In chp 2 of Gerald McDermott’s God’s Rivals we are treated to a study of the surprising knowledge of God outside Israel and the Church. Again, the question here is the scandal of particularity and God’s rivals in world religions.
What significance is there to the reality, easily demonstrable, that our biblical faith has some serious overlaps and parallels with pagan religions contemporary with the Bible? What does that say about the faith of “pagans”?
McDermott begins with Luke 4 and Jesus’ statement where he compares favorably the faith of the widow at Zarephath to the faith of his Israelite contemporaries. He sees three themes:
1. God wants Gentiles to know Him. Exod 14:4 is a good example:”But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” God wants to make himself known to Gentiles. An example I think we need to study more carefully is Acts 14:17: in his comment to the Gentiles, Paul says of God: “yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
2. Some came to know God or truth about God who were Gentiles.
Melchizedek (Gen 14), where Abraham uses the name of his God for YHWH.
Pharaoh’s magicians (Exod 8:19)
Balaam, Rahab, King Huram of Tyre, Naaman, Nebuchadnezzar
Acts 17:28 where Paul quotes Epimenides and Aratus, showing revelation of truth to Gentiles.
3. God’s people learn from pagans/Gentiles/etc
Religious culture and customs: like circumcision, torches and pots, etc.
The names for God in the OT are found among pagan religions: El as “God.”
Cornelius in Acts 10 and this powerful statement: “but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (10:34-35).