Christianity and Islam
Comparison with the Bible is Vital
Any study of the Qur'an must include a comparison with the Bible because Muslims believe that Islam is built on the foundation of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. The Qur'an Mohammed recited claimed to agree with and complete the Bible. Muslims believe Allah revealed the Law to Moses, Psalms to David, messages to many other prophets, the Gospel to Jesus and finally the Qur'an to Mohammed. The Bible had been so well established in the Arabian Peninsula that the Jews and Christians are referred to in the Qur'an as the “People of the Book” (which is the literal interpretation of the Greek word “Bible”).
For this reason, familiar Bible themes are prevalent in the Qur'an. Beliefs such as a single Deity, creation events, prophets, sin, righteousness, Satan, Judgment Day, heaven and hell are found throughout the text. Many familiar Biblical characters are referred to such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Solomon and Jesus.
The reason the Qur'an needs the Biblical support is obvious. The Bible has a much richer credibility by means of its composition. The Qur'an was presented by one “prophet” during his lifetime. The Qur'an claims that the beauty of its poetry verifies its holiness yet it offers no specific predictions of future events. On the other hand, the Bible is a library of sixty-six books of inspired revelation written over a period of about 1,400 years by approximately forty different prophets and apostles, yet it reads as one story. The subject matter covers the creation in the first book to the Second Coming of Christ in the last book. The Bible also presents a consistent theology. Over the centuries its inspiration has been validated through the fulfillment of hundreds of specific prophecies, which have been and are still being fulfilled today with complete accuracy.
Reliability of the Bible
The Qur'an needs validation from the Bible, yet the two texts contradict one another on major issues such as the divinity of Christ. Muslims claim that the original Bible did not proclaim that “Jesus is Lord.” They claim that Christians and Jews have altered the Bible over the years to include such teachings. Christians believe that this accusation is not founded on credible evidence. They believe that a serious study of the reliability of the Bible must conclude that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are reliable.
The amount of ancient Biblical manuscript evidence is overwhelming. There are over 20,000 hand written ancient manuscripts of the New Testament in various languages with the oldest fragment being only about 25 years from the original copy of the Biblical text. In addition, there are ancient letters from the first Christian leaders who were trained by the apostles of Christ (Church Fathers) whose writings include well over 30,000 Scripture quotations. All of the Bible versions and every reference in the Church Father’s documents agree! The miracle is that only insignificant and minor differences are found between the manuscripts. The existence of these differences, in spelling or certain phrases or stories, is understandable when a text is copied and passed on for others to copy.
Differences or variants in the Bible are not hidden but footnoted in the English translations. No substantial difference has ever been found and no ancient copies of the Bible were burned because they read differently, yet, that is not true in the case of the Qur'an’s development. The amazing agreement between all these Bible texts is a testimony to the Christian scribes who took their task very seriously. They must have known the warning in the last chapter of the last book in the Bible that promises severe punishment for anyone who would intentionally add or subtract a word from the Holy Scriptures.
God and Allah
Do the Christians and Muslims worship the same God? That question is often asked. Certainly, both focus their adoration toward the one Creator as worthy of service, faith and obedience. Yet, the Qur'an and the Bible differ in their descriptions of the Almighty. For example, say two people think they have a friend in common named John Doe. They agree that they both admire John. The name is the same. Yet, one says that John is a tall, red-headed man and the other disagrees insisting that John is a short, blonde man. The differences are significant.
Though there are similarities between Yahweh and Allah, there are several major points of contrast. The first has to do with the Trinity and divinity of Jesus. The distant transcendence of Allah is not at all like the involved incarnation of Yahweh in Christ Jesus.
The Qur'an presents Allah as removed from his creation, yet knowledgeable of every detail of an individual’s life and relationships. Allah is enthroned on high and communicates through angels and prophets. He takes account of every individual’s deeds and weighs the good against the bad. He often shows mercy on those who deserve it, especially if they are believers in Islam. From his throne, he is totally in control of everything. This includes an individual’s life and eternal destiny as well as the outcome of every battle in every war.
The Bible reveals that while Yahweh is also sovereign, holy and demands righteousness, his very essence is love (1 John 4:8-11). This love is expressed most clearly in the gospel, which proclaims that Yahweh came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ to rescue those who believe in him. Through their baptism, Christians proclaim that they have entered into a personal relationship with the Almighty. That relationship enables them to know Yahweh as their Heavenly Father. This close relationship is made possible in Christ. The Hebrew name, Jesus, is a combination of words meaning “Yahweh’s Salvation.”
Another difference between Allah and Yahweh has to do with their mercy. Salvation in Islam is dependent on the faith and efforts of the Muslim. The love of Yahweh, on the other hand, is so great and so unconditional that Jesus described it with the parable of the father who ran to meet and forgive his wayward or prodigal son (Luke 15). The Muslim reaction to this parable is, “Allah would never do that!” That kind of love is not a characteristic of Allah.
For God’s chosen people (Christians), it is a perfect illustration of Yahweh’s grace. They realize that their salvation is a free gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). It can never be earned or deserved. Jesus will not lose any of those that are given to him by the Heavenly Father (John 6:35-40). The Bible makes it clear that good works naturally result from the Christian’s life because they are a new creation and live in Christ (Ephesians 2:10).
The Holy Trinity is another difference between Allah and Yahweh. Christians know Yahweh is mysteriously complex because the Trinity is revealed in the Scriptures (Matthew 28:18-20). The Bible reveals that there is one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which Christians have defined as the Holy Trinity (three in one). One illustration of the Trinity involves the sun. The sun constantly sends out light and heat and The Trinity has always been an aspect of the one God. To continue the analogy, as the sun emits light rays, so the one God sent his Word forth to create the world, appear to the prophets and then that Light of God became a person in Christ Jesus (John 1, Hebrews 1:3). Finally, just as the sun sends forth heat, God pours out the invisible presence of His Holy Spirit into the lives of the believers. Another analogy of a more personal nature would be that every person is complex. One individual can be a husband to his wife, a father to his children and a nephew to his Uncle and Aunt. No analogy can accurately illustrate this mystery, but the Holy Trinity is clearly taught in the Bible and is clearly denied in the Qur'an.
Is Allah of the Qur'an the same as Yahweh of the Bible? The Qur'an claims that they are the same, but there is much debate over this issue. Even though the Arabic translations of the Bible use the name Allah to represent Yahweh or God, the Christian understanding is so different it seems obvious that the two are not synonymous.
Success of the Church
There is a difference in how Islam and Christianity view the mission of Christ. Islam is built on the premise that the church Jesus started actually failed from the outset. They believe that Mohammed had to come more than six hundred years later to correct the problems created by the corruption of the Gospel of Christ.
Christianity, on the other hand, trusts that Jesus Christ succeeded in establishing his church on the strong foundation of his chosen apostles. The church has since grown to be a global network of love and good deeds. Jesus promised that the gates of Hell would not be able to stop the advance of his Gospel (Good News) resulting in every language group on earth hearing it (Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 24:14). Jesus foresaw divisions and prayed for unity for his disciples, but he never predicted that his church would fail and require another shepherd. On the contrary, he warned his disciples that false prophets would come after him who would produce amazing signs and gather great followings (Matthew 24:11).
What is the church? History teaches us that it is a two thousand-year-old community of men and women who have been baptized and belong to God and one another. The Bible uses many metaphors to describe them. Each believer is a stone in the temple of God with Christ as the cornerstone (Isaiah 28:16, Ephesians 2:19-22). They are the body of Christ each being members of him (1 Corinthians 12:27). They are the chosen people and a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9-12). They are baptized members of the same church that the Lord Jesus began with the apostles (Galatians 3:26-29).
What about denominations? Though the churches around the world are divided by denominational differences, the Bible says they are one fellowship of believers. They are united in that they all believe in the Trinity, the same Bible and the saving work of the cross and resurrection of Christ Jesus. The churches continue to fulfill the purpose God intended from the days of the apostles. Through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, they demonstrate the love of God through church programs, humanitarian services, hospitals, schools, missions and loving personal relationships.
One analogy for the church’s basic unity that transcends denominational differences can be taken from the American experience in September of 2001. In the days after the attacks of 9-11 the world saw that, even though there are many political parties in the United States of America, the citizens joined together when their freedom was threatened. They all demonstrated their common love for their country. Their love of liberty and the freedoms they enjoy in America brought them together in spite of their diversity. The analogy for the Bible that all Christians study would be the American’s love for one document, the Constitution of the United States of America, for a common guide for their life. The Americans united around one flag (just as the cross is a common symbol for all churches) whether they are liberal or conservative.
Jesus in the Bible and the Qur'an
The Bible and the Qur'an give two very different pictures of Jesus Christ. The Bible is a collection of many eyewitness accounts of the earthly ministry of Christ. This adds a great deal of credibility to what the New Testament says about Jesus. It was read by hundreds of people who knew of the events of Christ’s ministry because, in their day, it was recent history.
Christians believe that the Holy Spirit of God inspired all of the Bible prophets and apostles as they wrote. They all agree that in Jesus mankind beheld the very glory of God, the image of the invisible God and the person who was prophesied by the ancient Jewish prophet Isaiah to be Emmanuel which means “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23). They wrote that in Jesus the fullness of God lived in the body of a real man (Colossians 2:9).
The apostles also tell of Jesus’ compassion for the children who were ignored as unimportant in that society, the sinful women who were despised, and the hated tax collectors who were ostracized. They tell of his power over sickness, demons, storms and even death itself. His exalted teachings on ethics remain the ideal for the world today. The sacrifice Jesus made on the cross and the victory he achieved in his resurrection are central to all the apostles inspired writings.
Christ’s apostles, eyewitnesses of Christ’s life, unanimously agree that belief in Jesus as the Son of God and only Savior of the world brings a new and eternal life to anyone who will receive him. The Bible records that the early church was made up of baptized Christians who peacefully spread this message with the love and power of Jesus working with and through them.
The Qur'an became an authorized text almost 700 years after Christ. It contradicts the eyewitness accounts of the apostles of Christ. The Qur'an does admit that Jesus was the long awaited Jewish Messiah, who was born of a virgin, did miracles and brought the Gospel, which means good news. The Qur'an, though, demotes Jesus from his divinity as the Son of God to equal status with Mohammed and the prophets of the Bible. The Qur'an says that the Jews did not kill Christ; it only appeared that they did. It says that Allah gathered him up. Most Muslims interpret that to mean that someone like Judas, the betrayer, was made to look like Jesus and died in his place while Jesus was secretly lifted out of the world.
If the Qur'an is correct, then Jesus Christ left behind a great and confusing mess, since the disciples of Jesus founded the church on the importance of the cross which would have actually been a deception caused by Allah. They all proclaimed that they saw him alive after his resurrection. Mohammed claimed to be the inspired one to correct this centuries old mistake. If true, then the many Christian martyrs, who were killed during more than three centuries of Roman persecution, died for nothing.
Jesus and Mohammed
The lifestyles of Jesus and Mohammed contrast. The Bible records that Jesus concluded his earthly life single, poor, and nonviolent, while still being the source of many mighty miracles. The last of Christ’s miracles was his own resurrection from the dead. As an explanation of his earthly ministry, Jesus himself said that he came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
The opposite can be said of Mohammed. He had struggled through years of disappointment, but ended his earthly life having numerous wives and concubines. He had become extremely rich through military conquest and oppressive taxation of non-Muslims. Though Muslim legends ascribe miracles to Mohammed, it seems clear that the Qur'an itself admitted that he had not performed any miracles resembling those of Jesus.
Muslims today point to the Qur'an itself as Mohammed’s validating miracle. Is this possible? The following chapters will assist the many non-Muslims who need help in examining this claim for themselves.