Bhakti Hinduism’s Krishna devotees believe Vishnu is an avatar for Krishna, a god who as an avatar lived among human beings and who declared that “Although I am unborn, everlasting, and I am the Lord of all, I come to my realm of nature and through my wondrous power I am born” (Bhagavad Gita 4:6).
Hey, that sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it? For New Agers and others who seek to render Jesus anything but what He claimed to be, the Avatar comparison is probably too good to resist.
Well, actually no, there is an apparent surface similarity but the reality is that there are multiple profound differences that make the comparison useless, according to philosopher and theologian Kenneth Samples of Reasons To Believe, writing on his Reflections blog.
The Gospel of John opens with the classic statement of Jesus’ incarnation, saying:
“In beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-4, 14, ESV)
Samples points to five significant differences between the incarnation of Jesus and the appearance of Vishnu. For example, he notes that:
“The specific purpose of the Incarnation was to reveal God to humankind and to reconcile lost sinners back to God through Christ’s sacrificial atonement (see Titus 2:13); none of the Hindu avatars provides revelation nor do they in any way make atonement for human sin.”
The issue of atonement is huge and by itself would be sufficient, in my mind, to render the Hindu claim entirely different from the incarnation of Jesus.
That said, Samples’ other four points are well-worth considering and I encourage readers to check them out here.