Monday, May 13, 2019

Jesus, Zeus, and the Romanization of Evangelicals

If I were to ask the typical Christian who the person is portrayed in this drawing to the left, the answer would be:

"That's Jesus Christ!"

It's amazing to me how many Christians have little or no understanding of history and blindly accept what others say about Jesus and the church.

The drawing to the left is not of Jesus.

It's a drawing of Serapis, the Egyptian Greco-Roman god representing Zeus, the god above all other gods. This ancient drawing now hangs in the British Museum in London.

But why would modern evangelicals identify an icon representing Serapis by the name Jesus?

Because when Constantine, Emperor of Rome, declared "Christianity" as the nation's religion, representations of Jesus were needed by Roman worshipers (or so Constantine and the bishops thought).

So eventually depictions of Serapis, who was the Greek god Zeus and the Roman counterpart Jupiter,  became the depictions of Jesus in the late 4th century Romanized Christian churches.

That's why Christians today think Jesus looks like Serapis.

Truth be known, Jesus was an average looking Hellenized Semitic man of the 1st century AD. He would have kept his hair very short and been clean-shaven and dark-skinned. Jesus might even have even been ugly, or at the very least, deemed unworthy physically by the culture of His day.

The ancient Hebrew Scriptures prophesied of the Messiah
"He has no form or comeliness, and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him." (Isaiah 53:2). 
Ironic is it not, that the modern church has turned Jesus into a Hollywood model with long, flowing hair, a beautifully kept beard, and the physique of a god?

Modern Christians have followed Rome and adopted the ancient Roman conception of the gods.

But that's not the only area where the modern church has followed ancient pagans.
1. Saturnalia and worship of "the birth of the Sun" in December became Christ Mass and  worship of "the birth of the Son." (Even modern Jews understand this historical fact). 
2. Roman pagan priests became Christian pastors, appointed by Constantine the Great.
3. Church order became Roman Temple order.
4. Women, who were so active in the early ekklesia, serving others as they were gifted by the Holy Spirit, were silenced by this appointed priesthood with "authority" over the people.
5. The catholic (universal) church became the Roman Catholic Church.
By the late 4th century AD, the ekklesia ("those called out by God's grace and gifted by the Spirit"), commonly called "the church," were now being led by appointed Roman powers who ruled "over" the "laity" with so-called "spiritual authority." These priests appointed by the Pontifex Maximus, the person who once held the highest position in the order of Jupiter, ruled over the ekklesia. 

Church ordination bestowed power over others to those ordained.

The Southern Baptist Convention has followed Rome with its concept of spiritual authority, and that is our major problem as a Convention. 

For the first three hundred years of Christianity, after the resurrection and ascension of Christ, Christians assembled in homes, catacombs, and anywhere else they could avoid persecution.

There was no "spiritual authority" in those days. Christ alone ruled over His people by the Spirit's indwelling presence in each believer. Ever believer served Christ's people as He gifted them.

Older men and women, humble in spirit and character, with years of faithful service behind them, became leaders in the early church. They were called "elders," which simply means "older" people.

That's why those gifted followers of Jesus Christ who are older and maintain a spirit of humility and an attitude of a servant should be in leadership positions in our churches today; regardless of gender.

Lydia in Philippi, Phillip's seven daughters in Caesarea, Phoebe, Priscilla, and many other women in the New Testament were early church leaders. The notion that you should silence a woman from teaching the Scriptures in the ekklesia is definitely more pagan and Roman than it is Christian.

Be a biblicist.

Be a follower of Jesus.

Don't follow Zeus.

And before you choose to take a stand on whether or not a woman with the gift of teaching should speak publicly in the ekklesia, ask yourself if you see Jesus in the photo above.

If you do, then you might need to evaluate your understanding of the church as well. Hierarchy of authority exists only where there are hearts of arrogance. 

Jesus explicitly taught in Matthew 23:8-11 (read it for yourself to see) that the only person who rules Christian communities is the Lord Himself.

Under Jesus, we are all equals. 

Jesus emphatically rejected the world's system of top-down governance by declaring, "It shall not be so among you" (Mark 10:43). "The greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matthew 23:11). 

There is no emphasis in the New Testament on authority that is derived from any "office" or position. 

Let me repeat that again: Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a Christian, because of title or position, has moral authority over another Christian. The idea of an 'office' of authority in the church, like that of the office of 'President of the United States,' simply does not exist. Christ alone has the position of authority in the church and He has no vicar on earth but His Spirit, who resides in the life of every believer.

So, called out and gifted men and women are free to serve as Christ leads. 

If you want your further information that will rock your Christian world about men and women in true Christianity, then listen to this video.

It is, as one commentator wrote, "Insanely good!"


Ken F said...

If what you say is true, the corruption was in place MUCH earlier than the 4th century. The earliest writings after the Apostles, starting late in the 1st century, deacribe the roles of bishops, priests, and deacons. When I started looking into church history I was surprised how early this started.

I am wondering if you could comment on the canonization of the NT, because it took a few centuries for Christians to universally agree on which books to include and exclude among the many letters and gospels in circulation in the first few centuries. If the church was already corrupt by then, it has startling implications on the canonization of the new testament.

Christiane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Josh in FL said...

Honest question: Knowing what we know about the origin of Christmas, how should one feel about celebrating it? Is Christ glorified giving him praise in a celebration originated in pagan ceremony?
Would love your thoughts.

Wade Burleson said...


I'm a Christmas fanatic! :) I play Christmas music year round (the lyrics are the best).

What I don't do is spiritualize Christmas or act like it is a day 'holier' than other days.

I celebrate the coming of the Messiah year-round and don't make a big issue of Christmas' pagan origins.

My style is to teach what I believe and leave it up to other people whether they follow pagan festivals and customs - and refrain from even speaking out - unless they FORCE me to follow with them.

Wade Burleson said...

Ken F.

There's a man mentioned in Acts 8:9-24 whose name is Simon Magus. Early church fathers believed him to be the originator of all gnostic heresies. It is known that he attempted to "buy the Apostle's power" from Peter (see Acts 8). Peter condemned him for wanting to purchase the power of the Spirit. Christian history tells us that Simon Magus went to Rome in the AD 41 and so stunned the Emperor with his "sleight-of-hand" tricks that he went on a tour of Italy. The Romans built a statue of him. Magus, who was a Samaritan, eventually returned to Samaria and corrupted both the early churches and Jewish synagogues with his amalgamation of Jewish, Christian, and pagan theology.

I believe that the corruption of church order prior to Constantine begins with Simon Magus.

Christiane said...

(?) yikes!
(oh my goodness!)

Hello Wade,
sounds like you might have used some 'interesting' resources concerning Simon the Magician, but I think you might be able to find more solid information concerning him from a study of his connection with 'Gnosticism'.

. The early Church had quite a time dealing with the Gnostic heresy, yes, along with a few other really interesting heresies . . . hence the need for the Councils and the Creeds.

Ken F said...

Hi Wade and Christiane,
Thanks for the feedback. In my evangelical protestant training I had been taught a view of the early church that was much like what Wade articulated here. But when I recently started diving into church history I discovered that that version of Christianity, if it ever existed, did not make it onto the history books. Rather, what history reveals is a church with formal clergy, liturgy, and sacraments right from the very beginning. This could be because the corrupt and apostate church had the power and means to expunge all traces of the real church. So far, so good, except it was this same corrupt and apostate church that canonized the new testament and developed all the ancient creeds that protestants afform. How can we trust they got the NT right (and perhaps a few creeds) but got just about everything else wrong? Something does not make sense in this.

I have spent a lot of time with learned Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox discussing these matters. They both have very convincing arguments for how the church got to be the way it is. I suspect their view is overly rosy, and that the protestant view I was taught was also overly rosy, but in the opposite way. It sounds to me like the truth is in the middle somewhere.

I also found that the Church has always been a mess, with each age wrestling with various struggles and attacks. I do believe they handed down to us the NT we are supposed to have. But for me to trust them with that, it makes me think I should not be quick to reject everything else they handed down.

In any case, investigating ancient sources has strengthened my faith.

Christiane said...

Hello Ken,

I enjoyed reading this:
"So far, so good, except it was this same corrupt and apostate church that canonized the new testament and developed all the ancient creeds that protestants affirm. How can we trust they got the NT right (and perhaps a few creeds) but got just about everything else wrong? Something does not make sense in this."

Maybe it's not supposed to make sense in our modernist ways of thinking, Ken. I don't think it CAN 'make sense'. :)
However troubled and broken people of faith are, when they gather together with good will towards one another, and sincerely from the heart call upon the Name of the Lord, you may well find that the sum of the whole will be 'greater than' its parts..... Ask those who work with troubled people who meet for prayer together if they have experienced the presence of peace and comfort in their midst. Sometimes the worse the trouble, the more powerful the sense of peace is felt.

But never was about 'making sense', no.

Is an old saying:
'si comprendis, non est Deus'

Bob Cleveland said...

Could you explain the thought behind the statement that Jesus was clean-shaven?


Wade Burleson said...

The Helenized Roman world prized clean shaven men. The culture of Jesus' day was a clean shaven culture. Even among the Jews, whose Hasmonean kings of the 1st century BC loved the Greek culture more than the Romans.

Christiane said...

Hello Wade and Bob Cleveland,

my Church stops short of declaring the Shroud of Turin as 'authentic' but the 'face' (as photographed in the negative) on the shroud is fascinating to look at in any case

Christiane said...

My all-time favorite ('Zeus'type) Christ iconography :)
the Jesus Christ Pantocrator (in the Hagia Sophia, Constantinople-Istanbul)

Christiane said...

from 5th century A.D.

I did notice that some of the engravings on the catacomb walls of The Good Shepherd do show Our Lord without a beard, in the manner of a youth.
Apparently, 'The Good Shepherd' theme in early Christian iconography was very popular when people buried their children.

everette said...

Wade, Christians have been celebrating December 25 since at least the late 2nd century; . This is due both to a Jewish tradition that prophets were conceived on the same date that they would later die, as well as to the early Christian tradition of commemorating the death of Jesus on March 25, which was the date of Passover for many years.

It's true that the Saturnalia originally extended to December 24 or 25, but by Imperial times, it had been shortened to three days, later lengthened to five under Caligula. Long after Christians had begun celebrating Christmas on Dec 25, the emperor Aurelian created the feast of Sol Invictus on that day--but this was likely a pagan reaction to Christmas rather than the reverse.

It's not unreasonable to claim that some of the Saturnalia festivities were later syncretized into Christian celebrations of Christmas, just as certain other pagan rituals became associated with the Church feast of All Hallows Eve. But the non-Roman ancient churches, such as the Ethiopian Orthodox, the Church of the East, and the Armenian church also celebrate Christmas on December 25, despite their early breach with Rome, and even though those countries never had any cult of Saturn. Finally, the early church had to operate under the radar, even when it wasn't openly persecuted. They would not have held large public celebrations of Christ's birth, much less try to turn it into an excuse to have wild parties.

It's fair to argue that the actual celebration of Christmas is pagan influences--i.e. the Christmas tree, the debauchery at Christmas parties, the crass commercialism--but this has nothing to do with the decision by the early church to celebrate the Nativity on December 25. On the contrary, it's more likely that had the church decided to celebrate Christ's birth in, say, April (when it likely occurred), that the feast day would have become equally corrupted by sin, as all human endeavors ultimately do.

Rex Ray said...


How in the world do you think “the typical Cristian” would think THAT PICTURE was Jesus?

Everyone knows that Jesus was a Jew that looked like a WHITE man. :)

everette said...

And not just any white man. A tall, skinny, pasty white man with stringy hair and a British accent.

Rex Ray said...


I love it!

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

If I were to ask the typical Christian who the person is portrayed in this drawing to the left, the answer would be:

"That's Jesus Christ!"

Mine would be "Some Caesar?"
(Though Zeus wouldn't be a bad guess.)
Just from that sketch, I recognize the style of Greco-Roman monumental sculpture.

Ken F said...

I was thinking Keith Green...

Christiane said...


was thinking that 'Christmas' has been a celebration for all seasons in a way: it has included St. Luke's narrative with angels and shepherds and the animals around the manger, a scene so dear to the hearts of many, it includes the wise men coming from afar, the wicked Herod, and the star.

It has been 'mis' celebrated, sure from the 'Lord of Mis-Rule' to the drunken office parties of our modern time. It has seen an excess of materialism which might have fed the thousands who die of starvation daily instead. It has celebrated the natural world AND the supernatural world using symbols: the evergreen tree (Germany), the wreath (eternity), the candles set and increasingly lit to show the coming of the light into the world ...

even the timing which was set by the Church has meaning drawn from nature AND YET also strangely biblical:
the winter solstice in December: from this point, the LIGHT will begin to increase in the world as days become more filled with sunlight in the northern hemisphere where the Bible was recorded;
and likewise the Church chose the summer solstice to celebrate the birth of John the Baptist because from this day, the light decreases as daylight grows gradually shorter and it was St. John the Baptist who declared:

"30 He must increase; I must decrease" (John 3:30)

so many other connections in the celebration of Christmas, syncretic perhaps to those who do not comprehend the sacramental nature of the Church in those early days where the natural world and the supernatural world met in the Person of Jesus Christ Who created it all and sustains it all and renews it all in salvation. . . . . so if we go 'overboard' in the celebration of Christmas, the beginnings of the 'celebration' are tied to the sacramental ways of prayer of the ones who started the celebration to whom 'nature' and time and seasons and symbols are closer to God in the sacramental understanding than to those who are more literally-minded and who draw from the beauty of the narrative of St. Luke for inspiration. So if the literally-minded Christian finds meaning in the symbolic and the natural at Christmas time, perhaps that is not so much 'pagan' after all, not if the symbols and the nature point Him to Christ, as the 'star' of old drew the wise men to Bethlehem. :)

Anonymous said...

Sadly you are correct, Baptists due indeed follow Rome in some ways that were not the way of the early church. For example, here are some years, not all, that the celebration of the Passover falls weeks off of when Resurrection Sunday (Easter) is celebrated. It is because of the changes that occurred in Catholic church to determine when Easter is to be celebrated. If you follow early church tradition, you will find Resurrection Sunday was ALWAYS celebrated after Passover. Oskar Skarsone states this in his book In the Shadow of the Temple. This next time this anomaly occurs is in 2024. Would love to see Reformed churches consider in following the Jewish way rather than the Gregorian way.