that Demand an Answer
Have Christians Made Jesus to be a Universal Prophet?
Islam Denies the Universality of Christ
"Jesus answered: 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me".
Islam Places Muhammad in Christ's Position
"Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Apostle of Allah, and the seal of the prophets: and Allah has full knowledge of all things".
"We have not sent thee but as a universal (Messenger) to men, giving them glad tidings, and warning them (against sin), but most men understand not".
To achieve this, Islam has tried to demote Christ to a national prophet of Israel. By this he would loose significance for all gentiles to whom Muhammad claimed to be sent.
Islam Argues That Christ is Nothing More Than a National Prophet
"He answered, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel".
"She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins". ("His people" = Jews)
"These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: 'Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel'".
Is the universality of the Gospel disputed by these Scriptures? Why did Jesus Christ stick to the Jews?
In His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:22), Jesus stated that:
"SALVATION IS FROM
(Note: NOT FOR THE JEWS !)
Only the Jews could understand the significance of Jesus. No Roman, Indian or Japanese could have accommodated Him, because He was embedded in the history and the inspired writings of Israel alone. The Jews were waiting for Him. He had to be a Jew (Deut. 18:15); he had even to provide His genealogy to prove His descend from the tribe of Judah and the house of David (Gen. 49:10; 2. Sam. 7:13). Every Jew expected the Messiah, even though they did not recognize or accept Him at His coming (Rom. 9:4-5; John 1:4).
The Jews were then to proclaim Him universally.
"All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you!" (Gen. 12:3), was God's promise to Abraham and the 'great nation' (vs. 2), which would be his offspring. This is reflected in many passages of the Old Testament:
"He [i.e. God] says: 'It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob [Israel] and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth".
"My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations".
"Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done".
"And I, because of their actions and their imaginations, am about to come and gather all nations and tongues, and they will come and see my glory. I will set a sign among them and I will send some of those who survive to the nations - to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians, to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. And they will bring all your brothers, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem...".
"And there is no God apart from me; a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other".
"Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love towards us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever".
"May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth".
Although the Apostles were prepared for the greater task among the Jews in Israel, the "Great Commission" became the foundation of the spreading of the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ worldwide.
At first the Apostles and the early Christians - almost all Jews - found it very difficult to cross the barriers from Judaism to the Gentile world. They proclaimed the Gospel to the Jews only - until God spoke to Peter on the housetop in Joppa (Acts 10); to Saul on the way to Damascus (Acts 9); and to Philip in the loneliness of the desert road in the Gaza strip (Acts 8). Then the Holy Spirit guided them further afield (see also Acts 1:8 and Lk. 24:47).
This is as consistent with the Qur'an as with the Bible.
We read about Mary and Jesus:
"We made her and her son a sign for all peoples".
and again of Jesus:
"And (it will be) that we may make of him a revelation for mankind and a mercy form Us, and it is a thing ordained".
Surah 19:21 - Pickthall
"Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved".
Without an irrigation system a desert has no water; so a dam is constructed. Without pipes or channels, however, the water from the reservoir cannot flow onto the fields. - Christ called Himself the Water of life. The channels for the life-bringing water were the Jews. So the Apostles were, likewise, the final sluicegates which issue the water to the fields that represent the world. (W. Backeberg)
It is consistent that in His lifetime, Christ prepared the channels that would issue the water to the fields. This makes Him universal.
Even so, in the early part of His ministry, Christ discerned great faith in a Roman captain. He then said:
"...'I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven".
When his work was fully accomplished, He gave His last order, the Great Commission, as it is known:
"Then Jesus came to them and said: 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age".
We have to realize that all those fundamentals, which are rejected by Islam and thus by Muslims, are interlinked.
What would the crucifixion mean if Jesus is not God?
Many thousands died that way with no effect or benefits to anyone. Jesus could not have been part of God without Him being a triune God.
Atonement is based on the sinlessness of Jesus, which could only happen because He is part of God.
We also realize that Islam has a good reason to reject the Bible, or at least parts thereof: it does contradict the Qur'an.
Instead of checking which carries the evidences of divine revelation, it is a foregone conclusion to Muslims that the Qur'an, being the last revelation, must be right, and the Bible - though even confirmed by the Qur'an to be the Word of God (which cannot be changed by any man!), must have been corrupted.
We have to accuse Muslim theologians of ignorance or of deceiving their followers against better knowledge, hindering them by injecting fear and facilitating pressure of society in order to not expose themselves to the truth. The Islamic polemic is based on the fear that Muslims, when hearing the Gospel - and comparing it with Islam - might turn to Jesus Christ. After all, He is evidenced to be the only Saviour. Besides that His offer is infinitely more attractive to live and die with than that of Islam.
Do Christians Believe in "Inherited" Sin?
Muslims are confused about the term "inherited sin". What is this? What does it imply?
In Psalm 51:5 we read: "...in sin did my mother conceive me". If we look at the text carefully, we perceive not the conception to be sin, but that in a state of sin conception took place. And there is a world of a difference between these two views.
There are only two more passages in the Bible touching on this subject (Rom. 5:12-18 and 1. Cor. 15:21-22). It states here quite clearly that sin came into the world through one man, and the trespass of that one man led to the condemnation of all mankind. But it also states that death (the result of sin), spread to all men because all men sinned.
No man will be condemned because Adam sinned! Man will be condemned because he sinned against God himself. So it is not right to speak of "inherited" sin, but rather of original sin.
Adam and Eve were the first sinners, however since then one generation after another - up to now - inherited the sinful nature, the compelling drive to sin.
We are not sinners because we sin.
We sin because we are by nature sinners.
So no man inherited any sin from his forefather. The tendency to sin was inherited.
We must hasten to add, however, that God gave with the 'sickness' a remedy:
"Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men".
The one who did this act of righteousness is Jesus. We note that this does not imply a kind of automatic justification by God. Although one man's sin led to his children's sin etc., yet each man individually consents to the actions he does. Likewise forgiveness is not by compulsion or automatic, but by choice.
It would be right to state
that we do not believe in inherited sin,
but in original sin.
Why are there so Many Different Versions of the Bible?
This question bases on the teaching by Muslim "learned" men, that every now and then the Bible is revised and a new version created. "The Catholics have theirs, so have the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Protestants (and these have many!)", they would argue.
Muslims must understand that they also have different versions of the Qur'an: the one by Yusuf Ali, Dawood, Arberry, Pickthall, Rodwell, Muhammad Ali and many more. "Wait a minute", they will answer, "these are translations, not versions!" What they mean to say is, that they suppose a version to be a different text, not another translation of the original sources.
We must realize that a document, once written, is static. It does not change anymore. A spoken language, on the other hand, is dynamic. It changes all the time. Words change in meaning. Take Matthew 6: 6 as an example where Jesus teaches on prayer: "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door..." (KJV) Obviously Jesus is not referring to the toilet, as we would understand the word 'closet' today, but rather an inner room where we can pray in quietness and undisturbed from the noise of the world around us. Likewise some idioms are forgotten, while new ones are created. Grammar changes too.
In order to present the meaning closest to the old document, it is therefore imperative to upgrade commonly used translations to keep them relevant and understandable. This is done to preserve the meaning in the best possible way - not to change it!
Muslims must realize that our "versions"
are simply differently worded translations
from the same Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.
Yet all have the same meaning.
Let them compare the different versions and they will soon realize, that it is just a matter of wording the same content a little differently. In contrast to that Muslim Qur'an translators have bent over backwards to 'interpret' the Qur'an rather than to preserve the most accurate meaning. In addition they prefer vocabulary which is not commonly used, and style and diction which is to add importance or respectability by using Shakespearian English even though most translations date from the 20th century.
Is Muhammad Mentioned in the Bible?
Most Christians will probably raise their eye brows in amazement: "Why should Muhammads name be found in our Scriptures when we know fully well that he only lived several hundred years after Christ?"
Muslims view the matter from a completely different perspective: "It is unthinkable that the Bible would prophecy the coming of much less important rulers such as King Cyrus, but make no reference to a messenger as prominent as the founder of Islam. After all Islam is without doubt one of the largest religions in the world today!"
Moreover they base their expectations on two prominent verses in the Quran:
"Jesus, son of Mary said... I am indeed the Messenger of God to you, confirming the Torah that is before me and giving good tidings of a messenger who shall come after me whose name shall be Ahmad."
"Those who follow the Apostle, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (Scriptures) - in the Law and the Gospel."
In their zeal to pursue the direction into which these footsteps were leading them, Muslim writers have come up with a multitude of proof texts which they perceive as irrefutable evidence in favour of their assumption. Books and booklets offered to Christians bear such promising titles as ISLAM IN THE BIBLE or JESUS, A PROPHET OF ISLAM and LET THE BIBLE SPEAK, or quite straightforward ones as WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT MUHAMMAD and MUHAMMAD, THE NATURAL SUCCESSOR TO CHRIST.
Christians will be even more perplexed to read that evidently Muhammad is "the rejected cornerstone", the mysterious "rider on the white horse", "the prophet" as announced by Moses, "the comforter" which Jesus had promised to his followers and much more.
Let us look at the two most common "proof texts" in the Old and New Testament and find a meaningful response to the Islamic claims.
The Old Testament prophecy of "The Prophet"
"The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. ... I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him."
Muslims argue that this prophecy fits Muhammad perfectly since the Ishmaelites are the brothers of the Israelites, just as Ishmael and Isaac were brothers; and moreover since Muhammad in so many ways is just like Moses.
As always the Christian witness should turn to the passage in Scripture and show from its context what the intended meaning of this verse is and whether the fulfillment of the prophecy is found in the New Testament. Indeed it is. In Acts 3: 17 - 23 Peter in addressing his Jewish listeners at Solomons Colonnade applies this prophecy to the person of Christ.
"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: 20 - 23
This should already settle the issue. But you may take your Muslim inquirer to the first verses of Deuteronomy 18 where we read:
"The priests, who are Levites - indeed the whole tribe of Levi - are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel. ...They shall have no inheritance among their brothers..."
It is quite clear from these verses that "they" refers to the tribe of Levi and that "their brothers" refers to the remaining eleven tribes of Israel.
This is further demonstrated in a similar verse from Judges 20:13:
"But the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren, the children of Israel." (KJV)
Here "their brethren"is specifically stated to be the other tribes of Israel as distinct from the tribe of Benjamin.
To make sure that the Israelites would not confuse this kind of brotherhood with an extended kinship relationship, God explicitly commanded them to appoint their king from one of the tribes of Israel.
"He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite."
Thus no Ishmaelite, Moabite, Edomite or whoever he may be could be made King of Israel except one from the 12 tribes.
In what ways then do Muslims claim Muhammad to be similar to Moses? A wide spectrum of comparisons could be marshalled of which we just want to mention a few:
- Moses was married and so was Muhammad, but Jesus was not.
- Moses was given a comprehensive law for his people, while Muhammad received a perfect code, complete in itself, for all people and for all times.
- Moses and Muhammad were at first rejected by their own people, but returned after their years in exile to assume religious and political leadership among their people.
Obviously the first point is quite true, but does it mark a significant parallel between Moses and Muhammad? We might just as well state that Moses and Jesus conveyed their message in the Hebrew-Aramaic language while Muhammad only spoke Arabic or that both Moses and Jesus knew their parents while Muhammad never saw his father.
It will be more helpful to enlighten your Muslim friend on the peculiar parallels in Scripture:
- Moses and Jesus both left Egypt to enter their ministry. This is seen as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Hosea (11:1) by Matthew: "Out of Egypt I called my son." (Matthew 2:15)
- Both Moses and Jesus forsook great wealth to share the misery of their people. Of Moses we read: "He considered abuse suffered for Christ greater wealth than all the treasures of Egypt" (Hebrews 11:25). And the apostle Paul reminds us: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9)
- Again Hebrews 3 draws the parallel between the two declaring Jesus "faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all Gods house."Yet it continues: "Jesus has been found of greater honour than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honour than the house itself." (Hebrews 3: 2-3)
(For an extensive demonstration of other similarities between Moses and Jesus we refer the reader to J. Gilchrists excellent booklet: Is Muhammad foretold in the Bible?)
Is the name "Ahmad" found in the New Testament?
We recall that according to Sura 61:6 Jesus himself announced the coming of Ahmad which is another form of the name Muhammad, meaning the praised one.
Muslims allege that Christians changed the word for the comforter or counsellor, in the Greek language parakletos, from the original word of periclytos which again means the praised one.
We must make it clear right from the outset that there is not a single NT manuscript suggesting such a possibility. It is mere speculation from the Islamic side to fortify the strange prophecy allegedly made by Jesus. It should come as a shock to any sincere Muslim how easily their religious scholars take it into their own hands to change the Bible according to their own liking whilst accusing Christians of the very same thing.
Once again the Christian witness is advised to turn to the relevant verses in the New Testament and have a careful look at them. They are found in the Gospel according to John, Chapter 14 - 16, where Jesus says:
"I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you."
John 14: 16-17
"But the Counsellor, 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."
"When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me."
"But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you: but if I go, I will send him to you."
At some occasions the Christian witness may want to play some notes along the tune which Muslims are suggesting and show the stupidity of the Islamic claim that these verses refer to Muhammad.
"Lets assume for a moment that the message of John 14: 16 - 17 actutally refers to Muhammad. It would then read: I will ask the Father and he will give you another Muhammad to be with you forever - the Muhammad of truth. The world cannot accept Muhammad, because it neither sees Muhammad nor knows Muhammad ... for Muhammad lives with you and will be in you." This obviously does not make any sense at all.
Based on sound explanation from the text given we observe:
This obviously cannot refer to an ordinary human being.
All this clearly shows that the Islamic claim that Muhammad is foretold in the pages of our Bible does not have a shred of evidence, but is founded on self-construed arguments produced to prove the strange claims of the Quran about Ahmad.
Some other Arguments Considered
Occasionally Muslim writers will take up issues from the latest news or recent discoveries in science. Pamphlets are being published about the "Shroud of Turin" proving that Jesus was not dead when taken from the cross; or about the news of a Bishop from England who no longer believes in the virgin birth; or on the moral lapse of a born-again TV evangelist. All this is gladly used to prove that Christianity is so corrupted that only Islam can offer the solutions for mankind.
Others have marshalled pseudo-scientific proof to show that even computer science confirms that the Qur'an is divinely inspired. However all these arguments are usually short-lived, as they are very poorly fabricated weapons which are not only weak and inconsistent, but at times even counterproductive to the cause of Islam and thus provoke sharp criticism and scorn even from within the Muslim ranks. An example for this is Deedat's argument used during the mid-eighties that a miraculously interwoven system of the number 19 proves with absolute objectivity that the Qur'an is the ultimate miracle. This soon backfired when not only the subjective selection method, but the often blatantly false figures were exposed; and even more so when Muslim writers disclosed that the number 19 was a mystical number in the Bahai religion. Under a storm of indignation from the Muslim community Deedat had to destroy all the copies of his heretical booklet.
But there are some other questions in regard to a Christian's lifestyle and form of worship which will come up with greater persistance even today.
Why do Christian Fail to Follow Biblical Forms Of Worship?
"Why do Christians not wash their hands before they pray? - And why do you Christians wear shoes into the church? Have you forgotten that God commanded Moses 'Take off the shoes from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground' (Exodus 3:5 and Acts 7:33)"
Others ask: "Why do Christians not fast as Jesus did? - Why do you Christians not go on pilgrimage as the Muslims or Hindus do? - Is it true that some Christians are not even circumcised? - Why do you eat pork, when the Bible explicitly forbids to eat meat from pigs (Leviticus 11:7 and Deuteronomy 14:8)?"
All these questions are fathered by the one and same spirit:
Because things are being observed or forbidden in their religion, Muslims expect Christians to do likewise. This emphasis on external matters which is so typical for the Islamic way of thinking - as we have observed earlier under the topics of Hadith and Sunnah - is further strengthened by the fact that certain of their practices are mentioned in the Bible also. "You Christians are not even obeying your own Book. We Muslims are more faithful to the Bible than you Christians are", is the kind of reasoning we may encounter.
The Christian witness is well advised not to answer the actual question only, but to detect the deeper seated issue and then give a more comprehensive response.
As Christians we do not follow a religion of "Do's and Dont's", nor are we bound by the old system of Judaism with its many ceremonial laws and regulations. Indeed Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the law, reaffirming the deeper significance of many of these outward forms. Because of this Christians have a new attitude and perspective.
Circumcision no longer refers to the physical aspect of removing the foreskin of a boy (Genesis 17:10+12), but men and women need to be circumcised by the Spirit of God to receive a new heart and a new mind (Ezekiel 36:26 and Romans 2:25+29, Galatians 5:6 and 6:15).
Prayer is no longer to be performed in the direction of Jerusalem, nor is an annual pilgrimage to the Temple on Mount Zion required from a Christian (see John 4:21), but followers of Christ are urged to seek God's presence in the privacy of their inner room (Matthew 6:6), because "God is Spirit and those who worship Him should worship Him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). Another passage which brings out the danger of gross hypocricy of merely observing outward forms like washing your hands (compare Islamic ablutions - 'wudu') is Matthew 15:1-9.
Fasting likewise is not a duty to be performed or an exercise to show our identification with the poor and suffering, as this carries with it the great danger of spiritual pride, showing off a superior standard of spirituality to other believers (see Matthew 6:16, Isaiah 58:3-10 on true and false ways of fasting), but rather marks a free decision to seek the face of God in true humility and repentance (as David did - 2Samuel 12:13-16.21-23), or in rededication for a particular task (Jesus before selecting and calling the twelve disciples - Matthew 4:2+19; also Mark 9:14-32).
Forms of worship vary among Christians all over the world. In some countries believers indeed take off their shoes as they enter the house of worship and men and women will sit seperately, while in others they will sit mixed and not remove their shoes. In some churches cushioned benches for kneeling are provided, in others people pray while standing and are seated while they sing or vice versa. Again, some churches beat drums or some piece of metall to invite for the service, others ring a bell; some churches have an organ, others employ flutes, triangles or tambourines as musical instruments.
Christians believe that Jesus did not institute one particular format for worship, but gave us great liberty to 'make a joyful noise to the Lord'. Certainly every Christian will want to worship God, for such worship brings praise to our great Redeemer, cleanses our hearts and renews our strength for our daily life as a Christian. The essential part of Christian worship is the same in all churches. In all services of worship we read the Bible, praise God, give thanks to Him, confess our sins and pray for others as well as for ourselves. But Jesus did not give us detailed rules about the form of our worship. He did not prescribe one form of service which every Christian must follow. So we are free to use our own language, and to worship in accordance with our own customs, so far as these do not conflict with the deeper norms laid down in Scripture.
As in regard to eating pork we need to point out that this was forbidden to the Jewish people under the Law of Moses, as it is indeed still observed by strict Jews today. However when Jesus came, he gave permission to his disciples to eat any kind of meat - (of course we are not going to eat anything that is physically harmful, since the believer's body is referred to as 'the temple of the Holy Spirit'-1. Corinthians 6:19+20). Jesus said "Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean'." (Mark 7:15; also compare with Acts 10:9-16 and 1. Timothy 4:3-5)
Why are Christians Worshipping God in Many Different Churches?
As we explained above, there is no single form of worship (how to stand or kneel, what language to speak etc.) which is compulsory for all Christians all over the world. Certainly Jesus taught that there is only one way leading to the Kingdom of God, but this way does not refer to an order of worship. It refers to a way of true faith and righteous living.
It is therefore not at all surprising that there are some differences of interpretation and emphasis. Anyone who has a sincere religious conviction, cannot be expected to compromise on it; such convictions have sometimes given rise to different "denominations" in the Church. There is nothing wrong in this, provided that all who trust in the same Jesus as their Lord and Saviour will acknowledge the centrality of Christ over and above their particular denominational emphasis and will seek to understand one another and work together for God's glory.
At times it will be appropriate to explain the historical development leading to the protestant churches and the missionary movement, but we should take care not to boast in the superiority of our church or denomination. Nor is it helpful to bemoan our sadness or confusion over the many different sects or cults in front of our Muslim fellowman.
We ought to realize that once again this question is posed deliberately by the Muslims in order to parade the unity of the house of Islam in front of a seemingly divided and competitive Christian community. As we have seen in volume I under SECTS IN ISLAM there are many, many divisions within the Islamic fold, some of which have led to laborious and very expensive public law suits as in the case of the Ahmadiyya sect. We might want them to consider whether the apparent unity of the Muslim world is not really a regulated uniformity, a strict outward compliance to prescribed rules and religious forms. Under the surface, however, there is a deep-rooted disunity which at times erupts into violent confrontations as can be seen in the Shiite : Sunni power struggle all over Africa.
While Muslims may be quick to point out Western 'hot spots' like Northern Ireland as an interreligious war, they seem to be blind to the enormously larger contentions in the Islamic world such as the Iran-Iraq or Iraq-Kuwait wars in recent years.
The Christian witness may want to draw the Muslim's attention to these inconsistancies but should guard against a spirit of triumphalism. He should also keep in mind that the Muslim ideal of a theocratic state governed by a religous law (the Shariah) is quite foreign to the teaching of the Bible. We need to patiently explain that we do not uphold the idea of a Christian country or of pursuing Christian dominions in the Western world. We rather hold to a church of men and women who are 'called out of the world' as they are under the rule and authority of Jesus as their true King to a body of believers redeemed from every nation as a glory and praise to God through Jesus Christ. (1. John 2:15; John 18:36 and Rev. 5:9+10)
Is Christianity Based on "Pagan Origins"?
This is a rather intellectual argument to challenge the true origin of the Christian faith. Christianity is perceived as coming from pagan sources. It is sometimes used by South African Muslims, but can also be found in Islamic magazines across Africa. Especially the Christian feasts of Easter and Christmas present welcome opportunities for Muslim (and non-Muslim!) writers to claim that Christianity has adopted pagan practices such as Easter eggs and Christmas trees.
Others go even further comparing basic Christian beliefs about Jesus Christ and the triune nature of God with ancient myths surrounding pagan deities. The obvious conclusion is that the very existence of such similarities proves that Christianity is founded on paganism.
We should urge our Muslim challenger to consider that if the Christian teaching had thus been so obviously founded on a host of pagan myths then it surely would have been quite easy for the enemies of the early church (and there were enemies from many sides) to attack the Christian faith with such arguments, yet we never find the opponents of the Gospel charging that it had pagan origins.
A typical example of two different Muslim writers using the case of the Egyptian deity 'Horus' may be given here. One writer (Kamal-ud-Din) wants to prove that the story of Horus is an exact reflection of the story of Jesus in the Bible and that Horus is one of the "sun-gods" upon which the Christian belief in the divinity and sonship of Christ is supposedly being based. But another Muslim writer (Abdul Haque) tries to prove the exact opposite, claiming that Horus as the sun of the universe does not represent Jesus but rather Muhammad in no less than sixty likenesses!
Why is it possible that one writer can claim Horus to represent Jesus while another cannot see even one point of similarity between them, arguing that he represents Muhammad instead? The answer is simply that each is trying to force a comparison to suit his own purpose. This shows very typically how unjustified Muslim attempts are to make the Christian story of Jesus depend on pagan myths, and what kind of unacceptable methods they adopt to further their own purpose.
As Christians we do not need to be troubled by such arguments: there is no substance in Muslim claims that Christianity is based on pagan origins. On the contrary we find that it Islam is at times marked with embarrassing parallels to the various pagan religions preceeding it (see THE SOURCES OF THE QUR'AN in volume I. For more details on this issue we refer to THE CHRISTIAN WITNESS TO THE MUSLIM by John Gilchrist, pp 350-356.)
Should a Christian Argue about his Faith?
Why are we going into so much detail about what we believe and why we believe it? Is the age of debates and public symposiums not a matter of the past, now replaced by a friendlier mood of dialogue and mutual tolerance? Should a Christian not just live his faith quietly rather than defending it by arguing and reasoning?
Indeed, many Christians today are posing such questions. "Why empasize the differences; let's consider together what unites us!"
We do not deny the importance of friendly and peaceful relationships between the different religious communities. Indeed, the Crusades of previous centuries have been a sad transgression against the teaching of Christ. They present a shameful reminder where Christian triumphalism and surge for political power can lead to. Christians will do everything possible to avoid any cause for such violent eruptions as we witnessed in Nigeria in recent years.
However this should not force us into adopting a dumb or compromising attitude in our Christian faith. For one thing Scripture clearly reminds us to stand up for what we believe. "Dear friends,...I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints", implores Jude (Jude 3 + 20) and Paul, after drawing Timothy's attention to those teachers who deceive others by presenting false doctrines, urges him: "But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness" (1. Timothy 6:12).
Yes, as followers of Christ we will seek first and foremost to present the power of the Gospel by a changed and examplary life style, but we will also stand up for the truth fully convinced that "there is no other gospel" (Galatians 1:6-9) and that anybody claiming to offer another way to God except the one revealed through Jesus Christ will be eternally condemned. It is a serious matter indeed.
The Christian witness will not seek to score points in an apologetic contest with his Muslim opponent, but to lovingly and yet convincingly present to him the truth of the Gospel.
For a Christian to shrink back from explaining
- what he believes and why he believes,
- why he trusts the Bible as the revealed Word of God and
- why he honours Jesus Christ as true God who has assumed a human body and lived among us for a time, now due of our love and worship in all eternity, as one with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the divine triune nature of God and all other teaching of the Holy Bible,
will be interpreted as weakness, uncertainty or ignorance by the Muslim enquirer.
There is yet another reason for looking at our own faith in such detail. Often Christians are accused of "blind faith", of accepting an irrational set of rules and doctrines. Does the Christian faith make sense? Are Christians meant to think about and reflect on what they believe? Most certainly so!
While it is sadly true that religious leaders have for centuries kept ordinary believers in ignorance and at times even exploited this ignorance to their own advantage, surely God never intended this.
Today the Word of God is freely available in hundreds of different languages around the world and every believer is implored to
- "study the Scriptures..." John 5:39
- "examine the Scriptures every day..." Acts 17:11
- "hear and understand God's grace in all its truth..." Colossians 1:6
- "have understood fully ... For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand." 2. Corinthians 1:13+14
No doubt, God wants us to know and understand His Word. By explaining it to our Muslim friends it will even benefit ourselves and we will come to a better understanding and deeper assurance of our faith.
It is our hope that in studying this book your faith has been strengthened and your commitment to share the truth of God's word with your Muslim friend or enquirer has been reinforced.
Recommended Literature for Chapter 4
Christians answer Muslims, Gerhard Nehls, LCA 1992, pp. 130-139.
Christian Reply to Muslim Objections,
W.St. Clair Tisdall, The Good Way, 1904,
Is Muhammad foretold in the Bible?, John Gilchrist, MERCSA , 1985, 40 pp.
The Christian Witness to the Muslim,
John Gilchrist, MERCSA, 1988, pp. 350-356
and pp. 392-396.
Questions Muslims Ask by Ghana Committee of IAP