If you’ve been following this blog for long, you know that I’m a great fan of the Bible. For me the Bible is like the North Star – a transcendent light around which all other constellations of light revolve. I contend that all of the problems in “Christianity,” both historically and in the present, stem not from following the Bible too closely, but from not following it closely enough.
I could cite many examples, but here’s a whopper: The Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was not a bunch of liberal theologians improving on the words of Jesus, or intentionally modifying the Bible. It was a bunch of people defying theocratic state power in order to return to a movement called Christianity that had fundamentally veered from its biblical roots and from the original message of Jesus. It was an (imperfect) step toward the restoration of a revolutionary movement of God.
That movement has always had its human leaders and martyrs, but the head of the movement has always been its resurrected leader, not innovators who would come later. The salvific work wrought by Jesus was supernatural and so fundamentally profound as to make any “improvements” on His work impossible. Therefore, the church’s departures from His course have always resulted in less than the best for the church and the world. At times it has resulted in inhumanities at complete odds with what Jesus taught. (More.)
How does this relate to Islam? Could Islam undergo a reformation similar to that which Christianity underwent? Many have wondered if such a reformation could be possible in Islam, especially in light of the recent inhumanities committed by the Islamic State (IS.)
Unfortunately for the world, (including Muslims,) it appears as if Islam has already had its reformation, and we are seeing its fruit. The word “radical” means “proceeding from the roots.” In the same way that radical Reformation Christians sought a return to the original teachings and vision of Jesus, so radical Muslims seek to return to the original teachings and vision of Muhammad. The problem is not in being radical and fundamental. The problem is being radical and fundamental about false teachings and a bad vision.
Is it wrong to radically follow a leader? That depends upon the leader:
Jesus lived a brief, celibate life of self-sacrifice. He was a healer and a teacher who summed up all of God’s commands in the command to love both God and people. He laid down His life for others.
Muhammad was a polygamist who consummated his marriage with his youngest bride when she was nine years of age. He was an illiterate warrior who fought in over 80 battles. He took the lives of others.
Several years ago, I realized that I needed to learn about Islam. I didn’t want to learn about Islam from the news media or from academicians since I already knew how rarely they get Christianity right. I figured that since they seldom get their home religion right, how likely is it that they would get a foreign religion right? So I bought a Quran. I also started dialoguing online with Muslims, to see if I was understanding things correctly.
It was very educational for me.
The Quran was given to Muhammad some 600 years after Jesus. The Quran repeatedly states that it confirms the Jewish and Christian scriptures that came before it (2:98; 5:44-48; 12:111.) However, in our literate culture this is a bizarre claim. It’s just weird. To cite what is perhaps the defining example, the Quran claims that God rescued Jesus from being crucified, (apparently because it would be wrong to let His prophet suffer such humiliation,) and instead put an imposter in the place of Jesus (4:157,158.) By contrast the Judeo-Christian scriptures repeatedly state it was God’s will for Jesus to die on behalf of the human race, as His means of reconciliation and salvation. The Koran calls the story of the crucifixion of Jesus a “monstrous falsehood.” This example alone shows there is simply no harmonizing the Bible and the Quran.
Beliefs dictate behavior. The differences between the Bible and the Quran touch on the most fundamental aspects of life, and the fruit of these differences can be seen in the actions of those who radically follow their respective holy scriptures. Below, I briefly list what I found to be 5 basic differences between the Bible and Quran. I refrain from making judgments, and simply describe what I found. For each point I include one representative verse from each book:
MY TOP 5 DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE BIBLE AND THE QURAN
1 – The Nature of God (relational vs non-relational)
The Bible presents a Creator-God who is one in essence yet revealed in three persons. God’s triune nature implies that God has always existed in loving relationship and unity. Loving relationship existed eternally, before matter existed. As beings created in His image, we were made for relational unity and love as well. (More.)
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24.)
The Quran considers God to be unknowable; we can know his will, but we cannot know Him. The idea that God could have a son is considered to be a “monstrous falsehood” (19:88.) It states that the falsehood of a triune Godhead would result in a power struggle (23:91.) The phrase “God is love” is necessarily absent from the Quran.
“So believe in God and His apostles and do not say: ‘Three.’ Forbear, and it shall be better for you. God is but one God. God forbid that He should have a son!” (4:171.)
2 – The Nature of Humanity (the basis for human worth)
The Bible states that human beings, both male and female, bear the image of God. It follows then that all human beings have intrinsic value regardless of distinction. Biblical apostolic teaching affirms that there is no male or female in Christ. Marriage was designed to be a complementary unity of equals, reflecting the Godhead (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:4-6.) The New Testament often states that God loved us, despite our fallen, sinful state, and that the sacrificial death of Jesus was the supreme expression of that love.
“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27.)
The Quran states that God created men superior to women. While it states that women shall have rights similar to men, it states that men have a status above women (2:228.) The Quran also gives instruction regarding child-brides who have not yet menstruated (65:4.) God’s love for humankind seems to be conditional – He loves those who do good, who are just, who fight for Him in battle array (61:4), etc. God does not love unbelievers (3:31-32, 30:43-45.) (More.)
“Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior over the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them, forsake them in beds apart, and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme” (4:34.)
3 – The Nature of Salvation (life, heaven, and hell)
The Bible frames salvation relationally and holistically, in keeping with God’s relational nature. Ultimately, eternal life is relational unity with God, beginning in the present and continuing on into eternity. Salvation can only be a gift; un-earned (Eph 2:8,9.) There is a heaven, but the stated point is the presence of God and loving communion with God and His people. Conversely, “hell” is a place of separation from God (1 Thes 1:9.) Jesus spoke of an afterlife with an authority and clarity that hadn’t previously existed in ancient Judaism. He certainly warned about “hell” as a reality – at most around 50 mentions, directly or indirectly.
“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3.)
The Quran frames salvation primarily in terms of gaining paradise and escaping punishment. Salvation is earned by becoming Muslim and doing good deeds (22:49; 33:35.) The differences between the Bible’s and the Quran’s depiction of heaven and hell are substantial, but in reading the Quran what stood out to me most was the overwhelming emphasis on hell. By the second paragraph, and then again in the third, punishment is mentioned, and it never lets up throughout the rest of the book. In the 433 pages of my Quran there are nearly 500 references to hell, fire, punishment, and doom.
“Those that deny Our revelations we will burn in the fire. No sooner will their skins be consumed than We shall give them other skins, so that they may truly taste the scourge. Surely God is mighty and wise” (4:56.)
4 – The Nature of Faith (the basis for belief)
The Bible uniquely presents faith as relational, historical, and evidential. The God of the Bible never asks for blind obedience or irrational faith. Biblical faith is trusting in the proven character of a Creator who has taken pains to demonstrate His trustworthiness through acts in history and verifiable signs. The authors in the Bible, in both old and new testaments, continually refer to eyewitness accounts of historical events, citing times, places, events, genealogies, fulfilled prophecy, and other historical reference points to provide a basis for belief. (More.)
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you eternal life…” (1 John 1:1,2.)
The Quran often refers to itself as a guide from God. It could not refer to biblical events firsthand since it came hundreds of years after Jesus. Instead it repeatedly claims to confirm the Torah and the gospels. However, in the many instances where it refers to the Torah or the gospels it adds embellishments and/or flatly contradicts the biblical accounts. It does provide a test for its own authenticity in saying that if it had not come from God, then it would have many contradictions (4:82.)
“This Quran could not have been devised by any but God. It confirms what was revealed before it and fully explains the scriptures. It is beyond doubt from the Lord of the universe. If they say: ‘He invented it himself,’ say: Bring me one chapter like it. Call on whom you may besides God to help you, if what you say is true!” (10:37,38.)
5 – The Nature of Spiritual Life & Practice (written code vs Spirit)
The Bible presents the Holy Spirit as a person with a mind, will, & emotions – as God Himself. Jesus and His apostles teach spiritual rebirth and the indwelling of God’s Spirit within every believer. Thereafter we walk in the Spirit, rather than “according to the flesh.” In the new covenant of Jesus the old written Torah is not abolished; it is fulfilled and surpassed by something better – a “new life in the Spirit.” Paul specifically says we are given the Spirit because we have received “adoption as sons” in Jesus (Galatians 3:23-4:7.)
“But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6.)
The Quran also presents the Holy Spirit as a helping, strengthening entity, but not as God Himself. Apparently most Muslim scholars believe that the Holy Spirit is the angel Gabriel, (a spirit-being who is holy.) There is no indwelling of the Spirit as in the New Testament. There is no concept of God as Father in the Quran, and accordingly there is no adoption for us as his children. Muslim spiritual practice consists of obeying God by obeying what his messenger has revealed in the Quran.
“Had it been God’s will to adopt a son, He would have chosen whom He pleased out of His own creation. But God forbid! He is God, the One, the Almighty” (39:4.)
This has not been a critique of Islam. This has been a respectful comparison of what I have found the Bible and the Quran to say about topics that matter to me. If you are Muslim (or Christian) and you feel that I have misrepresented your holy scriptures in any way, I welcome you to offer correction in the comments below. To all others I would urge reading these sources for yourself to verify the accuracy of what I have written. May God reveal Himself more clearly to us all.
On a lighter note:
If you haven’t already done so, please check out my newly released kid’s storybook:
THE COCKY ROOSTER!