By Dr. Michael Brown
From Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Vol. 1 – General and Historical Objections
Objection 2.15 – “Christianity is just another great world religion, like Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism. But it is certainly not the true Messianic faith and the only way to find God. In fact, I find it to be the height of arrogance that Jesus claimed to be the only way to the Father. This is small-minded conceit at its worst.”
At first, it would seem to be the height of arrogance and intolerance to claim that people can come into right relationship with God only through Jesus. After all, there are sincere, moral, deity-fearing people in every religion of the world. Why must Christians think their religion alone is right? Why not follow the teachings of traditional Judaism that the righteous among every nation – not just Israel, or in this case, the church – have a place in the world to come?
Let’s think this objection through. In the natural world, we know there is often only one road that leads to a certain destination or only one correct answer to give on a test. Why should it be different in the spiritual realm? If there is only one God – something affirmed by Judaism, Islam, and Christianity – why is it so hard to imagine that he decides how people come into right relationship with him? Surely, if he is really there, it makes perfect sense that he is the one who sets the standards and calls the shots. In fact, it is certainly just as logical – actually, it is far more logical – to believe this than to believe that everyone makes his or her own way back to God (or the gods).
Is it possible that there are any truths that are absolute and universal? Is it possible that there are many man-made ways to get into right relationship with God but only one divinely ordained way to get right with him? Who says that we decide how to worship and serve the deity? Who says that our beliefs are right simply because we believe them to be right? If a man driving toward Los Angeles sincerely believes that he is driving toward New York, that doesn’t change the fact that he is actually driving in the wrong direction. It’s the same spiritually: Just because people sincerely believe their religion is right doesn’t mean for a second that their religion is, in fact, right.
Now let’s take this one step further. If different religions believe things that are mutually contradictory about the deity – e.g., he is one vs. he/she/they are many; or he must not be represented with graven images vs. he/she/they should be represented with graven images – then either one or all of them are wrong. But they cannot be all right. Therefore, if at least some of the world religions are wrong, then perhaps one of them is right. The very fact that these religions often contradict themselves in the most fundamental ways suggests that someone has missed the path somewhere.
But isn’t it arrogant for Christians to say it is only through Jesus that people can get right with God? No more arrogant than it is for others to say that Jesus is one way among many – thereby declaring the beliefs of more than one billion Christians, the largest single religious group, to be wrong. For if there are many different ways to God/the gods, then Christianity is wrong. If Christianity is right, then the other faiths are wrong. Either way, millions of people are wrong in what they believe.
Even as far as the Jewish people go, the vast majority of today’s Jews do not believe that God literally spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai or that the traditional Jewish lifestyle is the only Jewish lifestyle fully pleasing to God. But this doesn’t stop Orthodox Jews from believing that their way is right – even though they are in the very small minority. All the different Jewish beliefs in the world today, from Reconstructionist to New Age, do not stop religious Jews from believing it is God’s will for every Jew to follow the words of the Talmudic sages. In addition to this, we Jews believe that in some unique sense we are God’s chosen people, with the full privilege and full responsibility of having a full revelation of God in the Torah. Isn’t that the height of arrogance – to believe that we alone are specially chosen?
It seems obvious, then, that the major issue is not whether it is arrogant and small-minded to believe there is only one way to God. The questions that must be answered are these: On what basis can we claim that faith in Yeshua (Jesus) alone brings people into right relationship with God? On what basis can we claim that he is the only legitimate way to the Lord? The answer is that only the Messianic work of Jesus – his life, death, and resurrection – provides a true antidote to the problem of sin.
You see, all religions recognize that human beings have somehow fallen short and become alienated from the Godhead (singular or plural). In most religions, the concept of sin is readily understood. The problem is how to receive forgiveness of sin and how to become reconciled with the Godhead. Some faiths emphasize good works and repentance, others emphasize the redemptive aspects of suffering, others emphasize strict moral codes. None of them, however, gives a definitive answer to the problem. On what basis does the deity forgive us?
Muslims and Jews do their best and hope for mercy. Hindus patiently bear their lot, hoping for a better life next time around. Buddhists seek an ultimate nirvana. But if you ask them if they are sure that they are accepted by the deity (or deities), all they have is hope. When the fasting and praying and repenting and sacrificing are over, these sincere believers are left without a definite assurance.
I have spoken to religious Jews immediately after Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), religious Hindus after a special fast for forgiveness, and religious Muslims seeking to please Allah, asking them if they know their past sins are forgiven. All of them have told me the same thing: “I’m not sure, but I certainly hope so!” When I asked the religious Muslims and Jews, both of whom believe in a day of judgment, if they know they will be accepted by God as righteous when they die, they too were not sure but could only hope for mercy.
This can be contrasted with the response of Jewish and Gentile followers of Yeshua (Jesus), who joyfully attest to the certainty of forgiveness of sins (which, of course, does not give them a license to sin) and their sure acceptance before God in this world and in the world to come. They know they already possess eternal life.
Why? Because it is only through Jesus that sin is definitively addressed, and it is only through Jesus that there is a way for the worst of sinners to get right with God.
You see, it is not the moral teachings of Jesus that are totally unique, nor is it the concept of mercy that is so unusual, nor is it even the Savior’s moral example that is absolutely different. Rather, it is the fact that he, the divine Son, took our place and paid the penalty for our sins, thereby satisfying the justice of God and definitively and absolutely securing eternal salvation for all who believe. By enduring the penalty for our sins, he purchased our redemption.
If there had been any other way for mankind to be forgiven, Jesus would not have died, and it is this fact alone – the necessary, efficacious, sacrificial death of the Son of God on the cross – that separates Christianity from all other religions. None of these religions have at their foundation a divine act that is unique and comprehensive for all people. That’s why Jesus gave us the mandate to go into the whole world and bring the good news of his death and resurrection. And good news it is! No other religion in the world has its equal.