APOLOGETICS – Christianity and Other Religions
One of the questions I am sometimes asked is, “What makes you Christians so sure that you are right and all the other religions are wrong?” Accompanying this kind of question are assumptions such as:
- All religions are merely different paths to the same God
- Most religions teach basically the same thing
- Differences between religions are minor
- There is value and truth in every religion
It is important to acknowledge that there are, indeed, noble elements in most religions. There is significant agreement among most religions regarding ethics and morals that society would regard as exemplary; such things as love, forgiveness, honesty, and self-sacrifice. Most religions also uphold and encourage positive societal values such as charity, civic responsibility and the fundamental importance of the family. By choosing to follow a particular religion in preference to the rest, one is not denying these positive elements of most religions.
MAJOR CONTRADICTIONS OF THE WORLD’S RELIGIONS
One cannot ignore, however, the significant theological contradictions that exist between the major religions. Even a cursory comparison of the primary doctrines of the world’s religions reveals how completely antithetical many of their principal beliefs are.
The following table provides a brief comparison of the fundamental beliefs of four of the worlds major religions:
What is most notable is that there is no agreement on any major point of doctrine. When one compares the most fundamental teachings such as the number of gods, the nature of those gods, views of the afterlife and the process of salvation, there is complete disagreement. The world’s largest religions contradict each other at every major point of doctrine. When the full range of each religion’s teachings are studied at depth, these comparative contradictions become even more apparent.
Given the number and extent of these contradictions, it would be naive and foolish to maintain that all religions are equally valid. Quite simply, they cannot possibly all be true, because they contradict each other! In fact, there are only two logical possibilities; either they are all wrong, or only one is right. Sceptics often adopt the former position, arguing that the proliferation of religious contradiction is indicative of the subjective nature of religious beliefs and that, consequently, it is highly improbable that absolute spiritual truth exists. Dismissing all religions on that basis, however, is simply illogical. The fact that religions contradict each other does not preclude one of them being true.
How, then, do we assess the claims of the various religions? Is it possible to determine if one of them is actually true? I want to propose several clear criteria that can be applied in making this kind of assessment; criteria which, I believe, unequivocally establishes the truth of Christianity in contrast to all other religions.
EVIDENCE FOR THE VALIDITY OF CHRISTIANITY
- The Unique Claims Of Divinity By Jesus
- The Unparalleled Miracles Of Jesus
- The Exemplary Moral Character Of Jesus
- The Resurrection Of Jesus
THE UNIQUE CLAIMS OF DIVINITY BY JESUS
There can be no doubt that Jesus consistently claimed to be God. The historical narratives of the gospel writers cite numerous examples of Jesus’ extraordinary claims:
- “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30)
- “Before Abraham was “I AM”.” (John 8:58)
- “Thomas said, “My Lord and my God”. Jesus replied, “… blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”.” (John 20:28)
Jesus’ use of the term “I am” for himself (in John 8:58) is a reference to the Hebrew name that God used to identify himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14 (אֶהְיֶה – ehyeh). Jesus’ use of this name for himself is an emphatic claim that he is the same God who had spoken to Moses centuries earlier. The full significance of Jesus’ claim in this verse is often lost to English Bible readers, but the Hebrew religious leaders of Jesus’ time knew exactly what he was claiming, as is indicated by their immediate response; “At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” (John 8:59). In fact, it was Jesus’ repeated claims to be God that eventually led the religious leaders to declare him a heretic and plot his death at the hands of the Romans.
In contrast to this, no other founder of a major world religion claimed to be God. All other religious founders declared themselves to be either seers, prophets or philosophers, but none actually claimed divinity.
Some people may consider these extraordinary claims of Jesus to be grounds for dismissing him as some kind of madman, but before a person dismisses him in this way, the question needs to asked, “Is there any evidence to support such an extraordinary claim?”
THE UNPARALLELED MIRACLES OF JESUS
Even more extraordinary than his claims of divinity, are the miracles of Jesus. The four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, record an astounding array of supernatural feats performed by Jesus. Thirty seven miracles are recorded, including:
- Raising three people from the dead; one of whom had been dead for four days
- Healing people who were blind
- Healing quadriplegics and paraplegics
- Walking on water
- Calming storms
- Multiplying food on two occasions so that thousands of people were fed from a very small quantity of bread and fish
Sceptics argue that these miracle accounts in the gospels were invented by his followers, and are either highly embellished or completely mythical. This claim of fabrication, however, does not arise primarily from literary criticism or historical rebuttal, but from a strongly held presupposition that miracles are not possible. Rather than approaching the texts with the same objective, historical and literary appraisal by which other texts are evaluated, sceptics approach these miraculous accounts with a predisposed fierce determination to discredit them.
Evaluating The Historical And Textual Reliability Of The Healing Narratives
The New Testament documents need to be evaluated with the same objectivity as are all other historical documents, employing the same universally accepted criteria for assessing literary reliability. There are seven criteria which are particularly important for assessing the New Testament documents:
1.The criterion of time gap
2.The criterion of dissimilarity
3.The criterion of embarrassment
4.The criterion of multiple attestation
5.The criterion of absence of protestation
6.The criterion of corroboration by hostile critics
7.The criterion of author credibility
These criteria have been dealt with in detail on the page, “APOLOGETICS – The Historicity Of Jesus”. Time and space does not permit a full discussion of each of them at this point, but it is worth briefly discussing three in particular.
The Criterion Of Time Gap
Dr. A.N. Sherwin-White (1911 – 1993), a world renowned Greco-Roman historian and the author of many historical classics, conducted extensive research into the practice of mythological embellishment in ancient writings. He concluded that mythological embellishment requires more than two generations time gap to begin, and major mythological embellishment requires at least 200 years time gap. In other words mythological embellishment can’t gain traction if it is written within the lifespan of the first two generations after an event, because there are too many people still alive who know the facts. Significantly, he concluded that because the Gospel accounts of Jesus were written during the lifetime of first generation eye witnesses, mythological embellishment would have been impossible.
The Criterion Of Absence Of Protestation
This follows on from the Criterion of Time Gap. Mythical embellishment within the lifetime of eyewitnesses would result in overwhelming protestation and refutation. Literally thousands of people witnessed the ministry of Jesus, and many of them were still alive when the four Gospels were written and circulated. If the Gospel writers embellished or fabricated the accounts of Jesus’ miracles, we would find significant protest and rebuttal within concurrent historical texts. But no such rebuttal is found.
Consider a modern example. If someone today published a book claiming that Winston Churchill performed miracles and had supernatural powers, the textual world would be awash with rebuttals! Historians centuries from now would be able to read those rebuttals and conclude that the miraculous claims are, at least, extremely unreliable and unlikely.
The four gospels were written during the lifetime of eye witnesses to the life of Jesus, including those hostile to him. If the gospel writers had embellished their stories with fanciful inaccuracies, their stories would have been denounced and repudiated, and this would be evident in the existence of contradictory, hostile texts. But such texts simply do not exist. Instead of textual rebuttal, there is almost complete silence in the historical record. I say almost, because the few references to Jesus outside of the Bible tend to confirm rather than rebut the gospel accounts. The absence of protestation is a powerful attestation to the truth and historical reliability of the Gospels. People living in first century Palestine simply could not deny the miraculous events of Jesus’ life, because thousands of them had witnessed those events with their own eyes!
The Criterion Of Corroboration By Hostile Critics
The other criterion worth mentioning briefly here, is that of corroboration by hostile critics. Several Roman and Jewish writers refer to Jesus generally: Tacitus, Thallus, Seutonius, Lucian, Flavius, Philegon, Pliny, Mara Bar-Serapion and Flavius Josephus. More importantly, however, there are two references which corroborate his extraordinary miracles.
Flavius Josephus (37-101AD), in his “Antiquities Of The Jews”, writes, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of amazing works.” Josephus, a Jew himself, and not a follower of Jesus, is here referring to Jesus’ miracles as if they were a well known fact. Some sceptics maintain that this text must be a later interpolation by a Christian copyist, yet there is no unequivocal historical or textual evidence for this claim. Instead, the desire to discredit this passage appears to be driven by an almost fanatical unwillingness to consider anything of a supernatural nature.
The Jewish Talmud provides a second historical corroboration by hostile critics. The Talmud is the sacred book of oral traditions, which was still being written at the time of Jesus. In Sanhedrin 43A, Jesus is referred to as a “sorcerer” because of his ability to perform wondrous signs. Sevenl other passages in the Talmud refer to Jesus’ ability to perform “magical healing” (Tosefta Hullin 2:22f; Jerusalem Abodah Zarah 2:2/12 ; Jerusalem Shabboth 14:4/13; Qohelet Rabbah 1:8(3); Babylonian Abodah Zarah 27b; Jerusalem Abodah Zarah 2:2/7 ; Jerusalem Shabboth 14:4/8 ).
The corroboration of Jesus’ miraculous powers by hostile critics is incontestable. Those who claim that the Gospel writers fabricated the healing stories are either ignorant of this corroborating evidence or are deliberately ignoring the evidence out of a dogged determination to undermine the Christian faith.
The miracles of Jesus represent an extraordinary display of divine power. If God was to visit our planet physically, one could not imagine any more convincing proofs than those provided by Jesus throughout his ministry. Importantly, the founders of the other major religions did not, at any time, display the same kind of corroborated miraculous powers. There are stories of miraculous events in the lives of Buddha, Muhammad and Confucius, but when they are appraised objectively, and compared to the miracles of Jesus, there are three clear distinctions.
- The legends of miracles by Muhammad, Confucius and Buddha arose many centuries after each of them had died. There is no textual evidence of miracle stories circulating during their lifetimes.
- The supposed miracles tend to be bizarre in nature: Muhammad splitting the moon into two and then reassembling it; Muhammad comforting a palm tree that was “crying” after he stopped leaning on it during one of his sermons; stones and trees speaking aloud to greet Muhammad. It is also claimed that the Buddha could multiply himself into a million beings and then return to a single being; he could travel through space; he could make himself as big as a giant and then as small as an ant; he could walk through mountains; he could dive in and out of the earth; he could travel to Heaven to teach the gods and then return to Earth. These kinds of legends have more in common with fairy stories than verifiable historical events.
- There is a complete lack of corroboration by hostile critics. Unlike Jesus, no objective outsiders at the time of these religious leaders referred to their miracles.
When comparing the corroborated miraculous powers of Jesus to the bizarre and fanciful tales of miracles by other religious leaders, the miracles of Jesus are in an entirely different category, witnessed by thousands and corroborated by critics. They provide us with powerful evidence supporting his claim to be divine, and further develop the case for the uniqueness of Christianity.
THE EXEMPLARY MORAL CHARACTER OF JESUS
Another striking contrast between Christianity and other religions is the exemplary moral character of Jesus. Founders of other religions, despite having moments of lucidity and even profundity, also had less admirable moments. At times they were characterised by impatience, uncertainty, doubts, inconsistency, contradictions, arrogance, unforgiveness, hatred, violence, and even mental illness. Their lives are a mixture of noble and ignoble. One cannot read an objective biographical account of their lives and arrive at any conclusion other than that they were imperfect, mortal humans.
The life of Jesus, on the other hand, radiates a fundamental wholesomeness and goodness that is immediately and consistently apparent. His actions demonstrate moral perfection. His teachings are profound and without contradiction. He stands head and shoulders above all other religious leaders.
THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS
More than any other issue, it is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead that sets him apart from all other religious leaders, and provides the strongest possible evidence for the uniqueness and veracity of Christianity.
Among the evidence supporting the historical reliability of Jesus’ resurrection are:
- The previously stated credibility criteria of the Gospels.
- The absence of a body (which the hostile Jewish leaders failed to find)
- The absence of protestation by opponents.
- The fact that 11 of the Apostles, and many hundreds of other disciples, died for their belief in the resurrection!
- Corroboration by at least one hostile critic
- Modern day sceptics who have tried to disprove the resurrection and who have been converted in the process
In terms of corroboration, we have the remarkable statement by the Jewish scholar, Flavius Josephus: “And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, (9) those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; (10) as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” (Antiquities Of The Jews). As previously stated, the attempts by sceptics to discredit this passage are tenuous at best.
In fact, so convincing is the historical evidence for the resurrection that, over the years, several highly respected academics and sceptics have attempted to disprove the resurrection only to be converted in the process.
SKEPTICS WHO HAVE SOUGHT TO DISPROVE THE GOSPELS BUT HAVE BEEN CONVERTED IN THE PROCESS
- Sir William Mitchell Ramsaywas a highly respected archaeologist from Scotland. He set out to prove the historical inaccuracies of Luke and Acts. He spent 15 years researching and digging, only to end up being convinced of the incredible accuracy of the New Testament. He converted to Christianity, and called Luke one of the greatest historians to ever live. He wrote several books on the subject, which have yet to be refuted. His work caused an outcry from atheists because they had been eagerly awaiting his results in disproving the validity of the New Testament, and had even been funding his research!
- Albert Henry Ross was an English journalist and author who set out to disprove the myth of the resurrection. He was planning on writing a paper called “Jesus – The Last Phase”, but he became converted during the course of his investigations. He wrote the classic book, “Who Moved The Stone?” under the pseudonym Frank Morison. The book has led many people to Christ.
- Lee Strobel was a journalist for the Chicago Tribune who set out to disprove Christianity, focusing on the resurrection story. The overwhelming evidence he uncovered led to his conversion, and he went on to write the famous “Case for…” series, which has led many people to Christ.
All religions cannot be equally valid because they contradict each other.
When the major religions are compared, Christianity emerges as unique, primarily because of the person of Jesus. He uniquely claimed to be God. He uniquely performed extraordinary miracles, witnessed by thousands and corroborated by critics. His life is unique in its moral and didactic perfection. And, most significantly, he uniquely rose from the dead to establish his credentials as Lord and Saviour of mankind. Buddha is still in the grave. Confucius is still in the grave. Muhammad is still in the grave. But Jesus is not. He is risen!
In a world of contradictory religions, it is these unique facts that point to Christianity as the truth.
POST SCRIPT REGARDING CHRISTIAN EXCUSIVISM
(This section is an excerpt from the html article on the page, “APOLOGETICS – Pluralism and Post-Modernism”)
One of the great challenges facing Christianity in our post-modern world is that the exclusive claims of Christ have become particularly unpalatable. Society maintains that there is no absolute truth; that all views are valid and no one has the right to claim a monopoly on the truth or to critique another person’s beliefs. In stark contrast to this, Christ stated categorically, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). There is no “politically correct” way of interpreting Christ’s words here. He is claiming that he is the ONLY way to God and that there are NO OTHER ways to God apart from him.
This exclusive claim of Christ, and, therefore, of his followers, is particularly offensive to our pluralistic modern society. In fact, society voices three distinct criticisms of Christian exclusivism:
- Christian exclusivism is arrogant
- Christian exclusivism is intolerant
- Christian exclusivism denies the worth of other religions
IS CHRISTIAN EXCLUSIVISM ARROGANT?
Firstly, let’s be clear in defining arrogance. Arrogance is believing myself to be better or more superior, and treating others with disdain. Choosing to believe one religion and disbelieve another, however, is not arrogance, it is an act of discernment. I may be right or I may be wrong in that belief, but it is, essentially, an act of discernment. Articulating my exclusivism is not necessarily arrogant either. It may be, of course, depending upon my attitude, but the act of articulating my exclusive belief in Christ is not inherently arrogant. One Christian might articulate their exclusivism rudely and arrogantly, while another might express the same view gently and respectfully. It is the attitude that can be arrogant, not the view itself. In the same way, if I was a Math teacher and a student had written 1 + 1 = 3, I could point out their error either gently and lovingly, or arrogantly. Hopefully, I would do it lovingly. But even if I came across as arrogant, it doesn’t change the fact that 1 + 1 = 2 and not 3. Arrogance is not a particular belief; it is an attitude.
IS CHRISTIAN EXCLUSIVISM INTOLERANT?
Similar to the issue of arrogance, tolerance or intolerance is an attitude; it does not refer to holding one particular viewpoint in preference to others. Intolerance means treating others disrespectfully because they hold a different view to me. Tolerance, on the other hand, means treating people respectfully, despite the fact that they hold very different views from me. It is entirely possible for two people to have diametrically opposed viewpoints, and for each to consider the other completely and utterly wrong, yet speak and act tolerantly towards each other. I express tolerance towards my Buddhist or Muslim neighbours by living in peace and harmony with them, and by treating them with respect, while still maintaining the right to disagree with their beliefs.
DOES CHRISTIAN EXCLUSIVISM DENY THE WORTH OF OTHER RELIGIONS?
Of course not! Most of the world’s major religions have some praiseworthy elements. Many religions uphold the value of the family and the importance of love, peace, charity, civic responsibility and a host of other noble ethics and morals. There is good in almost every religion.
On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that all religions can’t be equally true, because, in terms of their major beliefs, they all contradict each other! If we compare the doctrines of the major religions regarding the concept of God, the afterlife, the process of salvation, and the essential nature of humanity, the world’s religions are in complete disagreement with each other. (See the PowerPoint presentation in the Resources section, below, for more details). If we analyse the vast theological gulf that separates many of these disparate views, we are faced with only two logical possibilities: either all of these religions are wrong, or, at best, one is correct and the rest are wrong. But they can’t all be equally valid, because they contradict each other at every major point of doctrine.
For a person to choose to believe one religion and disbelieve all the others is a far more sensible position to hold than the person who tries to maintain that they are all equally valid. The act of choosing one religion over all the others does not deny the noble elements within other religions, but simply acknowledges the logical impossibility of trying to believe all religions at once.
Instructions For Downloading PowerPoint Presentations: Click the PowerPoint link, then click the “Open” drop down box at the top right of the screen and select “Open in PowerPoint Online” or “Open In PowerPoint”. When the presentation is opened, click the “Notes” tab at the bottom right of screen. This will open the Presenter Notes, which provide a detailed explanation of each slide. Some slides also have embedded video content, which can be viewed via the standard “play” button or by clicking the image.