This is one of the most prevalent claims on the Internet: Christianity is a copycat religion that stole its essential beliefs from earlier myths. In other words, the resurrection of Jesus never really happened—it was merely a story that Christians plagiarized from ancient mythology.
This idea was popularized by The Da Vinci Code, which declared, “Nothing in Christianity is original.” For instance, proponents of this theory will tell you there were stories of an earlier mythological god named Mithras long before Jesus was born. They say Mithras was born of a virgin in a cave on December 25, was considered a great traveling teacher, had twelve disciples, sacrificed himself for world peace, was buried in a tomb, and rose again three days later.
Sound familiar? This seems to prove that Christianity merely stole its ideas about Jesus from the mystery religion called Mithraism. But what do we find when we look at the story a bit more carefully?
• Mithras was born of a virgin in a cave? No, actually the myth says Mithras emerged fully grown out of a rock! No virgins and no caves. Besides, nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus was born in a cave.
• Mithras was born on December 25? Okay, but so what? The Bible doesn’t say when Jesus was born. Some think it was in the spring, others in January. It wasn’t until centuries later that Christians chose December 25 as the date to celebrate his birth—in part to claim a pagan holiday for Christ.
• Mithras was a traveling teacher with twelve disciples? No, he was supposedly a god, not a teacher, and in the Iranian version of the story he had just one follower, while in the Roman version he had two followers—but never twelve.
• Mithras sacrificed himself for world peace? No, actually he was known for killing a bull. He didn’t sacrifice himself for anything.
• Mithras was buried in a tomb and resurrected after three days? No, we have absolutely no record of any beliefs about the death of Mithras, and there was therefore no resurrection either.
So look what happened—the parallels between Mithras and Jesus evaporated under cross-examination.
Here’s the truth, as summarized by a senior Swedish scholar in a recent academic treatise: the nearly universal consensus of scholars is that there are no examples of any mythological gods dying and rising from the dead that came before Jesus. These resurrection myths came afterChristianity. So if anyone stole any ideas, it was the mythical religions borrowing from the truths of Christianity!
There’s a broader principle worth noting. The Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to test truth claims, and to “hold on to what is good.” How can we do this? By looking at both sides of the story and weighing the evidence carefully. As Proverbs 18:17 explains, “In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines.”
So never be afraid to step forward and cross-examine—and always stay eager to “hold on to what is good.”
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
2 Peter 1:16 ESV