What is Mithraism?
Question: "What is Mithraism?"
Answer: Mithras was a pre-Zoroastrian Persian deity, worshipped throughout Persia and the Roman Empire in the 1st through the 4th centuries. He was known as a “soldier’s god.” This religion was very popular with the Roman military in the 1st century, even rivaling Christianity for a time. The Romans put a Platonic spin on Mithraism in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, with Mithras pictured as the patron of loyalty to the emperor. After Constantine accepted Christianity in the early 4th century, the practice of Mithraism declined rapidly.
Mithraic worship was conducted secretly in caves by torchlight, so little is known of its precise rituals. However, this religion arose in the Roman Empire at the same time Christianity did, and church fathers such as Jerome and Origen commented on its parallels with Christianity.
Some teach that Mithras was born of a virgin called “the Mother of God.” He was conceived from the seed of Zoroaster (later called Zarathustra by the Greeks), which had been preserved in a lake. Mithras was considered to be the mediator between heaven and earth and was called “the light of the world.” Following a bloody, ritualistic baptism, celebrants would eat bread and drink wine that was said to have turned into blood. They also worshiped on Sunday and believed Mithras’ birthday to be December 25. Adherents taught that, after Mithras finished the work he was sent to do, he ate a last supper with his followers and ascended into heaven, until such time as he was called upon to separate good from evil on the Day of Judgment.
Because early Christian sources are so well documented, it cannot be suggested that Christianity developed from Mithraism. Further, all of the Mithraic manuscripts that ascribe Christian-like beliefs/practices to Mithraism are dated to long after the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. It is clear that the parallel tenets of Mithraism were sourced from Christianity and not vice versa. It was well known that Jesus did exist and that He was crucified and resurrected (hundreds of people saw Him, spoke to Him, and even ate with Him after His death). Mithras, of course, is not real and has never lived. The cause of the resemblance between Christianity and Mithraism is none other than Satan, a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). Satan has always been a counterfeiter, and Mithraism is simply another in a long string of idolatrous deceptions by Satan, intended to draw people away from the true God of the Bible. “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Scripture clearly states that there is only one God (Isaiah 46:9; Malachi 2:10; Romans 3:30; James 2:19), and anyone who worships another so-called god is an idolater. Revelation 21:8 describes the ultimate fate of idolaters, who will be “consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
Recommended Resources: The Kingdom of the Cults, revised and updated edition and Logos Bible Software.
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