Other Religions


Reeth, Swaledale

Islam 
 Islam means “submission” (it is often incorrectly translated as “peace”)
 It is a monotheistic religion (Muslims often accuse Christians of being polytheistic         
 i.e. believing in three different Gods-Father, Son & Holy Spirit).
It is the second  largest religion in the world, after Christianity and is growing fast.

Two main groupings make up the majority of Muslims:  The Sunnis (85% or more) and the Shia.
The division was due to a dispute over the succession  following Muhammad’s death.

 The principal Muslim holy book is the Qur’an (“recitation”).
 Other important documents are the sayings of Muhammad called the Hadith.
 Muslims also consider the Old Testament (Torah) and the Gospel (Injil) as scripture; but say they are untrustworthy, as they  have been corrupted by Jews and Christians.

 Muslims observe Friday as a day of prayer & worship
 Their principal holy sites are in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia

Origins and History
Islam began in 7th Century Arabia under Muhammad, although most Muslims would argue that their beliefs actually go back as far as the beginning of creation. Whilst growing up Muhammad learned about Judaism and Christianity, and biblical  characters and stories are woven into Islamic belief. Muhammad is held to have received his revelations directly from the angel Gabriel. 
 Muslims are proud of their  past “golden age”; when their technological and cultural achievements eclipsed the “Christian” world and Islam spread to cover even parts of Southern Europe.

 The Five Pillars of Islam
 These constitute the framework of the Muslim life:

 The Shahada or Kalima:
  a testimony accepting no other God but Allah and Muhammad as His Prophet
 Salat: prayer five times a day towards Mecca, Islam’s holiest place.
 Zakat: charitable giving
 Sawm: Observance of fasting during the month of Ramadan.
 Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca which every able-bodied Muslim must undertake at least once.

 View of Sin and Salvation
  Islam expresses strong disapproval of overt sins; hence gambling, drinking and extra-marital sex are forbidden. Life is seen as a struggle (jihad) to improve both self and society. Salvation is hoped for as a result of one’s good deeds throughout life ultimately outweighing the bad. Only those who die in military jihad are guaranteed a place in Paradise. There is no concept of sacrifice bringing atonement. Muslims believe that Jesus Christ was removed from the Cross prior to death. 

End-times
 There is a growing recognition of Islam’s significance to the Last Days. End-time events centre on the Middle East, which has been a Muslim stronghold for 14 centuries. Many important end-time prophetic scriptures e.g.Psalm 83 refer to nations which have long been Islamic. Interestingly; Islam has a strongly “Messianic” element,with popular belief in an important end-time figure sometimes called the Mahdi or  in Shia thought the 12th Imam, who will arise and convert the whole world to Islam.

Witnessing
Remember that, broadly speaking; Muslims think in terms of Muslim countries and Christian countries i.e. if you are born in a Christian country then you automatically are a Christian. This is a real stumbling-block as Muslims look at decadent Western society and think that this is what Christianity leads to. Try to get your Muslim friend to see that our nation is not currently Christian at all and the majority of  British people are not true Christians. Ask him if a man who never visited a mosque, read the Qu'ran or accepted the central truths of Islam could be classed as  a true Muslim. Similarly someone who never goes to Church, and never reads and accepts the Bible is not a Christian.

Due to the great esteem in which he is held, one important rule in dealing with Muslims is to never insult or denigrate the prophet Muhammad.

  Initially try to find areas of common ground rather than to focus on areas of disagreement. 
  Christian beliefs overlap Islamic in many areas.  Both believe:
 -there is only one God, the Maker of all things.
 -in a final resurrection and judgement
 -in the reality of Heaven and Hell and hence the need for salvation
 -Islam holds Jesus (Isa) in high regard as a prophet; accepting him as being born of a virgin, and having lived a sinless life. Muslims also believe that he will have a 2nd Coming  and participate in the end of the age. Initially focus on these areas of commonality rather than immediately challenging a Muslim with the concept of Jesus as God, which is an abhorrent idea to him.  
  
Muslims believe the Bible to have been corrupted so it is important that we have some acquaintance with the reliablity of the New Testament MS tradition in order to show that no such corrupion was possible (see Did the Church Change the New Testament? on the Questions page) 

 Since a Muslim accepts the reality of sin, one approach might be to challenge him  with his inability to live a truly righteous life. Show how good deeds do not cancel  out bad ones any more than observing the speed limit one day excuses you breaking  it the next. Use his innate sense of moral law to try to get him to see his need of a Saviour. 

Arabic Terms
These Arabic terms are useful to know in a discussion with a Muslim. They can serve as conversation-starters and will indicate that you have enough respect to have learned a little of what Muslims believe.

Isa
Jesus. Held to be a sinless prophet and to have been born of a virgin even by Muslims.  However the “Jesus”  of the Qur’an is unrecognisable from the Christ revealed in the New Testament. His Quranic sayings serve as an argument against Christian belief. 

Torah & Injil
The Hebrew Scriptures and the original Gospel Muslims believe Allah gave to Jesus. Both these, modern Muslims claim, have been corrupted over time into our Bible. No evidence exists for this corruption.

Tawhid
The unity and simplicity of Allah. Essentially a form of Unitarianism, Tawhid is the heart of Islamic belief.  It is important to emphasise to a Muslim that the Trinity does not violate tawhid. We believe in the oneness of Allah also. 

Shirk
The sin of idolatry or polytheism. In essence to “associate partners” with Allah. The vice is contrasted with tawhid . Muslims consider Christian belief in the Trinity to be shirk but this is based on a misunderstanding of Trinitarian theology. Shirk is the only unforgivable sin in Islam.

Da’ wa
“To invite” i.e. a calling to accept Islam. A mixture of witnessing and apologetics. Da’wa is a duty in Islam. One advantage you should find in speaking to a Muslim is that he does believe in God and he does want to talk about religion, unlike most people we meet these days!


Christian Mission to Islam Part I

Christian Mission to Islam Part II


Judaism 
Judaism is the religion of around 13 million Jewish people worldwide.

 Often termed Rabbinic or Talmudic Judaism, it needs to be clearly distinguished from the Mosaic Judaism of the Bible.  Its source is the teachings of the rabbis contained in the Talmud; an 18-volume set of teachings written from about AD 200-600, which is considered the authoritative commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures. Jews believe it's teachings were delivered orally to Moses on Mt Sinai at the same time as the written Law (Torah) was given.

 Judaism's holy book is the Tanakh (the same as our Old Testament, though the 39 books are ordered  differently). The name is formed from the first letters of the Hebrew for Law, Prophets and Writings (Lk 24:44).
The three main streams within Judaism are:-

Orthodox

These accept the Tanakh as the inspired, inerrant Word of God; and are devoted to strict observance of all 613 commandments of the Torah, including its dietary requirements (kosher) and Sabbath-keeping.



Reform

The most liberal wing of Judaism; where worship is in the local language rather than Hebrew and the sexes can mix freely, unlike the separation observed in an Orthodox synagogue. Degrees of religious interest vary most amongst Reform Jews and even atheism is not uncommon!   



Conservative
Between these two lies the Conservative branch of Judaism.  This attempts to conserve Jewish traditions whilst still taking a positive attitude to modern culture.    

 One characteristic creed of all three is the Shema:- "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Dt 6:4) which powerfully emphasises the religion's monotheism. Christians would maintain that the verse certainly does not exclude belief in the Trinity since we are monotheists ourselves. 

Origins and History of Modern Judaism                                                
  Jews will, of course, trace the origins of their religion in terms of the events described in the Tanakh; including the call of Abraham, and  the later giving of the Mosaic Law. In reality; when the Second Jewish Temple was destroyed in 70AD; Judaism, which had revolved around the temple and its sacrifices had to largely re-invent itself. This led to the production of the Talmud and an essentially new belief-system. Modern Judaism arose  amongst the diaspora-the scattering of the Jewish people amongst the nations. 

 Church history is scarred by terrible persecution of Jews, and anti-Semitism can be found in the writings of even such an esteemed churchman as Martin Luther. The ultimate manifestation of this persecution was the Holocaust (Shoah); and it is important to remember that many Jews would consider that dreadful event to have been the work of Christians.

View of Sin and Salvation in Judaism 
Rabbinic Judaism teaches that people are made in the image of God, and are inherently good. Although they also have an evil inclination (“yetzer hara”), this is capable of being resisted. Judaism would reject the doctrine of Original Sin; and holds that through repentance and good works, a sinner can put himself right with God. This is the purpose of Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement and other holidays.  There is therefore no recognition in Judaism of a need for a Saviour. Amongst Reform Jews especially, there is often little thought given to an afterlife.   

Witnessing
 The Christian era has seen a long and sad history of the forced "conversion" of Jews.  For centuries, Jews have struggled to retain their unique identity in the face of aggressive attempts to destroy or absorb them. This makes the whole issue of Jewish evangelism a very sensitive one, and many Jewish people will react with hostility to any overt attempts to convert them. Perhaps this is an area where "friendship evangelism" can really come into its own, as it is advisable to have gained the trust of a Jewish friend before ever seeking to discuss spiritual matters with him.  This can be an occasion to give your testimony an airing! When the time is right, it will usually be necessary to try and get your Jewish friend to see the difference between the acts of those in history who have called themselves Christians, and the actual teachings of Jesus and the apostles. 

Witnessing strategies would have to vary depending upon whether the person is Orthodox, Reform or Conservative. An Orthodox Jew  is likely to be closest to a Bible-believing Christian in terms of worldview and so you may find you have some common ground on which to build. On the other hand a conversation with a Reform Jew might often prove little different to one with a secularist. As with any witnessing situation you should begin by sounding out what a person already  believes.

 You will need to demonstrate the Jewishness of Christ, and of all the first Christians. Jews tend to see Christianity as being only a Gentile faith and many even think of Jesus as a Gentile!

 When speaking of the Bible, try to avoid using the expressions "Old Testament" and "New Testament"-remember your friend doesn't consider his Covenant to be old! Perhaps speak of the "Hebrew Scriptures" and the "Greek Scriptures" instead.  Assuming your friend takes the Hebrew Scriptures seriously these can be tremendously helpful as they contain powerful confirmation of the truth that Jesus Christ is the Jewish Messiah (Isa 7:14; 53:1-12; Mic 5:2; Zech 9:9 etc). But don't be afraid to use the Greek Scriptures also. A Jew will clearly see the Jewishness of Jesus; especially in the Gospels of Matthew and John, if he can be persuaded to read them.

 Another approach is to remind him that the Hebrew Scriptures contain many notable promises of spiritual blessing to the Gentile nations (Gen 12:3; Isa 49:6). When were these fulfilled? What form did that fulfilment take? Christianity is the only faith with Jewish roots that has become globally vast. 

One important stumbling block is that Jewish people say that the Messiah is to usher in world peace when he comes and that, clearly, this was not done by Jesus of Nazareth.  However, many Jews know that the Hebrew Scriptures present the Messiah as being not only a conquering hero ("Son of David") but also a Suffering Servant ("Son of Joseph"). The simplest way to reconcile these contrasting pictures is to see that the Messiah must come twice: once to suffer, and then the second time to rule.

 An especially powerful passage is Daniel Chapter Nine; which clearly states that the Messiah was to have come in around 32 AD at the end of a prophesied five-century delay, and that He would then be "cut off" i.e. executed (Dn 9:26). History confirms that at precisely the correct time, and in the manner foreseen by the prophets; Jesus emerged and began a movement that has swept the world and changed the course of human history. Ask your Jewish friend if this can really just be a coincidence? So unanswerable is this point that the rabbis tend to discourage any teachings or speculations on the subject of Daniel's prophecy.

 Finally, it is important to remember that the spiritual blindness of your Jewish friend has actually been imposed upon him by God (Rom 11:7-11)! Much prayer is therefore required  that God would lift the veil fom his eyes (2 Cor 3:14-16).

 One great encouragement for the evangelisation of Jews comes from Paul's promise that the spiritual blindness of the Jewish people will not last forever (Rom 11:25-26).  It is thus clear from the Bible that God has not finished with His ancient people.  Based upon God’s Word we can confidently expect to see in the Last Days, a growing interest amongst Jewish people in the claims of Jesus of Nazareth. One day the Gospel will once again be  "to the Jew first" (Rom 1:16).

 
The Watchtower Society



History

The Jehovah's Witnesses organisation was founded by Charles Taze Russell in 1872. As a young man Russell ran a Bible class in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at which he began to publish aberrant doctrines on the Trinity, the deity of Christ & other subjects.


 In 1879 he started a publication which would eventually become known as The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom, and founded what is now the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. 45 million copies of the Watchtower Magazine are now printed every month in over 200 languages.  The Watchtower is the primary means of spreading the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses.

The name “Jehovah’ Witnesses” was adopted by one of Russell’s successors, Joseph Franklin Rutherford in 1931.The group now has over 4 million members world wide.

Beliefs
Ostensibly monotheistic and Unitarian (one God & one Person) it could well be argued that Witnesses are actually henotheistic since they believe in lesser gods in addition to the Supreme Being.

The Holy Spirit is an impersonal force, not a Person.

Jehovah's first creation was his 'only-begotten Son' through whom Jehovah created all other things

Jesus was Michael the archangel who became a perfect man

Jesus did not rise from the dead in his physical body but was raised as a spirit

Jesus did not die on a cross but on a stake

The Watchtower Society is the true prophet of God & the only channel of God's truth

Good works are necessary for salvation as well as faith

Only 144,000 Jehovah's Witness are born again & go to heaven. Others constitute the "Great Multitude" who will live on earth in mortal bodies.

The soul ceases to exist after death. There is no Hell where the wicked are punished 

Blood transfusions are a sin. However there are modern derogations in force concerning many blood products

The New World Translation
First published over half a century ago, the New World Translation (NWT) replaced use of the King James Version amongst the Witnesses.  It is described in their Reasoning from the Scriptures as "a translation of the Holy Scriptures made directly from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into modern day English by a committee of anointed witnesses of Jehovah" (p.276).

The Watchtower Society has never publicly revealed the names of its translation committee preventing any investigation into their academic credentials.  Scholars have often criticized the NWT for translating in line with Watchtower theology rather than faithfulness to the original languages. Noteworthy is its rendering of Kyrios (Gk Lord, master, sir) as "Jehovah" 237 times in the New Testament.

 Also the verb “proskuneo” is translated correctly as “worship” in all cases in the New Testament except when referring to Jesus.  It is obvious that the text of the NWT has been re-worked to fit the Watchtower conception of who Jesus is.

Likewise  the classic verse in Gen 1:2 describing the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, ruach elohim is rendered "God's active force" to fit in with  JW beliefs concerning the Spirit.

Witnessing
Jehovah’s Witnesses typically spend five hours a week preparing to meet & debate with Christian believers. Sadly given the lack of attention paid to apologetics within the Church these days, most encounters between Witnesses and Christians end in a rout of the orthodox position. Believers need to know their Bibles well in such an encounter, especially the scriptures proving the Trinity, the deity of Christ and the personhood of the Spirit. These subjects are the key battlegrounds in debate with Jehovah’s Witnesses.   

Also an obvious vulnerability for Jehovah’s Witnesses is the myriad of false prophecies produced by the organization in its history.

Corrupted Bible Passages in the NWT
“In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god”. (New World Translation)

  JWs believe that Jesus is not God in flesh, but Michael the archangel who became a man.  The New World Translation alters the text of  John 1:1 as above, adding the word "a" to the verse so that it reads, "...and the Word was a god."  This contradicts virtually all other major Bible translations.

 This is not language that an orthodox Jew like John would ever use. He was a strict monotheist like all the writers of the Bible.

 Koine Greek uses articles (“the” and “a” in English) very differently from how we do in modern English. For instance Greek often inserts the definite article “the” before proper nouns like “Jesus, “John”, or “Peter”. Obviously we would never translate this in a word-for-word fashion as it would make no sense in English to say, “the Jesus” or “the John”.  

There is no indefinite article in Koine Greek. Of course, this does not mean that you would never use the English indefinite article “a” in translating since it will very often be necessary to do so to give the correct rendering. The use of articles in translating from Greek is a tricky business but no competent & impartial Greek scholar would defend the use of an indefinite article in John 1:1. 

 But even an English reader can see that the New World Translation here destroys the flow of thought in John’s statement. John has been comparing “God” (not “a god”) to “the Word”, declaring that the Word was in the beginning, and that the Word  was with God. His final flourish is to assert that, in fact the Word is Himself God, completing the comparison. To translate “a god” at this point is to introduce a third concept which destroys the symmetry of the argument. For a much fuller discussion of this verse see here

In Col 1:15-17 the word "other" is inserted 4 times into the NWT. It is not in the original Greek, nor is it implied. This is a section where Jesus is described as being the creator of all things. The insertion of "other" is designed to show that Jesus was before all "other" things, implying that He is Himself a created being.