Though I’ve done some research on Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I have a basic understanding of other religions, I wouldn’t want to disrespect the people of these faiths by portraying their beliefs in shallow ways with my limited knowledge. Since I’m constantly reading attacks on Christianity by people with strong opinions but poor understanding of my faith, I wouldn’t want to do the same.
That being said, let me point out some things I’ve found to be unique about Christianity and the New Testament (NT). I’m not going to comment specifically about other faiths or their scriptures, but encourage you to research these things and compare and contrast them to other religions.
Many other religions’ scriptures are simply sayings or teachings said or written by their founder, but the NT is unique in that it’s made up of histories and letters.
These men were chosen by Jesus to be his apostles and inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the Word of God. Though they were certainly aware of the authority given to them by God and their writings were recognized by the first Christians as divinely inspired, these letters have a much different feel than if someone decided to sit down and simply draw up a religion’s manifesto.
The first Christians had experienced something incredible and were trying to live according to what they experienced, and just like Christians today, sometimes more mature Christians need to give guidance and advice to their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Furthermore, the narrative histories contain the words of Jesus, but they’re also deeply concerned with reporting not just what he said but what he did. Jesus’ miracles – called “signs” in John’s Gospel and elsewhere in the Bible – are important because they confirm he’s of God. Anyone can claim to be from God, but true miracles explicitly prove this. Frankly, Jesus’ execution and resurrection were more important than anything he said. Likewise, the book of Acts reports the apostles, empowered by Jesus and the Holy Spirit, also performed miracles to confirm the truth of their message. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.
With this, the historical narratives of Jesus’ life and the apostles — the Gospels and Acts — are rooted in history. The NT does not have the “other-worldliness” of mythology.
C.S. Lewis, Oxford professor, expert of ancient mythology, and former atheist, wrote, “As a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are, they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend, and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing.”
Ancient historians Josephus (a non-Christian Jew, writing about 90-95 AD), Pliny (a Roman senator, writing about 111 AD), and Cornelius Tacitus (a Roman proconsul, writing in 115 AD) all confirm the existence of Jesus, his crucifixion, and the belief of his followers that Jesus had resurrected from the dead, and about 7 other ancient non-Christian sources confirm information about Jesus and early Christians.
Furthermore, 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts alone have been confirmed by historical and archaeological research, and in the Gospel of Luke, 11 historically proven leaders appear in the first 3 chapters alone. New archeological discoveries have continually supported the reliability of the biblical record, including the discovery of Jacob’s Well, a building inscription of the name Pontius Pilate, and an ossuary containing the bones of Caiaphas, the high priest who helped orchestrate the crucifixion of Jesus.
Throughout the Gospels and Acts, supernatural events, such as miracles, are recorded in the same plain, unembellished language as the parts that record everyday details — the same straightforward language other ancient histories use. Thirty-five miracles appear side-by-side 84 proven facts in the book of Acts.
This lack of embellishment is not seen in later false “gospels,” written in the 2nd Century after the New Testament, such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary. The introduction of mythological elements is clearly seen in these later false, mostly gnostic, gospels. For example, the Gospel of Peter reports the following about Jesus’ resurrection:
“…again they saw three men come forth from the tomb, and two of them supporting one, and a cross following them. And the heads of the two reached to heaven, but the head of him who was led by them overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice from the heavens, saying, ‘You have preached to them that sleep.’ And a response was heard from the cross, ‘Yes.’” [emphasis mine]
Yes, you read that right: a walking, talking cross. Not to mention 3 guys with really big heads!
Moreover, all 4 Gospels and Acts show a firsthand understanding of 1st-Century Jewish culture, 1st-Century Judean events, and Judean geography, which are not found in later false gospels.
The Gospels, the histories of Jesus’ ministry, and Acts, the history of the apostles and the early church, mention the names of specific people, rulers, and places. Not only were many of the writers of the NT eyewitnesses, but they constantly point the reader to other eyewitnesses to confirm what they are writing. All of the NT was written within the lifetime of those who lived during the events reported. The NT wasn’t written generations after the events when no one was around to refute any inaccuracies, legend, or mythology added into them. The writers of the NT are essentially telling their readers, “Here are the facts – the people, the places. Go look into it yourself.”
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” (1Cor. 15:3-8)
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)
“King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus… While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.’ But Paul said, ‘I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner.'” (Acts Ch.25-26)
Moreover, read Luke 3:1-3:
“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…”
Can you imagine how easily someone could refute the gospel of Luke at the time it was written if it weren’t accurate?
Christianity began in Jerusalem, as any historian will tell you. If the first Christians invented stories about Jesus in the exact location and exact time period of the events recorded in the NT, what would skeptics do? They would say, “Where are your witnesses?” and “I was here and didn’t see any of that happen!” And, even more likely, they would’ve gotten Jesus’ dead body out of the tomb and dragged it into the street to prove he hadn’t been raised.
In 1993, the FBI killed David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidians cult. If the cult members claimed Koresh had risen from the dead three days later, the FBI would’ve produced the body for all to see. On the other hand, if Koresh did, in fact, rise from the dead, I’m sure we’d be living next door to some Branch Davidians today. Modern cults grow by isolating their members. Yet, the Christian church grew shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion in Jerusalem, the exact location where the events occurred — and even within a hostile environment, where their beliefs were seen as blasphemy and even treason by the Romans and their fellow Jews.
It’s important to understand that Christianity is a “very public” religion. What I mean by this is that Jesus preached in public for all to hear, and his miracles were performed in public for all to see. If God were to reveal his Word to the world, would he do so in secret? If God were going to break into the world with a new revelation, would he only perform a miracle for one person to witness? This “public-ness” is not the case with other religions. With many, the founder of the religion was the only one to experience any encounter with God or witness any miracle from God.
Before we move on to the final unique feature of Christianity and the New Testament, I want to encourage you again to look into all that I’m writing here and then do the same for other faiths.
5. Salvation is Not Earned
Lastly, Christianity is the only faith that teaches that salvation is through God’s mercy alone. In all other religions salvation must be earned. Christianity is not a faith where favor with God is earned through “works.”
We all have sin, and sin separates us eternally from a perfectly good, holy God. God became a man called Jesus of Nazareth, lived the perfect life that we cannot, and willingly died, taking the punishment we deserve, so we can benefit through a repaired relationship with him. We can’t earn this; it’s a free gift from God that we can only accept.
Once we understand this gift and accept it, yes, it changes us, and we do “works.” But the works are the result of salvation, not the means of salvation. We love others out of obedience and love for the God who loved us first. No other religion that I have come across teaches this.