A criticism that has come across my desk regarding this series is the idea that Paul drew more of his material from the mystery religions of the Roman Empire than he did from the Gospels. This would show that Paul’s writings were a contrast with the teachings of Jesus and therefore not reliable. This is a point well taken because if Paul was making it up as he went along then we could not rely upon Paul to give us an honest, authentic and authoritative view of Christianity in the first century as well as our own time.
Norman Geisler and Ronald Brooks list twenty-seven gospel teachings found in just four of Paul’s writings; Romans, Galatians, and 1 and 2 Corinthians.
1. The Jewish ancestry of Jesus – Galatians 3: 16
2. His Davidic descent – Romans 1: 3
3. Jesus virgin birth – Gal. 4: 4
4. His life under Jewish law – Gal. 4: 4
5. Jesus brothers – 1 Cor. 9: 5
6. Jesus twelve disciples – 1 Cor. 15: 7
7. One of Jesus disciples named James – 1 Cor. 15: 7
8. The fact some of Jesus’ disciples had wives – 1 Cor. 9: 5
9. That Paul knew Peter and John – Gal. 1: 18- 2: 16
10. Jesus poverty – 2 Cor. 8: 9
11. Jesus meekness and gentleness – 2 Cor. 10: 1
12. Jesus abused by others – Romans 15: 3
13. Jesus teachings on divorce and remarriage – 1 Cor. 7: 10-11
14. Jesus view on payment to ministers – 1 Cor. 9: 14
15. Jesus view on paying taxes – Rom. 13: 6
16. Jesus command to love ones neighbors – Rom. 13: 9
17. Jesus teachings on Jewish ceremonial uncleanness – Rom. 14: 14
18. Jesus titles of Deity – Rom. 1: 3-4; 10: 9
19. Jesus institution of the Lord’s Supper – 1 Corinthians 11: 23-25
20. Jesus sinless life – 2 Cor. 5: 21
21. Jesus death on the cross – Rom. 4: 25; 5: 8; Gal. 3: 13
22. Jesus payment for our sins – 1 Cor. 15: 3; 2 Cor. 5: 21
23. Jesus burial – 1 Cor. 15: 4
24. Jesus resurrection on the third day – 1 Cor. 15: 4
25. Jesus post-resurrection appearances to the Apostles – 1 Cor. 15: 5-8
26. Jesus post-resurrection appearances to the others – 1 Cor. 15: 6
27. Jesus present position at God’s right hand – Romans 8: 34
The overwhelming evidence of Paul’s New Testament writings is that he taught the same gospel as the other disciples and presented Jesus in the same light as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Paul, nowhere in his writings has to defend himself against incorporating mysticism into his work and the very nature of Christianity would distance itself from the mystery religions. For example, mystery religions prided themselves on obtaining secret knowledge so they could have a deep relationship with the god that they worshipped. The initiated members were very tight lipped about their knowledge because it gave them an advantage in worship. Christianity on the other hand was a missionary religion that preached the teachings from the rooftops. There was nothing secretive about their faith because they couldn’t wait to proclaim it. On the day of Pentecost 5000 people were baptized after hearing Peter and the other disciples preach. Words like the ‘blood of Christ,’ and ‘lamb of God,” at one time were thought to have been borrowed from mystery religions but now we know that these words, used in the second century by the cult of Cybele or Mother goddess, were probably borrowed from Christianity.
There is not found in these mystery religions any concept of death and bodily resurrection as taught in the New Testament. They saw the death and rebirth of their gods through the annual harvests rituals. Most mystery religions revolved around the annual vegetation cycle and the planting, growth, decay and death of the plants is what was celebrated. These followers of cults like Demeter were about soils and farming and not about redeeming the world from sin. Also most of these mystery religions were much later than the birth of Christianity. It is not creditable of critics to say that Christianity borrowed from the rituals of a mystery religion dated 300 AD when Paul’s writings and the Gospels were written before 100 AD.
Christianity is a redemptive religion and not an agricultural ritualistic religion based on the planting and harvesting of crops. And if there were any hint of that in Christianity it would be more apt to have found its basis in the Old Testament ceremonies and feast days.
It is also important for us to remember that Paul was a Jew and was monotheistic while the mystery religions were polytheistic in nature. Paul, who spent much of his writings fighting pagan influences within the church, would not likely to be drawing on those influences for his belief system. Also it would be a foolish Paul who suffered such torture, beatings, hunger, cold, shipwreck, prison and scorn for a made up myth. This idea that Paul borrowed from mystery religions was popular from the late 1890’s to around 1940 in “The History of Religion” movement, but today almost all scholars have come to understand that Paul was influenced by his Jewish roots and the great personal encounter he had with the risen Jesus on the Damascus road.