Monday, August 8, 2016

Islam and the Rewriting of Biblical History and Theology

The novelist George Orwell once remarked that, "The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history." History is a collection and a record of the past. But if what if someone does not like a piece of history and wants to turn back time and change it? Since no one can go back in time and change the past as we see in science fiction movies and novels, one way is to rewrite the history of the past and with enough persistence people will believe the new version.
It has been done in the past. Adolf Hitler was able with enough rhetoric and repetition to convince many Germans that the Jews were responsible for all the world's ills. Hitler even created a school of his own academics who aimed to remove any and all Jewish elements from the Bible and Christianity. Some even advocated the view that Jesus was not a Jew, but rather an Aryan, the people group Hitler taught the German people were descended from. The apostle Paul was a Jew, but the Nazis taught that he had subverted the teachings of Jesus, much like many Muslim apologists claim today about Paul.  Jesus, they taught, was an Aryan who sought and struggled to destroy Judaism and the Jews, but in the Nazi revised narrative, the Jews killed Jesus. Germans were now called upon to take up the cause of Jesus the Aryan and to carry on his fight and struggle by eliminating the Jews. For more on this see a summary of the book The Aryan Jesus by Susannah Heschel by going here. This exercise in rewriting and revising history is very similar to the second century heretic Marcion who also wanted to eradicate the human and Jewish Jesus in place of a purely spiritual Jesus who had no body. Marcion did this by getting rid of the Old Testament, but he did't stop there. In his new version of the New Testament he kept only the gospel of Luke but not before removing the first two chapters because they were too "Jewish" and began his version of Luke with chapter 3. He also kept Paul's thirteen letters because he thought Paul was anti-Jewish which of course he was not as he was a Jew himself. Marcion discarded all the other New Testament books. The Church of course remained steadfast and maintained all of the inspired books in the canon including the Old Testament.

Now what does this all have to do with Islam? Quite a bit. When someone reads the Qur'an they are struck by the fact that many of the stories seem at first to resemble the biblical stories (the Flood, the exodus from Egypt, etc) but upon closer inspection we quickly see that the stories are quite different in many respects. They seem to be copied from other sources like the apocryphal gospels, the Jewish Talmud and Mishnah, Zoroastrian writings, etc. Certainly, if the author(s) of the Qur'an knew the Bible how could he / they have recorded all these stories incorrectly? First of all it seems clear that there was no Arabic Bible in Muhammad's day and he had no access to such a Bible. Even if he was illiterate which some scholars dispute, would he not have been able to remember these biblical stories if they were dictated orally?

When we look at the Qur'an as a whole, what we discover is that there is a carefully planned plot from the very beginning. The Qur'an rewrites the biblical story and actually sabotages it. For what purpose? To show that Islam has been the religion of God from the beginning and that all the prophets were Muslims. The focal point of the Qur'an is not Jesus (as the Bible teaches; Luke 24:27, 44-45), but rather it is Muhammad. So the focal point changes from Jesus to Muhammad. Notice what Qur'an 3:81 says,

"GOD took a covenant from the prophets, saying, "I will give you the scripture and wisdom. Afterwards, a messenger will come to confirm all existing scriptures. You shall believe in him and support him." He said, "Do you agree with this, and pledge to fulfill this covenant?" They said, "We agree." He said, "You have thus borne witness, and I bear witness along with you (Khalifa; italics mine)."

Muhammad is so central to Islam (despite claims to the contrary by our Muslim friends) that one cannot be a Muslim unless they confess in the Shahada, "there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah". It is not good enough to say there is no god but Allah, it must be followed by faith in Muhammad as the messenger. Not so in the Bible. The focus is always on God. The confession of Israel, the Shema states, "Hear O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD" (Deuteronomy 6:4). In Isaiah 45:22 it states, "Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other." In Isaiah 43:11 it states, "I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior." Notice the Shema does not say, "Hear O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD and Moses is His messenger". The focus remains on the LORD God alone, the true Savior of humanity. There are some Muslims who hold to a 'Qur'an only' position and argue that to add Muhammad to the Shahada is to commit idolatry. On this see here.

The Bible is a history of God's love and redemption where He adopts us as His children in Christ. The Qur'an is a book of "guidance" where Allah conditionally loves those who first love Muhammad and they enter into a slave-master relationship with Allah (Q 3:31). The Bible begins with God creating humans in His image (Genesis 1:26-27) and giving them dominion. He has a personal relationship with them as He walks with them in the Garden of Eden. Humans are not mere slaves, they are the greatest of God's creation as His image bearers. He crowns them with glory and honor to rule over His creation (Psalm 8). The Fall then takes place (Genesis 3) and humans are separated from a holy God. Adam sins and plunges all  his descendants into sin and rebellion against God. God then clothes Adam and Eve with skins, presumably from an animal or animals which were killed, a picture of Christians being clothed in Christ's righteousness. All is not lost, God promises that He would rectify the sin problem by announcing for the first time that a Savior would come, the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). This promise of the coming Redeemer is seen throughout biblical history in types, shadows and promises. We see the type in Abel offering the blood of the lamb to God and being accepted (Genesis 4). His brother Cain, who rejected the concept of blood atonement and relied on his own good works killed his brother out of envy. So it is today, the sons of Abel who believe in salvation by the sacrificial blood of the lamb are persecuted and hated by the sons of Cain who believe in salvation by works.

This salvation history is than carried through Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, then through Moses with the sacrificial system and priesthood, the tabernacle and then later the temple in Jerusalem and the Jewish feasts, all of which point to the Messiah. The prophets then continue to identify the Messiah as priest, king, prophet, how He would be born, where He would be born, where He would begin His ministry, His miracles, perfect life, His sufferings, and then His great sacrifice of atonement (Matthew 1:21; Mark 10:45), His resurrection from the dead, His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and His eventual second coming as the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament prophesied concerning Him. In the last book of the Bible, Jesus the Lamb of God is praised for all eternity for His great sacrifice whereby He redeemed the people of God (Revelation 4-5). All who repent and trust in Him will receive salvation and become a child of God (John 1:12-13; Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:9-13).

When we look at the Qur'an we see the beginning of history also starting with Adam. But here everything changes. Adam is not made in God's image. God does not walk with Adam in personal relationship. Adam is tempted by Satan and sins. But this sin is not cataclysmic like the Bible. It was just a mistake, Adam slipped and when he repented, Allah also repented toward him and forgave him immediately. Adam was not a sinner, he just lost his way, he was in fact a prophet, the first prophet. As the story progresses in the Qur'an there is no promise of a coming Savior to atone for sin. In fact, even though the Qur'an uses the word "Messiah" (al Masih) 11 times of Jesus, it never once defines the word. Why is Jesus the Messiah in Islam? The Qur'an does not say. Jews and Christians know what Messiah means because the Bible explains this terminology. The Qur'an is a bloodless book in terms of sacrifice, there is no atonement to reconcile humans to God. With all the respect given to Moses in the Qur'an (Moses is the most often mentioned prophet in the Qur'an) nothing at all is said about the sacrificial system in the Torah. The Jewish feasts are completely absent in the Qur'an because they are related to the Messiah and sacrifice, especially the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). The priesthood is also absent in the Qur'an. Aaron is a prophet in the Qur'an, not a priest. The reason for this is that the priesthood is related to sacrifice and atonement. The message of Allah is not one of salvation, but of guidance. Who does Allah send to guide?  Certainly not a Savior, but a series of prophets who all have the same message, turn and submit to Allah. Thus, the story line is the same, the prophets all preached Islam. The great sacrifice of Abraham with his son Isaac in the Bible (Genesis 22) is so muddied that it obscures the identity of the son of Abraham. Was it Isaac or Ishmael? Islamic commentators are divided on this question. Abraham has a dream in which he is supposed to sacrifice his son (Q 37:102) and the closest the Qur'an comes to atonement is that an animal was sacrificed in the place of the son of Abraham, "And WE [Allah] ransomed him with a mighty sacrifice" (Q 37:107; Sheri Ali), but this point is never high lighted. 

Jesus in the Qur'an is a Muslim prophet. Even though he is the Messiah, the title is ambiguous in the Qur'an. He does not come to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), the crucifixion and death of Jesus is denied (Q 4:157-159), and with that denial comes the denial of the resurrection, and therefore the rejection of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). He comes with the same message as the prophets, submit to Allah. Jesus functions as a 'talking head' who not only points to Islam, but points ultimately to Muhammad (Q 61:6). He does not call people to Himself for salvation (Matthew 11:28-30), but away from Himself. The Qur'an has in effect, recast the biblical story line in an Islamic light. Jesus is not primarily the Jewish Messiah who came to save Israel and be a light to the Gentiles, he is a Muslim who will come as the Hadith literature attests to fight and kill the Jews with the Islamic warriors and wage jihad against them, and destroy Christianity to bring the whole world under the hegemony of Islam. The end is not a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwells righteousness, but a creation totally submitted to Allah. 

We have seen that the Bible and Qur'an present two distinct story lines. The beginning of the story is different, the relationship of God to humanity is different, the message is different, and the means to reconcile humanity is different. The end of the story line is also different. Is the Qur'an and the Bible telling the same story? Or has the Qur'an deliberately undermined the biblical story by removing the promise of the coming Savior, the Fall, the atonement, and God's redemptive work through Jesus Christ? The irony is that the Qur'an says regarding the Torah that the Jews "change words from their context" while "distorting [the Torah] with their tongues" (Q 4:46; Pickthall) and also, "They [the Jews] change words from their context and forget a part of that whereof they were admonished" (Q 5:13; Pickthall). With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls we can now see what the Old Testament including the Torah looked liked as far back as 100 B.C. long before Muhammad and the writing of the Qur'an. Who is actually changing the words from their context and distorting the text with the tongue, and forgetting the admonition of the Scriptures? Who is guilty of rewriting history here?


Andrew said...

Thank you Tony. Most informative.
You could invent a drinking game. Have a drink each time in the koran the fool who wrote it got a bible story or character wrong. The said person obviously came into contact with Jews and Christians but didn't pay proper attention when hearing listening to them.

ApoLogika said...

Another excellent piece, Dr Tony! Your comparison of Bible teaching versus Muhammad's was especially insightful and revealing.

Btw, I don't think I ever got to congratulate you for the great job you did in the last debate I caught on the Trinity Channel. You were incredibly patient with Ijaz despite his usual boorish and disrespectful behavior. God bless and reward you for your heart for Muslims, sir!

Reg Singh said...

Islam is about nothing but Muhammad. According to Muhammad everyone must love him more than they love themselves.

stephan829 said...

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