The Bible compared to other religious texts by Winfred Corduan.

books-pileOnce again, I wish to underscore that a survey of all the writings for which inspiration has been claimed at one time or another is not possible. In the preceding argument, I tried to show that one is not necessary either. Further, one could even question that such a survey is desirable for reasons other than the quest for knowledge, once it has been established that there is one exclusively inspired Scripture. Still, we can learn a great deal that will enhance our case for the Bible by looking at the scriptures of various religions.

Another preliminary point needs to be made. Many of the world’s religions have sacred writings, but their purported nature and function within the religions vary widely. In Christianity, particularly on the Protestant side, the Bible is treated primarily as a source of information about God, Christ, and salvation. Theoretically, someone who has never had any contact with Christianity should be able to formulate the fundamental Christian beliefs simply by reading the Bible. In other religions, however, scriptures may not have such a fundamental informational role. The role of the writings in question
might primarily be:
• to be chanted or recited
• to give instructions to a priesthood
• to provide illustrations in stories of the religion in question
• to be the object of worship or veneration in its own right

There are other possibilities as well. Thus, we can already see that not all alleged scriptures are on a par in terms of how they are used within their religion, and many religions use their holy writings very differently from the way Christianity uses the Bible.

What follows is a brief description of the scriptures of some other religions, emphasizing the differences between them and the Bible. For the sake of manageability, each description is composed of the following items: name of religion, description, author and history, textual integrity, function within the community, content relationship to the Bible, and an “incredulity rating.” The list is limited to those writings that are popularly available and occupy an important place in their religious community.

 

THE QUR’AN

QuranReligion: Islam

Brief Description: Roughly the size of the New Testament, the Qur’an contains 114 chapters (suras) that are transcriptions of Muhammad’s recitations in Mecca and Medina, which are based on his alleged revelations. The main teachings of the Qur’an are the unity and oneness of God, the inevitability of the last judgment, and rules for the Islamic community.

Author and History: The content of the Qur’an is attributed to Muhammad ( A . D . 570–622) himself. The recitations were delivered in Mecca and in Medina. The Qur’an began to be collected during Muhammad’s lifetime and reached its final form under Caliph Uthman.

Textual Integrity: There is good reason to believe that the Qur’an as it exists today is for the most part what Muhammad taught. Unfortunately, there is little opportunity to evaluate the textual integrity of the Qur’an any further since Caliph Uthman, third in line as successor to Muhammad, destroyed all manuscripts he did not consider correct. Muslims generally claim that the present Qur’an is pure, but even with Uthman’s heavy handed treatment, there are a few known variants.

Function within the Community: The Qur’an is, of course, the central content revelation for Islam and, thus, the primary source for teaching and practice. However, its most central function may be its recitation, thus demonstrating Allah’s presence in the Islamic community.

Content Relationship to the Bible: Muhammad derived many of his teachings from Jews and Christians, and the Qur’an contains various pieces derived from the Old and New Testaments (e.g., episodes from the lives of the patriarchs or Christ’s virgin birth). Some of these were altered to suit Muhammad’s purposes and audience. The Qur’an specifically denies the deity of Christ 8 and his atoning death on the cross. Consequently, since these are two central teachings of the New Testament, acceptance of the Bible and acceptance of the Qur’an are mutually exclusive.

Incredulity Rating: Even though there is no particularly good reason to deny that the Qur’an is a fairly accurate record of Muhammad’s teachings, there is also no particularly good reason to accept it as inspired scripture. Even if we grant that Muhammad was a particularly holy man and profound teacher, that does not mean we need to accept his recitations as divinely inspired over against the New Testament, which is corroborated by Jesus Christ, who authenticated his claims of divinity with a resurrection.

 

THE AVESTA

 

Religion: Zoroastrianism (Parsiism)

Brief Description: The Avesta is a complex set of writings that arose out of the life and history of Zoroastrianism. The oldest Sally Ryan for The New York Times 8/15/2006 Burr Ridge, Illinois The Khordeh Avesta, prayer book used during the Zoroastrian fire ceremony.parts are in a very ancient language called Avestan, while the rest is in various forms of ancient Iranian language. It contains prayers and recitations as well as (in the latest part) magic incantations.

Author and History: Some of the oldest hymns in the Avesta, the Gathas, most likely go back to Zoroaster (sixth century B . C . 10 ). The authors of the later parts are unknown. Zoroastrianism was an important religion in Persia during two periods, the Achaemenid (sixth through fourth centuries B . C .) and the Sassanid (third through seventh centuries A. D .). Both time periods produced Avestan writings. Thus, the Avesta was not complete until possibly as late as a thousand years after Zoroaster.., a fairly long time since its composition, and it has been estimated that approximately 75 percent of the original Avesta has been lost. Furthermore, because Avestan is such a difficult language, many sentences in it seem to make no sense. At such points, it is always possible that the text became corrupt, but this is difficult to prove. (Claiming that there must be a scribal error when a scholar does not understand a text, and then changing it to read what the scholar thinks it should say can be a precarious enterprise.) There is no question that the majority of the Avesta, though claiming to stem from Zoroaster, was produced much later.

Function within the Community: The Avesta is the central revelation for Zoroastrianism. Its primary use is as a source of recitations in temple worship, but it is also used for private recitations and as a source of information about life and practice.

Content Relationship to the Bible: As far as they can be reconstructed, the early Gathas contain teachings that are fairly compatible with the Old Testament, espousing monotheism and a set of ethical standards upholding truth and righteousness. The later sections become increasingly speculative and—by the very end—downright bizarre. These later portions emphasize a dualism between God and Satan as equals that is not compatible with biblical teaching.

Incredulity Rating: The origins of the Avesta are, for the most part, shrouded in mystery. Any information concerning Zoroaster’s revelations is so deeply rooted in late mythology that it cannot constitute compelling evidence that the Avesta is inspired scripture.

 

THE ADI GRANTH

ADI GRANTHReligion: Sikhism

Brief Description: The Adi Granth is a collection of hymns and poems.

Author and History: The Adi Granth contains six thousand hymns, amassed primarily by the fifth guru (divine teacher) of Sikhism, Arjan Dev, whose writings also constitute roughly a third of the collection. It also contains hymns of the founding guru, Nanak, and of his spiritual predecessors in Sufi Islam and Bhakti Hinduism. The tenth and last human guru, Gobind Singh, added a few more hymns, primarily those of his father, but only Arjan Dev’s collection is considered completely authoritative.

Textual Integrity: The original copy of the Adi Granth is preserved in the “Golden Temple” in the city of Amritsar, India. Thus, there can be no uncertainty concerning the correctness of later copies, some of which contain deviations.

Function within the Community: The Adi Granth serves as the central object of veneration among Sikhs. It rests on the altar in the front of a Sikh temple every day. At night it is literally put to bed, complete with silk sheets in nicer temples, and brought out again in the morning. Sikh worship consists primarily of chants from the Granth.

Content Relationship to the Bible: The writings of the Granth express a mixture of Islam and Hinduism. They teach there is only one God, known by many names, including the “True Name” (sat nam) and “Only One” (ekankar). A soul that purifies itself through many rebirths may eventually merge itself with God. These doctrines of reincarnation and pantheism make an accommodation with the Bible impossible.

Incredulity Rating: The Adi Granth contains much beautiful poetry. Nevertheless, one looks in vain for a reason to accept this collection as inspired.

 

THE VEDAS

Religion: Hinduism (its earliest phase)

Brief Description: There are four Vedas (Rig, Sama, Yajur, Atharva). Together they comprise a set of writings many times the size of the Bible. The first Veda is vedasa collection of hymns to the gods of early Hinduism, the next two combine hymns with ritual sayings and offering formulas. The last, which is considered somewhat inferior, includes magic formulas.

Author and History: The Vedas were written roughly between 1500 and 800 B . C . They represent the religion of the Aryan invaders who came into India and during this time span slowly conquered the entire subcontinent. The Vedas are not tied to any known person for authorship, though they were undoubtedly created by members of the emerging priesthood, the Brahman caste. Subsequently, the Vedas were supplemented by other writings, such as the Upanishads and various Brahmanas (priestly manuals), which are also frequently reckoned along with the Vedas.

Textual Integrity: The Vedas have been preserved orally as well as in writing, but there are virtually no ancient manuscripts. At the same time, since these books do not specify historical events or tie themselves to factual matters, how accurate they are textually really makes little difference.

Function within the Community: It is incumbent upon every person who wishes to be a Hindu to accept the Vedas as divinely revealed to a group of semi-divine persons, called the rishis, in the remote past. However, doing so does not imply the need to:
(1) know what is in them, (2) understand them, (3) practice what they teach, or (4) worship the formality.

Content Relationship to the Bible: Other than possibly some references in the earliest Veda, the Rig Veda, to an ancient practice of the worship of a God in the sky with animal sacrifices, there is virtually no common ground between the Bible and the teachings of the Vedas. The Vedas are polytheistic, focused on sacrificial rituals and the gods arising out of those sacrifices, and later on various forms of magic. The religion of the Vedas represents precisely the religion denounced in the Old Testament.

Incredulity Rating: There are no rational reasons to accept the Vedas as inspired. These are ancient documents that reflect, particularly later on, the political ramifications of the Brahman priesthood establishing its power in society. To accept the Vedas as divinely revealed involves a leap in the dark.

 

THE UPANISHADS

Religion: Hinduism (the middle phase)

THE UPANISHADSBrief Description: The Upanishads are writings of devotional and philosophical nature, intended to supplement the Vedas.

Author and History: The Upanishads were composed by anonymous sages from about 500 B . C . on. Initially, they were not conceived of as independent writings but as continuations of the Vedas. There is no consensus as to how many there actually are; estimates go as high as 108—a symbolic number of completion in Hinduism. Many of these pieces actually exist independently of the Vedas, and only either twelve or thirteen are considered “classical.” Each of these main Upanishads is associated with one of the four Vedas. Thus, they are also known as the Vedanta (the supplements to the Vedas).

Textual Integrity: There is little material with which to do textual study. Although scholarly consensus argues that the time of composition dates to roughly 500 B.C. , nothing was written down until A.D. 1656. 15 This is not the date of the earliest manuscript copy but of the first original writing of what had supposedly been preserved only orally until then. As a result, it is not at all possible to undertake a study of the textual integrity of the Upanishads—there are no texts before this relatively recent date.

Function within the Community: The Upanishads are diverse in their teachings. Many simply carry on the fundamental doctrines of the Vedas, but the most original ones reflect a phase of Hinduism that is mystical and philosophical. For some Hindus, the pantheistic teaching represents the very essence of Hinduism. Many other Hindus know of the teaching of the Upanishads that the soul (atman) is identical with god (Brahman), but it does not have a direct impact on their religious lives.
Content Relationship to the Bible: The philosophical teaching of the Upanishads reveals an impersonal god, which is diametrically opposed to the biblical teaching in which a personal God and a human being can be in direct relationship, but based only on God’s saving acts.

Incredulity Rating: Many people outside Hinduism find the Upanishads attractive because of their mystical teaching. In fact, they are sometimes considered the epitome of the philosophia perennis, an allegedly universal form of god-soul mysticism. Even if that is the case, they are still only a product of the human creative genius, not necessarily divinely inspired.

 

THE BHAGAVAD GITA

Religion: Hinduism (the later phase)

Brief Description: The Gita is part of a much larger epic work, the Mahabharata. This epic tells the story of the struggle between two branches of a family. In the eighteen chapters of the Gita, the god Krishna, acting as chariot driver, instructs the archer Arjuna that he can gain salvation simply by bhagavadgitadevoting himself to this god and by performing the duties of his caste.

Author and History: The author of the Bhagavad Gita is unknown. Together with the rest of the Mahabharata, it originated most likely sometime between 400 and 100 B . C .—a wide latitude, though some writers have stretched these boundaries even more. Although one cannot rule out that the setting of the Mahabharata has historical roots, there is no clue, let alone evidence, for any further historical corroboration.

Textual Integrity: As we have already reported with other ancient Indian texts, textual integrity was not an issue until the influence of Western scholars. There really are no significant data even to attempt an assessment.

Function within the Community: The Gita is a widely accepted and popular scripture in contemporary Hinduism. Even though the fundamental teaching seems to focus on a personal god (Krishna), even pantheistically oriented groups try to claim the Gita for themselves. Among some groups such as ISKCON (Hare Krishna), it is accepted as the primary scripture, and they refer to it as Vedic.

Content Relationship to the Bible: There is no overlap with biblical teaching. It is impossible to equate Krishna with any understanding of God or Christ in the Bible. Even Krishna’s instructions to Arjuna, which emphasize Krishna’s love and mercy, fall far short of the New Testament’s teaching of God’s grace in Christ.

Incredulity Rating: The Bhagavad Gita is beautiful poetry. Its teaching, within its own setting, is lofty and marks a humanizing trend in the development of Hinduism. Nonetheless, there is no historical confirmation, and—apart from simply submitting to religious authority—it cannot rationally command acceptance.

 

THE PALI CANON

Budha PaliReligion: Buddhism (early [Theravada] stage)

Brief Description: This collection of writings of truly encyclopedic proportion is named after Pali, the language of its only surviving version and possi bly the language of the Buddha. It is also called Tripitaka, the “Three Baskets,” because it has three divisions: rules for Buddhist monks, teachings of the Buddha, and scholarly analysis of Buddhist teachings.

Author and History: According to tradition, some of the teaching material was assembled by the Buddha’s own disciples at the first Buddhist council in the early fifth century B . C . Thus, it would most likely be fairly faithful to what Buddha himself taught. Over the centuries, the Tripitaka swelled by constant addition of new material. Some of it consists of the rewriting of popular traditions into Buddhist thought forms. The complete Pali canon stems from no earlier than the first century B . C .

Textual Integrity: Although the Pali version of the Tripitaka is the most complete and possibly the original, there are other less complete versions of it, several in Sanskrit and others translated into Chinese, Korean, and Tibetan. Once again, the overarching problem is not textual accuracy—that is a lost cause—but simply identifying texts that may have been part of the original. Wooden print blocks in Chinese and Korean exist from roughly the thirteenth century, so from that point on the translations into those languages are stable. Nevertheless, we are left with a sizeable gap between the thirteenth century and the time of the Buddha.

Function within the Community: Theravada Buddhism focuses primarily on its monks and their search for enlightenment. The Pali canon provides the theoretical and inspirational basis for their quest. The laity particularly profits from the Jataka tales, which are stories about the Buddha’s former lives and illustrate specific Buddhist virtues such as generosity and filial piety.

Content Relationship to the Bible: Because the Pali canon is so strongly steeped in a philosophy that is alien to a biblical worldview, there are simply no plausible parallels. The two are utterly incompatible.

Incredulity Rating: The Tripitaka is a collection of writings that was constantly added to and taken away from, to the point at which we do not know what should in fact be a part of it. Unless one were already a Theravada Buddhist, one would have no reason to select the Pali canon as one’s scripture.

 

THE LOTUS SUTRA

Religion: Buddhism (the later [Mahayana] version)Lotus Sutra

Brief Description: The Lotus Sutra is a purported account of teachings that the Buddha gave toward the end of his life. It provides the basis for the main beliefs of later Buddhism, particularly the universal salvation of all human beings and the proliferation of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas (Buddhas in the making).

Author and History: Although the text claims to be written by the Buddha himself, there is every reason to believe he was neither its author nor the source of its teachings. For one thing, it clearly contradicts what we can reasonably claim to know of Buddha’s teachings from the Pali canon. It is a collection of various Buddhist writings that finally came together by roughly A . D . 200.

Textual Integrity: There are several ancient versions and translations of the Lotus Sutra. Since it is clearly a patchwork of multiple writings, there is no clear original. Of course, since it is fairly certain that the Lotus Sutra does not go back to the Buddhaanyway, even an original version of any of its parts would not be greatly significant.

Function within the Community: Mahayana consists of virtually a countless number of schools, each emphasizing its own scriptures but usually acknowledging those of the other schools (frequently merely as a courtesy). The Lotus Sutra, as one of the fountainheads of Mahayana, is regarded as central by many schools. Among the rationalist (Tendai) Buddhists, it occupies a central place. Adherents of the Japanese Nichiren Shoshu school (which exists now primarily as the Soka Gakkai movement) believe that merely chanting the title of the Lotus Sutra (namu myo horengekyo) will bring about Buddhahood.

Content Relationship to the Bible: There are no direct parallels to the Bible, but there are some interesting contrasts. For example, in the biblical story of the prodigal son, the son is welcomed by the father unconditionally ( Luke 15:11–32 ). In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha comes into the stable alongside the son to show him how to work himself out of his predicament, a clear antithesis to the doctrine of grace exemplified by Christ’s parable.

Incredulity Rating: As alluded to above, in Buddhism, scriptures constitute a veritable cafeteria counter of wisdom from which one may select to suit one’s appetite. Furthermore, since the Lotus Sutra contains a clear historical falsehood, namely, its origin from the Buddha himself, to accept it as divinely inspired writing would be irrational.

 

THE DAODEJING (TAO-TE-CHING IN EARLIER TRANSCRIPTIONS)

Religion: Daoism (Taoism), a strong component of Chinese popular religion

THE DAODEJINGBrief Description: The Daodejing is a relatively short collection of sayings, commending the Daoist philosophy of wu-wei (“letting alone” or “actionless action”). The fundamental idea is that by performing as few deliberate actions as possible, the Way (dao) will manifest itself and provide its virtue and power (de).

Author and History: According to the legend, the founder of Daoism, Laozu, in roughly the year 600 B . C ., wrote down the epitome of his wisdom in this book in order to be permitted to leave China. Broader scholarly opinion attributes it to anonymous sages sometime around 300 B . C . 20 Even though it is a very philosophical text, eventually it became the central text for the Daoist religion, which focuses on magic, alchemy, ancestor worship, and personal deities, none of which are mentioned in the Daodejing.

Textual Integrity: The oldest known manuscript dates to about 200 B . C . Thus, there is a relatively short time between its composition and our first textual evidence, and we can be fairly certain that what we have now is an accurate reproduction of the ancient form of the Daodejing.

Function within the Community: Even though Daoism recognizes the Daodejing as its primary scripture, the book has virtually nothing to do with religious Daoism, except for the notion that metaphysical balance produces spiritual power.

Content Relationship to the Bible: There are no discernable parallels. The Daodejing is primarily a philosophical treatise based on an impersonalist philosophy, and, thus, no direct relationship is conceivable.
Incredulity Rating: The first groups to accept the Daodejing as revelation probably did so more out of spite for the dominant Confucian regime than out of a desire to practice its teachings (which they did not do). More rationally, how can a book be divinely inspired if it does not even fit into a worldview in which gods have a role to play? One can admire the philosophy of Daoism (up to a point, after which it
becomes incredible), but there is no separate reason to accept it as revelation.

 

THE ANALECTS (CONVERSATIONS)

Religion: Confucianism (an integral part of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese culture)

Brief Description: The Analects present the teachings of Confucius of the sixth century B . C . Primarily in conversational form, they bring out the main themes of his philosophy, including the occasional observation on religious matters.THE ANALECTS (CONVERSATIONS)

Author and History: Undoubtedly, the content of the Analects goes back to Confucius himself, though none of it was written down until a century or more after his death. When the Han dynasty came to power in China in roughly 200 B . C ., they made Confucianism the official dogma of China, and the Analects were established as one of the founding works of Eastern culture. Its study was mandated by the Chinese civil service, and it has set the pattern of behavior in traditional Asian cultures for more than two millennia.

Textual Integrity: Apparently there were several versions of the Analects in ancient times. The one we have now is the only one that survived. Thus, there is no way of testing to what extent other variants may have been closer to Confucius’s original sayings.

Function within the Community: The Analects is not a religious book, and it does not function as such. One looks in vain for more than sporadic references to god, heaven, or the spirit world. It is a manual on leading a virtuous and humanitarian life and is studied for the sake of learning how to act properly.
Content Relationship to the Bible: The only overlap between the Analects and the Bible is their emphasis on virtuous lives. However, in the Bible this behavior is the result of a relationship with God; in the Analects it is for the purpose of relationships with people.

Incredulity Rating: The followers of Confucius saw the Analects as crucial and important. They revered it as stemming from the esteemed master himself, but they did not see it as divine revelation. Therefore, neither should we.

 

JAPANESE WRITINGS: KOJIKI, NIHONGI, AMATSU NORITO

Religion: Shinto

Brief Description: These three relatively short works are important books for Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan. The Kojiki is the mythological story of the beginnings of Japan, the Nihongi provides variations on the myth, and the Amatsu Norito is a manual for prayers and rituals.

Author and History: According to tradition, a public servant named Yasumaro traveled throughout Japan to collect components of the national myth as it was recited orally. In A . D . 712, he presented the finished Kojiki to the emperor. At his regent’s behest, japenese WrittingsYasumaro then collected variations on the stories that he published in A . D . 720 as the Nihongi. The Amatsu Norito arose anonymously in the tenth century.

Textual Integrity: As an ancient work of literature, the Kojiki stands alone, insofar as the Nihongi provides multiple variants on its content. 21 Of course, those are variations on the myth presumably as Yasumaro heard it told; they are not actual changes in the completed text of the Kojiki. Nonetheless, against the backdrop of the Nihongi, it seems reasonable to accept both of these books as carefully transmitted. The same is most likely true of the Amatsu Norito.
Function within the Community: The Amatsu Norito functions in a practical way as a guide to prayers. It is not a Bible in the Christian sense, as it is not considered to have been revealed by a god. The two narrative collections are legitimation for Japanese society and religion, particularly the status of the emperor as having descended from the sun goddess.

Content Relationship to the Bible: There are no parallels, only mutually exclusive assertions.

Incredulity Rating: As already indicated, the members of this religion accept these writings as “sacred” in the sense of contributing to their religious culture, but they are not thought of as divinely revealed scripture.

A PERSONAL CONCLUSION

In this chapter, I have attempted to provide good reasons to believe that the Bible, and the Bible alone, is properly considered to be the Word of God. But this chapter bears a more personal title, “Why I believe . . .” Someone might very understandably respond to all this and say, “Come now, that’s not really why you believe the Bible. Isn’t it true that you were brought up as a Christian, and so from very early on you were taught that the Bible is the Word of God and other religious books are false?” This seems to be a legitimate challenge.

WINFRIED CORDUANCertainly, the person challenging me in this way has some legitimate grounds. I am happy to say that God blessed me with godly parents and that I did indeed learn to treasure the Bible as the Word of God from early on. But that observation only describes the origin of that particular belief; it does not address the reasons why I accept the belief now.

The distinction between a source of a belief and a reason for a belief is a common one. Many times we hear of a belief but do not accept it until much later, when we find reasons why the belief is true. Do you believe everything everyone tells you? Do you later on find reasons for believing something that at one time you simply accepted at face value?

There certainly was a time when I accepted the Bible as the Word of God simply because my parents told me it was. The source for the belief and its reasons were identical because of my parents’ authority. But I definitely no longer believe that the Bible is God’s Word just because my mom told me so. My childish faith has become adult faith. In between were periods of searching and discovery and times of soberly assessing the evidence. I was not programmed by my parents to maintain their belief system, but I did so because the more I assessed the evidence on its behalf, the more true I found it to be. I do not give myself an argument every morning to keep myself believing in the Bible, but when I do reflect on the veracity of what I believe, the arguments of the present chapter are what come to mind.

Written by Winfred Corduan.

 

2 thoughts on “The Bible compared to other religious texts by Winfred Corduan.

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