Bahai News - 'Who do men say that I am?'

'Who do men say that I am?'

For the world's nearly 2 billion Christians, Jesus Christ is the miracle-working Messiah whose coming 2,000 years ago was foretold by biblical prophets and who one day will return to Earth.

Last Modified:
2:03 p.m. 12/22/2001

By Phil Anderson
The Capital-Journal

During his three years of ministry, Jesus changed water into wine, fed the multitude of 5,000 with five barley loaves and two fish, made the blind see and walked on water. Based on his words and deeds, his followers believed him to be the son of God, who came to take away the sins of the world.

Yet he died at age 33 as a common criminal, crucified on a cross, before his resurrection three days later, which gave rise to the spread of his message.

Thousands of his believers were persecuted and martyred in succeeding years. Instead of the religious movement fading away, however, it prospered and spread around the world.

Today, Christianity is the world's largest and most geographically diverse religion.

According to gospel accounts in the New Testament, Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary in the village of Bethlehem, an event which will be commemorated Tuesday as Christmas Day is celebrated around the world.

While Jesus is the focal point of the Christian faith, and, it could be argued, the central figure in human history, he is viewed differently within Christendom and by other major world religions.

Often seen as a great prophet or a wise teacher, not all religions are willing to ascribe to Jesus the same divine attributes he is accorded in Christianity.

Once, when he was with his 12 disciples, Jesus asked the question: "Who do men say that I am?" Today, the question is just as compelling.

To that end, The Topeka Capital-Journal asked several local religious leaders to weigh in on this question. Nearly all the leaders who were asked graciously consented to make a response.

Their statements follow.

American Indian tradition

"American Indians, like people of other backgrounds, follow a variety of beliefs and practices," said Steve Shewmake, of Topeka. "Some have abstained from participating in religious practices that are viewed as non-indigenous, but many others have embraced the Christian faith wholeheartedly and see nothing that should prevent them from also honoring the ways of their ancestors.

"As a Cherokee family, we know that many of our people have been Christians for a long time. Sometimes it is easy to forget that many of the first churches built in this country were started as missions to the American Indians.

"Some say that our Cherokee ancestors frustrated the missionaries because they -- the Cherokees -- were already aware of what the missionaries were teaching. Our people have always 'gone to the water,' a custom of prayerfully beginning each new day with a ceremonial washing that purifies the spirit as well as the body. Many people believe that it is basically the same practice taught by Jesus and his disciple, John the Baptist. Also, Cherokee people have long worshipped a creator whom our ancestors called the Three Above Beings: One God in Three Persons.

"Our stories tell us that Creator sent his spiritual beings to tell us of his son long before Europeans came to this land. People have to decide for themselves whether they will accept these stories. Cherokee elders say that they are true, while some anthropologists say that our people obtained these stories from missionaries. However, the writings of the missionaries tell of their own amazement at our Cherokee ancestors' understanding of what was being told to them. There are many parallels, including the Cherokee names of Creator and his son that sound very similar to the names that other peoples have used: 'Yowa' or 'Yehowa' for Creator and 'Tsisa' for Creator's son.

"Even before the Trail of Tears, from 1838 to 1839, when thousands of our people were removed from their ancestral homeland in the East, many of them were already Christian. There were many Christian hymns sung in the Cherokee language as our people traveled along the trail, including one that has become the Cherokee national hymn. It is sung to the tune of 'Amazing Grace,' although the words are very different from the English-language version. It tells the Cherokee people that Tsisa -- Jesus -- has gone away to heaven to prepare a place for us, but that he has given his promise to return for us some day.

"The Cherokees have long had a name for those who are called Christian in the English language. We are Tsuneladi, 'Those Who Follow Creator's Son.'

"Since European people introduced new ways, Cherokee people began celebrating Christmas. The Cherokee word for Christmas literally means, 'When they set off firecrackers.' It has been a custom among Cherokee people for generations.

"Recently, our family shared something of our heritage by helping decorate our church's Christmas tree with a medicine wheel. For us, the wheel represents the cross bridging the gap between Creator and all of creation ... the very action set in motion with the birth of Tsisa -- Jesus.

"We also enjoy participating in the traditional Indian celebrations of the winter solstice. Not everyone will see this the same way, but for our family the solstice -- the shortest day of the year -- is a reminder of the coming spring and a return of new life, a definite symbol of hope and resurrection."


"Through the physical and historical person Jesus Christ, the divine attributes of God were made manifest in the world," said Duane Herrmann, a spokesman for the Baha'i communities of Topeka and Shawnee County. "The sonship and divinity of Christ are absolutely upheld as well as the Virgin birth. The reality of Christ is everlasting and eternal. It has no beginning and no end. People who come into the Baha'i faith from backgrounds other than Christian have to accept the divine station of Christ. One cannot be a Baha'i without Christ.

"And, just as Christ said that Elijah had come before him in the person of John the Baptist, Christ himself would return with a new name. Baha'is believe that new name to be 'The Glory of God,' which is the English translation of Baha'u'llah.

"Someone has called Baha'is to be 'Christians of the Second Advent,' and I would agree with that. Though I left the Lutheran church, I have never left Christ."

Christian -- African Methodist Episcopal Church

"The basic understanding that Methodists in general, and, therefore, members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, have is that Jesus is the Christ, the special son of God, who, as a 'flesh and blood' human being, just like us, revealed the nature, power, intentions, forgiveness and love of our Creator-God," said the Rev. John A. DeVeaux Jr., pastor of St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church in Topeka.

"The primary focus of Christianity is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter, an early disciple, 'discovered' that Jesus was the Christ -- the Messiah. The resurrection carried the believers through the terrible trauma of the death of the one in and through whom they -- and we modern believers -- found salvation and a peace that passes understanding.

"We believe, with Paul, the earliest interpreter of Christianity and the person who was author of most of the letters, or epistles, that make up our New Testament, that Jesus was the Christ -- the Messiah -- not only for the Jews who were longing for him to come, but for the whole world . He writes: ". . . God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ" (II Corinthians 5: 19).

"The humanity of Jesus is supremely important. Paul writes: 'For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive' (I Corinthians 15: 21).

"The celebration of Christmas is in keeping with our certainty that God acted for our salvation in a real human being. So we testify that he was born of woman in the most common of circumstances, i.e., he was meek and lowly. The one who revealed the heart of God was one who understood what it meant to be despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

"But the celebration of the birth of Jesus is a celebration that we must have because, having discovered and been redeemed to God through faith in Jesus, the Christ, the sacrifice for our sins and failures, we want to know all we can about him. His birth then, becomes so important that believers have established how we count the years on the basis of his birth. We rejoice that Jesus was born into our world and into our lives, for he showed us the way back into the heart of God."

Christian -- Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

"'Who do people say that I am?' More than academic speculation, more than a challenge to the learned minds of each generation, Jesus' profound question begs for a response," says the Rev. Peter K. Lange, pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Topeka. "Ironically, the one who asked the question is the same one who, through his own self-revelation in history, answered the question.

"Jesus was an historical figure -- flesh and blood like every human being. He called the little children to his side to bless them. He hungered, thirsted, cried and bled. All of this Jesus accomplished, not as an abstract spirit, but as a human being. He could relate to humanity because he was one with humanity. He who was both human and divine blessed, hungered, thirsted, cried and bled. Jesus was and is God. True God and true man. This had to be so.

"Humanity had fallen apart and desperately needed someone to rescue it and reverse a deadly trend. In Jesus, God took on human flesh -- God became one with humanity -- in order to redeem all people of every time and place. God did this out of love.

"Jesus became a man because God loves his creation, each and every human being. God is love. Divine love was again shown on the day Christians call Good Friday, when the God-man died on the cross to save all people. Three days later, on Easter, Jesus was raised from the dead, and 40 days after Easter he ascended into heaven.

"Jesus was not just an ancient prophet sent to model the 'good life' for us to imitate. Certainly he did provide a perfect example of earthly kindness, love and charity. But the contemporary significance of Jesus extends well beyond earthly blessings to the heavenly love, forgiveness and grace that Jesus pours out richly and generously on those who cling to his promises.

"Strange as it might seem to our human reason, Jesus chose to locate himself -- his very presence -- in his holy Church. The Church, which includes all believers in Christ, receives Jesus through the proclamation of the Holy Scriptures and the ongoing participation in the Holy Sacraments. This is how Jesus dwells among humanity today: in his Word and his Sacraments.

"Through these means, he still becomes one with his people, and gives them the fullness of his peace, comfort and love.

"So the way in which we answer the question 'Who do people say that I am?' is not the point. Jesus answered the question. In Holy Scripture, he has been revealed to all people as the way, the truth and the life. He is the Life of the World. This eternal life, which the world cannot give, is precisely what the Church has to offer today."

Christian-Roman Catholic

"Jesus, son of God, son of Mary! These words are familiar and comfortable in the Catholic Christian tradition," said Sister Anna Marie Broxterman of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Topeka. "They lead one to ponder the mystery of Jesus the Christ, fully human, fully divine.

"Yet, in the Catholic mindset, our everyday living faith is rooted more deeply in the belief that Jesus is the self-disclosure of God; hence, we know God is love, compassionate and forgiving. We know God is truth and integrity. We know God longs for reconciliation of neighbor with neighbor and neighbor with God. Jesus, the Christ, is the reconciler. His life, death and resurrection have given power to each of us to also become fully human and fully participative in the divine.

"'He is not here; he is risen' (Luke 24:6), the women at the tomb were told. And so it is. He is risen. Jesus, the Word become flesh, dwells in our midst. In a most particular way, Jesus identifies himself with those in need. '... in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me' (Matthew 25:45). It is this conviction that undergirds all Catholic social teachings. There is inherent dignity in each person, for in each the son of God, the son of Mary, dwells."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints places Jesus Christ at the epicenter of our religion," said Bishop Kirt Saville, of the Sherwood Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Topeka. "He is the great Jehovah of the Old Testament, the messiah of the New Testament. He was the firstborn of the father, the only begotten son in the flesh, the redeemer of the world. He is the resurrection and the life, a light unto the world, the bread of life, the lamb of God.

"Though sinless, He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. He healed the sick, caused the blind to see, the deaf to hear and raised the dead. He taught us compassion, love, empathy and gave us a higher law that requires us to love our enemies and to do good toward those who despitefully use us.

"He was arrested and condemned on spurious charges, convicted to satisfy a mob, and sentenced to die on Calvary's cruel cross. He gave His life to atone for the sins of all mankind. His was a great vicarious gift in behalf of all who would ever live upon the earth. We believe that he rose from the grave to become the "first fruits of them that slept" (I Corinthians 15:20). We believe that because of His atoning sacrifice that all mankind will be literally resurrected and brought before God to be judged according to their works and according to the mercy, grace and justice of Jesus Christ, our lord.

"By virtue of his matchless life and by the infinite consequences of his great atoning sacrifice, we believe that no other person has had so profound an influence upon all who have lived and will yet live upon this Earth. We present to the world a second witness of the living Christ, another testament of Jesus Christ -- The Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is a sacred record of peoples in ancient America. Written by ancient American prophets and kept hidden by the Lord, we believe that it was revealed in our day to serve as another witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

"In the foreword of this sacred record we read that this record was kept to 'the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.' We declare in words of solemnity that Christ has restored his ancient church once again upon the Earth, "built upon the foundation of ... apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:20). We present unto the world our own personal witness, that Christ lives, and that he loves and knows every man, woman and child by name.

"His mercy is infinite, his love unmeasurable and his concern for each of us is real and tangible.

"We believe that Jesus Christ is the light and life of the world. We worship no one else. We join with all Christendom at this glorious time of the year to remember and celebrate our savior's birth. He is our hope, our exemplar and our lord. We bear witness that Jesus is the living Christ, the immortal son of God. He is the great King Immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of his father. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come."


"What does a Hindu think about Jesus?" asked Dr. Padma Raju, a Hindu from Topeka.

"I believe it is impossible to find anything ancient about this, because Hinduism is so much older than Christianity. We can only talk about what the latter-day Hindus feel about Jesus.

"You are probably aware of some questionable historical evidence that Jesus traveled to Kashmir, Tibet and northern parts of India as a young man. Some scholars believe that he may have studied Buddhism and perhaps Hinduism during his travels.

"I particularly like what Mahatma Gandhi said many times: 'I am a Hindu. I am a Muslim. I am a Christian. I am a Jew.' That really sums up how I personally feel.

"Another Hindu scripture quotation you may find useful is 'Sarva dharma samanvaya' -- all religions are equal. In the Vedanta philosophy, it is quite clear there is one God and there are many paths to reach God.

"People who can accept this will see Jesus as a great teacher or guru.

"I am not aware of any prominent Hindu accepting Jesus as the son of God. But Hinduism, as many other religions, has the tradition of reverence for knowledge, especially spiritual knowledge and self-realization -- the knowledge of self.

"We have gurus galore throughout the history of India. Of course, some of these people have abused their influence. Hinduism has a tradition of tolerance of other religions. However, recently there have been ugly incidents of burning of mosques and churches in India. Fundamentalism to the point of hatred of other traditions, unfortunately, is not limited to Islam or Christianity."


"Most people know that we believe that Jesus was a prophet of God," said Imam Omar Hazim, of the Islamic Center of Topeka. "According to the Quran, we believe that Jesus' birth was a miracle, because he was born of a mother, but not of a father.

"We believe that Jesus was not crucified on a cross," he added. "The Quran says he was not crucified on a cross.

"In reference to the second coming of Christ, or the return of Christ, the prophet Mohammed said the people of the world will see prophet Mohammed and Jesus together in the last day. That means that people will see that the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Mohammed will come together, and people will see the teachings are the same in reference to the oneness of God. However, Mohammed is not going to return physically, and Jesus is not going to return physically.

"Jesus taught the oneness of God. Mohammed taught the oneness of God, and people will recognize the unity and togetherness of both prophets, as well as the prophets before them. Many believe that this time is now. We see the Christians and Muslims coming together, trying to understand what Christianity is teaching and what Islam is teaching.

"We believe Jesus was a prophet of God, not the son of God."


"From a Jewish perspective, Jesus was a first century Jewish teacher who was very much a part of the Jewish community of his time and place," said Rabbi Lawrence P. Karol of Temple Beth Sholom. "He spoke in parables like many rabbis, often with an emphasis on making the kingdom of God a reality in daily life.

"Jesus believed in discovering the spirit of Jewish law and practice, rather than focusing only on a literal approach. Yet, he also insisted that people's thoughts be held to the same standard as their actions.

"I would concur with most Christian and Jewish scholars that much of what Jesus said and did was intended to bring constructive change to the Judaism of his day."


"As far as our scriptures are concerned, there is no mention of Jesus," said Daljit Singh Jawa, of Topeka, a member of the Sikh tradition. "But going with the basic principles of the Sikh faith, we do not believe that God ever takes birth as a human being or as any other species. Because to believe that God takes birth will automatically imply that he also dies. But the Sikh basic philosophy is that God is timeless -- he never dies.

"As per Sikh faith, it is through the guidance of a spiritually enlightened soul, i.e., the guru, that man can reach and in fact merge in God.

In that context, Sikhs will view that just as the they should follow the teachings of their guru (Granth Sahib), similarly, Muslims should follow their guru (or prophet) Mohammed, and Christians should follow their guru, Jesus Christ, and Sikhs respect and honor the spiritual guides of all other faiths."

Unitarian Universalist

"Unitarian Universalists are non-adorationists," said the Rev. David Grimm, of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka. "We think of Jesus as a human being. Those among us who do esteem Jesus in a special way worship him, not with words of praise or professions of faith, but with our daily life and the way we seek to live it. We think of Jesus as one of the important instructors of the human race.

"As the Rev. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it during his days as a Unitarian minister, 'He teaches us how to become like God. A true disciple of Jesus will receive the light he gives most thankfully, but the thanks (the disciple) offers (in return) and which an exalted being will accept are not compliments (or) commemorations -- but the use of that instruction.'

"Not every Unitarian Universalist thinks of Jesus in this way, however. Being a creedless religious movement that has championed freedom of conscience for centuries, Unitarian Universalism reveres the right of each person to draw upon whatever sources of inspiration speak to them most powerfully. Thus, Unitarian Universalists find other inspiring teachers and role models of human greatness to imitate in Buddha, Ramakrishna, the Adi Granth, Lao Tzu, Confucius, the Baal Shem Tov, Hildegard of Bingen, St. Francis of Assisi, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Goethe, Thich Nhat Hanh.

"You get the idea -- the list is endless."

©Copyright 2001, The Topeka Capital-Journal

Page last updated/revised 122701
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page