Dallas M. Roark, Ph.D.

I had taught world religions for some years before really encountering Muslims in my class. That was quite a new experience for me. My presentation of Islam was as objective as I knew how to make it. The Muslim students had little problem with materials from Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religious groups. Their chief concerns and problems arose in dealing with Judaism and Christianity. It was only when we arrived at these two traditions that I began to see some of the viewpoints Islam raised against Judaism and Christianity.

During a stopover in Israel on one Middle East trip, we had a Muslim guide who talked to me as we walked toward a shrine. He said that Muslims have more in common with Christians than with Jews. This was his way of saying that Christians ought to support the Muslims rather than the Jews. He stressed that Muslims believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. For one who has been involved in evangelical Christianity, that seems like a common ground for agreement, but there are far more important differences. These differences are so significant that Islam, for all of its emphasis on monotheism, is yet a religion that keeps people from becoming Christians.

Christians usually have little understanding of Islam, and some erroneously assert that Muslims are soul mates in the faith. This is not true; the more one knows about Islam, the more obvious are the great gaps between Islam and Christianity. Severe problems arise when pursuing a dialogue with Muslims because of some basic problems within Islam. A major issue involves the contradiction between the Koran and Islamic traditions.

Islamic Tradition Regards the Bible as Corrupted

I stress the word "tradition" because Muhammad in the Koran regarded the Bible as authoritative. The Koran states:

"So, if thou [Muhammad] art in doubt regarding what We have sent down to thee, ask    those who recite the Book before thee." (Sura 10:95)1

In Sura 3:93-94, the Koran declares concerning settling a controversy:

         " All food was permitted unto the children of Israel, except what Israel       forbade unto himself, before the Pentateuch was sent down. Say unto the    Jews, Bring hither the Pentateuch and read it, if ye speak truth."

Other passages affirm the Old and New Testaments as being reliable in the eyes of Muhammad. In Sura 5:43-44, the Koran says:

         " And We sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus son of Mary, confirming          the Torah before him; and We gave to him the Gospel, wherein is guidance    and light and confirming the Torah before it, as a guidance and an admonition unto the godfearing. So let the People of the Gospel judge according to what God has sent down therein. Whosoever judges not   according to what God has sent down-they are ungodly. And We have sent    down to thee the Book with the truth, confirming the Book that was before it, and assuring it."

Here Muhammad proclaimed that the Koran confirmed the Scripture and that Scripture was preserved safe from corruption.

In Sura 5:70 Muhammad declared: "Say, ‘People of the Book, you do not stand on anything, until you perform the Torah and the Gospel, and what was sent down to you from your Lord."' The conclusion cannot be avoided that Muhammad regarded the Bible as authentic and that Jews and Christians must live according to their revealed Scriptures. Many other passages confirm the authenticity of the Bible.

But as time went on, it became obvious that Muhammad did not understand the Scriptures. Muhammad was illiterate and could not read the Bible. It was read to him and translated. Much of what Muhammad learned was not from the Scripture but from Jewish and Christian traditions that circulated in Arabia. Some of the Jews deliberately gave misinformation to Muhammad because they did not want him to know the Torah.

When the Muslims finally read the Bible, they discovered that it did not agree with what Muhammad claimed the Bible said. They had two options: either Muhammad was wrong, or the Bible was wrong. They chose the second option. They propounded the idea that the Bible had been corrupted by the Jews and the Christians in order to prove that Muhammad was wrong. If we keep in mind that Muhammad in his day declared that the Scriptures were the revelation of God and that the Arabians should consult those who had the Scriptures, then to declare later that the Scriptures had been corrupted was a serious problem for the Muslims.

Such a charge would amount to an enormous conspiracy on the part of people who never heard or knew of Muhammad. Many extant manuscripts in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Coptic predate the time of Muhammad. The Old Testament translation in Greek before the time of Christ stands as a witness to its unchanging nature. Even though the Jews did not like the Christian use of the Old Testament to show that Jesus was the Messiah, they did not change those passages.
To presume a conspiracy on the part of Jews and Christians to change the Scripture a century or two before Muhammad is preposterous.

Christians are familiar with the oral traditions that the Pharisees and others developed about Old Testament passages in their applications to contemporary issues in Jesus' day. This oral law had great authority in Judaism, yet Jesus declared that the oral tradition nullified the law of Moses. In Islam something similar has developed; they are called hadiths, or traditions which are considered unread revelation as opposed to the Koran being the read revelation. Six authentic collections are accepted by Orthodox Muslims (Sunnis) out of over 600,000 competing traditions. Traditions are easy to fabricate, and determining which are reliable is difficult. It is the traditions that seek to bail Muhammad out of his difficulties. The traditions (hadiths) of Islam nullify the Koran, although Muslims would not admit such.

Ironically, although Muslims regard the Bible as thoroughly corrupted, they nevertheless have appealed to the Bible to give creditability to the religion of Muhammad. Sura 7: 157 indicates that Muhammad said that the Torah and the Gospel spoke of him. So in one instance Muslims claim that the Bible is reliable about Muhammad, but they say it is unreliable about anything else. Surely, if the Bible were corrupted by Christians, as claimed, they would have removed all the texts that Muslims allege speak of Muhammad.

Muslim scholars did not really become familiar with the Scripture until about A.D. 800, almost two hundred years after the Hegira, the year (A.D. 622) that Muhammad fled Mecca for Medina. When they found the passages that were supposed to refer to Muhammad, it became obvious that these passages did not. Hence, the invention of the idea that the Bible is corrupted.

This allegation is an outrageous claim. It supposes that all the texts of the Bible in all the various parts of the World-all existing before the time of Muhammad-would have been corrupted by some devious conspiracy to undermine Islam, which did not even exist at that time!

Muhammad Misunderstood the Controversies about the Nature of Christ

Muhammad accepted the heresies about the nature of Jesus Christ that were popular in his day. One fundamental fact about the Christian faith is linked to the heart of Christianity: Jesus Christ was crucified, died, and was resurrected three days later. As Paul notes, this proves him to be the Son of God (Rom. l:4). If we take away the crucifixion and resurrection, there is nothing left of Christianity. Islam denies the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Muhammad’s sources of information were limited. He did not have access to the mainstream of Christian preaching. Previous to Muhammad’s time an intense controversy arose over the question of the union of the divine and human in Jesus. A group of people known as the Monophysites, best represented by Cyril of Alexandria, acknowledged both divine and human natures in Christ before the Incarnation. But these two natures were fused together into a new reality. This had grave implications for the crucifixion. The fusion of the divine and human implied that the divine nature of God actually suffered in the crucifixion. Proponents of this view were known as patripassionists, meaning that the Father suffered.

On the other side was the view of the Nestorians, who believed that there was a union of the two natures. They spoke of his dying in the flesh but not in the Spirit. The Koran sided with the Nestorians by saying that Jesus did not die in his divine nature. The vagueness of the expression led to the conclusion that he was not actually crucified. Muhammad’s lack of positive information about the Scriptures and the crucifixion created a problem for later Muslim scholars.

Jesus and Muhammad

Until Muslims change their attitude toward the Bible, it does not make sense to quote it to them. One place to begin dialogue is with the Koran itself. In particular, one can point out that the Koran contradicts the traditions developed since the time of Muhammad in many ways.
The Koran declares that John the Baptists mission was to witness to Jesus Christ, "the Word from God." Sura 3:38,

There Zecharias called on his Lord and said, "Lord give me from thee a good offspring, for thou art the hearer of prayer." And the angels called him, while he stood praying in the chamber, saying, “Verily God promiseth thee a son named John who shall bear witness to the Word from God" (Sale’s translation).

Moreover, passages in the Koran speak of God’s Spirit even though Muslims reject belief in the Holy Spirit. Muslims claim that these passages refer to the angel Gabriel instead of God’s Spirit. Sura 58:22 says: "Those-He has written faith upon their hearts, and He has confirmed them with a Spirit from Himself." If Gabriel is meant as the Spirit, then he has an impossible task of meeting the needs of millions of people. It seems obvious that the Koran is referring to the Spirit of God, who alone is able to comfort the hearts of all persons. The Christian doctrine of the Spirit means that God is able to indwell the life of every believer, something that no good angel could do.

Muslims traditionally have believed that prophets are free from all sin. There are variations concerning the relative purity of the prophets. Nowhere does the Koran suggest that Jesus sinned, but Muhammad is told to pray for forgiveness. The life of Muhammad is filled with things contrary to Scripture, or even the Koran. Polygamy is a possibility for the Muslim, up to four wives. However, Muhammad was given an unusual dispensation to have more than four. The prophets in the Bible suffered generally for their calling. Muhammad does not seem to have suffered at all. He enjoyed more than the limits of polygamy, power, prestige, and adulation. No prophet in the Bible ever did.

The divinity of Jesus comes out in the Koran. The Koran tells a story of Jesus performing miracles as a child. The story reflects the apocryphal gospels of the second and third centuries, though the details differ. When Jesus was five to seven he was playing with other children and made some sparrows out of clay. He commanded that they be alive and fly away, which they did. The Koran attributes this creative power to Jesus (Sura 3:49; 5:110) but at the same time reserves   creative power to God alone (Sura l6:2O; 35:4O; 22:73). Ironically though, the story Muhammad used was not Scripture; by his claim to revelation he gives a basis of saying that Jesus the Word of God is God the Creator.

The Koran acknowledges many miracles of Jesus (cf. Sura 5: l 10; 3:49) Muhammad did none. The only miracle claimed by the Koran is the Koran itself. In spite of this, the traditions after Muhammad have ascribed many miracles to him. This raises severe problems for one looking at Islam. Does one believe the Koran or the traditions? If the Koran is the written revelation, then it makes sense to abide by it and the traditions should be abandoned as useless. If the traditions are believed, then the Koran is useless because the two contradict one another.

Jesus came to establish a new covenant, whereas Muhammad claimed to revive the religion of Abraham (Sura 3: 19). Muhammad brought a code of law like that of Moses. However, remember that Abraham did not bring a code of laws; his was a commitment of faith based on the grace of God. Islam is a way of submission developed on fear of punishment or hope of reward in paradise. In contrast, the new covenant guarantees to the disciples of Jesus Christ that their sins are forgiven and they receive the promised Holy Spirit now. Anyone receiving Jesus Christ becomes a child of God immediately by adoption (Jn. l: 12). In contrast to the free call to receive the gospel, the Koran speaks of man being created with a disposition toward belief or unbelief (Sura 3O:3O). But even for believers (muslim = submitter) there is yet the fear of hell to endure. Sura l9:7l declares: “There shall be none of you, but shall approach near the same [hell]. This is an established decree with thy Lord" (Sale’s translation).


There are grave problems in Islam: inner contradictions between the Koran and the traditions, contradictions within the Koran itself, and contradictions between the Koran and the Bible. Until Muslims turn to the Bible to hear the gospel (Injil), they cannot rejoice in the Good News. The Koran does not tell us anything new about God. It contains no revelation in the true sense of a revealing of something previously unknown as Paul speaks of the gospel.

As time passed Muhammad was elevated in the traditions so that everywhere his name appears in Muslim literature are the letters PBOH-Peace Be On Him. He is almost deified in the Muslim piety, contrary to the Koran (Sura 3: 144; 47: 19; 13:27). Muslim tradition speaks of the preexistence of the light of Muhammad, an attempt of later Muslims to elevate Muhammad in comparison with Jesus the Christ.

All of this makes it difficult to reach Muslims for Christ. If they are true to the Koran, they must come to the Scripture to search out its meaning. In so doing, they will discover that after the Son of God has come, nothing can be gained from returning to a prophet who has questionable credentials.

1-Unless otherwise indicated, the translation of the Koran that has been used is Arthur J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted (London: George Allen and Unwin, l955).


The Theological Educator, New Orleans Baptist Seminary,  Spring, 1996