Posts Tagged ‘New Testament’

This last week at Flinders Uni was Islam Awareness Week. I thought it would be appropriate to be aware of Islam (more that I am normally) by seeking to reflect on what is being communicated by our Muslim friends, and to give some responses and some questions from a Christian perspective. This is the second of a few posts I will be making over the next few days.

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an accomplished Quran scholar, and to be honest, I always find most English translations of the Quran grammatically awkward and difficult to read. So I am willing to recognise that my interpretation of this Sura may not be entirely sound. However, I have been trained – and have taught for many years – the principles of Biblical interpretation, which can mostly be applied to any piece of literature.


Sura 8:11-18, with a depiction of the Battle of Badr

Sura 8:11-18, with a depiction of the Battle of Badr

Sura 8 (suras are the equivalent of books in the Bible) contains a verse often quoted by Islamic ‘extremists’ to justify their terrorist actions:

‘I will instil terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.’ (8:12, Yusuf Ali – the version quoted throughout this post)

On the face of it, it seems a pretty clear command for Muslims to terrorise, behead and disfigure non-Muslims. However, it is also claimed by many Muslims that this verse needs to be seen in its textual and historical context.

Fair enough. I say the same thing often to those who quote Bible verses out of context, and it is an important principle in Biblical exegesis – and if fact in understanding any piece of literature. ‘A text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext’ (D.A. Carson). So, let’s look at the context.

Firstly, we need to see that what is quoted above is only part of the verse. The full verse reads:

‘Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): “I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instil terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers…”

The word ‘remember’ should highlight to us that Muhammed is being reminded of something – an experience he has had in the past. If we look earlier in the Sura, we read:

Behold! Allah promised you one of the two (enemy) parties, that it should be yours: Ye wished that the one unarmed should be yours, but Allah willed to justify the Truth according to His words and to cut off the roots of the Unbelievers; (verse 7)

This is a reference to an event that happened early on in Muhammed’s time in Medina. The prophet, having been rejected in Mecca, had gone to Medina, where he had managed to gather a band of followers – at this point it was 313 men, called ‘Muslims’ because they had submitted to Muhammed and his religion. The future of Islam seemed tenuous – many surrounding people opposed them, including the leaders of Mecca, the Quraysh. One day in 624, after a year of conflicts with the Quraysh, news came that a caravan of gold belonging to the Quraysh would be passing by, guarded by 40 unarmed men. News also came that a Quraysh army was on the way from Mecca to defend this caravan, as the Muslims had a history of raiding caravans. Muhammed faced a choice of two options: Raid the caravan and get the 50000 pieces of gold it carried, or ride out against the Quraysh at great risk to his and his men’s lives, trusting that Allah would give victory. He chose the second option, and was successful in this battle, which took place at Badr. This was the key turning point in his battle to conquer Mecca, and it confirmed in the eyes of many that Muhammed was indeed the rightful leader and prophet of Islam.

This puts this verse into context. Muhammed is being reminded of Allah’s promise to him as he rode, outnumbered 3 to 1, to attack his enemies – those who had rejected his religion and so were ‘unbelievers’. It comes after another promise in verse 9:

“I will assist you with a thousand of the angels, ranks on ranks.”

…which Muslims believe actually happened, and was the reason for these first Muslims’ victory.

So, to be fair, it seems I should use the same principles that I myself use when I read about battles in the Old Testament and God’s commands to destroy all the people in a city (eg. Joshua 6:17) I say, ‘This command was given for that battle, in that time and place, and applied to the Israelites as they were conquering the promised land; it is not to be taken as a command for me today as a Christian, nor for any nation today that claims to be Christian.’ This is the approach taken by many Muslim scholars in understanding Sura 8:12

However, there are a few problems that I see with treating this verse in the same way as I do similar Old Testament passages.

Firstly, unlike the Bible, the Quran does not actually provide the historical context of this verse, or in fact the whole of Sura 8. The Quran does not contain lengthy sections of narrative equivalent to the Old Testament narratives; it’s as if the book assumes knowledge of the stories of both the Bible and of the events of Muhammed’s life. So, while the commands to Joshua about Jericho are firmly grounded in the story of the Israelites entering the land, these commands to Muhammed are not set against a backdrop of a Quranic account of the battle; all that extra information has to be gleaned from extra-Quranic sources.

Secondly, the Quran, unlike the Bible, does not have a two-testament structure of promise and fulfilment. The Old Testament dealt with national, ethnic Israel, as the people out of whom would flow His blessing to all nations. With the arrival of the Messiah Jesus, the season for national Israel was ended, as all the promises, types and shadows found their fulfilment in the reality of the Messiah. God now deals with people from every tribe, tongue and nation who relate to Him by faith in Jesus; the commands and principles that applied to national Israel either no longer apply, or are understood in the light of these spiritual realities. (For example, see 1 Peter 2, where Peter applies promises relating to the Temple and to the choosing of Israel directly to Christians who worship and testify to Jesus.)

The Quran does not have this structure, but instead has a uniformity of application across all Suras to all Muslims; one cannot draw an ‘old vs. new’ distinction.

This has meant that many Muslims have taken the sura to contain commands and principles that apply at all times to all Muslims:

‘This surah enunciates general principles of war (one aspect of Jihad) and peace while reviewing the Battle of Badr and uses them for the moral training of the Muslims.’ (Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi – Tafhim al-Qur’an – (The Meaning of the Qur’an) http://englishtafsir.com/Quran/8/index.html accessed Oct 11, 2014)

This interpretation seems, to me, to be supported by the verses that follow:

13 This because they contended against Allah and His Messenger: If any contend against Allah and His Messenger, Allah is strict in punishment.

14 Thus (will it be said): “Taste ye then of the (punishment): for those who resist Allah, is the penalty of the Fire.”

15 O ye who believe! when ye meet the Unbelievers in hostile array, never turn your backs to them.

16 If any do turn his back to them on such a day – unless it be in a stratagem of war, or to retreat to a troop (of his own)- he draws on himself the wrath of Allah, and his abode is Hell,- an evil refuge (indeed)!

17 It is not ye who slew them; it was Allah: when thou threwest (a handful of dust), it was not thy act, but Allah’s: in order that He might test the Believers by a gracious trial from Himself: for Allah is He Who heareth and knoweth (all things).

Verse 13 is a warning to anyone (not just the Quraysh) of the severity of Allah’s punishment for resisting Islam.

Verse 14 seems to use this incident as a precedent for future conflicts with unbelievers: their defeat in battle against the Muslims is a foretaste of the punishment of Hell that is to follow; Allah is using them to punish the unbelievers.

And verse 15-17 appears to be addressing not Muhammed at the battle of Badr, but those whom Muhammed is addressing and teaching in the principles of war: he tells them to never give up when fighting against unbelievers; if they do they themselves will end up in Hell with the unbelievers; and that their slaying of their enemies is ultimately Allah’s actions.

So, if my interpretation of Sura 8 is correct, this leads me to ask some sober, sincere and respectful questions of my Muslim friends; (and in asking I trust that we will be able to remain friends).

  1. Am I mistaken in any way in my interpretation of these verses? Or, am I right in saying that verses 15-17 are to be applied to all Muslim everywhere at all times?
  2. If the Quran truly is the pure, final message of Allah to humanity through Muhammed, why can this Sura only really be understood by accessing extra-Quranic documents? Does that not make this book insufficient and difficult to understand, and obscure to the common reader who has no access to this extra scholarship?
  3. Do the modern Jidadists who take verse 8 as a literal, binding command upon them today, actually have an interpretive case for doing so? And while you may differ in how you interpret this verse, can you at least acknowledge that they are simply seeking to be true to the revelation from Allah they have received through the words of his prophet, and so cannot be called ‘non-Islamic’?
  4. How, in light of this Sura, can we still strive to live alongside one another with peace, respect and friendship between Muslims and non-Muslims? Is this Sura a hindrance, or a help in achieving this goal?
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A member of God’s family, the church

God has a magnificent goal for His children:

‘The One who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ,until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.’ (Ephesians 4:9-16)

The Father wants you to move on into maturity as a Christian. Just as a child starts with a basic knowledge of life, and grows into adulthood through their learning and experiences, so too Christians are to seek to grow up in their faith and become the kind of person the Father wants them to be – ‘the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’, or in other words, just like Jesus.

This is not a challenge for you to accomplish yourself. Notice in the passage above that this is something God is doing, and it is something that He will be successful in. The Father’s aim is that His Son will ultimately be honoured and glorified as we clearly and joyfully display his image; and so all of creation will be filled with those who know and love the glory of God. This is as certain as His own love for his beloved Son. So we can have a wonderful assurance for both ourselves and for our Christian brothers and sisters:

I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

The passage also tells us the means by which the Father makes us more like Jesus: through the ministry of other Christians in the context of the church, and particularly through our Christian leaders. These people are God’s gifts to us. Their ministry is to bring God’s word to us, because the more we hear God’s word the more we will grow.

  • Apostles and Prophets are the ones through whom God has laid the foundation for what we know about Him and his work. The Prophets (someone who speaks God’s word) who wrote the Old Testament and the Apostles (someone sent by Jesus) who wrote the New Testament were enabled by the Holy Spirit to communicate the truth that is centred in Jesus. We benefit from their ministry as we read the Bible today. There are also men and women today who continue this work, not in the sense of receiving new revelations from God, but as they lead and teach God’s people and enable us to better understand the Bible and the church’s mission.
  • Evangelists (from the greek word for Gospel, ‘evangel’) are those who share the good news of Jesus with others. You must have met at least one evangelist, otherwise you would not be a Christian! The person who first told you about Jesus was being an evangelist, as was the person who may have been instrumental in you coming to faith in Jesus. It is because of God’s gift of evangelists that the Gospel is still being spoken around the world. You too will be this gift to someone else whenever you share what you know of Jesus with them.
  • Pastors (literally ‘shepherds’) and teachers (someone who helps us understand and live the truth) are those who particularly lead and care for God’s people in the context of a church community. They help us better understand the Bible, and give wisdom in putting it into practice in out everyday lives. They are available to answer questions, give guidance in life decisions, and are used by the Holy Spirit to equip us to be on about the Father’s business in this world.

The key to growing into a mature Christian is to be a part of a community – a ‘church’ – where all of these people may have input into your life, and where, in time, you may also be used by God to contribute to the lives of others – ‘so that the body builds itself up in love.’

The next studies explore what being a member of a church community looks like.

What follows is not a detailed Bible Study; it contains no Bible references as prooftexts. Rather, it is an attempt at a broad overview of the issue, trying to capture the trajectory of the Biblical story and the unfolding revelation of God’s purpose. It started as a facebook comment, but then got too big for its boots, and so it ended up here instead.

In the Old Testament, God gives Israel specific sexuality laws, including the prohibition of homosexual intercourse/relations. For this, the penalty is death by stoning. This is an outworking of the 7th commandment ‘Do not commit adultery’ (Which Jesus shows us in the sermon on the mount is not kept by a simplistic not having sex with someone else’s spouse, but even includes lustful thoughts and possibly the M word), and this 7th commandment is itself founded on the creation of human beings in God’s image as male & female. We also see now that this commandment is much bigger than ‘That’s the way God designed us’ – in that marriage reflects Christ and the Church and God’s big goal for all of history, something that is also hinted at throughout the Old Testament narrative.

So sexual purity is first and foremost about truly reflecting the glory of God, something about which God is extremely jealous, and will defend above everything else. The personal morality and societal benefit is not an end in itself, but a means to a higher, much more glorious and liberating goal. That’s why those things that defaced true marriage received such a harsh penalty. Break the 7th commandment and you essentially slap God in the face. Slap God in the face, and you will get what you deserve: the penalty of death, and the community will clearly understand that God not only defends HIs honour, but He also so loves His people that He will purge evil and injustice from among them.

Then we come to the New Testament. Jesus repeatedly affirms the principle of the 7th commandment, going to Genesis and the creation of man and woman and in some quite strong teaching about divorce. While he does not specifically refer to homosexuality (neither does he mention incest, bestiality, rape etc.), his affirmation of this command shows he affirms all the other applications of it, including the prohibition of homosexuality. ‘Sexual Immorality’ then is a term that covers all the prohibitions of the Torah, not just our modern way of thinking of it as ‘promiscuity’. He makes it clear that God’s standard has not dropped, by even applying extreme measures like cutting off your hand and gouging out your eye – which are given in the context of sexual sin – not as penalties for breaking it, but as examples of how far we must go if we think that we will be able to overcome temptation and sin ourselves. (If you think that the sermon on the mount is the rulebook for Christians to follow, think again. Apply it literally, and you’ll be one eyed and left-handed).

In doing this, Jesus is demonstrating that this commandment is not fulfilled by him in the sense of being made ‘obsolete’ (such as, for example, food laws), but in the sense of him, as the second Adam, perfectly keeping it on our behalf. It’s like he said, ‘Here’s the standard of the law: I’ll raise it to where it truly sits, at a height that you must realise you will never be able to reach because you are sinful, and then I will both keep it on your behalf, and come under the penalty you deserve for not keeping it yourself.’

The Apostles reflect this in their teaching (the Epistles). Paul in Romans uses homosexuality as what seems like the ‘ultimate’ sin in his discussion of humanity’s sinfulness, implying that same sex relations are virtually the lowest we can sink in defacing God’s good design. This is connected to his presentation in Ephesians of human marriage as a picture of Christ and the Church – deface marriage, and you slap God in the face and trash His purpose in Christ. We are called to sexual purity, and the honouring of marriage and family, and to distance ourselves from the world’s expressions of sexuality that are more about personal pleasure and ritual idol worship than they are about loving God and our neighbour.

A Christian is one who seeks to do all things to the Glory of God; as one who loves God they seek to obey His commands, not simply for pragmatic purposes, but in order to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has redeemed them. Homosexuality is abhorrent for a child of God, not because they fear stoning, or even because it may damage the wellbeing of society, but because it trashes the Gospel of the Son who laid down His life for his beloved bride, and who invites those who live by faith in him to attend the ‘wedding supper of the lamb,’ which will be in the new Heavens and new Earth.

So the 7th commandment has been transformed from a prohibition mandating stoning, to a glorious expression of the goodness and faithfulness of a Husband who will never commit adultery against his Bride, and a Bride who so loves the Husband who laid down his life for her that she desires to honour and respect Him by remaining pure in every way.

On Thursday, August 22nd 2013, Flinders Evangelical Students partnered with the Flinders Uni Muslim Association to present a forum exploring the identity of Jesus.

Speakers were Samuel Green (Christian) and Abdullah Kunde (Muslim)

When we met with our Muslim friends to plan the event, we began by acknowledging that both Christianity and Islam are missionary faiths. We were honest about the fact that we would like all Muslims to become Christians, and that they would like all Christians to become Muslims – in fact the two faiths are mutually exclusive. We were able to respect one another on this basis – because we knew that there would be no ‘hidden’ agendas. How can you be friends when you never know if the other is being honest with you?

The format of the evening was as follows:

A 20 minute presentation by each of the speakers on their view of Jesus. The aim of their talk was not to refute the other, but to present why they believe their view to be true.

15 minutes each for each speaker to pose questions to the other. This was an opportunity to clarify, and to raise any inconsistencies in the other’s presentation.

10 minutes each to answer questions that had been written down by the audience.

As you watch, I trust that something will become clear. The Muslim view of Jesus is not good news. Much of it is refuting those who believe Him to be divine. What is left is simply another role model, whose teaching has been lost (as Muslims believe the New Testament is corrupted, even though the Quran does not say this).  As Samuel says right at the end of his question time (1:43:00), how can you honour a prophet if you do not read his book? But Muslims cannot do this, because they do not trust the New Testament (Gospel) we have today.

By contrast, the true Jesus – as seen in the Bible and proclaimed by Christians – is incredibly good news. In Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, God does for us what we are unable to do for ourselves; through faith in his death and resurrection on behalf of sinners, we may come into the Father’s family, and have the assurance of sins forgiven, and future that is secure.

Jesus is not the bringer of Good news; He is the Good News. He does not bring a way of salvation, He is Salvation.