How Did Christianity Start?

I’m wading through books and web material from two writers of religious books.  One is from a large state university’s Department of Religion.  He has spent his career studying and writing about the Bible for both the public and academic peers.  He is an agnostic.

The other is a preacher who is a popular author, does lectures and is in public exchanging ideas with broad audiences. He has sound academic credentials as well. He is a believer, but falls into the liberal end of the spectrum, far from literalism.

I’m curious as to whether I, a rank amateur, can discern where these two professionals split, one coming down on disbelief, the other belief.  This  would be easy if one were a literalist and the other a nonbeliever.  But both reading the Bible with skepticism, I’ve wondered why, how or when did they come to different conclusions?

While, I’ve only read some of their works,  it seems to boil down to what each believes about the accounts Jesus was alive after he was dead.

One wrote once a person accepts a dead person coming back to life, the door is wide open to embellishment and myth.  But if the resurrection story is considered merely one of the many hero-comes-back-to-life stories, the rest of Jesus goes hollow.

The agnostic professor refers to followers of Jesus who “claimed” to see him alive.  The preacher is not so sure how it happened, but is sure did.

Where they split isn’t much different than the rest of us.

Avatar of Jon Lindgren

About Jon Lindgren

I am a former President of the Red River Freethinkers in Fargo, ND, a retired NDSU economics professor and was Mayor of Fargo for 16 years. There is more about me at Wikipedia.com.
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58 Responses to How Did Christianity Start?

  1. Avatar of Grandma Grandma says:

    Wasn’t monotheism borrowed from the Egyptians?
    And wasn’t the flood story borrowed from the Sumerians?

    • Avatar of Dustin White Dustin White says:

      Monotheism really wasn’t borrowed here. The Egyptians did have a short experiment with it, but it was largely erased from their records. And there really is no actual influence that one can see here.

      Monotheism actually sprouted up in different areas as well. In Persia, Zoroastrianism was a monotheistic religion that predated the Jewish monotheistic view. For Judaism though, it was more the product of trying to separate themselves (the Hebrews) from their neighbors. In order to unite themselves, they had a single God. It really was a long process.

      As for the flood story, ideas were borrowed from the Sumerians. However, it is a bit more than that. What really happened was what happens in every culture. We take stories from our lives, and we include them in the new ideas that we have. Same with this flood story. It was a story that they knew, but they changed it (and really, nearly everyone did. There are many versions of this story) to suit their needs. It was, after all, recognized as a mythological story, and in that, was meant to relate a truth. The truth wasn’t that the Earth flooded, but something much deeper.

      • Stanta says:

        Dustin, read the Michael Michner historical fiction “the Source”. It deals with a family that lived in area of Isreal since the beginning of farming rather then herding. Wonderful description of the beginning of monotheism and it’s relationship with the other religions over the millennia.

        Fascinating and well researched for the time it was published. Relevant even today if you look at the general overview and skip what could be minor inaccuracies.

      • More than 200 flood stories, originally reported by various missionaries, anthropologists, and ethnologists.

        While the differences are not always trivial, the common essence of the stories is instructive as compiled below:
        1.Is there a favored family? 88%
        2.Were they forewarned? 66%
        3.Is flood due to wickedness of man? 66%
        4.Is catastrophe only a flood? 95%
        5.Was flood global? 95%
        6.Is survival due to a boat? 70%
        7.Were animals also saved? 67%
        8.Did animals play any part? 73%
        9.Did survivors land on a mountain? 57%
        10.Was the geography local? 82%
        11.Were birds sent out? 35%
        12.Was the rainbow mentioned? 7%
        13.Did survivors offer a sacrifice? 13%
        14.Were specifically eight persons saved? 9%

        Putting them all back together, the story would read something like this:

        Once there was a worldwide flood, sent by God to judge the wickedness of man. But there was one righteous family which was forewarned of the coming flood. They built a boat on which they survived the flood along with the animals. As the flood ended, their boat landed on a high mountain from which they descended and repopulated the whole earth.

        • Avatar of Dustin White Dustin White says:

          Michael- And the all occur at different times, and have very different messages that are meant to be portrayed. If we were to take the stories all seriously, then we would literally have had dozens of times in which the entire world flooded, as they are all set in different times. Yet, there is no record of that. In fact, while one flood is supposedly happening, we have records of other people writing flood stories that supposedly happened hundreds of years before. One simply can’t have them both.

          • Stanta says:

            How accurate was the time keeping back then. I seem to remember native American history as “many moons ago”. Even today in most of the world people are less concerned with what day/month/year it is then we are.

          • Avatar of Dustin White Dustin White says:

            Stanta- Some of the time keeping was quite accurate. Yes, in their oral tradition, it was often vague for one reason or another, but at the same time, many of these cultures also had written records including detailed calendars.

            In addition, we can look at archeological and anthropological records to get a better understanding of the time periods being talked about.

        • Avatar of Grandma Grandma says:

          Flood stories should not be viewed as support of the current Christian Bible, but instead of a result of people needing to live near a source of water. Almost every culture has flood stories because almost every culture has survived devastating floods.

    • entech says:

      Grandma, anthropology shows a whole mish-mash of stories, all related so that it would be difficult to get a real chronology, sufficient to say it is all an early attempt or attempts to make sense of a mysterious world. Much better and coherent explanations are available now, even if they are still a ‘work in progress’, mistakes in observations are still being found and theories changed in line with new knowledge.
      It is a strange phenomena that so many people cling to ancient superstition and try to explain recent knowledge in terms of antediluvian concepts.

  2. Henry says:

    Jon: “How Did Christianity Start?”

    It started with Jesus Christ.

    • Stanta says:

      Like:-)

    • “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”(Genisis 3:15)

      The first hint of the coming Savior and God redeeming His world.

      That was not the first religion, however. That goes back just a bit further:

      “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”(Genisis 3:5)

      This is the beginning of humanism, modernism, and atheism. This is your heritage. It was started by the serpent, a.k.a. Satan.

    • entech says:

      Brief, succinct and remarkably , for you, unbiased and correct.

      Please don’t read any acceptance of a divine aspect, Jesus was just a man.

      • Henry says:

        “Jesus was just a man.”

        Doesn’t wash. He was man and God who fulfilled the Protoevangelium.

        • entech says:

          Believe what you like, doesn’t make it so.
          Deny what you like, doesn’t make it false.
          Just need a simple demo, in hospital heard lots of anguished cries for help from God and Jesus. Actually it was always the doctors and nurses that seemed to appear.

          Looking backwards to find something to explain something that has already happened is not prophecy.
          When Einstein laid out his theories there was no way to test them, only what the result should be, technology eventually verified his predictions. That is prophecy – protoevamumbojumbo is just that, mumbo jumbo.

          • Henry says:

            “Just need a simple demo,”

            John 20:29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

          • entech says:

            Quoting the words people who all believed anyway is not a demo, just self confirming.

            I could quote any number of well known vehemently anti religious atheists, because they all say things that confirm what the others say means only that they all believe the same thing. The same with scriptural quotations it only proves that the writers all believed the same thing, says absolutely nothing about the validity of the belief itself.

          • Henry says:

            You missed the context. I will give you a pass under the circumstances.

          • entech says:

            Context? What context are you speaking of? You choose to believe that all the things attributed to people that believe as you do are true and accurate. I say choose but it more like a desperation to show you are a product of a special creation, especially for you.
            I find it it difficult to believe almost any of it, it is just the words of the deluded confirming the delusions of others.

            I love the way you have usurped the word Scripture to have some special meaning for your words, as if to give them an unwarranted validity – it actually is a generic word meaning writing. Scripture and quotes from Tom, Dick and Harry have no more claim on truth than the words written in the Avesta, Veda, Gita or the Analects of Confucius.

          • Henry says:

            entech: “Quoting the words people who all believed anyway is not a demo, just self confirming.”

            The “scripture” was not characterized as a “demo” as you inferred, making it out of context.

            You still get a pass. You have been through hell.

    • Avatar of Grandma Grandma says:

      Hmmmm. Didn’t it start with the Jews?

  3. Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

    WONDERFUL NEWS. I’m delighted to pass along to everyone I just received a private message from our friend, entech David. He had emergency quad heart bypass but is now comfortable and recovering. He said he is not up to posting here yet, but hopes to again in time.
    He said he could not help but ask me to poke some here with these two items. First, the socialized medicine care was excellent. Second, while he was was unconsious and in danger during heart failure, he listened and looked but neither saw nor heard angels. He was delighted, however, to open his eyes and see an angelic nurse taking care of him.
    David, I’m hoping you read this. Best of recovery from all of us here. :)

  4. Stanta says:

    I would Love to read more from the theologian minister. Could you give us his name please. I have to agree with his statement on the resurrection. Many, even hundreds of those witnessed a risen Christ were martyred when all they had to do is renounce Him. I cannot believe this loyalty could be given by people who just “think” they saw him.

    Mass hysteria where more then one person saw him at one time and gave the exact same accounting has never been proven in any other instance in history, science has pretty proven that. According to the accounts, he spoke to and with the witnesses teaching and answering question. Several times they were able to touch him and he even eat with them. Cooking breakfast for the disciples Himself once.

    • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

      Stan 4:30 “According to accounts, he spoke to and with the witnesses…”

      According to accounts, vast numbers of corpses opened up their graves and walked out. WHAT??? It’s obvious, to me anyway, the “accounts” were made up after investment in the super natural event. No super natural, no accounts.

    • Avatar of Dustin White Dustin White says:

      Stanta- We don’t have many reports of this. The mass reports are centered on Paul, and he is just repeating what he heard. As for the disciples, it is quite clear that a number of them doubted, as when we are told of their later activity, we only hear about a few.

      Even more troublesome though is that we have other individuals who are said to have come back from the dead as well, yet those accounts are often dismissed as mythological. Why is it that this one exception is made for Jesus, yet it is denied when it comes to another individuals?

      I would agree that something definitely happened. Some of the disciples, and other followers believed they saw the risen Jesus. However, historically speaking, the resurrection can not be verified for the simple reason that it would be considered a miracle, and by definition, the least likely thing to occur. At the same time, history can not rule out the resurrection, but just point out that it is improbable, not impossible.

      • Stanta says:

        I am not being critical here Dustin, just trying to understand. Do you believe in a resurrected Christ? If not, how can you be planning on becoming ordained? What will you tell church members when they ask questions? The Bible is wrong more then right?

        Not very confidence building.

      • Avatar of Grandma Grandma says:

        One should also remember that descriptions of the death were written several hundred years after the supposed event.

  5. Chuck says:

    We need to remember that the disciples, like many of us today, were doubters. They had lived and travelled with Jesus, watching the many miracles he performed and the wisdom he possessed. Yet they were rather skeptical about Jesus being the Son of God. That changed completely after the resurrection. Every one of the remaining disciples were then very willing to die for their Christian beliefs and most of them ultimately were imprisoned and did die for those beliefs. They no longer had a fear of death, there were obviously no more doubts in their minds. Their newfound convictions were the basis for a new religion. This tells us a lot.

    • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

      Chuck 8:10 Thanks for the first-time post. Sorry about the delay in getting it up on the board.

      That the disciples reportedly got on board with Jesus as SuperHero instead of just itinerate preacher, of course, depends on the accuracy of the resserection story. Once people came to believe the ressurection story, the other stories of what people said and did would have changed.

      That was kind of the point of the two views I discussed in the blog. If the resurrection story is a myth, every story based on it is myth as well.

    • Avatar of Dustin White Dustin White says:

      Chuck- Many people are willing to die for a number of reasons. We often see members of cults who are willing to die for their leader, and often do believe that those leaders are gods or Jesus. The fact that they are willing to die does not make their beliefs any more true.

      Also, we don’t know what the majority of the disciples did after the supposed resurrection. We only have a mention of very few of them, and it is quite likely that a number simply didn’t believe and returned home. There definitely was some doubt.

      Finally, their convictions did not start a new religion. Christianity remained a part of Judaism until well after the disciples died. And really, it tells us nothing anyway. Religions rise up quite often; however, the manner in which they are formed does not give them any more credibility.

  6. Wanna B Sure says:

    Not so much as to “How Did Christianity Start”, (a mechanical question), but why. (A spiritual question). I fully expect non-spiritual answers, such as political power and authority, also manipulation, etc., not relevent to the spiritual question, and void of Christology.

  7. You are digging worms instead of fishing. Read the book of Acts for the true beginnings of the Chrisian faith.

  8. .e says:

    “Not so much as to “How Did Christianity Start”, (a mechanical question), but why. (A spiritual question). I fully expect non-spiritual answers, such as political power and authority, also manipulation, etc., not relevent to the spiritual question, and void of Christology.”

    This thinking reminds me of the globalization theory. That there have been a small group manipulating the world for power and authority. Most people are so selfish I can see no way to do this over any length of time with no identification of the players. The early Christians were not powerful in a political sense. Many of the leaders were killed for thier faith. How does this jive?

    • Wanna B Sure says:

      .e; I think you miss the point. (If I understand your post’s intention). Not the “how”, but the “why”. The Christology in the “why”. Consider John 3:16. Non-belief would center on the” how” as a talking point, and deny the “why.”

    • Wanna B Sure says:

      Ask : “Why” did early Christianity grow and flurish in spite of the danger of being martyred, or persecuted. It certainly wasn’t for political power. Indeed, the martyers were evidence as to the “why”.

    • Wanna B Sure says:

      The Lukan account of the Book of Acts contains much of the “why”, and some “how”.

    • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

      .e 11:41 re: not so much as to how, but why…many leaders were killed for their faith…

      I would say you are talking about the spread of Christianity, not its start. What I was talking about was the single event in the story that turned Jesus from what he obviously was, an itinerate apocalyptic (the world will end any day now) Jewish preacher, into a “god”. It happened when someone(s) started claiming he came back to life. That is to say, without that claim, the Jesus character would have remained just another of the many itinerate preachers.

      • Wanna B Sure says:

        Now Jon turns the Gospel, (The Good News) of the here and now, continuing into the future into an apocalypse, (in today’s current usage). I can see why he is so conflicted. Much like a child looking in through the window of a candy store, thinking to himself; “If I can’t have any, neither can anyone else. It’s not real candy anyway” Not seeing the dish of free samples on the counter. As the anger swells up inside him as he walks away.

        • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

          Wanna 2:54 “As the anger swells up inside him as he walks away.”

          I’m trying to follow you here. Are you saying when someone(s) claimed Jesus popped up from being dead it had no effect on the Jesus character being thought of in a different way, i. e., if no one had made that claim things would have turned out the same?

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            The “if” is your problem.

          • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

            Wanna 3:16 “The ‘if’ is your problem.”

            My problem?? As entech so eloquently explained, the faith world is one where a window into openness to doubt and inquiry is closed. Wondering whether or not these Bible stories have any truth to them and if they turned out not to be true, where things would stand now are not available for debate. “If” is a real problem for the faithful.

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            Jon; I said it first. Nothing original from you, other than “if” to create and sustain doubt. Bound.

          • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

            Wanna 7:52 “…other than ‘if’ to create and sustain doubt.”

            Where there is certainty, it is impossible to “create and sustain doubt”. Are you admitting there, acutally, is not certainty?

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            Ah, the attack of Mr. twister. Certainty is part and parcial of the martyers, which continues on down today in the faithful. No “if” there. Weak Jon, very weak.

          • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

            Wanna 8:15 “Certainly is part and parcial of the martyers, which continue on down today in the faithful. No “if” there.”

            What on earth do martyers have to do with whether or not the events protrayed in the Bible actually happened or not. Countless people have been killed for being nonbelievers. Does that “prove” the events in the Bible, or whatever other religion killed them, is false? There have been martyers for other religions. Does that prove those religions are “true”?

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            Jon; “And they made plans to trap him in his own words”. Very crafty Jon, but once again you are revealed as one with whom no constructive dialogue is possible .

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            Jon; missing the point———again.

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