By Beth Grove Today I sat across from my savvy, experienced radio interviewer discussing on air to thousands listening across the country about the intriguing practice of bold public engagement with Islam. We discussed the tensions between debate and friendship, debate in the context of friendship, debate with those who consider us ‘enemies’. That tightrope […]
Tag Archives | Christianity
Apologetic Paper (Jay Smith) – May 1995
- Maccoby: Jesus was a Pharisee, Paul was a Sadducee
- Response to Maccoby
- Jesus v. Paul
- Paul was not the first
- Seeming Contradictions Between Jesus and Paul
An ongoing problem for Christians who argue or discuss with Muslims at Speaker’s Corner is that of the authority for our beliefs. Many of the best references to support the theology which we hold to and support in our conversations are gleaned from the epistles of Paul. Yet we continually find our arguments rejected outright by Muslims because they consider Paul’s letters to be untrustworthy and therefore non-authoritative.
Christianity, they go on to say, was founded by Paul and not by Jesus. Much of what we believe, they continue, was added to later on by Paul and his followers, in direct contradiction to Jesus’s teachings.
Most of their criticisms on this point, interestingly, do not come from research they have undertaken, but is borrowed from recent polemical writers within the Jewish community, particularly the writings of Dr. Hyam Maccoby, who teaches here in London.
B: Maccoby: Jesus was a Pharisee, Paul was a Sadducee
According to Hyam Maccoby, Paul was not a Pharisee, nor even a Jew, but a gentile proselyte to Judaism. Maccoby’s source for his material is the discredited Christian writer Epiphanius, an Ebionite who wrote 3 centuries after the fact. Paul, according to Maccoby, failed in becoming a Pharisee, and so allied himself to the Sadducees and the High Priest, two groups who enjoyed their privileged status under Roman occupation, and so were in conflict with the Pharisees, who wished to be rid of the Roman oppressors.
Maccoby believes that it was due to a near nervous breakdown that Paul split from this group and formed a new religion, taking ideas such as baptism, the eucharist, christology, the Holy Spirit, and eschatology and melded them with Jewish sacred history, Gnosticism, and the pagan mystery religions.
Jesus, on the other hand, according to Maccoby, taught beliefs which are quite common to Jewish Pharisaical teaching. He was a figure within Judaism and so would not have accepted his own divinity. This, Maccoby says, is clear from the first three Synoptic gospels, but not John, which was written much later, after the evolution of this theology by the early Christians led by Paul.
Maccoby continues by asserting that Jesus never regarded himself as a sacrifice for humanity, a belief which Maccoby contends arose after his death, as it was not part of Jewish theology.
Yet, Maccoby does admit that creating a divine character for Jesus has Jewish roots. Elijah and Enoch were both taken up to heaven, which transcended other human experiences. This well- known Biblical event, he feels, could be the stepping stone to the belief of the divinity of a person who then takes on the divine qualities of God.
There is no root in Judaism, however, for the sacrifice of the divine figure. Jews never worshipped the allegorical concept of God’s divine wisdom as found in the book of Proverbs. And nowhere, Maccoby maintains, did Jesus ever make a claim of deity, calling himself instead the Messiah, a title which he maintains was political and which was quite common in those days. In fact, Maccoby believes that much of Jesus’s teachings were also political in nature, and it was for this reason that he was finally put to death. Those passages which do point to Jesus’ spiritual nature were added later, he says, by Paul and his disciples.
Along those same lines, Maccoby states that Jesus did not wish to abrogate Judaism, but was only in conflict with certain Jewish figures, which is normal within Jewish circles. He neither abrogated the Torah nor reformed it, but interpreted it, and in ways not unlike the Pharisees. For instance, curing sick people on the sabbath is not forbidden by the Mishnah nor the Talmud, which are both Pharisaic writings.
Maccoby believes that the ideas attributed to Jesus would have appalled him, had he known about them, therefore they could only have been attributed to him after his death. The gospels were written 40 years and later after the death of Jesus, thus Maccoby contends that there was plenty of time for these theological ideas to evolve within the Christian community.
C: Response to Maccoby
In response to the above claims by Hyam Maccoby, we need not go into great detail except to point out from the outset that much of Maccoby’s material is derived from the Ebionite tradition, a tradition which was first of all proposed three hundred years later than the subject in question, and secondly, a tradition which acknowledged its hostility to Paul and his beliefs even at that time. It is inexcusable to rely on material for supposedly truthful information about a person or movement which is not only distant from the source, but also the avowed enemy of that person or movement. Would we go to Serbian generals to ascertain the facts of the Bosnia conflict today? This is what Maccoby has done in his work.
To divorce Jesus from the personal claims which he makes in the gospels puts into question his whole ministry and the amazing impact which he had on those who followed him. It also makes the book of Acts look totally worthless, as the church which evolved from the ministry of Jesus was completely dependant on the person and claims of Jesus as saviour.
Concerning the contention that Paul changed the gospels later on, it is unthinkable that an invention of Paul, who was not one of the Twelve and whose apostolic credentials were so often questioned, could succeed in becoming a part of the narratives of the Synoptic Gospels. “It staggers belief that he could have successfully foisted his innovation… on the church at large” (Hunter).
To say that it was Paul who created the view of Jesus as deity is to reject the christology of the Jerusalem church and the evidence of Jesus’s deity found in the book of Acts. Of key importance is Peter’s statement that Jesus has been raised to God’s right hand, from which he has poured forth the Holy Spirit, and has been made both kyrios and christos (Acts 2:33-36). Numerous titles of deity were attributed to him, such as: Messiah (Acts 3:20f), Servant of God (Acts 3:13,26; 4:27), the promised Prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22; 7:37), the Prince of Life (Acts 3:15; 5:31), the Holy and Righteous One, and the “stone” of prophecy (taken from Psalm 118:22), rejected, but now made the head of the corner (Acts 4:11). These all predate the more developed delineation of Jesus as deity expounded by Paul.
Muslims who use Maccoby’s material to substantiate their claim that Paul is not authoritative would do well to first understand the agenda behind Maccoby’s criticism. As a Jew Maccoby concludes that “If Paul was the creator of the Christian myth, he was also the creator of the anti-Semitism which has been inseparable from that myth.” It is for this reason that he tries to distant Paul from a Jewish background, and thereby instil upon him the guilt for all anti-Semitic undertakings which have been evidenced in the history of the church.
Paul was never anti-Semitic, but he was anti-Judaism (having theological disagreement with Judaism). Rather then creating a heresy out of Judaism, as Maccoby suggests, it is quite evident that Paul would never have regarded himself as having ceased to be a Jew or as having left Judaism for a new religion. He believed that his new faith was the fulfilment of the promises to the patriarchs and he accordingly would have thought of himself as believing in what properly understood was the culmination of Judaism.
This, however, is an argument for Jews to contend with, and not Muslims. They would do better to compare the material found in the Gospels with the writings of Paul, rather then race around trying to borrow polemical data from an arena which has little to concern them, and which they really don’t understand. So it is to that area which we will now go.
D: Jesus v. Paul
Muslims believe that the Gospels are diametrically opposed to the material found in the letters of Paul. To support their assertions they point to many supposed “contradictions” between that which Jesus taught and what Paul wrote, maintaining that these prove the message of Jesus, a true Jewish Pharisee, was not the same as that of Paul’s.
These are indeed claims which are difficult to take seriously, yet, they demand an answer, nonetheless. For without the authority and authorship of Jesus, Christianity simply would fall apart. If one could show that Jesus brought a different message then Paul, then indeed there would be room for concern.
Upon closer scrutiny of the scriptures, however, we find that Jesus and Paul are not at all in contradiction with one another, and that most of what Paul claims has already been stated before by Jesus and the other disciples, though in a different way. Indeed, what is clear is that Paul was not the founder of Christianity, but its greatest expounder.
D1: Paul was not the first
So where did he get his teaching from? Paul answers that question clearly in Galatians 1:11-12, where he states, “the gospel I preach is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ”.
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 he speaks of receiving from the Lord that which he passes on to them, the Gospel (see also 1 Corinthians 11:23). He carefully points out that these are not things which he invented.
Did Paul begin Christianity in a void? If so, his beliefs couldn’t have been there beforehand. Yet, in the book of Acts, Peter, one of Jesus’s closest disciples for three years, addresses the gospel, speaking and witnessing the fact of Jesus, his death and resurrection in Acts 2. He continues this witness in Acts 3 and 4, long before Paul even comes onto the scene.
In fact, Paul doesn’t enter into the picture until Acts 7, where he witnesses the stoning of Stephen, and then becomes the persecutor of those who were establishing the church. He admits to putting many saints in prison, and casting the vote for their death (Acts 26:9-11); and even tried to destroy the church (Galatians 1).
How can someone become the persecutor of a religion which he is the founder of? If he founded a religion, it couldn’t have been there beforehand.
D2: Seeming Contradictions Between Jesus and Paul
D2i: God’s Word (Logos)
What about Paul’s teachings? Is it contradictory to that of Jesus? Muslims think so. Take the case of God’s word. Muslims try to show that Paul preached a religion based on faith in Jesus Christ, whereas Jesus contradicted this by preaching a religion based on following the law of Moses. “The word made flesh and dwelt among us,” the idea of Jesus being divine, being God’s word himself, and becoming flesh, according to Muslims, could not have come from Jesus, but was invented by Paul. Proof of this, they say, is found in John 12 where Jesus was told what to speak by God, so it could not have been God’s word.
But it was John, a disciple of Jesus for three years, who heard everything that Jesus said and did, who derived this concept of Logos. The idea is not even mentioned in any of Paul’s writings! How could he have invented it?
D2ii: Two Covenants
Let’s take another accusation levelled against Paul. In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus says, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets”. Later, Paul says that Jesus had come to abolish the Law and Prophets (Colossians 2:14). Muslims say Paul is contradicting Jesus here. But is he?
According to the Christian scriptures there were two covenants: a) the law of Moses (made up of legal or moral laws as well as ceremonial or ritual laws), and b) the new covenant, which came through Jesus Christ. What Paul is referring to when he says the old law is abolished, are the ceremonial and ritualistic laws which were for the Jews alone (Colossians 2:13- 15). No Syrian or Arab or any other gentile was commanded to keep these laws. Only the Jews were, as it made them distinct from all other people, as the chosen of God. What was abolished were the ceremonial laws which excluded the gentiles from being the people of God. The moral law still holds. Yet, one can be forgiven, if they repent.
Paul and Jesus are not contradicting one another. Jesus was establishing the Moral law in Matthew 5:17. One needs to continue reading from verse 21 and following to see that He then goes on to delineate what those moral laws are.
D2iii: Atonement? The Prodigal Son
The real issue here is whether salvation is attained by keeping the law or by the justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone. As an example, Muslims erroneously point to Jesus’s teaching on the Prodigal Son, who was forgiven because of his repentance. They correctly maintain that there is no teaching of atonement here.
Paul, however, says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by a gift. This view of the atonement, they feel, contradicts the teaching of Jesus. But does it?
Consider: all believers are children, and God is their father. No other religion in the world depicts God as father. Islam has 99 names for God, but the name of Father is not one of them. In Islam, believers can only come to God as servants (“att”), which parallels Old Testament teaching.
It is Jesus who introduces God as our father. If God is our father, someone has to be a child. This is the thrust of the Prodigal Son story. The son was not a servant but the man’s son. He had status. The reason why the father accepted him was not out of kindness, but because the man was his father. In Galatians 4:4-6, God sent his son, born under the law so that we might receive the full rights of sons. Since we are sons, we can now call him Abba, Father.
Where, if not in the story of the Prodigal son, did the belief of the atonement originate? Consider the story of the last supper found in Matthew 26, Mark 14 and Luke 22, all independent of Paul (Mark’s source was Peter). Jesus said the bread was his body, and the wine his blood. How much more plain can you get? That is atonement. Forgiveness comes, thus, through the shedding of his blood. Yet, all Jesus was doing was to confirm something which was there from the beginning, from the story of Cain and Abel, where one sacrifice was accepted and the other rejected. Cain’s sacrifice was from his own work, that which he had grown, but Abel offered the blood of the lamb as the hope of his salvation.
“Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.” This principle is found right through the Old Testament. No Jew ever believed that he could attain the forgiveness of sin just by asking for it (see Exodus and Leviticus to see the many sacrifices ordered by God for this very purpose).
Thus, Jesus was now saying that forgiveness could only come through his own blood. Matthew 20:28, John 6:51; and John 10:11 all reveal Jesus speaking of the need for a blood sacrifice, specifically, his blood sacrificed.
This is a point completely lost to Muslims, even though they continue the tradition of sacrificing a goat during the time of Id, though the meaning has been changed to that of remembrance for what Abraham had done earlier. It always puzzles me why Muslims never question the significance for Abraham’s sacrifice. Is it no wonder then why they find the idea of atonement so objectionable.
In Ephesians 2:8-10, Paul speaks of salvation by faith, but follows it up with the need to do good works. There is no denial here of good works.
Jesus also speaks of salvation by faith in John 3:14-15. Salvation, thus, comes through faith in Jesus Christ, so that we can receive the spirit of Christ, which then leads us to do good works. Most people want to separate the two ideas, and make them sound contradictory. Yet Paul and Jesus taught both.
D2iv: Inclusive v. Exclusive Gospel
There are other areas of contention between Jesus and Paul which the Muslims like to point to. Jesus, they maintain, says that the gospel must only go to the Jews, while Paul says that the gospel must go to all people. Yet, the last thing Jesus said before he left the earth was, “to go into the whole world and preach the gospel, making disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The issue here comes back to the old and new covenant again. Under the old covenant only the Jews were considered. That old covenant came to an end the night Jesus broke the bread and offered the wine.
Ironically, it was Peter and not Paul who took the gospel to the gentiles first, to Cornelius, before Paul (Acts 10).
D3: Why didn’t Jesus call Himself a Christian?
Muslims ask that if Jesus was the founder of Christianity, then where does he refer to himself as a Christian? The point is entirely missed here. Jesus is the Lord of the Christians, not a Christian himself. He is the Christ, acknowledged in Islam as “al-Massihu Issa” (Christ of the Messiah, Issa). The word Christian was not even around during the time of Jesus. In fact the early Christians didn’t use this term. They called themselves the Followers of the “Way.” It was the followers of Jesus who were called Christians for the first time at Antioch, in Acts.
D4: Later changes made by Paul
One of the finest proofs that Jesus founded Christianity comes from these similarities found between the Gospels and Paul’s writings which we have just referred to. Christianity basically has two trends or sources from which it derives:
- the first are the writings of the disciples, and
- the second is Paul’s writings.
The disciples are independent of Paul’s writings. They use different expressions, yet they all teach the same ideas about Christ. Where, then, did the disciples get their ideas? They couldn’t have borrowed it from Paul, as they preceded him. Obviously it came from Jesus himself.
Could, as Muslims claim, Paul have misled all of Jesus’s disciples later on? Could he have taken their writings and changed them, so that they coincided with his own? Outside the fact that we have no evidence for earlier writings which may have differed from what is in our possession today, it is incredulous to believe that Paul would want or even dare to conspire against all the other disciples, and change that which they had given their lives to uphold.
Furthermore, John outlived Paul, and Peter lived another 30 years after Jesus. They were there during all of Paul’s teaching. If Paul were the founder of Christianity, how did he influence all of Jesus’s disciples, without either Peter or John or the other disciples who had been with Jesus knowing about it, or objecting to it?
In Galatians 2, we read that the disciples were suspicious of Paul because he had persecuted them. But when they heard his gospel, they told him to go and preach the same gospel to the gentiles. Why would they welcome him as one of them if he was preaching something contrary to what they were preaching?
One can always ask, “Who founded Christianity, Jesus or Paul”, or who founded Islam, “Muhammad or Umar”, or who founded Judaism, “Moses or Joshua”, or who founded Buddhism, “Buddha or Siddharta?” Yet, why is it always Christianity which is labelled with this question?
It seems so grossly unlikely that a religion which is focused so uniquely on Jesus, could or should be founded by someone else. All adherents would contend that their religion was founded by God. Perhaps it would be more correct to assert that it was Moses who introduced Judaism, and Muhammad who introduced Islam, Confucius who introduced Confucianism, and Jesus who introduced Christianity.
What so many Muslims miss is the sheer depth of theology in Paul’s writings, much of which couldn’t have been made up or simply borrowed. For instance, the scriptures speak of the unity of God. Thus, we are monotheists, and we have a complex view of God’s monotheism. We believe that God is a triune God; the very word tri-une implies unity. Perhaps Muslims find the doctrine hard to understand; so do most Christians. One would not expect God’s essence to be easily explained. But nonetheless it is true, as we see it written all over the pages of scripture.
We need to consider, however, that if Paul was the founder of Christianity, then certainly he should have diverted from this doctrine. Yet, he doesn’t, but continues to say the same thing. “A mediator” he writes in Galatians 3:20 “does not represent just one, but God is one.” We find this also in Romans 3, and every Christian believes it.
Indeed, Jesus is the founder of Christianity. If the objectionable material (the personal claims of Jesus) are rejected, the teaching of Jesus that remains in the Gospels, not to mention his deeds, become exceedingly difficult to account for and nearly impossible to understand. All that Jesus founded, Paul and Peter and the others merely expounded. Jesus and Paul both taught about: the atonement, the trinity, the church, salvation by faith, the forgiveness of sins through the shedding of his blood, that Jesus was the bread of life which we had to depend on for salvation, and that Jesus was the good shepherd who laid down his life for us.
Jesus, the founder, laid down his life that you might live. Paul, the expounder, laid down his life that you might hear. Are we willing to lay down our lives that others can hear and live as well?
Christian Misconceptions About Islam and Muslim Misconceptions About Christianity
All of us know the personal hurt of being misunderstood. It is all the more tragic when misunderstandings and misconceptions are elevated to national and cultural levels extending the hurt to millions. In these days of increased travel and communication we have the opportunity of diminishing misconceptions that have plagued us, sometimes for centuries. We have the opportunity to talk to and listen to each other as never before. Let us not squander this opportunity. I hope my contribution today will be a small part of overcoming some of the many misconceptions that have arisen between Muslims and Christians.
To truly understand each other we must talk and listen with as much fairness and objectivity as we can muster. It is too easy to yield to prejudice when we are confronted with something difficult to understand or something contrary to what we expect or contrary to what we want to believe. Such prejudice does no one any good. It only reinforces inaccurate stereotypes and prolongs and deepens misconceptions. Modern science at its best strives to overcome ignorance and misunderstanding with impartial research. We would do well to adopt this attitude of impartiality toward the more difficult issues that science cannot address that are addressed by our faiths.
This is a short attempt to address some of the major misconceptions between Muslims and Christians about each other and each others’ religions. I prefer to say that the misconceptions are between Christians and Muslims rather than between Islam and Christianity because fundamentally, misunderstandings occur between people, not systems of belief.
I. Christian misconceptions about Islam.
These are things those of us who are Christians need to take to heart.
A. Many Christians see all Muslims as extremists, terrorists, or intolerant.
There is a tendency to see all Muslims as religious fanatics instead of normal, pious people. I think there are three main reasons for this.
- Many Christians believe media bias which often shows extremism. They don’t realize that they are being given an incomplete picture. Many are often ignorant of the variety within Islam that there are peaceful groups as well as violent ones, spiritually motivated groups as well as politically motivated ones.
- Many Christians don’t understand the political side of Islam. Christians tend to be ignorant of Muhammad’s role as political ruler in Medina and the enormous amount of teaching and law in the Qur’an and Islam regarding politics. Many tend to simplistically look at Muhammad through the example of Jesus who did not have a political agenda.
- Although Jesus grew up under an oppressive imperialistic power, Western Christians don’t know the experience of being dominated by a another political or economic power. Note I have said Western Christians and not Middle Eastern, African, Eastern European, and Chinese Christians to name a few. Western Christians find it hard to appreciate the hurt much of the West’s involvement in the Middle East has caused Muslims. They don’t understand the frustration that fuels much of the violence the extremists commit. Western Christians often don’t understand poverty and oppression because their lives have been relatively free from injustice and want.
These are the reasons why I think Christians often make unfair generalisations as to what Muslims are like.
B. Many Christians don’t understand Muhammad’s place in Islam, and it leads them to two kinds of misconception concerning Muhammad.
- Often Christians out of ignorance tend to think that Muhammad holds the same general place in Islam that Jesus holds in Christianity. They don’t realize that Muslims don’t see Islam as “Mohammed’s” religion, that is, a religion that Muhammad began. Muslims see Islam as the basic religion that all prophets proclaimed, Muhammad happening to be the last prophet. This is why the term “Mohammedanism” is offensive to Muslims and is more properly replaced with “Islam”. The misconception here is over-estimating the importance of Muhammad to Muslims in the religion of Islam, almost believing they worship him.
- On the other hand, Christians also undersestimate what Muhammad means to Muslims. This is seen in that many Christians don’t understand the current attitude toward Muhammad as expressed in the Salmon Rushdie affair. While Muslims don’t worship Muhammad, Christians often don’t understand the place of affection and devotion he does have so that they understand the hurt defaming remarks cause. Muslims see Muhammad as the last and greatest of the prophets and so accord him the greatest amount of respect that they give to any man. It is like the hurt Christians feel when they hear Jesus called “just a good teacher”, “just a man”, or even “just a prophet”. To Christians, Jesus is so much more, and to call Him something less is blasphemy. Christians need to understand the emotions involved in others’ beliefs and be sensitive to Muslims.
C. Many Christians have misconceptions about the roles of politics and religion in Islam.
- Christians can tend to believe that Islam is exclusively spread by the sword. They are often ignorant of world history that shows that much of Islam’s spread in the world was the result of traders and Muslim Sufi missionaries. This is especially true for Islam’s spread in Asia. Western Christians tend to know more about the wars with Islam that occured around the Mediterannean and in Europe.
- Also, many Christians are ignorant of the political nature of Islam so they think it should not be involved in politics today. Throughout history Islam has seen political means as being appropriate for accomplishing the spread of the religion since the religion of Islam is meant to embrace the whole of life. Christians often don’t realize that the Qur’an and Islamic law embrace not only personal religion but family law, civil law, and criminal law.
- Christians also forget that for much of the history of Christianity, the Church shared this view that it was to be intimately involved in politics. The Church has for much of its history seen the sword of political authority as a necessary and proper support for its position. Only in recent years has this expectation been overturned .
D. Many Christians see Islamic culture as backward and unrefined.
- Christians are often ignorant of Islam’s rich and full cultural heritage. They don’t know that Muslims have extensive bodies of literature in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. They don’t know that Islam has a long and full history in architecture, calligraphy, poetry, philosophy and science. This leads to Christians not understanding why Muslims often take more pride in their Islamic cultural heritage than in the cultural achievements of the West.
- Like the West in general, Christians often tend to judge other nations in terms technological progress, or they slip into simple prejudice at something that they don’t understand.
- Christians are often ignorant of the influences Islam has had on our own culture. They don’t realize that our knowledge of Platonic and Aristotelean philosophy came through Arabic translations of these texts. Many are ignorant of the debates and discussions in theology that took place between Islamic and Christian scholars for hundereds of years. They don’t realize that all of our sciences and especially mathmatics, medicine and astronomy were influenced by Medieval Islamic books and research. Many don’t realize that all of our fine arts have been profoundly influenced by Islamic fine arts, from painting and literature to architecture and music. In general, many Christians are ignorant of the long and varied history of contact and influence between Islam and Christianity.
These are just some of many areas where Christians need to become better informed concerning Islam.
II. Muslims’ misconceptions about Christianity.
Please accept this as an outsider’s view. These are misconceptions I have encountered personally.
A. Many Muslims view all Westerners as Christians.
- Because culture and religion are so intertwined in Islam, I think Muslims have a hard time realizing that all Westerners are not Christians. The West has a Christian cultural heritage, but in the main our culture and society have left that heritage to pursue a more secular course. Religion in the West has been moved out of public life to be a mostly private affair. Crime, immorality, drug abuse, and drunkenness are not things that Christianity promotes or allows. It is adamently opposed to them for the sins that they are in themselves, and for the hurt and tragedy they foster.
- Many Muslims have a hard time understanding that most countries in the West do not allow the Church to have dominant political power. The limiting of the Church’s power is a reflection of the biblical teaching that coercion and true religion do not go together. Muslims tend to confuse Jesus with Muhammad and think that He left a law and political agenda similar to Muhammad’s. Jesus didn’t do these things. The law He left is the Law of love summed up by what is called the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what youwould have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 7:12, NIV). It is this teaching, which still operates to a great degree in the West, that is behind people being allowed to freedom of speech, even to the degree where Muhammad is insulted in The Satanic Verses, and Jesus is degraded in The Last Temptation of Christ. This alsocontributes to why the West views it as wrong for even blasphemers to be injured or killed. Christians are also taught to love their enemies and pray for their repentence.
- Also, Muslims tend to misunderstand that, according to the Bible, becoming a Christian is primarily a personal decision, not a cultural or family identity. No one is born a Christian. Everyone must decide for themselves that they will trust in Jesus’ death for them on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) A culture becomes “Christian” only secondarily after many people choose Christ and obey His teachings, and it affects the way they live.
B. Many Muslims view the basic message of Christianity and Islam as the same, that in essence they teach the same thing.
- I appreciate the tolerance that this sentiment is trying to express. But it is not fair to Christianity or Islam to say they teach essentially the same thing. Islam claims to be the final religion. This is the claim of the Qur’an itself (Surah 61:9, “As-Saff” or “The Ranks”): “He it is who hath sent His messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may makeit conqueror of all religion however much idolaters may be averse.” (Pickthall’s translation) Likewise, Jesus claims to be the only way to the Father, and His teachings the most authoritative statements of truth given by God to mankind (John 14:6): “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.”(NIV)
- Such statements, though well intended, only confuse the issue of truth. In order for both Islam and Christianity to be true at the same time, then major parts of each would have to be viewed as wrong. For instance, Islam holds that sincere repentence is enough for God to grant a person forgiveness. Christianity holds that repentence is not enough but must be united with trust in the atoning death of Christ. These are very different views. They involve differing views of the nature of sin, of God’s character, and of forgiveness. Neither side can yield its view without giving up essential foundational doctrines.
C. Many Muslims assume that the Bible has been corrupted, that is, that it’s content and meaning have been intentionally and radically changed.
Most Muslims I have talked to are convinced that the Bible has been corrupted so much that it cannot be trusted. This matter in itself is of such great importance that it should not be treated lightly by anyone but should be searched out with care and objectivity. The Bible and the Qur’an each claim for themselves to contain the truth that will lead to eternal life. Yet they donot agree with each other. Here are four issues that are commonly misunderstood by Muslims concerning the Bible:
- The existence of so many different translations of the Bible means that there are many different versions of the Bible, meaning different Bibles. This is completely wrong. There is only one Bible, in the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. There are many different translations of this one book because of the nature of language. Language changes, so translations need to reflect these changes. Language is also rich in meaning. Additional translations bring out nuances that might be missing in others. The basic meaning in all these translations is the same. This situation is the same as is found with English and Urdu translations of the Qur’an. There are many different translations of the same book. Also, there has never been a hesitation in Christianity to translate the Scriptures. The original languages have never been regarded as divine languages defying translation. The Bible presents that revelation can be adequately conveyed in human languages. Revelation is meant to be understood, loved, and obeyed (Deut. 30:11-14). That is why Christians take so many pains to see the Bible translated and translated accurately.
- It is often believed that since there are four gospels in the New Testament that there was originally one which the Church corrupted. There is no historical evidence that this was ever the case. There is no evidence that Jesus left a book to His disciples called “the Gospel.” In fact, Jesus promised, not to leave a book, but to guide the disciples into all the truth as they wrote of Him. Jesus left the task of recording Scripture to His disciples whom He would guide by the Holy Spirit (John 14:25,26; 15:26,27).
- It is often remarked about the Bible that since there are variations in the manuscripts that the text must be corrupt. I have found that most Muslims do not realize that their own book, the Qur’an, is in a similar situation. In the reliable Islamic traditions it is recorded that many of the companions of Muhammad had collections of the Qur’an that differed from each other. These differences have been preserved. The Qur’an collections differed in many respects, for example, the number and order of Surahs, the spelling of words, and the use of different words in the exact same contexts. If one examines these variations fairly, they will realize that the situations for the Bible and the Qur’an are the same. These variations in detailsdon’t affect the overall reliability of the text. There are small areas that are in doubt as to the exact reading, but none of the variant readings affect any major or minor doctrine in Islam or Christianity. Both books are amazingly accurate as regards the historical preservation of their texts. The significant difference between the two books is in their message, not their textual history. It is a misconception to believe that one has been corrupted beyond reliability in the transmission of its text while the other has not.
- Also, Muslims are often ignorant of the history of the transmission of the Bible that bears this out. The Old Testament of the Bible has been the holy Scriptures of the Jews since before esus, and they still are to this day. The New Testament has been the holy Scriptures, with the Old Testament, for the Christians since the days of the Apostles of Jesus. In the five centuries preceding Muhammad this same Bible that we have today was the Scripture of the Christians. It’s content and meaning have not been changed either before Muhammad or after.
D. Many Muslims believe Christians have made Jesus out to be God, that is, that they have elevated a man to deity.
All that the Christians believe about Jesus being God comes from Jesus’ own words and actions in the Gospels, and the testimony of Jesus’ closest disciples as preserved in the New Testament. Christian belief is based on what Jesus said about Himself and did to prove it and what the disciples had seen of Jesus and what they had been taught by Him. If you read the Gospels fairly you will see that Jesus identifies Himself as God and does many things that are the perogative of God alone. Christians have not made Jesus out to be God. We have only accepted what Jesus revealed about Himself. Christians are as sensitive to blasphemy as any Jew or Muslim. We have only accepted Jesus as God by examining the evidence left by Jesus Himself. These are some of many areas where I have found Muslims could be better informed.
- As I said at the beginning, these are just a few of the major misunderstandings between Muslims and Christians. If you feel I have not been fair, or that I have left out any of greater importance than these, please say so and help me to learn.
- My burden is that we discuss our faiths fairly, clearly, and with respect and sympathy. We would all agree that God is to be served with our entire lives and hearts. Let us approach each other sincerely and seek to correct our mutual misconceptions.
- Thank you for allowing me to address you. May God bless you as you seek Him and seek out truth.
Given by Keith E. Small, 18 February 1997, Bradford University, Bradford, West Yorkshire.
Sincere or Sinister?
Why are Muslims so hesitant to listen to Christians? Why are Christian views and arguments so often dismissed without any real consideration? Why do Muslims seem appreciative of Christian virtues and piety, yet refuse to consider Christian truth? Before one looks for answers from modern or medieval politics, or from culture or sociology, one should go to the heart and fountain of Islam, the Qur’an. Its references to Christians provide the basis for much of the ensuing history of Christian/Muslim relations. They also provide the basis for much of current Islamic attitudes and actions toward Christians and the West.
Qur’anic references to Christians are both positive and negative. Here are items of praise toward Christians. Some are sincere and pious, engaged in good works and pious in devotions. There is an Islamic emphasis of piety: reciting revelation during the night, falling prostrate in prayer, enjoining right conduct and forbidding indecency. Some show humility and entire devotion to God. Christians are said to be closer to Muslims than Jews and idolaters. (3:110-115,199; 5:82)
Some Christians are also praised for their character. Some are trustworthy with money (3:75), examples of moderation (5:66), merciful and compassionate following the example of Jesus (57:27). Sincere Christians are also said to not be worthy of hell (2:62; 5:69).
These few examples of praise, however, are overbalanced by verses warning of the wickedness of Christians. This wickedness is presented as being in beliefs as well as actions. For example, when Christians reject the Qur’an it is said to be due to unreasonable wickedness and deceit (3:21; 98:6; 5:49; 62:5). Christians are charged with knowingly concealing the fact of the Qur’an’s truth. Questioning the authenticity of the Qur’an proves one’s wickedness (2:146; 3:71; 5:15). Christians are also accused of using deception to proselytise Muslims even to the point of misrepresenting their own scriptures and using seductive tactics that misrepresent Islam (2:120; 3:78; 3:99,100; 4:44; 5:49). It is interesting to note that sincere concern for the truth or the eternal welfare of Muslims is never recognised as being a Christian’s true motive for desiring a Muslim’s conversion.
To these are added miscellaneous charges of wickedness. Some Christians will steal if entrusted with money (3:75). Most Christians are wicked in their lifestyles (3:110; 5:59,66; 57:27). Christians have a great hatred for Muslims in their hearts which they deceitfully hide (3:118,119). Christians rejoice when disaster befalls Muslims. They also act toward Muslims with guile (3:120). Christians compete with one another to make illicit profits (5:62). Christian priests don’t forbid their people’s sins and instead commit them themselves (5:63). Christian monks devour wealth wantonly and barr people’s way to the truth (9:34). Christians display pride, enmity and hatred in their factionalism among themselves (5:14; 30:32). Many of these do occur, to our shame. Most of these sins are ones that Jesus Himself condemned, especially concerning the Pharisees. The most serious aspect of these is that they are presented as the normal way of life for Christians, not as the exceptions.
To these are added accusations that Christians teach perverse doctrines. Christ’s Sonship is the prime example (9:30). Christians made a prophet out to be their Lord, ascribing deity to him, committing the supreme blasphemy (3:79,80; 4:48,171; 5:17; 9:31). Any reference to the Trinity is included in this. Christians disobey their own Book, stress falsehoods in their religion, and exaggerate in their teaching (5:66,77; 4:171). Monasticism and saint worship are condemned (57:27; 9:31). Before Muhammad came, Christians were lost in error. Islam and the Qur’an are the only remedies (98:1).
In view of these accusations, it is only natural for the Qur’an to warn Muslims about friendship with Christians. As a general rule Muslims are not to take Christians for friends, especially over Muslims (3:118; 4:144; 5:51,57). The only exception given is if you need to have them as your friend to guard your own security (3:28). To this basis add the events of history, current global politics, cultural and social dynamics. There is much to foster skepticism and paranoia among Muslims. Thankfully, most Muslims I have met are more open to Christian friendship than all of these factors encourage. Also, Muslim writers and teachers in the West often reduce the strength of the Qur’anic accusations by saying the Qur’an verses refer to specific instances in the life of Muhammad rather than presenting a general rule. Many Muslims have found Christians to be trustworthy and caring and let their experiences shape their attitudes. But even with these, it must be recognised that the Qur’an does not encourage Muslims to understand their Christian neighbours and embrace them in friendship. Instead, Muslims are encouraged to be on their guard. May we by our actions and words earn their trust and confidence.
The Qur’an promotes exceptionally negative views of Christians and Christianity. These views support Islamic convictions of superiority over Christianity. These negative views are a great obstacle to Muslims realistically considering the gospel. For the gospel to gain a hearing, these views must be challenged and overturned.
Two courses of action can overturn them. First, Christians need to live conspicuous lives of genuine love and holiness. Any practice or attitude that can be interpreted as deceitful, hateful, abusive, or demeaning has no place in our lives. We need to show Muslims love and compassion. Also, we cannot meet irrational dogmatism with anger, frustration, or exasperation. We need to be direct, but with courtesy and tact.
Second, we should clearly and patiently refute the Qur’an’s misrepresentations of Christian doctrine. The Qur’an’s challenges are superficial and can be answered historically, theologically, and scripturally with consistency and logic. There is nothing for us to apologise for in the mysteries of the Trinity or Christ’s Sonship. There are ways to talk about them with clarity, reverence, and persuasiveness. The Bible is the Qur’an’s great superior in truth, wisdom, and revelation. We need to seize the initiative on these topics and not let Muslims put us on the defensive.
Two of Paul’s admonitions to us from the Bible are appropriate to draw these thoughts to a close.
- But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held by him to do his will.
2 Timothy 2:23-26
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
2 Corinthians 4:1-2
Presented by Keith E. Small, 6 December 1997
L. M. Abdallah
- Ahmed And Hamdi
- The Lamb of God
- The Word of God
- The Sacrifice of God
- The Son of Abraham
- God is One
- God and Man
Ahmed and Hamdi
Ahmed was employed at an office. It wouldn’t be entirely true to say that he was unhappy in his work, it was just that he found it difficult to get on with the department head, who always saw to it that Ahmed never got the chance to prove himself. As soon as the department was assigned a more difficult project, his boss always made certain that he himself was in a position to take all the credit.
More than once Ahmed had thought about changing jobs, but job prospects weren´t very bright, and it would have been difficult to find something better, at least for the time being. Besides, his current salary was somewhat higher than with most available jobs, so Ahmed remained with the company. Money was an important factor since he needed enough to be able to provide for his wife and three children. Ahmed was very proud of his children, especially Hassan, his oldest son, who was studying engineering at university.
One day, something happened which changed the situation at work for the better. Hamdi joined Ahmed´s department. Hamdi, a little younger than Ahmed, was always in a good mood, very cheerful and easy to get on with. At last, Ahmed had found a friend at work. They began to eat lunch together and meet in the evening. Hamdi, too, was married, and God had blessed him with four wonderful children, two boys and two girls.
Ahmed and Hamdi became good friends and they often visited each other at home. They loved to sit down over a cup of tea and just talk. The hours used to fly by, and they could talk about almost anything.
At first they mainly talked about work at the office but as time went on they began to discuss some of life´s important questions. Both Ahmed and Hamdi were deeply religious but they did not share the same faith. Ahmed was a Muslim, while his best friend, Hamdi, read the Bible regularly and was a follower of the Messiah (Al-Masih).
What surprised Ahmed most was that the more he got to know Hamdi, the more he came to respect his faith and his life with God. Ahmed realised that his friend enjoyed a close relationship with God, something which he himself had never experienced, and this made him curious. Hamdi´s life with God, Ahmed thought, must have had something to do with the Messiah. In one sense, Ahmed also believed in the Messiah, although not in the same way. He believed in everything written in the Qur’an about Jesus, the son of Mary (Aisa Ibn Mariam) and had a deep respect for the Messiah. He knew that the Messiah had been born of the Virgin Mary (Mariam Al-Athra), that he had performed many miracles with God’s permission and that he had received the Gospel (Al-Injil) from God. At the same time Ahmed realised that he only knew about a few details in the life of the Messiah, and his desire grew to find out more about this great apostle (rasul), who had been given so many names, even in the Qur’an.
One day, Ahmed, finally overcome by curiosity, decided to ask his good friend Hamdi about the Messiah. That decision led to many interesting conversations.
The Lamb of God
“Tell me about Jesus, the son of Mary, ” Ahmed requested earnestly. “I would really like to know more about him.”
Hamdi thought for a moment and then said, “If you want to understand why the Messiah came into the world you will need to understand the meaning of sacrifice.”
“Sacrifice? What do you mean?” wondered Ahmed.
Hamdi continued, “We see the meaning of sacrifice in Id Al-Athha (The Feast of Sacrifice). You know, when God asked Abraham (Sayedna Ibrahim) to sacrifice his son. What would have happened to Abraham’s son if God (Allah) hadn’t provided a sacrifice as a ransom (fida) for him?”
“Ishmael would have died,” said Ahmed.
“That is the meaning of sacrifice, ” replied Hamdi. “Someone dies instead of someone else. God sent a ram, which was sacrificed in his place. I am in the same position as Abraham’s son. I am under the power of death, ” said Hamdi.
“What do you mean?” said Ahmed, a little perplexed.
Hamdi answered in a serious voice, “It is written in the Bible (The Holy Book):
‘For the wages of sin is death.’ (1)
“The wages for my sin is death. I am a sinner. Yes, it’s true that others see me as a deeply religious man. I pray to God every day, I study his book and I serve him. But before God I am a sinner. Is there anyone perfect apart from God?” asked Hamdi.
“No!” answered Ahmed. “No-one but God.”
“So before God we are all sinners, aren’t we?” asked Hamdi.
Ahmed agreed, “Yes, that is true.”
“I am then in the same position as Abraham’s son, under the power of death. But where is the sacrifice for my sins? Hasn’t God sent a sacrifice as a ransom for me?” asked Hamdi. Ahmed didn’t really know what to say. Hamdi continued, “John the Baptist (Yahya Ibn Zakaria) lived at the time of the Messiah. The first time he saw the Messiah, he said:
‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (2)
“The Messiah was not the lamb of man. He came from God. He came from above. God’s Spirit (Ruh Allah) covered the Virgin Mary (Mariam). She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. As you know, he is called ‘Jesus, the son of Mary’, ‘the Word of God (Kalimat Allah)’ and ‘the Spirit of God (Ruh Allah)’. He was pure. He came from heaven as the Lamb of God. The Messiah proved that he was the Lamb of God by living a perfect life before God. There was never a time when he needed to say ‘I ask God the Great for forgiveness (astaghfer Allah Al-Azim)’ since he was the perfect Lamb of God. But since he came as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world, he had to be sacrificed. This happened when, of his own free will, he gave his life in death. He rose from the dead and he ascended alive into heaven. And one day he will return to the world.”
Hamdi was quiet for a moment, looked at Ahmed and said, “I am in the same position as Abraham’s son. I am under the power of death. But there is a sacrifice for my sins through the Messiah, the pure Lamb of God. Now, through his Lamb, God offers forgiveness for all our sins and eternal life in paradise (janna). The Messiah bore the sin of all mankind, including yours, Ahmed.”
Ahmed sat silently for a long time, thinking. Then he said, “If the Messiah took away the sin of the whole world, then I don’t need to die…in which case I already have eternal life.”
“Ahmed,” said Hamdi, “suppose it’s your birthday and the Messiah comes with a present and knocks on your door. He says to you, ‘Ahmed, I would like to give you a present – forgiveness for all your sins, eternal life and a living, personal relationship with God starting today. But there are some conditions. You must turn from your sin, confessing it, and receive forgiveness through my sacrifice for you. If you receive the gift, it’s yours, not otherwise.’ ”
Ahmed sat, pondering. He felt confused and didn’t really know what to say.
“Maybe you think that was an extreme example, ” said Hamdi, “but every time a servant of the Lord explains the way to God through the Messiah, it’s as if the living and risen Jesus, the son of Mary is actually knocking on our door. He says in the Bible:
‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.’ ” (3)
Hamdi added, “Opening my door to the Messiah and inviting him into my life to break my bread and have fellowship with me, that is exactly the same as receiving God’s gift, a gift God wants to give everyone.”
“I want you to know, Hamdi, that what you’ve just told me about the Messiah has touched me deeply. I’ll need time to think about our conversation. But I want to hear more about the Messiah the next time we meet.”
“Al-salamu aleykum (may peace be upon you).”
“Aleykum al-salam (and upon you be peace).”
The Word of God
“What you told me last time about Jesus, the son of Mary gave me a lot to think about, ” began Ahmed, a little tentatively. “I hope you don’t mind, but I have a lot of questions I’d like answers to before going on with our conversation about the Messiah.”
“Of course, please go ahead, ” Hamdi replied, half knowing what Ahmed was going to say.
Again, Ahmed began tentatively, “You know that we, as Muslims, believe in the heavenly books – Al-Tawrah (the Pentateuch of Moses), Al-Zabur (the Psalms of David), Al-Injil (the Gospel of Jesus) and the Holy Qur’an. But I’ve also been taught that all the books apart from the Qur’an have been falsified by Jews and Christians, so that you can no longer believe what’s written in them. So the Holy Book (the Bible) you believe in is corrupted (muharraf) and a mixture of truth and lies.”
“Can you offer any historical evidence to support that?” asked Hamdi.
Ahmed thought for a while but to his amazement realised that he had never heard anything but unfounded allegations.
Hamdi continued, “Can you tell me when this alleged corruption took place or how it was even possible for it to be achieved?”
“No, I can’t, ” said Ahmed a little shocked. “No-one’s ever given me the answers to such basic questions.”
After a moment Hamdi asked, “Do you think it would be possible for the Qur’an to be corrupted?”
“Astaghfer Allah (I ask God for forgiveness)!” exclaimed Ahmed. “That would be utterly impossible. Believers would never allow anyone to even try to corrupt it.”
Hamdi answered, “Why do you think we see the Bible differently? How could you even think that the true believers would have allowed someone to change the Holy Scriptures and produce a corrupted Bible? I believe in the God who created heaven and earth, the God who is omniscient and almighty. He who has given mankind his own Word also has the power to keep his Word from corruption.”
With his eyes firmly on Ahmed, Hamdi asked, “Ahmed, do you believe that everything that happens is in accordance with the will of God?”
“Yes, I believe that, ” answered Ahmed.
Hamdi continued, “Do you really believe that God would first give his Word to the world and then decide that it should be corrupted, or does not the Almighty have the power to keep his Word from corruption?”
“Yes, God certainly does have the power to keep his Word from corruption, ” agreed Ahmed.
“Do you know, Ahmed, that the Bible is a wonderful book? It was written over a period of approximately 1,400 years. It contains Al-Tawrah (the Pentateuch), Al-Zabur (the Psalms), Al-Injil (the Gospel) and many other books which were written by God’s apostles (rasul) and prophets (anbia). The Bible is divided into two parts: The Old Testament, which covers the time before the Messiah’s birth, and The New Testament, which begins with the arrival of the Messiah in the world. The Bible was written in three different languages.”
“Which languages were those?” wondered Ahmed.
“It was written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, ” replied Hamdi. “God used many different types of people when he gave us his Word. Some were kings or statesmen, others were shepherds or fishermen. The Bible is a miracle from God, because in spite of the immense timespan and the many different people involved in its writing, the entire book holds together as a wonderful whole. There is a common theme throughout the whole Bible, and that theme, Ahmed, is the Messiah (Al-Masih).”
“Can it be true that God spoke about the Messiah for 1,400 years?” said Ahmed astonished.
“Ahmed, ” said Hamdi with a smile, “God has spoken about the Messiah throughout all history right up to the present day.”
“Is that really possible?” said Ahmed, full of doubt.
“Yes, of course it is, because with God everything is possible, ” answered Hamdi, “but we can talk about that the next time we meet.”
“I’m really looking forward to it, ” said Ahmed.
The Sacrifice of God
“I’m really curious about how the Messiah could be the theme running through the whole Bible, ” said Ahmed.
“Do you remember when we talked about the Messiah as the Lamb of God which bore our sin?” asked Hamdi.
“Of course I do, ” replied Ahmed. “How could I ever forget that?”
“God has been teaching mankind about sacrifice throughout all history right up to Jesus, the son of Mary, ” said Hamdi.
“In what way?” asked Ahmed.
“How many people were on earth at the time of Cain (Qabil) and Abel (Habil)?” asked Hamdi.
Ahmed thought for a little while and then replied, “Four – Adam, Eve (Hawa), Cain and Abel.”
“Only four people, ” said Hamdi, “and yet they understood that it was necessary to worship God with a sacrifice. How could they have known that?” asked Hamdi and continued, “Because God is holy and pure, but man is a sinner and in need of a ransom for his sin. Noah (Sayedna Noh) worshipped God with a sacrifice. Abraham (Sayedna Ibrahim) worshipped God with a sacrifice. Moses (Sayedna Musa), David (Sayedna Dawoud) and all the apostles and prophets have worshipped God with a sacrifice.” Hamdi added, “I worship God in the same way as the apostles and prophets.”
“No, now you are joking. You don’t go down to the market to buy a sheep to sacrifice to God, ” said Ahmed, smiling with his whole face.
“I worship God through the Messiah, the Lamb of God, who bore my sin when he was sacrificed, ” answered Hamdi. “It is written in the Holy Book (The Bible):
‘For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.’ (1)
“There is only one God and there is only one mediator between God and us, the Messiah, who offered himself as a ransom (fida) for all, for you too, Ahmed. Throughout all history right up to the present day, people have worshipped the living God with a sacrifice.”
“I think I’m beginning to understand what you mean, but you’ll need to explain a little more so that I can understand the whole picture, ” said Ahmed thoughtfully.
A moment later Hamdi replied, “God revealed the meaning and purpose of sacrifice in history, especially through Moses in the Tawrah (Pentateuch). The collective teaching of the law (Al-Sharia) on the meaning of sacrifice as a ransom for sin is clear from the following words of Scripture:
‘In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.’ ” (2)
“But what has all this teaching about sacrifice got to do with Jesus, the son of Mary?” wondered Ahmed.
“Well, ” said Hamdi, “parallel to the teaching about the meaning of sacrifice are many prophecies about the Messiah. Among these prophecies were predictions that when the Messiah came into the world he would be sacrificed as a ransom for our sin. Hamdi picked up a Bible and opened it. Showing the passage to Ahmed he said, “See for yourself what an exact description of the Messiah’s sacrifice the prophet Isaiah wrote around 700 years before the Messiah came:
‘Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.’ ” (3)
Ahmed, deeply touched by the prophetic words, said in amazement, “Are you saying that this was actually written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, the son of Mary?”
“Yes, ” said Hamdi. “According to the prophets, the Messiah was to come from the family of the prophet David (Nabi Dawoud). David, who lived around a thousand years before the Messiah, gives a very accurate description of his future son, the Messiah’s, crucifixion. Crucifixion was a very slow and painful method of execution. After a while, the bones of the crucified person would go out of joint, and besides this, he would suffer from severe thirst. The prophet David writes:
‘I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. ‘ (4)
“David wrote this even though crucifixion wasn’t even used as a method of execution in his day. It was invented much later and was used by the Romans during the time of the Messiah.”
“So you’re saying that all these predictions have been fulfilled in Jesus, the son of Mary?” asked Ahmed.
“Yes, and not only these, but many other prophecies have been fulfilled to the letter in the Messiah, ” answered Hamdi. “The Messiah himself confirmed on a number of occasions that he came to give his life as a ransom (fida). He said about himself:
‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many.’ (5)
“Ahmed, do you understand now how God’s teaching on sacrifice for the sin of mankind runs all the way through the Bible and how it has all been fulfilled through the Messiah?”
“Hamdi, ” said Ahmed, “I have never heard this before. It is very interesting. I need more time to think. But don’t worry, I’ll soon be back with more questions.”
“Please, receive this Bible as a gift from me, ” said Hamdi. “Begin with the New Testament, where you can read about the life of the Messiah and about his amazing miracles and teaching.”
“Thank you, ” said Ahmed. “I have heard a lot about the ‘People of the Book’ (ahl al-kitab), but I’ve never read the book itself before. I’m really looking forward to reading about the teaching and miracles of Jesus, the son of Mary.”
“Hamdi,” began Ahmed a little tentatively, “since we met last time, I’ve been thinking about the Messiah and how he gave his life as a ransom for the sin of mankind. But there is one thing I want to know. Where does sin (al-khatiya) come from, and how is it that all mankind has problems with sin? Can you explain that?” asked Ahmed in a serious voice.
“Yes, I think so, ” Hamdi answered thoughtfully, “but we’ll have to go back to the beginning to understand where sin comes from. In the Tawrah (Pentateuch) we read that after God had created the world and mankind, he placed man in paradise (janna). There in paradise, man was completely pure and lived in a perfect relationship with God. But as you know, something happened which destroyed life in paradise. Ahmed, what happened?”
“Satan came and destroyed everything, ” said Ahmed.
“Exactly!” Hamdi replied. “God forbade man to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil when he said to Adam:
‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’ (1)
“But Satan came as a snake and tempted Adam and Eve. They were disobedient towards God and ate of the fruit. The result was devastating for mankind. Since sin entered the life of mankind, everyone became a sinner.”
“Did everyone really become a sinner?” asked Ahmed sceptically. “I find it difficult to accept that. If it’s true, in what way did everyone become a sinner?”
“Mankind became just like the fruit he ate, ” said Hamdi. “He became a strange mixture of good and evil. Sometimes a person can perform some of the most noble and distinguished acts and then, the next minute, be involved in some the worst acts of treachery, perhaps even deceiving and defrauding his own neighbour. One minute, a person can be very loving and considerate, and the next minute, be filled with envy, selfishness, lust or some other characteristic related to sin. As you said, Ahmed, all mankind wrestles with this problem. Every religion deals with this problem. Every nation creates laws to control sin in its various outworkings. The worst of it is that people are not sinners because they sin, but they sin because they are sinners. It’s as if there’s a little factory inside people which produces sin and evil, isn’t it?” said Hamdi and gave Ahmed a searching look.
“I’m sorry to say that your description of mankind corresponds to reality pretty well. People really are a strange mixture of good and evil, ” answered Ahmed. “But where does Satan fit into the picture?”
“Well, it was through sin that Satan obtained power in human lives and societies, ” answered Hamdi. “He who once tempted Adam and Eve continues to do the same thing today. He still tempts people so that we will continue to live in sin. It is through sin that Satan obtains power in people’s lives because it is sin that separates us from God. It is because of sin that the world is like it is today. God created everything good, but mankind has brought a great deal of evil into the world, for example, through war and oppression, but also through broken relationships and many other kinds of misery which destroy people’s lives.”
“So you’re saying that God didn’t create us like this, but that the world is like it is because of Adam’s sin?” Ahmed wondered.
“Exactly!” Hamdi replied. “Sin entered mankind through Adam, as it is written:
‘Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.’ (2)
“The worst result was death, both physical and spiritual death.”
“Physical and spiritual death?” said Ahmed and looked questioningly at Hamdi. “What exactly is spiritual death?”
“Well, God told man that if he ate of the fruit he would surely die, ” Hamdi began. “And because God is righteous and always acts according to his Word, death indeed came over mankind so that all people die. But man also died in a spiritual way when he sinned.”
“How?” wondered Ahmed.
“Well, the result of sin was that man was driven out of paradise, ” answered Hamdi. “He was driven away from the place where he lived in a pure, perfect relationship with God. Man had to live outside paradise. Man died in a spiritual way when he became separated from the living and holy God through his sin. So it is sin and evil that separate mankind from God. It’s because of sin that we don’t automatically live in a close relationship with God. Since God is pure and holy, he cannot have any relationship with sin. That is why we need a Saviour (Munajy) to save us from the consequences of all our sin. Ahmed, do you believe that all your sins are recorded somewhere?”
Ahmed, looking a little worried, said, “I know that they are written down by the two angels following every one of us.”
“God knows everything about us, ” said Hamdi. “Every good deed and every bad deed. Every word, every thought, every intention (neya). God has everything written down. Do you know which way the scales will tip on the day of judgement (yom al-hisab)?”
“No, only God knows that, ” said Ahmed quietly.
“God loves you, Ahmed. Don’t forget that the Lamb of God, Jesus, the son of Mary has taken all our sin upon himself. Forgiveness is available for everything, ” said Hamdi calmly.
Ahmed thought for a while and asked, “If the Messiah is so important why didn’t Adam and Eve get to hear about him?”
“Would you believe me if I said that they did get to hear about the Messiah?” asked Hamdi.
“No, I don’t think it’s possible for them to have heard about him, ” Ahmed replied.
“God loves man and wants to have a relationship with him, ” began Hamdi. “That’s why he spoke about the Messiah from the very beginning. Right in the midst of the tragedy surrounding them, Adam and Eve nevertheless received a promise of a deliverer who would one day crush Satan’s power over man. God spoke to Satan in Adam and Eve’s hearing:
‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’ (3)
“Throughout the whole Bible sons are named after their fathers, the son of Abraham, the son of Jacob, and so on. But here the Bible speaks of the woman’s offspring, not the man’s. Someone was to come who did not have a father, but was instead the son of the woman. This son would crush Satan’s power over man, while Satan like a snake would try to kill the woman’s son by striking his heel. This is exactly what happened when Jesus, the son of Mary offered his life as a ransom for the sin of mankind.”
“Remarkable, ” said Ahmed. “It’s amazing that God already began to speak about the Messiah to the very first people on earth. It shows once more that the main theme of the Bible really is the Messiah. You’ve given me a lot to think about before next time, Hamdi.”
The Son of Abraham
“I’m very curious, ” said Hamdi. “I’d like to know what you think of Al-Injil (the Gospel).”
“It truly is a wonderful book, ” replied Ahmed sincerely. “I have never read anything like it. It’s fascinating to read about the Messiah’s amazing miracles in detail. And his teaching up on the mountain (The Sermon on the Mount) is extraordinary. There is clarity and depth in what he says. He turns many concepts upside down when he tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And his teaching on prayer is so different from anything I have heard before. I have to admit that the book has made a deep impression on me, but at the same time it seems like I’ve got as many new questions as answers.”
“Sounds interesting, ” said Hamdi smiling. “Let’s start with your first question.”
“All right, ” said Ahmed, “why does the Gospel begin with a genealogy from Abraham through David to the Messiah?”
After thinking for a while Hamdi asked, “Do you remember what we’ve talked about before, that the Bible holds together as a unit and that there is a theme running through the whole book?”
“Yes, I remember, ” answered Ahmed.
“Do you remember what the theme was?”
“Al-Masih, ” replied Ahmed.
“The answer to your question is related to that theme, ” said Hamdi. “According to the prophets, the Messiah had to be the son of David and the son of Abraham.”
Ahmed thought about what Hamdi had told him and said, “What you’ve said is interesting, but could you explain a little more about the different prophecies?”
After quite a long pause Hamdi began, “One day, about four thousand years ago, God spoke to Abraham, who is known as the friend of God (khalil Allah). When Abraham was still called Abram, God gave him a promise which would be of great significance for all mankind. In the Tawrah (Pentateuch) we read:
‘The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” ‘ (1)
“God called a man who had no children in spite of many years of marriage. God promised him a land. God would make him into a great nation. His name would be great and well-known. All this God fulfilled in detail. But the most remarkable of all the promises was that the Lord God would bless all the peoples on earth through Abraham. In this promise lies the promise of the Messiah. So the Messiah had to be a son of Abraham, and through him God would bless the whole world.”
“But how do you know that the promise is about the Messiah and not someone else?” wondered Ahmed.
“We can say that it gradually becomes clearer as we read further in the Tawrah, ” answered Hamdi. “In time Abraham got two sons, one with his wife Sarah, called Isaac (Ishaq), and one with Sarah’s maidservant Hagar (Hajar), called Ishmael (Ismail). Even though God blessed Ishmael, he made it clear to Abraham, even before Isaac’s birth, that the promise regarding the Messiah would be fulfilled through Isaac when he said:
‘…Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac…'” (2)
“Yes, Ishmael, who God blessed, became the father of us Arabs, ” said Ahmed, “but we Muslims know that God sent many of his apostles and prophets through Isaac’s descendants.”
Hamdi continued, “Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob (Yaqub). God showed that the promised Messiah would come from Jacob when he revealed himself in a dream to him and said,
‘I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.’ ” (3)
“It is remarkable that when God spoke with Jacob, he repeated many parts of the original promise to Abraham, ” said Ahmed.
“That’s because it’s actually the same promise being passed on from one generation to the next, ” Hamdi said, “but as you can see, Ahmed, it was through a son of Jacob that God was to bless all the peoples of the earth.”
“Yes, and I begin to suspect that the Messiah will once more prove to be the main theme of the Bible, ” replied Ahmed with a smile.
“That’s correct, ” said Hamdi. “Among the children of Israel (bani Isra’il) were many families. The question is whether God also revealed the family from which the Messiah would come. God chose David (Sayedna Dawoud) and made a covenant with him. In many prophecies God shows that the Messiah would come from the family of the prophet David. The prophet Isaiah, who lived more than two hundred years after David, likens the family of Jesse to the stump of a tree. David’s father was called Jesse. From that family would come one on whom the Spirit of the Lord would rest. He would bring justice to the poor of the earth. He would create a kingdom like paradise itself, and everyone in that kingdom would know the Lord. Isaiah writes:
‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him… with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth… In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious…’ ” (4)
“Let’s see if I’ve got this right, ” said Ahmed. “God revealed that the Messiah was to be a son of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.”
“Precisely!” answered Hamdi with a broad smile. “And when we read the Gospel we can see that the Messiah is born in accordance with the prophecies. That’s why the Gospel begins with a genealogy. It proves that the Messiah is indeed the son of Abraham and David.”
“Once more the main theme of the Bible has proved to be Jesus, the son of Mary, ” said Ahmed. “But, Hamdi, I’m sure you’re aware that I have some much more difficult questions in store. But I’ll save them for next time.”
God is One
“What do you see?” asked Ahmed, holding up three fingers in the air.
“I see three fingers on one hand, ” said Hamdi with a smile, knowing what Ahmed was thinking of.
“Hamdi, ” Ahmed continued, “do you believe God is one or three?”
“You maybe don’t fully understand in what way I believe, ” said Hamdi, “but you must understand that I believe in the one true God, the God who created heaven and earth, who can do anything, knows everything and is present everywhere. You know that my faith is based on the Bible, and God’s Word teaches that God is one. This truth is written in many places throughout the Bible.”
“But God cannot be three and one at the same time, ” insisted Ahmed. He again held up three fingers and said, “One plus one plus one equals three and not one.”
“How many Ahmed’s are you?” asked Hamdi. “Are you one or two?”
“One, of course, ” answered Ahmed.
“God has created you with a body and a spirit, ” said Hamdi. “Is your body Ahmed?” asked Hamdi.
“But what about your spirit?” asked Hamdi. “Is that Ahmed?”
“Well, yes it is, ” said Ahmed, realising what Hamdi was going to say.
Hamdi continued, “Why is it impossible for God to be three in one when he has created us as two in one?” After a short pause Hamdi said, “We can say that God is a complex unity who reveals himself in three persons. After all, what is one times one times one, Ahmed?”
“One, ” said Ahmed quietly. “But Jesus, the son of Mary is only man and not the Son of God.” Ahmed was looking intently at Hamdi. “Do you believe that the Messiah is the Son of God, Hamdi?”
“What do you think I believe?” asked Hamdi.
“I’m not sure exactly, ” said Ahmed, “but I suppose you believe that God had a physical relationship with the Virgin Mary, and they had a son together.”
“Astaghfer Allah! (I ask God for forgiveness), ” exclaimed Hamdi. “That is absolutely not what I believe, and I do not know any follower of the Messiah who believes that either.”
Ahmed, surprised, asked, “Then what do you believe?”
“I believe God is eternal, that he existed in eternity before anything was created, ” Hamdi began. “When the Gospel explains who the Messiah is, it does not begin with his birth into the world, but it begins in eternity, before God created the world. It is written in the Gospel:
‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life…’ (1)
“God created the world through his Word, didn’t he?”
“Yes, that’s right. God said, ‘ “Be!” And it is!’ (Kun fa yakun), ” answered Ahmed.
“So God created the world through his Word, ” said Hamdi. “And this Word, which proceeded from God, was a part of God and was filled with God’s creative power and all his attributes. There was life in the Word of God, and wherever the Word became present, life was created in all its different forms.”
“Yes, I agree with that, but what exactly does the expression ‘and the Word was God’ mean?” asked Ahmed.
“If I were to testify in a court of law, you would not be able to separate me from my words, ” said Hamdi. “My words would represent me and would be a part of me. When we sit here and talk, our words are a part of us so that we are represented by our words. When God created the universe, the Word he spoke was one with him. We cannot separate God from his Word. This eternal Word of God, who is one with him and contains all his attributes, was revealed in Jesus, the son of Mary, as it is written:
‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ (2)
“Everything God has said about himself, all his attributes, were revealed in the Messiah. God is holy. When people saw how pure the Messiah was, they saw the holiness of God in him. God is love. When they saw how the Messiah loved people, they saw the love of God in him. God can do everything. He is omnipotent. When people saw how the Messiah walked on water, spoke to the storm, making the wind and the waves die down, created bread, healed the blind and raised the dead, they saw the power and glory of God revealed in him.”
“But how can God, who is present everywhere, be limited to a human being?” persisted Ahmed. “Did God forget the universe when he was in the Messiah?”
“Ahmed, ” said Hamdi, “suppose we were out on an unending ocean and we lowered a glass into it, filling it with water. If we analysed the water, we’d find it to be exactly the same as that in the ocean. It’s the same with the Messiah. The eternal, almighty God is present everywhere. At the same time, he reveals himself in the Messiah with the same attributes and power. But God is not limited because he reveals himself in the Messiah. He is still infinite.”
“But God cannot reveal himself in a person, ” said Ahmed.
“How can we limit God?” asked Hamdi. “How can we say that the Almighty cannot? Can’t he do everything?”
“Well, yes, he can do everything, ” answered Ahmed, “but I can’t believe that he has revealed himself in a human being.”
“It’s good that we agree that this can pose a problem for us but not for God, who can do anything he wants to, ” said Hamdi. “If you didn’t already know the story, what would you say if someone told you that God had revealed himself in a burning bush and had spoken out of that bush to Moses?”
Ahmed thought for a while and smiled to himself when he realised that it couldn’t be more difficult for God to reveal himself in a human being than in a bush.
Hamdi continued, “Ahmed, think for a moment, who is the person who is actually called ‘The Word of God’ and ‘The Spirit of God’ (Kalimat Allah wa Ruh Allah)? Even the Spirit of God is one with God. We know that the Spirit of God covered the Virgin Mary and that she became pregnant and gave birth to the Messiah, as the Angel Gabriel told her:
‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’ (3)
“The question is who it is that came into the world in this way. Ahmed, if you had been a doctor at the time of the Messiah and it was your task to write out his birth certificate, what would you have written? What was his name?”
“I suppose I’d have written ‘Jesus, the son of Mary’, ” said Ahmed.
“And the name of the mother?”
“Well, that would have been ‘The Virgin Mary’, ” said Ahmed.
“And then we come to the name of the father, ” said Hamdi with a smile.
“He didn’t have a father, ” answered Ahmed with an even broader smile.
“We could, of course, leave that line blank since he didn’t have an earthly father, ” said Hamdi, “…or we could ask ourselves, ‘Where does he come from? What is the origin of the one called “The Word of God” and “The Spirit of God”? What is the identity of the one who came down from heaven?’ He himself said:
‘For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world… I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.’ (4)
‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’ (5)
“Ahmed, he came in order to give his flesh as a sacrifice for all mankind. He who partakes of ordinary bread receives physical life, but he who partakes of the bread of God that has come down from heaven receives spiritual life, eternal life. He who believes in the Messiah and partakes of him receives a life which satisfies man’s innermost hunger and thirst for God. This is what I myself have experienced. The Messiah is an offer from God to you, Ahmed.”
“I’m not ready for that yet, ” said Ahmed quietly. “I have many thoughts going round and round in my head. I realise now that I’ve completely misunderstood the way in which you believe in God. I’m slowly beginning to understand how you believe in the one true God and that he revealed himself in the Messiah. You know that I love the Messiah with all my heart, but I still have a number of questions that need answering. But we can talk about those next time, can’t we, Hamdi?”
“I’m looking forward to it, ” answered Hamdi.
God and Man
“I’ve been thinking almost day and night about our last discussion, ” said Ahmed. “First you say that Jesus, the son of Mary is man. Then you say that God revealed himself in him. I want to know who he really is. Isn’t it true that you’ve made the Messiah out to be the Son of God when he is nothing more than the son of Mary?”
“Ahmed, ” Hamdi began, “the answer to that question is the key to eternal life with God, both here and now and in eternity. It would be ‘shirk’ (to place someone on the same level as God) if we made a man out to be God. But the Bible teaches that God revealed himself in a man and not the other way round. We both agree that the Messiah was born as a man. In accordance with the prophets, he is the son of Abraham, the son of David and the son of Mary. But in the prophecies which were given long before the birth of the Messiah, God teaches us that he would come to us in the Messiah.”
“Do you mean that the apostles and prophets before the Messiah already spoke about God himself being revealed in him?” Ahmed asked in surprise.
“The main theme of the Bible is the Messiah, so it shouldn’t surprise us that God had already revealed the truth about the Messiah through the prophets, ” said Hamdi.
“Show me, ” requested Ahmed, “I’m very interested.”
Hamdi thought for a while before saying, “When God, in about 700 BC, revealed to the prophet Micah that the Messiah would be born in the town of Bethlehem, he also disclosed that the one who would be born existed long before he was born:
‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.’ (1)
“The Messiah was indeed born in the town of Bethlehem, as it is written in the Gospel:
‘So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.’ (2)
“The question is of who he is who existed long before he was born into the world. We see what he himself said in a conversation with some exasperated Jews in Jerusalem (Al-Quds):
‘”Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old, ” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “I tell you the truth, ” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”‘ (3)
“We know that Abraham lived around 2000 BC.”
“So, the Messiah himself claimed that he existed before he was born, ” said Ahmed. “But where in the prophets does it say that God would reveal himself in the Messiah?”
“That is written in many places, ” said Hamdi. “The prophet Isaiah speaks about one who would come from the small area where Jesus, the son of Mary grew up. He would create an eternal kingdom, which would be characterised by the peace of God. He himself, who would also be a son of David, would reign in this kingdom for ever. The prophet describes the characteristics of the Messiah with the different names he is given:
‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.’ (4)
“We know that the names God gives someone describe that person’s characteristics. So, who is he, Ahmed, who is given the names ‘Wonderful Counsellor’, ‘Mighty God’, ‘Everlasting Father’ and ‘Prince of Peace’?”
“This picture of the Messiah the prophets painted before he was born is beginning to take shape for me, ” said Ahmed, “but does it really say that God would come to the world he himself created?”
“John the Baptist (Yahya Ibn Zakaria) lived at the same time as the Messiah, ” said Hamdi. “He was sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah, so that people would repent and come to faith in him. When John was asked who he himself was and why God had sent him, he replied with a quote from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 40, where it is written:
‘A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.” ‘ (5)
“The picture from the prophet Isaiah portrays the visit of a great king. People were to build a new and straight highway for him through the wilderness. But who is this visiting king, Ahmed?”
“Well, according to the prophet, he is the Lord, our God, ” said Ahmed quietly.
“The picture becomes even clearer, ” continued Hamdi, “when we read further in the same passage, where it is written:
‘You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.’ (6)
“The Messiah did indeed come as a shepherd for all believers. He himself said,
‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ (7)
“But, Ahmed, who is it, according to the prophet, that will come as a shepherd?”
“I have to admit that it’s shown to be the Lord God himself, ” answered Ahmed, now quite shaken by the prophet’s words.
Hamdi continued, “As you understand, Ahmed, all these prophecies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus, the son of Mary. Before the Messiah was born, the Angel Gabriel came to Zechariah, the future father of John the Baptist. The angel explained to Zechariah that he would have a son and told him what a special task his son would have. The Angel Gabriel said:
‘…he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ (8)
“Who is it, according to the Gospel, that John the Baptist will go before, Ahmed?”
“The Lord their God, ” answered Ahmed.
“When John the Baptist was still newly born, ” continued Hamdi, “Zechariah prophesied over him, his new-born son:
‘And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven.’ (9)
“Do you see, Ahmed, that Yahya Ibn Zakaria, according to the words of the prophet Isaiah, the Angel Gabriel and his father Zechariah, was to go before the Lord, and that the one to come was God himself?”
“Yes, I can see that and I can suppose that all this was confirmed when the Messiah actually came, ” said Ahmed seriously.
“Yes, in detail, ” said Hamdi. “When the Virgin Mary gave birth to the Messiah in Bethlehem, the town of David, the Angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds outside the town and said to them:
‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’ (10)
“The fact that the Messiah is the Lord himself is confirmed again and again in the Gospel. He himself said:
‘I and the Father are one.’ ” (11)
“I already had a great love and respect for Jesus, the son of Mary, ” said Ahmed, “but now for the first time, I think I can see the full picture of who the Messiah really is and why he was born into the world. I am truly grateful that you took the time and effort to explain this to me, Hamdi.”
“Ahmed, ” said Hamdi seriously, “by faith in the Messiah, God offers forgiveness for everything and eternal life. The Messiah, who himself conquered death and raised the dead, says:
‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.’ (12)
“Ahmed, do you want to receive the gift of God to you by faith in the Messiah?”
“Yes, I feel as if he is standing and knocking on my door right now, ” said Ahmed with tears in his eyes. “How can I receive God’s gift?”
“It isn’t difficult, ” said Hamdi. “Pray to God in your own words. Confess everything. God knows all about us anyway. Receive forgiveness through the Messiah’s sacrifice for you. Pray that God will come into your life by his Spirit and give you strength to follow the Messiah as his disciple. Pray this prayer in the name of the Messiah. He, by his sacrifice, is the mediator between you and God the Father. When you receive the Messiah in this way, by faith, as God’s gift to you, a miracle takes place in your life. The Bible says that you are born again. You receive a new life from God. You enter into a new, personal relationship with God through the Messiah. So God becomes your father and you his child, as it is written in the Gospel concerning all those who received the Messiah:
‘Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’ ” (13)
When they had prayed together and thanked the Lord, Hamdi said with a big smile, “Welcome to the family! Now, through the Messiah, we are brothers in God’s great family.”
“How can I ever thank you, ” said Ahmed full of joy.
“Thank God, and do it every day, ” answered Hamdi. “Seek the fellowship of others who follow the Messiah in the same way as you. Now you can really pray the prayer the Messiah taught his disciples to pray:
‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever. Amen.’ ” (14)
New International Version (NIV)
The Lamb of God
- Romans 6:23
- John 1:29
- Revelation 3:20
The Sacrifice of God
- 1 Timothy 2:5-6
- Hebrews 9:22
- Isaiah 53:4-7
- Psalm 22:14-18
- Mark 10:45
- Genesis 2:16-17
- Romans 5:12
- Genesis 3:15
The Son of Abraham
- Genesis 12:1-3
- Genesis 17:19-21
- Genesis 28:13-14
- Isaiah 11:1,2,4,10
God is One
- John 1:1-4
- John 1:14
- Luke 1:35
- John 6:33,35
- John 6:51
God and Man
- Micah 5:2
- Luke 2:4-7
- John 8:56-58
- Isaiah 9:6-7
- Isaiah 40:3-5
- Isaiah 40:9-11
- John 10:11
- Luke 1:15-17
- Luke 1:76-78
- Luke 2:10-11
- John 10:30
- John 11:25-26
- John 1:12
- Matthew 6:9-13