This teaching on the Resurrection is great. Many good points for apologetics with Muslims 🙂
This teaching on the Resurrection is great. Many good points for apologetics with Muslims 🙂
I believed in Christianity because its message appealed to me. I was raised running on an empty love-tank. I believed it. I never asked if it was true – I just wanted LOVE.
But a feeling didn’t matter when I was confronted with other faiths. So I was ready – as difficult as it was – to test my own beliefs, and follow the evidence. It was the worst year of my life, but without a doubt, it was the most enriching experience I have ever had.
I hope you enjoy this debate. David Wood is one of my personal heroes.
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…
1 Corinthians 15:17
He is risen 🙂
For the past several weeks, we have been investigating how the historical Jesus of Nazareth fares by being tested by the traditional historical method. Before wrapping up our investigation, NT scholar Michael Licona provides two additional tests that need to be considered. This article will investigate those two additional tests or methods and will offer some concluding thoughts on our quest.
1. Arguments to the Best Explanation.
Licona notes that the Arguments-to-the-Best-Explanation method “makes inferences and weighs hypotheses according to specific criteria.” In other words, the data is compiled and examined according to a particular hypothesis made by the historian. The criteria include:
Explanatory scope: Examining the most relevant data according to the hypothesis.
Explanatory power: Looking at the “quality of the explanation of the facts.”
Plausibility: How much confidence can the historian possess that a certain event took place? For the skeptic, if they are to be honest historically, they must suspend their skepticism, and allow for the possibility of the miraculous if they are to become unbiased.
Less ad hoc: Covering only what the data suggests without going “beyond what is already known.”
Illumination: Where one piece of data strengthens other areas of inquiry.
Speaking of this method, Licona goes on to say that “Arguments to the best explanation are guided by inference and can sometimes be superior to an eyewitness to an event. Testimony to the court does not provide truth but data.”
Examining the data that we have presented already when using this method demonstrates that the best historical explanation is that Jesus of Nazareth existed and walked out of the grave the first Easter Sunday. Licona, in his work The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach , comes to the following conclusion in his over 600 page work:
“I am contending that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the best historical explanation of the relevant historical bedrock. Since it fulfills all five of the criteria for the best explanation and outdistances competing hypotheses by a significant margin in their ability to fulfill the same criteria, the historian is warranted in regarding Jesus’ resurrection as an event that occurred in the past.”
Thus, from using this method, Jesus’ historicity as well as Jesus’ resurrection are confirmed.
2. Arguments from Statistical Inference.
The Arguments from Statistical Inference method evaluates all data in question and evaluates the probability that an event could have happened. If one eliminates the possibility of God’s existence and God’s involvement in an event, then the odds that a “miraculous” event occurred goes down dramatically. However, if one holds that a greater power was involved, the odds go up drastically. Licona gives the illustration of one evaluating whether his son could lift 200 lbs. over his head. While such may be improbable, if one is willing to add that a bodybuilder assisted him, the added datum allows for such an event to become much more probable. If the historian is going to be unbiased, then one must allow for the possibility of God’s existence, and the possibility that God may have an invested interest for raising Jesus from the dead.
While this method will always be somewhat subjective, the historian can make an educated synopsis of how historically certain an event is. McCullagh uses the following grades:
“Extremely probable: in 100-95% of cases
Very probable: in 95-80% of cases
Quite or fairly probable: in 80-65% of cases
More probable than not: in 65-50% of cases
Hardly or scarely probable: in 50-35% of cases
Fairly improbable: in 35-20% of cases
Very improbable: in 20-5% of cases
Extremely improbable: in 5-0% of cases.”
While it must be admitted that in history one cannot hold 100% certainty that any event took place one could argue that one cannot be 100% certain of what a person had for breakfast. However, one could say that it was extremely probable that a person had Cheerios® for breakfast if one sees a used bowl and spoon with bits of Cheerios® cereal, accompanied by used milk at the bottom of the bowl, with an empty Cheerios® box sitting beside the bowl.
So, what can we draw from our investigation?
So, does Jesus pass the historical method? I would say so. In fact, so much so that I think one can logically hold the following premises.
It is extremely probable that Jesus existed. One can say with over 95% certainty that Jesus existed. To claim otherwise is to hold a level of skepticism that will disallow one to know about anyone or anything in history.
It is extremely probable that Jesus rose from the dead. The strength of Jesus’ existence is coupled with the strength of his resurrection. In my estimation, I would say that one holds a very strong case for the resurrection of Christ being an actual event of history.
It is extremely probable that Jesus’ disciples saw him risen from the dead. Some may argue that this point deserves to hold the level “very probable.” However, I feel that given other data to consider that it is extremely probable that Jesus’ disciples encountered the risen Jesus.
It is very probable that we have good eyewitness testimony telling us about the life of Jesus. While we have fantastic eyewitness testimony for the life of Jesus, particular debates surrounding the Evangelists’ identity and the like take down the probability a notch. In my estimation the eyewitness testimony deserves to have the highest ranking, but to be fair to all the data involved, I give it a very probable ranking (95-80% certainty).
It is extremely improbable that the Jesus Mythicist campaign has any leg on which to stand. Even agnostic Bart Ehrman has confessed that the Jesus Mythicist campaign is erroneous. While the historical data does not prove Jesus to be the Messiah (that comes by faith), the data provides solid grounding for accepting such a belief. In stark contrast, one can claim that the idea that Jesus was a myth is extremely improbable (0-5%).
Therefore, one may deny Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, one may reject his claims as divine, and one may pass off his miracles as the work of a magician, however one cannot deny that Jesus of Nazareth existed and one will be hard-pressed to deny that this same Jesus walked out of the tomb the first Easter Sunday.
Jesus of Nazareth passes the historical test with a solid A+.
Note to self and others struggling with faith: In my darkest moments, I held for dear life to the fact that the most certain thing about Jesus historically is that He died by crucifixion. And if He died on that cross, then Islam was false. I still had to deal with the fact of Jesus being divine or Jesus resurrecting… But if He died then Islam was false. That did not make Christianity true but Islam was false. I felt joy. And the best argument that Islam gave me about the cross was that God wanted to test people. Allah went all the way deceiving everybody to think that Jesus had died, but it wasn’t really so. Of course, Islam said Allah loved Jesus PBUH so much that He had to rescue Him from the shame of the cross and whatever, that’s why He had to raise Jesus to Himself.
Okay, fine. But why? Why would Allah make other guy loo like Jesus? Why the secrecy? Why the lying? Why not be open about it and say, “Look, this is Jesus, I’m taking Him up to me”. No. Allah made other look like Jesus. That was deception in my eyes.
If that was God I would rather go to hell than to follow Him. Didn’t Allah know that by making other person look like Jesus many people would start a movement called The Way? Didn’t Allah know these people would follow Jesus as Lord and Savior? Didn’t He know I would be deceived as well in to worshipping this Jesus? And He still did it – just to test me? Why would Allah put so many obstacles between Him and me? I decided I would rather follow the Biblical Jesus and go to hell – even if that Jesus was a product of my own imagination – than to embrace the Islamic understanding of Allah and the non-historical life of Jesus in the Quran.
As it turns out, Jesus did die for my sins and did rise from the dead. My head went ahead my heart, and the Holy Spirit kicked in later as I came back from India. I am now on fire for my Lord Jesus and I will forever proclaim Him as my Savior 🙂
Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.
McGullagh, C. B. Justifying Historical Descriptions. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
 Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010), 108.
 Ibid., 109.
 Ibid., 110.
 Ibid., 114.
 Ibid., 610.
 See Licona, 114.
 C. B. McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 52.
Last time, we discussed the eyewitness testimony for Jesus by demonstrating the validity of the Gospel records. Such an endeavor was important to establish particular witnesses found within the Gospel accounts. We have seen that one holds good reasons for accepting that the apostle Matthew had, at least in part, a hand in the writing of the First Gospel; that John Mark wrote down the information found in the Second Gospel; that the physician and co-hort of Paul—Luke—wrote the third Gospel; and that the apostle John wrote the Fourth Gospel. But, how does this influence the eyewitness testimony that one holds for Jesus of Nazareth?
The Testimony of Peter
As noted last week, Irenaeus notes that “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.” Thus, the church unanimously accepted that John Mark recorded the testimony of one Simon Peter.
The Gospel of Mark does focus quite a bit on the life of Simon Peter. Of the information in Matthew’s Gospel believed to have been taken from Mark, the majority of the shared material deals with the life of Simon Peter. Thus, the believer has essentially the eyewitness testimony from one of the inner circle disciples—Simon Peter.
The Testimony of John
Last time, we noted that despite the skepticism of some modern scholars, the majority of internal and external evidence for the Fourth Gospel demonstrate that the apostle John wrote the text. It has always amazed me how one misses John’s imprint in the Fourth Gospel. In John 21:1-2, the writer lists Jesus’ appearance to seven disciples “Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together” (John 21:1-2). It is interesting that John the son of Zebedee is never explicitly listed, but rather this “disciple who Jesus loved” (John 21:7). It was Peter and this mysterious disciple who traveled to the tomb of Jesus. Who else would one imagine accompanying Peter to the tomb other than John the apostle? In fact, John the apostle is linked to being the caretaker of Jesus’ mother after Jesus’ death by the early church fathers.
Among the writings of the early church fathers, there is a letter written by Ignatius to John the apostle. These writings are normally attributed to the late first-century. Nevertheless, Ignatius writes, “There are also many of our women here, who are desirous to see Mary [the mother] of Jesus, and wish day by day to run off from us to you, that they may meet with her, and touch those breasts of hers which nourished the Lord Jesus, and may inquire of her respecting some rather secret matters.”
Even if the letter is spurious, it demonstrates the early acceptance of the idea that John the apostle assumed the role of caretaker of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This mysterious disciple whom Jesus loved is also linked with being the caretaker of Mary, the mother of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (John 19:26-27). Then, the Gospel states as a postscript, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know his testimony is true” (John 21:24). What this tells us is that we have another witness by an inner circle disciple. Even if John was written by a disciple of the apostle, we would still have eyewitness testimony about Jesus since the apostolic witness would have been recorded.
The Testimony of Matthew
As we noted last week, good reasons exist to hold the apostle Matthew as the author of at least part of the First Gospel. It seems quite odd that the early church would choose Matthew, a tax-collector, as the author of the First Gospel if it were in fact not based upon truth. I could provide further reasons for holding Matthean authorship. But suffice it to say, that if one accepts the apostle Matthew as the writer of the First Gospel, then one has another apostolic eyewitness for Jesus of Nazareth.
The Testimony of the Early Church
We have already noted the existence of pre-New Testament material in the letters of Paul and, some would say, in the Gospels. This is particularly the case in Luke’s Gospel where Luke notes that he used the testimony of those “who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word [who] have delivered them to us” (Luke 1:2). Thus, in Luke’s Gospel, one will find a panoply of eyewitness testimonies from various individuals used by Luke to construct his Gospel account.
The Testimony of Mary the Mother of Jesus
The first few chapters of Luke’s Gospel relays information pertaining to the birth of Jesus and the experiences that Mary, the mother of Jesus had before Jesus’ birth. Robert Stein states that “It is clear from the first chapter of Matthew as well as the traditional nature of the material in Luke 1–2 that Luke did not create all this material.”
Luke records the Magnificat (Mary’s Song of Praise) in Luke 1:46-55. In addition, the Evangelist records particularly intimate details about Mary such as the time when Mary “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Since this material is not original to Luke, and since pagan myths do not account for the inclusion, it seems to me that the most likely explanation is that Luke received the eyewitness testimony of Mary, the mother of Jesus for the beginning of his Gospel.
Thus, I would argue that one has the eyewitness testimony of Mary in Luke’s Gospel, which further adds to the testimony found within the Gospel narratives.
Undoubtedly, there are many more witnesses than those presented in this article. Nevertheless, one may still remain skeptical. It is quite apparent that not everyone will accept all of my conclusions in this article. But let it be said that even if one does not accept the evidence listed in this section of our presentation, one still must accept the early eyewitness testimony found in the pre-New Testament creeds and formulations.
Therefore, when coupled with the Gospel accounts, the eyewitness testimony for Jesus of Nazareth is quite good. Jesus of Nazareth passes the eyewitness testimony examination of the historical method.
Our investigation is not quite yet complete. Next time, we will examine two other areas of historical research offered by New Testament scholar Michael Licona. Thus far, Jesus of Nazareth has withstood the scrutiny of the historical method. Will he continue to remain standing after these final two areas of research?
Ignatius of Antioch. “The Epistle of Ignatius to St. John the Apostle.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.
Irenaeus of Lyons. “Irenæus against Heresies.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.
Stein, Robert H. Luke. The New American Commentary. Volume 24. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.
 Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 414.
 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).
 Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle of Ignatius to St. John the Apostle,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 124.
 Robert H. Stein, Luke, vol. 24, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 81.
 See Stein, Luke, NAC, 81.
Some people are skeptical to the dating of some New Testament texts. Part of this skepticism stems from extreme liberal beliefs concerning the biblical texts originating from textual criticism gone wild. However, unbeknownst to many, such skepticism is far from unanimous in biblical scholarship. In fact, the scholarly world is coming to the understanding that the texts of the New Testament may be much earlier than previously anticipated. In fact, two radical scholars, John A. T. Robinson and W. F. Albright, have accepted an early dating for the New Testament writings.
Albright noted that “We can already say emphatically that there is no long any basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about A.D. 80, two full generations before the date between 130 and 150 given by the more radical New Testament critics of today.”
This article will not address every early document that we have pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, this article will examine some of the earliest testimonies we have pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth. We will begin with, perhaps, the most important testimony we possess.
Throughout the New Testament, one finds early Christian documentations that predate the New Testament writings. These documentations date to the earliest times of the church.
Habermas notes that “It is crucially important that this information is very close to the actual events, and therefore cannot be dismissed as late material or as hearsay evidence. Critics not only admit this data, but were the first ones to recognize the early date.”
Several of these early traditions are documented throughout the New Testament writings. It is important to note that these traditions date to the earliest church. For your consideration, I have attached a formulation (listing out key historical events), a hymn (a song relating theological information), and a confession (listing out a statement to be said in confessing a belief).
In this formulation, perhaps one of the most important historical pre-NT traditions, Paul relates what he received when he first became a Christian and met with the apostles. This is what Paul records:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, 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 at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
In this formulation, one will note the emphasis placed upon Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and resurrection appearances. This tradition provides HUGE historical support for resurrection claim.
2. Hymn: Philippians 2:6-11
In his letter to the Church of Philippi, Paul recounts an early hymn that predates his writing. This hymn records several important Christian beliefs pertaining to Christ.
“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).
Here again, one will find early testimony for the crucifixion of Christ and implicitly for the resurrection. Also of great importance is the early attribution of divinity that the church placed upon Jesus of Nazareth.
3. Confession: Romans 10:9
To the Church of Rome, Paul provides an early confession that predates his writing. Paul notes that “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Paul’s confession notes, again, the death and resurrection of Jesus.
These early testimonies are so important that NT historian Michael Licona noted that “Paul and the oral traditions embedded throughout the New Testament literature provide our most promising material.” Therefore, these traditions which number far more than the three listed are of extreme value to the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.
So much information was compiled by Pastor Brian for the early testimony of Jesus that the article had to be broken into two sections. Next week, his examination of early testimony will continue as we take a look at the dating of the Gospels and the three earliest Epistles in the New Testament.
For my own writing’s sake, I just want to address one more thing – although I am almost sure Pastor Brian will mention it. These early testimonies are EXTREMELY important when it comes to Muslim-Christian apologetics. There’s a myth surrounding the apostle Paul.
He is charged by the Muslims to have made Jesus into a God. The Gospels – according to Muslim apologists – never show Jesus as God (never mind Jesus saying He is the Son of Man of Daniel 7, or Jesus receiving worship by Thomas and not rebuking him, among other examples).
If someone is to blame, it has to be Paul. There’s an excellent debate here on who gives us the truth about Jesus – Paul or Muhammad?
But the datings of this early testimonies are extremely important. The book of Romans, for example, was written around A.D. 57. Phillipians was written around A.D. 62, and 1 Corinthians around A.D. 53-55. Why is this important? It is important because this means that the disciples of Jesus were alive when Paul wrote his letters to the different churches.
The Gospel of Matthew was written in the late 50s or early 60s. The Gospel of Mark – although not a disciple of Jesus, but a friend of Peter – was written in the late 50s. The Gospel of Luke was written by a physician (and Paul’s companion) sometime before A.D. 65. The Gospel of John was written between A.D. 70-100.
All the people associated with Jesus – the eyewitnesses – were still alive by the time Paul’s letters were in circulation. Galatians was written in A.D. 48. Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians were written around the same time of Phillipians – A.D. 62. Besides all this, the epistles mention the other apostles. Paul knew Peter and James personally (Galatians 1).
If Paul was making all this stuff up, CERTAINLY the disciples would have said something. Don’t you think?
Jesus’ own brother James wrote his letter around A.D. 40-45 – way before Paul’s writings. And seriously, what did it take for James to accept that his half-brother was actually God in the flesh? James turned from being a skeptic to a leader in the church based on his meeting with the resurrected Christ.
My point is this: Paul did not make up the divinity of Jesus. Everybody who knew Jesus personally was still alive, and could have called Paul out on this, but they didn’t. Why? Because Paul was telling the truth even before the synoptic gospels were written.
Stay tuned for next week 🙂
Bibliography for Complete Article
Albright, W. F. Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1955.
Habermas, Gary. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.
Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.
Richardson, Kurt A. James. The New American Commentary. Volume 36. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.
Rydelnik, Michael, and Michael Vanlaningham, eds. The Moody Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014.
Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.
 W. F. Albright, Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1955), 136.
 Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), 30.
 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).
 Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010), 275.
For one reason or another, I’ve been delaying writing a post about the nature of God, both in Christianity and Islam. It seems relevant now due to the recent news regarding Wheaton College. Everybody is talking about it on social media, and people have their own opinion on whether or not the teacher should have been suspended.
I personally think she incurred in deep theological contradictions. This issue, of course, goes deeper than wanting to hold hands with every Muslim around the world singing kumbaya. An assertion like this offensive to both authentic Muslims and authentic Christians.
This article is a combination of a lecture given by Keith Small and Andy Bannister, as well as my own insights on how we can use the role of Christian apologetics in further dialogue with Muslims. There are plenty of resources about Apologetics and Islam at www.bethinking.org. You should also check other links in which I refer you to other websites.
Talking about God with Muslims can be extremely confusing because in so many ways we can seem to be talking about the same BEING. Most of the time we find ourselves coming into direct conflict with them, even though we are using the same words. We find different assumptions underlying our different views of God – concerning His character, His nature, and His actions towards humanity. The discussion can derail really, really quickly.
Here’s the thing. Muslims DO think they worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They DO think they worship the God of the Jews and the Christians.They really do think because that’s what the Quran teaches.
We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. [speaking to Christians and Jews]. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.
– Surah 29:46
You see, there is this open claim in the Quran that Allah is the same God that the Jews and the Christians worship. Now, before we continue, it would be important to know that Christians in Muslim countries, for example, DO refer to God as Allah. They also DO make the distinction between the different persons in the Trinity.
Allah is just the arabic word for God – THE GOD. That is why I personally do not have a problem with those names. However, for the purposes of this article, I will refer to the god of the Quran as Allah, and I will refer to the God of Jews and Christians as YHWH.
Throughout the whole Quran, you can read that God is one. God is one. It is almost as if the author of the Quran wanted to make that point more than clear – that God is only one.
Surah Al-Fatiha (Chapter 1)
In the name of God, the infinitely Compassionate and Merciful.
Praise be to God, Lord of all the worlds.
The Compassionate, the Merciful. Ruler on the Day of Reckoning.
You alone do we worship, and You alone do we ask for help.
Guide us on the straight path,
the path of those who have received your grace;
not the path of those who have brought down wrath, nor of those who wander astray.
In context, those who have received grace are the Muslims – those who follow Muhammad. The ones who have the wrath are the Jews, and the ones who are misguided are the Christians. When you think about the five obligatory prayers a day (Salat) and the cycles within them, a devout Muslim ends up asking Allah not to let him become like a Jew or a Christian. He prays this at least twenty times a day.
Besides Chapter 1, Chapter 112 is also a good example of another prescribed prayer that Muslims might recite several times a day. This Surah is basically addressed at the Christians. Allah is one, and he has no son.
Sura Al-Ikhlas (Chapter 112)
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the
Say: ‘He is God, the One,
God the Eternal and Besought of all,
Neither begetting nor begot, Nor is there
anything comparable or equal to Him.
That is why for a Muslim, the sole idea of the Divinity of Christ is indeed a great blasphemy. This is key in understanding the issue behind whether or not Muslims and Christians worship the same god.
The unforgivable sin (shirk) for Muslims is associating partners with Allah. In the Muslim mind, a Christian – who sees God as a Trinity – is a polytheist. They understand the Trinity as being three gods. The Quran addresses the Trinity as Allah, Jesus and Mary. The fact that the author of the Quran had no real knowledge of Christian doctrine does not help either.
The Muslim thinks that our Christian beliefs about Jesus being God is a lie that we have invented. We have exceeded our limit in doing that. Allah calls for Christians to stop saying Three since Allah is but one God. There are not three Allahs. Again, the author of the Quran had no understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity.
O People of the Scripture [Christians], do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, “Three”; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son.
I encourage you to watch these videos by James White. There are some many things out there about people wanting to give an opinion about these issues… and opinions are great. I am giving mine. But in the dialogue with Muslims, I believe, you really need to understand where they are coming from.
James White on Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?
James White on Wael Ibrahim’s misunderstanding of the Trinity – Part 1
James White on Wael Ibrahim’s misunderstanding of the Trinity – Part 2
If people do not argue, they usually fight. We, as followers of Jesus, should not fight with Muslims. We have the responsibility of explaining them – when the opportunity arises – that many of the misconceptions they have about our faith are not grounded in reality, but in a lack of understanding of our doctrines mainly by the author of the Quran and Muhammad.
Colin Chapman in his book Cross and Crescent sites seven areas of general similarity. He would use these to talk to a Muslim about the God of the Bible. This can be very useful if you have a Muslim who is willing to listen. My Muslims listened a lot – they were great about that. They would always say, of course, that I was wrong because the Bible as it is today has been corrupted.
But is it corrupted?
You see, if the Bible (Hebrew Bible and New Testament) is NOT corrupted, then Islam is false. So these areas of similarity can be great to use if you would like to encourage a Muslim to read the Bible for himself. That can lead them on a path about the reliability of our Scriptures (Textual Criticism, Read Sea Scrolls, etc.)
So Muslims and Christians agree on these areas.
The issue here is that even though we agree on these similarities, we differ on the HOW God does these things. That’s where the real difference between Allah and YHWH comes. Let’s explore these points. I encourage you to read the Quran so you might be able to grasp these differences better.
According to the Quran, Allah creates with just his word. BE, and it is.
In the Bible, YHWH creates with His Word and His Spirit – The Trinity is involved right away.
Allah is a very numerical oneness. The Quran really never describes what that oneness (Doctrine of Tawheed) looks like. The Quran describes what Tawheed IS NOT – associating partners with Allah.
YHWH is One – yes – but He is a Trinity. One BEING, but three persons. The Trinity explains why we can be made out of complex molecules, and cells and yet we are still one essence. I encourage you to read The Forgotten Trinity by James White.
This might not make sense to many of you, but it resonated with me greatly. I majored in Chemistry, Biology and Pharmacy. When I read the testimony of Nabeel Qureshi in his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, I was amazed at how God can really speak into anybody’s life. Do you want to know what made Nabeel start giving the Trinity a chance? Organic Chemistry.
Technically, a molecule with resonance is every one of its structures at every point in time, yet no single one of its structures at any point in time. It’s all the structures ALL the time, never just ONE of them.
A molecule of nitrate is all three resonance structures all the time and never just one of them. The tree are separate but all the same, and they are one. They are three in one. If there are things in this world that can be explained like this – though incomprehensibly so – then why cannot God?
– Nabeel Qureshi
Allah rules as a dictator in the Quran – absolute, unquestioning rule. He rules over everything and also through angels.
YHWH rules cooperatively. The Trinity rules in complete harmony.
Allah gives revelation through nature (a lot of Muslims are using intelligent design as an apologetic) and he reveals through prophets. What Allah reveals is just his will – but he never reveals himself.
YHWH reveals through nature, prophets, but specially through the incarnation of Christ. YHWH not only reveals His will, but He also reveals Himself. This is a concept that is embodied through Genesis 1 to Revelation. YHWH loves His people and wants to live with them, dwell with them. He wants a relationship with His people. YHWH has revealed Himself to the fullest in the person of Jesus Christ.
Allah bestows his favor and loves only those who love him. He loves only those who repent and turn to him. He DOES NOT love those who reject Muhammad.
YHWH loves sacrificially. Allah does not put Himself out to love, but YHWH does at huge cost to Himself. YHWH loves everyone, even the ones who reject Him. Over and over He would always forgive Israel. He punished them, but the Israelites are His people. YHWH is their Husband. He gave them promises that He has to keep. Through the Jewish nation all nations in the world will blessed. Through Messiah, all the Gentiles would come into a relationship with YHWH.
YHWH in the New Testament shows His infinite love for all people by dying in our behalf. Jesus is YHWH in the flesh. He loved us first. He came to this earth not to condemn the world, but to sabe the world through Jesus.
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him [Jesus]! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his [Jesus’] life!
Allah judges capriciously. He doesn’t judge according to a standard. The chief attributes of Allah are his power and his sovereignty, and even his love is submitted to those. Allah is under no obligation to forgive or purify anyone, he doesn’t commit himself to save any individual. You can visit the sources here.
Likewise, Allah also forgives capriciously. Allah just forgives. No need for atonement like YHWH or the Cross. Allah forgives just like that. But since there is no standard on how Allah judges or forgives, you just never know where you stand with him on the Day of Judgement.
Whoever Allah guides – he is the [rightly] guided; and whoever He sends astray – it is those who are the losers. And We have certainly created for Hell many of the jinn and mankind
– Surah 7:178-179
Whoever says, ‘Subhan Allah wa bihamdihi,’ one hundred times a day,will be forgiven all his sins even if they were as much as the foam of the sea.
Whoever says, ‘La ilaha illal-lah wahdahu la sharika lahu, lahu-l-mulk wa lahul- hamd wa huwa ‘ala kulli shai’in qadir,’ one hundred times will get the same reward as given for manumitting ten slaves; and one hundred good deeds will be written in his accounts, and one hundred sins will be deducted from his accounts
Whoever Allah sends astray – there is no guide for him. And He leaves them in their transgression, wandering blindly.
By Allah! I would not feel safe from the deception of Allah, even if I had one foot in paradise.
YHWH judges with perfect justice and He judges everyone. He forgives through they system of atonement (a Jewish concept) that provides legal basis for His judgement. Those who believe in Jesus’ atonement in the cross are the ones who receive the forgiveness. YHWH’s forgiveness is available to all, but you have the responsibility to receive it.
This is the confusion that Muslims have. They do not understand that Jesus’ death has the power for the forgiveness of their sins, because they believe Jesus was only a man. This is stressed out throughout the Quran and the Sunnah – that nobody should pay for your sins. This is fair, of course, no man should be responsible for your sins. All men sin.
If Jesus were solely man, atonement through Him would make no sense to a Christian either. Muslims assume this because they are Unitarian. They do not have a proper understanding of the Trinity so they cannot understand that Jesus is more than a man. Jesus is God. Jesus was also fully man, and as man, He never sinned. The Creator of the universe is sacrificing Himself for you to have a relationship with Him. He loves you that much. But for the Muslim mind, this is blasphemy. Allah cannot lower himself like that. Allah cannot make himself a man because it takes away from his majesty.
I don’t think any Muslim would deny that if God Himself wanted to become a man He is powerful enough to do it. If a Muslim denies this, they are actually denying God’s omnipotence. I guess Muslims put God into a box. They make assumptions about what God can and cannot do based on their own presuppositions about Allah’s oneness.
For example, Muslims ask, “If Jesus is God and He died on the cross, then who was in heaven ruling the universe when God died?” This presents a problem for them because they are thinking oneness in number. This is not a problem for the Trinitarian Christian.
I would ask a Muslim another question, though. If God is Unitarian, then how would you explain the accounts in the Quran when Musa (Moses) talks to God in the burning bush? According to Tafsir Ibn Kathir (exegesis – commentary of the Quran), God talks to Moses from within the bush. But if God is in the bush, and Allah is only one, then who is in heaven ruling the world? Even for the Muslims, Tawheed presents a problem.
Regarding atonement through blood and sacrifices is not a concept that the first Christians came up with. The very first generation of Christians were all Jewish! Atonement does not go against the Hebrew Bible or against the teachings of the Torah. Jesus actually came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. Jesus was the perfect sacrificial atonement. And whoever sets up against Israel and God’s love for the Jewish people is standing on very thin ice.
If Jesus is not the Messiah of the Jewish people, then He is not the Savior of the Gentiles. Orthodox Christianity is very Jewish.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [talking about Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy
One of the names of Allah is the JUST. The Quran never says this. Allah commands justice. Muslims think Allah is the best of judges. The problem is that when these concepts are applied, they seem to be arbitrary.
Allah doesn’t have to be fair. His mercy and his judgement are subjected to his sovereignty. One of the names of Allah is the Holy. In the Bible, though, HOLINESS has two components. First, YHWH is exalted above us – greater than us. Second, YHWH has absolute, moral purity.
This is why YHWH demands payment for every single sin. Allah just forgives as if he can sweep sins under the carpet without punishing sin. But YHWH’s holiness is so great that every single act that goes against His character demands to be punished.
YHWH is the fairest of judges and the most merciful of judges. The fairest of judges HAS to punish every single sin. Every act of rebellion against the Creator of the Universe has to be addressed. In the other hand, the most merciful of judges will always forgive. Only YHWH is able to meet these two criteria.
In the atonement of Jesus, YHWH is judging sin – He is still being JUST – and at the same time He forgives – He is MERCIFUL.
Allah cannot do these two things. Muslims think he can. They say Allah can forgive freely because he is so merciful. But what do you with the sin? If Allah forgives like that, then Allah is not the fairest of judges. Besides that, if Allah makes you pay and atone for your own sins (good deeds vs bad deeds) then Allah is not the most merciful.
A Muslim who tries to explain this concepts of JUSTICE and MERCY, thinking that Allah can indeed just forgive and pretend that nothing really happened, has no understanding of the gravity of sin, and how devastating sin is. Either that, or Allah is not that Holy. Not as holy as YHWH anyway.
A Muslim may understand the concept of outer purity or ceremonial cleanliness – as they do practice ceremonial washing before prayer – but they have no understanding whatsoever of moral inner cleanliness or purity. As long as they don’t act on it, they do not understand why anger can be equated with murder, or lust can be equated as adultery. This is something I discussed often with my friends, and they did realize that the standard that Jesus demanded for me as a Christians was impossible to meet.
“DUH! That’s why I need a Savior”, I would say. Then again, I do not know if they really understood that this was the standard God demanded of every single human being if they ever want to have direct access to their Creator.
1 John 2:29 tells us that God is righteous, and 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love. With YHWH these two traits are exercised fully in balance.
Allah cannot do this. Love IS NOT one of the seven eternal attributes of Allah in Islamic theology. YHWH IS LOVE. Allah focuses on power and might. One of Allah’s 99 names is The Loving. It can also be translated as The Affectionate, but it is only one name – you have like fifteen or twenty that have to do with power. Allah is only loving and merciful to those who repent.
If you read the Quran, you’ll see very quickly that power to overwhelm, to destroy, to terrify, to condemn to hell is the main emphasis of the book. Allah loves those who love him, and he hates those who reject him and his prophet.
Even tough Allah is The Loving or The Merciful or The Forgiving, Allah has a philosophical problem. All these adjectives need both a subject and an object. If these atributes are eternal as Muslims claim them to be, then Allah becomes contingent upon his creation. Allah becomes subject to existing only if he creates. Allah in the Quran had to create, otherwise he cannot be loving, or forgiving or merciful. Allah’s eternal attributes become otherwise because he couldn’t be who he was without his own creation.
The Trinity has never faced this problem. YHWH is not only loving. YHWH himself IS love. From eternity past, YHWH has always existed in harmony between three persons so He didn’t need to create anything. He was perfect, complete and fulfilled. Creation is an act of grace. Love changed from the horizontal (Godhead) to the vertical (human beings). The expression of love changed, but YHWH never changed.
Allah is not personal. YHWH is personal. Now, look at reality. What model explains human reality? It is very difficult to see that which is personal come from what is impersonal. The Christian concept of God explains reality. If we are indeed created in YHWH’s image, it is hardly a surprise that we, humans, need and want to be in relationship with other human beings.
Theology precedes anthropology. The God you have will directly influence the society you build. Is it any wonder why Islam produces societies that are subjected only to the power of the state?
On the other hand, Muslims also affirm the eternality of the Quran. Orthodox Islam affirms that the Quran is the eternal word of Allah. The Quran is uncreated. It has existed – for all time.
Now, think about this… Doesn’t the presence of another eternal entity existing alongside Allah for all time begins to attack the doctrine of the oneness of Allah?
There is a real tension there. And there are schools of thought in Islam that would call heresy on those who think one way or another. If the Quran is uncreated, then you have two eternal beings from eternity past, and you end up contradicting the Quran on the Oneness of Allah.
But if the Quran is created, that means that at some point in time, Allah was without His eternal Word – and how can that be? In this case, you end up also contradicting the Quran itself. More info here.
Goodness… many things. I love these issues. Call me weird, my husband is sick of me talking about it – which is why I don’t talk to him about it anymore.
My experience is short, and I haven’t read all the sources there are to read regarding Islamic texts. But understanding the claims of the Quran, and having a deep understanding of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, I think that Muhammad might have wanted to compromise with both Jews and Christians. He might have actually thought he was a prophet in the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
You see, tough, the prophets only come through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. You ask any Muslim, and they would tell you Muhammad came from Ishmael, not Isaac. The prophets were to be Israelites, not Ishmaelites. Still, there are many other reasons as to why the Jews would reject the prophethood of Muhammad, but we’ll leave those for another time.
Let’s say Allah revealed the Quran.
The Quran says that Jesus is the Messiah. But the Jews in Muhammad’s time rejected this. In Jewish thought, Jesus was a blasphemer. Jesus died by crucifixion. History agrees with this. In the Jewish mind, even today, the Messiah cannot die – let alone by crucifixion. So the Jews rejected Muhammad. Not all of them, but some. So what do I know? Maybe Muhammad tried to appeal to the Jews by saying that Jesus was the Messiah and Allah did not let Jesus die on the cross.
Now, the Christians… Muhammad said that Jesus was the Messiah, and the Christians liked that. But the Quran also said that Jesus never die on the cross, and that Jesus was only a man. This goes against Christian doctrine even before the New Testament was put together. The deity of Christ is not something that Paul invented – Christians already knew that even before Paul wrote the letters. It is very clear, now that we have the manuscripts and we can see them all, that nothing has ever been corrupted in the text. So of course some Christians converted to Islam, but other Christians had to reject Muhammad as a false prophet – just as the Jews.
This is how I picture it in my mind…
In today’s world (except from photos and videos), people can read about the Holocaust. Let’s say the Holocaust happened a year ago. People wrote about the Holocaust because they lived it, they saw it, they experienced it. People were eyewitnesses to it. Now imagine this. This is the era of technology so things don’t get lost that easily. But just imagine for one minute that there are no computers or anything to store information. We only have paper – low quality paper.
People need to copy the records that we have available about the Holocaust. All the world – for whatever reason – needs to know about the Holocaust, why it happened and what it accomplished. So people begin copying the eyewitnesses accounts. People begin transcribing them like crazy, not only in English, but in many different languages.
Are you following me?
So these records end up being in circulation for many, many years. Centuries, actually. Within a century from now, people will still have copies of those original eyewitness accounts. The originals might be lost – it was low quality paper – but we have plenty of copies. Two centuries from now, still going strong.
We can actually compare all the copies, and the basic description of the Holocaust still remains the same. Sure, there are differences in spellings and words that might be weird, but the account of the Holocaust – when it happened, how it happened, why it happened, who was involved, where it happened – is still intact.
Three centuries, the same. Four centuries, the same. Five centuries, same. Now, we may not have the originals in five centuries, nor the copies from a century from now. Maybe we will lose them, and we will always be looking for them. But the oldest one that we will have in our possession two thousand years from now will be two hundred years after the Holocaust. That’s pretty good if you consider that we have only seven copies from Plato written one thousand years after the original. Nobody questions Plato.
And thousands of years down the road, people will continue to copy our records of the Holocaust. One day, we will end up having more than 22,000 pieces of paper with which we can reconstruct the original eyewitness accounts. HOmer’s Iliad has 647 – and nobody questions Homer’s authorship.
We cared so much about preserving those records because the Holocaust changed History.
But then something will happen. About six hundred years from now, in the middle of a civilization that had never heard about the Holocaust, someone will come and will say that God gave him a message through an angel. And the message is basically this: You people are wrong. The Holocaust never happened like that. I will tell you exactly how it happened.
And a lot of people will believe that man, and his own version of the Holocaust. People who love this man will look back on the actual records that we preserved, and they will see that they contradict the man’s version of the Holocaust. But they will love that man so much, that in blind faith, they will begin allegations against our own records. The records we so carefully tried to preserve – the actual eyewitnesses accounts of the Holocaust – will be charged with corruption of the text.
And many people, unfortunately, will end up believing in the new version of the Holocaust that this man will give them. They will believe it only in faith, even tough the evidence says otherwise. In my own mind, that’s what Muhammad did.
You see, the Christian who recognizes ALL these issues is in a better position to explain to the Muslim about our faith, and about the text of the Bible. It is the responsibility of every Christian to show love to Muslims. Eventually, though, conversations will happen, and questions – deep theological questions – will arise.
The Christian has to be prepared to meet the challenge not only of understanding why Islam (the new version of the Holocaust) differs from Judaism and Christianity (the original version of the Holocaust). Not only that, but what it actually brings in the present life of a person. Muslims can have peace with God. They do not have it. They might think they do, but in reality, they do not know where they stand with God.
The Christian needs to learn how to make a strong case for Christianity.
It might be too much information, too difficult to grasp at the beginning, or intimidating, but God’s timings are prefect. If you only give God your heart, He will do amazing things through you. The first time I learned about Islam was seven years ago, and I cried because I was so confused about it. How come this Allah was the same God that I worshipped?
Little by little I began learning more and more about this. I am not an expert, but if I can learn, everybody can.
This post was so long… I’m sorry for that 😦
In short, do we – Muslims and Christians – worship the same God? No. I don’t think we do. But we have the opportunity of reaching out to our Muslim friends, and introduce them to who God really is 🙂
You might want to read Nabeel Qureshi’s opinion on the Wheaton’s College controversy.