Islam (3)

If you read the Qur’an, you will learn very little about Jesus Christ.

The New Testament presents Jesus as the incarnate Son of God, true God and true man. It records details concerning His birth, His childhood, His public ministry, His miracles and His teachings, and it devotes a lot of attention to His sufferings, His death, and His glorification (especially His resurrection from the dead). The Qur’an, on the other hand, contains very scant details about Jesus. It seems that Mohammed had very limited knowledge (and perhaps no knowledge at all) of the New Testament scriptures. Never does he interact with the New Testament scriptures, for example.

This in itself is striking, for the Qur’an speaks of something called the Injil, which is the gospel: “We sent after them Jesus, the son of Mary, and bestowed on him the gospel [Injil]” (Surah 57:27). “It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book, confirming what went down before it; and He sent down the Law (of Moses) and the Gospel [Injil] (of Jesus) before this, as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the Criterion (of judgment between right and wrong” (Surah 3:3). If the Qur’an itself recommends the gospel [Injil], why is Mohammed ignorant of the gospel, and why does the Qur’an not interact with the clear teachings of the New Testament?

The Qur’an presents Jesus Christ as a creature, as a mere man, who is a prophet or messenger of Allah. Time and time again, the Jesus of the Qur’an denies that he is anything more than a messenger. “Christ the Son of Mary was no more than a Messenger; many were the messengers that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how Allah doth make his signs clear to them: yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth!” (Surah 5:75). “The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, ‘Be’ and he was” (Surah 3:59). “Christ Jesus the Son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him … far (Exalted is He) from having a son” (Surah 4:171). “They say: ‘Allah hath begotten a Son!’—glory be to Him! He is self-sufficient! His are all things in the heavens and on earth! No warrant have ye for this! Say ye about Allah what ye know not” (Surah 10:68).

The Qur’an clearly rejects the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, but does the Qur’an give any evidence that Mohammed understood what Christianity means by the confession, “Jesus is the Son of God”? Sadly, we have another example of a “straw man fallacy” in Islam’s “holy book.”

Consider these texts from the Qur’an: “To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: how can He have a son when He hath no consort? He created all things, and hath full knowledge of all things” (Surah 6:101); “Exalted is the Majesty of our Lord: He hath taken neither a wife nor a son” (Surah 72:3). A consort is the spouse of a king or queen. Clearly, the writer of the Qur’an understands begetting a son to require a husband and a wife; and since Allah has not taken to himself a female consort (wife), he could not have begotten a son.

However, Christians do not have any carnal conception of the Sonship of Jesus. This is something that we must explain to our Muslim neighbor when we witness to him. No Christian has ever taught, for example, that Mary is the consort of Allah, or even of God the Father. The Christian church taught in her historic creeds, centuries before Mohammed allegedly received the revelations that make up the Qur’an, what the Bible means when it calls Jesus “the Son of God” or “the only begotten Son of God.” Between 325-381 AD, the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople defined that Jesus is the Son of God in this sense: “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God; Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made, being of one essence with the Father; by whom all things were made...” In 451 AD, the Council of Chalcedon defined the orthodox Christian position in these words: “begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead…”

Jesus is the eternal, only begotten, uncreated Son of God.

By the term “Son of God” the Bible does not mean merely that Jesus is like God. The term “Son of God means that Jesus has the same essence as the Father and the Spirit (recall the word homoousion from the last blog post on this subject), the same attributes as the Father and the Spirit, performs the same works as the Father and the Spirit, and receives the same worship as the Father and the Spirit. Indeed, He has the same life as God. In other words, if Jesus is the Son of God, He is God.

The Bible says some wonderful things about the relationship between the Father and the Son: According to Hebrews 1:3, the Son of God is “the brightness of [God’s] glory and the express image of [God’s] person.” Colossians 1:15 calls Jesus “the image of the invisible God.” John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

Another reason why this is difficult to understand is our experience of fathers and sons. Would not God the Father be “older” than God the Son? And if God is the Father of Jesus, does He not need a wife or a consort, in order to “beget a son”? And if God is the Father of Jesus, does that not make God the Creator of Jesus, and does that not make Jesus a creature, like an angel? Many religious groups reject or corrupt the teaching that Jesus is the Son of God with such misconceptions.

First, the Bible is clear that Jesus is the eternal Son of God—which means that He does not have a beginning. He is not younger than God the Father. He is eternal. About God, scripture says, “From everlasting to everlasting thou art God” (Ps. 90:2). About the Son of God, scripture says, “Out of thee [Bethlehem] shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). Jesus says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). The Son of God has no beginning or ending. He has no eternal mother, only an eternal Father. He always was. He always is. He always shall be.

Second, the Bible calls Jesus the only begotten Son of God. That term “begotten” needs explanation.

A person might be the son of his father in different senses. A person might be his father’s son biologically—a DNA test would verify the biological parentage. A person might be his father’s son legally—by the act of adoption, a man could bestow the rights and privileges upon one who is not biologically related to him.

Similarly, the Bible uses the term “son of God” in different senses. The angels, for example, are the created sons of God. Jesus is not the created Son of God. Believers are the adopted sons of God. Jesus is not the adopted Son of God.

Jesus is begotten, indeed, only begotten. The verb “beget” describes the activity of a father in bringing forth a son. In begetting a son, a man brings forth one who is of the same being as himself but who is personally distinct from himself. When a human father begets a son, for example, he does not beget a horse or a cat—he begets another human person. Since God the Father is spiritual, He does not beget a physical Son—He begets the Son in an eternal, spiritual act. Within the infinite spiritual being of God, the Father begets the Son, who is the image of the Father, and the object of the Father’s eternal love and delight. And no consort or divine mother is involved.

Thus, the Father brings forth the Son eternally within His own being. Never is the Father without the Son. Never is the Son without the Father. The Bible says of Jesus, “He is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18). Let us not have any carnal conception of this great wonder!

Next time, DV, we will explain what we mean by the Incarnation of the Son of God, something about which Muslims have many misconceptions.

_________________

This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. 

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Islam (2)

In the last blog post on this subject we noticed that many Muslims do not understand the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. This is because their book, the Qur’an either deliberately or ignorantly misrepresents the doctrine. We call this a “straw man” argument—a “straw man fallacy” occurs when a person creates a misrepresentation of his opponent’s position and attacks it instead of the true position of the opponent. Christians must not be guilty of such fallacies. The Ninth Commandment of God’s Law forbids “falsify[ing] any man’s words” (Heidelberg Catechism, LD 43).

When the Qur’an presents Christians as worshipping Jesus and His mother “in derogation of Allah” (Surah 5:116) or presents Christians as joining “other gods with Allah” (Surah 5:72-73), the Muslim’s supposedly inspired text grossly misrepresents what Christians believe. The Trinity does not consist of Allah, Jesus and Mary, and the Trinity does not consist of many gods. Consider another text from the Qur’an: “They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except one God” (Surah 5:73).

Two concepts in Islamic theology make it very difficult for the Muslim to understand the Christian doctrine of the Trinity—in addition, of course, to the natural depravity of the human heart. Those two concepts are tawhid and shirk.

Tawhid is the absolute oneness of Allah—Islam is a religion of absolute, non-negotiable, Unitarian monotheism. Muslims view other religions (except Judaism) as polytheistic. Hinduism, for example, is polytheistic, for Hindus do indeed worship many gods. Christianity, however, is not polytheistic, for Christians worship only one God. However, when Muslims hear that Christians worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit (or when they imagine that Christians worship Allah, Jesus and Mary!), they conclude wrongly that Christians are polytheistic.

Shirk is the unforgivable sin (in Islam) of associating others with Allah. Muslims fear the sin of shirk above all other transgressions. Allah can forgive adultery, murder and every other sin, but Allah will not under any circumstances forgive one who has died in the sin of shirk: “Allah forgiveth not that partners should be set up with Him, but He forgiveth anything else to whom he pleaseth; to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin most heinous indeed” (Surah 4:48). “Whoever joins other gods with Allah—Allah will forbid him the Garden, and the fire will be his abode. There will for the wrongdoers be no one to help” (Surah 5:72).

No wonder that the Muslim is especially prejudiced against Christianity—it has been ingrained into him that Christianity is shirk! What the Christian needs to do, therefore, in witnessing is to demonstrate to the Muslim neighbor that the doctrine of the Trinity has nothing to do with shirk. And the Christian must pray that the Spirit of God might open the heart of the Muslim neighbor to receive the truth. Ultimately, we can only present the truth. We cannot convince anyone of the truth. That is the work of God’s Spirit, who blows where He wills in the hearts of God’s elect (John 3:8).

The word Trinity is not found in the Bible, but that should not disturb us, for every field of knowledge has technical vocabulary and terminology. The word Trinity is shorthand for theological concepts that are found in the Bible. The word Trinity explains who God is—in a certain sense, He is one; and in another sense, He is three. He is one God in three distinct persons. This is basic Christianity, but the Muslim will find it confusing.

The Bible teaches that there is only one God. This is the teaching of the Old Testament. When the Gentiles worshipped many gods, Israel confessed and worshipped only one God. “Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the LORD, and beside me there is no Saviour” (Isaiah 43:10-11). This is also the teaching of the New Testament—Christians did not jettison their monotheism even when they confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord. They continued to confess and worship only one God, the same God as the God of the Old Testament. The Greeks and Romans worshipped many gods, but the church steadfastly remained monotheistic. “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2:5).

Nevertheless, the Bible does not hesitate to give the name of God, ascribe the attributes of God, attribute the works of God, and present the worship of God to three individuals—to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

The Bible gives the name of God to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. The Bible ascribes the attributes of God to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. The Bible attributes the works of God to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. And the Bible presents the worship of God to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Many texts could be cited to prove the points above, but I forbear for lack of space. The point, however, is this—the Father is called God, the Son is called God, and the Holy Spirit is called God, and yet there is only one God. (Notice, by the way, contrary to the misrepresentation of the Qur’an, that it is not that Allah is called God, Jesus is called God and Mary is called God. Nor is that the Son is called God and joined as a secondary God to Allah. Nor is that others are worshipped as gods alongside Allah. The doctrine of the Trinity means that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equally God).

To explain the truth of the Trinity, the early church needed to use terminology. In what sense is God one, and in what sense is God three? The theological terms on which the church settled were being or essence, and person. Of course, the early church used Greek terms (ousia and hypostasis). These terms became all the more important because of the presence of false teachers in the church. For example, a heretic called Arius (d. 336) agreed to call the Son of God homoiousion, which means of a similar essence or being to the Father, but he baulked at the word homoousion, which means of the same essence or being as the Father. (The astute reader will notice that the difference between those two words, and therefore the difference between heresy and orthodoxy, is one letter—the smallest Greek letter, iota!). These theological debates occurred long before Mohammed’s birth, as I explained in the last blog post on this subject.

The being or essence of something makes it what it is, and distinguishes it from every other being. Everything apart from God is creature. The divine being of God is unique—and one. There are not two, or three beings called God. There is one God, one divine being, or one indivisible Godhead.

A person is a conscious, intelligent, active individual distinct from other persons. The writer of this blog post is a person. The individual reader is another, distinct person. This world has billions of human persons in it.

The difficulty is this—in our human experience, one human being is also one human person. No analogy or illustration exists in which one being is more than one person. Yet that is who God is—He is three distinct persons subsisting in one divine being. To understand something of that, or to grasp that, is to understand the doctrine of the Trinity. The Father is not the same person as the Son or the Holy Spirit, yet He shares the same being as the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son is not the same person as the Father or the Holy Spirit, yet He shares the same being as the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the same person as the Father or the Son, yet He shares the same being as the Father and the Son.

Is that deep and mysterious? Absolutely! Is that illogical, contradictory and impossible to reconcile with human reason? Absolutely not!

There are two more significant truths about the Trinity that we must bear in mind.

First, the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity is one of equality. Christians do not worship one person “in derogation” of the other persons. Christians view the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as coequal in power, glory and majesty—there is no gradation of being or difference of rank. The Father is not more divine than the Son or the Holy Spirit, for example. The Father is not higher, and the Son is not subordinate to the Father in the being of God. Remember the word homoousion—of the same essence. There is also no time in the Trinity—the Trinity is eternal, which means that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are co-eternal. The Father is not before the Son or before the Spirit.

Second, the relationship between the persons of the Trinity is one of perfect love and fellowship. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are not rivals, but holy family. The Father loves the Son in the Holy Spirit, and the Son loves the Father in the Holy Spirit. God, therefore, is not a lonely deity, but He is the living God, full of life, love and fellowship, within Himself, within His own being. It is because of this love of God within the being of God that God is capable of loving the creature.

This God—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—is the God of our salvation.

Next time, DV, we will explain what we mean by the Christian confession that Jesus is the Son of God, something about which Muslims have many misconceptions.

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This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. 

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Islam (1)

Because of multiculturalism and increased immigration, especially in Europe, Muslims are increasingly common in the post-Christian West. This makes Muslims our neighbors, those whom God has placed on our path. Many Christians view Muslims as their enemies. Nevertheless, the command of Christ is clear—love your neighbor, and even love your enemy.

Part of the love that the Christian owes his Muslim neighbor is to present the gospel to him. Many Christians are ill equipped to do so. In a series of blog posts, I intend to introduce the reader to the doctrines of Islam, so that we can better understand our Muslim neighbor, and so that we can witness to him about Jesus Christ. You might find that the Muslim is more interested in hearing the gospel than the hardened “lapsed Christian.”

One problem in witnessing to Muslims is that Muslims misunderstand what Christianity is. They have wrong notions about the Trinity, the Son of God, and other Christian truths. Not only do they reject them, but their Qur’an misrepresents them. This is a formidable barrier, but it can be overcome when we plainly state the truth.

A good place to begin is with history. The Qur’an was written during the lifetime of Mohammed (c. 570-632 AD). A lot of very significant church history took place before Mohammed’s birth. First, the Christian church defined from the scriptures the doctrine of the Trinity (the Council of Nicea in 325 AD and the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD). Second, the Christian church defined the relationship between the one person and the two natures (human and divine) of Jesus Christ (the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD).

The reason that these dates are significant is simple—the church had defined from the New Testament who God is and who Jesus Christ is over a century before Mohammed’s birth. (We do not mean that the church invented these doctrines, but that the church officially defined them out of the inspired scriptures). Therefore, the Qur’an, which Mohammed allegedly received as divine revelation, should accurately reflect what the church had defined. If the Qur’an shows evidence of ignorance of Christian doctrine or deliberate misrepresentation of it, the Muslim is faced with very serious questions about the authenticity of his “sacred book.”

Consider the following citations from the Qur’an against the Trinity:

 And behold, Allah will say: ‘O Jesus, the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, ‘Worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah?’ He will say: ‘Glory to Thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, Thou wouldest indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, though I know not what is in Thine. For thou knowest in full all that is hidden’ (Surah 5:116).

O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not Three: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One God: glory be to Him: (far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs (Surah 4:171).

 They do blaspheme who say: ‘God is Christ the son of Mary.’ But said Christ: ‘O children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.’ Whoever joins other gods with Allah, Allah will forbid him the Garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrongdoers be no one to help. They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily, a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them (Surah 5:72-73).

The reader will notice that the writer of the Qur’an views the Trinity very differently from the official statements of the Christian church. “Worship me and my mother in derogation of Allah.” The Qur’an’s “Trinity” is not Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but Allah, Jesus and Mary! Moreover, the Qur’an views the Trinity as “join[ing] other gods with Allah.”

This misrepresentation of the Trinity is inexcusable because the church defined the Trinity as one God in three distinct persons centuries before Mohammed wrote one word of the Qur’an. No Christian has ever defined the Trinity as the Qur’an does. It is, however, easy to imagine how Mohammed could have jumped to such a conclusion. Mohammed observed churches; he saw statues and icons; and he conversed with Christian merchants of various heretical sects. There is no evidence, however, that he was familiar with the Nicene or Chalcedonian creeds. In fact many believe that Mohammed was illiterate.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made … And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life; who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

How could Mohammed have been unaware of a theological controversy that had been resolved in the Christian church two centuries before the Qur’an was written, if he is (as Islam claims) the prophet of God, and if the Qur’an is (as Islam claims) the inspired word of the all knowing, all seeing Allah? For Mohammed to disagree with Christian orthodoxy is one thing; for him to be ignorant of or deliberately to misrepresent it is quite another.

Next time, DV, we will explain what we mean by the Trinity so that we can properly present the truth that Jesus is the Son of God to our Muslim neighbor.

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This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. 

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