Matt’s comment

Matt left a comment on the thread Believing “in” and believing “that” that is too off-topic to discuss there. On the other hand, it touches on a common Baha’i apologetic tactic, which basically goes like this: “Christian interpretations of the Bible disagree with Jewish interpretations, and you believe Christianity is true. Therefore, Baha’i interpretations of the Bible can also be true”.

Here is Matt’s comment:

Hmmmm…

Jewish polemicists have been accusing Christians for centuries of pretending to believe and follow the Torah, but “mean something entirely different than us”, and thus have been derided of “omission.” In fact, they accuse Jesus personally of willfully deceiving the public who “don’t know any better” with his convenient quotations of some verses from the Tanakh, and avoidance of other quotations that wouldn’t bolster his claim.

Christian polemicists have been accusing Muslims for centuries of “not really” believing in Jesus and the prophets of the Tanakh, and at one point derided them as “heretical Christians” because they couldn’t wrap their minds around the idea that a religious community independent from Christianity could exist, even if it was “false.”

Muslim polemicists have been accusing Baha’is for one-hundred and sixty-four years of pretending to believe in the Qur’an and the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh), but “mean something entirely different than us” by it. I guess my question is if all of this supposed deception is so well-known by the “knowledgeable” of each preceding religious community in reference to the “new, false” religious community, what motivation would the “new, false” community have to keep continuing to doing such a horrible job of deceiving people who apparently can’t be deceived? Or is there something else going on?

I’m not a Baha’i, by the way. I just think it is something to think about….

I’m confused by your question and I’m not sure exactly what you’re getting at. Let me try to rephrase it to make sure I don’t misunderstand you: Baha’is don’t really distort the meaning of the Bible, because knowledgeable Christians accuse them of doing so. If Baha’i distortion were as obvious as “knowledgeable” Christians claim it is, then why would Baha’is continue to do it?

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12 Responses

  1. This IS a common Baha’i apologetic, but I think it is a decent argument on their part. It’s not completely formulated nor infallible, but I don’t think it is meant to be.

    I was not implying that Baha’is do not distort the meaning of the Bible. They may or may not. I’m not an authority of “what the Bible says.” The point I was attempting to make is that it is psychologically comfortable to point the finger at a religion that comes after a religion we practice, and accuse them of distorting the message of the scripture we believe. At the same time, we can be oblivious to the fact that a religion who came before the religion we practice levels the same type of accusations that we level against a religion that came after us.

    That doesn’t mean “it’s all true, then.” I just think it is something to think about. I have gone through hundreds of articles and audio files of Jewish scholars explaining why they believe Jesus is not the Messiah according to the Biblical and Rabbinical sources of knowledge. And to be honest, some of their arguments can be convincing. But from a Christian perspective, these arguments don’t matter because Christians “know” that Jesus is the Messiah, and some think he is God. Religious Jews believe Christians distort the Bible constantly in their attempts to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. But as a Catholic, you would not accept their arguments.

    Also, partly what I am getting at is that the different religions in the world are as a mirror where each of us find something we don’t like about ourselves or religion in general. We feel guilty about criticizing our own religion, so we find another religion that we are detached from and can easily pick out all of its flaws. We can’t see those flaws in our own belief systems because we are attached to them. So, if we’re Muslim we pick out all of the flaws of Christian theology. If we’re Baha’i, we are amused by the “superstitious” people who think wearing crosses and talismans protect them from harm and bring good things into their life, etc. These are generalizations and are not meant to be taken as absolute behavior patterns of all these people.

    We are able to see the flaws of other religions from where we stand, and they feel the same way where they stand. I’m not trying to universalize everything by saying that, either. It’s just something that has made me think about issues regarding differences of religion and how much of our criticisms of other religions has to do with unbiased, objective disagreement, or personally motivated by fear.

  2. The relationship between Judaism and Christianity is not parallel to the relationship between Christianity and the Baha’i Faith. Baha’is think it is, but they are mistaken.

    Jews say Christians misinterpret the Hebrew Bible. Christians say Baha’is misinterpret the Christian Bible. So they are equivalent relationships, right? And Christians are being hypocritical, right?

    No. Go deeper. What do we mean by misinterpretation?

    The Christian approach to the Hebrew scriptures is to add further layers of meaning, without taking away what was there before. We keep the old meanings and deepen them. So a prophecy that originally referred to King Josiah now *also* refers to Jesus, while still retaining its original meaning of Josiah.

    The Baha’i approach to the Bible is to suck out the original meanings and replace them with contrary ones. So the Resurrection *no longer* refers to the body coming back to life, rejoined to the spirit. That old meaning is thrown away. Baha’is now have a *different* meaning for that.

    Jews might be right that Christians have misinterpreted the Hebrew Bible. God knows best. But it is incorrect to say that Christianity’s approach to Jewish scriptures is equivalent to the Baha’i Faith’s approach to Christian scriptures.

  3. Jonah said:
    The Baha’i approach to the Bible is to suck out the original meanings and replace them with contrary ones.

    To be more precise, I would say that in some cases Baha’is replace TRADITIONAL meanings and replace them with alternative meanings, which Baha’is believe to be the original meanings that have been, over time, obscured by human misunderstanding.

    For Jonah, who accepts these traditional interpretations of the Bible as original, it then makes sense to say the Baha’is replace the original meanings. Baha’is, however, believe that Baha’u’llah has restored the original meanings and removed the man-made additions and misunderstandings that have accrued through the centuries.

  4. It seems to me that Jonah might want to revisit the Gospel text on the mote in the eye of the stranger and the log in one’s own eye. Baha’is respect all traditional Christian beliefs and then go deeper, revealing underlying layers of meaning that could never be perceived prior to the Advent of Baha’u’llah.

    All the teachings of Christianity are also in Baha’i, sometimes ignored or glossed over because Baha’is are not very deepened in traditional Christianity, but still there if you look for them.

    Cheers, Randy

  5. Lukas wrote:
    Baha’is, however, believe that Baha’u’llah has restored the original meanings and removed the man-made additions and misunderstandings that have accrued through the centuries.

    This helps explain the difference between the Christian view of the Jewish scriptures and the Baha’i view of the Christian scriptures. Christians do not believe that Jesus came to restore an original meaning of the scriptures that the Jews had lost or had corrupted. As Lukas said, Baha’is do believe that about Baha’u’llah.

    Mr. Burns wrote:
    Baha’is respect all traditional Christian beliefs

    What do you mean “respect”? If you mean Baha’is have the good manners not to insult our beliefs, then I would agree, insofar as Baha’is are just as well-mannered as anyone else.

    Mr. Burns wrote:
    All the teachings of Christianity are also in Baha’i

    I’m afraid you’re mistaken. I encourage you to explore Christian theology more thoroughly.

    The three fundamental beliefs of Christianity are

    (1) the Incarnation, i.e. God became a human being
    (2) the Crucifixion, by which our relationship with God is restored, and
    (3) the Resurrection, whereby Jesus rose from the dead in body and spirit.

    These are the sine qua non of Christianity as presented in the New Testament, and the Baha’i Writings explicitly reject all three as false. (I went into this in more detail here: Teaching Christians about Christianity.)

    I know of no fundamental teaching from the Hebrew Bible that Christianity rejects as false. The oneness of God, the special covenantal relationship with Israel, the importance of the Law revealed at Sinai, the centrality of the Temple.

    We don’t dismiss Hebrew practices like Temple sacrifice or circumcision as empty rituals, the way Abdu’l-Baha dismisses baptism and the Eucharist. We don’t explain away Sinai as a symbol, the way Baha’is explain away the Resurrection. We really believe in those things. They really matter to us because without them we wouldn’t know what to make of Christ.

    Of course Baha’i respect our beliefs. But they don’t believe in our beliefs. The difference matters.

  6. Jonah – I have a question for you (it is not intended rhetorically) – do you think that Jews would generally agree with you saying that Christians don’t fundamentally alter the meaning of the Torah?

    Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah seem to go rather directly against the grain of traditional Jewish interpretations of prophecies regarding the Messiah, for example. A good example is below:

    12:35 And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the son of David? 12:36 For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.

    12:37 David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son?
    (King James Bible, Mark)

    At any rate, this seems to me to be an example of Jesus restoring the original meaning of the Torah regarding the Messiah, and refuting the traditional interpretation.

    On another note, just to be precise I would say that Baha’is “explain away” the physical/bodily aspect of the Resurrection. We do, however, believe that the Resurrection is entirely real, certainly no less so for being a purely spiritual phenomenon. As you are, of course, aware!

  7. Hi Jonah, you said earlier

    “The Christian approach to the Hebrew scriptures is to add further layers of meaning, without taking away what was there before. We keep the old meanings and deepen them. So a prophecy that originally referred to King Josiah now *also* refers to Jesus, while still retaining its original meaning of Josiah.”

    If this is so where do we find the Jewish beliefs about Incarnation of God, about Cruxification as the restoration of our relationship with God, and so on? which you mention as the fundamental beliefs or teachings of Christianity.

    To me the fundamental teaching of Christianity resides in the text about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you and so on. In that sense the Christians do deepen the teachings of the Jews.

    Cheers, Randy

  8. Lukas and Mr. Burns asked somewhat related questions. Lukas wrote, “do you think that Jews would generally agree with you saying that Christians don’t fundamentally alter the meaning of the Torah?“, and Mr. Burns wrote, “where do we find the Jewish beliefs about Incarnation of God, about Cruxification as the restoration of our relationship with God, and so on?

    I must have misspoken. I am not saying that Christianity is the same as the ancient Hebrew religion, or that the Israelites believed everything now taught by the Church.

    I’m saying that the Church has not rejected as false any part of the Israelite religion. Rather, it is a part of our religion. And I contrast that with the Baha’i Faith, which does reject fundamental elements of Christian belief as false.

    Lukas brought up Mark 12:35-37, where Jesus quotes from Psalm 110. Lukas wrote, “this seems to me to be an example of Jesus restoring the original meaning of the Torah regarding the Messiah, and refuting the traditional interpretation.

    Jesus is not refuting anything.

    Psalm 110 was, as far as I know, part of the coronation liturgy for the ancient kings of Judah. That’s how the Jews in the 1st century would have understood it (as far as I know), and that happens to be how the Catholic Church understands it, too.

    So again, Christians haven’t changed the meaning of the text. They haven’t said, “The Jews think this is about the King of Judah but they’re wrong. The kings of Judah were actually metaphors.”

    The New Testament is quite clear the Jesus’ Resurrection involved his corpse. The Baha’i version of the Resurrection (that the apostles regained their faith after 2 or 3 days of fear and doubt) contradicts the New Testament’s very plain and very insistent and repeated message that Jesus’ corpse stopped being dead.

    I can’t think of any passages in the Hebrew Bible that Christians dismiss and ignore so flagrantly as Baha’is dismiss and ignore the accounts and commentaries in the New Testament regarding the Resurrection of Christ.

    Mr. Burns wrote, “To me the fundamental teaching of Christianity resides in the text about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you and so on.

    Why do you believe that that is the fundamental teaching of Christianity?

  9. Interesting debates.

    Sure, there is religious disagreement around the interpretation of holy texts. Jews, Christians and Moslems disagree with one another and may argue endlessly about different points, never arriving at agreement. Unfortunately, this can lead on to division, hatred and conflict, despite the fact that we all believe in one God, the God of love and mercy, the one Creator who created us all and to Whom we all pray.

    Perhaps equally relevant is the lack of agreement WITHIN the particular religious groups. This leads to the plethora of denominations within Christianity – Baptist, Methodist, Unitarian, Pentecostal, Anglican etc., within Judaism and Islam. I understand that there are now more than 500 different sects of Islam.

    Is our fate just to keep dividing ourselves up endlessly…

    “United we stand. Divided we fall.”

    Yes, we can have differences of opinion, but let us do so in a spirit of love and unity.

    “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.”

    These are the words of Baha’u’llah.

    “Cleave unto that which draweth you together and uniteth you.”

  10. Elena – I really like where you’re coming from with that comment. My hope is that everyone with whom I am conversing here is coming with a similar understanding – that we have differences, and it it worth exploring (I know I learn a lot), but that we can do so in a spirit of genuine respect. For me, having the opprtunity to really discuss our differences has definitely led to a clearer understanding of both the Baha’i Faith as well as certain Christian approaches to scripture, for which I am grateful.

    Jonah, if you do not reject as false any part of the Israelite religion why then are you not Jewish?

    I imagine it is because Jews believe the Messiah has not yet returned, which is a belief (and not a minor one!) that Christians certainly do reject as false.

    So perhaps the answer is that there are differences that arose AFTER Christ, and that such a belief doesn’t count as a fundamental belief of Judaism since it wasn’t really relevant before Christ, it’s a later addition. Which is very much like what Baha’is say about the Christian beliefs you described above (the Incarnation, Resurrection and Crucifixion).

    For example, we can ask “what are the Jewish beliefs concerning the coming of the Messiah? What are the signs and events that are supposed to herald and accompany His revelation?”

    These expectations and beliefs have certainly been around since long before Jesus, and continue to this day. It also seems abundantly clear that Christians and Jews don’t agree on the interpretation of the verses from which those expectations arise.

  11. Sorry – that second to last paragraph should have started:

    For ANOTHER example….as it is not a continuation of the same idea, but rather a refutation of the presumed answer that I described in the third to last paragraph. Sorry about the confusion (and the perhaps even more confusing explanation).

  12. “I can’t think of any passages in the Hebrew Bible that Christians dismiss and ignore so flagrantly as Baha’is dismiss and ignore the accounts and commentaries in the New Testament regarding the Resurrection of Christ.”

    Baha’is don’t believe that they “dismiss and ignore” any part of the New Testament but simply believe that they interpret and understand such “accounts and commentaries in the New Testament ” differently then Roman Catholics interpret and understand them.

    Jews and Christians have differing interpretations of certain passages of the Old Testament and some Jews even think that the New Testament misquotes the Hewbrew Bible.

    Puc Fada.

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