In this day of ethnic diversity and religious pluralism, it is often believed that to claim that one religion is right is intolerant. This view is seen as being detrimental to the goal of universal brotherhood and world unity, learning to accept others irrespective of their beliefs. Hence, Christian insistence on the supremacy of Christ in relation to other world religious leaders is viewed negatively since it prohibits the possibility of other religious figures from ever sharing equal footing with Jesus.
It is unfortunate that those who point figures at Christians for believing in the supremacy of Jesus are guilty of committing the very same offence. For instance, it is all right for a person to hold to the view that all religions are basically true. Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism are seen as being both compatible and true. Yet Christianity is the exception with its insistence that Christ is the unique Son of God, the Savior of the world. Hence, conformity to a pluralistic agenda, where Christianity is viewed as being simply wrong for its insistence on Christs uniqueness, is the only truth claim that is tolerated. Otherwise, religions such as Christianity that does not allow for religious pluralism is viewed as being radical and intolerant. Yet this in itself is exclusive, since any standard or belief that fails to fall in line with this view is to be discarded completely.
While it is correct to emphasize the need for religious freedom, this freedom does not entail the necessity of fusing diverse religious beliefs into a one world religious system. The Christian and Muslim can learn to disagree with each other peaceably, without compromising their doctrines and worldview. Furthermore, the old adage that all religions are the same and that we all worship the same God only under different names is refuted upon closer examination of the main tenets of the worlds major religions. One example would be the nature of God as defined by the major world religions:
God is a non-personal Being without any knowable attributes. God is an "It" rather than a Person. Furthermore, God is in all and all is God, the view commonly referred to as Pantheism and/or Panentheism.
God is a Personal Being, distinct from creation. There is only one Person within the Godhead. Islam is also identical with Judaism in this respect.
God is a Tri-Personal Being, distinct from creation. There is only one True God and within the Being of God are three distinct, yet inseparable Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Buddhists hold to diverse and complex beliefs in regard to Gods nature, ranging from polytheism (plurality of gods), pantheism (all is God), and atheism (no God at all).
It is obvious that not all of these views are correct. All can be wrong, but not all can be right. Additionally, such views are totally incompatible, making the assimilation of these divergent opinions into a unified religious system impossible without altering them.
The other difficulty with this method of fusing together the different religious opinions is that each religious view makes its own truth claims. All truth claims by necessity are exclusive. All religions make absolute statements that cancel out other views.
This is true not only with religion, but life as we know it. For instance, in mathematics we have the following equation: 2+2= 4. This fact excludes all other possible answers, making it an absolute statement. Do we consider a mathematician harsh or in error when correcting a person who claims that 2 + 2 = 5 instead of 4? If not, then why is the Christian wrong for claiming that Islam, Buddhism etc. are incorrect in their belief systems? After all, this is the only conclusion a Christian can arrive at after reading the NT documents.
This affirmation is no more an absolute claim than the Muslim assertion that Allah has no son or the Hindu belief that God is a force as opposed to a Personal Being.
Pretending that such differences do not matter or are not significant in anyway is not doing anyone a service. In fact, to arrive at such a conclusion one is forced to commit intellectual suicide since one must deny what is obviously true, namely that not all religions are the same.
What we should strive for is not an assimilation of religious thinking, but a comparison of the different religious beliefs in order to see which world view best answers the problems man faces. Furthermore, we should examine the truth claims of the various religions in light of the available data and see where the evidence leads.
This study will contrast the lives and statements of the different religious leaders with that of Christ. The purpose in doing so is that as Christians we feel that Jesus Christ is the standard of spiritual perfection and moral virtue. Hence, we feel that all religious leaders must be viewed in light of his achievements and the standards that he alone has been able to set.
We hope that once the comparison has been made that it will become self-evident that Jesus is in a class all by himself. This is based primarily on the fact that the other religious personalities pointed followers away from themselves and pointed to their teachings. Yet with Jesus we find that he pointed people to himself and not just to his teachings. In fact, it is impossible to separate the Man from his message since his teachings always centered on who he was and what that meant to others. His teachings revolved around his personal identity and the consequences involved in rejecting or accepting those claims.
Despite many Buddhists having deified the Buddha, the historical Buddha never made any divine claims. The fact is that he never claimed to have any type of power that would enable him to help himself, let alone others. For instance, he is reported to have said:
"Monks, Im a Brahmana [enlightened being], one to ask a favor of, ever clean-handed, wearing my last body. I am inexorable, bear no love nor hatred toward anyone. I have the same feelings for respectable people as for the low, or for moral persons as for the immoral; for the depraved as for those who observe the rules of good conduct. You disciples, do not affirm that the Lord Buddha reflects thus within himself, I bring salvation to every living being. Subhuti entertain no such delusive thoughts! Because in reality there are no living beings to whom the Lord Buddha can bring salvation." (1: p. 52)
Noted professor of religion, Huston Smith states:
"Not withstanding his own objectivity toward himself, there was constant pressure during his lifetime to turn him into a God. He rebuffed all these categorically, insisting that he was human in every respect. He made no attempt to conceal his temptations and weaknesses, how difficult it had been to attain enlightenment, how narrow the margin by which he had won through, how fallible he still remained." (2: p. 99)
Author Clive Erricker, makes the following comment in his book, Buddhism:
"Indeed he did not even claim that his teachings were unique and an original source of wisdom Buddha always said, Dont take what Im saying [i.e., on my own authority], just try to analyze as far as possible and see whether what Im saying makes sense, then pick it up." (1: p. 52 author cites John Bowker in Worlds of Faith, 1983)
Confucius declared, "As to being a Divine Sage or even a Good Man, far be it for me to make any such claim." (3: p. 130)
Taoisms founder declared: "I alone appear empty. Ignorant am I, O so ignorant! I am dull! I alone am confused, so confused!"(Tao Te Ching 20: 3, 5-7)
Guru Nanak is the founder of Sikhism, which many believe is nothing more than combination of Hinduism and Islam. Nanak lamented:
"I have become perplexed in my search In the darkness, I find no way. Devoted to pride, I weep in sorrow. How shall deliverance be obtained?" (5: p. 95)
Much like Muhammad, Zoroaster claimed only to be a prophet:
"I was ordained by thee at the first. All others I look upon with hatred of spirit." (5: p. 203)
According to the Muslim scripture, al-Quran, Muhammad "was naught but a messenger," confessing, "surely I am no more than a human apostle." In fact, Muhammad is specifically commanded to "ask forgiveness for thy sin and of believing men and women." (Cf. Q. 3:138; 4:105-107; 9:43; 40:55; 47:19; 48:2; 80:1-10; 110:3)
Bahais founder never claimed nor arrogated perfection to himself. Noted author and pastor, Erwin W. Lutzer notes:
"He claimed he had a revelation from God that was more complete, more enlightened than those before him. Though he was convinced of the truth of his teachings, he made few personal claims. He thought his writings were more perfect than the others, but he never claimed perfection sinlessness for himself." (6: p. 63)
This brief analysis of the personal claims of the founders of the worlds major religions leads us to conclude that none of them claimed to be special or unique in anyway.
When first encountering the historical Jesus, one immediately discovers an individual unlike any other. The fact is that the historical Jesus did not simply view himself as a great prophet or teacher. Rather, he claimed to be God in the flesh that had come from heaven to save men from their sins.
This is the primary reason why many religious pluralists reject the New Testament documents altogether. The working assumption behind such rejection is based on the alleged unreliability of the NT documents. Presumably, since they are viewed as unreliable the NT documents cannot be trusted as presenting accurate information on the life of the historical Jesus.
The real reason behind rejecting the New Testament has nothing to do with the question of reliability. Rather, it is based solely on the fact that the New Testament will not allow for a human Jesus to emerge from its pages. Hence, accepting the NT documents is to accept that Jesus is God. But this belief would incriminate all the other views as being wrong and/or satanic in origin. If the NT portrayal of Jesus is true this implies that God has decisively revealed himself fully and completely in the person of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, any view that does not agree with Jesus teachings cannot be a revelation from the true God. Obviously, such a position cannot be tolerated since this makes a pluralistic worldview, where all religions are deemed essentially true, impossible.
The only problem with viewing the NT documents as unreliable is that based on manuscript evidence alone no other writing of antiquity can even come close to matching the New Testament in terms of authenticity and preservation.
For instance, we have in our possession over 25,000 fragmentary or whole copies of the individual NT books with some dating from the second century AD. An example would be a fragment of the Gospel of John dating between 117-125 AD, approximately 30 years from the original which is believed to have been written AD 90-95. Further evidence for the reliability of the NT text is furnished by Christian apologist, Norm Geisler:
"Of the four gospels alone there are 19,368 citations by the church fathers from the late first century on. This includes 268 by Justin Martyr (100-165), 1038 by Ireneaus (active in the late second century), 1017 by Clement of Alexandria (ca. 155-ca. 220), 9231 by Origen (ca. 185-ca. 254), 3822 by Tertullian (ca. 160s-ca. 220), 734 by Hippolytus (d. ca. 236) and 325 by Eusebius (ca. 265-ca. 339 ) Earlier, Clement of Rome cited Matthew, John, 1 Corinthians in 95 to 97. Ignatius referred to six Pauline Epistles in about 110, and between 110 and 150 Polycarp quoted from all four Gospels, Acts and most of Paul's Epistles. Shepherd of Hermas (115-140) cited Matthew, Mark, Acts, I Corinthians, and other books. Didache (120-150) referred to Matthew, Luke, 1 Corinthians, and other books. Papias, companion of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the apostle John, quoted John. This argues powerfully that the Gospels were in existence before the end of the first century, while some eyewitnesses (including John) were still alive." (Norm Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics [Baker Books, Grand Rapids MI; 1999], pp. 529-530)
Add to this list the possible discovery of several NT quotations found in Qumran:
"Jose O'Callahan, a Spanish Jesuit paleographer, made headlines around the world on March 18, 1972, when he identified a manuscript fragment from Qumran as a piece of the Gospel of Mark. The piece was from Cave 7. Fragments from this cave had previously been dated between 50 B.C. and A.D. 50, hardly within the time frame established for New Testament writings. Using accepted methods of papyrology and paleography, O'Callahan compared sequences of letters with existing documents and eventually identified nine fragments as belonging to one Gospel, Acts, and a few Epistles. Some of these were dated slightly later than 50, but still extremely early
Mark 4:28 7Q6 A.D. 50 Mark 6:48 7Q15 A.D. ? Mark 6:52, 53 7Q5 A.D. 50 Mark 12:17 7Q7 A.D. 50 Acts 27:38 7Q6 A.D. 60+ Rom. 5:11, 12 7Q9 A.D 70+ 1 Tim. 3:16; 4:1-3 7Q4 A.D. 70+ 2 Peter 1:15 7Q10 A.D. 70+ James 1:23, 24 7Q8 A.D. 70+
" Both friends and critics acknowledge that, if valid, O'Callahan's conclusions will revolutionize New Testament theories. If even some of these fragments are from New Testament, the implications for Christian apologetics are enormous. Mark and Acts must have been written within the lifetimes of the apostles and contemporaries of the events. There would be no time for mythological embellishment of the records... They must be accepted as historical... There would hardly be time for a predecessor series of Q manuscripts... And since these manuscripts are not originals but copies, parts of the New Testament would be shown to have been copied and disseminated during the lives of the writers. No first-century date allows time for myths or legends to creep into the stories about Jesus." (Geisler, p. 530)
Even without the manuscript (MS) portions from Qumran, the NT text is assured. Geisler also mentions variant readings that arose due to copying and their effect on the reliability of the text:
"There is widespread misunderstanding among critics about errors in the biblical manuscripts. Some have estimated there are about 200,000 of them. First of all, these are not errors but variant readings, the vast majority of which are strictly grammatical. Second, these readings are spread throughout the more than 5300 manuscripts, so that a variant spelling of one letter in one verse in 2000 manuscripts is counted as 2000 errors. Textual scholars Westcott and Hort estimated that only one in sixty of these variants has significance. This would leave a text 98.33 percent pure. Philip Schaff calculated that, of the 150,000 variants known in his day, only 400 changed the meaning of the passage, only fifty were of real significance, and not even one affected an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other and undoubted passages, or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching (Schaff, 177)
"Most other ancient books are not so well authenticated. New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger estimated that the Mahabharata of Hinduism is copied with only about 90 percent accuracy and Homer's Illiad with about 95 percent. By comparison, he estimated the New Testament is about 99.5 percent.
"Islamic scholars recognize the textual scholar Sir Frederick Kenyon as an authority on ancient manuscripts. Yet Kenyon concluded that:
The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world. ." (Geisler, pp. 532-533)
Since Geisler mentions Sir Frederick G. Kenyon, former director and principal librarian of the British Museum, here are some other things he said concerning the veracity of the New Testament,
"The interval, then, between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established." (Sir Frederick Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology [New York: Harper & Brothers, 1940], 288ff.)
Kenyon goes on to rightly conclude,
" no unbiased scholar would deny that the text that has come down to us is substantially sound." (Kenyon, The Bible, as cited in Joshua McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict, p. 49)
"It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain: Especially is this the case with the New Testament." (Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1941]: 23, as cited in McDowell, Evidence, p. 45)
B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort, the editors of The New Testament in Original Greek, also commented:
"If comparative trivialities such as changes of order, the insertion or omission of the article with proper names, and the like are set aside, the works in our opinion still subject to doubt can hardly mount to more than a thousandth part of the whole New Testament." (B.F. Westcott, and F.J.A. Hort, eds., New Testament in Original Greek, 1881, vol. II, 2.)
Having said this, we now proceed to an examination of Christs teaching and contrast that with the other religious figures, having full assurance that the Biblical record can be viewed as giving us accurate and reliable eyewitness reporting on the historical Jesus.
To contrast Christ with other religious personalities is not hard to do. For example, Buddha stated that he had struggled to achieve enlightenment, yet Christ claimed to be the light of the world:
"Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." John 8:12
Had Guru Nanak read the New Testament he would have had no fear of the darkness since Jesus claimed:
"As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." John 9:5
"Then Jesus said to them, A little while longer the light is with you. Walk in it while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light that you may become sons of light I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes Me should not abide in darkness." John 12: 35-36a, 46
Whereas Muhammad was but a messenger, Jesus is Gods unique Son:
"Simon Peter answered, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus answered, and said unto him, Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah, for the flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven." Matthew 16:16-17
" Do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, You are blaspheming, because I said, "I am the Son of the God?" John 10:36
Although Confucius denied being divine, Christ affirms his divinity in no uncertain terms:
"I and My Father are one." John 10:30
"Jesus said unto him, Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seem the Father; so how can you say, "show us the Father?"" John 14:9
Buddha realized his inability to save both himself and others. Yet Christ is the Savior of all men, redeeming them from death:
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:45
"For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:10
"Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:25-26
Whereas all these men realized they were sinners, Christ knew that he was absolutely sinless, perfect in every way:
"He who speaks from himself, seeks his own glory, but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him." John 7:18
"And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him." John 8:29
Those who knew him best also testify to his sinless perfection and his absolute moral purity. For instance the apostle Peter declares,
"For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth." 1 Peter 2:21-22
The Apostle John writes:
"And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin." 1 John 3:5
Hebrews calls Jesus "holy, blameless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and higher than the heavens." (Hebrews 7:26)
Christs conduct was so flawless that he could boldly confront his very own enemies and ask, "which of you convicts me of sin?" (John 8:46)
A question which none could answer.
This fact alone distinguishes Christ from the rest of humanity since one who is absolutely sinless does not need salvation. Yet sinners do. This includes the founders of the world religions since they were sinners also.
Another area where Christ outshines the others is the fact that he is the only one who has left his tomb empty. The rest succumbed to the power of death. This can be readily seen by the fact that their tombs are still occupied till this day. Jesus is the only one to rise from the dead, never to die again.
This is precisely why Christ alone can say:
"I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of the Unseen and of Death." Revelation 1:18
While all have succumbed to the power of the Devil, the worlds prince, only Jesus can make the following statement:
"I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me." John 14:30
"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." John 16:33
Christ died in order,
"that through His death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Hebrews 2:14-15
"For this purpose the Son of God was made manifest that He might destroy the works of the devil." 1 John 3:8
Since Christ alone is sinless, He alone is able to set us free from the chains of the Devil:
"Jesus answered them, Most assuredly I say to you, whoever commits a sin is a slave to sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a Son abides forever. Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." John 8:34-36
Christs personal claims negate the pluralists attempts at making him fit into a unified religious theme where all religious leaders are considered essentially equal, since Christ is not their equal. Instead, Jesus is the God of all flesh and the one who will raise everyone from the dead, deciding whether an individual is worthy of eternal life or eternal damnation.
Christians are not the ones who oppose the pluralistic agenda, but Christ is the one who does so. Jesus will not allow for the belief that all religions are just different paths that eventually lead to the same destination. Instead, Jesus clearly teaches that there is only one way to God:
"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." Matthew 7:13-14
The gate to life is Jesus Christ since only in him do we have access to heaven:
"The Jesus said to them again, Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture." John 10:7-9
"Jesus said unto him, I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me." John 14:6
Christ is also the one who personally shatters any possibility of religious unification, since true unification can only take place in and through him:
"For God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting mens sins against them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation." 2 Corinthians 5:19
"For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross." Colossians 1:19-20
Therefore, Christians who hold to Jesus teachings are forced to reject any unification of religious beliefs and ideas that are contrary to the teachings of Christ. The Christian is not at fault for believing in the absolute supremacy of Christ since it is Jesus himself who makes such claims.
World Religions expert, Professor Robert Hume correctly notes that Christianitys uniqueness "cannot be paralleled anywhere among the religions of the world." (5: p. 283)
According to Hume, this uniqueness stems from Christianitys three distinct features:
The Holy Bibles portrayal of God as a loving Father
Jesus Christ, Christianitys founder, as the divine, unique Son of God
The work of the Holy Spirit as an indication of the triune Godheads involvement in time and space as well as with individual believers.
Hume also points out:
"All of the nine founders of religion, with the exception of Jesus Christ, are reported in their respective sacred scriptures as having passed through a preliminary period of uncertainty, or of searching of religious light. All the founders of the non-Christian religions evinced inconsistencies in their personal character; some of them altered their practical policies under change of circumstances. Jesus alone is reported as having a consistent God-consciousness, a consistent character himself, a consistent program for his religion." (Ibid., pp. 285-286)
Hence, as Christians we feel there is no longer any valid comparison that can be made between Christ and the rest that would place them on an equal level with him. It is not just simply that Jesus is the greatest, but rather Jesus is the One and Only.
In order to further establish Christs superiority we present the following seven unique characteristics of Jesus as described in the New Testament:
Jesus coming had been foretold hundreds of years prior to His birth in the previous Old Testament Scriptures.
The others, not once.
Jesus is the most astonishing person who ever lived, unique in His characteristics, overshadowing all historical and religious personalities combined.
The rest were fallible men like the rest of us.
Jesus is virgin-born.
The others were born naturally like all men.
Jesus is the only Incarnation of God.
The others were men who made no divine claims.
Jesus is the only Savior of the world, who lived a perfect, moral life in order to extend eternal salvation as a gift to all that accept Him by faith.
The others were men who admitted their shortcomings, disqualifying themselves from any salvific role whatsoever.
Jesus was resurrected from the dead and continues to live forever, affirming his divine claims.
The others died like all men, occupying their tombs till this very day.
Jesus is the Judge of the whole earth who is going to personally judge every individual who has ever lived, deciding the eternal fate of every man.
The others will face Jesus Christ as their Judge so that the words of the Apostle Paul may come to pass:
"That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on the earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:10-11
That day is soon to arrive and then the whole world shall know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. As Gods Son, he shall reign forever and all shall eventually worship him as the Sovereign Lord of all creation.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
Key to the numbers in quoted text:
1. Ankerberg, John & Weldon, John. Ready With An Answer for the Tough Questions About God, Harvest House Pub (June 1997).
2. Smith, Houston. The Religions of Man, Harper & Row; 1st Perennial Library ed edition (1965).
3. Waley, Arthur. Trans., The Analects of Confucius, Vintage (August 28, 1989).
5. Hume, Robert E. The Worlds Living Religions: With special reference to their sacred scriptures and in comparison with Christianity; an historical sketch, Scribner; Completely revised edition (1959).
6. Lutzer, Erwin W. Christ Among Other Gods; A Defense of Christ in an Age of Tolerance, Moody Publishers (June 1, 1997).
Articles by Sam Shamoun
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