Introducing Islam (3)

Malcolm Steer, Kingston upon Thames, England

Part 3 of 4 of the series Introducing Islam

Islam stands and falls by the statement that Muhammad is the last prophet who brought the final revelation from God to humanity. So that in addition to a rejection of the doctrines of the Trinity, Atonement and Deity of Christ as covered in the last article, serious attempts have always been made to try and convince Christians that they should accept Muhammad.

A number of arguments are brought against the gospel where Muslims try to show that:

1. The Gospel of Barnabas is the only authentic, reliable Gospel
Muslims claim that the Gospel of Barnabas is the only known surviving Gospel written by a disciple of Jesus and that is was accepted as a canonical Gospel up until the Council of Nicea in AD325. From that time, it is argued, the Christian church has ignored and suppressed it. It was supposed to have been rediscovered by a Christian monk called Fra Marino who came across an Italian manuscript in the Pope’s private library in 1590. He smuggled it out of the library, read it and became a Muslim.

In fact, the only known existing text of this book is in Italian in the Vienna Library. The text, dated in the sixteenth century, was edited and translated into English and published in Italian and English in 1907. Since then, Muslims have translated this work into various languages. In the 1907 publication, the introduction gave internal and external evidence to show that this Gospel was a medieval forgery but this introduction has been omitted from all Muslim publications. The Gospel of Barnabas incorporated a number of normal Muslim allegations: Jesus is not the Son of God; Judas Iscariot, not Jesus, dies on the cross; Jesus prophesies the coming of Muhammad, etc. It contains most of the events found in the four Gospels but with many things artfully turned to favour Islam.

Now, if we refer to ancient manuscripts of the New Testament dating back to pre-Islamic times and to which the Qur’an refers and testifies to their truth, we find no record of a Gospel attributed to Barnabas. Neither is there any mention of it by the church fathers in the list of the books which constitute the Bible. Furthermore, Barnabas was not one of the twelve disciples and not even named Barnabas until after the ascension of Christ, Acts 4. 36. In fact, in places it even contradicts the Qur’an. For example, it makes Jesus declare that He is not the Messiah, but that Muhammad will be the Messiah, whereas in both the Gospels and Qur’an, Jesus alone is the Messiah. Therefore all external and internal evidence indicates that the Gospel of Barnabas is a forgery of European origin, dating from about the fourteenth century or later.

Fortunately, not all Muslims accept the Gospel of Barnabas as a genuine gospel account. In fact one Muslim scholar has stated that in the light of the Christian rejection of this Gospel, the contention that this work is genuine can only be validated when a copy of it that pre-dates Muhammad is found. So far this has not been possible.

2. Our Scriptures contain prophecies concerning the coming of Muhammad
There are a number of Qur’anic passages that encourage Muslims to seek for predictions of Muhammad in the Bible. So on the basis of these passages, Muslims have searched exhaustively through the Old and New Testaments for proof that these two books contain prophecies of the coming of Muhammad. Of course they soon realize that the Bible prophecies refer to the coming of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit and not Muhammad.

However, Muslims still believe that the coming of Muhammad was foretold and particularly appeal to two portions of the Bible to substantiate their claim, i.e., Deuteronomy chapter 18 verses 15 and 18, and John’s Gospel chapters 14 to 16. With regard to the first passage, the Muslim contention is that the prophet was to be raised up, not from the people of Israel but from among their brethren. They argue that Ishmael, father of the Arabs, was a brother of Isaac and that the phrase ‘from among their brethren’ clearly refers to the Arabs and to Muhammad as the Arab prophet.

In response, it is an undeniable fact that Jews are much more truly brothers to each other than to Arabs, as history has shown. Furthermore, the word ‘brethren’ most naturally refers to the people of Israel as in Deuteronomy 17. 14-15, and Leviticus 25. 46. Even if we accept the correctness of the Muslim interpretation of ‘brother’, here, why should Ishmael be selected rather than some other close relative of Abraham or even of Isaac or of Jacob, such as, for example, Jacob’s brother Esau, from whom the people of Edom are descended?

Muslim interpretation of this passage pays no heed to the biblical evidence which refers to its fulfillment. Clearly, when the Lord Jesus said, ‘Had ye believed Moses, ye would believe me: for he wrote of me’, John 5. 46 ESV, implying that the prophecy of Moses in Deuteronomy relates to Himself as the prophet to come, see Acts 3. 17-26 and 7. 37. These verses clearly show Jesus to be the fulfilment of the Deuteronomy verses.

In the John passages under consideration, Muslims claim that the Greek word paracletos, which is translated ‘comforter’, should read periklutos, or ‘praised one’, which would have the same meaning as Ahmad or Muhammad. However, no sound evidence in the New Testament manuscripts supports this Muslim assertion. Even if Muhammad is the Paraclete (Comforter) as some Muslims have said, it is obvious from all that is said about the Comforter that it can only refer to the Holy Spirit Himself. This is clearly stated anyway in John chapter 14 verse 26. None of these passages from John’s Gospel suggests that the disciples were to wait some five centuries before the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise.

3. The message of Jesus was for the people of Israel only
In order to secure the universality of Muhammad as the seal of the prophets, Muslims have tried their best to deny Christ’s universal claim as in John chapter 14 verse 6. The main way of achieving this has been to demote Him to being the last national prophet of Israel. Thus, He loses all significance for the Gentiles to whom Muhammad claims to be sent. Statements such as, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’, Matt. 15. 24 ESV, and Matt. 10. 5-6, are used to support this claim.

There are, of course, passages in the Bible that do speak of Christ’s universal ministry, for example, Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world’, John 8. 12. There are passages in the Old Testament concerning the Servant of the Lord and his universal mission, passages which, according to the New Testament, find their fulfillment in Christ, compare Isaiah chapter 42 verse 1 with Matthew chapter 12 verses 15- 21. However, Christians gladly agree with Muslims that Jesus, while on earth, to a large extent limited His ministry to the people of Israel. The reason for this goes back to Genesis chapter 12 verses 2 to 4 where we read that through the seed of Abraham all the nations of the earth would be blessed. So Jesus confesses to the Samaritan woman at the well that ‘salvation is of the Jews’ (but note not ‘to the Jews’), John 4 verse 22.

Only the Jews could understand the significance of Christ, for He was embedded in the history and the inspired writings of Israel. The Jews were waiting for Him. He had to be a Jew, see Deut. 18. 15, and He had to be a descendent of Judah and the house of David, Gen. 49. 10; 2 Sam. 7. 13. Every Jew expected the Messiah, even though they did not recognize Him at His coming.

So, only the Jews – and only after they had understood Him - could proclaim Him to others; hence all the apostles were Jews. Christ, after His resurrection, clearly explained to His disciples that this message of ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’, Luke 24. 47 ESV. Therefore, Christ ordered His disciples to make disciples of all nations, Matt. 28. 19-20, and even though it took a while for the apostles to understand this, eventually they began to carry out this command.

To be continued.

This series of articles will conclude with a final one entitled, ‘How can we positively share the gospel with Muslims?’ in the Feb 08 issue of the magazine, DV.