Eastern Religions: Zoroastrianism and Bahaism

These two religions are from Persia (Iran).  One is ancient.  One is of more recent origin.

Zoroastrianism

There are fewer than 200,000 followers of this religion in the world.  Most are in India, Pakistan, and Iran (Top Countries of the World by Zoroastrian Population, Worldatlas.com).  There are about 20,000 followers in North America (Dating to Save Your Tiny Religion from Extinction by Menachem Recker, theatlantic.com).

The origin of this religion is credited to Zoroaster (Zarathrustra).  When he lived is unclear.  Some believe that he lived in the 7th century B.C.  Others believe that he lived much earlier, in the 2nd millennium B.C.  Tradition says that he was the son of a camel merchant.  He lived in a society that worshipped many gods.  When he was thirty, he had a vision and began to teach the worship of a single god called Ahura Mazda or wise Lord (Zoroastrianism, history.com; History of Zoroastrianism, historyworld.net).  The teachings of Zoroaster became very popular in Persia.  “The Muslim conquest of Persia between 633 and 651 A.D. led to… the decline of the Zoroastrian religion in Iran… Parsi are followers of Zoroastrianism in India.  According to Parsi tradition, a group of Iranian Zoroastrians emigrated from Persia to escape religious persecution by the Muslim majority after the Arab conquest” (history.com).

What do Zoroastrians believe?  Many of their beliefs seem similar to the teachings of the Bible.  They believe in two great powers.  Ahura Mazda (Lord of wisdom, light) is the object of their devotion.  He is the creator.  Angra Mainyu (Prince of darkness) opposes Him and all that is good.  They believe in the ultimate triumph of good over evil.  They believe that man has free-will.  They believe in an afterlife of reward for the righteous and punishment for the wicked.

However, There appears to be some differences.  Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu are considered “co-eternal” (Josh McDowell & Don Steward, Handbook of Today’s Religions, p. 361).  Man’s judgment is different.  “Future life should be determined by the balance of the good and evil deeds, words, and thoughts of the whole life” (Encyclopedia Britannica © 1979 Vol. 19, p. 1175).  “The difference between a good man and an evil man is considered to be only relative” (McDowell, p. 361).  In order to be a Zoroaster you must be born to two Zoroaster parents.  They typically do not accept converts from outside.

Some suggests that the Jews, and the Bible, borrowed their teaching about Satan, and heaven and hell, from the Zoroastrians.  This supposedly happened while the Jews were in exile in Persia, during the 6th century B.C..

Let’s consider the Bible.  It is true that some things become more clearly revealed through time in the Bible.  However, there is a tempter in the garden (Genesis 3).  Satan is mentioned in Job (Job 1:6), and early book.  The concept of an afterlife is found early in scripture (Job 19:25-27; Genesis 25:8; 35:29; 49:33; 1 Samuel 12:23).  The New Testament explain why the patriarchs willingly endured the things that they did (Hebrews 11:8-16).

Let’s remember these points: First, similarity does not prove that borrowing occurred.  Second, one God created all of humanity.  Therefore, it is possible that some rudimentary understanding was found outside of Israel.  Third, it may be that the Zoroastrians were influenced by the Jews.  McDowell and Steward write, “Those who claim Zoroastrianism has had an effect on the Bible begin with the inherent assumption that the Old Testament was written later than the traditional evidence shows… If one accepts the traditional dating of the Old Testament, then the proverbial shoe is on the other foot.  It is not Zoroastrianism that influenced biblical doctrine when the Jews were in exile under Persian rule; it is the Bible that influenced Zoroastrianism” (McDowell pp. 360-361).

Bahaism

There are more than 5 million Baha’is in the world (Statistics, bahai.org © 2019).  The countries with the largest numbers of followers are India, and The United States.  It is estimated that there are more than a half million followers in the U.S.A. (Countries With the Largest Baha’i Populations, worldatlas.com).

The origins of this religion are found in 19th century A.D. Iran.  (1) Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi (1819-1850) was a merchant in Iran.  He assumed the title ‘The Bab’ (gate or door) in 1844.  He believed that he was the gate to reveal The Twelfth Imam.  He claimed that Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad were equal prophets and that there was coming one who would unify all believers, and would himself be a manifestation of the only true and living God (Walter Martin, The Kingdom of The Cults, p. 271-ff).  He was charged with apostasy and sentenced to death.  He was executed in 1850.  It was reported that the first volley of bullets missed the mark and severed the ropes by which he was suspended, three meters up, on a wall.  He was repositioned and killed on the second attempt. Bahai’is understand the failed attempt as a miraculous sign.  (2) Mirza Husayn Ali (1817-1892) was an early follower of The Bab.  He was exiled from Iran, as many other follows of The Bab were; others were executed.  In exile in Bagdad, in 1863, he declared that he was the one The Bab prophesied.  He claimed to be The Baha’u’llah (the glory of God).  He would spend four decades in exile or prison in places including: Bagdad, Istanbul, Adrianople, and Acre.  During this time, he did much writing and gained many followers.  His son, Abdu’l Baha (1844-1921) brought Bahaism to the U.S.A. in 1912.  This religion is now found in all 50 states.  The governing body is located in Haifa, Israel.

What do followers of this religion believe?  They believe in one God.  They believe that God has manifested His will through prophets including: Adam, Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, Buddha, Confucius, Christ, Muhammad, Bab and Baha’u’llah (bahaiteaches.org; Martin, p. 271-ff).  “Each of these prophets brought the same essential spiritual teaching, by varying social and material teachings according to the age in which he appeared” (bahaiteach.org).  They believe the writings of Bab and Baha’u’llah as divinely inspired and authoritative.  They believe the writings of Baha’u’llah’s successor Abdu’l Baha, and his successor Shaghi Effendi as authoritative interpretation.  “Baha’u’llah reportedly left behind 200 books and tablets, which along with the writings of his son, constitute the final authority for religious faith and conduct” (Martin, p. 273).  These writings supersede all others that went before them.  One of their publications (Star of the West, December 31, 1913) wrote “The revelation of Jesus was for His own dispensation… Now it is no longer the point of guidance to the world.  We are in total darkness if we are refusing the revelation of the present dispensation.  Bahais must be severed from all and everything that is past – things both good and bad – everything.  Now all is changed.  All the teachings of the past are the past.  Adu’l-Baha is now supplying all the world” (Jan Karel Van Baalen, The Chaos of Cults, p. 158).  “Jesus was the way, the truth and the life for his time but certainly not for all time” (Walter Martin interview of Baha’i Teacher, Martin, p. 273-f).  They believe that man has an immortal soul (Baha’i, bbc.co.uk).  One does not need to believe in Jesus being the propitiation for sins.  One Baha’i teacher said, “A Christian may find spiritual peace in believing in a substitutionary atonement.  In Baha’ism this is unnecessary.  That age is past.  The new age of maturity has dawned through Baha’u’llah, and we listen to his words” (Martin, p. 275).

Let us remember these words: “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:9-10).  “Contend earnestly for the faith which was one for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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