Monotheism and Divine Revelation
As we just discerned from the previous page, we’ve narrowed our search to three candidates: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We'll now narrow our search to one tentative candidate. We'll then briefly focus on this candidate and then see how Buddhism affirms our choice. This affirmation seems strange since Buddhism is so different from the other three, but this makes our inquiry all the more fascinating.
Evaluation of Judaism
Judaism holds that God established a relationship between himself and the Hebrew nation. Israel was the “first born” of the nations and this light of divine revelation was to flow from Israel to the ends of the Earth.
As we’ve already said, it’s noteworthy that Judaism introduced the foreign concept of monotheism to a polytheistic world. It also described God exactly as Greek philosophy would deduce intellectually 1000 year later: He who is [being itself].
Even more interesting, the other two candidates for divine revelation also affirm that God spoke to the Hebrews. Christianity fully affirms the divine revelation given to the Hebrews while Islam affirms that the revelation occurred but disagrees that it was faithfully handed down.
There’s a popular perception that there are too many religions and too much disagreement to possibly find the one that's the receptacle of divine truth. But we just noticed powerful agreement about Judaism in our three candidates. This suggests that the revelation given to Judaism needs to be taken very seriously.
Evaluation of Christianity
How does Christianity fit into Jewish revelation?
As we said earlier, Christianity has its origin in Judaism in a set of ancient prophesies concerning a Messiah: The Messiah would come to liberate Israel/Judaism from its enemies. This prophecy grew stronger over time until the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. However, many Jews at the time didn’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah because they confused spiritual with temporal enemies.
Christianity is essentially a transformation of Judaism. Jesus destroyed spiritual death and transformed and perfected the covenant made with the Hebrews. The focus was no longer on legal compliance with the Ten Commandments and Jewish Law but on perfection in Christ. The new focus was Love.
The Christians also removed doubt about whether an afterlife was possible. Not only was it now possible, they revealed that it would involve an intimate relationship with God. Personal intimacy with God was a new concept introduced by Christianity. Jesus also introduced another foreign concept: God is a trinity of three persons.
The Christian Jews participated in Jewish life and worship until they were evicted from Judaism in 70 AD. This eviction occurred immediately after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple. Because Jewish sacrifice to atone for sin may only occur in the Temple, the end of the Temple meant the end of the Jewish priesthood. Further, the Jewish prophetic voice stopped and no further prophetic books were written.
The story, though, now gets interesting. Jesus, as Messiah, had instituted a powerful and universal priesthood which fulfilled both the meaning and purpose of the older Jewish priesthood with its symbolic sacrifices. The Jewish priesthood was now obsolete, and it vanished within a generation.
Likewise, the prophetic voice, which had been active in Judaism for millennia with the sending of prophets and the writing of scripture, also ended around the same period. But new books were now being written by the Christians, apparently under the guidance of the prophetic voice. In addition, the concept of the Ecumenical Council was also in the process of development under the guidance of this same voice.
There are too many coincidences here to simply ignore. This history suggests that the Christian understanding of the Messiah may have been correct. It seems that the Messiah did, in fact, come, and that Jesus was part of the long line of Jewish prophets.
It also appears that when the Jewish leadership ejected the Christian Jews in 70 AD, it inadvertently ejected the priesthood and its prophetic voice from its midst. The light that was to flow from Israel to the nations didn't seem to happen in Judaism, but it did occur under this transformation of Judaism called Christianity.
What does this information show? Judaism continues to be a candidate to have received divine revelation. But the historical record suggests that Judaism may have ceased being an active repository of divine revelation and activity. This seems to have passed on to Christianity. Christianity, therefore, is now our primary candidate.
Evaluation of Islam
How does Islam fit into Jewish and Christian revelation?
Islam originated and developed outside of Judaism and Christianity circa 610 AD in Arabia. Islam holds that divine revelation occurred in both Judaism and Christianity but that it became corrupted early on in both religions. To correct these errors, God gave a final revelation. This final revelation was dictated by God to Mohammad in a fixed language to prevent the message from being corrupted.
Islam is an ethical monotheistic religion that contains considerable truth, but there are a number of issues with it that can’t be easily overlooked. The first is that Judaism and Christianity already have self-correcting mechanism which precludes the necessity for Islam (e.g. corruption should not have occurred in either religion). The second is that the Quran, which was supposed to correct error, itself, contains error. Lastly, there's the troubling issue that the initial proclamation of Islam spread principally by the sword.
DO JUDAISM AND CHRISTIANITY HAVE CORRECTIVE MECHANISMS?
Given the many centuries that occurred before Judaism’s revelation was placed into writing, it’s realistic to consider that Judaism contains errors. Nevertheless, it’s also true that Judaism has a long history of prophets who were sent by God to correct the behavior and practices of the Hebrews when they had fallen into error. Some were killed for making unpopular comments.
If there were critical errors in Judaism as Islam alleges, it’s only logical to assume that God would have placed these corrections as his highest priority. However, there’s no record of any Hebrew prophet attempting to make the corrections identified in the Quran. Even Jesus, who knew that he would be killed for making “dangerous” comments, didn’t mention any errors that needed correction. Instead, he quoted and affirmed Hebrew revelation and then illumined its full meaning.
Islam also holds that Christianity contains serious errors near its founding that also needed correction. Like Judaism, Christianity also has an internal mechanism to discern dogma and to correct error. Christians call this mechanism the Ecumenical Council. Although it wasn’t technically an Ecumenical Council, the Council of Jerusalem was a prototype of the Councils. It met circa 40 AD, and is recorded in the Bible (Acts 15:6). There have been 21 Ecumenical Councils involving a wide variety of issues.
Both Judaism and Christianity maintain that God speaks through their corrective mechanisms. Consequently, it seems highly unusual that God would go outside these religions to correct them. This odd twist is compounded by the fact that the Quran is suppose to correct error yet, itself, contains error.
DOES THE QURAN CONTAIN ERROR?
Human writers use human methods of language and genre to communicate truth. A direct dictation by God, on the other hand, would not likely employ most of these methods. If God reveals himself via dictation rather than through a prophet's experience within an historical culture and context, the revelation should be accurate word-for-word or the revelation would be false. This would be especially true if God were using dictation for the specific purpose of correcting error.
We’ve found many errors in the Quran, but we’ll mention three representative examples: one historical, one biological, and one astronomical.
An Historical Error
Our first error is historical. The Quran states that Jesus was not crucified by his enemies. It states:
That they said (in boast), ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah’; -- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not. (Quran 4:157, Yusuf Ali)
In contradiction to the Quran, the Roman historian, Tacitus (Annals, Book 15), and the Jewish historian, Josephus (Antiquities, Book 18, Chapter 3), mention that Jesus was crucified by the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate.
In addition to the historical evidence, we also have the Christian writers, themselves, who reference the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. There are four Gospel writers in the Christian scriptures who provide details of the event (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19).
While it’s true that these writers are the subject of the dispute with the Quran, the Christian writers wrote in a way that emphasized their historicity. In this regard, all of the books were written within one generation of the crucifixion, and the writers specify the names of people who witnessed the events. If the events were false, the witnesses could be sought and questioned.
Some defend the Quran by saying that a substitute who looked like Jesus was killed. However, this is not likely because no one would agree to being killed in such a prolonged, painful, degrading, and gruesome manner. Further, if a “look-alike” had been mistakenly arrested, he would have had many opportunities to deny being either Jesus or divine. The Jewish leadership wanted the real Jesus because they considered him to be dangerous. They wouldn't have settled for an impostor.
A Biological Error
Our second error is biological. The Quran provides the stages of fetal development in the following verse:
Then We placed him as (a drop of) sperm in a place of rest firmly fixed; Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of that clot We made a (fetus) lump; then We made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then We developed out of it another creature: so blessed be Allah, the Best to create! (Quran 23:13-14, Yusuf Ali)
As we know from biology, human fetal development neither results from a blood clot nor develops into a blood clot. Rather, human life starts when a sperm from a man fertilizes an egg from a woman. Also, fetal bones don’t preexist flesh but develop concurrently in accordance with genetic instruction.
Of note, the blood in the mother’s endometrium and the placenta surrounds the process and provides oxygen and nutrients to the unborn child. Because of the large amounts of blood associated with the process, it’s easy to see how pre-modern man might be confused by this and see a blood clot. But God could not make such a mistake. To learn more about the stages of fetal development, we’ve provided the following links to the Mayo Clinic.
An Astronomical Error
Our third error is astronomical. The Quran states:
It is not permitted to the Sun to catch up the Moon, nor can the Night outstrip the Day: each (just) swims along in (its own) orbit (according to Law). (Quran, 36:40, Yusuf Ali)
Another verse states:
It is He Who created the Night and the Day, and the sun and the moon: all (the celestial bodies) swim along each in its rounded course. (Quran 21:33, Yusuf Ali)
As we know from science, day and night results from the Earth’s rotation on its axis as the Earth orbits the sun. It doesn't occur, as the Ancients thought, by the sun and moon orbiting the Earth. In fact, the sun orbits the center of the Milky Way galaxy which has little to do with the Earth.
The three phrases in our first passage (Quran 36:40) may also appear to be internally disconnected from a modern viewpoint. But from an ancient perspective, they're integrally connected and align perfectly with their view that the sun and moon both orbited the Earth. This suggests that this passage of the Quran was not of God but of terrestrial origin.
INITIAL PROCLAMATION SPREAD PRINCIPALLY BY THE SWORD
Lastly, the initial proclamation of Islam occurred principally by the sword. This doesn’t prove that Islam is false, but it does make for an interesting contrast with our primary candidate, Christianity.
Most religions have had a few flawed followers who became overexuberant and attempted to spread religion by forcing conversions by the sword. History is also replete with political leaders who did the same for political control. With early Islam, though, this was the principal source of conversions. The following is a brief history of this development.
Mohammad was originally commanded by God to be a preacher and to call men to God, to endure insult, and to forgive the ignorant. He was not allowed to fight or kill.
Then in 622 AD, when the Quraysh in Mecca began to persecute his small group of followers, Mohammad received a new revelation for the Quran (Quran 9:5). It was at this point that Mohammad morphed from being solely a religious leader to being a political and military leader as well.
Mohammad moved from Mecca to Medina and won his first battle against the Meccans at Badr in 624. He then took over the administration of Medina and eventually defeated Mecca in 628.
Shortly thereafter in 630, the Islamic Caliphate was born. An Islamic caliphate is a synthesis of church and state. From this point forward, Islam spread principally by the sword. Forced conversions were the norm in the occupied areas. After Mohammad’s death in 632, Islam rapidly advanced militarily against the Roman Empire in both the East and the West. It wasn’t halted until it was repulsed by Constantinople in the East and the Carolingians in the West.
In stark contrast to Islam, the initial proclamation of Christianity occurred despite the sword. In fact, Christianity rapidly spread in its first 300 years of existence, often under an intense and brutal persecution by the Roman Empire.
While the issue of forced conversions in Islam doesn’t prove that it’s false, it does raise serious questions about why Islam chose such a flawed method of "evangelization" and didn't rely on grace from God.
Review and Summary
Our evaluation suggests that the revelation of Judaism is true, but it also suggests that the active repository of divine revelation moved from Judaism to a transformation of Judaism called Christianity.
Islam contains much truth; however, it's removed from contention because there's evidence that suggests that its revelation is not divinely inspired. These include Islam providing a suspicious “correction” to two religions which already had self-correcting mechanisms; errors in a dictated revelation that was supposed to correct error; and its initial proclamation which spread principally by the sword rather than by an action of God.
We'll now focus briefly on our tentative choice, Christianity, and then see how Buddhism, in a very unusual twist, provides a powerful confirmation of our choice.
Although the Buddha didn't receive divine revelation, the Buddha stumbled upon a rare truth that caused Buddhism to flourish. As we'll see, this truth strikes at the heart of Christian revelation.
Banner photo by Nick Scheerbart from Unsplash.com
Photo in the Judaism section is by Snowscat from Unsplash.com
Painting in the Christianity section is by Carl Bloch from Wikipedia Commons
Photo of the mosque in the Islam section is by Farhan Khan from Unsplash.com
Painting of the Crucifixion in the Islam section is by Carl Bloch from Wikimedia Commons.
Photo of the moon in the Islam section is from Apollo 11 of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Photo of the map in the Islam section is by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels.com