A Comparative Study of Christianity and the Bahá'í Faith

By Gary Selchert

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #20
Louhelen Bahá'í School: Michigan, USA
October 9–12, 1998
(see list of papers from #20)

    While the concept of numerous Manifestations of God initiating a like number of dispensations characterized by moral advance followed by decline is a commonplace in Bahá'í thinking, Christian theology on the whole depicts a rather different view of things. History from that viewpoint proceeds from Creation and the Paradise of Eden, to the Fall, through a phase of preparation culminating in the incarnation, an event utterly unique in human history. From then on, all history is but a wait for the climactic and cataclysmic return of Christ on the clouds of heaven from the right hand of God to judge the quick and the dead.

    If this were the only possible interpretation of the Christian scriptures, there would truly be as little for the Bahá'ís and Christians to discuss as fundamentalist cult-fighters would wish their readers to believe. Careful study of the New Testament, however, with some attention shown to the Greek text does in fact suggest that the New Testament authors may not have been so stubbornly dogmatic. Specifically, Paul in the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians intimates that the knowledge of spiritual things possessed by the church, even after the descent of the Spirit on Pentecost, is incomplete or imperfect. He further avers that at some point in the future, Perfection will be attained, and at that point all the imperfect knowledge and prophecy available to the church will be, not completed or perfected, but katargeo, nullified. My paper will briefly contrast the traditionalist view of Torah demonstrated by the evangelist Matthew and the bold assertions of liberty proclaimed by Paul. I will survey Paul's use of the term katargeo in his writings to define the relationships between the dispensations of Abraham, Moses, Christ and Perfection. I believe it can be shown that Paul had in mind a concept much like the notion of annulment or abrogation which Bahá'u'lláh (Iqán pp. 71-74) identifies as one meaning of the Clouds of Heaven.

    Certainly, the charism of prophecy played an important role in determining the leadership, doctrines, and expectations of the early church. But once the relationship between perfection and katargeo is realized, it becomes apparent that Paul accepts the possibly non-literal nature of church-sanctioned eschatology. The apocalypse is the termination not of the world, but of the world-view. Rather, the fundamental requirement of true prophecy is the reappearance of Perfection, manifesting the fruits of the Spirit in the human realm. Once this occurs, the requirements of the old prophetic literalism are accounted null and void in the new dispensation.

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