CHRISTIANITY – THE LARGEST RELIGION IN THE WORLD
Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh January … 2012
“It is welcoming and very soothing to see an article about Islam from a non-Muslim native brother of Manipur in the mainstream India. We need human beings like you to present the basic information of any religion as you did in case of Islam…. You can act as a guardian of peace to remove hatred and but bring peace and harmony among communities by denouncing the wrong propaganda of Islam. Your voice can bridge the gap of misunderstanding among people…”
I have quoted the above paragraph from a letter to me from the Manipuri Muslim Online Forum, pursuant to my article on Islam. This is to just show how peace-loving the Manipuri Muslims are. Like them, I stand for peaceful coexistence. I had 48 favourable comments on the article.
CHRISTIANITY, which came from the Greek word Christos, is a monotheistic (belief in one God) religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
A Christian means someone who holds a theological belief in Jesus as the Christ, meaning ‘Messiah’ in Hebrew – the ‘Anointed One’ in English ie ‘covered in oil’ to symbolise the introduction of divine influence. Christianity has 34,000 separate Christian groups.
A Galilean Jewish preacher and healer – Jesus of Nazareth was crucified ca. 30 CE in Calvary Hill just outside of Jerusalem on the charge of sedition against the Roman Empire. Following his death a new religious movement – “Jesus movement” started by his followers.
From this Jesus movement emerged the Christian faith. Christianity began as a Jewish sect in the mid-first century, originating in the (then) Levant region in the middle-east (modern Israel and Palestine). It quietly spread to Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor and Egypt.
Today Christianity is the largest religion in the world, practised by 2.2 billion people – a third of the world’s population. I have read the Bible a few times. It is thought-provoking.
The disciples of Jesus believed him to be Christ – a Messiah, prophesied in the Old Testament, and as a divine redeemer of humankind. Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected ie physically risen from the dead.
Although a few scholars have questioned the existence of Jesus as an actual historical figure, most scholars involved with historical Jesus research, believe his existence, but not the supernatural claims associated with him.
Christianity is a ‘Book religion’. The Christian faith and obedience are enshrined in the book of the Bible. The Bible is a doctrinal book, which Christians believe as having been inspired by God. A doctrine is a belief-system, accepted as authoritative and truth.
Christians, mostly Catholics, accept a few ‘central’ doctrines of the Christian faith such as the Incarnation, Resurrection, Trinity, Virgin birth, Baptism in water and Eucharist.
Roman Catholics churches traditionally, have a large crucifixion (Christ on a cross) above the altar, a statue of Virgin Mary, and holy water in ‘stoups’ near the entrance. Churchgoers can dip their fingers in it before making the sign of the cross.
The Bible is a collection of writings (Greek, biblia=book). It is open to many interpretations. The first Christian Bible was not assembled until 350 years after the birth of Christ. The Bible was not one simple homogeneous book, in the form in which we see today.
The Bible consists of two parts: the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible). It is important to Christians, only as the God’s first covenant (testament). Though the Ten Commandments (of Moses) were respected by Jesus, his teachings were based on the love of God.
The second part is the New Testament of 27 books, composed in the centuries after Christ‘s death. It records Jesus’ birth, ministry, passion (“suffering”) and the Resurrection. It also records “Acts of the Apostles”- the story of early church after Jesus’ martyrdom.. The last book, Revelation is the vision of the end of time (Apocalypse).
The core of the New Testament is the four Gospels, simply called “the Gospel” (= good news from Greek euaggelion). They are attributed to authors called Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.
The Christian theologies are highly complex. They can however, be broadly divided into two: (1) dogmatic theology; and (2) moral theology. The dogmatic theory is the science of the theoretical truths of God. Moral theory – a part of dogmatic theory explains the divine laws and the relationship of man to God.
The first Bible was printed in Latin in 1454 CE by Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany, from a Giant manuscript Bible (in Latin). The first English Bible was a translated version of this by Bede in the 7th Century CE, faulty and incorrect.
Miles Cloverdale (1488- 1568) translated and printed the First English Bible from Greek in 1536 CE. He later added versions of others derived mostly from the Latin and Hebrew text of the Vulgate (4th century Bible), supplemented by reference to Martin Luther’s German Bible.
Cloverdale then incorporated the revised version of the Book of Psalms into the Book of Common Prayer in 1539, for public and corporate worship. The Book of Common Prayer is distinctive for the dignity accorded to the Virgin Mary and certainty of the Resurrection of dead Christ.
In the circuitous process of life and death the most profound message the Gospel writers brought from Jesus was his saviour status, meaning he would save human souls who believe in him.
The early Christians had very little systematised doctrines. They learned about the teachings of Christ by word of mouth. The Christian doctrine is important. Without the doctrine the Apostles could not have passed on the message of the Bible to which they often had to refer.
There are so many interpretations of the Bible in the English language, because many writers made different versions of the Bible, according to what they thought to be the proper rendering, such as the ‘Geneva Bible’ of 1560 and the ‘Bishops’ Bible’ of 1568.
To give clarity to the confusion, King James of England authorised an English translation from its Hebrew and Greek origins known as the ‘King James’ version of 1611.
There are no copies of the original Bible. There is no such thing as an original Greek Bible with all 27 manuscripts bound together in one book. There are thousands of manuscripts, all claiming to be the correct translations of the originals.
The Bible was translated first into Latin in the 2nd century CE in North Africa. The early Greek text of the New Testament was found to be a difficult one to translate.
At the time of Christ, a crude form of Greek called Koine was the official language of the eastern half of the Roman Empire. Christ spoke a dialect of Hebrew called Aramaic which was the language of Palestine at that time.
Aramaic was a western Semitic language which remained in use for a few centuries after Christ’s death before dying out when the Arabs conquered the region and spread the new faith of Islam. It was only a couple of decades ago that the inhabitants of three villages in eastern Syria – Maaloula, Bakhaa and Joubadeen were found to be speaking Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.
The Bible was accepted as God’s words, divine revelations, until during the Renaissance in Europe when the first critical thinkers emerged. They challenged the divinity of the Bible.
Over the centuries people who were staunch defenders of the divinity of the Bible began to have second thoughts.
The Bible relies heavily on ‘Revelations’ to prove its divinity. The divinity of the Bible depends mostly on two things – prophecies and miracles. The fulfilment of prophecies is very important for the Bible to show that God was involved in writing it. Mathew and Jeremiah were good prophecy makers.
Faith and divine revelations are related as cause and effect. God reveals Himself as we humans do not know everything. The Biblical term apocalypse (Greek – apocalupsis, Latin – revelatio) means an unveiling. A revelation discloses what was previously unknown or, partially known hidden designs of God.
Most Jews in the Second Temple period (530 BCE – 70 CE) believed in prophecy. They simply regarded prophecy as prediction. Christians thereafter, took prophecy to heart and believed that God kept sending messengers like Jesus to call people back to obedience to Him. A prophecy is a recorded event in the Bible, which the prophets foretold many years before it happened.
For Christianity (especially Catholicism) the biblical miracles are very important as they make God’s existence convincing. One of the most famous miracles was “Jesus’ walk on water”. According to biblical narratives, Jesus sent the disciples in a boat in the Sea of Galilee, ahead of him, to the other side. Then they saw Jesus “walking on the sea” three miles to meet them. Then he climbed into the boat (Mathew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:16-21).
The existence of God and the resurrection of Christ are probably the most basic elements of Christianity. Without coming back from death Jesus could not have been the son of God.
The controversial doctrine of “Trinity” (whether one God or three Gods) is very important for Christianity because of its role in Christian salvation.
The Trinitarian doctrine is that Father (God) planned salvation by sending his only Son (Jesus) who revealed and showed the way to salvation. Then the Holy Spirit takes over and completes the salvation by entering the life of people who accept Christ as the saviour.
The birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ were not that important to the early Christians. Christmas was not celebrated until 400 CE, since Christ’s death of birth was not known.
The Biblical researchers are still unable to give the exact year of Jesus’ birth. It was however agreed that he was definitely born during the reign of Herod who died in 4 BCE, aged 69.
The Gospels do not mention anything about Jesus’ childhood and adolescence.
Whatever the peripherals are, God is central to the Christian faith and the essence of Christianity is devotion to Christ to save the soul.
The writer is based in the UK.