Is the Incarnation of Jesus Based on Pre-Existing Gnostic Savior Myths?

NATIVITY.JPGThe doctrine of the incarnation is the central point of Christianity. It is the belief that the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Logos, the Son of God, became flesh. He was miraculously conceived in the Theotokos (The Mother of God, Mary). Christians hold that Jesus was fully God and fully man.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. John1:14

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. Colossians 2:9

There is the claim by some, maybe you have heard this, that the story of the incarnation is based on older non-Christian tales. Hearing this can makes us doubt the truth proclaimed by the Church for two millennia. The question arises in the hearts of some whether the Church’s tradition; scripture, councils, saints, icons and liturgy are based on a lie or some fairy tale. Do away with the incarnation and there are no hooks left to hang any trust in the claims of Jesus Christ about Himself, His teachings on Love and creation. In fact, doing away with the incarnation changes Christianity into Hinduism. For some reason Christians themselves are often the first to embrace the doubts. Maybe we have decided that there must be more to the story of Jesus. Maybe we have decided that He is simply to good to be true.

David Bentley Hart in “The Beauty of the Infinite” remarks that Rudolf Bultmann’s “Jesus Christ and Mythology,” “reproduces an error that the story of the incarnation obeys the dramatic morphology of certain preexisting gnostic savior myths; this is, however, at best extremely speculative: not only is there no evidence of such myths in existence prior to Christianity, the only Gnostic systems in which such myths appear (and they are fewer than one might imagine) are those that have been demonstrably influences by Christian thought.” (Notes, page 23)

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9 responses to “Is the Incarnation of Jesus Based on Pre-Existing Gnostic Savior Myths?

  1. mike havens

    The virgin birth was not only talked about in gnostic
    circles but it goes back to even mesopotanian myths and earlier. This I learned on the History channel. The way I figure it is that the devil knows scripture better than any of us and so he put the myths into place in other cultures to try and deceive the elect.

  2. Hmm… well first off, the tradition of incarnation in Western religious myths is extremely well established historically. This “no evidence” claim seems willfully naive.

    That being said, so what? If one accepts an historical reality of the Incarnation of Christ, how is that compromised by an ancient myth or two?

    This suggests that if a modern, real and existing person quotes a fictional Shakespearean character that somehow it calls into question the historical reality of the person reading the play. It seems like a silly argument to me.

  3. s-p

    Yep. Bill Moyers made this popular. This is a common “athiests argument” against the Christian faith being the “only true religion”. It seems if they can point out similarities between other faiths and Christianity it somehow makes Christianity false. In my mind it goes back to creation: if we are created in the Image of God and have within us the innate understanding of what God is and does then it should not suprise us that pagan religions have myths that are similar to Christian truth. If someone says to me, “Did you know the Egyptians had a myth of a virgin birth?” or “Did you know that Patagonians have a myth about a resurrected god/man?” I’d say, “Well, I’ve never read them personally, but I’d be suprised if the DIDN’T have one…” The Orthodox church acknowledges that a pagan who is “spiritually minded” will find a “shadow of the truth” within nature, himself and will make up gods that have an element of the true God. BUT, what is missing is the “reality” of God’s revelation of Himself in Christ, born of a virgin, lived, died and raised from the dead etc. THAT is what is so powerful about Christianity, it says what people suspect is true and made up fables, stories and myths about, IS INDEED true and is real. As Hebrews says, it is the substance of the shadows. We have what everyone is seeking. The Moyers show really sent a lot of Christians off the deep end thinking Christianity was just another myth and fable. Too bad they didn’t think just a little bit longer….

  4. Chris M. Purdef

    “Ye shall know them by their fruits…”

  5. Lenore

    The “God-shaped void”

  6. Mark

    which story has endured – surely that must tell us something

  7. Kerry Patrick San Chirico

    Padre, what does it mean for Christianity to turn into Hinduism in the absence of the Incarnation? As a scholar of Hinduism, I’d like to understand what you mean.

    My Best from India,

    Kerry

    • Fr. James Coles

      Kerry, love hearing that you are in India. Hope you are well. I passed through Kolkata and spent some time in the seven sister states (mostly Assam) about 11 years ago. I led a conference training Christian youth workers right before heading off to Saint Vladimir’s.

      Thank you for your comment asking about what I meant when I said that without the incarnation Christianity becomes Hinduism. I regret having said that. It was never my intention to speak about Hinduism but rather to discuss the incarnation of Christ in Christianity. It was a stupid thing to say about Hinduism and shows not only my ignorance but a lack of focus on my topic. It is not the first time I have used a shotgun when what was called for was a dart. Forgive, Fr. James

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