Wednesday, March 27, 2019


Having looked at ways Christians sometimes misunderstand Islam, I shifted to talking about the three major misunderstandings that many Muslims have about Christians, and I think these are deeper and more significant.
I began by tackling the fact that many Muslims tend assume that all Westerners are Christian. That means Muslims often look at the things that are wrong in the West (e.g. sexual immorality, violence etc.) and think that those things are ‘Christian.’ So we disentangled that a little bit. At the same time, many Muslims fail to appreciate that for Christians, conversion is apersonal decision. You are not a Christian because you were born in a Christian country, or born to Christian parents; rather you have to have a personal point of deciding to follow Christ to be a Christian. So that gave me the opportunity to share what commitment to Christ looks like.
The second Muslim misunderstanding of Christianity is that they misunderstand the Bible. They frequently think that it has been corrupted and changed. However, I showed the Muslims in Edinburgh that that idea is not actually in the Qur’an (which strongly affirms the Bible in many verses)—rather  it is an idea that developed about 200 years later in Islam, arising  during the debates between Muslims and Christians in the 2nd century of Islam. In fact, if Muslims took their own Qur’an seriously, it would challenges them to take the Bible seriously. I also talked the audience through a lot of the recent critical work on the early manuscripts of the Qur’an, which reveal the many textual variants and scribal changes in the early text. Many Muslims assume they have a “perfect text” with no difficult textual issues—I gently deconstructed that assumption.
And third and finally, I spoke about how Muslims often misunderstand Jesus. Many Muslims think that Christians have taken a mere man and elevated him to a position of deity. I said that that actually fails to understand the words of Jesus himself: the reason that Christians believe what we do about Jesus because of his own words and actions. Many of Jesus’s words would have been blasphemous if he wasn’t God (such as forgiving sin, for example). All of Jesus’s claims about himself culminate in Jesus’s trial before Caiaphas the High Priest, where Jesus was outrightly accused of blasphemy and asked, “Are you the Son of God?” Rather than say, “no”, Jesus quoted Daniel chapter 7, about the Son of Man coming on the clouds of glory, which is an incredible passage which claims divinity. When Caiaphas heard this, he tore his robe, and cried, “Blasphemy!” and sentenced Jesus to death. So, Jesus’s whole life and ministry was about this claim that he is more than a man, and of course the authorities knew what he was claiming and crucified him for it. Now if Jesus has stayed dead that would have been that, but he rose from the dead three days later, the divine vindication of the claims Jesus had made.


It was an incredible privilege to be standing in front of an almost entirely Muslim audience, unpacking the scriptures and sharing about Jesus. After the talk, we launched straight into the Q&A and it was very friendly, but pretty lively! Many of the Muslim audience had never heard any of this stuff, more than one of them saying they’d never heard a Christian explain and defend what Christians believed.
Perhaps the topic that drew the most the questions were the critical issues on the Qur’an. Muslims are fond of pointing to textual variants in biblical manuscripts, but I simply pointed out that all ancient texts have variants in their manuscripts, including the Qur’an (I have 3,000 or more on my computer, easily accessible and browsable through the Qur’an Gateway software package). The question is not “does a text have variants?” but “has the scholarship been done to ensure we can trust the text we have today?” Christians have always been open and honest about our manuscripts and indeed it is Christians who have built the best tools for studying biblical manuscripts. By contrast, Muslims have tended to ignore or hide the issues in early Qur’an manuscripts, which is why we are only finally now seeing good computer databases of early Qur’an manuscript variants made available. When I put some of these textual variants up on PowerPoint slides in Edinburgh, there were at times almost audible gasps from the audience who had never seen these kind of problems in their earliest manuscripts.

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