The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ in Major World Religions – Revisited

Jesus

Source document excerpts from downloadable 50 page PDFGary Habermas. Uniqueness-of-Jesus-Christ

1. Jesus Claimed to be Deity
At least from what we can tell authoritatively concerning Buddha, Confucius, and Lao Tzu, there are no rivals to Jesus whatsoever in that these three teachers definitely did not refer to themselves as deity, especially not in the theistic sense that we are speaking here.The Qur’an definitely does not elevate Muhammad to the place of Allah (Surahs 14:11; 40:78) or worship Muhammad (Surahs 21:25-26; 23:32; 41:14). So while Muhammad is Allah’s chief prophet and messenger (Surahs 4:13-14; 16:43-44; 33:6, 33), there is no attempt to make him deity. To the contrary, Allah has no partners (Surahs 4:48, 171; 5:72, 117). Thus, Muhammad does not make claims such as those made by Jesus in the Gospels. As Muslim scholar Anderson notes, for Islam, “the one unforgiveable sin is that of shirk, or associating anyone or anything with the Almighty. The very idea of an incarnation of the deity is therefore anathema, or simple blasphemy.” Neither does the Judaism Scriptures (Old Testament) place any prophet or leader on God’s level. Arguably the most sacred text in the Old Testament, the Shema (Deut. 6:4) left no room for prophets or other human beings to co-occupy God’s place or throne. Rather, we are told that God will not share his glory with anyone else (Isa. 48:11). So neither are Abraham, David, Isaiah, Daniel, or anyone else candidates for godhood, and again, no claims are made for them such as Jesus makes in the Gospels.

One of our earliest and very clearest indications of Jesus’ self-claims that combined the two titles Son of God and Son of Man occurred when the High Priest asked Jesus if he were actually the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus declared firmly and positively. Then going further beyond the question, Jesus ever asserted that he was likewise the Son of Man who would co-reign on God’s throne and come on the clouds in judgement! By his answer as well as by ripping his clothing, the High Priest pronounced his verdict that Jesus’ claims constituted blasphemy (Mk 14:61-64).

Of the five claims that Jesus either affirmed or made in this setting (that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Man, would be sitting on God’s right hand, and coming with the clouds of heaven in judgment), scholars often agree that probably Jesus’ strongest claim on this occasion was that he would sit on the right side of God on his throne. The high priest’s charge of blasphemy followed Jesus’ answer.

2. Jesus Himself as the Path to Salvation
Examples of the different world religious roads to salvation certainly vary. Personal piety is also emphasized. For Hinduism and Buddhism, there are different teachings in the various traditions, but release from the cycle of birth and rebirth in various reincarnations is a very frequent goal. Buddhism also prescribes the Fourfold Path as the means of dealing with the perception of suffering and its cessation by eliminating one’s desire. Further, the Buddhist Eightfold Path can be summarized under three headings: faith, morality, and meditation.

In contrast, Christianity emphasizes God’s grace being given freely so that humans may commit their lives in faith to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died for their sins and rose from the dead.

So while the major world religious teachers might commonly be content with teaching that they would help their followers discover God’s path, or teach them the secrets of life, or similar ideas, only Jesus emphasized the ontological truth that what they did specifically with him determined whether or not they would enter the eternal Kingdom of God. It was in himself that his hearers were confronted with God’s presence as well as God’s message.

The difference between Jesus and all the other religious founders at this specific point, then, is between pronouncing the epistemic theme that others knew the path of life, and teaching the further ontological message that Jesus was that path in himself. It is both less radical as well as less unique to teach, “Here’s the path, get on it” than it is to proclaim, “I am that path myself, so you need to place me above everyone and everything in your life.” The latter is the message that Jesus taught, and this also made him more radically different.

3. Jesus Performed Miracles in the Early Sources
For originators like Buddha, Confucius, and Lao-Tzu, miracles seem simply foreign to their original mission because of the rather naturalistic philosophical outlook.

Lastly, no miracles are reported of Muhammad in the Qur’an beyond his recording the words themselves, though miraculous reports do appear in the Hadith tradition, beginning some 200 years later. Interestingly enough, however, the Qur’an does state that Jesus performed miracles and even specified some of them (Surahs 3:49; 5:110). Compared to the non-biblical founders of the major world religions, only Jesus has miracles reported of him in early sources.

4. Jesus’ Death for Salvation
Furthermore, of the major world religious founders, only Jesus taught that his death would provide the means by which salvation would be available for the world. For instance, Jesus taught that his death would serve as a ransom for human sin, achieving what humans could not (Mk. 10:26-27; 10:45). Then at the Last Supper, Jesus specified that his blood would be shed for many (14:22-25, especially v. 24; cf. Matt. 26:8).

Neither a single Old Testament prophet nor Muhammad taught anything like their own death paying for sins! Anderson, a Muslim authority, states that the idea of sacrifice “holds no central position in the religion of Islam.” Of course, the Jewish sacrificial system was clearly central in the Old Testament. However, the Old Testament concept teaches animal sacrifice and the Book of Hebrews capitalizes on Jesus’ Christ’s death being efficacious and far more valuable and distinctive than the prior practices. The Christian notion of Christ’s death as an atonement for sins remains unique.

5. The Place of Real Pain and Suffering
Christianity may be the only religion where its very Gospel message not only includes, but absolutely requires the existence of real evil, pain, and suffering. In other words, Christianity may be alone in admitting that the reality and centrality of pain is grounded in its central Gospel message of the death Jesus’ died. As a result, its existence cannot be ignored, set aside, or explained away as unreal. Rather, these notions must be embraced, without allowing it to be explained by metaphor, illusion, or delusion. Since Jesus’ crucifixion is at the very center of the Gospel facts, affirming evil and suffering is a literal fact and this requires its stark reality. Further, this type of suffering and pain is both physical as well as existential. It goes without saying that physical pain is a given in Roman crucifixion. After all, it may well be the most painful death to undergo.

Is the Christian view of evil’s reality really a unique stance in religion? It largely depends on how the nature of particular Hindu and Buddhist beliefs are taken. Both Eastern philosophies have much to say about the nature of illusion.

6. The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus
Of the major religious founders of the world religions, only traditional Christianity holds that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and appeared to his followers in space-time history. The difference is even starker among those who teach that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead with an empty tomb left behind. For those who might judge that the best reasons favored the many comments by Jesus and the early New Testament authors that this event indicated that Jesus’ teachings were true, the resurrection could potentially validate the truth of the entire Christian Gospel message. There is nothing comparable to this combination of event plus message in the world religions.

Summary:
Jesus was the only founder of a major world religion who taught or did these things:
(1) Jesus referred to himself as deity.
(2) Jesus taught that in his person, Jesus was the actual path to the Kingdom of God and eternal life.
(3) Jesus was the only teacher among the non-Christian founders whose miracles are reported of him in the early sources.
(4) Jesus was the only one who taught that he would die for human sin.
(5) Jesus and the early Christian view of suffering may not quite be as exclusive a teaching, but it is still a very distinctive angle on the subject.
(6) Jesus’ resurrection, especially the New Testament bodily version, along with this event validating his major teachings, is totally unrivalled, especially when critical methods are emphasized.

World religions expert Stephen Neill makes a simply incredible comment concerning the uniqueness of Jesus’ teachings:”For, if we take the Gospels seriously (and at the same time as critically as you will), Jesus is not the least like anyone else who has ever lived. The things that he says about God are not the same as the sayings of any other religious teacher. The claims that he makes for himself are not the same as those that have been made by any other religious teacher. . . . The demands he makes on men are more searching than those put forward by any other religious teacher.”

Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!

4 comments

  1. Amen Bruce our Lord and Saviour is unique! There is none like Him, rather than standing in comparison before Him they stand in stark contrast before Him. Thank you for this encouraging summary Bruce, God bless you and your family this weekend brother.

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    • Hi Alan, when I read your comment, this verse came immediately into my mind. Ephesians 3:20-21 “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” I’m thinking that this could be a blessed weekend for all of us indeed! Blessings brother!

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