Chapter 5
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Click here to purchase a printed copy of this bookChapter 5: Basic Errors in the Qur’an

by Gleason Archer

W

e must now turn our attention to some of the basic errors in the Qur’an, for these are far-reaching and profound. They seriously detract from 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.

The True Compassion of God

In the first place, we need to observe that every sura in the Qur’an begins with the formula “In the name of Allah, the Merciful and the Compassionate.” It is only in the Bible that we are truly taught what God’s compassion really means. John 3:16 explains that God’s loving compassion was so great that He was willing to sacrifice His Son so that He might live and die for the sinful, fallen, inexcusably guilty race of man:

For this is how God loved the world: he gave his unique Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.

It was His holy will that sinners might be saved by faith in Christ and His substitutionary atonement for their sin. In other words, God cared enough about our guilty race 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. Had it not been for this all-sufficient atonement, it would have been basically unjust for God to forgive sinful man, in view of his 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 turns out to be altogether unrighteous in forgiving sinful man. If, in fact, God treats His moral law as unworthy of support but free to be disregarded and ignored, He actually turns out to be guilty of upholding the cause of Satan himself, who 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. The story is told in Genesis 3:4-5:

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You certainly will not die! Even God knows that on the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will become like God, knowing good and evil.”

Any religion which dispenses with the Atonement and the Cross in effect puts God on the side of Satan as He invalidates the operation of His own moral law. Only through the Cross could God remain just and the justifier of the ungodly who trust in Jesus, and therefore Islam must be perceived as guilty of 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 clamor for acceptance in today’s world.

The True Way to Achieve “Islam”

In the second place, we should observe that only a sincere Bible believer is capable of true islam. The term “islam” is derived from “aslama”, a verb which means “commit oneself, surrender.” But how can anyone truly surrender to God if he in effect rejects the condemnation of God upon sin as meriting divine wrath and eternal judgment? How can man’s sin be rightly forgiven without any atonement? To suppose that God can righteously forgive without requiring any atonement at all is to impute immorality to God and make Him a protector of sin rather than its avenger. True surrender to the will of God must surely involve honoring the Lord as a God of integrity and justice, rather than taking Him to be a covert ally 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 means divesting 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, whether on the basis of his own good works or on the basis of his observance of the rites of religion. In Psalm 14:2-3, it is clearly stated:

The LORD looks down from the heavens upon humanity

to see if anyone shows discernment as he searches for God.

All have turned away,

together they have become corrupt;

no one practices what is 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 a malignant cancer. Only by God’s intervention at Calvary, where in the person of His Son the Lord paid the death penalty for sinful men, 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 therefore urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercies, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices that are holy and pleasing to God, for this is the reasonable way for you to worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but continually be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may be able to determine what God’s will is-what is proper, pleasing, and perfect.

Only this kind of surrender is worthy to be called islam and it can hardly be seen how one can be truly a Muslim until he has in fact done this, and given over his life to God to do His will and to live for His glory.

The Sure Hope 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 admirable 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).[1]

But the important point is 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 (although many Muslim 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 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 the 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 the Bible 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 in John 3:18 that all men 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:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of God’s unique Son.

Thus 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 Deuteronomy 6:5:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

The Lord Jesus declared this to be the first and greatest of all commandments of God. But then the Gospel goes on to say:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love for us even when we were dead because of our offenses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavenly realm in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might display the limitless riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by such grace you have been saved through faith. This does not come from you; it is the gift of God and not the result of works, lest anyone boast.[2]

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 its creed) expressed it in Isaiah 53:6:

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.[3]

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 the fact of our salvation and show that we have come under new management as we keep yielding our hearts to the Lord. As the Apostle Paul admonishes us:

Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep focusing on the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Keep your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.[4]

The First Epistle of John gives the believer a set of indicators of spiritual health, and in its last chapter states:

I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.[5]

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 Godand those good works are all tainted with the putridity of self-seeking and self-pride rather than evidences of a transformed, God-centered soul.

The Person of Jesus 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:

She [Mary] said: “O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?” He said: “Even so, God createth what He willeth: when He hath decreed a Plan, He but saith to it, “Be,” and it is!” [6]

The Qur’an 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 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 that same as that of all his predecessors:

Fear God and obey me! Worship God![7]

At the same time he warns the people not to worship himself but only God in heaven above.

It is not (possible) that a man, to whom is given the Book, and Wisdom, and the Prophetic Office, should say to people: “Be ye my worshipers rather than God’s.” On the contrary (he would say): “Be ye worshipers of Him Who is truly the Cherisher of all: for ye have taught the Book and ye have studied it earnestly”[8]

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”[9] or “I will grant thee success” and “raise thee to Myself.”

Sura 4:157 comments that the Jews supposed they had crucified and killed Jesus.

That they said (in boast) “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Apostle of God;” But they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not.[10]

This citation leads to the deduction (as Yusuf Ali states in his footnote 394[11]) that some other man was killed in his place. 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, would appear to be 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. John 1 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” 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.

In general, we have to say that 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. Thus they reproach the Christians as mushrikuna—those who associate partners with Allah (sharikun being the term for “partner” or “associate”).

But this is not the 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 almighty God”(Isaiah 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 112:1-4:

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 sexual 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 potential divine individual, not the human Jesus.) If this 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 personsFather, Son and Holy Spiritsomewhat as an electric battery always has a positive and a negative pole as essential to its existence; the positive did not give rise to the negative, nor the negative to the positive. Even so, God is one in essence, but eternally in three persons.

How can this be? 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 do have a clue as to how the Trinity is to be understood, for Genesis 1:26-27 states that God created man in His own image:

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, according to our likeness! Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all crawling things that crawl on the earth!”

So God created human beings in his own image:

in the image of God did he create them,

male and female he created them.

We suppose that man is psychologically composed of three natures: the bodily nature, the soul and the spirit. Thus I Thessalonians 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 soul and spirit,” which, incidentally, 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 human beings without necessarily existing as separate entities.

It is quite essential to point out to our Muslim friends that if there were 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 Christ as God 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 Jesus 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. He was, of course, the great Messianic prophet foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-18:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.

He is set forth in Psalm 110:4 as the supreme High Priest of the order of Melchizedek:

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Psalm 2:7-9 describes Him as the Messianic King:

“I’ll proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my son, today I’ve become your Father. Ask of me, and I’ll give you the nations as your inheritance, the ends of the earth as your possession. You will break them with an iron rod, you will shatter them like pottery.’”

Further, consider Psalm 110:1:

The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

Isaiah 9:6-7 calls Him the “Mighty God” and other titles:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

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, caring, 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 friend 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 mortal 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.


[1]Since the woman has no right to initiate divorce, so far as the Qur’an allows, there is a complete inequality of sexes.

[2]Ephesians 2:4-9.

[3]Isaiah 53:6.

[4]Colossians 3:1-2.

[5]1 John 5:13.

[6]Sura 3:47

[7]Sura 3:50-51.

[8]Sura 3:79

[9]The Arabic mutawwafika is rather ambiguous here.

[10]Sura 4:157.

[11]Ali’s Note 394 reads: “Read this with iv 157, where it is said that the Jews neither crucified nor killed Jesus, but that another was killed in his likeness. The guilt of the Jews remained, but Jesus was eventually taken up to God.”


Introduction Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Appendix

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