Myth #4 - Muslims Reverence Jesus Christ

Myth #4

Muslims Reverence Jesus Christ

“Experience shows us an enormous difference between piety and goodness.”
- Blaise Pascal, Penseés

It is not uncommon for Muslims to proclaim that they have a respect and reverence for Jesus Christ. This is a claim that many Muslims in Western nations will often make, so as to encourage greater "dialogue" and openness toward Islam. Because Jesus Christ is mentioned at various points in the Qur'an, it is said to follow that the Qur'an honors Him. Indeed, Islam acknowledges that Jesus Christ was a prophet, that He was born of a virgin, and even that He was sinless. However, simply giving lip service to these facts does not necessarily mean that Muslims understand the significance of these points, or that they are therefore reverencing the Lord. This is because, in the process of speaking and teaching about Jesus, Islam rejects and denies many truths about the Lord that are of vital importance and that are clearly taught in Scripture. Further, though many Muslims will affirm their reverence for Jesus Christ in theory, it is not uncommon to see Muslims in practice denigrate the Person and name of Jesus as part of more systematic efforts to force Islamic chauvinism upon Christianity and Christians.

A Short Synopsis of What Islam Teaches About Christ

The Qur'an says quite a lot about Jesus Christ -- some of it truthful, and some of it rather outlandish. Islam teaches the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. "And Mary, daughter of 'Imran, whose body was chaste, therefore We breathed therein something of Our Spirit. And she put faith in the words of her Lord and His scriptures, and was of the obedient." (Surah 66:12, Pickthal translation) And also, "She said: 'How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?' He said: 'So (it will be): Thy Lord saith, 'that is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a Sign unto men and a Mercy from Us':It is a matter (so) decreed.' So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place." (Surah 19:20-22) In both of these quranic passages, we can see that orthodox Muslim teaching holds to the fact that Christ was conceived in Mary, despite her being a virgin. Further, it is taught that the conception of Christ in Mary was a result of the action of the Spirit of Allah. The virginal conception of Jesus Christ is also explicitly stated to have been a sign to men and a mercy from Allah. Where Islam fails, though, is to understand what this sign pointed to and what the mercy of God through the Lord Jesus Christ really is.

The Qur'an also reports that Jesus Christ was sinless in His life on earth. "He said: I am only a messenger of thy Lord, that I may bestow on thee a faultless son." (Surah 19:19, Pickthal translation) Christ was therefore described to Mary as faultless, indicating that He would be sinless. The Yusuf Ali translation of the Qur'an uses the word "holy" to describe Jesus, which is a word meaning "to be set apart and separated from sin". This does indeed describe Jesus Christ, who is sinless and completely separated from any sin in His holiness.

Some of the events surrounding the birth of the Lord are taught as well. The Qur'an reports that Jesus spoke at birth. "But she pointed to the babe. They said: 'How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?' He said: 'I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet.'" (Surah 19:29-30) The Bible, though, makes no record of this event, which appears to be a later Muslim addition designed to strengthen the doctrine of Jesus' prophethood by attributing this miracle to Him.

In Islam, Jesus Christ is acknowledged as having performed many miracles. He raised people from the dead and healed the sick and infirmed. He had supernatural knowledge of things that people kept secret. He is also reported to have fashioned a bird out of clay, breathed into it, and it came to life. "And (appoint him) a messenger to the Children of Israel, (with this message): "'I have come to you, with a Sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah's leave: And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah's leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe." (Surah 3:49) Some of these miracles are true to the Biblical record, the miracle of the clay bird is not. However, we can see that Islam does record that Jesus performed miracles, through the power of Allah, and that these miracles were for the purpose of serving as signs so that the people might believe.

Islam will even go so far as to teach that Jesus Christ was the Messiah from God, and that He was God's Word and mediator. In Surah 3:45, we see the Messianic nature of Jesus Christ supported, "(And remember) when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a word from him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, illustrious in the world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near (unto Allah)" (Pickthal translation). The Arabization of the corresponding Syriac word, translated as "Messiah" by Pickthal, is al-masseh, which literally means "the anointed one, the messiah", just as does the word Messiah in Hebrew. Note the similarity between the two words in these two Semitic languages. As the Messiah of God, Jesus was then also reckoned by the Qur'an to be the Word of God. "O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him..." (Surah 4:171)

The Qur'an even hints at the divinity and intercession of Christ, though most Muslims probably would not be inclined to accept this. Surah 39:44 states, "Say: Unto Allah belongeth all intercession. His is the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth. And afterward unto Him ye will be brought back" (Pickthal translation). Hence, Allah alone has the right to intercede before himself for human beings. Interestingly then, over in Surah 3:45, we see, "And remember when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a word from him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, illustrious in the world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near unto Allah" (Pickthal translation). That phrase "brought near unto Allah" has been interpreted by many prominent Muslim scholars, including Al-Baidawi, the author of one of the most respected medieval commentaries on the Qur’an, as indicating a position and office of intercession with Allah, which we saw previously is said to only reside with Allah himself1.

Lastly, and most controversially, the Qur'an appears to teach both the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Surah 3:55, the Qur'an says "And when Allah said: O Isa, I am going to terminate the period of your stay (on earth) and cause you to ascend unto Me and purify you of those who disbelieve and make those who follow you above those who disbelieve to the day of resurrection; then to Me shall be your return, so l will decide between you concerning that in which you differed" (Shakir translation). Pickthal translates the phrase "I am going to terminate the period of your stay" as "I am gathering thee". Muslim apologists claim that this does not indicate the death of Jesus Christ, but that Allah merely brought Him up to him through ascension. However, Dr. Anis Shorrosh makes the statement,

"This phrase in the Arabic language, 'Inni mutawaf-feeka,' is translated as "I am gathering thee." Some say the word does not indicate death, while others affirm that Christ did actually die. As an Arab, I have never known of any other meaning than death for this expression, within or without the Quran." 2

Likewise, Muslim interpreters clearly understand that the Qur'an teaches the death and resurrection of John the Baptist in Surah 19:15, "So Peace on him the day he was born, the day that he dies, and the day that he will be raised up to life again!" However, almost the exact same wording in the Arabic is used when the Qur'an reports that Jesus said "So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life again!" (Surah 19:33). Yet, many Muslim scholars will contend that Jesus did not say he was going to die and be raised up again in this passage, preferring to say instead that it teaches the "gathering in" mentioned earlier (though, as we have seen, that phrase also refers to death). They would rather make completely unsupportable arguments than admit that their scriptures report the death and resurrection of Christ.

Getting it Wrong About Jesus

So, does all this teaching about Jesus really honor Him, as Muslim apologists say? And further, do Muslims really even abide by the apparent teachings of their own scriptures with regards to the Lord Jesus? Not really. For all that the Qur'an says about Jesus, it still in the main denies His divinity. "O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not "Trinity" : desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs" (Surah 4:171). Muslims use this passage as a source for their arguments against the divinity of Jesus. Pointing to this, they will say that Jesus was no more than a messenger of Allah, that He was not part of the Trinity, and that Allah is far exalted above having a son, so hence Jesus was not the Son of God.

Other quranic verses that Muslims use to deny the Trinity include,

"In blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is Christ the son of Mary. Say: "Who then hath the least power against Allah, if His will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary, his mother, and all every - one that is on the earth? For to Allah belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between. He createth what He pleaseth. For Allah hath power over all things." (Surah 5:17)

"They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them." (Surah 5:73)

"And behold! Allah will say: "O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah?" He will say: "Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden." (Surah 5:116)

Muslims have long misunderstood the doctrine of the Trinity, as these verses demonstrates. This fact is understood even by secular scholarship. Watt discusses the Muslim misunderstanding of Trinitarian doctrine in great detail, stating at one point about the quranic statements in 4:171 and 5:73,

“Now, if these passages are examined without parti pris, it is clear that they are not attacking the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity, but the misinterpretation of that doctrine sometimes called ‘tritheism’. The great body of Christians officially deny that they believe in three gods, and in their creeds profess their belief in God who is one. They officially claim to be monotheists, and would indignantly repudiate the charge that they are tritheists. There may indeed be simpleminded Christians who fall into something like the error of tritheism in practice, but insofar as they are tritheists they are heretics.”3
Discussing Muslim arguments based upon 5:116, he writes,

“The assertion that Jesus is deity apart from God is definitely heretical from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy. In the light of the Qur’anic attack on tritheism, it seems certain that the denial that the Messiah was the son of God was a denial that he was a deity separate from God; and this is confirmed by the later part of 9.30 (qawl alladhina kafaru min qabl), that is presumably of the pagans.”4

And further, in reference to the Muslim use of 5:17 and 5:73, he says,

“What is denied here is the assertion of complete identity between Jesus and God, an assertion sometimes made by Christians but generally regarded as the heresy of confusing the hypostases. Once again, the Qur’an is attacking Christian heresy and not Christian orthodoxy.”5

Hence, what the Qur’an attacks is not even the orthodox, biblical doctrine of the Trinity. Instead, the Qur’an polemicists against various types of heresies about the Trinity - primarily those of modalistic and tritheistic leanings. This, of course, makes perfect sense when we consider that the evolution of the Qur’an took place at a time when much of the “Christianity” of the Near East was a mishmash of various heretical sects (Monophysite, Nestorian, Arianism, etc.), most of which were distinguished by their particular teachings about the nature of Christ, which would subsequently influence their interpretation of the Trinity (if they even believed in it). The polemics of the Qur’an were produced in response to early Islamic competition with these various pseudo-Christian groups, and therefore against the general run of heretical teaching about Christ which were current in the region at the time of the development of Islam. It is interesting that all of the verses given above - the primary quranic materials that polemicize against the (misunderstood) Trinity - appear in suwar of the Qur'an which, as we saw earlier, were among the only ones that existed (as suggested by the evidence) for the first century or so of the Islamic era, the era in which the greatest struggle by the early Muslims for a separate religious identity took place. Understandable from a historical perspective, but it is difficult to conceive of how the revealer of a perfect book would make such a basic mistake in understanding the nature of a “false” doctrine that needed to be corrected by final revelation.

Biblically speaking, the Trinity does not consist of three separate gods. The Trinity does not consist of God, Jesus, and Mary (as per Surah 5:116). The Trinity does not consist of one God who reveals Himself as one Person at a time. Instead, the Trinity is one God who has revealed Himself to mankind in three contemporaneous manifestations, each playing a varying role in God's plan of redemption for mankind. These are three in person, but one in essence, and all are one God. "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one." (I John 5:7) This is THE clearest statement of the Trinity in all the Bible, though by no means the only one. Jesus Christ, the Word of God, is clearly shown to be God in the Bible. Christ Himself made the claim to deity. "I and my Father are one." (John 10:30) The men of Jesus' day knew that He claimed deity, which is why the Jewish leaders sought to lodge blasphemy charges against Him.

"When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? And immediately when Jesus perceived in his Spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion." (Mark 2:5-12)

What Jesus was illustrating in this passage was His deity. He asks the rhetorical question of which is more difficult: to forgive a man of his sins, or to heal a man of his physical infirmities. The answer, of course, is that it is more difficult to heal the man physically. Jesus showed that since He had the supernatural power to heal the man without the least bit of effort, then He also had the authority to forgive sins, which is reserved for God alone. By forgiving sins, Jesus demonstrated His deity in a way that His audience easily recognized.

Further, it must be understood by all, Muslim and non-Muslim, that Jesus Himself laid claim to deity quite specifically. When speaking of the giving of eternal life, Jesus Christ stated that He and the Father were equally able to preserve that eternal life,

“And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one. (John 10:28-30)

Christ’s statement here establishes an ontological unity between Himself and the Father. This truth is shown, however, in a much deeper fashion than the mere statement of unity between them in verse 30. Let us note that Christ said that His Father was greater than all. Immediately prior, He said that “neither shall any” pluck the saints from His hand. In the King James, the “man” in verse 28 is italicized, indicating it is supplied by the translators and does not appear in the original text. The original text here only says “any” not “any man”. This is important because Jesus would appear, on the face of it, to be making two contradictory statements - that no one can cause those He has granted eternal life to lose it and be plucked out of His hand (implying that nobody is greater than He to be able to “overpower” Him), yet He also says that His Father is greater than all (which would suggest that the Father must be able to “overpower“ the Son). If The Father and the Son are not one in the ontological unity of the Trinity, then these two statements could not be reconciled. However, the Father and the Son are in true unity in every way - unity of will, unity of purpose, and unity of essence, and thus Jesus’ statements are entirely complementary. The reason they can both be true is because the Father and the Son are the same God - two distinct and contemporaneous manifestations of Him, but the same God nevertheless.

Christ elsewhere stated His unity and equality with the Father as God. In the verses commonly called “the Great Commission”, Jesus embeds a very important jewel of information about His Being in the command He gave,

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world…” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Jesus did not says “names”, He said “name” - the singular. The significance of this becomes more apparent when we consider some things. Though given in Greek, the Gospel of Matthew was revealed in the Jewish cultural milieu, which would include the Hebrew Scriptures of the Tanakh - the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. In Hebrew, the word for “name” is sheym, and carries with it much more importance than we attach to our corresponding English word. Sheym goes far beyond merely describing a word attached to a person so as distinguish him from others. Instead, sheym refers to the entirety of the character, renown, reputation, dignity, and essential being of a person - in other words, sheym describes what a person is, not just what we call him. When Jesus said to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, He was implicitly making the claim that all three Persons of the Trinity share the one name of God - they are co-equal in essence, characteristics, and reputation. In other words, Jesus was making a claim for Himself of deity alongside the Father and the Spirit.

Part and parcel with His deity is the fact of His pre-existence. While in fellowship with His Father, Jesus says in John 17:5,

“And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world began.”

Jesus explicitly states here that He existed with the Father before creation came into being. Indeed, He was the means by which every created thing was brought into existence,

“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him, and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” (Colossians 1:16-17)

This passage emphasizes the pre-existence and the creatorship of Jesus Christ. By him were all things created, and He is before all things. The concept of “heavens and earth” are used programmatically throughout the Scripture to signify “all that exists”. It follows then, that if all of creation were made by Him, as the Word and agency of creation, then He Himself could not be a created being, as Islam and certain pseudo-Christian heresies teach. To co-exist with the Father from eternity past, before any element of creation was made, would demand that Christ be God with the Father.

Islam denies His deity, though, and reduces Jesus to the status of a prophet only. "He spake: Lo! I am the slave of Allah. He hath given me the Scripture and hath appointed me a Prophet." (Surah 19:30, Pickthal translation) Hence, Jesus is subordinate to Allah, and cannot be reckoned as having deity or being Allah. The two are clearly delineated and declared as separate beings. Similarly, Islam denies that Jesus is God's Son, using Surah 4:171 where it says that Allah is exalted above having a son. Most expositors on this that I have seen, though, consistently think that this idea refers to God physically having a son, in the same way that a mortal human being would, i.e. through sexual procreation. However, they fail to understand that the virgin birth of Christ renders this argument moot. God miraculously caused Mary to conceive, through the overshadowing action of His Holy Spirit (as the Qur'an itself testifies!), and thus Jesus was born without a human father. This is important, also, in that it confirms His sinless perfection. As Christ was not born through the physical means of passing the sin nature of man down from generation to generation, Christ did not inherit in the human aspect of His nature the sinfulness which afflicts the mortal human race.

Hence, what we see in the way Islam deals with the deity and personage of Christ is that they will go right to the brink, and then fail to take that all-important step of faith to trust in His deity. Islam acknowledges His sinlessness, His conception through a virgin, and that He was indeed from God (as far as being a prophet is concerned). Muslims say and believe that He performed many miracles, and that He is the Messiah who intercedes before God on behalf of man. Yet, they turn back at understanding and believing what this all means. Christ's virgin birth and sinlessness point to His deity. His position as the Messiah, who was to die for the sins of the world, made Him the only one who could be the spotless sacrifice for man's sin. God Himself was the only acceptable sacrifice to God to take away man's sin guilt, as He is the only one who has never sinned, and thus is spotless and righteous in His own right.

Islam also tries to deny the death of Christ. Many fairy tales have been put forth over the years by Muslims wishing to deny the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. It will has been said that He really swooned on the cross, did not really die, and was taken down, after which He woke up again6. Muslims will claim that it was really Judas who died on the cross, instead of Jesus. They will say that angels removed Him from the cross before He died. Any number of stories are told to get around the simple fact, as seen from all four Gospels and extra-biblical sources as well, that Jesus Christ died upon the cross at Calvary. Muslims will make the argument that saying Jesus died on the cross dishonors God as it presumes that one of God's servants would be killed by sinner. The fact notwithstanding that God's Word records many of God's faithful servants who were killed for serving Him faithfully, this argument demonstrates the ignorance of Muslims as to the purpose of Christ's death on the cross. The argument that they think is honoring the Lord really dishonors Him as it denies the very reason He even came among mankind as the God-man. Jesus Christ was incarnated as a man for the specific purpose of shedding His blood and dying on the cross! It was His whole reason for coming, to consummate God's plan of salvation for man by serving as the ultimate, final sacrifice for man's sin.

"Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver or gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." (I Peter 1:18-19)

"So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many..." (Hebrews 9:28)

"And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled. In the body of his flesh, through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight;" (Colossians 1:21-22)

Christ died to serve as the sacrifice for us, He could and would atone for our sins. Man cannot save himself through his good works or religious rituals. Christ, who was completely righteous, took the place of every man, woman, and child who ever lived and ever will live. He voluntarily gave Himself to suffer the death penalty, the wrath of God against sin, so that through Him we all might receive forgiveness of our sins, if we trust in Him and His sacrifice and resurrection. The Muslim claims that Christ did not die is an attempt to negate this. While they think they are honoring Him, they are in fact denying Him, calling Him a liar, and leaving themselves with no hope of eternal salvation.

Likewise, the resurrection of Christ from the dead demonstrated His triumph over death and hell, and gives promise of eternal life to all who trust in Him. His resurrection was a firstfruits of the resurrection to eternal glory which all who believe on Him will also receive. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming." (I Corinthians 15:22-23) Without the resurrection of Christ, which Muslims deny implicitly when they deny His death, there is no hope for any man to be saved. "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." (I Corinthians 15:14)

What is amazing in all this is that Islam dimly recognizes and honors the need for a sacrifice to be made in the place of sinful man. Every year, at the conclusion of the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, Muslims celebrate a three-day festival called Eid al-Adha. This feast period celebrates the story in which Abraham was called by Allah to sacrifice his son Ishmael on an altar, but at the last moment, an angel intervened and allowed Abraham to sacrifice a ram in the place of Ishmael. This is very similar to the Biblical account of the near-sacrifice and salvation of Isaac in Genesis 22:1-18. Typologically, Isaac represents sinful mankind who must die for its transgressions, but God then sends a male ram to die in Isaac's place, providing a type of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, who was described by John the Baptist as "the Lamb of God" (John 1:29). The Muslim Eid Al-Adha, while being transposed to Ishmael, provides a loose corollary of this event. Yet, the implications of the need for man to die for his sins, and the provision of God to take man's place under wrath are not understood by the Muslim world.

The Gospel of Barnabas

At this point, I should briefly mention the so-called "Gospel of Barnabas" (not to be confused with the “Epistle of Barnabas“, a recognized exhortatory epistle of a second century Christian author). This work is an extra-biblical book which claims to be an account of the life and work of Christ. Muslim apologists love this book, and cite it often in support of the Islamic view of Christ. The reason for this is because the book conforms very much to Islamic theology concerning Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Barnabas denies that Jesus claimed deity, denies that He was the Son of God, and denies His death on the cross (this is where the claim that Judas was substituted on the cross partially comes from). Muslims say that this book was considered authoritative by the early church, but this claim is contradicted by the fact that no church fathers ever cited it in their writings, and that the earliest textual evidence for this book is a sixteenth century Italian manuscript 7. Some apologists claim that the Gospel of Barnabas is mentioned in “The Gelasian Decree” of pope Gelasius (492-495 AD). Now, a “Gospel in the name of Barnabas” is discussed in that decree, but is rejected along with a host of other writings as spurious and apocryphal, which had been attributed to various Apostles and other first generation Christians8. This apocryphal gospel was dismissed at the end of the 5th century, while the Gospel of Barnabas preferred by Muslims shows much internal evidence of having originated at a much later date. Further, as Slomp has observed, while the name of the Gospel of Barnabas is mentioned, nothing whatsoever is said about its content, or why it was rejected. Slomp argues that because the Decree was published not long after the invention of the printing press, which made it available in libraries all across Europe, that a forger could easily have taken the title, applied it to a work of his own, and attempted to pass it off as genuine in that way9. Muslims will sometimes also attempt to point to various other decrees of the early Catholic church as evidence of an early date for the Gospel of Barnabas, such as the Decree of Pope Sixtus I, but examination of these documents shows no mention of such a gospel.

Further evidence against the authenticity of the Gospel of Barnabas is found in the fact that the early Christians writers in the first centuries of Christianity were uniformly silent about this work. They neither speak for it, nor do they speak against it; they neither affirm its truthfulness, nor do they condemn it as the work of a heresiarch. Rather, the Gospel appears not to have existed in their times at all. Even more destructive to the claims for authenticity is the fact, as Ragg has observed, that not a single medieval Muslim writer even mentions the book. They note,

"Against the supposition that the Gospel of Barnabas ever existed in Arabic we must set the argument from the total silence about such a Gospel in the polemical literature of the Moslems."10

None of the Muslim theologians and historians, even the most polemical against Christianity, seemed to have had the slightest clue that any Gospel of Barnabas existed.

The Gospel of Barnabas contains many historical mistakes and anachronisms that date to medieval Europe and that would not have existed in the first century AD, and the many Islamic influences in the work seem to indicate the "Gospel" is the work of a medieval European forger, likely a convert to Islam. The style of quotations from the Old Testament found in this work are from the Latin Vulgate, which was not even translated until the very end of the 4th century, and which remained the standard Latin Bible for most of Roman Catholic history to the present. Further evidence of an acquaintance with the Latin Vulgate appears in chapter 40, where Adam and Eve are said to have eaten an apple in the Garden of Eden. The tradition that the fruit (which is never specifically identified beyond being "fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" in the Genesis account) was an apple entered into Christian tradition as a result of the translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into the Latin Vulgate (circa 400 AD), whereby "evil" (malum) was confused with "apple" (which is the same word in Latin). The tradition in the Catholic church that Mt. Moriah was the mount of Transfiguration began only in the 3rd century, yet this is the place presented in the Gospel of Barnabas. In chapter 91, "Barnabas" refers to the "Forty Days", indicating an annual fast. The Lenten fasting period, however, only began after the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, and there is no such forty day fasting period appearing in Jewish history, either. This “Gospel” also contains several references to medieval elements such as wooden wine casks and romanticized duals between lovers that did not exist in 1st century Palestine. "Barnabas" makes a simple mistake in chapter 42 when he has Jesus saying, "I am not the Messiah", but yet elsewhere the writer describes Jesus as "Jesus Christ" - both "Christ" and "Messiah" mean "anointed one", and are synonymous words. Most revealing of all are the numerous references to Mohammed by name (in chapters 55, 97, 112, 163, etc.) that reveal an Islamic origin for the work.

In fact, the dating for the creation of the Gospel of Barnabas can be positively placed between 1300 and 1350 AD. This is because of the use by its author of a centennial Year of Jubilee. In chapter 82, the Gospel of Barnabas states, "....insomuch that the year of jubilee, which now cometh every hundred years...." In the Old Testament, the Year of Jubilee was set for every fifty years, and this remained the practice (at least in word even if the Jubilee was not kept) throughout the subsequent history of both the Jews and early and medieval Christendom. Yet, the Gospel of Barnabas says that the Jubilee was changed to being every 100 years. Why? Gairdner and Abdul-Ahad supply the answer by noting that after celebrating this year in 1300, pope Boniface VIII altered the Jubilee to a centennial event. However, his successor pope Clement VI reversed this decision in 1343 and celebrated the next Jubilee in 135011. Only a person living in that period between 1300 and 1350 would have considered the year of Jubilee as having been changed to come every 100 years. Further evidence for dating the “Gospel” to at least this date lies in that it actually, on several occasions, alludes to the works of Dante Aligheri (1265-1321)! All of these evidences, plus many, many more that will not be listed here for the sake of space, point to the Gospel of Barnabas as being a complete and utter forgery, produced by an individual zealous for Muslim theology and tradition, yet who was also at least marginally knowledgeable of the "Christianity" of his day.

For much more detailed expositions on the reasons why the Gospel of Barnabas can be nothing but a forgery, read the section from their book Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross which deals with the Gospel of Barnabas, by Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb12, and also the essay on this subject by Gerhard Nehls13. Any serious seeker of truth will be forced to recognize the fakery behind this pseudographical forgery.

From all this we can see that while Islam says that they reverence and honor Jesus Christ as a prophet of God, they really call Him a liar and dishonor Him. The early Muslims in the newly-formed Arab Empire seem to have been confronted with a "Christianity" that was heretical in its approach to the person and nature of Jesus Christ, and responded to it in the process of settling their own developing orthodoxy. This contact with the confusing religious milieu of the Near East in the 7th-8th centuries - with its mix of Orthodox Chalcedonians, heretical Monophysites and Nestorians and Arians, Judaism, Judaeo-Christian sects and so forth - seems to have warped their theological understanding of Christianity, and resulted in his denial of the Trinity, and therefore, Christ's deity. Muslim claims of honoring Christ sound much like those mentioned in Isaiah 29:13, "Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of man."

End Notes

(1) - D.B. MacDonald, Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, eds. H.A.R. Gibb and J.H. Kramers, p. 173; MacDonald notes Baidawi's statement with regard to Jesus' life on earth and in heaven that He served "as prophet in the one and as interceder in the other."
(2) - A.A. Shorrosh, Islam Revealed: A Christian Arab's View of Islam, p. 97
(3) - W.M. Watt, “The Christianity Criticized in the Qur’an”, Early Islam: Collected Essays, p. 67
(4) - Ibid., p. 68
(5) - Loc. cit.
(6) - Similar to the tales told by liberal infidels in many of our "Christian" seminaries!
(7) - L.B. Jones, Christianity Explained to Muslims, p. 79
(8) - C.G. de Boor, "Decretum Gelasianum de Libris Recipiendis et Non Recipiendis", Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der Altchristlichen Literatur, ed. E. von Dobschütz, 38.4 (1912)
(9) - J. Slomp, "The Gospel in Dispute", Islamochristiana, Vol. 4 (1978), p. 74
(10) - The Gospel of Barnabas, eds. L. Ragg and L. Ragg, p. 48
(11) - S. Abdul-Ahad and W.H.T. Gairdner, The Gospel of Barnabas: An Essay and Inquiry, p. 19
(12) - This may be found at
(13) - See

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