Should Muslims take seriously the inspired words of the Holy Bible? Should you?
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the
truth, and the life. No one comes to
the Father except through Me’”
“And We sent… Jesus, the son of Mary,
confirming that which came before him
in the Torah: We gave Him the Gospel”
True Christians recognize the Holy Bible as God’s inerrant word, perfect as given to His people. Nominal Christians have waged crusades and committed terrible atrocities in its name—sometimes fighting against other nominal Christians, and sometimes fighting against those who revere other books as holy—committing acts of violence the God of the Bible condemns as sin.
One book revered as holy by more than 1.6 billion people alive today claims that it—not the Bible—is the final, perfect and infallible source of divine revelation. That book, the Quran, has also been used over the centuries to try to justify violent acts that the Bible and true Christians also rightly recognize as sin.
Muslims and Christians alike need to understand what the Bible says about itself. And Muslims in particular might be surprised by what the Quran actually says about the Bible.
Islam is the second-largest world religion. It has its greatest concentration of believers in the Middle East and North Africa, where more than 93 percent of the 340 million-plus population is Muslim. The largest numbers of Muslims, however, are outside the Middle East, with more than a billion in South and Southeast Asia, where they make up about 25 percent of the population. Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population, with more than 200 million adherents. Saudi Arabia, home of the religion, has just 25 million.
Muhammad, whom Muslims consider to be the final prophet of God, reported his first revelation in 610ad—a revelation he said came from the archangel Gabriel—and he continued to report revelations over the last two decades of his life. These revelations were codified after his death into the document now known as the Quran.
The two main branches of Islam today are the Sunni and the Shi’a, who trace their different lineages to a succession dispute among Muhammad’s first followers. Shi’ite Muslims look to Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin Ali as the religion’s first rightful caliph (religious head of state), while Sunni Muslims accept the authority of the first three rulers who led the community after Muhammad’s death: Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman. The two branches also differ in their jurisprudence, relying on different hadith (“sayings” of Muhammad and his companions) compiled in the tenth century ad to establish precedent in religious disputes.
Although Muslims acknowledge many distinguishing names for God, based on different divine attributes, the primary name they use is Allah—a word known to Arabs in pre-Islamic times, as we see from the name of Muhammad’s father, Abd-Allah, meaning “servant of God.” The Quran consists of 114 chapters, or Surah, each supposedly revealed by Allah through an angel, but only written toward the end of Muhammad’s lifetime and shortly afterward (the last text was supposedly written during the caliphate of Umar).
Several hundred years before Muhammad, the 22 Hebrew books of the Old Testament (split into 39 in Christian editions) and the 27 Greek-language books of the New Testament had been codified—canonized—as the Christian Bible. Muhammad, traveling across the Middle East with his uncle, a trader, would inevitably have been exposed to many individuals professing belief in the Bible, with its clear message of one sovereign God a stark contrast to the many gods worshiped by the various Arabian tribes.
Whether Shi’a, Sunni or other, all Muslims revere Allah as God, Muhammad as Allah’s messenger and the Quran as Allah’s perfect message. In fact, despite a number of passages written in an old Arabic practically unintelligible to modern speakers, Muslim scholars consider the Quran perfect and incorruptible—indeed, most Muslims consider it pre-existent and uncreated, as eternal as Allah.
How does the Quran call for the spread of Islam? It allows Muslims to convert or kill unbelievers (Surah 9:5; 47:4). Today, Muslims hold differing opinions about the Quran’s 41 references to jihad—an Arabic word that can be rendered into English as “struggle” or “battle.” Some interpret jihad as primarily an internal and spiritual process, while others take it as a command to wage literal physical war against nonbelievers. In the first decades of Islam, Muslims indeed waged war widely in the name of their faith. Consider the Zoroastrian community of Persia, which had flourished for more than a thousand years before Muhammad. Beginning around 635ad, Muslim armies increasingly encroached on Persia, and within a generation or two most Zoroastrians had either converted to Islam or had fled to India. A similar pattern would occur elsewhere across the Middle East and North Africa, until the reach of Islam eventually extended as far north as the gates of Vienna and as far west as Spain.
Interestingly, it is namely “the people of the Book”—Jews and Christians who do not accept the Quran—who are to be subjugated and if necessary killed. Muslims are instructed to “fight those of the People of the Book who do not [truly] believe in God [Allah] and the Last Day… until they pay the tax and agree to submit...” (Surah 9:29–30). This is in stark contrast to the Bible’s command to Christians, who are forbidden from violence or even hatred (Matthew 5:39–44). Christians are to love their enemies (Luke 6:35) and display the fruits of the Spirit in their lives (Galatians 5:22–23). Christians understand that Jesus’ kingdom is not yet of this world (John 18:36), are to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s return (Mark 16:15, Matthew 24:14), and are to await His return when He will reign as King of kings (Revelation 19:11–16).
The Bible teaches that God spoke His inspired Scripture through divinely chosen men moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:19–21)—that it is theopneustos, or “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), true (John 17:17) and the basis for all doctrine (Matthew 4:4). The inspired canon of Scripture concludes with the sobering warning that the Bible is not to be added to or taken from (Revelation 22:18–19). It is not to be contradicted by some “further revelation” that would revise or supersede its commands.
How do Muslims deal with this? Some Muslims contend that the Bible was originally trustworthy, but that it had become corrupted at some point. This is simply a false and easily disprovable claim. Many Bible manuscripts date back to hundreds of years before Muhammad’s time. Furthermore, these manuscripts were well known in Muhammad’s day, and many of those same manuscripts remain to modern times. For example, the beautifully preserved Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus (both ca. 340–350ad), the Chester Beatty Papyri (ca. 250ad), smaller fragments such as the John Ryland Fragment (ca. 117–138), the Bodmer Papyri, and hundreds of other copies of the New Testament which date from before the time of Muhammad survive today and attest to the inerrancy of Scripture.
These many documents, in addition to the Dead Sea Scrolls, testify to the preservation and codification of Scripture well before Muhammad’s day. They also present Muslims with a dilemma. If the claimed corruption occurred before the time of Muhammad, then why does the Quran refer to the Bible as the word of God and insist it is to be followed (Surah 2:40–42, 75, 3:3, 71, 93, 98–99; 5:68; 6:91; 10:37, 94; 21:7; 29:45; 35:31; 46:11)? Why does the Quran instruct that Christians were to find the truth in the New Testament of Muhammad’s day (Surah 10:94)? Additionally, if the New Testament is the word of God (as proclaimed in Surah 5:46, 67, 71), and if Jesus was a prophet of God (as Surah 4:171 and elsewhere assert), then Jesus’ words in the Bible should be believed and obeyed. The Quran itself points to the legitimacy of the Bible that God gave to Israel (Surah 2:40–42)! Furthermore, the Quran teaches that the word of God cannot be changed, and that it must be believed and obeyed (Surah 2:136; 4:136; 6:34; 10:34; 29:46).
The Bible asserts that it—and no other text—is God’s word, recorded and codified by “holy men” (2 Peter 1:21) under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And, as has been noted, the Bible has been faithfully preserved through the centuries. Two of hundreds of examples of the preservation of the Bible are the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. These beautiful and complete Bibles are available to view in museums today. These are two of the oldest surviving complete Bibles, assembled ca. 340ad, more than three centuries before the Quran. Their texts, translated, read nearly identically to any modern NKJV or KJV Bible that may be purchased today. Consider that the Codex Sinaiticus, written before the time of Muhammad and surviving on parchment for more than 1,670 years, contains the same text from the book of Revelation, noted above, which can be translated as plainly as what you will find in your NKJV today: “I testify to everyone that hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If any one add to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book, and if anyone take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life, and from the holy city, which things are written in this book” (22:18–19).
Where modern accretions have crept into later translations of the Bible, these are well known, such as the famous “Johannine comma” in 1 John 5:7, used to falsely present God as a “Trinity.” Yes, God has preserved the ancient texts that let us know the truth of His inspired word. The Bible has not been corrupted; rather, its original text has been preserved accurately through the centuries. Christians have faith in the veracity of these words and have faith in the hope of the resurrection and in the “tree of life and the holy city.” The Bible, the word of God, contains these words of life (cf. John 6:63). These words are true, trustworthy, final, perfect and infallible. No other Scripture is needed, nor has been given.
The need for salvation, and the hope of life after death, are core themes in both the Quran and the Bible. Yet the two books are incompatible in their understandings of Jesus Christ. The Quran teaches that Jesus was neither God nor the Son of God but was simply a prophet. This is such an important Islamic tenet that the assertion that God “begets not” (taken from Surah 112:3) was inscribed on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem toward the end of the seventh century ad. While the Quran points to Jesus as sent from God, the Christian Bible is unique in presenting salvation as coming through God who became flesh.
Muhammad pointed his followers to many biblical prophecies of Jesus’ coming. Surah 3:38–48 tells of angels informing Zechariah the priest (the father of John the Baptist) about Jesus’ imminent birth. The Quran records that upon his visiting the virgin Mary, Zechariah tells her the unborn baby is sent by God and even states that He would be “the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, who will be held in honour in this world and in the next” (3:45). Interestingly, although the Quran rejects that Jesus was the Son of God—(Surah 19:35), the Quran does teach Jesus’ resurrection—that Jesus said He would be “raised to life again” (Surah 19:33–34).
In the Christian Bible, by contrast, Jesus proclaimed that He was “the way, the truth and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Furthermore, the Bible condemns the notion of salvation through any other than Jesus Christ: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Indeed, the Bible—known to Muhammad and praised in the Quran—consistently points to Jesus Christ as the hope for salvation. Job expressed his hope of being resurrected to “see God” when his Redeemer would stand “at last on the earth” (cf. Job 19:25–26). Jesus proclaimed that He would spend three days and three nights in the tomb, just as Jonah had spent three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish (Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:39–40). Christ appeared to multitudes after His death and resurrection (Mark 16; Luke 24:36–51; Acts 1:3). The Apostles Peter and Paul proclaimed that Jesus Christ was indeed resurrected from the dead (Acts 2:22–24; 1 Corinthians 15:1–8).
Furthermore, the Bible teaches that “the Word was God,” that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” that Jesus Christ was the Word and that grace and truth came through Him (John 1:1–18). The Christian Bible declares that Jesus was the God of the Old Testament—the “Rock” whom Israel followed in the wilderness, who spoke the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai (1 Corinthians 10:4). The Bible makes plain that the Word came in the flesh, born of a virgin, and any who “do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” are labeled “a deceiver and an antichrist” (2 John 7). John records that rejection of the Word made flesh was a deceit “already in the world” even during his time (1 John 4:3).
The Quran promises “the fire of hell as a permanent home” for those who reject Islam (Surah 9:68), even while acknowledging that Jesus was sent by God, and as such was to be believed and obeyed. And Christ’s clear message—recorded in the same canonized Bible praised by Muhammad and the Quran—is that He alone, as the Son of God and the Messiah, is the only hope for all of humanity to receive salvation and eternal life. Yes, through Christ, salvation is available to all peoples who accept His message and obey Him (Galatians 3:28–29)!
No mere prophet, Jesus was the Christ, fulfilling all things written in the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Him (Luke 24:44–46). This understanding comes through the Christian Bible (v. 45), which explains that He suffered and was resurrected from the dead (v. 46), so that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations” (v. 47).
The Quran teaches the fear of Allah, who will send sinners to the fire of hell. Yet it offers no Savior whose atonement can do what sinning human beings cannot do for themselves. Those who obey the God of the Christian Bible, however, are profoundly thankful that God sent His Son to take away the sins of the world (1 John 2:2), that Jesus Christ died for our sins, that He was then resurrected and then ascended back to His Father in Heaven until He would “come again” (John 14:3)! We can be thankful that He will come again, and that a time will then come when all will be able to come to this knowledge, and ultimately every knee will bow to Christ (Philippians 2:9–10)!