (Matt. 13:11, note; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10), the hardening of Israel and the admission of the Gentiles (Rom. 11:25), the equality of Gentiles with Jews (3:3–6), the gospel (6:19; 1 Cor. 2:7; 4:1; Col. 4:3) and its reception (1:9; Rom. 16:25; Col. 1:26, 27), the sweep of God’s redemption (1:9; 3:9), the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:51), the central doctrines of the faith (1 Tim. 3:9, 16), and Christ Himself (Col. 2:2). The term is also used of marriage as a symbol of Christ and the church (5:32), of prophetic secrets (1 Cor. 13:2; 14:2), of the “man of sin” (2 Thess. 2:3), and of intended symbols (Rev. 1:20; 10:7; 17:5, 7).

3:4 Paul’s meaning of a mystery is the exact opposite of its use in the mystery religions, in which esoteric teachings were communicated to an elite few, who were enjoined never to divulge the secrets. Paul uses the term “mystery” ironically to herald the publication of the long-hidden secrets of God to the entire world. Chief among these is the fact that God is now welcoming Gentiles into His kingdom and affirming them as having equal standing before Him with Jewish believers in Christ.

3:14–21 The revelation of this great mystery by which God has joined Jew and Gentile is an occasion for a prayer of worship and adoration to God. In a sense, at this point Paul summarizes the major themes he has addressed in chs. 1–3.
 
 

#20 Geisler, N. L., & Saleeb, A. (2002). Answering Islam: the crescent in light of the cross (2nd ed., pp. 315–316). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

In response to the specific charges of the influence of Mithraism on Christianity, Chisti’s descriptions of this religion are baseless (it is interesting that the author gives no reference for such alleged similarities). Ronald Nash, the author of The Gospel and the Greeks, describes Mithraism in the following way:

  We do know that Mithraism, like its mystery competitors, had a basic myth. Mithra was supposedly born when he emerged from a rock; he was carrying a knife and torch and wearing a Phrygian cap. He battled first with the sun and then with a primeval bull, thought to be the first act of creation. Mithra slew the bull, which then became the ground of life for the human race.27

Nash continues,

  Allegations of an early Christian dependence on Mithraism have been rejected on many grounds. Mithraism had no concept of the death and resurrection of its god and no place for any concept of rebirth—at least during its early stages.… During the early stages of the cult, the notion of rebirth would have been foreign to its basic outlook.… Moreover, Mithraism was basically a military cult. Therefore, one must be skeptical about suggestions that it appealed to nonmilitary people like the early Christians.

  Perhaps the most important argument against an early Christian dependence on Mithraism is the fact that the timing is all wrong. The flowering of Mithraism occurred after the close of the New Testament canon, too late for it to have influenced the development of first-century Christianity.28

In fact, all the allegations of Christian dependence on various mystery religions or Gnostic movements have been rejected by scholars in the fields of biblical and classical studies.29 The reasons for such a rejection are mainly due to the historical character of Christianity and the early date of the New Testament documents that would not have allowed enough time for mythological developments on one hand, and on the other hand, the complete lack of any early historical evidence in support of the mystery religions. As the British scholar Sir Norman Anderson explains,

  The basic difference between Christianity and the mysteries is the historic basis of the one and the mythological character of the others. The deities of the mysteries were no more than “nebulous figures of an imaginary past,” while the Christ whom the apostolic kerygma proclaimed had lived and died only a few years before the first New Testament documents were written. Even when the apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians the majority of some five hundred witnesses to the resurrection were still alive.30

Concerning the Qur’an, we would like to point out that, based on the findings of reputable scholars of Islam, much of the content of the Qur’an can be traced to either Jewish or Christian works (often from Jewish or Christian apocrypha) or pagan sources.