How do the Christian Scriptures differ from non-Christian sacred writings (the Quran, Vedas, Dharmas, Book of Mormon, etc.)?
Obvious common elements between the world’s religions are the moral and ethical provisions: the prohibitions regarding theft or killing, the affirmation of chastity, the sacredness of the family, and respect for parents.
Common fundamental elements of a doctrinal nature would be: the elevated origin of man, the loss of this status, the fall into the current state dominated by suffering and death, the existence of a cataclysm that changed history, the need for a sacrifice in relation to divinity, the search for a solution to recover the paradisiacal state, and obedience to the religious provisions which ensures access to a world where there are none of the troubles of the present existence.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the observation of these similarities led to the concept of prisca theologia (ancient theology), according to which the great non-Christian thinkers borrowed ideas and concepts from the Biblical Revelation by interacting with Jews and Christians. The finding of these correspondences is part of the apostle Paul’s drive to missiologically recover the extra-biblical revelation. Following the example of the apostle quoting Epimenides and Aratus, early Christians read Christian messianic motifs into Virgil’s 4th Eclogue.
Jonathan Edwards later suggested that the teachings received by word of mouth from generation to generation from the sons of Noah circulated in parallel to written revelation. However, due to the entropy of communication, these truths have become distorted, creating superstitious and idolatrous forms of religious manifestation.
Subsequent research supports this thesis and is in line with what the apostle Paul stated, that God “has not left himself without testimony” among the nations (Acts 14:17). This is a testimony that had the role of limiting immoral or superstitious slips. From this perspective, Siddhartha Gautama, Zoroaster, Confucius, Muhammad, and their writings, or those attributed to them, the Dharmas, the Analects, the Quran, functioned as reforming factors in their contexts, limiting polytheism, superstition, and immorality, creating areas of positive interference.
Ned B. Stonehouse believed that these pre-Christian authors, who had an encounter with the Revelation, were able to offer contrasting answers to the pagan religious system. These could have been recognised up to a point as an expression of Christian revelations, despite the non- and anti-Christian contexts.
Although salvation is a common goal in religious writings, their aspirations show the limits of their inspiration (see Isaiah 8:20). The practical results then validate these limits (see Matthew 7:16-20): the golden rule in Confucianism requires the avoidance of the negative, while the Christian version actively promotes the good instead of just omitting the bad.
In Buddhist ethics, morality has relevance only for the here and now, for a better karma, but not in the face of the absolute, in which the human will dissipate in the end. In contrast, the biblical revelation God invites us to a personal relationship with Him, and morality is the permanent fruit of this relationship.
The generosity of the Hindu divinities is free, but in Christianity the saving grace granted to the believer is based on the supreme sacrifice of the Son of God. The inestimable cost of the offered grace implies the morality of the one who offers it, as well as the responsibility of the recipient, and universal access to the benefits of this Gift revalorises every human being.
Non-Christian sacred writings can function as stepping stones to biblical revelation, like the monotheism of Greek philosophy, which prepared the members of the Areopagus for the full testimony of Jesus’s revelation. From this perspective, extra-biblical sacred writings can be considered a source of revelation to the extent of their correspondence with the Bible, but, even then, only in a secondary sense, since these correspondences send the seeker to the revelation that has Jesus Christ at its centre.