The Jewish people still exist after 2,500 years, while they have not had a homeland for most of the time. That is a remarkable feat, most notably because the Jews are supposed to be God’s chosen people. It is also a bit of an enigma that Christianity replaced the existing religions in the Roman Empire. Somehow the message of personal salvation through Christ caught on. A pivotal moment was the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity in 312 AD. He made Christianity the favoured religion in the Roman Empire.
A few centuries later, a small band of Arab warriors created an empire stretching from the Atlantic to India, spreading a new religion called Islam. Is it a realistic scenario that the illiterate camel driver Muhammad became a crafty statesman after seeing an angel representing the God of the Christians and the Jews? We only know this world, so we cannot answer that question. Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same deity. Our universe could be a simulation, and God might be the best explanation. But who is to say it can’t happen without God?
When Islam arrived on the scene, there was widespread monotheism as Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians in the area believed in an all-powerful creator. Muhammad had met them on his travels, so he was familiar with these religions. Before that, Christianity had faced an uphill struggle. While the Roman state suppressed this religion, pagans left their gods behind and accepted the Christian God as the only true God. And they did so in large numbers.
That begs for an explanation, even though the conversion to Christianity was a gradual process that took centuries. The number of Christians increased 2-3% per year between 30 AD and 400 AD. Each Christian may have converted just one or two persons on average. Over time, exponential growth made Christianity grow from perhaps 100 followers in 30 AD to 30 million in 400 AD. There appears nothing supernatural about this process until you realise that the most often cited reason for conversions were stories about miracles Christians did.1
An early miracle was Jesus appearing to a few followers after his crucifixion. The New Testament tells of miracles the disciples allegedly performed. These stories may be inaccurate or exaggerated, but miracles are a consistent theme in Christianity until today. And so, there may be more to it than science can explain. On message boards, people tell stories about prayers heard and miraculous healings. Perhaps, many of these stories result from chance or other causes like a misdiagnosis. But chance or misdiagnosis is not always a plausible explanation. And it seems unlikely that Christians always lie about these matters.
A recurring event is the appearance of the Virgin Mary. Many people have seen her. For instance, she appeared several times in Venezuela. In 1976, she showed herself to Maria Esperanza Medrano de Bianchini, who received exceptional powers. She could tell the future, levitate, and heal the sick. In Egypt, Mary appeared at a Coptic Church between 1983 and 1986. Muslims also have seen her there. There have been many more Virgin Mary appearances. The most notable one was in Portugal at Fatima on 13 October 1917. The sun spun wildly and tumbled down to earth before stopping and returning to its normal position, radiating in indescribable beautiful colours. More than 50,000 people witnessed the miracle. They had gathered in response to a prophecy made by three shepherd children that the Virgin Mary would appear and perform miracles on that date.2
Jesus also appeared, but less frequently than the Virgin Mary. An intriguing account comes from Kenneth Logie, a preacher of the Pentecostal Holiness Church in Oakland, California, in the 1950s. In April 1954, Logie was preaching at an evening service. During his sermon, the church door opened, and Jesus came walking in, smiling to the left and the right. He walked right through the pulpit. Then he placed his hand on Logie’s shoulder. Jesus spoke to him in a foreign tongue. Fifty people witnessed the event. Five years later, a woman gave testimony when she suddenly disappeared, and Jesus took her place. He wore sandals and a glistering white robe. He had nail marks on his hands, which were dripping with oil. After several minutes, Jesus disappeared, and the woman reappeared. Two hundred people have seen it. It was on film as Logie had installed film equipment because strange things were happening.2
Latest revision: 11 March 2023
Feature image: Mohammad receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel. Miniature illustration on vellum from the book Jami’ al-Tawarikh, by Rashid al-Din, published in Tabriz, Persia, 1307 AD. Public Domain.
1. The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World. Bart Ehrman. Simon & Schuster (2018).
2. How Jesus Became God The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher From Galilee. Bart Ehrman. HarperCollins Publishers (2015).