Kyle Dillon, a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and theology and Latin instructor at Westminster Academy in Memphis, has written a nice concise article on five false beliefs about Jesus at The Gospel Coalition. He briefly examines the popular alternative theories about Jesus, and provides some guidelines in responding to them. It is definitely worth the quick read. Here is a sample:
- Jesus the Pagan Myth
Though this theory has very little support among scholars today, it’s still quite popular on atheist websites (a student is therefore more likely to hear it from a classmate than a professor). The theory claims Jesus never existed as a historical figure. Rather, the stories of his birth, life, death, and resurrection were all
myths the early Christians borrowed from pagan mystery religions—such as the cults of Dionysus and Mithras—which allegedly predated Christianity by centuries.
The roots of the Christ-myth theory go back to 19th-century German scholars like David Strauss (1808–1874), who argued the New Testament (NT) is simply a collection of mythical retellings of Jesus’s life, and Bruno Bauer (1809–1882), who made the more radical claim Jesus never existed. The theory gained prominence for a time in the “History of Religions School” at the University of Göttingen, but began to decline during the 20th century as scholars examined the evidence more closely. (Richard Carrier and Robert Price still make this claim today, but even non-Christian scholars like Bart Erhman refute it.)
The general consensus today is that most of the alleged parallels between Christianity and the mystery religions are either non-existent (sometimes pure fabrications), coincidental, or anachronistic. In fact, there is no evidence pagan mystery religions existed in first-century Israel, and much of our evidence for them elsewhere dates to after the rise of Christianity. So if any borrowing did happen, it was probably the other way around. . . . Though there is no shortage of rival theories about Jesus, Christians need not feel threatened by them. With adequate preparation, engaging with the critics can actually deepen our faith and strengthen our relationship with the Lord who truly walked among us.
He covers four other popular false theories about Jesus including: the failed prophet, the moral philosopher, the violent revolutionary, and the ahistorical existentialist. He then concludes with how “Christian scholars have developed several credible ways of responding to these counterfeit portraits of Christ.” (Got to love the alliteration in that sentence).