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Religious exclusivity in the
Christian Scriptures (New Testament)

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What are the differences between religious exclusivity and religious intolerance:

Throughout this web site, religious intolerance is defined as any action or call for action which oppresses or discriminates against persons on the basis of their religious faith. The operative word here is action. The Bible contains many references to religious intolerance in passages that promote oppression, mass murder and genocide against persons of other faiths.

Within this definition, merely considering followers of other religions to hold invalid beliefs, considering them wrong or deluded, or assessing their behavior as immoral or heretical is religious exclusivism. It is not religious intolerance, unless it is accompanied with some harmful action.

There are two other beliefs about other faith groups: inclusivism and pluralism:

bullet The Roman Catholic Church once held the exclusivist position. For centuries, they taught "Extra ecclediam nulla salus ("Outside the Church, there is no salvation"). The implication was that only Catholics could hope to attain Heaven after death; all non-Catholics would spend eternity in the torturte chambers of Hell. The Chruch has recently altered their teaching from exclusiveness to inclusiveness. The church now suggests that it is possible for some non-Catholics and non-Christians to be saved. However, the Church regards some non-Catholics and non-Christians as severely disadvantaged by holding at least partly false and heretical beliefs. Many other faith groups currently teach inclusivism.

bulletOther faith groups continue to teach an exclusivist position, denying legitimacy to denominations and religions that are not their own.

bullet Some groups, typically from the liberal wing of various religions, teach a pluralist position: that all religions are seen as valid, when interpreted within their own culture.

We have listed below a sampling of some exclusivist passages from the Christian Scriptures (New Testament).

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The apostle Peter devalues all religious faith groups other than his own.

He is quoted as preaching that salvation is only available through Jesus.

Acts 4:10-12 "Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole...Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." 1

There are a variety of interpretations of this passage:

bullet Most conservative Christians accept this passage on its face value -- that all non-Christians will remain unsaved, and will be eternally tormented in Hell after death. These verses have inspired many missionaries to go into the non-Christian world and win as many religious converts as possible. Such eternal punishment of all non-Christians implies that God is profoundly intolerant of non-Christian religions.

bullet Many religious liberals reject a literal interpretation of this passage. They might argue that a baby born in India has about a 98% chance of becoming a non-Christian adult -- generally either a Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh. A baby born in Saudi Arabia has about a 99% chance of growing up to be a non-Christian adult. If trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior is the only route to salvation, then 98% of East Indians and 99% of Saudi Arabians will automatically remain unsaved. After their death, according to other biblical statements, they would be tortured in Hell for all eternity without hope of mercy, for the simple reason that they followed the faith of their parents. Most liberals consider such a fate to be incompatible with a loving and just God.

bullet As noted above, the Roman Catholic Church now takes an intermediate position: that even though followers of other religions do not accept Jesus Christ, it is possible for them to receive salvation by following their own religion. However, this mercy would not presumably be extended to individuals who have been raised as agnostics or atheists, or have converted to agnosticism or atheism later in life.

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The apostle Paul devalues religious faith groups other than his own.

bullet

Corinthians 10:20-21: He wrote that Gentiles worship devils. In modern terms, they would be considered Satanists:

"But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils."

Here, Paul writes that the Gods and Goddesses of other religions are actually demons. Christians are to completely isolate themselves from non-Christians.

bullet

2 Corinthians 6:14: Paul requires that his followers separate from "unbelievers:" 

"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?"

The author of this biblical passage recommends that Christians avoid close relationships with non-Christians. He implies that non-Christians are automatically unrighteous. He associates Christianity with "light" and other religions with "darkness." Some theologians note that the text from 6:14 to 7:1
bulletabruptly changes topic, and

bulletuses many words that are not used by Paul elsewhere, and

bullethas a "striking affinity" with ideas expressed in the Dead Sea Scrolls,

Some theologians believe that the passage was written by some other author and later added to Paul's writing, as a forgery. 2

The groups that he condemns presumably include the other two competing movements within Christianity at the time -- Gnostic Christianity and Jewish Christianity. It would also include Roman Paganism, Greek Paganism, the Mystery Religions, Mithraism, etc.

bullet

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16: Paul directs a blast of religious propaganda against all Jews, blaming all of them for the murder of Jesus:

"...ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews:  Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost."

Some theologians believe that "the Jews" had little to do with Jesus' execution. His aggravated assaults in the Jerusalem temple would have been considered an insurrectionist act by the Roman army, and make him eligible for crucifixion under the rather harsh occupation at the time.

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Other examples of religious exclusivity:

bullet

Christianity is the only way: The author(s) of the Gospel of John attribute the following saying to Jesus:

John 14:6: "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."

For centuries, this has been one of the main biblical passages that the Christian church has used to devalue and denigrate non-Christian religions. It teaches that the only way to God is through belief in Jesus and his teachings.


bullet

Unorthodox Christians to be cursed: Paul curses any Christian preachers who deviate from his teaching.

Galatians 1:9 "As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."

As noted above, there were three main Christian movements during the 1st and 2nd century CE. The successful group, the Pauline Christians, were pitted against the Gnostic Christians, Jewish Christians, and others. Quite often, a city would have three or more Christian groups, each teaching very different beliefs.


bullet

Jewish Christians surprised about converts: Peter delivered a sermon to a mixed group of Jewish Christians and interested Gentiles. Many of the Gentiles were converted, and filled with the Holy Spirit. The Jewish Christians were surprised because they felt that Jesus' message had been only for the circumcised Jews. They viewed the teachings of Jesus as a reform movement within Judaism, and assumed that Jesus' message was not intended for non-Jews. They were amazed that former Gentiles were to be accepted within the early Christian movement.

Acts 10:44-45: "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed [i.e. the Jewish Christians] were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost."

 

bullet

Some Jewish Christians rejecting the teaching of the Gospel to Gentiles: Some Jewish Christians criticized Peter for being in the company with non-Jews and even eating with them. They viewed the teachings of Jesus as being exclusively restricted for the Jewish people only. Peter convinces them that it is the will of the Holy Spirit to also teach the gospel to the Gentiles.

Acts 11:1-3: "And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them."

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References ised:

  1. Quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
  2. C.M. Laymon, "The Interpreter's One-volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingon Press, (1991), Page 818.

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Copyright © 2004 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2013-MAR-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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