How does Jesus from Nazareth
compare to the founder's of all the other great religions?
Over the centuries several men have founded great world religions. We must know how these men compare with Jesus from Nazareth. Did they make claims similar to his? Did their lives possess the same power that he possessed? We can only be certain Jesus is unique to history by comparing him with the founders of the other great religions.
Moses was born in Egypt of Hebrew parents. Hidden because all males were to be slain, he was found by the daughter of Pharaoh and brought up in the Pharaoh's house. When he had matured, he saw an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew slave and killed the Egyptian. For this he was forced to flee from Egypt and spent the next forty years in the wilderness.
At the age of eighty, Moses was called my God to deliver the nation of Israel out of Egypt. He was later given the tables of the law on Mount Sinai, which was the beginning of modern Judaism. Moses was denied the privilege of entering the promised land because of disobedience to God's will. He died in the land of Moab and was laid in an unmarked grave. (Exodus 1—40; Deuteronomy 34).
Moses made no claims to deity and is not now considered to be a god by the Jews. No resurrection is claimed for him, nor did he ever see himself as anything but God's servant.
Zoroaster was a Persian who left his father, mother, and wife and began a search for religious enlightenment. After ten years he received a revelation and saw Ahura Mazda (the supreme being), and felt called to be a prophet. In the next ten years his only convert was a cousin. (Robert Earnest Hume, The World's Living Religions (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 159, pp. 201-206).
Zoroaster showed bitter animosity for his enemies. "Upon a certain opponent, Bendva, I pray for ruin or death." And, "others I look on with hatred of spirit." (Ibid, p. 207).
After two more years of effort, Zoroaster converted to his religion a prince who put all of his power behind the faith. Several religious wars followed, and at the age of 77, Zoroaster's enemies surprised and killed him before the fire alter.
Although later Zoroastrian scriptures make vast claims concerning a supernatural birth and other fantastic events for the founder's life, the Avesta, written by Zoroaster himself, contains no claims for his personal deity or for a personal bodily resurrection.
Zoroaster spent a good deal of his life in discouragement, and at one point he questioned whether he would be able to earn future immortality. "Tell me truly, Ahura, whether I shall indeed, O Right, earn the reward, even ten mares with a stallion and a camel, which was promised to me, O Mazda, as well as through thee the future gift of welfare and immortality." (Ibid. p. 204).
Laozi (or Lao-tzu)
Laozi (or Lao-tzu) is a scholar of whom so little is
known some authorities are even skeptical of his existence. Born in China,
he is reported to have held a government post in the capitol city. After
questioning the existence of any form of government, he resigned and
withdrew from the civilized world. A friend persuaded the aged scholar to
write down his philosophy, which became known as the Treatise of the Tao
and Its Power. Upon its completion, he was never heard from again.
(John B. Noss, Man's Religions (New Rork: Macmillan, 1964, pp.
Although Laozi did not make any claims to deity in his book, later followers claimed he had been born a mature person. It is reported by these later accounts that his mother carried him in her womb for up to 81 years! A thousand years after his death, his followers claimed he had been reincarnated many times.
In his book, Laozi plainly states his own inadequacy. "The multitudes of men are happy, so happy! I alone remain quiet. Forlorn am I, O so forlorn! . . . I alone appear empty. Ignorant am I, O so ignorant! I am dull! . . . I alone am confused, so confused!" (Op.cit., Hume, pp. 136-137).
Mahavira (which means "great man") was the son of a rajah living in India. He left his wife and daughter, renounced his life as a prince, and joined a group of ascetic monks.
Not wanting to kill anything, Mahavira carried a broom to sweep any path that might contain insects. He held his hand over his mouth to keep insects from flying in and carried a cloth to strain the bugs from his drinking water.
While meditating one day in a field he experienced enlightenment, called Kevala, and supposedly achieved a complete victory over his body and the desires of this world. After this event many conversions followed and 32 years later he died at the age of 72. (Op. cit., Noss, pp. 154-158).
Denying a personal god existed, Mahavira condemned prayer. "Man! Thou art thy own friend! Why wishest for a friend beyond thyself?" He denied a creator by saying, "Those who on arguments of their own maintain the world has been created do not know the truth."
Sacred Jainist scriptures written 200 to 980 years after the founder's death claim Mahavira lived a sinless life. But he spent many years of painful asceticism to suppress the body. If he had been sinless, this would not have been necessary. Salvation, Mahavira claimed, was an individual matter, and no prayer to him would offer any assistance in reaching Kevala. He never made any claim to deity and no resurrection is claimed for him. (Op. cit., Hume, pp. 49-50).
At the age of 29, Prince Gautama became distressed
to find that he was subject to the miseries of sickness, pain, old age, and
death. He renounced his father's throne, left his young wife and their
newborn son, and became a monk.
Siddhartha tried ascetic practices for six years, but gave it up and received his great enlightenment meditating quietly under the famous Bo Tree. He died at the age of 80. (Ibid., pp 63-67).
Traditions of the life of Gautama Siddhartha were not written down by his followers any earlier than 236 years after his death. In these early writings, the Buddha ("enlightened one") was presented only as a man who struggled and preached. These early followers never claimed any supernatural powers or a resurrection for their guru. Later Buddhism departed radically from these fundamental ideas, and Siddhartha became more than human. Although these texts are full of supernatural elements, the earliest writings indicate Gautama was a normal man. (Ibid., pp 70-71).
In a legend, Gautama was supposed to have made the following statements:
"Are you a god?" questioned one of his listeners.
"No," replied Gautama.
"Then, are you a saint?"
"No," was the answer.
"If you are not a god and not a saint, then what are you?"
"I am awake," answered Gautama. (Joseph Gaer, What the Great Religions Believe (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1963, p 44).
Confucius studied under a village tutor and became a
lifelong student of Chinese poetry, historical tradition, and classical
music. Late in his teenage years he entered into an unsuccessful marriage
and set himself up as a teacher, offering a variety of subjects.
At the age of 50 he took office in the cabinet of the Duke of Lu and soon moved up to Prime Minister, but through political intrigue he "lost face" and had to resign. Just before his death he expressed discouragement about his career. No resurrection is claimed for him by his followers. (Op cit., Noss, pp. 371-373).
Confucius made it plain he did not consider himself to be divine. "I'm a transmitter, not a creator. I believe in and have a passion for the ancients. . . " "I'm not born a wise man." (Ibid., p. 375). "In letters I am perhaps equal to other men. But the character of the superior man, carrying out in his conduct what he professes, is what I have not yet attained to." (Op. cit., Noss, pp. 721-726).
Abu al-Qasim Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah ibn 'Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hashim
A.D. 570 -632
Muhammad was born in Mecca and orphaned early in
life. His was raised under the protection of an uncle and married at age
twenty-five. He began to have visions and hear voices and sought solitude in
a cave on Mount Hira. There an angel appeared to him who identified himself
as Gabriel. He thought he was being attacked by an evil spirit and fled in
terror. This revelation was followed by others and eventually he came to
believe that he was the prophet of God. Soon he began to proclaim in his
polytheistic home town the message that there was only one true God.
Along with his small band of believers Muhammad was forced out of Mecca and ended up in an oasis that would soon be called Medina. He and his followers slowly won over converts and began to raid and rob trade caravans coming from wealthy Mecca. After a long truce with that city, the murder of one of his followers provoked him to attack Mecca and it quickly surrendered.
Muhammad fought in several wars and on one occasion he ordered 600 Jewish male prisoners slaughtered. He approved of taking slaves as bounty and had many slaves himself. He taught that having sex with female slaves was permissible. He did admit that he was a sinner and stated that be prayed thousands of time each day for forgiveness.
One of the basic principles of Islam is that the Koran is a divine revelation of which Muhammad was simply a transmitter. According to strict doctrine, Muhammad has no supernatural quality, he is Allah's prophet. "I am not an innovator among the apostles. I am only following what has been revealed to me and I give sincere warnings." ("Mohammed," Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 15, 1968, pp. 639-640).This is why the followers of Muhammad prefer to have their religion called Islam, not Mohammedanism.
Because Guru Nanak disliked manual labor and
commercial business, his relatives and friends despaired over him. They felt
he was a disgrace to the family. A government position was secured for him,
but he remained unhappy.
Finally, Nanak left his wife and two children and went into the desert to begin religious contemplation. He gave away the money which had been entrusted to him for purchases and for this was rebuked by his father. Soon he received what was termed a call to become a guru and began preaching to his people after years of preaching, he appointed a successor shortly before his death at the age of 69. Nanak's body is reputed to have disappeared, but he is not considered to have come back to life. (Op. cit., Hume, p. 225).
At the end of his life Nanak was still not sure of his own salvation. "I have become perplexed in my search. In the darkness I find no way. Devoted to pride, I weep in sorrow." "I am a sinner; thou art the pardoner." "My demerits cannot be numbered! My sins are numerous, as the waters of the sea and the ocean! Bestow compassion! Extend a little mercy! Save me, who am like a sinking stone." (Ibid. pp. 89-95).
Jesus from Nazareth
4 B.C.-A.D. 29
We have already examined the character and claims of
Jesus from Nazareth. He had the power to work miracles (Acts 2:22). He was
born of a virgin (Luke 1:34-35). He claimed to live a perfect life just like
his heavenly Father (Matthew 5:48; John 14:9). He said that he could forgive
sins (Matthew 9:6) and that he would judge the world (John 12:48; 2
Thessalonians 1:7-8); at the end of time. He openly took title to all of the
characteristics and powers of deity and also accepted worship (John
20:28-29). And of course, he came back from the dead.
There can be no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth's life, claims and actions are simply in a class by themselves when we compare him to any of the founders of the other major religions of our world. Of those founders, one was too lazy to make an honest living, five had unsuccessful marriages, and at least four abandoned their wives and children. Many were admittedly disobedient to God, which another denied God's existence altogether. Five expressed discouragement at the end of their lives and considered themselves to be failures. Two committed murder. Two believed in and practiced violence and warfare to propagate their causes.
In contrast, Jesus worked with his hands, supporting his widowed mother until his twenty-ninth year. He never married and his dealing with women were above reproach. In only two situations did he ever take physical action against anyone, and then only to cleanse the Temple of God. He stood firmly against violence and stated that those who lived by the sword also die by it. He was tried and condemned by the Jewish leaders for being the Son of God. To the Romans the Jewish leaders stated he had participated in sedition against Rome which was simply not true. Rather than defend himself, Jesus allowed himself to tortured and executed on a cross.
Jesus is unique in that he claimed to be God. No other great religious liberator in history has made that claim. Moses didn't. Zoroaster didn't. Laozi didn't. Nor did Mahavira, Buddha, Confucius, Muhammad, or Nanak. He stands alone as the only great religious leader who has ever made that claim—and then lived up to it.
Every religious founder who is today worshiped as God was considered by his contemporaries to be a normal man. The concept of deity, in all cases but Christ's, appears several centuries after the founder's death. And of course, only one man in all of history has ever permanently triumphed over death. Jesus Christ is the one man in history who was permanently raised from the dead and showed he possessed total victory over the grave.
If you separate Moses from Judaism, the religion the founded would not be greatly affected. Take Zoroaster out of Zoroastrianism, Laozi out of Taoism, Mahavira out of Janism, Buddha out of Buddhism, Confucius out of Confucianism, Muhammad out of Islam, and Nanak out of Sikhism and all of these religions would continue without major problems.
But you cannot take Christ out of Christianity. If Jesus is removed from Christianity, there is no religion left, for those in the Christian faith worship him as God. Christianity rises and falls on the necessity of Jesus' deity and his resurrection. Essentially, Jesus IS Christianity.
There can be no doubt that Jesus from Nazareth is on a completely different level from the rest of mankind. He is unique to history because he alone was and IS God in human flesh.