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Confronting the Challenge of Islam in the 21st Century

by Gleason L. Archer, Jr.

We live today in a world of unusual ferment. With the steady erosion of the theological convictions and moral standards which gave our country a special measure of spiritual direction and national self-confidence, we find ourselves in a malaise of confusion and bewilderment as we watch our young people sucked into the morass of impurity, senseless cruelty and degradation. With the Supreme Court discouraging our public schools from recognizing or respecting the law of God and interpreting the First Amendment of our Constitution to mandate the separation of religion and state rather than church and state, our children have grown up with the delusion that man, not God, is the author of the moral law, and that he is competent to alter it to suit his own taste, except insofar as the law enforcement agencies may interfere to curb their passions and their lusts. The soil is now prepared for sowing the evil seed of man-invented cults and doctrines of demons, springing up unto noxious weeds of depravity, corruption and despair.

Into this scene comes a new population wave from the Near East consisting of Arabic-speaking peoples, most of whom are of the Muslim faith. They have come from Islamic lands which countenance no other faith but that of the Qur'an. There all religious defection was sure to be followed by ostracism and persecution, if not outright imprisonment as traitors to their country and as a disgrace to their family line. But here in North America they find a completely permissive attitude towards religion. Everyone is free to choose whatever faith appeals to him, without any fear of penal consequences. They find themselves in the midst of a nominally Christian nation, where Jesus Christ is honored as the God-Man who died on the cross to save sinners from the guilt and penalty of sin. They are told that His Holy Spirit is ready and willing to take over the control of the believer's heart and life and make him a new creature. But this amendment of life and character have no saving power for the convert to the Christian faith, but rather it is only on the ground of Christ's bearing their penalty of death as their substitute that God Almighty can justly forgive their sin and accept them as His children, for whom He has prepared an eternal home in heaven.

Now the Arab immigrant finds all of those teachings quite preposterous. In the first place he has been taught that the crucifixion was just a hoax; Jesus the son of Mary never died on the cross at all. Allah miraculously took Him up to heaven and substituted an anonymous look-alike to suffer on the cross in His place. Or else, according to the Ahmadiyya teaching, Jesus was actually nailed to the cross, but He only swooned there and appeared to be dead when they took down His body from the cross. Later on, He awoke from His coma and managed to work His way out of His grave clothes and out of His tomb, and then appeared to His disciples as still alive. He later left Palestine and wandered over to India, where ultimately He died, just like anyone else.

Next, the Muslim newcomer observes that most Christians do not take very seriously the standards of godly conduct to which they theoretically subscribe. They do not behave like born-again believers with changed lives. The Arab observes with horror that violence and murder are commonplace, especially in the larger cities, and that sodomy and the right to slaughter babies before birth is protected by law. Alcohol, forbidden to the Muslim, is promoted as perfectly legitimate and is freely commended on television and billboards throughout our country. Small wonder if he comes to the conclusion that Christianity is a religion for degenerates, and that is to be rated as far inferior to the Islamic faith. The prospects of winning him to the Christian faith are meager indeed.

To our shame we must confess that as a nation we have largely betrayed the cause of Christ and besmirched His glory before the heathen. The prevalence of fornication among our young people in our public schools makes a mockery of our professed adherence to biblical morality. The widespread use of mind-destroying drugs and narcotics of every description seems to link Christianity with contemptible degeneracy rather than with deliverance from sin. Therefore the Muslim newcomer concludes that there are no genuine values to be found in the Christian faith, and that those who adhere to it need to be confronted with the superior standards of the Qur'an.

Qur'anic teaching and the Bible

In this connection it ought to be recognized that the Qur'an contains much that is sound and true from the standpoint of Holy Scripture. It teaches that there is only one God, the absolute Sovereign over all of creation, which He alone brought into being. It rightly assumes that no accurate knowledge of God is attainable to mortal man except through special revelation. God has to tell us Himself if we are to know anything for sure about His will for our life, and the meaning of our existence as His children. Like the Scripture, the Qur'an affirms that God has revealed authoritative guidelines for our moral behavior and holds us fully accountable for their observance. It also teaches that human existence goes right on after death, either in a never-ending heaven or in a never-ending hell. Like the Bible, the Qur'an insists that only through recognition and acceptance of these revealed truths can any man be saved, and therefore the knowledge of this salvation is the only hope of the world. These convictions we hold in common with the Muslim community, even though we in complete disagreement with their soteriology.

Furthermore it should be added that there are numerous references in the text of the Qur'an to personalities and episodes in the Bible. The Pentateuch is often referred to as al-Tawratu, the Prophets as al-Nabiyunu or al-Anbiya'u, the Psalms as al-Zaburu, and the Gospel as al-Injilu. Abraham (Ibrahimu), Isaac (Ishaqu), Ishmael (Isma'ilu), Jacob (Ya'qubu), Noah (Nuhu), Adam (Adamu), Amram (Imranu), Moses (Musay), Miriam (Maryamu—also used of the mother of Jesus, Mary herself), King Saul (Talutu), David (Dawudu), Joseph (Yusufu), Job (Ayyubu), John (Yahya), Zechariah (Zakariya), Jesus ('issay), Solomon (Sulaimanu), and various others such as Gabriel (Jibrilu), who allegedly dictated the whole text of the Qur'an to Mohammed himself. The account given of some of these personalities, however, does not always agree with the account in the Bible (e.g., King Saul, or Talutu, is credited with Gideon's test in choosing out the soldiers for his army [Sura 2:249], and one of Noah's three sons is said to have perished in the Flood [Sura 11:43]). Nevertheless the inclusion of the events of the Exodus and of the birth and subsequent career of John the Baptist and of Mary and Jesus make it clear that much information about the Bible reached the Arabian prophet through oral tradition (some of it apocryphal), such as the miracle performed by the child Jesus in changing clay pigeons into real birds who flew away, and his speaking up in testimony as to His mother's chastity when He was but a newborn infant Himself (Sura 3:46, 49; 19:29–33). Mohammed's first wife Khadiyah is reported to have become well-acquainted with the doctrines of both the Jews and the Christians; the same is true of her cousin Waraka. Some of the Arab tribes in the neighborhood of Mecca had actually converted to the Christian faith, and so it was only natural that Mohammed would have formed definite views concerning their Sacred Scriptures, even though he was unable to read them for himself, since he was nearly illiterate.

The Qur'an certifies the Bible

Mohammed's high regard for the Sacred Scriptures was strikingly evidenced by his appeal to their authority as a confirmation of his own doctrines and revelations set forth in the Qur'an. Perhaps the most significant passage along this line is found in Sura 5:44–51, which reads as follows:

5:44) It was We who revealed the Law; therein was guidance and light. By its standards have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed to God's will, by the rabbis and the doctors of the law; for to them was entrusted the protection of God's Book, and they were witnesses thereto. Therefore do not fear man, but fear Me …

إِنَّا أَنْزَلْنَا التَّوْرَاةَ فِيهَا هُدًى وَنُورٌ يَحْكُمُ بِهَا النَّبِيُّونَ الَّذِينَ أَسْلَمُوا لِلَّذِينَ هَادُوا وَالرَّبَّانِيُّونَ وَالأحْبَارُ بِمَا اسْتُحْفِظُوا مِنْ كِتَابِ اللَّهِ وَكَانُوا عَلَيْهِ شُهَدَاءَ فَلا تَخْشَوُا النَّاسَ وَاخْشَوْنِ …

If any fail to judge by the light of what God has revealed, they are unbelievers.

وَمَنْ لَمْ يَحْكُمْ بِمَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ فَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْكَافِرُونَ

5:45) We ordained therein for them: "Life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth …"

وَكَتَبْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ فِيهَا أَنَّ النَّفْسَ بِالنَّفْسِ وَالْعَيْنَ بِالْعَيْنِ وَالأنْفَ بِالأنْفِ وَالأذُنَ بِالأذُنِ وَالسِّنَّ بِالسِّنِّ …

5:46) And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law [Torah] that had come before him. We sent him the Gospel [Injil]; therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him, as a guidance and admonition to those who fear God.

وَقَفَّيْنَا عَلَى آثَارِهِمْ بِعِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْيَمَ مُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ التَّوْرَاةِ وَآتَيْنَاهُ الإنْجِيلَ فِيهِ هُدًى وَنُورٌ وَمُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ التَّوْرَاةِ وَهُدًى وَمَوْعِظَةً لِلْمُتَّقِينَ

5:47) Let the people of the Gospel judge by what God has revealed therein. If any fail to judge by what God has revealed, they are no better than rebels.

وَلْيَحْكُمْ أَهْلُ الإنْجِيلِ بِمَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ فِيهِ وَمَنْ لَمْ يَحْكُمْ بِمَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ فَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ

5:48) To thee We sent the Scripture in truth [i.e., the Qur'an], confirming the Scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety. So judge between them by what God has revealed, and do not follow their vain desires, diverging from the truth that has come to thee. …

وَأَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ مُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَمُهَيْمِنًا عَلَيْهِ فَاحْكُمْ بَيْنَهُمْ بِمَا أ َنْزَلَ اللَّهُ وَلا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَهُمْ عَمَّا جَاءَكَ مِنَ الْحَقِّ …

Later on in this same sura, the Qur'an affirms that those who truly believe the Bible and live according to its teachings are sure of heaven when they die.

5:65) But if the People of the Book had believed and had the fear of God, We would surely have put away their sins from them and would bring them into gardens of delight;

وَلَوْ أَنَّ أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ آمَنُوا وَاتَّقَوْا لَكَفَّرْنَا عَنْهُمْ سَيِّئَاتِهِمْ وَلأدْخَلْنَاهُمْ جَنَّاتِ النَّعِيمِ

5:66) and had they observed the Law and the Gospel and what had been sent down to them from the Lord, they would surely have had their fill of good things from above them and from beneath their feet …

وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ أَقَامُوا التَّوْرَاةَ وَالإنْجِيلَ وَمَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْهِمْ مِنْ رَبِّهِمْ لأكَلُوا مِنْ فَوْقِهِمْ وَمِنْ تَحْتِ أَرْجُلِهِمْ …

5:68) Say: O People of the Book, you have no ground to stand on until you observe the Law [Torah] and the Gospel, and that which has been sent down to you from your Lord. …

قُلْ يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لَسْتُمْ عَلَى شَيْءٍ حَتَّى تُقِيمُوا التَّوْرَاةَ وَالإنْجِيلَ وَمَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ مِنْ رَبِّكُمْ …

In this connection note the dictum laid down in Sura 4:136:

4:136) O you who believe! Believe in God and His apostle, and the Book which He sent down aforetime. Whoever does not believe in God and His angels and His Books and His apostles and in the Last Day, he truly has erred a grievous error.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا آمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَالْكِتَابِ الَّذِي نَزَّلَ عَلَى رَسُولِهِ وَالْكِتَابِ الَّذِي أَنْزَلَ مِنْ قَبْلُ وَمَنْ يَكْفُرْ بِاللَّهِ وَمَلائِكَتِهِ وَكُتُبِهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلالا بَعِيدًا

There are several other passages besides these which could be cited in this connection, but those quoted above are amply sufficient to prove that the author of the Qur'an firmly believed in the full inspiration of the Old Testament and the Gospels of the New Testament as containing the authoritative word of God, and secondly that the Hebrew-Christian Bible should be appealed to in confirmation that what is revealed in the Qur'an is the very truth of God. Correspondingly, the Qur'an is a verification of the contents and teaching of the Bible itself. From this it follows that all of the current effort of Muslim advocates to discredit the records or teaching of the Bible puts them in the impossible position of contradicting the Qur'an itself. In it they are commanded to consult the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures for confirmation of Mohammed's revelations, and they on the contrary are found to be ridiculing and reviling and casting all manner of discredit upon the very Scriptures which their Qur'an clearly affirms to be the very truth of God. In this sense therefore they appear to reject the authority of the very Qur'an which they profess to uphold!

How then can this reproach be lifted from them? Only if it turns out that the text of the Old and New Testament as we now have it is radically different from that which existed in Mohammed's time. Only this could account for the fact that the Bible teaches a far different doctrine of God, as Trinitarian rather than Unitarian; and of Jesus, as being both God and man in two distinct natures within one Person; and of salvation, as received by faith alone on the basis of Christ's atoning sacrifice on behalf of those who truly repent and believe in Him. Since these doctrines permeate the entire Scripture as we now have it, no reconciliation can be found with a Qur'an which teaches salvation by good works. Only if these elements were somehow introduced in the text of the Old and New Testaments after the time when the Qur'an was revealed to Mohammed could this blanket endorsement of the Bible be justified.

In point of fact, however, it is completely out of the question to discredit the text of Holy Scripture as no longer conforming to what was current in Mohammed's time, from A.D. 610 to A.D. 632. Complete manuscripts of the New Testament copied out in the fourth century (Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus) and the fifth century (Codex Alexandrinus), antedate the revelation of the Qur'an by three centuries. The Bodmer Papyrus of John's Gospel dates back to about A.D. 200, judging by the style of handwriting in which it was copied out. As for the Hebrew and Aramaic text of the Old Testament, the numerous texts discovered in the Dead Sea Caves date back from the second century B.C. to the first century A.D., contemporaneous with Jesus and His apostles who composed the New Testament. These manuscripts date back more than a thousand years before the Leningrad manuscript of the tenth century A.D. One striking testimony to the faithful preservation of the original wording of Isaiah is found in the fragmentary manuscript known as 1QIsb, which preserves many columns of the text of chapters 41–66 of Isaiah with almost identical spelling, word-for-word correspondence, with the text of Isaiah in the Leningrad manuscript. There is no way that a text thus attested more than seven centuries before the Qur'an was revealed could have been changed after Mohammed's time. In view of this universally acknowledged evidence of the antiquity of the text of Scripture, the same Scripture which we now have with us in the scholarly editions of the Bible in its original languages, it is completely out of the question that the Qur'an could have been referring to any other text than that which has been preserved to us down to the present time. No other conclusion can be drawn from these data but that the Qur'an certified the accuracy and binding authority of the Bible, even though in point of fact it differs from it essentially in its doctrine of God and of salvation. Any apologete, therefore, who seeks to discredit the text of the Bible in any way puts himself in a state of the rejection of the authority of the Qur'an itself, for he implies that it is in error in regard to the Holy Bible! There is no way in which he can evade the charge of imputing error to the very Qur'an which he professes to uphold.

Yet the Qur'an contradicts the Bible

If then the Qur'an in point of fact teaches a different theology—that God is a single Person rather than the three Persons taught by the Bible, and that Jesus was only a Virgin-born prophet rather than the incarnate Word of God, and that salvation is to be earned by accepting the Muslim creed and by maintaining the stated prayer-times and pilgrimages and the fast of Ramadan, and all the other cultic requirements of that faith—then we must honestly recognize that despite the endorsement of the Bible by the Qur'an, they actually teach different religions which cannot be reconciled with each other. There remains only one credible explanation of this paradox: the author of the Qur'an did not really know the full or indeed the essential teaching of the Bible as it existed in the early seventh century A.D. This ignorance betrayed in the Qur'an eliminates its claims to inerrant authority, and makes it clear that the Qur'an was indeed composed by Mohammed rather than having been revealed to him by God. The omniscient Lord of the Universe could never have dictated the statements cited in the suras above quoted, since they imply a harmony of doctrine between the Bible and the Qur'an which simply does not exist.

Errors in the Qur'an

We must now turn our attention to some of the basic errors in the Qur'an, for these are far-reaching and profound. They grievously mar or distort the glory and perfection of the God who is displayed so prominently in the Muslim scripture. They also eliminate any viable way of salvation for sinful man and leave him without any reasonable basis for hope in the face of judgment and death.

Discredits God's compassion and His justice

In the first place, we need to observe that while every sura in the Qur'an begins with the formula, "In the name of Allah, the Merciful and the Compassionate" (bismi 'llahi, 'l-Rahmani 'l-Rahimi), it is only in the Bible that we are taught what it really means that God is compassionate. John 3:16 explains that God's loving compassion was so great that He sacrificed His Son to live and die for the sinful, fallen, inexcusably guilty race of man, in order that sinners might be saved by faith in Him and the sufficiency of His substitutionary atonement to cover all his sin. In other words, God cared enough about us to endure our punishment for us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the God-Man whose sacrifice was of infinite value in atoning for the iniquity of every repentant, believing sinner. Were it not for this all-sufficient atonement, it would have been basically unjust for God to forgive sinful man on the basis of his own depraved heart and wicked nature, unable to perform any truly acceptable good work out of a pure motive for God's glory.

Therefore we must conclude that since no doctrine of substitutionary atonement is to be found in the Qur'an, God is represented as unrighteous in forgiving sinful man. Were God to handle His moral law as unworthy of support but freely to be disregarded and ignored, He would actually be guilty of upholding the cause of Satan himself, who has argued from the very beginning that man is entitled to disregard the known will of God and do so without incurring the penalty of death (Gen. 3:4–5). Any religion which dispenses with the Atonement and the Cross in effect puts God on the side of Satan by invalidating the operation of the moral law. Only through the Cross could God remain just and the justifier of the ungodly who trust in Jesus, and Islam must be perceived as a grievous slander against the righteousness and justice of God. The same is of course true of any modernistic type of Christianity which rejects the blood atonement of the God-Man Jesus Christ. The same is true of Christian Science and almost all of the other cults which mark the scene in today's world.

Denies Christ's atonement and man's depravity

In the second place, we should observe that only the sincere Bible-believer is capable of Islam. The term Islam is derived from aslama, which means "commit oneself, surrender." But how can anyone truly surrender to God if he rejects God's condemnation upon sin as meriting divine wrath and eternal judgment? And how can man's sin be forgiven without any atonement? To suppose that God can righteously forgive without requiring any atonement is to impute immorality to God and make Him a protector of sin rather than its condemner. True surrender to the will of God surely involves honoring the Lord as a God of integrity and honor, rather than taking Him to be an upholder of Satan's cause. Divine forgiveness can be reconciled with righteousness only if the sins forgiven have in fact been paid for by the vicarious atonement of Jesus Christ. For God to pardon sin without penalty is to divest Him of holiness, integrity and justice. It is therefore impossible to surrender to God while blasphemously maligning Him.

True islam is possible only for the believer who surrenders all effort to justify himself before God on the basis of his own good words or his observance of the rites of religion. In Psalm 14:2–3 it is clearly stated that "The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one." To deny this guilt or to attempt to mitigate it by doing good deeds to compensate for one's sinful nature is like applying a band-aid to malignant cancer. Only by God's intervention at Calvary, where in the person of His Son the Lord paid the death-penalty for sinful mankind, is it possible for them to be spared the pangs of eternal hell without compromising the integrity of God as the Sustainer and Upholder of the moral law. But once this has been recognized and God's marvelous grace and love has been gratefully received, it becomes possible for the repentant believer to surrender his heart and life to God. As we are told in Romans 12:1–2: "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove [by experience] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." Only this surrender is worthy to be called islam, and no one can be truly a muslim until he has done this, and given over his life to God to do His will and to live for His glory.

Offers no assurance of salvation

In the third place, we should observe that no sure and certain hope of salvation is to be found in the Qur'an. Many guidelines for ethical living are set forth in its pages, many of which conform to the moral teachings of the Bible. In addition, there is a demanding discipline of prayer to be observed at least five times a day, with a standard recitation of the Islamic creed, the maintenance of almsgiving, the observance of a daytime-only fast during the month of Ramadan, and the obligation of at least one pilgrimage to Mecca. Along with all of this there are taboos in regard to diet (many of which conform to the guidelines given in the Torah) and the complete avoidance of alcohol. Polygamy is to be restricted to no more than four wives at a time, although husbands may divorce their wives at any time without any court action, and thus extend their mating to as many women as they like (and can afford). Since the woman has no right to initiate divorce, so far as the Qur'an allows, there is a complete inequality of sexes. But the important point to observe is this, that even after following all the rules of good conduct and service in the cause of religion, the practicing Muslim can never be absolutely sure that he is going to go to heaven rather than hell after he dies. Not so far as the Qur'an is concerned, although many teachers of religion hold out the assurance that anyone who dies in defense of the Muslim religion or cause is sure to go to heaven, no matter how rotten or immoral his life has been aforetime. But all of this fails to furnish any reasonable ground of assurance of acquittal before the tribunal of the Lord of the Universe. Like every other religion based on a doctrine of salvation through good works, the Islamic faith cannot guarantee the salvation of its devotees after death.

In complete contrast to Qur'an, the Holy Bible bases salvation upon the perfect work of God, not upon the sin-tainted good works of man. The Gospel which it proclaims is that God Himself has met for us the conditions for pardon and peace and has bestowed Himself upon us in the person of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel states very plainly that all man are born lost and remain guilty throughout the rest of their lives, until they meet Jesus and turn over their life to their divine Savior. The Gospel faces up to the grim reality of our guilty, fallen condition as children of Adam and Eve. It tells us that there is no truly sinless man to be found in the entire human race, and that no one has even begun to love the Lord God with all his heart and soul and strength, as required in Deut. 6:5—which the Lord Jesus declared to be the first and greatest of all the commandments of God. But then the Gospel goes on to tell us that "God, [who is] rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus … For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:4–9).

A sincere Christian believer is assured of heaven precisely because the conditions of entrance have been met by God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. As the greatest of all the writing prophets (and the Qur'an commands us to believe the Prophets as part of our creed) expressed it in Isaiah 53:6, "We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but Yahweh has laid upon Him [the suffering Servant] the iniquities of us all." We cannot pay for our iniquities except by eternity in hell; but the Lord has by grace taken our iniquities from us and laid them on Jesus. Since He has paid for them in full as our substitute and sin-bearer, we do not bear them any longer. Our debt has been paid for in full by the blood of Jesus.

If there were anything left for us to do in order for us to gain salvation, we would indeed have to despair of ever attaining it, since we are even in our redeemed state subject to sin and failure, no matter how high our resolves may be for holy living. But the Gospel tells us that the Holy Spirit of Christ dwells within us from the time we are truly born again, and He produces the works of virtue and love which reflect the life of Christ. Such works contribute nothing to our salvation, however; they simply attest to our salvation and show that we have come under new management as we yield up our hearts to the Lord. It becomes natural and customary for us to "seek those things which are above, where Christ is … and to set our affection on things above rather than on earthly things" (Col. 3:2–3). The First Epistle of John gives the believer a set of indicators of spiritual health, and in its last chapter states: "These things I write unto you … that you may know that you have eternal life." This then is the distinctive hope which only the Christian may enjoy; it is beyond the reach of the Muslim, who has only his own good works to rely on for his forgiveness before God—and those good works are all tainted with the putridity of self-seeking and self-pride rather than evidences of a transformed, God-centered soul.

Disregards the person and divinity of Christ

In the fourth place, the Qur'an completely fails to come to terms with the person of Jesus Christ. It freely confesses that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary through an act of miraculous conception on the part of Allah (Sura 3:47), and it declares Him to be a miracle-worker from His childhood up, and affirms that He is the greatest of all the prophets of God prior to Mohammed himself. But it does not make it at all clear why or in what way Jesus was greater than all who preceded Him. The only message He is stated to have given to the world is the same as that of all His predecessors: "Fear God and obey me … Worship God!" (Sura 3:50–51). At the same time He warns the people not to worship Himself but only God in heaven above (3:79). Not one word of gospel falls from His lips and He teaches virtually nothing about the tender love and care of the Heavenly Father. He contributes absolutely nothing new or distinctive beyond the teaching of all of the Hebrew prophets before Him. He does not even go to the cross, if we may trust the usual interpretation of Sura 3:55, "I will take thee" or, "I will grant thee success, and raise thee to Myself" (the Arabic mutawwafika is rather ambiguous here). At any rate, the comment in Sura 4:157 that the Jews supposed they had crucified and killed Jesus leads to the deduction (as Yusuf ‘Ali states in his footnote 394) that some other man was killed in his place.[1] This of course implies some innocent look-alike was compelled to suffer death in the place of Jesus, rather than Jesus' dying for the fallen race of men. This then amounts to an act of cruel injustice on the part of Allah. Man died for Jesus, Jesus did not die for man.

Plainly the Qur'an does not know what to make of Jesus; it exalts Him to the highest rank of prophet, but fails to explain why He was so great (apart from His virgin birth and His ability to perform miracles). Thus the entire meaning of the Incarnation is missed entirely. The first chapter of John's Gospel makes it clear that as the Word of God, Christ was the Creator of the entire universe; and yet it was this same almighty Creator who "became flesh and tabernacled among us" (John 1:14), so that His disciples beheld His glory as the only begotten Son of God. In other words, God cared enough about the fallen and hopeless state of mankind to come down to us in the person of His Son and work out our redemption for us. The Muslim totally misunderstands the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and so he cannot comprehend the meaning of the Sonship of Christ as the Second Person of the Trinity. He supposes that Christians conceive of the Son of God and the Holy Spirit of God as constituting separate and distinct gods. They they reproach Christians as mushrikuna, those who associate partners with Allah (sharikun being the term for "partner" or "associate"). But this is not a Christian concept at all. On the contrary, the Scripture affirms from Genesis to Revelation that there is one God and one God only. But it also declares the Messiah to be "the mighty God" (Isa. 9:6), and "our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13).

A misunderstanding of the meaning of Sonship lies at the root of the sternly unitarian statement of Sura 112: "Allah is one … He has not begotten nor was He ever begotten" (Allahu ahadun … lam yalid walam yulad). This implies that Christians believe that God the Father literally had intercourse in order to produce God the Son. (The reference to the Virgin Birth in Sura 3:47 makes it clear that lam yalid refers to a divine individual, not a human one.) If that is what the Arabic implies, we would have to agree with that supposedly unitarian sura, for the Bible teaches that Christ was eternal, and therefore He never had a beginning or birth, as the verb walada implies. On the contrary, we are to understand that the terms Father and Son in the Trinity are in a certain sense figurative or symbolic. God from all eternity existed in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, somewhat as an electric battery always has a positive and negative pole as essential to its existence; the positive did not give rise to the negative, nor the negative to the positive. God is one in essence, but eternally subsists in three Persons.

How can this be so? This presents us with a great and solemn mystery, for in God we have one who is completely unique and without analogy. It is inevitably difficult to grasp anything for which there is no analogy in all the universe. Nevertheless, we have a clue as to how the Trinity is to be understood, for Gen. 1:26–27 states that God created man in His own image. Now we know that man is psychologically composed of three natures: the bodily nature, the soul and the spirit. Thus 1 Thess. 5:23 expresses Paul's prayer: "May the God of Peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." Hebrews 4:12 speaks of the sword of God's word piercing as far as "the division of the soul and spirit"—which makes it difficult to construe soul and spirit to be all one and the same (as dichotomists like to believe). Now it is perfectly evident to us human beings that dialogue or tension may arise between the bodily nature and the soul or spirit. Consider the case of a weight-watcher standing in front of a box of chocolates! From this perspective it is comprehensible that in the garden of Gethsemane the Son could pray to the Father in regard to the bitter cup which Jesus was soon to drink at the time of His execution. We may reason with ourselves or even rebuke ourselves as trinitarian human beings without being divisible into three separate entities.

It is quite essential to point out to our Muslim friends that were there no Trinity there would be no hope of salvation for the human race. Only a perfect God-Man could offer a sufficient and adequate atonement for the sins of all mankind; only as both human and divine could Christ present a sacrifice of infinite value to redeem mankind from all sin and guilt; a mere human victim could never serve as a substitute for the rest of his race, no matter how pure and godly he may have been. This of course does not mean that God the Son suffered death on the cross, for God is essentially and necessarily the Living One and can never die. But it was as the Son of Man, the suffering Messiah, that Jesus died on Calvary. Only as man, descended from Adam and Abraham and David through His foster father's line and through His mother's line as well, could He properly represent man at the Cross.

Jesus then is not to be understood as a mere prophet, the last of a long line of Hebrew prophets (although He was of course the great Messianic prophet foretold in Deut. 18:15–18). He is also the supreme High Priest of the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4, Heb. 7:17–28), and He is set forth in Scripture as Messianic King (Ps. 2:6–9; Ps. 110:1; Isa. 9:6–7). In other words, God became incarnate in Jesus Christ, exercising the three offices of Prophet, Priest and King, and as the mighty Redeemer of God's elect. As the Word of God who became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, the Second Person of the Trinity thereby became personal and real to His disciples ("He who has seen Me has seen the Father" was His answer to Philip in John 14:9), and thus made it possible for mortal human beings to know God as a living, holy, loving Person. In the centuries following His death and resurrection, the Christian Church was made up of those who had come to a personal knowledge of God Almighty, Master of the Universe, and who had given their heart's loyalty to Him without reserve and without bargaining for personal advantage. They found Him to be the closest person they had ever known, One who knew them through and through and yet loved them still, and thus they were guided and cared for by Him as dearly cherished members of His body, the Church. Neither Islam nor any other world religion knows anything about this kind of a loving, ever-growing relationship between moral man and the eternal God. The Muslim will never find this deeply personal knowledge and relationship of love in any passage of the Qur'an, with its rather austere portrait of a transcendent, unknowable Deity who loves only the good and deserving and has only rejection and contempt for unconverted, sin-snared men who are stumbling the downward path to eternal hell.

To sum up, then, we have seen that the content or teaching of the Qur'an betrays a basic misunderstanding of Holy Scripture in at least seven respects. (1) It assumes a harmony in history and doctrine as between the Bible and the Qur'an which clearly does not exist in point of fact, and which cannot be accounted for by any subsequent alteration in the text of the Bible after Mohammed's time—in view of the fact that manuscripts still exist containing the same text of Scripture as we have today, but which were copied out several centuries before Mohammed's birth. (2) The contents of the Qur'an fail to demonstrate the merciful compassion of God which it affirms at the beginning of every sura, for it teaches that fallen man must earn his salvation by good works and religious observances that may possibly (but not certainly) make him eligible for divine forgiveness. (3) The Qur'an confesses a completely righteous God of justice, and yet presents Him who may forgive the guilty without requiring any atonement for his guilt—a procedure which mars or corrupts God's holiness and makes Him out to be on Satan's side as the justifier of the ungodly in contravention of His own moral law. (4) The Qur'anic summons to islam or total surrender to God completely overlooks the barrier of the self-centered, self-seeking heart of fallen man, whose basic motive is fear of eternal punishment rather than a loving gratitude for the completely unearned love and compassion of a God who took upon Himself the work of atonement upon the cross of Calvary. Only upon the basis of Christ's atonement is true islam possible. (5) The Qur'an furnishes no sure basis for hope in the forgiveness of God or the attainment of heaven, but only an uncertain possibility that God may after all forgive a repentant sinner on the basis of his good works and religious observances, even though his sinful heart has never been cleansed by a self-condemning repentance or transformed by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. (6) The Qur'an, for all the honor it gives to Jesus as a human prophet, fails to come to terms with the true nature of Christ as both God and man in two distinct natures and one Person—without which He could not become the Savior of mankind as the effectual substitute for sinners on the shameful cross of Calvary. Thus it deprives Jesus of any role whatever in the work of salvation, but simply a teacher of salvation through the good works of the unredeemed sinner himself. (7) The Qur'an totally misinterprets the Triune nature of God as set forth in Holy Scripture, caricaturing it as a belief in three separate gods in partnership with one another, rather than the biblical testimony to one eternal God who substitutes in three Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—equal in substance but distinct in nature and function, even as man himself (created in God's image) consists of a combination of spirit, soul and a bodily nature.

Provincial origins of the Qur'an

It now remains for us to make some observations about the credibility of the Qur'an as a document co-eternal with God Himself, everlasting in its existence before the beginning of time, but finally dictated by the angel Gabriel (or Jibrilu) in the seventh century A.D. A careful study of the contents of the Qur'an leads quite compellingly to the conclusion that the essential focus of the Qur'an is centered on the period of Mohammed himself. Whereas the Hebrew Bible covers the history of Israel from the time of Abraham before 2000 B.C. to the period of Malachi in 430 B.C., addressing the contemporary issues and challenges of each generation, the Qur'an relates just a few episodes in the life of the patriarchs and Moses in order to bring out their prophetic utterances as a tradition hallowed through the centuries intervening between Moses' time and the lifetime of Mohammed. Not until then do we find references to contemporary events and places that have a bearing upon Mohammed's career. For example: (1) Sura 111 is a curse pronounced against Mohammed's uncle, Abu Lahab, for disbelieving his divine commission as Allah's apostle. (2) Sura 105 is a word of encouragement and assurance to the Arab defenders of Mecca against the elephant brigade of Abraha, the Christian ruler of Abyssinia, who had come against them. (3) In Sura 33 we find references to (a) the battle strategy proper for the defenders of Yathrib (Medina) against an invading force from Mecca; (b) an admonition to Mohammed's discontented wives to remain patiently subject to him; (c) a reference to Zaid, Mohammed's secretary, whose divorced wife Mohammed had decided to marry and add to his harem; (d) an admonition from God to Mohammed's followers not to enter his home uninvited, lest they interfere with his mealtimes. Other significant references are (e) an attack made by Muslims upon a Meccan caravan during the sacred month when warfare was forbidden, to which Allah replies that such a slaughter of faith- rejecting recalcitrants was more important than honoring the sacred month (Sura 2:217); (f) three references to the crucial battle of Badr (which however is not actually named) to be found in the opening verse of Sura 8, with allusions to the terrain on which the battle was fought (vv. 42–44), and Satan's abandonment of the Meccan forces when he realized that God had willed their defeat (v. 48). In other words, the atmosphere of the Qur'an is saturated with the atmosphere and historical setting of Mohammed's own time. This seems to be hardly compatible with a holy revelation of God composed before the beginning of time and co-eternal with God Himself. It is of course compatible with divine foreknowledge of all future events in the history of mankind, but the fact that it is so focused on the lifetime of Mohammed himself strongly suggests that it was actually Mohammed who composed the book himself, rather than its being dictated to him by some angelic spokesman of Allah.

Altered and abrogated verses

This impression is greatly strengthened by the frequency with which God is said to have changed His mind and abrogated verses previously revealed to Mohammed. One notable example has to do with quibla, or the direction which the worshiper should face during times of prayer (sallah or sallatun). During his earlier years Mohammed was making overtures to the Jews (as Yusuf ‘Ali points out in footnote 141, commenting on Sura 2:142), but when they proved stubborn in rejecting his apostleship, he came up with a complete change in the direction of prayer, in the choice of Mecca rather than Jerusalem. Sura 2:143 quotes God as saying: "We appointed the qibla you were used to, only to test the faith of those who followed the Apostle from those who would turn away on their heels." This certainly sounds like a change of direction resorted to only after the Arabian Jews had decided against Mohammed's claims to supersede Moses and amend some regulations in the Torah.

This in turn brings up the problem of abrogated verses in the Qur'an. For example, in Sura 9:29, "Fight those who do not believe in Allah or the Last Day … nor acknowledge the religion of truth (even if they are) the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya-tax with willing submission." He then goes on to say, "The Jews call 'Uzair [Ezra] the son of God ['ibnu ‘llahi] and the Christians call Christ the Son of God"—a statement which is true of Christians but utterly false in regard to the Jews, who never regarded Ezra as divine. But we meet the regulation becoming far more severe in Sura 9:5, earlier in the same sura: "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the polytheists (mushrikina) wherever you find them. … But if they repent and maintain regular prayers and regular charities, then open the way for them, since God is oft-forgiving and very merciful." This can be explained as referring only to the incorrigible unbelievers, who alone have to be killed—unless they are willing to move out of Islamic territory (as v. 6 provides).

The striking fact emerges, however, that the Qur'an itself freely admits that some of its scriptures have been superseded by others. In Sura 16:101 we read: "When We substitute one revelation for another—and God knows best what He reveals—they say, ‘You are only a forger.' But most of them do not understand." Even plainer is the dictum in Sura 2:106: "Whatever verses We cancel or cause thee to forget, We bring in a better one or one like it. Do you not know that Allah has power over all things?" This apparently means that Allah has authority to change His mind or contradict Himself. If so, this precludes the Muslim critique from attacking the credibility of the Bible itself on the basis of alleged contradictions between different passages. Yet we hasten to add that two propositions that contradict each other cannot both be true. A credible defense of Scripture must deal with alleged contradictions in such a way as to show that they are only apparent, not real—even though the Qur'an does not regard this defense as necessary.

Textual history of the Qur'an

So far as the inscripturation of the revelations of the Qur'an is concerned, we must take careful note of the claim of Muslim apologetes that the Qur'an itself—in contradistinction to the Bible—has been faithfully and accurately written down and inerrantly transmitted. This claim is however very difficult to sustain in the light of the account given by Muslim authors concerning the standardizing of the text of the Qur'an. In the Mishkatu 'lMasabih, chapter 3, we are informed that by the command of the first caliph, Abu Bakr, the text of the Qur'an was "collected" by Zaid ibn Thabit "from palm leaves and stones and from the breasts of those who had learned by heart" the various revelations. This earliest collection took place in A.H. 14, or A.D. 636. Abu Bakr's copy was taken over by Caliph 'Umar after the former had died, according to Al Bukhari. Later it came into the possession of Hafsah, one of Mohammed's widows. Some time afterward the next caliph, 'Uthman, commissioned Zaid to make fresh copies of Hafsah's manuscript and send it out to various centers of the Caliphate as the only authoritative text. The reason for this was that there were by his time so many discordant forms of various suras, even among the Hafizun disciples of the Prophet who had learned it by heart, that standardization was absolutely necessary if later schisms were to be avoided within the Muslim community. Qustalani even states that after Hafsah's death her copy was torn in pieces by Mirwan, who was governor of Medina, and so the identity of 'Uthman's text with that of Abu Bakr is called in question. The only motive for Hafsah's text to be destroyed could have been that it was believed to be dangerously deviant or defective from the standpoint of Governor Mirwan.

The reason no other early texts of the Qur'an have survived from the time of 'Uthman is that he as Caliph commanded all other copies to be destroyed by fire. Only the men of Kufa refused to burn their own cherished version, and as Alfred Guillaume states, "their version was certainly extant as late as A.D. 1000."[2] It should be added that the old Cuphic script in which Arabic was then written was of rather uncertain interpretation. Not only did it lack any vocalization, but far more serious was the lack of diacritical dots to distinguish consonants like b and t and th and even y, all of which were written as a single vertical jog. Needless to say, the fact that active verbs and passive verbs are often identically written made for a good deal of disagreement as to what the written text really meant, until such time as the vowel points were added to some later period. These factors made for a great deal of disagreement far more serious than was the case with the Sopherim text of the Old Testament, which also lacked vowel points until the advent of the Massoretes around A.D. 800, but which accurately distinguished the consonants in their writing system. In the light of the foregoing data it can only be said that the problem of establishing the original, supposedly inspired, text of the Qur'an is far more serious than is the case with the Hebrew Old Testament, for which thousands of manuscript copies are still available for textual criticism, ranging in age from the second century B.C. to the eleventh century A.D..

The regenerating power of Jesus Christ

One final consideration should be adduced before we conclude this apologetic for the authority of the Bible as over against the claims of the Qur'an. That is the amazing power of the Jesus Christ of Scripture to affect the lives of men and women today as they face their utter inability to save themselves or to insure their acceptance before God. Because Jesus comes to us in Holy Scripture as God Incarnate, who cared enough for our soul to endure the humiliation of taking unto Himself a human nature, united with His divine being, as living a life of perfect holiness in complete fulfillment of the Law of God, and then going all the way to the shameful death of the Cross, in order to present Himself as our sin-bearer and substitute—this Jesus as our divine-human redeemer, furnishes the one and only solution to the problem of how God could remain just and yet accept as righteous those who were ungodly and then transform them into redeemed children of God. More than this, He comes to us through Scripture as our Lover, merciful and compassionate, who was willing to die for us who are utterly guilty and unworthy of the least of His favor. It is on the ground of what God did rather than what good we have done or ever could do, that gives us sinners a sure and solid ground for hope and assurance that the love of God has reached down to us in our need, and made it possible for us through the New Birth to become new creatures, living for the Lord and bound for heaven according to His gracious promise. This establishes a warm, vital personal relationship with the Person of God as our loving Redeemer, rather than a God who merely lays down the rules which we have to follow in our own human strength or be utterly lost. Only in the Bible, then, do we find a true realization of the opening line of each Sura of the Qur'an—bismi 'llahi 'l-Rahmani 'l-Rahimi—and only in the surrender of faith taught in the Gospel do we find it possible to experience islam and thus become a true Muslim.


[1]. Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali, The Holy Qur-an: Text, Translation and Commentary, 3d ed. (1938: rpt. Washington, D.C.: The Islamic Center, 1978). The enumeration of the chapters, or suras, is the same in all editions of the Qur’an; however, the verse numbering varies slightly among different English versions. ‘Ali’s versification has been followed in all Qur’anic citations [but see the longer note below]. The English translations of the Qur’an which appear throughout this paper generally follow ‘Ali, but occasionally have been emended by the author. 

[2]. Alfred Guillaume, Islam (Baltimore: Penguin Books, Inc., 2d ed. 1956), 58. 

Original publication information:
Gleason L. Archer, Jr., "Confronting the Challenge of Islam in the 21st Century," chapter 7 in Contend for the Faith: Collected Papers of the Rockford Conference on Discernment and Evangelism, edited by Eric Pement (Chicago: Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, 1992), pages 92–109.

This article was presented orally at the Rockford Conference on Discernment and Evangelism (Rockford, Illinois) on September 28–30, 1989, was submitted for publication in 1990, and published by EMNR in 1992.

In 1989, a new, 4th edition of A. Yusuf ‘Ali’s translation of the Qur'an was issued by the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Amana Publications of Brentwood, Maryland. Several footnotes were changed and the verse numbering was changed also. Most translations of the Qur'an since then have adopted the same system of numbering the verses of the Qur'an. Dr. Archer’s article in Contend for the Faith used the verse numbering from Ali’s third edition (1938). This web edition uses the verse numbering from Ali’s fourth edition (1989). The Arabic portions of the Qur'an were generated by the "DivineIslam Qur'an Viewer" software v2.913, and are used with appreciation. Ellipses (". . .") signal the omission of text for literary conciseness, and are never used to distort the meaning of any passage.

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