Christianity and the Ancient Religions

Christianity was unlike other religions that came before it. It was different from the Greek religion and other polytheistic religions of that time. It was also very different from the Hebrew religion, which was monotheistic. Even though it was different, it fulfilled the wants of philosophers and thinkers who had already drifted away from the traditional Greek religion by the time of Socrates.

Christianity and the Greek religion could really not be more opposite. For one, Christianity was a monotheistic religion, and the Greek religion was polytheistic. The Christians viewed their God as supreme and omnipotent, subject to nothing. None of the Greek gods were omnipotent, and even though Zeus was the king he was not completely sovereign. The Greek and Roman religions practiced something called syncretism, in which they subsumed the gods of the people they had conquered, and absorbed other philosophies and groups of thought into their own religion. The Christian doctrine was very central and non-changing, and since it was a monotheistic religion, new gods could not be added. In addition to being omnipotent, the Christian God was also ethically perfect, incapable of evil or deceit. The Greek gods were not ethically bound to anything, and did whatever they pleased.

Despite similarities, the Christian and Hebrew religions had many differences. The Jews viewed themselves as the chosen people, the only ones who could be saved. Christianity was for all of the world, and anyone could be saved. The Jews were strict in obeying the exact letter of the law, like not walking over 200 yards with a heavy object on the sabbath, or not eating an egg laid on the sabbath. Christianity focused more on the spirit of the law, not letter of it, like simply not doing any unnecessary work on the sabbath, so as to respect God’s command to rest on his day.

Christianity did, however, satisfy a desire among philosophers for a religion centered around morality. Dissatisfaction with the traditional Greek religion began with some of the pre-socratic philosophers, such as Xenophanes. Later, Plato and Aristotle taught that virtue and morality were central to living a good life, which indirectly criticized the Greek religion. Up until the coming of Christ, faultfinding with the Greek religion abounded. There was the playwright Euripides, who made the Greek myths appear ridiculous by portraying them in their entirety. Some Hellenistic philosophies such as Stoicism opposed the Greek and Roman religions by teaching selfless virtue and indifference to pleasure or pain. There were mystery religions which focused less on the city and more on the individual, and drew in people who found the Greek and Roman religions lacking in individuality.

Christianity was very different from religions that came before it, but old schools of thought and philosophies anticipated it. By the time of the Christ’s birth, people were looking for a religion that governed ethical activity. Some people may wonder why He came at such a backward time, but He could not have come at a more perfect moment.


2 thoughts on “Christianity and the Ancient Religions

  1. Awesome report. You obviously did your research. The only bit that stood out as I read it was the sentence, “Despite many similarities, the Christian and Hebrew religions had many differences.” The sentence just seemed a bit odd. All in all though, that was a really good report.


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