Comparing Bible and Qur'anic Tenets


1. The Fall of Adam and Eve in the Qur'an.

We come to another of the great points of common ground between Islam and Christianity that Christians can use as a very effective bridge towards communicating the Gospel meaningfully to Muslims. In this section we shall briefly study the fall of Adam and Eve as it is described in the Qur'an and the Bible before pressing on to see how we can relate to Muslims by comparing this fall with God's redeeming work in his Son Jesus Christ.

The Qur'an describes the fall in very similar terms to those we find in the Bible. Adam and Eve were created in a beautiful garden and were allowed to eat of all the bountiful fruits in the garden with the exception of one tree which they were not allowed to approach lest they might fall into transgression (Surah 2.35). What follows is very significant:

The Qur'an thus follows the Bible in declaring that Adam and Eve fell by eating of the forbidden fruit. We are particularly interested in the words "Get ye down", translated by Pickthall as "Fall down". In his commentary on this verse the widely-accepted translator Yusuf Ali points out that the command to "fall down" (in Arabic habata) is used in the plural in this verse and comments "Evidently Adam is the type of all mankind" (Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur'an, p. 26), while Pickthall says much the same: "Here the command is in the plural, as addressed to Adam's race" (Pickthall, The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, p. 47). Not only, therefore, does the Qur'an plainly teach the fall of Adam but it also implicates the whole human race in his fall.

The root meaning of the word habata is to crash down, to descend, to fall, or to get down. In Surah 2.36 quoted above the form used is the imperative, ihbit (ahbitnu in the text), and is taken to mean "get down, descend, crash down" (Kassis, A Concordance of the Qur'an, p. 483). In Surah 2.38 the same command to Adam and Eve together with all their offspring appears: "Go down, all of you, from hence". The same word is used here as in the previous verse. Islam in fact teaches that Adam and Eve were created, not in a garden on earth, but in heaven itself and Jannatul-'and (the "Garden of Eden") is in fact a name for Paradise itself. The implication and general belief of the Muslims is that they were cast out of heaven after they had disobeyed God. Both they and their offspring, as a result, have since been confined to this earthly realm in which they have all died and been buried.

Finally there is a tradition to the effect that Muhammad once said "Every son of Adam is a sinner" (Karim, Mishkatul-Masabih, Vol. 3, p. 760), the tradition appearing in at least two of the six major works of Hadith (those of Ibn Maja and Tirmithi). There is, thus, much evidence in both the Qur'an and the Hadith to show that when Adam and Eve sinned their sin affected the whole human race. The sin of one became the sin of all and the consequence of that sin duly affected all his offspring.

Despite this similarity with the Biblical record of the sin of Adam and Eve and its consequences, the Qur'an does not pursue the matter further but seems to regard sin purely as an evil deed which can be repented of or, alternatively, cancelled out by a good deed. It does not perceive that the primary consequence of that first sin was that human nature fell, became instrinsically corrupt, and is unable to really purify itself.

Nevertheless the Qur'anic treatment of the fall of Adam and Eve provides a useful point of common ground between us and a platform upon which to build a very effective and relevant witness to Muslims of God's saving grace in Jesus Christ. We shall proceed to see how this can be done in practice.

2. The Biblical Account of the Sin of Adam and Eve.

The Qur'an states that if Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden tree they would fall "into transgression and harm (Surah 2.35), making Satan call the tree "the Tree of Eternity" (Surah 20.120). The Bible, however, contains another description of the tree which shows very clearly why God commended Adam and Eve to stay away from it. The title given to the tree in the Bible discloses precisely wherein their folly would lie if they partook of its fruit.

The tree had to be avoided because it was the tree of "the knowledge of good and evil", meaning that by disobeying God and by eating of it, Adam and Eve would come to know what evil was and, in consequence, would be cut off from the tree of life and lose their experience of the life of God in their souls and eventually die and return to the dust. "God made man upright" (Ecclesiastes 7.29) and it was his desire that he should remain so.

When God made man he put all things under his feet, giving him dominion over all his creation, the earth, the sea, and all living creatures (Genesis 1.26). God made man in his own image, in his own likeness (Genesis 5.1), meaning that he so created man that he was able to bear all the holy attributes of God himself. "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus 19.2) was his command. As God is perfectly righteous, honest, faithful, loving, forgiving, caring and good, so man was made with the capacity to bear all these attributes as well. Nothing else in all creation can reflect the glory of God or bear his image. Only man has the capacity to distinguish good from evil and to become like God in his holy character.

Although God put all things under Adam he intended that man should nevertheless be under his command and authority and exercise his dominion over creation according to God's holy will. That is why he placed that one tree in the middle of the garden, so that man would always be reminded that he must be obedient to God and submit to his authority.

Satan came to Eve, however, and tempted her to eat of the fruit of the tree. After first asking her if God had indeed forbidden them to eat of it, he then proceeded to deceive her, saying to her:

The Qur'an also quotes Satan's words when he came to tempt Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit and it makes him say to them:

It is in the Biblical quote, however, that we find the real essence of his temptation. "You will be like God", he said, thus inciting them to grasp at equality with God. He tempted them to break loose from God's authority, to assert themselves instead, to declare independence from God, to assume their own control over creation, and to act and live according to their own desires.

God had wanted Adam and Eve to obey him, to be under him, because God is perfectly good and it would have been better for man to have remained under his authority and so develop God's creation rather than spoil it. But Adam and Eve chose to disobey God in an act of momentous defiance. It is quite common to find Muslims suggesting that Adam merely "forgot" his Lord's command and that after he had repented and asked forgiveness, he was duly forgiven (see the companion volume to this book, Muhammad and the Religion of Islam, p. 277). The Qur'an takes a far more serious view of the matter, however, stating plainly that Satan brought about their fall (Surah 7.22) and that God deliberately shut them out of the Garden, where they had enjoyed peace and felicity, and cast them down to earth "with enmity between yourselves" (Surah 7.24) as we have already seen. It goes on to appeal to the "Children of Adam" to avoid being seduced by Satan "in the same manner as he got your parents out of the Garden" (Surah 7.27). Their sin was not a single act of transgression that could easily be forgiven as an isolated act of wrongdoing, it was an awful act of gross rebellion, a total rejection of God's rule over the human race, and it had awesome consequences.

The angels were created individually and each individual angel who sinned fell through his own wrongdoing while the elect angels kept their proper dwelling. Yet in the case of man God made one man and one woman as representatives of the whole human race and the sin of the one became the sin of all (Romans 5.18-19). Even Muslims must surely admit that sin duly comes to one and all in this world.

The sin of Adam and Eve, their complete rebellion and defiance of God's holy will, had a devastating effect on the whole human race. The Bible and the Qur'an both state quite plainly what the immediate consequence of their sin was - their banishment from the Garden in which God had placed them. Both books show that God drove them out (Genesis 3.24, Surah 20.123). As the whole human race was at that moment in their loins, the effect of their sin became universal. All humanity was chased out of the Garden, all were sent to a world where sin and death reign (Romans 5.21), no one was allowed back into the Garden and no one became completely upright as Adam and Eve had been in the beginning.

As we have seen, the Qur'an plainly states that all men were affected by their fall. There can be no doubt that the command to get out of the Garden was addressed to the whole human race. It reads: Qulnaahbituu minhaa jamii'aa - "Get ye all down from here" (Surah 2.38). The word jami, as used in this verse, is taken to cover a "host, congregation, all, together, altogether" (Kassis, A Concordance of the Qur'an, p. 595). It is obvious that the order to depart from the Garden was intended to cover all mankind.

The disobedience of Adam and Eve was in no way a small thing, it was a comprehensive rejection of God's sovereignty. Man elected to be his own god over the creation at his feet. This was a total act of rebellion with lasting fatal consequences. Men have not been re-admitted to the Garden nor have they become upright - all sin and all die for their sin.

Adam and Eve tried to exalt themselves to God's level by seeking to become masters of their own destiny. Instead, by heeding the temptations of Satan, they fell to his level and became subject to his influences. There could be no excuse, it was a calculated act of disobedience. Though they had been made in the form of servants, they attempted to assume the form of God by taking control of their own lives and destiny and so, as it were, grasped at equality with God. Man duly became independent of God.

The highest achievement man can attain to is to be completely under God, to reflect his image and glory. When man, in pride, seeks to exalt himself instead, paradoxically he falls. Jesus said, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Luke 10.18) and, in the same way, Adam and Eve fell like lightning from God's grace and their high status before him when they sinned.

Before proceeding let us briefly consider in more detail how Satan caused Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Bible tells us how Eve contemplated the fruit before she partook of it:

The temptation had a threefold character. Firstly, she saw that the tree was "good for food", that is, that the fruit was obviously tasty and could benefit her physically if she ate of it. Secondly, she saw that it was "a delight to the eyes", that is, it appealed readily to her sight. Lastly, it "was to be desired to make one wise". It could increase one's knowledge and extend it to realms hitherto reserved to the knowledge of God alone. It could improve one's own self-esteem and personal perspective on one's existence. The Apostle John summed up this threefold nature of all temptation in saying:

The "lust of the flesh" made Eve see that the tree was good for food, the "lust of the eye" that it was attractive to the sight, and "the pride of life" that it was to be desired to make one wise. One awful, comprehensive temptation fully absorbing all three of these characteristics brought about the downfall of the human race.

The Bible has a much fuller account of the nature of the first sin and the implications behind it than the Qur'an has, yet up to this point the Qur'an hardly takes issue with it. Thus far Christians have common ground with Muslims. Let us press on, however, to see how the Bible alone supplies the answer to this universal dilemma and how Christians can use the sin or Adam and Eve as a bridge to an effective witness Of God saving grace in Jesus Christ.

3. The Obedience of the One Man Jesus Christ.

The Qur'an completely overlooks a very important promise God made shortly after Adam and Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit. God gave to the whole human race a wonderful promise that he would yet redeem men and win them back to himself even though mankind was now sinful and principally evil like the angels who sinned and fell. God said to Satan:

"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel". Genesis 3.15

He promised that someone would rise from the seed of the woman who would not be like the devil at all but would in fact be his sworn enemy, God's ally, and that he would conquer him. That man, we learn from the Scriptures, was Jesus Christ. It is very significant to find that Jesus underwent similar temptations to those which Eve had experienced when she was in the Garden of Eden. Almost immediately after Jesus was baptised, just as God had driven Adam and Eve from the Garden, so we read that "the Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness" (Mark 1.12). After he had fasted forty days and forty nights, Satan came to him and tempted him three times. Let us consider them in order as they appear in Luke's Gospel. The first temptation went like this:

There was a vast difference between this temptation and the one which Eve had faced. She was in a beautiful garden where she had ample access to all the food she could possibly desire. Jesus was emaciated with hunger in the desert where there was nothing to eat at all. It was as if Satan was mocking him, saying "You are supposed to be the Son of God, the greatest of all men who will ever live on the earth, yet look how your Father treats you. He has made you the hungriest man in all the earth. No one could possibly be weaker than you are. Now, if you will just listen to me I will show you how to become the greatest man on earth. I will show you how to use your powers to satisfy all your desires, unlike your Father who stops you from using your powers to benefit yourself". He promised to give him the Midas touch, as it were, yet Jesus resisted the temptation, saying to him "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone"' (Luke 4.4). By relying purely on God's Word as set out in the Scriptures he rejected the subtle suggestions of the devil.

Eve fell for the temptation to eat of the fruit of the tree when she had no physical need of it at all, yet Jesus resisted a similar temptation to eat when he most needed to do so. His human strength was at its weakest, yet he resisted the temptation to its fullest extent, unlike Eve who fell for it at its least compulsion. In this first temptation we see clearly the "lust of the flesh", as John called it, endured and resisted to the full by Jesus Christ.

The second temptation Satan set before him was to take him up and show him all the glory of the kingdoms of the earth in a moment of time, saying to him:

Once again Jesus resisted the temptation, saying "You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve" (Luke 4.8). This time Satan attempted to make Jesus fall through "the lust of the eye", dazzling his vision with a revelation of all the kingdoms of earth. Once again it is as if he was mocking him, saying "Your Father has made you the poorest man on earth in this wilderness. Now if you will listen to me I will make you the richest man in all the world. Just follow my suggestions and ignore your Father's will". Once again there is a marked contrast between the temptations of Eve and Jesus. She fell for a piece of fruit, but Jesus resisted an appeal to use his divine powers to obtain the whole world for himself.

When Eve took the fruit forbidden to her sin had only just begun to affect mankind. It had only just been conceived. In the fulness of time, however, when Jesus appeared, it had reached its pitch. James gives some idea of how sin grows to maturity in these words:

Eve sought only to taste of a fruit from a tree, but by Jesus' time the emperors of Rome and others before them (like Alexander the Great) were seeking to gain the whole world for themselves. "They are only men - you are the Son of God, you can use your divine powers and do it", Satan was saying to him. Jesus resisted this temptation, like the first one, at its full extent. The third temptation was very similar. This time Satan took him in a vision to Jerusalem, set him on the pinnacle of the Temple, and said to him:

For the third time Jesus resisted, saying "It is said, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God"' (Luke 4.12). This was, as in the case of Eve, a temptation to "the pride of life". Once again it is as if Satan was saying, "Your Father has made you the loneliest man on earth. No one knows you are here, no one even cares. If you died, who would be concerned? You are not only the poorest and hungriest man on earth but also the loneliest, a travesty of humanity. There is no more insignificant man on earth than you. Now, if you will only listen to me, I will show you how to become the greatest and most popular man who ever lived. I will give you the obedience of the nations".

Once again the contrast between the temptations of Eve and Jesus is obvious - she fell for a suggestion that she might become wiser if she ate of the tree, but Jesus resisted a temptation to become the ruler of the nations of earth. By his time the Roman Emperors were not only endeavouring to conquer the whole world but also sought to make all their subjects honour them as divine rulers. They sought to be the gods of the whole earth. Sin had indeed become full-grown. "You", said Satan to Jesus, "you can do it. You do have a divine nature. You can sway the hearts of all men on earth".

The method he used can very effectively be likened to the Hajj pilgrimage in Islam. Every year hundreds of thousands come to Mecca from many different nations to gather around the Ka'aba. In 1979 a group of rebels occupied the mosque precincts, declaring one of their number to be the long- awaited Imam Mehdi (a Messianic figure looked for mainly by the Shiahs but also by the Sunnis). Eventually the attempted coup had to be aborted and the surviving rebels were all executed in public disgrace. If, however, the pretender had said to the people gathered in the mosque, "I am Imam Mehdi and to prove it I will jump off the Ka'aba and you will see God's angels come down to protect me" and had duly proceeded to do just this with an accompanying rescue from heaven, I have little doubt they would have been readily persuaded!

This is how Satan tempted Jesus. He gave him a vision of monotheistic believers from all the earth gathered to worship at God's holy house and tempted him to win their allegiance by a public display of his divine authority. (That such a temptation could come from Satan was indicative of the corrupt allegiance of the Jewish nation to the God of Israel. Very significantly, when Jesus did finally come to the Temple, he did the opposite of what Satan had suggested and he drove out all who were in the Temple and made himself most unpopular with them all - John 2.15-20).

In all three cases Satan tempted Jesus as he had tempted Adam and Eve - to assert himself independently of his Father's will. Adam and Eve were tempted to become masters of their own destiny, Jesus to become the ruler of all the earth at Satan's command. Unlike our first fathers Jesus resisted to the full, leaving the wilderness in complete obscurity, unknown and unheralded, to begin the work of man's redemption on earth. Yet in those awful hours he had become the first and only man who would ever be able to completely conquer the devil's temptations to sin. He was obedient to the full. The seed of the woman, God's ally among men and Satan's mortal foe, had come and had succeeded. He had "condemned sin in the flesh" (Romans 8.3), he had triumphed over it in its chosen lair, the human body. He had detected the full implications behind Satan's command, "Throw yourself down" (Luke 4.9), he had realised that this was all men could ever do by heeding Satan's suggestions. As Adam and Eve had been cast out, so he too could only have thrown himself down from his glorious divine office if he had listened to the devil.

It is very useful to compare the temptations of Eve and Jesus with Muslims for they provide a very useful platform on which to build the message of the Gospel as we shall see in our conclusion to this section.

4. The Reconciliation of Man to God in Jesus Christ.

Adam and Eve had grasped at equality with God and independence from his control. Jesus by nature had that equality but he chose to become totally dependent on his Father and bow to his control when he assumed human form and appeared among men. Paul sums it up:

Adam and Eve, as servants, wished to become like God, but Jesus, though he was in the form of God, humbled himself and took on the form of a servant. He came as a lowly man of a relatively insignificant family in Nazareth out of which no "good thing" could surely come (John 1.46). He went further than Adam and Eve who were only required to obey God's will that they might live. Jesus became "obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2.8). Here was indeed perfect obedience.

The whole life of Jesus was one of perfect conformity to God's will. "I always do what is pleasing to him" (John 8.29), "I do as the Father has commanded me" (John 14.31), he could say with full conviction. He knew that there was nothing worse than man let loose by himself, nothing more glorious than that he should be under God's holy and gracious will, and he reaped the full benefit of this conviction. The Apostle Paul goes on to say:

We have comprehensively contrasted the fall of Adam and Eve with the full obedience of Jesus Christ until it reached its zenith in his obedience to death itself, even death on a cross. Let us see how beautifully the effects of these two history-determining events are contrasted in the Scriptures.

The whole human race, according to the Bible, is represented in two heads, Adam and Christ. The fall of Adam implicated the whole human race. All have sinned, all come under condemnation, all come to the grave. No matter how pious some of the prophets may have been, they too all died eventually. "Abraham died, as did the prophets", the Scripture duly testifies (John 8.52). Muslims need to recognise the universal consequence of sin. None of the prophets was re- admitted into Paradise, none of them ascended into heaven (John 3.13). No one lives for ever, all die and come to nothing.

This begs the suggestion that what we need is not just g succession of prophets to exhort us to follow God's way, we need a Saviour, someone who can reverse the effect of Adam's sin, someone who can conquer death. Here the cross of Christ becomes the revealed means of our salvation. Just as Jesus conquered the power of sin in resisting the devil in the wilderness, so he conquered its guilt and penalty when he died for our sins. By rising from the dead he broke the power of death and opened the way for all men to follow him beyond the grave into eternal life. Paul puts it perfectly:

Muslims believe that Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise itself. Let them contemplate seriously the fact that even according to Islam Jesus is the only man who is not buried on the earth but is physically alive in heaven. While nearly five billion men and women live on earth, right now one man is alive in heaven, only one, Jesus Christ. According to Islam Jesus is the only man to regain lasting entry into the kingdom of heaven from which Adam and Eve were dismissed for their sin. This contrast can only be explained in one way - he has become the Saviour of the world, he has reversed the effect of Adam's sin. Let Muslims dwell on this obvious comparison - one man brought us into sin and condemnation, one man delivers us from it. The Apostle Paul sets it all out in these words:

He concludes his comparison of the effect of justification on the effect of sin in these words:

Death was the consequence of Adam's sin. There is no death in Paradise, only here on this earth where every living thing must die eventually. So the consequence of Jesus' great act of laying down his life for us after being the only man to live a perfect life without ever sinning, and thereafter rising from the dead, becomes the source of eternal life to all who~follow him.

As Adam's sin became the sin of all and was reckoned and imputed to all his offspring together with its consequences, so the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that righteousness he worked out to perfection in his holy, sinless life, is reckoned and imputed to his true followers together with its consequence as well - eternal life. Paul, in another epistle, sets out the contrast again, this time between those who are represented in Adam and those who belong to Christ:

It is only in Jesus that mortal men of dust can become immortal men who bear the image of the Son of God who lives for ever. Adam was made of dust and returned to it, Jesus came from heaven and likewise returned whence he came. He is in heaven, he went where Adam and his offspring otherwise could not go. All who die in Adam will perish for ever, all who die in Christ will live for ever and be raised to eternal life. Adam grasped at equality with God though he was only a servant - Jesus, who had that equality with the eternal Father by nature, put it off and took the form of a servant. Adam fell and came to nothing, Jesus rose again and ascended to heaven from which he will come to reign for ever.

Good works, a measure of self-righteousness, pious observances and the like, can never compensate for the dominion of sin in all men or become a means of conquering death. What we need is not a final prophet to set a way of life before us, we need a Saviour to deliver us from the "endlessly regressive character of human sinfulness" (Cragg, Sandals at the Mosque, p. 135). Islam takes too light a view of the devastating power and effect of sin on the human race and it hardly begins to recognise that death is its consequence, yet it sets forth the very foundation of these facts in its own scripture, the Qur'an, by narrating there the fall of Adam and Eve in terms similar to those in the Bible. As with the uniqueness of Jesus and many other similar issues, although Muhammad completely overlooked the implications of the Biblical facts he repeated in the Qur'an, we can be thankful that he did at least record them and provide a useful basis for an effective witness to his followers.

In the story of Adam and Eve Christians have much material with which to communicate to Muslims the whole universal rule and dominion of sin and our need of salvation, even though the Qur'an fails to recognise the need of a positive solution to the problem.

We have in this section assumed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ to be a fact of history even though this is denied in the Qur'an. Let us conclude our study on how to relate the Gospel to Muslims by briefly considering how to handle the whole subject of the historical authenticity of the crucifixion itself.

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