Kevin James Bywater
The Islamic Perception of Christianity
Following the stunning tragedies of 11 September 2001, the world has shifted attention not simply toward the Middle East, but especially toward the religion of Islam. Unfortunately, many Americans perceive Islam merely to be the religion of terrorists. This is simplistic. And while Islam historically has been characterized by warfare and its own version of colonialism, it is understandable why many people in Central America, South Africa and elsewhere have perceived Christianity in similar terms. Since the retreat of the Ottoman Empire and the advance of colonialism by Europeans, Muslims voiced a similar perception of Christianity. Regardless of these perceptions or misperceptions we need to gain a better understanding of just how Muslims view Christianity (which they often identify simply with the West).1 In doing so, I believe we will gain a greater understanding of the Islamic faith itself. The trajectory of Islamic theology that is the focus of this study is that of abrogation; not the Qur’anic dynamic of legal abrogation,2 though that is touched upon, but the assertion that in the religion of Islam, Judaism and Christianity meet their end.
Essential to the Islamic perspective is the primary lens through which Muslims view all of reality, the Qur’an.3 In fact, the Muslim study of other religions has historically focused upon the Qur’anic presentation of their practices, beliefs and history, rather than through a direct investigation of those religions. This has lead to a projection of Mohammad’s perception of the practices and beliefs of the Christian faith rather than a clear understanding of the actual realities resident within it.4 This projectionism is evident, for example, in the confused Muslim description of Christian doctrines such as the incarnation of Christ and the Trinity.
The Qur’an on the Trinity. As is well-known, Muslims reject the Trinity because the Qur’an contains outright denunciations of it.5
O people of the Scripture! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, nor say of Allah aught but the truth. The Messiah Isa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), was (no more then) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, (“Be!” – and he was) which He bestowed on Maryam (Mary) and a spirit (Ruh) created by Him; so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not: “Three (trinity)!” Cease! (It is) better for you. For Allah is (the only) One Ilah(God), glory be to Him (Far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is All-Sufficient as a Disposer of affairs. (Qur’an 4:171)
But it also is evident that Mohammad never obtained a clear understanding of the doctrine, for the Qur’an confuses Mary with the Holy Spirit and projects the Trinity as polytheistic.
And (remember) when Allah will say (on the Day of Resurrection): “O Isa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary)! Did you say unto men: ‘Worship me and my mother as two gods besides Allah?’” He will say: “Glory be to You! It was not for me to say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, You would surely have known it. You know what is in my inner-self though I do not know what is in Yours; truly, You, only You, are the All-Knower of all that is hidden (and unseen). (Qur’an 5:116)
Surely, disbelievers are those who said “Allah is the third of the three (in a Trinity).” But there is no Ilah (god) (none who has the right to be worshipped6) but One Ilah (God – Allah). And if they cease not from what they say, verily, a painful torment will befall on the disbelievers among them. (Qur’an 5:73)
Such misunderstandings are extremely difficult to work through with Muslims. Some seem to think that if Christians disagree with how the Qur’an describes their beliefs, they must either be lying or must have changed the doctrine of the Trinity . The Qur’an cannot be mistaken. Hence the refracting lens of the Qur’an.
The Christian Correction. Regardless of such misrepresentation, throughout the history of Christian doctrine polytheism has been rejected. The doctrine of the Trinity is understood as a strong declaration of the essential unity of God. As the Athanasian Creed reads, “We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity; neither dividing the substance nor confusing the persons.” An undivided substance is a unity. And this declaration is at the heart of Christian confession. All orthodox Christians affirm a belief in only one true God. Such an affirmation derives from biblical teaching and is affirmed in both the Old and New Testaments. For example:
You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other … Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. (Deuteronomy 4:35, 39)
“You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior.” (Isaiah 43:10-11; cf. 44:6-8)
For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:5-6; cf. Ephesians 4:4-6)
In spite of appeal to these and other biblical passages, and in the face of numerous protests of Christians, Muslims insist that Trinitarian theology is polytheistic. The projection from the mind of Muhammad is recalcitrant in the mentalities of Muslims. As never before Modern Americans must grasp the reality that Muslims perceive our religion through the lens of the Qur’an.
Transcending these simple misunderstandings of the Christian faith, Muslims hold to a belief that Islam has superseded and abrogated Christianity, much the same (to their thinking) as Christianity did Judaism. It is to this facet of Islamic teaching that we turn our attention in the following study.
Part 1: Islam as the ‘End’ of the Christian Faith
La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadu Rasool Allah.
There is no God but Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
— The essential Muslim profession of faith.
It is one thing to charge another religion with falsehoods and its adherents as misguided, it is quite another to make the sweeping claim that one religion has superseded all others, abrogating all previous divine revelations and divinely instituted obligations. This is precisely the claim of Islam toward Christianity and Judaism. It is the most comprehensive claim that can be made. Indeed, it would be unreasonable to claim that all the elements of another religion are false or destructive or misleading. But an aura of plausibility may attend the assertion of replacing a previous religion.
The Islamic case for the abrogation of Christianity has many elements, from claims for Islam being the original religion, to assertions that all true prophets have taught Islam, to charges that the biblical texts have been corrupted and biblical doctrines distorted by Jews and Christians. We will look at these and other factors in our survey of the Qur’anic teaching regarding Christianity.
The Primacy of Islam
That Islam is the original religion is understood in two ways, both in terms of its being the original religion existing since the beginning of creation, as well as in terms of its inherence in each human being at birth.
Islam Is the Original Religion. When God created the first human, Adam, he struck a covenant with him, a covenant of Islam. To this covenant all of the sons of Adam bear witness. To this covenant all people are held accountable.
And (remember) when your Lord brought forth from the Children of Adam, from their loins, their seed (or from Adam’s loin his offspring) and made them testify as to themselves (saying): “Am I not your Lord?” They said: “Yes! We testify,” lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection: “Verily, we have been unaware of this.” (Qur’an 7:172)
Thus the excuse of ignorance of Islam is removed. All humans are responsible to live up to the covenant struck with their first father, Adam. On the day of judgment there will be no excuse.
All Human Beings Are Born Muslims. In addition to holding Islam as the primordial religion, we find resident within Islamic tradition the belief that each and every human being is born a Muslim, though such a pristine faith at birth may be muted through the mis-instruction of others.
Narrated Abu Huraira : Allah’s Apostle said, “Every child is born with a true faith of Islam (i.e. to worship none but Allah Alone) but his parents convert him to Judaism, Christianity or Magainism,7 as an animal delivers a perfect baby animal. Do you find it mutilated?” Then Abu Huraira recited the holy verses: “The pure Allah’s Islamic nature (true faith of Islam) (i.e. worshipping none but Allah) with which He has created human beings. No change let there be in the religion of Allah (i.e. joining none in worship with Allah). That is the straight religion (Islam) but most of men know, not.”8
It follows from this that if every human is born a Muslim, then so were the prophets of old, such as Adam, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. But not only were these prophets all Muslims, they taught a pure form of Islam as prophets, even though their teaching was not coextensive with that revealed through Mohammad.
God Has Sent Prophets and Their Books
According to the Qur’an, God graciously has sent messengers to every nation to teach them submission to God and to warn them against false religious teachings and practices.
And verily, We have sent among every Ummah (community, nation) a Messenger (proclaiming): “Worship Allah (Alone), and avoid (or keep away from) Taghut (all false deities i.e. do not worship Taghut besides Allah.” Then of them were some whom Allah guided and of them were some upon whom the straying was justified. So travel through the land and see what was the end of those who denied (the truth). (Qur’an 16:36)
Verily We have sent you [Mohammad] with the truth, a bearer of glad tidings and a warner. And there never was a nation but a warner had passed among them. (Qur’an 35:24)
Even the religions that predate Islam are understood as Islamic, their prophets as prophets of God: “We did send apostles before thee amongst the religious sects of old” (Qur’an 15:10). So God has graciously revealed his will throughout history and across all cultures. To be specific, though, the Qur’an names a number of these prophets, many of whom are familiar to Christians.
Moses and Jesus Taught Islam. Moses and Jesus are understood to have been prophets who taught Islam – the primordial faith, the religion of God – and Mohammad is believed to have been granted the very same prophetic mantle. One verse in the Qur’an that sums up the continuity between Moses, Jesus and Mohammad reads as follows:
And (remember) when Isa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), said: “O children of Israel! I am the Messenger of Allah unto you, confirming the Taurat [(Torah) which came] before me, and giving glad tidings of a Messenger to come after me, who name shall be Ahmad. But when he (Ahmad i.e. Mohammad) came to them with clear proofs, they said: “This is plain magic.” (Qur’an 61:6)
In this verse we see not only that Jesus is understood to confirm the book of Moses, the Torah, but he positions himself to pass the prophetic mantle to one who would come after him, namely Mohammad (we will discuss alleged prophecies of Muhammad below).
Abraham Taught Islam. Not only is there an asserted continuity between Moses, Jesus and Mohammad, but the Qur’an also appeals to Abraham who was neither a Jew nor a Christian.9
Ibrahim (Abraham) was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was a true Muslim Hanifa (Islamic Monotheism — to worship none but Allah Alone) and he was not of Al-Mushrikun [of those who worship other than Allah]. (Qur’an 3:67)10
Muslims Should Honor Previous Prophets and Their Books. So, Mohammad’s mission was in harmony with the prophets of old, even an extension of it. It is in this light that the Qur’anic teaching makes good sense that Muslims must affirm the previous prophets and their books. Thus we find in the Qur’an commands that Muslims are to affirm all the previous messengers of God.
Say (O Muslims), “We believe in Allah and that which has been sent down to us and that which has been sent down to Ibrahim (Abraham), Ismail (Ishmael), Ishaq (Isaac), Yaqub (Jacob), and to Al-Asbat [the offspring of the twelve sons of Yaqub (Jacob)], and that which has been given to Musa (Moses) and Isa (Jesus), and that which has been given to the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we have submitted (in Islam).” (Qur’an 2:136)
In addition, Muslims are commanded to affirm the books that stem from these ancient prophets.
O you who believe! Believe in Allah, and His Messenger (Muhammad), and the Book (the Qur’an) which He has sent down to His Messenger, and the Scripture which He sent down to those before (him); and whosoever disbelieve in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers, and the Last Day, then indeed he has strayed far away. (Qur’an 4:136)
The Prophet Mohammad
Even though the Qur’an teaches that Islam is the primordial religion, that every human is born a Muslim, that God has sent prophets to all the nations and codified their message in books, and Muslims are to affirm both these prophets and their books, the ministry of Mohammad is not to be understood as merely affirming the status quo. No, with the coming of Mohammad is the coming of a new era, and era of universal prophethood, an era of the perfection of the true religion.
Mohammad Was Spoken of in the Previous Books. The Qur’an narrates that Jesus spoke of a prophet that would follow him, namely “Ahmed,” which is another name for Mohammad.
And (remember) when Isa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), said: “O children of Israel! I am the Messenger of Allah unto you, confirming the Taurat [(Torah) which came] before me, and giving glad tidings of a Messenger to come after me, who name shall be Ahmad. But when he (Ahmad i.e. Mohammad) came to them with clear proofs, they said: “This is plain magic.” (Qur’an 61:6)
Mohammad also affirmed that there were prophecies foretelling his arrival and ministry in the Torah and the Gospel.
Those who follow the Messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write (i.e. Muhammad (whom they find written with them in the Taurat (Torah) (Deut, xviii 15) and the Injeel (Gospel) (John xiv, 16) … (Qur’an 7:157)
The footnote in the King Fahd edition of the Qur’an reads as follows:
There exists in the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel), even after the original text has been distorted, clear prophecies indicating the coming of Prophet Muhammad, e.g. Deut 18:18; 21:21; Psl. 118:22-23; Isa. 42:1-13; Hab. 3:3-4; Matt. 21:42-43; Jn. 14:12-17, 26-28, 16:7-14.
Muslims believe that only in Mohammad certain prophecies in the Bible fulfilled. The primary prophetic passages are, in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 18:15 and, in the New Testament, John 14:16 (both of these passages will be addressed at length below). Thus, if there are prophecies of Mohammad found in the Bible — in both Old and New Testaments, then these are very good reasons for Jews and Christians to drop their distinctives and divisions and become Muslims.
Mohammad Was the Universal Prophet. Though the message of the prophets was true to God, their message was temporary and limited. None were prophets for all people. Their messages were time-bound, even though in harmony with the Qur’an. “The Message of Mohammed,” comments Afif Tabbarah, “was sent to all mankind, unlike those of the apostles before him who were sent, each to his own people.”11 Thus we read in the Qur’an,
Say (O Muhammad): “O mankind! Verily, I am sent to you all as the Messenger of Allah — to Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He). It is He Who gives life and causes death. So believe in Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad), the Prophet who can neither read nor write (i.e. Muhammad), who believes in Allah and His Words [(this Qur’an), the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel) …], and follow Him so you may be guided. (Qur’an 7:158)
And We have not sent you (O Muhammad) except as a giver of glad tidings and a warner to all mankind, but most of men know not. (Qur’an 34:28)
Mohammad Was the Final Prophet. Not only is Mohammad uniquely viewed as the only universal messenger of God, he is also understood to be the final messenger, the seal of the prophets. Mohammad’s mission was in complete harmony with the previous prophets, but he was unique in that in him the prophetic traditions reached their climax. Thus the Qur’an claims that Mohammad is the seal of the prophets, the final messenger or mouthpiece of God.
Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the last (end) of the Prophets. And Allah is Every All-Aware of everything. (Qur’an 33:40)
Afif Tabbarah comments on this verse:
This verse concludes the epoch of prophethood, and decides that there shall be no prophet after Mohammed, though thousands of years had passed on God’s creation of the universe before Mohammed, with prophets succeeding one another. In the books of these prophets, there were tidings that other prophets will come after them … About fifteen centuries have now passed on the revelation of the above-quoted verse, a period long enough for the appearance of many prophets after Mohammed, coming one after the other, or living contemporaneously with one another. Why have they not appeared?12
A well-known hadith provides an instructive illustration of the teaching that Mohammad is the final prophet of God.
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “My similitude in comparison with the other prophets before me, is that of a man who has built a house nicely and beautifully, except for a place of one brick in a corner. The people go about it and wonder at its beauty, but say: ‘Would that this brick be put in its place!’ So I am that brick, and I am the last of the Prophets.”13
The book associated with the one universal and final prophet, Mohammad, is the Qur’an. It is not only believed to be revelation from God — and as such it is a confirmation of the previous revelations — but it is believed to be God’s final revelation, kept and guarded by the divine will and thus uncorrupted to this day.
The Qur’an Confirms the Previous Books. The Qur’an is understood not to conflict with the books that stem from these older prophets but rather to confirm their message (an assertion we will address below).
And this Qur’an is not such as could ever be produced by other than Allah (Lord of the heavens and the earth), but it is a confirmation of (the revelation) which was before it [i.e. the Taurat (Torah), and the Injeel (Gospel)], and a full explanation of the Book (i.e. laws, decreed for mankind) — wherein there is no doubt — from the Lord of the Alamin (mankind, jinn, and all that exists). (Qur’an 10:37)
And before this was the Scripture of Musa (Moses) as a guide and a mercy. And this is a confirming Book (the Qur’an) in the Arabic language, to warn those who do wrong, and as glad tidings to the Muhsinun … (Qur’an 46:12)
The Qur’an Is the Perfect Book. If the earlier prophets had books, then so did Mohammad. In fact, Muslims view the Qur’an as unsurpassable, the only perfect book on earth.
Say: “If the mankind and the jinn were together to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they helped one another.” (Qur’an 17:88)
The Qur’an Is the Fullness of Revelation. Indeed, not only is the Qur’an incomparable among all the books, it is also the fullness of God’s revelation.
And indeed, We have fully explained to mankind, in this Qur’an, every kind of similitude, but most of mankind refuse (the truth and accept nothing) but disbelief. (Qur’an 17:89)
The Qur’an Is Incorruptible. While it is common for Muslims to claim that the biblical texts have been tampered with to such an extent that the Bible cannot be regarded as reliable, it is also common for them to assert that the same could never happen to the Qur’an. Why could this never happen to the Qur’an? Because God has vowed to guard it:
Verily, We, it is We Who have sent down the Dhikr (i.e. the Qur’an) and surely, We will guard it (from corruption). (Qur’an 15:9)
The footnote to this passage in the King Fahd edition of the Qur’an reads,
This verse is a challenge to mankind and everyone is obliged to believe in the miracles of this Qur’an. It is a clear fact that more than 1400 years have elapsed and not a single word of this Qur’an has been changed, although the disbelievers tried their utmost to change it in every way, but they failed miserably in their efforts. As it is mentioned in this holy Verse: “We will guard it.” By Allah! He has guarded it. On the contrary, all the other holy Books [the Taurat (Torah), the Injeel (Gospel)] have been corrupted in the form of additions or subtractions or alterations in the original text.14
Not only do Muslims believe that the Qur’an will be kept from corruption, it is inscribed on an eternal tablet:
Nay! This is a Glorious Qur’an, (Inscribed) in the Al-Luah Al-Mahfuz (The Preserved Tablet)! (Qur’an 85:21-22)
So, even though God Almighty has provided previous revelations, it is only the Qur’an that has been preserved and will be kept from corruption.
Summary and Conclusion
In our brief survey of the Islamic view of Christianity, we have seen the following. 1) Islam is the original religion, it is the primordial religion, the religion of Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. In addition, all humans are born Muslims. 2) God has sent prophets throughout time to all the nations — prophets such as Abraham, Moses and Jesus. He has not only spoken through those prophets but given them books (e.g. the Torah and the Gospel). But their missions were limited, and their books were incomplete and later corrupted. 3) Mohammad is the final prophet foretold in the Bible, and his book, the Qur’an, is perfect, complete and incorruptible.
Islam Is the Only Valid Faith. Because of the finality of Mohammad’s prophethood, combined with the completion of God’s revelation in the Qur’an, orthodox Muslims reject any new claims to divine revelation or religious succession beyond Islam. Thus they are critical of such groups as the Baha’i,15 the Ahmadiyyah,16 and the Nation of Islam.17 Even so, the Baha’i, in particular, assert that in their religion all religions meet their unification.18
That Muslims claim Islam as the only viable faith is not objectionable, at least not in that it claim exclusivity. In a philosophical context that increasingly diminishes the significance of religious differences, distinctions, and truth claims, Muslims should be commended for retaining the categorical values of truth and falsehood with regards to religious beliefs and belief systems. Even so, there seems to have been a time when Islam was more inclusive than it is now. The Qur’an teaches, and Muslims once broadly affirmed, that non-Muslim monotheists who affirmed the doctrine of a last day of judgment could retain an assured hope as they faced that day.
Verily! Those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does righteous good deeds shall have their reward with the Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (Qur’an 2:62)
Surely, those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah, in His Messenger Muhammad and in all that was revealed to him from Allah), and those who are the Jews and the Sabians and the Christians, — whosoever believed in Allah and the Last Day, and worked righteousness, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (Qur’an 5:69)
But even though there was such a time of Islamic religious embrace of other monotheistic faiths, such a time has come to an end. Traditional Muslim commentators are in unanimous agreement that the verses just listed have been abrogated by another.
And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers. (Qur’an 3:85)
Thus we have come full circle. Islam is the original faith, the faith of Adam and his descendants; Islam is the faith with which every human is born into this world; Islam is the faith of all the prophets — though Muhammad is the universal and final prophet; Islam in its revealed fullness is contained within the pages of the Qur’an, the perfect, ultimate, and incorruptible scripture; and as such, Islam is the only valid faith in our day, the religion in which all monotheistic faith reach their climactic end.
Part 2: Responding to the Arguments for Abrogation
As we interact with the Islamic perception of Christianity as meeting its end in Islam, we will focus our attention on such primary issues as continuity, the reliability and authority of the Bible, the alleged prophecies regarding Mohammad, and the relationship between Christianity and the faith of the Old Testament.
The Importance of Continuity
In order for one religion to claim to be an organic development of a preceding religion, there must be a high degree of continuity. In other words, there must be substantial agreement in what is essential to that prior religion. To a degree, Islam can claim such continuity with Christianity and Judaism (understood as the religion of the Old Testament).
Regarding God, Muslims believe he exists, that he is one God, that he created the universe, is sovereign, maximally powerful, active with his creation — especially with humanity, and that he knows even the intimate details of human lives and will one day bring all humanity to account for deeds good and evil. Christians and Muslims also believe that God has spoken to humanity through messengers (human and angelic). We also agree that God’s revelation has been inscripturated in holy books.
But even with such substantial agreement, far too many discontinuities exist that undermine the plausibility of the Islamic claim to be a harmonious extension of Judaism and Christianity. Let’s begin with some representative doctrinal discontinuities.
Discontinuity: Human Nature
The claim that Mohammad and the Qur’an confirm the message of the prophets fails to cohere with the actual teachings as found in the Bible, whether Old or New Testament. Consider the doctrine of human sinfulness as taught in the Old and New Testaments. They teach that humans face entry into this world with an inherited tendency toward sin. This is the doctrine of “original sin.”
The Old Testament on Human Nature: Depravity. Here’s how the Old Testament describes the inherent sinfulness of humanity.
The LORD saw how great humanity’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil all the time. (Genesis 6:5)
The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humanity, even though every inclination of their hearts is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. (Genesis 8:1)
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:5)
The New Testament on Human Nature: Depravity. The New Testament stands in full agreement with the Old Testament. Consider just a few passages.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned — for before the law was given, sin was in the world. (Romans 5:12-13a)
The mind of sinful man [unredeemed humans] is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. (Romans 8:6-8)
Islam on Human Nature: No Depravity. In contrast to the biblical description of the predicament of humanity stand the teaching of Islam. Muslims deny that human beings are born with a sinful nature. Comments Abdullah Yusuf Ali,
As turned out from the creative hand of God, man is innocent, pure, true, free, inclined to right and virtue, and endued with true understanding about his own position in the Universe and about God’s goodness, wisdom and power. That is his true nature … But man is caught in the meshes of customs, superstitions, selfish desires, and false teaching.19
Hammudah Abdalati agrees:
The idea of Original Sin or hereditary criminality has no room in the teachings of Islam. Man, according to the Qur’an (30:30) and to the Prophet, is born in a natural state of purity or fitrah, that is, Islam or submission to the will and law of God. Whatever becomes of man after birth is the result of external influence and intruding factors … [S]in is acquired not inborn, emergent not build-in, avoidable not inevitable.20
The next doctrinal difference we’ll briefly examine is the Christian doctrine of salvation, centered in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. While this is a belief denied by non-Christian Jews, the point here is not to argue for its validity over against Jewish objections, but simply to show that the religion of Islam is discontinuous with essential teachings of Christianity. In addition, both Christianity and the Old Testament faith share a common belief in the dependence upon atonement, while Islam denies just this salvific dynamic.
Islam on Salvation: Good and Bad Works. Logically related to this view of human nature is the teaching of the Qur’an that the ultimate question for human destiny is whether one’s good deeds are greater than one’s evil deeds.
And the weighing on that day (Day of Resurrection) will be the true (weighing). So as for those whose scale (of good deeds) will be heavy, they will be the successful (by entering Paradise). And as for those whose scale will be light, they are those who will lose their own selves (by entering Hell (because they denied and rejected Our Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations). (Qur’an 7:8-9)
And We shall set up balances of justice on the Day of Resurrection, then none will be dealt with unjustly in anything. And if there be the weight of a mustard seed, We will bring it. And Sufficient are We to take account. (Qur’an 21:47)
It is ultimately one’s own righteous deeds that determine one’s eternal state of happiness or harm. Thus Muslims reject the idea of Jesus’s atoning work on the cross, as well as the historical reality that Jesus even died upon a cross.
Christianity on Salvation: Christ Jesus. The New Testament affirms that all humans (except the incarnate Christ) have sinned (compare Romans 3:23 with Hebrews 4:15). Intimately related to Jesus’s sinlessness is his atonement for the sins of his people (Hebrews 2:17). In harmony with this New Testament revelation Christians affirm that their sins were laid upon Christ as he was crucified upon the cross. Thus they affirm that
God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21; cf. Galatians 3:13)
Not only do Christians affirm that Jesus died upon a cross for the sins of his people, we also affirm his resurrection from death on the third day. As the apostle Paul wrote,
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you– unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)
It is this message, the gospel, that is the centerpiece of the Christian faith. Any religious tradition claiming continuity with Christianity in any meaningful sense must affirm these truths. Yet it is here that Islam falls short.
Islamic Denials: Jesus’s Death, Atonement and Resurrection. In sharp contrast, Muslims deny that Jesus is God come in human form (the incarnation), that he died upon a cross an atoning sacrifice for sin, and that he was resurrected on the third day. While the following passage contains some ambiguities (e.g. whether it denies that the Jews were those who killed Jesus or whether Jesus did not die upon the cross21), many Muslims believe it denies that Jesus was crucified at all.
That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah” — but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not — nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself. (Qur’an 4:157-158; cf. 3:54)
The ramifications of this denial are devastating to any claim to be a continuation of the Christian faith in any meaningful sense. Not only does this deny the death of Christ upon a cross, but it would be a denial of Jesus’s atoning work as well. In addition, if Jesus never died, then there would be no resurrection from the dead. And anyone familiar with the Christian faith recognizes that if Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, then there is no gospel, there is no hope, and the Christian faith is nothing but a fraud. As the apostle Paul declared,
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:14-17)
Clearly, to deny the death of Jesus upon the cross is to denounce the gospel that is at the core of the Christian faith. In that light, no meaningful claim to confirming the Christian faith or the gospel of Jesus can be offered.
Now Muslims may respond to our display of doctrinal discontinuity in a couple ways. First, they may argue that just as we argue that Islam cannot be a confirmation of Christianity because of such doctrinal discontinuities, so Christianity cannot be a fulfillment of Judaism because its teachings are just as discontinuous. If this were so, all it would show is that both Islam and Christianity are to be rejected as false religions. Nevertheless, while Muslims fail to shy away from such accusations, Christians would dispute this analogy on several significant grounds.
A second possible response could be that in our illustrating the discontinuities between Islam and Christianity we have revealed just what is to be expected since the biblical texts have been corrupted. In other words, the force of the argument is turned back upon Christianity, charging Christianity with having distorted the biblical texts such that they are now doctrinally and historically corrupted. But Muslims have yet to provide justification for this claim, apart from circular appeals to the Qur’an and Islamic traditions.
In what follows, we will take each of these objections in turn, beginning with the latter.
Muslims attempt to mute the significance of these doctrinal incoherencies by arguing that the text of the Bible has been corrupted. Such a move only creates a greater problem, however. Here we encounter one of the more significant disanalogies in the relationship of Islam to Christianity and Christianity to Old Testament religion. Simply put, the New Testament authors never criticize the Old Testament. Rather, the point of contention between Jews and Christians was (and is) with regards to interpretation and the fulfillment of prophecy. But New Testament speakers and authors never criticized the Jews for corrupting the texts or adhering to fraudulent texts. This is a significant element of continuity that Christianity has with Old Testament religion, but Islam does not have with Christianity. In fact, the earliest Christians were largely Jews who upheld the authority of the Old Testament revelation and the reliability of the contemporary texts. Here are some sample affirmations.
Affirming the Old Testament. First, we find statements in the New Testament that affirm the entire Old Testament as inspired by God, even providing wisdom for salvation.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures [i.e. the Old Testament], which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture [i.e. the whole Old Testament] is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
Paul is here referring to the Old Testament revelation, even though it is plausible to find a legitimate extension of the principle to the later New Testament writings.
Affirming the Prophets. Second, we also find the New Testament authors attributing the inspiration of the prophets to the work of the Spirit of God.
For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (1 Peter 1:21; cf. 2 Samuel 23:2)
Affirming the Word of God. Third, in both the Old and New Testaments we find affirmations that God’s word will not pass away, but that God will sustain it throughout the ages — not in the form of some heavenly book or scroll or tablet, mind you, but among the people of God on earth.
A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-8)
For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:24-25)
Jesus also confirms the truthfulness of the Old Testament text of the first century when he says, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). This is significant because we have found substantial portions of the Old Testament text among the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls show that the text as we have it today is substantially the text of the first century. Thus Muslims have no grounds upon which to claim that the Old Testament text was somehow so corrupted as to be cleansed of Islamic teachings.22
The Apostle Paul as an Extended Example. In addition to these rather straightforward statements regarding the word of God, specifically the Old Testament, instructive is the reality that throughout every New Testament corpus (e.g. Pauline, Johannine, etc.), indeed in every New Testament author we find regular appeal to the Old Testament as the source and confirmation of their teachings, and that without even once criticizing the Old Testament texts. As just one example, consider the affirmations and teachings of the apostle Paul in the book of Romans.23
Paul both introduces and concludes Romans noting how the gospel he proclaims stems from the Old Testament.
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures … (Romans 1:1-2)
Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27)
In addition to these agenda-setting declarations, Paul noted that the righteousness of God — which supplies the substance of his gospel — was testified to by the law and the prophets, “But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets” (Romans 3:21). And even though some would charge Paul with being unlawful, he explicitly declares the contrary when he writes, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (Romans 3:31).
Paul also taught that the ministry and message of Christ actually confirms God’s promises to the Patriarchs,
For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs. (Romans 15:8)
Paul even viewed himself and his congregations as accountable to the Old Testament scriptures, noting that they have a continuing validity for the Church as the people of God.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1ff.)
Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. (Romans 4:23-24a)
Paul viewed his ministry — the proclamation of the fulfillment of the prophesied gospel — as dependent upon and derived from the Old Testament prophecies and promises. This is amply verified through even a cursory reading of his epistle to the Romans (and not only this one) with an eye toward Paul’s explicit quotations culled from the law, the writings, and the prophets.
Certainly, Paul not only did not view his gospel as a novel innovation, he went so far as to see the validity of his message as utterly dependent upon the Old Testament scriptures. That Paul explicitly quoted the OT dozens of times throughout this letter is commonly acknowledged. That Paul also alluded to the OT in numerous instances is increasingly acknowledged.24
Clearly, Paul’s posture here stands in sharp contrast to that of Muslims who are critical of the Old Testament. Again, it must be noted that Islam stands in sharp disanalogy to Christianity when it seeks to legitimate its teachings through demeaning the Bible.
Christianity and Old Testament Religion
Some Muslims might object to what we have presented, arguing that since Christianity has set aside the practices of circumcision and sacrifice, clearly Christianity abrogates the religion of the Old Testament. While this argument may carry some intuitive force, I believe there are good reasons to reject it. I believe that one way to accomplish this is to show that within both the Old and New Testaments there is a distinction made between various kinds of law, with some being viewed as more significant for the quality of religious loyalty that God expects of his people.
Greater and Lesser Commands in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament itself we find a prophetic anticipation of the New Testament distinction between greater and lesser commands of the law. Examples may be found in the following passages.
But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come — it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:6-8; cf. Hebrews 10:5-8, below)
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17)
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you.” (Jeremiah 7:21-23)
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)
With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:6-8)
Greater and Lesser Commands in the New Testament. Thus we can see resident in the Old Testament itself a distinction of significance between the laws. It is just this distinction that is picked up by Jesus and the New Testament authors to argue for the non-necessity of certain laws due to the coming of the Messiah as the redeemer of his people.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Matthew 23:23)
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:32-34)
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am — it is written about me in the scroll — I have come to do your will, O God.’” First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them.” (Hebrews 10:5-8)
It must be kept in mind here that such sacrifices and offerings were commanded in the law. But as we noted above, even in the Old Testament it is clear that there are greater concerns (Psalm 40:6-8).
Not only do we find such distinctions as noted above, but we also find passages which would otherwise be incoherent without allowing for distinctions between what we might classify as the moral and the ceremonial (or cultic) laws (though here I refer not simply to all ceremony, but to those ceremonies which are distinctly bound to the old covenant rather than the new; e.g. circumcision).
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. (1 Corinthians 9:20-21)
Notice, Paul says that he is “not under the law” and also that he is “not free from God’s law.” Whatever could he mean? He notes that he is “under Christ’s law,” that is, the law understood in light of the Messiah who has come; that is, the law as perpetuated during the Messianic era.25 Of course, all this implies that certain laws have met their intended goals or temporal conclusions. Such laws and the reconciliatory sacrifices for sin have met their conclusion in the Messiah (see the book of Hebrews). Such laws as circumcision have met there goal in the circumcision of the heart by the Spirit, coupled with the writing of God’s law upon our hearts (see Romans 2:17ff.26 in concert with Romans 8:1ff.). Consider also Paul’s statement contrasting circumcision with the commands of God: “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts” (1 Corinthians 7:19).
The Case of Circumcision. Wasn’t circumcision a command of God? Yes. So on what basis can Christians deny its continuing obligation? That particular rite — which should be viewed more in terms of a social or covenantal boundary marker27 — belongs to the old covenant. Nevertheless, it seems to be the case that this particular rite could be practiced to no effect, thus receiving the charge of having “uncircumcised hearts” (Leviticus 26:41; Jeremiah 9:26; cf. Acts 7:51). Indeed, the old covenant demand was not merely circumcision of the flesh, but circumcision of the heart.
Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. (Deuteronomy 10:16)
Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done — burn with no one to quench it. (Jeremiah 4:4)
The new covenant, promised in the Old Testament, carries with it a promise of circumcision of the heart, rather than of the flesh.
The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. (Deuteronomy 30:6)
Such a promise is related to a constellation of additional promises relating to God granting his people new hearts, putting a new spirit within them (Ezekiel 11:19; 18:31; 36:26), as well as the grace of God in writing his law upon their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33; cf. Isaiah 51:7).
Thus Paul writes in echo of the promises in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah that God would circumcise our hearts.
No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:29)
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. (Galatians 6:15; cf. Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:11)
This being so, it is vital to see that there are other commands of God that do still apply (in contrast to antinomian traditions). Significantly, Paul can even write the following:
Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. (1 Corinthians 7:19)
The law of God, as seen everywhere in Paul’s epistles, clearly perpetuates the prohibitions against idolatry and immorality of every sort (see, e.g., Romans 8; 1 Corinthians 5, 10; Galatians 5).
In summary, as we read through Paul’s writings we see him both advocating a very strong ethic, as well as arguing that certain laws are now inoperative. Thus, when he writes to the various churches regarding Christian ethics, he is a great pains to show that Christians do have laws (standards of righteousness and holiness) which are continuous with the ethical demands of the Old Testament (see, e.g., Galatians 5:14, 23b; Romans 3:31; 6:11ff; 8:1-14; 13:8-10). Such instructions typically arise when Paul is instructing Gentile Christians how to live an authentic Christian lifestyle (see, e.g., 1 Corinthians 5:1-6:20; Ephesians 4:17-5:21). But when Paul opposes non-Christian Jews and their divisiveness with regards to Gentile Christians, he is at great pains to establish which laws no longer apply (e.g., circumcision, food restrictions, Jewish calendar, bloody sacrifices, etc.). He does so by appealing to Old Testament precedent, the ministry of the Messiah, and the gift of the Spirit that accompanies the new covenant (see, e.g., Galatians 5:16-25).
While much more could be written on this topic, I believe that what has been presented here is suggestive enough to show the Islamic objection against Christianity to be implausible. Christians have a high view of God’s law (or at least they should), though some laws were temporary illustrations of the heart of the matter — the human heart.
No Prophecies of Mohammad in the Bible
A feature typical among quasi-Christian restorationist movements is the appeal to biblical prophecy. Such appeals are made either to establish their expected arrival as a movement, or at least the expected arrival of their founding leader. Among the majority of modern restorationist movements appeals to Daniel, Revelation and the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25 and parallels) are most common. Not so with Islam. Muslims appeal to Deuteronomy, Psalms, Isaiah, Habakkuk, and the Gospel of John.28 Most prominent among the references are Deuteronomy 18:15-18 and John 14:16.
Deuteronomy 18:15, 18. As we consider the alleged biblical prophecies fulfilled in Mohammad, there are two that are most prominent, Deuteronomy 18:15, 18 and John 14:16. We’ll address Deuteronomy 18:15-18 first.
The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among your own brothers. You must listen to him … I [God] will raise up for them a prophet like you [Moses] from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18)
In these verses we read that God will raise up 1) a prophet, 2) like Moses, 3) from among the Israelites, and that he will 4) put his words in his mouth, and 5) he will proclaim to the Israelites everything God commands him.
Muslims object to the Christian affirmation that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy because Christians believe Jesus is the Son of God, or God incarnate. Yet this prophecy speaks only of a prophet. But this is a false dichotomy. Jesus can be both a prophet and the incarnation of God. In fact, several passages record how Jesus described himself as a prophet.
And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” (Matthew 13:57; cf. Mark 6:4; John 4:44)
In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day — for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! (Luke 13:33)
Not only did Jesus describe himself as a prophet, but some of the people of Israel did as well. After miraculously feeding five-thousand people, they proclaimed, “After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world’” (John 6:14). And at Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the crowds proclaimed, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (Matthew 21:11).
In addition, we read in the Gospel of Luke part of a conversation between Jesus and some of his very own followers. And while their eyes were temporarily blinded to the fact that this was Jesus, their description of him as a prophet remains.
One of them, named Cleopas, asked him [Jesus], “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he [Jesus] asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.” (Luke 24:18-19)
The disciples Peter and Stephen proclaimed the same message, that Jesus was the promised prophet like Moses. As Peter proclaimed,
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you — even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.” (Acts 3:19-23, quoting the prophecy from Deuteronomy 18; cf. Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:37-53)
All of these passages should be enough to show that according to the New Testament authors, including Jesus himself, the prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus long before the arrival of Mohammad.
Yet Muslims say that this prophecy cannot be fulfilled by Jesus because he did not proclaim the law, like Moses. But surely Jesus did proclaim the law; and like Moses he sought to restore the people of God to the purity of the law.29This is seem most clearly in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Consider Jesus’s thesis statement in Matthew 5:17-20.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.30
In proclaiming the endurance of the law, as well as the importance of obeying the law, Jesus surely sounds like Moses near the end of Deuteronomy.
Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. (Deuteronomy 30:11-16)
In addition, we should note that Jesus did give laws to his people. For example, in John 14:34 we read, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” And the later New Testament authors can even speak of “the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2; cf. 1 Corinthians 9:21).
So, Jesus is a prophet and he was like Moses, a proclaimer of the law, but Muslims object to reading “from among their brothers” as a reference to an Israelite prophet. They rather understand the passage to be referring to non-Israelites brothers as it does in Deuteronomy 2:4 and 2:8 with reference to the descendants of Esau. But the usage of the term in the context surrounding Deuteronomy 18:15, 18 shows that “brethren” is to be understood with reference to fellow Israelites. For example, in Deuteronomy 17 we read the stipulation for the installment of a king over Israel. He is to be “from among your own brothers,” not “a foreigner” (17:15). The king is to write a copy of the law for himself, and to read it all the days of his life, so he will not “consider himself better than his brothers” (17:20). In Deuteronomy 18:2 we read that the Levites would not be granted an allotment of the promised land, “no inheritance among their brothers.” And as the Israelites gear up for the battles they will face as they enter the promised land, they are told that if one of them is fearful, “Let him go home so that his brothers will not become disheartened too” (Deuteronomy 20:8). Based on this brief survey, it is safe to say that the burden of proof is upon the Muslim who would insist that “brothers” is to be understood with reference to any non-Israelite. But while Mohammad was not an Israelite, Jesus was, as is evidenced by his genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, and other New Testament passages.
In addition to the evidence that Jesus, his disciples, and the New Testament authors understood Deuteronomy 18:15, 18 to be fulfilled in Jesus, and that Jesus is a prophet, like Moses, from among the Israelites, we can also show that the words Jesus spoke were from God and that he proclaimed them to Israel. Regarding the fact that Jesus spoke the words God had given him, we list the following verses.
Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him [i.e. God] who sent me .” (John 7:16)
So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” (John 8:28)
For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. (John 12:49)
That Jesus was one who proclaimed the word of God to Israel is a truism evident in even a cursory reading of any of the New Testament gospels.
The weight of the evidence is strongly in support of the Christian view that the promise of Deuteronomy 18:15, 18 was fulfilled in Jesus, not in Mohammad. Thus Jesus challenge in John 5:46 rings loud, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.”
John 14:16. The New Testament passage that Muslims most often refer to is John 14:16, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.” Yusuf Ali makes the case in a footnote to Qur’an 3:81.
That argument is: You (People of the Book) are bound by your own oaths, sworn solemnly in the presence of your own Prophets. In the Old Testament as it now exists, Muhammad is foretold in Deut. xviii. 18; and the rise of the Arab nation in Isaiah, xlii. 11, for Kedar was a son of Ismail and the name is used for the Arab nation: in the New Testament as it now exists, Muhammad is foretold in the Gospel of St. John, xiv. 16, xv. 26, and xvi.7: the future Comforter cannot be the Holy Spirit as understood by Christians, because the Holy Spirit already was present helping and guiding Jesus. The Greek word translated “Comforter” is “Paracletos”, which is an easy corruption from “Periclytos”, which is almost a literal translation of “Muhammad” or “Ahmad” …31
He further comments in a footnote to Qur’an 61:6.
“Ahmad,” or “Muhammad,” the Praised One, is almost a translation of the Greek word Periclytos. In the present Gospel of John, xiv. 16, xv. 26, and xvi. 7, the word “Comforter” in the English version is for the Greek word “Paracletos,” which means “Advocate,” “one called to the help of another, a kind friend” rather than “Comforter.” Our doctors contend that Paracletos is a corrupt reading for Periclytos, and that in their original saying of Jesus there was a prophecy of our holy Prophet Ahmad by name.32
Simply put, the argument is that in our Greek manuscripts the word paracletos is a corruption of periclytos. But there is absolutely no manuscript evidence to support this claim. Of the over 5,000 manuscripts now available, not one witnesses to periclytos. So, the charge of textual corruption is self-serving and completely without textual support.
Further, while Muslims assert that the identification of the Counselor with the Holy Spirit is a misinterpretation, in the very context of John 14:16 Jesus draws just this identification: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). Of course, the Muslim can claim that this statement is a fictive retrojection of the later theology of Christians, but such a claim would need at least some evidence.
Numerous additional difficulties attend the Muslim attribution of John 14:16 to Mohammad. The Counselor was to be with Jesus’s disciples “forever” (14:16), but Mohammad was never with them. Nor is the answer that the message of Mohammad has continued to this day in the Qur’an a sufficient response. Jesus also said the Counselor would be “in you” (14:17), which accords perfectly with the Counselor being the Holy Spirit. The Counselor would be sent in Jesus’s name (14:26), but Mohammad was not. Several additional elements could be referenced. In the end, I would hope that any Muslim who would seek to attribute the prophecy of John 14:16 to Mohammad would first read the entirety of John chapters 14-16 to see the qualities of the Counselor and how these cannot plausibly be attributed to Mohammad.
As we noted before, there are additional passages used by Muslims in support of their claim that prophecies of Mohammad are found in the Bible, but the very same difficulties that attend their attempts to use Deuteronomy 18: 15, 18 and John 14:16 trouble the other (less significant) passages. In this light, the conclusion of Blaise Pascal is apropos: “Any man can do what Mahomet has done; for he performed no miracles, he was not foretold. No man can do what Christ has done.”33
In a cultural context where religious beliefs claims are viewed as merely preferences, Muslims are to be commended for holding that such claims are either true or false. And in a world where moral values are viewed as antiquarian, Muslims have stood firmly, proclaiming that God is sovereign and that ethical standards are absolute and necessary for a healthy society. For such beliefs and postures as these, we should commend Muslims. But our intent has been to address the Muslim claim that Christianity has been abrogated by Islam.
In this study we have witnessed the fact that the Muslim perception and approach to Christianity is determined by the teachings of the Qur’an. The Qur’an teaches that Islam was the original religion, the faith of Adam, Abraham, Moses and even Jesus. We also noted that the Qur’an teaches that God has sent prophets to all the nations of the earth. Each of these prophets taught Islam. Abraham, Moses and Jesus were among them. But their ministries were limited and temporary. In contrast, the ministry of Mohammad is viewed as universal and final. He is never to have a successor. In addition, Mohammad was granted a book, just like the prophets who preceded him. But their books were corrupted whereas the Qur’an is complete, perfect and incorruptible.
In response to the Muslim perspective, we have argued that the teaching of the Bible does not accord with Islamic beliefs. Here we focused on the doctrines regarding the sinfulness of humanity, as well as upon the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus. We thus showed the implausibility of the Muslim claim to confirm previous prophets or their books. But Muslims could respond by simply arguing that the text of the Bible has been corrupted. Here we noted that their posture stands diametrically opposed to that of Jesus and the New Testament authors. Never did Jesus or the apostles or their disciples criticize the text of the Old Testament. In addition, their charge of textual corruption lacks sufficient justification. Finally we examined the primary passages Muslims believe are prophecies of Mohammad. Here we showed that they have simply misused the biblical text. In fact, I suspect that if they experienced someone who had misused the Qur’an in they way they have manipulated Deuteronomy 18 and John 14, they would be deeply offended. Texts do mean something; and a text out of context is a pretext for error.
In the end, if our arguments are sound, and we have good reasons to believe they are, then the Muslim claim that Islam abrogates Christianity is unwarranted and misleading.
Appendix: Baha’i as the Ultimate Religion
There are several religions that originated within the womb of Islam. Not only do we find numerous Islamic sects (the Sunni and Shi’i being the most prominent), but we also encounter some groups that have picked up the Islamic claim of abrogating Christianity and have applied it to Islam itself. Of course, orthodox Muslims protest. Mohammad was the seal of the prophets. The Qur’an is not only the most perfect book, it is the final revelation of God. Nothing more is to be revealed. There are no more prophets to come.
Even so, large movements such as the Baha’i and Ahmadiyyah, and smaller groups such as the Nation of Islam, claim that new prophetic voices have arisen on the horizon. Expectedly enough, the adherents of Baha’i and Ahmaddiyah have been sorely persecuted, though they retain significant minorities in Arabia and Mid-Asian nations.
The following excerpt is from the Baha’i book, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, under the heading “The Fundamental Principle of Religious Truth.”34 The first paragraph illustrates well how Baha’is view their religion in relation to others. Notice also that here the concept of abrogation is denied. The first paragraph seeks to embrace not simply all religions but “all established religions,” implying that upstarts are marginalized. While the first paragraph asserts that the Baha’i faith does not “abrogate” other religions, the cumulative effect of the following series of paragraphs does just the same. We begin to witness the winnowing of doctrinal allowances: Any religious traditions that proclaim a closed canon (e.g. Christianity) are charged with blasphemy. A fuller discussion of Baha’i will have to wait for another study.
1 Let no one, however, mistake my purpose. The Revelation, of which Bahá’u’lláh is the source and center, abrogates none of the religions that have preceded it, nor does it attempt, in the slightest degree, to distort their features or to belittle their value. It disclaims any intention of dwarfing any of the Prophets of the past, or of whittling down the eternal verity of their teachings. It can, in no wise, conflict with the spirit that animates their claims, nor does it seek to undermine the basis of any man’s allegiance to their cause. Its declared, its primary purpose is to enable every adherent of these Faiths to obtain a fuller understanding of the religion with which he stands identified, and to acquire a clearer apprehension of its purpose. It is neither eclectic in the presentation of its truths, nor arrogant in the affirmation of its claims. Its teachings revolve around the fundamental principle that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is progressive, not final. Unequivocally and without the least reservation it proclaims all established religions to be divine in origin, identical in their aims, complementary in their functions, continuous in their purpose, indispensable in their value to mankind.
2 “All the Prophets of God,” asserts Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, “abide in the same tabernacle, soar in the same heaven, are seated upon the same throne, utter the same speech, and proclaim the same Faith.” From the “beginning that hath no beginning,” these Exponents of the Unity of God and Channels of His incessant utterance have shed the light of the invisible Beauty upon mankind, and will continue, to the “end that hath no end,” to vouchsafe fresh revelations of His might and additional experiences of His inconceivable glory. To contend that any particular religion is final, that “all Revelation is ended, that the portals of Divine mercy are closed, that from the daysprings of eternal holiness no sun shall rise again, that the ocean of everlasting bounty is forever stilled, and that out of the Tabernacle of ancient glory the Messengers of God have ceased to be made manifest” would indeed be nothing less than sheer blasphemy.
3 “They differ,” explains Bahá’u’lláh in that same epistle, “only in the intensity of their revelation and the comparative potency of their light.” And this, not by reason of any inherent incapacity of any one of them to reveal in a fuller measure the glory of the Message with which He has been entrusted, but rather because of the immaturity and unpreparedness of the age He lived in to apprehend and absorb the full potentialities latent in that Faith.
4 “Know of a certainty,” explains Bahá’u’lláh, “that in every Dispensation the light of Divine Revelation has been vouchsafed to men in direct proportion to their spiritual capacity. Consider the sun. How feeble its rays the moment it appears above the horizon. How gradually its warmth and potency increase as it approaches its zenith, enabling meanwhile all created things to adapt themselves to the growing intensity of its light. How steadily it declines until it reaches its setting point. Were it, all of a sudden, to manifest the energies latent within it, it would, no doubt, cause injury to all created things … In like manner, if the Sun of Truth were suddenly to reveal, at the earliest stages of its manifestation, the full measure of the potencies which the providence of the Almighty has bestowed upon it, the earth of human understanding would waste away and be consumed; for men’s hearts would neither sustain the intensity of its revelation, nor be able to mirror forth the radiance of its light. Dismayed and overpowered, they would cease to exist.”
5 It is for this reason, and this reason only, that those who have recognized the Light of God in this age, claim no finality for the Revelation with which they stand identified, nor arrogate to the Faith they have embraced powers and attributes intrinsically superior to, or essentially different from, those which have characterized any of the religious systems that preceded it.
6 Does not Bahá’u’lláh Himself allude to the progressiveness of Divine Revelation and to the limitations which an inscrutable Wisdom has chosen to impose upon Him? What else can this passage of the Hidden Words imply, if not that He Who revealed it disclaimed finality for the Revelation entrusted to Him by the Almighty? “O Son of Justice! In the night-season the beauty of the immortal Being hath repaired from the emerald height of fidelity unto the Sadratu’l-Muntahá, and wept with such a weeping that the concourse on high and the dwellers of the realms above wailed at His lamenting. Whereupon there was asked, Why the wailing and weeping? He made reply: As bidden I waited expectant upon the hill of faithfulness, yet inhaled not from them that dwell on earth the fragrance of fidelity. Then summoned to return I beheld, and lo! certain doves of holiness were sore tried within the claws of the dogs of earth. Thereupon the Maid of Heaven hastened forth, unveiled, and resplendent, from Her mystic mansion, and asked of their names, and all were told but one. And when urged, the first Letter thereof was uttered, whereupon the dwellers of the celestial chambers rushed forth out of their habitation of glory. And whilst the second letter was pronounced they fell down, one and all, upon the dust. At that moment a Voice was heard from the inmost shrine: `Thus far and no farther.’ Verily we bear witness to that which they have done and now are doing.”
7 “The Revelation of which I am the bearer,” Bahá’u’lláh explicitly declares, “is adapted to humanity’s spiritual receptiveness and capacity; otherwise, the Light that shines within me can neither wax nor wane. Whatever I manifest is nothing more or less than the measure of the Divine glory which God has bidden me reveal.”
8 If the Light that is now streaming forth upon an increasingly responsive humanity with a radiance that bids fair to eclipse the splendor of such triumphs as the forces of religion have achieved in days past; if the signs and tokens which proclaimed its advent have been, in many respects, unique in the annals of past Revelations; if its votaries have evinced traits and qualities unexampled in the spiritual history of mankind; these should be attributed not to a superior merit which the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, as a Revelation isolated and alien from any previous Dispensation, might possess, but rather should be viewed and explained as the inevitable outcome of the forces that have made of this present age an age infinitely more advanced, more receptive, and more insistent to receive an ampler measure of Divine Guidance than has hitherto been vouchsafed to mankind.
- See Kate Zebiri, “Muslim Perceptions of Christianity and the West,” in Islamic Interpretations of Christianity, ed. Lloyd Ridgeon (New York: St. Martin’s, 2001), 179-203.
- This is the judicial doctrine that through the process of progressive revelation, some earlier laws and judgments are nullified and superseded. See the helpful discussions in Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Qur’anic Christians: An Analysis of Classical and Modern Exegesis (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 24, 32, 118-120, 127-128, 186.
- Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of the Qur’an come from The Noble Qur’an: English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary, trans. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali and Muhammad Muhsin Khan (Madinah, K.S.A.: King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an, n.d.). I also refer to this volume as “the King Fahd edition.”
- This dynamic is well-documented in Muslim Perceptions of Other Religions: A Historical Survey, edited by Jacques Waardenburg (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), especially chapters 1-4.
- As we make our way through the Islamic arguments for the abrogation of Christianity, I will provide many full texts from the Qur’an. Merely referencing the relevant passages would not facilitate clear understanding for readers unfamiliar with the narrative of the Qur’an. In addition, I believe it is instructive for readers to taste something of the flavor of Qur’anic narrative as they seek to understand the worldview and reasoning style of Muslims. Unfortunately, though, I have found the English used in translating the Qur’an to be very tortured and tedious, especially given the parenthetical remarks so often inserted. It seems as though many Muslim translators have an underdeveloped philosophy of translation.
- The British English spelling of the source is retained in the quotations.
- That is, Zoroastrianism.
- Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 23, Hadith 441. (http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/bukhari/023.sbt.html#002.023.441)
This statement occurs elsewhere in Bukhari as well (Ibid, Volume 2, Book 23, Number 467): “Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, ‘Every child is born with a true faith of Islam (i.e. to worship none but Allah Alone) and his parents convert him to Judaism or Christianity or Magianism, as an animal delivers a perfect baby animal. Do you find it mutilated?’” (http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/bukhari/023.sbt.html#002.023.467)
Sahih Muslim also records a version of the same hadith (Book 033, Number 6426): “Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: No babe is born but upon Fitra [having the true religion]. It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Polytheist. A person said: Allah’s Messenger, what is your opinion if they were to die before that (before reaching the age of adolescence when they can distinguish between right and wrong)? He said: It is Allah alone Who knows what they would be doing.” (http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/muslim/033.smt.html#033.6426)
- For an instructive discussion of the religion of the patriarchs, see, R.W. L. Moberly, The Old Testament of the Old Testament: Patriarchal Narratives and Mosaic Yahwism (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), 79-104.
- Such an appeal to Abraham is a common feature among Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, as well as among the various sects that stem from these major Abrahamic traditions. We will discuss additional features common among restorationist movements below.
- Afif A. Tabbarah, The Spirit of Islam: Doctrine and Teachings, Trans. Hasan T. Shoucair (Beirut, Lebanon: Dar El-Ilm Lilmalayin, 1978), 97.
- Ibid., 97, 98. Of course, Tabbarah begs two questions in his comments: First, what are those tidings spoken of by the prophets of old that he would ascribe to Mohammad (a question we touched on above and will address further below)? Second, his bafflement of there being no prophets after Mohammad flies in the face of such claimants as Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (d. 1903) and the Ahmadiyyah movement, Elijah Poole (a.k.a. Elijah Mohammad) and the Nation of Islam, and Baha’u’allah and the Baha’i movement. These movement make very similar supersessional and abrogational claims with reference to traditional Islam.
- Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Hadith 735 (http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/bukhari/056.sbt.html#004.056.735)
- 339, n. 1.
- For more information on the Baha’i faith, see the web sites www.bahai.org and www.us.bahai.org. For Christian interactions with Baha’i, see, Francis J. Beckwith, Baha’i (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1985) and William M. Miller, The Baha’i Faith: Its History and Teachings (South Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publications, 1984).
- For a Christian discussion of Ahmadiyyah beliefs and claims, see, John Gilchrist, “A Study of the Ahmadiyyah Movement,” (http://www.answering-islam.org/Gilchrist/Vol1/9c.html).
- For more information regarding the Nation of Islam, see, C. Eric Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America, Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994) and Steven Tsoulkas, The Nation of Islam: Understanding the ‘Black Muslims’ (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2001).
- See the Appendix for Baha’i statements to this effect.
- A. Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary, translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali (Washington, D.C.: The American International Printing Company, 1946), 1059, n. 3541, commenting upon Surah 30:30.
- Hammudah Abdalati, Islam in Focus (Indianapolis, IN: American Trust Publications, 1975), 32, 33.
- This is a belief of the Ahmadiyyah movement. They assert a kind of swoon theory, where Jesus did not actually die, though he was crucified. See note 16 above.
- For further information, see, Walter Kaiser, Are the Old Testament Documents Reliable and Relevant? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001).
- It is common for critical scholars to assert that the teaching of the apostle Paul are quite distinct, if not downright contrary to, the teachings of Jesus. Muslims have picked up on this argument from time to time. Regarding this subject, no better volume is currently available than David Wenham, Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995).
- See, Moises Silva, “Old Testament in Paul,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 630-642; Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989); Christopher D. Stanley, Paul and the Language of Scripture: Citation Technique in the Pauline Epistles and Contemporary Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 83-184; and E. Earle Ellis, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1957). Cf. the relevant study of Ben Witherington, Paul’s Narrative Thought World: The Tapestry of Tragedy and Triumph (Nashville, TN: Westminster/John Knox, 1994). For more discussions of the New Testament use of the Old Testament, see, Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?, Ed. Gregory Beale (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1994), esp. the essays by Roger Nicole (13-28) and Klyne Snodgrass (29-51).
- See the instructive work of Frank Thielman, Paul and the Law: A Contextual Approach (Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994); as well as N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1991).
- See Timothy W. Berkley, From Broken Covenant to Circumcision of the Heart: Pauline Intertextual Exegesis in Romans 2:17-29 (SBL Dissertation Series 175; Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000)
- As Professor James Dunn has written, “… Paul’s critique [of the Jews] does not reduce [merely] to questions of circumcision, food laws and sabbath … But Israel’s history had reinforced the reality of the law as a boundary dividing Israel from the (other) nations, and the Maccabean crisis in particular had focused that boundary function on two or three key ‘make or break’ issues — especially circumcision and food laws. They remained prominent at the time of Paul, for the same reason. In sort, that is why it is precisely circumcision and food laws which are so much to the fore when Paul speaks of ‘works of the law’ in Galatians — not because they are the only ‘works’ which the law requires, but because they had become the crucial test cases for covenant loyalty and for maintaining Jewish identity as the people chosen by God for himself alone.” (Jesus, Paul and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians [Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1990], 210 n. 6.) Further discussions of covenantal boundary markers and Paul’s view of the law can be found in N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1991); idem., What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997).
- A footnote to Qur’an 7:157 in the King Fahd edition reads, “There exists in the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel), even after the original text has been distorted, clear prophecies indicating the coming of Prophet Muhammad, e.g. Deut 18:18; 21:21; Psl. 118:22-23; Isa. 42:1-13; Hab. 3:3-4; Matt. 21:42-43; Jn. 14:12-17, 26-28, 16:7-14.”
- See the extensive discussion in Dale C. Allison, The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993). See also the relevant discussions in the commentaries by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, and Craig Keener.
- “Heavens and earth” here refer not to the literal physical heavens and earth, but they are a literary metaphor referring to a covenantal arrangement. Thus we find through the Bible a dynamic of “decreation” (e.g., sun and moon darkened, stars falling, heaven and earth shaken), attending the collapse of governments/kingdoms, as well as during the adjudication of covenant lawsuits. See the extended discussion of this and other metaphors and symbolism in N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1996), 320-368.
As an example of this “decreation” motif, witness Matthew 24:29. This falls in the midst of the discourse of Matthew 23-25, which teaches that attending the widespread Israelite rejection of their Messiah Jesus, was the adjudication of a covenant lawsuit, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century A.D. (see, “this generation” at Matthew 23:36 and 24:34). This was attended by the collapse of the temple, the derailing of the priesthood, and the dispersing of the Jews. Thus we find the covenantal end of the old covenant and its attendant religious hierarchy and cultic practices. But attending the judgment was the message of deliverance and salvation for God’s people of faith. Hence the establishment of the new covenant by Messiah Jesus, in fulfillment of the Old Testament hope of a people of God being comprised of both Jew and non-Jew alike.
For helpful discussions of these dynamics of biblical eschatology, see, for example, the work of N.T. Wright noted above, as well as Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, various editions; www.americanvision.org).
- A.Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, 144, n. 416.
- Ibid., 1540, n. 5438.
- Pensées, 10:600 (http://www.ccel.org/p/pascal/pensees).