Theological Differences with Christianity

By James M. Rochford

1. Muslim teachers often claim that the NT and OT were distorted or corrupted by the Jews or Christians.

Some Muslim teachers argue that the OT and NT were corrupted by the time of Muhammad, but they argue, the Qur’an is incorruptible. Muslim apologist Ajijola writes,

The first five books of the Old Testament do not constitute the original Torah, but parts of the Torah have been mingled up with other narratives written by human beings and the original guidance of the Lord is lost in that quagmire. Similarly the four Gospels of Christ are not the original Gospels as they came from Prophet Jesus … the original and the fictitious, the Divine and the human are so intermingled that the grain cannot be separated from the chaff. The fact is that the original Word of God is preserved neither with the Jews nor with the Christians. Qur’an, on the other hand, is fully preserved and not a jot or tittle has been changed or left out in it.[1]

However, a number of counterarguments can be leveled against this view:

First, there are THEOLOGICAL problems with this view. Secular critics surely have no problem thinking that a “holy book” can be corrupted, but what about a devout Muslim? After all, the Qur’an teaches, “Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian” (15:9). Are humans stronger than God?[2] This question creates massive theological problems for the Muslim thinker: Does God protect his word or not? Moreover, if the OT and NT revelation can be changed, doesn’t this mean that the Qur’an can be changed as well?

Second, there are LOGICAL problems with this view. White observes, “‘The gospel’ had to exist in the days of Muhammad. If it was corrupted and lost before the seventh century, how could the People of the (already lost) Gospel judge by what Allah had revealed (but then had let disappear)? It makes no sense to command Christians to judge by a lost or corrupted document. So the Qur’an’s author believed the gospel was still in Christian possession.”[3]

Third, the Qur’an uses the same language to describe the inspiration of the Qur’an and the Bible. In 5:45-47, we read, “And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed—then it is those who are the wrongdoers. And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous. And let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah has revealed therein. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed—then it is those who are the defiantly disobedient.” Regarding this Qur’anic verse, White observes,

In 15:9 and 6:114 the verb is nazzal; this is the very same term used of the Torah in 5:44 and of the Injil [the NT] in 5:47. The Qur’an contains guidance and light (2:2; 4:174); the Torah and Injil contain guidance and light (5:44, 46). If Allah would allow what he has ‘sent down’—that which contains ‘guidance and light’ in the Torah and Injil—to be corrupted, even allowing utter falsehood and the promulgation of shirk to enter in, then what guarantee has the Qur’an against the same fate.[4]

Fourth, there is evidence that the Qur’an has been changed over time. Originally, the Qur’an was not written by Muhammad. Instead, his closest followers memorized Muhammad’s recitation of the Qur’an. Later, these surat were written on pieces of paper, palm leaves, bits of leather, and other scraps. Uthman (the third Muslim Caliph after Muhammad) destroyed alternate versions of the Qur’an. The very fact that he needed to do this demonstrates that there were alternate versions early on. Eerdman’s Handbook to World Religions states:

Following Muhammad’s death in AD 632, tradition states that the first caliph, Abu Bakr, ordered Muhammad’s former secretary, Zaid, to collect and arrange writings. This was done in co-operation with other and finally an authorized revision of the text was established by Caliph Uthman. Other versions in existence were ordered to be destroyed.[5]

Muslim apologists do not dispute that Uthman destroyed alternate version. Instead, they argue that the differences were small differences of dialect. However, in his book Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur’an, archeologist Arthur Jeffrey writes,

When we come to the accounts of ‘Uthman’s recension, it quickly becomes clear that his work was no mere matter of removing dialectical peculiarities in reading, but was a necessary stroke of policy to establish a standard text for the whole empire… There were wide divergences between the collections that had been digested into Codicies in the great Metropolitan centres of Madina, Mecca, Basra, Kufa and Damascus… Uthman’s solution was to canonize the Madinan Codex and order all others to be destroyed… There can be little doubt that the text canonized by ‘Uthman was only one among several types of text in existence at the time.[6]

Geisler and Saleeb write,

Contrary to popular Islamic belief, not all Muslims today accept one and the same version of the Qur’an. The Sunnite Muslims accept the Sahih tradition of Masud, one of the few people authorized by Muhammad to teach the Qur’an, as authoritative. Yet the Ibn Masud Codex of the Qur’an used by them has multitudinous variations from the Uthmanic recension. In the second sura alone there are nearly 150 variations. It takes Jeffery some ninety-four pages to show the variations between the two. He also demonstrates that the variant readings were not just a matter of dialect, as many Muslims claim. For instance, some of the variations involve a whole clause and others omit complete sentences.[7]

Moreover, Sunni and Shiite Muslims disagree on many verses. Shiite Muslims argue that “Uthman intentionally eliminated many verses from the Qur’an that spoke of Ali.”[8] Therefore, Muslim apologists have to defend their own inspired text just as much as Christian apologists do.

2. The Qur’an denies that Jesus was the son of God.

The Qur’an states,

(9:30-31) The Jews say, “Ezra is the son of Allah “; and the Christians say, “The Messiah is the son of Allah.” That is their statement from their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved [before them]. May Allah destroy them; how are they deluded? They have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allah, and [also] the Messiah, the son of Mary. And they were not commanded except to worship one God; there is no deity except Him. Exalted is He above whatever they associate with Him.

(5:75) The Messiah, son of Mary, was not but a messenger; [other] messengers have passed on before him. And his mother was a supporter of truth. They both used to eat food. Look how We make clear to them the signs; then look how they are deluded.

(19:35) It is not [befitting] for Allah to take a son; exalted is He! When He decrees an affair, He only says to it, “Be,” and it is.

(10:68) They have said, “Allah has taken a son.” Exalted is He; He is the [one] Free of need. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. You have no authority for this [claim]. Do you say about Allah that which you do not know?

(72:3) And [it teaches] that exalted is the nobleness of our Lord; He has not taken a wife or a son.

Some Christians argue that the Qur’an is actually in agreement with Christian theology here: God didn’t take a son. That is, God did not create another God at the incarnation (like the Pagan deities impregnating a human woman); instead, the doctrine of the Trinity states that God always existed in the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus, no contradiction is warranted here—only agreement.

3. The Qur’an teaches salvation by works.

The Qur’an certainly teaches that faith is integral to salvation. For instance, in 3:116, we read, “Indeed, those who disbelieve—never will their wealth or their children avail them against Allah at all, and those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide therein eternally.” However, the Qur’an also holds to salvation by works:

(7:8-9) And the weighing [of deeds] that Day will be the truth. So those whose scales are heavy—it is they who will be the successful. And those whose scales are light—they are the ones who will lose themselves for what injustice they were doing toward Our verses.

(21:47) And We shall set up balances of justice on the Day of Resurrection, then none will be dealt with unjustly in anything. And if there be the weight of a mustard seed, We will bring it. And Sufficient are We as Reckoners.

(23:102-103) Then, those whose scales (of good deeds) are heavy,—these, they are the successful. And those whose scales (of good deeds) are light, they are those who lose their ownselves, in Hell will they abide.

(99:6-8) That Day mankind will proceed in scattered groups that they may be shown their deeds. So whosoever does good equal to the weight of an atom (or a small ant), shall see it. And whosoever does evil equal to the weight of an atom (or a small ant), shall see it.

By contrast, the Bible teaches that salvation occurs by grace, through faith, and apart from good works (see our earlier article “Do Good People Go To Heaven?”). Often, Muslims argue that we are lowering the bar of God’s justice, when we adhere to salvation by grace through faith. But, ironically, we are not lowering God’s justice; we are raising it under the Christian view. According to the Bible, God will not forgive a single sin, because he is so just and holy (Jas. 2:10). Instead, every single sin is placed at the Cross, where God’s wrath was satisfied. By contrast, on the Islamic view, God turns away from sin in forgiveness, but this means that God is not entirely just at all.

4. The Qur’an denies the Trinity.

Tawhid means Allah’s oneness and unity. As a practicing Muslim, you must confess the Shahada: “There is only one God worthy of worship, and Muhammad is His messenger.” In Arabic, an observant Muslim will faithfully recite: “La ilaha illa I-Lah wa-Muhammadun rasulu I-Lah.” These words are whispered in the ears of a newborn baby and those who are dying. Thus tawhid (or the “oneness” of God) is a staple of the Muslim confession. However, White writes,

One great irony regarding tawhid is that the word itself, in that form, does not appear in the Qur’an. The root, wahad, appears numerous times, but the very form that has become enshrined in Islamic theology is not in the Arabic text.[9]

The Bible teaches that God is one in his nature and his will, but it also teaches that he has complexity in the persons of the Trinity (“Defending the Doctrine of the Trinity”). While the Qur’an doesn’t directly address the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, it does speak about an aberrant understanding of the Trinity here:

(4:171) O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, “Three”; desist—it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs. (c.f. 5:12-19; 6:68-77)

5. The Qur’an denies freewill.

The Qur’an speaks against freewill. In fact, in a number of places, the Qur’an specifically states that God wills people to go to hell:

(2:6-7) Indeed, those who disbelieve—it is all the same for them whether you warn them or do not warn them—they will not believe. Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing, and over their vision is a veil. And for them is a great punishment.

(10:99) And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed—all of them entirely. Then, [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that they become believers?

(32:13) And if we had willed, We could have given every soul its guidance, but the word from Me will come into effect [that] “I will surely fill Hell with jinn and people all together.”

(36:7-10) Already the word has come into effect upon most of them, so they do not believe. Indeed, We have put shackles on their necks, and they are to their chins, so they are with heads [kept] aloft. And We have put before them a barrier and behind them a barrier and covered them, so they do not see. And it is all the same for them whether you warn them or do not warn them—they will not believe.

By contrast, the Bible teaches that God allows freewill in people and angels (see our earlier article “Calvinism versus Arminianism”).

6. The Qur’an emphasizes holy spaces and places.

The Qur’an places a high view on holy land—specifically Mecca. This is the fifth pillar of Islam—the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca. While religions seem to always place a large importance on holy land or holy places, the Bible repeatedly teaches that God’s presence is not located in a specific area (1 Kin. 8:27; Jn. 4:21-24; Acts 1:8; Acts 7:2-53; 22:21; Rom. 15:19, 23-24; Jas. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1).

7. The Qur’an adds additional divine Scriptures to the Bible.

As we have already seen, Muslims were told to look backward to the previous holy books (c.f. 5:42-48), but Christians are never told to look forward to any holy book.[10] By contrast, the NT teaches that Christ brought the final and complete message of forgiveness to Earth. After God comes to Earth, how could a later prophet contradict him (Heb. 1:1-3)? Paul writes, “Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” (Gal. 1:8)

[1] Ajijola, Alhaj A. D. The Essence of Faith in Islam. Lahore, Pakistan: Islamic Publications Ltd. 1978. 78. Geisler, Norman L., and Abdul Saleeb. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993. 214.

[2] This is a biblical problem as well. After all, Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Mk. 13:31). No one is stronger than God. He also said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God” (Lk. 18:27).

[3] White, James R. What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2013. 186.

[4] White, James R. What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2013. 174.

[5] Wilson, Christy. “The Qur’an” in Eerdman’s Handbook to World Religions. Grand Rapids, MI.: William Eerdman Publishing Company. 1982. 315

[6] Jeffery, Arthur. Islam: Muhammad and His Religion. New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. 1958. 7-8. Geisler, Norman L., and Abdul Saleeb. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993. 198.

[7] Geisler, Norman L., and Abdul Saleeb. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993. 188.

[8] Geisler, Norman L., and Abdul Saleeb. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993. 188.

[9] White, James R. What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2013. 63.

[10] In fact, notice the Arabic words “kafir,” “zalim,” and “fasik.” These are used to describe those who deny the revelation of the OT and NT. There are no other words in Arabic language that are more severe in describing unbelievers than these three words (5:42-48)!