Friday, December 26, 2014


- the influence of heretical Christianity and sectarian Judaism on the religion

1. Historical Development of Spiritual Dynamics in the Abrahamic Religions
2. Obedience as a golden Thread in the Bible
3. Disobedience to God as a negative biblical Tenet
4. Roots in Rejection
PART 2 Development of Doctrinal Tenets of Islam
1. The Essence of the Nature of God
2. Did Jesus die on the Cross?
3. Jesus is not Divine!
4. The Almighty has no Son!
5. Christians believe in three Gods!
6. Westerners believe only in rational Matters!
7. Atonement through the Blood of a Person?
8. The Bible has been changed!
9. Great and small Sin
10. Jesus forecast that Muhammad would come after him!
11. Paul caused a rift between Christianity and Judaism!
12. Prophets are sinless!
13. Undue Veneration of Mary
14. Jesus will return one Day and marry!
15. The Qiblah and Salat
16. Seed for religious Wars
17. Salvation and Eternal Rewards
18. The Origins of Pilgrimage
19. Idolatrous Worship of sacred Objects
20. Hierarchical Structures
21. Idolatrous Remnants in the Church
22. A Tale and Fables told as Truth
23. Spurious Views regarding Women
I was born in Cape Town at the St Monica’s Maternity Home in BoKaap
when it was still a predominantly
Christian suburb and raised in the former slum area called District Six. I cherish good childhood memories
of the harmonious neighbourly living conditions of the adherents of the three Abrahamic religions,
Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In the District Six of my childhood around Combrinck Street there resided a
few Muslims in our neighbourhood. Many shopkeepers in Hanover Street were Jews, whom we still hold in
fond remembrance. At the Zinzendorf Primary School, to a lesser extent at Vasco High School that was
located in the socalled
Acres, but very much so at Hewat Teacher Training College in Crawford, I had quite
a few Muslim learner and student colleagues in these educational institutions of the old South Africa.
For the last two years of my primary education I attended school on the Elim Moravian Mission
Station. Deep involvement in church youth work led to the opportunity to widen my ‘horizon’ during a stint
of two years in Germany where I could start with theological studies, notably in the biblical languages Greek
and Hebrew. By correspondence I also studied Latin through UNISA. During the time in Southern Germany
I met Rosemarie, who subsequently became my wife. In between she had been blacklisted for entry into
South Africa because of the government opposition to our serious friendship across the racial barrier.
After my return to Cape Town in 1970 I attended the theological seminary of the Moravian Church
when it was about to resume operating in District Six.1 At that time the socalled
Black Theology came into
its own, impacting me significantly. It had become fashionable for us to be critical of western Theology. At
the same time, I also became very much aware of how prejudiced we have been in traditional Protestant
churches in respect of everything different to our own cultural background.
Our theological seminary was perhaps the only institution in the country where the students could
influence what was actually taught. Black Theology made us quite sensitive to the context in which we
operate and study. We had Muslims all around us there in District Six because so many Christians had left.
The Seminary lecturers had no qualms when I asked whether my friend Jakes could be invited over for a few
lectures on Islam after the end of the year exams in 1972. My knowledgeable close friend Jakes was only too
happy to oblige, coming to lecture on Islam.
Due to the racial policies of the day, including the circumvention of racial ‘reclassification’ to
Rosemarie and the known legal prohibition of our envisaged marriage, I was hereafter forced into an exile of
just under twenty years. Trained as a pastor of the Moravian Church, I still cherish the tradition in which Jan
Amos Comenius, the Czech educator and theologian, as well as Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, the German
aristocrat, played prominent roles. Both of them had in common a passion to bring the Gospel to all people
around the world. But both were also not afraid to rock the boat of Church tradition in their respective time
and age.
Almost two years after I had left the Cape shores in 1973, my further theological training resulted in
ordination in September 1975 in Bad Boll, Germany. I hereafter continued with formal and informal studies
in Europe.
A stint of half a year in South Africa with permission from the government after the death of my sister
in December 1980, a few incidents impacted me seriously. We were very much encouraged by a multiracial
group from different churches in Stellenbosch that had been started by Professor Nico Smith and a few
pastors as an effective scriptural counter to the official apartheid ideology. On the other hand, I was saddened
how the many churches blunted the effect of the Gospel as I was involved in a spell of teaching at Mount
View High School in the township Hanover Park. Just after Easter that year, the school principal requested me
to address the school assembly in the weekly devotional exercise. In my mini sermon I stressed that Mary
Magdalene had previously been an outcast and demonpossessed
before she became a follower of Jesus.
Coming from their despised township, the pupils could obviously fully identify with the message that I
shared. I was deeply moved to see how open some Muslim learners were to the radical claims of Jesus.
Ever since my return to the Cape in 1992, I continued to enjoy examining and researching Church
1 It started there as an evening institution decades ago before it was formalised as a theological institution in Fairview,
Port Elizabeth, from where it had to move because of Group Areas legislation. At this time, 1970, District Six had
already been declared a White residential area as well. Subsequently, a new building arose in the township
traditions and practice. I loved to compare and test all traditions against the Bible. Church and secular
History belonged to my favourite research topics. Access to the many libraries in Cape Town religious
secular facilitated
this process.
I am very much indebted to Dr Mark Gabriel, a religious refugee who had fled Egypt, for the initial
inspiration and challenge for this work. It was during his threemonth
stay with us from July 1996 that I
started to explore the origins of Islamic doctrine. (This was the time when PAGAD (People against
Gangsterism and Drugs) threatened to destabilise and Islamise the Cape by using violence.) The result of my
research was the unpublished manuscript Roots of Islam, accessible at www.
The material offered here has been prepared first and foremost to help Christians especially
(School) students to
interact lovingly with Muslims and Jews. The overriding
effect of the study on me
was a sense of immense guilt towards the Cape Muslims, a people group, which has evolved in Southern
Africa over three and a half centuries. A treatise came into being which I called The unpaid Debt of the
Church. The present volume is more or less an excerpt from that work, together with material from the more
academic but rather dry manuscript Roots of Islam. I discovered that virtually all Islamic tenets and doctrines
have been derived from either heretical Christianity or sectarian Judaism. To a great extent these distorted
versions of the doctrines of the respective religions could be regarded as the spiritual parents of Islam. The
influence of Cerinthus, the Elkhasaites and Manicheism account for the early heretical influence on the
Christian side. Samaritans, Essenes and PseudoClementines
are a few of the clearcut
spiritual ‘ancestors’ of
A significant Jewish influence is too conspicuous to be overlooked. There can be no doubt that Islam
was profoundly influenced by Judaism in its formative stage.2 A comparison of the similarities between Islam
and Judaism would prove their affinity as fully developed religious systems. The two religions share many
common features and characteristics. For instance, the Qur'an is a fundamental source to Islam just as the
Torah is to Judaism.3
Knowledgeable and observant Jews influenced Muhammad in no small way. Muslim
historiographers refer to the two main Jewish tribes in Medina as the Kohanim, or the Priests. The Ebionites
were a Christian Jewish sect with possibly the greatest influence of all. It is interesting that Ameer Ali, a
Muslim author, discerned a link between Ebionism and Islam. Without qualifying properly what is meant, he
notes that there was diffusion of Christianity after the death of Jesus according
to Ebionite and Muslim
Dr Mark Gabriel invited me and my wife Rosemarie to participate in a 10week
teaching course that
started in Orlando, Florida (USA) on 11 September 2007. Unfortunately Rosemarie could not join me during
the two weeks that I was able to be the guest of a nondenominational
congregation, Northland A
Distributed. The idea of coauthoring
and revamping THE ROOTS OF ISLAM was given by Ms Debby
Poulalion, the editor of five other books of Dr Gabriel, during that my hitherto one and only visit to the USA.
The present book is a partial result of that attempt.
At this juncture I want to express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Mike Mee, our soninlaw
for preparing this work for publication.
It would give me great satisfaction and gratitude if the Church universal could start attempting to
settle the debt which has been incurred and which is still being accumulated through lack of understanding
and a general dearth of love for Muslims. (During Love your Muslim Neighbour training courses and at other
occasions we endeavoured to teach I Sincerely Love All Muslims as an acronym for ISLAM.)
I sincerely believe that the repaying of our debt must go via the cross of Calvary! A spontaneous
reaction out of guilt without
any remorse is
not good enough. Genuine restitution can only take place
when we recognize how the Church has been taken on tow by unbiblical reforms and wellmeant
but arrogant
2 Moses is mentioned in the Qur’an over one hundred times whereas Jesus is mentioned far less. In addition, the
name of Moses pervades the whole of the Qur’an and is not confined to certain chapters.
3 There was a considerable development of the Jewish religion following the conclusion of the biblical period, when
an enormous spate of literature was created. Similarly, Islam changed after the death of Muhammad and became an
intricate system of ideas, institutions, and customs. Comparison of classical Judaism and Islam reveals that many of
their features are virtually identical. In this study I concentrate however on the development of Islamic doctrine via
the Christian line.
notions like ‘civilizing heathen nations’. (Quite often the latter concept was tantamount to cultural
imperialism, exporting a lot of cultural baggage which obstructed the free flow of the Gospel, not mentioning
by products like extramarital
fathering of children and land grabbing).
That the material offered here has a leaning towards highlighting our Christian guilt towards Islam,
has its reason in the fact that this is where I started my serious study of the three Abrahamic religions twenty
years ago. Although I endeavoured to minimise repetition, this is inevitable for the sake of clarity at a few
My wife and I have a love for the Jews which goes back many years, I only seriously started looking
into the religion Judaism as such when I began researching the biblical personalities common to the Hebrew
Scriptures, the Talmud and the Qur’an. I discovered that there is even more guilt of the Church involved with
regard to the Jews. First and foremost, there is the arrogant and unbiblical claim that the Church is the 'new
Israel' the
Replacement Theology. Commentaries and sermons are still very much characterised
by spiritualizing all promises to Israel and highjacking
them for the Church. Not to the same extent, but
perhaps still insinuated, the curses are literalized and apportioned to Israel simultaneously. This is completely
unacceptable – a part of our collective guilt and 'unpaid debt'.
Traditionally we have been speaking as Christians much too glibly about the ‘Old Testament’! All
too often we did this haughtily and derogatorily, in spite of the admonition of Paul that we are merely grafted
into the real olive tree, Israel. We seem to forget that the Bible is a unit, where both parts are equal in value.
The entire ‘OT’ looks forward to the ‘NT’ and find in it its fulfilment. The people of God under the old
Covenant were much more a part of what God has been doing through history than we are. They and we followers
of Jesus are
basically one elect people of God. I endeavour to avoid the term ‘Old Testament’
because of the unfortunate connotations, i.e. as if the ‘New Testament’ more or less replaced it. In this work I
attempt to refer consistently to the Hebrew Scriptures in stead. For lack of a better term (Certain Jewish
scholars sometimes refer to the ‘NT’ as Christian Scriptures, but that terminology does not sound to me
accurate enough), I endeavour to use ‘New Testament’ consistently, i.e. with inverted commas.
I am very much aware of the fact that it is rather simplistic to identify myself with the Church down
the centuries in confessing our corporate guilt. I take that on board, knowing that Nehemiah and Daniel
confessed on behalf of the nation of Israel. (That Moses was prepared to be blotted out when he saw the
golden calf idolatry, would be on another page).
Along with other evangelical Christians, I often highlight the difference between the Body of Christ
and the institution Church. In the context of this book however, that is in my view tantamount to unfruitful
It seems to me that confession for the reasons behind the expansion of Islam globally and nationally
has hitherto hardly been addressed. A promising start was made with the reconciliation walk in the Middle
East in commemoration of the start of the first crusade 900 years ago in 1996, but it was not followed up.
Two 20th century precedents had been the Barmen Declaration in 1934, along with the Stuttgart Confession
of guilt in 1945 in respect of the silence of the Church at the treatment of Jews during the Nazi regime and
the Holocaust. It would be wonderful if the present material could facilitate a process which could lead to a
broad confession by the Church universal so that the air can be cleared, so that present issues like those of
the Middle East can be addressed without any smoke screens.
The venue of Lausanne III, the Cape Town International Convention Centre, being equidistant to the
suburbs Sea Point and BoKaap,
that are respectively major strongholds of Judaism and Islam in the country,
was a nudge to attempt printing Part 1 of the manuscript. In 2010 I also came very strongly under the
impression once again of the need of remorse over our role as Christians in the West in respect of Judaism
and Islam. Already at the beginning of 2010 I was deeply moved when I discerned that Isaac and Ishmael,
the two eldest sons of Abraham, had actually buried their father together (Genesis 25:9). The evident
reconciliation must have been preceded by confession and remorse.
I started to pray more intensely that a representative body of Christians might express regret and offer an
apology on behalf of Christians for a) the side-lining and persecution of Jews by Christians b) that Christian
theologians misled Muhammad at the foundations of Islam.
As I continued with my research and study of earlier revivals, I discerned the 'missing link'. They
were as a rule by accompanied by deep remorse over personal and national sins. This resulted in rivers of
tears being shed. I still pray as at the first edition 'Oh God, send this revival!', but I now also pray: 'God, give
me and my fellow Capetonians genuine tears of remorse because of the unpaid debt of the church in respect
of Judaism and Islam!'
I am nevertheless quite aware that the highlighting of inconvenient truths is apt to cause much
discomfort, perhaps even shock, trauma and pain to some readers. I have full understanding if some
adherents from the three Abrahamic religions find it difficult to palate the assertion that satan4 has been hard
at work to rob millions around the world of the liberation which Jesus had won through his Cross and
Resurrection. May I encourage those of you who feel this way, to wrestle on towards an eschatological (endtime)
hope that will – I trust and pray be
broadly discovered. Therefore, there cannot be any room for an
arrogant and triumphalist attitude. My intention is definitely not to lash out at (some) denomination(s), at the
Muslims or at the Jews, but rather to help create an atmosphere of humble compassion towards other
religious groups. At the same time, I do hope to stimulate a climate in which true reconciliation can flourish.
I close this introduction with the ancient dictum of the Unity of the Brethren, the Unitas Fratrum, where I
have my own spiritual roots: The Lamb has conquered, let us follow Him.
Ashley D.I. Cloete
Cape Town, April 2012
International Version
KJV – King James Version
King James Version
1. Historical Development of Spiritual Dynamics in the Abrahamic religions
The creation story in the Bible book of Genesis is basic to all three Abrahamic religions. The Almighty is
seen as a communicating entity, who created by speaking words that brought forth order and life. God spoke
to Adam and Eve, as well as to Noah and Abraham. The ineffable Holy One addressed Moses from the
burning bush. On Mount Horeb/Mount Sinai Moses received divine instructions to be passed on to the
Israelites, the apple of God's eye. The tiny nation was to exemplify his dealings with mankind as a God of
love, who wants people everywhere to live in obedience to his commandments.
The logical supplement of the speaking God at Creation, is the breathing God. The breath proceeds
from the same mouth. In the ancient cultures breath and spirit become almost synonymous. In some Semitic
languages like Arabic and Hebrew, the same word is used for breath and spirit. Islam emphasises that aspect
in the creation of man, where God merely said ‘Be’ to bring Adam into being (Surah alImran
The Scriptures of all three Abrahamic religions take God, the ultimate good, as its point of departure.
They also take for granted the opposition of evil forces. Simplistically, Judaism and Christianity have
inherited satan as a fallen angel who took many rebellious beings with him, called demons. He is also called
Iblis in Islam, which is derived from the Greek word ‘diabolos’, just like the English word ‘devil’. Latin
tradition called him Lucifer, which means the carrier of light. The subtle difference is highlighted by Paul,
the great missionary apostle, when he noted that satan can disguise himself slyly as a pious angel of light (2
Corinthians 11:14). Deceiver or diabolos (distorter or confuser) and the ‘father of lies’ are other titles which
typify the archenemy.
His function is also described in Scripture as the accuser of believers (Revelations
4 I have no hesitation to write satan throughout without a capital ‘s’. I consciously choose to do this on ideological
grounds, not wanting to give any honour to the arch enemy. Furthermore, I have taken note that 'satan' is always
preceded by a definite article in the Hebrew Scriptures. From this we can thus deduce that 'satan' was more a
designation of his character than an actual personal name.
A new Basis of Communication
It is furthermore good to keep in mind that the word is the basis of communication. God created Eve as a
helper, as one with whom Adam could communicate, one who could talk back in a pleasant way. There is
however already the rub. Satan enters the scene by distorting the words of the divine instruction, sowing
doubt: 'did God really say...' (Genesis 3:1).
The book of Genesis shows us the utter failure of man. Adam failed and now God gave the human
race a new start through his servant Noah. Already at his birth a tenet of God's character is displayed when
his father Lamech declared prophetically; 'he will comfort us in the labour and painful toil of our hands...'
(Genesis 5:28). The Bible sums up the divine assessment of Noah’s character with one sentence: 'Noah found
favour in the eyes of the Lord' (Genesis 6:8).
Information that is found in many a children’s Bible and in the Qur’an, but not included in the
Genesis report, centres on the warnings that Noah had to give to the people. According to the Talmud, the
Word of the Lord came to Methusalah and Noah: Turn from your evil inclinations, abandon your unrighteous ways,
then God may forgive and spare you on the face of the earth. The Qur’an repeats the aspect of warning with
different prophets, especially with regard to idolatry and the coming judgement. In its pristine form all three
Abrahamic religions recognize that God hates idolatry more than anything else.
The Church Fathers of the first century of the Common Era recongnised a continuity of Judaism and
Christianity. The Hebrew Scripture was the real Bible of late 2nd century (CE) author and Church Father
Irenaeus. His principal theological emphasis was the historical solidarity of Judaism and Christianity. He
stressed that God who created the world and revealed himself to the Jews was also the God of the Christians.
His revelation was continuous; Jesus Christ was his Son; the apostles proclaimed no other God. The
scriptures of the Jews are also the scriptures of the Christians. Muhammad, the prime prophet of Islam,
clearly saw this connection, calling the adherents of the other two Abrahamic religions ‘People of the Book’.
(Some Muslims also regard adherents of Zoroastrianism as people of the Book.)5
The Samaritans as the Forerunners of the Muslims
The Samaritans can be regarded as the forerunners of the Muslims in the Bible. Not only did they hold
Joseph’s grave in very high esteem but Moses was also specially venerated. No wonder that Islam sees
Muhammad in this tradition one
of various Messianic personalities that thought they were a prophet like
Moses. Both Simon Magus, the biblical opposite of Peter in Acts and Dositheus, a Samaritan leader,
according to the Clementines, saw themselves as the prophet like Moses that was predicted in Deuteronomy
18:18. Both Simon Magus and Dositheus are said by the author of the Clementine story to be from Samaritan
The second century Christian apologist Justin, called the Martyr, likewise had Samaritan ancestry.
Few would regard him as heretical, but his haughty arrogant attitude towards Judaism provided the sort of
germ that escalated into the gradual sidelining
of Jews. As a Platonist who had successively accepted
Stoicism, Aristotle and Pythagoras, Justin Martyr had high regard for the Hebrew prophets, referring to them
as ‘men more ancient than all those who are esteemed philosophers’ (Cited in Walker, 1976:46). But Justin went
overboard in his haughty intellectual arrogance, teaching that the Greek philosophers and the ‘barbarians’
such as Abraham, all who at any time ‘obeyed the same guidance, were really Christians’ (Walker, 1976:47). A
few centuries later, Muslims would use a similar argument to call Adam and Abraham Muslims. Justin Martyr
looked upon himself as a philosopher. He revered the Hebrew prophets who according to him ‘were filled with
the Holy Spirit. They glorified the Creator, the God and Father of all things, and proclaimed His Son, the Christ’ (Cited
in Walker, 1976:46). Justin Martyr went on to describe Christianity not only as a philosophy which alone was
safe and profitable, but also as ‘the oldest, truest and most divine of philosophies.’ (Similar progression is
prevalent in Islamic belief.) This was the sort of germ which seemed to have infected highly respected
Church Fathers like Irenæus of Lyon (born ca. 115 – 202CE) and Tertullian (born ca. 150 CEca.
220 225
5 This is probably because of obvious similarities with Zoroastrianism and the influence of the Persian religion and
philosophy into Islam. Zoroastrianism is based on the teachings of the prophet Zoroaster. Zoroastrianism is
essentially synonymous with Mazdaism (the worship of Ahura Mazda, exalted by Zoroaster as the supreme divine
authority by Zoroaster.
CE), to see the (not yet Roman) Catholic Church as the sole dispenser of salvation via baptismal
Unintentional division of the Body of Christ
Much of the division of the Body of Christ was unintentional. The first significant shift developed between
Jewish Christians and other strands of first century Jews appeared after James, the leader of the Church in
Jerusalem and the brother of Jesus, was executed by a group of Jews that acted on the instructions of the
High Priest Ananus.6 The stoning of James with the collaboration of the Sanhedrin and the High Priest, was
a bitter signal to those Christians who still attempted to engage in dialogue with Jews.
Irenaeus, the respected theologian from Lyon, who died in 202 CE, turned around the neutral Greek
word derived from haireomai, (which means to choose) into a negative term. Originally heresy meant either
a choice of beliefs or a faction of believers, or a school of thought. It was given wide currency by Irenaeus in
his tract Against Heresies, to describe and discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. He
described his own (op)position as orthodox (from ortho“
straight” + doxa “belief”). His stance eventually
evolved into the position of the Early Church. Yet, the effect was devastating nevertheless. Cyprian of
Carthage, who was beheaded in 258, taught ‘whoever ... is not in the Church of Christ is not a Christian’ (Cited in
Walker, 1976:67). The Church was according to him the sole ark of salvation, without whom one could not
have God as one’s Father.
At this time nominalism expanded, which was checked temporarily through the systematic
persecution under the Roman emperor Decius (249251
CE), the worst that the Church had undergone
hitherto – worse than the exploits of the notorious emperor Nero. Diocletian, who took imperial office in
February 303 CE, resumed the persecution. He ordered churches to be destroyed, had clergy imprisoned and
forced many to offer sacrifices by torture. As in the days of Decius, there were not only many martyrs but
also many who ‘lapsed’. While the Church grew and expanded nevertheless to new geographical regions
because of the persecution, Jews were gradually sidelined
until finally Emperor Constantine caused a semipermanent
rift between Gentile Christianity and Judaism in the fourth century. People were baptised by
force. He also fused pagan sun worship with Christianity. Emperor Constantine made the rift fairly final
when Sunday was made a free day in 321 CE. To Jews this was completely offside
and unacceptable. This
was clearly a compromise with the idolatrous pagan worship of the sun. As a result, nominal Christianity
grew out of bounds. It became initially the convenient and later the fashionable thing to be a Christian,
whether one believed in Christ or not. Possibly more than anybody else, Constantine is to blame for the
growth and spread of nominal morbid Christianity, a Church that lost almost all its initial vibrancy.
The notion of prophetic continuity is also an important idea adopted from Judaism by Muhammad.
He believed that a prophetic line had begun with Noah and Abraham which continued in a steady succession
of prophets sent to various peoples including the Arab tribes. All of these holy men spoke of the same faith
and belonged to a longestablished
code of behaviour. Muhammad’s claims to belong to this line, enabled
him to proclaim himself a prophet. After initially gravely doubting the supernatural message of the figure
purported to be the Angel Gabriel, and fearing that he was demonpossessed,
Muhammad started believing
the nudges of his first wife Khadiyah. The idea of Moses as the ‘Prophet with a Book’ impressed
Muhammad to such an extent that he felt a necessity to produce a holy book of his own. This can clearly be
seen in Surah Ahqaf (Winding Sandtracts)
46:12, where it is stated that 'Before this book there was Moses’
book as a guide... and this book confirms it in the Arabic language.' In the same chapter (v.30) the Qur’an
says 'We have heard of a book which came down from heaven after Moses to confirm its predecessor.'
Bread and Wine as a golden Thread
In John 6 Jesus compared the divine provision in the desert, the Manna, to him as the Bread of Life. God
provided for the Israelites sovereignly and miraculously for forty years. This comparison turned out to be
6 Ananias was born around 0/1 CE to Annas the Elder, to the Boethus/Annas priestly dynasty that dominated the
Temple of Jerusalem from 25 BCE to its destruction in 70 CE. It is recorded that Ananus, the High Priest of
Jerusalem, assembled the Sanhedrin of the Judges (including the prefects Porcius Festus (59-62) and Albinus) to
condemn James the Brother of Jesus the Christ, and some others of his companions. After the untimely death of
Porcius Festus (59-62) as Procurator of Judea, Ananias had James killed.
quite offensive for the multitude of Jews that witnessed his miraculous provision of bread and fish, with 12
baskets full left over (John 6:13). The followers of Jesus – possibly also many of them who were initially
offended and left him (John 6:66), gradually understood that the provision for their ancestors in the desert by
the Father was a pointer to Jesus. The bread from heaven and water that flowed without ceasing from a rock,
was a symbol of the spiritual food that Jesus would give us in his flesh and his blood. Not many years later
Paul, a Pharisee by birth and later the renowned apostle, wrote down that Jesus was the personification of
the miraculous provision in the desert in 1 Corinthians 10:14.
The revelation of the life that is hidden behind the bread and wine was still treasured in the early
church. However, already in the church of Corinth it became clouded so that Paul had to reprimand them.
That it was offensive in later generations can be seen in the fact that Christians were maligned as cannibals,
eating a body and drinking blood. The deep truths all but disappeared when churches and religions allowed
what should have remained an act of adoration and worship, to become an almost empty ritual, called the
Eucharist. Somewhere along the line someone thought a bell had to ring to signal the changing of bread and
wine into the body and blood of Christ.7 How the Roman Catholic Church came to the idea that only clergy
are worthy of drinking the blood of Christ, I must still discover.
Here and there God revealed the hidden truth in His divine wisdom to saints throughout the ages.
When Martin Luther evidently sensed something of the deep value of the bread and wine as a
commemoration of the death of our Lord, his theologising of the issue completely clouded the matter, even
to the extent that he and Zwingli became near enemies.
Thankfully the truth has been rediscovered in recent years, e.g. by the Brasilian Ana Mendéz Ferrell
in her book Eat my Flesh, Drink my Blood (1st English edition 2006).
7 The ringing of an altar bell began probably in the thirteenth century. The initial good idea – to make a joyful noise
unto the Lord - was probably unintentionally thereby changed, making out of the mystery a sort of magic. It is taught in
Catholicism that 'an ancillary function of the bell(s) is to focus the attention of those attending the Mass that a
supernatural event is taking place on the altar.'
2. Obedience as a golden Thread in the Bible
Obedience to God’s Word became the golden thread running through the Bible. The Almighty
thrives on having a living relationship with his creation, especially with human beings, seen in the Scriptures
as the pinnacle of His creation, crowned with glory and majesty, to rule over the works of the divine hands
(Psalm 8:5, 6).
Ever since, man had difficulty to discern between His Word and that of the archenemy.
would be the hallmark
of the true believer, the vehicle towards a close relationship.
A special Faith Relationship
A very special relationship of faith in the unseen Almighty caused Enoch to be taken away so that he did not
experience death (Hebrews 11:5). Abraham is referred to in the three religions of faith as the friend of God.
What caused him to be called a friend of God? Abraham evidently received this description because it speaks
of a close vibrant relationship. He communicated with the invisible God, which was very radical for his time.
Because of this trust in the unseen Almighty, Abraham was led out of his home area Ur in Chaldea. By faith
Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even
though he did not know where he was going (Hebrews 11:8). Through the ages Abraham has become the
example for men and women: to set out into the unknown, trusting God to lead and guide them.
Radical Obedience
Both Noah and Moses pointed to Jesus through their radical obedience. Oral tradition confirmed
by the
biblical report notes
that a hall mark of Noah was his total obedience. Almost as a refrain we read: ‘Noah
did everything just as God commanded him’ (Genesis 6:22; 7:5; 7:9; 7:16). Noah’s obedience was combined
with his trust in God, although we do not read specifically about a special relationship between him and the
Almighty. Noah nevertheless became the example to all of us, to put our complete trust in God. He
simultaneously challenges us towards complete obedience to the divinely revealed will. Noah’s obedience
culminated in him entering the Ark with his family only upon God’s Word.
Abraham prefigured our Lord in a way, learning obedience through suffering due to lies and
mistakes. The letter to the Hebrews (5:8) states that the Master – although He was the sinless Son of God learned
obedience to the Father through his sufferings. Elijah, the prime prophet of ancient Israel, obeyed
God not only once, but again and again. He followed divine instructions meticulously, trusting that God
would provide in his daily needs. The obedience included fleeing the country. He experienced special divine
provision when God instructed crows to feed him.
The Obedience of Abraham
The radical obedience of Abraham, willing to sacrifice his son, sounds so overwhelming. This encounter
confirms Judaism’s rejection of the Middle Eastern traditions of human sacrifice to appease a deity. Yet, if
ever there was one who had to learn obedience through his suffering, then Abraham was one. Learning the
hard way, he now stands there as a prime negative example to every believer who dare to dabble with
compromise. Through his mistakes Abraham had to learn that it pays to be completely obedient. Abraham
was possibly initially struggling along to Moriah, wrestling with the command to sacrifice his son in pagan
Like no other person Abraham was a forerunner of the Lord Jesus, displaying that one can be alone
without being lonely. The key to Abraham’s life can be typified by the word separation. He was separated
from his fatherland and kinsfolk and later from Lot. But he would experience a close fellowship with the
unseen I AM as possibly only Enoch had done before him. Abraham depicted how centuries later Jesus was
to experience extreme loneliness but who could nevertheless testify: ‘The one who sent me is with me; he
has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases Him’ (John 8:29). Jesus clearly intimated his divinity
when he said ‘Before Abraham was, I AM’ (John 8:58). No wonder that the crowd hereafter ‘picked up
stones to stone him...’
A Parallel in Islamic oral History
It is interesting that Islamic oral history has a parallel to the extreme loneliness of the Lord Jesus in the
Garden of Gethsemane and the road to Calvary. During their pilgrimage at Eidul
Adha, when Muslims
commemorate Abraham’s difficult path with the lad carrying the wood, they are reminded at three places
how Satan tempted the arch father thrice to abort the sacrifice. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he was
tempted three times and in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus was also tempted thrice to abort the road to
Calvary. Thrice he found the disciples sleeping. Repeatedly he faced the temptation of evading his mission.
His final reply was the words of submission: ‘O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;
nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will’ (Matthew 26:39).
A Pointer to Jesus
Abraham’s supreme gift of faithful obedience elicited the repetition of Judaism’s fundamental covenant:
‘Because you have done this... I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring
as numerous as the
stars of heaven.' (Genesis 22:1618,
Gitlitz and Davidson, 2006:12f). In this regard Abraham was a type of
the Father who gave his Son Jesus as an Atonement for our sins. He thus became a pointer to Jesus also in
this way and an encouragement to every believer. The author of the letter to the Hebrews highlights how
during the days of Jesus’ life on earth: 'He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the
one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was
a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal
salvation for all who obey him’ (Hebrews 5:8f).
Jesus Made Sin for us
Our Lord's voluntary taking of the cup in the Garden of Gethsemane would send him, the sinless Jesus, to
the Cross.8 There are various ideas around the content of the cup. Paul Billheimer (1975:86) suggests that ‘it
was not the prospect of physical suffering which brought the agony in the Garden ... It was the anguish of a pure soul
who knew no sin, facing the injustice of being “made sin'' (2 Corinthians 5:21), of being so completely identified with
sin as not only to forfeit the fellowship of His Father, but to become the sufferer of the Father’s loathing’. On Calvary
God did not intervene, because that was to become the reply to all sorts of accusations by satan. God allowed
his Son Jesus to become a spectacle so that the fear of death and judgement could be given a fatal blow on
the third day. On account of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the follower of our Lord can say with Paul
(Romans 8:1): 'There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...the Spirit of life set me free
from the law of sin and death.' Paul, the apostle, echoed this sentiment in 1 Corinthians 15 when he cried out:
'Death, where is your sting?' It is like a buzzing bee that has already deposited its sting. Every bit of the fear
of death has disappeared! Since satan’s great purpose was to produce rebellion against the Father, he was
vanquished when Jesus died without yielding to that pressure. He conquered although he died in doing so, as
the Hebrew letter writer (2:14) summarised so aptly: ‘that through (his own) death he might destroy him that
had the power of death, that is, the devil’.
Paul gave a summary of Jesus’ life as one of utter obedience: He, ‘being in very nature God...humbled
himself and became obedient to death even
death on a cross’ (Phillipians 2:5ff). In the ‘New Testament’
radical obedience is highlighted when we read of actions by followers of Jesus that would not make common
sense. Thus Peter threw the net ‘on the word’ of the Lord after not having caught any fish at night and Philip
left the successful ministry in Samaria, (Acts 8), going in obedience on a ‘wild goose chase’ to the lonely
desert road of Gaza. The believer knows however that God’s ways are higher (Isaiah 55:8, 9). John, the
apostle, repeats in a circular style in 1 John the relationship between loving and believing God on the one
hand and obeying him on the other hand. Obedience is the ultimate proof of loving God.
Moses as an obedient Friend of God
One sometimes tends to overlook that Moses definitely also qualified for the description as an obedient
friend of God. We read in Exodus 33:11, ‘The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with
his friend.’ The special relationship is also seen in Moses’ words to the Almighty. Obedience to the Almighty
was one of his hallmarks. Thus we read about Moses saying in the same context, ‘If you are pleased with me,
8 According to Gnostic (-related) tradition the passion of Jesus became the cause of the Christ leaving Jesus. (It had
entered his body at His baptism) according to wide-spread oral tradition.
teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you.’ God responded with: ‘My
presence will go with you...’ Over fifty times it is recorded of Moses: ‘As the Lord commanded Moses, so did
he do.’9
The replies of Moses show that he was no robot; the friend of God can also voice negative feelings.
God shows understanding when Moses raved in bitter disappointment and frustration: ‘...What have I done to
displease you that you put the burden of these people on me? ... I cannot carry all these people by myself; the
burden is too heavy for me’ (Numbers 11:11,1415).
In a sovereign display of Divine understanding, God
encouraged Moses, by instructing him to appoint seventy leaders and officials to assist him.
The encounter on Mount Sinai became the beginning of visible evidence of someone who had been
in the presence of the Almighty. Moses' face was shining so much that his rebellious compatriots could not
face him. Hereafter he used a veil every time he came from the Holy of Holies.
Obedient Submission
The obedient submission to God is a tenet that is well known in rabbinical Judaism. The Talmud reports how
Abraham referred to Isaac as the substitution for the lamb. On the way to the Akedah – the sacrifice – satan is
said to have attempted unsuccessfully to dissuade Isaac from obeying his father and when he failed, the
deceiver tried to impede their journey. We have shown how this tenet is also present in Islamic tradition.
According to oral Jewish tradition, Isaac cooperated fully in the proposed sacrifice, even begging his father
to bind him tightly so that he would not struggle and render the sacrifice invalid. According to Talmudic
tradition the obedient son replied: ‘To the will of the living God in thankfulness I bow.’
Just like Isaac, the Lord Jesus would willingly lay down his life. One almost hears the echo
centuries later, in the Garden of Gethsemane after Jesus had been agonising when he was required to empty
the cup. It must have ‘contained’ something against which his whole being rebelled. It has been suggested
that it could have been the sins of the world against which the sinless Son of God came in fierce opposition.
The victory is achieved after the Son had learned obedience through his suffering (Hebrews 5:8):
‘Not my will, but thy will be done’ (Mark 14:36). The events leading to the crucifixion and the Cross of
Calvary itself echo Abraham and Isaac’s obedient submission in every respect, culminating in Jesus saying:
‘Father, in Thy hands I commit my spirit’ (Luke 23:46).
God, who provided the ram on Moriah, also gave the Lamb on Calvary, his only Son. The ram
prefigured the slain lamb of the Passover that saved the Israelites in the hour of judgement. The Lord Jesus
became the Lamb slain for the sin of mankind. Now whosoever believes in Him as Saviour, receives
everlasting life. Paul recorded the significance of this fact in the following words: ‘For I resolved to know
nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Other types of Christ with regard to obedience occurred in the wanderings of the Israelites through the
desert, linked to divine provision, e.g. the cloud pillar by day and the fire hovering over the Tabernacle by
night. The latter prefigured in a special way what Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me
will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Closely connected to the cloud pillar
was the sound of the silver trumpets. They were used as a signal for the journeying of the congregation. The
believer needs to listen to the voice of the Lord, whose words are as tried silver and purified gold. “My sheep
listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
The Challenge of Obedience
Repeatedly the Israelites were challenged either to obey or not to do it, to go either for the blessing or for the
curse. In Deuteronomy 28:13f we read for instance what will happen if Israel is obedient. ‘And the Lord will
make you the head and not the tail... if you heed the commands of the Lord your God.’ They could choose
between death and life. A very significant instance of this choice for life was where Moses was required to
put a brass serpent on a pole after poisonous snakes had bitten many of the Israelites (Numbers 21:4ff). This
was God’s punishment after they had rebelled, displaying grave ingratitude at His provision for them.
Strikingly, Jesus pointed to this example in the context of explaining to Rabbi Nicodemus when the latter
came to our Lord at night. The Master stressed at that occasion that one has to be born again. Nicodemus, the
serious seeker after truth, was puzzled. Jesus more or less pointed him to Calvary.
9 Conversely, two instances of disobedience blotted his copy book. He became a 'bridegroom of blood' after he had
failed to circumcise his son and he spoke to the rock in anger after God had instructed him to speak to it.
In the desert the Israelites received more than only healing, they received new life. Jesus prophesied
that he would be ‘lifted up’ just like Moses did with the serpent on the desert wanderings after they had left
Egypt (John 3:14). On the occasion in the Sinai desert, those Israelites who looked up to the brass snake in
obedience to the divine command, were instantaneously healed. In the book of Genesis it is described how
satan originally came in the image of a serpent to deceive Adam and Eve. The message is clear in the context
of John 3:16. The brass serpent served for the temporary healing of the Israelites who had been bitten. Jesus
was to be lifted up so that all who believed in him might have eternal life. Whosoever believes in faith in
Jesus as God’s healing instrument, the ‘New Testament’ ‘serpent’ on the Cross, will be healed from being
bitten by satan - the ‘snake’ - who is the liar from the beginning (John 8:44).
Apart from Paul at least one respected person – likewise a Pharisee - might have thought further
about the incarnation of the Son of man, how Jesus became flesh. When the Master spoke about the Son of
Man coming from heaven (John 3:13), the Pharisee Nicodemus appears still to have been quite puzzled
initially. Perhaps he discerned later how Moses pre-figured Christ in this regard. Paul, a Hellenistic Jew,
wrote in Philippians 2:7 that Jesus - in obedience - took upon himself the form of a slave, not regarding that
as robbery to have left the heavenly glory.
An advance Guard of secret Believers
Nicodemus (and later Joseph of Arimathea, who allowed Jesus to be buried in his tomb) can be regarded as
the advance guard of secret believers from the Jewish establishment. For religious leaders it is always very
difficult to show their true colours in matters of faith. In John 12 we read of a few more, but these ‘loved the
approval of men rather than the approval of God’ (v.43). This is still the case today,
not only in respect of
the Synagogue and the Mosque, but also of Church leaders who fear to be expelled from their respective
denomination or church if they would express their honest convictions. Not much is known about the rest of
Nicodemus' life. The only other time he is mentioned in Scripture, he colluded with Joseph from Arimathea,
another secret believer, to bury the body of our Saviour (John 19:38-40). From this we can deduce that
Nicodemus did become a follower of Jesus, albeit probably a secret one. He came to the front though when it
counted, when many of the disciples of the Master had deserted him, or followed him only from afar like
It is not known who the author of the Hebrews was. I suggest that it could have been someone like
Nicodemus.10 If we understand obedience as a golden thread in Scripture, it becomes very significant how
the life of Moses is summarized in that epistle, keeping in mind that he preferred to be a Hebrew and suffer
with his people, in stead of remaining known as the son of an Egyptian princess. It is described in Hebrews
12:7 as follows: 'He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt,
because he was looking ahead for his reward.' Thus also he followed the example of Abraham to become a
voluntary exile, the paradigm for the pilgrim who chooses to be a stranger in a 'crooked' generation.
The Divine Moulding Process
Trials of obedience are prime divine tools to strengthen the faith of the believer. The examples of Moses,
Joseph and David highlight how God used long periods of waiting to prepare them to be used optimally.
Thus David emphasises in Psalm 66:1012
‘You tried us as silver is tried... you brought affliction upon our
loins...’ These verses of Psalm 66 highlights an interesting anomaly. God cannot be enveloped in a mould, but
he uses affliction and suffering to mould us. Whereas God brought the Israelites through the waters of the red
sea and saved individuals like Lot from fire, destructive waters and purifying fire are used to strengthen and
mould David – like Abraham and the other arch fathers before him. Every follower of the Lord is treated like
silver in the crucible. In Malachi 3:2 the Almighty is compared with a goldsmith who purifies the precious
metal from all impurities in the red-hot fire. God often uses affliction, disappointment and trials to mould us.
The spiritual growth of Joseph in this regard underlines this principal. As an arrogant young man he became
haughty because of the gift - the interpretation of dreams - that he had received. After he had landed in
prison and after using this gift once again in respect of the butler and baker, he seemed to have learned the
lesson well. When he was summoned to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh, he replied humbly: I cannot do it
by myself, but God will tell you what it means (Genesis 41:16).
God had to reprimand Joseph and Moses, using imprisonment and exile respectively after they had
10 Apollo haws also been suggested as such.
acted in the flesh. Yet, His hand was on them, guiding and chastening them through suffering. It is especially
hard to witness our loved ones suffer. But then, it is so wonderful when that what Bishop Retief (Tragedy to
Triumph, 1994:59) calls ‘the Joseph principle’, comes into play: ‘...You intended to harm me, but God intended
it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives’ (Genesis 50:19-20). We detect the
divine hand - especially in the light of the constant enmity between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael up to
this day - when we note that both Joseph and Moses were rescued by Ishmaelites. The Midianite traders
(Genesis 37:25, 28) who pulled Joseph out of the cistern were called the descendants of Ishmael. Moses spent
the years after his flight from Egypt in Midian. This was a time when these ‘Ishmaelites’ seemed not to have
been regarded as Israel’s enemies. Moses’ father-in-law Jethro was a Midianite priest with whom he cooperated,
without major reservations or hassles. Jethro actually ‘was delighted to hear about all the good
things the Lord had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians’ (Exodus 19:9). And
Moses gladly accepted the advice of Jethro to delegate the work, which had become too much for him to
accomplish alone (Exodus 19:24). That the Midianites became enemies of Israel was apparently not because
of their religion, but because of their idolatry. In this regard, Israel was however no better. Moses and so many
prophets after him had to rebuke the Israelites on this very score.
To the same end of moulding, God used a worm to teach the prophet Jonah that he was selfish and
without compassion towards the Ninevites. In the ‘New Testament’ Peter’s denial of Jesus before his
crucifixion was part and parcel of the divine preparation to make out of him the rock on which the Master
could build his Church. Paul was a young believer with a misdirected zeal when the resurrected Jesus
confronted him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). He had to be moulded and shaped before God could use
him. This process covered at least twelve years.
The Father sometimes gives us a second Chance
How gracious of the Father that He gives us a second chance, yes sometimes even a third and a fourth one,
to bring us back to His purpose for us. The biblical condition is remorse and repentance. In 1 John 1:9 we
read: If we confess ours sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all
Thank God for the ‘great fish’ - the pits of despair and tribulation that bring us back to our senses,
back to God! We should praise the Lord for the storms, the troubles that focus our faith and give us
opportunity to share the good news with those who might not be our first choice, but who are God’s
challenge for us.
Jonah assumed that Nineveh would have no time for God. Christians too easily assume that certain
people groups are resistant to the Gospel. Jonah had to learn that it was not only the city of Nineveh that had
to repent. He himself and especially his attitude to the Ninevites had to change. We as Christian Capetonians
might still be very surprised by the reaction of Muslims and Jews to the Gospel if our own attitude changes to
one of love and compassion.
Obedience rather than Glamour
A sign of really great personalities is that they choose suffering rather than glamour when the chips are down.
At the outset of his ministry Jesus chose not to be flattered by the adulation of his Nazareth townsfolk. In
stead of riding on the crest wave of praise, he swam against the stream, risking his life in the process (Luke
4:14-30). When a multitude of Jewish worshippers wanted to forcefully make Jesus their worldly King (John
6:15), he refused this elevation. In stead, he left the multitude that must have adulated him as a prophet like
Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15,18), through whose mediation the Israelites were divinely fed in the desert. In the
same chapter it is recorded how the Lord responded with a 'hard' word, after which the crowd left him en
masse (John 6:66).
Primacy of Obedience
Obedience to God’s Word became the golden thread running through the Bible. The Almighty thrives on
having a living relationship with his creation, especially with human beings, seen in the Scriptures as the
pinnacle of His creation. They have been crowned with glory and majesty, to rule over the works of the
divine hands (Psalm 8:5, 6).
Ever since, man had difficulty to discern between His Word and that of the arch-enemy. Obedience
would be the hall-mark of the true believer, the vehicle towards a close relationship.
The issue of obedience is especially highlighted in the Book of Deuteronomy. Repeatedly the Israelites
were told that the demand of obedience to the Law is for their good (e.g. Deuteronomy 6:24). Moreover, it is
clear that their obedience can never be an effort to buy God’s favour, but rather it is required so that believers
can enjoy His favour. The Israelites were not called to purchase their redemption by obedience, but expected to
obey because they are a redeemed people. The enemy of souls is a specialist in confusing matters. It is sad that
Moses' heritage, the gift of the Torah, in due course lost its original purpose, namely instruction and a
guideline for living under the Almighty’s sovereign rule. Legalism and a petty playing with words came in its
place. A whole range of legalist interpretations and traditions in Judaism reaped the combined effect of
nullifying God’s laws. Samuel summarised beautifully what was at stake: To obey is better than sacrifice (1
Samuel 15:22).
Our Lord learned Obedience
When Peter merely faintly suggested that Jesus should escape his innocent death, the Master had to rebuke
him strongly, seeing no less than satan behind this idea (Mark 8:33; Matthew 16:23). By the time of the
Gethsemane struggle, our Lord had obviously learned the lesson of obedience very well. This is not to say
though that this had not been the case throughout his life and ministry as well. Significantly, this happened at
the temptations by the devil, when satan retreated to tempt him 'until an opportune time' (Luke 4:11). The
Gethsemane event was however very special. Though Jesus was the Son, he was required to empty the cup in
obedience (Hebrews 5:8), the content of which ultimately took him from the presence of His Father, so much
so that he ultimately used the word forsaken. In the agonizing prayer of the Garden of Gethsemane, our Lord
responded thrice with ‘not my will but your will be done…’ (Mark 14:36). Jesus chose the road of suffering,
to be ultimately crowned with thorns. His Kingdom is not of this world.
The line between acclamation and rejection can be very fine at times. Choosing for absolute truth often
makes the difference. Compromise could sometimes already lead to us wanting to avoid persecution or
No slavish Obedience
While the positive notion of obedience to God runs like a golden thread through the Bible, the converse is
also true. Disobedience wrecks not only the relationship between man and God but also that between human
beings and even between man and nature.
Yet, it needs to be emphasized that the Bible definitely does not teach slavish obedience. It would be
more correct to see critical obedience as the biblical norm. When Gideon could not see his way clear to obey
straight away, God nevertheless took him seriously. His reticent obedience, initially expecting a proof of the
presence of God (Judges 6:17), his need of absolute certainty that God wanted to use him (Judges 6:37ff), can
be seen as an example for checking God’s will. The enemy does have ways of emulating God. In our day and
age some people speak too glibly about what God is supposed to have said to them. It should become a
custom and habit to use biblical checks and balances to discern God’s will, otherwise we can be deceived so
easily. His written and preached Word, peace at heart and the advice of mature believers, often assist to this
The inferior family background can also haunt the gifted. The tall Saul was impressive by all standards.
But he had an inferiority complex. The first time we read about Saul, one senses: here is a man with a destiny.
He was ‘an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites - a head taller than any of the others’ (1
Samuel 9:2). But like Gideon, he was shying away from the awful task of leading his people because of his
family background. Tragically, he was more bent on currying favour with men, than to be obedient to God.
Samuel had to reprimand him strongly, highlighting that obedience is better than ritual sacrifice of animals (1
Samuel 15:22).
3. Disobedience to god as a negative biblical Tenet
Just as obedience was a positive central tenet throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the disobedience to
the divine instructions is highlighted. The Israelites sinned again and again by rebelling in various ways.
Moses discerned that rebelliousness of the Israelites was the cause of God’s anger. He himself had almost
become the victim of God’s wrath when he was rebellious, coming with all sorts of excuses. The blood of his
son appeased God’s anger (Exodus 4:24f). Thus Moses became a bridegroom of blood, a prophetic type of
the atoning blood of Jesus for the sins of the world, to appease divine wrath.
‘OT’ Examples of Disobedience
In the creation story the disobedience to the divine instruction was the cause of the havoc. God granted
authority and dominion to man over the earth, linked to obedience to the divine command. His free will
permitted Adam and Eve to obey or not. Disobedience would lead to slavery - to become slaves of satan.
Genesis 3:1 tells us that 'the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field,' while Gen.3:12 records
Adam’s words to God, 'I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked and I hid
myself.' There is an interesting play on words in the Hebrew text. In verse 1 the word translated “cunning” is
the Hebrew word arum while in verse 12 the word translated with “naked” is the Hebrew word erom. Both
are from the identical root (the letters ayin, resh, mem). The devil was arum, Adam was erom. Our arch
ancestors sought to become like God, but their disobedience caused them to become like the devil!
Disruption of the unity between man and God, discord between Adam and Eve and strife between
man and nature (Genesis 3:15) were the bad fruit of man’s first act of disobedience. The other enmity though
is between the seed of the snake and the seed of man. Interesting is the divine intervention, the provision of
skins, which was of course preceded by the slaughtering of an animal and the shedding of blood. This pattern
can be found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. This is how the Almighty over-ruled the disobedience and
wrong compromises of sinful human beings. The ultimate sacrifice was the one of his Son, the Lamb of God,
which made all other sacrifices redundant.
Various biblical examples demonstrate how disobedience to divine instructions caused men of God
to fall. Those persons who toyed with sin were unrepentant or not submissive - to their own peril! Saul tried
to camouflage his disobedience and impatience with an offering, without however displaying remorse. He
still offered excuses why he violated the Lord’s instructions after he had basically only been interested in
setting up a monument in his own honour (1 Samuel 15:12, 24). That presumption and arrogance can be the
cause for God not listening to our prayers, is illustrated in Deuteronomy 1:41-45 ‘...the Lord...paid no
attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you.’
Costly Examples of Compromise
Obedience is honoured by God, but compromise is seen as disobedience, as sin which incurs the wrath and
punishment of the Almighty. The Hebrew Scriptures contain examples of personalities who incurred
problems for themselves, only because they could not wait. The most classic one is probably Abraham and
Sarah who settled for a compromise that resulted in the birth of Ishmael. This spawned the age-old rivalry
between the off-spring of Isaac and Ishmael. In the case of King Saul, his impatient disobedience even cost
him the loss of his kingship (1 Samuel 13:13). Jonah received another chance after his initial disobedience.
Even sacrifice is rejected by God if it is mixed with sinful behaviour, if it is not accompanied by
remorse and repentance. Animal sacrifice and all ancestry worship are regarded as watering down the Word
of God, whereas the appropriate reaction should be respect for God’s Word (Isaiah 66:2,3).
Jesus actually told the Pharisees to their face that they nullify the power of the Word through their
traditions (Mark 7:13). They get people to obey them in the overdrawn and meticulous observance of rules
and regulations like the ritual washing of hands, but then make these disciples worse than themselves.
A similar trend can be discerned in Catholicism and Islam. Later generations came up with
ridiculous requirements and interpretations. Thus it is almost impossible for a devout Muslim to enter
paradise (apart from the jihad guarantee), even if he or she wanted to 'earn' it in this way. Thus not only is
any Islamic prayer null and void if it is not preceded by abdas - by ritual ablution - but it has also been
decreed later to be a worthless exercise if the prayer direction deviates only one degree from the proper
qiblah towards Mecca.
Abraham's pervasive Habit of Lies
It has been suggested that Abraham delayed God’s dealings with him when he took his father Terah with him
from Ur. For as many as fifteen years there were no further commands, no additional promises and no
communication between Abraham and God. There is every indication that the worldly Lot could have been a
drag on Abraham’s spiritual pilgrimage. He definitely still had to learn to wait on the Lord before acting in
panic, like going to Egypt when famine broke out. God deemed it necessary to intervene after Abraham’s
‘white lie’ that Sarai was his sister. This had brought Abraham out of God’s will.
The habit of lies proved very pervasive. When Abraham perceived a threat from King Abimelech, he
resorted to the lie again, that Sarah was his sister. By this time he had received the divine promise of offspring
more than once. God’s mercy and grace came through. In this regard a tenet of the character of
Yahweh of the Tenach11 and Allâh of Islam is well-nigh identical - Allâh is also forgiving and merciful in the
extreme, albeit that the punishing Allâh remained a predominant feature in Islam. The Qur'an furthermore
stresses that Allâh does not have a son nor does he beget. (Both in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the 'NT' the
Almighty is a Father figure with a Son, but also a deity who displays maternal qualities.)
Abraham compromised by listening more to his wife than to God to have a child with his slave
Hagar. This compromise was the cause of division between the off-spring of Isaac and Ishmael. The strife
between his descendants via Isaac and Ishmael had repercussions that still keep the Middle East in suspense.
Sadly, the evident reconciliation which must have preceded the burial of Abraham when his two sons buried
him (Genesis 26:9), hardly seems to have penetrated to the Jewish and Muslim communities.
Moses’ Fall and Restoration
Moses actually overstepped in his disobedience and reluctance to carry out the appointed task, so much so
that God became angry with him. That he apparently was also (repeatedly?) disobedient, by not circumcising
his son, appears to have been the last straw. Shedded blood was necessary to save him from God’s wrath. In
Exodus 4:24f we read how his wife Zipporah was divinely used, when she touched his feet with a flint knife
that had been used for circumcision. She called him a 'bridegroom of blood'. This evidently appeased the
divine anger as Moses was humbled. By now he had apparently become humble enough! Moses had thus
been moulded to become God’s chosen instrument.
In this moment of truth, Moses was clearly once more a prototype
of Jesus. In contrast to the
rebellious Moses however, the Master added the significant words: ‘Yet not as I will, but as you will’
(Matthew 26:39ff). Jesus became the real ‘bridegroom of blood’, appeasing the wrath of God. John
summarised it so succinctly: ‘...and the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
Aaron and Moses were nevertheless disqualified to enter the Promised Land because of their
disobedience. Moses smote the rock after God had ordered him to speak to it at Meribah. Irreverence and
disobedience thus almost led to Moses’ complete downfall. In the ‘Word of Faith’ movement one sometimes
gets the impression that speakers operate to quite an extent in their own authority, using the name of Jesus
not always reverently. God will not allow the usurping of his authority to go unpunished.
Compromise as Disobedience
Biblically, compromise is regarded as disobedience, as sin which incurs the wrath and punishment of the
Almighty. The Hebrew Scriptures depict more than once how defeat followed when disobedience and
compromise crept in. Moses had to tell the Israelites – this is recorded in Deuteronomy 1:45 – that their tears
before the Lord were of no avail. The reason for God’s 'deaf' ear was their rebellion and arrogance. Tears of
frustrated foolhardiness do not move God.
The downfall of Gideon (8:24) and King Asa (2 Chronicles 16:3+7) was caused by their disobedience.
In both cases their exceptional feats, which had their origins in obedience, were all but nullified. A very tragic
case is that of the child king of Judah, Josiah. Through the godliness of King Josiah, especially after he had
heard the Law being read (2 Kings 22:8-20), divine judgement was delayed until after his death. A prophetic
11 The Hebrew Scriptures are also known by its acronym, Tenach or Tanakh, consisting especially of the first
consonants in Hebrew for the Law (Torah, the Prophets (Nebiim) and other Sacred Scriptures (Chetubim).
word was given to him that he would die in peace. However, because of disobedient military involvement, he
was slain prematurely on the battlefield.
Saul is a negative example of someone who went it alone, cutting himself off from correction and
encouragement. His actions included all the elements of dishonesty and disobedience: improper modesty (1
Samuel 10:22), taking honour for himself,12 impatience (1 Samuel 13:9), imposing his will on others (1
Samuel 14:24), followed by sinful independence and activism (14:36). God did not intervene either when
Jephtha made a rash vow (Judges 11:30f) ), that would lead to him sacrificing his daughter (Judges 11:39). On
the other hand however, God answered Samson's strange request to revenge the Philistines for plucking out
his eyes. Nevertheless, Samson thus became in a sense a pointer to our Lord, when he gave his life
voluntarily to save his people (Judges 16:30ff).
Yet, also in this regard we cannot put God neatly into a box. The Bible gives some interesting
examples of disobedience to instructions which are contrary to God’s will. When Jonathan inadvertently ate
honey when he was supposed to have fasted on the instruction of his father (1 Samuel 14:27ff), Saul was
ready to kill his son. The soldier colleagues were not punished by God for coming up in support of the
disobedient Jonathan. Likewise the soldiers who refused to kill the family of the priest Abimelech for
inadvertently protecting David, did not come under any divine reprimand (1 Samuel 22:17).
A scriptural example of people who operated 'out of rank' is the two sons of Sceva. They tried to drive
out demons, using the name of Jesus presumptuously (Acts 19:1416).
They were badly injured and had to flee
out of the house naked.
An interesting Interplay
I am indebted to a missionary colleague Edith Sher, who is linked to Messiah’s People and who is a Messianic
Jewish believer, for the following comparison: In Jonah 1 it is mentioned that the prophet had to pay his own
fare to Tarshish. Centuries later God sent the apostle Paul to the city of Rome - the Nineveh of his generation.
Unlike Jonah, Sha’ul13 went in obedience and God not only paid his fare, he provided a military escort. But
even more important, when Paul’s ship was caught in a storm, God kept everyone safe because of Sha’ul’s
obedience. But Jonah’s disobedience and apathy put everyone else in danger. If the Church doesn’t wake up,
the world is in danger. And it will be to our own common detriment.
The ‘NT’ Response
Adam put his trust in a source other than God and died as a result. This gave satan the possibility to usurp
rule over man and the earth. A divine ‘predicament’ arose. If satan’s dominion was to be revoked, a way had
to be found to redeem fallen man and recover his lost authority. Someone a
member of Adam’s race, a
second Adam had
to be found who would qualify to recover the lost heritage. A unique solution ensued:
‘When the fulness of the time came, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem
them that were under the law’ (Galatians 4:4). Quite logically, Paul saw Jesus as the second Adam.14 Where
Adam failed through his disobedience, Jesus excelled in giving his all in obedience. As the divine Son of
God he had to be made sin for us. He was willing to take the cup, knowing full well what that entailed:
Therefore he agonised, praying more than once: Father, if you will, take this cup from me; yet not my will,
but yours be done. The letter to the Hebrews illustrates the relationship of suffering to obedience quite
drastically. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). He ultimately
forfeited the fellowship of the Father when He was made sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Billheimer (1975:78) links
this to the sacrificial system of ancient Israel, to the sin offering of the tabernacle and the temple: ‘He became
the very essence of sin by dying as a sin offering.’
It seems that the centrality and importance of obedience in Scripture is not always appreciated in
12 Apart from the fact that God should have received the glory, the actual fighting was done by his son Jonathan (1
Samuel 13:3, 4) and Saul also built a monument unto himself (1 Samuel 15:12).
13 The original name of Paul in Hebrew was Sha’ul.
14 An interesting snippet is a parallel in Sethian Gnosticism. Seth, the third son born to Adam and Eve, is called the
Christ, e.g. in the Gospel of Judas. Seth is suggested to represent a new beginning for humanity. Quite strikingly,
Jesus is depicted in the gnostic ‘Gospel’ as an extremely obedient follower of Jesus, doing everything the Master
requires of him.
modern times. Somehow it appears that we do not see any more how the rebellion and disobedience of the
Israelites typified
by continued or repeated idolatry angered
God apparently more than anything else. It
was the rebellion and disobedience which disqualified Saul for kingship. The ‘Saul Syndrome’ as Floyd
McClung typifies this in his booklet The Father Heart of God, has tragically been repeated in history again
and again. Gifted people who started off with anointing, fell by the wayside. In the case of Saul, his
inferiority complex appears to have clouded his gifts, leading to jealousy. Similar traits can be discerned
with Muhammad. After initially admiring the Jews, the pendulum swung over to hatred and resentment.
Disobedience hardly features in Islam in this sense. The Qur’an e.g. does not discern the importance
of obedience when Moses hit the rock in stead of speaking to it. Slavish submission to Allâh is required,
rather than considered or repentant obedience. Therefore it is not surprising that I could not yet find any of
the above biblical examples in the Qur’an.
Muhammad misled into Compromise
In 1985 AbualMoosa,
a Lebanese theologian of the Maronite Church, wrote a book called Between Prophet
and Priest (Diar alakl,
1985).15 Reportedly Waraqah, the cousin of Khadiyah (Muhammad’s first wife), was
a Christian priest and a scholar of the ‘Old’ and ‘New Testament’. Taking an Ebionite connection of Waraqah
almost axiomatically, AbualMoosa
suggested that Waraqah endeavoured to mentor Muhammad to become
his successor.16 If we take this at face value historical
proof is unfortunately quite limited Waraqah
unfortunately appears to have failed to instruct Muhammad properly (or he himself was confused).
After the devout Muhammad thought himself to be demonpossessed
his meeting with a
supernatural being in a cave on Mt. Hira it
was also Waraqah who initially misled Muhammad, suggesting
that he was a prophet in the mould of Moses. Also on a few other issues Waraqah’s teaching and guidance
were evidently deficient. This is perhaps the most clear with regard to the information that came through to
his disciple Muhammad around the person of Jesus. Other influences such as Arianism clearly became
dominant. In fact, as early as the 8th century Islam was regarded as a Christian sect influenced strongly by
Muhammad is however not quite innocent. Waraqah did warn him that the worship of the Black
Stone of the Ka'ba was idolatrous. He removed 360 other idols from the Ka'ba but left the Black Stone in
The Heritage of theological Distortion and Arrogance
Islam sadly also bequeathed the heritage of theological distortion and arrogance. The primitive Church
apparently enjoyed the fellowship of the Holy Spirit in exuberant joy and freedom. The manifest work of the
Spirit was to them evidence of the dawn of the new Messianic Age. Paul referred to the new creation, i.e.
born again believers, as the ‘Israel of God’(Galatians 6:15f). Paul had to warn the Gentile believers in the
letter to the Romans (chapter 11) that they have been merely grafted into the true vine Israel, that it was the
temporary rejection of Israel that gave the Gentiles this special opportunity and chance. Jesus is and was
superior than angels (cf Hebrew 1:4ff), fair enough! Grace and law became however fallaciously regarded as
alternatives, with the inference that grace belongs to the 'NT' and the law to the 'OT'. We will show that grace
is very much present in the Hebrew Scriptures as well.
The Germ of religious Arrogance disseminated
The the germ of religious arrogance was clearly disseminated by Justin Martyr in the second century.
According to him, the nation of Israel had been ‘rejected’ by God because of their disobedience. He might
15 The Arabic title is Manzumat al Firdous Mar
Avram al Siryani. Dr. Mark Gabriel generously translated the gist of
the book for me orally. He also informed me subsequently that an English translation was available as a desktop
16 In a more recent work Ruediger Braun, in his 2004 dissertation Mohammed und die Christen im Zeitbild
zeitgenoessischer christlicher und muslimischen Apologeten, took a similar line.
17 Arianism is also often used to refer to other non-trinitarian theological systems of the 4th century, which regarded
Jesus Christ, the Son of God as either a created being or as neither uncreated nor created in the sense other beings are
created. The Arian concept of Jesus Christ is that the Son of God did not always exist, but was created by – and is
therefore distinct from and inferior to God the Father.
have picked this up from oral tradition such as recorded in Acts 13 where Paul and/or Barnabas reacted
revengefully in an emotional moment of rage. Jews 'slandered and argued against whatever Paul said' (verse
45) on his first missionary journey. In Acts 13:46 Paul and Barnabas reportedly said it
is unlikely that they
said this in unison '
It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have
rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to Gentiles'!18 In Romans 11, written
a few years later probably from Corinth,19 Paul rectified that rather rash statement, clearly stating that God
did not reject the Jews completely. Their limited and temporary time of ‘rejection’ was meant to also bring
the best out of the Gentiles, to arouse sanctified envy among his compatriots.. This would in turn provoke the
Jews in a more loving way, especially when they see the descendants of Abraham via Ishmael and Esau
becoming followers of Jesus.
In Romans 11 Paul clearly stated that God did not reject the Jews. Their limited 'rejection' was meant
to bring Furthermore, although the first day of the week was ‘the Lord’s Day’, specially honoured as a day
of special celebration of his Resurrection, there was still dialogue between Christians and Jews also in the
second century, as Justin’s record of his interaction with Trypho, a Jew, testifies. It does speak for Justin
Martyr that he dared to pass on the views of Trypho quite candidly.
Religious arrogance went full circle when Muhammad was described as the final prophet. His
followers incorporated Adam as the first Muslim, describing their religion as superior to all other religions,
superseding the two other Abrahamic ones. This was not original by all means. Justin martyr had already
proclaimed that the Greek philosophers regarded ‘barbarians’ such as Abraham, ‘obeyed the same guidance'
and 'were really Christians’ (Walker, 1976:47).
Jews of Medina could never accept Muhammad as a prophet. This had serious repercussions. Not
only had Ishmael, the arch ancestor of the Muslims been rejected and sidelined,
but now he himself was
snubbed. Muhammad retaliated in no unclear way, such as annihilating whole Jewish tribes and changing the
qiblah, the prayer direction for Muslims from Jerusalem to Mecca. This is part and parcel of the Islamic
doctrine of abrogation whereby a later 'revelation' is taken to have replaced an earlier but contradictory one.
When a 60man
delegation of Christian leaders from Najran in Yemen visited Muhammad in
Medina, he treated them with arrogance. With his reputation as a statesman, he apparently saw no need to
listen to them carefully. He took for granted that they – like all Christians believed
in three gods and that
they also believed that God had intercourse with Mary to produce Jesus as the son. At any rate, in the Islamic
record of the visit there is very little reported of their apologetics in defence. Dubious selectivity of Islamic
scholars was to be repeated again and again in later generations. The biggest culprit in this regard was
possibly Ahmed Deedat with his selective editing of video footage from his debates with prominant Christian
scholars. Christian and Jewish theologians also became guilty of this practice.
18 It is probable that Paul lost his cool like this also on other occasions. In Acts 18:6 we read e.g: But when the Jews
opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, 'Your blood be on your own
heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.' He soon thereafter apparently recovered,
going to Ephesus, ministering there for more than two years undeterred by the Jewish taunts and provocations.
19The majority of scholars propose that the letter to the Romans was written in late 55/early 56 or late 56/early 57.
4. Roots in Rejection
Islam sees its main roots in the hanifs who were living at the time of the youth and adulthood of
Muhammad. The hanif was said to have been an adherent of the pure religion of Abraham. If we take that as
our point of departure, Islam should get a lot of sympathy from Christians and Jews, the two other religions
that have Abraham as their common arch father. It might bring the adherents of these religions closer to each
other if we consider Hagar, Ishmael and the Samaritans as spiritual ancestors of Islam. It is fairly easy to see
how human failure and carnality – including quite a lot of doctrinal bickering caused
a major rift.
Abraham’s disobedience listening
more to Sarai than to God after
years without fulfilment of the
promise of offspring
and the compromise fathering of Ishmael by Hagar, the Egyptian slave woman, should
likewise receive our sympathies. It is quite comprehensible why Sarai doubted the promise of a son to be
given to them and that it could include her cooperation.
She was well beyond the age of giving birth!
Abraham was not much more likely as a candidate in this regard. Although Ishmael had been fathered at old
age and God had given him a very detailed promise of the son to be born to Sarai (Genesis 17:116),
we read
that he laughed (v. 17), reasoning in his heart in disbelief: Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old?
Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?
The pride of Hagar after becoming pregnant is not difficult to comprehend either. That she was
rejected by Sarai, should give us sympathy for the underdog. How deeply Ishmael must have experienced the
rejection when Sarah gave birth to Isaac and he was pushed aside, after being around for about fourteen
years. The teenager had to palate that he was no more the heir! It is not too difficult at all to comprehend that
some Muslims may still feel the pain of rejection of their spiritual ancestor. Add to all that the apparent
success of the offspring
of the other son, for example the many Nobel prizes that Jews have been winning
and the indoctrination of Muslim children against Israel and the Jews. This has been testified not only by
various Muslim background believers. There is more than enough reason to comprehend the envy and
jealousy of Muslims in respect of Jews.
All Sorts of Idolatry
A less known saga unfolds itself when one examines how divine wrath was unleashed at the continued
idolatry of the descendants of Abraham. The generational line via Isaac and Jacob had been intended to be a
blessing to the whole earth.
Internal envy all but caused the divine intent to be highjacked.
Divine overruling
had to save the
nation again and again. However, repeatedly the Israelites lapsed into all sorts of idolatry. As punishment, the
Almighty finally allowed Israel’s enemy in
the form of the Assyrian king to
rout the apple of his eye. Ten
of the tribes were dispersed, many of them taken to Babylon, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. In stead of
those who had been exiled, other people were brought to the region of Samaria. Some of them were also
brought from Babylon (2 Kings 17:24). The new inhabitants to the region in
due course they were called
Samaritans – were taught to worship the Almighty. But those who were to be an example to the Samaritans not
to persist in idolatry rejected
them because they continued worshipping their own idols. In spite of
warnings by various prophets, Israel did not seem to learn the lesson until
the Babylonian king
Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem and routed the two southern tribes.
The Pattern of Pride and Rejection
Three great personalities from the Hebrew Scriptures and the Abrahamic religions Joseph,
Moses and
David experienced
rejection by their close relatives. The pattern of pride on the one hand and rejection on
the other, continued in the life of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. He does not seem to have come to a
proper understanding of the basic biblical message. It is significant that every Qur’anic Surah (except Surah
Tauba (Repentance) starts with Allâh as the merciful. However, Muhammad had doubts for a long time about
the nature of the spiritual inspiration. He was misled by two Christians, his wife Khadiyah and her cousin
Waraqah, a Christian (Ebionite?) priest. Due to this influence, Muhammad later believed that he was a
special prophet for the Arabs still
later, the prophet for the whole world. Yet, in the early Meccan period of
his life Muhammad reportedly revered the Jews and the teaching about ‘the religion of Abraham’ that came
through from Ebionite sources. The rejection that Muhammad experienced from Jews (and to a lesser extent
from Christians) brought lesser sentiments to the fore, notably in the Medinan period. During this time the
compassionate Allâh all but disappears. Revenge (Surah AlShura
(Consultation) 42:39)20 and War (Surah alBakarah
(The Cow) 2:216; Nisaa (Women) 4:74; Tauba (Repentance) 9:5; Saff (Battle Array) 61:4) were
declared holy. It is no coincidence
that Surah Tauba 9 with its anomalous name Repentance with
a clear
call to struggle, (Jihad) does
not start with Allâh as the compassionate. It begins rebelliously with the
words ‘freedom from (all) obligations...’
In the ancient world it was known that the Jews would not be party to directly
or indirectly any
pagan cult. Significantly, Muhammad and Islam followed Judaism not only in the absolute abhorrence of all
idolatry, but also in the circumcision of male infants and in refraining from the eating of pork.
The teaching of Paul to the Roman Church, namely that it behoves the Gentile Christians to be
humble because they, the wild olive branches, have been only grafted into the true olive tree, Israel (Romans
11:17), did not seem to get spread widely. On the contrary, a broad haughty arrogance set in, especially after
the destruction of the second temple by Titus in 70 CE and the sacking of Jerusalem. This was seen as
corporate punishment because the Jews did not heed their prophets and especially because the group was
given the blame for the crucifixion of Jesus, the Christ.
A fitting attitude of the Church of Jesus Christ towards Islam and Judaism would therefore be one of
remorse, compassion and extreme humility. The first reason for such an attitude is because Jesus gave His life
for the whole world, and that also includes Muslims and Jews. The second reason is that it does not behove
us as Christians at all to have a negative attitude towards Islam. In Part 2 of this treatise it is shown how
almost every single doctrine in which Muslims differ with those from Christianity, can be derived from the
bickering of learned theologians of the Great Church before the time of Muhammad.
Rejection as a Positive
Whosoever feels rejected need not despair. The nature of the Almighty as the one who undergirds and uplifts
the rejected and dejected, runs like a golden thread through the Bible. In the book of Genesis God sent an
angel no less than twice to the rejected Hagar.
Conveniently Jewish theologians through the ages seemed to have overlooked or (perhaps wilfully?)
ignored the fact that David was different, ruddy or reddish. He was therefore not originally considered for the
anointing by Samuel. This points to his outsider role in the family. Could it be that he was the son of a foreign,
a nonJewish
mother, apart from his known Moabite ancestor Ruth? King David, who encountered rejection
and dejection so often, wrote variously about his personal experience of the arm of God, the Eagle’s Wing
with which Yahweh brought his distressed and persecuted people out of Egypt (Exodus 19:4), e.g. in Psalm
40:1,2. ‘... He inclined to me. And heard my cry. He also brought me out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay
and set my feet upon a rock, making my footsteps secure.’ God is the shepherd of his people, bringing the
sheep that had been harassed by enemies, to green pastures... beside still waters (Psalm 23:2).
The judge Jephtha, the son of a prostitute, is a pointer to Jesus because of his initial rejection by his
own clan (Judges 11:2). He was ultimately recalled, becoming their saviour in the fight against the
Ammonites. That he sacrificed his only child was of course also a prophetic act. The Almighty would also
sacrifice his one and only Son.
Finally, Jephtha's victory over the enemy, the Ammonites – after being recalled by his clan – has a
prophetic dimension. The day may not be far off when Jews will recognise the one who was pierced for our
transgressions (Isaiah 53:5); when the stone whom the builders initially rejected will be honoured as the
capstone (Psalm 118:22, 1 Peter 2:4); when the Jews will 'mourn for him as one mourns for an only child'
(Zechariah 12:10).
The Gospel of John starts with the rejection of Jesus by his compatriots. The Word (the Logos) came
to his own (John 1:12), but his own (the Jews) did not accept Him. Islam somehow recognised this title of
Jesus as the Word of God without any hesitation (Surah Nisaa (Women) 4:171), but the rest of the verse is
disregarded, viz. that to those who accepted the Logos, God gave power to become His children.
20 In the new translation of M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, 2008 (2005) this aya is toned down to read ‘and defend themselves
when oppressed’, making it more politically correct. Surah 42 has the inter-faith title of Ash-Shura in translation, viz
The Development of Doctrinal Tenets of Islam
1. The Essence of the Nature of God
Through His eternal qualities the Almighty is outside and above us. He is the Creator and we are
created beings. What a blessing it is that He is a God of revelation. He revealed himself in different ways
such as in nature; through people because man has been made in his image, and through his Word. The
crown jewel of His revelation is however the prime gift to mankind. For the Almighty loved the world so
much that he gave his unique Son, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him
(Compare John 3:16, 17). The Letter to the Hebrews highlighted the fact that this happened at God’s perfect
time, the kairos, after He had spoken in different ways and on different occasions. The Son however was to
depict His nature and purpose as nothing or nobody before Him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and
the exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:3).
A balanced view developed that God is essentially a God of grace, forgiveness and overflowing with
love, but who holds the guilty accountable (Compare Exodus 33:19; 34:7). This view has however been
distorted in different ways. It is not surprising that the archenemy
had to attack all the central tenets of faith
that could bring man back to the loving and forgiving father heart of God. The prime tool of satan, the father
of lies (John 8:44) has
been deceit and distortion. This is his native language.
Sadly, too many theologians obliged, right from the times of the early church. At the same time the
authority of the Bible was seriously undermined.
Caricature of the punishing God
Somehow a caricature of the punishing God was depicted in Christianity. He has been painted often
in this picture, in contrast to a loving Jesus, who had to mollify the wrathful father. In this picture it
has been insufficiently noted that the divine wrath was linked to disobedience and unrepentant
idolatry. Furthermore, Jesus also got angry, actually citing the prophet Jeremiah when the Temple
traders made his Father’s house ‘a den of robbers.’ The harmony and unity between a loving God, nature
and the first human beings is amplified through his communication with them in the cool of the evening. The
speaking God of the Bible has a special interest to see his creation happy. Simultaneously this highlights the
aloof and punishing gods of the ancient world. God is essentially loving and forgiving, but He punishes when
His people persist in disobedience, as a loving Father, to bring wayward children back to himself in a
harmonious relationship.
The character of Yahweh of the Tenach21 and Allâh of Islam is almost identical - Allâh is also
forgiving and merciful in the extreme, albeit that the punishing Allâh is still emphasised in Islam.
Superficially, it looks as if the forgiving and the punishing God are cancelling each other out in the Jonah
narrative. These two facets are explained and reconciled to a considerable extent when one looks at the
context of some of the appropriate verses. This can for example be seen explicitly in the Ten
Commandments. In the context of Deuteronomy 5:9, the punishing God is the deity who metes out
punishment to the God-haters. But it is more than balanced out by divine favour on those who do his will and
follow His commandments. Whereas God punishes the wicked to the third and fourth generation, he shows
love to the thousandth generation of those who love Him. The God-haters are the idol-worshippers. In Isaiah
43 we read about His forgiveness in spite of the rebelliousness of the people. Micah, a contemporary of
Isaiah, aptly summed up God’s basic character: ‘Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the
transgression...You do not stay angry forever, but delight to show mercy’ (Micah 7:18). God’s love is not
wanton, but eternal (Isaiah 63:8f). In the early Meccan Surah’s the Qur’an used al-Rahman, the merciful, as a
favourite name for the Almighty. Sadly some Medinan Surahs depict Him as a deity who gives capricious
21 The Hebrew Scriptures are also known by its acronym, Tenach or Tanakh, consisting especially of the first
consonants in Hebrew for the Law (Torah, the Prophets (Nebiim) and other Sacred Scriptures (Chetubim).
revelation. The doctrine of abrogation is a possible attempt towards correction of this image.
The tension between the forgiving and the punishing God is perfectly balanced and demonstrated in
the work and life of Jesus. He could forgive sin straight away where He saw faith (e.g. Mark 2:5 and Luke
The author of the letter to the Hebrews, who understood the Jewish mindset
par excellence,
summarises the issue beautifully: ‘The people of Israel ...steeled themselves against his love and complained
against him in the desert while he was testing them. But God was patient with them for forty years, though
they tried his patience sorely...’ (Hebrews 3:8,9 Living Bible). His patience so to speak ran out: ‘I was very
angry with them, for their hearts were always looking somewhere else...’ (Hebrews 3:10, Living Bible).
God is transcendent
The Almighty has revealed enough of His nature to man, knowing that we will never understand all of Him.
The more a believer learns about Him, the more he realizes how little he knows. God has been personally
active in the world since its creation and yet He is also set apart from it, superior in nature. Thus, we have the
mystery of God’s immanence and transcendence. The transcendence of God is closely related to his
sovereignty. This is illustrated very well in the interaction with Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:114).
He is simultaneously the sovereign ‘I am’ and also the ‘I will be’. He refutes all efforts to try and fully
understand his majestic nature. But He can be honoured and worshipped. Yet, one can experience an intimate
relationship and fellowship through prayer. God is above, other than, and distinct from all he has made he
transcends it all. “For you, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods
(Psalm 97:9; we compare also Psalm 108:5). For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways
my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your
ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:89).
Paul echoes all this, saying that there is one God
and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:6).
Unfortunately the Ebionite Jewish believers who took the Gospel to the Arabian Peninsula apparently
also took with them the theological bickering. The essence of the biblical message, namely the grace of God
and the loving Father became completely clouded. The synagogue theologians of the first century CE
somehow missed that Yahweh is basically a loving parent, a Father who simultaneously displayed motherly
characteristics. Jeremiah (31:9) had been warning the Israelites that God would punish them because of their
idolatry, but that he would be there for them when they return to him repentantly ‘because I am Israel’s
father’. The root word which Germanic languages like Dutch has the aspect of the womb – which only a
woman has barmhartig
– depicting the maternal side of Yahweh, which the Qur’an contains at the start of
every Surah (Except Surah 9) rachman i racheem. Isaiah 66:12, 13 gives the picture of the Almighty even
more clearly: On her sides you will be carried, and be dandled on her knees. As one whom his mother
comforts, so I will comfort you. Isaiah (63:16) links his parenthood to his redemptive grace: ‘You, O Lord,
are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.’ Somehow the pagan onesided
view of a punishing
and aloof God prevailed. A religious variation came via the Greek philosopher Plato and the Saducees. Plato
taught that God was unknowable and uninvolved in human affairs. As wealthy Jews the Saducees were
educated in Greek Philosophy and possibly derived thoughts and beliefs like these from Plato.
The one-sided feminist viewpoint according to which all masculine notions should be eradicated from
the Bible - for example seeing God as a Father - displays a very myopic conception of what the Word actually
teaches. The Almighty of the Bible is sovereign, but he can change his mind if we repent. This we see e.g.
with the prophet Jonah.
Roots of the aloof Allâh in Gnostic Teaching
The Islamic concept of a remote and aloof Allâh,22 appears to have its roots in Gnostic teaching, which was
part and parcel of that spread by Cerinthus, a first century Christian heretic. ‘Contemptuous of the JudaeoChristians
who clung to circumcision and the Sabbath, he taught that the world was created by a power remotely
distant.’ (ChristieMurray,
1976:26). It is furthermore striking that Cerinthus preferred to identify the ‘God of
22 I am very much aware that certain languages use Allâh for the purposes of translation of the biblical Yahweh.
Refraining from indulging in an argument around the issue, I deem it nevertheless quite important for the purposes of
this study to make the distinction.
the Jews’ with the Angel who delivered the Law (Greek nomos). Irenaeus informs us that Cerinthus had been
trained in the Egyptian education. He believed and taught that Jesus was the son of Mary and Joseph, but not
by virgin birth. ‘He was wiser and more just than the rest of mankind and after his conversion by John in the Baptist.
The Christus came down upon him in the form of a dove; from that time he began to do miracles and to proclaim the
heavenly Father. Jesus by himself ... rose from the dead’. (Carrington, Vol 1. 1957:310). It is interesting that the
concept of an infinite, utterly transcendent deity that is so exalted that no finite term can adequately describe
Him, not even the word God, is found in the gnostic Gospel of Judas.23 Highlighting the miracles of Jesus,
rather than his nature notably
arguably the chief hallmark
during his earthly life, his caring and
compassionate love became
a pattern which ultimately also found its way to Islam.
An interesting variation to the theme of the transcendence has been passed on by Valentinus, who has in the
view of certain scholars been falsely labeled a Gnostic,24 albeit that his most well known followers definitely
must be counted to that school of thought. Valentinus tells in The Gospel of Truthö‘how God’s transcendence
resulted in human ignorance of Him. That was corrected by the sending of his Son, Jesus. Jesus showed the knowledge
of the Father, but he is persecuted for his teaching and nailed to the cross; he is the word of divine revelation, posted like
a public notice on a wooden pale and read like the Book of Life.’25
Distorted Views of God
The concept of an aloof God was sadly taken over by Islam in its entirety. To all intents and purposes, Allâh
became an arbitrary deity who can do what he likes. The mediating role of Jesus had been substituted in the
Church with Mary. (Roman Catholics are still beseeching Mary, the mother of our Lord, to intercede for
them). The extent was quite vigorous on the long run when priests gave the impression that they could be
subsidiary mediators. Islam eventually even made a point of it to state categorically that the Muslim does not
need a mediator. This is clearly completely off target, a view that could have been derived from Judaism,
where Jews assert they speak directly through the Torah as a bridge. But exactly at this point Moses was the
mediator when the Torah was given. When God gave the Law to Moses there had to be a clear separation
(Exodus 19:1724).
And while he stayed too long on the mountain top, the Israelites misled
by Aaron their
high priest made
the golden calf.
In line with this JudeoIslamic
distortion, the Qur’anic version of the narrative of the golden calf,
Moses depicts God as aloof and arbitrary: ‘Thou causest whom Thou wilt to stray and Thou leadest whom
Thou wilt into the straight path ‘(Surah AlA’raf
(The Heights) 7:155), and ‘With my punishment I visit whom
I will’ (v.156). This reflects Exodus 33:19, where the Lord says to Moses: ‘I will have mercy on whom I will
have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion’. Paul mentioned this tenet in
Romans 9. In the totality of the biblical message this is however onesided.
Isaiah 57:15 puts it pointedly that
the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity is also with the low and humble, giving new courage to the
repentant hearts.
A bad precedent developed next to the transcendent God; there developed a sense of mysticism.
Mysteries received a special place, with a whole theology built around it. The traditional fifteen Mysteries of
the Roman Catholic rosary were finalized by the 16th th century. The mysteries are grouped into three sets:
the joyful mysteries, the sorrowful mysteries, and the glorious mysteries. In 2002, Pope John Paul II
announced five new optional mysteries, the luminous mysteries, bringing the total number of mysteries to
Two opposing Views of God
Two almost diametrically opposing views of God developed in the course of time. The first one occurred
23 This originally Greek document of the second century has been translated from the sole extant Coptic copy from
Codex Tchacos. It was discovered in the 1970s after being hidden in Egypt, the codex was only published in English
for the first time in 2006 by National Geographic in Washington, D.C.
24 Karen L. King in her book What is Gnosticism (Harvard University Press, 2003), referring to the work of Christoph
Markschies: ‘...if we compare the theology ... of Valentinus’ work with the Messina congress definition of Gnosticism,
Valentinus cannot be considered a Gnostic...’
25 We compare this precis by Karen L. King (2003:154f) with Colossians 2:13f, ‘All trespasses ... the requirements that
was against us... nailed it to the cross’, to see that Valentinus was indeed very close to ‘New Testament’ thinking.
quite early via Marcion, an intelligent theologian, who was quite early discerned as an heretic. In his view
Yahweh – the supreme deity of the Hebrew Scriptures – was intrinsically evil. Quoting Isaiah 45:7 'It is I
who send evil, I the Lord does these things’, he opined that Christ came to set mankind free from Yahweh.
Thus Marcion highlights how Elisha had children eaten by bears. Jesus said ‘little children come unto me’. The
Manichees followed Marcion in rejecting the ‘Old Testament’. The great Augustine, who initially had been a
Manecheist adherent, found that style inferior to the classic Latin philosophical dialogues of Cicero,
regarding the Hebrew Scriptures as the equivalent to old wives’ fables.
In the dark and early Middle Ages the view which
filtered through to Islam is
an unbiblical
emphasis on a punishing God, that he is harsh, unbending and arbitrary. Just as sad was the overdrawn fear
for the coming judgement and the lack of the belief in the loving Father heart of God. Surah Qaf 50 probably
takes the cake for instilling fear of God’s judgement in the average Muslim, although the famous aya of the
jugular vein is found in the same context. We must fear Allâh because he can let one meet death much
quicker than by the cutting through of the jugular vein. The two angels on the right and left shoulders are at
hand for judgement. In fact, Surah Qaf 50 is full of judgement, death and the fear of it.
Dante’s Divina Commedia portrayed this view of God. Thus it is not quite surprising that the faked
Gospel of Barnabas, which was reportedly written by an Italian monk, Fra Marino, has a similar view. That
book has a clear Islamic touch.
Islam does approach the correction which Jesus brought about when he emphasised compassion as
the practical implementation of love, when every Qur’anic Surah (except Surah Taubah (Repentance) 9)
starts with ‘in the name of Allâh, the merciful or compassionate’. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul also stressed that
love cannot remain theory; it has to be practical.
God Chastises rather than Punishes
A rather superficial view developed in the West – possibly going overboard to the view of the punishing God
– that almost anything goes. One can always confess, abusing divine grace. (I do not even consider here the
travesty in Roman Catholic context where the compulsion to confess even leads to lies or repetitive
confession). Paul, the apostle made it quite clear: '… Should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more
and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it.'
(Romans 6:1). The complete biblical message seems to be: God is loving and forgiving, he is slow to anger
but there comes a time when continued sinning will call forth his wrath.26 But God also used other nations to
chastise the ‘apple of His eye’, the Israelites, when they strayed from Him. God wanted His people to be a
blessing to the nations. The idea of the ‘New Testament’ Church as a replacement, a spiritual Israel, is not
clearly taught in the Bible, but the inference is nevertheless correct that Israel is the example to the Church.
The Body of Yeshuah should also bless the nations.
Moses discerned that rebelliousness of the Israelites was the cause of God’s anger. We noted early how he
himself had almost become the victim of God’s wrath when he was rebellious, coming with all sorts of
excuses. The blood of his son appeased God’s anger (Exodus 4:24f). The disobedience of Jonah is followed
not by punishment, but rather as chastisement, to give him another chance to obey.
An appropriate picture from the Christian Scriptures is the Good Shepherd who goes after the straying and
disobeying lamb, who might find it necessary to break a leg of the disobedient animal who would thereafter
stay close to Him. Paul speaks of the Law as a prodding educator or even a sort of punishing rod towards
Christ (Galatians 3:24, NIV ‘put in charge, to lead us to Christ’). The letter to the Hebrews speaks of God as a
Father who chastises a son out of love. A bad father would allow a child to ruin his life by failing to correct,
chide or rebuke the erring off-spring.
The Almighty as a loving and a forgiving Father
It is bad enough that the misguided notion – to emphasize the deity of Jesus – at the Council at Ephesus in
431 AD to describe the mother of Jesus as theotokos, the God-bearer, led to her later being venerated and
regarded as the 'Mother of God'. Even worse was the effect of robbing Islam of the image of God as a loving
Father. This confusion in rank of file Christianity around the deity of God and the Holy Trinity is reflected in
the Qur’an. The misunderstanding of God, the Mother of Jesus and her Son as the Trinity was clearly abused
26 Compare for example Psalm 81:8ff, where one finds a reminder of Yahweh’s intervention and aid - interspersed with
Him wooing and warning His people.
by the arch enemy to rob Islam. Muhammad, the gifted leader of the Arabian Peninsula and founder of Islam
was misled. He thus could never appreciate God as a Father, let alone seeing the Almighty as a loving and a
forgiving Father.
In the Hebrew Scriptures we encounter divine forgiveness even after perceived grave sin. The
murderer Moses was used by God to lead His people out of Egypt and the repentant King David was called a
man after His own heart. King Ahab (1 King 21:28) repented and humbled themselves before God. He got a
new chance because of that. That is the nature of God: loving forgiveness after repentance, rather than
punishment for our sins. It is possibly one of the biggest aberrations of the Word that the Almighty is still
predominantly regarded by people as a wrathful and punishing deity.
A parallel in the “NT' is the classic pericope of the forgiving father of Luke 15, that has been
labelled inappropriately as the parable of the prodigal son. The Lord teaches that us His followers that we
should forgive those who have hurt us and we should never get tired of it. This is what Jesus intended when
he referred to the seventy times seven times of forgiving.
I cannot understand why Christians find it so difficult to be prepared to express at least regret over
what happened at Ephesus in AD 431. The result is that Islam generally still sees the Almighty as a punishing
aloof who forgives wantonly, sometimes even capriciously in stead of the forgiving Father in Heaven who
gave His unique Son because He loved and still loves mankind so much.
God revealed his Nature to Humanity
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures the I am is described as the ‘God with us’. In different variations one
reads what He wants to be for his people. I comfort you, I am your healer, I am your helper (Isaiah 51:12;
Exodus 15:26; Jeremiah 15:20
The prophet Isaiah (7:14) foretold that a son would be born from a virgin as a special sign. He was to
be called Immanuel, meaning God with us. A ‘New Testament’ equivalent is John 1:14 where it is
proclaimed that the Word would dwell, i.e. tabernacle with us. This recalls the image of the Israelites
travelling through the desert with the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle as a visible symbol of the
John, the apostle, accepted by most biblical scholars to have been the beloved one in the 4th gospel,
passed on the gist of the true nature of God in three words: God is love (1 John 4:16). The essence of the true
nature of God comes though his
love and grace when
he used a pagan king, Cyrus, to issue the command
for the rebuilding of the temple. To affirm God’s transcendence and deny his immanence is to arrive at
deism. This is where Islam apparently got stuck.
The Almighty undergirds and uplifts the Rejected and Dejected
The nature of the Almighty as the one who undergirds and uplifts the rejected and dejected, runs like a
golden thread through the Bible. In the book of Genesis He sent an angel no less than twice to the rejected
Hagar. The priest Ezra and his helpers seem to be myopic. They seem to have completely forgotten or
overlooked that God once vindicated Moses when Miriam and Aaron objected to the marriage of their
brother to an African (Numbers 12:1ff); that the pagan prostitute Rahab from Jericho and the Moabite Ruth
were included in the ancestry of their great King David on account of their faith in the God of Israel.
The narrative of Esra 4 does not indicate that the offer of the Samaritans to
help with the building
of the temple was
not sincere. The pattern and cycle of pride and rejection continues when they finally
build their own temple, apart from having their own mountain (Compare John 4:20).
In God’s special grace, not the first apostles started the spread of the Good news of Jesus as the
Saviour of the world, but a Samaritan woman with a bad reputation (John 4:42). Similarly, while the bulk of
the first disciples of Christ were still in trepidation in Jerusalem after Pentecost, the believers from Antioch
took the Gospel to Samaria and Ethiopia (Acts 8). Yet, Jewish believers were part and parcel of this setup,
albeit that this fellowship was a remarkably cosmopolitan meetingplace
of Greeks, Syrians and Jews. Right
from the pristine beginnings of the Early Church, Jew and Gentile worked together to spread the Good News
of salvation through faith in Jesus’ death for our sins.
A despotic God?
The Damascus Document that was found among the Qumran Scrolls, has close links with Ebionism, along
with other documents. A view of Allâh that has often been derided by Christian apologists, that Allâh is like
a despot who even leads people astray, can be found in that document. (Compare Surah alNahl
(The Bee)
16:93 'Had Allâh willed, He could have made you (all) one nation, but He sendeth whom He will astray and
guideth whom He will, and ye will indeed be asked of what ye used to do', also Surah AlRa’d
(Thunder)13:27b; Surah Al–Furqan (The Differentiator) 25:8; Surah AlShura
(Consultation) 42:44). The
proximity to Islam and the simultaneous link to biblical Christianity is striking in the following lines: 'And He
[God] made known to them His Holy Spirit by the hand of His Messiah, and He [it] is Truth, and in the correct
exposition of His Name, their names [are to be found], and those whom He hates, He leads astray' (cited from
Eisenman, 1997:269).
The Ebionite Gospel furthermore states that the Holy Spirit went into Jesus. This is in line with
Surah Imran 3:59, which states that Jesus was created like Adam. The inference is that the breath of God
likewise created Jesus. The Damascus Document seems to emphasize that Jesus was anointed to become
Messiah and Son of God at his baptism. In Surah AlHijr
15:29 Adam receives divine breath and in Surah Al
Tahrim (Prohibition) 66:12 Mary is the recipient of the Holy Spirit: Mary, the daughter of Imran, who
guarded her chastity; and We breathed into (her body) of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the
words of her Lord and of His Revelations, and was one of the devout (servants).
Questioning of God allowed in the Bible
Scripture has quite a few examples of men of faith who reasoned with God. Abraham is one of these men of
faith. His close relationship to God by
speaking and pleading with Him comes
over especially clearly
when Abraham prays for his nephew Lot and his family. He pleaded with the Lord God after Lot and his
family had been drawn into the lifestyle
of the sinful inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham pleaded
with God to spare them (Genesis 18). This gives us also a basis for a proper attitude towards homosexuals. In
stead of condemning them outright, the compassionate and loving Christian can learn from Abraham to
intercede instead.
This narrative furthermore proves that the Almighty is not unbending at all. God heard Abraham’s prayers.
Eventually Lot’s family was even saved. It shows the character of God. Also we can move the hand of God
through our prayers if we become friends of God.
In the Bible questioning God is accepted. In fact, there are passages, for example long ones in Job,
Psalm 73 and the whole book of Habakkuk, where the questioning of God is mentioned as the most normal
thing on earth. In these Scriptures God dialogues with the doubtful as we have seen with Abraham and
Moses. As friends of God we are fully permitted to voice our disappointment and frustration in prayer. God
sees the heart and we may reckon with it that He takes our views seriously. A condition is that we must be
honest in our questioning and willing to submit to His overruling and guidance. The sovereign God can
however also become angry, when he regards our arguing as unreasonable. Moses experienced the anger of
God more than once.
Nevertheless, the Qur’an does include an appeal to Allâh’s mercy, because He is ‘the Best of those
who forgive’ (Surah Al-Araf (The Heights) 7:155). However, forgiveness in the Qur’an is usually conditional,
e.g. by ritual washing before the prayer. Thus Surah Nisaa (Women) 4:43 says ‘Allâh does blot out sins and
forgive again and again’. This has to be preceded by ceremonial cleansing by the Muslim (The same aya,
Surah Nisaa (Women) 4:43 mentions a few situations that would disqualify prayer, e.g. ‘a mind befogged’,
‘ceremonial impurity’ or if ‘one of you comes from offices of nature’.
Where God’s name is at stake - but also where there is real repentance - the Bible teaches that He
forgives unconditionally. Moses used the reputation of God’s name to good effect. He pleaded with God on
this premise after the idolatry with the golden calf (Exodus 32:11-14). In the end God’s grace cancelled out
His anger. But there is a price to pay for the sin: even though Moses was not blotted out of God’s book as He
had pleaded in prayer, he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. Likewise, God forgives our sins,
because the punishment has been paid for on the Cross of Calvary.
In spite of all these scriptural examples, the Synagogue and the Church gave Islam the bad example to
disallow serious questioning of God. This is obviously linked to the distorted and unbliblical one-sided view
of a punitive aloof God.
Exceptions of Questioning the Almighty in the The Qur’an
The Qur’an contains a parallel to Moses’ intercessory prayer for his people in Surah Al-Araf (The Heights)
7:148-156. In this pericope Moses reprimands his people for the worship of the calf and prays for them.
However, in stead of the atoning offer of Moses in the Bible, to be blotted out of the book of life for their
sins, we read in the Qur’an only how Moses questions God: ‘wouldst Thou destroy us for the deeds of the
foolish ones among us?’ (Surah Al-Araf (The Heights) 7:155)
This verse is remarkable, because Islam generally disallows its adherents to question God. The
Qur’an does however give advice to the doubtful in at least one instance, but no licence is given to doubt
Allâh’s ruling. In Surah Yunus (Jonah) 10:94 the doubting Islamic believer is advised to consult those ‘who
have been reading the Book before thee.’
In the case of Mary's questioning the angel that she would become pregnant (Surah Imran 3:47), 'She
said: My Lord! when shall there be a son (born) to I me, and man has not touched me?', this seems to have
been no problem. Similar wording is found in Surah Mariam 19:20, with the words added 'And I am not
unchaste.' In the case of Surah Imran 3:47 it was followed by divine teaching: 'He said: Even so, Allâh
creates what He pleases; when He has decreed a matter, He only says to it, Be, and it is.' The supernatural
pregnancy is of course part and parcel of the miracle of the divine ru(a)ch, breath that brought the sinless or
blameless one Surah Mariam 19:19 into the world.
2. Did Jesus die on the Cross?
If we consider that the Cross and Resurrection is the singlemost
liberating act in the faith of Jesus’
followers, it should not be surprising to discover that the archenemy
apparently has a vested interest to
confuse people or to keep people confused or misinformed. The message of the Cross and Resurrection has
been distorted, not only in the most holy book of Muslims, but also in traditions of the Church. The
narratives of the crucifixion and death of Jesus belong to the best attested material in Scripture corroborated
by opposition pagan and Jewish sources. One of the most striking examples in this regard is the
statement in the Babylonian Talmud that he was hung on a tree because he was a sorcerer. Thus His death is
not denied, but the reason for capital punishment, distorted in this way.
Jesus died to (let) live
The suffering and crucifixion of Jesus was inconvenient, a stumbling block from the earliest of times. An
interesting part of this position is that it was prophesied centuries before. This strain of Messianic prophecy
was never really appreciated. The true nature of it came to the fore in the various prophesies of his suffering
and death. Jesus himself prophesied however that he would not only be handed over into the hands of
persecutors, but also that he would die and rose again on the third day. All the gospels consistently portray
Jesus as a man who went to his death willingly and knowingly. What is so special about His death is that it
was ‘a ransom for many’, not merely dying for a cause like the Maccabeans a few centuries before him when
they wanted to defend the sovereignty of Israel’s God. In universal solidarity Jesus laid down his life
for all mankind. His death was the way – according to Albert Nolan (1976:115) the only way – to awake faith
in the Kingdom. Nolan proceeded to put it very beautifully: ‘... the only way of witnessing to the kingdom. Deeds
speak louder than words, but death speaks louder than deeds. Jesus died so that the kingdom might come.’
Venomous Serpents as a divine Rebuke
Various narratives from the Hebrew Scriptures point to the Cross of Calvary. In Numbers 21 it is narrated
how the rebellious people complained about the manna and quails: ‘we detest this miserable food’ (v. 5).
According to the biblical report God then sent venomous serpents as a punishment. Hundreds were bitten by
the snakes there in the desert. This was of course a reminder of the serpent in the Garden of Eden which
twisted God’s Word, bringing Adam and Eve to disobedience. Satan was the liar from the beginning (Genesis
3:1; John 8:44). That it had to be a snake was surely not incidental, a clear connection to man’s disobedience
in the Garden of Eden. Rashi, an 11th century Jewish sage, also noted this connection.
The Qur’an gives only a drastically abbreviated account of the events surrounding this narrative. The
biblical sequence is followed in Surah 7 when the rebellion against the monotonous food is preceded by the
divine instruction for Moses to produce water from the rock. God is angered when Moses strikes the rock,
saying arrogantly: must we bring water out of the rock? (Numbers 20:20). Moses had been ordered to speak
to the rock. Thus Moses became just as rebellious as the people, forfeiting entry into the Promised Land by
his rash action. This highlights the central biblical tenet of rebellion and disobedience next
to idolatry as
issues which are really abominable in God’s sight.
The Qur’an mentions that the Almighty instructed Moses to strike the rock (Surah 7:160), followed
by the rebellion against having to eat one kind of food, the manna and quails. But the punishment the
venomous serpents and God’s provision with the brazen one is
omitted. The Bible describes the poisonous
snakes as the divine rebuke. The Jewish view is aptly summarized by G. Foot Moore (??): ‘When the Israelites
looked upward it was not the brazen serpent that healed... but when the Israelites looked upward and subjected their
mind and will to their Father in heaven they were healed.’ It is actually surprising that the punishment for their
rebellion is omitted in the Qur’an because this tenet is quite central in Islamic theology. A sinister
supernatural conspiracy namely
the denial of the Cross – seems to me the logical explanation.
A Pointer to the Cross
All of us, Muslims and Jews included, should pay special attention if we consider that Jesus referred to this
example in the same context of John 3:16. This verse, which summarizes the message of the Gospel so
pointedly, is naturally very difficult for Muslims and Jews to swallow because of the reference to Jesus as the
one and only Son of God. It is definitely not incidental that Jesus repeats the words that whoever believes in
Him in this context. Whosoever from the ranks of the Israelites in the desert thought purely rationally that a
bronze serpent could not save them, would have discovered to his own peril that it was silly to disregard
Moses’ divinely commanded instruction.
Jesus said in so many words, that just as Moses lifted the snake on the pole, the Son of Man had to
be elevated. (In Galilean Aramaic the speaker could refer to himself out of reserve or modesty as ‘the son of
man’ in stead of ‘I’).27 The inference is clear. Just as the people were healed from the bites of the snakes, His
death on the Cross was the fulfilment of the crushing of the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). This prophetic act
of Moses was special because this was actually in contrast to God’s own instruction not to make any images
(Exodus 20:4). It was obviously the counter to Asherah poles and the likes which angered and provoked
Yahweh so tremendously. In 1 Kings 18:19 we read how Elijah challenged the combined forces of the
prophets of Baal and his female counterpart, the goddess Asherah. The Asherah poles were probably wooden
representations of the goddess. I am not aware of another example in Scripture where God actually
commanded the construction of an image.
The Lord’s obedience to
become the snake, i.e. sin was
the perfect combination, the expression of
God’s divine love to mankind, to allow his Son to die on the Cross of Calvary. An interesting verse in this
regard is Habakkuk 3:13. Arthur Glass, a Messianic Jew, gave the following literal translation in a tract from
the original Hebrew: ‘Thou wentest forth with the YESHA (variant of Yeshua) of (or for) thy people; with YESHUA,
thy MESSIAH...; thou woundest the head of the house of the wicked one (satan)’. (The meaning of YESHUA, the
Hebrew version of Jesus, is salvation.)
The Position of Orthodox Islam
Orthodox Islam maintains that Jesus did not die on the Cross, although the Qur’an is not that clear about the
issue. Surah Imran 3:55 refers to the natural death of the son born to Mary I
am gathering Thee and
causing Thee to ascend unto me as
well as Surah Mariam 19:33 can easily be compared to Surah Mariam
19:15 that speaks of the death of John, the Baptist. No Muslim ever considered that Yahyah, as he is called in
Islamic parlance, died other than in a natural way, after he had been executed or rather killed by order of the
wicked despot, King Herod. Furthermore, as Annis Shorrosh (1988:97) has pointed out, the Arabic inni
– translated as I am gathering Thee – has never been understood differently, i.e. that Jesus
would die.
Resistance to Jesus’ Death
Common Islamic interpretation of Surah Nisaa (Women) 4:157 does not accept Jesus’ death on the Cross.
This was not new. Already early in the second century of the Common Era (A.D.) it was taught by learned
Christians that Jesus did not really die, but that it only appeared so to the spectators at the crucifixion.
Probably as early as the beginning of the second century, serious doctrinal clashes occurred. Thus we already
find Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in 112 A.D., opposing the concept that Jesus merely appeared to have died.
That happened in spite of the fact that there were so many reliable witnesses present at Jesus crucifixion. The
second century gnostic Gospel of Judas also hints at the denial of the crucifixion, albeit not as clearly, ending
with the betrayal by a disciple and not with the crucifixion. In the teaching of the ‘Cainites’, Judas is
defended as a hero. Thanksgiving should be given to him. He is said to have discerned that ‘Christ wished to
subvert the truth’ and that he therefore betrayed him. When one considers that Judas never addressed Jesus as
Rabbi – and never as Lord – it is easy to understand why the Church down the ages regarded his action as
diabolic, on par with Peter’s resistance to Jesus’ prophetic words that he had to die and be resurrected on the
third day (Matthew 16:23, see below). The Lord discerned a demonic ploy in any such resistance. The
crucifixion – Jesus dying for the sins of the world – is ultimately the dividing line between the demonic and
the divine plan of salvation.
The Denial of Jesus’ Death on the Cross
I would like to put on record my view emphatically that the Meccan Surah’s of the Qur’an did not clearly
27 Nolan (1976:119) noted how Vermes highlighted the phrase as ‘a peculiarity of his mother tongue’. According to him
Vermes made it clear once and for all that ‘son of man’ was not a title.
deny the death of Jesus by crucifixion. We noted that there are other Qur’anic verses (such as Surah
Mariam 19:15 and Surah Imran 3:55) which clearly refer to Jesus’ death. A single verse (Surah Nisaa
(Women) 4:157) in the Qur’an alludes to a denial of it. The Docetist doctrinal influence is all too obvious.
Various Muslim authors have tried to explain the anomaly, for example by stating that the Qur’an merely
wanted to make it clear that the Jews did not kill Jesus, that the Romans did it. But even this would be
only partly true. Jesus made it clear that he did not pass the blame on anybody for his death, but that he
voluntarily laid down his life (John 10:17f). He took responsibility for it that it happened at the time and
manner of his choosing; that he might fulfil the Father’s will by dying as a sacrifice for the sins of the
world. More than once before the Scribes and Pharisees were out to arrest him, they could not do it,
because it was not yet the divinely appointed time (See e.g. John 7:6,30; 4447).
Even more, albeit rather
crudely, the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53 puts the responsibility for the death of Jesus on no less than
God himself: It pleased the Lord to bruise Him’(the Servant of the Lord, the Lamb) .
That a substitute has been sought is very human and understandable, but it has quite clearly been
derived from dubious docetic predecessors. The distortion of Islamic theologians is nowhere more
obvious than their commentary on the last phrase of Surah Nisaa (Women) 4:157, namely about the Sabih
or substitute of Jesus. Faris alQayrawani,
an Arabic scholar, translated this part as follows:
‘Those who are at variance are in doubt regarding Him;
they have no knowledge of Him, except the following of
surmise; and they slew Him not of a certainty.’
follows it up with a deduction which is so logical that it confounds one that Islamic
theologians still flounder around with all sorts of other dubious explanations: ‘those who had no knowledge
were the various Christian sects dispersed all over the Arabian Peninsula. It is true that the Qur’an was talking about
the crucifixion of Jesus, but at the same time it was reflecting the heretical religious movements and theological
trends of that time.’ AlQayrawani
obviously did his homework.
The confusing way in which Muslim scholars handled the verses about the death of Jesus (notably
Surah Imran 3:55 and Surah Mariam 19:33) is summarised by Faris alQayrawani:
‘The contradictory
opinions and interpretations have only created more confusion... These expositors and narrators held noted academic
status in Islamic history and were frequently quoted by students of religion and researchers. Thus these contrasting
speculations only increase the objective Muslim’s bewilderment and fill him with agonizing frustration.’
Possible origin of Qur’anic Denial of Jesus’ Death
I surmise furthermore that the Qur’anic denial of Jesus’ death could also have had a (auto)biographic
origin. It is known that Muhammad’s view of Jews changed dramatically in the Meccan period of his life.
Could it not be that he heard at this time reports of someone like the highly regarded fourth century
Church Father John Chrystostom, who said the following: ‘The Jews are the most worthless of all men. They
are lecherous, greedy and rapacious. They are perdicious murderers of Christ. It is incumbent upon Christians to
hate Jews’ (cited in Pearce, 2004:11). The evidently misguided Christian theologian was perpetuating a
tragic interpretation of the Gospel report, basing it on an enraged crowd (Matthew 27:25) rather than on
the words of Jesus. Our Lord forgave the perpetrators who were ignorant, not knowing what they were
doing (Luke 23:34). After having been clearly misguided himself, Muhammad likewise misled many. He
taught his followers to hate Jews.
Qur’anic Omission of the Cross and Resurrection
It is definitely more than mere coincidence
that those portions from the Torah and Gospels which clearly
refer or point to Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection are not found in the Islamic Scriptures. Yet,
I would not like to suggest that those who were involved in the compilation of the Qur’anic revelations,
did it on purpose. The omission of the Cross and Resurrection in the Qur’an is so subtle that the most
logical theory is to suspect that a force was at work which cannot stand the Cross and the blood of Jesus.
The consistent omission of the Cross in the Qur’an is too obvious to be coincidental
Because all possible conflicting versions of the Qur’an have been destroyed28 on the instructions of
28 The burning of inconvenient material was of course not novel. In chapter 8 we note how this was also used by
religious and imperial opponents before the Islamic era.
Uthmann, the third Kaliph albeit
with good intentions we
have no way of comparing the final review
by the Qur’anic Gabriel with earlier readings.29 That there is only one (not unambiguous) denial and three
references to the death of Jesus, point to a spiritual force at work, which denies the crucifixion. This came
increasingly to the fore in the period after Muhammad’s death. The legacy of the founder of Islam in the
first centuries his death, does not favour his efforts. It has been suggested that Islam was perceived as a
version of Arianism, as 'just one more aberrant Christian sect' (Haag, 2008:60). In fact, Dante considered
Muhammad as a heretic, placing him in the 9th circle of hell for being 'a sower of schism and discord'.
A ‘Denial’ of the Cross in the Bible
Islam is not alone in its denial of the cross. The practice of all forms of Baptism in the church, which
eradicates or lessens the visible demonstration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, may be one of the
most conspicuous denials in this regard. Elements of Prosperity Theology and the Word of Faith
movement are modern forms of the subtle denial of the cross, a refusal to accept poverty, persecution and
suffering as part of God’s way of moulding the clay (Jeremiah 18:13),
of pruning the vine (John 15:2).
A study of the Hebrew Scriptures’ personalities which occur in the Qur’an, shows how those
elements which point to Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection, are consistently absent. Islam
brought to a head what had happened in the hurch in the centuries before the religion took shape. That a
denial of the cross is satanic, is shown by the way in which Jesus emphatically rebuked Peter: ‘Get behind
me, satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of
men’ (Matthew 16:23). The Master deemed it fit to counter the disciple in this way to make it plain to the
disciples that the cross was imperative, part of the divine plan. This is doubly significant if we bear in
mind that Peter had made his powerful confession of Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God just prior
to this (Matthew 16:16).
When Peter opposed the suggestion of Jesus to be innocently killed in Jerusalem, he merely
displayed the flesh in all of us, which wants to evade the cross and its ramifications. In fact, the Master
unmasked any effort to evade the cross as demonic, by referring to Peter’s suggestion as inspired by satan.
Therefore Jesus followed it up with the recipe for his followers: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must
deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Matthew 16:245).
The most pointed travesty of this
command was when a Christian leader incited his church people to take up the cross and
the sword to
kill Muslims and Jews. That happened at the start of the crusades 900 years ago. Also John 12:2327,
example of the wheat corn that must 'die' first before it can bring forth fruit, makes it plain that the Master
understood his mission of death and resurrection as obedience to the Father. Obviously the archenemy
wanted to cancel this.
The Heresy of mere Appearance
The second epistle of John, the apostle, which is generally accepted to have been written at the end of the
first century already
spoke of deceivers who refused to recognize that Jesus had come in the flesh. The
denial that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh appears in the heresies of Marcion and Syrian Gnostics
(Carrington, Vol 1. 1957:309). From there it was only a small step towards docetic teaching, viz. that Jesus
had only appeared or seemed to do certain things and from there another small deviation to suggest that he
only appeared to have died on the Cross. The denial of Jesus’ death on the Cross is of course one of the
central tenets of various forms of heresy which filtered through to Islam.
Cerinthus had been sowing seed for Docetism the
idea that Jesus did not really die on the cross, and
that the various natures of Jesus could be separated. ‘He could not admit that a heavenly being from the highest
sphere could suffer the indignity of the Cross and therefore affirmed Christ’s abandonment of Jesus before the Passion
and the return of Christ to the Supreme God” (Hastings, Vol. 3, p.319). Cerinthus had taught that ‘…at the end
Christ had flown back from Jesus and that Jesus suffered and rose again, but that Christ remained impassible, since he
was a spiritual being.’ According to Hippolytus, an early Christian author, Jesus did not suffer on the cross, but
29 That Islam gives such a special role to the Angel Gabriel has precedents in the Orient. In Egyptian Coptic tradition
the Angel Michael has a similar role. In an Encomium on the Angel Michael as part of a Coptic Homily attributed to
St Peter of Alexandria, various angels not mentioned by name in the Bible become the Angel Michael. The unknown
author mistakenly also credits Michael with the role of Gabriel in Daniel 8-12.
‘Christ’ departed from Jesus at that moment. Eisenman (1997:838) suggests that this ‘reappears in slightly more
developed form’ in the Gnostic texts of the Nag Hammadi archaeological finds ‘and, from thence, (into) the
Koran.’ For some of these Gnostics it was Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross and who thus suffered.
There may have been a possible mixup
with Simon bar Cleophas, who was purported to have been
crucified. Docetism was especially taught by the Gnostic Basilides around 150 CE. He maintained that Simon
of Cyrene consented to be crucified in Jesus’ stead. Thus God cast upon him the likeness of Christ according
to Basilides and
he was crucified. Tisdall (1900:62) quotes Basilides: ‘He suffered not; but Simon, a
Cyrenian, was compelled to carry the Cross for him; and he through error and ignorance was crucified, being
transfigured by him, that it might be thought he was Jesus himself.’
The belief that Judas or Simon of Cyrene died in his place thus actually started within the confines
of the church. In the spurious postQur’anic
16th century fraudulent Gospel of Barnabas Judas was
transformed into the likeness of Jesus and crucified, while everybody thought that he was Jesus. This socalled
Gospel teaches that Judas arrived with soldiers to arrest Jesus. God sent four angels to take Jesus out
of this world into the third heaven while Judas after
the kiss with which he betrayed Jesus ‘
was so changed
in speech and in face to be like Jesus’ that Barnabas and the other disciples actually though that he was Jesus
(Gospel of Barnabas, para 216).
Augustine joined the Manichees
That the Ebionites believed in Jesus as a Messiah is also paralleled in Islam, although the Qur’an does not
define clearly at all what is meant by it. If James can be taken as representative of Ebionite thinking, then it
does become very interesting indeed why he recognized Jesus as the Messiah. According to Klausener, a
highly respected Jewish scholar, James adopted this stance only at a later stage of his life. The reasons given
by Klausener (1979:280) are:
a) The ethical doctrine which Jesus preached
b) The cruel sufferings which Jesus bore. The latter reason becomes important, because it amplifies the
problem which Jews had in accepting the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 as a prophecy of the Messiah.
The accusation was presented to North African church father Augustine that the biblical scriptures
had been changed. This is known to be one of Islam’s views. Augustine was one of the most prominent
followers of the teaching of Mani. The Church Father’s search for truth likens that of many Muslims who
ended up reading the Bible. Being the scholar he was, Augustine was initially impressed by the sermons of
Mani who had presented himself as the revealer, whom Jesus had promised. For nine years Augustine was a
member of the sect. The teachings of Mani about asceticism and vegetarianism were especially attractive to
him. Salvation through insight was taught. At the same time the notion that man was not really guilty of his
own shortcomings, gave Augustine latitude to continue his immoral lifestyle.
He joined the Manichees, who
assured him that the ‘New Testament’ had been interpolated by Judaisers (Ackroyd and Evans, 1970:542).
However, the Manichees failed to produce any 'uncorrupted versions'. This added to Augustine’s
disillusionment with the sect. (In a similar way, Islam has not been able to provide substantial proof of the
allegation that the biblical Scriptures have been corrupted.) Augustine finally left the Manichees after
discovering NeoPlatonist
philosophy in the Gospel of John.
An example of Forgery
One of the most striking examples of forgery is the socalled
Gospel of Barnabas. It author was Fra Marino,
who had been an Italian Vatican monk before he embraced Islam. Called a renegade Christian by George
Sales, he is taken to be responsible for the forged Gospel of Barnabas. Significantly, George Sales, who
made the first serious translation of the Qur’an in 1734, already referred in his preliminary discourses to this
book as the most barefaced
forgery. Interestingly, he noted already in 1734 that the word periclyte was
inserted into this forged apocryphal Gospel. As far as I can discern, Muhammad was called the Messiah the
first time in the 16th century in this Gospel of Barnabas.
Fra Marino came up with the idea that Judas was changed into the likeness of Jesus. In a later
explanation with regard to the moment when this actually happened, Judas became the victim through a
novel kiss of life in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the spurious postQur’anic
fraudulent Gospel of
Barnabas Judas was transformed into the likeness of Jesus and crucified, while everybody thought he was
Jesus. This became a reason for many a Muslim to believe that Judas (or Simon of Cyrene) died in Jesus’
Foul play occurred yet again when a version of the Gospel of Barnabas was printed in Lahore
(Pakistan) in 1959 purporting
to be a reprint of the 1909 edition that had been prepared by Laura and
Lonsdale Raggs. The Pakistanis conveniently omitted the critical introductory remarks of the British couple.
That highlights the forgery and deception even more.
More Manichaeist Influence on Islam
Mani was the founder of Manichaeism, a third century heretical sect. Copying Paul’s wording, Mani dubbed
himself ‘an apostle by the will of Christ’. Marcion and Bardaisan, two Christian heretics, are said to have
influenced him considerably. The latter was a Syrian Gnostic and the former a famous heretic who hated
Jews fiercely. The resentment and even hatred of Jews filtered through to Islam. In one important respect
Mani’s teaching differed from that of Muhammad. He taught that Jesus was not born from a woman.
According to him Jesus’ body was a sort of phantom and that the Jews crucified someone else in Jesus place.
The latter notion, which was probably not original, is a possible link to Islam. The denial of the death of
Jesus by Mani is approached in Islam by a docetic tenet, when it is taught that Jesus was removed from the
Cross supernaturally, that someone else died on the Cross. Manichaeans did not accept the tenet of an
atoning sacrifice. Mani foreshadowed Islamic doctrine by suggesting that Jesus could not have been killed as
a quasidivine
redeemer (Chadwick, 1986:12). Basilides and
before him Cerinthus had
already come up
with the idea of Docetism that
it only appeared to the spectators at Jesus Christ’s crucifixion that he died on
the Cross. Manichaean heretics despised the Cross, regarding it as the instrument of Christ’s torture. Neither
this nor the pagan symbol of the Babylonian sun god was possibly the origin of Muhammad’s hatred of
crosses, but rather the fact that he opposed the death of Jesus. Following Cerinthus, Basilides and other
heretics, he could not accept that the Almighty would allow his venerated prophet Jesus to die in such a
brutal way.
The Islamic position can be explained quite easily. Muhammad was influenced extensively by
Waraqah ibn Naufal, the cousin of his first wife Khadiyah, who was reported to have been a Bishop of the
Christian community in the Hijaz, the part of the Arabian Peninsula in which Mecca and
Medina are situated. This would fit to the history that Jewish Ebionites settled not only East of the Jordan,
but also in other parts, for example in Syria. In another strand of oral tradition, Muhammad was reported to
have received the abovementioned
docetic teaching from Bahira, a Nestorian monk of Syria. Mani, the selfappointed
‘apostle’ of Christ, shared the heretical view, repeated a few centuries later by Muhammad and his
apologists that
Jesus could not have suffered in his body on the Cross. The notion is also found in the
apocryphal Acts of John, that Jesus had a nonmaterial
body during his life on earth and that he did not really
suffer during his crucifixion. Only his body was supposed to have suffered. It was another being, who is
sometimes called a demon, and sometimes the son of the widow, whom God had put in His place (Andrae,
It is quite possible that Arius, the well known 4th century heretic, could have been influenced by
Manichaeans with regard to Jesus’ atoning death. The link to Islam is furthermore hinted by the fact that
after Mani’s death his preachers converted the powerful desert sheikh whose Arab kingdom was based at
Hira (Fox, 1988:570). Rodwell (1953 [1909]:10) suggested that Muhammad adopted the Gnostic doctrine
concerning the crucifixion as a ploy to reconcile the Jews to Islam as a religion, which embraced Judaism
and Christianity. If Jesus had not been killed, the stumbling block of the atonement would also have been
taken care of. Manichaeans believed that repentance naturally leads to forgiveness since man is not punished
for sinning, but for failing to grieve for sin (Brandt in Hastings, Vol. 8, p. 399). In his opposition to Judaism,
Mani possibly
under the influence of the second century heretic Marcion went
much further than the
Muslims ever did, by not recognizing Moses as a prophet. Islam was apparently not influenced by the strain
of Manichaeism which followed Marcion in discarding the Hebrew Scriptures. Possible influence from
Manichaeism appears to be that they rejected the curious doings of the Jewish patriarchs and the darker
episodes of the Hebrew Bible (Fox, 1988:571). In an attempt to bring Muhammad nearer to the blameless
Jesus (conceded in Surah Mariam 19:19), Muslims speak of his mistakes and forgetfulness. This is
simultaneously an effort to defend the criticism on the prophethood of Muhammad; he only really started to
oppose Jews after they had mocked him and refused to accept him as a prophet.
An Islamic Problem
The Muslim is reminded of Abraham’s voluntary sacrifice every year at the major Eid celebration and at the
ceremony when sheep are slaughtered. Then Muslims see the picture of the sacrifice visually
demonstrated. A washing movement across their faces symbolises the atoning effect of the slaughtered
animal. They thus come very close to the biblical message of atonement by the blood of the Lamb: For you
know that it was not with perishable things ... you were redeemed... but with the precious blood of Christ, a
lamb without blemish or defect (1 Peter 1:18, 19). In Surah Saffat (Ranged in Rows) 37, where we can read
about Abraham’s sacrifice, the name of the son is not mentioned specifically. However, the name of Isaac is
found in the context (v. 112,113). A Dictionary of Islam (Thomas Hughes, Lahore, 1885:216) says: ‘There
would seem little doubt that Isaac was intended.’ Two of the few times where the name of Isaac is found in the
Qur’an, occur in these two verses, just after the report of Abraham sacrificing his son (In later Islamic
tradition Ishmael became the son who was to be sacrificed). Interestingly, apart from inclusion in the Qur'an
of Ishmael in lists of prophets (Surah a lAnam
6;86, Surah AlAnbya
21:85), the only reference to him by
name is found in Surah Baqara (Cow) 2:125, 127.
The Bible mentions that Abraham built an altar. Oral tradition surmised that Isaac helped him to
build the altar. This tradition developed toward the Qur’anic belief expressed in Surah alBakarah
(The Cow)
2:127, that Ishmael helped Abraham to build the Kaba in Mecca. Muslims generally believe that it was
Ishmael and not Isaac who was almost sacrificed on Moriah. The commentary of AlTabari,
a reputed
Muslim commentator and compiler of traditions, comes very close to the tradition of Genesis 22 and the
Talmud. The Hadith narration of AlTabari,
the highly respected 10th century Islamic scholar around
Abraham’s sacrifice may have caused the confusion with regard to the Isaac/Ishmael dilemma of Islam. In
Tabari’s commentary Jibril reportedly said to Sarah, 'I bring you good news of a son whose name is Isaac and after
him Jacob.' This almost sounds like the biblical angel coming to Mary. It becomes very problematic though
when AlTabari
then lets Ishmael appear from nowhere, walking behind Abraham, carrying the wood and the
large knife. This indicates that the confusing tradition may have been established at this time. In the Qur’anic
account, up to this point only Isaac had been mentioned. In AlTabari’s
record the impression is given that
Ishmael was to be sacrificed as well, using similar wording that he had used for the sacrifice with Isaac.
Islamic tradition associates Jibril to the occasion when Abraham was stopped in his track to slaughter the
‘lamb’, his son.
Two Ideas in Islamic Thinking
Two ideas which are implied in Islamic thinking about Isaac’s sacrifice are a) that suffering means
punishment and rejection by God and b) that Isaac was not really sacrificed. Both notions play a role in the
Qur’an. Evidently the link between Abraham’s sacrifice to Jesus was given in the reference to the denial of
Jesus’ death in Surah Maida (The Table Spread) 4:157. With regard to a) there is the precedent of the Targum
Jonathan where suffering of the Messiah is attributed to the enemies of Israel. We listen to what the Qur’an
says: ...they said (in boast), We killed Christ Jesus...the Messiah...but they killed him not ... so it was made to
appear to them...for of a surety they killed him not’. We could paraphrase it in this way: (Some of) you Jews
yourselves say that the Messiah did not suffer. You yourselves say that Isaac, the prototype
of the Messiah,
cannot really be sacrificed, but that God provided a substitute. Then it should be logical that Jesus, who was
that type, did not die on the Cross.
It is however tragic that Islam – misled by the Jewish example that was emulated in different ways by the
Church – thus cancels an important basic bottom line of sacrifice and offering. The atoning aspect is alluded
to somehow in the ritual at Eid alAdha
by a washing movement across the face, but officially this is not
taught. The background is obviously Surah Saffat Rangers 37:101109
‘And we ransomed him with a mighty
sacrifice, and left for him among the later folk. Peace be upon Abraham.’ (Fouad Accad, 1997:69 notes that
other translations state in stead of ‘mighty sacrifice’, ‘momentous’ and ‘valuable beyond estimation.’ He
opines that Muslim scholars concluded after deep reflection on what kind of ram could be ‘valuable beyond
estimation’, They said: ‘only God knows’. Accad surmises that Muslims actually furthermore say that a sheep
is slaughtered for such and such a child at the name giving ceremony with a similar allusion.
The ‘Angel of Death’ at Work
The Talmudic tradition highlights the ‘binding of Isaac’. For the Christian both tenets have interesting
connotations. That a ram was ultimately slaughtered, pointed forward in history to other lambs still to be
slaughtered like those at the passover so
that the angel of death would pass over the houses where the blood
was on the door post (Exodus 12) and
ultimately to Jesus, the Lamb of God that atones for the sin of the
world (John 1:29). The ‘Angel of Death’ is a name that must have been borrowed by the Muslims from the
Jews, that being his title in Hebrew. There is, however a difference; the Jews name him Samma’el, and the
Muslims Azra’el/Isra’el. The latter word is not Arabic, but Hebrew. Because the idea nowhere occurs in the
Bible, the Jews must have taken it from elsewhere. A possible origin we find in the Zoroast Avesta, where we
are told that if any one falls into the water or fire, his death is not from the fire or water, but it is the ‘Angel of
Death’ that destroys him. (In the last plague (Exodus 12) the Lord (Yahweh) – not the angel of death as oral
tradition later made out of it looks
for the sign of the blood on the doorpost.)
Iblis the
Qur’anic equivalent for the devil is
reported to have attempted to prevent Abraham from
fulfilling the command of God. According to the AlTabari
tradition, Iblis said '… I have seen that Shaytan has
come to you in a dream and ordered you to slaughter this little son of yours. And you intend to do that slaughtering!
The little son is apparently still Isaac.' Abraham is said to have recognised Iblis saying: Get away from me
enemy of God! AlTabari
says in so many words that Iblis had taken on the form of a man (quoted by Rippin
and Knappert, 1990:64). This has interesting (theological) implications. First of all, this sounds very much
like Jesus reprimanding Peter when the latter suggested that Jesus should circumvent the crucifixion
(Matthew 16:23): ‘satan, get behind me...’. However, the forged Gospel of Barnabas handled the matter
typically fraudulently when it is stated that Jesus is supposed to have declared to Peter: ‘Be gone and depart
from me, because thou art the devil and seekest to cause me offence.’ He then is reputed to have told his disciples
to beware because ‘I have one from God a great curse against those who believe this’ (Gospel of Barnabas para
Muhammad encountering a Caricature of Faith
It is really sad that Muhammad, the founder of Islam, apparently only encountered a caricature of faith in
Jesus. We keep the strained relationship between Muslims and Jews in Medina in mind, after the latter group
had refused to become followers of Muhammad. Muslims of Muhammad’s day obviously thought they were
doing the Christians a favour by refuting that the Jews had crucified Jesus. Professor Naudé summarised it so
aptly: ‘If a Muslim would proceed with the spirit of this searching Muhammad consistently, he must come to true faith
in the Saviour. Muhammad tried to touch Jesus, but because of the crowd of people who stood between him and Jesus,
the crowd of Christians pushed him away and crushed him, Muhammad could not come to touch Jesus himself surely
one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the world.’
It is indeed unfortunate that the true message of Moriah has been obscured, already in Judaism.
God’s initial attempts to deal with mankind through the chosen race seem to have failed. In the Tenach
(‘OT’) the Almighty however proves himself faithful as He continued to work with a remnant. Did not
Abraham prophetically speak about a ‘lamb’ that God was going to provide. On Moriah God did not provide
a lamb as yet, he provided a ram.
Looking forward in History
The pious Jew automatically looks forward in history from the Moriah narrative to the unblemished Passover
lamb at the exodus out of Egypt. Yet further fast forwarded, we see the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 who
was to be led like a sheep to be slaughtered, even though this is a prophecy with which Jews still have great
difficulty. Isaac’s submission to the will of his father – no, actually submission to the will of the heavenly
Father who tested Abraham’s faith and obedience – is a picture of the ebed, the slave-servant of the Lord
whose ear was daily listening to the instructions of His Master. The opened ear (Psalm 40:6 ; Isaiah 50:4-9)
alludes to the slave who had his ear bored as a sign that he voluntarily and willingly chose to be earmarked
as a faithful servant for life (Exodus 21:6). Beyond this, the obedient Servant-Messiah relinquished all
personal rights, refusing to cling to His glorious divinity (Philippians 2:5ff) and submitting Himself to the
indignities and pain of the Cross.
The Christian sees in the backdrop the fulfilment of Isaiah 53 when Jesus was led innocently without
protest like
a sheep to be slaughtered. Jesus did not open his mouth, after hearing the false
accusations against Him. Christians also hear as an echo John the Baptist speaking of the Lamb of God who
takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29, 36). Paul wrote of Jesus as the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians
5:7). Last not least, Peter reminds in his first letter in the verse quoted above (1 Peter 1:18,19) that the
Christians were not bought free by silver or gold, but by the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without
blemish or defect.
Though the orthodox Islamic position has not changed formally, there seems to have occurred a
change in the perception of rank and file Muslims since March 2004. After so many of them have been
viewing the film The Passion of the Christ, it appears that rank and file Muslims were thereafter more ready
to accept the death of Jesus albeit
without the atoning aspect.
Prof. John de Gruchy brought to our notice an extremely interesting insight about the impact of the
crucifixion of Jesus in his quest for a way in which the truth can be communicated that the Church is
destined ‘to live beneath the cross not in power but in weakness’ (2002:134) . He goes on to quote from a book by
René Girard with the intrigueing title Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, e.g that the cross
‘discredits and deconstructs the gods of violence since it reveals the true God who has not the slightest violence in
Him.’ According to Girard’s profound insight, ‘the cross is the ultimate act of iconoclasm, the destruction of the idols
that destroy humanity and dishonour the name of God ... Idolatry is redefined (as) human greed, nationalism,
xenophobia, racism, sexism and above all bad religion ... The reconciliation of the world becomes possible through the
death of Christ precisely because it signifies the ultimately defeat of the principalities and powers of this world and, at
the same time, declares the power of God’s love and grace in overcoming sin and alienation ‘ (de Gruchy. 2002:135).
3. Jesus is not Divine!
Possibly no single doctrinal conflict shook the Church as much as the dispute concerning the natures
of Christ. In the same vein, the fact that Muslims have problems with the belief in the divinity of Jesus can
be derived from the wrangling of Christians. Jesus was the only person who arose from the dead who did not
die subsequently. Only weeks after the resurrection Peter publicly mentioned that. If it were possible to
dispute it, surely his body could have been shown. Although the different groups of first century Christians
did differ on some doctrinal issues like the Law and circumcision, their faith in the resurrection of the Master
was unanimous.
The origins of Islamic denial in the divinity of Jesus can be traced to the Ebionite background of
Waraqah bin Naufal, who influenced Muhammad so profoundly. The Ebionites of the second century CE
were extreme Judaizers. To them Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary. In their opinion He fulfilled the
Jewish law so complete that God chose Him to be the Messiah.
The Jewish sect has been revived in 1985. In The Ebionite Manifesto we read the following: ‘The
Evyonim (Ebionites) are Yahwists above all else. It allows for One Ruler, the God of Israel alone, with none beside Him.
God is not man, and no man is divine. No man can make you right with God except yourself, and only you can atone for
your sins through repentance and reparation to Him and your fellow man.’
The element of awe at the sight of the divine or the awareness of the presence of the Almighty is a
central biblical tenet. James Kennedy (1999:76) has put it so beautifully: ‘The very foundation of His throne was
holiness, and no sin could ever come into His presence without His inevitable power consuming it with his wrath.’
The biblical Position
The Bible affirms the supremacy of the one true God (1 Corinthians 8:46).
Isaiah 43:10 declares that there
is only one true God and no other God (with capital G) was formed before or after him. Sometimes Paul has
been accused of making a god, an idol out of Jesus. Yet, Paul did not even mention one of his miracles. But
he stated that the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily (Colossians 2:9); that He is the Spirit of God
(1 Corinthians 2:10,11). Paul probably never called Christ God in set terms, but he taught that Christ was in
unity with the character of God. Furthermore, Jesus was not regarded in ancient Christianity as a second
God, but rather seen as a unique representative of the Almighty. In fact, the writings of Paul contain a most
comprehensive teaching about the person, nature and mission of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Titus 2:13 and
Romans 9:5 (next to John 1:1 8:58 and 20:28) are just a few verses proclaiming that Jesus Christ is of the
same nature as His heavenly Father. Romans 1:3,4 and Philippians 2:811
are two Pauline passages saying
that the divine Son of God also became man. This is also called the Incarnation of Christ. God becoming
flesh and living amongst us is recorded in John 1:14. 1 Timothy 2:5 points to the importance of the
Incarnation: ‘There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus’. Some
Christians however not only construed from Paul’s epistles Jesus’ full identification with God, but also often
attempt to defend such an identity. This caused however unfortunate confusion, notably among Jews and
Muslims. The distinction between Christ as divine but not identical with the Almighty got blurred.
Paul furthermore looks upon the earthly life of Jesus as one of obedient humiliation. The Incarnation
of Christ, his death, resurrection and exaltation is clearly summarised in Phillipians 2:811:
‘And being found
in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death on
the cross. Therefore God also exalted him... that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow...’ In this way
Paul’s Christology combines in a remarkable manner Hebrew and Gentile conceptions. In it one finds the
suffering and exalted servant, the preexistent
divine wisdom, the divine agent in creation, and the redeemer
power who came down from heaven for man’s sake, who died and rose again.
The Awareness of Divine Presence
Apart from the special miracles which Jesus performed – to which the Qur’an also attests, e.g. in Surah alImran
3:46.49 – we read at different places how he was worshipped and ministered to, not only by befriended
humans like Peter and the disciples who recognised that they were in divine presence (Matthew 16:16f,
Matthew 28:17 and Luke 5:8), but also by angels (Matthew 4:11). The evangelist Mark described in chapter 5
of his Gospel three persons who prostrated themselves in worship and adoration after the manifestation of his
divine power, viz. the extremely demonpossessed
Gadarene after his liberation, the incurable blood flowing
woman who touched his garment in faith and Jairus after Jesus had raised his 12 year old daughter after she
had died.
The divinity of Jesus in the Gospels
The Gospels depict the divinity of Jesus in different ways. The Gospel of Mark especially showed how this is
portrayed in the life of Jesus. Carsten Thiede (1990:47f) highlighted this by listing no less than nine instances
in this Gospel. I quote here the first and the last: The disciples ‘were terrified and asked each other: Who is
this? Even the wind and the waves obey him (Mark 4:41). ‘Trembling and bewildered the women went out
and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid’ (Mark 16:8). In the extension
of this there is the healing power, which led various persons to worship him, at least one of them
acknowledging him as the Son of God (John 9). His dominion over demons (e.g. Mark 1:24ff; 5:6f) and
especially his power to raise the dead (John 11; Mark 5:2143)
are highlighted. He declared I am the
resurrection and the life (John 11:25)! Being eternal like the Almighty, Jesus in fact alluded to it in so many
words: Before Abraham was, I AM (John 8:58). Jesus claimed things that would substantiate his divine
authority like that alone God is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28); God alone can forgive sins (Mark 2:10);
God alone can raise people from the dead (Mark 2:8:31); only God is a judge over people (Mark 8:38).
Jesus as Lord
The description in Luke 5:7 of the encounter of Peter, when he was still a fisherman and not yet a disciple,
led to a similar discovery of Jesus as Kurios, Lord. Peter was so aware of his sinful nature after he witnessed
the extraordinary catch of fish against all odds that he fell on his knees in adoration, aware that he was in
divine presence. Another exceptional occurrence in this regard is possibly the description of Jesus by Peter
as both ‘Kurios’ and Messiah in Acts 2:36. Kurios was favourite language of the Tenach, whenever the
authors referred to Yahweh and it was also frequently used in the Talmudic period. That Jesus referred to
himself as the bridegroom (Matthew 9:15; Matthew 25:1ff.) is a veiled indication of his divine image. John
the Baptist also describes himself in a similar way as the friend of the bridegroom (John 3:29). The once
returning Jesus is described as the bridegroom in various ‘NT’ books. Yahweh as the husband of his people is
a common tenet of the Tenach (e.g. the book Hosea, Song of Solomon, Ezekiel 16). A valid exegesis of Luke
18:1ff would be to see the Church allegorically as the widow, after the death of the husband at Calvary. Now
the Church is the ‘widow’, waiting for the bridegroom. When His opponents pointed to the fact that His
disciples were not fasting, the Master did not cancel the feasibility of it. He merely stated that the disciples
would be doing it when he, ‘the bridegroom’, would have been taken away (Matthew 9:15). At the return of
Christ, followed by the ‘Marriage Supper of the Lamb’, the ‘widow’, i.e. the Church as the Body of Christ,
will marry again. She then becomes ‘the Bride’.
Worship should be given to God alone: According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Satan showed Jesus
all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and
their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall
all be yours.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him ONLY
shall you serve ”(Luke 4:58;
Matthew 4:810).
Since Jesus’ words imply that worship should be rendered to God, and not to someone else, we find
individuals refusing to receive worship from others: ‘When Peter entered, Cornelius met him
and fell down at his feet and worshipped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am a man.’
Acts 10:2526.
Jesus is pictured as receiving worship throughout all the Gospels. The disciples worshipped
Jesus as the Son of God who is the I AM that controls the seas and winds: “And in the fourth watch of the
night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were
terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying, ‘Take
heart, I AM (ego eimi); have no fear.’ This has astonishing resemblance to Psalm 107:2330.
“Some went
down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous
works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They
mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they
reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the LORD in their
trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were
hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.” Jesus
thus carried out the very same Divine functions which the ‘OT’ ascribes to Yahweh.
Just before Jesus ascended to heaven we read the following: Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some
doubted (Matthew 28:16). If we keep in mind that those disciples that were still doubting had been with the
Lord over three years, the Muslim or Jew who still has doubts about the divinity of our Lord is actually in
good company. Next to the Trinity, this tenet of Christian faith belongs to the most difficult for them to
Opposition of Pharisees causing Wrangling
The writers of the Gospels were apparently so taken up by the opposition of some Pharisees that central
biblical teachings unhappily got clouded. Thus the late first century Gospel of John on the one hand included
the ‘I am’ expressions of Jesus, thus depicting his divinity, his proximity to the Divine. The Jewish audience
took serious offence at this identification, so much so that the Master deemed it necessary to respond with
the very exceptional statement: “Most assuredly I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM’ (John 8:58). His
audience understood very well what he was claiming, wanting to stone him when he claimed Messiahship in
the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:28).
However, in the Gospel of John the author refers to the Jews so often in a negative way that later
generations might have been tempted to think that he forgot that Jesus had taught love for the enemy. (Of
course, he also taught that God is love and that Jesus gave love as a new commandment in the same gospel).
There is sufficient evidence that the Early Church had initially been in solidarity with Israel,
conscious of the continuity of God’s action in the past with His present activity in Jesus of Nazareth and in
his followers (Chadwick, 1967:12). Jews in the Middle East who were living at that time knew of course of
the friction between Galileans and Judeans. This is reflected in the latter group being called ‘Jews’ by the
The most exceptional usage with regard to Jesus’ divinity is possibly the description of Jesus by Peter
as the Holy and Righteous One in Acts 3:14. This was favourite language of the Hebrew Scriptures, whenever
the authors referred to Yahweh and it was also frequently used in the Talmudic period.
Cerinthus, a Type of the Antichrist?
Cerinthus was an early Christian heretic,a Jewish convert who subsequently relapsed. According to Arnold
(1859:5), Cerinthus was the first who dared to question the divinity of Christ, asserting that His entrance into
the world was according to the ordinary laws of nature. Cerinthus was a contemporary of John, the apostle.
On the authority of Polycarp, an early Christian bishop and martyr, Eusebius wrote in his Ecclesiastical
history how this apostle viewed Cerinthus as ‘the enemy of truth’ (Eusebius, 1989:92). One of Cerinthus views
was his belief that Jesus reached the dignity of Messiahship only at his baptism when the power of the Christ
in the form of a dove entered
into him. Up to that point in time he was a normal man according to
Cerinthus, albeit more righteous, prudent and wise than other men. He contended that Jesus became a
prophet of a new order after his baptism, to proclaim the unknown Father. The likes of Cerinthus were
described as anti (against) Christ. On this soil seed could germinate that denied the personality and selfexistence
of the Word and the Spirit in the Godhead.
All this probably provided the foundation for the theological bickering around the natures of Christ
in the fourth century. In the 5th century, Nestorius, an Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, deemed it
necessary to stress the two (separate) natures of Christ, the divine and the human.
Islamic Ambivalence
Some Islamic ambivalence can be detected when we consider how many miracles of Jesus and the like are
found in narratives around His infancy and childhood. Both Surah alImran
3 and Surah Maryam 19 refer to
the infant defending Mary from the cradle when others accused her for being unchaste, albeit that this has
possibly derived from dubious apocryphal sources. Islam acknowledges Jesus’ miracles, including the
making of a bird out of clay – a notion taken from the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas but
the religion stops
short of deriving divinity from it. (That Jesus created in this way would actually put Him on the level of the
divine Creator of everything.) The addition ‘by permission’ of Allâh is included to make sure that Jesus is
regarded as less than divine. Similarly, his ability to raise people from the dead that would have implied
divinity, is watered down by the words by My leave (Surah alMaida
(The Table Spread) 5:113). A narrative
from His childhood miracles is mentioned. When a young teenager was accidentally killed, Jesus was falsely
accused. ‘Just before judgement was passed ‘Isa began to pray for him and Allâh restored him to life’. This story can
be traced from the apocryphal pseudoGospel
The Infancy of Jesus Christ that has however been rejected by
the Christian Church from the earliest of times. This is also the case with other miraculous stories and
possible embellishments around the infancy and childhood of our Lord.
Especially in Surah alImran
3 and Surah Maryam 19 there are many special attributes which bring
Isa very close to being divine. The miraculous conception and miraculous birth are wellknown,
and that He
spoke at His birth we have already noted. That the Qur’an saw Him as sinless, a faultless son (19:19) is no
secret, nor that He had supernatural knowledge (3:49). That Nabi Isa was endowed with the Holy Spirit and a
Word brings him in close proximity to the Gospel portrayals of our Lord. But the objections need also to be
mentioned, e.g. that He was ‘only a messenger of Allâh’ (4:171) and created in the likeness of Adam (3:59),
thus was only human and not divine.
The Divinity of Jesus disputed
In Cerinthus’ Christology Jesus performed miracles, but He did not redeem the world. Arnold (1859:5)
quoted no less than Irenaeus, the highly respected Church Father, noting that John, the apostle of the Lord,
wrote an epistle to refute the error, which had been spread by Cerinthus and the Nicolaitans. He attempted to
confound and persuade them in proclaiming that there is one God, who made all things by His Word. Not
surprisingly whatsoever, Cerinthus also denied the divinity of Christ. He admitted Jesus’ suffering and
crucifixion, but he distinctly denied His resurrection. In opposition to such teachings, Paul wrote the first
letter to the Corinthians. Cerinthus started a ball rolling because the divinity of Jesus was hereafter disputed.
At the end of the third century Arius developed the heresy further, negating that Jesus was of the
same substance of God, but not equal to Him. Arius followed Cerinthus in this teaching, which caused much
confusion, ripping the heart out of the Gospel. This is a part of the DocetistGnostic
background of Surah
Nisaa (Women) 4:157, which intimates that God took Jesus away before he could die. Arius believed that
Jesus was created and he was not fully God, although more than a man. (That doctrine became possibly the
origin of the Islamic emphasis that Allâh does not have a son.) Arius was logically called by Arnold (1859:5)
another precursor of Islamism. Arius was an excellent communicator, putting his doctrinal ideas into musical
jingles, a practice copied centuries later in Islam via an Arabic nursery rhyme that God does not have a son.
Chronologically between Cerinthus and Arius there was general consensus in the Church that they would not
compromise the divinity of Jesus. When Emperors like Nero ‘merely’ expected them to pay homage annually
to the Caesar, offering them the liberty to worship their Jesus as a god parallel to that expression of respect,
they refused! They preferred to die for their faith that he is the divine Son of God. Polycarp of Smyrna, a
disciple of John, the apostle, was martyred in 160 CE, testifying to his faith in the presence of his
executioners. That was the sort of pristine seed of the Church, which also moved Justin, born in Palestine and
later carrying the name Martyr. He died in similar fashion in 165 CE.
East-West Rift: the Result of Semantics
In an attempt to unite the Church that was so divided, Constantine convened a Council at Nicaea in 325 CE
under the presidency of Bishop Hosius of Cordoba and Bishop Alexander of Alexandria. For Constantine it
was essentially a political exercise. He did not care about the finer points of theology as long as it would
unify his subjects. He attempted to bring this about through the mandatory day of rest on Sunday
in 321 CE,
by having people baptised by force and ceasing the persecution of the followers of Jesus.
The discussion at the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE was very heated and
not always to the point.
Arius was condemned, but the creed decided upon was a poor compromise, basically an effort to contain the
influence of Arius. This creed was however far from unproblematic, including the words begotten from the
Father the
only begotten. In due course this was to lead to confusion when Mary was described as
theotokos, the bearer of God. The arch enemy of the Church abused semantics to sow disunity. A single letter
spawned the Arian controversy. Affirming the divinity of Jesus, the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) delegates
turned their attention to the question of how Jesus relates to the Father. This ignited more semantic
squabbling. The historian Eusebius suggested at the occasion that Jesus had a nature similar to that of the
Father (homo-ousos). Athanasius, who was not invited to the proceedings, had earlier already stated that this
would be a compromise which would miss the full teaching of Christ’s divinity. The Lord was homo-ousios,
one and the same, not merely of similar substance. The whole discussion boiled down to a debate over the
difference between the Greek words for similar and same, about the presence of the letter i of the Greek
alphabet. In the extension of this debate the doctrine of our Lord's divinity, the issue of Jesus’ Sonship (of
God) and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity were later drawn into the discussion in later centuries.
Worse was to follow when the theologians tried to formulate the position and origin of the Holy
Trinity within the Creed. The Western form of the Nicene Creed affirms that the Holy Spirit '...proceeds
from the Father and the Son'. Eastern Orthodox theologians formulated the same truth as: We believe in the
Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life … who proceeds from the Father.
Massive disagreement arose about the part of the Father and the Son in sending the Spirit, causing
division in AD 1054. Because the difference boils down to the phrase … and the Son (filioque in Latin), the
disagreement became known as the filioque controversy.
This was of course mere semantics, completely unnecessary as Thomas Smail pointed out so clearly. In
his contribution The Holy Spirit and the Resurrection30 Smail described very lucidly how the biblical account
of the resurrection is 'an act in which God reveals himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each actiing in a distinctive
way but in the closest possible relationship and … in unity with one another.' (Walker (ed), 1988:65). He furthermore
showed how the message of the Trinity is fairly centrally included not only in the discovery of the empty
tomb and the appearances of the risen Lord, 'but also the ascension and exaltation of Jesus to the Father's right hand
and the imparting of the Spirit to the Church' (ibid, p. 67).
Dealing with Dissent31
The most tragic part of the dispute around the nature of Jesus is the wrangling that erupted around it and how
the Church handled dissent. The runup
to the bickering can be traced to the treatment of Donatus, a dynamic
North African preacher. It is especially sad to discern that there is unfortunately relatively little written in
Western church history books about Donatus and the Donatist Church, (just as there is a complete dearth of
material on the Middle Eastern Assyrian Church that did such stalwart missionary work in the first centuries
of the Christian Era). The Donatist Church however was the cause of a big schism in North Africa in respect
of the Catholic Church.
Each denomination made the exclusive claim to be the one mystical body of Christ and the sole ark
of salvation without whom one could not have God as one’s Father.
Emperor Constantine followed through in similar fashion when two bishops refused to sign the formulation
of the Nicene creed at the Council which he thought had restored unity. The two bishops as well as Arius,
who is generally regarded as the main culprit who caused the disunity, were sent into banishment.
Worse was to follow when a brilliant theologian, Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, taught
that God the Word was not ‘hypostatically’, i.e. intrinsically joined with human nature, but rather dwelt in the
man Jesus. As a consequence of this, he denied the title ‘Mother of God’ that had been given in reverence to
Mary, perhaps in an attempt to emphasise Jesus’ divinity. Nestorius emphatically denied that she was
theotokos, the bearer of God. From the standpoint of Nestorius, God had no beginning and thus could not
have a literal 'mother.' Nestorius asserted that what Mary gave birth to was the man Jesus, but not the preexisting
Word from the Trinity. Instead, Nestorius preferred the term 'Mother of Christ' (Christotokos).
When reports of this reached Pope Cyril of the See of Alexandria, he acted quickly to correct this
breach with orthodoxy, requesting Nestorius to repent. When he would not, the Synod of Alexandria met in
an emergency session and a unanimous agreement was reached. Not only was Nestorius banned, but Cyril
also excommunicated
anyone who followed the teachings of Nestorius.
Alongside the Christological debate, other factors were to come into play in the controversy that
30 Published in Different Gospels, edited by Dr Andrew Walker, C.S. Lewis Centre (UK),1988
31 Much of this section has been taken from the Wikipaedia pages on the Internet.
would ensue, including a bitter political struggle between the supporters of the See of Alexandria and the See
of Antioch. The influence of the Emperor over the See of Constantinople and the patriarchal primacy of the
Pope were also affected.
Supporters of the title “theotokos,” including the Alexandrian bishop Cyril, countered that Nestorius
was actually denying the reality of the incarnation, asserting that he was making Jesus Christ into two
different persons, one human and one divine. The objection to the ideas of Nestorius stemmed from his
viewpoint that there is a divine essence and a human essence and that they are mutually exclusive. No union
between the human and divine was said to be possible. If such a union of human and divine occurred,
Nestorius believed that Christ could not truly be con-substantial with God and con-substantial with us human
beings because he can grow, mature, suffer and die (which he said God cannot do). He also would possess
the power of God that would separate him from being equal to human beings.
The Emperor, Theodosius II (401–450 CE) was eventually induced to convoke a general church
council, sited at Ephesus, which itself was a special seat for the veneration of Mary, and where the theotokos
formula was popular. (It was there where the Gospel caused a major confrontation around the idolatry around
the goddess Artemis, Acts 19:21ff). Cyril took charge of the Council of Ephesus in 431 CE, opening debate
before the long-overdue contingent of Eastern bishops from rival Antioch could arrive.
The council deposed Nestorius and declared him a heretic, without giving him an opportunity to
defend himself. The Emperor gave his support to the Archbishop of Constantinople, while Pope Celestine I
was in agreement with Cyril.
No Need to emphasise the Divinity of Jesus
There was no need at all to emphasise the divinity of Jesus at all by describing Mary as the bearer of God.
Apart from the images mentioned in Scripture (The Holy and Righteous one, the Bridegroom), Jesus
performed exceptional miracles, which displayed his divinity fairly clearly, e.g. quieting the storm (Mark
4:39). Above all, the Bible teaches clearly that Jesus could forgive sins. As Western Christians we may have
become so used to this fact. But certain scribes of Jesus’ day had a problem with this when Jesus said to a
paralytic after he had witnessed how four friends brought him to the Master lowering him through the roof:
‘Son, your sins are forgiven you.’ The Lord had divine knowledge to look into their hearts, discerning their
reasoning. He ordered the paralytic to arise, to take his bed and return home, making it clear to all and
sundry “... that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’ (Mark 2:812).
The Gnostics would not accept that God would allow a divine Jesus to suffer and even to die. Islam
was clearly also influenced by the Nestorians. Muhammad was reputed to have been influenced by the Syrian
monk Bahira and a certain Nestur. The Nestorians had problems to accept that God could be born as a baby.
God’s sovereignty would not allow Jesus with his divine nature to die according to this perception.
Nevertheless, the discussion kept a ball rolling because the divinity of Jesus was thus once again disputed.
This is part of the DocetistGnostic
background of Surah Nisaa (Women) 4:157, which intimates that God
took Jesus away before he could die.
Jesus displayed Divine Qualities
We note furthermore that Jesus displayed divine qualities, using ‘I am ...’ expressions which are more than
clear allusions to Yahweh, the great I am. Jesus described himself as the way, the truth and the life (John
14:6) and the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5). He displayed divine knowledge of a coin in a fish to pay for
the taxes of the disciples (Mt. 17:27).
In the book of Acts the apostles in
fact all the ‘NT’ writers implicitly
ascribe divinity to Jesus
when they refer to him with titles and descriptions like Creator, Lord, Christ and a few more. Some authors
have tried to suggest animosity between James and the Nazorean Christian community on the one hand and
the Pauline followers of Jesus on the other hand. This is highly artificial because in his epistle James speaks
twice about Jesus as the Lord and the Messiah (Christ) and in James 5:7, the author awaits the coming of the
Lord. The wording is no different than Pauline equivalents. The description of Peter’s encounter with the
Lord when
he was still a fisherman and not yet a disciple in Luke 5:7 led
to a similar discovery of Jesus as
Kurios, Lord. Peter was so aware of his sinful nature after he witnessed the extraordinary catch of fish
against all odds that he fell on his knees in adoration, ostensibly aware that he was in divine presence.
That Jesus was blameless, i.e. without sin (Surah Mariam 19:19), is not regarded as a characteristic
of divinity by some Muslims. Of no other person it has been reported that he was without sin. That Jesus
drove out demons and could perform miracles like driving fishes into a net was nevertheless further evidence
that He was more than merely a human. Some Islamic scholars deduced from Surah Imran 3:49 that Jesus
learned hidden matters from the beginning (Shorrosh, 1988:86). This led to the belief that he had special
knowledge, also of the unknown. Of course, the Bible also teaches this when the Lord told the Samaritan
woman that she had five men, after which she derived that he must be a prophet (John 4:18f)).
The prerogative of God in creation is recognised in Jesus when he fed five thousand from five loaves and two
fishes (Luke 9:1017),
four thousand on another occasion (Mark 8:19).
The prophecy of Isaiah of the virgin
who would give birth to the Immanuel, the God with us, is a Hebrew Scriptural confirmation of the divinity
of Jesus (Isaiah 7:14). Add to this the profound messianic prophecy Isaiah 9:6, which notes that the Child
which is to be born is also Mighty God. The Bible does furthermore mention things about Jesus, which could
not be said of any human, for example that to Him belongs all power in heaven and on earth and that he will
be the judge on judgement day. His claim to divinity may not have been explicit, but it comes to the fore in
many ways, for example in His own statement: I and the Father are one (John 10:30).
Jesus’ Resurrection a legend?
That the resurrection of Jesus is generally denied by Jews is well known – followed in this by Muslims –
sometimes on the most spurious grounds. It was not disputed in open debate in the first decade after the
event. In court there would have been no case any way, with the guards the
witnesses having
fallen asleep.
James Kennedy (1999:136) put it so succinctly: ‘In the entire history of jurisprudence there has never under any
circumstances been a witness who has been allowed to testify to what transpired while he was asleep.’ They had been
told: His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept (Matthew 28:14). What is furthermore
remarkable in the context of Jewish writings is that although Jesus’ resurrection has been consistently refuted
by Jewish scholars, one of their historians - the first century author Josephus - wrote in his report of the
Jewish War that 30 Romans and 1,000 Jews were posted as guards around his tomb. Even though it has been
suggested that these numbers might have been exaggerated, it is interesting that he as a Jew asks how the
body could have been stolen under the watchful eyes of so many.
The rhetoric of Peter included the claim of the Cross and the resurrection, only weeks after the event
(Acts 2:32). In the 19th century some Christian ‘historical critics’, writing a hundred or two hundred years
after the event, suggested that the resurrection was a legend,. This was of course eagerly repeated by all those
who opposed biblical faith. The advance of archaeology has however thoroughly silenced this criticism.
The Resurrection of Jesus as a Sign of Divinity
Jesus is the only person in history who died and rose again without finally dying a second time. This was
clearly regarded by His followers as a sure sign of His divinity. To testify openly to His resurrection was
politically dangerous because the rumour was spread by the religious leaders that his disciples had stolen his
body. In the court appearance of Peter and John shortly hereafter, the statement was repeated before the
Sanhedrin. No immediate refutation of the resurrection from the Jewish side was reported.
Although the different groups of first century Christians did differ on certain doctrinal issues like the
Law and circumcision, their faith in the resurrection of the Master was unanimous. It could even be argued
that the upheaval about the Law, circumcision, festivals and Sabbaths was just a demonic ploy of divide and
rule, a smokescreen to detract from the real issue, the Cross and the Resurrection. We note how secular
historians like the first century Jew Josephus wrote about the events as a matter of course: '...for on the third
day he appeared to them alive again, the inspired prophets having foretold this and countless other wonderful things
about him.'
The denial of the resurrection by Jewish religious leaders was taken over by Docetist heretics –
namely that it merely appeared so to the spectators.32
Is Jesus another God next to the Almighty?
32 In chapter 2 we discussed the ramblings around Docetism in greater detail
In spite of all this, the erroneous notion also surfaced that Jesus is another god next to God. On this score an
aspect of the doctrine of the Trinity could have assisted to avoid this misleading conception. The Arabic
expression ‘halaqa biidh’ (Jesus creates by favour of Allâh) offers a way out. It is unfortunate that some
Christians have a problem to concede this. As John Gilchrist (1988:211) states in this regard: ‘Some Christians
occasionally become dogmatic and say things that are beyond the teaching of our Scriptures.’ Jesus himself spoke of
the works that the Father has ‘granted me to accomplish’ (John 5:36, also John 14:10). On the other hand,
words like ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me’ (John 14:10) have led theologians to try and explain
the relationship. God would be the primus inter pares, the first among equals. All riddles are however not
solved with that statement. Due to the lack of a more suitable term that would be widely accepted the
that has been suggested, may not fall in this category we
may have to settle for the
moment with the notion that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity cannot be completely explained, and without
entering into theological debate around it. We will be treating this issue separately.
Names of Jesus
One of the most wonderful descriptions of the understanding of Jesus as divine is the one of the meek Lamb
on the one hand and the King of Kings in the same breath (Revelations 17:14). Klaus Koch showed that Paul’s
reference in 2 Timothy 3:8 to the two sorcerers Jannes and Jambres could be seen against the background of
the Targum Jonathan on Exodus 1:15, 7:11 and Numbers 22:22. In turn, this Targum refers to the dream of
the Pharaoh of a baby referring
to Moses who
is described as a meek lamb who would destroy Egypt. The
Gospel of Matthew for one saw Jesus as a second Moses.
Jesus is the fulfilment of the Messianic strain whereby David was a type – the Shepherd King. The
Messianic Isaiah 9:6 speaks of the child to be born as eternal Father and Prince of Peace. The Talmud and
Hebrew Scriptures are unanimous that the Almighty is our Father and our King. The ‘NT’ describes Jesus
as the crowned one in three different ways, namely a) The suffering King on Calvary, which is picked up by
the letter to the Hebrews b) the King of Glory through his suffering (2:9), and finally c) when Jesus will
return as the King of Kings. The kingdom of God, in Jesus’ teaching, involves the recognition of God’s
sovereignty and fatherhood. Related is the Tenach view of God as the shepherd of His people (Compare
Psalm 23, The Lord is my Shepherd...). John picks up the thread describing Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The
once returning Jesus is furthermore also described as the bridegroom in various ‘NT’ books. Yahweh as the
husband of His people is a common tenet of the Hebrew Scriptures (for example the book Hosea, Song of
Solomon, Ezekiel 16).
In the spiritual realm it is of no mean significance that a demonic spirit proclaimed Jesus as the Holy
one of God, i.e. the equivalent of the Messiah. As James (2:19) wrote about the unity of God even the
demons believe and tremble. By contrast, religious leaders of Jesus' day rejected him as the promised Messiah
(John 1:111).
Jesus described it as the unpardonable sin that the Pharisees asserted that he was demonically
inspired after he had healed and set a demonpossessed
man free from his bondage (Matthew 12:2237).
Sometimes Paul has been accused of deifying Jesus, e.g. by him calling Jesus that rock, But Jesus
himself also referred to him as such, a fulfilment of Psalm 118:22. And Paul did not even mention one of
Jesus’ miracles! The claim has strangely not been directed at John, the apostle, who clearly incorporated this
in His teaching. Papias, an early Christian writer who wrote a commentary on all the Gospels, made an
interesting distinction, referring to the synoptic Gospels as historic and the fourth Gospel as spiritual. In his
Gospel John, the apostle, cited various ‘I am’ expressions, which evidently angered Hebrew listeners
tremendously. Although Jesus never clearly claimed to be identical to God, these expressions ostensibly came
over to His audience as divine characteristics. They knew the Almighty after all to be the great ‘I am’.
It is nevertheless significant that the Qur’an (Surah Mariam 19:19 refers to Jesus as blameless, i.e.
without having committed any sin. Of no other prophet this is said in the sacred book of Islam.
4. The Almighty has no Son!
Jesus is not the physical son of God. Confusion came about in the 5th century through, caused by
Christian theologians. Jesus’ divinity – his being divine, i.e. equal to God was
taken as a point of departure
by the theologians. To emphasize the deity of Jesus at the Council at Ephesus in 431 AD they described the
mother of Jesus as theotokos, the Godbearer.
This led to her later being venerated and regarded as the 'Mother
of God'. Mary became known as the ‘Mother of God’ when she was honoured in the common daytoday
of the 5th century. From here it was only a minor step until some Christians understood under the Trinity:
God, the Father, Mother Mary and Jesus the Son. In this regard the Dutch theologian A.F.J. Klijn pointed to
the Semitic origin of the notion of the Holy Spirit to be feminine. This probably led to the (mis)conception of
the Trinity where mother Mary replaced the Holy Spirit as the third person. Ebionite Christianity rightly
objected against this concept which was nothing else than veiled polytheism. They understood that some
Christians believed in triism,
in three gods. This is the concept which the Qur’an opposes fiercely.
The words that He was the son of Mary, that He was ‘not begotten’ can be found repeatedly in the
sacred book of the Muslims. The misunderstanding is also behind the problem which the Qur’an encounters,
seeing Jesus as the Son of God. It is disputed that He is the walad of Allâh, the literal and physical son of
God. The Qur’an does not object to Jesus being the ibn, the figurative Son of God. Following from this it
was only logical that the arguably most well known verse of the ‘New Testament’, John 3:16, became
anathema to Jews and Muslims alike because the Greek word monogenes was widely translated as God’s
‘only begotten Son’. The intention of the word monogenes in the original text is better reflected if Jesus is
described as the unique Son of God. (The NIV translated it as one and only.)
Unfortunately some theologians meant to emphasise the fact that he was born in a human way and
not supernaturally conceived. The fact that a big sector of the Church did believe that he was uniquely born,
was almost completely ignored by these theologians, causing confusion for many centuries. Islam was
directly influenced, which is demonstrated by the fact that the Qur’an stresses repeatedly that Jesus was ‘not
begotten’. From here it followed that he was not the walad, the Son of God in the legal and literal sense.
Jesus as the uniquely born Son of God
The report of the brazen serpent in the desert (Numbers 21:4ff) is the background of Jesus’ reference in John
3:13-18.33Appropriately the Living Bible translates: ‘As Moses lifted up the image of the bronze serpent... so
I must be lifted up on a pole.’ John proceeds to describe Jesus in v. 16 as the uniquely born Son of God as
the basis for salvation for everyone who believes in Him. The Greek word, which he used - monogenes -
occurs only rarely in the New Testament. If one splits up the word monogenes one gets mono + genes,
which means one of a kind. Thus John 3:16 does not intend to emphasize at all that Jesus was born as the
biological son of God, but rather that God loved the world so much that he gave us His uniquely (one of a
kind) born Son. The Gospel of John intended to stress that Jesus was uniquely born and not that he was
especially begotten by the Virgin Mary. This is amplified by His use of the same word in John 1:14,
speaking of the Word which ‘became flesh and made his dwelling among us (as) the One and Only who
came from the Father.’
It is significant that the Septuagint, the Greek 3rd century B.C. translation of the OT, used this
word monogenes
Genesis 22:1 for Isaac, the one and only son of Abraham, although it was assumed
that Ishmael was still living. The early Christians obviously understood Isaac as the uniquely born son of
the aged Abraham and Sarah whose bodies were as good as dead (Romans 4:17). Hebrews 11:17 uses the
same adjective monogenes to stress that Isaac was the unique, one and only son of Abraham. This is the
proper translation of the Hebrew word ‘yachid’ for one in Genesis 22:1, which means an indivisible unity,
one who is unique. The verse speaks of Isaac as his monogenes, his unique son. This makes perfect sense
because Ishmael was still alive.
One of the most unique connections between the ‘Old’ and ‘New Testament’ is given in John 3:13
where Jesus alludes to Proverbs 30:4. In this way the Divine Sonship of Jesus is affirmed. Proverbs 30:4 says
‘Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? … Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is
His Son’s name, if you know?’ Quite strikingly Jesus gave the answer to the question, linking it with a
prophecy of his crucifixion. ‘No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaventhe
Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that
everyone who believes in him may have eternal life’ (John 3:1315).
33 It is strange but not surprising that the Qur’an - with its relatively big amount of material on Moses, plus its high
regard of Jesus - does not refer to this incident at all. Other pointers to the crucifixion of Jesus are likewise omitted
in the prime Islamic sacred book.
The Heir as the Son of Promise
Paul, the apostle, adds some interesting insights in his letter to the Galatians when he looks at Isaac as the
heir and as the ‘son of promise’, comparing this to Ishmael - the son by the slave woman. His belligerent
attitude in the epistle to the Galatians as a part of in his opposition to the Judaizers may have overstated his
case here and there as a relatively new believer, coming from Pharisee background.34 This would have been
typical of an epistle possibly ‘written hastily in the middle of a raging controversy’ (Drane, Paul, 1976:61).35 In
our present religious climate, tolerance and religious pluralism are often written in capital letters at the
expense of truth. Paul’s negative opinion about the Law unfortunately throws a shadow over Chapter 4 of the
letter to the Galatians. His Hellenistic upbringing in Tarsus however does account for relative insensitivity on
this score, along with his apparent lack of the emotive value of circumcision as a symbol of the Law for a
staunch Jew.
Paul’s speaking of the Law as a curse (Galatians 3:13) has however all too often been quoted out of
context, where he also states that Christ became a curse for us. Yet, Isaac as the ‘son of promise’ thus
probably came insufficiently into the light. His reference to a ‘Jerusalem above’ gives an interesting
eschatological (end-time) perspective. He equates the ‘Jerusalem below’ with Mount Sinai in Arabia
(Galatians 4:25). The specific mentioning of Arabia brings Judaism and Islam in close proximity as religions
of the Law. The ‘Jerusalem above’, which is free, is the ‘mother of us all.’ One is reminded of Hebrew 11:10
where Abraham is quoted as having expected a city of which God is the architect and builder.
The instruction to ‘cast out the bondwoman’ (4:27) becomes an invitation to challenge all sorts of
legalist bondage – also the type that we have in our churches, which we sometimes camouflage by calling it
tradition. This we do in the name of the Son of the Promise. Christ came to redeem both Jews and Gentiles,
including Muslims – giving to all and sundry the possibility of adoption as sons, as ‘children of promise’
(4:28). Jesus, our Lord, proclaimed that whosoever the Son sets free, is free indeed (John 8:36) and Paul
enjoined us not to get entangled again by the yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1).
Jesus as the figurative Son of God
There is no doubt that the ‘New Testament’ teaches clearly that Jesus is the figurative Son of God. But Jesus
did veil the Father’s identity from his enemies, not using the name God when he spoke to them. According to
the ‘New Testament’, even demons reckoned with Him as such. In fact, in the initial stages of His ministry
Jesus stopped them from proclaiming this message far and wide (Mark 5:8; 1:27, 33). Once again, the
bickering theologians caused simple believers and hence Muhammad and the Muslims, to stumble.
The concept of Jesus as the Son of God is not a peripheral but a central teaching of the ‘NT’. In the
Gospels Jesus referred to God as His Father no less than 185 times. In his first epistle John even uses the
tenet as a test of the Antichrist. Whoever does not believe in Jesus as the Son of God, reflects the spirit of the
Antichrist (1 John 2:22). Those who display the spirit of the Antichrist, such as those writers who contradict
the concept, have thus to be regarded as false prophets (1 John 4:1) according to the apostle.
God’s beloved Son
An Islamic notion is portrayed in excerpts of the secondary version of the Ebionite Gospel, namely that the
heavenly Christ has been created like an archangel. Epiphanius includes in his translation clear traces of
material borrowed from the Gospel according to Luke. This differs considerably from the beginning of
Matthew’s Gospel. Really surprising is the divergent account of the baptism of Jesus in the Ebionite Gospel.
There the voice from heaven is included twice, saying: This is my beloved Son. Almost in the same breath it
34 This phenomenon one can also discern with authors coming from Muslim background like Dr Mark Gabriel. The
earlier works, written in the early years after their conversion from Islam, tend to be much more polemic and
35 The topographical research of Sir William Ramsay of the beginning of the 20th century (St Paul the Traveller and
the Roman Citizen, 1920) has been generally accepted. He asserted that Paul was writing the epistle to the churches
in southern Galatia like Lystra, Derbe and Iconium. In his research on the life of Paul, John Drane pioneered in the
1970s, using these finds, to opine very convincingly that Galatians was written about 48 CE to the churches Paul had
visited on his first missionary journey.
says in whom the first time and the second time in Thee, followed by the common I am well pleased. This
represents quite interesting ‘mutilation’, because it is in a sense a synopsis of the accounts of the voice at
Jesus’ baptism and the transfiguration where the following different versions occur: with (in) him (Matthew
3:17; 17:5), with (in) Thee (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:23) and whom I have chosen (Luke 9:35). Mark 9:7. ‘This is
my beloved Son, listen to Him’ has no equivalent in the excerpt. Nevertheless, is it too conjectural to suspect
that the author of the Ebionite Gospel could have had all different versions in some written form at his
What it does portray however is that the oral tradition of the saying of the voice from heaven must
have circulated very widely, i.e. in spite of any problems on the part of some Ebionites to accept the divinity
of Jesus and his being the Son of God.
God as a Daddy
Quite universal is the Jewish understanding that God is Our Father and our King. The fatherhood of God was
no new concept for Jews at all, although the bulk of the Jews might still have had difficulty understanding
that the deity could have a son, as Proverbs 30:4 alludes to. The Essenic Teacher of Righteousness of
Qumran is however cited as having said: For in God we live, and move and have our being. In truth, we are his
sons, and he is our Father (Szkely, 1976:82).
Moses was not satisfied with God’s second best. After God had assured Moses that his presence
would accompany them, Moses’ insisting response was: ‘if your presence does not go with us, do not send
us up from here’ (Exodus 33:14).
In this way Moses is the definite foreshadow of Jesus who also had such an intimate relationship
with God as his heavenly father. He became the supreme example to the Jewish nation and to all of us to
regard the Holy One as “our Father... in heaven”.
The Lord went a big step further after the disciples’ requested the Lord to teach them how to pray.
They could address the Almighty, starting with ‘Our Father’. In fact, he also gave the model of speaking to
God intimately and affectionately, using the Aramaic abba. This would be the equivalent of daddy in our day
and age. Already as a 12yearold
child the things of the Father were the Lord Jesus’ top priority. He had to
be in the things of His daddy.
Jesus’ reply to the request of his mother at the wedding in Cana would sound almost rude in our ears:
‘Dear woman, why do you involve me?’ (John 2:4). It can only be properly understood from his complete
dependence on God as His Father. That is the absolute authority from which He would take his orders. In the
Garden of Gethsemane, in his darkest moment on earth, he pleaded thrice from his abba to take away the cup
that was destined to take him away from the intimate constant presence (Mark 14:36). Paul highlights in his
letter to the Romans how the Lord's death and resurrection enables the follower of Jesus to enter the throne
room of the Father in prayer, like little children running to their daddy. Through the ministry of the Holy
Spirit we can now speak to God as our abba, our daddy (Romans 5:1, 2; 8:15). This however does not give
licence for irreverence, to regard the Holy One as a buddy.
A Jewish midrash (teaching) points to the fact that Moses saw in his spirit that the time would come
when the Mishkan (the Ark, Sanctuary) would cease to exist and the Shekinah (divine presence and glory)
would dwell no more in Israel’s midst. ‘Moses was anxious to know by what means the sins of his people would
then be expiated. The Almighty vouchsafed the information that he would choose a righteous man from their midst and
make him a pledge for them and through him their sins would be forgiven’ (Rappoport, 1968:48). How remarkably
this points to the Messiah!
An intimate Relationship with the Almighty
The intimate relationship to the Almighty was also picked up by Paul in his letter to the Galatians. In a very
special verse which has a trinitarian ring to it, he referred to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of His Son – which
can take believers out of bondage and slavery to become heirs: ‘... God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son
into your hearts, crying Abba, Father. Wherefore you are no more a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an
heir of God through Christ (Galatians 4:6,7). Also Romans 8:15 refers to abba. There the Spirit of adoption
is mentioned, making all those led by the Holy Spirit to become adopted children of God. Keeping in mind
that Martin Lloyd Jones highlights in his exposition of this verse that the Holy Spirit, in convicting us of sin,
brings to light our own sinfulness and imperfection, giving us some impression of the holiness of God. It also
produces a ‘spirit of bondage’ and a ‘spirit of fear’. This should be good news to Muslims who possibly are
in general more open to the awesome holiness of the Almighty.36 It is neverthless sad that Waraqah bin
Naufal and other Christians of Muhammad’s day did not comprehend the depth of these truths, to pass it on.
Until today Islam is proud to be a religion where its adherents are slaves of Allâh. This amounts to
regression, not having heard that they can become sons and heirs through personal faith in Jesus, without
merit on the human side. They have possibly not heard or understood the special relationship into which
Jesus invited His disciples: ‘I no longer call you servants (or douloi, slaves), because a servant does not
know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends…’ (John 15:16).
Development of Rituals
A special ‘blessing’ was added in the ‘shema’, ‘Hear o Israel… the Lord is one’ (Deuteronomy 6:4), which
became the creed of Judaism. This became in due course the model for the Lord’s Prayer of Christians and
the Fatiha of Muslims. However, the Master surely never meant it to become a formal prayer which one
should use as a ritual. This unfortunately happened in the great medieval Church. Roman Catholics started to
recite the prayer using the Rosary,37 counting the number of ‘Our Fathers’ as an achievement. (This was
possibly the model for the 33bead
Islamic counterpart for the reciting of the 99 beautiful names of Allâh). In
many churches the Lord’s Prayer as
it became known is
regarded as a ritual for every church service,
often recited or sung without any thought about the content. On the other side of the pendulum, lack of
reverence for a sovereign God was an unfortunate reaction. The Lord’s Prayer reminds us of the loving
Father, but He is ‘in heaven’. The pendulum swung the other way among the ‘happy clappy’ part of
evangelicalism. The impression has been given in these circles that God becomes very close to a buddy. This
lack of reverence has made it sometimes very difficult for Muslims, Catholics and others who are not used to
the idea of a personal relationship to God, to come to faith in Jesus as their Saviour.
Rituals developed also around the socalled
sacraments. Using the Qumran sources, the German
theologian Klaus Berger (1994:76) pointed out how the ‘vereinmaligung’ (uniqueness) and ritualising of
metaphors used at Qumran were a part of the stages towards a baptismal doctrine. Similarly, what started as a
common meal, became the strongly ritualised Eucharist. That was the last meal Jesus had with his disciples.
He commanded the eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine to be a commemoration of his death
until He returns. This could not prevent that Christians were maligned and branded as cannibals – they were
eating ‘His flesh’ – or that a war of words around the Lord’s Supper would ensue in due course.38 Disunity
because of this harmed the Church tremendously, ultimately leading to splits. Certain Church practices must
be regarded as aberrations. The ritualistic tradition at the Eucharist that the remnant wine – not the bread may
not be thrown away, but drunk by the officiating priest could be rated as one of them.
These rituals seems to have no clear link to Islam. However, special value is attached to ‘holy water’,
that has been taken from the zamzam spring in Mecca where Hagar and her son Ishmael, it was said, were
supernaturally saved, after being sent away by Sarai.
36 Richard Lovelace definitely has a point that in the aftermath of the epoch of the utter depravity of man and the
divine wrath of the Reformation, the Rationalism went overboard in stressing the goodness of man and the goodness
of God. Thus even evangelicals took this notion on board, e.g. when the influential evangelist Dwight Moody put the
sentence God is love in the centre of his message.
37 The term denotes both a set of prayer beads and the devotional prayer itself, which combines vocal (or silent) prayer
and mediation. The prayers consist of repeated sequences of the Lord’s Prayer followed by ten praying of the 'Hail
Mary' and a single praying of ' Glory be to the Father'; each of these sequences is known as a tricade.
38 This happened e.g. during the Reformation when Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli differed fiercely whether the
elements were the real flesh and blood of Jesus or merely symbols.
5. Christians believe in three Gods!
The word went around that Christians of Muhammad’s day also believed in Tri-theism, in three gods. It was
known of the Christian Arabian sect of the Collyridians that they venerated Mary like a goddess. In the
biography of Ibn Hischam it it stated that Muhammad perceived that the Christians of Najran, who visited
him in Medina, were worshipping three gods. One wonders what image they had projected. He apparently
thought that they believed in Mary as a third god next to Jesus and the Father. Keeping this in mind, it is
fairly easy to comprehend why Muhammad had great difficulty understanding the concept of the Trinity.
Orthodox Christianity rightly objected to the concept of Tri-theism, which is nothing else than veiled
polytheism. The veneration of Mary – along with the efforts of theologians to explain the divinity of Jesus
and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity – caused a lot of confusion.
An interesting development is how the concept of the Trinity developed in the Middle East. The oral
tradition of the audible voice at the baptism of Jesus and the dove descending on Jesus must have circulated
very widely. This could have contributed greatly to the tenet of the Holy Trinity which has only limited
substantiation in Scripture itself. God, the Father, is of course the voice speaking at Jesus' baptism. This was
widely regarded as the crowning occasion of Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah. All four Gospels refer
to the dove as the visible demonstration of the Holy Spirit descending on the Son. In the fourth Gospel we
read how John the Baptist pointed to Jesus in the same context as the Lamb of God that takes away the sins
of the world (John 1:29,36). Attributes of multiple manifestations and functions of God can be found
throughout the Bible like truth (John 7:28, Revelation 3:7 and 1 John 5:6) and benevolence (Romans 2:4,
Ephesians 5:25 and Nehemiah 9:20).
Loss of Focus
It can be argued that the bickering around the doctrine of the Trinity was the prime issue where the Church
lost ground most of all. Jesus was very consistent to set before us the example of being focused and strategic.
More than once in
our thinking He
was bordering on rudeness, e.g. when a SyroPhoenician
Him. He replied that his first audience was the children of Israel. Paul gave us the example of good
missionary dialogue, e.g. when he reasoned on three Sabbaths with the Jews of Thessaloniki the bare
essentials of the faith from the Scriptures – the death and resurrection of Jesus without
getting involved in
peripheral issues. He was ‘explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again and
saying : ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is Christ’ (Acts 17:3). I regard the Trinity as a peripheral issue, a
matter of faith that can be proclaimed but about which it is not worthwhile to get into a heated debate.
A rigid monotheistic View of God
Judaism and Islam hold to a rigid monotheistic view of God which denies that He can be divided, thus
rejecting the Christian view of the Trinity. The ‘Shema’, the Jewish creedlike
prayer of Deuteronomy 6:4
‘Hear O Israel the Lord our God is one Lord’ is the foundation of Judaism and is interpreted to signify an
indivisible unity of God which rules out the possibility of Jesus being God incarnate, God becoming
flesh. Tahwid, the Islamic confession of the unity of God, is clearly derived from the Jewish root. The
Hebrew word for God ‘Elohim’ is a plural word (‘im’ is the masculine plural ending of Hebrew nouns).
In Genesis 1:26 and Isaiah 6:8 God speaks in plural form, ‘Let us make man in our image’ and ‘Who will
go for us?’
The Hebrew word for one in the ‘Shema’ is ‘echad’ which elsewhere in the Bible refers to a plural
unity: e.g. Genesis 2:24 refers to a man and a woman becoming one flesh, ‘basar echad’ in marriage.
They remain two people but become one through the marriage relationship. So also the Father, Son and
Holy Spirit are three persons, but one ‘echad’ in the Godhead. There is another Hebrew word ‘yachid’
which means an indivisible unity, one who is unique. This word is used in Zechariah 12:10 for ‘his only
son’, but it is not used of the Lord in Deuteronomy 6:4. If it were, we would have to concede that the
doctrine of the triune nature of God is impossible. The 13 principles of faith which were formulated by
Maimonides in the Middle Ages – writing in Arabic are
the basis of faith of modern Judaism. Here the
word ‘yachid’ is used to describe the unity of God. However, this was written long after the belief in
Jesus as Messiah had been proclaimed and in conscious opposition to Christian teaching.
One of the pillars of Islam is the Shahada, the confession that there is no other God than God, and
Muhammad is his prophet. At this juncture we are especially interested in the first part of the Islamic
creed. Christians (and Jews) have no problem with this because this is only another way of saying ‘Where
is a God other than the Lord and where is a rock other than God’ (Psalm 18:32 = II Samuel 22:32 or 1
Corinthians 8:4 ‘there is no God other than one.’ Christians should bear in mind that it is basically the
zeal of Muslims for God that provokes them to denounce any honour paid to Christ as blasphemy. In their
view this would make Him to be more than man.
Muhammad started out his ministry as a fight against all forms of pagan idolatry. Added to this
was the fact that the West Syrian monophysites of
which many later fled out of Mecca were
charged to
have stressed in a onesided
way the divinity of Christ. At the same time the Nestorians separated the two
natures the
divine and the human so
drastically that Christ became a sort of a temple in which God
lived temporarily. Qur’an sentences like ‘In blasphemy indeed are those that say that God is Christ...’
(Sura 5:19 and repeated in 5:175) and ‘Christ Jesus...was (no more than) an apostle of God’ (from Sura
4:171) should be understood against this background.
In the Qur’an, God (Allâh) is declared to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent (Surah AlAnaam
(Cattle) 6:59, Surah AlJazeera
( The pleading Woman) 58:3, Surah AlHadid
(the Iron) 57:3);
creator (Surah AlAnaam
(Cattle) 6:101); is perfect in all his works (Surah AlMulk
(The Sovereignty)
67:3); provides for all (Surah AlHijr
(The Rocky Tract) 15:20, Surah AlIsra
(The night Journey)
17:21,32); changes not (Surah AlFath
(Victory) 48:23); is the first and the last ( Surah AlHadid
Iron)57:3); forgiving (Surah Maida (The Table Spread) 5:98); mighty and wise (Surah AlMumtahina
(Examining Her) 60:7); the compassionate and the merciful (at the head of every Sura). All Christians
agree that these are divine characteristics. But Allâh is also misleading some (Surah Fatir (The Creator)
35:9, Surah ArRad
(The Thunder) 13:27), and has predestined every act, both good and bad (Surah Ash Shams
(The Sun) 91:8; Surah Ebrahim (Abraham) 14:4,32). This is contrary to the Bible, leading to a
fatalistic approach on the part of many Muslims. Many Surah’s refer to God’s compassion, but none speak
of God’s loving the undeserving, the unrighteous, whereas in the 'New Testament' we read 'While we were
yet sinners, Christ died for us…' (Romans 5:8). The German scholar Olaf Schumann (Der Christus der
Muslime, 1975) proposed that Muhammad was neither interested in the monophysite fusion of the two
natures of God nor in the Nestorian stressing of its independence, nor in opposing both views.
The Holy Trinity
The Christian viewpoint of the Trinity (Triunity
of God) is that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are coeternal
and coequal.
The Godhead consists of three personalities within the same substance of God. ‘In the
beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God’ (John 1:1). All three persons are at work in
creation, preservation and redemption. Isaiah 9:6 is a profound Messianic prophecy that supports the tenet
of a triune God. We note that the Child which is born, the Son given, is also Mighty God. He is also
divine. The government would one day rest on His shoulders. This speaks of a physical reign on earth,
e.g. during the millennium after His return to the earth as the King of Kings.
The Qur’anic doctrine of God is Unitarian (= God is not a Trinity, but only one entity). The
argument by Ahmed Deedat and others to use a mathematical equation, that 1+1 + 1 is not equal to 1, is
completely flawed. To give the Almighty 99 names is a rather poor attempt to rectify the inherent folly.
The Trinity has thus been maligned as a mathematical unity of addition, as opposed to the unity of created
life, even plant life, which is complex, even more complex than a mathematical unity of multiplication
(1x1= 1). To counter this with the multiplication equation that God is rather like 1 X 1 X 1 = 1, is still
limiting God. If we do want to use Mathematics, we should rather go for an exponential equation.39 This
would however still not capture the true character of God.
In the Hebrew Scripture the existence of the Holy Spirit is taken for granted but not defined. The
‘NT’ clearly sees the Holy Spirit as a person, more than merely a force. That the Holy Spirit is some
39 We should rather think of something in the direction of an exponential multiplication. This could even include any
number to the power of zero and 1 to the power of any number to infinity. All equals ONE. In Mathematics they
even came up with a method to work with unreal numbers like the square root of a negative number.
divine person is also implicitly taught. Thus Peter said to Ananias: Why has satan filled your heart to lie
to the Holy Spirit? (Acts 5:3). When shortly thereafter he says to Ananias: You have not lied to men but
to God, this implication becomes clear.
The second century North African theologian Tertullian became known for profound insights,
among other things about the Trinity. His adage that martyrdom is the seed of the church has been quoted
repeatedly. Yet, although there was so much persecution of Christians in Carthage during his lifetime, his
numerous writings still sadly have bequeathed ‘little of the public and external history of the North African
Church’ (Chadwick 1967:91).
Tertullian’s Disservice to the Church
Tertullian rendered the Church a disservice when he introduced the terms ‘trinitas’, ‘substantia’ and
‘personae’ his
effort to describe the Trinity, the nature of Christ and the different manifestations of God
in the Son and the Holy Spirit. His terse descriptions ‘one substance but three persons’ and‘two natures,
one person’, were nicesounding,
but they ushered in theological polemics. It is true that the early
Christians confessed both Christ and the Spirit to be Lord and there are indications of the equating of the
three ‘persons’ in the ‘NT’. Tertullian’s philosophical theologising which
centuries later Count
Zinzendorf was to describe aptly as ‘odium’, as bad smelling and against which Paul had been warning
(e.g. Colossians 2:8) – was not helpful. After the heretic Marcion – who was clearly outlawed by the
Church – Tertullian has possibly to be apportioned the lion’s share of the bickering that led to the Arian
controversy and later to the unfortunate quarrels around the formulation of the Holy Trinity. Taken from a
position of faith, the Trinitarian formulae had much clout, but they have little scriptural backing.
Ephesians 4:46
speaks of ‘one Spirit… one Lord … one God and Father of all.’ In 1 Corinthians 12: 46
Paul writes of the same Spirit, the same Lord and the same God. Peter chips in with his words ‘the
foreknowledge of God, the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of
the blood of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:2). Yet, that is perhaps too meagre a basis upon which to build the
whole doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
It is surely true that the Holy Spirit is much more than a force like electricity or the wind. But to
debate about its nature was unnecessary in my view. Against the advice of Paul to get involved in futile
philosophical arguments, Tertullian brought the element of loveless bickering into the equation like few
others before or after him. Jesus compared the Holy Spirit in the context of man to be born again with the
wind, something inexplicable.40 It blows where it wills, you cannot tell where it comes from or where it
goes to (John 3:8). The wind is a reality and yet one cannot explain it. Why did folk start to try and
explain inexplicable things, thereby merely causing confusion? I surmise that satan himself could have
been at work, because futile argumentation all too often leads to the lie via exaggeration and distortion.
And this almost invariably causes demonic division of the Body of Christ.
Theologians causing Confusion
Chadwick (1967:91) notes that Tertullian’s Apology does not merely include apologetic defence of the
Christian doctrine, but also ‘militant and trenchant attack on the corruption, irrationality, and political injustice of
polytheistic society.’ This could still get wide approval, but Chadwick goes on to highlight that every page of
Tertullian’s work ‘is written with the joy of inflicting discomfort on his adversaries for their error and
unreasonableness, but in such a manner as to embarrass his own friends and supporters.’
As we have seen, critics who opposed faith in unusual miracles stated that Jesus was born in a human
way,not supernaturally conceived. The fact that a significant sector of the Church did believe that he was
uniquely born, was almost completely obliterated when the theologians argued so vehemently. 1 Peter 1:1,2
gives some indication that the Trinitarian issue may have been discussed already in the first century: ‘To
God’s elect, strangers in the world, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,
through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ...’
The problem became acute when theologians tried to explain the Trinity. The efforts of capable Early
Church scholars like Irenaeus and Origen (184 -254 AD) were unfortunate, speaking of the Son and the Spirit
40 It is interesting that the same word in Greek, pneuma, denotes breath, wind and spirit. The breath of God brought life
to Adam. The Holy Spirit brings new spiritual breath for man to be born again.
as the ‘two hands’ of God. The so-called Cappadocian Church Fathers of the fourth century hardly changed
things for the better, using all sorts of learned words. When Sabellius, a Libyan priest who ministered in
Rome around AD 220, made a serious effort to explain how the Father suffered on the Cross, it was labelled
as Patripassianism (It is derived from Latin, and means ‘the father suffers.’ The name refers to the teaching
that God the Father suffers on the cross as Son — since the two are different modes of the same person. This
would happen in a form of modalism, the teaching that there is only one God, who appears in three different
modes (as opposed to the orthodox teaching that there is one God, who exists in three persons). In antiquity
divinity was generally assumed to be above human passions or weaknesses. The attributing of human
experience to the creator deity was considered to be wrong, when in stead this should be attributed to the
human nature of the incarnate Son. Tertullian deemed it necessary to oppose these notions, possibly going
overboard somewhat. Also of the Ebionites it was known that they discarded all passages that included
anthropomorphic expressions of God, i.e. attributing human characteristics to God. The end result of the
bickering was a lot of confusion.
Initially Muhammad was quite wary of theological quarrels. Following the hanifs, he thought that
Allâh was the only God, but at first he did not condemn the stone idols of the Ka’ba or the cult of the three
gharaniq, the daughters of Allâh. He understood his own role to be merely that of a warner. He should
approach the Quraysh humbly without attacking them. He thought that religious speculation tended to make
people quarrelsome, merely causing division. He must have passed this belief on quite firmly at this time
because the bickering of Christians was later given as a reason for the burning of variant readings (versions)
of the Qur’an by Uthman, the third Khalif.
The Unity of God
The Sabellians, the followers of Sabellius, believed in the unity of God. Sabellius stressed that the Holy
Trinity expressed three different states or relations, all forming but one substance, as a man consists of body
and soul. A special case of Gospel seed that has not been appreciated in the West is the exile of 5th century
bishop Nestorius, who put it quite strongly that it became an abomination to call Mary, as was the custom in
the church, the Mother of God. He was exiled to the Libyan oases, spending his last years in Cyrenaica
(Isichei, 1995:25). There he wrote a defence of his tragic life under a pseudonym. If he had written it under
his own name, it would have been condemned, unread. Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, maintained that
Christ had two distinct natures, divine and human, which acted in unity. The basis of the argument was later
used in attempts to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity like the same person can be a father, a son, a
husband and a brother simultaneously. Other arguments used would be the different functions within an
entity like the roots, stem, branches and leaves of a tree or something that has different manifestations. Thus
the same substance HO2 (water) can be vapour when it evaporates or ice when frozen. We will be looking at
the contribution of Nestorius in more detail.
Prelude to the Arian Controversy
We have seen that the belief in the divinity of Jesus was already a problem for Cerinthus in the first century.
Others like Marcion saw Jesus as the equal of an angel, a supernatural being. Sabellius was still very close
to the Bible when he suggested that Jesus was the manifestation of the Father (cf. John 10:30). When he
however confessed that God was in Christ, he was chastised as a heretic. The Church had started on a course
to anathemize (banish) and isolate uncomfortable theologians. The Dutch historian De Jong (1980:47)
suggests aptly: ‘het lukte de kerk beter, deze tegenstanders de mond te snoeren dan dat ze er al in slaagde een
werkelijk bijbelse belijdenis op te stellen.’41 This was especially tragic because the renowned church father
Tertullian (born ca. 150 ca.
led this church opposition against the ‘monarchians’ - as the followers
of Sabellius’ were called.
A Nadir of theological Discussion
In his Peter Ainslie Memorial guest lecture at Rhodes University in Grahamstown which he called Liberty
41 Translation: The Church succeeded to muzzle these opponents rather than formulate a real biblical confession.
and Unity, the British academic William Frend projected the Council of Serdica (343 CE)42 as a low point of
theological discussion, which could be seen as the forerunner
of the final schism between the Church of the
East and West. Hosius of Cordoba had a majority of 97 bishops to the Easterners’ seventysix.
This was
enough for the western Bishops to rule that Athanasius should be readmitted
forthwith and his accusers excommunicated.
A precedent was set to deal with dissident minorities. The Church was divided along
language lines – Latin was used in the West, Greek was the language of the Eastern Church).43
Western theologians committed themselves beforehand to the Creed of Nicaea although few had read
it. (Hilary of Poitiers conceded that he had not read it before he was exiled in 357 CE (Frend, 1964:9).
Mary became known as the ‘Mother of God’
Easterners came to the Council of Serdica (343 CE) to defend a theology based on religious and semipagan
cultural traditions whose origins could be found before the Christian era itself. No wonder that it has been
described as a fiasco. In the further development, Mary, the mother of Jesus, also became known as the
‘mother of God’ when she was venerated in the common day-to-day talk. Jesus’ divinity had been taken as
the point of departure. In the Essene Gospel of Peace that is regarded by scholars as fairly authentic - one
finds a ‘Trinity’ described as the heavenly Father from whom the Spirit is born; the earthly Mother, from
whom man is born and the Son of Man as the third entity. This was the cause of much confusion, over which
ultimately Muhammad would stumble.
On the other hand, the further discussion around the natures of Jesus, during which the Syrians and
Egyptians were charged with the heretical belief that Jesus' human nature had been entirely absorbed in the
divine, was divisive within the Bysantine Empire. Historians agree that this helped prepare the coming of
Christianity linked to ancient pagan Sun Worship.
There exists at least one example where Christianity was clearly linked to ancient pagan sun worship. In
Ephesus in Ionia (Turkey) there was a thriving church in the first centuries. In that city there was however
also the temple of Artemis which became one of the Seven Wonders of the World.44 Artemis, the 'Lady of
Ephesus', was worshipped primarily as a mother goddess in an ancient sanctuary. At this time the Babylonian
story of Semiramis with her child Tammuz in her arms was circulating throughout the Roman Empire with
different names. Israel had also been affected when Asherah, the wife of Baal, the fertility goddess, ruled as
the ‘queen of heaven’. Many a prophet warned against this idolatry (e.g. Jeremiah 44:1719).
The idol
worship of Artemis smoothly went over into veneration of Mary during the reign of Constantine as goddess
in the beginning of the 4th century. In 321 CE the Emperor with sympathies towards Christians who had
baptised people by force issued
a decree proclaiming Sunday as a free day – mixing sun worship with the
celebration of the Lord’s Day. The Jewish Sabbath was hereby effectively sidelined
along with all Jewish
Ephesus - a City of Contrasts
In Acts 19 it is reported how Ephesian metalsmiths – led by the silversmith Demetrius - felt threatened by
Paul’s preaching of biblical monotheism and against the prevalent idolatry. Demetrius incited the mob to riot
in defence of their goddess, shouting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”(Acts 19:28). Paul was saved by
the town clerk who succeeded in calming the rioting crowd.
Some compromise was evidently found hereafter. The idol worship of Artemis smoothly went over into
veneration of Mary during the reign of Constantine as goddess in the beginning of the 4th century. In 431 CE
42 The Bulgarian city of Serdica became the capital of Dacia Mediterranea. The city subsequently expanded for a
century and a half, which caused Constantine the Great to call it “my Rome”. In 343 A.D. the Council of Serdica
was held in a church in the city where the 6th century Church of St Sofia was later built.
43 Coptic seems to have become some sort of model where the rank and file folk would speak Arabic but Coptic was
the church language which survived for centuries in liturgy, just as Latin did in the Catholic Church across the globe
until recent times.
44 It was probably the best known centre of her worship except posibly for Delos.
the Council in Ephesus made it official – Mary was officially declared theotokos, the mother of God – after
the vain protests of Nestorius as we have seen in an earlier chapter. While the AD 431 Council was in
progress, John I of Antioch and the eastern bishops arrived. They were furious to hear that Nestorius had
already been condemned. They convened their own synod, at which Pope Cyril of Alexandria was deposed.
Both sides then appealed to the emperor Theodosius II, or rather to the imperial eunuchs who controlled him.
Initially the imperial government ordered both Nestorius and Cyril deposed and exiled. The dubious
compromise in Ephesus - Mary as the theotokos, the Mother of God - is still venerated in Roman
Nestorius exiled and wrongfully accused
In the following months, 17 bishops who supported Nestorius’ doctrine were removed from their sees.
Eventually the political position became so bad that John I of Antioch was obliged to abandon Nestorius in
March 433. On August 3, 435, Theodosius II, who had supported Nestorius’ appointment, bowed to the
influence of his sister Pulcheria in issuing an imperial edict that exiled Nestorius to a monastery in the Great
Oasis of Hibis in Egypt, securely within the diocese of Cyril. There he was at risk of attack by desert bandits,
and was injured in one such raid.
In East and West, Nestorius’ writings were burnt wherever they could be found. They survive mainly
in Syriac. The incident caused a split within the church, and led to the creation of separate Nestorian
churches that would flourish throughout the Middle East and central Asia.
Was Nestorius really a Nestorian?
After 1,500 years of Nestorius’ stigmatization as a heretic, a handwritten 16th century book containing a
Syriac copy of a text written by Nestorius, was discovered by American missionaries in 1895 in the library of
the Nestorian patriarch in the mountains at Konak, Hakkari, South Eastern Turkey. This book had suffered
damage during Muslim raids, but was substantially intact, and copies were taken secretly. The Syriac
translation had the title The Bazaar of Heracleides. The original 16th century manuscript was destroyed in
1915 during the Turkish massacres of Assyrian Christians. The Bazaar was written towards the end of
Nestorius’ life, and in it he explicitly denies the heresy for which he was condemned. Instead, he affirms
about Christ 'the same one is twofold' — an expression that some consider similar to the formulation of the
Council of Chalcedon, 451 CE. Nestorius’s earlier surviving writings, including his letter written in response
to Cyril’s charges against him, contain material that seems to support charges that he was teaching that Christ
had two persons. Thus, whether Nestorius was actually a Nestorian is still a matter of debate.
The Family of Allâh
The contact with Jews and Christians taught the Arabs the concept of a higher deity that they now came to
appreciate as being ‘unendlich höher als ihre ererbten Götter’ (much higher than their hereditary gods; (Buhl,
1930:96). Allâh became the Creator God (Surah 31:25), who created heaven and earth. The relationship to
the deity remained very superficial so that they would return to worshipping the gods of their ancestors out
of habit and material interest. (A similar situation is still found in communities where Muslims are in the
minority, e.g. South Africa. Converts from Islam often narrate how they would pray to Jesus or God (of the
Christians) – rather than to Allâh - when they were in trouble or need, perceiving that he would help rather
than the Muslim deity who remained distant and aloof.) 45
The religion practiced by the Nabataeans is of special interest for our study. The Quraish tribe, to which
Muhammad belonged, was known in Arabia as the family of Allâh. Naudé (1971:70) points to the possibility
that Allâh the
male deity of which Allât was the female was
the tribal god of the Quraish.46 He deduces
from the fact that Nabataean inscriptions from Sinai show a remarkable number of proper names beginning
with the article al – and seldomly found outside Sinai – that Allât
and Allâh
originated among the Arabs of
Sinai (1971:41). The Quraish tribe was dominant in Mecca in the sixth century when they abandoned their
45 This is especially striking because officially Islam propagates that the God of the Christians and Jews is identical to
46 Sales had cited already in 1734 that Dr. Pocock thought that Allâh and Allat were probably derived from the same
nomadic lifestyle.
The tribe gave their deity a place next to the deities of neighbouring tribes, notably AlUzza,
and Manat. Everywhere in Arabia the three goddesses were venerated fervently (Wellhausen,
1927:24). They were more important than all male gods with the exception of Allâh. We note that the three
goddesses all had their main place of worship near to Mecca. The sacred shrine of Allât
at Ta’if, a square
rock, covered by a cloth, is especially striking. The Aws and Chazgrag tribes ended their pilgrimage
ceremonies not in Mecca but in nearby Qudaid, a station on the route between Mecca and Medina.
The Nabatean Quraish
The Nabatean Quraish introduced Allâh from the North (Naudé, 1971:53). The time of this introduction can
be given fairly exactly. Allâh does hardly occur in the first Meccan period of the Qur’an where Rabb and alRahman
(Lord and the Compassionate respectively) were used as alternative proper names of the prime
deity. At this time Allâh was probably still connected with the worship of secondary divinities, as the preIslamic
Meccans did. AlRahman
signified the one unique God besides whom there is no other god, an idol.
Muhammad identified the prime deity of the Quraish with him, rejecting simultaneously the ‘associating’
(shirk) of Allâh with other gods. He also emulated the practice of the Jews to avoid using the name of the
deity. This apparently made a deep impression on the early Meccans ‘because it symbolised to them a
separation from the current Allâhworship
in Mecca’ (Naudé, 1971:77). Naudé furthermore points out that
il, the shortened form of ilah, was originally the ‘prime divinity of the Semites’ (Naudé, 1971:53). Because il
was the embodiment of the divine, the word il came to be applied to any god – to venerate him as a god.
According to Naudé the god il ‘disappeared from the Arab religion but revived among the Northern Arabs
with a new name: Allâh’ (Naudé, 1971:53). Rodwell (1953 [1909]:11) notes that Muhammad later carefully
recast his terminology. Later he apparently avoided the expression the Lord (Rabb) consciously – ‘probably
because it was applied by the Christians to Christ, or to God the Father’.
Some scholars (e.g. Arnold, 1859:21) have linked the Nabateans to the descendants of the biblical
Nebaioth, who was the eldest son of Ishmael. The Encyclopaedia Judaica (1996:739) negates this because
the two words stem from a different root, but concedes that there is a connection between Nabateans and
Arabs, noting further that ‘many Nabatean names of people and local deities are Arabic’. Various scholars, e.g.
Wellhausen (1927:25ff) mention Nabatean deities in the same context as that of the Quraish and Aus tribes.
These are exactly the tribes from which the first Muslims stem. Braun (2004:126), referring to the work of
Pines, points out that there was a lively Jewish Christianity in Babylonia, ‘in Nabatäa’, and possibly also in
the Hijaz next to the offical Judaism well into the 5th century. The advent of Islam is said to have swamped
the group. Ali, cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, reported that the Quraish were Nabateans (Naudé,
The Plurality of the Divinity
I am indebted to Samuel Levine, a Jewish scholar, for pointing to an aspect of the Hebrew word Elohim for the
plurality of the divinity. This contributes in my view much to a better understanding of the plurality of the
Almighty. ‘When the world seems to have a God of good and God of evil at the same time, there the Torah will use
Elohim. Thus, this name is used to refer to God as the God of justice’ (Levine, 1980:56). He went on to suggest that
Christians should not have stopped at the number three (for Trinity) in a certain context where six names for
God are used. Muslims indeed expanded this, giving 99 names to the Almighty. However, this would still put
an unacceptable limit on him. Interestingly, Muhammad Daud Rahbar was specifically touched by this aspect
of God, asking himself what truly divine justice should mean. He completed his doctoral dissertation at
Cambridge University on the ethical doctrine of the Qur’an, publishing it with the title God is Justice.
Subsequently he became a follower of Jesus, summarising his thoughts as follows in a Letter to Christian and
Muslim Friends: ?? (Cited in Nickel, 1999:44)
The carnal theological bickering in the course of the 4th and 5thcentury, has been aptly compared with
a circus. ‘The mania for argument went so far that… if the ‘Blues’ supported the two natures of Christ, the ‘Greens’
were bound to be Monophysite’ (DanielRops,
1959:129). What happened to sanity when monks of an entire
region would arm themselves, ‘marching to confront the government forces …because they find themselves in
disagreement with the emperor …on this or that characteristic of the three divine Persons’ (ibid, p. 129)? The seed of
retaliation was sown – the opposite of forgiveness that the Lord had taught. This had catastrophic
consequences in the subsequent centuries when the notion of just war could be abused for all sorts of religious
To repeat the gist of my argument: it was the theological bickering which started an unfortunate and
tragic cycle of persecution and violence with
the Donatists of North Africa even making a special virtue out
of martyrdom. (Nobody who had wilted under persecution was allowed to take an office in the church.) This
set off a new cycle of disunity which ultimately weakened the Church of North Africa to such an extent that
the Saracens were welcomed, Islam ushered in.
Divinity and Humanity in Unity
If we have stated that the Trinity is only a weak attempt to describe the relationship between the three
enumerable and discernable persons of the Godhead, one way is to have a look at reported instances where
they operated in concert. The two opposite human emotions of intense grief and extreme joy could be a
starting point. In Matthew 14:13 we read how the decapitation of his relative, his cousin John the baptist, was
reported to Jesus. Surely filled with grief, he set out to retreat to a lonely place. The word was leaked so that
he found a crowd of people with multiple needs waiting there on him. A mere human being would have been
hard pressed to send them away. But the divinity of our Lord shone through when we read how ‘his heart was
filled with pity’ (v.14). He proceeded to heal many, evidently in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Luke 10 we read about the joy of Jesus in a concrete situation, how he was ‘filled with joy by the
Holy Spirit’. This follows the radiant reports of the 70 odd disciples narrating how the healed the sick in the
name of the Lord and even saw people liberated from the influence of demonic powers: “Lord, even the
demons obeyed us when we gave them a command in your name!” Jesus’ immediate response was addressing
the Father in thanks and praise: ‘Father, I thank you because you have shown to the unlearned what you have
hidden from the wise and learned. Yes Father, this was how you wanted it to happen’ (Luke 10: 21). The
trinitarian approach is in this way a simultaneous reproach to any intellectual explanation of the Trinity. A
trinitarian content is packaged in these sentences. Simultaneously, this is a reproach to any intellectual
explanation of the Trinity.
The Beginning of Highhandedness
of Church Officials
The action against the Sabellians could however possibly also be regarded as the beginning of highhandedness
of church officials. The Church grew in stature very much in North Africa, where Carthage and
Alexandria were soon major centres of Christianity. Devout Libyan followers of Jesus with great piety came
to the fore with profound insights.
Arius argued in 318 AD that the Son of God is the first and highest created being, but not divine in
nature. He was opposing an unbiblical onesided
philosophical premise seeing God as only immutable,
impassable and transcendent. The Logos (the Word) was begotten, and thus it must have had a beginning,
even if that beginning was inconceivably remote. He deduced that Jesus could thus not be fully God. Jesus
did however receive divine honour as reward for his voluntary obedience on earth.
Arius was and is still reviled, because he has been describing the Son as subservient to the Father in
a polemic way. His loud protest in the midst of the congregation (Ferguson, 1990:93), which spawned the
conflict, was obviously ‘unforgivable’. His Apologeticum (197 AD) was very much needed, a fiery plea on
behalf of the Christians (De Jong, 1980:43), but it also set the tone for heated polemics with the pen.
The conflict, which followed the teachings of Arius, put everything else prior to that in the shade.
Arius’ bishop regarded his notion as tantamount to nullifying the Gospel. At an Egyptian Synod in AD 320,
Arius was condemned, but many bishops in other places continued to support him. The famous synod at
Nicaea in AD 325 tried to solve the problem, but created at least a few more in the process. Emphasizing
concepts like ‘only begotten’ and describing the persons of the Trinity as being ‘consubstantial’, the creed
actually clouded the Unity of God. In his guest lecture which he called Liberty and Unity (Peter Ainslie
Memorial lecture at Rhodes University, Grahamstown on 13 August 1964) the British academic William
Frend made the telling point that a single letter involved considerable differences of belief referring
to the
two natures of Jesus Christ. The Nicene homoousios
means of the same substance. The other word was
which meant of like substance. In the same lecture Professor Frend points also to the carnal
nature of the conflict at the Council of Serdica (343 CE) which he describes as ‘a complete fiasco’, coming
only a few years after the death of Constantine, the Great, in 337 CE.
Germination of the Seed of ecclesiastical High-handedness
The seed of ecclesiastical high-handedness germinated in the 5th century, notably during the so-called
Pelagian controversy. The Irishman Pelagius was completely misrepresented after his North African friend
Celestius had distorted his views. Initally Augustine treated Pelagius with respect, but venom began to be
injected into the controversy by the behaviour of Jerome. Pelagius was unwise to criticize Jerome’s
commentary of the epistle to the Ephesians. Jerome retorted in a very uncharitable manner, calling Pelagius
‘a corpulent dog, weighed down with Scottish (i.e. Irish) porridge’. Pelagius was ultimately declared a heretic in
451 CE, merely because he had problems with the doctrine of original sin. He thought that the doctrine was
leading to fatalism and nullifying the call to repentance simultaneously. Unwittingly, he possibly paved the
way for the Islamic doctrine which disallows the concept of original sin.
It is striking that variant teachings and bickering also occurred in Islam. The infighting
Christians came through strongly enough for Uthmann, the third khalif to command that only one version of
the Qur’an was to be carefully retained and copied. All other variations (officially readings) were to be
destroyed, burnt. The reason given for this line of action was to prevent a situation like those of the
quarreling Christians.
Tawid, the Unity of God and the denial of Jesus as the Son of God were two tenets of Islam that
clearly have their roots in the related theology. An interesting feature of tawid is the variation among the
Nusairians (Alwadides) that could be regarded as an early sect of the Shiite Muslim grouping. In their
doctrine the Nusairians professed: ‘There is no other God but Ali, the son of Abu Talib’. He is above all an almighty
God. In their socalled
Catechism he is also praised as the Creator of Man’ (Müller, 1967:62). Sometimes the
doctrine of Islam and Christian faith intermingled. This happened e.g. when the Nusairians came up with
their own version of the Trinity. Thus one can read: ‘Muhammad went forth from Ali’s light, proceeding to let
Salman emanate from him so that the three combine into a solitary trinitarian divinity and here on earth only separated
by their earthly manifestations as Ali, Muhammad and Salman’ (Müller, 1967:63). Klaus Müller, a German scholar,
quotes Salisbury: ‘And these three are their Most Holy Trinity, Ali being the Father, Muhammad the Son, and Salman
the Holy Spirit.’?47
47 Salisbury E.E., The Book of Sulaiman’s First Ripe Fruit, disclosing the Mysteries of the Nusairian Religion, by
Sulaiman Effendi of Adhanah. In: Journal of the American Oriental Society, 8 (1866), p. 247
6. Westerners believe only in rational Matters!
In the Western world we tend to discount all irrational features. It is now however clear that through
the age of ‘enlightenment’ we have have thrown away quite a few proverbial babies with the bath water. We
have no problems to find ways in Mathematics to handle ‘irrational’ numbers (even though this is derived
from ratio as a fraction and has nothing to do with the mind) and even unreal numbers. We accept that there
are mathematical dimensions above the three that we can visualise, adding time possibly as a fourth
comprehensible dimension. In recent decades we have discovered that we have gone overboard although
scientifically untenable notions like the theory of evolution are still taught at schools and universities. Jesus
was in this regard obviously much nearer to the ultimate truth in his acceptance of angels, demons, heaven
and hell, all notions which liberal theology have been discarding. In this respect Islam is obviously closer to
the Bible than modern liberal theology.
In Islam the belief in angels belong to the core of the religion. Whoever denies them is regarded as
an infidel. The religion acknowledges four archangels, viz. Jibril, the messenger of revelation, Mika’il, the
guardian of the Jews, Israfil, the angel summoning to resurrection, and Izra’il, the messenger of death. Then
there is an indefinite number of ordinary angels. They are created of light, do not eat or drink or reproduce
their species, and are characterized by absolute obedience to the will of God. Two recording angels attend on
every man; the one on his right shoulder records his good deeds, and the angel on the left one his sins (Surah
50:17, 18). Muhammad Ali calls them respectively an ‘associate angel’ and an ‘associate devil.’ There are also
two angels called Munakr and Nakir, who visit every newly buried corpse in the grave.
Angels and Jinn Islamic tradition passes on that between angels and men there are also a multitude of
supernatural beings called jinn. These created beings are capable of both belief and unbelief. The
disbelieving jinn were turned out of the first three heavens when Jesus was born, and thrusted from the last
four heavens when Muhammad was born. The jinn often appear as animals, reptiles, etc., or in human form.
Frequently a human being will be ‘possessed’ by one of them – as all poets and soothsayers were held to be.
The devil (Iblis or al-Shaytan) is regarded as a fallen angel or jinn who disobeyed God’s command to the
angels. He is now the arch-tempter of man and the producer of the shaytans and all evil jinn. Macdonald
(1909: 26) came to the conclusion that ‘the Jinn and the devils have been hopelessly confused in Islam and we can
never be sure whether with the word shaytan (devil) an Arabic writer means the personal evil spirit borrowed from
Christianity and Judaism or merely a malignant member of the Jinn.’ This conclusion must be described as rash
and uninformed. Muhammad Ali (The Religion of Islam, 189ff) explains that the concept of jinn was one that
Islam inherited from its pagan roots. Jinn is used in the Qur’an in two senses: a) A certain class of beings,
said to be fire from its original understanding, that cannot be perceived with the senses. b) Men of a certain
class. In respect of the first sense, one finds the devil speaking in Surah A'raf 7:12, ‘He (Allâh) said: What
hindered thee that thou didst not fall prostrate when I bade thee? (Iblis) said: I am better than him. Thou
createst me from fire while him (Adam). Thou didst create of mud.’ Surah Falaq 114: 4-6 described the
function of these beings, viz. that of exiting evil passions or low desires: 'From the mischief of the Whisperer
(of Evil), who withdraws (after his whisper), who whispers into the hearts of Mankind among Jinns and
among men.' In the second category jinn can refer in the Qur’an to men of a certain class, especially the
leaders of evil. This use one finds also in other languages e.g. ‘dare devil’ in English. This might have caused
the confusion of which Macdonald speaks, viz. that jinn have been used in pre-Islamic poetry to denote great
or brave men (Ali, ibid p.189). In Islamic tradition the Angel Gabriel (Jibril) appears repeatedly to the
prophets, beginning with Adam, to whom he gave consolation after the Fall, taught the letters of the alphabet
and the skills of working in the world (Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1989: 136).48 In this chapter we shall
also look at various aspects of the beginnings of the Qur’anic revelations and the effects on Muhammad. The
Western mind tends to discount any features, which have a tangent with the legendary or mythical. It is
sometimes difficult to put aside one’s prejudice in this regard, e.g. when an author like Martin Lings
(1983:34) uncritically quotes the slave Maysarah, whose credentials are suspect because of her obvious
48 Judaism has a parallel. Gabriel is said to have taught Joseph seventy languages.
biased hero-worship: ‘the heat was strangely unoppressive, and one day towards noon it was given to him to have a
brief but clear vision of two angels shading Muhammad from the sun’s rays.’ Yet, Sprenger (1851: 98) also quotes
this tradition, which apparently played a role in Khadijah’s choice of Muhammad as a possible spouse. After
Khadijah had told her cousin Waraqah about the two angels who were shading Muhammad from the sun’s
rays, the priest reportedly answered 'he will be the prophet of this nation'; and on this assurance she married
him. Ibn Ishaq’s version (1978:82) is terse, mentioning that after Maysarah narrated the story of the two
angels to Khadijah, ‘she sent for the apostle of God’. Without any ado, she praised his good character and
trustworthiness. Then she proposed marriage.
Men in white Raiment
Ibn Ishaq (1967: 72) wrote in his biography about the perception of Muhammad as a child that ‘two men in
white raiment’ threw him to the ground, opened his belly ‘and searched therein for I know not what’. This opening
and the purifying thereafter was later understood to have been executed by Jibril and Mika’il. When his
mother Amina was asked whether she feared that a demon possessed him, she answered in the affirmative.
Some doubts about the authenticity of these ‘angels’ are thus surely in place in this instance. It was suspected
that Muhammad had epileptic fits as a child. Arnold (1876: 43) mentions the ‘oldest and most faithful Moslem
biographers’ for this suspicion. Muslim biographers normally have few scruples to take these reports at face
value. Thus Siddiqui (1994: 45) has no problem to suggest that ‘the Prophet’s heart was purified by the angels’.
He goes on to see in the report ‘an Arabic version of the Psalmist’s prayer’, Create in me a clean heart, O Lord
(Psalm 51: 10).
The Beginnings of Muhammad’s Prophethood
The beginnings of the Qur’an are clearly linked to Muhammad’s call to prophethood. The figure of Jibril
(taken in Islamic parlance to be the angel Gabriel)49 features prominently with various traditions, albeit that
some of them are contradictory. This is easily explained by Muhammad’s confused state after the initial
appearance to him of the supernatural being (and the revelation) he later perceived to be the angel Gabriel
(cf. II Corinthians 12: 1ff. where Paul was unsure whether he had a physical experience).
According to Islamic tradition a supernatural being, which brought the first Qur’anic revelations in
the cave of Mount Hira, at first requested Muhammad to recite. The supernatural figure came to him ‘with a
coverlet of brocade on which was some writing.’ Illiterate to all intents and purposes, Muhammad twice protested
that he could not read the words on the cloth. This happened while Muhammad was asleep – thus similar to
the biblical prophet Daniel (8:18). When Muhammad could not recite, Jibril caught him (forcefully) and
pressed or choked him with the cloth so hard that he could not bear it any more, and this was repeated. Jibril
left Muhammad in a terribly shaken state there in the cave. Muhammad initially thought that the spirit was of
an evil origin. In another tradition, Muhammad narrated how he was wrapped firmly in the cloth by the
supernatural being which
he believed to have been the Angel Gabriel. He was throttled so much that he
thought he would die. Muhammad was hereafter very fearful of this figure that required him to ‘recite’. He
reportedly asked in desperation what he should recite. The Arabic word iqra was used, the word from which
Qur’an is derived. (The Islamic sacred book thus means something like ‘recitation’). According to Islamic
tradition Surah 96 (that has been named Iqra), was revealed, after Muhammad had feared that he would be
given the clothchoking
treatment again for a third time.
Some Western scholars doubt the possibility of an actual appearance of a supernatural being. Yet,
one of these, Sprenger (1851: 96), who described it as a dream, concludes: ‘If this dream was as momentous as
authentic traditions make it, it must have been the crisis, which caused Muhammad to seek for truth in the books of the
Jews and Christians.’
Angels appearing to Elkhasai
The Book of Elkhasai includes material which has parallels not only in the Bible, but also in the Qur’an. The
reputable Nöldeke (I, 1961 (1906:8) saw Muslims as very near to the Elkhasaites. Although the person
behind the book cannot be traced historically, a golden thread can be discerned, going through the centuries
as a precursor of people to whom some angel appeared. The Elkhasaites believed that their founder received
a special revelation of God in a book delivered by an angel. Centuries later the Latter Day Saints believed
49 Due to significant differences between Jibril and biblical angels, I refer consistently to the Islamic supernatural
figure as Jibril.
that Joseph Smith received the Book of Mormon supernaturally, likewise
delivered by an angel. Muhammad
of course is also perceived to have received his revelations by the Angel Gabriel supernaturally. Elkhasai if
we assume for argument’s sake that this was his name circulated
a document among the Jewish Christians
with the view to winning their full allegiance. In this document he related how there appeared to him two
huge figures facing each other, a male and a female. Elkhasai understood the male to be the Son of God and
the female the Holy Spirit. He took care to represent the vision as a token of God’s approval of himself and
his work, stating that these beings are normally invisible to man and had only revealed themselves by way of
Elkhasai was not a learned man. ‘The extant fragments of his book demonstrate not the slightest evidence
of his having studied the Jewish Scriptures.’ The theory goes that ‘the prophet uttered his oracles, commandments,
decisions etc., which were then written down upon separate sheets and entrusted among his followers…’ (Brandt in
Hastings, Vol. 5:263). Also in this regard he displays a remarkable similarity with Muhammad, whose
revelations were written down on sheets after his death. Elkhasai was satisfied that he was one of those who
could receive instruction and revelation from the heavenly messenger. His remarkable name meaning ‘hidden
power’ denotes something else, viz. that he was an incarnation of the eternal ‘Christ’ (Andrae, 1971:141). He
required his adherents to practise circumcision and to live according to the Jewish Law.
Interesting is also the supposed origin of the Book of Elkhasai and the beginning of it: The
Elkhasaite missionaries with whom Origen was acquainted are said to have held that it fell from heaven.
According to another copy of the book there was inserted by Albiades immediately before the text that a
gigantic angel 24 schoinoi in height (96 Roman miles) and 6 in breadth revealed it to Elkhasai. A few
centuries later Muhammad had similar perceptions about the revelations which he received from Jibril
7. Atonement through the Blood of a Person?
It is appropriate at this stage to take a look at a few examples from the Pentateuch to see how the atoning
death of Jesus had been divinely foreshadowed.
No clear reason is given in Scripture why the sacrifice of
Abel was acceptable and that of Cain rejected. A logical explanation would be that the sacrifice of Cain was
based on his own sweat, his own effort. Abel's blood was shed in line with Hebrews 9:22, which states very
pointedly: there is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood.
Atonement instead of Vengeance
For the Western mindset,
the bloody idea of slaughtering an innocent lamb might be abhorrent and difficult
to fathom. Nevertheless, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, who was evidently very knowledgeable of the
Jewish mindset,
gives us some insight of the foreshadowing
towards Christ. The Living Bible gives a very
interesting paraphrase of Hebrews 12:24 and to Jesus himself, who has brought us his wonderful new
agreement; and to the sprinkled blood which graciously forgives instead of crying out for vengeance.
The blood on the door posts of the Israelites which saved them on the occasion of the exodus out of
Egypt (Exodus 12:7ff) is a clear pointer to the idea of redemption. Let us now examine an example from the
Torah to which we could agree as common ground with Muslims and Jews. The aspect of atonement is very
central to the Scriptures of Christianity and Judaism. At the Jewish commemoration of the Passover the
youngest son in the family is expected during the Seder meal to remind everybody present of the exodus from
Egypt when a lamb had to be slaughtered.
In the report of the flight out of Egypt the lamb to be slaughtered had to be without blemish. The
letter to the Hebrews especially reminds us as Christians about this fact. Up to this day Muslims take great
care that any animal to be used as a sacrifice in Korban must be perfect.
The same concept of the innocent suffering for the sins of others was depicted on the Day of
Atonement: the sins of the people were put on the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:21). Also, in the same context
Aaron, the high priest, makes atonement for the people. Sinners need someone else, a mediator, to atone for
their sins. According to the ‘NT’ in general, and the Epistle to the Hebrews in particular, Jesus is this
mediator. He is simultaneously seen as the high priest and the slaughtered animal. If we follow the
exhortation of 1 John 1:9 to confess our sins, we may expect to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus which
really purifies in a supernatural way; we can start anew. In fact, in the same context John writes: and the
blood of Jesus, the Son of God, purifies of all sin (1 John 1:7).
Forgiveness via Atonement
The doctrine of forgiveness through the two goats on the Day of Atonement pointed clearly to ‘the Lamb of
God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ In the words of the letter to the Hebrews - looking back at the
Calvary event– ‘Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people’ (Hebrews 9:28). The
sacrifice of the two goats combined to be a sin offering. Aaron, the High Priest, had to confess the sins of the
people over the head of the scapegoat that is then sent into the wilderness. The slain goat showed that
perfect atonement was made to God for the sin of the high priest and the sins of the people were put on the
sondebok; the (e)scapegoat pointed to the perfect pardon granted as it was sent into the desert. In Jesus, the
perfect Lamb of God, the two goats are combined, allowing those who believe in Him to go free. The
prophecy of Isaiah 53:6 was fulfilled in this way: ‘The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.’
The book of Leviticus emphasises emphatically that ‘The life of the flesh is in the blood… it is the
blood that makes atonement by reason of the life’ (Leviticus 17:11). The sacrifice was actually altogether out
of proportion to the need – two goats for the whole congregation for a whole year. It has been pointed out
that it was purposely put out of proportion in this way, to show that the whole system was temporary and
typical. No animal, no mere man, not even an angel could atone for sin. In this way ‘God was reconciling the
world to himself in Christ’ (2 Corinthians 5:19).
The Death of Jesus divinely foreshadowed
The sacrificial system that is so intimately connected to Moses and the Torah is a type and foreshadow of the
redemptive death of Christ. By offering the sacrifices ordained by God, one was able to obtain forgiveness
from sin through the death of a substitute life.
God gave the instruction in Numbers 19:2 that a red heifer without any blemish, which had not been
yoked before, had to be used. We note that the ashes of the heifer serve as a source for the removal
(purification) of sin (v.9). It has universal connotations when one reads: ‘This will be a lasting ordinance
both for the Israelites and for the aliens living among them’ (v.10). Paul highlights the connection in
Colossians 1:20 where he states that peace with God is achieved through the blood of Jesus. John the Baptist
and the author of the book of Revelations called Jesus the Lamb of God.
Strikingly, the incident of the red heifer is linked to the separation of the account of the water of
separation – God’s wonderful provision for cleansing of the defilement contracted in daily life. The cleansing
was effected by the water that was mingled with the ashes of the red heifer, rendered as a sin offering. Thus it
was an offering based upon atonement, ‘a foreshadowing of the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses (i.e. goes on
cleansing) from all sin those who are walking in the light (1 John 1:7, Hodgkin 1979:32).
In the case of the heifer, not only is the colour striking, but also the fact that it was not yoked before.
The ass, on which Jesus entered Jerusalem, comes to mind. That ass was one that had not been ridden before,
pointing to Jesus as the unblemished Lamb of God. Arthur Glass, who comes from a Jewish background, has
shown that Isaiah 62:11 includes the root of the Jewish name for Jesus (Yeshua). This is the parallel text to
Zechariah 9:9 (Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion…) which Matthew, the evangelist, saw as the prophecy
pointing to Jesus entering Jeruslame on an ass. Isaiah 62:11 could thus be translated: ‘Behold Yahweh has
proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say you to the daughter of Zion, behold thy Yeshua (Jesus) cometh...’50
We contrast the above with what the Qur’an mentions about the heifer to be used as a sacrifice. In
Surah Al-Baqara (The Cow) 2:67-71 a whole discussion is recorded about the heifer to be used as a sacrifice.
This context does mention some similarities with the above: ‘a heifer not trained to till the soil or water the
fields; sound and without blemish’. Two clear differences emerge with the biblical reference. The Qur’an
quotes Moses as saying that the animal had to be ‘a fawn-coloured heifer, pure and rich in tone’ and that
‘they offered her ... not with good-will.’ Thus the biblical heifer that was given voluntarily is contradicted as
well as the colour red.51
Moses, the Intercessor and Mediator
Moses was not only concerned about himself. He felt himself fully responsible for the people who were put
under his care. What was very special about him is that he was also gravely concerned about the honour of
Moses pleaded passionately and successfully with God - after he had heard that the Israelites had
worshipped an idol. Like no one else before or after him until Jesus came, Moses mediated between God
and his people. Thus he became also a precursor of our Lord. I Timothy 2:5 speaks of ‘one mediator between
God and men, the man Jesus Christ’. The letter to the Hebrews looks at his mediator role from different
angles: the superior ministry of Jesus, of which he is the mediator (8:6); the reason of his mediation is to
cleanse our consciences from actions that lead to death (9:14,15). Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant
(12:24).When Moses saw the golden calf and the dancing, he could easily identify with God’s anger. In a
rage he smashed the tablets with the commandments. Finally, he put his own salvation on the line in his
prayer: ‘Forgive them their sin... if not, blot me out of your book’ (Exodus 32:32). Moses’ intercession on
their behalf considerably reduced the punishment. Jesus was temporarily ‘blotted out’, when he became sin
for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), taking the penalty of our sin. He finally had to experience being forsaken by God
his Father.
In a way similar to Moses’ debating with God, we read how Jesus wrestled in the Garden of
Gethsemane, identifying himself with the sins of the world. This was not paid for by silver or gold, but
50 Mentioned in a brochure by Arthur Glass, published by the Evangelical Mission Press, Bellville, called Yeshua in
the Tenach. The Hebrew Bible is also known by its acronym, Tenach or Tanakh – Torah, Nevi’im, K’tuvim. In
English they are known as the Law or Pentateuch, Prophets and Sacred Writings.
51 We read in Jeremiah 10:9 about idols being dressed up by the craftsman and goldsmith in blue and purple. It
happens immediately after the Almighty is described as King of the nations (v.8). The inference is clear: the colours
suggest an imitation of his divine royalty.
through the precious blood of His one and only Son (1 Peter 1:19).
Jesus was required to empty the cup in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the socalled
prayer Jesus interceded passionately not only for his disciples but also for those who would believe in Him
through their testimony. In the same prayer he prayed prophetically, also for the divided Church of the 20th
century, ‘that they may be one... that they may be brought to complete unity’ (John 17:21,23). The same
evening at the Passover Supper with his disciples, he said: ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood which
is poured out for you’ (Luke 22:20), shed for many for the remission of sins.
Interesting is how a midrash (teaching) depicts Moses as a forerunner of the Messiah: ‘To Moses He
gave God’s rod and upon the head of the Messiah he placed His own crown’ (Exodus Rabba 8). Another midrash
(Eccles. 1) states that ‘Moses, the first redeemer, who rode on an ass, gave the Israelites manna for food, and brought
up the water. Messiah will be seen riding on an ass (Zechariah 9:9). He shall bring down manna from on high (Psalm
70:16) and cause the rivers of Judah to flow with water (Joel 4:18)’. (Also the midrash Song of Songs 1 highlights
the Zechariah prophecy as Messianic).
Atonement via Repentance and good Deeds
In Islam repentance and good deeds coupled
with Allâh’s sovereign mercy and forgiveness bring
atonement. Islam does however possess the element of a ransom through the blood of a slaughtered animal
with an atoning function. This is for example illustrated in the ritual of Korban, the sheep slaughtering, when
a washing movement across the face is performed. At the main annual Muslim celebration, Eid ulAdha,
animals – preferably sheep are
sacrificed to remind the participants of the sacrifice of Abraham. This
comes very close to Hebrews 9:22, which states very pointedly: there is no remission of sins without the
shedding of blood. The proximity to the ‘NT’ is compounded by the practice of searching for a perfect
animal for Korban. In 1 Peter 1:19 the apostle highlighted that the believer has been redeemed with precious
blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.
Bible believing Christians see Jesus as the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world
(John 1:29, 36). The Bible (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:22) and the Qur’an (Surah Mariam 19:19) recognize
that Jesus was the only person who never sinned. Judaism has a major problem to accept that a human
sacrifice was needed as atonement, to appease the wrath of God.
Peter and Paul, who were both steeped in the Torah, saw the aspect of atonement behind the death of
Jesus. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:18,19 how this was a ransom, how we were bought free from the slavery of sin
and Paul noted that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Paul furthermore reminded
Christians that the Lord’s Supper should be a commemoration of Jesus’ death and that in Him we have
redemption and the forgiveness of sins (1 Corinthians 11:24; Colossians 1:14). ‘NT’ writers are unanimous
with regard to the atoning blood of Jesus, shed on the Cross of Calvary. But also the average Jew understood
that there was life in the blood. Also John saw it as such, adding the attainment of eternal life to it, for
example John 3:16. Appropriately the Living Bible translates in 1 John 4:9 that God showed how much he
loved us by sending his one and only Son into this wicked world to bring to us eternal life through his death.
Simultaneously, this also serves as a correction to the tradition of the forefathers,
which brought over the
idea that one could earn one’s way to heaven through good works. The latter notion is still alive in Islam (and
in many churches) namely that good deeds can appease the wrath of God.
Indulgences have been a variation on the theme of good works. In this setup
the atoning blood of
Jesus does not come into play. Pope John Paul II warned against the temptation to think of indulgences as
automatic mechanisms, as if they were ‘things.’ ‘ It is not a question of rituals that automatically confer forgiveness
or conversion; they require a total interior attitude and a way of conversion.’ Dependency on Christ and his Spirit to
develop a victorious lifestyle
in respect of sin donot appear to feature. In fact, if someone wants to receive
an indulgence (in theory), the (Roman Catholic) Church requires as a spiritual condition the exclusion of all
attachment to sin, including venial sin.
Adha and Atonement linked
The “Festival of Sacrifice” is a religious festival celebrated by Muslims worldwide (including the Druze) ‘to
commemorate the willingness of Ebrahim to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to Allâh.’ Historically
this was linked to the Jewish Day of Atonement. A few months after the Hijra when
Muhammad fled to
Medina he
noticed and admired Jews observing this solemn Jewish feast. Muhammad fasted with the Jews,
commanding his followers to do the same.
The following year the friendly atmosphere had already ceased, after which the Qiblah (prayer
direction)was changed from Jerusalem to Mecca. This time Muhammad and his followers did not participate
in the Yom Kippur. He killed two young goats, one for himself and his family and one for the people
emulating the example of Leviticus 16.
Arabs who had been performing their annual pilgrimage to Mecca at that time of the year sacrificed
animals. It was linked to the arch father Abraham so that Muslims hereafter generally accepted that the feast
was instituted to commemorate Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son.
Denial of divine Atonement
The basic problem a Muslim has with the doctrine of atonement by the blood of Jesus is to see in it a
substitutional sacrifice by the penitent believer. It is instead expected that the offender himself should receive
punishment. In Islamic thinking the just will be rewarded in the hereafter for his good deeds with protection
and goodness, just as surely as the unjust will have to face tribulation. Logically, it would be ‘unjust’ of God
to let the innocent suffer for the offence of the guilty. Jesus Christ, the wholly innocent and only ‘blameless’
person (Surah Mariam 19:19), can therefore never have been required according to this thinking to
suffer for
the unjust. The Qur’an does concede though that the prophets of old indeed suffered innocently and were
The ambivalent problem of Islam is in this reasoning the inappropriate recognition of the sovereignty
of God. The Bible teaches that all sin and evil are an insult to the honour of God, a disregard of His rule and
authority. Anybody who commits sin/evil, therefore, are degrading God’s honour and status. Because this
honour rightly belongs to God, it must be restored. The accusation of Muslims that the doctrine of atonement
has given mankind ‘licence for the free and unbridled commission of sins’52 is not completely unfounded.
However, this assertion is based on a rather distorted understanding and practice of the doctrine by certain
Christians, just as we have seen with other doctrinal tenets. The divine response is to require the shaming and
punishment of those who degrade His honour. Building on the assumption that goats and sheep as a sacrifice
are inadequate, God himself provided a Lamb. Abraham gave this prophetically as a reply to his son, as they
headed for Moriah (Genesis 22:8). This was confirmed by John, the Baptist when he saw a dove descending
on Jesus at His baptism and a voice declaring him to be the beloved Son of God! Hereafter he pointed to
Jesus as the Lamb of God who was to be the divine sacrifice for the sin of the world (John 1:29,36). Jesus
Christ crucified in our place, a ‘status degradation ritual’, so to speak ‘slaughtered for our sins’.
52 Thus A.S.K. Joomal, cited without complete reference by Nehls in his booklet What about the Muslims? p.127.
8. The Bible has been Changed!
Muslim critics have been suggesting often that the Bible has been changed. This is not novel at all
and also not completely invalid. In parlance that sounds almost Qur’anic, the Ebionite Gospel is quoted by
Epiphanius: ‘and they have perverted for themselves the true order and have changed what is said ... by the
combination of words.’ What is surprising though is that the Qur’an also teaches the opposite, that Allâh
actually commanded Muhammad and Muslims to consult the People of the Book when in doubt: ‘And if thou
(the reader of the Qur’an) art in doubt, concerning that which We reveal unto thee, then ask those who read
the Scripture (that was) before thee,... (Surah Yunus (Jonah) 10:94). In Surah alAnkabut
(The Spider) 29:46
the Qur’an actually testifies to the authenticity of the Bible, encouraging Muslims not to argue: ‘and argue
not with the People of the Book unless it be in (a way) that is better, except with such of them that do
Unintentional Distortion of the Word
A very serious distortion of the Word followed when Irenaeus, a respected theologian from Lyon, who died
around 200 AD. He unintentionally turned around the neutral Greek verb haireomai (αιρεομαι) into a
negative term. Originally heresy (derived from haireomai, meaning to "choose") meant either a choice of
beliefs or a faction of believers, or a school of thought.53 It was given wide currency by Irenaeus in his tract
Against Heresies to describe and discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. He described his own
position as orthodox (from ortho = straight + doxa = belief). His stance eventually evolved into a proud and
elevated position of the Early Church. The effect was devastating nevertheless.
During the first three centuries, Christianity was effectively outlawed by requirements to worship the
Roman emperor and Roman gods. Consequently, when the Church labelled its enemies as heretics and cast
them out of its congregations or severed ties with dissident churches, it remained without the power to
persecute them. However, those called "heretics" were also called a number of other things (e.g. "fools,"
"wild dogs," "servants of Satan"). Thus the word "heretic" got very negative associations.
The Church Father Cyprian of Carthage, who was beheaded in AD 258, taught ‘whoever ... is not in the
Church of Christ is not a Christian’ (Cited in Walker, 1976:67). The Church was according to Cyprian the sole
ark of salvation, without which one could not have God as one’s Father. On this basis the unscriptural
concept of 'baptismal regeneration' was developed - that man, i.e. also infants - can be born again through
baptism. In Acts 4:12 Peter proclaimed to the Sanhedrin that 'there is no other name hereby man can be
‘Changes’ of Scripture
It is striking that first century heretic Cerinthus preferred to identify the God of the Jews with the Angel who
is said to have delivered the Law (Greek nomos). We compare this to the Namus of which Waraqah bin
Naufal spoke, which was later thought of as the Angel Gabriel and yet later equated to the Holy Spirit in
Islamic theology.54 (After Muhammad’s cave experience and the revelation of Surah Iqra (Recite) 96, it is
reported that he was taken to Waraqah, the cousin of his first wife. Waraqah suggested that Muhammad was a
Namus, like Moses who received the Law on a mountain.) In this respect another influence could have
filtered through to Waraqah via the Ebionites.
There was indeed serious attempts to change Scripture – one already in the second century! In
essence, the heretic Marcion’s canon was the first Bible. He rejected all the books of the 'Old Testament',
believing that the God of the ‘Old Testament’ was different from the God of whom Jesus spoke.
An arch Heretic
The second century theologian Marcion has been widely regarded as an arch heretic. His antiSemitic
teachings proved to be very pervasive. He distinguished between the deity God and the Jewish Yahweh. In
53 I do not dispute in any way though that our understanding of heresy is nevertheless valid.
54 According to Islamic tradition this was Waraqah bin Naufal’s response to Muhammad’s of his interaction with a
supernatural being on Mt Hira, when Surah Iqra (Recite) 96 was revealed, regarded by Muslims as the start of
Muhammad’s functioning as a prophet.
his view a loving God can never be equated with Yahweh. Thus the ‘OT’ cannot be the Word of God. The
Christ, who liberated mankind from the ‘evil’ Yahweh of the Jews, said through Paul, the
apostle: let not the sun go down on your wrath. By contrast according
to Marcion Joshua
invoked the
Yahweh to stop the sun in its path to prolong the day so that they could slaughter the
Marcion noted that divorce was permitted In the ‘OT’, But not in the ‘NT', except for adultery. In
Judaism the practice evolved whereby it was fairly easy for men to get a divorce. Not so for women. (This
is still the practice in Islam where women would find it very difficult indeed – in Islamic countries not at
all possible – to file for divorce.)
Marcion wanted to deemphasize
Christianity’s Jewish roots, which is one of the reasons he
radically edited the Gospel of Luke and Paul’s epistles. Marcion eliminated as many positive references to
Judaism or the 'Old Testament' as possible. He rejected Acts and the book of Revelations because they
depicted God’s vengeance on persecutors and unbelievers. This was in Marcion’s view the work of
Judaisers. He only acknowledged the Gospel of Luke and the ten letters of Paul in probably the first effort
to put together a Christian canon.55 If he had his way completely, he would probably also have preferred to
delete chapter 16 of Luke's Gospel which refers to Father Abraham and hell.
He removed the first and second chapters of Luke because they were too Jewish in his assessment.
He took out Luke 4:13,
which is the temptation narrative that refers to Deuteronomy three times. He also
removed Luke 4:1630,
which has Jesus claiming (while teaching in a synagogue) that his ministry was a
fulfilment of the Hebrew Scriptures. Marcion took similar liberties with the letters of Paul. Anything that he
believed to be inconsistent with his view of authentic Pauline teaching was removed. From Galatians 3:69,
Marcion removed the mention of Abraham as an example of faith. From Galatians 3:1525,
he took out the
connection between the Law and the gospels.
Marcion believed that Jesus was sent by God to teach love and mercy for all and to liberate people
from the bondage of the Jewish God, not from the bonds of sinful nature. Marcion was expelled from the
Christian Church of Rome in 144 CE, but he spread antiJewish
venom while establishing his own churches
in Rome, Carthage, Nicomedia, Smyrna, Phyrygia, Gartyna, Antioch, and Syria. His counterpart, Valentinus,
also broke away from the Church of Rome and founded a gnostic (from the Greek gnosis meaning
“knowledge” and gnostikos meaning “good at knowing”) school. Christian sects were a fact, a divide and
rule tactic that played into satan’s hands as the unity of the body of Christ was severly damaged. A positive
of the stir caused by Marcion, was that the Christian Church of Rome began a formal process of defining
what should be included in the canon.
The Church rejected Marcion’s negative view of Jews, but venomous seed was sown that germinated
in later centuries.
The Church replacing Israel?
Jewish Christians probably adopted a haughty view in respect of Jews. In his Gospel, Matthew repudiated
the Judaism of his day to present a new Judaism of superior authority. He does not begin with John the
Baptist, he begins with Abraham. His genealogical scroll introduces Jesus as the son of Abraham and the
son of David the King56
The Early Church Gentile Christians soon adopted a haughty view in respect of Jews. The
complaint of the Greeks that their widows were discriminated against (Acts 6), the quite fiery debate
among the Jewish leaders around the issue of circumcision (Acts 15), Paul’s teaching on meat that had
55 Marcion’s canon consisted of the Gospel of Luke and 10 epistles by the apostle Paul. Marcion referred to these
works as “The Gospel” and “The Apostle”. ‘The Gospel’ was an edited version of Luke. ‘The Apostle’, also edited,
was composed of Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians combined, Romans, 1 and 2 Thessalonians combined, Laodiceans
(Ephesians), Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. Marcion actually mutilated scripture to suit his own ends.
56 If one e.g. compares the names of the genealogy given in Matthew 1 and their counterparts in Chronicles and
Kings, one finds some names missing (where are Joash, Amaziah, and Azariah in Matthew 1:8, compare with 1
Chronicles 3:11-12? Where is Jehoiakim in Matthew 1:10 (compared with 1 Chronicles 3:15)? or where is Jedaiah in
Matthew 1:12 (compared with 1 Chronicles 3:18)? Matthew’s method to prove that Jesus is the Messiah was here
and there rather forced. With manipulation in the Gospel genealogy he neatly arrives at two sets of seven, the
number of divine perfection.
been offered to idols (1 Corinthians 14), along with his statement that the wall of partition between
Gentile and Jew had been broken down and other teaching on the unity of the body in his letter to the
Ephesians, indicate clearly that the archenemy
could hone in on a weak link that has been plagueing the
Church ever since. Christians had started to resent Jews for whom the Law and the Levitical sacrifice
system were very dear. That turned out to be a major bone of contention. Some Christian believers from
Gentile background had started to look down condescendingly upon the Jews. Israel’s expulsion from the
Land of Promise, her dispersion and general wretched state were in this misguided perception an
expression of divine rejection.
Paul, the prolific epistle writer, deemed it necessary to remind the Gentile believers of Rome that
they are merely branches of the olive tree Israel, that they have only been grafted into that tree (Romans
11:17). Paul had to rectify and teach them to be humble. But Christians have still not learnt this lesson
well. On any given Sunday the great majority of sermons will be taken from the ‘New Testament’. To
their own detriment Christians generally still look down upon the ‘Old Testament’ as something inferior.
The Levitical Sacrifice System removed
If it had been widely known, there would have been at least one reason for Christians to believe that the
Law and the Levitical sacrifice system had in fact become past tense. At the time of the second Temple it
was a custom to tie a piece of red wool to the horn of the goat which was to be sent away on the Day of
Atonement. When this ribbon became white – a clear allusion to Isaiah 1:18, (though your sins be as
scarlet... they shall be as white as snow...) it was to the Jews a sign that God had forgiven their sins. In a
very astonishing portion of the Babylonian Talmud, it is hinted in connection with the destruction of the
temple in 70 A.D., that the Levitical sacrifice system had lost its efficacy nearly forty years earlier. Yoma
chapter 39b contains the following: ‘... forty years before the second temple was destroyed... the red wool did not
become white.’ Nevertheless, the oral tradition would have circulated any way that the Lord Jesus, to
whom John the Baptist referred as the Lamb of God, was the perfect ransom for the sins of the world. In
the celebration of the Lord’s Supper they reminded each other regularly of His blood that was shed for
their sins; the cup is the new covenant for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:27). The letter to the
Hebrews (e.g.) chapter 9) highlighted the imperfections of the Levitical legal sacrifices on the one hand
and the efficacy of Christ’s blood57 on the other hand, while stressing that there is ‘no salvation without
the shedding of blood (v.22). Quite remarkably, the letter to the Hebrews (12:24) with
reference to the
Jewish sacrificial system speaks
of ‘Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant’. Automatically the Jew
would think of the old covenants with Abraham (the circumcision) and Moses (the Law).
Paul, the apostle, referred to conversion as the circumcision of the heart (Colossians 2:11,12). In
this sense conversion in faith to believe in your heart that Jesus died for your sins and declare him as Lord
(Romans 10:9, 10), e.g. through Baptism as such a symbol of profession, signifies the entry into the
Church. (However, this is no reason to derive from it that the Church replaced the nation of Israel. Did
this render the old custom of sacrifice system and circumcision obsolete, as it has been sometimes
Deception by Jewish Theologians
Jewish theologians have understandably been taken aback by an arrogant attitude of their Christian
counterparts. When will we grasp what an exciting time we could expect when Jews become Jesus followers
on a significant scale? Paul, the prolific epistle writer, had already given us the vision: For if
their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be ... (Romans 11:15).
It seems that some of the Jewish religious leaders of the first century A.D. overreacted
to the
teaching from their own ranks, notably to that of Paul. One can nevertheless comprehend quite well why.
As he himself testified, he had been a Pharisee who had been sitting at the feet of the highranking
Gamaliel. After being a top persecutor of Christians, he turned around to become a follower of the
carpenter of Nazareth. That would possibly have angered every Jew tremendously.
Paul was not the last one to be pushed aside by their establishment because his beliefs
57 One of the most lucid elaborations was written by Andrew Murray at the turn of the 20th century: De kracht van
Jezus Bloed
contradicted the set pattern of the synagogue. On the other hand, we as Christians should not expect that
Jews will accept unconditionally that in Christ the wall of partition has been broken down. To them Jesus
is not the Christ. They still expect the Messiah to come. Readily we have to concede that there are still a
few Messianic prophecies to be fulfilled. Basically Jesus will have to reveal himself to them
supernaturally as
He has done not only in the case of Saul from Tarsus on the road to Damascus (Acts
9). This has happened already to many in our day and age, also in Israel. One of the most stunning
conversions happened a decade ago when a Jewess after
setting out to prove that Jesus could never be
the promised Messiah was
drastically converted to become a follower of Him. A study of the meaning of
the names in the genealogy in Genesis 5 brought her to the opposite conviction as her original intention.
Of course, this was not completely new. Examples a few decades ago was Stan Telchin, whose testimony
become fairly well known under the title Betrayed since 1981. In recent years the scales fell from the eyes
of quite a few Orthodox Jews.
Deficiencies of Muslim Theologians
Muslim theologians and clerics have been falling far short of bridging the respective gaps to Judaism and
Christianity. The founder of their faith was initially at least favourably disposed to all ‘People of the Book’, a
term which he used for Christians, Jews and Sabians. Islam followed the Jewish example where someone can
be an atheist and still be regarded as a Jew, but seen as a traitor and apostate as soon as such a person decides
to become a follower of Jesus. This already started in biblical days when the Christians were excommunicated
and banished. In the most favourable scenario, they feared to be excluded from the
synagogue. Nicodemus, an influential Jew, possibly a member of the Sanhedrin, found it better to go to Jesus
by night (John 3:2) and even Joseph of Arimathea remained only a secret believer (John 19:38) for some
length of time.
to Replacement Theology
The rift between Judaism and Christianity probably started with the expulsion of Paul from the synagogue.
His contact with Gentiles, was just one too much for the legalists among the Jews.58 But Jesus had already
warned his disciples that this day would come (John 16:2). It became increasingly clear that biblical
Christianity with the strong stamp of Pauline emphasis of the freedom in Christ and the legalist interpretation
of the Law was by and large incompatible. Paul rebuked those Gentiles who adopted a haughty attitude
towards Jews they
were merely grafted into the true olive tree, Israel. They were wild olive branches that
have been merely grafted into the true olive tree, Israel (Romans 11:17). Paul himself may unwittingly have
caused the start of the rot of socalled
replacement Theology, e.g. by his strong opposition to the Judaizers,
who wanted to impose circumcision on the Gentiles. In this context he referred in Galatians 6:16 rather
ambiguously to the Church as the ‘Israel of God’. In due course Christian theologians started to see the
Church as the new Israel.
The haughty arrogance of Gentiles towards Jews increased, especially after the destruction of the
second temple by Titus in 70 CE and the sacking of Jerusalem. This will have increased even more after all
those who had been circumcised were prohibited to enter Jerusalem. It had become the pagan city Aelia
Capitolina in 135 CE, after Emperor Hadrian had temples built to the GrecoRoman
gods. (Christians
retreated to Pella.)
Yet, some dialogue continued, such as that between Trypho, the Jew, with whom Justin ‘Martyr’, a
second century apologetic, had been engaging. It has been recorded as the Dialogue of Justin Martyr, with
Trypho, a Jew. The Samaritan Justin Martyr possibly may not have had complete replacement in mind when
he suggested that the Church superseded Israel. However, the seed sown in this way was to germinate in the
third century Mani, when he postulated himself as the seal of the prophets.
Montanus was one of the first to introduce a strong personality cult in a movement that started
already in 156 CE or 172 CE. Mani and Muhammad followed in his footsteps, regarding themselves as the
paraclete and the Seal of the Prophets (In Surah Ahsa (The Confederates) 33:40 Muhammad was also called
thus). Closely related is the tenet of progression in Islam. Over the centuries Islamic theologians developed
58 An uproar resulted once after they had accused him of bringing one of them along into the sacred precincts
of the temple (Acts 21:28ff).
the concept whereby the Qur'an became the pinnacle of Holy books after the Tawrah (Law) of Moses, the
Zabur (Psalms) of David and the Injil (Gospel). Similarly, Muhammad is now regarded as the ultimate and
greatest prophet of all (after Nabi Musa (Moses) of Judaism and Nabi Isa (Jesus) of the Christians who are
great prophets in their own right nevertheless.
One wonders though if the oppression of his people, the Samaritans, was not somewhere playing a
role in the background with Justin ‘Martyr’. It does speak for him though that he dared to write down the
views of Trypho, the Jew. Whether fictional or not, Trypho's account of his faith is typical of any Jew (or
Muslim for that matter): ‘But this is what we are most at a loss about: that you, professing to be pious, and supposing
yourselves better than others, are not in any particular way separated from them, and do not alter your mode of living
from the nations, in that you observe no festivals or sabbaths, and do not have the rite of circumcision; and further,
resting your hopes on a man that was crucified, you yet expect to obtain some good thing from God, while you do not
obey His commandments. Have you not read that the soul shall be cut off from his people who shall not have been
circumcised on the eighth day? And this has been ordained for strangers and for slaves equally. But you, despising this
covenant rashly, reject the consequent duties, and attempt to persuade yourselves that you know God, when, however,
you perform none of those things which they do who fear God. If, therefore, you can defend yourself on these points,
and make it manifest in what way you hope for anything whatsoever, even though you do not observe the law, this we
would very gladly hear from you, and we shall make other similar investigations.’
A Wall of Separation erected
Two rival interpretations of Scripture brought about a rift between the pristine church of the new era and
Judaism. It has been said definitely
not without reason that
the Christological explanation of the
Hebrew Bible brought an antiJewish
exegesis in its train. In an effort to legitimate itself, the young
Christian Church sketched the official Judaism as a fallen apostate Israel. The evangelist Matthew
repudiates the Judaism of his day to present a 'new Judaism' of superior authority. He does not begin with
John the Baptist, he begins with Abraham. His genealogical scroll introduces Jesus as the son of Abraham
and the son of David the King. But he did not do it completely honestly, omitting certain names to get the
nice picture of two times seven, the latter being the Hebrew number for divine perfection. The use of the
changing of names is significant. Whereas this has a positive vibe in the Hebrew Scriptures – the
changing of Abram to Abraham and from Jacob to Israel for instance represent profound movements
forward. Matthew have only negatives on offer for the Jewish names. We find no Levi in Matthew – Levi,
the tax collector had been exercising an offensive profession. The disciple who had denied his Lord when
he was called Simon, became Peter, the rock. This tendency continued in the Early Church when Saul,
who had persecuted the followers of the Lord, became Paul, the great apostle. Matthew furthermore
affirmed‘the divine character of the church in a new form of the heavenandearth
mysticism, in which the church
is the middle term which links the two’ (Carrington, Vol. 1. 1957: 315).
The Epistle to the Hebrews, which was already written by 90 CE, calls for a final break with the
Jewish religious system. Christians were expected to come out of historic Judaism and leave it behind.
They have an altar of their own, from which those who served the tabernacle could not partake.
Carrington (Vol. 1 1957:372) describes the Epistle to the Hebrews as an antiJewish
document. ‘It antiquates
and explodes the Levitical system’, considered by the Jews as an effective and final means of grace and
The Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles, was written around 120 AD
and generally referred to as the Didache. The compiler describes Jews or Judaising Christians as hypocrites.
One wonders whether this was not the sort of model for Muhammad in his relations with the Arabs in
Medinan who disagreed with him – calling them hypocrites! The Didache originated as a manual of
guidance in Church procedure and as a supplement to the Gospel of Matthew. It included directions for those
believers who would be allowed to partake in the cup at the Lord’s Supper only
those who have been
baptised into the Name of the Lord. It also included directions for regular Sunday Eucharist, for example that
it had to be preceded by a confession of sins.
The pseudoepigraphal
Epistle of Barnabas, written in the 120s AD, was very highly regarded in
Christian circles. Yet, similar negative sentiments are found in this document in respect of Jews. The yoke of
the Law had been placed on the Jews for their discipline and as a preparation for the Gospel, but now the old
Law had come to an end, there was a new Law ‘without the yoke of compulsion’. The document went clearly
overboard by saying that ‘gnosis’ (knowledge) is very important, to be regarded as an addition to faith, hope
and charity. According to the epistle Gnosis is a special entity, the gift to extract a spiritual meaning from
Hebrew Scriptures by means of allegorisation.
A repugnant hostility to Jews soon developed among Christians, maintaining that the covenant is
‘ours’ not ‘theirs’. The Jews lost it by turning to idols. Typical argumentation of replacement theology was
the notion that history was repeating itself. Didn’t the Lord say to Rachel ‘the elder shall serve the younger’
(Genesis 25:23)? The younger form of Judaism would thus supersede the older, the argument would go.
The Church of Palestine a
despised Minority
The Church of Palestine sank to the level of a despised minority after 90 A.D. New Jewish leaders arose,
notably Gamaliel II and his younger contemporary Rabbi Akiba, recognised by the Romans. The academy at
Jamnia gave to the Jews a new centre of learning. A special ‘blessing’ was now added to the ‘shema’, ‘Hear
o Israel… the Lord is one’ (Deuteronomy 5:1), which became the creed of Judaism. This became in due
course the model for the Lord’s Prayer of Christians and the Fatiha of Muslims. The Christian apostate was
to be cursed and excluded from the fellowship of the synagogue. This was an early model of the way
Muslims should treat their apostates, the murtats! (Of course, after a threefold and phased refusal to return to
the fold, Muslims have the Islamic right to eliminate such ‘traitors’. In fact, family members have often
deemed it as their duty to persecute fiercely those Muslims who had become Christians. Many a Muslim
background follower of Jesus has been killed by close family members because they had been regarded as
having brought shame on the family.)
The Church of Palestine became known to be only for those Jews who had abandoned inconvenient
parts of the law. The teaching of Jesus to love your enemy seemed to have been forgotten. In the writings of
revered Christians of the late first century and early second century the resentment (or even hatred) towards
Jews filtered through. Thus Ignatius could write: ‘It is monstrous to talk of Jesus and to practise Judaism’. Jewish
teaching was dismissed as ‘strange doctrines and ancient fables, useless for the Christian to pursue’ (Frend,
1965:47). The Epistle of Barnabas (probably Alexandrine, ca. 130 AD) contains a bitter attack on the Jews
and denies them any right to the prophecies of the ‘OT’.
Jews treated as Enemies
As time went on Jews were increasingly treated as enemies. Already sidelined
during the era of Emperor
Constantine, they were a serious ‘problem’ to the late fourth century church leader Ambrose, who operated
very much like a dictator, sometimes opposing the emperor in rather uncouth ways. The Jews were a large
and conspicuous element which would not accept the Christian norms. They were extremely unpopular as the
word went around that they had assisted the authorities during the period of imperial persecution of
Christians and that they had collaborated with Julian in his pagan revival in the 360s (Johnson, 1978:104).
Jesus’ teaching of enemy love and turning the other cheek seemed to have become unknown qualities at this
time. Instead, mobattacks
on synagogues became common under Theodosius (346395
AD), when Christian
uniformity became the official policy of the empire. In 388 AD the Jewish synagogue at Callinicum on the
Euphrates was burnt down at the instigation of the local bishop. Theodosius attempted to inject some
decency into the matter by ordering the synagogue to be rebuilt at Christian expense.59 Ambrose fiercely
opposed the decision, writing to Theodosius: ‘Which is more important, the parade of discipline or the cause of
religion? The maintenance of civil law is secondary to religious interest.’ One wonders how he read or understood
his Bible. This was a prelude to the humiliation of Theodosius. The intellectual style was however just what
Augustine needed when the young man was still a Manecheist of Milan who despised the Hebrew Scriptures.
With his fine combination of eloquence and deep Christian devotion combined
with the language of
Neoplatonism Ambrose
succeeded with convincing interpretations of the ‘OT’. He not only persuaded
Augustine but also countered the mocking arguments and objection of the Manichees. When Augustine
became a bishop, it marked a watershed in his life. He began seriously to grapple with the exegesis of the
Bible and the letters of Paul. His Manechaeist background however perhaps played too much of a role in
regarding the ‘OT’ as inferior to the NT. This legacy filtered through in all subsequent Western Theology.
59 Theodosius was far from principled though. He for example ensured that the most beautiful pagan temples would be
preserved but that otherwise temple-smashing would go unpunished.
Further Development of Replacement Theology
From these beginnings the heretical and arrogant replacement theology developed, whereby academics
and others started to teach more and more that the Church came in the place of Israel. Also evangelicals,
who have usually proudly stood firm on the principle of ‘sola scriptura’, only the Word, fell into the same
trap. One of the most striking abuses I have found in this regard was where a Church leader criticised a
paper by an academic on his Calvinistic position of infant Baptism. In his response to the paper of UNISA
Professor Adrio König, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace, a pastor stated that Paul as a Christian
despised and rejected the idea that he still belonged to the physical Israel, because this held no advantage
for him and was of no value. In similar vein the pastor continued: ‘The cross ended the significance of
circumcision and therefore of the physical Israel.’ Paul would surely have been greatly alarmed if he were to
hear such an interpretation of his theology. He might have objected seriously to the role given to the cross
with regard to circumcision. (Compare Colossians 2:11,12 where he refers to conversion, to faith in Christ
as circumcision of the heart.) Paul would surely have been horrified to read the implication that the Cross
terminated the physical Israel. How a clergyman could come to such a conclusion is really a mystery,
because Paul also mentioned Romans 9:3 in the very context. I wish to cite verse 2 as well, to stress the
point even more: I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself
were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of
An overdue Correction
Having shown that correction is long overdue, I suggest that we take a cue from John Wilkinson, the founder
of the Mildmay Mission to the Jews. He suggested in his booklet God’s Plan for the Jews, written already in
1896 that Christians should stop spiritualise the promises given to Israel and literalize the curses in the
Hebrew Scriptures. (Usually the promises were given to the Church and the curses to the Jew.) In stead we
should rather ‘give the Jew the primary application of both, lierally understood, wherever his name is mentioned or
implied; and then as the national election typified the spiritual election, apply in a secondary and spiritual sense, on the
same conditions, to the Church of Christ, all the promises and threatenings standing in Israel’s name’ (Wilkinson,
1944[1896]:9). In the extension of this, I suggest that the Church, locally where possible, but also globally,
should get ready to be led by Jewish followers of Jesus – just as it was the case in the first century.
More Distortion of the Word
The accusation of Islam is however not completely incorrect in respect of Christianity in general. Serious
aberration did set in after the Church became an important institution of society. The secular advantages
given to the Church as a result of the Constantine military victories and the subsequent reforms had a fatal
side effect. The clergy seemed to have become less dependent on God and their lifestyle
moved further and
further away from biblical standards. One sees for instance how the biblical word paroikia of which Peter, the
apostle, speaks in his first epistle, meaning to be a stranger on earth, evolved to become a parish (Dutch
parochie). This became almost the opposite of the original concept, but understandable in the environment of
a society without money. The parish was the security of the priest. This is only one example of how the
message of the Word was nullified to suit those who were merely preachers and not doers of it.
A typical example of how Western theology watered down the impact of the Gospel has been
theologizing of the Lord’s saying ‘The poor you have always with you’ (Matthew 26:11). This Bible verse has
all too often been abused to justify economic disparity. The context of these words shows that Jesus praised
the lavish warmth and love of an unknown woman of Beethany (or Mary, the sister of Lazarus). Was it
perhaps too radical for male-dominated Western Society to accept that this act of the anointing of the Messiah
was actually performed by a socially despised woman? What makes the narrative - as passed on by Matthew -
even more compelling is that this took place while the Master was enjoying the hospitality of an outcast, a
leper in Matthew 26:4. (According to the Gospel of John a similar event took place at the house of Lazarus
and his two sisters). In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus define a neighbour so broadly as to include
Samaritans, the lowest of the outcasts (Luke 10:25-37 and Matthew 22:36-40). In his last public teaching he
passed on his revolutionary legacy that salvation would be based on our love for God in how we treat those
whom he called ‘the least of these’ (Matt 25:31-46). Francis of Assisi was one of very few down the centuries
who showed appreciation of poverty as a virtue and a teaching of Jesus to aspire.
Another case in point is the beatitude ‘blessed are the poor’ (Luke 6:20). The watering down of the
authority of the Bible seems to have crept into a Bible translation of this verse. The 1983 Afrikaans translation
comes up with a spiritualized rendering of this beatitude about the poor: Blessed are they who know how
dependent they are on God.’60, which however contains the intention of the equivalent beatitude according to
Matthew. That version is probably an embellishment of the original text. Thus the intention of the Greek
metaphor has been eradicated. According to the original text, the poor is blessed, full stop. We have fitted the
words to what we would like to hear. He described this phenomenon in 2 Timothy 4:3 as follows: ‘what their
itching ears want to hear’.
Additions and selective Reproduction of Scripture
Christians are generally hardly aware how the Hebrew Scripture have been tampered with. One of the worst
cases is in respect of additions in the use of captions, which were of course not in the original text. The
arrogant and unbiblical claim that the Church came in the place of Israel the
replacement theology
one of the most blatant examples in this regard, with the old Authorized Version, also called the St James
Bible, as possibly the main culprit. Thus Isaiah 54, which clearly speaks of Israel, received the caption ‘The
Church comforted with gracious promises.’
But also in modern times there have been translations of Scripture which are problematic, to say the
least. Various streams or sects of Christianity did indeed translate Scripture to suit their particular
interpretation. This has been true not only of groups of Christianity on the periphery like Jehovah’s Witnesses
or feminists, but also those nearer to the centre. One can nowadays hear many a Church leader quoting
Deuteronomy 28:13, which speaks clearly of Israel if they obey the divine commandments, saying that the
Church is to be the head, not the tail of society at large. It is prophesied over Israel who would thus be above
only and not beneath. Of this haughty usurping attitude the Church should repent.
Apocaliptic Scenario’s
Biblical prophecies which were still unthinkable a few decades ago have been coming into focus more and
more. The Tchernobyl (wormwood) Soviet atomic plant disaster of 1986 seemed to have ushered in
apocalyptic scenario’s on this score. In recent decades hundreds of thousands have died in famines in various
parts of Africa and Asia, notably the tsunami (massive tidle wave) of December 2004. This is possibly just a
prelude to a mass famine that is anticipated famine
that could precipitate wars on a large and global scale
never before seen.
The Scripture tells us that in the days of Noah there was unlicensed sexual behaviour. God’s
destruction of great parts of mankind has always been connected with sexual immorality.
In the time of Sodom God rained fire and brimstone upon the cities of the plain, and they disappeared beneath
the south end of the Dead Sea. It was also true of the Canaanites whom God destroyed because of their sexual
immorality, and particularly because of their perversion, causing the land to vomit them.
60 Afrikaans Translation: Geseënd is dié wat weet hoe afhanklik hulle van God is.
9. Great and small Sin
Judaism teaches that sin is an act, and not a state of being. Humankind was not created with an
inclination to do evil. Man is by nature frail, and the tendency of the mind is towards evil: ‘For the
imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth’ (Genesis 8:21). People do have the ability to master this
inclination (Genesis 4:7) and choose good over evil (conscience). Man is responsible for sin because he is
endowed with free will. Therefore God in His mercy allowed people to repent and be forgiven.
In Judaism no human being is perfect, and all people have sinned many times. However, certain states
of sin (i.e. avon or cheit) do not condemn a person to damnation; only one or two truly grievous sins lead to
anything approaching the standard conception of hell. The scriptural and rabbinic conception of God is that
of a creator who tempers justice with mercy. Based on the views of Rabbeinu Tam in the Babylonian Talmud
(tractate Rosh HaShanah 17b), God is said to have thirteen attributes of mercy. This seems to have been the
first postbiblical
instance of classification of something relating to sin, but we note that it is actually God’s
grace, his mercy that is catalogued.
The Greek word hamartia is usually translated as sin in the ‘New Testament' which means ‘to miss the
mark’ or ‘to miss the target’. The ‘New Testament’ distinguishes among sins in various contexts. In 1 John,
the author distinguishes between two types of sin (1 John 5:16f), unto death or not – mortal or not. Roman
Catholic doctrine actually distinguishes between personal sin and original sin. Personal sins are either mortal
or venial.
Development of various Concepts in Church History
The general view of early Christianity was that ‘if we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to
forgive us our sins’ (1 John 1:9). The problem was that some sins were regarded as so bad that they could not
be forgiven, they were ‘unto death’ Just what this unforgiveable sin was, is not absolutely clear but our Lord
indicated that it meant to ascribe to satan the mighty works of Jesus (Mark 3:28f, Matthew 12:2237).
It also
hinted at the refusal to confess Jesus during persecution (Luke 12:10). Eventually the general feeling emerged
that the unforgiveable sins were idolatry, denial of the faith, murder and gross licentiousness. Tertullian (born
ca. 150, death ca. 220225)
included in the ‘deadly sins’ blasphemy, adultery, fornication, false witness and
fraud. He distinguished three ‘cardinal sins’, viz apostasy, adultery and murder, for which restoration was not
possible through a second repentance.
The question arose when a sinner had done enough to be restored. The feeling was that absolving
power was lodged in the Church initially
directly committed to Peter and via him to other church office
bearers. Absolution ultimately led to a scale of penance, a standard as to when enough had been done to
justify forgiveness and restoration. The Roman bishop Kallistos (AD 217222)
issued a declaration in his own
name that he would absolve sins of the flesh after a proper repentance. Walker (1976:93) rightly called this ‘a
landmark in the development of papal authority’. This precedent was open to abuse, which indeed also happened
with the development into the practice of indulgences, against which Martin Luther objected so vehemently.
Protestants possibly went overboard regarding the classification of sins, spreading the impression that
there should be no distinction made sin
is sin in God’s eyes, full stop. By the middle of the 20th century
church discipline became more and more sidelined,
expecially when ‘church hopping’ increased – the
phenomenon to go to another church when one is disciplined in some church or for any flimsy reason – and
no questions asked.
Of course, nobody has a problem with the tenet that the Holy God could never condone any sin. That is
exactly why He sent His very own Jesus,
the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world. From the
earliest of times the Almighty was clearly more enraged by certain types of sin, which were dubbed an
abomination. The very first of these is the slaying of Abel. No wonder that hands that shed innocent blood
has been listed among five other abominations in Proverbs 6:1618:
‘haughty eyes, a lying tongue, a heart
that devises wicked schemes, feet that are swift in running to mischief.’ We note that a lying tongue is
included in this context. Deceit and a lie caused man to be expelled from paradise.
God regards lying thus as very serious and not as it has become in Middle Eastern culture – one of the
lesser evils. Western society even created the term ‘white lie’. This is completely unbiblical. It is very clear
that God does see those sins in a serious light which disturb human relationships.
The word “abomination” is also used in the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to male homosexual activity
(Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13) idolatry (Deuteronomy 7:25, Deuteronomy 13) and corruption, like
cheating in the market by using rigged weights (Deuteronomy 25:1319,
Proverbs 11:1), and dishonesty
(Proverbs 12:22). Homosexual practice and idolatry are two sins that seem to be especially detestable in
God’s sight, causing him to wipe out the whole city of Sodom (Genesis).61 Three thousand Israelites were
wiped out after the golden calf episode which Moses called ‘a great sin’ (Exodus 32:31).
The ‘New Testament’ refers to the unforgivable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:2829;
Matthew 12:2237).
One finds the extension of a Manichaeist teaching in the Islamic concept of great and
small sin, which is not central to the Bible.62 It seems to sit quite deep in human nature to want to earn its
salvation. In Judaism the Law and its companion circumcision became exalted as the way of salvation. Paul
therefore attacks the Judaizers who ‘want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh’
(Galatians 6:13). Not only other religions, but also some Protestants who should know better, time and again
fall prey to this temptation. A variation in evangelistic activity could be when Christians see new believers as
scalps, nicely formulated e.g. as having led ‘so many people to the Lord’, as if it is mere human activity.
A Misconception
Somehow many Christians have been led to believe that salvation in the Hebrew Scriptures is depicted as
only accomplished through works. This is definitely a misconception. The Hebrew word most often
translated with ‘grace’ or ‘favour’ is chen. Chuck and Karen Cohen two
Messianic Jews i.e. followers of
Jesus with a Jewish background, have noted how Colin Brown clarifies the meaning of chen in biblical
history: ‘the stronger coming to the help of the weaker... (The stronger) acts by a voluntary decision, though he is
moved by the dependence or the request of the weaker party.’ An excellent example of how it works in practice is
how Moses interceded for the idolatrous Israelites after the experience of the golden calf in Exodus 32. In the
exchange between God and Moses the word chen is used nine times. Moses knew that it was not by any merit
on the part of the Israelites that he could approach the Lord and intercede for them. It is significant that God
met him on that basis, even stating that it is His divine nature to be ‘gracious’ (Exodus 34:6).
Tragically, the early Jewish Christians, already excluded by their fellowcountrymen
because of their
faith in Jesus as their Messiah, became isolated from their Gentile cobelievers
when they continued with the
observance of Sabbaths, circumcision and other Jewish feasts. The Gentile majority – perhaps influenced by
the teaching of Paul – apparently considered the continued observance of the traditional customs and rites of
Judaism as ‘works’. Another teaching of Paul, namely that the barrier between the Gentile believers and the
Christians was broken down by faith in Jesus Christ, was by far not universal. Quite early
many Jewish Christians called themselves Ebionites. From this source many Islamic doctrines evolved
Judaism of the first centuries of the common era was still quite close to Christianity. Many a targum Aramaic
commentary on the Scriptures sometimes
even pointed to the death and resurrection of Jesus, for
example the suggestion in Targums on Genesis 22 that Isaac carried the wood like someone would carry a
cross or that Isaac passed out when Abraham lifted the knife on Mount Moriah to
be resuscitated when the
voice stopped Abraham in his tracks.
Grace versus Law
The caption Grace versus Law is rather misleading but typical of Protestant thinking. No wonder that one
finds this in different variations as such on the internet. This is even considered in Church and Bible School
teaching as a basic difference between the Hebrew Scriptures and the 'NT'. But this is not correct.
In Galatians 4:2329
(NLT/NIV) we read: For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one from the
slave wife and the other from his freeborn
woman. His son by the slave wife was born by a human attempt;
but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. These things may be taken figuratively, for
61 In modern times the theologians who attempt to be politically correct see attempted rape – not homosexual practices
as such – as the abomination. This seems to me rather artificial. I do not assert though that the Bible writes
negatively about sexual orientation as against practising homosexuality.
62 In Volume 3 of his Ahadith Karim lists 53 great sins. The first on the list is of course shirk, which means to attach a
partner to God. Some strange sins are also included like rebellion without a good reason, being befriended to
unbelievers to the detriment of Islam, calling a Muslim a kaffir (unbeliever) and ‘to cohabit with a woman who
menstruates’. Lying is regarded as one of the small sins.
the women represent two covenants... At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born
by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.
Paul, the apostle, surely wanted to emphasise that we cannot earn God's approval by what we do. We
cannot earn salvation, nor will God accept any "works" or "fruit" that come from self-generated do-good
intentions. Human religious energy is NOT something God in which has any interest. This tenet is also found
in the Hebrew Scriptures. Human effort is possibly one of the reasons why the sacrifice of Cain was rejected.
Paul definitely did not want to create the impression that the 'NT' replaces the Hebrew Scriptures. The
problem arises when one wants to be justified by the law (Galatians 5:4). Noone
is justified before God by
the law, because, 'The righteous will live by faith' (Galatians 3:11). By this token Abel, Abraham and a whole
series of 'OT' personalities are justified (Hebrews 11).
Sadly, in Protestant teaching theologians have been taken on tow by Martin Luther in his going
overboard to create the impression that grace and law are mutually exclusive or even that ‘Law’ belongs to
the ‘Old Testament’ and grace to the new covenant.63 In Reformed churches the dichotomy is weakened to
some extent when the Law is read every Sunday in their liturgy, interspersed often by Jesus’ summary of the
Law.64 Following Paul, the apostle, this is followed by a pronouncement of grace. (In more than one instance
the upbringing of the prodigious Hellenist comes through. Greek philosophic thinking loves the 'either... or'
sentence construction.) Coming from his personal experience during which the legalist interpretation of the
Torah (Law) against which our Lord also protested vehemently, Paul proclaimed the Law to be an educator to
bring one to faith in Christ. Hebrew thinking is more inclusive, wary of false alternatives. Under this
influence Paul wrote to the Galatians (3:5) along similar lines with regard to the gift of the Holy Spirit: ‘... by
the works of the law or by the hearing of faith.’ (Elsewhere we examine the false alternatives of works and
faith.) The Law holds out life to the obedient, but brings nothing to enable us to comply to its extensive
demands. The good news tells us that our trust in Christ’s atoning sacrifice brings to us God’s lifechanging
power, as millions through the centuries have experienced.
If one considers how inclusive Count Zinzendorf and his Moravians were – and how he viewed grace
understand why this group of Christians have possibly hitherto been the most successful ever in the
outreach to Jews. The abounding grace that went ahead of the emissaries to the ‘heathen’ nations enabled
Zinzendorf to see the same grace at work in the christening of infants, not getting involved in divisive debates
about the mode of baptism. In America the Moravians put so much grace in practice to accommodate the
Sabbatharian habits of the indigenous population that they observed two days of rest. The celebration of the
Singstunde on Saturday evening as a tradition was derived from the Jewish custom that the Sabbath starts on
Friday evening.
The legalist Interpretation of Torah
Originally the Law was intended as a gift of God, not a burden. The incorrect legalist and forensic
interpretation of Torah – preferably only with negative connotations – in contrast to the proper Jewish
understanding of loving and protective teaching, led to the caricature. The delight in the hearing of the Law
comes through in the Psalms repeatedly.
The sad part of this is that this construction even found its way into Bible translations. Thus the
esteemed King James Version – not generally regarded as one of the worst English translations fell
into the
trap by using the word but in translating John 1:17 incorrectly in
stead of and for the Greek kai, thereby
indirectly implying that there is a contradiction between the Law given by Moses and the grace and truth
which came through Christ. Already in Talmudic times the legalist approach prevailed, when oral tradition
seemed to dwarf the Torah. Almost every orthodox Jew knows that there are 613 other prescripts to be obeyed
next to the 10 commandments of the Decalogue.
The legalist and forensic interpretation of Shariah in Islam as a guide for living in a Godfearing
is well known, so much so that the positive elements are all too often forgotten or omitted, especially when
Westerners quote it – usually sarcastically and arrogantly.
63 This also happened with the use of 'chosen people' for the followers of Jesus in the 'NT'. Paul makes it very clear in
Romans 9 – 11 that Israel nowhere stopped to be God's chosen people or the 'apple of God's eye.
64 There appears to have been a tendency in Reformed circles to use the ‘NT’ summaries of the law rather than Exodus
20 or the Deuteronomy 5 repetition.
Another example is the approach to the Sabbath, the day of rest intended as a divine gift of God, in
which to have your delight. If regarded as a burden, then it would be one of ‘joyous thanksgiving unto God’ as
highlighted in the SabbathPsalm
(Edersheim, 1959:174).
A New Covenant
The Law that Moses received on Mount Sinai has to be seen as part of an agreement, a covenant. The
requirements in the covenant that Moses had to communicate to his people became another notable feature. It
was an agreement between God and the people chosen by Him. It meant a renewal of the covenants that God
had made with other leaders before Moses. The Law was the sign of this covenant made with him, just as the
circumcision was the sign of the agreement made with Abraham. The name of Moses became synonymous
with the Law, the Torah. It is significant that the Almighty is depicted as the bridegroom in tradition at the
giving of the Law at Sinai (Pirkê de Eliezer, 1970:322). The Messiah is similarly described as the
bridegroom in the wedding of the Lamb with the Church as the Bride at the second coming of Jesus in
Christian parlance. Another major contradiction of the Qur’anic message concerns the central message of the
Bible, the covenant of God with Abraham. Jesus put a new covenant in place; the covenant of His blood,
when he introduced the tradition of the Lord’s Supper. The ‘New Testament’ understands the near sacrifice
of Abraham as a precursor to Calvary where God gave his unique Son as the way to salvation.
The Nature of the spiritual Battle
Few Christians today are aware that Paul was basically paraphrasing Isaiah for the Gentile Ephesians in
chapter 6 of his epistle, adding a few more items of the armour of the Christian soldier. In Isaiah 59:17 the
breastplate of righteousness and the helm of salvation are mentioned. It has hardly been noted how Paul
proceeded just
like Jesus had done in Luke 4, citing from Isaiah 61 to
delete vengeance in his version of
(spiritual) weapons. Vengeance would fit to the darker side of things. The follower of Jesus walks in the light,
detesting anything which belongs to the kingdom of darkness. Paul thus aptly emulated Jesus when he
omitted the words referring to the putting on of garments of vengeance. (He may have overstated his case
somewhat by also omitting ’clad with zeal as a cloak’.)
It it striking what Paul added to the armour. To buckle yourself with truth is saying in another way: ‘I
make myself ready for battle’. We remind ourselves that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).
It also highlights the fight against the real enemy who is a liar from the beginning, whose ‘native language’
(John 8:44, NIV) is lying and deceit.
What is especially important is how the ‘NT’ sees the nature of spiritual battle at hand. Paul
summarised spiritual warfare aptly: ‘not against flesh and blood’. In the same vein the aged John wrote on
the island of Patmos how the victory will be finally clinched in the spiritual ‘war’. The ‘general’ of the army
is the meek Lamb of Lambs. Zinzendorf and his Moravians took the symbolism, using a lamb with the
banner: ‘Our Lamb has conquered. Let us follow Him!’ (Two centuries before him Luther was also very much
aware of the real presence of the devil so
much so that he has gone on record – or is it a myth – that he
threw his inkpot
in the direction of where he suspected the accuser was.)
It is interesting how the Talmud saw Moses as a Lamb, and thus as a precursor of the one of
whom Isaiah 53 prophesied, the sheep who wouldn’t open his mouth as he is being taken to be
slaughtered, the Lamb to whom John the Baptist referred: In a dream about the boy Moses, the Pharaoh
sees the lamb outweighing the might of Egypt on a weighing scale, a pair of balances.
On the other hand, Jesus is also the Lion of Judah. No wonder that the adversary tries to emulate him,
going around like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). But this lion is a bad copy of the real one. Basically the devil,
the roaring lion, only makes a lot of noise. He growls and roars, uses lies and deception. But his roaring is
worse than his biting because his teeth have been extracted so to speak on the Cross of Calvary!
Differenciation of Sin?
The Roman Catholic Church distinguishes between mortal and venial sin. According to the theology of this
denomination a venial sin (meaning “forgivable” sin) is a lesser sin that does not result in a complete
separation from God and eternal damnation in Hell. A venial sin involves a “partial loss of grace” from God.
A venial sin meets at least one of the following criteria: a) it does not concern a “grave matter”, b) it is not
committed with full knowledge, or c) it is not committed with both deliberate and complete consent.
As the above three criteria for mortal sin are stated negatively, a sin which met none of these
extenuating conditions would necessarily be considered mortal.
Each venial sin that one commits adds to the penance that one must do. Penance left undone during
life results in punishment in purgatory. In Roman Catholic theology a venial sin could be left unconfessed.
However, so long as there is some purpose of amendment it is helpful to confess it, for one could then expect
to receive grace from the sacrament of confession to help one to overcome it.
The staunch Catholic believes that venial sins usually remain venial no matter how many of them one
commits, They cannot “add up” to constitute a mortal sin collectively. There are however some cases where
repeat offenses may become grave matter. For instance if one were to steal small amounts of property from a
single person, over time one would have stolen enough that it would become a serious theft from that person.
In all this one ought not to take venial sin, especially deliberate ones, lightly. No one without a
special grace (according to most Roman Catholic theologians given only to the Blessed Virgin Mary) can
avoid even semideliberate
venial sins entirely (according to the definition of Trent). But one must, even to
avoid mortal sins, seek as far as possible to overcome venial sin, for each venial sin weakens the will further,
and the more willing one becomes in allowing such falls, the more one is inclined towards, and will
inevitably fall into (if one continues along this path) mortal sin.
The ‘New Testament’ distinguishes among sins in various contexts. In 1 John 5:16f the author
distinguishes between two types of sin. However, these verses do not refer precisely to venial and mortal sins.
One class of sin leads to the loss of eternal life. The other class of sin leads to death. Since either class of sin
puts one’s eternal life in jeopardy, both would fall in the category of mortal sin. The ‘New Testament’ also
mentions unforgivable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which occurs when the work of Jesus is
ascribed to Belsebub, the devil (Mark 3:2829).
Can good Deeds expiate Sin?
The tenet that good deeds can cancel or even expiate sin (Surah Hud 11:114) contradicts Isaiah 64:6 that our
righteousness is as filthy rags in God’s sight. The Roman Catholic and Islamic notion of almsgiving as a
good deed with an atoning function is supported in the apocryphal book of Tobit: For almsgiving delivers from
death, and it will purge away every sin. Those who perform deeds of charity and of righteousness will have fullness of
life (Tobit 12:9). The African Council of Carthage of 397, at which Augustine was present (Ackroyd and
Evans, 1970:544), recognised an ‘OT’ Canon, which included among others the apocryphal book of Tobit.
Long before Augustine, Cyprian was one of the early church fathers who saw in good works the possible
atonement for sin.
At least one of Augustine’s ‘good deeds’ was very dubious. His use of force to get people into the
church fold, or in the case of the Donatists to get them to return to the fold is perhaps not widely known. That
he opposed bribes and extreme forms of torture trying to humanise it, could even be regarded as laudable to
some extent, but that he had to stoop so low as to use bribery in theological debate is possibly to me the
absolute lowest point of his career. That he deemed it fit to hunt down the British theologian Pelagius is bad
enough. But that he used direct bribery to impose his theory of grace to counter Pelagius is downright base.
(Johnson wrote of ‘80 fine Numidian stallions, bred on episcopal estates in Africa’ that were shipped to Italy and
distributed among influential military commanders for this purpose. Bad mouthing and misrepresenting his
theological opponents, such as the Pelagians, as ‘disturbers of the peace, dangerous innovators, men anxious to
dispossess the rich and redistribute property’ became the sort of tactic that has sadly also been used by Church
leaders down the ages against inconvenient opponents or even simple Church folk who have been less
critical. Islam would also use this method quite widely, elevating this even to a good deed if the religion
could benefit from it, e.g. by eliminating uncomfortable and critical theological customers.
Muhammad copying the Christian Example
Copying the example of the Christians, Muhammad went overboard when he emulated the special value they
attached to the attending of the mass, the church service where the Eucharist is celebrated. Very interestingly,
atoning power is attached to Friday prayer in ahadith: ‘Bathing on Friday atones for sins, and walking to the
mosque (on Friday) is like working twenty years. If the Muslim completes the Friday prayer, he will receive a reward
equal to one hundred years of work’ (Cited by Behind the Veil, p. 292 from Ibn ‘Abbas by ‘Abdul’
Aziz alShannawi,
p.121). Sahih Muslim (Volume 2, p. 510) has a slight variation to the theme: ‘Whoever performed
the ablution, then attended the Friday prayers and listened (to the sermon), all his sins he would commit between that
Friday and the following Friday would be forgiven…’. In Islam the tenet of good deeds became institutionalised
into one of the pillars of the religions, zakat (alms).
Modern Idolatry
Muhammad was a worthy follower of the Lord in his opposition to materialism. This is actually a nice word
for the antiquated word covetousness or its modern variation. If we keep in mind that Paul calls greed the
equivalent of idolatry (Colossians 3:5), we are in serious trouble. When the prime Islamic prophet attacked
the idolatry of Mecca, he was persecuted because of the material gain that it had brought. Jesus was
especially resented and hated by the religious leaders of his day after the incident at the temple where he
whipped the traders from the temple in Jerusalem.65
Materialism would be regarded by modern man, especially Western Christians. as one of the lesser
sins. (In South Africa a TV programme had GREED as its title, as if there is nothing wrong with it to be
65 This has been highlighted by Etienne Trombé in an article and later in his book Jesus and his Contemporaries
(1973), called by Albert Nolan (1986:101) ‘one of those rare brilliant discoveries of New Testament scholarship’.
That he addressed the idolatry of mammon, challenging his followers not to serve two Masters, was probably not
revolutionary for the age. This is also found in the Gospel of the Essenes: Know ye that no man can serve two
Masters. Thou canst not wish to have the world’s riches, and have also the Kingdom of Heaven. The Qumranic
Teacher of Righteousness is however not regarded to be identical with Jesus.
10. Jesus forecast that Muhammad would come after him!
Muslims believe that Jesus prophesied that Muhammad would come after him. This tenet is not new.
The personality who appears to have resembled Muhammad most in this regard is Mani, the founder of
Manicheism. However, already Elkhasai and Montanus had boasted before him that they had been divinely
called. In so many words Montanus regarded himself as the Paraclete that Jesus had promised. Apparently
he had a substantial following in a movement that started in 156 CE or 172 CE. Evidence of the broad
following is a tomb epitaph that was found in Numidia with the words: in the name of the Father, the Son and the
lord Muntanus (Praamsma, De Kerk van alle Tijden, Volume 1, p.50). Montanus was one of the first to
introduce a strong personality cult. Mani and Muhammad followed in his footsteps, regarding themselves as
the paraclete and the Seal of the Prophets (In Surah Ahsa (The Confederates) 33:40 Muhammad was also
called thus).
Moses is specially venerated both in Judaism and Islam. Islam sees Muhammad in a tradition only
one of various messianic personalities that
thought they were a prophet like Moses. Both Simon Magus, the
biblical opposite of Peter in Acts and Dositheus, a Samaritan leader, according to the Clementines, saw
themselves as the ‘prophet like Moses’ predicted in Deuteronomy 18:18.
Parakletos or Perikletos?
The Islamic spirit is radiated by a notion in the Ebionite Gospel, namely that the heavenly Christ has been
created like an archangel. The inference would be that Jesus was thus not divine as such. Other interesting
information about the Ebionites can be gleaned from Epiphanius in his work against heresies, no. XXX. He
wrote for example that Ebionites were vegetarians and objected to the idea of eating locusts. A locust in
Greek is akris, and the word they used for cake is enkris, so the change is slight. This is interesting in the
light of the Islamic assertion that the Bible has been changed and especially the charge that John 14:16 has
been altered. This verse speaks about the parakletos, which would come after Jesus had left the earth. It
could be translated as comforter, counsellor or advocate. In the context it is quite clear that a person can
never be meant. Yet Ahmed Deedat and others down the years have charged that the word should have read
perikletos, of which the translation into Syriac would render Ahmed. According to this view, Ahmed is
another version of Muhammad. This would then be a proof that Jesus prophesied the coming of Muhammad.
However, not a single one of the 70 manuscripts which were written before the time of Muhammad
contain perikletos. Conversely, the Bible verses to which Surah Saff (Battle Array) 61:6 refer which
that Achmed was prophesied as the perikletos to come has
to my knowledge still not been found in any
Bible manuscript. If we bear the powerful roots of the word parakletos in mind, then it is not surprising that
the arch enemy attempted to highjack
it. As William Barclay (New Testament Words, 1973: 218ff) has
shown, that the basic meaning of helper and comforter to assist when one cannot cope or when one has to
handle (false?) accusations, the assistance of a power that is omnipresent is much more appropriate than a
person who is limited to time and space.
A Response to modern Islamic Apologetics
The Muslim argument for Muhammad to be the paraclete is built around semantics and grammar. Limiting
parakletos to only one meaning at a time and some ingenious playing with words and grammar, it is argued
that Jesus cannot be the paraclete and the Holy Spirit as well. 1 John 2:1 states: 'And if anyone sins, we have
a paraclete with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.' According to this circular reasoning Jesus’ pray to
God after his departure, for ‘another Paraclete’. 'And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another
Paraclete, that he may abide with you ... (John 14:16) would create a problem. This other paraclete must then
be Muhammad since paraclete is a masculine noun in the original Greek. (To pneuma, the spirit, is however
a neuter noun and therefore according to the reasoning of Islamic apologists like Ahmed Deedat and others,
cannot refer to the Holy Spirit. An Islamic Internet apologist rightly notes that the very next verse, John
14:17, refers to 'another Paraclete’, the 'Spirit of Truth'. In brackets, the person goes on to emphasise that this
was ‘NOT the Holy Spirit’. Does he thus want to imply that Muhammad is the 'Spirit of Truth'?
In general Jesus is understood in Christian circles to be something like an advocate with God after
his ascension, someone who speaks on behalf of the transgressors and confessors (cf. 1 John 1:9 'If we
confess our sins... God is faithful... to forgive').66 In a similar way, the Holy Spirit comes to the aid of the
believer as a comforter or advocate.
Mani, a Link to the Ebionite Background of Islam
The link to Mani is another pointer to the Ebionite background of Islam. In Manicheism Christianity had a
real rival. Its spread was rapid in the empire, and it absorbed not only many of the followers of Mithraism,
but also the remnants of ChristianGnostic
sects and other heresies. It has been pointed out that Mani was
raised in a Jewish Christian Ebionite environment and that he expected from his followers strict ascetics and
vegetarianism. Both elements were typical Ebionite teaching. For Eisenman (1997:329f) Mani ‘really provides
the missing link between these kinds of Sabaean/Elkhasite groups and later Islam.’ Mani claimed that he was the last
in the succession of messengers of God and his followers called him the Seal of the Prophets. Manichaeism
knows the ascending importance of prophets, as well as a geographicethnic
allocation. Mani taught that
Buddha (India), Zoroaster (Persia) and Jesus (in the lands to the West) preceded him in the series of divine
revelations. The three religions founded by these men – along with Judaism – were in his view preparatory
steps for the universal message he proclaimed. He wrote: After this came the revelation, and prophecy manifests
itself in this latter age through myself, Mani, the messenger of the true God. Muslim scholars generally
acknowledge this influence on Muhammad.
Mani, a Forerunner of Muhammad
Mani began his public propaganda on 20 March, 242 AD. Similar to Muhammad many years later, he is
reported to have been called to apostleship by an angel. Andrae (1971:145) quotes an Arabic writer Ibn anNadim
with regard to the call of Mani. When he was twentyfour
years old the angel atTawwam
came to him
and said: Greetings to thee, Mani, from me and from the Lord who has sent me to thee, and has chosen thee to be His
messenger. In the year 240241
AD Mani passionately desired a mandate to step forward with his message
(Widengren, 1965:27). The Medinan Muhammad was to emulate him on this score, although this only
happened after Muhammad was apparently only carried away by enthusiasm, after meeting with unexpected
success. Like Muhammad, Mani started winning converts from close by, in his case converting his father and
the extended family to the faith he had started. A difference with Muhammad is that Mani saw himself as an
apostle of Jesus Christ, i.e. like Paul. Peace unto thee, Mani, from me and from the Lord. He bids thee now to call
the peoples to the truth and to proclaim from him the good message of the truth and to dedicate thyself to this task'
(Andrae, 1971:144). Mani saw himself as a universal apostle and he also gave himself out to be the Holy
Spirit whom Jesus had promised and as Christ himself. Another difference of Mani’s life with that of
Muhammad is that his life ended in prison where he died at the age of sixty. The King had demanded from
him to explain why divine revelation came to him and not to the Great King.
Because of his hostility to paganism, e.g. through the strict prohibition of idolatry, Mani could surely
be described as a prototype
of Muhammad. In sexual practices Mani was likewise a forerunner of the prime
Islamic prophet. According to oral tradition Khadijah wanted to investigate whether the supernatural being,
which gave revelations to Muhammad, was indeed an angel or an evil spirit. At her (in)famous test she
requested Muhammad to tell her when he would see Jibril. When he did this at one of the next occasions, she
asked him to sit on her left lap. (The left side in Oriental thinking is linked to unclean things.) When
Muhammad could still see Jibril, she requested him to change to the right lap. When the supernatural being
was still visible, Khadijah threw off her cloak, after which Muhammad ‘entered her shift’ according to the
tradition. Jibril promptly disappeared, which was to her the proof that Jibril was indeed an angel and not
satan. The influence of Mani who
regarded the lower half of the body as unclean could
have filtered
through in this test. The distorted advice of Waraqah, Khadijah’s cousin, that an evil spirit could not stand the
sight of an unveiled woman this
could have been Waraqah’s exegesis of 1 Corinthians 11:10 that (the heads
of) women should always be covered – could also have played a role.
It does not flatter Mani that he demanded and received the daughter of a noble family for whom he
had worked a miraculous cure (Fox, 1988:570). Mani has the edge over Muhammad though because the age
of the female is not mentioned. In the case of Muhammad, the approximate age of Ayesha, the daughter of
66 The authoritative German dictionary of Walter Bauer notes that the meaning of ‘Fȕrsprecher’ (this would yield
voorspraak in Afrikaans, with mediator as an approximate equivalent.
his faithful companion Abu Bakr is known when he got betrothed to her. She was merely six or seven years
old when Abu Bakr gave his daughter to him as a bride.67
Manichaeism has no parallel with regard to war, but not far away was its tenet that the souls of the
elect went directly to the kingdom of light after death. On the other hand, the disbelievers were destined for
hell at the end of the world. The future moment would follow Jesus’ second coming, leading to the collapse
of the entire world and a huge fire, burning for 1,468 years.
Mani as the Paraclete
Quite a few scholars appear to have accepted that Islam could have been taken on tow by the teaching of
Mani. A certain influence cannot be disputed. This is even seen in minor details like Mani calling himself an
apostle of God, his teaching on the prohibition of wine and his thoughts of himself as (the twin of) the
Jesus foretold that another paraclete – variously translated as helper, comforter, sustainer and
advocate – would abide with his followers (John 14:16). The Church down the ages has always seen this as a
prophecy of the Holy Spirit that would come in its fullness, a sure sign of the omnipresence of God. With all
sorts of semantics, Islamic scholars tried to make this apply to Muhammad. None of the above meanings of
paraclete can be applied to Muhammad. John 14:16 speaks about the parakletos (Greek), the spirit of truth
that would come after Jesus had left the earth. In the context it is quite clear that a person can never be
The term paraclete was in common use among Aramaic Christians, even though it is unsure what
meaning was attached to it.
The Qur’an itself speaks of the Spirit of Faith and Truth, referring to the bringing down of the
revelation from the Lord of the Worlds (Surah Shu’araa (The Poets) 26:193). Jibril is regarded in Islam as
this agent, which puts the translated copy from the original in heaven in the heart and mind of the Prophet in
the perspicuous Arabic language (Surah Shu’araa (The Poets) 26:194). This becomes confusing because
Muhammad himself was regarded to be the parakletos (perikletos). Was he now also the Spirit of Truth? It is
sad that Muhammad appears to have become increasingly untruthful and cunning as he became more and
more under the influence of Jibril. In fact, during the Medinan period Jibril was invariably called upon to
help Muhammad out of an embarrassing situation, sometimes coughing up very spurious revelations.
Mani placed himself on the same level as the early prophets, including Jesus. For Muslim
theologians it was just a little step to see Jesus as the penultimate prophet, with Muhammad as the last and
in ascending importance the
greatest of all.
Muhammad as the Paraclete?
Muslims believe that Jesus prophesied that Muhammad would come after him. The forged Gospel of
Barnabas could have been one of the prime sources of perpetuating this belief, especially since the English
translation of Lons and Laura Raggs translation was printed in Pakistan (however without their critical
notes). It many places of this ‘Gospel’ it is perported that Jesus declared by name that Muhammad would
come. An interesting side issue is that Jesus actually said in John 14:16 I will ask the Father and he will give
you another paraclete, thus referring to God as his father. This is usually conveniently overlooked by Muslim
theologians when they refer to John 14:16. (In chapter 14 of the Gospel of John Jesus referred to God as his
Father no less than 18 times.) Islam vehemently disputes the doctrine of Jesus as the Son of God.
Rodwell suggests in a footnote to Surah Saff (Battle Array) 61:6 of his Qur’an translation that
Muhammad understood himself to be the perikletos of John 14:16. With Muhammad not being completely
literate and depending on hearsay, it is quite probable that he was not aware of the meaning of the Bible verse
clearly, which qualifies the parakletos as the spirit of truth and not a person. Parrinder holds that the term
paraclete was possibly not known to Muhammad, suggesting that he seemed to have picked up this idea from
67 There is some disparity in reports about Ayesha’s age at betrothal and marriage. In a hadith, (Bukhari vol. 7, #64)
one can read nevertheless: 'Aisha narrated that the prophet wrote the marriage contract with her when she was six
years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine
years (i.e. till his death).'
Manicheistic sources. He points to Ubayy bin Kab, one of Muhammad’s secretaries, who gave an interesting
rendering of Surah Saff (Battle Array) 61:6 that does not include Ahmad (cited by Parrinder, 1965:96). The
question arises whether this could have been included in one of the Qur’an versions, which were burnt by the
Khalif Uthman. Surah Saff (Battle Array) 61 would definitely qualify in this regard. Shorrosh (1988:164, and
citing Surah Al Nasikh wal mansukh, 14) points out that in one tradition Ayesha declared emphatically that
Surah Saff (Battle Array) 61 had 200 verses during Muhammad’s lifetime. When Uthman standardized the
Qur’an, the Surah had only 72 verses.
11. Paul caused a rift between Christianity and Judaism/Islam!
It cannot be denied that Paul, the apostle, was not only a very effective missionary, but that he was
also a very influential theologian of the first century church. The teaching of Paul appears to have been
interpreted by some in such a way that he caused a rift between Christians and Orthodox Judaism. There is
some clout in this assertion, but not for the reasons so often given. Even before Paul entered the scene there
was severe tension between Jewish Christianity and the Temple. In fact, he conceded that he was responsible
for the attempt to eliminate the followers of The Way. But Paul cannot be held responsible that the Gentile
Christians left their brethren in Jerusalem in the lurch after the catastrophe of 70 AD. In a Dutch study about
the destruction of Jerusalem and its ramifications, H. Mulder highlighted that the attitude to Christianity by
the people of the covenant might have been completely different if Gentile Christians had shown more
compassion towards their Jewish brethren and sisters. Paul had given them a good example when he praised
the generosity of the poor Macedonians on behalf of the struggling believers of Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8
and 9). Furthermore, already as a Pharisee, he appears to have felt a deep inward dissatisfaction with his own
religious accomplishments, in a way which many fervent religious practitioners like Martin Luther
experienced it. The Law just did not produce real inward peace. His devotion to the Pharisaic conception of a
nation made holy by observance of the Mosaic law was extreme, and his own conduct, as tried by that
standard, had been ‘blameless’. He however changed radically in his thinking after his supernatural
confrontation with the exalted Jesus on the road to Damascus and its aftermath, where he sensed a calling to
personal service. This experience has been happening with thousands of followers of the Lord ever since. A
deep experience with the risen Saviour more often than not elicits opposition!
The Cycle of Pride and Rejection
The cycle of pride and rejection that was once started with Hagar and Sarah - and continued with the
Samaritans (see Esra 4) - seems to have been perpetuated in the Early Church. Cerinthus appears to have
been quite proud and haughty, perpetuating a vicious cycle. Paul’s teaching of charity – as he wrote to the
Corinthians in the well-known 13th chapter of his first epistle – was by no means pervasive. In fact, already
in the early 2nd century, Gentile believers became quite haughty in respect of Israel. In the Epistle of
Barnabas which originated about 135 AD (not to be confused with the fraudulent Gospel of Barnabas), it
was argued that Israel never was the people of God’s covenant. Michael Avi-Jonah, a Jewish professor in
archaeology, concluded from this epistle that all blessings apply to Christians and all curses to their Jewish
opponents (Duvekot. 1979:54). In the extension of this thinking, the well-known early Christian apologist
Justin Martyr opined haughtily in his Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew, that Christians – not Jews – are the true
heirs of God’s promises.
The polemics practised by Cerinthus became gradually stronger, culminating in the anti-Jewish
propaganda under the Emperor Constantine. After the visit of his mother Helena to Jerusalem, the city was
declared a Christian place of pilgrimage. But Jews were not allowed to enter the city. The rejection of Jews
had a few more precedents in the Church before Muhammad did it in 624 CE, almost demonstratively
turning his back on them by ordering the qiblah to be changed to Mecca.
Cerinthus held nothing of Paul
The heresiarch Cerinthus held nothing of Paul. This was nowhere unique. In his association with the Jewish
law and his modest assessment of Jesus, he was similar to the Ebionites. In The Ebionite Manifesto one can
read: ‘We declare the man Paul of Tarsus, the false teacher against the mark of Covenant and God’s Torah, to be
outside of the Way taught by Yeshua, the anointed, son of Maria and Yosef.’
Apparently various Christian Jews regarded the prolific epistle writer of the ‘NT’ as an ‘apostate of the
law’. The main cause of this was Paul’s denial of any saving power of the Law in favour of faith in Jesus the
Christ, the mediator between God and man. Furthermore - to the annoyance of the Judaists - Paul appeared
to ‘set aside the entire ritual and ceremonial law which made conversion to Judaism unacceptable to the educated
Greeks and Romans of the period’ (Schoeps, 1963:46). His speaking of ‘the curse of the law’ (Galatians 3:10ff)
was indeed a very unfortunate and uncharitable formulation, although it was actually an application of
Deuteronomy 27:26. But seen within the context where Paul also notes that Jesus was made a curse
(Galatians 3:13), it becomes significantly less harsh. With regularity we read how he attended the synagogue
everywhere he went, reasoning with them, which however took many Jews out of their comfort zones, to put
it mildly.
We know however that the strand of the Essenic Ebionites - from which Waraqah bin Naufal, the mentor
of Muhammad, was possibly ultimately influenced - held the Law in high regard. That Waraqah called
Muhammad, a namus – most probably his distortion of nomos, the Greek word for law - and likening
Muhammad in this way with Moses, seems to point in this direction. (This was rather unfortunate, especially
in the light of Khadiyah, Muhammad's first wife using or rather abusing that to remind him when
Muhammad, the doubter, thought that he was demon-possessed.) We note in this regard that the Law is
consistently used, in stead of logos (the Word) in The Essene Gospel of John (In Edmond B. Szekely, The
Gospel of the Essenes, 1991 (1974), pp. 84-86).
If we grant the followers of Cerinthus that they had laid the foundation of sidelining
Paul and his
teachings, the Elkhasaites should get the honour (or blame, if one looks at from the other side) for developing
it further. Beveridge refers to their hatred of Paul and also to the strongest affinities between their tenets and
those of Essene Ebionites (in his article on Ebionism in Hastings, Vol. 5:144). This provided the foundation
for the link to Islam in later centuries.
Was Paul an Apostate of the Law?
We can quite easily understand why Paul’s evaluation of the Law was unacceptable to Jews especially – and
later to Muslims - albeit that he has been accused very unfairly. He experienced the Law subjectively as
burdensome, at best as a prodding educator or even a sort of punishing rod towards Christ (Galatians 3:24,
NIV ‘put in charge, to lead us to Christ’). This is in contrast for instance to the Psalmist who experienced his
delight in meditation of the Law ‘day and night’ (Compare Psalm 1:2). Hans-Joachim Schoeps, a German
scholar, (1963:41) noted aptly that the rabbinic praises of the Law could be understood ‘only in the sense of
fulfilling God’s will, and never in the sense of some ethics of merit’.
On the other hand, Paul had high regard for the Law. In his defence before the governor Felix in
Acts 24, he stated that he believes ‘everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets.’
Paul had the same hope in the resurrection of righteous and the wicked, albeit that the ‘resurrection of the
wicked’ was taking matters further than orthodox Pharisee-ism. When the Christians took the message of the
resurrection of Christ to their fellow Jews, causing riots in different places en route, Paul himself got in the
centre of the turmoil when he spoke as a former Pharisee who now believed in the resurrection of Jesus
(Acts 23:6ff). Originally he had been charged with ‘persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary
to the Law.’ Christians would do well to emulate Paul in this regard - persuasion and not coercion -
especially in our dealings with people who have a different belief system.
In another sense, the resentment of Judaism and Islam to Paul can be fully comprehended. His
opposition to the Judaisers, which is expounded so strongly in his letter to the Galatians, is well known.
Initially, the Jerusalem Council revealed the existence of a centre party, ‘led in somewhat pusillanimous manner’
(Johnson, 1988:40) by Peter and James. Afterwards the centre crumbled, surrendering to the legalist
Judaistic wing.
Islam is a religion based on the Shari‘a, or a Godgiven
law that governs the various aspects of life,
such as law, worship, moral and social issues, and so on. This mirrors the Jewish Halakha, which serves the
same purposes for Jews. Both of these lie at the core of the two religions. Furthermore, oral tradition is the
basis for religious laws in these religions. This is known as the Hadith in Arabic, designed to interpret and to
supplement the written law. In Arabic this is called the Kitab and in Hebrew it is the Tora shebikhtav.
titles have the same meaning. To Paul could thus be attributed the fact that notions like rules and regulations
of the validity of prayer, menstrual uncleanness and the like, which Islam obviously took over from legalist
Judaism, became alien to Christianity. Bradford Greer (in the article Free to Live under the Law – A model
for Islamic witness, Evangelical Missions Quarterly, October, 2002) portrays that although Paul ‘had an
aversion to people seeking to be accepted by God on the basis of the law (Galatians 5:4), he had no aversion to living
under the law to win those under the law’(1 Corinthians 9:1923).
Paul was Jewish through and through, using
the rituals of their faith as a ‘missiological strategy to reach out to other Jews’ (Greer, ibid, p. 450).
Through the centuries Judaisers revelled in exaggerating the differences between the two dynamic
apostles Peter and Paul, abusing the shamefaced
refusal of table fellowship with Gentiles at Antioch and
Paul’s stern rebuke (Galatians 2:1114).
Johnson (1988:40) suggests that Peter eventually broke with, or at
least left the JewishChristian
Church of Jerusalem and he seems to have accepted Paul’s theology (At the
Council of Jerusalem, Acts 15, he spoke clearly in support.) In all probability the two died together as
martyrs. (It is clear though that the Jerusalem Church became increasingly hostile to Paul, maintaining a
close connection to Judaism. From their point of view Paul had caused severe embarrassment, which would
not have been easy to explain to Jews.)
Labelled by Rabbi’s and Mullah’s
Paul, the apostle, has more often than not been labelled by the rabbi’s and mullah’s down the ages in a
unfair way as an apostate of the law. He concededly used unfortunate wording, speaking for
example about the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13). Paul’s references to the law are often quoted out of
context as
is often done with Galatians 3:13 and with hardly any effort to understand Paul’s background
as a Pharisee. An influential portion of the Pharisees evidently did experience the meticulous legalistic
precepts of the Torah as a burden. In their battle against Paul, Jewish theologians have often conveniently
ignored that the concededly polemic letter to the Galatians was written to Christians and not to Jews!
Furthermore, the translation of the Greek word for Law (viz. nomos), back into the Hebrew
Torah, evidently also put more weight to the matter. From his other writings it is clear that Paul was
nowhere an ‘apostate of the law’ and a renegade as he has often been vilified. In fact, in Romans 9 he
speaks about his passionate love for his people, his mega sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart,
willing to be ‘cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen by race’ (v.2,3). It is
sad that Christians could abuse this verse to speak about Israel as a stumbling block to the Church. That
sentence of Paul was surely on a par with the plea of Moses, who was willing to be blotted out of God’s
book (Exodus 32:32). It has however been prophetic of the other great Jew who indeed gave his love as a
ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).
Paul’s 'insensitivity' to Jewish Christians
The other side of the coin is that Paul was not completely innocent in creating the impression that he was
not always sensitive to the sentiments of the Jewish Christians, let alone to those of the other Jews. When
he came to Jerusalem with his contingent, according to the report in Acts 21, the leaders there could really
empathise with the group, rejoicing at what God had done through Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles.
James promptly referred to the ‘many thousands of Jews’ (who) have believed, ‘and all of them zealous
for the law’ (v. 20). Strikingly, James brought over to Paul what was the talk of the town: ‘They have been
informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them
not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs’. James tried to quell the flames of anger
with a suggestion how Paul could show the masses that he was not an apostate of the law. It did not help
much. Paul was almost killed by the furious Jews. Whether there was miscommunication or not, the
tension radiated by the allegations brought against Paul, speaks a language of its own.
From what has been handed down, it is clear that these allegations had a lot of substance. Words
from Paul like the comparison in Romans 7:16,
are really unfortunate. To compare the law to a marriage
when the husband has died, was apt to sent many a Jewish heart boiling in anger: ‘You are no more under
the law’ (v.6). Paul, the prolific missionary, furthermore did not always practice what Jesus preached, for
example when he spoke about his adversaries. To speak about anyone as ‘dogs’ does not radiate enemy
love. What is worse is that he probably referred to other believers in that context: ‘those dogs, those men
who do evil’ (Philippians 3:2). This could still have referred to anybody, but‘those mutilators of the flesh’
is evidently a word play, a reference to the prime representatives of circumcision (katatome and peritome
respectively). This is followed up in the context with ‘For it is we who are the circumcision’ (3:3). Thus
Paul possibly widened the rift between Jewish and Gentile Christians. The assertion that he was regarded
as an apostate of the law thus had some substance and he contributed to this perception without any
doubt, but it is also true that Paul mellowed his tone in later letters. By the time of his writing the second
letter to the Corinthians he beseeches ‘by the meakness and gentleness of Christ (10:1ff), emphasising
that spiritual warfare must not be applied with carnality.
It is nevertheless unfair that Paul is singled out if we consider that Jesus also really called a spade
a spade. The scribes and Pharisees were offended because they saw Jesus’ teaching as a revolutionary
attack upon law and tradition. We compare how Jesus was even more radical than Paul in many a way,
showing how the Pharisees nullified the Word of God through their traditions (Mark 7: 13). Yet, although
Jews find it repugnant that Jesus died on a cross, our Master is still held in high regard by them. The Lord
stressed that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.
Paul as the Cause of Islamic thought?
This question is prone to let many a scholar sit up straight. I dare to argue that the reaction to Pauline
teaching prepared the way for Islam. We have stated that at heart Paul was definitely not a renegade from
Jewish law, but that his wording was very unfortunate. On at least three issues he really got his Jewish
contemporaries unnecessarily fiercely in opposition against him. I am not referring to the confrontation,
which his position on the resurrection of Jesus caused or the accusation that the Jews crucified Jesus
innocently. The NazareneEbionite
faction of early Christianity had no problems with those beliefs. There
was even a partial ignoring of Hebrew Scriptures' prescripts and authorities by the Ebionites according to
the motto: We don’t need the law because the Gospel has come. Paul was thus not such a loner with
regard to the law as some of his JudeoIslamic
opponents try to make us believe.
What I do deem to be very unfortunate is the perception, which his Jewish Christian compatriots
had of his teaching. The allegations in Acts 21:17ff quoted above, reflect the threefold
conflict that made
their blood boiling. According to them he abrogated the Sabbaths together with their fixed festivals, his
teaching on circumcision was divisive and he interpreted the Torah in a perverted way.
From the available evidence on paper, Paul does not seem extremely guilty on any of these
counts. Between the lines one can pick up however that he must have said things that really enraged his
religious adversaries. The letter to the Galatians gives us an idea what a hothead
Paul must have been. He
challenged Peter ‘to his face’, referring to his opponents as ‘false apostles’ and ‘hypocrites’. On the other
hand, they were very sceptical about his free association with the despised ‘goyim’, the uncircumcised
Gentiles. To get an idea: Even our Lord Jesus referred to the Gentiles as dogs (Mark 7:27). We South
Africans, who know racial prejudice, can understand fully why nothing was accepted from a man with
such a suspect record as Paul. The fact which counted heavily against him was that he was seen with the
uncircumcised Trophimus. That was enough to arouse the city (Acts 21:29, 30) and it almost cost him his
life. Whether he also brought Trophimus into the holy sanctuary, would have actually been only additional
material against him. We remind ourselves how people were labelled ‘kafferboeties’, how others were
‘necklaced’ or their houses burnt down only because they had contact with people from one of the reviled
other races.
Three Contentious Issues
If we try to unravel Paul’s teaching on the three contentious issues from the available evidence, one comes
to the conclusion that his general teaching was quite good, but that he interspersed it with loaded
expressions which undid much of that sound teaching. Let us take his lessons on circumcision for
instance. That ‘circumcision of the heart’ (Philippians 2:11, 12) was called for, was completely in line
with what Jeremiah (4:4; 9:27) had taught. Paul was basically echoing what the prophets had said all
along, that a heart transplant was needed, that the uncircumcised unrepentant hearts of stone had to be
removed. But then Paul also lumped the circumcisers together with evil men and dogs (Philippians 3:2,
see above). Paul plainly went overboard. How would any Jew react even
today if
he reads: ‘Mark my
words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ (= Messiah!!!) will be of no value
to you at all’ (Galatians 5:2)?
And what about his teaching on Sabbaths and festivals? Paul ingeniously wrote about the
Passover festival and Jesus as our Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). This is a wonderful link to Exodus
12:43ff, where it is repeatedly and specifically stated that no alien is allowed to participate in the
Passover, unless all the males in his household (are) circumcised. Seeing that circumcision of the heart is
what is called for, the ceremony as such becomes superfluous. The ‘old yeast of malice and wickedness’,
contrasted to the unleavened bread of ‘sincerity and truth’, would have gone down well with the
Nazarenes, reminding them of the Passover and the Seder meal, where every semblance of yeast had to
be removed. It might even have reminded them of Jesus, the unleavened bread of life (John 6:48). But
when Paul proceeded to link the festivals and Sabbaths with new moons (Colossians 2:16), he conjured up
the idolatrous occultic Baal worship in the mind of the staunch Jew. But that need not have been a
problem as such. Isaiah 1:1114
also spoke of these things as detestable in God’s sight: ‘Your new moons
and appointed feasts my soul hates’.
The remarks of Jesus with regard to the Sabbath were even more radical. Also, Paul attended the
synagogues wherever he went, thus showing his respect for the Jewish custom on Sabbath. Is is not
known what else he might have said that is not recorded in the available literature. It seems as though Paul
had been very unfairly treated on this score as well.
Nevertheless, it can be argued albeit
rather weekly that
Paul may have laid the basis for the
Emperor Constantine to jettison the tradition of the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week. Constantine
declared the first day of the week as the official day of rest in 321 CE. This precedent surely made it easy
for Muhammad to change the Islamic sacred day to Friday without any clear theological reason.
Legalism which developed in the Church
The legalism which developed in the Church should possibly rather be attributed to medieval priests and
popes than to Paul, albeit that some of his views caused tension between Jews and certain Jewish Christians.
The tension relaxed somewhat when James, Jesus’ brother, took over as the head of the Church in Jerusalem.
He was embarrassed by Paul’s strong contacts with Gentiles and his concessions to their way of life (Sox,
1984:18). The legalist church experience of Martin Luther as a monk made him empathise with Paul so much
that he dogmatised faith (or grace) as the opposite of the Law, thereby completely misconstruing the
intention of the Torah, which had primarily always been intended as teaching, rather than handing down
burdensome rules and regulations. To suggest that Paul propagated views which could lead to a permissive
libertine interpretation is mischievous. This could have happened already in his day. He may have echoed an
accusation when he wrote: ‘Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?’ (Romans 6:1). This he refuted
strongly: Certainly not!
We keep in mind that the lifestyle
of Jesus was rather typified with feasting than fasting (thus Albert
Nolan in his book Jesus before Christianity), especially in comparison with John the Baptist, Paul’s view on
the Torah – excluding of course his statement that it was a chastising rod to bring people to faith in Christ would
have been fairly close to that of the Lord who said e.g. that Sabbath was made for man and not the
other way round. It is sad that Judaizers and others deemed it fit to criticize Paul instead of taking the
teaching of Jesus on board;. The Law is still felt very burdensome to many as it has been testified by converts
in recent times. All sorts of tricks are still being used to circumvent a legalist interpretation of the Law.
That Jesus stressed that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil it, is of course much more
helpful than the Pauline expression. For the legalist Jew and Muslim, it might not be clear enough what Jesus
meant by his attitude to the Mosaic Law. Yet, in respect of the Sabbath observance the veil was lifted. God
gave the command so that man could rest for a while and not to prevent someone from doing good, hinder
healing or saving lives. Jesus attacked the callous attitude of legalist Pharisees and Scribes who would rather
feed an ox in a pit on the Sabbath in stead of taking it out straight away, of those who came up with myriads
of ways to circumvent doing anything that could be interpreted as work on the day God intended for rest,
sticking to the letter the law. Paul was basically saying the same thing – it is the spirit of the Law that
Did Paul ‘hellenise’ the Church?
Even more unfair was the accusation against Paul that he was supposed to have hellenised the Church,
inserting Greek influence into the Jewish roots of the faith. It is true that he put his stamp on Christianity like
nobody else, but Judaism itself had been ‘Hellenised’ long before him. In fact, the whole process started
already with Alexander the Great. It was however especially Philo (20 B. C.? – 42 AD?) who stimulated this
process of uniting Greek and Jewish ideas. Regarding the‘Old Testament’ as the wisest of books and a real
divine revelation and Moses the greatest of teachers, Philo found the ‘OT’ in harmony with the best in
philosophy of Plato and the Stoics by allegorical interpretation. This allegoric method of explanation was
destined to influence Christian study of the Scriptures deeply. Philo operated in Alexandria, where the
Septuagint, the Greek translation of Hebrew Scriptures had been circulating already for centuries.
Furthermore, Greekspeaking
Jews had already been used as deacons in the Early Church when their widows
felt discriminated against (Acts 6). Williston Walker (1976:24) furthermore highlighted that Paul was brought
up in a strict Jewish home and sent to study under the famous Gamaliel, and that ‘there is no reason to believe
that Paul ever received a formal Hellenic education’.
A major legalist Distortion
A major legalist distortion for which Paul can definitely not be held responsible is the complete change of the
divine intention of the Sabbath rest. We have opaquely referred to the fact that Jesus attacked the legalist and
callous interpretation of the divine command, thoroughly ridiculing the Pharisaic practices in the process. In
ancient Judaism the Sabbath rest was regarded as the prince of all commandments. All sorts of legalist
devices and ways have been devised by the Pharisees and Scribes to circumvent the letter of the law, which
are all too often quite ridiculous. This was unfortunate, paving the way for further estrangement between
Christianity and Judaism. The separation between Christendom and Judaism became fairly complete after the
destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The retreat of the Christians to Pella was regarded as desertion at a
critical time. Yet, elsewhere – notably in Alexandria in North Africa – Christian Jews still lived
harmoniously side by side with their more legalist Jewish counterparts.
The real Culprit for complete JudeoChristian
Elsewhere we have shown how Constantine’s proclamation of Sunday as a free day in 321 CE should be
given much blame for the complete estrangement between Christianity and Judaism. The Council of Nicaea
in 325 CE drove the nail deeper when the theologians established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after
the full moon (the Sunday following the vernal equinox, the Paschal full moon.) From the earliest days of the
Church Easter had been following the Jewish tradition to celebrate it at the Passover. This simultaneously
dwarfed the fact that Jews often have two Sabbaths in one week at that time of the year, viz. the weekly
seventh day of the week and the other one linked to the lunar month. The wellknown
early 20th century
evangelist R.A. Torrey and the less known W.L. Pettinghill pointed out that Jesus was most probably
crucified on a Wednesday, which would simultaneously account for the first day of the week after three days
and three nights (Cited in B. Kleynhans, Diaboliese Samewerking, n.d. p.77). A comparison of Mark 16:1
and Luke 23:56 shows that there were two Sabbaths in that week, with a normal working day in between.
Mark 16:1 refers to a point in time after the Sabbath when the women went to buy spices and Luke 23:56
mentions that the women returned after buying the spices, prepared them and rested on the Sabbath as the
Law prescribes. Surprisingly, the quite logic explanation of Torrey and Penninghill – derived from the
Gospel reports somehow
failed to break through in Christian apologetics. The ConstantineNicene
w.r.t. the date of Easter not only cemented the JudeoChristian
estrangement, but it also caused confusion to
the day of celebration. The end result of the Pauline influence of the Church is that Muhammad was initially
much closer to Judaism than to Christianity.
12. Prophets are sinless!
According to the Islamic doctrine of isma, prophets are not supposed to have sinned. The playing down
of sexual immorality therefore occurs regularly in the religion, notably when it comes to the prophets. That is
sometimes made relative in Islamic theology according
to this reasoning as
lapses and mistakes, which do
not amount to sinning. Thus Yusuf Ali (1946:1223) is adamant that the Muslim view of David is that of a
man just and upright, endowed with all the virtues, in whom even the least thought of selfelation
washed away by repentance and forgiveness. According to Ali, the Bible refutes itself by contributing
heinous crimes to David like adultery, fraudulent dealing with one of his servants and the contriving of
murder. Ali asks: How could this be a man after God’s own heart? With this rather unsubstantiated doctrine
one wonders whether this is not a veiled attempt to bring Muhammad closer to Jesus.
Biblical Origin of the Concept
The concept of the sinlessness of the prophets already occur in the apocryphal Prayer of Manasses
(Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, IV:532). 2 Chronicles 33 narrate how King Manasseh led the people of
Judah astray, in consequence of which, by the will of Yahweh, the Assyrians came and carried him off in
chains to Babylon. Then in verses 12, 13 it continues: ‘And when he was in distress, he besought Yahweh his
God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And he prayed unto him, and he was
intreated of him, and he heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then
Manasseh knew that Yahweh was God.’ The references in the apocryphal version to the patriarchs and their
sinlessness, the forms of expression and the general mode of thought puts a clear Jewish stamp on it.
Forerunners of the Doctrine of Isma
suggested that God imparted all wisdom and the knowledge of salvation to the heavenly
Christ, the Prophet of Truth. According to them Prophet of Truth is identical with Adam, the father of the
human race, and who finally became man a second time in Jesus. A pristine element of this doctrine is found
in the teaching of St Paul in his comparison between Jesus and Adam in Romans 5.
However, with the Clementines there is a clear deviation. The teaching that Adam sinned, is regarded
as an insult to the eternal King whose image he is. Even though he appeared in his own person only twice
(Adam and Jesus), he has at different times chosen those men as his prophets, whom he found to be pure.
It is obvious that the germ of the Islamic doctrine of isma, the sinlessness of the prophets, is very
much present in this sort of thinking. Clearly as an effort to bring Muhammad equal in stature to the
‘blameless’ or ‘faultless’ Jesus (conceded in Surah Maryam 19:19), Islam has no really good explanation for
the doctrine of isma. Every Muslim understands Surah Maryam 19:19 to mean that Jesus was without sin. Of
no other prophet this has been claimed.
For Islam the behaviour of David and Solomon creates a major problem, because both of them are
regarded as prophets. Islamic theologians would hence speak of the mistakes and forgetfulness of prophets. It
seems to me that the drunkenness and incest of Noah did not get that sort of attention in Islamic literature,
nor did the lies of Abraham to save his own life by telling the Pharaoh and Abimelech that Sarah was his
sister. In an attempt to bring him on par with the blameless Jesus, Muslims speak of Muhammad’s mistakes
and forgetfulness. The latter is easily explained within Oriental context. In Islam lies are merely mistakes,
small sin compared to shirk and adultery. This has possibly been derived from distorted Judaism and Oriental
culture where this is still fairly common. In a shame culture lies are all but accepted as a tool to save either
your face or your reputation and that of your clan. In fact, it is also accepted that one can abuse lies to win
people over to Islam. At the Cape this has been fairly often practised down the years, where men would lie
about their marital status, in order to get a second (a Christian) wife. The debatable notiont of God of the
Bible and Allâh being identical – at least a half truth – was abused to prepare many a heart, especially during
the 1980s.
Early Types of Muhammad
Elkhasai was an early type of Muhammad, who likewise was not a learned man. Carrington (Vol 1. 1957:411)
suggests that Elkhasai was a ‘rather fantastic example of Ebionism’. The extant fragments of his book
demonstrate not the slightest evidence of his having studied the Jewish Scriptures. He passed on a doctrine
of new repentance on the authority of ‘a revelation from heaven which came to him in the third year of the Emperor
Trajan. i.e 100 CE’ (Carrington, Vol. 1. 1957:411). This was to be a new opportunity for repentance for lapsed
Christians. The sinner had to immerse himself in water, in the name of the Great God the Most High and of
his Son, the Great King. The Book of Elkhasai was contemporary with the work of John, the apostle and The
Shepherd of Hermas. His book was offered equally with theirs as an inspired contribution to the life of the
Church (Carrington, Vol. 1. 1957:411).
The theory goes that the prophet uttered his oracles, commandments, decisions etc., which were then
written down on separate sheets and entrusted among his followers (Brandt in Hastings, Vol. 5:263). Also in
this regard he displays a remarkable similarity with Muhammad, whose revelations were written down on
sheets after his death.
Elkhasai as an example of Ebionism
It seems to be universally held that a big part of the views of the Clementines were based upon the doctrines
in the Book of Elkhasai, which was used much by the Ebionites. Remarkable common ground about the
Jewish Ebionites and Islam is the fact that unpraiseworthy stories about the representatives of true prophecy
are left out. Thus Adam’s sin, Noah’s drunkenness, Abraham’s and Jacob’s polygamy are argued away. Islam
offers no satisfactory explanation for their doctrine of the infallibility of the prophets.
The Book of Elkhasai does not however seem to have been known until it was brought to Rome about
the year 220 CE by a certain Allâhabad of Apia. It taught a second baptism (in running streams with all the
clothes on) for the remission of sins. For the rest, Elkhasai taught magic and astrology, made marriage
compulsory, celebrated the Eucharist with bread and water, caused his followers to be circumcised and they
were required to live by the Jewish law. Furthermore he held that Christ was born of a human father. Much of
this is contradictory to Clementine teaching.
A clear point of resemblance seems to be that the Homilies of the Clementines represent Christ as
having been in Adam and Moses. Elkhasai said He had been frequently incarnated in Adam and since then,
he would be reincarnated
again in other prophets. The Clementine writer is fond of pairs of antitheses, or
syzygia, such as Christ and the tempter, Peter and Simon. Drawing from anthropomorphisms in the Hebrew
Bible, replies are made to objections to Christianity. The writer is fond of citing sayings of Christ that are
however not found in the Bible. Thus the Christus of Ebionism was a divine teacher who had appeared on
earth many times, beginning with Adam the first man. He had also come as Moses and as Jesus; and perhaps
his last appearance was in Elkhasai himself (Carrington I, 1957:413). The Elkhasaites are said to have
practised astrology and magic and the invocation of angelic powers (Carrington I, 1957:413) like the
Mani, a universal Apostle Similar to Muhammad many years later, Mani is reported to have been called to
apostleship by an angel: ‘Peace unto thee, Mani, from me and from the Lord… He bids thee now to call the peoples
to the truth and to proclaim from him the good message of the truth and to dedicate thyself to this task’. Mani also
saw himself as a universal apostle (Andrae, 1971:144).68 Mani claimed that he was the last in the succession
of messengers of God and his followers called him the ‘Seal of the Prophets’. (In Surah 33:40 Muhammad
was also called thus.) Manichaeism knows the ascending importance of prophets, as well as a geographicethnic
allocation. Mani saw that Buddha (India), Zoroaster (Persia) and Jesus (in the lands of the West)
preceded him in the series of divine revelations. He wrote: ‘… After this came the revelation, and prophecy
manifests itself in this latter age through myself, Mani, the messenger of the true God …’ Muslim scholars generally
acknowledge this influence on Muhammad. Taking over a tenet from the Ebionites, Mani seems to have laid
the foundation for Muhammad in recognising Adam, Seth, Noah and Abraham as prophets (Andrae,
1971:144). The Qur’an lists not only similar biblical personalities, but also Arabian figures as Shuaib and
68 As far as I can discern, Muhammad was only called the Messiah in the 16th century in the forged Gospel of
Barnabas. Significantly, George Sale, who made the first serious translation of the Qur’an, already referred to it as
‘a most barefaced forgery’ in his preliminary discourses. Interesting he noted already in 1734 that the word periclyte
was ‘inserted in this apocryphal Gospel.’ Obviously, he was not aware of the forgery by Fra Marino.
Hud as prophets. Mani saw himself as the last prophet. Islam regards Muhammad as the last and greatest
The ultimate sinless One
The Hebrew Scriptures alludes to a sinless person in the Messianic prophecies. One of the most profound is
possibly Isaiah 9:6 where a child would be born that would be called no less than ‘mighty God’, ‘eternal
Father’ and ‘Prince of Peace’. It is just as significant that the Qur’an (Surah Mariam 19:19 refers to Jesus as
blameless, i.e. without having committed any sin.) Of no other prophet this is said in the sacred book of
Islam. The context is interesting because the virgin birth – which is stressed in both Surah Imran 3 and Surah
Mariam 19 implies
that he did not inherit a fallen, corrupt human nature.
The Qur’an highlights a very central tenet of Christianity in this way. Billheimer (1975:73)
puts it in a nutshell: ‘In order to furnish Satan no claim upon him, he had to live an absolutely sinless life. If Jesus
were not the Son of God by Mary by virtue of a supernatural conception, then He was merely the son of Adam. .. Then
he would have inherited Adam’s sin... In order to qualify legally, He had to be truly human. In order to qualify morally,
He had to be unquestionably divine.’ The problem of justice in the spiritual realm was solved in this way.
Because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, he was not the fallen son of Adam.
In the ‘NT’ different people testified to his sinlessness. Judas, one of his
disciples, testified “I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood’ (Matthew 27:4). Peter and John,
two other disciples who walked with him for about three years, said respectively that ‘Christ ... did no sin,
neither was guile found in his mouth’ (1 Peter 2:21, 22) and ‘And you know... that in Him was no sin.’ (1 John
3:5) The Roman ruler and judge Pontius Pilate and his wife both found Him without guilt (John 18:38 and
Matthew 27:19). Even demons trembled, recognizing that he was the Holy one of God (Mark 1:27; Luke
4:34). An interesting dimension of the humanity of our Lord is highlighted in the gnostic Gospel of Judas. In
this apocryphal document Jesus laughs a great deal.
Hebrew 4:15 shows how Jesus is the ultimate fulfilment of the High Priest of
the Hebrew Scriptures while his humanity displays his identification with our own frailty and weakness: We
have a high priest ‘who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin’; Paul, the apostle, links
this up with the atonement in 2 Corinthians 5:21 to show how God ‘made Him who knew no sin to be sin on
our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’ In Colossians 2:1315
Paul lifted the
veil how it has transpired: ‘...having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of
debt consisting of decrees against us... having nailed it to the cross... He disarmed the rulers and
13. Undue Veneration of Mary
Too much influenced by the Reformation, Protestants are in general very negatively inclined towards
Roman Catholicism, especially with regard to anything that honours the Mother of Jesus. Because of this,
Mary is perhaps even more highly regarded by Muslims in general than by the average Western Protestant.
Two Surah’s 3 (Imran) and 19 (Maryam) devote much attention to Isa, son of Maryam).
We should be thankful for Orthodox Christianity which could have rectified our view to appreciate
that. The indirect indoctrination which we as Westerners experienced especially in the cold war era possibly
blinkered us so much that also this was usually out of sight of our churches and seminaries – all too often
peppered with suspicion of Communist influence.
Individual Protestants showed appreciation of the special woman Mary. Richard Wurmbrand (If
Prison Walls could speak, 1972:41) thus pointed to a beautiful hymn sung in Orthodox churches on Good
Friday, to express the awe which her Son inspired in Mary. In his sermon, which Wurmbrand preached to the
prison cell walls without having access to a Bible, the Holy Spirit revealed some profound truths, such as that
Mary believed in Jesus whereas his own physical brothers initially did not (John 7:5).69 Wurmbrand debated
with his Orthodox and Catholic friends, noting that they seem to forget sometimes how unspeakably small
the Virgin Mary felt herself to be, and how unworthy she perceived herself when she held the infant in her
‘NT’ Attempts at the Veneration of Mary
Attempts at the veneration of Mary were already present in the ‘New Testament’. There were at least two
efforts during Jesus’ lifetime to put Mary on a pedestal in a wrong way. In both these instances Jesus deemed
it necessary to rectify his audience. They are recorded in Luke 11:2728
and Matthew 12:4650.
In the aforementioned
Scripture, Luke 11:2728,
a woman from the crowd called out to Jesus:
‘Blessed is your mother the
womb from which you came, and the breasts that gave you suck!’ Jesus
basically agreed to these sentiments in his reply, but he put things in perspective: ‘Yes, but even more blessed
are all who hear the Word of God and put it into practice.’ This reply of Jesus was in a sense an echo of what
Mary herself said at the wedding in Cana when Jesus started his ministry. In John 2:5 we read how she said
to the servants: Do whatever he tells you!
In the second Scripture reference, Matthew 12:4650,
Jesus was speaking in a crowded house when
his mother and brothers wanted to talk to him. When someone told him they were there, he remarked: Who is
my mother? Who are my brothers? Look! he said, These are my mother and brothers. Then Jesus added,
anyone who obeys my Father in heaven is my brother, sister and mother.
So we see that even during Jesus lifetime, He had to rectify people who wanted to make more out of
Mary than what she had herself perceived to be primarily, namely the servant maid of God. At the same time,
it joins all people who want to do the will of the Father, who worship Jesus as the Son of God. They become
a big family, as brothers and sisters of each other. Thus we could even interpret Jesus’ reply as a stinging
attack on all forms of sectarianism and denominationalism.
The prophetic word of the aged Simeon that a sword would pierce her soul was possibly pointing to
her experience decades later at the feet of the Cross, where she would witness how her Son would die cruelly
and innocently.
Mary worshipped like a Goddess
In spite of Jesus’ own words which
were of course not yet freely available Mary
was worshipped before
long almost like a goddess, at the expense of her son. An idolatrous worship followed, a practice which was
later to be imitated also in respect of ‘saints’. As a rule, these revered (wo)men of God were devoted
Christians who themselves had been pointing people to Jesus. Mary herself did just that when she said: ‘Do
whatever he tells you’ (John 2:5).
The Church historian Epiphanius spoke of a Christian sect, which deified the Virgin Mary so much
69 We know of course that at least one brother, James, the writer of the epistle, changed completely, going on to
ultimately lead the Church in Jerusalem.
that they offered cake on her altars. Hence they called themselves Collyridians. This is one of the church
groups that were present in Arabia at the time of Muhammad.
Often Protestants are quick to put the blame for the veneration of Mary on the Roman Catholic
Church. It is sobering to remind ourselves as Protestants that this early development is part and parcel of our
common church history, many centuries before the Reformation. This is an integral part of our common
The enemy of souls abused the worship of Mary to deceive many people. I would like to stress that
this is definitely not to be construed as a swipe at the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, it also occurred long
before the schism between the Eastern Orthodox Church and Rome. The Roman Catholic Church however
has to take full responsibility that there has hardly been any effort to rectify the idolatrous worship of Mary. In
fact, apart from the unfortunate occult connections that Catholicism appears to have inherited from the ancient
Mithrash cults, two doctrines were added in this denomination which have no biblical basis, namely the
immaculate conception of Mary and her supposed ascension. Crooked circular reasoning caused the Roman
Catholic Church to refuse recognising James, the epistle writer, as a brother of Jesus. As a 'perpetual virgin'
Mary was not supposed to have had other children. (The unholy veneration of Muhammad and his ‘ascension’
could be traced to this development.)
The Birth of Mary
According to the Qur’an, Mary’s father was Nabi Imran and her mother was Hannah. Mary’s story begins
while she is still in her mother’s womb. The mother of Mary said, “O my Lord! I do dedicate unto Thee what
is in my womb for Thy special service: So accept this of me: For Thou hearest and knowest all things.”
(Surah alImran
3:35). When Mary was born, her distraught mother exclaimed, “O my Lord! Behold! I am
delivered of a female child!” (Surah alImran
3:36). She had purportedly expected her baby to be a boy who
would grow up to be a scholar or religious leader. Surah alImran
3:36 continues “and God knew best what
she brought forth ... And no wise is the male like the female. I have named her Maryam, and I commend her
and her offspring
to Thy protection from satan, the Rejected.’
In Surah alImran
3:37, God states that He accepted Mary as her mother had asked. She was assigned
into the care of a priest named Zacharias (Zakariya). “Every time that he entered (her) chamber to see her,
he found her supplied with sustenance. He said, ‘O Mary! Whence (comes) this to you?’ She said, ‘From
God. For God provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure’” (Surah alImran
3:37). Although
his wife was barren and he was very old, God blessed Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth with a baby, to whom
he had to give the name John. The Qur’anic Yahyah is known as “John the Baptist” in the Bible.
The Assumption of the Virgin Mary
The veneration of Muhammad and his ‘ascension’ – the surmised ‘night journey’ could
be traced to the
supposed assumption of the Virgin Mary. The Roman Catholic Church teaches as dogma that the Virgin
Mary, ‘having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.' This means
that Mary was transported into Heaven with her body and soul united. This doctrine was defined as dogma
on 1 November 1950 by Pope Pius XII.
John 14:3, When I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I
am, there you may be also’, has usually been cited as the scriptural basis for the dogma of the Assumption of
Mary, a rather unconvincing proof. Pope Pius XI1 seems to have been not so convinced himself, saying in his
substantiation of the measure ‘All these proofs and considerations of the holy Fathers and the theologians are based
upon the sacred writings as their ultimate foundation.’ Somewhat stronger is his final argument ‘...although subject
to [Jesus, who is] the new Adam, Mary, [the new Eve] is most intimately associated with him in that struggle against the
infernal foe which, as foretold in the protoevangelium
[i.e. Genesis 3:15], this would finally result in that most
complete victory over the sin and death which are always mentioned together in the writings of the Apostle of the
Gentiles. Consequently, just as the glorious resurrection of Christ was an essential part and the final sign of this victory,
so that struggle which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her divine Son, should be brought to a close by the
glorification of her virginal body, for the same Apostle says: “When this mortal thing hath put on immortality, then
shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.”
Islamic view of the Virgin Mary
The Virgin Mary in Islam (“Maryam” in Arabic) is the mother of Jesus (Arabic Isa). Jesus is considered by
Muslims to be one of the great prophets of Islam. According to the Qur’an, Nabi Isa was born miraculously
without a human biological father, but by the will of Allâh (God). His mother is regarded as the most saintly,
pious, chaste, and virtuous woman ever and a highly respected figure in Islam. The Qur’an quite decisively
declares that Jesus was the result of a virgin birth, but that neither she nor her son was divine, but as
“honoured servants” (Surah alIn
Anbiya (The Prophets) 21.26).
Yet, no other woman is given more attention than the Virgin Mary in the Qur’an. In fact, no other
woman is mentioned in the Qur’an and the 19th Surah is named after her. Of the Qur’an’s 114 suras, she is
among only eight people who have a sura named after them.. In Islam, she is generally referred to as
Maryam, Umm Isa (Mary, the mother of Jesus). For Muslims, the Virgin Mary is viewed as both an example
and a sign for all people.
It is evident that the veneration of Mary was also the model for the veneration of Muhammad,
although he had actually opposed this in his life time. Honouring saints and martyrs ran parallel to that of
the mother of Jesus. In Roman Catholicism relics were also added to such veneration. Sometimes rather
dubious justification has been found for relics: ‘We should venerate the relics of the Martyrs and of other Saints
reigning with Christ, for their bodies were once the living members of Christ, for the bodies were once the living
members of Christ and the temples of the Holy Spirit’(Cited in Sox, 1985:14). Whereas the veneration of Saints
has at least been curbed in Catholicism since 1968 when the Pope ordered the carbon testing of Peter’s chair,
resulting in a complete revision of the calendar of the Church after the Second Vatican Council. By this
move, ‘200 saints lost their feast days and their relics were doomed to oblivion’(Sox, 1985:222). A significant
example of deveneration
was that of Saint Philomena. The bones had been found of a ‘virgin saint’, of
whom an inscription was translated as ‘Philomena, peace be with you’. The Vatican reacted with a feast day in
her honour (11 August). A Jesuit scholar discovered that there had been a misreading of the inscription, that
it merely was the Greek words for ‘beloved one’.
The glorification of Muhammad continue to this day with the addition of ‘peace be upon him’ to be
said every time a Muslim speaks about their prophet. In Islam the deveneration
of Muhammad still has to
start. That is just as unlikely as the deveneration
of Mary in the Catholic Church.
The Virgin giving Birth to a Son
The most detailed account of the annunciation and birth of Jesus is provided in Surah alImran
and Surah
Maryam 19 wherein it is written that God sent an angel to announce that she could shortly expect to bear a
son, despite being a virgin:
The Qur’an discusses Mary’s miraculous pregnancy as well. ‘Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary,
when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East. She placed a screen (to hide herself) from them;
‘then We sent her Our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects (Surah Maryam 19:1617).
After seeing the angel, she said: “I seek refuge from thee to (God) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou
dost fear God.” (Surah Maryam 19:18). The angel Gabriel responded: “Nay, I am only a messenger from thy
Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a pure son.” (Surah Maryam 19:19). She asked: “How shall I have a
son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?” (Surah Maryam 19:20). The Angel Gabriel
said: “So (it will be): thy Lord saith, ‘That is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men
and a Mercy from Us.’ It is a matter (so) decreed.” (Surah Maryam 19:21). Mary then becomes pregnant.
After conceiving Jesus, Mary went away with the baby to a distant place (Surah Maryam 19:22).
“And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palmtree.
She cried (in her anguish): ‘Ah! would that
I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten!’” (Surah Maryam 19:23). Joseph, the magi,
and the manger are not mentioned in the Qur’an. God was Mary’s only Provider. Muslims do not accept the
virgin birth of Jesus as evidence of Jesus’ divinity. “The similitude of Jesus before God is as that of Adam;
He created him from dust, then said to him: ‘Be.’ And he was” (Surah alImran
3:59). Yet, the same context
describes him as alMasih,
the Messiah. When the angels said O Mary! God gives thee Good News of a son
through a Word from Him! His name shall be the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, honoured in this world and in
the next, and of those who are granted nearness to God! (Surah alImran
3:45) And he shall speak to the
people in the cradle, and when of middle age, and he shall be of the Righteous (Surah alImran
3:46). That
she was chaste is emphasised: She said My Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me? He
said, That is as it shall be. God Creates what He pleases. When He decrees a thing He says to it “Be” and it
is! (Surah alImran
Punishments for false Accusations against Mary
The Qur’an also declares that one of the reasons (amongst quite a few listed) for the punishments of Allâh
upon the People of the Book “
God has sealed their hearts” (Surah Nisaa (The Women) 4.155) is
for their
“uttering a monstrous lie against Mary” (Surah Nisaa (The Women) 4:156). This is understood by some to
refer to the accusations of wanton unchastity, which was directed by some against Mary in her lifetime and
which Jewish sources consider to be antiSemitic
recorded in the Talmud. In fact, the Qur’an
includes Christians, Jews (including Karaites and Samaritans), “Sabians” (a Qur’anic term interpreted to
refer to the Mandaeans) and Zoroastrians among the People of the Book. Sura Maida (The Table Spread)
includes the prophecy of the Judgement Day where “Jesus, son of Mary” will be questioned by
God as regards those who worship him and Mary, and that Jesus will deny them: And when God will say O
Jesus, son of Mary, didst thou say to men: Take me and my mother for two gods beside God? He will answer
holy art Thou! I could never say that which I had no right. If I had said it, Thou wouldst have surely known
it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy mind. It is Thou alone who art the
knower of all hidden things. I said nothing to them except that which Thou didst command me Worship
(Arabic: Allâh), my Lord and your Lord...
14. Jesus will return one Day and marry!
Like the other Abrahamic religions, Islam teaches the bodily resurrection of the dead. In a sense
Islamic eschatology is ambivalent on this score because the death of Jesus is denied by orthodox
Islam. This is however linked to the docetic tenets of Islam whereby the death of Jesus by crucifixion is
ambivalently denied (Surah alImran
3:55 refers to the natural death of the son born to Mary I
gathering Thee and causing Thee to ascend unto me. Furthermore, Surah Mariam 19:33 can easily be
compared to Surah Mariam 19:15 that speaks of the death of John, the Baptist.)70 In the refuting vein, Nabi
Isa is believed to have been taken away by Allâh, to return one day at his second coming. It is believed that
Jesus was not crucified; instead he was raised bodily. As we have shown already, Cerinthus had started this
ball rolling when he disputed the divinity of Jesus.. This is a part of the DocetistGnostic
background of
Surah Nisaa (Women) 4:157, which intimates that God took Jesus away before he could die.
Eschatology of Cerinthus
Probably the most remarkable tenet about Cerinthus in the context of similarity with Islam is his eschatology,
and his teaching of life hereafter. He stated that ‘the kingdom of Christ will be on the earth, and that the flesh,
dwelling at Jerusalem, will once more serve lusts and pleasures’ (Lawlor and Oulton, quoting Eusebius in his
Ecclesiastical History I, 1927:89). Noting that Isaiah 25:6 speaks of ‘a banquet of aged wine – the best of
meats and the finest of wines’, Cerinthus conjured up abuse, even sexual lust. This is remarkably similar to
the Qur’anic vision where the fortunate men in paradise will enjoy the pick of many virgins and be served
with luscious eatables and wine by young lads (Surah Waqi'a (The Inevitable Event) 56:1137).
The view that
the Qur’an itself – much less the Ahadith, the recorded words and deeds of the supreme Islamic prophet ‘
strikes at the very root of sensual pleasure’ (Muhammad Ali, The Religion of Islam, p. 299), is completely
misleading. Yet, the Qur’anic verses referring to Paradise are close to the biblical description or the
ecclesiastical notions of the time. They are all found in Meccan Surah’s. The verse 9:72 is typical: ‘Allâh has
promised to the believing men and the believing women gardens, beneath which rivers flow, to abide in them,
and goodly dwellings in gardens of perpetual abode.’ Significantly, this verse closes with the words ‘and
best of all is Allâh’s goodly pleasure; that is the grand achievement’ (Shakir translation). ‘No fatigue’ in
Paradise sounds almost like the New Jerusalem of the Revelations of John, the biblical apostle. Surah Fatir
(The Creator) 35:34, 35 says ‘And they will say: “Praise be to Allâh, Who has removed from us (all) sorrow:
for our Lord is indeed oftForgiving,
ready to appreciate (service).’ The most striking difference between
the Qur’an and ahadith is possibly that there is an emphasis on peace in many Meccan Surah’s, e.g. (This
will be) their cry therein: “Glory to Thee, O Allâh!” And “Peace” will be their greeting therein! and the
close of their cry will be: “Praise be to Allâh, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds!” The greeting of
peace along with tranquillity resounds in the following ayas: Surah Yunus (Jonah) 10:9, 10; Surah Ebrahim
(Abraham) 14:23; Surah AlHijr
(The Rocky Tract) 15:46; Surah Ya Sin 36:57, Surah AlMujadila
pleading Woman 58; Surah Qaf 50:34,35; Surah Waqi’a (What is coming) 56:25, 26. The hijrah,
Muhammad’s flight to Medina in 622 A.D., was to change all this when jihad (struggle), often simplistically
translated as holy war, became increasingly more prominent.
Knowing that dying as a martyr in jihad is the only sure way of entering paradise in Islam, the following
saying of Muhammad became doubly attractive for young men: ‘The martyr will be married to seventytwo
wives of the houris, virgins. He has the right to intercede for seventy of his relatives’ (quoted in Behind the Veil, p.
Cerinthus had a special idea about the eschatological millennium in (the new?) Jerusalem: ‘… a tale
of a thousand years is to be spent in marriage festivities’ (Peake in Hastings, Vol. 3, p. 318). It is however more
probable that Muhammad took the notion of lust and gluttony in paradise from the Syrian Church, as has
been pointed out by Andrae (1936:120).
70 The former verse (3:55) has been the used widely in the CAMEL method. The E and L of the acronym standing for
Eternal Life is used in this way to deduce that Jesus led the way to God, thus being the cause for many Muslims to
become followers of Jesus, albeit that the contextualization may in many cases have gone too far, blurring the limits
and almost accepting the Qur’an as the Word of God as well.
According to many hadith and believed by most Muslims, Nabi Isa will return to the earth. He will
marry, destroy all crosses and die ultimately. A special variation of the open grave of Christianity is that the
grave next to that of Muhammad in Medina is kept open for Jesus to be buried there. The majority of
Muslims believe that Jesus will physically return to this world with the Mahdi at the time appointed by Allâh.
(Judaism definitely sees the coming of the Messiah as a divine intervention but to see him as a normal
human being remains a problem to Jews. Islam however definitely expects both the coming Mahdi as well as
the returning Jesus to be human beings.) There is some divergent beliefs in Shia and Sunni versions of the
religion how this would transpire. Convergence with Christianity and Judaism (with the advent of the
expected Messiah) is that all wars will stop and an era of peace will be ushered in. The messianic era arrives
after Jesus will have killed ad Dajjal,
the antichrist figure in Islam. According to hadith Nabi Isa (or the
Mahdi?) will defeat all the followers of ad Dajjal,
marry and ultimate die. Thereafter he will be buried in
the open grave prepared for him in Medina.
Martyrdom as a ticket to Paradise
An eschatology, which includes an emphasis on sensualism, is a paradigm in Islam that has a Cerinthian and
Manichaeist precedent. A fragment goes on to elucidate that no less than eighty angels of the opposite sex,
decked in flowers, will after death have approached the righteous and exhorted him to stride forward into the
paradise of light and there to taste joy (cited in Widengren, 1965:64). In the Islamic Paradise the faithful and
the jihad martyrs will be able to enjoy practises, which had been forbidden on earth like wine aplenty and sex
with virgins. The tradition of martyrdom as a ticket to Paradise has many a Christian precedent. One of the
most striking among them is the Christian history of the Maghrib, which started in 180 CE with the
martyrdom of five women and seven men in the little village near to Carthage. One of them carried in his bag
‘books and letters of Paul, a just man’ (Cited in Isichei, 1995:34). The religious Roman proconsul wanted to give
them 30 days to think things over, but they needed no time for reflection in their passion for martyrdom:
‘Today we are martyrs in heaven.’ The poor believers of North Africa, with nothing or little to lose, were often
the most enthusiastic martyrs, believing that martyrdom was the quick way to heaven, something to be
espoused. A most macabre memorial is the boulders at the bottom of cliffs in Numedia with a name and a
date where Donatist circumcellions had plunged to their deaths in pursuit of a sort of martyrdom (Cited in
Isichei, 1995:38). In our day and age many a Islamic teenage suicide bomber has been similarly deceived.
Worldliness enters high Church Offices
Much nearer to the age of Muhammad sexual immorality entered high Church Office. Bishop Damasus (305384
AD) went all out not only to stress that Peter and Paul gave Rome the primacy over the East, but he also
introduced an unprecedented worldliness and pomp. He was singleminded
in his efforts to win over the rich
to Christianity, but he appears to have been a ‘wholly unspiritual man’ (Johnson, 1978:99). Most of his
important converts were society women which gave his enemies cause to refer to him as the man who tickled
ladies’ ears. His lifestyle
created a model of a leader bishop with massive influence in the State. Worldliness
was reflected in episcopal dress, which combined both the dignity of senatorial garb introduced by
Constantine. Some outstanding bishops like Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom opposed this
compromise with the world.
Bishop (Pope) Damasus appointed Church historian Jerome as his confidential secretary. Damasus
encouraged the highly respected scholar to revise the available Old Latin versions of the Bible into a more
accurate Latin on the basis of the Greek 'New Testament' and the Septuagint, in order to put an end to the
marked divergences in the western texts of that period, resulting in the Vulgate. The third Islamic kaliph,
Uthmann, would go one step further, burning divergent readings (versions?) of the Qur’an.
On the other hand, we must be realistic enough to know that God’s Word will not always be
welcomed with open arms. This is nothing new. In fact, the tearing up or burning of Bibles has a Scriptural
precedent. In Jeremiah 36 it is reported how the king’s secretary and other officials were alarmed by the
prophecy of Jeremiah to the extent that they thought the king himself should also hear it. But in callous
contempt King Jehoiakim cut off the parts from the scroll which had been read and threw it into the fire
(Jeremiah 36:23). The message of the scroll almost sent Jeremiah to prison.
Jerome became one of the harshest critics of the excesses due to the reign and example of Damasus,
writing of priests ‘who gain admission to aristocratic houses and deceive silly women... who seek ordination simply to
see women more freely’ (Johnson, 1978:101).
Warning of the coming Judgement
When Muhammad attacked individual aggrandisement, he practised what he preached - harvesting chagrin
from the wealthy and influential people of Mecca. Muhammad sensed a special inspiration to warn the
people of Mecca of the coming judgement. Andrae (1936:119) noted how Muhammad not only took over the
ideas of the Syrian Christians, ‘but also in expression, form and style of preaching.’ In Muhammad’s vision a
horrible natural catastrophe such as a thunderclap, a cry or a crash will usher in the judgement. It sounds
almost biblical when he expected that it would come simultaneously with a trumpet sound, which will call
men before the Judge.71 A terrific earthquake will shake the earth. It reads like the Revelation of John that
the sky will bring forth a kind of smoke plainly visible (Surah Dukhan (Smoke) 44:10) and molten brass will
be hurled down upon men, plus exposure to other torture (Surah Rahman (Most Gracious) 55: 35ff). The
vision of Muhammad sounds almost like a combination of the prophecies of the end days given by the Lord
Jesus and the apostles John and Paul. Andrae summarised Muhammad’s view: ‘at the first sound of the trumpet
all living men, except a few of the very elect, will fall stunned to the ground. At the second sound of the trumpet all will
arise, and the dead will emerge from their graves. The resurrection will occur in the twinkling of an eye. Quickly, 'as in
a race,' the dead will leave their graves. Behind the heavens, which have fallen down or have been rolled back, the
throne of Allâh will appear… all men will gather before the throne. The good will be placed on the right and the wicked
on the left. Amid oppressive silence the trial will begin, and will be based upon the notes, which are written in the Book
of Deeds. In addition to the words of the Book, the bodily members of the sinners, their hand, their feet and their
tongues will testify against them…’ The Islamic material deviates from the biblical framework when after
judgement has been passed, angels will come who are to execute punishment. They will seize the sinner, bind
him with chains, and drag him away amidst scourges and blows. The hadith and the Qur’an go much further
than biblical reports when one reads how the angels continue to torture the unfortunate ones in hell, forcing
them to drink boiling water, crush their limbs with iron clubs and clothe them in garments of fire. Yet, we
should keep in mind that this medieval-background torture ‘does not even approach the frightfulness of some
of the Christian and Buddhist descriptions of the tortures of hell’ (Andrae, 1936: 76).
Lure of Paradise
The fear of judgement is balanced by the lure of paradise. Andrae (1936: 120) points out how Muhammad
was actually emulating Afrem, a famous Nestorian preacher: ‘… the Koran’s description of Paradise were
inspired by the ideas of this Christian Syrian preacher.’ Thus it was passed on what he preached: ‘Whoever has
abstained from wine on earth, for him do the vines of Paradise yearn.’ Afrem taught that sexual pleasures will be
freely available for the men who lived in chastity. However, Afrem did mention that his pictures were
merely a feeble attempt to give some idea of a joy, which no earthly mind is able to grasp. But very few of
his listeners understood his spiritualising of sensual images. Muhammad for one got stuck in the literal
understanding. Thus his mind became ‘clogged and debased by the sensualities of earth’ (Irving, 1851: 78).
Following Afrem’s vivid descriptions, the Qur’an also describes Paradise as a lovely place, where
leafy trees provide shade. ‘And those who are blessed shall be in the Garden: They will dwell therein for all
the time that the heavens and the earth endure, except as thy Lord willeth: a gift without break’ (Surah Hud
11: 108). To the desert folk of Arabia luscious fruit and palm trees, which lower their fruit to those who wish
to pluck it, must have been extremely attractive. The Qur’anic revelations dangled the vision of a paradise
when youths - handsome as pearls - walk about serving a delicious drink that does not lead men into
speaking foolishly. For entertainment and in marriage they receive chaste virgins who were specially created
by Allâh. The verses referring to Paradise are close to the biblical description or ecclesiastical notions of the
time. They are all found in Meccan Surah’s. The verse Surah Al-Tauba (Repentance) 9:72 is typical – the
topics mentioned are luring and appealing to the senses: ‘Allâh has promised to the believing men and the
believing women gardens, beneath which rivers flow, to abide in them, and goodly dwellings in gardens of
perpetual abode; Significantly, this verse closes with ‘and best of all is Allâh’s goodly pleasure; that is the
grand achievement’ (Shakir translation). ‘No fatigue’ in Paradise sounds almost like the new Jerusalem of
the Revelations of John, the biblical apostle. Surah Fatir (The Creator) 35:34, 35 says ‘And they will say:
“Praise be to Allâh, Who has removed from us (all) sorrow: for our Lord is indeed oft-forgiving, ready to
71 Cf. Matthew 24 and 25; 1 Thessalonians 4: 15f; II Thessalonians 3: 1-3; Revelation 8 and 9
appreciate (service)’.
An Abode of Peace and Pleasure
One of the most striking differences between the Qur’an and ahadith is possibly how there is an emphasis on
peace in so many Meccan Surah’s, e.g. (This will be) their cry therein: “Glory to Thee, O Allâh!” And
“Peace” will be their greeting therein! and the close of their cry will be: “Praise be to Allâh, the Cherisher
and Sustainer of the worlds!” In fact, paradise itself is called Dar al-Salaam, i.e. the abode of peace (Surah
Yunus (Jonah) 10:25). The greeting of peace along with tranquillity resounds in the following verses: Surah
Yunus (Jonah) 10:9,10; Surah Ibrahim (Abraham) 14:23; Surah al-Hijr (Stoneland, Rock City) 15:46; Surah
36:57,58; Surah Q af (the letter Qaf) 50:34,35; Surah alWaqia
(The Event) 56:25,26. The
hijrah to Medina was going to change all this when jihad became increasingly prominent, a major attraction
as an invitation to get direct entry into paradise. Significantly, the jihad Surah Tauba (Repentance) 9
includes verses like the one above (aya 72) and 111, which speak of the lure of paradise in peace and leisure.
Various ahadith attempt to make the Islamic paradise very attractive, by appealing to the sensuality of
men. Muhammad ‘Ali Abu al-’Abbas (a contemporary Muslim scholar), wrote a book The Women of The
People of Paradise; their Classifications, and Beauty, which was published as recently as 1987. The author
encourages young men to be practising Muslims in order to acquire all the available women in paradise,
food, drinks, and clothes. Behind the Veil cites him (p.33): ‘We pray to God that He may grant us the pleasure of
virgin women of paradise because the virgin has a sweeter mouth, and is more desirable in bed, than the deflowered
woman.’ Behind the Veil, p. 281 quotes Qurtubi in his book Al-Tadhkira (p.41) ‘that Muhammad, the apostle of
God, said: “Every man of the people of paradise is given the power of a hundred men for eating, drinking, intercourse
and sexual desire.”
The shift of Muhammad’s life-style to polygamy in Mecca also led to the perception amongst his
followers of a sensual emphasis. Probably intended as a political move, it turned bizarre when Jibril revealed
in the Medinan Surah’s that entry into paradise can be achieved through participation in jihad (holy war),
including killing ‘infidels’ and forcefully subduing Christians and Jews to poll tax. If one should die in the
cause of jihad for the expansion of Islam, Jibril promised direct entry to paradise. Muhammad Ali (Religion
of Islam, p. 299) suggests that the real picture of Paradise in the Qur’an ‘strikes at the very root of sensual
pleasures.’ He explains that hur (virgin) means ‘pure one’. We keep in mind that the teaching of Jesus, that in
the hereafter men will probably not marry and beget children, will not have been known to Muhammad’s
followers. How would they have interpreted the following? ‘They will recline (with ease) on Thrones (of
dignity) arranged in ranks; and We shall join them to Companions, with beautiful big and lustrous eyes’
(Surah Tur 52:20, similar Surah Dukhan (Smoke) 44:54).
Knowing that dying as a martyr is the only sure way of entering paradise in Islam, the following
saying of Muhammad becomes doubly attractive for young men: ‘The martyr will be married to seventy-two
wives of the houris (virgins). He has the right to intercede for seventy of his relatives’ (quoted in Behind the Veil, p.
The Scare of Hell
The Scare of Hell is one of the tenets that have been taken over lock, stock and barrel from the worst
scenario’s in the language of the church of Muhammad’s day - plus quite a few more that are not accounted
for. It is striking once again how close the Meccan Surah’s are to the Bible on this topic. In Surah Araf 7
events from the lives of some well-known Prophets -- Noah, Hud, Salih, Lot, Shu'aib, Moses are related to
show the consequences of the rejection of the Message, and the addressees of the Prophet are admonished to
accept and follow the Message in order to escape perdition. In Maududi’s commentary on this Surah he
writes: ‘A study of its contents clearly shows that the period of its revelation is about the same as that of al-an’am, i. e.,
the last year of the Holy Prophet’s life at Makkah, but it cannot be asserted with certainty which of these two was sent
down earlier. Anyhow, the manner of its admonition clearly indicates that it belongs to the same period’.
Sometimes Western scholars have been giving a somewhat distorted picture of the Islamic concept
of hell. The vivid pictures of hell are of course very much part of the Muslim mind-set. These images, when
quoted by Western Scholars, are derived from the Medinan Surah’s. Surah Araf 7 is actually quite close to
the ‘New Testament’. We compare Surah Araf 7: 94 ‘Whenever We sent a prophet to a town, We took up its
people in suffering and adversity, in order that they might learn humility’. The use of the majestical plural
We in this instance is comparable with Hebrews 5: 8. ‘Although he was a son, he learned obedience from
what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him’.
The notion of eternal damnation is still very much prevalent in the Meccan Surah An’am (Cattle) 6:128 ‘The
Fire be your dwelling-place: you will dwell therein for ever, except as Allâh willeth.” for thy Lord is full of
wisdom and knowledge.’ The wording ‘except as Allâh willeth’ seems to have been incorrectly interpreted
by some Muslims in such a way as to conclude that hell has a remedial nature. This seems to have been
influenced by the concept of purgatory that is not biblical and strictly speaking not found in the Qur’an.
Muhammad Ali (The Religion of Islam, p.309) derived e.g. from the above that ‘the faithful are purified
through sufferings in the way of God in this life; evil-doers purified by hell-fire.’ According to Muhammad Ali
chastisement in hell is for the purification of man to make him fit for spiritual advancement. Ali goes further
to suggest that everybody - when fit for new life - will ultimately be released from hell: ‘Surely a day will
come over hell when there shall not be a single human in it’ (p. 313). On the other hand - quoting a hadith from
Bukhari (97: 24) – he states that only a handful would be taken from hell because of the intercession of
angels and prophets. Surah Hajj (The Pilgrimage) 22: 21f is a sample of early Medinan pieces,72 which
gives such a scary picture of hell. ‘These are two adversaries who dispute about their Lord; then (as to) those
who disbelieve, for them are cut out garments of fire, boiling water shall be poured over their heads. With it
shall be melted what is in their bellies and (their) skins as well. And for them are hooked rods of iron. Every
time they wish to get away from there, from anguish, they will be forced back therein, and (it will be said),
“Taste ye the Penalty of Burning! It is interesting in the context that this is followed by the following, i.e.
verse 23: Allâh will admit those who believe and work righteous deeds, to Gardens beneath which rivers
flow: they shall be adorned therein with bracelets of gold and pearls; and their garments there will be of silk.
This is easily understood in the context of jihad – first there are the scares of hell and then there is the lure of
Dajjal, the Antichrist
It does not surprise us that Muhammad taught about the anti-Christ who is to appear before the Day of
Resurrection that he would entice people to believe in him. The foremost of these anti-christs, is given the
technical title, ad-Dajjal, also called al-Masihu ad-Dajjal, or the “lying Christ”. He is to be one-eyed and
marked on the forehead with the letters KFR signifying kafir, meaning infidel.
This personality is not mentioned in the Qur’an, only in the Hadith. Dajjal is the name given in the
ahadith to religious imposters that are to appear in the world, equivalent to “anti-christs”. Sale, in the preface
to his translation of the Qur’an, says Muslim writers state that the Jews will give him the name of al-Masih,
because they will mistake him for the true Messiah, who would have come to restore the kingdom of Israel
(Hughes’ Dictionary of Islam, p. 318). ‘Then Jesus (Peace be upon him), son of Mary, (will) descend and will lead
them in prayer. When the enemy of Allâh sees him, it will (disappear) just as salt dissolves in water and if he (Jesus)
were not to confront them at all, even then it would dissolve completely. Allâh would kill them by his hand and he
would show them their blood on his lance (the lance of Jesus Christ)’ (Sahih Muslim 40:6924, also Mishkat, book
23, chapter 2).
Muhammad probably heard apocalyptic teaching on Revelation 20:8 in the Syrian Church, which enabled
him to pass on the following hadith: ‘It will not come until you see ten signs before and (in this connection) he
made a mention of the smoke, Dajjal, the beast, the rising of the sun from the west, the descent of Jesus, son of Mary
(Allâh be pleased with him), the Gog and Magog, and landslides in three places,73 one in the east, one in the west and
one in Arabia at the end of which fire would burn forth from the Yemen, and would drive people to the place of their
assembly’ (Sahih Muslim. 40: 6931).
The Day of Resurrection
The’Day of Resurrection’ and ‘Day of Judgement’ are the most commonly terms used in the Qur’an for the
eschatological ‘Last Day.’ Other terms are ‘Day of Standing up (Surah alBaqara
(The Cow) 2:79); ‘Day of
Separation’(Surah Mursalat (Those sent forth) 77:14), ‘Day of Reckoning’(Surah Mumin (The Believer) 40:
72 Maududi suggests though that this belongs to the very last Meccan revelations.
73 However, Revelation 20: 8 mentions ‘four quarters of the earth.’
28), ‘Day of Awakening’ (Surah Rum (The Roman Empire) 30:56), ‘The Encompassing Day’ (Surah
Hud)11:85), ‘The Hour’ (Surah Al Anfal (The Spoils) 8:186). There are graphic descriptions in five of the
poetical Surahs that belong to the early period in Muhammad’s mission, viz Surah Qiyamat (The
Resurrection) 75, Surah Tahwir (The Cessation) 81:119;
Surah alInfitar
(The Cataclysm) 82; Surah alMuttafifin
(The Unjust) 83:420
and Surah alInshiqaq
(The Rending) 84:119.
There is remarkable
concurrence with biblical material, but also some completely different ones like the sun rising in the West.
As to the length of the ‘Day of Judgment’ there is no clarity. Surah alSajda
(Adoration) 32:5 speaks of a
thousand years but Surah alMa’arij
(The Ladders) 70:4 mentions fifty thousand years. Interesting for our
theme is especially that the time of this awesome day is a perfect secret to all but God alone. Jibril himself
acknowledged his ignorance on this point when Muhammad asked him about it (Hughes, 1885:539). Striking
in the Islamic understanding of the ‘Day of Resurrection’ is the three trumpet blasts performed by Israfil, the
angel of death. In legendary material information is revealed to Solomon about this special day. At the
second blast that
of examination all
creatures and even the angels will die. After forty years Israfil together
with Jibril and Michael is
called back to life when he gives the third blast, which call all the dead
to life, standing on the rock of the temple of Jerusalem. Israfil will then go with Jibril to the grave of
Muhammad where the prophet will be called to life. Jibril will then greet him and show him the winged
horse Buraq, which God had sent from paradise. Jibril will then be telling: ‘Come to your and my Lord, you the
elected of all creatures…the houries await you with great longing.’ Then Jibril will put him on Buraq, give him the
heavenly banner in the hand, put a crown on his head and lead him to paradise. Only thereafter the other
people will be called back into life (Weil, 1853:187).
15. The Qiblah and Salat
It is not clear where the turning to the East in prayer originated. It was probably an important part of
the ancient worship of the sun. With regard to the direction of prayer, the Temple in Jerusalem takes a central
place. In the context of wicked and detestable idolatrous actions and symbols, Ezekiel (8:16) saw about
men ‘with their backs toward the temple of the Lord and their faces toward the East’. They were
bowing down to the sun in the East. The most conspicuous example as positive protest is probably Daniel’s
conscious praying towards Jerusalem, i.e. towards the Temple.
When Muhammad implored his followers to pray towards Jerusalem, this was thus a clear pointer of
his acceptance of Judaism and its Temple. He was cherishing the monotheism and the prophets of Israel and
their feasts at this time, his early Meccan period. (Even the Day of Atonement was to be incorporated in their
celebrations.) His reaction to change the prayer direction, the qiblah, a third time in 624 AD this
towards Mecca thus
gets symbolic meaning. He was so to speak turning his back on the Jews and the nation
of Israel without
however discarding the Jewish holy city Jerusalem and the Hebrew prophets.
Paul’s reference to a Jerusalem above gives an interesting eschatological (endtime)
perspective. The
Jerusalem below he equates with Mount Sinai in Arabia and its association with the Torah (Galatians 4:25).
The specific mentioning of Arabia puts Judaism and Islam on an equal footing both
religions of the Law.
The Jerusalem above, which is free, is the mother of us all.
Eusebius, an Early Church historian, noted that the Ebionite opinions were similar to those of
Cerinthus, in this regard, for example that they '...adore Jerusalem as if it were the house of God'. In fact, HansJoachim
Schoeps, a German theologian, pointed out that the Ebionites still prayed to Jerusalem when they
were dispersed, against the custom of other Christians of the area. This is surely comparable to the veneration
of Mecca by Muslims in later generations.
Elkhasai’s Influence upon the Essenes
Among the Jews the sect of the Essenes is reported to have accepted the teaching of Elkhasai. Through the
Dead Sea Scrolls that were found at Qumran in 1947, and the subsequent studies, the Essenes have been
shown to be very close to the Nazarene faction of Judaism. In fact, Robert Eisenman’s work has highlighted
how the two groups are almost identical.74 Elkhasai required his adherents to practise circumcision and to live
according to the Jewish Law. Their fathers had already discarded burnt offerings, even though the altars of
Yahweh were still burning in Jerusalem. The leaders of the Church who followed the teaching of Paul very
early, decided that Gentile Christians must be exempt from observing the whole Torah, and in particular that
they need not be circumcised. Gentile Christians however still also observed some ceremonial rules derived
from the Jewish Law.
The Essenes observed the prayer direction towards Jerusalem. Interesting is that Elkhasai apparently
ordered a prohibition of turning to the East in prayer. Here he was echoing Ezekiel 8. In that context the ‘OT’
prophet discerned the idolatry at and in the Temple. Gradually the Bible pericope builds up to the bowing
down to the sun in the East. The worship of the sun god infiltrated the Early Church very deeply when
pagans from all over the Roman Empire became Christians.
Many scholars, including Robert Eisenman, take it that Jesus and John the Baptist were deeply
influenced by the teachings of the Essenes and the Qumran Community, with John possibly even becoming a
member at
least for some time. It is noteworthy that the Essenes were worshippers of God who did not
sacrifice animals, regarding a reverend mind as the only true sacrifice (Davies, 1957:180). The Essenes had
other characteristics like not owning gold or silver, being no makers of warlike weapons, that there were no
slaves found among them and especially that they had a storehouse, common expenditure, common raiment
and common food eaten (at) common meals (Davies, 1957:181). These characteristics were indeed breathing
the spirit of the ‘‘New Testament’’ and the Ebionites. The practice (or example) of Jesus was radiated as the
reputable contemporary Jewish writer Philo, records: ‘Their tenets are espoused by them of free choice and not as
a matter of race’ (Cited in Davies, 1957:180). We compare also John 6:67 and Jesus attitude to the Samaritans
and foreigners). The proximity brought Davies to deduce: ‘It seems more and more possible that at the beginning,
74 Eisenman’s theories are too me still too much built on conjecture.
Essenic Judaism and Palestinian Christianity were on one and the same plant’ (Davies, 1957:135). Paul, the apostle,
discarded the Mosaic requirements to facilitate the progress of the Church among the Gentiles. This created
serious problems.
Muhammad changed the prayer direction to Mecca after he was rebuffed and scornfully treated by
the Medinan Jews. They had aroused Muhammad’s wrath by their refusal to accept him as a prophet and by
their taunts, saying that he distorted the stories about the Biblical prophets.
The Ebionites prayed in the direction of Jerusalem at a time when this was not customary Christian
practice at all. That they held stubbornly to the Torah and to the circumcision of male babies was not so very
special with their Jewish background. But they discarded all passages providing for kingship and all
anthropomorphic expressions of God, i.e. attributing human characteristics to God. This was definitely
extraordinary, running counter to the Jewish understanding that God is our Father and our King. The
Ebionite custom to make God nonhuman
might have accounted for the (by no means only) Islamic concept
that the Almighty is unchangeable, only transcendental and aloof. This is contrary to Biblical faith which
makes it clear that God is also immanent; that he can change his mind if we repent.
Persian or Syrian Influence on Salat
Buhl (in his article The Character of Mohammad as a Prophet in the Muslim World, Vol.1, p.356) suggested
that ‘In the Koran itself only three daily prayers are known and it is no doubt due to the influence from the Persian side
that their number in the oldest Islam is increased to five’. We note that the bodily postures of worship in the Syrian
churches, viz. that of standing, kneeling and prostrating oneself so that the forehead touched the ground,
became part and parcel of the ingredients of the Islamic salat. Ibn Ishaq (1978:16), an earlier biographer of
the prime Islamic Prophet, mentions two rak’ats – i.e. the cycles of bodily prayer movements – which
Faymiyun, Muhammad’s Christian model of Najran, had performed after purifying himself. Emulating the
example of the Christians, Muhammad stated that his true followers should have marks on their faces from
their continual prostrations. ‘The Mohammedans and Syrian Christians both counted the length of their devotion by
the number of kneelings’ (Andrae, 1936:122). Folk Islamic customs like the emulation of the rosary from
Roman Catholicism or the shrines via idolatrous Judaism and Coptic Christianity in Egypt also fall under
this category.
The copying of the start of the Jewish calendar with the Exodus from Egypt, to let the Muslim
calendar commence with Muhammad’s flight from Mecca, is evident. We note furthermore that many
practices, customs and even institutions in Islam like the madressah (compare the midrash) have their origins
in Judaism. Even occult elements like the evil eye and various forms of magic and sorcery have Jewish and
pagan roots.
Tisdall especially showed how the books of the Zoroastrians bear the most extraordinary likeness to
what we find in the Qur’an and Islamic Tradition. Thus one reads in the Qur’an of houries (virgins) having
‘fine black eyes’ in Paradise and again of houries with ‘large black eyes’, resembling pearls hidden in their
shells. Tisdall (1905:84) has pointed out how the Zoroastrians speak of Fairies (Pairikan), ‘spirits in bright
array and beautiful, to captivate the heart of man. The name Houry too is derived from an Avesta or Pehlavi Source, as
well as Jinn for Genii, and Bihisht (Paradise), signifying in Avestic the better land.’
Islamic oral Tradition for the Origin of Salat
In Islam, in the story of Mohammad’s night journey, there is an important moment when he meets Moses.
Muhammad, after having met Allâh, is on his way to earth when he runs into Moses. Allâh has just given the
gift of salat, prayer, to the Muslims. Muhammad eagerly shares the fact that Muslims are going to be
responsible for praying fifty times a day. In response, Moses tells Muhammad that there is no way anyone
will pray that much during one day. Moses forces Muhammad to go back and negotiate a reduction in the
number of prayers. Muhammad, thus, talks to Allâh and comes back with 45 prayers. Moses advises getting
the number reduced further. Muhammad complies. The prayers are cut down in incriments of five, with
Moses pressuring Muhammad the whole time. This continues until the number of prayers is down to five.
Moses insists Mohammed should go back again, to reduce them to three. but Muhammad replies he is too
embarrassed. One sees in the backdrop of course also Abraham's bargaining with God to save Lot and his
family in Sodom (Genesis 18:20ff).
A Legacy from Paganism and AntiJudaism
The pagan custom of praying towards the East, i.e. towards the sun, was practised by the Manichaeists. They
adopted the practice from a syncretistic Christianity. Clemens and Origines were two theologians who
defended these practices. Mani and his followers celebrated Sunday long before Constantine decreed it to be
a compulsory rest day in 321 AD. Their celebration of the Sunday was in veneration of the sun and not
because of the resurrection of the Lord (Legge, 1915:349), emulating the Mithraists. AntiJudaism
within the
ranks of the Church was still quite strong in the 4th and 5th centuries. The church Council of Laodicea 336 or
363 AD decreed that Christians should not Judaize by resting on the Sabbath (Koster, 1988:21). God had
always regarded the praying towards the sun in a very serious light. Israel was chided on this score (e.g. in
Ezekiel 8:916)
and exhorted rather to pray in the direction of Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:2948,
Psalm 138:2;
Daniel 6:10). Muhammad initially encouraged his followers to do the same. Even though the prayer direction
was not the East, one of the causes of the sun worship, viz. antiJudaism
(Koster, 1988:22), was definitely
present. The Islamic fasting could also have been influenced by the Jewish Day of Atonement that
Muhammad ceased celebrating when he ordered the qiblah to be changed towards Mecca. (In a rather
capricious way the prayer direction was changed back to Jerusalem after the Hijrah to please the Jews living
in Yathrib (The name of the city was later changed to Medina).
The Religion of the Mandaeans/Sabeans
Around the issue of prayer there is possibly no greater influence of Islam than the religion of the Mandaeans,
that was related to Manichaeism and which was close to the Nazorene strand of Ebionism (see p. 18).
Nöldeke (Vol. I, 1961:8) saw the Sabians to whom the Qur’an refers, as closely related - so to speak as the
spiritual ancestors of the Mandaeans, along with the Elkhasaites and Hemero-Baptists. Muir
(1975[1923]:454) points out that the name is derived from an Aramaic root meaning ‘to baptise’, noting that
the Sabian religion was characterised by lustration. The Sabians75 of the Qur’an – counted by Muhammad as
also belonging to the ahl al-khitab ‘People of the Book’ (Sarah 2:59; 5:73; 22:17) – are indeed the
Mandaeans, the so-called ‘Christians of St John, the Baptist.’ The first Muslims were called Sabians – by
Muhammad’s opponents – probably because of their frequent ablutions.76 (Officially, Muslims take their cue
from the oral tradition whereby Jibril himself showed Muhammad to do the ritual ablutions which is
obligatory before the salat prayer.77 The washings have to follow the right sequence otherwise the prayer
would become worthless.) The Mandaeans were living in Southern Babylonia at the time of the intermingling
of religions (Brandt in Hastings, Vol. 8, 1963:386), which makes them very interesting for our
study. Buhl (1930:67) counts the group to ‘die Mischformen zwischen dem Christentum und andern
Religionen’ (mixed forms between Christians and other religions) in the Orient. He also mentions that the
Sabians included different sects.
Already in 1734 George Sales discerned the influenced of the Sabians in Islam. He noted that ‘the
idolatry of the Arabs then, as Sabians, chiefly consisted in worshipping the fixed stars and planets, and the angels and
their images, which they honoured as inferior deities, and whose intercession they begged, as their mediators with God.
For the Arabs acknowledged one supreme God, the Creator and Lord of the universe, whom they called Allâh Taála,
the most high God; and their other deities, who were subordinate to him, they called simply al Ilahat, i.e. the
goddesses’ (Cited in Wherry, 1882:36). One almost hears the Qur’an in their addressing the one supreme
God: “I dedicate myself to thy service, O GOD! Thou hast no companion…’
Descendants from another Son of Methusalah
Genealogically, the Sabaeans claimed to be the descendants from another son of Methusalah besides Lamech
75 Following Chwolson (Die Szabier und der Szabismus) Muir (1975[1923]:454) distinguished between the Sabians
(the Mandaens) of the Qur’an and the Sabaeans, which denotes the people of Saba or the Yemen. Other authors do
not make this distinction.
76 They preferred to call themselves hanifs. The ritual ablutions also go back to the Sea of Bronze in Solomon’s
Temple, the basin which the priests used.
77 Ishaq (1978:112) passed on the view of ‘a learned person’ that Jibril dug a hole for Muhammad on the heights of
Mecca with his heel from which a fountain gushed. Jibril ‘performed the ritual ablution as the apostle watched him.
This was ‘in order to show him how to purify himself before prayer… The apostle came to Khadija and performed the
ritual for her as Jibril had done for him, and she copied him.’ In actual fact however, Muhammad probably took the cue
of ritual ablution from the Jews.
called Sabi,78 who gave them ‘a Divine Covenant’ similar to that of Noah, which included bathing rituals.
Eisenman (1997:329) mentions that they prayed seven times a day, turning towards the North Pole in prayer.
He sees in the NorthSouth
orientation of the graves at Qumran a general network of bathing communities.
The number of prayer times and the qiblah are probably later developments. Sales (in Wherry, 1882: 35),
refers to three prayer times and four different prayer directions. The original practices around the prayer
times sounds Islamic in every way if one inserts the rak’ats, the bodily cycles accompanying the prayers:
‘They are obliged to pray three times a day; the first, half an hour or less before sunrise, ordering it so that they may,
just as the sun rises, finish eight adorations, each containing three prostrations: the second prayer they end at noon,
when the sun begins to decline, in saying which they perform five such adorations as the former: and the same they do
the third time, ending just as the sun sets’ (in Wherry, 1882:34f). The Sabaeans appear to have been one of the
first groups to believe in the Unity of God. In Southern Iraq ‘these traditions passed to the Mandaeans and
Manichaeans, and from thence to Islam’ (Eisenman, 1997:329).
Ramadan Precedents
The Sabaeans are furthermore reported later to have fasted thirty days a year, breaking the fast at sunset –
two practices that Muhammad emulated during Ramadan. (Christians fasted initially for forty hours to
commemorate Jesus’ resting in the grave. This was later extended to forty days at lent.) With the Sabaeans
one also finds the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments ‘and the necessity of a virtuous and holy
life to obtain a happy immortality’ (Irving, 1850:24). Sales notes that they believed ‘the souls of wicked men will
be punished for nine thousand ages, but will afterwards be received to mercy’ (in Wherry, 1882:34). A tenet that
probably filtered through from them to Judaism was ‘the reverence … for the Supreme Being, that they never
mentioned his name’ (Irving, 1850:24). Closely linked is the perception that the deity is unapproachable, that
one could only have contact with him through intermediate intelligences or angels. These beings were
supposed to ‘inhabit and animate the heavenly bodies in the same way as the human body is inhabited and animated
by a soul’ (Irving, 1850:24). Gradually however, the religion ‘lost its original simplicity and purity, and became
obscured by mysteries, and degraded by idolatries.’
The Worship of the heavenly Bodies
Muir (1894, Vol I, Ch. III, section 4) writes about the Sabeaens: ‘There is reason for believing that Sabeanism, or
the worship of the heavenly bodies, was in Arabia the earliest form of departure from the pure adoration of the deity.
The book of Job, many historical notices, and certain early names in the Himyar dynasty, imply the prevalence of the
system. As late as the fourth century (CE) sacrifices were offered in Yemen to the sun, moon, and stars. The seven
circuits of the Ka’ba were probably emblematical of the revolutions of the planetary bodies; and it is remarkable that a
similar rite was practised at other idol fanes in Arabia’. The temple of Mecca is also supposed to have been
consecrated to Zuhal or Saturn.79 Though these deities were generally venerated by the whole nation, each
tribe chose one of them as the more peculiar object of their worship’ (Sales/Wherry, 1882:38).
The Sabaeans worshipped the heavenly bodies as deities, setting up graven images in honour of them
and in an effort to please the Almighty. At length they ‘enshrined these idols in temples, and worshipped them as
if instinct with divinity’ (Irving, 1850:24). The link to Islam is clearly traceable in the accusation of ‘Umar
when he was still opposing the prophet. Setting out from his house sword in hand, ‘fretting and fuming’, his
reply to a friend who met him accidentally says it all: ‘To destroy the man Muhammad, this Sabaean, who has
shattered the unity of the Quraysh… ‘ (Siddiqui, 1994:86ff).
From Hanif to Muslim
Arnold (1874:29) also notes the belief among Sabeans of demons being transformed into serpents and the
preference for green among the colours. (Green is known to have been Muhammad’s favourite colour). For
our study it is of special interest that the Hanifs are termed ‘Sabeites’ in the Fihrist (Rodwell, 1953 [1909]:9)
and that ‘Muhammad publicly acknowledged that he was a Hanyf.’ Rodwell refers to the hanifs as a sect. Surah
Rum (The Roman Empire) 30:29 gives an indication what Muhammad understood under the concept, viz.
the original unadulterated religion – in contrast to paganism and the corrupted religions with
78 Sales (1734) refers to Sabi and Enoch to be the sons as the first propagators of their religion.
79 Sales (in Wherry, 1882:38, footnote) says:’This name seems to be corrupted, there being no such among the Arab
Muhammad is however said to have discovered that the ‘Books’ from which he borrowed material like
legends of Ad and Thamud – had been a forgery. That was apparently the reason for him not to mention the
hanifs after 616 AD. Hereafter Muhammad dropped the title hanif, exchanging it for that of Muslim – one
who surrenders himself to God. Waraqah is said however to have ‘quitted him in disgust at his subsequent
proceedings, and to have died an orthodox Christian’ (Rodwell, 1953 [1909]:9).
Mandaean Influence
The Sabaeans are supposed to have been a semi-Christian sect. Others have identified them with the
Mandaeans, whose religion represents a strange medley of Gnosticism and ancient Babylonian paganism.
Nevertheless, certain elements were borrowed from Judaism and Christianity, though it was largely anti-
Christian as a system. The Mandaeans derive their name from Manda, the most important of the emanations
or aeons in whom they believe. In their sacred book, the Sidra Rabba, Manda is said to have manifested
himself in a series of incarnations, the first three of which were Abel, Seth, and Enoch, and the last John the
Baptist. They believe that the latter conferred baptism on Jesus Messiah, who finally returned to the
Kingdom of Light after a seeming crucifixion. This latter idea is repeated in the Qur’an (Surah Nisaa
(Women) 4:157) with regard to Jesus. Our very limited knowledge of the Sabaeans and some doubt whether
the Mandaeans can be fully identified with them, renders it impossible to say whether their influence on
Islam has or has not been very important and extensive.
It is fitting to glean fully from Tisdall’s book, The Original Sources of the Qur’an (1905:77),
quoting Abu Isa’l Maghribi, an early Arabic writer, who gave the following account of the Mandaeans: 'The
Syrians are the most ancient of nations, and Adam and his sons spoke their language … good ethical precepts are
recorded, such as to enjoin truth-speaking and courage and giving protection to the stranger and such like: and evil
practices are mentioned and commands given to abstain from them. They prayed over the dead without either bowing
down or prostration, and fasted thirty days; and if the month of the new moon were a short one, then they kept the fast
for twenty-nine days... they observed the festivals of Fitr (breaking the fast at the end of the month) and Hilal (new
moon), in such a way that the festival of Fitr occurred when the sun entered … And they used to honour the House of
Mecca (the Ka’bah).'
From this account we see clearly that the Muslims have borrowed from this obscure religious group
quite a few of their religious practices, all of which they believe were taught them by Muhammad at the
command of God through Jibril (the Angel Gabriel). For example, the Ramadan fast of the Muslims lasts a
month, from sunrise to sunset, though the rule as to the exact moment when each day begins and ends, is
derived from the Jews. In Persia and some other countries a gun is fired at dawn and sunset to announce the
beginning and end of each day’s fast during the holy month. The Fitr feast at the end of the Ramadan month
is still celebrated by the Muslims. Bowing down (raku) and prostration (sujud) are enjoined in Muslim
worship, but not during the prayers offered at burials. Finally we have seen that the Muslims still honour the
Ka’ba most highly. Of course, it is possible that all these practices were common to the Quraysh tribe as well
as to the Sabaeans. Some of them certainly were; but, if all had been, it would be difficult to account for the
observations made by an Arabic writer: ‘The supposition that many of these religious customs were borrowed by
Muhammad from the Sabaeans, and that their religion in general (owing perhaps in a measure to its supposed antiquity)
had great influence on Islam at its foundation, is confirmed by the fact that, when the Banu Jadhimah of Taif and Mecca
announced to Khalid their conversion to Islam, they did so by crying out, 'We have become Sabians'.
The Mandaeans - Anti-Jewish and against nominal Christianity
In the Genzâ, the source of scripture of the Mandaeans, the terms Nâsorâyê and Mandâyê are used
synonymously. The former designation (Nâsorâyê) was specially used of the Jews who believed in Jesus,
down to the end of the 4th century and applied to Christians generally in the Qur’an (e.g. 2:59, 105; 107; 114;
129; 3:60, 5:17,21; 56; 73;85) - in some verses with a negative slant. Brandt in Hastings (Vol. 8, 1963:385)
deduced that both groups are indebted to the same sources). The Mandaeans stressed that they were
Nâsorâyê, i.e. real followers of Jesus of Nasareth, not merely kristiyânê. The latter term would refer to
nominal Christians (Widengren, 1965:16), not really good followers of the Master. Yet, the Mandaeans
denied Jesus to be the Messiah. This notion was evil in their eyes.
The Mandaean religion was anti-Jewish and clearly against nominal Christianity. Their version of
the creation shows nevertheless similarity with the Judaic tradition. The King of Light created the earth and
the firmament, with all that they contain. Of special interest for our study is that the creation takes place
through the agency of an ‘uthrâ called Gabriel, the Ambassador. A few verses in the Genzâ (R 13:11-15)
make interesting comparison with Islam: ‘the fire-angels came; they made submission to Adam; they came and
worshipped before him… One was the evil one, by whom wickedness was formed.’ This is qualified in the Qur’an.
All the angels bow down except Iblis, the devil: ‘the (angels) bow down… not so Iblis: he refused and was
haughty…’(Surah alBaqara
(The Cow) 2:34). It could however also have come down to Islam via another
route because the refusal of the devil to worship the newly created Adam as the cause of the banishment
from heaven is rooted in ancient Jewish apocryphal traditions (e.g. Life of Adam and Eve 12 -16; 2 Enoch
An interesting parallel with Islam is that ‘the Mandaean savants identified the Holy Spirit with the Rûhâ’,
whom they had however known as an evil being. ‘Isû msîhâ (equivalent of Jesus Messiah) therefore belongs
in their view to the group of evil spirits (Brandt in Hastings, Vol. 8, 1963:384). The Messiah is called in
some Mandaean tracts a ‘liar’ or ‘impostor’ (Brandt in Hastings, Vol. 8, 1963:384). In general therefore, the
Mandaeans would be typical for an anti-Christian religion. Other tenets which may have served as an
example to Islam, were that ‘husbands and wives are required to wash themselves after cohabitation and women
after menstruation’ as well as that ‘believers must rise to pray thrice in the day-time and twice during the night’
(Brandt in Hastings, Vol. 8, 1963:387).
Masseqtâ was a ceremony with recitations to help souls of departed in their journey or flight to a
better world. This makes interesting comparison with Sufist Islam with stations en route to paradise. One is
also reminded of the seven heavens to which Buraq, the small white horse, was to have taken Muhammad
during the ‘night journey’.
Links between Mandaean Theology and Islam80
The Mandaeans regarded John, the Baptist, as the ‘principal personality of their faith’ (Widengren, 1965:20).
He is called by them ‘Yahya as-Sabi’ (like Noah’s uncle Sabi), denoting the link to the Sabaeans. This could
have had some influence on Islam. Muhammad regarded himself to be called a prophet for the Arabs. The
Mandaeans observed the prohibition of wine that has also gone into Islam.
In the Qur’an the birth of Jesus and Yahyah (John the Baptist) are more or less equated. The report of
the birth of John, the Baptist, as told in Mandaean literature, provides an indication of another link to Islam.
In the Mandaean Book of John the conception of the Baptist is the result of heavenly intervention. A star
that comes and stands over Enishbai (the equivalent of Elisabeth) is reminiscent of the star that appears at the
birth of Jesus. The simplest answer would be that the writer copied this from the Gospel of Matthew. We
must however also consider another alternative. In the Mandaean version the star does not come to the birth
of John the Baptist nor are there any magi or shepherds. This star would be the abode of the light beings or
malki, which stand watch over man. Therefore this star represents a heavenly presence that hovers over the
birth: ‘The star, that came and stood over Enishbai: A child will be planted out of the height from above; he comes and
will be given unto Enishbai...’ The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus (verse 7), which however has so many
legendary features that it cannot be seriously considered for comparison, mentions the star, which led the
magi, as an angel.
Resemblance in Respect of Creation
For the Mandaeans John the Baptist is connected to the act of creation in the renewal of the religion and the
regeneration of the people. Thus John begins a creation much in the same way as Noah. But in this case the
people are not dead; it is the religion that needs healing and reviving. If one would include the possibility of
a supernatural intervention, the Angel Gabriel features as a link between the Hebrew Bible through
Mandaean Theology to Islam. There is a connection between the titles given to the Mandaean “angels” and
the only two named angels in the Hebrew Bible. In the Mandaean literature we read: ‘Then were seen three
lights (lamps) which companied him...’ These three lights have been taken to be the three Uthras, the angels
Hibil Ziwa, Anush Uthra, and Manda-d-Hiia, since these three commonly work together and are often
interchangeable. It is Anush Uthra (the equivalent of Gabriel) who takes John, the Baptist, away at the time
of his birth for protection. These 'beings of light' are also referred to as malki or kings. The term malki also
appears to be placed on the angels Michael and Gabriel in the Hebrew Bible. Anush Uthra appears to have
similar attributes to that of Gabriel. The name Gabriel meaning literally Man (Geber) of God (el) while
Anush can also be traced back to the Hebrew word meaning man (enosh) with Uthra meaning basically
80 As a basis for this portion I have gleaned much from the article from the internet: The Birth of John the Baptist as
told in the Book of Luke in comparison to Mandaean Literature, Online edition, Volume 12
We find Gabriel at the creation of man both in the Talmud and in Mandaean literature. Gabriel brings
the message to Zechariah while the three light beings accompany Zechariah prior to the conception of John
the Baptist. It is Anush Uthra who protects John, the Baptist, while in Christian folklore it is the angel Uriel.
That Joseph had 'heard a language I had not known''(Psalm 81:5) indicates for some that the Angel
Gabriel had educated him. There is a parallel with the Mandaean literature in which Anush Uthra was in
charge of the education of John, the Baptist.
16. Seed for religious Wars
Because of the bickering of the early Christian theologians, Jesus’ new royal Law (James 2:8), the
Law of love combined
with the refraining from revenge somehow
fell by the wayside as the Church
became increasingly legalistic. In fact, Eusebius, who has been described as the ‘principal founder of the High
Church Christianity’ abused the crucifixion of Jesus, showing no pity for the suffering women and children
among the Jews, nor for thousands of them starving. This was to him mere ‘Divine Justice for their crimes
against Christ and his Apostles’ (cited in Eisenman, 1997:317). Emperor Constantine subjected big geographical
areas and ‘christianised’ many people groups by military force in the 4th century. This he had definitely not
learnt from the Jews. The predominant hope of the people of Israel had never been ‘to convert the whole world
to Judaism but to convert the whole world to God.’ Church leaders like Augustine - who operated in the early 5th
century - gave the dubious cue to rank and file Christians to use coercion in stead of persuasion to bring the
erring back to the faith or to bowl doubting people over.
Germination of Augustinian Seed
In just over two centuries the dubious Augustinian seed however germinated. Muhammad bequethed to his
followers that dying as a martyr in jihad is the only sure way of entering paradise in Islam. Pope Leo (84755
AD) continued in the same vein, distorting scripture completely in the process when he arrogantly promised
forgiveness of sin for those who fought against the infidels. Jihad thinking got firmly cemented in this way
because close on his heels Pope John VIII (87282AD
) reassured believers with no scriptural backing
whatsoever of their eternal security if they were slain in warfare. Just under two centuries later seven
thousand Christians en route to Jerusalem were ambushed by Saracens who ‘leaped on them like famished
wolves on long awaited prey’ (Quoted in Caner and Caner, 2002:73). The field was cleared for Pope Urban to
declare Deus volt (God wills it) in 1088, the battle cry that ushered in the Crusades. In a clearly political
move he delivered a speech, which he followed up with a letter at Christmas, AD 1095. He incited Christians
to supply reinforcements to drive Seljuk Turks from Asia Minor. He hoped that the Orthodox would
acknowledge the supremacy of Rome in return and that the unity of Christendom would be restored (Haag,
2008:74). In language which was far removed from the irenic teaching of our Lord, to love even your enemy
and forgiving those who have wronged you, Pope Urban told his listeners that the Seljuks were advancing
into the heart of Christian lands, maltreating the population and desecrating their shrines and churches. Even
worse was his inducements to free the churches of the East. 'We solemnly enjoin upon them ... as a preparation for
the remission of all their sins.'
Some more biblical Examples
Spiritual warfare as such has generally been completely neglected. In many churches it was relatively
unknown up to about a decade or two ago. Of course, here and there the narration of Hur and Aaron might
have been highlighted. Their keeping Moses’ arms aloft has often been taught as an example for intercessory
prayer. Occasionally, lessons were taken from the battle of Gideon against the Midianites. But even here, it
was hardly emphasised that the ‘sword of Gideon’, which brought such awe in the camp of the Midianites,
eventually turned out to be a torch. In the biblical context the Word is the (twoedged)
sword (Ephesians
6:17; Hebrews 4:12). Psalm 119:105 described the Word as ‘a lamp to my feet and a light for my path’, indeed
also a torch. The prayer and challenge of Elijah on Mount Carmel in his solitary attack against the Baal
worship (1 Kings 18) remained standard Sunday School repertoire, but the impact of the power hungry
‘Jezebel Spirit’ the
vicious women who ravage churches by a pious cunning combined with outward show
of goodwill is
probably quite unknown and yet depressing many a pastor. It is often overlooked that Elijah
was in a deep spiritual depression immediately after the stunning victory at Carmel. The narrative of the
conquest of Jericho under Joshua has sometimes been demoted to a fairy tale.
Condescendingly it has been looked at as the theme of a Negro spiritual. Not many Christians are aware
of a curse put on the city of Jericho (Joshua 6:26) and the lifting of it at the price of the firstborn
youngest son of Hiel who went to rebuild the city (1 Kings 16:34). That praise can be used in spiritual
warfare (see Johasaphat’s use of it in Chronicles 20) and the narrative of the supernatural victory over the
Aramean army (2 Kings 6:8ff) are things still by and large unknown. Against that background Jesus’ veiled
reprimand must be understood after the disciples had offered to defend him with two swords against the
might of imperial Rome: ‘that is enough’ (Luke 22:38). They had evidently still not understood the nature of
His warfare which is of course in the mould of Zechariah 4:6 ‘Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit,
says the Lord Almighty.
Jesus’ Teaching about Peace and Mercy
The teaching of Jesus about peace - which was so radically demonstrated by 13th century Francis of Assisi -
did make a small dent when thousands refused to take up the sword and lords were having problems to raise
armies for their petty feuds. His example of ‘waging peace’ on Islam (acknowledgement to Christine A.
Mallouhi, whose book with this title was published in 2000) has been emulated only very occasionally.81 In
general however, jihad and its counterparts in the West are still as firmly entrenched as ever. Will we ever
learn the lessons from history - e.g. that the peace-loving Lamb, which has conquered, is worthy to be
followed as radically as possible? It is a tragedy that instead of loving correction and teaching, Muhammad
experienced rejection and ridicule from the side of the Christians and Jews.
The quarrelling Christians possibly deterred Muhammad from hearing the passionate Abraham, who
interceded for the sinful people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:22ff) – who apparently spoke to one of
the three men while interceding, the Lord. Here was thus actually a pristine example of God coming to the
earth in the form of a man. Likewise Muhammad was probably hindered in this way to listen properly to the
pleading Moses who was willing to be blotted out to save his people (Exodus 32:32) - from discovering how
David refused to take revenge more than once when Saul was at his mercy. God reprimanded Jonah for his
nationalistic thinking. Muhammad and the Muslims evidently did not pick this up. The Qur’an only mentions
‘a spreading plant of the Gourd kind’ (Surah Saffat (Ranged in Rows) 37:146), without any rebuke to Jonah.
Although the Qur’an describes Allâh as merciful and compassionate, the Prophet had to learn basically that
God takes ‘no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their wicked ways and live’
(Ezekiel 33:11). Compare also the reprieve of David (2 Sam. 12:13) and Ahab (1 King 21:28) after they
repented and humbled themselves before God.
Turning the other Cheek a
Hebrew Scriptural tenet!
Even highly rated Western scholars and academics have succumbed to a common trap of Christians,
elevating the ‘New Testament’ above the Hebrew Scriptures with regard to revenge. Some Christians have
the impression that it is solely a ‘New Testament’ trait, when we think about leaving the revenge over to
God (e.g. Romans 12:19; Hebrew 10:30). Not only are these verses a quotation of Deuteronomy 32:35, but
there are also quite a few other 'OT' verses (e.g. 1 Samuel 24:12, 13; 2 Chronicles 24:22; Jeremiah 15:15)
with the same message. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the spirit of revenge, which is
sometimes ascribed to the Jews (and from there possibly emulated by the Muslims), is actually a
distortion of God’s plan with His people. We are taught in the Torah: ‘do not seek revenge or bear a
grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord’ (Leviticus 19:18).
The reaction of Jesus to the possibly
angry or at least indignant exclamation
of the Samaritan
woman of John 4, that he as a Jew dared to ask her for a drink, could be interpreted as an example of
‘turning the other cheek’. In stead of retaliating, he initiated a discussion on water. By the way, in the
radical suggestion by Jesus of ‘turning the other cheek’, one finds an excellent example of a crooked
misconception that developed out of the elevation of the ‘New Testament’ (in respect of the OT).
Theologians have misled the bulk of us as Christians to regard the Hebrew Scriptures as inferior,
regarding the ‘NT’ to be superior! The Bible is a unit, Hebrew Scriptures and ‘NT’ belong together even
though probably 90% or more of sermons in churches take the ‘NT’ as the source of their exposition.
For years I thought that Jesus’ instruction to ‘turn the other cheek’ was new and innovative. Jesus
was actually only quoting the Hebrew Scriptures, and not even fully at that. In Lamentations of
places Jeremiah
identifies himself fully with the sins, the idolatry of his people, which resulted in the
exile. Then he writes: ‘Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him and let him be filled with
disgrace’ (Lamentations 3:30). The suffering servant of Isaiah, who is widely accepted as a prophetic
81 The movement for conscientious objection, against fighting in the army that enforced apartheid in South Africa,
caused soul-searching in the 1980s. It was no mean contribution towards real democracy in the beloved country.
foreshadowing, a type of the Messiah, likewise displays these characters: ‘I gave my back to the smiters,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting’ (Isaiah 50:56).
No Place for Vengeance
Some Christians think that Jesus departed from the thinking by refraining from revenge. His correction of
the onesided
oral notion of ‘eye for an eye’ and hating the enemy blurred our perception somewhat,
thinking that this is consistent with Mosaic Law. A comparison of Luke 4:18ff with Isaiah 61 where Jesus
actually stopped short of quoting ‘the day of vengeance of our God’ (Isaiah 61:2), this perception may
even be enhanced. However, with his example of the refusal of vengeance, Jesus actually stepped in the
footsteps of David. Because some of his Psalms call for revenge on his enemies, Christians tend to forget
that David had also displayed refusal of revenge. When he had the chance to kill Saul, David only cut off
a piece of his robe (1 Samuel 24). On another occasion he spared the king at a time when Saul was once
again after his own scalp. David refused to take revenge because he had respect for God’s anointed. We
can regard Peter, the apostle, who walked the earth with our Lord for around three years, to have been a
good judge of the Master’s motives. He summarised the Master’s life as follows, as part of an example to
follow: ‘When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats (1
Peter 2:23).
No Doormat
Because Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek, to go the second mile, some people deduce that
Christians should be willing to be trampled upon, to be a sort of doormat.
In John 4 it is reported how a
rumour was brought to Him that John was baptizing more converts. What the motives of those people were
who came with the rumour is not clear, but the gunpowder
contained in it is quite evident. His clashes
with the religious establishment, equating the leaders with whitewashed
tombs that contain dead bones
and his overturning the tables in the temple, are all well-known examples that Jesus was nowhere
the softy some people want to suggest. Matthew (23) recorded a whole chapter about his
criticism of the Pharisees, influential religious people of the synagogues. Speaking out on behalf of
the downtrodden
often harvests animosity. This was possibly one of the reasons for the opposition to
Negation of Revenge neglected
Another tragic result of the squabbling of the theologians of the early (medieval) Church is that Christ’s most
important teaching that
of love, forgiveness and the negation of revenge became
clouded. If there is one
line of thought which is central to the ‘New Testament’ and
also very much present in the Hebrew Bible it
is the idea of selfsacrificing
love. Peter summarised so well how Jesus practised it: ‘Christ ...(left) you an
example...When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he
entrusted himself to the one who judges justly’ (1 Peter 2:2123).
Of course, Jesus was simply displaying the
divine character of His Father. Again and again God started anew with His people, forgiving them after they
had turned to idols, to foreign gods. The prophet Hosea had to demonstrate the picture to His people, the
Israelites, who were supposed to be the spouse. Israel was the unfaithful wife, resembling a harlot, but God
as the husband still loved and forgave her.
Paul experienced this personally. He, who originally had been the fundamentalist persecutor of the
followers of Jesus, was won over by the love of the Master. Thereupon Paul taught that the Law is merely an
educator that can drive one to (the love of) Christ (Galatians 3:24). This happens when one senses that you
can never meet the demands of the Law in your own strength. Paul hence taught Christians to pour heaps of
fire, i.e. love instead of revenge. Muhammad never seemed to have warmed to the teaching of Jesus to leave
revenge over to God, let alone to love your enemy. On the other hand, a well developed individualism has
prevented Westerners to this day to understand the mindset
of Oriental people which value group solidarity
so highly that revenge becomes a duty. All of us would do well to learn from the example and teaching of
Jesus to practise solidarity with mankind at large.
The Practice of Abrogation
Justin Martyr gave Chapter XI of his Dialogue of Justin Martyr, with Trypho, a Jew the caption The Law
Abrogated; The New Testament Promised and Given by God. Abrogation in theological terms refers to the
replacing of a scriptural verse or passage by such a verse or passage that came chronologically later. This is
thus a part of the pristine beginnings of the haughty replacement theology where it is said that the Church
replaced Israel. The religion of Islam stops short of saying that Muhammad replaced Moses, David and
Jesus, but the vibe is definitely there that the Qur’an which
came last is
the final revelation. Progression is
clearly implied as an echelon of Holy writ: the Tawrah, the Law was given by Musa, Dawood gave the Zabur
(Psalms) and the Injil (Gospel) is the story of Nabi Isa (Prophet Jesus) – understood to be in ascending order.
The Qur’an, the last and final revelation, is at the top of course!
The practice of abrogation has been abused to give Islam a very negative image. Muslims thus
resolved internal Qur’anic contradictions by stating that certain passages or verses from the Qur’an are
mansukh or annulled. They are then called nasikh. (Christianity and Judaism resolved the same problem by
stating that Scripture is infallible in principle but that the men who wrote the inspired words were fallible
people.) Abrogation was in Islamic parlance revealed by Allâh via Surah alBakarah
(The Cow) 2:106, Such
of Our revelations as we abrogate or cause to be forgotten, we bring (in place) one better or the like thereof.
Knowest thou not that Allâh is able to do all things?
The Fear of Ostracism and Persecution
To the present day the fear of ostracism and persecution deterred Islamic theologians from rocking the
boat in a way which could have caused a movement towards following the prophet from Nazareth. The
general uncritical attitude of Muslim scholars does not count to their credit. Their investigation in Islamic
historical research leaves a lot to be desired. Of course, I am quite aware that the spirit of intolerance in
their ranks does not make it very easy for the good Muslim scholar. Dr Fazlur Rahman’s scholarly and
critical study of the origins and development of Islam is a case in point. It established his reputation as a
scholar, but it cost him his job because conservative circles were not prepared to tolerate even the mildly
critical tone employed by him. In other countries, those who dared to pose uncomfortable questions had to
run for their lives and some were even killed.
Muslims could never have been happier when Western interfaith
theologians started speaking out
on their behalf. That the bestselling
former nun Karen Armstrong seemed to bend over backwards
uncritically, writing propagandizingly, could not bother them. Her biography with the title Muhammad,
prophet for our time, has every appearance of a book written by a Muslim. Published in 2006, it could
nevertheless be appreciated as an effort to calm the waters after the cataclysmic September 11 of 2001.
Yet, the truth will prevail in the end. Islam will have to face uncomfortable facts squarely, such as
that the Qur’anic Jibril can never be equated with the angel in the Bible with the same name or that
Muhammad continued with the pagan worship around the black stone in the Ka’aba, although Waraqah
and three other influential Meccans discerned that the circumambulations were basically idolatrous
because the stone could not hear, see nor help. Christians cannot feel happy either in the light of the fact
that the Syrian monk Bahira was under occult influence when he perceived the ‘enlightenment’ from a
sinister ‘book’ that Muhammad had the seal of prophethood or that Waraqah, a priest, encouraged
Muhammad to believe that the ‘Namus’ which had almost led him to commit suicide, was the same spirit
which had communicated with Moses.
A significant medieval Counter
Fortunately, the negative example of Christian enforced conversions and the Islamic response was neither
universal nor eternal. Already a few centuries before Constantine and Augustine the sacking of Jerusalem
in 70 AD laid the foundations for Baghdad to become a natural choice as the capital of the Islamic
empire. It became a centre for Talmudic learning when thousands of Jews fled to those regions. From
Babylon and its surrounds the Assyrian Church spread unprecedentedly in missionary endeavour.
A significant medieval counter to the jihad philosophy evolved in Spain. A culture of special
tolerance developed in Cordoba between Jews and Muslims that was initially unhindered by the Catholic
Church. The symbiosis of religions allowed for the unequalled fruition of minds that gave to Western
culture the guitar and cough syrup. The Arabian contribution of Algebra is well known.
Cordoba was the city where great minds like Maimonides (11351204)
and Averroës (Ibn Rushd)
could initially develop in peace. The former, a brilliant Jewish philosopher, who wrote in Arabic,
suggesting in his magnum opus allegoric reading and understanding of the Torah, which had been
regarding God on the one hand and philosophy and science on the other hand as incompatible. His work
elicited big debate in Judaism and Christianity.
Ibn Rushd (1126–1198), better known as Averroës, was a Muslim Arabian philosopher who was
also born in Cordoba. He argued for the eternity of matter and against the immortality of the individual
soul. His philosophical writings, including commentaries on Aristotle and on Plato's Republic, became
known to the West through Latin translations. He influenced Christian and Jewish writers into the
Renaissance, and reconciled Islamic and Greek thought, by asserting that philosophic truth comes
through reason. A common theme throughout his writings is that there is no incompatibility between
religion and philosophy when both are properly understood. His commentaries had immediate and lasting
success. Thomas Aquinas used the 'Grand Commentary' of Averroës as his model, and though he refuted
the perceived errors of Averroës, and devoted special treatises to that purpose, he always spoke of the
Arabian commentator with respect and consideration. The same may be said of Dante's references to him.
Intolerant brutes, the al-muwahhidun of North Africa, brought an end to the golden age of
Cordoba. The tyrants which brought down Muslim Spain were Muslims, soon to be followed by the
Catholic Inquisition. The family of Maimonides had to choose between becoming Muslims or flight.
They left for Egypt.
A Modern Trend
Who would have thought that Africa would set the pace in the twentieth century in the criticism of Islam?
In August 1994, a women speaker at a liberal mosque in the Cape suburb of Claremont was as big a
surprise as anyone could expect, but this was not followed up. The September 11 event in New York
brought a significant correction in the state of affairs in unexpected ways. Egyptborn
Mark Gabriel's
book Islam and Terrorism which was conceived in Cape Town as a result of the PAGAD scare in August
1996, became a best seller soon after its publication at the beginning of 2002, in due course to be
translated into over 50 languages.
Suddenly it appeared that Islamic rightwing
folk became ready to move away from the medieval
tendencies in dealing with their critics. They still had no scruple to bomb churches, e.g. in Indonesia and
Nigeria, or to bury female adherents alive who had been caught in adultery – while the men involved got
away with impunity. But Islamists had difficulty to handle female critics. It was bad enough that Nonie
Darwish82 an EgyptianAmerican
human rights activist and the daughter of a prominent Egyptian general
became a critic after she had become a Christian. The new millennium brought outspoken females from
Islam to the fore, who made it clear that they were not to be muzzled. Ali Hirsi83, a refugee from Somalia
and Ethiopia, ruffled the feathers in no uncertain way followed by Irshad Manji, who fled from Uganda as
a little girl with her family to Canada during the mad rage of Idi Amin when he started persecuting Indian
traders. Manji (The Trouble with Islam, a wakeup
call for honesty and change, 2003:11) dared to call for
‘an end to Islam’s totalitarianism, particularly the gross human rights violations against women and religious
minorities.’ Subsequently republished as The Trouble with Islam Today, the book has been published in
more than 30 languages.
An Invitation to Self-denial
The rebuke of Jonah was tantamount to an invitation to self-denial, so to speak a challenge to take up his
cross. We note that Jesus first said ‘deny yourself’ even
before saying ‘take up your cross and follow me’
82 Nonie Darwish (Arabic: نوني درويش ) (born 1949) is an EgyptianAmerican
human rights activist, and founder
of Arabs For Israel, and is Director of Former Muslims United. She is the author of two books: Now They Call Me
Infidel; Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror and Cruel and Usual Punishment: The
Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law.
83 Ayaan Hirsi Magan Ali (born 13 November 1969) is a Somali-Dutch feminist and atheist activist, writer and
politician who is known for her views critical of Islam, practices of circumcision and female genital cutting.
(Mark 8:34). To accept that the Ninevites could be forgiven, that God could change His mind, was obviously
very difficult for Jonah to accept. Sometimes the impression has been spread that God is not moved easily;
that He can just do what he likes in an authoritarian and wanton way. Jonah thought that God was limited to
His original prophecy of doom. He had to learn that God was basically compassionate, that the Almighty
takes ‘no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their wicked ways and live’
(Ezekiel 33:11). We compare the reprieve of David (2 Samuel 12:13) and Ahab (1 King 21:28) after they
repented and humbled themselves before God. He gave them a new chance. That is the nature of God: loving
forgiveness after repentance, rather than punishment for our sins.
Jeremiah 18:7ff contains special actuality for Capetonians. Evangelicals who think that God is
obliged to bring many prophecies over the city - without united repentance and prayer - would do well to
know that the Bible forces a good rethink on the matter: ‘...And if at another time I announce that a nation
or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will
reconsider the good I had intended to do for it’.
I am convinced that if Christians are willing to accept corporately that we cannot put God into a box
of Western Theology - the Scriptures have actually originated in the Orient - we might find Muslims and
Jews more open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The complete biblical message seems to be: God is loving and
forgiving, he is slow to anger but there comes a time when continued sinning will call forth his wrath.84
Furthermore, the verse from Jeremiah 18 quoted above repudiates the belief that God never changes His
mind. The Bible repeats more than once that the Almighty is in principle unchangeable and sovereign, but
not arbitrary and aloof. Compassionate and remorseful prayer moves him, especially when it is done
corporately. We note for example how the Ninevites averted the destruction of their city through united
repentance. In the totality of the biblical message Isaiah 57:15 puts it pointedly that the high and lofty one
who inhabits eternity is also with the low and humble, giving new courage to repentant hearts.
as a Correction
Sometimes Jewish theologians seem to be blinded by a false nationalism, not discerning that Jesus'
ministry had the intention of bringing Israel back to its original destiny, namely to be a ‘light to the
nations’ (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6). Islamic scholars are likewise all too often guided by a false nationalism or
religious chauvinism. Allegiance to the Ummah, the brotherhood of Muslim believers, is usually so
important to them that they become completely uncritical.
To be patriotic is laudable. But it should never make one uncritical. However, when patriotism
and loyalty turn to chauvinism, it becomes unacceptable. In the Bible it is narrated how Jonah was
reprimanded by God for his nationalistic thinking. The Qur’an does mention ‘a spreading plant of the
gourd kind’ (Surah Saffat (Ranged in Rows) 37:146) in reference to this narrative, but one does not find
God rebuking Jonah’s legalist, nationalistic thinking in the sacred Islamic book.
Paul and John the Baptist were definitely influenced by the nationalist strand of Judaism. But they
also included in their teaching its correction towards selfdenial,
for example ‘I have been crucified with
Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20, compare also 2 Corinthians 5:15 and
Romans 14:7, 8). Paul extended himself for the Gentiles to such an extent that he was almost killed exactly
because of his conviction, namely that God had sent him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles – gojim. In
the eyes of first century Jews, these were regarded as inferior and barbaric (for example Acts 22:22).
John the Baptist said that Jesus must become greater and he must become less (John 3:30). Jesus
set the example in selfdenial,
by washing the disciples’ feet (John 13). His service on earth was intended
‘… so that your Son may glorify you’ (John 17:1).
The Christian theologians of the dark ages did not fare much better with regard to nationalism.
Our religious forebears obviously did not understand what Jesus’ radical break with nationalism implied
for the rank and file Christian. They furthermore made an aloof deity out of the biblical ‘Lord of Lords’
and ‘King of Kings’ (Revelations 17:14). Not only God the Father but also Jesus got further and further in
distance as they prayed increasingly to mother Mary. The Hebrew Scriptures speak of God being exalted
over all the nations, but also that he bends down to uplift the downtrodden and needy from the ash heap
(for example Psalms 113:4, 7). This tenet became concealed and the incarnation of God Jesus
as the
84 Compare for example Psalm 81:8ff, where one finds a reminder of Yahweh’s intervention and aid - interspersed with
Him wooing and warning His people.
Immanuel (God with us) got
almost completely lost. The message in the Magnificat (Luke 2:48, 52) that
God identifies himself with the lowly, was interpreted in a very onesided
way, namely in the veneration
of Mary.
Did Jesus condone Warfare?
In mitigation of Constantine it has to be conceded that the available teaching of Jesus on pacifism was not
completely unambiguous. On the one hand, the Master Himself had stopped Peter, warning him that those
who live by the sword, would die by the sword (Matthew 26:52). On the other hand, Jesus mentioned the
salaries of soldiers as a matter of course and John the Baptist did not question the work of soldiers as an
occupation in any way (Luke 3:14). On the very evening of his arrest, Jesus ordered his disciples to buy
swords (Luke 22:36), albeit only those ones used for defensive purposes. He did clear the courtyard of the
Temple with some measure of violence. Albert Nolan (1986:111) summarised it aptly: 'Jesus was no pacifist in
principle; He was a pacifist in practice, i.e. in the concrete circumstances of the time. His injunctions to turn the other
cheek and not to resist evil, do not exclude violence as such but they exclude violence for the purpose of revenge.'
In a limited way Constantine’s bishops can thus perhaps be exonerated. Some of them however
conveniently interpreted the above Bible verses as Jesus’ condoning of warfare. In later centuries the theory
of the just war was developed by Augustine and Ambrose. The just war theory was possibly an indirect result
of the brutality of Constantine and his soldiers.
This is especially noteworthy because the pacifism of Christians had been well-known in the first
three centuries. The first Christians evidently did not deduce military solutions from the teachings of Jesus.
In fact, they regarded suffering in persecution as their major ‘weapon’, almost idolising it. An interesting
snippet in this regard is how the author of the Epistle of Barnabas (ch.2) described the new law of Christ: ‘...
to impose no yoke of coercion, and its oblation to be no offering of human hands’.
Be it as it may, the brutal ‘Christianizing’ of peoples, using violent means to achieve it, can never be
excused. Constantine’s immediate successors did use force in a despicable way. Big geographical areas were
subdued with the dubious perception that they were doing it for Christ. The seed of the crusader spirit was
sown, whereby it was understood that the enemy had to be defeated by military might.
Islam latched onto the idea with the concept of ‘jihad’, whereby the Muslim soldier could get straight
into paradise if he would die in the ‘holy war’. In modern history, Hitler and the apartheid rulers in this
country also spoke respectively of ‘total victory’ and ‘total onslaught’. The abuse of God’s name in this
country, respectively by the right-wing AWB and the militant Allâhu Akbar! (Allâh is the greatest) of groups
like PAGAD (People against Gangsterism and Drugs) still ring in our ears.
Be it as it may, the example of Jesus is still speaking clearly enough. He refused even to allow the
disciples to use a sword in defence (see John 18:36) or to form an army. Voluntarily he went to Jerusalem to
give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Muhammad on the other hand chose to flee when he had to
face martyrdom. When he embraced the Arabic custom to attack caravans, he justified it by stating that he
fought infidels. His example and teaching, to oppose those who scoffed or rejected him like the Jews and
Christians, is in total contrast to the Jewish teaching that was highlighted by our Lord Jesus, viz. to turn the
other cheek. On the other hand, the Hebrew Scriptures, from which Muhammad possibly derived his
inspiration primarily, does give room for vengeance under certain conditions. Thus Isaiah 59 highlights how
Yahweh loses patience and executes vengeance when oppression and injustice is allowed to flourish and
where there is no repentance because of this.
Abuse of Religion to use Force
The abuse of force for religious purposes has a few precedents in the ‘New Testament’ – negative ones!
Herod deemed it feasible to eliminate the inconvenient John the Baptist. In a similar way, the Lord was
crucified basically because of his convictions and teaching. Saul and other Jewish compatriots of his day
were zealous in the extreme. In his own words: I... advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own
extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my forefathers (Galatians 1:14). However, he and the other
Zealots were misguided, believing that they had to persecute the followers of Jesus, those who dared to
believe that the man of Nazareth was raised from death, those who persevered with the ‘heresy’ that He was
the Son of God. Probably with quite a bit of satisfaction Paul witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen in
Jerusalem. However, God stepped in ‘violently’ when Saul went to Damascus to to stamp out the beliefs of
the people of the Way, sowing violence and murder. The resurrected Jesus caught up with him, calling him
into His service. As part of his training Saul – who received the new name Paul – had to learn how much he
had to suffer for the name of Jesus.
To this day the persecution of Jesus’ followers, which started in the first century, has not ended. The
escalating violence after 44 CE between Romans and Jews and the eventual outbreak of war in 66 CE arose
from Jewish ‘zeal’ for Yahweh, expressed in devotion and utter loyalty to the Torah and temple.
Persecution and Trials as positive Tenets
The ‘New Testament’ sees persecution and trials as positive tenets. Thus James, the apostle, starts his epistle
(1:2f) with Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds... Through persecution
the faith was spread, although initially only among Jews and Samaritans in the surrounding regions. God
used the leading persecutor, to bring about the correction. He used Hellenists, Greekspeakers,
along with
Paul, the great apostle, to bring the evangel to Gentiles as well as Jews – not in stead of Jews as some
unfortunately made out of it. Within a matter of decades the enthusiastic new followers of our Lord, so many
of them unknown to this day, brought the Gospel not only to the ends of the known world of their day – from
Asia Minor in the East to Spain in the West but
also to far away countries like India and China.
Faisal Malick, a Muslim background believer from Pakistan, who had previously set himself the
target of converting Christians to Islam, penned some interesting thoughts around Saul on the road to
Damascus. ‘Just as Saul was the most unlikely candidate for the Kingdom, most would consider Ishmael to be the last
to realize that Jesus is the Son of God.’ He goes on to suggest that ‘God is going to use the conversion of Ishmael85 to
stir up the Church as He used the conversion of Saul to stir up the Church in the midst of persecution’ (Malick,
2005:38f). Believers who were persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, often experienced in a supernatural
way how they were not only suffering for his name’s sake, but He was suffering with them, that they were
being carried on eagles’ wings. They can testify how fellowship with Him in his sufferings (cf. Phillipians
1:29; 1 Peter 4:13f) thus became a reality.
It was never considered wise for Jews to circumcise their Christian slaves or to marry Christian wives
and then convert them to Judaism. This had a counter reaction in times of strain and economic crisis when
Jews became convenient scapegoats. Towards the end of the sixth century Jews were subjected to enforced
baptism, which was deplored by Gregory the Great, but he had no objection to incentives. Both methods
were widely subsequently used by Christians and Muslims.
The Pattern for Muhammad
The Emperor Constantine was not the first to abuse violence for religious purposes, but he set an example
that spread through the region. At the end of the 4th century wandering Berber bands of Donatists were called
Circumcellions. (The Donatists were the followers of Donatus and those Christian theologians who made
suffering such a virtue that nobody who had wilted under persecution was allowed to take an office in the
Church). Their seasonal work at the olive harvest gave them plenty of time and leisure for what Chadwick
(1969:220) calls ‘terrorist attacks’ against Catholic churches, engaged in religiousinspired
violence across
North Africa. It remains the major indictment of the Church that Constantine expanded Christianity with
enforced baptisms. And those who emulated him in various ways, set the example for Muhammad. (One
wonders what else could have inspired Constantine to regard himself as the 13th apostle!) The Church
has so much to thank the North African Church Father Augustine for. Yet, when we consider the justification
of force, another example that was emulated by Muhammad and Islam in general, we have to conclude that
the wide uncritical acclaim he has been enjoying in Western church circles needs some review.
Augustine set the pattern for Muhammad to react with force if persuasion does not work. He initially
accepted that there would be godless and nominal Christians in the Church, because wheat and weed should
be able to grow next to each other until the harvest (Matthew 13:30). Church discipline should not be
practised forcefully with the iron rod, but rather like that of an operating surgeon. The erring and backsliding
folk should be brought back to the fold with the Gospel of grace. Augustine requested the authorities
to use force to bring the backsliders back to the church. The Donatists were however not to be moved.
85 He refers in this context to Ishmael as a metaphor for the religion of Islam.
When Augustine became bishop of Hippo, he inherited a schism among the Catholics which had
been already 85 years old. He inspired a series of church councils under the metroplitan at Carthage to
present the Catholics with a united front. (Since the Donatists were not in union with Rome and Jerusalem,
doing their own thing in North Africa, they were not regarded as Catholics (i.e. universal), and had to be
brought back into the fold.) There were some differences between the two groups. Augustine had no qualms
to use the instilling of fear and selfinterest,
seeing this as a temporary measure to bring his Donatist
opposition to a coerced
willing agreement. Moreover, the highest function of penal action was according to
him remedial. Augustine however abused the Bible, requesting the secular authorities to use force to bring
the erring Donatists back to the church. To motivate his position, Augustine quoted Luke 14:23, ‘Force them
to come in.’ He defended this as paternal correction. Otto de Jong, a Dutch church historian, concludes: ‘With
this argumentation he paved the way for the inquisition.’ Augustine legitimized force to subdue opposition.
Although it would be very difficult to prove it empirically, in the spiritual realm it is not impossible to
discern a link to Muhammad, who reacted in anger when the Jews spurned his overtures, refusing to
recognise him as a divinely inspired prophet. The difference between Augustine and Muhammad is however
quite stark. Augustine would never have remotely suggested that his views – which could be regarded as the
pristine beginnings of the just war theory – were divinely inspired. The Medinan Tauba (Repentance) 9 –
with jihad as its theme – is regarded by Muslims around the world as inspired by Allâh, whether revenge was
the motive or not. With Medina as his base, Muhammad led the ethnic cleansing of the region, killing
hundreds of Jews.
The Islamisation of North Africa prepared
In yet another way Augustine prepared the Islamisation of North Africa. The Church Father had a historical
view of human development, by which Christianity would gradually envelop the world, as preparation of the
final and seventh stage. The present age between the first and second coming of Christ is the sixth. Against
this background, the Donatists with an obsession of a limited local or at best regional view of Christianity,
had to be fought tooth and nail. The Donatists, taking Christ’s injunction to be in the world but not of the
world too literally, saw themselves as alternatives to society. Overlooking Christ’s teaching that his followers
should be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, Augustine went overboard on the other side. He
stressed that Christianity was not the antisociety
– it was society. When Augustine became bishop in
Carthage in the mid390s,
the Donatist church was huge, wealthy and flourishing with deep roots. Even after
extended imperial persecution, inspired by Augustine (Johnson, 1988:116), the Donatists still produced 300
bishops in the final attempt at compromise at Carthage in 411 AD. The back of the Donatist movement was
by now already significantly cracked, for the Vandals to overrun the area, preparing the Islamisation of North
Africa. The theological bickering was a further contributing factor so that the Muslims were more or less
welcomed to take control. The idea of world domination – so clearly expounded by Augustine for
Christianity – is known to be one of Islam’s goals to this day! He was also the harbinger of the concept of
total religious and imperial conformity, for which force was regarded as a necessity to attain it and fully
justified. Augustine became not only ‘a theorist of persecution’ (Johnson, 1988:116), but his defences were later
also those on which the Inquisition based their justification for base torture.
An Aberration of Christ’s Teachings
The teaching to use force to ‘make’ Christians was a total aberration of what Christ taught about the
expansion of his kingdom. The parables about the kingdom is the model which Jesus handed down, for
example “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground... the seed should sprout
and grow up, he knows not how...” (Mark 4:26ff). It spreads the clear message: it is not man’s labour and
effort which bring about the kingdom. It is God’s sovereign work, which came to pass through the Holy
Spirit. This parable is obviously a reply to the passionate striving of those who want to force the coming of
the Kingdom of God (Mark 9:24).
The seed for religious wars germinated in the Church, e.g. when Ambrose became bishop in Milan in
the 4th century. He differentiated between the temporal and spiritual authority, both however to be centred in
the Church. This was the beginning of giving bishops a secular role. On the positive side, Augustine heard
him preaching at a time when he was still attending a Manichaeist group. This set Augustine off on a search,
which finally led to his conversion and baptism in 387 AD. With a group of Christians he formed a small
monastery in Tagaste not far from Carthage in North Africa, where Augustine also started with his many
writings. These would influence the Church universal tremendously. Unfortunately this influence did not
only operate in positive ways. Following on the teaching of Ambrose, Augustine overemphasized
the need
for the Church to educate the erring members. His interpretation of Luke 14:23 (Force them to come in) and
the conversion of Paul ‘by great violence’, was very problematic indeed paving
the way not only for the
inquisition, but on the longer term also for the crusades. (The inquisition became known as a harsh
international secular judiciary, where a travesty of justice became the common practice.) The climate was
created not only for brawls, e.g. at the synod at Ephesus in 449 AD, where the prelates threatened to cut
another to pieces because of different theological views. It is painful to recall that police had to be called in.
And even this did not prevent the saintly Patriarch Flavian of Constantinople to be manhandled
so severely
that he died as a result. Augustine thus also supplied the foundation for an ideology that made possible not
only the theory of just wars, but also for Islamic jihad. Jews in Arabia also did their bid, making themselves
obnoxious by a persecuting proselytism (Arnold, 1874:33). Licence was given for the abuse of force to the
ends of religious expansionism. The example of justifying war was duly emulated in Islam. Moshay
(1990:78) pointed out that Muslim historians like Ebrahim (Anecdotes from Islam) have endeavoured to show
that preIslamic
Arabia was full of the three w’s wine,
women and war, a lifestyle
that Muhammad tried to
Humanising of Torture
To Augustine we must also ascribe the dubious honour of attempting to make torture less cruel. Horrible
tortures were for instance inflicted on a woman accused of adultery. A vestal virgin who broke her vows
could be flogged, then buried alive. This is the sort of example which Islam inherited. Augustine deplored
the indirect dishonesty that paid informers and agents provocateurs were used. He furthermore disliked
unnecessary violence and refinements of torture. It became rather problematic though when he suggested
that heretics should be examined ‘not by stretching them on the rack, but by scorching them with flames or
furrowing their flesh with iron claws' and beating them with rods (Cited in Johnson, 1988:116). Into this sort of
argumentation the teaching of Muhammad to beat wives, along with other forms of punishment to force them
into submission, fits quite well.
Empathy for Muhammad?
One could have empathy for Muhammad if one considers that some of the Surahs after 624 AD appear very
much to have been inspired by his disappointment that the Christians and Jews would not recognise him as a
prophet. Surah Tauba (Repentance) 9 now stands there as the only chapter in the Qur’an that does not start
with in the name of alRahman,
the Compassionate. We nevertheless have to regret it that a basic tenet of
Christianity, what Paul, the apostle, called ‘the gospel of Peace’, could hardly have been taught to
Muhammad forcefully enough. How come that the good news of God’s great love for the world by sending
Jesus to die for the sins of the world could not penetrate into Islam?
The founder of Islam has clearly not understood properly the teaching of Jesus to forgive those who
have wronged you. Or was this message clouded by religious proponents of revenge and the theories of the
just war? I suspect that a demonic component must have been prevalent as we also see it in our day and age.
In spite of the clear biblical teaching to love your enemy and to heap coals of love on those who wronged
you, it is still fairly customary to dismiss the teachings of peace in churches as marginal and optional. To
highlight the tenet as a major difference between Jesus and Muhammad becomes rather hypocritical, all the
more in the light of colonizing and warlike actions which made the Gospel suspect. The quip of atheistic
Africans that
the missionaries came with the Bible to steal their land unfortunately
cannot be dismissed
out of hand. And some missionaries still have a crusading mentality, riding rough shod and disrespectfully
over socalled
primitive cultures.
In the Meccan period it was revealed that Muslims had to argue with the People of the Book ‘only in
the best way...’ (Surah Ankabut (The Spider) 29:46). It is doubly tragic when reputed Islamic theologians like
Ibn Kathir, Kortobi and Zamakshary have been misleading followers of the prime Islamic prophet, by
suggesting that a verse like this has been abrogated by the verses of the sword (Surah Tauba (Repentance) 9:5
and Surah Tauba (Repentance) 9:14) Then when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever
you find them... Fight against them so that Allâh can punish them and disgrace them by your hands and heal
the breasts of a believing people. If one accepts this, it is sad that 124 verses which originally encouraged
tolerance, have been annulled.
In the extension of all this there is an interpretation of jihad, that has been crudely translated as holy
war. Someone who dies while he is in combat for the Islamic cause is assured of going to paradise. The
example of the escapades of Constantine to extend his faith with the sword, along with Augustine’s support
carry much weight in this regard. Other rewards in the hereafter have precedents in heretic Christianity,
notably with Cerinthus and Mani.
16. Salvation and Eternal Rewards
The ‘NT’ is quite clear that we can earn rewards by faithfully serving Christ. Those who have been
saved may earn wonderful rewards by the work they do for the Lord. The Bible speaks of some very special
rewards for those who faithfully serve the Lord Jesus. These rewards are called “CROWNS”, and crowns
speak of glory. There are five beautiful crowns which will be given to believers as rewards. The Ebionites
thought that Jesus was the Saviour who would come to reward each according to his deeds. The aspect of
rewards is important to Muslims although they do not believe in Jesus as a Saviour.
Sacrifices and Activism vetoed
The Hebrew Scriptures clearly vetoed sacrifices as something with which one can appease God’s wrath.
Almost as a refrain it resounds in the Hebrew Scriptures that God is not primarily interested in outward
sacrifices like fasts but in mercy (Hosea 6:6). God loves a contrite heart (Psalms 51:16,17) and godly living
(Isaiah 58:1012),
including the humane and compassionate lifestyle
towards the poor and lowly. In Romans
12:1 Paul summarizes the consequence for the believer wonderfully. Not sacrifice of animals is required but
our body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. The letter to the Hebrews highlights sacrifices of
praise. This is the fruit of the lips that confess His name.
David set the tone in Psalm 27:4 to have our priorities in place: he desired ‘one thing’, viz to be in the
presence of the Lord. That should be top priority. The Master echoed this when Martha’s activism was given
no support. In fact, Mary’s devotion to be at Jesus’ feet was highlighted as the ‘one thing’. He exposed the
priorities of the rich young man who could boast with his morally impeccable life – his heart was on his
possessions. The ‘one thing’ required of him was to sell off his riches to follow Jesus.
The dubious Concept of the Sacrament
In the Roman Catholic Church christening became the vehicle for getting saved. This developed into a belief
that belonging to that church became a guarantee for salvation. In its train the dubious concept of the
sacrament developed. In Roman Catholic Church parlance ‘the Sacrament’ of Baptism remits not only the
guilt of sin, but also all the penalties attached to sin. Closely linked is the notion of indulgences. In the
Sacrament of Penance the guilt of sin is removed, and with it the eternal punishment due to mortal sin; but in
Roman Catholic theology there still remains the temporal punishment required by Divine justice, and this
requirement must be fulfilled either in the present life or in the world to come, i.e., in purgatory. An
indulgence is said to offer the penitent sinner the means of discharging this debt during his life on earth. It
became rather problematic that the actual remission could be granted by Church officials: ‘An indulgence is
the extrasacramental
remission of the temporal punishment due, in God’s justice, to sin that has been forgiven, which
remission is granted by the Church in the exercise of the power of the keys, ... and for some just and reasonable motive.’
The ‘NT’ is quite clear that remission of sins is only affected by the blood of Jesus Christ. In fairness to
Roman Catholics it should be added that some rectification occurred here and there, e.g. when a group of
Lutherans visited Pope Paul VI in 1967. Not every evangelical would expect from a Roman Catholic to note
that “Jesus crucified is the greatest ‘indulgence’ that the Father has offered humanity' The words uttered
hereafter ring rather strange: ‘allowing the forgiveness of sins and the possibility of filial life.” Pope Paul VI
explained that sin leaves marks on the soul that do not automatically disappear with confession. This appears
to be rationally sound even if question marks remain with regard to the amount of activity on our part would
then be required to achieve forgiveness of sin. The “NT’ does not leave any doubt that personal faith in Jesus’
death and resurrection is sufficient for the remission of sins.
The five beautiful Crowns
Crowns speak of glory -- reigning with the Lord Jesus. The five beautiful crowns which will be
given to believers as rewards are:
a) THE CROWN OF REJOICING for those who win others to Christ. This is sometimes called "the soulwinner's
crown." You are our hope, our joy, and the crown we will take pride in when our Lord Jesus Christ
comes. (1 Thessalonians 2:19)
b) THE CROWN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS for those who look for and love Christ's return. Finally, there is
laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day,
and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8).
c) THE CROWN OF GLORY for those who faithfully teach and preach God's Word. 'And when the Chief
Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away' (1 Peter 5:4).
d) THE INCORRUPTIBLE CROWN for those who "run a good race" in the Christian life.And everyone who
competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an
imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:25).
e) THE CROWN OF LIFE. There are two ways to achieve this crown. The first way is to simply put complete
faith and trust in the Lord when you are facing trials, tribulations, and hardships. When in difficult times and
you are faced with pain and suffering you simply rely on the Lord that much more. Happy is the man that
keeps on enduring trial, because on becoming approved he will receive the Crown of Life (James 1:12).
Rewards in the Hereafter
In the context of EbioniteIslamic
Theology Cerinthus stated that ‘the kingdom of Christ will be on the earth,
and that the flesh, dwelling at Jerusalem, will once more serve lusts and pleasures’ (Lawlor and Oulton,
quoting Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical history I, 1927:89). This is similar to the Qur’anic vision where the
fortunate men in paradise will enjoy the pick of many virgins and be served with luscious eats and wine by
young lads (Surah Waqia (The Inevitable Event) 56:1137).
Berger (1993:121) highlights the fact that a Qumran text (4 Q 397) refers to works of righteousness in
the context of fulfilling the Law. He points out that the understanding of James in his epistle in chapter 2:21
by interpreting from Genesis 15:6 that Abraham was justified by his works, was congruent with
contemporary Jewish thinking. Luther has possibly read more into Paul’s intention in his ‘works versus faith’
polemics from his own personal experience, which he deemed of course to be parallel to that of Paul,
regarding the Law as burdensome. (Paul did of course speak of the curse of the Law but referred to it also as
a prodding rod that can drive one to faith in Christ.)
Valentinus taught in mid-second century Rome and in Alexandria that soul persons (psychikoi) could
win salvation through good works and faithfulness to the doctrine of the church. By contrast, matter persons
(hylikoi), the pagans, would be lost in matter (De Jong, 1980:29). Luther stressed in his understanding of
Paul, quoting Habakuk 2:4, which is also found in a Qumran commentary. Berger (1993:125) notes that
whereas the Qumran understanding would point to a ‘dauerhaften Erweis des Glaubens’, an extended proof of
faith, Paul stressed ‘ein(en) punktuellen Einstieg’, a rather momentary entry. The two viewpoints would thus be
‘keine ausschliessende Gegensätze’, complementary, confirming that Luther’s position and interpretation was
rather overdrawn.
Grace as a central and sustaining biblical Tenet
Parallel to the concept of mercy, the Bible also teaches grace as a central tenet. In the teaching of Pharisaic
Ebionism this was not always clear. Throughout the ‘Old’ and ‘New Testament’ it is taught that it is not what
we earn or deserve, but God’s grace which sustains us. In ‘New Testament’ times Jesus saw it necessary to
teach a substitute for the external work-righteous ceremonial Judaism of his day. Also Paul deemed it feasible
to chide work-righteousness. In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul clearly taught that it is ‘by grace you have been saved
through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.’ How
important it was to him is illustrated by the fact that the same message is also stressed in his letter to the
Romans (3:24-28).
In the pre-Islamic Arabia and its contemporary Church it was probably preached that good works
could atone for one’s sin, the Islamic view of the atonement of sin is a tragic development of this doctrine of
good works. We contrast this with the biblical teaching that ‘all our righteous acts are like filthy rags’ before
God (Isaiah 64:6), that Christ is ‘our righteousness, holiness and redemption’ (1 Corinthians 1:30). An
unbiblical view is that one does not need a Saviour and mediator. With payment of indulgence money and
good works one can buy one’s way into heaven. This is one of the teachings against which Martin Luther
protested fiercely when he discovered how unbiblical it is. It appears as if there has not yet been any
correction in Islam on this score. The Qur’an teaches that good deeds should outweigh and cancel the bad
ones (Surah Hud (The Prophet Hud) 11:114). In fact, this is part of the problem. A religion that has a strong
urge for self-redemption, cannot give assurance of salvation. The adherent will never know whether he has
done enough to earn salvation.
Chronologically fairly close to Muhammad was semiPelagianism.
A synod at Carthage cancelled
the notions of the Irish monk Pelagius, who would not recognise original sin. In his view men committed
sin by emulating the example of the first human couple. Augustine had gone overboard by connecting sin
with the sexual urge, causing more problems in this way. Julian discerned that Augustine saw things too
darkly. In due course semiPelagianism
came through as a compromise, whereby salvation can be
achieved as cooperation
between God and man. The weighing of sins and good deeds on a ‘scale of
reighteousness’ has a few oriental precedents such as in the apocryphal Testament of Abraham where
Enoch has been appointed by God to record the good and evil deeds of all people. The scale is
administered by an angel referred to as ‘the archangel’ or ‘the angel of mercy.’ In coptic angelogy Michael
is this angel. The weighing of bad and good deeds on a scale is also mentioned in the Coptic Apocalypse
of Zephaniah with two angels, an accusing angel and one who records the good deeds of the righteous.
This somehow filtered through to Islam.
In the environment of work righteousness in church and synagogue, it is not surprising at all that Muhammad
failed to pick up the biblical teaching of salvation by faith alone.
The Ebionites thought that Jesus was the Saviour who would come to reward each according to his
deeds. The aspect of rewards is important to Muslims although they do not believe in Jesus as a Saviour.
Hence Surah alMaida
(The Table Spread) 5:45 (Life for life, eye for eye. But if any one remits the
retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself. And if any fail to judge by (the light of)
what Allâh hath revealed, they are (no better than) wrongdoers.’)
Islamic Understanding of Sin
Quite a few examples occur in the Islamic scriptures, with man earning divine rewards in one way or
another. In fact, Islam basically denies the biblical message of atonement, teaching that human repentance
and good deeds become conditions for Allâh’s forgiveness. In the divine judgement the good deeds must
give light in the darkness. Man has to cross a chord, which is as thin as a hair. Islam does not aim to fulfil
God’s demand of perfection. Sin is seen as a relative concept. In due course a new brand of ethics
developed in six categories, some of which were evidently derived from the practices perceived to be
prevalent in church and synagogue, such as that sins can be compensated through good deeds, sins that
cannot be forgiven, sins that result in punishment (not eternal).
Clouding of important Teachings of Jesus
A tenet of the teaching of Jesus, which became completely clouded, was compassion. The original Greek
word splagchezesthai was used in the ‘NT’ eight times, all of them in conjunction with Jesus. Three of the
occurrences appear in parables, amongst other things in the famous ones of the ‘prodigal son’ and the
Good Samaritan. Jesus had compassion on the crowds who were hungry and like sheep without a
shepherd (Matthew 8:37f). Furthermore Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that care and
compassion for the needy should be performed quietly, not by trumpeting it out aloud (Matthew 6:1ff).
Already in the early church this tenet went amiss when Ananias and Sapphira had to be rebuked. Paul
encouraged the Corinthians to be cheerful givers (for the poor in Jerusalem), reprimanding them to take
their cue from the poor Macedonians who gave sacrificially (2 Corinthians 8: 14).
In fact, they ‘urgently
pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints’ in Jerusalem. James likewise had
to rectify believers who evidently thought that one could be pious (and rich) and yet look past the poor
and needy on one’s doorstep,
yes, even exploiting one’s workers (James 5:16).
Following these teachings exemplary practices continued throughout the first century. Services
were held on various days of the weeks, albeit that Christian life became ascetic and legalistic. Wednesday
and Friday were fasts, which were called ‘stations,’ like that of soldiers of Christ standing guard (Walker,
1976:38). The Lord’s Prayer was repeated thrice daily. It is easy to discern the pristine roots of the Islamic
salat, the ritual prayer five times a day with
the creed included every time. It was said that ‘Fasting is
better than prayer, but almsgiving better than both’ (2 Clement 16). The great event of the year was Easter
with a 40hour
fast vigil held till the dawn of Easter morning. This was extended, by the time of Nicæa
(325 CE) to a forty days’ lent. In the Islamic era this became the month long fast of Ramadan and in the
medieval Church works of normal compassion became something by which one could earn salvation.
In the early medieval environment of work righteousness in Church and Synagogue, it is not
surprising at all that Muhammad failed to pick up the biblical teaching of salvation by faith alone. Hence
Surah alMaida
(The Table Spread) 5:48 (charity, it is an act of atonement...) and so many other
examples occur in the Islamic scriptures, notably of man earning divine rewards in one way or another. In
fact, Islam basically denies the biblical message of atonement, teaching that human repentance and good
deeds become conditions for Allâh’s forgiveness. In the divine judgement the good deeds must throw light
in the darkness as man crosses the chord that is as thin as a hair.
It seems to sit quite deep in human nature to attempt to earn salvation. In Judaism the Law and its
companion circumcision became exalted as the way of salvation. Not only other religions, but also some
Protestants who should know better, time and again fall prey to this temptation.
In the gnostic Gospel of Judas, an Islamic doctrinal tenet is highlighted viz. that man does not need a
mediator. In this ‘Gospel’ Jesus is primarily a teacher and revealer of wisdom and knowledge, not a saviour
who dies for the sins of the world. This is a view that one also finds in various strains of Islam. Towards the
end of his life however, Muhammad ultimately adapted the Christian doctrine of atonement, giving a strange
turn to it, asserting that ‘only those for whom he should intercede with God, could obtain remission of sins’ (Arnold,
18. The Origins of Pilgrimage
In the tribal ancient cultures of the Middle East each tribe worshiped its own protective deities which
were taken to possess powers far beyond those of human beings. These gods were plural and gendered, often
‘fighting’ as rivals. The gods of the Middle East were believed to prefer heights. In due course they were
given lodgings ‘and their dwellings or places of sojourn required ornamentation commensurate with their dignity and
their worshipers’ ability to contribute... And in some cases, the gods demanded the most heartfelt of sacrifices: human
blood’ (Gitlitz and Davidson, 2006:10). Israel naturally was influenced by what was happening all around
them, although Abraham was called straight away in his altercation with the unknown intangible deity. He
still practised what was known to him when he visited the Canaanite sanctuary at Shechem, erecting an altar,
a stele) to his God (Genesis 12:6f). Later he planted a tree to commemorate a special event, to seal his
covenant with Abimelech (Genesis 21:3). Jacob, returning from Mesopotamia, also erected an altar there
(Genesis 33:1820).
However, he set the tone by symbolically turning their back on polytheism by burying
their idols under the terebinths of Shechem (Genesis 35:4).
Graves becoming Shrines
The Israelites copied the pagan example, using stone pillars to mark important graves – as is the case with
Rachel (Genesis 35:19,20), which later even became a place of pilgrimage. The Bible distinguishes however
between these grave markers and the bamat, the high places where the preIsraelite
inhabitants often
worshipped. In due course the graves of the arch fathers were venerated, becoming shrines where later
generations came to pay homage. This would also be copied by Christians, especially with regard to martyrs.
Already in the first century this appears to have been the case when the place in Alexandria where Mark was
martyred according to tradition, a stone tomb was erected in the eastern part of the city (Pearson, Gnosticism
and Christianity, 2004:102). A church was later built there on the site of St Mark’s memorial. This was
according to the historian Epiphanius the church where Arius served as a presbyter before he was declared a
heretic. A sad link was the proximity of pagan worship and Christianity at this time. One of the most
macabre reports is the one which stated that Emperor Hadrian built a temple to the goddess Venus on the
exact site where Jesus was crucified.
The implied lesson of Jesus that graves have little place in the new era that started with his
resurrection – why do you seek the live among the dead? did
not penetrate very deeply. Paul still had to
teach the Corinthian Christians not to worship idols (e.g. 1 Corinthians 10:7), which was often linked to
pilgrimage to the high places. Not only in Jerusalem churches were built at the grave sites of saints, often
linked to ancestor worship. Bishop Peter of Alexandria, who died in 311, is sometimes referred to as the last
martyr of the early church. He is said to have have been taken out of prison with the permission of the
wardens to go to the tomb of Mark. There he ‘addressed the holy evangelist, asking for his intercession, that he
might enter martyrdom joyously’ (cited in Pearson, 2004:106).
The Encircling of sacred Stones
The idea of the building of a shrine appears to have Jewish roots. Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer (1970:148) passed
on how Adam is said to have wanted to build ‘a mausoleum to rest therein beyond Mount Moriah.’ The most
famous ritual of the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, is the tawaf, seven circumambulations of the
Ka’ba with its sacred Black Stone. The tawaf, i.e. the encircling of sacred stones, was a general pagan
practice among the Nabataens. After Adam was supposed to have complained to God that he was no longer
hearing the voice of angels, he was told to ‘build a house for me and circumambulate it as you saw angels
circumambulating my house which is in heaven’ (Ayoub, 1984:158). The encircling of shrines might have been
practised quite widely, finding emulation also among Christians. In the late fourth century we read of Berber
Catholics who were dubbed Circumcellions. Augustine explains that they wandered circum cellas, round the
martyrs’ shrines (Chadwick, 1969:220).
Islamic tradition taught that Jibril (the Angel Gabriel) brought the Black Stone to help Muhammad
count the tawafs, the circumambulations. However, the four monotheist hanifs who influenced Muhammad
so much, were sceptical: ‘What is this stone which neither hears nor sees’? (Ibn Ishaq, p.99). The gist of the hanif
message opposition
against the encircling of the Ka’ba and its Black Stone does
not seem to have come
across to Muhammad very clearly, or otherwise he just disregarded it. When he removed 360 other idols from
the Ka’ba, he left the Black Stone in its place the
kissing of which Tisdall (1973:8) called a ‘quasiidolatrous
practice.’86 Following some hadith, Muslims believe that the stone had been ‘whiter than milk’, but that it has
become black from the sin of those who touched it (Martin Lings, 1983:3).
The Controversy of the ‘Satanic Verses’
The question remains whether the retention of the Black Stone and its veneration was not a conscious move
to stave off a possible revolt or furore, as it had once happened after Jibril’s reprimand and correction of the
‘satanic verses’. AlTabari,
the highly respected 10th century Islamic scholar wrote about the incident: ‘When
he reached God’s words, “Have you seen alLāt
and al’
Uzzā and Manāt, the third, the other?’ Surah Al Najm (The Star)
Satan cast upon his tongue, because of what he had pondered in himself and longed to bring to his people,
‘These are the highflying
cranes and their intercession is to be hoped for.’
When the Quraysh tribesfolk heard that, they rejoiced. 'What he had said about their gods pleased and delighted
them, and they gave ear to him. The Believers trusted in their prophet with respect to what he brought them from their
Lord: they did not suspect any slip, delusion or error. When he came to the prostration and finished the chapter, he
prostrated and the Muslims followed their prophet in it, having faith in what he brought them, and obeying his
Jibril came to the rescue of the Prophet saying in the al-Tabari version, ‘O Muhammad, what have you done! You
have recited to the people something which I have not brought you from God, and you have spoken what He did not say
to you.’
At that the Prophet was mightily saddened and greatly feared God. But God, of His mercy, sent him a revelation,
comforting him and diminishing the magnitude of what had happened. God told him that there had never been a
previous prophet or apostle who had longed just as Muhammad had longed, and desired just as Muhammad had desired,
but that satan had cast into his longing just as he had cast onto the tongue of Muhammad. But God abrogates what satan
has cast, and puts His verses in proper order. That is, ‘you are just like other prophets and apostles.’ And God revealed:
‘We never sent any apostle or prophet before you but that, when he longed, Satan cast into his longing. But God
abrogates what Satan casts in, and then God puts His verses in proper order, for God is all-knowing and wise’ (Surah
Hajj (The Pilgrimage) 22:52)
Finally the words favouring the three daughters of Allâh Allāt,
Uzzā and Manāt ‘
They are the
cranes whose intercession is accepted were replaced with 'Should you have males and He females
[as offspring]?
That indeed would be an unfair division. They are only names which you and your fathers
have given them.’ This would at the same time be repudiation of the notion that God could have conceived a
son by Mary.
The running between Marwa and Safa as part of the prime Islamic Pilgrimage
The ‘revelation’ of Surah alBakarah
(The Cow) 2:158 that defends doubtful practices from the pagan
pilgrimages in
this case the running between the hills Marwa and Safa must
go down as spurious. Asaf
and Nailah, the former the image of a man, the latter of a woman, were two idols that were brought with
Hubal from Syria. The one was placed on Mount Safa and the other on Mount Marwa (Sales/Wherry,
1882:42). Wellhausen (1927:28) points to the reason for the revelation: ‘because the Muslims regarded the
running between the two hills as ‘heidnisch und verboten’ (pagan and illicit).
The Hebrew Scriptures (‘OT’) are absolutely clear in its rejection of the idolatrous worship at socalled
sacred stones (Exodus 23:24; Deuteronomy 7:5; Leviticus 26:1; 2 Kings 3:2 etc.). Ibn Ishaq had
already pointed to the idolatrous nature of the cult around the Black Stone in the Ka’ba last
not least
through Muhammad’s contemporaries Waraqah and three other contemporaries. When the victorious
Muhammad came from Medina to clear the Kaba from all the idols, he did not remove the Black Stone. In
fact, other pagan practices remained part and parcel of the pilgrimage to Mecca, which is still regarded as the
ultimate pillar of Islam.
86 Cf. 1 Kings 19:18 where God encouraged Elijah, by stating that there were still seven thousand ‘whose knees have
not bowed to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.’
Christian Pilgrimage
In due course Christians imitated the Jewish example of building shrines, linking it to saints. Around 160170
AD shrines were built in Rome for Peter and Paul. A third shrine followed on the Appian way where the two
prime apostles were commemorated and venerated annually on 29 June (a date which happens to coincide
with a festival of Romulus in the pagan city calendar, Chadwick, 1969:162). This occasion soon became a
pilgrimage event. The rich adornment that Damasus spent on the shrines of the two great Christian martyrs
in Rome, was later used by him as part of the claim of the primacy of the Italian city in setting up the venue
of papacy.
In her article on the Internet (Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies) The Early Church in
Late Antiquity: A select introductory Bibliography, Bernadette McNaryZak
points to an element of the
pilgrimage which has not always been recognised: ‘The rise of pilgrimage served to bind Christians in the East and
West. The annual season of lent a
favourite time for the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, not only for Jews supplied
the role
model for Ramadan as the month of fasting for Islam, also causing and cementing spiritual bondage.’
Furthermore, we should not forget that similar idolatrous pilgrimages are also still taking place in
Christianity, for example when Zionists go to Polokwane every Easter or when Mauritians venerate their
saint, Pierre La Valle, in a way which is not intrinsically different to the Islamic Hajj. When Roman Catholic
Christians go to Lourdes for healing, there is all too often not a yearning to have a meeting with God. When
Jesus once went on pilgrimage to the Feast of Tabernacles, he did not make a fuss out of it at all. In fact, he
was so inconspicuously present, that he took quite a few by surprise through his presence (John 7:1014).
the occasion of the pilgrimage of His family when Jesus was only twelve, he demonstrated the right priorities
of the pilgrimage: He was ‘in my Father’s house’ (Luke 2:49).
It is easily comprehensible why the idolatrous content of the encircling of the Ka’ba and the
traditional annual pilgrimage has hardly been discussed in Islamic circles. If one pillar of the edifice is
removed, the whole building would be endangered. It is nevertheless strange that hardly any soulsearching
seems to have taken place in the Islamic community at large, in spite of incidents where many pilgrims lost
their lives. These incidents have been occurring in Mecca or en route to the allimportant
Islamic city.
Fasting in Islam
Originally Islamic tradition received its inspiration through Muhammad's impression of the solemn Jewish
Day of Atonement and the retreating of Christian hermits. When he copied the latter in 610 CE to retreating to
Mt Hira outside Mecca he had a supernatural experience during which figure instructed him to 'recite'.
Instead of being corrected that this being had no characteristics of a biblical angel, Waraqah bin Naufal, the
cousin of his wife, misled Muhammad, telling him that he was like Moses. In due course however, Muslim
fasting got linked to the annual Pilgrimage. The fasting month of Ramadan, the commemoration of the
revelation of the first verses to Muhammad as recorded in Surah Iqra (Recite) 96, ushers in a season leading
to the annual tide of Pilgrimage to Mecca.
In Islam fasting is obligatory during the holy month of Ramadan, from fajr (dawn), until maghrib
(sunset). Muslims are prohibited from eating, drinking, smoking, and engaging in sexual intercourse while
fasting. Fasting in the month of Ramadan is one of the Pillars of Islam, and thus one of the most important
acts of Islamic worship. By fasting, whether during Ramadan or other times, a Muslim attempts to draw
closer to Allâh by abandoning body pleasures, such as food, drink and sex.
So every one of you who is present (at his home and not travelling) during that month should spend
it in fasting (Surah al-Baqara (The Cow) 2:185). The Qur'an states that fasting was prescribed for those
before them (i.e., the Jews and Christians) O who believe, fasting is decreed for you as it was decreed for
those before you; perchance you will guard yourselves. ... (Surah al-Baqara (The Cow) 2:183) and that by
fasting a Muslim gains taqwa, which can be described as the care taken by a person to do everything God
has commanded and to keep away from everything that He has forbidden. Muslims believe that fasting helps
prevent many sins and is a shield with which the Muslim protects him/herself from jahannam (hell).
Ramadan fasting also includes abstaining from any falsehood in speech and action, from any ignorant and
indecent speech, and from arguing and fighting, and lustful thoughts. Therefore, fasting strengthens control
of impulses and helps develop good behaviour.
Fasting during Ramadan also inculcates a sense of fraternity and solidarity, as Muslims feel and
experience what their needy and hungry brothers and sisters feel. However, even the poor, needy, and hungry
participate in the fast. Moreover, Ramadan is a month of charity and sharing meals to break the fast together.
The Siyam is intended to teach Muslims patience and self-control, to help control impulses, passions
and temper. The fast is also meant to provide time for meditation and to strengthen one's faith and to remind
them of the less fortunate in the world. The fast is also seen as a debt owed by the Muslim to God. Faithful
observance of the Siyam is believed to atone for personal faults and misdeeds, at least in part, and to help
earn a place in paradise.
While fasting in the month of Ramadan is considered fard (obligatory), Islam also prescribes certain
days for non-obligatory, voluntary fasting. Innovation in Islam is that the religion exempts all incapacitated
people and those with a valid excuse from fasting e.g. children, expectant women, nursing women and
women in their menstrual period. The old, the traveller, the sick and the weak are also exempted. The sick,
the traveller and all others who are temporarily unable to fast have to fast after recovery from sickness,
completion of the journey and removal of the excuse, for the number of days missed. Those who are
permanently incapacitated, however, have to feed one poor person in place of every fast missed.
Fasting in Judaism
There are two major fast days and four minor fast days that are part of the Jewish year. The two major fasts,
Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, last just over twenty four hours. They begin before sundown, when it is still light
outside, and end after the next sundown, when it is dark outside and three stars can be seen in the sky. This
fast is absolute. The fasting person may not eat food, drink, brush his teeth, comb his hair, or take a bath.
Minor fasts differ in their duration from a major fast. No food or drink is taken from dawn until nightfall.
Strict adherents to Judaism strictly observe each and every fasting day. Other Jews may practice modified
forms of fasting. This can be abstaining from food but not water, fasting but not observing bathing
restrictions, or not observing some of the fasting days at all.
Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. As one of the most important days of the Jewish year fasting, along
with prayer, is practiced as a means of repentance. This fits well with the idea of performing penance for any
sins committed during the year and restoring one’s soul to a state of wholeness.
Most of the remaining fasting days focus on commemorative mourning and remembrance of important
historical events. On the Tenth of the month Tebet Jews fast in memory of the siege of Jerusalem (597 B.C.)
by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. The second defeat by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. was followed by
the destruction of the Temple and the city. This event is commemorated by the fast of the Ninth of Av (Tisha
B'Av). By coincidence the Second Temple, rebuilt after the return of the Jews from Babylon, was destroyed
by the Romans on the same day in A.D. 70. Thus the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple and the
Roman destruction of the Second Temple are mourned on the same fast day.
The fast of the Third of Tishri, also called the fast of Gedaliah, is in memory of the assassination of
Gedaliah, the Babylonian governor of Judah after the destruction of the city and the Temple in 586 B.C. The
other minor fast day is the fast of Esther. It commemorates the three days of fasting undertaken by Esther
prior to meeting with King Ahasuerus. This is the one minor fast that is not a mournful remembrance.
19. Idolatrous Worship of sacred Objects
The first Commandment would seem to forbid absolutely the making of any kind of representation of men,
animals, or even plants: Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven
thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that
are in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them. But, except for one late period,
the commandment was not understood as an absolute and universal prohibition of any kind of image.
Images in the ‘Old Testament’
Throughout the ‘Old Testament’ there are instances of representations of living things, not in any way
worshipped, but used lawfully, even ordered by the Law as ornaments of the tabernacle and temple. The
many cases of idolatry and various deflexions from the Law which the prophets denounce are not, of course,
cases in point. It is the statues made and used with the full approval of the authorities which show that the
words, ‘Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image’, were not understood absolutely and literally. It
may be that the Hebrew words translated into ‘graven image’ had a technical sense that meant more than a
statue, and included the idea of “idol”; though this does not explain the difficulty of the next phrase. In any
case it is certain that there were ‘likenesses of that which is in the sky above and on earth below and in the
waters’ in the orthodox Jewish cult. Whatever one may understand the mysterious ephod and theraphim to
have been, there was the brazen serpent (Numbers 21:9). It was not destroyed until Hezekiah did so (2 Kings
18:4). There were carved and moulded garlands of fruit and flowers and trees (Numbers 8:4; 1 Kings 6:18;
7:36); the king’s throne rested on carved lions (1 Kings 10:1920),
lions and bulls supported the basins in the
temple (1 Kings 7:25, 29). Especially there are the cherubim, great carved figures of beasts (Ezekiel 1:5;
10:20), that stood over the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:1822;
1 Kings 6:238;
etc.). But, except for
the human heads of the cherubim (Ezekiel 41:19, Exodus 25:20, the references seem to point to some such
figures as the Assyrian winged bulls with human heads), we read nothing of statues of men in the lawful cult
of the ‘Old Testament’. In this point at least, the Jew seems to have understood the commandment to forbid
the making of such statues, though even this is not clear in the earlier periods. The ephod was certainly once
a statue of human form (Judges 8:27; 17:5; 1 Samuel 19:13, etc.), and that were also the theraphim (Judges
17:5). Both were used in orthodox worship.
During the Makkabean period, however, there was a strong feeling against any kind of representation
of living things.
Sacred Stones
Muir (1894, Vol. I, Ch. III, section 4) said: ‘The most singular feature in the Fetichism of Arabia was the adoration
paid to unshapened stones. The Mahometruis hold that the general practice arose out of the Kaaba worship. The
adoration of stones among the Ishmaelites;’ says Ibn Ishaq, ‘originated in the practice of carrying a stone from the
sacred enclosure of Mecca when they went upon a journey, out of reverence to the Kaaba; and whithersoever they went
they set it up and made circuits round about it as to the Kaaba, till at the last they worshipped every goodly stone which
they saw, and forgot their religion, and changed the faith of Abraham and Ishmael, and worshipped images.’ This
tendency to stoneworship
was undoubtedly prevalent throughout Arabia; but it is more probable that it
shaped the superstition of the Ka’ba with its Black Stone, rather than that it took its rise from that
superstition. H.A.I. Craig, in the book Bilal (Quartet Books, London, 1977:63) looks at the pagan worship of
Hubal,87 the chief god of the Ka’ba in Mecca. The pagan ‘conceived a spirit residing in the wood or stone and
worshipped that spirit. It was a system of exchange, a merchant’s deal with the devil.’ The pagan worshipper would
then say for instance: ‘I will worship you, Hubal, and do you honour and bring you a present and continue your
existence by coming to you if
you will help me find my lost camel.’
The sacrifice Cult
Islam clearly retained the sacrifice cult that originated in the ‘OT’. The slaughtering of animals and the
notion of atonement which is connected to it, brings Islam very close to the Jewish sacrificial system. Yet,
87 Ancient sources refer to Hubal as a derivative of the well-known Baal of the OT. Originally the stone statue had
been brought from Syria.
Islam links the slaughtering of animals to the creed that proclaims Muhammad as the prophet of the one and
only Allâh. One of the surprises in Islam is the retention of the cult around the Black Stone. Klaus Müller, a
German expert of the history of the Near and Middle East, has pointed out that the centre of the cult seems to
have been Taif at the time of the beginnings of Islam, where the goddess had a shrine, which was also
covered with a cloth like the Meccan Kaa’ba. ‘The word Kaa’ba is feminine. Euthymius Zigabenus called the stone
the head of Aphrodite whom the Arabs worshipped already for ages. It can only be alLat,
the Mother of the gods, the
ancient Arab main goddess, which Herodot III mentions as Alilat. One may accept that also the black aerolith stone of
Mecca was once the seat of the great goddess of Arabia.’
Veneration of Stones and Trees
Although Scripture was clearly condemning the veneration of stones and trees, the sacred oak tree of Mamre,
where the three angelic visitors were said to have brought the good news to Abraham that his wife Sarah
would bear a son, became the reason for a shrine to be built there. During the long migrations the Israelites
built other commemorative altars.
By the early fourth century AD Mamre had been converted into a venue with a pagan shrine.
Constantine was outraged by the pagan practices at Mamre. He ordered his official to destroy the pagan
altars, just like Muhammad was to fight idolatry in Mecca. At the annual festival in Mamre, people would
however still come out of reverence for the angels. Muhammad’s retention of the Black Stone of the Kaba
comes to mind. Under the direct supervision of Helena, Emperor Constantine’s mother, two other sites were
consecrated as Christian holy places: Bethlehem and a cave of the Mount of Olives, where Jesus respectively
came into the world and where he left the earth. At the latter site elements of Gnostic tradition were
incorporated into their understanding of the sanctity of that holy place (Chidester, 2000:116). In a similar
way Muhammad incorporated preIslamic
pagan tenets into the annual pilgrimage. The Islamic pilgrimage
appears to be one of very few tenets that have it origins more in Arabpagan
custom than in JudeoChristian
traditions. Similarly, the example of pagan shrines on the heights became the model that was emulated to
venerate Islamic saints.
Jesus as the Foundation Stone and Capstone
The theological implication of the cult around the Black Stone gets another perspective when one takes into
account that Jesus is seen as the foundation stone or corner stone by various ‘NT’ writers the
stone that has
been rejected by the builders. This tenet is seen throughout the ‘NT’ (e.g. Matth.21:42; Acts 4:11) as the
fulfilment of Psalm 118:22 – ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.’ It is completely in
line with ‘OT’ prototypes
like Joseph, Moses and David who were also initially thumbdowned.
himself taught that the wise man builds his house on the Rock (Matthew 7:24). Paul brought in a variation by
equating Jesus with the spiritual rock that accompanied the Israelites, ‘and that rock was Christ’ (1 Corinthians
10:4). This is of course adding divinity to the person of Jesus because the ‘OT’ depicts God again and again
as a rock, e.g. ‘rock of my salvation’ in the messianic Psalm 89:26 (see also Psalms 94:22; 95:12 and Samuel
22:47). In Exodus 17 Moses was instructed to strike the rock after the rebelling Israelites had been ‘almost
ready to stone’ him. The water gushing from the rock is still commemorated by Israel at the feast of
tabernacles. We recall how Jesus referred to living water on the last day of the feast (John 7:37), something
he also promised to the Samaritan woman (John 4:10). No wonder that Paul described Christ as the spiritual
rock from which the Israelites drank.
Isaiah (28:16) proclaims ‘See I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious stone for a sure
foundation.’ Peter adds another dimension in his first letter to the believers, challenging them to be living
stones (1 Peter 2:5), as against being dead members of the building. Jesus as the capstone, which becomes a
stumbling stone if one resists him, is yet another tenet (1 Peter 2:7).
We recall that Jacob anointed the stone (Genesis 28:18), which he used as a pillow, as a
commemoration of the presence of God at that place. Significantly, the stones used for an altar after entry
into the Promised Land, the monument of God’s faithfulness in bringing them out of the slavery of Egypt,
had to be whitewashed
(Deuteronomy 27:1ff). Finally, the seer John saw prophetically that the conquering
believer will get ‘a white stone with a new name written on it’ (Revelation 2:17).
20. Hierarchical Structures
In ‘Old Testament’ times only a few men were chosen to be a high priest, one at a time. In the
biblical sacrificial system priests did not function in a hierarchical way at all. In the course of time though
the priest gradually created the impression that they ruled the access to God because they controlled the
sacrifices in the temple. In a similar way the scribes interpreted for the rank and file Jew how they heard and
understood God and His Law. With the masses not able to read for themselves this was the pattern which also
evolved into the medieval church where the Bible was later even kept away from the masses. The clergy
would interpret the word for them and they were also not expected to think for themselves.
The example that was passed on via Jesus and the apostles was that everyone who believes in him is
a priest. The ‘priesthood of all believers’ was clearly the model in the house churches of the first century. The
Jewish audience of Jesus’ day understood that everyone had a part to play, not just a few men. In the ‘NT’
Church plural nonhierarchical
servant leadership seems to have been the norm. Servant leaders came from
very unlikely ranks: tax collectors, fishermen and Roman officers. Presbyters and deacons were not regarded
as titles but given respectively as a token of respectful honour and a function in serving. Pastors, teachers and
evangelists were on parity as part and parcel of the fouror
ministries. Likewise apostle was not a
title but a function the
‘NT’ reportedly refers to the great missionary as Paul, an apostle..., which means a
sent one. Those sent from the bosom of the ‘NT’ church were thus apostles, not thinking of someone in
higher rank. It is striking that the modern equivalent, the word missionary, was derived via the Latin missio.
In Church circles missionaries are definitely not to be found in the upper echelons of unhelpful hierarchical
Development of Church Hierarchy
The ‘New Testament’ contains five different metaphors for the foundation of the Church (Matthew 16:18, 1
Corinthians 3:11, Ephesians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:5–6, Revelation 21:14). One metaphor is Jesus Christ’s calling the
disciple Peter “rock”: You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not
prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). In semantic debate some theologians argued that Jesus did not mean that
his Church would be built on Peter but on something else. Others saw in this passage a minor difference
between the Greek term for Peter (petros) and the term for rock (petra). The closest the Early Church in
Jerusalem came to a hierarchical structure was possibly when the leadership fell to James, the Lord’s brother.
This position, which he held until his martyr’s death about 63 CE, has often been called a ‘bishopric’. This
‘undoubtedly corresponded in many ways to the monarchical bishopric in the Gentile churches’ (Walker, 1976:23). Yet,
in the churches formed by Paul we hear of ‘presbyters’ (or ‘elders’). Walker (1976:22) has “little doubt that this
system of organization owed something both to the Zekenim of Judaism... and to the ‘elders’ of brotherhoods like
Qumran.’ In the former, the Zekenim, there was a council that ruled each community, it is a leadership model
of a group rather than a single person.
The Church Fathers, especially those influential theologians among them who lived close to the
apostles in time, culture, and theological background, clearly understood that Jesus promised to build the
Church on Peter, albeit on a rather dubious exegesis of Matthew 16:18. There Jesus in
speaking to Peter
(petros) used
a pun, building his church on a rock (petra) against which the gates of hades (hell) could not
prevail. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures God was the rock, e.g. the rock of our salvation (Psalm 19:15;
62:3,8) or a towering rock of safety (e.g. Psalm 61:2; 62:8). Jesus was to be the rock on which the Church
was to be built. Peter himself evidently also saw it this way, describing Jesus as another sort of rock, the
capstone or foundation stone of the Church (1 Peter 2:5–6). That some of the church leaders derived a
hierarchical head of the Church, was rather problematic. Paul, the prolific epistle writer and apostle, who was
closer in time to all these theologians, did give some credence to the idea of hierarchy, but he clearly saw
Christ as the head of the Church.
Rome developed into the largest single congregation by 100 AD. Clement, writing anonymously to
the Corinthians in the name of the whole Roman congregation, spoke as for those who expected to be
obeyed. ‘The tone, if brotherly, was bigbrotherly’
(Walker, 1976:61). Irenaeus of Lyons, the influential church
father, writing about 185, pictured the the Roman Church as founded by Peter and Paul, went one step further
declaring it ‘a matter of necessity that every church should agree with this church’ (Walker, 1976:61). A
monarchical episcopate developed as the Roman bishop gained in prominence in church affairs. Admission
to the clergy was by ordination, a rite which goes back to the earliest days of the Church. By the middle of
the 3rd century a clear hierarchy had developed. Bishops, presbyters and deacons were the major orders.
Below them there were the minor orders. The eighth canon of Nicaea further determined that in every city
there had to be only one bishop in every city (Chadwick, 1969:218). This would have been perfectly in line
with the original meaning of the Greek word episkopos, an overseer. In the relative small cities of those days
it would have been quite practical to have one person having oversight of all the (home?) churches in any
city. That however still did not make a hierarchical structure inevitable, although that may already have been
implied. Be it as it may, the believers in Hippo in North Africa had no qualms to appoint Augustine as a
second bishop in 395, albeit that the motive was possibly not pure. Chadwick (1969:218) suggests that
Valerius appointed Augustine as coadjuditor
bishop ‘to prevent any other church carrying him off’.
Papacy as the Summit of Hierarchy
The bishop of Rome nevertheless acquired a special place in ecclesiastical thinking. But it was not until 382
AD when Bishop Damasus used Matthew 16:18 as an argument to build his church, now the Roman Catholic
Church, on this rock, Peter, as scriptural foundation for a claim to the primacy of the Roman bishop. On a
Roman Catholic website we can now read: Simon Peter or Cephas, the first pope, Prince of the Apostles, and
(denominational) founder, with St Paul, of the see of Rome. It is completely in order to state, as is done on
the website that ‘Peter was always listed as the first of the apostles in all of the New Testament accounts and was a
member of the inner circle of Jesus, with James and John.’ Nobody will dispute that ‘He is recorded more than any
other disciple, and was at Jesus’ side at the Transfiguration, the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and the Agony of the Garden
of Gethsemane.’ However, here and there inaccuracies crept in because of the heroworship
of Peter like the
statement: ‘He appointed the replacement of Judas Iscariot.’
The idea of a human person at the head of the Church as it became the practice since the early
medieval days, is not biblically tenable. Islam seems to have followed the misleading cue. Muhammad saw
himself initially as a warning messenger, a rasul, following in the footsteps of the warning prophets of the
Hebrew Scriptures. In Medina where he was also a statesman, he became more and more the prime and final
prophet in
ascending order after Moses (Musa), David (Dawood) and Jesus (Isa).
Two Degrees of Christianity
In the beginning of the third century clergy were sharply distinguished from laity even though Tertullian, in
arguing as a Montanist, implied the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers when he asked: ‘are not even we
laics priests?’ (Cited in Walker, 1976:82). But he also wrote of a ‘clerical order’ and ‘ecclesiastical orders’.
There were now many people whose parents had been experiential Christians, folk who attended public
worship but who were Christians in little more than name. Worldliness intensified in the Church itself.
Parallel to this, ascetism grew as the norm of the more serious believer. The life of celibacy, poverty and
contemplative retirement from the activities of the world was admired as the Christian ideal. An unfortunate
aspect of this admiration was that it tended to discourage ordinary Christians – nominal Christianity became
the norm. Temporary corrections occurred from time to time when committed Christians brought the Church
back to its roots. The most radical was that during the time of the Reformation after 1517, but also in
Protestantism church members reverted to nominalism again and again. It is far too early to see in how far the
most recent posssible correction via the house church movement will bring about a more intense and genuine
Parallel to the two layers of Christianity was also two sets of Scripture, the written and oral ones.
Around 200 AD the oral traditions were collated in Judaism as the Mishna and Gemara who together formed
the Talmud. This was to become the pattern for Catholicism to give equal attention to the oral traditions.
After centuries during which the Bible was not expected to be in the possession of and read by rank and file
Roman Catholic Church members and Latin used as the Church language, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha
are now taken almost for granted next to the canonical books in their Bibles. Islam followed suit with the
Hadith getting equal authority to the Qur’an. Muslims are still kept away from the Bible.
Problematic Protestant Practices
Influenced by the racist prejudicial practices in South Africa, a complete caricature of biblical standards
evolved. The clergyman in White reformed churches was called dominee (derived from dominus, the Latin
word for Lord). His colleague working in one of the Black churches was (merely) an eerwaarde, a reverend,
understood to be lesser in rank. In general Afrikaner parlance the latter clergyman was derogatorily called
the kafferdominee (kaffir pastor). Black clergy with inferior training were the evangelists. In episcopal
Protestant churches the whole papal hierarchy is still intact minus cardinals and the Pope – with Archbishops,
Deans and Bishops.
Hierarchical church structures have favoured and conditioned leaders to become bosses. The dictum
coined by the British aristocrat Lord Acton that ‘power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely’, is so
true, unfortunately also in religious contexts. This is however alien to the spirit of biblical servitude; loving
brotherhood or
rather siblinghood should
be the hallmark
of church work, where the leader should give
the lead towards empowering the congregants. The teaching of Peter to church leaders not to lord over their
flocks (1 Peter 5:3) seems to be forgotten so easily by and large once new leaders get into positions of
In some Pentecostal Churches the ‘OT’ has been abused to give special honour to the (senior) pastor
as to a king. Others interpreted the four or fivefold
ministry, in which Paul included the apostle as a
function next to prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in a hierarchical way, so that the apostle and the
prophet becomes special titles at the top of the echelon.
The early Moravian missionaries evidently understood the intention of Jesus and the ‘NT’ very well.
They saw that ‘NT’ life had to be demonstrated, that to lead means to serve first and foremost. In the
Caribbean they bought slaves free, took them into their houses and worked alongside them on the plantations
(Spangenberg, 17731775
Low Morals of religious Leaders
It is sad to see the low morals that religious leaders can display when their influence appears to be
threatened. They follow a sad biblical precedent in this way. Instead of doing introspection, the Pharisees
started a smear campaign. And because they could not successfully hit at Jesus’ moral quality, they tried to
play Him out against John, the Baptist. The aim of their endeavours was to eliminate Jesus. I wonder if the
beastly intrigue, which preceded the death of John the Baptist did not have its origin with the religious
leaders. From what we read in the gospels about the Baptist, he could just as well have told Herodias or
Herod to their face what he thought of their marriage. But some instigation by some Pharisees would also
have fitted perfectly into the picture. Let us face it: the things that the Master said to those Pharisees and
Sadducees who came to him were quite unpalatable. (By the way, not all Pharisees were bad guys. It is sad
that a few rotten potatoes sometimes do influence a whole bag. The Gospels probably distort the picture of a
group of people who had a good reputation amongst their compatriots).
The campaign of satanists of recent decades to
hit the marriages of clergymen has
been very
successful. Scores of pastors got divorced. In many cases prominent leaders ‘crucified’ Christ anew in this
way, bringing His body to shame. Just like the result of some rotten apples among the Pharisees, some people
now have little or no confidence in religious leaders after negative experiences with a few from these ranks.
The caricature of Christianity as it has been practised around the world, is definitely not very
attractive. The advantages of superior educational opportunities and good medical care became the
misleading trophies of missionary work. Indigenous people were regarded as civilized or Christian when they
started to wear Western clothing. No wonder that an oppressive system could flourish in South Africa, a setup
where suppression became the order of the day. Wealthy ‘Coloured’ and Black Christians often
unfortunately also adopted repugnant superior attitudes, playing the master in the worst sense of the word.
What a pity that the unity and fellowship in Christ of rich and poor, of educated and unskilled, hardly got a
chance. In this climate, the brotherhood of Islam became for many quite attractive. Others saw the only
solution in Communism to get to some sort of parity.
21. Idolatrous Remnants in the Church
In mitigation of Muhammad and idolatrous Islamic practices, it must be said that the example which
he had been receiving from the Church of his day was clearly deceptive. In fact, many Christians believed
that Christ was bodily present in the icons, which were therefore worshipped as such. If anything, the
bickering around icons only confused the issue for the followers of Muhammad. John of Damascus (ca. 675 –
ca. 749 AD), one of the greatest theologians of the Greek Catholic Church, was an official of the Islamic
authority in the Syrian city. He described Islam as a Christian sect, which probably also pushed the idea that
the JudeoChristian
God and Allâh from the Bible are identical. With astute semantics he differentiated
between the veneration and worship of icons. One could only worship God but icons could be honoured. The
Ecumenical Council called by Caesar Irene in 787 AD followed him, stating that images could be honoured,
but worship was only to be given to the triune God. Was this a precedent for the differentiation between
ancestor worship and honouring of ancestors, where the line of difference became thinner and thinner even in
our day?
Big Buildings as a pagan Influence
The synagogue started off as a house of learning and a house of prayer, which probably originated in the
Babylonian exile (Unterman, 1971:45). All those living in the diaspora met there on the Sabbath, going on
pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem at the festive occasions.
The Early Church folk of Jerusalem congregated predominantly in houses, with their big celebratory
events at Solomon’s Porch at the temple. There were of course also clear links to the local synagogue. In fact,
the synagogues were often parts of residential buildings, or a storey of a private house. The first JewishChristian
synagogue/church in Jerusalem was possibly in the Upper Room where Jesus had the last supper
with his disciples (Thiede, 1990:124, 133).
The first “NT’ churches that were formed through the missionary work of the apostles definitely did
not congregate in special buildings. In fact, the very first recorded event in Europe was an open air affair,
with Godfearing
women gathering for prayer at the river with the business woman Lydia, a purple seller
(Acts 16:14). To have a woman as a functional leader in the Phillipian home church would have been much
more radical in the days of the first apostles than for us. Priscilla and Aquila led a home church in Rome
(Romans 16:35).
Emperor Constantine and his mother were rendering the Church a disservice with their attempt to
reform the heathen temples, changing or even emulating big buildings. In what would be tantamount to a
distorted exegesis of a biblical notion taking
back what the enemy has robbed, e.g. the Ark of the Covenant
new sites of sacred space became venues of conflict. When Emperor Hadrian reconsecrated
the city of
Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina in 135 CE, he had temples built to the GrecoRoman
gods. Thus Christian
reports state that Hadrian built a temple to the goddess Venus on the exact site where Jesus was crucified.
Emperor Constantine and Helena were involved in various building projects. Those buildings in the Holy
Land were perceived as a struggle for the conquest of sacred space (Chidester, 2000:113). Constantine’s
defenders insisted that he was merely restoring the holy places to their rightful owners, when he ordered
church after church to be built on 'holy sites' after the model of the pagan temples.
Pagan Temples turned into Churches
Keeping in mind that Helena became a very committed believer after her conversion in 313 CE, we should
nevertheless not pour scorn on these obvious dubious pagan origins of church buildings. However, in her zeal
Helena went completely overboard, prohibiting Jews to enter Jerusalem. It was thus completely overlooked
that the early Christians gathered in houses, in secret caves and catacombs. Simultaneously, the seed was
sown for religious wars. The proximity of paganism and Christianity stayed intact for centuries. At different
venues pagan temples were converted into churches. Thus the temple that was associated with the Thracian
goddess Bendis (or the Egyptian god Mendes) was converted into a church by Athanasius (Pearson,
2004:103).88 Müller (1967:309) suggested that one may accept that the first purported Christian building to
88 According to oral tradition this was erected at the place where Mark is said to have met the cobbler Ananias, his first
convert. The church was rebuilt as the Mosque of the Souq al-Attarin after the Arab conquest and demolished in
which the origins of the modernday
Sayh AdiMausoleum
can be traced, was erected on a cave shrine of the
a great goddess.
Islamic tradition has a rather bizarre background to the birth of Muhammad, born in ‘the year of the
Elephant’. In that year Christians have purportedly built a temple in an attempt to lure those who had money
to spend at the annual idolatrous pilgrimage away from Mecca. An elephant was used to attack Mecca. The
mythological story would corroborate the close links of pagan idolatry and parts of Christianity at that time
although Muhammad would later be impressed by the monotheism of Jews and Christians.
The Origins of Shrines on Heights
The erotic element in Baal’s worship was said to stimulate him to mate with Asherah, his consort, thus
bringing rain and fertility to the land. The Hebrews were strongly attracted to Baal worship. Ahab and
Jezebel in Israel actively promoted a form of Baal worship that was imported from Phoenicia. Asherah
appears as a goddess by the side of Baal, whose consort she evidently became, at least among the Canaanites
of the South. She was the goddess of fertility and love and her full name is Lady Asherah of the Sea.
Asherah’s worship involved sexual excesses intended to stimulate rain and quicken the ability of animals and
people to reproduce. She was invoked in childbirth and planting time. Her figures were made of wood and
she was associated with sacred trees or groves of trees. She was symbolized by a pole or tree found beside the
altar in a Canaanite high place of idolatry and depicted as an unshaped piece of wood or a naked, curlyhaired
goddess riding a lion and holding lilies and serpents.
The equipment for idolatrous worship, probably Phoenician in origin, was the “high place.” It was
crowned by the altar, the standing pillars and the images of the Asherah. The worship, interwoven with the
concept of the fertility of the land, became a fertility cult. The chosen symbol of the cult was the trunk of a
tree. This explains the prohibition against the planting of trees by the altar of the Lord (Deuteronomy 16:21;
Judges 6:25, 28, 31). The prophets of Israel expressly condemned the worship of Asherah and commended
those kings who destroyed her shrines (1 Kings 15:13-14; 2 Kings 17:10; 21:3; 23:4).
From earliest times people have tended to choose high places for their worship, whether of the true
God or of the false gods that man has invented. The worshippers chose an exposed site where the “god” was
likely to see what they were doing and to perform there some act comparable to what they wished their god
to do for them. In Canaan the high places had become the scenes of orgies and human sacrifice connected
with the idolatrous worship of these imaginary gods; and so when Israel entered Canaan they were told to
destroy all high places (Numbers 33:52). Israel’s failure to destroy them resulted in idolatry.
Before Solomon built the temple, there was a mixed condition of worship. The tabernacle with most of its
furniture was at the high place at Gibeon though David had brought the ark to Jerusalem. Solomon offered
sacrifices there and God heard his prayer, granting him great wisdom (2 Chronicles 1:1-13). Later some
godly kings, including Hezekiah (31:1), destroyed the high places, but others relapsed and rebuilt them
(33:3). Through the godliness of Josiah, especially after he had heard the Law read (2 Kings 22:8-20), the
divine judgement was delayed until after his death. The erection of shrines on heights continued unabatedly
in memory of saints in all religions, seemingly oblivious of its idolatrous roots in Asherah poles on high
Remnants of Sun Worship and the Fertility Cult
The obelisk was originally associated with sun worship when heathen nations gave honour to the sun as life
giving. The obelisk symbolized the sun god Amon Re, and during the brief religious reformation of
Akhenaten was said to be a petrified ray of the Aten, the sun disk. It was also thought that the god existed
within the structure. As an ancient remnant of sun worship and the fertility cult the obelisk easily found its
way into pagan temples. The is one of quite a few links of sun worship coming into the Church at this time.
During the Roman Empire a few were brought from Egypt, one of them brought by Caligula, erected where
we find the St Peter’s Cathedral. Genesis 11:3,4 reminds us of this connection when the inhabitants of
Babylon wanted to build a very high tower. The wooden needlelike
symbols (Canaanite deities) had to show
upwards – towards the sun. The male sex organ in erected position had the dome form as a variation.
In antiquity the Egyptians built a few and already in the Babylonian days of King Nimrod, his wife
Semiramis had a 40 meter high obelisk erected. The religion of the Canaanites focused on fertility and
therefore included gross immorality. Its myths were structured around the agricultural cycle. Their gods and
goddesses were brutal and highly sexed and religious rites employed fornication between the unmarried to
stimulate the gods and goddesses. This sexual employment was believed to have granted fertility to the land
and livestock. The chief Canaanite god was Baal. He was the principal Canaanite sky, weather and fertility
god. His name was originally applied to various local gods (i.e., BaalPeor).
Baal was of primary importance
in Palestinian agriculture. He is portrayed as bloodthirsty and highly sexed. The erotic element in his worship
was said to stimulate him to mate with Asherah, his consort, thus bringing rain and fertility to the land. The
Hebrews were strongly attracted to Baal worship. Ahab and Jezebel actively promoted a form of Baal
worship in Israel that was imported from Phoenicia. In Isaiah 27:9 the destiny of the son pillars is given: they
had to be demolished.
The Ancient Romans were strongly influenced by the obelisk form, to the extent that there were soon
more than twice as many obelisks standing in Rome as those remaining in Egypt. All fell after the Roman
period, except for the Vatican obelisk, and were reerected
in different locations. In due course Rome became
the obelisk capital of the world. The most prominent is the 25.5 m/83.6 ft high 331 ton obelisk at St Peter’s
Square. The obelisk had stood since AD 37 on its site on the wall of the Circus of Nero, flanking St Peter’s
Basilica. Uncritically the Church took over the obelisk, along with the model of the heathen temple, rather
than the temple of Jerusalem or the synagogue which generally did not adopt the obelisk. Even in our day –
oblivious of its idolatrous roots hardly
a church is built without an obelisk of some sort. And in its train,
mosques with either the dome or one or more obelisks are inconceivable.
Pagan links to Peter and the Catholic Pope
The title Pontifex Maximus was originally used by Julius Caesar when the Roman Emperor was also regarded
as the head of the pagan religion with
Rome as its seat of power. Parallel to this, the chief priest of the
pagan religious system had the Chaldean title peter, which meant interpreter. This was of course duly linked
to the apostle. In the fourth century rumours developed that the apostle Peter had been the first bishop of
Rome. What made the link to the pope easy was another oral tradition according to which mystical ‘keys’
belonged to the goddess Cybele and the god Janus who received them from the sun god. When the bishop of
Rome received the (former pagan) title Pontifex Maximus in 378 AD, he was understood to have also
received the mystical keys. This was also brought in connection with the ‘keys’ that Jesus was said to have
given to the apostles when he said to Peter: ‘And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’
(Matthew 16:19). In the biblical context it can easily seen that the Gospel was meant, which gives entry into
the kingdom of God. In due course this however led to abuse, whereby not only the pope, but also priests saw
themselves blasphemously as intermediaries who could 'forgive sins' on payment of indulgences. This was
ultimately the spark to ignite the Reformation in the 16th century.
Why do Christians eat Fish on Good Friday?
Another ancient remnant of the fertility cult that found its way into the Church is the habit of eating fish on
‘Good Friday,’ thought to be done in reverence to the crucifixion of the Lord. In the spiritual realm the link to
Freya, the Nordic goddess for love, peace and fertility is much more significant. The symbol of her fertility is
the fish. Since times immemorial certain people groups have been associating the fish with fertility. The fish
was also the symbol of the Roman goddess Venus, where fertility played a role parallel to Asherah among the
Israelites. I could not discern any further link to Islam where Friday became the ‘sacred’ day. The orthodox
Islamic view is that Friday is revered because man was created on the sixth day. However, it has also been
passed on that this was Muhammad’s way of paying respect to the Jews, who start there Sabbath on Friday
Reduction of biblical Celebration
An unfortunate legacy of the Church is the reduction of celebration. With its three celebrations linked to the
pilgrimage to Jerusalem, it is well known that celebration is not an empty word in Judaism. In biblical times
Jewish Christians participated freely in these festivals. The visit to Temple or synagogue on the Sabbath was
widely regarded as celebration rather than as burdensome duty, with the Psalms playing a special role. In
Acts 20:6 it is implied that Paul attended the Passover before he left Philippi and in Acts 20:16 we find him
hurrying so as to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost.
The adage ‘the joy of the Lord is our strength’ (Nehemiah 8:11) received a special touch when Nazi
victims celebrated in the notorious Ausschwitz concentration camp. It is not clear why the element of
celebration diminished in the course of time. In the ‘New Testament’ we have one example where disorder in
the church led to reduction of celebration, viz. at the church in Corinth where the ‘Lord’s Supper' originally
took place in the context of a normal meal. This had been the case when our Lord instituted the tradition at
the conclusion (Luke 22:15ff and its gospel parallels). Paul referred to it in chapter 11 of his first letter to that
congregation as a tradition that has been passed on, orally we may presume. The common meals of
Christians were noted by the mutual love where people would share with each other what they had brought
along.89 In due course some disunity ensued, not only in respect of the speaking in tongues (glossalia), but
also around the celebration of ‘the Lord’s Supper’. The context does not mention how the fellowship was
ruptured concretely, but the social differences were evidently coming to the fore more and more. It became
however bad enough for Paul to advise the believers to rather enjoy their meals at their own homes and then
come together afterwards for what came to be formalised in later generation as the Eucharist.
K. van Kooten, a Dutch clergyman, (Heiligt Mijn Naam en Mijn Dag, 1998:228ff) showed how the
Early Church emphasised the meetings on the first day of the week as a vierdag, a day of celebration, and not
a day of rest, thus not in competition with the Jewish Sabbath. In later centuries a strict legalism also entered
the Church, notably among the 'zwarte kouzen', an extreme Reformed group in Holland that would not even
to allow their members cooking and cycling to church on Sundays. A special reverence of the Lord's Supper
is observed so that rank and file members do not feel themselves worthy to participate.
Separation of the Sexes during Worship
It is fairly well known that men and women are strictly separated in Islam in many spheres, very especially
with regard to worship. In many countries women rarely see the inside of a mosque. Even at wedddings only
the men participate in the mosque ceremony and with funerals it is only the men who bring the body to its
last resting place.
Separation of the sexes during worship is a tradition which probably already goes back to precedents
in Judaism. In ancient Israel there was clearly no separation of males and females traditionally at the annual
three pilgrimages. Families and clans would go in big groups to Jerusalem. At the Feast of Tabernacles there
was however gender separation. The reason for this was that there was dancing. To forestall inappropriate and
undue sensual arousal, the sexes were segregated. The practices in Christianity and Judaism look so vastly
different on the surface, but when we dig deeper we find the roots for gender separation during worship very
much in Talmudic Judaism. The women’s section of the synagogue is called the Ezrat Nashim (women’s
area) after a similar area in the Temple in Jerusalem.
A Mechitza (partition) is a divider used to separate men and women in Orthodox synagogues and at
some Orthodox religious celebrations. In the Temple in Jerusalem, a divider between the sexes was used
during the Sukkoth Water Drawing Ceremony (Simchat Beit HaShoevah). Each year a balcony was created
for this festive ceremony. The women sat on the balcony, and the men sat below. The balcony was built to
ensure that the people would be more focused and less frivolous during the joyful ceremony. All over the
world separate seating is provided for women on a balcony.
According to the Talmud (Sukkah 51b, 52a), the rabbis based their decision to have this balcony
assembled for this ceremony in the Temple each year on a verse in Zechariah (Zechariah 12:12). Zechariah
prophesied that men and their wives would mourn separately when Moshiach ben Yosef would be killed. ( He
is the redeemer who will help usher in the Messianic era by preparing the world for the coming of the
Messiah.) The rabbis of the Talmud decided that if a sad occasion necessitated a separation between men and
women, then the happy Water Drawing Ceremony – when the evil inclination is certainly present also
necessitates a separation between the sexes. Muslims also use distraction or sexual arousal as a reason for the
gender separation during worship. Also in many a Christian denomination males and females have been
89– The Moravians around Count Zinzendorf started emulating the practice of love feasts, at which buns and tea would
be served while various reports were shared from the mission field, along with a lot of singing. In modern times
Christians have been speaking of agape meals at which the bring and share principle is revisited.
sitting separately in the church. In some churches, e.g. on mission stations, a dividing partition can still be
Ritual Prayer – a Pagan Precedent
Some pagans have always had the idea that, if you do something for God, then God owes you something in
return. If you sacrifice your best animals to God or endow His temple with a portion of your wealth, then
God will show you His favour and use His power on your behalf. This idea was based on a certain
conception of God as a being who is like human beings with feelings and appetites - only He is more
powerful. Thus, praying to God is like bringing a petition before some powerful human being, a king or rich
man. Perhaps, if you do it cleverly, you can manipulate the powerful one into giving you what you want. You
can play on His feelings, satisfy His appetities, or appeal to His sense of guilt or justice.
Ritual prayer, in this view, was seen as a way of moving God in an effort to get something out of
Him. If we pray over and over again, if we pray with the right words, then God will be moved by our
dutifulness and provide for us. If he is not moved by our duty, then perhaps He will at least be pestered
towards giving us what we want. Jesus’ parable to encourage persevering prayer with the example of the
widow almost accosting an unrelenting judge (Luke 18) - could even have been interpreted in such a way.
Ordained clergy would lead in prayer and the laity was required to repeat some sentences. In due course, a
prayer in any other language than Latin was regarded as worth less if not worthless.
The biblical Correction
The crude conception of a despotic God was shown to be false already in the revelation to Moses on Mount
Sinai. God revealed to us His complete other-ness. He is not only more powerful than we are; He is totally
unlike us. He has no needs that we can fulfill. We have no power over God. We can never make Him do
anything for us, nor can He ever owe us anything. God cannot be magically forced by our words or rituals
into doing what we want. This led to the big sin of idolatry of the Israelites. Although Moses told them of
God’s true nature, they erected a golden calf in an attempt to win God’s favor.
When God gives us anything good, then He does this purely out of love. He owes us nothing. We
owe Him everything. He has stooped down to become one of us and to suffer for us out of love for us. We
cannot even understand such a great gift, let alone merit it. We certainly cannot win this benefit with our
prayers, no matter how many of them or eloquently offered. It must be, and is, freely given.
Yet, the teaching of Jesus of ‘vain repetition’ in long prayers to impress others and opposition to the
pretentious ‘babbling’ of Pharisees nevertheless shifted to the periphery. Some priests may have used as
excuses the long petitionary litanies of the early Christians in which the people would pray over and over
again the Kyrie Eleison. Others may have pointed out that the Psalms and canticles of the Hebrew Scriptures
often have repeated refrains. Correction was definitely needed, such as when Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
had to point out that prayer and religious duties are performed for our sake, not for God’s sake. God does not
need our prayers or our praise. We, however, need to acknowledge God’s greatness and our total dependence
on Him in order to dispose ourselves to receive the grace which He is constantly offering to us. By this time
all sorts of aberrations had crept in. Mysticism had started to gain ground significantly. In Islam someone
like Ghazzali came on board via Sufism. Be it as it may, the ritual element was taken to great extremities in
Islam when the ritual salat and other prayers were deemed to be invalid if the Islamic believer is not ritually
clean, when the qiblah (prayer direction) is not meticulously adhered too etc. And of course, the prayers had
to be offered in Arabic!
More Pagan Influence on the Church
With regard to pagan influence, the Church universal got skeletons in the cupboard in this way, notably with
regard to special celebrations. It is fairly well known that the date for the Christmas celebration, 25
December, has been taken from the pagan Germanic festivities around the Winter solstice. The connection
for the other date used for the birth of Christ, January 6, is generally less known. The arrival of the magi the
wise men from the East has
been connected with January 6 as another birthday of Christ. Two heresiarchs
of the second century AD, Basilides and Valentine, are more known for their contribution to Docetism, (i.e.
the notion that Jesus was not crucified, but that it only appeared so to the spectators). These two heretics
brought another connection, the dates January 6 or January 10, into the picture. To them it was the date on
which the heavenly Christ took hold of the body of the man Jesus at his baptism (Carrington II, 1957:119),
his enthronement as the King of Kings. The reasoning was that a king’s accessionday
is his regnal birthday.
(In the Eastern Churches the birth of Christ is still celebrated on January 6).
When we consider that Sunday was derived from the worship of the pagan sun god, 4th century
Emperor Constantine is usually regarded as the culprit. In 321 AD he ordered the first day of the week to be
set aside as a compulsory rest day. However, long before his reign, Justin Martyr defended the meetings on
the first day of the week in his first apology as follows: On the day previous to Saturn’s day they crucified
him and he appeared to his disciples and taught them those things ‘which we now submit for your perusal’
(Cited in Carrington II, 1957:119). We should however also not forget the major achievement of Constantine
to bring an end to the harsh persecution under Diocletian bringing
peace to the region, which he wanted to
see based on the veneration and worship of the only true God. The Dutch historian O.J. de Jong saw that as
the major motive behind the 313 Edict of Milan.
An interesting aside is that the Coptic Church dated their calendar from the Era of the martyrs,
beginning with the accession of Diocletian in 284CE. This was emulated by Muslims. The Islamic calendar
starts when Muhammad fled to Medina in 322 CE.
Jews completely sidelined
The Jews were further sidelined
on 3 July 321 CE when slaves were given partial or full freedom to
participate in the church meetings on Sundays, which had already become a compulsory day of rest on 3
March of that year.
In some Christian circles the rejection of the Jews reverberated through into the age of Muhammad.
Emperor Constantine unintentionally deepened the rift between Christians and Jews through his favoured
treatment of the former group. His rule became the main pagan influence on the Christianity of the first few
centuries of the Common Era. Sunday, the name which was taken from the pagan deity, the sun god, was a
compromise which was costing the new faith dearly also in terms of spirituality. If Constantine was perhaps
innocent of antiJudaism,
this could not be said of his mother Helena, who promptly banned Jews from
Jerusalem after substituting the temple of Venus with a Christian temple.
Be it as it may, Muhammad sensed that the rift between Christians and Jews was real. He could
exploit this in terms of divide and rule, especially when he experienced the ridicule of the Jews of Medina as
extremely painful. The Christians were hereafter given preferential treatment (Surah alMaida
(The Table
Spread) 5:8588),
amongst other things because they were perceived not to be arrogant (verse 55).
Emulation of Pagans in different ways
Until the fourth century the church always presented a united front to paganism. A weakness of pagans was
its dependence on external show, especially in the West. In Rome paganism and upper class culture were
deeply entwined. Pope Damasus entertained friendship with upper class ladies in morally rather questionable
ways, starting a slide of the reputation of clergy.
22. A Tale and Fables told as Truth
Any authority which the Qur’an may have had as a sort of abbreviated Bible is seriously undermined
because fables or tales are reported there as truth. ‘Simple narratives of the Bible are distorted and magnified to an
incredible degree in the Muslim Qur’an’ (Shorrosh, 1988:160). Thus we read in Surah alBakarah
(The Cow)
2:259 how Ezra (Uzair) and his ass died ‘for a hundred years’ and then raised to life. In Surah alMaida
Table Spread) 5:60 a second century Jewish fable Abodah Sarah is repeated as truth in which Allâh raised
Mount Sinai from its roots, as a cover so to speak over the Israelites when he gave the Ten Commandments
(Shorrosh, 1988:161). Fables around Jesus’ childhood in the apocrypha and other related material, which
were not accepted as authentic by the churchmen who defined the canon, found their way into the Qur’an,
notably from the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ, a secondcentury
Egyptian apocryphal work
and from the Gospel of Thomas.
Tisdall (1900:48) points to a story of Greek origin, The Seven Sleepers, which is found in a Latin
work of Gregory of Tours, (Story of Martyrs (I. 95). Andrae (1936:124f) shows how Babai, at one time a
leader of the Syrian Church, cited the legend of the seven sleepers to prove the theory that the soul continues
its existence after death as a substance. Thus it is probable that the legend came to Islam via the Syrian
Church. The legend refers to the time of the Emperor Decius (249-251 AD.), when Christians were terribly
persecuted. Every effort was made to destroy the Faith. To escape with their lives, seven men of Ephesus
took refuge in a Cave near their city, and fell asleep for two hundred years, until the reign of Theodorus II
(447 AD). On awaking, one of them ventured into the City to see what had happened in the meantime and
was overcome with amazement to find the Christian faith triumphant over all other religions. The Cross, once
the sign of shame and disgrace, was now the crown of the Emperor and the mark of the Empire; and nearly
the whole people of the land had become Christians. The British author Tisdall noted in his book on the
origins of Islam that all this had been understood as a mere story, ‘composed no doubt to illustrate the rapidity
with which, by the grace of the Holy Spirit and shedding of Martyrs’ blood, the Faith had gained ascendancy. No
Christian ever dreamt that the tale was true; but such as the nurse tells her children of “the cat and the mouse,” etc.
Referring to Muhammad, Tisdall (1900:48) continues: ‘But the Prophet has entered it with all gravity in the
Qur’an for the instruction of his followers. Is it needful for us to add that such a tale could never have been placed by the
Most High upon the heavenly Table, and from thence sent down to the Prophet; but was learned by him from some of
the ignorant Christians around him?’
The story as given in the Qur’an, is now quoted here fairly fully:
Dost thou consider that the companions of the Cave, and al Rakim, were one of our signs and a great
miracle? When the young men took refuge in the cave, they said, O Lord, grant us mercy from before Thee,
and dispose our business for us to a right issue. Wherefore we struck their ears so that they slept in the cave
for a great number of years: then we awakened them...
We will relate unto thee their history in truth. They were young men who had believed in their Lord;
and we had abundantly directed them; and we fortified their hearts with constancy when they stood before
the judge; and they said Our Lord is the Lord of heaven and earth; we will by no means call on any god
besides him; for then we should surely utter an extravagance...
And they said to one another: ‘When ye shall separate yourselves from them, and from that which
they worship besides God, then fly into the cave... And thou mightest have seen the sun, when it had risen to
decline from their cave to the right hand, and when it went down, to leave them on the left hand: and they
were in the spacious part of the cave. This was one of the signs of God... And thou wouldest have judged
them to have been awake, while they were sleeping; and we caused them to turn themselves to the right hand
and to the left...
And so we awaked them out of their sleep, that they might ask questions of one another. One of them
said, “How long have ye stayed here?” They answered: “We have stayed a day, or part of a day”. Others
said: “Your Lord best knoweth the time ye have stayed. And now send one of you with this your money into
the city, and let him see which of its people hath the best and cheapest food, and let him bring you provision
from him; and let him behave circumspectly, and not inform anyone about you. Verily, if they come up
against you, they will stone you, or force you to return to their religion; and then shall you not prosper
forever”. And so we made their people acquainted with what had happened to them....
And they said, erect a building over them; their Lord best knoweth their condition.... Some say the
Sleepers were three, and their dog was the fourth; others say they were five, and their dog the sixth, guessing
at a secret matter; and others say they were Seven, and their dog the eighth. Say, My Lord best knoweth their
numbers; none shall know them except a few. Wherefore dispute not concerning them, unless with a clear
disputation, and ask not any (of the Christians) concerning them ... And they remained in their cave 300
years and 9 years over (Surah Qaf 18:826).
23. Spurious Views regarding Women
The divine model for humanity is clearly set out in Genesis 1 and 2. Man male
and female was
created in God’s image. That implies that every human being should be dealt with dignity and equality,
outlawing every semblance of racism, sexism, slavery and the whole plethora of sinful ways in which man
has doublecrossed
this divine model – evidently the result of the Fall as depicted in Genesis 3. From the
beginning male and female were equal beneficiaries of both the divine image and the rule over the earth. ‘Let
us make man ... and let them rule’ (Genesis 1:26). There is no suggestion that either sex is more like God, or
that either sex is more responsible for the earth than the other. In fact, twice it is asserted in the context that
He made them in His image. The equality of the sexes is implied: ‘... male and female he created them.’ The
equality of the sexes is thus the bottom line of Creation.
To the rank and file reader it will surely come as no surprise to hear that Jesus was very radical in his
attitude to women. In the light of common prejudice, however because
of present practises in certain
Islamic countries many
would possibly be surprised to discover that Muhammad was actually quite
progressive for his time, giving a dignity to his wives which evoked immense opposition from the males in
his community.
Creation’s Model for Marriage
We highlighted in the context of the Creation of the first human beings that when God made them in His
image, he also linked to this the equality of the sexes. As men and women have been born in more or less
equal numbers all around the world, monogamy clearly has to be the divine original intent, one man and one
Next to the equality of the sexes, there is a second facet in the creational model for marriage, viz.that
man and his wife should be supporting and complementing each other. In Genesis 2 we read ‘It is not good
for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ Although God made male and female equal,
he also made them different. Three hundred years ago Matthew Henry summarised equality and complement
in marriage so aptly. Eve was ‘made not out of his head to top him, nor not out of his feet to be trampled upon by
him, but out of his side to be equal to him, under his arm to be protected, and near to his heart to be loved’ (Cited by
Stott, 1990:263).
John Stott ((1990:265, 267) highlighted that Paul, the epistle writer, deduced from the creation model
for marriage the aspect of responsibility, as opposed to authoritarian and oppressive submission. Ephesians
5:23 implies the man as a leader of two equals and in 1 Timothy 2:13 and 1 Corinthians 11:8,9 the prolific
epistle writer drew his readers' attention to the priority of creation (‘Adam was formed first, then Eve’, 1
Timothy 2:13), the mode of creation (‘man did not come from woman but woman from man’, 1 Corinthians
11:8) and the purpose of creation (‘neither was man created for woman, but woman for man’, 11:9).
Unfortunately all sorts of aberrations from the creation model for marriage followed the ‘Fall’ of
Man, described in Genesis 3. As Islamic teaching appears to be quite unanimous that the religion sees
marriage as the union of a male with one or more wives, we need not examine this issue here.
Christianity has always rejected polygamy because it inhibits, and in fact exterminates, exclusive, devoted
love. Christians have always maintained that love between a man and a woman ought to be exclusive,
otherwise marriage is degraded in essence to mere physical lust. No woman who loves her husband, and
wishes to be fully loved in return, can tolerate 'another wife'. Monogamy thus gives more recognition, status
and value to a woman.
An Aberration of the Creation Model
The ancient world’s scorn for women is no secret. Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher, who is so highly
respected as the father of Biology, regarded a female as a kind of mutilated male. He wrote: ‘Females are
imperfect males, accidentally produced by the father’s inadequacy or by the malign influence of a moist south wind.’
(Cited by Stott, 1990:255.).
A tragic development is that Judaism – and followed in this by the Church already
departed from
Scripture in the attitude to women in the Talmudian period. Although there are so many scriptural examples
of the dual nature of God as both mother and father, of women as prophetesses and political leaders,
Talmudic writers somehow developed some of the most base discrimination against women. This even found
its way into the form of morning prayer for a Jewish man thanking
God every morning that he was not ‘a
Gentile, a slave or a woman.’ Although Paul, the prolific epistle writer was not a woman hater as some accused
him to be, he was also affected by this thinking. In the first letter to the Corinthians he qualified his
discriminatory writing as his own – not of the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:25 ). He did not do it in his first letter to
Timothy however.
In Jewish law a woman became a thing. She had no legal rights whatsoever: she was absolutely in
her husband’s possession to do with as he willed. Islam seems to have drawn richly from this sad heritage, a
terrible aberration of the creation model. In this regard, Muhammad started in Mecca quite progressively to
the chagrin of Quraysh men by
giving women some rights.
In some ways the Qur’an even expanded on these negatives. In Surah 4, titled Women we read: ‘Men
have authority over women because Allâh has made the one superior to the other ... As for those from whom
you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them... The random and
discriminate way in which women can be maltreated is especially seen in the practice of divorce or the
treatment of their witness in courts operating under Shariah Law. A Muslim husband may cast his wife adrift
without giving a single reason or even notice. The husband possesses absolute, immediate and
unquestionable power of divorce. No privilege of equivalent or an even nearby corresponding nature is
afforded for the wife. A case was widely publicized when a Muslim Nigerian woman was first raped, then
accused of adultery and finally executed in the most cruel way – all this was possible on account of Shariah
Bad Christian Examples
It would possibly surprise many a Christian that some Islamic tenets for which they have been viewed
negatively have not been derived from the life-style of the founder, but emulated from bad Christian
examples. While one has to concede that the example, words and deeds of by Muhammad were rather
ambivalent, even contradictory and confusing at times, it is nevertheless also on record that he assisted with
household chores, mended his own clothes and sought out the companionship of his wives. That he consulted
them, taking their advice seriously (Armstrong, 2009:14) was by far not emulated in the Islamic circuit.
Karen Armstrong's accommodation of Muhammad's demeanour is possibly however overdrawn to state that
'the emancipation of women was a project dear to the Prophet's heart' (ibid, p.14). It is however sad that the general
veiling of women and seclusion of adult females in a separate part of the house were to become customs
which Muslims originally copied from Greek Christians from Bysantium. It is also nothing to be proud about
that Christian men gave the tragic example to 'hijack the faith and bring it into line with prevailing hierarchy',
causing women to be oppressed.
Islam’s positive Views of Sexuality
It is quite a common view that Islam traditionally has a relatively negative view of women. Like the other
tenets of the religion it has a long history. In one sense Islam deviated from its religious predecessors.
However, next to the medieval negative view of sexuality, there was also a positive tenet in Islam, albeit that
both sides have been fairly ambiguous and sometimes exaggerated. Islamic traditions relate fairly candidly
and frankly – in stark contrast to contemporary Christian literature – of Muhammad’s exploits with the
various wives, on par with the stories in the ‘Old Testament’ around the arch fathers and kings of Israel.
(Only much later it came to light that by far not all Catholic nuns remained virgins. In modern times one
could hear of socalled
housekeepers of priests and child molestations became a shame to Catholicism in
different parts of the world. On the Protestant side gay and lesbian clergy are no exception any more, part and
part of modern morality which scoffs at biblical norms) That Muslim men glorified and exaggerated
Muhammad’s feats in this respect cannot be blamed on him.
According to Islamic oral tradition Khadijah, Muhammad’s first wife, wanted to investigate whether
the supernatural being, which gave revelations to Muhammad, was indeed an angel or an evil spirit. At her
(in)famous ‘test’ she requested Muhammad to tell her when he would see Jibril. When he did this at one of
the next occasions, she asked him to sit on her left lap. (The left side in Oriental thinking is linked to unclean
things.) When Muhammad confirmed that he could still see Jibril, she requested him to change to the right
lap. When the supernatural being was still visible, Khadijah threw off her cloak, after which Muhammad
‘entered her shift’ according to the tradition. Jibril promptly disappeared, which was to her the ‘proof’ that
Jibril was indeed an angel and not satan. The influence of Mani who
regarded the lower half of the body as
unclean – could have filtered through in this ‘test’. Similar views were held by the Church of Muhammad’s
day. The distorted advice of the Christian priest Waraqah, Khadijah’s cousin, that an evil spirit could not
stand the sight of an unveiled woman possibly also played a role. (Was this Waraqah’s exposition of 1
Corinthians 11:10 that (the heads of) women should always be covered?) We discern other tenets like the
compulsory head covering required in certain Muslim countries, which filtered through into Islamic practice
to this day, which was later extended to the burqa whereby only the eyes are visible.
It is appropriate to note at this point that the Qur’an is surprisingly progressive in this regard. The
of Muhammad might have depicted the Middle Eastern pattern of female subjugation, but there are
clear indications that the early medieval Arabian statesman did pick up tenets of the teachings of Nabi Isa
whom he held in such high regard. In Surah 9:71 and 3:195 the Qur’an teaches the equality of males and
females in fellowship and that they have to be mutually protective of each other. A well known hadith does
also speak about wives as twin halves of their husbands. That was surely revolutionary for Muhammad’s
society, light years ahead of the presenters of a radio programme on the Reef in October 1997 which gave
lessons to husbands on how to discipline their wives. (Dr Farid Esack and the former internationally
renowned British nun Karen Armstrong goes overboard on the other side when they attempted to give the
impression that the Qur’an and Islam are not discriminatory at all to women. That is nowhere truthful and
A Revolution of Love
Ancient Roman Society defined adultery only on the basis of the marital status of the woman. A married
man could not be guilty of adultery if he had sex with a single woman. Adultery was perceived as a crime
that only a woman could commit against the husband. In Roman law adultery was a property crime against
the husband, not an ethical issue which applied to either single or married men. Ancient Jewish Society had
similar double standards, where sex with a prostitute seems to have been initially accepted, without a clear
taboo. Thus the story of Judah having intercourse with Tamar, when she was disguised as a prostitute is not
narrated as an ethical problem in matters of extra-marital sex, but as one where Judah had been dishonest
after he was held responsible for the supply of off-spring in respect of a promise that he had given to his
Into this environment the Judaic-Christian message and lifestyle came as radical, revolutionary and very
offensive. ‘You shall not commit adultery’ (Exodus 20:14); ‘Marriage should be honoured by all, and the
marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral’ (Hebrews 13:4); ‘The
husband should fulfil his marital duty towards his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband’ (1 Corinthians
7:3); ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’ (Ephesians 5:21; ‘Be considerate as you live with
your wives, and treat them with respect’ (1 Peter 3:7).
Marital Faithfulness – A Christian Innovation
Not only did the Christians maintain that marriage should be between one man and one woman for life, but
they insisted that sexual relations had to be confined to marriage. They also believed that the sex act made the
couple ‘one flesh.’ This concept required married couples to remain totally faithful to one another. Extramarital
sex was not only unfaithfulness to one’s marriage partner, but it was in violation of God’s express
command and it did violence to the ‘one flesh’ concept. Jesus was radical, equating even lustful looking at
the opposite sex with adultery at heart.
Officially, Islam would subscribe to this view but an unwritten rule seems to compete very strongly,
viz. that extra-marital sex is illicit and sinful, but you must just be careful that you are not found out if you
have been adulterous.
The Role of Women in (spiritual) Warfare
90 Tamar disguised herself as a harlot and enticed Judah to unwittingly become the father of her children. The later
result of the incident was that Tamar gave birth to twin boys, Perez and Zerah. The entire story is found in Genesis
chapter 38.
It is remarkable to note what role the Bible ascribes to women in (spiritual) warfare. Deborah and
married one to boot stepped
in as a judge when the Israelites were in disarray. Women were a part of
Jesus’ missionary team (Luke 8:13)
and the Master used a female with low morals as the advance guard
to bring in the harvest from the Samaritans (John 4). Both Luke and John record women as the bearers of
the good news of the resurrected Lord. According to Joachim Jeremias, a prominent German scholar,
Jesus was the first Jewish rabbi to accept female disciples. We note that the Greek word for disciple,
mathetes, could be translated as scholar, but not in the academic sense. Mary of Bethany was very much a
scholar, a listener (Luke 10:38ff), as she sat at Jesus’ feet praised
by Jesus. Martha’s activism was
reprimanded by the Master.
It is good to remind ourselves that in these teachings Jesus was merely highlighting divine
principles which had already been given at the time of creation. In Genesis 5:1,2 the equality of male and
female was enshrined in the summary: ‘God created...male and female and blessed them. And when they
were created he called them ‘man’. We note that these lines were recorded in a society in which a woman
had nothing to say. Bill Musk, a keen observer of the Middle East, summarised it so pointedly: ‘ many
of his words and acts, the creator God showed himself dissatisfied with a world view in which women (and others)
were so dehumanised.’ Musk furthermore shows how incidences in the Hebrew Scriptures are spotlighted
where God was ‘trying to retrieve some sense of equality and dignity for the female part of his human
creation.’ Musk continues to mention some of these discriminated groups: widows, wives accused of
adultery and noninheriting
daughters. The ‘New Testament’ also has some radical stuff in this regard.
Women, who would normally have been regarded as secondrate
or even as outcasts by their society, get
prominent roles. We find three of them highlighted in the genealogy of Jesus according to Matthew’s
Gospel. Furthermore, John 20 puts Mary Magdalene, the former demonpossessed
prostitute, in the
spotlight as the first evangelist of the resurrection of Jesus.
The Practical Ways of Women
Women have often excelled in practical ways when the chips were down. When protest (protest)
needed in the best sense of the word i.
e. derived from pro testare, a positive testimony women
often there to be counted. Because females are by nature communicators albeit
sometimes chatterboxes they
are quick to discuss ways to offset the most daunting attacks from the arch enemy. Among the best
examples that we have in the Hebrew Scriptures there were the two Hebrew midwives at the time of
Moses' birth, along with his courageous mother Jochebed who
defied the might of the Pharaoh through
their actions. They showed by their actions that they resisted the taking of innocent lives. And years
before them there were Sarah and Rebeccah. That the former of the two was quickly ready for a
compromise, is not so positive. That she communicated with her husband, is still a good example to many
a married couple. The scheming and favouritism of Rebeccah were not laudable, but that she had fantasy
to meet a challenge, cannot be flawed.
In modern times the Dutch ladies Corrie ten Boom and her late sister Betsy were persecuted by
the Nazis in the Ravensbrück concentration camp because of their family’s support for Jews They had a
deep insight and a sense for spiritual warfare when the church at large was still sleeping. They discerned
forgiveness as an important prerequisite for reconciliation. Cindy Jacobs from the USA and our own
Gerda Leithgöb are contemporary experts on spiritual warfare, confounding the idea which is still
prevalent among some evangelicals that women have little to contribute in terms of leadership misguided
by a onesided
interpretation of Paul.
An examples of yesteryear is Coretta Scott King who all but took over the mantle in the civil
rights struggle after the death of her husband Martin Luther King in the USA in 1968. In the 1970s there
was the stalwart work for reconciliation in Northern Ireland led by women under the inspired leadership
of Betty Williams. We should also be reminded of the Catholic nuns who defied the might of President
Marcos in the Phillipines. Their courageous action was the start of the demise of the dictator.
Polygamy in Oriental Society
Polygamy seems to have come to Islam via Judaism and the general oriental society. In this regard we have to
lodge a strong objection against the haughty attitude of evangelical Christians in particular and against all
other attempts to denigrate the Islamic faith. Many discriminatory practices against women have developed
not only via pagan models, but also via Judaism and the Medieval Church. Just as we saw in the previous
chapter, polygamy and the oppression have to regarded as a result of the Fall in Genesis 3.
Polygamy in the Hebrew Scriptures
Scriptural evidence indicates that polygamy among the ancient Hebrews, though not extremely common, was
not particularly unusual and was certainly not prohibited or discouraged. The Hebrew Scriptures document
approximately forty polygamists, including such prominent figures as Abraham, Jacob, Esau and David, with
little or no further remark on their polygamy as such. The Torah, Judaism’s central text, includes a few
specific regulations on the practice of polygamy, such as Exodus 21:10, which states that multiple marriages
are not to diminish the status of the first wife; Deuteronomy 21:1517,
which states that a man must award the
inheritance due to a firstborn
son to the son who was actually born first, even if he hates that son’s mother
and likes another wife more; and Deuteronomy 17:17, which states that the king shall not have too many
wives. One source of polygamy was the practice of levirate marriage, whereby a man was required to marry
and support his deceased brother’s widow, as mandated by Deuteronomy 25:510.
All of those instances of
polygamy, however, are very narrow cases rather than general rules. Exodus 21:10 speaks of Jewish
concubines. Deuteronomy 21:1517
speaks of the children of the ‘hated wife’, implying she is divorced.
A variation of polygamy, the serial one, was practised quite widely, also in the Church via the practice of
having a concubine. How conventional and respectable this then was is illustrated by a canon of a Spanish
synod of 400 CE decreeing that, so long as a man was faithful to his concubine as if she was a wife, their
relationship constituted no bar to communion (Chadwick, 1969:217). Pope Leo I thought monogamy
preserved if a man left his concubine to contract a legal marriage.
Restricted Polygamy as a Revolution?
Without doubt Christianity – based on Jewish values - was revolutionary in respect of sexual practices during
the first century in the Roman Empire. Few people appreciate how highly promiscuous and depraved cultures
were before the advent of Christianity. The British historian Edward Gibbon noted in his History of the
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that marital faithfulness in the Roman Empire was virtually unknown.
Not only were adultery and fornication common, but obscene sexual practices were prevalent. Some Muslim
authors or Christian advocates of Islam like Karen Armstrong have highlighted that a similar story could be
told about the impact of Islamic teaching on Arabia. Muhammad’s prescription of a maximum of four wives
was surely revolutionary in a climate where there were no inhibitions in this regard, but his own example - he
had at least 16 wives and 2 concubines - appears to have nullified much of such an effect. Muhammad’s
successor, Caliph Umar, married 7 women and had 2 slave concubines. The Caliph Uthman married 8
women. The Caliph Ali (Muhammad’s son-in-law) had 11 wives and 19 slave concubines. Muhammad’s
grandson, Hassan, married 70 women and had at least 31 children. Muhammad also authorised “temporary
marriages” (for three nights or more). By approving of polygamy, mistresses and “temporary marriages”,
Islam does not support the value of a marriage that is based on exclusive, lifelong, devoted love. Christianity
has always maintained that monogamy alone gives the recognition, status and value that a woman needs, and
the environment for raising children in a stable and loving home. The general tendency in many Islamic
communities and countries – as has been the case in Judaism for many years – is to give clear preference to
monogamous marriage relations.
Gender Equality
The example of the equality of men and women is demonstrated by the leadership of the threesome Moses,
Aaron and Miriam when Israel moved through the desert. God clearly appointed Moses as the first among
equals. But before they left Egypt, God used Aaron as his mouth-piece (Exodus 4:14; 5:1). The principle of a
leader amongst equals is clearly put forward when Miriam and Aaron had difficulty to accept Moses’ marriage
to a North African (Numbers 12:1ff). They were severely reprimanded, even to the extent that Miriam became
leprous. We could ask why Aaron was not punished as well, but it is significant that Moses had allowed
Miriam to be part of the leadership team in the first place. For those days this was surely quite revolutionary.
Deborah is another case in point. She was the leader of Israel at a time when the people of Israel were
in complete disarray. Men were not fulfilling the leadership role. In fact, when she approached Barak to lead
the army, he only wanted to do it if she went along. This is in spite of the fact that she gave him the assurance
on behalf of the Lord that he would achieve the victory (Judges 4:6-8). Deborah also demonstrates that marital
status does not disqualify for leadership in God’s view. She was a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth and the
acknowledged leader (Judges 4:4,5). Miriam on the other hand was part of the leading threesome as a single
That neither sex nor age is the issue, but rather obedience to God, is shown by the wonderful way in
which Esther and her uncle Mordechai are used in tandem to save the Jews from extinction. Esther herself
displays extraordinary wisdom, first of all in sensing that the venture to go to the king without His invitation
was a case of all or nothing. She was no individualist, but knew that this had to be in conjunction with her
people, she had to have the prayerful support of her people. She prayed and fasted with them.
A servant girl, who had been taken along as a captive, became God’s instrument to point Naaman, the
Aramaic army officer, to Elisha as a prophet of God (2 Kings 5). In the enfolding story, Naaman got healed
only after he obeyed the instructions of the prophet.
The Lord’s Teaching on the Attitude to Women
If we take the general attitude to women as a custom of His day, it is appropriate to examine how the Lord’s
revolutionary life style could have changed the world if it were seriously emulated. The love of God and the
love of the neighbour was to Him the supreme criterion for any tradition. We note how Jesus assessed the ageold
customs in Mark 7:1-23. One could say that He protested in the best sense of the word.91 On the one hand
He opposed antiquated traditions, especially when they were opposing God’s supreme law of love. On the
other hand, Jesus gave a new content to customs which had lost their initial purpose. Sometimes traditions
have to be radically turned upside-down, especially if they hinder the general law of love. (Compare Matthew
5:21-48, for example “You have heard... But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute
you.”) Jesus healed people on the Sabbath, knowing full well that he was treading dangerous ground,
swimming against the stream of the prevalent customs. Habits and traditions should be constantly tested by
Scripture with regard to its position, either in expediting or hindering the proclamation of the Gospel.
Other ‘New Testament’ Examples
The ‘New Testament’ has many examples of discriminated or despised groups or individuals who were
rehabilitated after an encounter with the Lord or with the Gospel. At a time when females were not even
supposed to be seen in public with men, Jesus gave dignity to prostitutes and demon-possessed women. (A
former demon-possessed Gadarene was delivered to become an evangelist in Decapolis, a region known by its
ten ‘cities’. In that case it was a male, but the principle is the same.)
At the crucifixion of Jesus, John is the only disciple mentioned, along with four women, three
Miriams (Marys) and Salome. This is quite remarkable when one takes into account that a woman was not
regarded as a reliable witness in those days. And when the disciples had already returned to the order of the
day after the traumatic occurrences leading to the crucifixion, the faithful women went to the grave. Mary
Magdalene - who had formerly been demon-possessed (Luke 8:2) - was the first evangelist of the resurrection
according to the Gospel of John (20:18).92 Luke’s Gospel is in this sense equally remarkable. To entrust the
resurrection Gospel message to women, whose word in those days had no authority in a court of law, was
completely extra-ordinary. Lydia, a Gentile businesswoman, became God’s instrument to start the first house
church in Europe.
The view of some believers that women should be ‘kept in their place’- because Eve ‘caused’ Adam to
fall into sin - is still prevalent in certain circles. Paul’s expectation that the women should ‘keep their peace’ in
the fellowship of believers, may indeed radiate the culture of his day, but it is not completely fair to call him a
woman hater as some feminists have done. In 1 Thessalonians 2:7+11 he for example addressed the believers
with the qualities of both a mother and a father in the same context. But we were gentle among you just as a
nursing mother (breast-feeding mother)... and charged every one of you as a father does his own children. He
speaks of the Almighty as a God of comfort, a characteristic which is very much a maternal quality in line
with a verse like Isaiah 66:12,13 which
gives the picture of the Almighty as a mother even more clearly: On
her sides you will be carried, and be dandled on her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will
comfort you.
91 The word protest comes from the Latin pro-testare, which means to witness in favour of something.
92 According to Matthew’s report, she was at the grave with the other Mary.
For a purported woman-hater Paul wrote exceptionally positive about Phoebe (Romans 16:1f). He chose
her to take the letter to the Romans to the half of Asia Minor, speaking about her as an elder, as someone who
leads. In fact, in the whole of chapter 16 of this epistle Paul mentions quite a few women. Nowhere does one
get the impression that he regarded them as second class Christians. In fact, about Junia he noted reverently
that she had been a Christian before him and she may even have been an apostle.93 The positive references to
the mother and grandmother of Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5) underline the general tendency in the ‘New
Testament’ that some women do possess the gift to control big areas of responsibility, oversee their
households, educate people in the faith and spread the Gospel all at the same time. There is also the
implication in the Pauline writings that Priscilla and Aquila operated as a couple, the first evangelists who
complimented each other. In commendable language Paul noted how they risked their lives for him and were
treasured by all Gentile Christians. Various commentaries take for granted that Priscilla may have played a
leading role in the local assembly. Lydia, the saleslady was even divinely used to see the first house church
planted, one at Philippi (Acts 16:14ff). Women such as Flavia Domitilla, the wife of the consul, played a
profound role in the Early Church. To her the church owed one of it oldest catacombs (Walker, 1976:30).
It is significant that the church of Corinth had such confidence in Paul that they asked for his advice on
matters of marriage although they knew that he was not married himself. He was not glibly lashing out at
them, but answering their letter. Against this background 1 Corinthians 7 can be seen as a masterpiece of
exceptional wisdom.
More Islamic Examples of crude Emulation
It is sad to have to note that the Church – and followed in this by Islam – by and large disregarded the
revolutionary teachings of Jesus and the ‘New Testament’ with regard to women. It was only in the Assyrian
(later Nestorian) Church where women were treated with exemplary dignity for some length of time. Research
of recent decades shows that even widows had leadership roles in the first century or so. These notions
however probably did not filter through to the Church in the Hijaz region of Arabia. Unfortunately, by the time
Muhammad was intensely influenced by Waraqah ibn Naufal and the EbioniteNestorian
Christian community
or Afrem, a Syrian Nestorian preacher, no trace of these positive views of women can be found. The de facto
exclusion of women in religious leadership has a rather anomalous origin, the minyan, ‘a group of ten or more
Jewish over the age of 13’. 94 Sages derived the prime origin of the minyan from the divine instruction to Moses
to ‘separate yourself from this evil congregation’ after the Israelites had to listen to the negative report of the
10 spies. According to tradition, the Jewish women did not believe this report, trusting that the Almighty
would help them. The liturgical leader in the synagogue, the Chazzan, has to be a member of the minyan. In
this way women were excluded from leading congregational devotions, a practice which found emulation in
both Christianity and Islam. The mechitza is a partition that separates the men from the women. In most
Muslim countries women still do not attend mosque events. The reason for the exclusion is usually given that
men could be distracted by women’s physicality during worship. Even at marriages only Muslim males attend
the ceremony.
Oppression of Women
The oppression and discrimination of women has a long history. Women are equal to men in the sight of God
but they have in some respects different roles in life to men. They differ psychologically, physiologically, and
biologically from men. This makes them more suitable than men for certain responsibilities and less suitable
than men for others. Islam recognises these differences.
The oppression of women is not determined by their biology, as many contend. Its origins are
economic and social in character. But their social status became that of a degraded domestic servant, subject
to man’s control and command.
Before the development of class society, social production was organized communally and its product
shared equally. There was therefore no exploitation or oppression of one group by another because no
material basis for such social relations existed. Both sexes participated in social production, helping to ensure
93 Paul cannot be blamed for it that Junias was made out of the name, to give the impression that this apostle was a man. Cf.
verse 15 where the accusative female form is correctly transcribed as Julia.
94 This information I gleaned from the article ‘A Woman’s World’ in Issue 15 (February 2009) of the periodical Jewish
the sustenance and survival of all. The social status of both women and men reflected the indispensable roles
that each of them played in this productive process.
However, women were not for nothing called the weaker sex on physically grounds but
it was said,
they are also mentally inferior to men, after chances to develop their intellect had been withheld. Thereupon
they were regarded ‘naturally’ or biologically as the inferior sex. While the subjugation of women has always
had different consequences for women of distinct classes, all women, regardless of class were and are the
oppressed gender. But this was definitely not the divine intent at Creation.
Not only primal societies but also Islamic and Western society created and perpetuated the myth of the
inferior sex. In the West feminine rights became part of the Law only after women had been going through
great political struggles – e.g. the suffragates in Britain and elsewhere and
also partly due to the necessity of
women working in factories during wars.
A part of the sad legacy of the Church in general is that the equality of the sexes – evident in both the
‘Old’ as ‘New Testament’ has not been forcefully taught or practiced. The Call of Islam – started by Imam
Haron95 at the Cape in 1961, has been quite progressive in respect of women. However, the group was far from
representative, not even in South Africa. Already in 1984, it declared: ‘We believe that our country will never be
free until its women are also free from oppressive social norms’ (Esack, 1997:240). A tract was written by the Call –
somewhat distortedly one has to remark – ‘Women Arise! The Qur’an Liberates You’ (Esack, 1997:241). The
early promise was however stifled after the first ‘sermon’ by a female in a Cape mosque in August 1994. The
controversy around that event, along with the silencing of the extremist Radio Islam in Gauteng that had
frankly propagated the beating of wives by their husbands – has brought the progressive treatment of women
in Islam back to the very conservative position of the 1980s. The influx of foreign Muslim women did lead to
the opening of at least one mosque at the Cape for women at the turn of the millennium, the Booranol mosque
in BoKaap.
Since then, many other mosques followed suit.
On the side of Cape Jewry a significant impact was made by Elizabeth Campbell Robertson in 1990.
She had been confronted at that time with a very difficult choice when she was about to convert to Judaism,
in preparation for her marriage to an Israeli national. Her autobiography The Choice was published in 2003.
In the same year it was read on the programme Story Teller on CCFM radio. In The Choice, Campbell
Robertson writes about the predicament into which the rabbi put her in the final interview of the procedure
before she was about to convert to Judaism. Much of that impact diminished towards the end of the
millennium, but in recent years this resurfaced when she became a sought after speaker, also by Jewish
Women led the way in South Africa when twenty thousand of them marched to the Union Building in
Pretoria in protest against the plight of Black women and against pass laws on August 9, 1956. Twenty five
years later the Nyanga/Crossroads females led the opposition when their resilience in suffering inflicted the
apartheid regime its first major defeat in 1981.
I cannot foresee Christian (male) leaders dropping there supercessionary attitude towards Judaism soon;
or relinquishing voluntarily their haughty, occasionally even arrogant and condescending view of Islam.
Internationally, Muslim women like Irshad Manji have already taken the lead to look at their religion selfcritically.
It would be great if Cape female adherents of the three Abrahamic religions could join under the
banner of the radical and revolutionary Jesus to become the advance guard of a revolutionary unity with
global ramifications!
95 He was by far the most prominent Cape Muslim of the last decades, dying in police custody as an apartheid martyr
on 27 September 1969.
All in all, it seems pretty safe to conclude that there exist very few Islamic doctrines or teachings that do not
have some root in Jewish or heretical Christian teaching and/or practice. It should make us Christians
humble enough to accept that Christianity in this way has a ‘collective debt’ in misleading millions of
Muslims. Furthermore, if we consider that the Bible speaks of arrogance (1 Samuel 15:22) and materialism
(Colossians 3:5, Ephesians 5:5) as equivalents of idolatry, Western Protestant Christians are basically no
better than any other groups that we might like to accuse of idolatrous practices. The appropriate attitude is
thus repentant humility, praying that God might open the eyes of many to our Lord Jesus himself who the
Bible describes interestingly as both the Lion of Juda and the Lamb of God. He used words of
encouragement to the fearful, despondent and fainthearted.
‘It would be the most wonderful thing if at the end of the age, it were once again those in Christ, in the Messiah of
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