Why focus on Egyptian religion? — Insight #2

book-of-deadThis series gives an inside view on the structure of By This Name and how it breaks through confusion in our diverse society, bringing clarity to the message of the gospel.

One of the distinctive features of By This Name is the repeated reference to unique characteristics of ancient Egyptian culture, circa 1500 BC. In a book that is intended to provide a clear understanding of the gospel, that raises the natural question “Why?” Consider the following rationale.

Our target audience includes many in our current generation who conceive of God as an impersonal, abstract force that permeates all of nature. It includes those who believe in a multiplicity of gods and goddesses and those who hold to the idea that every person possesses a certain “god-ness.” It is common to find people creating a custom-designed spirituality that best suits their own interests and needs. Still others reject the concept of God in its entirety or, at least, believe that it is impossible to know for certain whether God exists or not.

For those who hold to any of the above views, the Bible presents some major obstacles. Beginning with the very first verse in Genesis, “In the beginning God…” the reader is confronted with the assumption that God exists and this God is seen “in action” in the succeeding pages.

Rather than tackling a myriad of non-biblical belief systems head-on, By This Name begins by taking the reader to ancient Egypt. This is because we find that many people today hold to worldviews that have some similarities to what the Egyptians believed about life, death and life after death. Instead of directly challenging the reader’s worldview, By This Name compares what the Bible says with what the Egyptians believed. This disarms the reader as we are not seen as attacking their form of spirituality, thus making the book non-confrontational.

In the course of the book’s narrative, the reader may identify with aspects of the Egyptian worldview and realize the Bible has a different view. This method of contrasting Egyptian thinking with biblical thinking has helped many readers separate—and not mix together—their worldview and the biblical worldview.

How does By This Name accomplish this?

The book begins in ancient Egypt—a culture noted for its polytheism. Though not everyone agrees as to how many gods and goddesses were worshipped (some say more than 2,000), everyone affirms that it was a very religious society.

It was into this world that Moses—writer of the first five books of the Bible—was born. Though his Hebrew ancestors knew “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” by the time of Moses’ birth, it is probable that this earlier knowledge of the one true God had been obscured by their immersion into a thoroughly polytheistic society for over 400 years.

Then God called Moses to deliver his people out of Egyptian slavery. This sets the stage for God to identify himself to Moses in such a way that forever distinguished him as the one, true living God from all other gods. He did so by declaring that his personal name was Yahweh—the great I AM (Exodus 3:13-15).

By establishing early in its pages that Yahweh is totally unique and distinct from every other god, By This Name reveals foundational truths from the Old Testament that are vital for having a clear understanding of the gospel. In doing so, it continues to draw on other worldview characteristics that many in our society hold in common with the Egyptians.

Example 1: Book of the Dead

Egyptians frequently commissioned the preparation of a “Book of the Dead” to serve as a guide into the afterlife. Central to the purpose of this papyrus was the depiction of a weigh scale. If one failed to measure up in an appropriate way, the outcome was disastrous.

Today, many hold to a similar belief, hoping that one’s good will outweigh one’s bad. Drawing upon the illustration of this faulty Egyptian belief provides By This Name a natural opportunity to underscore what the Bible has to say about the failure of man to measure up to God’s righteous standard.

Example 2: Tritheism

Another example is the concept of tritheism—the belief in three, distinct gods. In ancient Egypt, this took the form of three deities—Osiris, Isis and Horus—grouped in a cluster. Similarly, this is mirrored in Hinduism in which three primary gods—Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva—are viewed as a Trimurti. Though this may seem to be an unnecessary diversion in our explanation of the gospel, it is important to keep in mind our intended audience, ensuring that there is no confusion regarding this aspect of God’s nature. By This Name does this by making sure the reader understands what the Bible does not teach.

For those who come from a background influenced by such worldviews, it is important they don’t blend some form of tritheism with what the Bible has to say, resulting in a distorted understanding of the Trinity. Though difficult for our human minds to comprehend, the meaning and significance of the Trinity must not be compromised or watered down in any way. The three-in-one God must not be mistaken for a family of three individual gods.

These are just two examples of how By This Name takes a look at the religion of the ancient Egyptians in order to gently but clearly contrast the biblical worldview with other worldviews without mixing or confusing them.

By taking the time to do this, the book works to eliminate confusion and syncretism (the mixing of biblical truth with other worldviews). But the book not only compares Egypt with the Bible. It also takes a look at other false gods mentioned in the Bible, like Baal and Dagon. Again, these errant beliefs are held up in comparison to what the Bible says about Yahweh, and in doing so, helps to separate in the reader’s mind truth from error. And all of this is done gently, so a reader can understand who Yahweh is in a non-confrontational manner. Ultimately, the goal is to provide the clearest explanation of the gospel message for the person who has his or her own concept of who or what “God” is.

By This Name Insight Series

#1: Why use the name Yahweh?
#2: Why focus on Egyptian religion?
#3: Using tables to contrast God’s way and man’s way
#4: Why talk about other “gods”?
#5: How to identify the Promised Deliverer?
#6: Why deal with syncretism when sharing the gospel?
#7: Why talk about prophecy when sharing the gospel?
#8: Why use the concept of a global classroom?

Author: David Cross

Curriculum development manager and staff writer at GoodSeed's International Office.