Chapter 2: Nothing new under the sun

The Bible predicted that the church would quickly fall into error. Even in Paul’s time the evidence exists to show that churches, some under the guidance of the apostles, were straying from the true gospel.

It’s hardly suprising. The Israelites themselves – the original chosen people of God who saw God’s wonders and heard him speak – strayed dramatically towards the temptations of the pagan world.

Even before the church reached cosmopolitan Rome, converts were coming from a broad range of backgrounds, many struggling to leave their cultural roots behind.

But, when Emperor Constantine decided to adopt Christianity as the official Roman religion, the boundaries between Christianity and pagan beliefs, from Greece, Babylon, Assyria, Egypt and more, rapidly blurred.

The idea that Christianity conquered these pagan religions and wiped them out is a nice concept, but the reality is not as black and white.

In fact, a mass of evidence suggests that Rome, especially in the early days, simply incorporated many pagan customs and traditions into Christianity in order to win converts at the expense of significant compromise.

Indeed, the result arguably made Roman Christianity unrecognisable from that of the early church.

As a massively pagan empire, with multiple gods from multiple cultures, old habits die hard.

The big issue for Christians of any denomination is how much did these mystery religions seep into church tradition and where does God draw the line as to what’s acceptable? Is ignorance an excuse? Or should we know better?

Equally, when is ignorance more aptly described as ‘turning a blind eye’? And is following pagan practices in the way we worship God acceptable anyway, given that we know the god we are worshiping in our hearts?

It’s an understandable defence and ultimately God will be the judge. But, from my personal perspective, all I know is that I want to worship the One True God in a way that is fully befitting and that doesn’t provoke him to jealousy.

So what does God think of pagan worship anyway?
We know from the Bible that God is unchanging. So what does the Bible say he thinks about his chosen people adopting the pagan worship practices of other religions, either to worship false gods or to worship him?

I’ll include a handful of verses both below and in the footnotes, but the volume of verses on this subject is substantial and the answer is consistent and without doubt:

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations.”
Deuteronomy 18:9

“Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: “Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.”
Jeremiah 10: 1-5

Clearly, God isn’t a fan of the worship practices of other nations, and pagan sun worship is no exception: in fact he singles it out as the worst of the lot.

I’d recommend you read Ezekiel 8-10 in full. It is a prophesy of the actions God took against Israel as a result of abominations he saw taking place in his temple.

As well as placing idols in the temple, we see that God was particularly enraged by their worship of Tammuz (a Babylonian substitute for Jesus and son of Ishtar and Nimrod) and, most seriously, their worship of the rising sun to the east.

So serious did God view the abominations mentioned in these chapters, that his glory departed the temple.

“Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the LORD, and behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. Then he said to me, ‘Have you seen this, O son of man? You will see still greater abominations than these’. “And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord. And behold, at the entrance of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, worshiping the sun toward the east.”
Ezekiel 8 14-16

Interestingly, prior to bringing devastation and death to these idolators and sun worshippers, God then instructs his mighty angel:

“’Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.’ And to the others he said in my hearing, ‘Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark’.”
Ezekiel 9 4-6

Christians will no doubt notice that the ‘mark of God’ mentioned in Ezekiel 9:4 seems the polar opposite of the ‘mark of the beast’ spoken of in Revelation 13: 16-18, which the false prophet (who appears Christ-like, but tricks people into worshiping the image of the beast) uses to identify those destined for destruction.

So why is that relevant for us?
Well, what would you say if you discovered that sun worshipping practices like those the Israelites were guilty of in Ezekiel’s day, had quietly infiltrated Christianity, even though the bulk of Christians are blissfully unaware of it?

Let’s consider some history and make up our own minds.

Contrary to popular belief, Roman Emperor Constantine was not an entirely Christian emperor. In fact, evidence shows that he was also a dedicated follower of Sol Invictus, the sun god. In fact, according to some historical accounts, Constantine was only baptised as a Christian on his death bed.

His allegiance to Sol Invictus is reflected by inscriptions on Constantine’s coins (which feature the sun god’s name and image).

image00881
A coin of Constantine II, featuring Sol Invictus on the reverse.

Constantine even changed the sabbath from Saturday to ‘Sun-day’ in honour of the sun god.

On 7 March 321AD, he decreed that Sunday would be observed as the Roman day of rest. His edict reads:

“On the venerable ‘Day of the Sun’ let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.”

This was entered into law in 363AD, when Canon 29 of the Council of Laodicea prohibited observance of the Jewish Sabbath on the seventh day, and instead encouraged Christians to work on the Saturday and rest on Sunday.

The result? The sabbath becomes the opposite of God’s command: from day seven to day one.

Now, let me make it clear that I am not a Seventh Day Adventist or a member of any other religious group. As I understand it, the ‘day of rest’ of the Old Testament was transformed into constant rest by the grace of Jesus Christ.

Indeed, there is evidence of the apostles meeting and remembering Jesus on several days of the week, including the first day.

However, we cannot deny the historical fact that the sabbath was legally changed by Rome from God’s original seventh-day sabbath to Rome’s first-day sabbath, in honour of the false sun god.

In isolation, such a decision could be viewed as an coincidence and nothing to worry about. But the evidence of sun worship being knowingly introduced into early Christianity as it flourished under Rome goes far deeper.

In fact, the evidence is all around us if we care to look…

helios
This mosaic, which is named ‘Jesus as the Sun God’ on a Vatican website, can be found in St. Peter’s Necropolis, directly beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome.

necrop_sungod
A screenshot showing the Vatican description of the mosaic for its online virtual tour.
SolarApolloRomanfloormosaicEl DjemTunisialate2ndcentury
A Roman mosaic of Apollon-Sun, the sun god, from a 2nd century Roman mosaic in El Djem, Tunisia.

 

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