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IslamiCity > Articles > What the Gospels Mean to Muslims
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It's not the Muslim's job to find some novel twist on the meaning. It's merely his job to remind an individual that if you are sure about what it says ask yourself again: Did you have that in your mind before or did you really discover it?

What the Gospels Mean to Muslims
5/2/2014 - Religious Interfaith - Article Ref: MI1210-5318
Number of comments: 6
By: Gary Miller
Mission Islam* -

HOW SOME CHRISTIANS PRESENT THEIR SCRIPTURES

The Muslim used to have probably a very different attitude about the gospels than he does today. I'm just speaking of the majority or large segments of the community who use to feel much differently than large segments of the community feel today. And most of the blame for that I suppose could be placed on one hand on the Muslim and on the other hand on some of the Christian community and how it was they present the gospel. So I have to talk a little bit about that, I am trying to clear the air both for the Muslim and the Christian, and the interested bystander.

You see the Quran commands the Muslim to show respect for the books of other people, their religious scriptures. That commandment was abused by certain, I stress just certain, missionary efforts. By taking these verses that relate to the respect for scripture out of their context, and quoting them back to the Muslims saying, "Look, your book says my book is true. So read my book and then you'll be in trouble because you'll find out that my book is different than your book." And I'm afraid than that the blame must be shifted over to the Muslim who very often never thought about that before but thought that made a lot of sense, and he was letting someone else tell him what his own book said. So it was that before too long when the missionary would on the one hand say your book says you should listen carefully to my book now let me read you my book, the Muslim tended to think that it must be that your book is full of lies.

Even if the Quran says respect the books of other people, it must be that some people have put some lies in there, because I don't go along with that thing you're reading. He looked back into the Quran to try to find some verses to justify the position that the Christian changed his scriptures and put some lies in there. And that just made it worse because now the missionary said, "You're really off your book because on one hand it says believe in our book and on the other hand it says we changed our book. "The problem being that the Quran doesn't say any such thing of the kind, and these arguments that were first brought forward about 200 years ago are reprinted every year by certain missionary groups. The arguments are old and tired and quite insufficient."

THE QURAN'S THREE ACCUSATIONS

What the Quran really criticizes is not anybody else's books. It never mentions the Bible, but as a matter of fact neither does the bible, that is just a nickname for a collection of books. What it talks about are scriptures and what it criticizes is the way that some, I stress some people, use their scriptures. It criticizes the handling of whatever people call scripture. It endorses the fact that the truth has been preserved by people, that they have in their scriptures the truth, but they mishandle it.

It makes basically three accusations which probably you could go to any church and the pastor will say those things are true of those people over there.

  1. The Quran says some of the Jews and Christians pass over much of what is in their scriptures.
  2. Some of them have changed the words, and this is the one that is misused by Muslims very often giving the impression that once there was a true bible and then somebody hid that one away, then they published a false one. The Quran doesn't say that. What it criticizes is that people who have the proper words in front of them, but they don't deliver that up to people. They mistranslate it, or misrepresent it, or they add to the meaning of it. They put a different slant on it.
  3. And the third accusation is that some people falsely attribute to God what is really written by men.

Now probably in any church there will be people who will say, "Yes, I know a church that does all those three things. They pass over much of what is in their scripture, they've changed things, they put the wrong slant on the words, and they've credited God with things that men said. "So really there is not a cause for a problem between the Christian and the Muslim on these charges, the Christian, I would like to think, would generally go along with those ideas."

And again, I stress it only accuses some people of doing that.

DEMONSTRATING NONEXISTENCE

Unfortunately, also, in more recent years, discussions of Christianity and Islam have usually been attacked by the Christian on the Quran or by the Muslim on the Bible. Which is quite an un-Islamic thing to do, that is, to attack somebody's scriptures. Usually these discussions or presentations are coordinated in such a way as to, for example, the Muslims will be here to blast away at all the errors in the Bible, then the Christian takes a turn blasting away at the Quran. What is really unfortunate and really rather silly about that whole approach is that people who try to do that are trying to do something that's extremely difficult. They're trying to demonstrate the nonexistence of a certain item. And I'll illustrate it in this way, when you assert that such and such a thing does not exist, you have a big job on your hands, if you want to prove it does not exist. If I say there is no such thing as a pink elephant, how am I going to show you that? I have to somehow prove to you that I've been all over the world, I've looked in every closet, I've been everywhere that's big enough to hold an elephant, and I have pictures to show that there are no pink ones in any of those places. It really can't be done - to demonstrate the nonexistence of something.

When people single out errors to say, "Look, there is a mistake in the Bible," they are claiming that no where else in that book is there a verse which would clear up this apparent error. It would be pretty hard work to demonstrate that is the case. It would have to say, okay, here is chapter 1 verse 1, this verse does not clear up that mistake. Now this verse, that does not put a new light on that verse and go through all these thousands of verses to show that there is no verse to clear up what apparently is an error. That would be pretty hard work. The only other way to show that something doesn't exist is to show that its existence would be self-contradictory and I don't think that method of proof lends itself to the thing I'm talking about.

As to whether or not there legitimately are errors in scripture it is simply food for thought. It is quickly dismissed by a lot of people to say these are only apparent errors - it deserves a better treatment than that. One, James Barr, who has written a number of books endorsed by the Church of England, has suggested that maybe these apparent errors in the bible are a signal from God. That they are a warning: "Look out, don't credit me with this, a man did this, I don't write like that," he said that might be a possible interpretation. So it deserves a better investigation than to simply say, "I'm sure it is only an apparent mistake."

EXPLANATIONS & PROOFS

So more useful discussions are going to be concerned with other subjects, I would hope, rather than just trying to find errors in a book. But unfortunately, people often confuse explanation for proof. That is, you ask a man how do you know that such and such is so, and he tells you how it works. AN EXPLANATION IS NOT A PROOF. I might give you a completely coherent explanation that a television works by Black Magic but that doesn't prove that it does. It just means you could explain it that way. When the Muslim asks, "How do know someone died for your sins?" and the answer comes back, "Someone has to BECAUSE, etc, etc, etc, God is here, man is there, and we have to pay this debt and so on and so forth." That is an explanation not a proof that it ever happened or will happen or whatever. That is an explanation of HOW it works. AN EXPLANATION IS NOT A PROOF.

It is fascinating to dwell on those explanations and sometimes I do that. Fascinating because virtually all of these explanations are built on analogies and the analogies are always faulty in the first place. That is, people don't usually even explain things directly, they usually will tell you, "Well, it's like this." Then they talk about something else. Now they has two problems: they've got to explain this thing and then show you that this thing is really like the other thing. To explain to you that the redemption of man is like a Traffic Court judge who pays the fines for all the guilty parties is a faulty analogy, for example. Because the traffic court judge is not the offended party, the State is offended and the State does not forgive when the State fines someone. Whoever pays the fine is beside the point. That is just to cite one example of a common analogy.

DISCOVERY VERSUS INVENTION

As I mentioned earlier, the real complaint of the Quran is the handling of scriptures, so maybe one of the most important questions that the Muslim would want to stress for those who are discussing the gospel and are trying to show someone the meaning they have discovered; the important question might be to urge a person to ask himself: Did you discover that meaning in the scriptures or did you invent that meaning, then prop it up with what you found in the scripture? It's an old problem, mathematicians have talked about it for at least 26 centuries: "Did we discover mathematics or did we invent it?" It's not entirely clear because we make up some rules, then we work with it, then we say look what we've found, but, no, did you invent it in the first place or did you find it? It's a delicate kind of thought and it's worth examining in the same way as if someone says: "look what I've found! the scripture tells me such and such; it may well be that it's a discovery but possibly it was a preconceived idea that now fits what is read."

Of course, the Bible has been read in a great many different ways, a great deal of emphasis is place by some on the Crucifixion as being THE salvation of man. Yet according to the 19th chapter of Luke, Jesus told a certain Zacchaeus, "Today salvation has come to your house." He didn't say next week when I die that will be when salvation comes. He says, Today, salvation, whatever that means, has come into your house. It is rather easy to read that and think that the Crucifixion is not quite what someone told it was. That is a possibility.

The 14th Chapter of John has two favorite verses but the whole thing, when put in its context, doesn't read quite the way a lot of people tell it, that is on the one hand Jesus says, "No one comes to the father but through me". It is often quoted in order to establish some kind of an idea that if man is reaching for God, you've got to talk to Jesus first or go through him or whatever. When put back in its context, the whole subject of that chapter is not so much man reaching for God but God reaching for man. That Jesus says that I came to show you God, Philip says show us the Father, Jesus says you've seen me you've seen the Father. He didn't seem to be claiming divinity because in the first place he's suppose to be the son not the father.

And in the 5th Chapter of John, he says, No one has ever seen the father. My point here is that I'm not going to try to reinterpret the Bible: I'm just trying to show that sometimes it just as easily reads in quite a different way as the EXCLUSIVE way some have tried to put on it. It is not _ and that's a more recent development I suppose _ the Muslim's job to try and reinterpret the Bible. There are plenty of people busy doing that. There's plenty of cultists who will tell you that they've found everything in there from flying saucers to word processors.

TWO STREAMS OF CHRISTIANITY


It's not the Muslim's job to find some novel twist on the meaning. It's merely his job to remind an individual that if you are sure about what it says ask yourself again: Did you have that in your mind before or did you really discover it? This means an encouragement to think and there are different views on that subject as to whether it's a good idea to think or not.

There are in a sense two streams of Christianity, and the Muslim, as a foreign student, is usually quite confused because he never thought about that before. He comes to this country and he turns on the television one Sunday morning after a few minutes he thinks that must be Christianity. He'd never seen a Christian before in his life, possibly. And certainly in the minds of those people speaking they have Christianity. But what the Muslim is sometimes unaware of is that, he has spent some years in the country, and never caught on to the fact that there's a lot of people who call themselves Christians but they have nothing to do with what was seen on television that Sunday morning.

There are widely different views. And one of the things which divides these streams concerns the understanding of the term "lost." What does it mean when somebody is lost? Does it mean that he isn't saved or does it mean something else? You might ask the question this way, is an explorer lost? If a man is going into a land where no one has ever been before, is he lost? Well, one branch of Christianity would tend to say, "Yes." Another branch would say, "No, he is an explorer, he is not lost, he's exploring the territory."

The problem the Muslim has is not with the man who will tell you that explorers are not lost. He has a problem with the man who tells you, "Until you find what you're looking for, you're lost." That stream of Christianity is the one that gives him the problem, because that is the stream of Christianity that does an awful lot of study and preparation but does not encourage a reinvestigation, an objective investigation of things. As an example, I suppose that the key question or a test question to all Muslims, as it is put to them by those who are anxious to bring them into the fold, they want a yes or no answer to the question: Is Jesus Divine? Is he divine, yes or no? Which skips a very important matter. The question is what is that supposed to mean? What do you mean, is he divine?

WHAT DOES IT MEAN? WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

It was Spinoza, a few hundred years ago, who was a Jew, at least by heritage, then he withdrew from the Jewish community. He was quite a philosopher and felt alienated from that community and there were Christians who came to him and said, "Now, of course, that you've left the Jews you will become a Christian." He said that, "Maybe, I will when I understand what you're talking about." His main thing was to stick to the definition, "I hear the words but I don't know what they mean." You tell me that God became man, what do you mean, like my father became dead or like ice became water? You mean once there was God and he squeezed himself down and now he's a man, he used to be God, what do you mean? The words sound like one thing but the actual definition is pretty hard to explain if it ever has been explained.

As a matter of fact, the insistence on the humanity and divinity of Jesus is a puzzling thing for the Muslims, not trying to be a smart Alec. He's trying to ask simple childlike questions. What is that suppose to mean? Because on the one hand he's told, "God is 100% Holy, that's why God can't deal with sinful man, man is sinful, he's down here and God is 100% Holy. So we need a mediator." The Muslim asks, "How Holy is the mediator, 50%? - 51%?" The answer is, "No, no, he's a 100% Holy, he's God!"

Well, now, we still have this problem. If the problem is that God because of his Holiness can't deal directly with man, we HAVE NOT really put anyone in the middle if he is still God. Again, it is said that God cannot deal with the sinners, and yet Jesus used to eat with them, according to the Bible. It didn't seem to annoy him to get that close to a sinner.

MUSLIM EXPECTATIONS - WHAT THE GOSPELS ARE

My main point is this, however, as the title was announced WHAT THE GOSPELS MEANS TO MUSLIMS. To the Muslim who has studied it and investigated it, and it has been a topic among Muslims for hundreds of years - The Muslim does not really expect that the gospel, the message of Jesus, contains any theology in the first place.

There is a verse that is often quoted from the Quran to the Muslim, which says that the Jews and the Christians should have stood fast by their Torah and their Injeel, and they would be successful. If you put that all in its context what is under discussion is the fact that some of the Jews and Christians had complained that they were not successful, they did not have a Christian state. And they were told in the verses leading up to this in the Quran that the reason for that was they had ignored the rules and the advice giving to them in their books, the Torah and the Injeel. Saying: If they had done what Jesus said to do, they'd be today successful.

So, the Muslim does not expect there's any theology in there, whatever the gospel is, it's a bunch of advice and rules of conduct. It doesn't deal with subtle and convoluted definitions of the nature of God and a whole manufactured Greek vocabulary to describe all these various subtleties. And ironically enough, there are four books that go by the name Gospel, and the only one with any theology of any significance is the Gospel According to John. The irony is that's the only one of the four gospels that doesn't have the word Gospel in it anywhere. That is, if people would explain theology from the words of Jesus they have to quote from John, not from Matthew, Mark, and Luke which call themselves gospels or at least mention the gospel.

I know how the rest of the argument goes, I'm not trying to ridicule anybody, and I'm just trying to show you that I'm familiar with it. I've heard it many times. The documentation of the life of Jesus is usually cited as being a proof of the theological claims.

That is people will usually start by saying, "But look, the Jews who were right there with him, they understood him to claim divinity." So they did. The problem is, did they understand him correctly or not. His disciples didn't seem to know what he was talking about. We are all the way to the 16th chapter of Matthew, before Peter gives some kind of a theological statement, and Jesus congratulates him saying, "You didn't even know that until it was revealed." Evidently it was not very obvious what Jesus had been saying to that point.

But on the other hand, to the Jews every time he opened his mouth he was claiming to be God. It may well be that the Jews were misunderstanding him. And that is precisely the point of the 10th chapter of John. Where the Jews accused him of blasphemy, claiming equality with God, and the rest of the verses continue on to have Jesus go on and defuse the situation. To show them that if they listened more carefully to what it is he said - if they read there own scriptures more carefully - they'd see they have NO grounds for a claim of blasphemy.

SON OF GOD, SON OF THE DEVIL

He doesn't congratulate them on their insight - That they heard him right, it's too bad they don't like it. No, he goes back to show them that they cannot convict him according to anything he just said. Both the Jews and Jesus used the term son of God of themselves and one another. What did they mean? Did they both mean the same thing? Or did they mean differently? According to the 8th chapter of John, the Jews came to Jesus and said, "We are sons of God." He said, no, no, I'm the son of God, you're sons of the devil.

Well, why should the one be a great theological statement: "I'm the Son of God," capital "S", and, "You're sons of the devil" figuratively speaking, of course. Perhaps they were both talking about the same sorts of things, figuratively, at that time. In any case, as I said, the encouragement is to think these things through and there is a number of standard objections that are made. That is, if a person thinks too hard about these things he may be told, "If you are going so deeply into something you are forgetting something very important: the Bible is written for simple people."

Interestingly enough, the same people who say that really mean to tell me that your problem is you haven't consulted an expert. You see, on the one hand, you are told it is written for simple people, and in the same breath you're told the reason you don't understand it is because you don't know enough about it. You should go and ask this man, he studied it for years. Those are really quite contrary ideas.

TO THINK OR NOT TO THINK

Thinking will lead you astray people have often said. In fact, I've heard it said, "Thinking will lead you astray, I want you to think about that." Now, put that all together, you see, is the thinking going to lead us astray, that certainly is a subject for thought, right, that I might go astray, it's a tangled little knot, the common statement: This is a substitution of slogans for thinking. Another common statement is: "If you will surrender your own judgment, God will guide you." Well, maybe he will.

But maybe it works like this, maybe God says: "Surrender your own judgment, and I'll see to it that you go astray." That might be the way things work. That also makes a little more sense, to me. That is after all the view the scientists have, he says, "Set aside your personal preferences and use objectivity." That is keep your judgment when investigating something, don't be blinded by what you are sure must be the case or what you would LIKE to be the case. Set aside personal preferences. And that's such a good argument, such a good suggestion, that in fact it is used by some of the very people that I have the confrontation with. Their problem is they say, "Yes, set aside your personal preferences," but in the list of personal preferences they put using your personal judgment. "Your problem is you prefer to use your head. You should suspend your judgment."

THE GOD-MAN THING

The objective questions that at least I would suggest are maybe not the ones that people might expect. I think that most often a Christian feels he has a duty to convince the Muslim that Jesus is divine and the Muslim feels he has a duty to prove that he isn't. And that could be an endless discussion but I feel that's not a very worthwhile point to get into. I suggest that some of the problems become more apparent if the Muslim asks the Christian to prove the humanity of Jesus.

To say, whatever you say he was, I'll grant you that except for this one thing, prove to me that he was a man. How do you know he wasn't God and disguised like a man? Prove he was a man. What did he do that God can't do, that only a man can do? Prove he was a man. There's only one thing: What did he do that God can't, you have to be a man to do it. The Christian will tell you, "He died." See God can't do that. Only a man can do that. The problem then is that, that same death is supposed to be the saving act that man can't do only God can do. That is to say, if we crucify a man it won't save anybody from his or her sins, on the other hand you can't kill God, only a man can die.

As one Muslim put it, about 850 years ago, he said they have an idea about God, man, and a God-man. They'll tell you what we crucified is the God-man. A God-man - What it really comes down to is that God lived and the man died. That's not really crucifying a God-man. Anymore than if I tell you I had a sandwich for lunch I had a piece of cheese. A sandwich is bread and cheese.

To kill a God-man, but to say only the man died, not the God, then that is what happened, not the God-man thing. And these are not novel ideas; these are things appreciated by the mainstream of Christianity. There has always been a doctrine of Incarnation that's well defined, there's never been a defined doctrine of atonement, how exactly it's suppose to work - YOU DON'T FIND THAT EXPLAINED IN ANY ANCIENT OR MODERN DOCUMENT. You find a lot of talk about it but there is no creedal statement on that idea because it has never really been figured out - how it is supposed to work. I'm not claiming that proves it doesn't work, I'm just saying that it is still an open issue.

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