Question: How does the Bible say Christians should view other religions?


Answer: The Bible makes it clear that Jesus Christ is the ONLY way to God the Father (John 14:6), and salvation is available in no other name (Acts 4:12). Even John 3:16, which is taken by most to be an invitation, is also a statement about the exclusivity of Christianity. “For God so loved the world” is often misunderstood to mean, “For God so loved the world so much. . . .” The verse does not describe the degree to which God loved the world, but the manner in which God demonstrated His love for the world. (The Greek word ou[twj is an adverb meaning “in this way, thus, so, in the same way, like this”.) Thus John 3:16, especially when read in context, indicates that this (i.e., God sending His son) is how God demonstrated His love for the world:


"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged;  he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." (John 3:14-21 NASB).


The Old Testament makes it clear that there is only one God (Deut 6:4, 13; 32:39; Isa 44:6). In a sense the ancients were more honest than people today—when they spoke of other religions they also said that people served different gods. Today this distinction is blurred. However, the Bible refers to the religions of other people as people serving other gods. Thus when the True God is compared to other gods He is being compared to the so-called gods of other religions (1 Kgs 8:23; Ps 86:8-10; 95:3; 97:7,9; cf. 1 Cor 8:5-6).


Worshipping other gods is forbidden (Exod 20:3; Deut 5:7; 6:13-15). Idols are forbidden (Exod 20:4-5; Lev 19:4; Deut 5:8-9) and mocked (Ps 135:15-18; Isa 44:9-19 [esp. v. 19]). Those who seek other gods and involve themselves in the religious practices of other religions are condemned (Lev 18:30; Deut 18:9-14; 1 Kgs 1).


One of ancient Israel’s biggest problems was syncretism. (Syncretism is the mixing of religions and/or their beliefs and practices.) They would try to worship the true God and at the same time worship Baal, Asherah, Molech, etc. (e.g., Josh 24:23; 1 Sam 7:4; Jdg 17:1-6; Zeph 1:5). Rather than viewing this mixture as a distortion of true worship, the Bible views it as being purely idolatrous. For instance, when Jeroboam I set up “calves” at Dan and Bethel he was mixing ideas from Baal worship, Egyptian bull-god worship, and the worship of the LORD (1 Kgs 12:26-13:4). He probably thought that he was being culturally relevant, and he clearly was using this mixture of ideas to win favor with the people (which indicates that many of the people were syncretistic). However, these centers of worship became called “the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat,” and they were viewed as being purely idolatrous (1 Kgs 14:16; 15:30; 16:31; 2 Kgs 3:3; 10:29; 10:31; 13:2,11; 14:24; 15:9,18,24,28; 17:22).


So how were God’s people to deal with other gods? According to the Old Testament:

  • They were not to even mention the names of other gods (Exod 23:13; Josh 23:7).
  • They were to destroy idols and places where they were worshipped (Exod 34:13; Deut 7:5; 12:3; Jdg 2:2).
  • Any Israelite who worshipped other gods was to be executed (Deut 13:1-18).
  • They were not to intermarry with anyone who served other gods nor make a covenant with them (Exod 34:12-16; Jdg 2:2).


The New Testament does not advocate that Christians should physically destroy idols, places where other gods were worshipped, or those who worship other religions (e.g., Acts 19:37). However, it does speak quite harshly of idolatry and other religions (1 Cor 5:11; 6:9), and warns Christians to avoid idolatry (1 Cor 10:7; ), idolatrous places of worship (1 Cor 8:10), and practices of other religions (1 Pet 4:3). As for Paul’s address to those in Athens, it is not an affirmation of other religious beliefs or practices. Granted, Paul uses phraseology from their literature (usually out of context!) to make his points, but he could have just as easily made his points by quoting Scripture. (According to the book of Acts, Paul reasoned from Scripture when dealing with those for whom Scripture was authoritative [i.e., Jews and God-fearers], and he reasoned in a culturally-contextual manner—with Biblical principles—with those who were unacquainted with Scripture.) Paul was quite disturbed by all the idols in the city, and while he probably wanted to say, “I perceive that you are idolatrous in many respects. . . ,” he instead said “I perceive that you are religious” in order to gain a hearing with the people (Acts 17:22). He then proceeded to steer the hearers toward an exclusive relationship with Jesus Christ (Acts 17:30-31).


God forgave people who repented of idolatry in Old and New Testament times (Jdg 10:16; 1 Thess 1:9), so God is also willing to forgive people today who will turn to Him. This is true, whether you have never served God or have become involved with practices such as superstition, astrology, ouija boards, Islam, or Buddhism. However, realize that God is still a jealous God, and He will not tolerate idolatry (Rev 9:20).


“Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).


William P. Griffin, Ph.D.