Does The Bible Use or Copy Stories From Old Myths, Religions or Legends?

by Robert Driskell · Print Print · Email Email

One of the skeptic’s favorite arguments against Christianity is their claim that much of the Bible is based on old pagan myths.  They claim that the Bible is merely the collection, and adaptation, of these myths by Christians.  These skeptics say that, far from being the written Word of God, the Bible is simply a retelling of ancient superstitions and legends.  They claim that the Christian message, as well as other biblical material, is merely a myth which was co-opted from one of the many religions floating around at the time.

The goal of these skeptics is clear; if the Bible can be proved to simply be a collection of myths, legends, and fables, the God of the Bible is simply a figment of human imagination.  This make-believe god would not deserve to be listened to, much less worshiped and obeyed.  Therefore, humanity could do as they please, make their own rules, and calm their guilt with the theory that the only god who exists is one of our own imagination.

Do these unbelievers have a point?

Noah and Gilgamesh

In the Old Testament, the Bible gives the account of a man named Noah [seems there is a movie, loosely based on the story of Noah, that has gotten a lot of attention of late], and his family, who survived God’s judgment of the entire population of earth.  This judgment came in the form of a massive flood that would destroy, “…man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens…” (Genesis 6:7 ESV, see also Genesis 7:21-23).  The Bible treats this flood as a fact (I Chronicles 1:4).  Prophets spoke of Noah (Isaiah 54:9; Ezekiel 14:14, 20).  The writer of Hebrews spoke of Noah as a historical figure (Hebrews 11:7).  Even the Lord Jesus Christ, who was certainly not mistaken, considered Noah to be a real figure of biblical history (Matthew 24:37, 38; Luke 3:36, 17:26, 27).

Nevertheless, the aforementioned skeptics claim that the biblical account of Noah is simply a retelling of the legend of Gilgamesh. They say that this legend is older, possibly dating back to the third millennium B.C., than the Bible’s record of Noah and therefore the Bible must have simply retold the Gilgamesh tale.  Atheists point to this writing as proof positive that the Genesis account in the Bible is merely one of many fabricated stories, or fables, in the Bible.

Jesus and Mithra

Atheists also attempt to use the alleged similarities between Christianity and the myth of the god Mithra to say that Christianity is a false belief. They claim that Christianity is merely a religion based on the age old Persian religion of Mithraism. They claim that the Christian beliefs about Jesus are actually taken from the myth of Mithraism and are really pointing to the god Mithra.

However; although the Persian version of Mithraism had its origin around 1400 BC, that version of Mithraism does not remotely resemble the story of Jesus.  It is the Roman version of Mithraism that has even the slightest similarities with the life of Jesus. Nevertheless; the Roman version of Mithraism did not appear until the first or second century AD…well after the time of Jesus and the founding of His church.  The time-line simply does not allow for the idea that the accounts of Jesus’ life were simply based on the Mithras legend, to be true.

The explanation

The fact that there are similarities in these accounts should not surprise us. Consider this: if the Genesis Flood and the life of Jesus really happened as the Bible records, then stories and rumors would be circulating like crazy through a world that transmitted much of its information by word of mouth.  Those who rejected the true accounts of Jesus would simply construct false stories which would contain bits of truth.  Steve Ham writes, “We would expect to find common accounts of history (such as the creation and the Flood) within the stories and traditions of today’s people groups that once lived together in one place after the great Flood.  Given years of cultural diversity as mankind spread throughout the world, it is also not surprising that these stories have taken on their own cultural influences in the retelling” (Ham, p. 60).

One of the skeptic’s favorite arguments against Christianity is their claim that much of the Bible is based on old pagan myths.

One of the skeptic’s favorite arguments against Christianity is their claim that much of the Bible is based on old pagan myths.

Those close to Jesus would know the true story, but those who ignored the truth, would only be hearing part of it. This would leave them to fill in the blanks using their imaginations.  History has shown us that we are very good at constructing gods that approve of our own lusts and desires.

While we cannot prove that the biblical account is the true record of history in all its details, skeptics cannot prove otherwise.  Nevertheless, the facts are explained better by the idea that the Bible contains the truth and contradicting stories are merely distortions of that truth.  The Bible tells us that we are all descendant from the same people, Noah’s family, therefore the account of Noah would naturally be in our collective memories and backgrounds.

However, those who rejected God and His ways, fell away from the Godly line of humanity.  It was through this Godly line of people that God preserved the truth, whether written down or by oral transmission.   Regardless, it makes much more sense to understand the Bible’s account of the Flood as true and competing accounts as derivations of that record.

The same is true concerning the comparison of the mythical Mithra and the biblical account of Jesus.  The Roman religion of Mithraism, the version that contains any similarities at all to the life of Jesus, appeared after Jesus lived and died; therefore, it is impossible for the biblical account of Jesus’ life to have been constructed from the pagan religion of Mithraism.

Conclusion

Jesus really lived and really did what the Bible says He did; He provides the only true way to forgiveness and a relationship with God.  It is my prayer that more people will search the Bible, find out who Jesus really is and what He is like, believe in Him and be forgiven of their sins.  God’s Holy Spirit is a powerful witness to the truth of the Bible.  This witness will convince one of the truth of God’s Word, give one the ability to live for God, and protect one from false ideas, such as myths, legends, and fables that would lead one away from God.  Remember, God began writing the history of humanity on day one of Creation, long before any other competing stories existed.

Related reading: How Do We Know the Bible is True?

Resources – Ham, Steve.  “Is Genesis a Derivation from Ancient Myths?” in How Do We Know the Bible is True? General Editors: Ken Ham and Bodie Hodge. Master Books, 2011.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelli Jones May 28, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Read through a friends blog.

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DocReits May 29, 2014 at 2:45 am

Hey Robert,

You touch on a very interesting topic,

There are many myths in different societies about the virgins and their ‘god’ children. Stories of these god-men, like Hercules, for example, were understood by most to be myth of legend and not real people, walking upon the earth. Some disagree.

Contrasted to Jesus and His contemporaries wherein we have eye-witness accounts, hundreds of extant manuscripts of Jesus’s life, death and Resurrection, and historical extra-Biblical records of Jesus’s life. We only recently(1961) even have such evidence as Pontius Pilate’s life:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilate_Stone

Here is the man who sentenced Jesus to death, giving corroborative witness to the Biblical account of his existence as prefect in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’s sentencing.

My point is that Jesus was/is “real”, not myth. We know this by His witness within us for His Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God(Rom 8:16). We know Him and more importantly, He knows us, and calls us by name. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.(Isa 43:1).

I have often thought that it has been God, through His Holy Spirit, bearing witness to His Great Plan of Salvation, through the method of imprinting His Plan upon the hearts of all men. This then has “become manifest” in these different(although aberrant) behaviors of worship of these virgin born “gods” throughout time, pointing to the True God, Jesus Christ.

That is just speculation, but it does(to me) help explain different cultures worshiping a child, and having similar symbolism, such as a cross, in their worship. All of these things pointing to the True Light.

Bottom line, we are blessed in having God’s fuller revelation, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16). In the end, that reality, for the Christian, dispels any myth…;-)

Blessings,

DocReits

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Robert May 29, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Greetings Doc,
Thanks again for reading and commenting. You’ve hit on something that I too believe, and believe to be biblical. That is, that the knowledge of God is present within everyone. It seems that this is what John is saying in John 1:9 when he writes, “That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (KJV). The ESV puts it this way, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” Of course, this verse is talking about Jesus and seems to be saying (if you read on from this verse) that everyone, in some way, knows enough truth to be culpable.

Another verse that seems to me to be important to this topic is John 16:8. Jesus is telling His disciples that the Holy Spirit (the Comforter, the Helper) will come into the world after Jesus leaves. Jesus says, “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (KJV). Again, the ESV (which I like quite a bit) puts it this way, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment”.

These passages, along with I Timothy 2:4 which says that God desires all men to be saved and II Peter 3:9 which says that God wants everyone to repent and none to perish, points to the idea that everyone knows enough to know they are accountable to a higher power and that they should investigate just what that means.

One other verse that supports this theory is Romans 2:15 which tells us that Gentiles (non-Jews who do not have the written Law) have the law written on their hearts. God has imprinted the knowledge of Himself, and His moral law, on the consciences of humanity.

Doc, you always make me think a bit deeper on these topics, and I really appreciate it. Iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). Let me know what you think. God bless you.

Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Robert May 29, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Doc,
I just remembered that I had written this article that touches on the same subject. \http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/do-atheists-really-believe-there-is-no-god/
Yours in Christ,
Robert

Reply

Bagheera Burnhous July 16, 2017 at 9:33 am

So is it your contention that the Epic of Gilgamesh is a retelling of the Biblical account of the great flood? There are many more similarities between stories in the Bible and ancient beliefs, from the creation at the beginning of the Old Testament, to the life, death, and resurrection of a “savoir” or “messiah”. Claiming the Bible it’s the true and accurate telling of the history of man from God, and that any story from ancient mythology is based upon stories from the Bible, shows a lack of comprehension of theology.
I’m not saying the Bible is a reconstruction of ancient stories that’s been altered to fit with the time it was written. I am simply saying that someone cannot say something is a fact, based on their beliefs, when there is no conclusive supporting evidence to that truthfulness of that belief.
I cannot prove the Bible is just a bunch of stories based off the beliefs of ancient societies, but on the same note, you cannot prove that it isn’t.
The major downfall of every religion in the world today is the brief “I’m right, and everyone else is wrong.” If all religions started saying “I BELIEVE I’m right, and everyone else is wrong, but I might be wrong and everyone else might be right” peace and prosperity would finally be known by all the world because they would finally realize without solid proof, none off us will ever know who’s right or wrong until this life ends, and to cast our fellow man out because of different beliefs that can neither be proven or disproven, is simply assanine.

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Jack Wellman July 16, 2017 at 12:30 pm

Thank you for your comment my friend. We don’t have to prove to you or anyone that the Bible is true. That is the Spirit of God’s work, so not all religions are “I’m right and your wrong” but Jesus is the One and only way to the Father (John 6:44) and He is the only way and the only truth and the only life. Since Jesus is God and God cannot lie, then He needs to have no one prove He exists. All men do (Rom 1:29-22). Even you do but won’t admit it. Christianity is not as much a religion as it is a relationship, so if it seems narrow minded to you, be thankful that if there is only one way, but that there is anyway at all to be saved, and unless you believe and repent, you will die with the wrath of God on you (John 3:6). Those are Jesus’ words, not mine. Believe them and live or face God’s wrath (Rev 20:12-15).

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