Tuesday, June 23

God and gods

As a classics minor in college I did all sorts of studying on ancient cultures and languages and the history of them. Something I always wondered about, but was never able to get an answer on, was, "Why did the worship of pagan gods drop off so steeply in the (western/ near eastern) world after Christ?"

You might think, oh, well that is fairly obvious, Christianity pushed them out. It was the whole, "You shall not have any other gods before me." commandment. (Exodus 20:3) That, while most likely partially true, never really seemed like it answered the question for me. That command, while applicable to Christians, was given to the young nation of Israel 800ish years before Christ.

Another reason I wonder about this that the Greek and Roman gods are effectively the same. And it's not just that, Ashtoreth (Ashera), to the Phoenicians, and Ishtar, to the Babylonians and Assyrians, is Venus to the Greeks and Aphrodite to the Romans. (She was the goddess of fertility) The point here being that some of those gods had a very long run as gods worshiped by man in the (western/near eastern) ancient world. It's not like some of them were "just worshiped by the Romans". (Which would explain them "dying out" as Christianity moved in, but they have a longer running history than that.)

I believe it comes down to power. In Exodus 7 Aaron "throws down" his staff in front of Pharaoh and it becomes a snake. Pharaoh is unimpressed and calls in his "wise men" and they do their thing, and throw down their staffs and they turn into snakes. The evidence here is that worship of these ancient deities (no matter what name they were worshiped under) was powerful. There was something to be gained and I think "magic" and elemental influence (weather, land, etc) was effectively the draw in the worship of these old gods. (People wouldn't worship something if they didn't think there wouldn't be a result.)

Because of the above I've always found myself wondering, "What happened?" to those gods and the ancient power. Why doesn't that translate after Christ? I finally think I have my answer. (I seriously have been thinking about this, off and on, for the past 4 years)

Lets start in Luke 4:
"And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." And Jesus answered him, "It is written,
"'You shall worship the Lord your God,
and him only shall you serve.'"" -Luke 4:5-8 (ESV) emphasis added

Verse 4:6 is where I want to focus. In another translation: "And the devil said to Him, "I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish."" (NASB) Yes the devil lies, but partial truths are also just as damaging sometimes. Here in Luke 4:6 Jesus doesn't argue with Satan.

Now lets flash forward to the end of Jesus' ministry on Earth. After He had died and risen again He spoke to the disciples (right before the "Great Commission") and said, "... "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." (Matthew 28:18 (NASB)) It looks to me what Jesus is saying here is that the Earth is no longer Satan's house. Things are going to be different now because of the ultimate sacrifice He made.

Now, don't get me wrong here, Satan still has power. I think though that the power he had back in the ancient world has been broken since the resurrection of Christ, which is why we no longer see wide spread worship of those ancient deities anymore. They lack the power they once had.

This is a working theory and rough at best. There is most likely a lot more supporting evidence in many different places, but I haven't dug it up. I'm sure someone could probably write a whole book on the subject. (If they haven't already) My little "disclaimer" is that this is an imperfect idea and there are bound to be general flaws in the thinking, it hasn't gone through any refinement. I feel like for me, however, that this is an answer to a question that I have been looking for.



  1. That's an interesting theory. I wonder if Satan also tried a different tactic after Jesus ascended. Before Jesus, humans only had contact with the gods (and God) indirectly. But with Jesus' birth you've got the Deity of the universe walking around downtown Jerusalem. I wonder if the direct contact with God supercharged the early Christians so much that it made other religions seem pale by comparison.

    I do think that Satan changed tactics after that. Rather than try to mislead people with a different religion he attacked the idea that there even was a God.

    Also, I've always wondered what Satan was thinking when he offered the world to Jesus. It's such a hollow offer. If I were Jesus I would have said something like "Dude, I'm God. It's all mine anyway". But as you say, Satan always mixes enough truth to seem reasonable with enough lies to be damaging.

  2. Yeah, I think that is an interesting idea. I think the Enlightenment had a lot to do with this change... Like Ian said, in the West, Satan is using a new tactic to make people disbelieve in God and the supernatural in general (so the magic has to lie low, if he wants people to think there is no supernatural power), and to place their trust in scientific power. That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis is an interesting exploration of Satan's interest in science. I think other parts of the world still have a lot of stuff going on, though... There must be reasons Hinduism is still so popular. I have heard missionary stories about appearances and direct actions by Hindu gods. There are lots of animistic religons left, too, outside the Western world, and voodoo is still pretty strong in the Caribbean, I think. Also, paganism has made a bit of a comeback in Scandinavia, and I wonder where that will go. Also, didn't many ancient Greek philosophers (before Christ) stop believing in direct intervention by the gods? I can't remember. This is a good thing to talk and think about...


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