Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Bible vs. the Qur'an

In this first of a series of questions about Islam, I would like to address the comparison of the Bible vs. the Qur'an. First of all, I do not believe that everything in the Qur'an is evil, as some such as Robert Spencer and Don Richardson have claimed. There are some parts that Christians can agree with, starting at Surah 1.

The problem with examining the Qur'an is the lack of textual criticism allowed by Islam itself. The Qur'an is not considered by Islamic scholars to be inaccurate to the point that to fully understand it, based on their teachings, one must read it in the original Arabic. The Qur'an is considered to be the eternal word of God, written on a gold tablet in heaven, given as the final revelation to the prophet Muhammad. Those of you who are scholars of Mormonism will realize that this sounds familiar as something similar is said about the book of Mormon.

The Bible, on the other hand, was written down over thousands of years by different men inspired by God. It has been subjected to textual criticism, but has not been found with major errors. We have some very old manuscripts from which to pull from and new scholarship continues to clarify what is meant by certain passages. Overall, it has held it's place over time. However, with the Qur'an, we do not have access to old manuscripts. In fact, many of the original manuscripts were destroyed on purpose soon after Muhammad was dead. The Qur'an has also been compiled from fragments that people had written down from things that Muhammad said. In fact, the Qur'an was compiled quite differently from the way the Bible was compiled.

As far as content, it's debatable as to whether or not the Qur'an is a wholly violent book or a wholly peaceable book. It's a little of both just as the Bible is. The ones who argue that the Qur'an is wholly violent (such as Spencer and Richardson) have to deny that the Bible contains scenes in which God commands genocide. One cannot argue for one without denying the other. On the other hand, one cannot argue that the Qur'an is wholly peaceable either. If one looks at the Qur'an through the eyes of history during the time of Muhammad, one can see different subjects come up as Muhammad experienced them. It's important to look at the various aspects of the Qur'an in a chronological manner.

Early on, Muhammad had no problem with the Jews and Christians and they had no problem with him. He was advocating monotheism, which caused problems with his own people. His first wife was a Christian (albeit a mystical Egyptian Coptic Christian) who confirmed to him that what he was saying was from God. Whether it was true or not is a different story. She sent him to her cousin (also a Christian) who also confirmed it. It was in the later years, when the Jews and Christians would not conform to what Muhammad was saying, that the "revelations" about killing Jews and Christians came about. Again, similarities to Mormonism abound. Satan must have run out of ideas when he created Mormonism.

With all this information, how does one effectively share the Gospel with a Muslim or even with someone who sees validity with what the Qur'an says? I heard Alistair Begg say that we often talk about the dangers of not accepting the Gospel with people, or the benefits of accepting the Gospel, but not the Gospel itself. What is the Gospel? It is Jesus Christ, God's only Son, giving His life as a sacrifice so that mankind might have eternal life through belief in this truth. The sacrifice was perfect because Jesus was sinless. Now, a Muslim, is not going to believe this truth right away. They may even throw up issues such as Jesus prophesying Muhammad in the Bible or God not having a Son because that would mean that God had sex. Let's get a few of these out of the way.

1. Does Jesus prophesy Muhammad in the Bible?

Short answer: no. Long answer, look at John 15:26ff. John 15:26 (ESV)“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
Often, the Muslim will only have heard about Muhammad being prophesied by Jesus from their Imam, but they don't know where to go to find out the information themselves. I've just provided the answer for you. The Muslim does not know who the Holy Spirit is. Jesus is speaking in this passage about the Holy Spirit (the paraklētos). The Holy Spirit is a comforter, and advocate, not a messenger, nor a prophet. In John 16:13, Jesus references the Holy Spirit again, this time using the word, pneuma, for Spirit. Never is a physical person prophesied  by Jesus.

2. Jesus as the Son of God.

I recently had to answer for this when I was in Mali. It was quite interesting that this should come up, but should've been expected and I was prepared for it, for the most part. The Holy Spirit led as well. John 1 is about the easiest explanation that one can give to a Muslim for Jesus being the Son of God, or even  God made flesh.
John 1:1 (ESV) In the beginning was  he 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. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and  his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right  to become  children of God, 13 who  were born, not of blood  nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 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. 
Again, most Muslims have never heard this. In fact, the man I was talking to had asked about Jesus being the Son of God before and had received answers such as "he could only understand it if he had the Holy Spirit" (some truth to that, but not the answer one should give), to "Jesus was not the Son of God" (Jehovah's Witnesses). Either way, once I explained from the Bible this passage, he seemed satisfied with my answer (though it didn't seem he fully agreed), and said that no one had ever tried to explain this to him before. One thing to note, they may try to take you to the Qur'an on this point as well. We can go the Qur'an too (eyebrows raised, I know). Surah 3:42-55 can be of great help in bridging the Qur'an to the Bible. I don't have time to go into all this, but the Camel Training Manual can help. There is an online version available at the following link:
 Final thoughts

I know this is probably a lot to digest. One website that might be helpful would be I do plan on writing a subsequent post with a list of resources on Islam. A final suggestion is to be open to the Holy Spirit's leading. This is probably the best suggestion at times. Pray as you share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Muslim. Do not denigrate the Qur'an, nor Muhammad, unless you want to be quickly shut off. Be like Paul when he shared with the Athenians on Mars Hill. The Muslims have some truth, but not all of it. We are to share all of the Truth of the Gospel to them. One method may be to start with Genesis, explain the sacrificial system and how it was not sufficient for salvation, but that Jesus Christ is. The Old Testament points to Christ. If you have questions, please feel free to ask.