Jesus and Muslims

By David Feddes

More people in the world call themselves Christian than any other faith, and Islam has the second largest following. Not all who claim to be Christian or Muslim are very clear in their belief or firm in their commitment, but Christianity and Islam are the top two faiths in terms of numbers. The two faiths hold some things in common, but they also differ in crucial ways. Let’s first look at common ground and then at key differences.

Common Ground

Both faiths are monotheistic and agree that there are not many gods but one. Both faiths reject polytheistic belief in various gods and goddesses. Both faiths reject pantheistic belief that all things are God or part of God. Both faiths reject atheistic belief that no God exists and that mindless evolution produced all things. Christianity and Islam agree that there is one all-powerful, all-knowing Being, with no beginning or end, who created and rules all things.

Islam and Christianity agree that angels are real and that evil spirits are also real. They agree that death is not the end of any human, but that people live on forever, either in heavenly happiness or hellish horror.

Islam and Christianity agree that religion is not just a private feeling or personal belief but a worldview and a way of life. Islam, unlike Christianity, approves polygamy, in which men may have several wives at the same time. Still, both faiths agree on many moral principles. Both teach that murder, lying, stealing, adultery, homosexuality, and abortion are wrong. Both agree that family ties, generosity to the poor, hard work, and honest business are good. Many commands in the Koran agree with similar commands in the Bible.

In fact, Islam teaches that the Bible contains revelations to God’s holy prophets. Where the Bible differs from the Koran, Muslims believe the Koran is always right. Differences arose, they say, because biblical writings, though originally pure and true, were not preserved with total accuracy. Over the centuries, errors crept into the Bible, say Muslims; the Koran is God’s final revelation and has been preserved without error.

Muslims and Christians agree on some key facts about Jesus. The Koran says some striking things about Jesus that echo what the Bible says. The Koran says Jesus was born of a virgin named Mary, who became pregnant by a divine miracle, not by the act of any earthly father. The Koran says Mary was a holy woman blessed by God. According to the Koran, Jesus’ coming was “good news,” and he did amazing miracles. The Bible tells more details about the wonders Jesus did, but the Koran agrees that Jesus gave sight to the blind, healed lepers, and raised the dead.

The Koran says things about Jesus that it says about nobody else. Only Jesus and nobody else is called “Messiah.” Only Jesus and nobody else is called “the Spirit from God.” Only Jesus and nobody else is called “the Word of God” and “the Word of Truth.” As highly as Muslims regard Muhammad, not even Muhammad is called “Messiah” or “Spirit from God” or “Word of God,” and not even Muhammad is said to have raised the dead or given sight to the blind. The Koran attributes those things only to Jesus.

Muslim tradition holds that Jesus was without sin, as does the Bible. Muslim tradition says that Jesus will return someday, reign over the earth, and usher in the end time. A devout Muslim scholar writes, “Muslims have great respect and love for Jesus (Isa) the Messiah. He is one of the greatest prophets of Allah. To deny the prophethood of Jesus is to deny Islam.”

Some Christians might be surprised at these similarities, but in fact, certain Muslim moral principles and beliefs about Jesus are closer to the Bible than the beliefs of some who call themselves Christians. Even some pastors and scholars rewrite morality and do not accept that Jesus was born of a virgin or that he worked mighty miracles by divine power or that God spoke to the writers of the Bible.

Similarities between Islam and Christianity are not so surprising if you keep in mind that the Koran was written more than 600 years after the Bible was completed. Muhammad had met Jews and Christians before he began telling Arabia’s idol worshipers that there is only one God. Muhammad did not claim to be bringing a brand new message. Instead, he said that his words were in line with the prophets of the Bible, including Jesus. So Islam was never meant to be a brand new religion but to be a continuation of earlier truth and a correction of errors that allegedly had crept in. Muhammad borrowed much from biblical ideas, so there was bound to be common ground.

Crucial Differences

Of course, there are also differences between Islam and Christianity.

One key difference concerns the Trinity. Christians worship the one God as an eternal union of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible says “God is love.”  That’s not just because God is loving toward us but also because God’s inner being is characterized by the eternal love that unites Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Koran flatly denies the Trinity. The Koran (5:72-75) threatens hell for those who say Jesus is God come to earth and who believe in the Trinity. Although Muslims believe in Jesus’ virgin birth, they do not believe that in this birth God the Son took on a human nature. The Koran denies that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, with the same divine nature as God the Father. The Koran denies that the Holy Spirit is a divine person along with the Father and the Son. A Muslim writer says, “The doctrine of Trinity, equality with Allah, and sonship, are repudiated as blasphemies.”

The Trinity, however, is not some phony idea that some deceptive Christians made up on their own. According to the Bible, Jesus himself said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus also said that after he went to heaven, his Father and he would send the Holy Spirit to live within the Lord’s people.

The Koran says that if you want more information about Jesus, you should read the gospel about him. But if you read the gospel writings of the New Testament, you find statements from Jesus himself and from his closest friends, clearly identifying Jesus as God. Many Muslims don’t actually read the New Testament and aren’t aware that Jesus said such things. Those who do read it assume that any statement of Jesus declaring himself as one with God must not be what Jesus actually said but must be an error that crept into the Bible over the centuries.

But consider the facts. The authors of the New Testament part of the Bible knew Jesus personally. They saw him in action, heard him speak, enjoyed close friendship with him, and wrote what God directed them to write. Their writings came six centuries before the Koran, and we have ancient manuscripts that go back long before Muhammad’s time. Those ancient manuscripts match the Bible as we have it today, and in those manuscripts, Jesus says, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). It is wiser to believe Jesus’ close associates and their writings authenticated by ancient manuscript evidence, rather than a book written 600 years after the fact, as the Koran was.

The apostle John was Jesus’ dearest friend during his time on earth. John heard Jesus say, “I and the Father are one.” John heard Jesus’ enemies accuse him of blasphemy and snarl, “You, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:30,33). Jesus proved his claim by rising from the dead and by accepting the worship of a disciple who called him, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). John heard these things and wrote them down. His purpose was “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

Many people did believe in Jesus as God’s Son. Others hated him. Later on, still others would claim that although Jesus was somehow special, he was not the eternal Son of God who came to earth in human flesh. John, under God’s direction, said, “Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22). It’s not enough to say Jesus was a prophet. We must believe in Jesus as God with us. John wrote, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life… He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:11-12,20).

Christianity accepts Jesus as God and trusts his death and resurrection as the basis of forgiveness and eternal life. This salvation is a free gift of God to all who believe and entrust themselves to Jesus. Islam denies all this. As one Muslim puts it, “Muslims do not believe that Jesus is God, nor do they believe that God ever chose to come down to earth in a form of a man to die for our sins to purify us and forgive us.” Muslims don’t believe that our sins can be paid for by the suffering and death of Jesus. In fact, they don’t believe Jesus died at all!

The Koran says that Jesus’ enemies thought they killed him but were fooled by appearances. Islam agrees with Christianity that Jesus’ enemies wanted to kill him and that Jesus was willing to die. But the Koran denies that Jesus actually died. Muslims believe that someone else, probably Judas, was made to look like Jesus and was nailed to the cross instead of Jesus. The enemies of Jesus thought they killed him, but they actually killed someone else. God fooled them. Jesus himself was taken directly to heaven.

According to Islam, Jesus did not die, and we did not need him to die. We can be right with God by being good. Christianity teaches that we are born sinners, unable to save ourselves, but Islam denies that humanity is fallen. All people are born good but forgetful; they just need to be reminded of what God wants, and then do it. Christianity teaches that even biblical heroes of faith were sinners who did some terrible things, but Islam says otherwise. The Bible says Noah got drunk (Genesis 9:21), that Abraham lied (Genesis 20:2), and that David committed adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11). But Islam denies that such serious sins were committed by God’s prophets. In Islam, salvation is earned by those who deserve it. In Christianity, salvation is God’s gift to the undeserving. A leading Muslim scholar says, “Islam does not identify with the Christian conviction that man needs to be redeemed. The Christian belief in the redemptive sacrificial death of Christ does not fit the Islamic view that man has always been fundamentally good.”

The Bible says, “A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ… If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2:16,21). Islam teaches that righteousness can be gained through the law. If we didn’t need Jesus’ death to make us right with God, it would mean Christ died for nothing. Islam follows that logic but takes it in the opposite direction. Islam would not want to say Jesus died for nothing, so instead it says Jesus did not die at all. One reason Jesus could not have been crucified, according to Islam, is that humanity is not sinful enough to need him to die for us. Another reason is simply that God would not let his holy prophet die disgracefully. In the words of a Muslim author, “It would seem most inappropriate for the Messiah to die through a shameful crucifixion. God, who is just, would not permit the righteous Messiah to suffer in that manner.”

Rejecting the death of Jesus, Islam says that humans have the ability to earn eternal life through our own efforts. According to Islam, humans are not born in sin, so they don’t need salvation—they just need the guidance of Islamic law so that they can meet the requirements for getting into heaven. In Islam, salvation must be earned. In Christianity, salvation is an unearned gift from “God who justifies the wicked” (Romans 4:5).

A Muslim writer says, “In Islam, God’s mercy is supremely expressed through the revelation of a perfect law.” In Christianity, God’s mercy is supremely expressed through God’s sacrifice of his beloved Son for our salvation. Islam sees God mainly as a Master who deals with his servants on the basis of whether they follow his rules. The Bible reveals God not only as a mighty Master but also as a loving Father and a Friend who made a huge sacrifice to pay for the sins of those he loves. Christians must approach God with reverence and awe, but we may also pray to him with confidence. God is not just a supreme monarch far above us. He is a close companion who has lived among us in the person of Jesus and who lives within us Christians in the person of the Holy Spirit. This makes possible a warm, intimate relationship with God. Islam counts on a Master’s law. Christianity counts on the Father’s love.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.