Cross or Crescent: Part III of III – The Bible and the Quran
Christianity and Islam
By REV. DAVID WITTEN
Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church
According to universal Islamic teaching, Mohammed received the contents of the Quran (the sacred book of Islam) by direct dictation from the Archangel Gabriel. The revelations given to the prophet were at times so weighty that it spliced the legs of the camel upon which the prophet was sitting. The word Quran is an Arabic term that can mean both reading and “reciting.” The first word revealed to Mohammed (96:1) was believed to be “Read!” or “Recite!” According to this belief that Mohammed received the contents of the Quran by direct dictation, the Quran is believed to be the unmixed word of God; it is in no formal sense the composition of Mohammed. That is to say, the Quran’s message in no way entered into or came through the creative literary powers of Mohammed himself. He simply wrote from dictation, much like a secretary takes dictation word for word. In this sense, the Quran remained external to him. Mohammed was not its author. As one Muslim once explained it to me, as a pipe carries water from the source to the user and it arrives fresh and untainted, so Mohammed received the divine words and transmitted them. All Muslims agree on this.
This Muslim view of “Revelation” is radically alien to what the Christian faith means by the same word. Christians believe that God does not speak to man in a way that remains exterior to him. They do not believe that divine Revelation was simply “dictated.” In other words, when St. John wrote his Gospel he was not taking down dictation of words given to him in a vision of some sort.
On the contrary, according to Christian theology God speaks to man through the inner creative workings of his mind and heart. In that inspiration by which God caused Holy Scripture to be written, man himself was a co-worker with God. God’s Word is likewise, then, the word of some human being who is properly called an “author.”
Christians believe that the teaching of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) is not simply the Word of God, but also the word of Moses. The letters of Paul are not only the Word of God, but also the word of Paul. God’s Word was filtered through —digested by —fermented in—the mind and heart of a human author. But because it is God’s Word fermenting in the human author it is not merely the word of a man but of God. When I conclude reading the Scriptures in the worship service I say “This is the Word of the Lord.” Just as in the incarnation, God and man are joined together in the person of Christ so that we know God through the man Christ, so also in the Word of God the divine and human are joined together so that we always receive the Word of God as the word of men.
Revelation comes to us, accordingly, through the inner anguish of Jeremiah, the soaring mind of John, the probing questions of Job and Habakkuk, the near despair of Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes), the structured poetry of David, the mystic raptures of Ezekiel, the slow, patient scholarship of Ezra, the careful narrative style of Mark, the historical investigations of Luke, and that pounding mill, the ponderous mind of Paul. According to Christian theology the personalities of the human authors were not destroyed by what Christians call “inspiration.”
This element of fermentation in God’s Word allows us to liken it to cheese and wine. Perhaps we might think of the authors of Holy Scripture as various fermenting agents, each of them bringing a distinctive flavor and consistency. Perhaps Proverb tastes like robust Cheddar and the Song of Solomon like Havarti. Among the Psalms, we discern both Cabernet and Sauvignon, and among the Gospels we revel in everything from Port to Muscatel.
In short, Islam is the revelation of a book . But Christianity is the revelation of God Himself in His Son Jesus Christ. According to Christian theology, Jesus Christ is the revelation of the Father. Jesus said that He only speaks what He hears the Father speaking. He only does what He sees the Father doing. What does Jesus say and do? He forgives the sinful woman. He gives sight to the blind. He raises the dead. He dies for the sinful human race. That is what God is like. The Son has made the Father known (John 1:18).
Of course, Christians do have a book known as the Bible. But our relation to our book is not the same as the Muslim’s relation to the Quran. Martin Luther once said about the Bible that it is the manger and swaddling clothes that holds Christ. That is what is important to the Christian about the Bible. When I conclude reading the Gospel Lesson in the worship service, I hold the Book above my head and joyfully announce, “This is the Gospel of the Lord.” The people respond heartily “Praise be to you, O Christ.” They found and heard Christ, the Savior of the world, in the Bible. That is the whole point. Sunday School children say it best: “Jesus loves me this I know; for the Bible tells me so!”
Throughout 2017, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod will celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. We will eat salty pretzels and sing “ A Mighty Fortress” with gusto. Join us for our festivities throughout the year! Our first event will be Saturday, March 18 with Adam S. Francisco speaking on Understanding Islam from a Christian Perspective. Dr. Francisco is currently Professor of History and Political Thought at Concordia University, Irvine, CA. Look for more details.
Learn about the Lutheran faith. Join us for 9:30 a.m. Worship on Sundays (Our Savior Lutheran Church, 285 Hill n’ Dale, Danville, KY) Contact Pastor Witten at 606-365-8273. Or reach us through Facebook: facebook.com/oursaviordanvilleky/