Tag Archives: Dewayne Bryant

Christianity As A New Way To Live — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

People today often think of religion as a list of requirements with things to do and other things to avoid. If we surveyed the typical person on the street, they might say that religion is concerned with a person’s behavior. If we were to travel back two thousand years, the average person would give a very different response. Religion in the ancient world focused mainly upon responsibilities involving rituals and religious observances. It had very little to say about a person’s everyday behavior. Interestingly enough, neither definition accurately describes the Christian’s faith.

Christianity represented a bold new way of life built upon the same moral precepts as Judaism. Unlike religions of the time, the teachings of Christ and his inspired apostles prescribed an ethical code normally found only in the work of philosophers. Because of this fact, some scholars believe that Christianity only loosely fits the definition of religion when considered in its first-century context. Simply put, it was a new faith with a revolutionary perspective on the meaning of living.

The Value of Human Life. Compared to those who followed pagan religions of the time, Christianity offered an elevated view of human life. Indeed, Christianity was the world’s first system of belief (or philosophy) that advocated the inherent value of human life. Thus, for the ancients, slaves would be tortured when giving evidence in a trial under the assumption that they would only tell the truth under such conditions. Orphans, slaves, prisoners of war, and anyone with a congenital disability had no claims to human rights.

An especially noteworthy concern was infant exposure. Usually caring people seem to have felt little reluctance about ridding themselves of an unwanted newborn. Around 1 BC, a Roman soldier named Hilarion sent a letter to his pregnant wife. He expresses his tender affection for her, yet also tells her to keep the child if it happened to be a boy, but “cast it out” if it happened to be a girl. It is even more striking when we consider that the fate of these discarded children was often to be picked up by those who would sell them as slaves, many of whom would be put to use as prostitutes in brothels. A few Roman writers argued against infant exposure but made no attempt to stop it. Christian and Jewish writers universally condemned the practice.

Violent Sport. Combat sports are among the earliest in the history of human civilization. Evidence from ancient Sumer indicates the popularity of wrestling in both art and literature. This continued in Greece in various games in the Olympics, where competitors fought with a brutality that would shock most moderns. Boxing matches regularly resulted in serious injury. Pankration—a particularly violent combat sport with almost no rules—ended when one of the combatants either submitted or died.

In the Roman Empire, spectators enjoyed gladiatorial combat. These contests often used slaves captured and trained to fight. Crowds packed ancient arenas to watch gladiators battle one another. While not always lethal, gladiatorial combat featured the violent death of at least some participants. Participants—many of whom were prisoners of war—did not use Roman equipment, but wore armor that signified them as foreigners. This is unsurprising when considered in light of ancient attitudes against those from foreign cultures (contra Lev. 19:33-34; Ps. 146:9; Gal. 3:14, 28).

Human sexuality. One of the most striking concerns of Christianity was an emphasis on the holiness of human sexuality and the expectation of a consistent standard for men and women (1 Cor. 7:2-4). Ancient society held wives to a strict standard of sexual behavior but permitted men in general—including husbands—a great deal of latitude. One famous example of this double standard appears in the fourth century BC Greek orator Demosthenes, in which he says that men have concubines for pleasure, female slaves for daily needs (to express it rather crudely), and wives to produce “legitimate children” and manage the home.

The apostle Paul demands that husbands treat their wives, as well as those of other men, honorably (1 Thess. 4:3-8). He makes this an essential qualification for elders. If his reference to a “man of one woman” (1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Tit. 1:6) is understood in light of the cultural background, then leaders in the church were forbidden to behave as their pagan neighbors, seeking sexual experiences with women other than their own wives (Gen. 1:27; Heb. 13:4). This insistence upon a single standard for sexual behavior both elevated the status of women and underscored the sanctity of the marriage relationship in a culture that gave little thought to men having extramarital sex with slaves and prostitutes. Of all the religions of the ancient world (excepting Judaism), Christianity empowered women with the right to expect fidelity from their husbands.

Christianity’s Universal Standards. Some Roman writers argued for a moral standard that resembled Christianity in many ways. We should expect this to be the case. Every person loves friends and family, admires discipline and charity, and hopes to see justice prevail when injustices occur. The important difference here, however, is that ancient writers did not argue for universal acceptance of the principles they advocated. This expectation seems to have applied to their students specifically. Christians expected everyone to be treated equally as every person, regardless of the culture in which they live, serves as an image-bearer of God.

The New Testament prescribes a life of distinction. The Christian life must be characterized by moral excellence and in a way that noticeable to others. Jesus made this clear when describing believers using the metaphors of salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16). Christians should conduct themselves so that they not only reflect the glory of Christ (1 Cor. 10:31) but so that they attract others to live the same glorious life.

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX. He serves as a staff writer for Apologetics Press and the Apologia Institute, and as a professional associate for the Associates for Biblical Research.

A Bookish Faith — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

Christianity demonstrates many distinctive features when compared with other world religions. One of those features is its “bookish” nature (a term frequently used by New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado). Early Christians valued texts more highly—and used them much more often—than any other religion at the time except Judaism. It is perhaps because of Christianity that we tend to identify religions according to their sacred texts, which was virtually unheard of in antiquity.

Roman religions focused on activities or performances, usually consisting of making offerings or sacrifices to the gods. People liked receiving divine favors, and they thought of their gods as enjoying gifts provided by their worshippers. If people wanted to express thanks for something the deity had done, they might leave a gift (such as a votive object) in the temple to show their thanks. Religions also featured temples, altars, shrines, sacred places, and images of the gods. Texts made little if any contribution to the worship of the Roman gods.

Early Christians emphasized texts. This has caused some scholars to question whether Christianity could even be called a “religion” by Roman standards. While they practiced religious activities such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper, they did not have other items traditionally used by other religious groups. Biblical Christianity has no altars, temples, shrines, and the like. Unlike their pagan counterparts, Christians regularly read texts as part of worship. The only other group to do so were Jews in the synagogue (cf. Luke 4:16-21; Acts 13:14-15; 15:21).

The production of texts can only be described as impressive. Other religions had myths concerning their gods, but virtually nothing we would call “scripture.” Mithraism, for example, is a Roman mystery cult which appears in the historical record shortly after the founding of the church. It has almost no textual or inscriptional evidence, leaving scholars to wonder about a great many things the early worshippers of Mithras believed and taught. In contrast, Christians wrote voluminously. In the first three centuries of the church, believers had authored over 200 different compositions. Only a select portion produced by the inspired writers would be counted as Scripture, but it does highlight the textual nature of early Christianity.

The production and dissemination of texts further show the interconnectedness of Christians. While different versions of gods might be worshipped in various locations, the early Christians seem focused on the importance of consistent belief (2 Tim. 1:13-14; 2:24-26; Tit. 1:9-11; 2:1). The apostle Paul required faithful Christians to transmit sound doctrine accurately (2 Tim. 2:2). Not only did it properly equip the faithful (2 Tim. 3:15-17), it communicated the means of salvation (Eph. 1:13; 1 Tim. 4:16). Further, the biblical authors instructed their fellow Christians to earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3), because any tampering with the truth would lead to dire consequences (Rev. 22:18-19; see also Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6).

The books of the New Testament were given to many different churches for reading. Paul tells the church in Colossae to share his writings with the church in Laodicea and vice versa (Col. 4:16). He sends his epistle to the Galatians not to one congregation but the “churches of Galatia” (Gal. 1:2). Paul may have intended his letter to the Romans to include more than one congregation (Rom. 1:7). Most famously, the book of Revelation was meant to be read by the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 1:4). This emphasis upon sharing texts seems to have been intended not only to foster a sense of community but to ensure that Christians had a consistent doctrine.

A particularly interesting feature of the New Testament books is their sheer size. Letters in the ancient world could be quite short. The longest letter composed by the Roman orator Cicero’s is 2,350 words, while the Roman philosopher Seneca’s longest is 4,134 words. Both of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians exceed these lengths, with his letter to the Romans consisting of an impressive 7,101 words. Even the relatively short letter to Philemon was quite long by Roman standards. This probably explains Paul’s comment about others considering his letters to be “weighty” (2 Cor. 10:10)—it was probably a comment more on their size than their contents. While philosophers did use letters to communicate their teachings, no other individual or group did so like Paul and the other New Testament authors.

Finally, passages in the New Testament make it clear that the books carried authority. Paul intended his letters to serve as authorities when he could not be present himself (1 Cor. 14:37-38). The apostle Peter included a reference to the authority of Paul’s letters, placing them in the same category as “the other Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). When using this term, New Testament authors generally refer to the books of the Hebrew Bible. In other words, within his lifetime Paul’s writings had been accorded the same status as the books that God-fearers had considered inspired for many centuries.

Unlike other world religions of the time — and even some today — Christianity has always been a faith concerned with Scripture. The value that Christians ascribed their texts is indicated by the massive number available in light of the time, effort, and expense involved in copying these documents. In spite of the substantial cost, believers reproduced these texts because of their central importance to the faith. This should impress upon modern believers a sense of awe at the very fact that Bibles are so readily available to Christians in the West. It should also concern us whenever someone emphasizes opinions or feelings over the Word of God. Christians considered their Scriptures indispensably precious for life and faith. So should we.

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX.

Christianity And The History Of Human Dignity — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

Moderns in the West often take the inherent dignity and worth of human beings for granted. We assume that recognizing the value of another person is intrinsic to humanity—or believe that it should be. We are shocked and outraged by human rights violations in nations around the world and crusade for fundamental rights for every individual. After all, the Founding Fathers enshrined the “unalienable rights” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in America’s consciousness through the Declaration of Independence. Not everyone realizes that this perspective is largely the product of a Christian worldview.

Before the emergence of Christianity, recognition of human dignity was incredibly uncommon. The devaluation of foreigners, women, and different ethnic groups occurred with a frequency that might surprise many moderns. Even in the 20th century, some groups living in nations whose governments were mostly non-Christian or anti-Christian enjoyed far fewer rights than those living in nations influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The value of human life in Scripture stems from mankind’s creation by God. Not only is humanity the apex of God’s creative activities, but we are also the only creations who bear his image (Gen. 1:27). Elsewhere, Scripture states that humanity was created with status only slightly lower than that of angels (Ps. 8:5). Unsurprisingly, the Bible’s view of humanity is often quite higher than that of other worldviews both ancient and modern.

Partiality and Favoritism

Using unequal standards in the treatment of others is nearly as old as time itself. In the ancient world, social status was often a determining factor in punishments for criminal behavior. In the ancient Near East, various law codes prescribed different consequences for the offender based on the social status of the victim. To commit a crime against someone of high-ranking status brought more severe penalties than one committed against a slave. Elsewhere in history, the creation of ranks of nobility and aristocracy have often led to the differing treatment of individuals under the law. Money and power have long been used to either purchase or avoid justice.

In Christ, God revealed himself to mankind in the form of a Jew at a time when anti-Semitism was present in the Roman world. He took the form of someone of relatively low social standing, instead of the triumphant monarchial figure his contemporaries expected. He served not as a ruler but as a slave, washing feet when his disciples refused to do so (John 13:1-17) and setting the standard for service for all who would follow him (Matt. 23:11).

Early church history continued the same focus. For example, the third-century work Didascalia Apostolorum forbade a bishop to interrupt the service to greet a person of high social standing, yet also commanded him to see that a pauper would not have to sit on the floor. This echoes the insistence of James that favoritism due to social or economic status is forbidden (Jas. 2:1-13).

Infanticide

Infants were considered expendable under certain conditions in the Roman Empire. After its birth, a midwife would lay the child at the feet of its father. By picking up the child, the father signaled its acceptance into the family. If he did not—likely because it had some visible deformity or was female—the child would be left outside in a remote place or on a trash heap. The child would either die from exposure or wild animals or be taken by slavers for sale. Roman writers such as Cicero and Seneca noted physical weakness or deformity as the deciding factor in whether to keep a child (De Legibus 3.8 and De Ira 1.15, respectively).

Jesus taught the value of children. When the disciples tried to wave away children wanting to see Jesus, he told them, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). In a time where children had secondary status, Jesus uses them as a model of faith.

The early church viewed abortion as murder. The Didache instructed Christians not to procure an abortion or kill a newborn child (2.2). Justin Martyr also prohibited the exposure of children (Apology 1.27). Minucius Felix also forbade infanticide, stating that some exposed children to wild animals, while others strangled newborn infants or took abortifacients to kill them in the womb (Octavius 30.1-3).

The Greco-Roman world did not have a monopoly on infanticide. It appears throughout history in many cultures. The modern form of this is, of course, abortion. Countries such as China, India, Pakistan, and other nations throughout the Middle and Far East, have an extremely high male-to-female ratio in the population, with sex-selective abortion thought to play a significant role in this discrepancy (the same spirit was common in antiquity, where families typically kept only one female child). Some estimate that there are more than 100 million “missing” women from the combined populations of these areas today due to female infanticide. Nearly 60 million babies have been aborted in the United States since Roe v. Wade in 1973.

Misogyny

Although it is fashionable among critics to claim that Christianity is an inherently misogynistic religion, a comparison with the Greco-Roman culture of the first century shows clear differences between the two. Roman writings often refer to the infirmity of the female sex (infirmitas sexus) and the fickleness of the female mind (levitas animi). It seems that women’s testimony in court was viewed as unreliable, and Roman society held wives to a double standard concerning marital fidelity (cf. 1 Tim. 3:2). The culture expected unflagging faithfulness from wives. While philandering husbands could have mistresses and hire the services of prostitutes, women in the time of emperor Augustus could be banished for marital infidelity.

In contrast, the Bible view women as having a worth equal to men. Paul eliminates cultural/racial, socio-economic, and gender qualifications concerning who may be a follower of Christ (Gal. 3:28), which may have been prompted by a particular Jewish blessing that possibly dates to the first century AD. This prayer thanked God that the one praying was not made a Gentile, ignorant, or a woman (Tosefta Berakoth 7:18). We cannot miss the fact, however, that many Christian men have not been as quick to adopt a biblical view of women in history.

Later religions, such as Islam, hold a far dimmer view of women than people in ancient Rome. The Qur’an states, “Allah permits you to shut them in separate rooms and to beat them, but not severely. If they abstain, they have the right to food and clothing. Treat women well for they are like domestic animals and they possess nothing themselves. Allah has made the enjoyment of their bodies lawful in his Qur’an” (Sura 9:113). No matter how we interpret this passage, we cannot come away with much that is positive by comparing women to livestock who may be beaten into submission and whose existence is to serve the pleasures of their husbands.

Unbelievers and Outsiders

Humanity has always struggled with “the other.” Historically, the division between races has been a significant problem for various religions. Particularly noteworthy is Islam’s historic call for the destruction of Jews (Sahih Al-Muslim Book 41, Number 6985; cf. Sura 5:51, 54), a mantra often repeated in the Middle East today. It is not difficult to find examples of Muslim authorities teaching that Jews are the descendants of apes and pigs—a charge which does not appear in the Qur’an but can be found in Muslim writings dating back to the Medieval Period.

Other faiths have also espoused less enlightened views. After the death of Joseph Smith, Jr., the Mormon church barred anyone of African descent from the Mormon priesthood. This decision was reversed — conveniently enough — at the same time as the Civil Rights Movement. The Nation of Islam makes it clear that anyone of Jewish or Caucasian ancestry is a wicked creation of an evil scientist named Yakub just over 6,000 years ago. Some smaller fringe religious traditions and cultic movements sometimes have similar beliefs, such as identifying the mark of Cain (Genesis 4:15) or curse of Canaan (Genesis 9:25-27) as darker-colored skin.

In the New Testament, we see Jesus’ willingness to seek out individuals such as the Samaritan woman and Zacchaeus the tax collector (John 4:1-26; Luke 19:1-10), and his willingness to make the same kinds of individuals into righteous figures worthy of imitation in some of his parables (Luke 10:30-37; 18:9-14). Other examples appear in the Hebrew Bible (1 Kings 17:8-24; 2 Kings 5:1-14). Jesus’ ministry involved calling not the righteous, but sinners, to repentance (Luke 5:32), which included no qualifications regarding culture or ethnicity.

For Christians, one of the distinctive features of the gospel is its availability to all. The Bible recognizes no inferior human beings based on criteria commonly employed in discrimination against others. While this may have been an evil from the beginning of civilization, it has no place among God’s people. We celebrate the church’s rich diversity and see every human being as a unique living sculpture crafted by the Master Artist.

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX. He serves as a staff writer for Apologetics Press and the Apologia Institute, and as a professional associate for the Associates for Biblical Research.

A Different Kind Of Faith — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

The uniqueness of Christianity sets it apart from other world religions. At times, believers have received ill treatment ranging from simple ridicule to outright persecution. In the first century, Christianity appeared as a faith different from anything the Roman Empire had ever seen. Although many differences emerge upon close examination, Christians differed from their religious neighbors in three significant areas: their worship of one God, the promotion of morals, and religious practice.

Exclusive Worship of One God. Christians differed sharply from their pagan neighbors in worshiping only one God at the exclusion of all others. The Romans had no problem with Christians worshipping God as long as they paid respect to the gods of Rome. Pagans saw early Christians’ refusal to do so as both bizarre and intolerable. Christians acquired the reputation of being seditious, divisive, and dangerous to the well-being of the empire.

The Romans tolerated Jew’s insistence upon worshipping Yahweh alone because of the antiquity of the Jewish faith. As a recent development with no ties to any particular ethnicity or nation (Gal. 3:28b), Christian beliefs found little sympathy. The Romans saw the exclusive worship of one God as unprecedented and unjustifiable.

Promotion of Morals and Ethics. Christianity is not merely a religion of theological tenets and beliefs but prescribes distinctive ethical teachings. The typical person in the ancient world made little if any connection between religion and morals—this was the domain of philosophy. The religious were interested in placating the gods and warding off unwanted attention from vengeful spirits. Christianity offered a moral and ethical system of belief designed to imitate God’s holiness and righteousness (Eph. 5:1-14). Indeed, ancient religion had little interest in emulating the gods, whose behavior was often deplorable if not criminal.

Religious Practice. Religious activities made up a significant part of the fabric of daily life. Christianity differed from paganism in that it had no altar, sacrifices, depictions of God, shrines or temples, or priesthood (at least, not how pagans understood them; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19; 1 Pet. 2:5). Temples could often be found in the heart of the city, and shrines and altars could be seen throughout (e.g., Acts 17:16). Rome expected its citizens to worship the gods, which Christians in good conscience could not do.

With an abundance of opportunities for showing the necessary reverence to the gods, Christians must have had a difficult time navigating society. In the modern world, concealing one’s Christian faith is relatively simple; in the Roman Empire, such a thing would have been almost impossible. Living out the faithful Christian life was not only a matter of choice but of consistency. New Testament writers commended the perseverance of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:2-7) and the Ephesians (Rev. 2:2-3) for their resolute faith under challenging circumstances.

The behavior of the early Christians must have left their neighbors befuddled. The disdain and even hostility of the Romans toward early believers is proof of the distinctiveness of the Christian faith. It differed from both the traditional religions of the classical world and the mystery cults. In spite of the consequences they suffered for their faith, Christians lived their lives as a “peculiar people” (1 Pet. 2:9). They weathered the efforts other others in their day to compromise their distinctiveness and conform to popular attitudes toward religion. They serve as a model for those today who still seek to imitate Christ and bring the light of life to a darkened world (2 Cor. 4:6-11).

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX. He serves as a staff writer for Apologetics Press and the Apologia Institute, and as a professional associate for the Associates for Biblical Research.

The Uniqueness of Christianity — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

The story is told about a British conference on comparative religions attended by the famed apologist C. S. Lewis. During one session in which a number of scholars vigorously debated the uniqueness of the Christian faith, Lewis wandered into the room and asked, “What’s the rumpus about?” Those present told him they were debating whether Christianity offered any unique contributions in the world of religion. Without missing a beat, Lewis replied, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

While Lewis was correct, he only touched the hem of the garment. When Christianity first appeared in the context of the Roman Empire, it proved to be a faith unlike anything else the world had ever seen. Contrary to the beliefs of some critics, Christianity does not owe anything to pagan beliefs that preceded it. Here we will survey just a few of the things that made the Christian faith distinct from other religions available at the time.

Monotheism

The Judeo-Christian tradition stood apart from other religions because it advocated the worship of one God. In contrast, Roman religion was thoroughly polytheistic. The number of gods, divinities, and spirits recognized by Romans numbered into the thousands.

Human beings attached gods to peoples (1 Kings 11:7), forces of nature (1 Kings 18:24), and geographical areas (1 Kings 20:28). Throughout the Greco-Roman world, cities had patron gods, a practice that existed as far back as the earliest times in ancient Mesopotamia. The Romans went even further by revering divinities responsible for such minuscule things as the lock of a door or the first cry of a newborn child. Roman deities could very well be an example of micromanagement at its finest.

Unfortunately, the exclusive worship of God in the early church caused Romans to perceive it as dangerous and subversive. Romans feared that the Christians would offend the gods of Rome by failing to give proper respect. This would, in turn, cause the gods to withdraw their blessings from the empire. The authorities considered Christianity so potentially harmful that they punished believers with the death penalty, a fact illustrated by the correspondence between Emperor Trajan and Pliny the Younger in the early second century.

Christianity as a “Book Religion”

Today, religions can be identified by texts that most represent their teachings. This was not possible before the emergence of the early church. Pagan religions did not have sacred texts that served in an equivalent manner as the Bible. While important sacred texts did exist (such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead), these were not intended for public reading, nor were they used to reveal the will of the gods or shape the behavior of faithful believers.

Jews considered Scripture reading essential. In the Old Testament, God commanded the reading of the Law (Deut. 31:11). During the time of Ezra, the law was read publicly for hours on end while Jewish believers reverently stood at attention (Neh. 8:3). The importance of reading Scripture continued in the New Testament period with readings in synagogues (Luke 4:16-21; Acts 13:14-15; 15:21). This practice continued in Christianity with an emphasis on the written word (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; 1 Tim. 4:15; 2 Tim. 3:16). Although Jews valued the reading of Scripture, Judaism had always been concerned more with orthopraxy (proper behavior or religious observance) than orthodoxy (proper belief), the latter of which was distinctive to the early church.

The existence of such a vast number of manuscripts also implies the importance of doctrine. Pagans had little concern for proper beliefs concerning their gods, as numerous stories offer contradictory accounts of events during the experiences of the deities worshiped in the Roman Empire. Christianity has always been concerned with sound doctrine (1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2 John 9), which has no true parallel in any other religion, ancient or modern. Romans looked to philosophy, not religion, for teaching on proper living.

Exclusivity and Openness in Christianity

The contrast between Christianity and other religions regarding membership could hardly be more vivid. Formal cults offering the traditional worship of the gods were very open. Membership was not exclusive, unlike Christianity which recognized only those as members who had gone through specific steps including expressing faith, repenting of sinful behavior, adopting a holy lifestyle, and being immersed for the forgiveness of sins (cf. Acts 2:14-41).

The mystery religions—so-called because of their secrecy—opened their doors to almost anyone who had sufficient resources to cover the cost of initiation. Membership in one did not preclude membership in another (although the expense of initiation could be cost-prohibitive). The price of admission finds no parallel in Christianity.

Mystery religions valued secrecy so much that a mob nearly murdered the Greek playwright Aeschylus (c.523–c.456 BC) because an audience perceived one of his play as revealing secrets of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Christianity, on the other hand, has always been open to all regardless of gender or socioeconomic status and offers membership to any who would follow Christ. While the mystery cults were open to a select few, the gospel is for all (Rom. 1:16; Gal. 3:26-29).

Efforts made by critics to show that Christianity evolved from other religious traditions in the ancient world cannot withstand scrutiny. This is familiar territory in critical scholarship, as various writers have attempted to connect both ancient Judaism and early Christianity with other religious movements and ideas. If Christianity emerged independently from upon other religions, then its distinctiveness must be explained. It bears the marks not of invention or evolution, but of divine revelation.

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX. He serves as a staff writer for Apologetics Press and the Apologia Institute, and as a professional associate for the Associates for Biblical Research.

Two Religions, Two Gods — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

Before 11 September, most people knew very little about Islam. The average person might have recognized the name Muhammad as belonging to a famous religious figure but would have known little about his life or teachings. Although Muslims had been immigrating to the US since the 19th century, their numbers were small enough that they remained unfamiliar to most Americans.

The destruction of the World Trade Center put Islam under a spotlight. Americans wanted to know about the religion of those responsible for the greatest act of domestic terror in the nation’s history. Books on Islam began to appear. Sales of both the Bible and the Qur`an spiked.

In 2015, Larycia Hawkins, a tenured professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, wore the hijab as a sign of solidarity between Christians and Muslims. She said that she stood alongside Muslims because both Christians and Muslims are “people of the book” who worship the same God. Naturally, this aroused no small amount of suspicion on the part of the administration. Although Hawkins’ writings included the apparent endorsement of theological traditions at odds with Scripture, her donning a purple hijab seems to have been the final stroke leading up to her departure from the school. Are Hawkins and others—such as Pope Francis and Roman Catholic apologists—correct in their assessment that Christians and Muslims both worship the same God?

Different Gods

Christianity and Islam share much of the same religious history as well as many individual characteristics. Both claim belief in a single God, point to some of the same sacred texts as authoritative, and agree on many points of moral teaching. With such extensive similarities, some have concluded that the two faiths are different approaches to worshiping the same God. As popular as this may be in the popular media, neither the Qur’an nor the Bible permits such an identification.

The most significant difference between Christianity and Islam is the radical view of the oneness of God (tawhid) in Muslim doctrine. Isma’il al-Faruqi (1921-1986) says, “There can be no doubt that the essence of Islam is al tawhid, the act of affirming Allah to be the One, the Absolute, transcendent Creator, the Lord and Master of all that is” (al-Faruqi 1995, 17). This language sounds similar to what a Christian might confess about the God of the Bible, but there is a more profound difference between God and Allah: the absolute denial of the Trinity.

Like some others throughout church history—such as adoptionists, Arians, and Socinians—Muslims deny the doctrine of Trinity. According to Muslim thinkers, Christians recognize three gods in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit even though the New Testament teaches their oneness. One passage which indicates something of the triune nature of God occurs is in John 14. Philip asks Jesus to “show us the Father” (v.8) Jesus responds, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9).
On 13 October 2007, 138 Islamic scholars issued an open letter titled, A Common Word Between Us and You. The basis of the letter was Sura 3:64, which calls Christians to come to a common belief in God as one, not to associate any other gods with him, and to submit to Allah. The letter, whose signatories represented every major Islamic country or region, asks that Christians profess their love for God by embracing his oneness, and therefore rejecting any “associate.” By this, they meant a complete repudiation of belief in Jesus as God’s divine Son (Sura 5:78; 9:30; contra John 10:30), as well as the divinity of the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Cor. 13:14).

The denial of the Trinity is a significant problem for those who would equate God and Allah. This is not a simple matter of describing a minor difference of opinion. Muslims classify the belief in the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit as the sin of shirk (practicing idolatry or polytheism) and see it as ranking among the gravest offenses a human being can commit. Muslims deny the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit (whom they call “associates” or “partners”), making their concept of Allah fundamentally different than the description of God found in the Bible.

Different Jesuses

Jesus (Isa) occupies a prominent place in Islamic theology as the second greatest prophet after Muhammad. He is also one of the five elite messengers of Allah, called the “Possessors of Steadfastness (‘Ul al-Azm). Unlike Christians, Muslims have always taught that Jesus was not crucified (Sura 4:157). Like Jews, Muslims could not accept a crucified, humiliated Messiah, a difficulty that the apostle Paul himself addressed when writing to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:23).

Not only do Muslims reject the historical reality of the crucifixion, but they also dismiss the deity of Jesus. In doing so, Islam rejects the very foundation of the gospel—the substitutionary death of Christ for the forgiveness of humanity’s sins (cf. Rom. 5:8). Herein lies the beauty of the gospel: human beings are lifeless, helpless, and hopeless; spiritually, little more than walking corpses. In spite of our rebellion against him, God reached down from heaven to pull his people out of spiritual death and take them into his kingdom (Col. 1:13). Sadly, this is something that our Muslim neighbors will not accept.

The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus claimed divinity. He stated, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), a claim that could be seen as relatively vague until we consider the response of his opponents. They understood him to be committing blasphemy, claiming to be God (John 10:33). Other passages clearly teach the deity of Christ (John 1:1-14; 20:28; Rom. 10:9; Tit. 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1).

The Jesus of Islam is neither God nor the Son of God. If Jesus is not divine, this puts further distance between the Muslim and Christian understandings of the essential nature and character of God himself. A person cannot remain in right standing with God while rejecting the Son (Matt. 10:33; cf. John 8:19). In Christianity, recognizing Jesus as divine is a non-negotiable necessity; in Islam, it is blasphemy of the highest order.

Different Scriptures

Although we may hear the oft-repeated refrain, “Both Christians and Muslims are people of the book,” the question is, “Which book?” Neither Christians nor Muslims can accept the teachings of the Qur’an and remain true to the Bible. For this reason, Muslims believe that the Bible is a corrupted book. The late Islamic scholar Hammadah Abdalati states, “Long before the revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad, some of those books and revelations [given to people like Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus] had been lost or corrupted, others forgotten, neglected or concealed. The only authentic and complete book of God in existence today is the Qur’an” (Abdalati 1975, 12). Although the Qur’an speaks highly of the Bible (Sura 2:41, 89, 101; 5:71), Muslims believe that the information it contains can only be accepted as factual as long as the Qur’an confirms it.

The primacy of the Qur’an is unchallenged in Islam. Although Muslims believe Allah revealed his message through the prophet Muhammad, they consider the Qur’an to be the perfect, eternal word of Allah in much the same way the opening verses of John’s Gospel describe Jesus (John 1:1-14). Religious authorities heavily discourage textual criticism of the Qur’an. Any Muslim scholar attempting to analyze copies of the Qur’an containing textual variants will find himself ostracized if not persecuted.

If the Bible is considered to be a corrupted book, then the only trustworthy text for a faithful Muslim is that of the Qur’an. At the same time, no committed Christian can cede the authority of the Bible. In short, for the Christian and Muslim views of God to be remotely compatible, both must accept the book of the other as authoritative, which is something neither side will do. Christians will not accept the authority of the Qur’an. Muslims will not defer to the Bible when they believe it to be an adulterated text. This produces an insurmountable impasse in any attempt to equate the two faiths.

Different Faiths

Although some professing Christians consider Allah and the God of the Bible to be the same, doing so means ignoring many essential differences between Muslims and Christians. Recognizing these differences is not an expression of intolerance, condescension, exclusion, or judgment but a description of fact.

Some have argued that all religions interpret the same events or persons differently. To be consistent, however, this cannot be permitted when it comes to the nature of God. Either the Qur’an—as the eternally true, pure, and perfect word of Allah—is correct, or it is not. There is no middle ground for dialogue. The Bible and the Qur’an make mutually exclusive claims.

A desire for peace might motivate the efforts to connect Christianity and Islam. Without a doubt, the New Testament teaches that Christians should strive to live at peace with others if at all possible (Rom. 12:18). At the same time, Christians cannot make compromises with those in error. Even a cursory examination reveals that Allah and God are two different beings, causing these two religions to differ on the most fundamental level.

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX. He serves as a staff writer for Apologetics Press and the Apologia Institute, and as a professional associate for the Associates for Biblical Research.

References

  1. Abdalati, Hammada. Islam in Focus. Indianapolis, IN: American Trust Publications, 1975.
  2. Al-Faruqi, Isma’il. Al Tawid: Its Implications for Thought and Life. Verndon: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1995.