Author Jonathan Noyes
Published on 07/03/2023

What Did Jesus Say About Pluralism and Salvation?

In this excerpt from Stand to Reason University, Jon Noyes explains why religious pluralism does not work and examines the biblical evidence for salvation through Christ alone.


The claim that Jesus is the only way to salvation is offensive. We’ve looked at four common responses to the exclusive claims of Christ. We called them dead ends because they ignore the claim altogether or they simply shut the conversation down before it starts. So now, having laid the groundwork, it’s time to look at the claim itself: Jesus is the only way to salvation.

I want to consider the claim that Jesus is the unique means for salvation for the entire world. This is a reasonable assignment. I’ve suggested some responses that aren’t helpful in answering the question, like you’re intolerant, arrogant, or narrow-minded if you think that you’re right, it’s just your truth, it’s not my truth, or who’s to say? No one should be faulted simply because he thinks his search for the truth can be rewarded with discovery of truth. If so, then why search for truth at all?

In this class, I’m going to argue a general point and then three specific points. First, the general point: Religious pluralism is false. It cannot be true that all religions are equally valid routes to God. Then, three specific points. The first one: Jesus claimed to be the only way. Second, Jesus verified his claim to be the only way. And the third specific point: Jesus is the only possible way.

I’m not saying this because I’m mean, narrow-minded, intolerant, or arrogant. I’m saying this because there’s good reason to believe all religions cannot equally be true. First, let me tell you why religious pluralism is false. Here’s the argument—and, even as an atheist, I would have agreed to this. It’s not complicated. Jesus either was the Messiah or he wasn’t the Messiah. If he was the Messiah, the Christians are right and the Jews are wrong. If he wasn’t the Messiah, then the Jews are right and the Christians are wrong. In no case can they both be right. If God exists, he either is personal or he’s not personal. If he’s personal, then the Christians and the Jews and the Muslims are right on that point, and the Hindus are wrong. If he’s not personal, then the Hindus are right, and the Christians and Jews and Muslims are wrong. In no case can they all be right at the same time. When you die, maybe you go to Heaven or Hell, or maybe you get reincarnated, or maybe you simply cease to exist, but you can’t do them all at the same time. It doesn’t work like that.

Some people are mistaken about their religious beliefs. In fact, given the variety of conflicting beliefs in the world, most people are mistaken. All religions can’t be true since they make contradictory claims about reality—the way the world really is. This is why it makes no sense when some people say all religions are basically the same. They’re not. It’s like saying aspirin and arsenic are basically the same because they both come in tablet form. It’s the differences that matter. This isn’t bigotry. It’s simple math.

Stephen Turner made this point in his poem called “The Creed”: “We believe that all religions are basically the same. They all believe in love and goodness. They only differ on matters of creation, sin, Heaven, Hell, and salvation.” Do you see what he did there? Sure, there are some similarities between some religions, but it’s how they differ that matters. Note the trend. We commonly reason that all religious views can’t be true since they contradict each other. Yet, we’re branded intolerant. Our friends then condemn Christianity, yet they’re considered tolerant, open-minded, and non-judgmental. This happens all the time. Everyone thinks his view is true, but only the Christian is called intolerant. And here’s the simple point to pull away. Pluralism, the idea that all religions are equally true and valid, is obviously false since religions make contradictory claims about the nature of reality.

Now, I want to talk about Jesus. I want to focus on three specific points. The first one: What did Jesus Claim about himself? The second: Did he verify that claim? And the third: Why did he make the claim in the first place? Why is Jesus the only way? In other words, there’s a reason.

Here’s our first question: What does the historical record teach about Jesus’ claims? The record teaches that the identity of Jesus is the central issue of Christianity. This is important. If you take, for example, Buddha out of Buddhism or Muhammad out of Islam, the religion remains because each religion is based primarily on the teaching, not the person. However, if you take Christ out of Christianity, Christianity ceases to exist.

Jesus drew attention to himself, not to his teaching. Why? Because it’s the identity of Christ that matters. In Matthew 16, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” This is the most important question anyone can ever answer, and there’s only one right response, by the way, and it’s Peter’s response: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” At his trial, Jesus wasn’t condemned to die for what he did. He was condemned to die for who he said he was. “‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am....‘ Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, ‘You have heard the blasphemy....’ And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.” In John 19:7, Jewish leaders said to Pilate, “He ought to die because he made himself out to be the Son of God.” Consequently, the decision anyone makes about Jesus’ identity, not his teaching, will determine, according to Jesus, where you spend eternity. “Unless you believe that I am he, you shall die in your sins.”

So, the first thing we learn from the historical record is that Jesus’ identity—who he claimed to be—is the most important issue. The second thing that we learn from the record is that Jesus claimed he was the Savior—the only way of salvation. Jesus either directly or indirectly made many profound claims for himself, and this is incredible. Jesus said that he was the Son of God. Jesus said that he was the Son of Man. He was the giver of eternal life, one with the Father, the one who forgives sin, the bread of life, the good shepherd, the true vine, the great I Am, the giver of living water, the light of the world, the future judge, the Lamb of God, the baptizer in the Holy Spirit, the door of salvation, the Savior, the Messiah, the healer.

Jesus claimed all of these things about himself. Jesus’ greatest, most profound claim, though, was that he was God in the flesh, and he was the only way to salvation. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me,” is what Jesus says. The claim to be the way focuses on Jesus’ exclusivity. The claim to be both the truth and the life focuses on Jesus’ divinity, which is supported by other texts. This is the same message we hear from all the others who Jesus personally trained to take his message after him. They all spoke with one voice on this issue. Peter, speaking to the Jewish leaders in Acts 4, says, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under Heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” John said, “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father.” Paul says, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Jesus,” the Messiah. Clearly, Jesus was not a pluralist. Matthew 7 says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

These are the words of Jesus. Maybe Jesus was mistaken about his claim, but make no mistake, yourself, about what his claim was. There are at least nine separate ways the Scriptures argue for the exclusivity of Jesus—over a hundred verses on record. Let me sum them up for you: Jesus is the source of salvation for the world. Jesus is the Father’s choice. If you reject Jesus, you reject the Father. Rejection of Jesus results in God’s wrath, but belief in Jesus rescues you from wrath. Jesus is the only way who provides forgiveness from sin. Jesus will be man’s final judge. Many imposters will claim to provide salvation, but there are no other alternatives for salvation. “If righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly,” is what Paul says to the church in Galatia. Therefore, all nations need the gospel, and that’s the Great Commission.

The claims of Jesus are clear. According to Jesus and all those Jesus personally trained to follow after him, there’s only one way to salvation.