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The Top 6 Misconceptions About Christianity

There are a number of websites out there devoted to misconceptions about Christianity. Many relate to ideas such as ‘what is a Christian vs. what people commonly think is a Christian’ or ‘becoming a Christian means giving up all fun’ or things of this nature. This list is a little different for two reasons. First, I’d like to deal primarily with facts and not necessarily opinions, and secondly these are misconceptions common to everyone, including Christians. Having said that, here’s the list (in no particular order)…

1. The Immaculate Conception refers to the virgin birth of Jesus.  I think this misconception is a little bit more prevalent in non-Catholics.  In truth, the Immaculate Conception does not refer to the virgin birth of Jesus, but is instead part of Roman Catholic doctrine that states the Virgin Mary was born without the stain of original sin.  This is why Mary is sometimes called the Immaculate One, or Immaculata. The Virgin Birth on the other hand refers to the belief that Mary miraculously conceived Jesus while remaining a virgin.

The Immaculate Conception by Murillo, 1660

2.  The three magi were three kings named Casper, Melchior, and Balthazar who rode on camels across the desert to visit Jesus and give him their gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold.  This idea has been around for a long time, since about the tenth century.  The gospel of Matthew (chapter two) is the only gospel to actually mention this story, and actually only reveals that three gifts, frankincense, myrrh, and gold were delivered.  It says nothing about the wise men being kings, or riding camels, or even their names.  It was assumed that there were three because three gifts are described, though this is never explicitly stated.  Nor does the verse even say that the wise men visited Jesus on the day of his birth, but instead entered his house, seeing the child with his mother.

The Adoration of the Magi, Gentile da Fabriano, 1423

3.  Jesus was born on December 25th, which is why we celebrate Christmas on this day.  Of all the ideas on this list, this might be the best well known as a misconception.  Again, the New Testament makes no mention of the specific date on which Christ is born, but recent research has put the date earlier in the year, possibly September.  There are many theories as to why we celebrate this event on the 25th of December, one of the more common being that the date closely aligned with the timing of a pagan festival.

Christmas Tree

4.  Angels have wings, and we also get wings when we go to heaven.  This was something I briefly mentioned in one of my earlier posts .  Though the Bible does mention wings several times, it never says that we receive any when we get to heaven.  In fact, the only angels described as having wings are Cherubim (Ezekiel 10) which are supposed to have four wings, and Seraphim (Isaiah 6) which are supposed to have six wings.  The idea that we get wings when we go to heaven is taken from Jesus’ telling the disciples that when we get to heaven we will be like the angels.  The earliest known Christian depiction of an angel is in the Catacomb of Priscilla and doesn’t actually show wings at all.  The first known angel with wings is found on the Prince’s Sarcophagus, and since then angels in Christian art have largely been shown with wings, mostly to show their etherealness and sublime nature.

The Archangel Michael by Guido Reni

5.  Angels have halos and we also get halos when we go to heaven.  This was another subject I briefly spoke of in the same post I talked about wings.  Unlike angel wings however, the Bible never makes mention of halos at all.  Their exact origin remains unclear, but it is certain they existed for a long time before the advent of Christianity, since they have been found in ancient Egyptian, Asian, and Roman art, among others.  They began being used in Christian art around the 4th century, originally only on Christ to demonstrate his divine nature, but later they appeared to signify important church figures such as saints, prophets, and angels.

Benois Madonna, Leonardo da Vinci

6.  The forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve ate was an apple.  Everyone has heard the Garden of Eden story; the serpent tempted Eve to eat of the forbidden tree and she did, later convincing Adam to eat the forbidden apple with her.  Sounds fine except…the Bible never makes mention of any apple.  Forbidden fruit yes, apple no.  Early Latin translations from the Hebrew use the word malum which can mean either apple or evil.  And although modern scholars think it’s more likely that the fruit may have been grapes or figs, early European artists started depicting the fruit as an apple and the rest as they say is history.

Adam and Eve by Titian

We’ve only covered six misconceptions here, but there are many out there. I’ve listed a couple other lists of misconceptions you might like below. They both contain some good points and make for an interesting read. You can find them at Myths about Christianity and Common Misconceptions About Christianity.

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “The Top 6 Misconceptions About Christianity

  1. You should do one of these lists that eventually covers the mistranslation that gave Moses horns. Also, cool. I wish you would go into more detail on these. Which prince’s sarcophagus was the winged angel first found on?

    Posted by ladyofthemandalore | June 16, 2011, 11:29 PM
  2. Wow, some really good information here. I’m curious as to how the myth of the wise men came into being, since the bible is reticent about it. I also really like the artwork you chose to illustrate the points you made. Learned a lot from this post. Thank you for being a diligent researcher. I’m still hung u on the halo thing though. I really believe that idea comes from angels being observed who “glow white”. I think that can be translated into halo-like.

    Posted by goddoglover | June 17, 2011, 8:06 AM

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