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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
11/1/2012 - Religious Interfaith - Article Ref: MI1210-5318
Number of comments: 4
By: Gary Miller
Mission Islam* -

HUMAN ACTION & SALVATION

I know that there is a great concern, and the Muslim who is pestered or annoyed by people who are anxious to have him come along to their church. He may feel annoyed but at the same time he has to appreciate that people may have a proper intention in all of this and that they are genuinely concerned. Their concern, though, is related to, often anyway getting someone to take an action, which brings about salvation. And there is an interesting point about salvation here, and human action. That is, suppose there is an act that is connected with salvation, a human act, and it has to do with a man being saved.

Well, according to the fundamentalist view, if there is such an act, and IT IS NECESSARY for salvation, then that same act cannot be sufficient for salvation. That is, if it is something that we must do, then it is, in itself, not enough for salvation. I'll explain why in a moment. Conversely, if there is an act which if you do it, IT IS ENOUGH to be saved, it is sufficient, then that same act is not necessary. That is, if it is enough then it is not required. It will do the job but so will something else: Don't NEED to do that thing.

The reason being that if there is a human act which is both necessary and sufficient for salvation, then you have a human act which is equivalent to salvation. That goes against at least one branch of Christianity in a basic tenet: There is nothing a man does that is equivalent to his salvation. But that is what you get when you have these two directions of the Aerial implication: It is necessary and sufficient. That means if and only if a man is saved, IF AND ONLY IF this or that means A is equivalent to B. It is a difficult position but it is a position that some have created for themselves.

APPRECIATING LIMITATIONS AND DUTIES

Salvation, as it happens, is not precisely the concern of the Muslim in the first place. That is, the Quran does not say anything about it: Salvation. It talks about men being lost but it draws as a contrast not that they are lost or they are saved. The contrast is that a man may well be lost or it maybe that he has gained something: He is successful to some extent, to varying degrees. He loses out completely or he gains something and maybe more than somebody else does. YOU LOSE OR YOU ARE SUCCESSFUL. It is not a question of black and white. IT IS NONE OR SOME, not all or none. So the Muslims' real concern is concerning his actions. He wants to appreciate his limitations and his duties. That's basically all.

It is interesting enough that it is the nature of proof that if something is impossible, it is theoretically, or in principle at least, subject to being proved. You can't always prove when something is possible. But if something is impossible that is always open to proof and it is always open to proof if something is necessary. You can't always prove that something is unnecessary. You can always demonstrate that something is necessary. So it is that it can always be established what it is a man cannot do and what it is he must do - His limitations and his duties. That is what the Muslim is trying to find out about. Not so much about how to get saved, he's trying to find out which things are a waste of time because they cannot be done and which are things that I cannot overlook, that I must do.

SUMMARY

Now to go back, in a kind of summary, I suppose there are two thoughts that came up here. I spent a lot of time, and maybe more then I should have, on the treatment of Scripture and how it is viewed. For the most part that is for the benefit of the Muslim. I tried to get across to the Muslim that not everybody who calls himself Christian has the same ideas about what the Bible does, what it is suppose to do. They are varying views on that.

It is one stream of Christianity that says the Bible is inerrant, "These are the words that God spoke." Even in the places where he said he didn't, I guess, because there are places like that. Paul said in one place: What you are about to read didn't come from God. There are those who say these are God's words precisely. The mainstream of Christianity doesn't go along with that.

When the apparent errors are cited the usual retreat is to say, "These are errors of transmission, that is, these mistakes were not there in the original manuscripts." Which might be true but we'll never know, will we? Since no one has the original manuscripts. It makes it a pretty empty claim to say I have a perfect book I just can't get my hands on a perfect copy. What good is this book if you don't know what used to be in it? It has not been so well preserved historically. At this point, the two streams of Christianity tend to meet because they will both say, "Yes but all these apparent errors do not touch on major doctrine in the first place." Personally, I disagree with that {Atonement being one issue}.

The mainstream of Christianity will try to tell the other branch the reason for that is the Bible, itself, doesn't talk very much about major doctrines. That's the reason why these verses that may have been miscopied don't touch on major doctrine because most of the Bible doesn't in the first place. That's what Martin Luther said about the Bible, that most of it is irrelevant. His basic philosophy was that unless a verse talks about a certain subject, his particular pet subject, he says that it is doubtful that is scripture. In his edition of the Bible, he took the books of James, Hebrews, and Revelations and put them in the back, like an appendix, because he said that they don't belong up here with the rest of the scripture. A hundred years later, they were moved back. The point is that the attitude that all of it is of equal value is an old and even fundamentalist position - well, they won't go along with that - to say not all of it speaks in the same way. It doesn't very often really touch on major doctrine. So the next step in this explanation is to say, "But we know that the doctrine has been transmitted historically correct because that is what the Bible is about, it is a record of a continuity of the Christian community." That is largely true but remember the original objection was that this document of historical continuity has suffered some problems in the continuity. It hasn't been that well translated.

Regarding thought, I was trying to encourage the idea of thinking about these things. There is just one final suggestion I would make there: Beware of a lot of things that pass for proof. Very often what people consider proof of something is a proof of something which is unreasonable by nature. That is, a person will tell you about a certain doctrine. You say that makes no sense. They'll tell you, yes, it is beyond reason and look, "I have proof that it is true!" That is self-contradictory.

If you produce a proof of something that is unreasonable, then something is wrong with your proof. The scientist who does a thought experiment in his mind, "If A is true then B is true, that would mean C and therefore D - and that's crazy! Wow, let me call the newspapers. I've proved a crazy thing." He doesn't do that. When he arrives at something that makes no sense, he goes back and thinks well I must have started with a wrong assumption or something is faulty with my argument. We don't rejoice at an unreasonable conclusion by process of reasoning. Something is wrong with the proof is the usual signal.

So those are some thoughts, and I'd actually be more interested in what you're thinking than what I'm thinking. If you have some questions or comments, don't be shy to speak up. Thank you for your time and attention, in any case. Don't do that. {Miller politely objects to APPLAUSE by a Christian audience of 40 or so people}

Questions & Answers

QUESTIONER1: Can we ask you questions not exactly on the Gospel but on...

DR MILLER: Sure

QUESTIONER1: In relationship to some words that we hear: Sunnis and Shi'ite. Like we understand Protestants and Catholics, so...

DR MILLER: Yes, it's not quite parallel to that, historically, those are really nicknames that were bestowed on people, I don't think people at least years ago deliberately told you, "I am Sunni or Shia or Wahabi" or something like that. Those are nicknames bestowed from outside. Just as I don't think the first protestant said, "I am protestant." That is a label that came on. That basically refers to different approaches to certain issues. The labels were unknown until some period of time after the time of the prophet I am saying, well, at least 250 years before people were using these kinds of things. And Shia just came from an Arabic word which means "party" like the Republican party, that sort of thing. It was kind of a nickname bestowed on people who claimed to historically belong to a certain party loyal to a certain man. Others put the emphasis on saying that the loyalty is not to a certain bloodline but to a certain code of behavior. That is basically the root meaning of Sunna, which has to do with characteristic behavior or habit or whatever. That is how these two nicknames came about: One said we want to follow the behavior of a certain group of people; and, the other group wanting to emphasize the line of descent of people. They are roughly divided 90% to 10%. Some of the issues that divide are much more important to a small group of people than they are to the bulk of individuals. That is to say, if you approached someone and said I take this position and I am against the position you take, chances are he doesn't know about either one of those positions. It is like a layman trying to debate the matters that Church councils take up. Usually they don't even know what it is they are talking about in the first place. Most of those issues are far removed from people, or if they have an idea of what those issues are, it maybe some simplistic view of one or the other favorite thing they carried over. I hope that's helpful.

DR MILLER: Yes (pointing to the next questioner)

QUESTIONER2: I was just curious how does a Muslim, how does he know that he has eternal life, what does a Muslim believe once he dies in sin?

DR MILLER: Well, as to exactly what happens to him, there are all kinds of stories about that, nobody really knows. MAYBE DEATH IS AS INTERESTING AS LIFE. It's like saying what's going to happen to this baby now that it is born (referencing an infant screaming and crying out in the audience)? What's going to happen now that this man has died may be a very complicated thing, too? The first part about what you are asking is how does he know about where he stands?

Look at it in this way, the Quran says that on the final judgment that the record of each man will be put in his hand. He knows by that record what the decision is what the verdict is. There are no surprises. It is not going to be the case where someone looks over his record and is thinking, "This looks pretty close, I hope the judge is in a good mood today." (Audience laughter) It's going to be very clear by the record.

So given that that is the case, anybody at any given moment should be able to stop and think, "What if I died right now? Am I ready or not?" The difference between that approach and the approach of some at least who would say, "I KNOW that my well being is looked after," is some of those who would say that, "I know that I am saved and a week from tomorrow I'll still be saved." Whereas the Muslim would say, "I am ready to die now, a week from tomorrow ask me a week from tomorrow." That is he knows what the situation is to now.


There is a confidence there I guess which the Muslim doesn't often talk about, there is the story of one of the men of 14 centuries ago, he was about to be executed, in fact crucified, by the people in Mecca, Hubaibe (a.s.), I am thinking of. The people who were about to kill him said, "You can have a moment to make some prayers if your want." So he prayed very quickly and then he came back, "I would have prayed longer but you would think that I was stalling and I was afraid, and I am not, let's get on with it, I shortened my prayer." So he was quite confident of what the situation was at that point. That is distinctly a possibility. It is just a matter of being honest with yourself, to say why have I done what it is that I've done, what are my intentions, what brought me to here. Is it good or is it bad? That's something you know from the inside.

QUESTIONER2: So how do you know the things that you've done throughout your life whether God thinks they're good enough for Him? I'm saying you appear before Him when you die, how do you know that it is good enough?

DR MILLER: It is not a question precisely of what is done, it is a question of intentions. That is, it is said that if a man made up his mind to do a good thing and he got up to leave the house to go do it and fell and broke his neck and died, the credit is his as though he did it. Because what matters is that he was of that frame of mind that he was intending to do that. Whereas if a man made up his mind to do a bad thing, and he broke his neck on the way, he has committed no crime, too bad that he was in that state of mind - but he has committed no crime. In the third case, if a man made up his mind to do a bad thing and then changes his mind he has credit for changing his mind.

You see it is a matter of the intention, what is the frame of mind that you are in, NOT NECESSARILY THE VALUE OF YOUR ACTS. The good things that people do have a certain value but they really don't add up to anything like the compensation that comes back. As the one verse says, The punishment that men receive is exactly equal to the wrong done but the reward they receive is 10 times greater than any good they've actually ever done. That using the figure 10 apparently figuratively, just to say penalties correspond with crimes, but rewards are much greater than any particular good thing that was done.

QUESTIONER2: Well, my point would be, how do you know that your intentions are good enough?

DR MILLER: Well, it's a matter of being perfectly honest with yourself. That is all and that takes practice.

QUESTIONER2: How do you know that what you intend as good is good in His Sight?

DR MILLER: Well, it sounds like, and I'm not trying to make fun or anything, but that's a problem sometimes psychologists talk about called "scruples." Those are people who are paranoid about their own motivation. It is always good to ask why do I do this, and you've got to be honest with yourself, but you drive yourself insane if you are continually trying to accuse yourself of wrong doing. To think back, "When I was six years old, I remember my mother picked me up. Was I sexually aroused?" That is mentally ill but people can get into that state of mind if they are always doubting what was my intention. It good to on a regular basis to ask yourself why do I really want to do this thing, but if you are convinced that, "I'll never know," then you are losing your mind. If you are convinced that you'll never know your own mind, I think you've lost it.

QUESTIONER2: The point I'm trying to make is that you will never know.

DR MILLER: I disagree one hundred percent. You are saying a man will never know his own intentions and I saying that is should be an easy thing to do.

QUESTIONER2: The point is you will never know.

DR MILLER: Okay, then you have your opinion and I have mine. I think it is rather easy to know your own intentions.

QUESTIONER3: I think I understand his question. I'm not trying to reword it but what I'm trying to think of is the comparison of two people. If your intention is to do one thing: to wear a coat and tie because you think it's a good thing to do; and, my intention was to not wear a coat and tie, cause I didn't think it was necessary. In God's Eyes are your intentions better than mine or in God's Eyes is each person's good intentions, is there a standard of good intentions or does each person do the best they can do according to their own scruples?

DR MILLER: Well, I suppose maybe what you're, that's a complex question in this sense. However I answer it, I'm agreeing with something that you've wrapped up in a question with which I disagree. You've made it sound as though different people have different scruples, and that is basically what I disagree with. On the inside of every person is the same standard. The Quran says that men are made of one sort of thing, they have one kind of a nature, that is human nature. Men are not produced in such a way that some are a little more careful than others, they get to be that way but they didn't start out that way. They all have the same standards. If people develop different standards it is precisely because of that, they have developed those different standards.

QUESTIONER3: Yeah, so you're saying that the essence of human would be an across the board, everyone has the same...

DR MILLER: It should be the same

QUESTIONER3: I didn't hear you say that earlier.

DR MILLER: I didn't, it's my fault.

QUESTIONER4: I really appreciate the way you've presented yourself, and your obvious intelligence, and your competence in scripture. And I appreciate the gentle approach that you've taken both toward Christians and Moslems.

Do you believe that Muhammad taught that God gave the Law to Moses?

DR MILLER: See that's like one of the questions that are asked when you're put in a double bind of answer yes or no that eliminates any qualification as to the terminology that is used. And you say, "The Law" given to Moses. That He gave Moses a law I have no doubt. Yes, that is basically the Muslim position. That he gave Moses "THE" Law, which you can pick up from your public library, is another question.

QUESTIONER4: The only Law that we have of Moses goes back to the Dead Sea Scrolls which is about 200 years before Christ. There is nothing older than that and they have essentially agreed with the ones we had before that which were about a 1000 years after, maybe I should say, Jesus. Of course, Muhammad called Jesus Messiah as you know but he didn't mean what Christians mean, obviously. The reason I'm asking is that the center of the Mosaic Law was blood sacrifice. And in Leviticus 17 it says that without blood sacrifice there couldn't be atonement made for the soul. And it carries over into the Christian New Testament that there is a blood sacrifice made to make atonement for the soul, which is, of course, the blood of Christ. May I read a passage from scripture to support what I'm saying?

DR MILLER: Go ahead, if it is not that long.

QUESTIONER4: It says, "For all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God." That just means that every human being has sinned. And I don't believe that there is a person in here who thinks they haven't. "Being justified freely by His Grace through the Redemption that is in Christ Jesus who God has sent forth to be a propitiation." That's a way of reconciling, an atonement. "Through faith in his blood to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins of their past through the forbearance of God."

So the same system of atonement, the reason I'm saying this is because you said that the system of atonement is not worked out very clearly. The same system of atonement applies to the New Testament scripture as in the Old, that is blood sacrifice. That man has sinned and God demands blood in the Old Testament it is animal sacrifice; in the New Testament it's the blood of Christ.

DR MILLER: Sorry, you had a hard time trying to get that out. I didn't know that's what you were getting at. The problem is that you should be arguing with the rabbi who'll tell you that is not so. I'm always telling people that but they have no reason to believe me, I guess.

I had the good fortune a couple of years ago at Emory University in Atlanta when there was a rabbi in the front row. This same point came up and I mentioned the fact is the Jews have NEVER believed in blood sacrifice actually paying the penalty for sins. If you don't believe me, ask the rabbi. He stood up, put his thumbs in his suspenders, he said, "The man is quite right!" They do not believe it, and I suggest as a reference in the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, the article, "Redemption." It points out that what you're talking about, the blood sacrifice actually paying for atonement, is a concept COMPLETELY UNKNOWN to the Jews.

That there were blood sacrifices, for sure, but what they were supposed to do is not the same kind of thing as orthodox Christian doctrine talks about. It relates to such places as the 31st chapter of Jeremiah. You find it in some of the Minor Prophets, the twelve so called Minor Prophets, where it is pointed out that, for example, and it was said that Israel was ransomed from Egypt. The point is made it doesn't mean that they were paid for. Even though the language reads like that.

Instead of trying to convince you of all that, I would say go and ask the rabbi if that is so. Look it up in the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia or any other reference, on Redemption, where it will show you that the Christian idea does not correspond to the Jewish idea, according to the Jews. They've been using the same books longer. It's a point that the Quran makes, for that matter, it says that the Jews and Christians use some of the same material and yet they disagree. This exhibits a difficulty: At least one of them is mistaken on this issue or various other issues.

As to what these verses themselves may mean when blood sacrifice is talked about in a Christian portion of scripture, there's room for disagreement on positions. The Universalists and others, for example, said Jesus spoke figuratively about an awful lot of things and it may be unjust to take him figuratively here and literally there. He said that unless a grain of corn dies it won't grow, he didn't really mean die, he means it goes into the ground. So maybe when he said I'm going to die he meant something like that and not literally die. It was Paul who said, "I die every day." He didn't mean I really drop dead everyday and then I get up. He meant something else.

The possibility has been there, it's not a popular Christian position, but the same words are open to other meanings by other people. I'm not even saying that they're right but I'm saying this thing is not so unambiguous as it is sometimes portrayed. It is still very much an open issue.

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