Introduction to Biblical Studies - Comparative Religion

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Comparative Religion

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

Joshua 24:15

There are those that actually spend their time in the pursuit of the study of comparative religions. Be thankful for them. Whether they are just nerds living in their parent's basements or PhD’s with professorships at prestigious university, these fine fellows have performed a tremendous amount of work for us in having tracked and studied the religions of the world comparing, categorizing and organizing them into twenty-two groups. Here are the groups listed by the number of adherents.

  1. Christianity: 2.1 billion
  2. Islam: 1.5 billion
  3. Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist: 1.1 billion
  4. Hinduism: 900 million
  5. Chinese traditional religion: 394 million
  6. Buddhism: 376 million
  7. Primal-Indigenous: 300 million
  8. African Traditional & Diasporic: 100 million
  9. Sikhism: 23 million
  10. Juche: 19 million
  11. Spiritism: 15 million
  12. Judaism: 14 million
  13. Baha'i: 7 million
  14. Jainism: 4.2 million
  15. Shinto: 4 million
  16. Cao Dai: 4 million
  17. Zoroastrianism: 2.6 million
  18. Tenrikyo: 2 million
  19. Neo-Paganism: 1 million
  20. Unitarian-Universalism: 800 thousand
  21. Rastafarianism: 600 thousand
  22. Scientology: 500 thousand

Although all the religions of the world have been categorized into twenty-two categories, it is still far from what the average student of religion or Bible is able to distill in determining the right one from the wrong one, the one from the other.

In a final attempt to narrow the distinctions between religions, those resolute undiscouraged fine fellows have reduced that number to five major groupings containing all the religions of the world based on criteria of how they perceive or conceive of God.

  1. Hindu Type—Polytheistic, many gods and/or goddesses
  2. Buddist Type—Atheistic, no God
  3. New Age Spiritualistic—Man is or will be God
  4. Islamic—God is Unknowable
  5. Christianity—God is Knowable and desires to be known

These can also be listed as the following and using the criteria of how God is perceived or conceived of, it may be determined as one deems fit to place a particular religion into any of the five categories.

  1. Many God's
  2. No God
  3. Man is God
  4. Unknowable God
  5. Knowable God

Who did the original research is unknown; it is certain that they were not all Bible believing Christians. Nonetheless their work turns out to be rather miraculous in that these five groups are five categories of religion found within the Scriptures.

Five Major Religions groups referenced the Bible:

  1. Polytheism

Jeremiah 11:13 For according to the number of thy cities were thy gods, O Judah; …

Isaiah 2:8 Their land also is full of idols;...

  1. Atheistic

Psalms 14:1The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God….

  1. Divinity of Man

Ezekiel 28:2 Son of man, say unto the prince of Tyrus, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thine heart is lifted up, and thou hast said, I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas; yet thou art a man, and not God, though thou set thine heart as the heart of God:

  1. Unknowable

Acts 17:23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.

  1. Knowable

Jeremiah 9:24 But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.

It is far easier to deal with five than hundreds and much better than twenty-two. However, our quest is to narrow our choice down to two, the right one and the wrong one. Meditating on this conundrum without the vast number of choices we begin to see a dividing line between these groups.

Looking carefully it will be seen that we can use different criteria and divide these five groups into two. Now two is a number we can handle as we are looking for just two religions?the one or the other.

If we change the criteria from their perception of God which gave us five categories to their scheme for progression we can reduce the number of categories to two. By progression I mean their method for moving up, whether it is termed salvation, nirvana, becoming one with the universe, obtaining a better reincarnation, etc. In biblical terms, what is their plan of salvation? Under these criteria, we only have two choices.

  • By Man’s own efforts, his works, his self-righteousness, earned or received as payment for a debt owed to him or

  • By the Grace of God received as a free gift

You could use different terms to denote the two columns:

Works Grace
Hindus Christianity
New Age  

For our purposes the column heads used will be the biblical terms “Works” vs. “Grace”.

It is evident that the two theological extremes are mutually exclusive one of the other.

Romans 11:6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.

Romans 4:4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

Where does faith come in?

Romans 4:16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace;...

If you are graciously given a free gift with a payment book attached, it is not gracious, free, nor a gift. Adding works disannuls grace, free, and gift.

Galatians 5:4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

Romans 4:14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:

Biblically, works refer to establishing self-righteousness denoted by keeping the law of God, doing good, etc.

There are two facets to the religion of works. Being self-righteous by having done good and kept the law, not having done anything to be condemn for.

Luke 18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

It is often expressed as pure self-righteousness, “I’m a good person, I’ve never killed anybody, I treat others as I want to be treated. Why should God condemn me?”

Then there is the expanded on definition of works of doing penance, voluntary self-punishment, to pay for or cover one’s sins, or

When comparing the world’s religions by the parameters of their individual plan or method of progression, salvation, upward mobility, or whatever term is used, it becomes obvious that the progression of Christianity, by grace through faith and not of ourselves, not of works, is a religion that is unique among the worlds religions. It stands unequaled, distinct, unparalleled, among all the worlds religions. It is exceptional, uncommon, peculiar.

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