My wife and I are praying for Muslims during Ramadan 2015. Ramadan is a Muslim holy month full of prayer and fasting which commemorates the giving of the Quran to Muhammad. In honor of the Islamic month of prayer, we are praying for the conversion of Muslims to Christ worldwide as well as working through a free online course about Islam offering by Biblical Training from missiologist and theologian Timothy C. Tennent (found here).
I wanted to share some of the things we’ve gleaned from the teaching series. Dr. Tennent argues it is acceptable and even advantageous to utilize the Quran in evangelizing Muslims. Making use of the Quran and the Hadiths (sayings of the Muhammad) provide a frame of reference in reaching others. Jesus is mentioned in ninety-three verses of fifteen suras, a total of ninety-seven times. One of the most interesting things about Jesus (called Isa the Messiah) in the Quran is he is given more honorific titles than any other religious leader in the book—even Muhammad himself. In fact, three suras (chapters in the Quran) are named after Jesus (Sura 3, 5, and 19).
Jesus is called the “Messiah” in the Quran. He is called this around eleven times without explanation. The lack of explanation is explained by the nature of the Quran itself. The Quran is not like the Bible. Only once does it contain a story with a precise beginning, middle, and end. Though Jesus is mentioned often in the work, very rarely do you find him teaching. In fact, though he is called a teacher, his teaching found in the Gospels is absent in the Quran. You do find repudiations in the mouth of Jesus of what the Gospels teach. Jesus is also called the “Messenger” in the Quran around ten times within the Muslim holy book. This is a title also given to Muhammad. Allah sends messengers to communicate his will to the world. This is how he speaks to his servants.
Jesus is called the “son of Mary” in the Quran around twenty-three times. This is one of the most important titles given to Jesus in the Islamic religion. Oddly, Jesus is called “son of Mary” only once in the Bible (Mark 6:3). Why is this title significant? It shows that when Muhammad received knowledge of Christianity, he must have been in contact with Christians who emphasized Mary’s role in their faith. The further many Christians got away from the first century, the more it got away from biblical statements about Mary.
Jesus is called the “word” from Allah in the Quran. Sura 3:45 (see also Sura 4:171) says, “Remember when the angels said: “O Maryam! Verily, Allah gives you the glad tidings of a Word from Him, his name will be the Messiah ‘Iesa (Jesus), the son of Maryam, held in honour in this world and in the Hereafter, and will be one of those who are near to Allah.” This is an interesting title because the Bible calls Jesus the Word of God (John 1:1, 14; Rev. 19:13). The meaning though is very different. In the Bible, for Jesus to be called the word of logos of God meant he was the living agent of creation, redemption, and revelation. The logos is God’s personal, visible communication to man in revealing and redeeming power. John was communicating that Jesus was the visible and personal communication, revelation, and expression of God himself. Muslims would completely reject this notion.
Jesus is called the “spirit” from Allah in the Quran. Surah 4:171 says, “O people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians)! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, nor say of Allah aught but the truth. The Messiah ‘Iesa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, (“Be!” – and he was) which He bestowed on Maryam (Mary) and a spirit (Ruh) created by Him; so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not: “Three (trinity)!” Cease! (it is) better for you. For Allah is (the only) One Ilah (God), Glory be to Him (Far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is All-Sufficient as a Disposer of affairs.” As one can see from the Sura, Muslims would also reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
Jesus is called the “servant” in the Quran three times. That Jesus is a servant reveals the very essence of Islam. Islam literally means submission. All humanity are servants, albeit good or bad servants. Elsewhere, Jesus is honored with titles such as “the Speech of Truth (19:34-35),” and a “sign unto men,” and “mercy from God” (19:21). Though these titles seem very grand and pregnant with great significance for Christians reading the Bible, the Muslims see no hint of deity within them. In Islam, Jesus is just a man. He is completely sinless yet he is still a man. In fact, he is not even the greatest prophet. That title alone belongs to Muhammad himself.