Some Basic Facts
The word Christian was first used by the Greeks for the followers of Christos, as the Greeks used to call the Messiah.
Jesus Christ, which is the Greek rendering of the original Hebrew name Isa al Masih, meaning Isa the Anointed. (Born: 4 7 BC)
Place of Origin:
The New Testament. It includes the four Gospels and 23 other books
Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem
Christmas – which celebrates Jesus’ birth
Easter – which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus
Ascension – which celebrates the ascension of Jesus to heaven, forty days after the Easter
Pentecost – which celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the apostles, ten days after the Ascension.
Christianity is the faith with the largest following in the world. The term Christian was used for the first time after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, for people who associated themselves with the teachings of Christos. Although other religions like Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Confucianism are also named after their respective founders, the attachment and the reverence which the Christians display for Jesus Christ is quite different. The person of Jesus Christ is worshiped by his followers and is central to the teachings and philosophy of Christianity.
Strangely, no other prophet has appeared in history whose birth, life, death, and teachings have been the subject of greater controversy than Jesus Christ’s. Likewise, very few other religions have been so drastically misinterpreted by their own followers as the religion of Christianity. In what follows, we will try to explain the reasons for this rather unique development of this religion.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in the province of Judea, anywhere between 4 to 7 BC. The Christians believe, and majority of the Muslims concur with this belief, that Jesus was born to Mary, his mother, without the agency of a human father. Joseph, the husband of Mary, is supposed to have married her after the conception of Jesus.
Jesus was born among the Israelites and the Gospels trace his ancestry to Prophet David, through his “father” Joseph. Jesus, therefore, was not only born a Jew but was also raised and educated according to the Judaic tradition.
Early in his life he became a Jewish rabbi, but was opposed by the orthodox Jewish priests for preaching his radical teachings. At the age of thirty, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, who was then heralding the coming of the Messiah. Jesus’ ministry is believed to have started after his baptism. When the Jews raised the objection that how the Messiah can come before the reappearance of Prophet Elijah, Jesus is said to have responded by pointing out that John the Baptist was in fact Elijah.
Jesus’ ministry in the Palestine area lasted about three years. During this short period he is said to have performed a number of miracles and healed many a people of their illnesses. Jesus’ teachings emphasized the gentler elements of the Mosaic teachings and condemned the rigid, often cruel, application of the Law. His open criticism of the Jewish priests and his rapidly increasing popularity among the masses made him an enemy of both the Jews and the Romans.
As a result, Jesus was first made to appear in front of the Jewish religious authorities who, after questioning him at great length, passed him on to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. Pilate believed in the innocence of Jesus Christ but, at the demand of the people and the priests, condemned him to crucifixion.
Jesus was put on the cross on Friday. With the start of the Jewish Sabbath at sunset, Jesus’ body was released to his followers, after the Roman soldiers had assumed that he had died. For the next two days Jesus’ body was placed in a cave. After this period Jesus was seen alive by a number of his disciples and ate with them. Later on, according to the Christian belief, Jesus was taken up to heaven.
The Ahmadi belief in this regard is that Jesus recovered from his wounds, met and ate with his disciples and left the Palestine area, traveling eastward to Afghanistan and Kashmir. The Ahmadis believe that Jesus lived to a ripe old age, died in Kashmir and is buried in Sri Nagar.
Development of Christianity after the Crucifixion of Jesus
Although all religions change with time, the changes which occurred in Christianity after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, affected the fundamental beliefs and principles of this religion. The developments in Christianity, from the moment of crucifixion when there were only a handful of devoted followers, to the time when it became a dominant force in much of Middle East and Europe, can be divided into two phases: the Jewish Phase and the Greek Roman Phase.
The Jewish Phase (30 – 70 AD)
In the beginning, Christianity was totally limited to the Jewish people. The God of Christians had the same attributes as the God of the Israelite people. The early Christians also followed the Jewish traditions of circumcision, offering animal sacrifices and observing the Sabbath. They did not believe that Jesus was the son of God, not at least in the literal sense.
The early Christians also knew that Jesus had survived the ordeal of the crucifixion and, therefore, did not subscribe to the idea of his resurrection. The only difference between these early Christians and the Jews was that the former believed in Jesus as the Messiah and considered faith in God more important than the following of the rigid Mosaic Law or the rituals of the rabbis.
The Greek Roman Phase (70 – 500 AD)
Initially, the disciples of Jesus Christ preached the new faith only to the Hebrew peoples. But with the conversion of Saul, a Jewish rabbi, to Christianity, all this changed. He took on the name of Paul and traveled extensively throughout Asia Minor and Eastern Europe, preaching the new religion to the gentiles or non Israelites.
The Greek civilization was the most advanced at the time and very receptive to the teachings of the new faith. Having no emotional or traditional attachment with the Judaic tenets, the Greek converts quickly gave up many Jewish customs such as animal sacrifice, circumcision and the observing of the Sabbath and the Law.
Then, with accession of Constantine the Great to power in 313 AD, Christianity became the official religion of the Eastern Roman Empire. The establishment of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire brought it great respect and prestige. Armed with this powerful political backing and supported by Greek intellectualism, Christianity started spreading rapidly among the “barbarian” tribes of northern and western Europe.
As the number of Hebrew Christians declined and the number and influence of the Greek Christians increased, many of the fundamental beliefs and practices of this new faith started to undergo significant changes. The concept of God changed from the personal, loving God of the Israelites to an impersonal, supreme deity, palatable to the Greek philosophical rationalism.
Similarly, while the Hebrew Christians were ingrained in the strong monotheism of the Old Testament and could accept Jesus as the son of God only in a metaphorical sense, the Greeks, having no such reservations, took the words literally. The Greeks used to believe in many gods and deities and had no intellectual hurdle in transforming a prophet into a god.
It was during this Hellenistic period, therefore, that the divinity of Jesus Christ and his resurrection after crucifixion became popular Christian beliefs. It was also in the same period that the terminology of Trinity came into existence to explain the combination of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
The Essential Beliefs of Christianity
Although there are over 250 sects of the Christians today, some essential beliefs are shared by all of them. These basic beliefs are:
- Belief in God, Almighty, Creator of all things
- Belief in Jesus as the Messiah, and the Son of God (whether metaphorically or literally)
- Belief in Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost
- Belief in eternal sin (that man is born a sinner)
- Belief that Jesus Christ came down to earth from heaven for the salvation of mankind
- Belief that the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) is the only proper guidance for mankind
- Belief in baptism as a remission of sin
- Belief that sins can be forgiven through repentance
- Belief in life after death
- Belief that those who repent and follow Jesus Christ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven
The Christians not only believe that Jesus Christ is alive and accessible, but also that he is directing the affairs of the Church from his seat in heaven and that one day he will return to this world to establish the Kingdom of God. Except for a small minority of Unitarians and Universalists, all Christians today worship Jesus Christ in one form or another.
Worship in Christianity
Worship in Christianity varies considerably with the sect and the geographic location in the world. Worship may be private and individual or congregational. Private worship generally takes the form of “silent prayer” invoking God’s mercy and help usually through the person of Jesus Christ.
Congregational worship in the churches takes on the form of an elaborate pageant involving priests in their ornate robes and music sung by the choir. The congregation usually joins in the singing of hymns and psalms while the priest may deliver a sermon.
Many Christians keep the fasts of lent, a forty day period before Easter. These fasts are kept in memory of the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.
An important Christian rite involves baptism. In the early days of Christianity, baptism marked the initiation into the new faith. The new convert was given a public “washing” symbolizing the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Today, some churches still carry out this rite on the confession of personal faith by believers. Other churches perform baptism on new born children on the promise that they be “confirmed” in their faith later.
The Teachings of Jesus Christ
To properly understand the teachings of Jesus Christ one has to turn to the Gospels. The only place in the Gospels where an attempt has been made by the narrators to quote Jesus Christ word for word is the account of the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon illustrates the emphasis of Jesus’ teachings which was directed towards an unpretentious, honest and altruistic life. Below are quoted some selected verses from this sermon.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for their’s is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness: for their’s is the kingdom of heaven…
“Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you…
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven…
“You have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.
“You have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you, that whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart…
“You have heard that it has been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, that you resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also…
“Give to him that asks of thee, and from him that would borrow, turn not thou away.
“You have heard that it has been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you…
“Take heed that you not give your alms before men, to be seen of them; otherwise you have no reward… Therefore when you do give alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets… But when you do give alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does…
“And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men…
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you…
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal…
“For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged. and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.
“And why do you notice the speck in your brother’s eye, but consider not the beam in your own eye? First cast out the beam out of your own eye, and then you shall see clearly to cast out the speck out of your brother’s eye…
“All things you would like others do to you, you do to them…
“Enter you at the straight gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction. Because straight is the gate and narrow is the way, which leads unto life…”
Basically, there is little difference between the teachings of Judaism and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Christianity, shorn of its later encrustations, is simply a sect of Judaism a sect which had recognized the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ.
The teachings of Jesus Christ are clearly of a reformatory nature. He saw many wrongs in the way the Mosaic Law was being interpreted and applied by the people, and tried to correct them.
There is no doubt that some of Jesus’ teachings about love, forgiveness and charity were indeed revolutionary. And it was this aspect of extreme humility that attracted a number of his followers among the Hebrews and, later on, among the Greeks and the Romans. But having a few revolutionary ideas does not make a new religion.
The early Christians retained their Judaic traditions and practices. It was only when the Greeks adopted the teachings of Jesus Christ that they started formalizing them within the framework of a new theology… a theology now centred around the person of Jesus Christ himself. History shows very clearly this gradual process of Jesus’ deification from an Israelite prophet to the Son of God.
From the point of view of a Muslim, the present day Christians have grossly misunderstood some basic historic facts. The misunderstandings are caused by:
- Taking literal meaning of the Hebrew phrase, “Son of God”
- Shrouding the events of crucifixion in great mystery and superstition
- Not understanding the true purpose of prophets
- Considering the New Testament as the authentic and final word of God.
Once all these misunderstandings are removed, the life of Jesus Christ clearly shows that:
- he was an Israelite prophet
- his main objective was to reform Judaism
- he did not die on the cross
- he recovered from the ordeal of crucifixion
- he ate food with his disciples like mortal beings
- he traveled to the east in search of the lost tribes of the Israelites
- he died and was buried in Kashmir.