From time to time at the Cripplegate we attempt to equip people to think biblically about other religions and cults. For example, we have addressed Mormonism, the Jehovah Witnesses, Buddhism, and Seventh Day Adventism, among others. Over the next few weeks, we will attempt to address Islam. In particular, the goal is to briefly look at differences between the Qur’an and the Bible.
A few disclaimers are needed.
First, there are about 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and many denominations within Islam. For example, there are the Sunnis, Shiites, Suffisms, Ahmadiyya, the Nation of Islam, the Ibadi, Mahdavia, the Quranists, and non-denominational Muslims. Some of these denominations also have sub-denominations. The Sunnis make up the vast majority, consisting of about 85% of the world’s Muslim population. So, these posts will generally attempt to represent a Sunni understanding of the Qur’an.
Second, this is not an attempt to address every difference between the Qur’an and the Bible. Instead, we will focus on some of the more important differences for Christians to know.
Third, professing Christians are called to speak the truth in love. The topic of Islam can, at times, be a charged issue. Even so, we must heed the apostle Paul’s exhortation for all who profess Christ: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:5-6).
With that, we will look briefly at an introduction to Islam and the first major difference between the Qur’an and the Bible.
Introduction to Islam
Islam is the religion founded by Muhammad, which teaches that there is only one God, Allah, and Muhammad is the last and greatest prophet. One must affirm these things to be Muslim. In Arabic, Islam means “surrender” and refers to submission to the will of God. A follower of Islam is called a Muslim; “one who surrenders to God.” The most populous Muslim country is Indonesia followed by Pakistan. Muslims view the Qur’an as the inerrant, God-breathed book. Also, close to having the same authority as the Qur’an is the hadith (or ahadith), which are written reports and accounts about the life of Muhammad. Many traditions and practices come from these ahadith accounts, but our focus will be on the Qur’an.
The Qur’an has similarities to the Bible. It teaches that one God created all things; Adam and Eve were the first humans; a global flood occurred; it esteems individuals like Abraham, Moses, David, Zechariah, John the Baptist, and Jesus. However, there are some significant differences between the Quranic and biblical teaching on these matters.
Islam teaches that the Qur’an is an eternal book. In the seventh century, Allah chose Muhammad as his final prophet, through whom the Qur’an would come.
Little is known about Muhammad’s life. What we do know comes from a few biographies and hadith ranging from one to three centuries after his life. Muhammad was born in A.D. 570. His parents died early, so he was raised by his uncle Abu Talib. Muhammad worked in the Meccan caravan trade, which meant he interacted with a diverse religious crowd. Polytheism was widespread in Arabia at this time.
Muhammad had many wives throughout his life. Though the Qur’an sets the limit for men to four wives (Surah 4:3), Muhammad had no such restriction (Surah 33:50). He married his first wife, a wealthy widow named Khadijah, at age 25. His favorite wife is said to be Aisha, who is considered the mother of believers. She was six years old when Muhammad married her (he was in his early fifties) and nine when the marriage was consummated (Sahih al-Bukhari 5158). After Muhammad’s death, Aisha contributed significantly to the spread of Islam.
After receiving the Qur’an, Muhammad began preaching the message in Mecca. His preaching including the condemnation of the widespread polytheism in the area. He preached that the idols of the Arabs must be destroyed and replaced with one god, Allah. Rejection and persecution increased in response. After Khadijah died, Muhammad fled 200 miles north to Medina in 622.
In Medina, Muhammad continued to spread his message. Some key events for the propagation of Islam were three subsequent battles: the Battles of Badr (624), Uhud (625), and the Trench (627). They faced larger armies, but prevailed. The victory at Badr was seen as affirmation that God was favorably supporting Muhammad. The year 630 was a year of triumph for Islam. Polytheism was defeated in Arab cities. Muhammad defeated the Bedouin tribe of Hawazin. Then, in December, he conquered Mecca and made it the spiritual center of Islam.
Muhammad’s death remains an issue of debate. One account says that he had either a stroke or fever and died in A.D. 632. Another account says that a Jewish woman poisoned him. He had reportedly killed several of her family members. Later, she managed to serve dinner to Muhammad. She poisoned his food, after which he died a slow and agonizing death. Muhammad is said to be buried in his Aisha’s apartment, over which a monument exists today. Islam teaches that the bodies of prophets do not decay
Muhammad is the highest moral example (Surah 33:21). He is the final authority (along with Allah) in all decisions (Surah 33:36). According to the Qur’an (Surah 4:65), a person can have no faith without unquestioningly accepting Muhammad’s judgments. Though not to be worshiped, he is considered the final prophet to humanity, and the culmination of all prophets before him.
The Origin of the Qur’an
In A.D. 610, it is said that the angel Gabriel visited Muhammad to deliver the Qur’an to him while he was on Mt. Hira. However, Muhammad initially thought that he was possessed by a demon. So, he ran down the mountain while the angel Gabriel kept saying, “You are the messenger of God.” Muhammad was so disturbed that he attempted to throw himself off a cliff to commit suicide. However, it is said that Gabriel prevented him from doing so (Sahih al-Bukhari 9:111). Muhammad ran home and told Khadijah and her cousin. They convinced him that previous prophets experienced such things, thus it was not a demon. Henceforth, Muhammad supposed that he was a prophet (As a sidenote, the way in which Muhammad was visited by Gabriel and given revelation has a striking similarity to the way in which Joseph Smith was visited by Moroni and also given revelation).
Islam teaches that the Qur’an is eternal; it has always existed. Thus, Islam is not a new faith, but the old faith which needed to be re-established beginning in polytheistic Arabia. Revealing the Qur’an to Muhammad was the necessary step. After the event in 610, he received the Qur’an piece by piece over 22 years.
The Qur’an is roughly the length of the New Testament and is divided into 114 chapters called, “surahs.” It is not a cohesive, logical story of redemption, but a mixture of sayings, laws, apologetic defenses, and revelation concerning Allah. In general, Muslims have a high view of the Qur’an. It is to be read and memorized. One must rely upon the hadith and commentaries like Tafsir ibn Kathir to study the Qur’an.
The transmission of the Qur’an is an interesting story. Behind every sacred document is some history. That is true for both the Bible and the Qur’an. Every text has a history which tells how it came about and was subsequently copied and circulated.
The New Testament, for example, has an impressive history which testifies to its divine origin. After the documents were inspired, they were circulated and hand-copied. There was no one governing body who controlled the distribution or copying of the NT letters. Instead, God’s people recognized the inspired quality of the documents and spread them rapidly. Today, we have thousands of Greek NT manuscripts, which contain everything from a few verses to all 27 books. The similarity of the manuscript content is striking: there exists an approximate agreement rate of over 99% between the biblical content. Disagreements are minor; bringing no significant doctrine or event of the NT into question. Today, we have NT critical apparatuses (e.g. UBS, Nestle-Aland), produced through painstaking work of rigorous manuscript criticism.
The Qur’an is different. It had one author who allegedly received the words of the Qur’an over a twenty-year time span. There was then one compilation of the text. Then, there was a revision. Then, all competing manuscripts were destroyed by the order of Uthman ibn Affan, one of the immediate successors of Muhammad. Muhammad had recently died, and in-fighting began as Islam spread into places like Iraq, Armenia, and Afghanistan. So, the Qur’an had supposedly been memorized and written down by various followers of Muhammad.
But, there were differing manuscripts in existence. So, in an attempt to unite the various provinces, Uthman ordered that all of the existing manuscripts be sent to him. He then produced a copy of the Qur’an and burned all other manuscripts. Uthman’s new manuscript was then copied and sent to each of the existing Muslim provinces.
Uthman carried out an intentional destruction of the earliest witnesses of the Qur’anic text. His goal seems to not have been the careful preservation and transmission of the Qur’an itself. Instead, he was attempting to unite the newly created Islamic provinces, and create political cohesion. In doing so, he may have united Muslim provinces, but the Muslim text seems to have been compromised. Thus, one cannot know if Uthman’s newly produced Qur’anic text accurately represented early manuscripts.
In the meantime, there does not exist a critical apparatus for the Qur’an. Those holding to the divine origin of the Qur’an should have concern for that. If a text has its origin in God, then it ought to be evidenced as such through textual testimony. There is, however, a project underway to create the first critical apparatus of the Qur’an. The Berlin Academy of Sciences began the project, called the Corpus Coranicum, in 2007 and hope to complete it in 2025.
The 66 books of the Bible were inspired by the Spirit of God through about 40 different authors from differing times and cultures over a time span of about 1500 years. The Qur’an came through one man, Muhammad, over about 20 years.
The most significant biblical events—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—were recorded by four separate witnesses. Following his resurrection, Christ was seen by over 500 individuals. These central events to the Christian faith were historical in that they occurred and were observed by many. Today, we have this inerrant, God-breathed text called the Bible.
In the coming weeks, we will observe key differences between the doctrine of the Qur’an and that of the Bible, especially as it pertains to the character of God, Jesus Christ, salvation, and the end times.
- The Qur’an
- The 6 Hadith: Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abu Dawood, Jami al-Tirmidhi, Sunan al-Sughra, Sunan ibn Majah
- Tafsir ibn Kathir commentary set
- What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an, by James White
- The Cross in the Shadow of the Crescent, by Erwin Lutzer