By Dr. Gary Habermas
Have all major religious teachers proclaimed approximately the same message? For example, have many of the religious teachers taught that they were God as Jesus did?
It may surprise many to learn that we have no reliable historical data that any of the founders of the world’s major religions—apart from Jesus—ever claimed to be God. No early writings attest such a claim on behalf of these persons. For example Chinese teachers Confucius and Lao-tzu exerted moral, social and cultural influences on their students but were not theologians. Many of their wise sayings are reminiscent of the Hebrew book of Proverbs. Strangely, Buddha may have been an atheist who did not believe in any kind of divinity!
The Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, definitely does not elevate Muhammad to the place of Allah. While we are told that Muhammad is Allah’s chief prophet, there is no attempt to make Muhammad deity. To the contrary, Allah has no partners (Surahs 4:171; 5:72, 116).
The Old Testament places no leaders or prophet on God’s level. Rather, we are told that God will not share His glory with anyone else (Isaiah 48:11). So Abraham, David and Isaiah are not candidates for godhood.
Perhaps the Hindu figure Krishna comes closest to being understood as God. While he is referred to in the lofty terms of deity in the Hindu sacred writings, the Bhagavad-Gita (e.g. 4:13, 9:18-20, 23), scholars are not sure whether Krishna ever really lived or, if he did, what century he lived in. Moreover, these writings do not claim to be historical treatises of any actual teachings and are thought to have been written hundreds of years after Krishna may have lived. Thus tracking any possibility of original claims is fruitless.
Further, being God in the usual Hindu sense would be quite distinct from the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the latter, God is by nature totally apart from His creation; humans do not reach godhood. In the Bhagavad-Gita, however, the process of enlightenment can be attained by those who return to the Godhead and achieve their own divinity (see 18:46-68). In a certain sense, all persons have divine natures.
On the contrary, Jesus claimed dual titles of divinity. Particularly, He said He was both the Son of God (Matthew 11:27) and the Son of Man (Mark 2:10-11). He spoke of His Father in familiar ways (Mark 13:36) and even claimed to forgive sins, for which He was charged with blasphemy (Mk. 2:5-7).
In perhaps the clearest indication of His claims about Himself, when the high priest asked Jesus if He was the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus plainly declared that He was. Then He further asserted that He was also the Son of Man who would co-reign on God’s throne and come on the clouds in judgment. The high priest pronounced these claims blasphemy (Mk. 14:61-64).
These sayings of Jesus were recorded in documents that were written just decades after the events, and there are strong reasons to hold that all were composed by authors who were close to the occurrences. Moreover, many of the individual passages exhibit earmarks of historicity. Last, very early creedal texts (e.g. Acts 2:36; Romans 1:3-4, 10:9) also apply titles of deity to Jesus Christ.
Many religious teachers have claimed to present God’s way. But Jesus declared not only that He was initiating God’s path of salvation (Mk. 1:15-20) but also that what His hearers did specifically with Him determined their eternal destiny (Mt. 10:37-40; 19:23-30). Further, of these religious founders, only Jesus taught that His death would serve as a payment for human sin, achieving what we could not (Mk. 10:45; 14:22-25).
Additionally, only Jesus has miracles reported of Him by early sources. Most importantly, according to the Gospels, Jesus taught that His resurrection from the dead would be the sign that evidenced the truth of His message (Mt. 12:38-42; 16:1-4; Mk. 14:28). For New Testament writers, Jesus’ resurrection proved His claims were true (Rm. 1:3-4; 1 Peter 1:3-6). After all, dead men do not do much. So if Jesus was raised, God must have performed the event in order to approve Jesus’ message (Acts 2:22-24; 17:30-31).
Adapted from the Apologetics Study Bible, pgs 1582-1583