One Way, Jesus: A Response to Appeals to Scripture by Soteriological Pluralists
Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. - Hebrews 9:23
Saying So Doesn’t Make it So
One of the more fringy attacks on orthodox biblical belief today is the claim the Bible actually teaches many ways to it’s monotheistic God. The position is usually advanced with some combination of reference to different revelations on YHWH and a claim Old Testament saints must have been delivered from sin through a different method than faith in Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. Of course, there is a difference between a cogent argument and its conclusion: the latter is supposed to rest like a roof on the carefully constructed walls of the former.
When the argument process (whether deductive [premises to conclusion] or inductive [preponderance of the evidence] is ignored and the conclusion is simply (re)asserted, the “just-so” logical fallacy is committed. From my experience, this is consistently the case with the attempts to justify religious pluralism from the Bible. For example, just saying, “YHWH revealed Himself in different ways” in Scripture doesn’t make the case that there are different biblically sanctioned methods available for humans to be rescued from sin. Simply saying so doesn’t make it so (classic example of the non-sequitur logical fallacy). The burden of proof still rests on the claimant and they should be forced to show how theophanies (appearances of God) affect different methods of salvation. Similarly, just saying that Old Testament saints were delivered by other means doesn’t actually argue the point that the classic understanding of their looking forward to the Atonement (whereas we look back on it) is unbiblical. In other words, stating a conclusion so drastically different from that of NT authors like Paul and the writer of Hebrews requires an actual argument. “People died and went to heaven before the Cross” doesn’t count as that, to be sure.
The Biblical Story
Furthermore, an appeal to proof-texts orphaned from the context of the biblical narrative will not do task of an argument either. Originalist biblical hermeneutics must be employed for the claimant to substantiate the assertion “this is what the Bible says and means” (which is radically different from “this is what I’m using from the Bible to support my position.”). For example, say I was from the (fictitious) WROC (World Religion of Cannibalism Cult). Could I simply parrot Jesus’ statement, “Truly, truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, you have no life in you” (John 6:53) as sufficient evidence for the biblical ordination of my belief system? Anybody with half a brain and serious about the quest for truth would respond something like, “Well of course not, and what an absurd, unbiblical understanding and application of John 6:53!”
When practicing hermeneutics, those serious about original meaning must ask the question, “does my interpretation account for all the facets of the text?” A few lines could be extracted from any text to tell a completely different story, but we’re looking for the interpretation that makes up for all the pieces of the puzzle on the board. Taking a step back and looking at the story as a whole is always helpful. In the case of the Bible, the story could be broken down thusly:
Creation -> Original Sin -> Israel -> JESUS -> Church -> New Creation
This is the classic, originalist understanding of biblical overview: God creates the earth as His temple and places man in it as His Image (ancient cosmological term for vassal rulership). Man sins against God and a separation of God and man and a fracturing of the created order enters the relationship. God initiates His single plan to atone for man’s sin, set the whole creation right and reconcile the relationship through Israel, which is the vessel to bring forth the solution to Original Sin. The whole point is that humans cannot save ourselves so God has to do it, but must become one of us because only a man can atone for the sin of man (Thus the glorious mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus!). Jesus, the God-man, completes the Israelite Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants by taking the place of fallen humanity on the Cross, fulfilling the typology of the Torah sacrificial system, blessing “all nations” (Gen. 12:3) by undoing the power of Original Sin and providing a single way to be reconciled to YHWH - through Himself. All who died in faith God would fulfill Covenant before the Cross and all who placed faith in God’s finished work in Jesus after it are rescued by and through Messiah. Since death couldn’t contain a sinless man (Rom. 6:23) the Resurrection logically followed and the same Spirit, who created the universe, empowered Jesus in His earthly ministry and raised Him from the dead, is now poured out on all who trust in Yeshua (the Lord saves), creating a small army of (as C.S. Lewis terms it) “little Christs” who are to demonstrate the reconciled relationship between man and God made possible through Jesus and model New Creation age to come. Paul puts it this way, “We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:20)
Another Way? Tell that to Jesus in the Garden!
Now, in light of this understanding, consider the claim, “the Bible teaches many ways” for salvation. How does the above puzzle remain all pieces intact, if that were true? What was the sacrificial system of the Mosaic covenant meant to portray? Since the Atonement is a transaction (man for a man), how would simply a pattern of religious or philosophical thought be sufficient in its place? How is one to be an ambassador of Christ if there are other ways? is Paul better translated, “There are many ways to God, the Cross happens to work well for me.”(?) How absurd!
In conclusion, Jesus asked the Father for a way around the Cross and the element of metaphysical separation from the Father He would have to endure as a result and was denied (Luke 22:42)! The biblical story is the story of God suffering and dying on behalf of fallen man because it was the only way to save us. Its intricate beauty is unmatched in the spectrum of religious literature. It deals with evil in such an effective, personal, miraculous, sacrificial manner. It says:
“There is no other way, I must die so you can live.”
Want to make it unintelligible? Want to cheapen the work of Jesus? Want to shake your fist at the sky and shout, “God, I’m smarter than You! I’ve got this covered!”(?). Unlike the finished work of Jesus, that’s quite easy. All you have to do is pervert His Word with suggestions of other roads to to salvation than the Via Dolorosa.