As a preacher I often taught that “the only religion that teaches grace is Christianity, all others teach works-based salvation.” It was an idea I picked up from other preachers, who had in-turn, picked it up from other preachers.
Turns out we were wrong per the evidence surveyed by Dr. Matthew P John (who was an Indian Christian and the president of India’s Society for Biblical Studies) in his paper “The Idea of Grace in Christianity and Hinduism.”
Contrary to the popular opinion, there are indeed other religions, including some sects of Hinduism that teach the idea of Grace.
Do the Biblical authors agree on who God is? In many cases they do, in others they do not.
Most biblical scholars say that the Bible was written by a diverse group of people with differing views and opinions about political and social issues (one only need look at some of the differences between the Hebrew Bible with it’s nationalistic focus, to the New Testaments pacifist ethics.)
As the Oxford Companion to the Bible (edited by leading Princeton/Harvard scholars Bruce Metzger and Micahel Coogan) asserts: “The Bible thus speaks with many voices, and, from the time of its emergence as an authoritative sacred text, readers and interpreters have noted its many repetitions, inconsistencies, and contradictions.”
The renowned Christian apologist C.S Lewis, while beloved by conservatives was far more theologically liberal than most realize. For example he considered Jesus to have uttered a false prophecy with regard to the famous apocalyptic prediction of Jesus that members of ‘generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’
Lewis wrote that: “It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created,their Delusion. He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’
And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else.” It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible. ” (1)
Matthews famous prophecy that a virgin shall conceive a son was taken wholly out of context and breaks every rule of biblical hermeneutics.
1. MATTHEWS QUOTE
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (Mat 1:22-23)
2. THE ORIGINAL PASSAGE
The original passage in Isaiah is NOT about a global savior 500 years into the distant future, but about the destruction of two nations in Isaiahs own time. Aram (Syria) and Israel were planning to invade Judea, but Isaiah tells King Ahaz that God will protect Judea from this invasion, and destroy the invaders (Isaiah 7:5-9). As a sign of God’s swift destruction of these two nations:
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for BEFORE the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.”
A few verses later Isaiah impregnates a young woman, she bears a child, and right after this happens Syria is attacked (Isaiah 8:3-5). Prophecy fulfilled, hundreds of years before the era of Jesus.
WHAT IS THE RESPONSE?
For the record, conservative biblical scholars are aware of this, and the those who are conservative generally excuse Matthew by saying he was using a literary construct called ‘midrash’ which is basically taking a few words or phrases from a passage that is clear, and pulling out some secret meaning.
For example, if I say “Tomorrow we will vote for a new president, and he will be a great man, I’m sure he will serve our country well for 4 years” A person using ‘midrash’ could rip the phrase “he will be a great man” out of the whole narrative and say “this speaks of my child, and he will be great man, and he will one day be the ruler of the whole world.” Today if someone uses an intepretive framework like ‘midrash’ they fail seminary and are called heretics for twisting the scripture to make it mean whatever they want. But Matthew gets a pass.