The Parable of Three Blind Men and an Elephant

The Parable of Three Blind Men and an Elephant

The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
—Romans 6:23

Many people have bought into the idea that no one religion possesses all the truth about God; instead, different religions express various realities about the same God. The parable of the three blind men and an elephant is often used to illustrate that claim.

Imagine that three blind men are each touching an elephant in different places. The first blind man touches the elephant’s trunk and says, “An elephant is like a snake.” The second blind man, while touching the elephant’s leg, says, “You’re wrong. An elephant is like a great trunk of a tree.” The third blind man, touching the side of the massive animal, says, “You both are wrong. An elephant is like a brick wall.” Each of the men thinks he is right and the others are wrong. But, in fact, they are all describing different parts of the same elephant. So it is with God, we are told. Every religion is describing different truths about the same deity, but each religion is only able to grasp a part of the total picture.

However, there are two problems with this analogy. First, the parable assumes the blind men were indeed touching an elephant. How do we know the first man was touching an elephant instead of an oak tree? The story assumes there was an elephant that had defined characteristics—it was a massive creature rather than a slithering reptile; it had large legs and a trunk. In other words, there were objective realities about this creature that the men were attempting to define according to their finite understanding. The elephant was not the sum of these three men’s descriptions of it but possessed definitive attributes apart from these men’s speculations.

The second problem with this analogy is that it does not allow for contradictory claims about the nature of the elephant. Notice that all three men were touching different parts of the elephant and giving different descriptions of what the elephant was like. But suppose all three were touching the same part of the elephant: the leg. One man says, “The elephant is a strong tree.” Another man says, “No, the elephant is a pliable snowball that I can crush with my hands.” And the third man, suffering from leprosy, says, “I can’t feel anything at all. The elephant must not exist.” Each of these three men is making a claim that contradicts the other two, and therefore, only one of the three men can be correct. Either the elephant’s leg is like a sturdy tree, a snowball, or it doesn’t exist.

To those who do not believe in any God, all religions are simply variations of the same myths. But to those who do believe in God, all religions cannot be the same—an idea we will explore in more depth tomorrow.

Today’s devotion is excerpted from “How Can I Know Christianity Is the Right Religion?” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2012.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.