Definition of Apologetics
Apologetics comes from the Greek word απολογία (apologia), and the verse in 1 Peter 3:15 translates apologia as giving an “answer” to any who ask about the beliefs of Christians.
1 Peter 3:15 English Standard Version (ESV)
15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
There are basically three reasons for Apologetics – preparation, defense, and refutation. In regard to preparation, one of the primary roles of Apologetics is to prevent Christians from being converted to other religions by building up their faith. We need to understand both sides: Christian doctrine and the beliefs of our opponents. Another very important role of Apologetics is the defense of Christianity against attacks by other religions or doctrines. If Christianity is true, then Christians should be able to defend what they believe and be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks for a reason for these beliefs. The third role of Apologetics is the refutation of heresy. Christians must be ever vigilant in their assault against doctrines and ideas that seek to destroy orthodoxy by subterfuge or false beliefs. The ultimate goal of Apologetics is to understand what we believe, defend the Christian faith, and refute error so that Christ can be proclaimed, and unbelievers may come to Him as the source of all Truth and the savior of the whole world.
Most Muslims have never spoken with a Christian about the gospel, and most Christians do not know what to say when they do have an encounter with a Muslim. However, there are four major objections that Muslims usually bring up when these encounters do take place. These objections are: how can God have a son; has the Bible been changed; do Christians worship three gods; and did Jesus die on the cross? In order to effectively develop our apologetic approach toward Islam, we will be using four essential questions to frame our discussion:
- What is the Christian’s understanding of this doctrine?
(Statement of the Christian understanding of the doctrine)
- What do Muslimsbelieve about this doctrine?
(Explanation of how Islam expresses this particular doctrine)
- How does the Bible critique Islam’s approach to this doctrine?
(Evaluation of the Islamic expression through a biblical critique)
- How can the biblical critique be used in order to build a bridge with Islam?
(Description of how the biblical critique can be used in order to build a bridge with Islam in this particular area)
How can God have a Son?
According to the Bible, Jesus Christ is God the Son, Second person of the Trinity. The Son is eternally existent and God of very God. Through the Incarnation, the Son “took on flesh” in order that He might become man and join Himself to a human nature (John 1:14). The Son did this so that He could die for our sins, redeem us, and provide eternal life in God’s kingdom. When we consider scriptural support for these claims we note that the Bible states the Son was sent from the Father (John 3:16-18); the Son was with the Father in the beginning (John 1:1; Phil 2:5-11); Jesus identified himself as God revealed in the flesh (John 8:58); and anyone who has seen the Son has seen the Father (John 14:8). The essential questions that Christians need to be able to answer are: How could Jesus be the Son of God and God at the same time? What does the term, “Son of God” mean? If Jesus is God’s Son, then did God have physical relations with Mary and get her pregnant?
Muslims will usually focus on what the Qur’an and the Hadith say in regard to the questions they bring up. Then they will turn to reason in order to make Christian beliefs seem illogical. In regard to the question of whether God can have a son, the Qur’an declares that there is one God and therefore there cannot also be a son of God (or an associate of God) as well. A son would indicate that there is an addition to the one God. In the Qur’an, one of the earliest revelations given to Muhammad denies that Allah can beget any other God:
Say: He is Allah, the One and Only.
Allah, the Eternal, Absolute.
He begets not, nor is He begotten.
And there is none comparable unto Him.
Surah 112:1-4 (Sura Al-Ikhlas)
Therefore, Jesus is only considered a prophet of God and just a man (Surah 5:75): “Christ the son of Mary was no more than a messenger; many were the messengers that passed away before him.” To associate another being with God is the greatest of all sins in Islam, called “Shirk.” Apparently, Muhammad misunderstood the term “Son of God” in respect to Christianity and only thought of it in terms of God fathering a child through sexual relations with Mary. This is an abomination to Muslims, as it is to Christians as well. Christians understand Christ being God’s Son as an analogical term rather than a physical determination. Muhammad was unable to distinguish between the Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the Arab Pagan belief in idols as offspring of God, such as the so-called daughters of Allah, Al-Lat, Al-Uzza, and Manat. Thus, Muslims cannot reconcile Jesus the man with Jesus the Son of God. Here are some questions that Muslims bring up in order to point out the limitations of the man Jesus in comparison to an all-powerful, all present, and all-knowing God.
If Jesus is God, then why does he not know the date and hour of judgment?
Matthew 24:36 English Standard Version (ESV)
No One Knows That Day and Hour
36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.
If Jesus were God in the flesh, why did he say the following:
|John 5:19 (ESV)
19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
|John 14:28 (ESV)
28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.
|John 5:30 (ESV)
30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.
In other words, how can Jesus be God if he does not know the time of the Judgment and also says that the Father is greater?
These are just some of the ways that Muslims try to demonstrate that it is illogical to believe that Jesus Christ can be God, for if Jesus cannot do the same things as God then, logically, he must not be God.
First of all, Muhammad’s misconception of the sonship of Christ is another indication that God did not reveal the Qur’an to him. Otherwise, it would be expected that he would understand the text and the context of the previous revelation from God, the Bible. In the Bible, the term “Son of God” is an analogical term that indicates the relationship that the Second Person of the Trinity has with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is not inferior to the Father; for he claims that he and the Father are one (John 10:30), as well as if they have seen the Son then they have also seen the Father (John 14:9). Jesus also performed unique miracles that confirmed that he was the Son of God. Thus, the Son is not “another” god but rather the second Person of the One God.
Building Bridges to Understand
First of all, Christians should explain what the term “Son of God” means in its historic and biblical context. Never does it mean that God has a wife and produces offspring. In addition, Christians should realize that the reference to Jesus as the “Christ” is a title given to the heavenly, eternal Son who is equal to God the Father (John 5:18-24). Christians should also explain the limitations that the Son took on himself in order to become a man. If he did not become fully man, then he could not truly die in our place and bring us redemption from our sins. (Phil. 2:5-8).
John of Damascus demonstrated that even the Qur’an claimed that Jesus was the Word and Spirit of God (Kalimatullah, Surah 4:171). Thus, John argued, if Jesus was the Word and Spirit of God, then he must have existed eternally since there could not be a time when God existed without his Word and Spirit. Thus, since there is only one God, then Jesus must also be that same God. In conclusion, Christ must be the image of God to mankind, fully God and fully man, but no less than God himself.
One way to help Muslims understand how the Bible relates the son of God with the one, eternal God can be demonstrated from the book of Revelation. In the beginning of the book, the one God is said to be the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
Revelation 1:8 English Standard Version (ESV)
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
However, at the end of the book, Jesus is also said to be the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Since there can only be one beginning and one end, then this passage is conflating Jesus as the Son of God with God himself.
|Revelation 22 (ESV)
13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
|Revelation 22:16 (ESV)
16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
Muslims may deny this interpretation, but it is a logical assessment of the use of the Greek terms, Alpha and Omega, and the literary principle of conflating two different persons into one.
Has the Bible Been Changed?
According to Christian doctrine, the Bible is the word of God revealed to men through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Since all the words of the Bible are God’s words, they neither contradict each other nor are there any errors in the original documents. Therefore, the Bible is considered to be the supreme authority for Christian beliefs. However, since there are a number of beliefs that Christians have that differ or contradict the Qur’an, Muslims have traditionally held that the Bible must have been corrupted. On whether the Bible has been changed, Edward D. Andrews, author of THE TEXT OF THE TESTAMENT writes,
It should be stated that some Bible copyists were careless, even deceitful. Paleographers have set out four basic levels of handwriting. First, there was the common hand of a person who was untrained in making copies. Second, there was the documentary hand of an individual who was trained in preparing documents. The third level was the reformed documentary hand of a copyist who was experienced in the preparation of documents and copying literature; and fourth was the professional hand, the scribe experienced in producing literature.
We have the 27 books of the New Testament that were penned individually in the second half of the first century. Each of these would have been copied and recopied throughout the first century. Copies of these copies would, of course, be made as well. Some of the earliest manuscripts that we now have indicate that a professional scribe copied them. Many of the other papyri provide evidence that a semi-professional hand copied them, while most of these early papyri give evidence of being made by a copyist who was literate and experienced at making documents. Therefore, either literate or semi-professional copyists produced the vast majority of our early papyri, with some being made by professionals.
The Masoretes (scholar/scribes of the Hebrew OT) were very much concerned with the accurate transmission of each word, even each letter, of the text they were copying. Accuracy was of supreme importance; therefore, the Masoretes used the side margins of each page to inform others of deliberate or inadvertent changes in the text by past copyists. The Masoretes also use these marginal notes for other reasons as well, such as unusual word forms and combinations. They even marked how frequent they occurred within a book or even the whole Hebrew Old Testament. Of course, marginal spaces were very limited, so they used abbreviated code. They formed a cross-checking tool as well, where they would mark the middle word and letter of certain books. Their push for accuracy moved them to go so far as to count every letter of the Hebrew Old Testament.
The meticulous care of the Masoretes in their copying of the Hebrew text was made evident in 1947 when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the Qumran caves. In the spring of 1947, a Bedouin shepherd threw a stone into a cave, marking an event that would be heard around the world, making the name “Dead Sea Scrolls” more known than any other associated with archaeology. As he released one of his rocks into the cave, the sound of a breaking earthenware jar came back at him. Upon further examination, he discovered the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Now, scholars could compare the Dead Sea scrolls that dated to the second and first centuries B.C.E. to The Leningrad Codex, which is the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, using the Masoretic Text, which is dated 1008 C.E. according to its colophon, more than a thousand years difference. A member of the international team of editors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Professor Julio Trebolle Barrera, states: “The Isaiah Scroll [from Qumran] provides irrefutable proof that the transmission of the biblical text through a period of more than one thousand years by the hands of Jewish copyists has been extremely faithful and careful.” (F. Garcia Martinez, Martinez and Barrera 1995, p. 99)
We accept the fact of 1,400 years of 400,000 copyist errors. Bible copyists made mistakes. However, none of those mistakes end up corrupting the Bible. Because we also accept the lifetime work of hundreds of New Testament textual scholars, who have restored the Greek New Testament to a mirror image of the original. We also accept the meticulous care of the Masoretes in their copying of the Hebrew text, which has given us the inspired Word of God, as they preserved textual integrity. Rather than having corrupted translations today, the tens of thousands of Old Testament and New Testament manuscripts have given us the Word of God in our language within the literal translations that are accurate in their rendering of the original language words. Muslims generally are only aware of the first half of the history of the Greek New Testament, where the Greek New Testament was corrupted with copyist errors. They have not been told the second half of the history. There is a Preservation of Scripture, but it is by Restoration.
Muslims acknowledge Jews and Christians as “People of the Book” and accept certain parts of the Old and New Testaments: the Tauret (the Pentateuch of Moses); the Zabur (the Psalms of David); and the Injil (the gospels of Jesus).
“Dispute not with the People of the Book, save in the fairer manner, except for those of them that do wrong; and say: ‘We believe in what has been sent down to us, and what has been sent down to you; Our God and your God is One and to Him we have surrendered.'” (Sura 29:45)
They believe that these books, in their original form, were sent down as previous revelations from Allah, and therefore should confirm and support the revelation given in the Qur’an: “This Qur’an could not have been forged apart from God; but it is a confirmation of what is before it …” (Sura 10:37). Thus, the Bible and the Qur’an should agree in regard to their teachings.
The Qur’an is considered to be a direct oral revelation given to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel and later recorded by his followers. It is the most important scripture for Islam and holds the final authority for doctrinal issues as well as all aspects of a Muslim’s life, such as social, religious, economic, legal, and governmental. In areas that the Qur’an does not address, it is supplemented by the Hadith, or “tradition” (additional sayings of Muhammad and his early disciples). In addition, since the Qur’an is often held to be as eternal as Allah, its pronouncements are believed to supersede any other religious book. Muslims believe that God has revealed his words to many prophets throughout time, but since the Qur’an is the last revelation it must also be the most accurate. Thus, all previous scriptures that contradict the Qur’an must have been corrupted or willfully changed. Here are some surahs that address this position.
There is among them a section who distort the Book with their tongues: (As they read) you would think it is a part of the Book, but it is no part of the Book; and they say, ‘That is from Allah,” but it is not from Allah (Surah 3:78).
Among them are unlettered folk who know the Scripture not except from hearsay. They but guess. Therefore, woe be unto them who write the Scripture with their hands and then say, “This is from Allah,” that they may purchase a small gain therewith (Surah 2:78-79).
Muslims also believe that God preserves his revelation throughout time. Thus, since the Bible contradicts the Qur’an in multiple areas, the Bible must have been corrupted or changed.
The earliest Muslims accepted the reliability of the Bible since the Qur’an seemed to accept what was sent down to the People of the Book as earlier revelation from Allah (Sura 29:45). What changed? As Muslims realized that the teachings of the Qur’an contradicted the teachings of the Bible, they needed to either change the Qur’an to correspond to the Bible or claim that the Bible had been changed and corrupted. Some of the contradictions between the Qur’an and the Bible concern the doctrines of the Trinity, deity of Christ, nature of God, nature of sin, salvation, and end times. There are also a number of differences regarding the prophets named in both the Qur’an and the Bible. There are also a number of problematic claims in the Qur’an that are not supported by the historical, epigraphical, or archaeological evidence. For example, the Qur’an claims to have been written in perfect Arabic because Allah wrote it in heaven (Sura 12:2, 13:37, 41:41,44). However, the Qur’an is not in perfect Arabic. It contains many grammatical errors. Some scholars even say that 20% of the Qur’an is not understandable in Arabic. In addition, there are parts of the Qur’an that are not even in the Arabic language! Over 100 foreign words in the Qur’an are used, including Egyptian, Hebrew, Greek, Syrian, Akkadian, Ethiopian, and Persian. Another claim is that there are no variant readings, lost verses or conflicting readings on various texts (i.e., the Qur’an is perfect). However, many variant readings have been researched and documented. Arthur Jeffery, a noted scholar in this area, gives 90 pages of variant readings. The Yemeni Qur’ans, some of the oldest manuscripts of the Qur’an discovered (early 8th century) also reveal that the Muslim claim of a uniform text can no longer be made. Many Muslims also believe the “original manuscript” which Muhammad himself gathered and constructed is still in existence. However, there are no originals in existence. Some of the manuscripts that are often touted as the original manuscripts copied and sent out by Uthman 20 years after Muhammad’s death, The Topkapi and the Samarquand, are actually dated to the end of the 8th century at the earliest. In addition, the traditional account admits that most of the Qur’an were not written down when Muhammad died. It was purportedly committed to memory, written on scraps of leather, bones, sticks, palm leaves, etc., and later compiled by Uthman. These so-called “originals,” however, are in a Kufic script that dates it to the 9th century AD (almost 200 years after Muhammad). Due to the lack of early manuscripts, despite the claims of Muslims and the 600 years of additional time, the Qur’an cannot compare to the faithful transmission and reliability of the Bible.
Building Bridges to Understand
In comparison to the Qur’an, the Bible is reliable. We may not have the original manuscripts, but we have thousands of copies that we can compare. The earliest is dated within 25 -35 years of the original (John Ryland manuscript). Due to the great number of early copies and the consistency of the text, Norman Geisler says that the New Testament is 99.5% textually pure. Of the 20,000 lines of text, only 400 are in dispute (about 400 words) and none of them affect significant doctrine. In fact, the Bible that we have now is the same one the early Church Fathers had and the same one that would have been used in the time of Muhammad. Therefore, Muslim claims that the Bible cannot be trusted because it was corrupted over time and changed in significant ways cannot be upheld. In fact, the Qur’an itself testifies that the early Muslims assumed that the Bible was reliable: Say: “O People of the Book! You have no ground to stand upon unless you stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord” (Surah 5:71). How can the Jew or Christian, stand fast by the Law and the Gospel, if the Law and the Gospel have been corrupted or abrogated? Thus, the Qur’an maintains that the Bible is the word of God and no distinction is to be made between any of the holy books. Therefore, The Torah and the Gospels should be considered to be genuine Scriptures from God and not unreliable or corrupted. The earlier revelations in the Qur’an (from the so-called Meccan surahs) admit that the Jews and Christians received Scripture that should be accepted and believed by the Muslims: But say, “We (Muslims) believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you (Jews & Christians); our Allah and your Allah is One” (Surah 29:46). In fact, it was not until around 200 years later that the charges of corruption were placed against the Bible (though John of Damascus alluded to this problem in the early 8th century). Therefore, if the Qur’an maintains that the Bible is the word of God, and no distinction is to be made between any of the holy books, then the charge of corruption on the part of the Bible should be dropped. In addition, when compared to all the evidence for the reliability of the Bible, it is the Qur’an that lacks the stamp of divine authority.
Do Christians Worship Three Gods?
Christians are monotheists who believe in only one God. However, Christians believe that this one God is also at the same time three persons. Thus, God is Triune. In other words, God is one essence and three persons (The Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God). God is a “plurality of persons within the unity of one essence.” Each person has their own role: the Father begets the Son, the Son becomes incarnate and dies on the cross for our sins, and the Holy Spirit is sent to dwell within believers.
For Muslims, the concept of the Trinity does not make sense. They will often ask Christians, “how can 1+1+1=1?” Many Muslims also complain that the concept of the Trinity is too complex. As C.S. Lewis put it, sometimes reality is not so simple. “If Christianity was something we were making up, of course, we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course, anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.”
For Muslims, God is an absolute unity (monad). This means that Allah cannot have any associate or anything that would be outside of this absolute unity. Therefore, there can be no plurality in the unity. One result of this belief is that man cannot know Allah since He is totally other and totally transcendent. Therefore, Muslims cannot have a relationship with God.
In the verses in the Qur’an that deny the Trinity, there is a deliberate focus on the belief that Christians must worship three gods. There is also a strong denial that God cannot have a son:
O People of the Book! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, and do not speak (lies) against Allah, but (speak) the truth; the Messiah, Isa son of Mary is only an apostle of Allah and His Word which He communicated to Mary and a spirit from Him; believe therefore in Allah and His apostles, and say not, Three (thalathatun). Desist, it is better for you; Allah is only one God; far be It from His glory that He should have a son, whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His, and Allah is sufficient for a Protector. (Surah 4:171).
Those who say, “God is the Messiah, son of Mary,” have defied God. The Messiah himself said; “Children of Israel, worship God, my Lord and your Lord.” If anyone associates others with God, God will forbid him from the Garden, and Hell will be his home. No one will help such evildoers. Those people who say that God is the third of three are defying [the truth]: there is only One God. Surah 5:72-73.
In this last passage, it seems that the Quran erroneously assumes and condemns Christians for believing in three gods consisting of the Father, Mary his wife, and Jesus their offspring. However, Christians have never believed that the Trinity is comprised of three separate gods, nor have they believed that Mary is part of the Triune nature of God.
It seems that a major problem for Muslims is that they cannot grasp the concept of a triune God. They want to ridicule the idea of a Trinity by claiming that mathematically it does not add up. However, the proper math is not 1+1+1=1, but rather 1x1x1=1 or 13 (or one essence and multiple persons). A better construct, perhaps, is to say that ∞ x ∞ x ∞ = ∞. Whatever the math, the actual nature of God is far beyond any construct that man can conceive. In fact, if God exists on a number of dimensions beyond our three-dimensional universe, then it is understandable that we can only grasp a hint of his true nature. We simply are too limited to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of the nature of our God. However, this does not excuse Muslims for trying to put God in a box and limiting the very nature of the one who transcends all of nature.
There also seems to be a fixation and misunderstanding concerning the makeup of the three persons of the Trinity as well as the role of Mary as the mother of Jesus. For example, Surah 5:116 seems to imply that the Qur’an indicates that Christians believe that the Trinity is made up of the Father, Son (Jesus), and Mary.
And when Allah will say, “O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, ‘Take me and my mother as two gods besides Allah?’ (Surah 5:116) [Jesus denies this]
This has never been the belief of Christians. Early Christians may not have understood the relationships between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but they never would have included Mary in any aspect of the Trinity.
Apparently, there was a heretical sect of fanatical women in 4th century Arabia, called the Collyridians who worshiped Mary as a Goddess. However, this group had been condemned by the orthodox church and was not in existence at the time of Muhammad.
There is also the persistent criticism on the part of Muslims that Christians believe that Jesus was conceived through physical relations between God and Mary. However, this has never been a belief of Christians either. Even Lactantius, a Christian scholar writing in 306, said this in response to this erroneous view:
He who hears the words ‘Son of God’ spoken must not conceive in his mind such great wickedness as to fancy that God procreated through marriage and union with any female, – a thing which is not done except by an animal possessed of a body and subject to death.
In conclusion, the Islamic rejection of the Trinity is based on a misrepresentation of the biblical view of what it means for Christ to be God’s Son. This is a further indication that the Qur’an could not be the revealed word of the one God.
Building Bridges to Understand
True Christianity has always portrayed Jesus as God. Therefore, Christians should demonstrate that the Bible states that the One God is also at the same time three persons. First of all, the Bible is clear in stating that there is only one God: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Then, in the New Testament God is known as “Father”: “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). In addition, the Holy Spirit is equated with God: “you have lied to the Holy Spirit… You have lied not to man but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). Finally, Jesus is declared to be God: The apostle John informs us that “the Word was God” (John 1:1); the disciple Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28); and the book of Revelation equates Yahweh with Jesus by conflating the two into the same person: “Alpha and Omega… Yahweh,… Jesus” (Rev 1:8 compared with Rev. 22:13, 16). Thus, from the Old Testament we have a clear statement throughout that there is only one God, and from the New Testament we have further information that reveals that this one God is also three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that each of these persons have distinct roles within the one godhead. This may be a mystery, but it is not illogical.
In order to better understand how the Trinitarian statement of one in three and three in one can be considered logical, we can refer to the Law of Non-Contradiction, which states that something cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense. The Trinity is not one essence and three essences at the same time; nor is it one person and three persons at the same time. Rather it is one essence and three persons at the same time. Therefore, it is not a contradiction to say that God is a Trinity, nor is it illogical.
Another way to understand the relationship between the three persons of the one God is to explore the Trinity as comprised of one “What” (nature/essence) and three “Whos” (persons). In this analogy, a triangle will be used in order to represent the Trinity. The three corners of the triangle correspond to the three persons in the Trinity, and the one triangle that these three corners make up (with their inter-linking lines) correspond to the one entity we call God.
Referring to the illustration below, we can observe that there is one “What” (essence) and three “Whos” (persons), the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, when it is said that God is one essence in three persons, it can also be stated that He is one What and three Whos. Each person is distinct with a unique role in the relationship, but they all share the same common nature. Thus, as Norman Geisler puts it, “God is one in his substance but three in his relationships. The unity is in his essence (what God is), and the plurality is in God’s persons (how he relates).” In this way the relationships can be different (the Father is related to the Son as Father, and the Son is related to the Father as a Son), and their functions can be different (the Father sends the Spirit and the Spirit testifies of the Son (Jn. 14:26)), and yet they can still share the same essence. There is only one What.
Furthermore, the existence of these eternal relationships between the Father, Son, and Spirit provide a basis for God’s love for us. For if there had not been love between the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit from eternity past, how could God have loved us before the creation? How could God be love itself if there had not been a relationship within the Trinity? Perhaps this is why Ravi Zacharias says that, “Only in the Trinity is there Unity and Diversity in the Community of the Trinity.”
When Muslims are confronted with the true teaching of the Christian church, they should understand that Christians do not believe in three gods; and they certainly do not believe that Mary was a god, and together with the Father had physical relations that produced Jesus, the son. Either the Qur’an is condemning an erroneous interpretation of the Christian understanding of the Trinity, or the author has purposely misrepresented the Orthodox Christian view of the Trinity in order to promote condemnation of Christianity. Whichever the case, this all indicates that the God of the Bible could not also be the God of the Qur’an.
Did Jesus Die on the Cross?
The crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ on the cross is central to Christianity. If Jesus did not die on the cross, then Christians could not claim that Jesus resurrected from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then we are all still in our sins and the “gospel” is not “good news.” If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then, as Paul says,
1 Corinthians 15:14, 17-19 English Standard Version (ESV)
14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
All four gospels, the letters of Paul and the other New Testament writers, and the early Church Fathers give clear testimony to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the central event in Christianity.
Based on one verse, Muslims claim that Jesus did not die on the cross. Rather, they claim that it only “appeared” as if Jesus was crucified. Instead, Muslims believe that Allah took Jesus up into heaven where he will wait until the end times to return. After he returns and completes his mission, then he will die.
“That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Apostle of Allah”; but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not: Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise” (Surah 4:157-158)
Interpretations of this verse differ among Muslims. Some Muslims believe that someone was made to appear like Jesus and was crucified in his place. Other Muslims believe that Jesus did not actually die on the cross but merely “swooned” and later recovered in the tomb.
Some verses in the Qur’an, however, support the view that Jesus did die. From his cradle Jesus purportedly said to his mother, “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). Could this actually be used to support the view that the Qur’an supports the death and resurrection of Jesus?
Some will affirm the historicity of the crucifixion, but will then deny the resurrection, as many skeptics do today. For example, Docetism teaches that the body of Jesus died, but his soul could not die. This has been a popular interpretation by liberal Christian scholars today. However, most Muslims today believe that someone else was crucified and Allah miraculously took Jesus up to heaven alive.
The main problem for Muslims is that if the Qur’an has it wrong about the crucifixion of Jesus, then the Qur’an is not a divine book and Islam is not a true religion. On the other hand, if Jesus did not die on the cross and then rise from the dead three days later, as the Bible claims, then the Bible is not a divine book and Christianity is not a true religion. Thus, the stakes on both sides are very high!
As mentioned above, all four gospels, the letters of Paul and the other New Testament writers, and the early Church Fathers give clear testimony to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the central event in Christianity. How can one ambiguous verse in the Qur’an hope to counter the weight of the historical evidence on the side of the crucifixion?
Gary Habermas, one of the world’s experts on the resurrection, concludes from his survey of over 25,000 published works since 1975 that spoke of the crucifixion that all but “a handful” of scholars agree that Jesus Christ not only existed but that he died by crucifixion. Again, how can one obscure reference in the Qur’an hope to topple one of the clearest facts of ancient history?
The bulk of the New Testament was written because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. If he did not die, then there would have been no need to write anything about his life and teachings. The Qur’an, therefore, is either wrong in its assessment of the death of Jesus or the majority of Muslims today have incorrectly understood Surah 4:157.
Building Bridges to Understand
From a historical point of view, the claim by Muslims that Jesus Christ was not crucified was made 600 years after the event and has no historical support from the first century. Perhaps one of the best ways to help Muslims understand the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ would be to use Dr. Gary Habermas’ “minimal facts” argument. The five essential facts to relate are:
- Jesus died by crucifixion. Most historians accept the fact that a man named Jesus Christ lived in the first century and died by crucifixion.
- His disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them. Whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead, his disciples were so persuaded of this fact that they spent the rest of their lives telling this story. None of them ever denied what they had witnessed first hand.
- The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed. The apostle Paul first tried to destroy the early church, but after his encounter with the risen Jesus Christ he became the chief evangelist for the church.
- The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed. Something transforming happened to James that turned him completely around so that he became one of the great leaders of the early church. Experiencing his half-brother, Jesus, resurrected from the dead could do this.
- The tomb was empty. There have been many attempts to discount this fact, but they all fall far short of the simple explanation that Jesus, who had been crucified and dead, had risen from the dead and exited the tomb.
All Christians agree that Jesus Christ died on the cross. Even non-Christian historians are in overwhelming agreement about the historicity of Jesus’ death on the cross. Therefore, the Qur’an is in error or the interpretation of Surah 4:157 by the majority of Muslims is in error. However, if Jesus did die on the cross and then rise from the dead three days later, as he said he would and the evidence supports this, then Christianity is true and Islam is false!
One thing we need to realize is that good Apologetics must take a balanced approach because both the irenic and polemic approaches are important tools. It is rather like a football game. Sometimes you are on the defense and sometimes you are on the offense, and you need to know when to take on those different roles. Good Apologetics flows between defending the faith and promoting the reasonableness of that faith. All of this takes place in the midst of a relationship; that is fundamental. There are three things to bear in mind when learning about Apologetics. First, you need to understand both what Muslims believe and what you yourself believe. Sometimes a deeper understanding will only come through controversy. For example, I have often come to understand a theological truth better through defending my beliefs than through merely reading doctrine or attending theology classes. When I have been asked questions I could not answer, I would first admit that it was a good question. Then, I would tell them that I would need some time to research the question before getting back to them with a good answer. This method not only provided a reason to get together again, but it also gave me a chance to search out a good answer as well as develop a way to explain it to my Muslim friend. In doing this, my faith has been refined in the fire and then fueled by a deeper knowledge. I have also gained more respect from my Muslim friends when I come back with a thoughtful answer to their question. The same result can be true for anyone who is willing to have an honest relationship with Muslims and do the theological work of searching out answers.
The second thing to bear in mind is that we need to learn to defend what we believe. This may be intimidating for some, but it can be exhilarating as well. It is also helpful because when we defend our faith, we help someone else understand the core beliefs of Christianity. Christians believe that Christianity IS true, and therefore they need to be able to defend it.
Thirdly, Christians also need to be able to refute what is in error. Sometimes this is the most important aspect of our conversation with Muslims. Too often these days Christians are pressured to acquiesce to views which Muslims promote, even when they are historically and factually erroneous because there is an expectation that accepting these views will support a peaceful co-existence. However, as we have seen in earlier chapters, this kind of cover-up often leads to the promotion of more egregious errors, which encourages Muslims to feed these errors to the media, and, in turn, there is even more pressure applied to the non-Muslims who reject these views. As Townsend warns, there is a very strong political and social undertow that seeks to disseminate a false history and theology of Islam in order to subvert Christianity and promote a government more favorable to Islam. We need to resist this movement and identify the errors that promote these false views. On the other hand, we also need to use these Apologetic tools to reach Muslims for Christ.
Finally, If the ultimate goal of Apologetics is to understand what we believe, defend the Christian faith, and refute error so that Christ can be proclaimed and unbelievers may come to Him as the source of all Truth and the savior of the whole world, then we certainly need to be prepared to do this (1 Timothy 3:15).
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 Edward D. Andrews; Don Wilkins, THE TEXT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: The Science and Art of Textual Criticism (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2017).
 HOW THE BIBLE SURVIVED Careless and Even Deceitful Bible Copyists?
How to Count Textual Variants
 Geisler, Answering Islam, 263.
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper One, 2015), 145.
 Geisler, Answering Islam, 266.
 John Shelby Spong, Resurrection: Myth or Reality? (HarperOne, 1995).
 Gary Habermas, “Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present: What are Critical Scholars Saying?,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, 3.2 (2005), 135-153.
 Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, The Case for the Resurrection (Kregel, 2004).
 Peter Townsend, Nothing to Do with Islam? Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot (Peter Townsend, 2016), 151-6.