Summary: Was the Resurrection a Myth concocted out of many ancient stories? Rob Bell seems to think so.
Recently, I watched a video from a preacher named Rob Bell. He has attained a certain level of popularity recently due to his book Love Wins, which many evangelicals have denounced as a purely universalistic treatment of important Scriptural texts. Now, I may soon deal with Rob Bell’s claims in the book, but this morning I wanted to spend our time discussing a video he produced and explain some of his most egregious errors.
WHY ON RESURRECTION SUNDAY?
In this video, Rob Bell makes some claims about the resurrection, and essentially says that this doctrine is not unique to he Christian faith. He says “all religions have dying and rising Gods” and goes on to say that this is not what makes Christianity unique.
In fact, even though he says that he believes in the resurrection, his very opening would cause anyone to question why he does if he believes what he, himself, says concerning it.
Bell makes some very powerful claims in this video, but note that he does not provide any citational remarks to substantiate his claims. He simply says them, and we are expected to believe them because hey, he’s Rob Bell.
And, I would add that, if what he said were true, and that the resurrection is not a unique event in Christian theology, that it would be a difficult thing to overcome. Even Paul recognizes the uniqueness of the resurrection when he says:
1 Cor 15:13-14 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
The resurrection is central to our claims of faith, and without it, we have no reason to believe. As such, if what Rob Bell says is true, then we really are in a precarious position here this morning as we celebrate the resurrection (which he says is not unique to Christianity at all).
But is what he saying true? Or is it based on the claims of unscholarly assertions from liberal thinking teachers who seek to deny the resurrection. I believe that upon further examination, we will see the answer is simple.
Claim 1 - The pagan god Mithra was born of a virgin, and rose from the dead.
Response - This is not true, from beginning to end. First, the belief of Mithraism taught that the god Mithra was not born of a woman at all, but rather that he was birthed out of a rock. Hardly a parallel to Christianity. Furthermore, Edwin Yamauchi, a scholar who specializes in the mysterious religions of the ancient world and one of the foremost authorities on Mithraism, said the following:
“We don’t know anything about the death of Mithras...we have a lot of monuments, but almost no textual evidence, because this was a secret religion. But I know of no references to a supposed death and resurrection.”
Richard Gordon declares in his book Image and Value in the Graeco-Roman World that “there is no death of Mithras” - and thus there cannot be a resurrection. (Strobel, Case for the Real Jesus, p172)
Yamauchi went on to say, “There is no evidence that Mithraism influenced first-century Christianity. Far from assimilating Mithraism, the church fathers - from Justin Martyr to Tertullian, denounced Mithraism as a satanic imitation. Some scholars have suggested Christianity may have consciously or unconsciously borrowed minor practices much later, which could be true. This has no impact on Christianity’s foundational beliefs, however.”
So, we see right away that Bell’s claims, when confronted by scholarship, are shown to be incorrect. This makes us wonder why he would make them. Could it be that he is too concerned with being “relevant” and not concerned enough with being “accurate”?
Claim 2 - Attis was born of a virgin, and rose from the dead.
Response - Attis was a young man in love with Cybele, also known as the Great Mother Goddess. Attis was unfaithful so Cybele drove him mad and he castrated himself and died. That’s why the priests of Cybele was eunuchs.
Furthermore, the belief in a resurrection of Attis cannot be traced until around the year 150, far too late to have influenced the Christian belief about resurrection.
Also, the stories of his supposed resurrection are far from similar. In one story, he comes back to life as an evergreen tree. In another, his hair continues to grow and his little finger moves a bit. Far from a miraculous, bodily resurrection account found in Christianity (Strobel, Case for the Real Jesus, p177)
Claim 3 - Caesar was called “Savior of the World” that he was “Seated at the right hand of the gods” he decreed that “there was no other name than Caesar by which a person could be saved” and that the common greeting was “Caesar is Lord”