When you are woken before sunrise by the “Call to prayer” blaring from the local mosque, you are in an Islamic country. As I’m spending five weeks in Morocco, I’ve decided to investigate some aspects of the Muslim faith. In order to minimize bias, the following content has been mainly drawn from Islamic websites.
“Islam” is the name of a religion founded by Muhammad, which worships one God (“Allah” in Arabic). The word “Islam” means “submission to the will of God”. But it is also applied to works of art, organizations, and other cultural things.
The adherents of Islam are called “Muslims”. They follow the teachings of the Koran and believe that God revealed these teachings to the prophet Muhammad. The Quran (or Koran) is Islam’s holiest book, which Muslims believe are the commandments of God. It has 114 chapters whose 6,236 verses are said to have been revealed to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel.
In the sixth century AD Arabia was polytheistic. Each Arabic tribe worshipped various gods and goddesses. Nearby the Christian Byzantine Empire controlled the lands around the Mediterranean Sea and the Zoroastrian Persian Empire controlled the lands north-east of the Persian Gulf.
Muhammad was born in the city of Mecca in 570 AD. At age 40 Muhammad had his first vision in the year 610 AD. His wife’s uncle said he was a prophet. Muhammad proclaimed Allah as the one true God and rejected the polytheistic idol worship of Mecca. There was warfare between Arabic tribes that believed he was a prophet and those who rejected this claim. In 630 AD Mecca submitted to Muhammad and his warriors and accepted him as a prophet. Muhammad died in 632 AD. It is the Islamic tradition that Muhammad, as an Arab, is descended from Abraham’s son Ishmael.
After the death of Muhammad, Islam spread across the Arabian Peninsula (634 AD) and captured Jerusalem in 637 AD. Following this Islam spread across the Middle East, the Mediterranean lands and into Africa and India (711 AD). Islam continued to spread into Asia (1120 AD). In the 15th century AD after defeating the Byzantine Empire, Islamic armies invaded Europe and established the Ottoman Empire. By the end of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire had declined. The decision to back Germany in World War I meant that the Empire shared its defeat in that war. At this time, most Muslim countries came under direct or indirect control of European nations. But in the second half of the twentieth century, these Muslim nations gained their independence.
Soon after its founding Islam split into two main branches (Sunni and Shia), each of which now have a number of denominations. This division was caused by different views on Muhammad’s successor as the leader (caliph) of Islam. Today about 80% of Muslims are Sunni and 20% are Shia. Moroccans are generally Sunni and the royal family are descendants of the Alaouite dynasty, who are believed to be descendants of the prophet Muhammad.
What are the basic beliefs that one must have to be considered a true Muslim? Although the central belief is submitting to the will of God, there are six major beliefs.
Six major beliefs (articles of faith)
Some of the basic beliefs taught by the Quran are:
– Belief in one God. God (“Allah” in Arabic) is unique and incomparable. He alone is to be worshipped and obeyed. God is the all-powerful (omnipotent) and all-knowing (omniscient), creator, sustainer, ordainer and judge of everything in existence. But He is also gracious and merciful. People can pray directly to God without asking anyone to intercede for them. God isn’t a trinity. And He isn’t Jesus and Jesus isn’t God.
– Belief in angels. Angels are God’s unseen messengers. God used the angel Gabriel to reveal the Quran to Muhammad.
– Belief in the Quran. The Quran is God’s final guidance for humanity. It’s a compilation of all of God’s revelations to Muhammad. Muslims believe that the scriptural record of the divine revelations to Jewish and Christian prophets in the Bible has been corrupted over time from its original form.
– Belief in prophets. God gave messages for humanity to prophets. These included Jewish prophets like Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. The main message was to surrender to God’s will. But God’s final message was given to Muhammad.
– Belief in a day of judgment. In future, all people will be resurrected for God’s judgment and judged according to their beliefs and deeds. Those who followed God’s guidance will be rewarded with paradise; and those who rejected God’s guidance will be punished with hell. The salvation of heaven in the day of judgment is available to those whose good deeds outweigh their evil deeds.
– Belief in divine predestination. As whatever happens in one’s life is preordained, Muslims should respond to the good or bad that befalls them with thankfulness or patience. This concept does not negate the concept of “free will”; since humans do not have prior knowledge of God’s will (or decree), they do have freedom of choice.
In Islam sins are forgivable through repentance when Muslims pray for repentance. Also, they can earn forgiveness by bearing their difficulties patiently, or doing good deeds, or making a pilgrimage to Mecca or the punishment they receive in the grave, or the distress they experience on the day of resurrection. Forgiveness is also available through the prayers of others, including funeral prayers; or the intercession of Muhammad; or good deeds done for the deceased; or the mercy of God. However, Muslims cannot know whether a sin will be forgiven or not. Allah might or might not forgive the sin after repentance. So, Muslims are to fear their sins and hope for God’s mercy.
Muslims are asked to put their beliefs into practice by performing certain acts of worship. These practices (also called pillars of faith) must be undertaken with the best of effort in order to be considered a true Muslim. As in all faiths, since adherence to religious obligations and practices is a matter of individual choice, some people are very strict in performing these duties, while others are not.
Five major practices (acts of worship)
The five acts of worship that Sunni Muslims must perform are listed below.
– The declaration of faith. Muslims declare that there is only one God (Allah) and that Muhammad is his final messenger or prophet. Muslims repeat this statement many times a day during their prayers.
– Praying five times a day facing Mecca. Muslims are supposed to pray at dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset and at nightfall. Before praying they wash their hands, mouth, nose, face, arms and feet. The Friday noon prayer is special to Muslims and is done in a mosque if possible. Imams lead the prayer at mosques.
– Giving money to charity. Muslims are to give about 2.5% of their excess wealth to the poor.
– Fasting during Ramadan. For one lunar month each year, from sunrise to sunset, Muslims are not to allow anything to pass down their throat. Then from sunset to sunrise, they are permitted to eat as little or as much as they want. This is their way of developing discipline and relating to the poor. Travelers, young children and pregnant or nursing mothers do not need to keep the fast.
– A pilgrimage to Mecca. Every Muslim who is physically and financially able is supposed to travel to the birthplace of Islam at least once in their lifetime.
It’s interesting to note that the Moroccan flag is red with a five-pointed green star. The star may represent the five pillars of Islam.
In addition to the above, Shia Muslims must perform the following:
– Pay tax. 20% of profit is given to the Imam and the poor.
– Jihad. Struggle to please God. There are many types of Jihad. Jihad is also important to the Sunni, but is not considered a pillar.
– Commanding what is just. By living by the rules of God from the Quran and hadith (the words and habits of Muhammad). Sunni and Shia Muslims use different collections of hadith.
– Forbidding what is evil. Refraining from the sins mentioned in the Quran and hadith.
As a visitor in Morocco I found that the main impact of Islam is the presence of mosques, the call to prayer, and the clothing worn by its adherents. Mosques are in each local area in order to be accessible for prayer and enable the call to prayer to be heard from external loud speakers. Mosques often have minarets or towers that protrude above the level of other buildings.
Because of a dress code that requires modesty, Muslims generally wear clothes that cover their arms and legs. And women cover their hair and often wear unfitted, long-sleeved, ankle-length gowns. Sometimes women cover the lower part or all their face. And a few women are totally covered when they are in public. A “hijab” is a traditional headscarf covering the head and hair, but not the face. But the term can also refer to any head, face, or body covering worn by Muslim woman.
This post has summarized aspects of the history, major beliefs, major practices and culture of the Islamic faith. These practices and culture impact everyday life in Morocco. It’s good to have an understanding of the local religion and culture when visiting another country.
Written, December 2016
Also see: Islamic prayer
Were prophets infallible?
There is no such thing as sin. It’s an outmoded religious idea. Sin is an illusion. A perception. A mental creation. It is not real outside of your head. Morals are evolved responses. Humans are hardwired by evolution to behave the way they do. That’s what some people think about sin. Another idea is that some people are sinless.
The Shia branch of Islam says that prophets of Allah (God) are infallible. They claim that “All the prophets and messengers of Allah, with no exception, are sinless and infallible”, while some others say they were protected from major sins but not from minor ones. What does the Bible say on this topic?
In the Bible, a prophet (nabi in Hebrew, Strongs #5030) is one who speaks on behalf of someone else. For example, Aaron was Moses’ spokesman (Ex. 7:1). So he was a prophet of Moses. The word is usually used in the Old testament for a spokesman for God, a person chosen by God to speak to people on His behalf. God’s prophets brought messages from God. They were God’s messengers to humanity who were enabled by the Holy Spirit (2 Chr. 15:1; Neh. 9:30; Mic. 3:8). They guided the nation of Israel spiritually and wrote the Old Testament. In this post, we list some of their sins and shortcomings which are mentioned in the Bible. Sin is rebellion against God which is a part of human nature that’s inherited from Adam and Eve (Dt. 9:7; Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1-3).
Abraham is the first man to be given the title “prophet” in the Bible (Gen. 20:7). During his life, he deceived both Pharaoh and King Abimelek by saying that his wife was his sister instead of saying that she was his wife (Gen. 12:10-20; 20:1-13). On both of these occasions, which were 20 years apart, he didn’t trust God’s promise that he would have a son (Isaac). Instead he thought that they would kill him to take his beautiful wife for their harems.
God spoke indirectly to prophets by visions and dreams, but He spoke to Moses directly, face to face (Num. 12:4-8; Dt. 34:10). Also, “No one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (Dt. 34:12NIV). That’s why Moses has been called the greatest prophet. He also complied and wrote most of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). By the way, John the Baptist was the prophet with the greatest privilege because he announced the arrival of the Messiah (Mt 11:9-11).
God commissioned Moses to lead the Israelites from slavery in Egypt northwards to Canaan (Ex. 3:1-22). Previously God had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that their descendants would occupy Canaan (Ex. 6:8). But Moses died before Israel reached Canaan. This was God’s judgment because he “broke faith with me (God) in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the desert of Zin and because you (Moses) did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites” (Dt. 32:51NIV). This occurred when there was no water for the Israelites and their livestock and they complained to Moses and Aaron (Num. 20:1-13). God told Moses to take his staff and gather the people together and speak to a rock and water would pour out of it. But Moses didn’t obey God. Instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it twice with his staff. Because of this sin, God told him “you will not bring this community into the land (Canaan) I give them”.
A prophet from Judah
After King Jeroboam set up an idolatrous system of worship in the kingdom of Israel, God sent a prophet from Judah to denounce their idolatry (1 Ki. 13:1-32). Because of God’s judgement of their apostate worship, the prophet was commanded not to eat or drink while he was in Israel. But when an old man said, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’ (But he was lying to him.) So the man of God (prophet) returned with him and ate and drank in his house” (1 Ki. 13:18-19). This was a lie because although the old man may have been a true prophet in his younger days, he was now living in Bethel where there was a golden calf idol. While they were eating together, the old man from Bethel received a message from God saying that because of his disobedience, the prophet would die and would not be buried with his family. On his way home, the prophet was killed by a lion and buried in Bethel.
Peter said that David was a prophet (Acts 2:30). King David wrote many of the psalms. But he exploited his positional power in adultery with Bathsheba and arranging the killing of Uriah her husband (2 Sam. 11:1-27).
When God told Jonah to preach to the Assyrians in Nineveh, he disobeyed by boarding a ship travelling in the opposite direction (Jon. 1:1-3; 4:1)!
Jeremiah predicted the Babylonian invasion of the kingdom of Judah and demise of the Babylonian empire about 70 years later and the return of the Jews to their homeland. He also wrote the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. But at times Jeremiah regretted his unpopular ministry. This led to depression and suicidal thoughts (Jer. 20:14-18).
What about Enoch and Elijah?
The Bible says that sin leads to death (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, people die because of sin. Did any prophets not die? Yes, Enoch and Elijah (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5). Does this mean that they never sinned?
James used Elijah to illustrate the prayer of a righteous person. He emphasized that Elijah had the same human nature as us:
“Elijah was a human being, even as we are” (Jas. 5:17NIV).
“Elijah was a human being like us” (Jas.5:17NET).
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (Jas. 5:17ESV, HCSB)
So Elijah had a sinful nature like us: He wasn’t infallible and sinless.
For example, after he was threatened by Queen Jezebel, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”. He ran from Jezebel travelling at least 160 km (100 miles) to Beersheba! Then he was depressed and suicidal (1 Ki. 19:1-14). So Elijah was like us when he experienced fear, discouragement and dismay.
We know very little about Enoch, except that his father was Jared and Methuselah was one of his sons (Gen. 5:18-24). “Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Gen. 5:24). And Jude records a prophesy by Enoch (Jude 14-15). As Enoch had two human parents; according to Romans 5:12 he inherited the sin of Adam. This is a characteristic of humanity. The only exception is Jesus, who didn’t have a human father (Joseph was His step-father).
After Jesus miraculously fed over 5,000 people and taught at the festival of tabernacles, they thought He was the prophet who was promised in the Old Testament (Jn. 6:14; 7:40). The Samaritan woman, the blind man, and those who saw Him raise the widow’s son thought that Jesus was a prophet (Jn. 4:19; 9:17; Lk. 7:16). So some people thought He was a prophet (Mk. 6:15; 8:28). When some Pharisees advised Jesus to escape from Jerusalem, He said “no prophet can die outside Jerusalem” (Lk. 13:33). When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the people said He was “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (Mt. 21:11). And the two travelling to Emmaus after Christ’s death called Him a prophet (Lk. 24:19). God had promised Moses “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him” (Dt. 18:18). This prophet would be a mediator between God and people. In the context of Christ’s coming reign on earth, Peter said that Jesus would be a prophet like Moses (Acts 3:21-23). The similarity is that both are raised up by God (Dt. 18:15, 18).
But Jesus was unique. He didn’t have a biological (human) father like all other people. And He is the only sinless infallible person to have lived on earth. The Bible says “He committed no sin”; He “had no sin”; and “in Him is no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pt. 2:22; 1 Jn. 3:5). He made no mistakes or errors. He was greater than Moss (Heb. 3:1-6). Also see, “Ten reasons Jesus was more than a prophet”. These reasons are all consistent with Jesus being the divine Son of God who is equal with God and is alive today.
All the Old Testament prophets were sinners because they had a sinful nature (being born of human parents) and so they weren’t infallible. Likewise, people like Mary the mother of Jesus, the Pope, and Muhammad are sinners and so they weren’t (or aren’t) infallible. Also, the originators and leaders of all religions (except for Jesus Christ) are sinners and so they weren’t (or aren’t) infallible.
However, a biblical prophet’s revelations were divinely authoritative and infallible. David wrote, “the Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). Peter said that a prophetic message is “completely reliable” and “prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Pt. 1:19-21). A prophet’s words were God’s words. What a prophet said, God said.
What about prophets who lived after 33 AD? Those whose message is not consistent with Jesus being the Son of God and the only mediator between God and humanity are false prophets: because “In the past God spoke to our (Jews) ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son (Jesus), whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe” (Heb. 1:1-2). In fact, “many false prophets have gone out into the world” and they can be recognized by their false view of Jesus (1 Jn. 4:1-3).
What about Christians today? The Bible says, “If we claim to be without sin (a sinful nature), we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins (individual sins), He (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned (individual sins), we make Him (God) out to be a liar and His word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8-10). Conversion doesn’t eradicate our sinful nature. But it gives us a new divine nature with power to live victoriously over the sinful nature. One of the ways to do this is to confess our individual sins and through God’s parental forgiveness (based on Christ paying the penalty for us) our fellowship with God and each other is restored. If anyone claims to be sinless, they make God out to be a liar and deny the reason Jesus come to earth to die. This applies to both the Gnostics of John’s era and todays atheists who deny that immoral actions are sinful.
The Bible shows that prophets like Abraham, Moses, a prophet from Judah, David, Jonah, Jeremiah were sinners and so they aren’t infallible. Even a prophet who didn’t die (Elijah) was a sinner. In fact, all the descendants of Adam and Eve were sinners except for Jesus Christ who wasn’t conceived in the usual way. He is the only infallible person.
So the Shia Islamic view that prophets of Allah (God) are infallible isn’t consistent with the Bible. Also, the atheist and Buddhist view that there is no such thing as sin isn’t consistent with the Bible. This means that they are human ideas that don’t come from God.
Written, November 2016
Ten reasons why Jesus is more than a prophet
Have you ever been to a funeral where the eulogy doesn’t seem to match your experience of the person? Sometimes our reporting is selective or biased.
How do we discover facts about someone who lived about 2,000 years ago? We examine history books written as closely as possible to their lifetime. To find out about Jesus we read parts of the Bible that were written by eyewitnesses and their contemporaries, 30-60 years after He lived. In this post we see that according to those who knew Jesus best, He was more than a prophet because He is the divine Son of God who is equal with God and is alive today.
What’s a prophet?
In the Bible, a prophet is one who speaks on behalf of someone else. For example, Aaron was Moses’ spokesman (Ex. 7:1). So he was a prophet of Moses. God’s prophets brought messages from God, which were called prophesies. They were God’s messengers to humanity who were enabled by the Holy Spirit (2 Chr. 15:1; Neh. 9:30; Mic. 3:8). So a prophet spoke God’s words. There were two kinds of prophets, those who were true and those who were false.
In the context of Christ’s coming reign on earth, Peter said that Jesus would be a prophet like Moses (Acts 3:21-23). The similarity is that both are raised up by God (Dt. 18:15, 18). Does this mean that Jesus was just a prophet like Moses, Isaiah, and John the Baptist? Indeed, after He was rejected in Nazareth, Jesus identified with the prophets by saying, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown” (Lk. 4:24-26). He also gave examples of this using Elijah and Elisha who were prophets. Jesus also predicted that He would die in Jerusalem where many prophets had been put to death (Lk. 13:33).
So, who did Jesus claim to be?
1. What Jesus said
Jesus said He was similar to God. He asserted, “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19); “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9); “The one who looks at me is seeing the One who sent me” (John 12:45); “Whoever hates me, hates my Father as well” (John 15:23); “All may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23). These references certainly indicate that Jesus looked at Himself as being more than just a man; rather He was equal with God.
When Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30), He meant that He is united with God the Father. Because of their unity, Jesus displayed God the Father (Jn. 14:9). Then He said, “the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (Jn. 10:38; 14:10-11). They were interconnected.
The titles used by Jesus (“Son of God”, “Son of Man”, and “I am”) showed His divinity. During His trial, Jesus was cross-examined by Caiaphas the high priest “‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven’. The high priest tore his clothes. ‘Why do we need any more witnesses?’ he asked. ‘You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ They all condemned Him as worthy of death” (Mk. 14:61-64). So Jesus said He was the Son of God. No other prophet ever called himself the Son of God.
The Jews knew that the “Son of Man” was heir to the divine throne because “all nations and peoples of every language worshiped Him” and He will have “everlasting dominion that will never pass away” (Dan. 7:13-14). He’ll rule forever. Nations will worship Him and His kingdom will be unstoppable.
Jesus told the Jews, “Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am!” (Jn. 8:58). “I am” was a title that God used when he revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:14). In fact, Jesus had dwelt with God the Father from all eternity, which is a long time before the time of Abraham! So Jesus claimed to be Israel’s God.
Jesus also said that He was “the First and the Last” (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13), which is another title of God (Isa. 44:6; 48:12). Also, Jesus said that He was the Jewish Messiah (the Christ) (Mt. 16:16-17; 26:63-64; Mk. 14:61-62; Jn. 4:25-26; 17:3). Furthermore, Jesus claimed to be the judge of humanity and the one who grants eternal life (Jn. 5:21-22; 10:27-28).
Jesus often showed people, by His actions, that He had divine authority. For example, He claimed to forgive sins (Mt. 9:2-8; Mk. 2:3-12; Lk. 5:18-26). While priests and prophets could mediate forgiveness by praying for people, forgiving sins committed against God was something the Jewish religious leaders believed only God had the authority to do (Mk. 2:7). Because of claims like this they tried to kill Him.
Before He ascended back to heaven, Jesus told his followers “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). This is a claim of omnipresence, which is a characteristic of God.
So in many ways, Jesus often claimed to be divine. But what did God the Father say about Jesus?
2. What God said
When Jesus was baptized, “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased’” (Mt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22). Here God the Father quotes from Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1. As the context of these verses is a king and a servant, they indicate Christ’s regal rule and suffering servant roles.
At the transfiguration, Peter offered to put up three shelters, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. He was giving them equal status. But God the Father interrupted and told Peter, James and John, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Mt. 17:5; Mk. 9:7; Lk. 9:35). It’s the same message as that given at Christ’s baptism. So God says that Jesus is pre-eminent, and not just a great prophet.
When Jesus predicted His death, He prayed “Father, glorify your name!”. Then God the Father replied, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again” (Jn. 12:28). This means that God was glorified by all that Jesus did, particularly His death, resurrection and ascension. After all, John said, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn.1:14).
So God said that Jesus was His Son who glorified God. But what did the disciples say about Jesus?
3. What His disciples said
Immediately after Christ’s death, two of His disciples said that He was “a prophet powerful in word and deed” (Lk. 24:19). But at other times His disciples said that He was more than a prophet. For example, when they were called to follow Jesus, Andrew said He was the Messiah and Nathanael said He was the Son of God (Jn. 1:41, 49).
When Jesus asked “Who do you say that I am?”, Peter answered “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16-20). So Jesus was recognized as Israel’s Messiah and God the Son. Then Jesus commended Peter and told His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah. Here the Bible uses “son” metaphorically to refer to someone other than a biological son. In the ancient world, the majority of sons took up the same occupation as their father. The son was identified by his father and his occupation. For example, Jesus was known as “the carpenter’s son” (Mt. 13:55). In this case “Son” indicates the close relationship and unity between Jesus and God the Father.
Peter wrote about, “Our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt. 1:1). He also urged Christians to “revere Christ as Lord” (1 Pt. 2:15).
After the resurrection, Thomas called Jesus “my Lord and my God!” and Jesus commended him for this (Jn. 20:28). So although the disciples were taught that Jesus was distinct from God the Father who sent Him, they also recognized that He was God.
John made many claims about Jesus:
- “the word (Jesus Christ) was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made” (Jn. 1:1-2). And Jesus was God in the flesh (Jn. 1:14).
- “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son (Jesus Christ), who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made Him known” (Jn. 1:18).
- “Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 Jn. 2:22-23).
- “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 Jn. 5:11-12).
So the disciples said that Jesus was the Son of God. But what did the Jewish religious leaders say about Jesus?
4. What the Jewish religious leaders said
After Jesus healed a disabled man on the Sabbath day, the religious leaders accused Him of “calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (Jn. 5:18-30). Then Jesus gave more reasons why He was equal with God the Father. So the Jewish leaders tried to kill Jesus because He claimed to be God and the Son of God (Jn. 10:33; 19:7).
Even His enemies could see that Jesus was presenting Himself as God. The religious leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy (Mt. 9:3; 26:65; Mk. 2:7; 14:64; Lk. 5:21; Jn. 10:33, 36). And that was the reason Jesus was crucified.
So the religious leaders had Jesus killed because He claimed to be equal with God. But what did the common people say about Jesus?
5. What the common people said
When Jesus asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”, the disciples replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Mt. 16:14; Mk. 8:28; Lk. 9:19). And when He came to Jerusalem as King, the crowds said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” (Mt. 21:11). That’s why the religious leaders found it difficult to arrest Him (Mt. 21:46).
After Jesus raised a widow’s son back to life, the crowd said He was a “great prophet” (Lk. 7:11-17). And the Samaritan woman thought Jesus was a prophet (Jn. 4:19). When Jesus healed a blind man, the man referred to Him initially as “the man”, then he said, “He is a prophet”, and finally after speaking with Jesus, He said “’Lord, I believe’, and he worshipped Him” (Jn. 9:11, 17, 38). So He came to acknowledge Him as the Son of God.
After Jesus feed 5,000 men, some thought He was the Prophet promised by Moses (Dt. 18:15, 18; Jn. 6:16; 7:40-41, 52). Others said that Jesus was Christ, the Messiah. But some thought this was impossible. They believed that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and there was no prophecy in the Old Testament that the Messaih would come out of Galilee.
Finally, the centurion who witnessed Christ’s crucifixion said “Surely this man is the Son of God!” (Mk. 15:39).
So the common people had a range of views about Jesus. But some of those who had a close encounter with Jesus recognized Him as the Son of God. What did Paul say about Jesus?
6. What Paul said
In his letters, Paul referred to Jesus as:
- “God over all” (Rom. 9:5)
- “in very nature God”, having “equality with God” (Phil. 2:5-6)
- “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15)
- “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col 2:9)
- “Our great God and Savior” (Ti. 2:13)
As Romans was written in AD 57, the term “God” was applied to Jesus early on in the Church’s life.
The writer of Hebrews applies a Psalm to Jesus; “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever” (Ps. 45:6; Heb. 1:8).
So Paul said that Jesus was God. But what did His birth show about Jesus?
7. His birth
The birth of Christ was unique in many ways. The Old Testament predicted it to be in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2, 4; Mt. 2:6), and that His mother would be a virgin and He will be called Immanuel (Isa. 7:14; Mt. 1:23). The birth was announced by angels (Mt. 1:20-21; Lk. 1:28-38; 2:9-12). And a special star guided the Magi to where Jesus was in Bethlehem (Mt. 2:1-11).
Mary was the sole natural parent of Jesus (Mt. 1:18-25; Lk. 1:26-38). Because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, an angel said, “the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:35). He was called the “holy one” because He was sinless (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26). Jesus never sinned like the rest of the prophets.
Because of this unique birth (He was both fully human and fully divine), Christ was uniquely qualified as the sinless One to go to the cross to die as the Lamb of God. This is why the Old Testament predicted the Messiah to be a servant whose death would pay for all the sins of humanity (Isa. 53:5-6).
His names were also significant. Before His birth, Jesus was given the name Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Mt. 1:23). And He was called “Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21).
So His birth shows that Jesus is the unique Son of God. But what did the resurrection indicate about Jesus?
8. His resurrection
Three times Jesus told His disciples that He was going to be killed (Mk. 8:31-32; 9:30-32; 10:33-34). On each occasion He predicted that “three days later He will rise” back to life. And it happened like He said it would. The Romans sealed His tomb with a large stone and posted a guard nearby. But this didn’t stop the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible says that Jesus raised Himself from the dead (Jn. 2:19-21; 10:17-18). So He had power over life and death.
After His death on the cross Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb which was visited three days later by some of the disciples and women who had followed Jesus. They expected to find a body to mourn, but instead they found that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb and the body of Jesus was no longer there. Many attempts have been made to explain away the empty tomb – from the idea that the disciples stole the body, to the idea that they went to the wrong tomb. But none of these satisfactorily explain the transformation in the lives of the disciples who were willing to face death because they believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. Besides this, after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at once (1 Cor. 15:6).
Because of the resurrection, Jesus is still alive. This is different to the Biblical prophets who are all dead now. Although Enoch and Elijah went to heaven without dying, none of the Old Testament prophets resurrected never to die again.
So the resurrection shows that Jesus is alive. But what did the miracles indicate about Jesus?
9. His miraculous power
When He was on earth, Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead and controlled the forces of nature.
He instantly cured: fevers, paralysis, chronic bleeding; blindness, dumbness, chronic invalidity, withered limbs, deafness, leprosy, a severed ear, and demon possession (Mt. 8:1:30-31; 9:1-8, 27-33; 12:10-13, 22; Mk. 7:31-37; Lk. 8:43-48; 17:11-19; 22:50-51; Jn. 5:1-9). In fact, Jesus “healed all the sick” who were brought to Him, “healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Mt. 4:23; 8:16-17).
He raised back to life people who had died: Lazarus, the widow’s son, and Jairus’ daughter (Mt. 9: 18-26; Lk. 7:11-18; Jn. 11:1-46).
He calmed a storm, enabled a huge haul of fish, fed thousands of people, turned water into wine, walked on water, and withered a tree (Mt. 8:23-27; 21:18-22; Mk. 6:48-51; Lk. 5:1-11; Jn. 2:1-11)
These are called miracles because they illustrate supernatural power. So the miracles confirm that Jesus had divine power (Mt. 11:2-5; Jn. 20:30-31).
10. The parable of the wicked farmers
After Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a king and cleared commercialism from the temple, the religious leaders asked Him who gave Him the authority to teach, to perform miracles and to cleanse the temple (Mt. 21:23; Mk. 11:28; Lk. 20:1-2).
Then Jesus told a parable which taught that He was more than a prophet (Mt. 21:33-46; Mk. 12:1-12; Lk. 20:9-19). A landowner (like God) rented a vineyard to some farmers (like the religious leaders). Whenever he sent his servants (like the Old testament prophets, Jer. 7:25; 44:4) to collect his fruit, the farmers persecuted or killed them. Finally, he sent his son (like Jesus), but they killed him as well to seize his inheritance. So the landowner rented the vineyard to other famers (like Gentile believers) instead. When the religious leaders heard this parable, they knew it was about them and that it meant that Jesus wasn’t just another prophet like John the Baptist (who was killed), but the Son of God (Mk.12:12). Like the son in the parable, Jesus claimed to own everything that belongs to the Father.
Then Jesus quoted the reason for His authority as “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Ps. 118:22; Mt 21:42; Mk. 12:10; Lk. 20:17). He was saying that the stone that was rejected (like Jesus was killed) would become the most important stone (like Jesus was raised back to life and given the place of pre-eminence by God). His authority came from being equal with God.
So the parable of the wicked farmers shows that Jesus is God’s Son and heir. He’s greater than a prophet, as a son is greater than a servant.
We have looked at ten reasons why Jesus is more than a prophet. These are all consistent with Jesus being the divine Son of God who is equal with God and is alive today.
This wasn’t always evident when He was on earth, because most of Jesus’ teaching was via parables and the meaning of these was restricted to the disciples and not the crowd because the latter would reject Him (Mt. 13:11-13). Also, people were influenced by the Jewish religious leaders who saw Jesus as a threat to their power and authority. So Jesus polarized society.
Let’s be those who accept the Biblical record about Jesus and not those who reject it. Let’s exalt Him now.
“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
Written, March 2016
Also see: Were prophets infallible?
Can we trust our Bibles?
How the Bible came to us
I recently read about five alleged myths and shortcomings of the Bible: the creation story, the morality of the Jews destroying the Canaanites, Noah’s flood, the virgin birth and inconsistencies between different parts of the Bible. So can we trust our Bibles or are they the unreliable product of a more primitive era? To answer this question we will look at how the Bible came to us.
The word Bible comes from biblion, the Greek word for book and the word Scripture comes from scriptura, the Latin word for something written. The Bible is a collection of 66 books from more than 40 authors. It has two main parts, the Old Testament (OT), written before Christ and the New Testament (NT), written after Christ. They were both written in the everyday language of their time. The OT was written in Hebrew, except for portions in Aramaic after the Jewish exile in Babylon, while the New Testament was written in Greek.
Paul said that the OT was “the very words of God” (Rom. 3:2). This also applies to the NT as Peter equates Paul’s letters with Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16). So how did the words of God get to be written on earth? Well, the apostle John reported, “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: ‘Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: …’” (Rev. 1:10-11NIV). In this case John was given a vision and he was to write down what he saw. In Jeremiah’s case, he dictated God-given words to his secretary Baruch (Jer. 36:1-4).
In Hebrews we learn, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). This means that in the OT God communicated to people via the prophets and in the NT He communicated via Jesus and the apostles, who recorded the life of Jesus and the early church.
Paul wrote, “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). Peter wrote, “We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable … Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things (own mind). For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:19-21). Clearly the Bible message came from God via the prophets and apostles. The Holy Spirit influenced them like a wind moves a sailing boat: see Acts 27:15 where the same word is used. So the Holy Spirit helped the authors write the words. But it wasn’t just dictated mechanically, because each author used their own style.
So God created the books of the Bible via human authors. It’s God’s words (in the original text). That’s why it is also referred to as God’s Word. Each word of the entire Bible was “God-breathed” as originally written. This means it was recorded accurately without error. So it’s trustworthy and reliable in all the matters it addresses.
Paul communicated “things God has revealed to us by His Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:10), “not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:13). So the words used by the apostles were especially chosen by the Holy Spirit. Paul and the other writers “had the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). This passage is about new truths revealed in the NT, not about heaven.
What about the Apocrypha which is comprised of 13 Jewish writings from the period between the OT and the NT (430 BC to 50 AD) that are included in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles? The word Apocrypha comes from a Greek word meaning hidden. However:
- They were never accepted by the Jews as part of their God-given Scriptures
- None are quoted or referred to in the NT or accepted by Jesus and the apostles as God-given Scripture
- None were written by the OT prophets
- They were only recognised by Roman Catholics as part of their Scriptures in the 1540s (1,500 years after they were written)
So the Apocrypha are Jewish religious books written between the times of the OT and the NT, but they are not God-breathed Scripture.
By 400 BC the OT was complete and written on scrolls and by 100 AD the NT was complete and written on scrolls. However, because scrolls don’t last for thousands of years, we don’t have any of the original Biblical texts today. Does this mean our Bibles are unreliable? No! Many copies have been made and early manuscripts have been preserved.
Photocopiers have been used since 1959 and the printing press since the 1450s. Gutenberg printed the first Bible in 1456. Copies of the books of the Bible were handwritten before the printing press. A handwritten copy is called a manuscript, which comes from the Latin words manu (hand) and scriptum (written). An amazing number of Bible manuscripts have been preserved for us to examine today. These comprise ancient fragments, scrolls and books.
The characteristics of these documents changed over the centuries between when they were first composed and the advent of the printing press. The media they were written on changed from stones (like the Ten Commandments), to clay tablets (Moses), to papyrus (paper made from a reed plant that grew along the Nile River – that’s where our word paper comes from), to parchment (also called vellum; made from animal skins), and to paper. Paper as we know it was invented in China, but wasn’t used in Europe until the 1200s. Books replaced scrolls in about the second century AD. In about the eleventh century AD, the Greek text changed from modified capitals to lower case. In about the fifth century AD, the quill replaced the reed as the “pen” used by copyists. Scholars examine these characteristics when dating manuscripts.
Old Testament manuscripts
The OT was written between 1500 BC and 400 BC. The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) were the most important archaeological discovery in the last century. They were found in clay jays in caves near the north-western shore of the Dead Sea. Scholars believe that the DSS were hidden about 70 AD when Roman legions invaded Israel.
Before this time, the oldest Hebrew manuscript of the whole OT was Codex Leningradensis (1008 AD). Codex means book. In the DSS there was a copy of Isaiah dated 150 BC, which was about 550 years after the original text was written. The Hebrew text of this copy was virtually the same as the copy made over 1,000 years later. So the Jewish scribes did a good job! They were diligent and developed many practices to protect copies of their scriptures from error. For example, the Masoretes numbered the letters, words, and paragraphs of each book and the middle paragraph, middle word and middle letter had to correspond to those of the original document. Earlier Jewish scribes were just as meticulous in their transcription. After all, they were instructed not to add to or take away from the word of God (Dt. 4:2; Prov. 30:6).
Most of the DSS predate the time of Christ (they were written 150 BC to 70 AD). Parts of all the books of the Old Testament were found except Esther. They closely follow the Masoretic Text, the Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible (the tanakh), copied by a group of Jews about the 10th century AD, but there are a few exceptions. For example, Psalm 145 is an alphabetical psalm. Each verse begins with the next letter in the alphabet, but “N” verse is missing in the Masoretic Text and King James Bible.
Between the third century BC and 130 BC, the OT was translated into Greek and this version of the OT is known as the Septuagint. Fragments of Septuagint manuscripts date from the first and second centuries BC. Relatively complete manuscripts of the Septuagint include the Codex Vaticanus from the 4th century AD and the Codex Alexandrinus of the 5th century. These are the oldest surviving nearly complete manuscripts of the Old Testament in any language; the oldest existing complete Hebrew texts date some 600 years later, from the 10th century.
New Testament manuscripts
The NT was written between 50 AD and 100 AD. The oldest NT manuscript is a papyrus fragment of the Gospel of John, which is dated about 125 AD about 30 years after the book was first written! The earliest manuscripts of each book in the NT are usually papyrus fragments which are dated from 125 AD (for John) to 350 AD for 1&2 Timothy and 3 John, with a median date of 200 AD.
Codex Sinaiticus, a manuscript of the Bible written about 350 AD, contains the earliest complete copy of the New Testament. It was discovered at a monastery on Mount Sinai in the 1850s. The hand-written text is in Greek. On the other hand, the earliest manuscripts of the works of the Jewish historian Josephus in their original language are dated 900-1000 AD, at least 800 years after they were written.
As there are earlier, better and more manuscripts of Scripture, the manuscript evidence of the Bible is superior to that for any other ancient book. However, none of these Biblical manuscripts is perfectly accurate, they all contain copy errors. Does this mean our Bibles are unreliable? No! Scholars have reconstructed the original text.
The study of biblical manuscripts is important because handwritten copies of books usually contain errors. Textural scholars reconstruct the original text from the manuscripts available. Generally earlier versions are closer to the original as they have fewer copy errors.
Scholars have grouped the NT manuscripts into families: Alexandrian (200s-400s AD), Caesarean (200s AD onwards), Western (300s-500s AD) and Byzantine (500s onwards). There have been three major attempts to reconstruct the original New Testament text from ancient Greek manuscripts:
The Received Text (“Textus Receptus” in Latin) was based on some Byzantine (eastern portion of the Roman Empire) manuscripts (dated from 1000 AD). It was first published in 1516. This text lacks the input of many early Biblical manuscripts which have been discovered since this time.
The Eclectic Text (selected from the best of a variety of sources) was based on an analysis of all the manuscripts, with a preference for the earliest ones (mainly Alexandrian, Caesarean and Western manuscripts). It was first published in the 1880s. This text tends to be shorter than the others.
The Majority Text was based on the majority of existing Greek manuscripts and first published in the 1982. As fewer ancient texts have survived and the Byzantine church was quite wealthy and produced many manuscripts, the Majority Text is largely based on the Byzantine family of manuscripts (dated the 9th to the 13th centuries AD) and has some similarities to the Received Text. However, no major Bible translations are based on the Majority Text.
The differences between the reconstructed New Testament texts mentioned above are mainly technical and not doctrinal. They don’t affect any Christian doctrine because the Bible is a robust document. It has a great deal of redundancy and repetition with multiple accounts of important events. For example, there two accounts of Israel’s history (Samuel & Kings; Chronicles), three genealogies from Adam to Abraham (Genesis 5&11; 1 Chronicles; Luke 3) and four accounts of the life of Jesus (the gospels). All major doctrines are taught in several places in the Bible. They don’t rely on a single verse.
So scholars have reconstructed the original Biblical texts. However, as these reconstructed original texts are in Hebrew and Greek, which most of us can’t read, does that mean that our Bibles, which are not in Hebrew and Greek are unreliable? No! These languages have been translated accurately.
Translators transfer the message from a source language to a receptor language. These Biblical texts have been translated into most of the languages in the world. In fact, the Bible has been translated and retranslated more than any other book in history. New translations are needed from time to time because all languages are constantly changing.
Some ancient translations are:
• The Septuagint – a Greek translation of the OT dated about 200 BC, which was quoted by Christ and the apostles. This shows that God approves of translations. Jesus viewed this translation of the Old Testament as reliable and trustworthy (Mt. 5:17-18; Jn. 10:35).
• The Vulgate – a Latin translation of the Bible dated about 400 AD, which was used for over 1,000 years including the Middle Ages.
If you look at an Interlinear Bible you will realise that a word-for-word translation is impossible. This is because each language has a different vocabulary (we may need more than one word to describe a word in another language or vice-versa) and a different grammar (or sentence structure). Also, languages are flexible and there is often more than one way to correctly translate a text. The same information can be communicated in different ways.
What’s the difference between different translations of the Bible?
Two types of reconstructed source have mainly been used:
- Received Text – This was used by the 1611 KJV and has been maintained by subsequent editions of the KJV and for the NKJV.
- Eclectic Text – This is used by most other translations of the Bible where some verses are omitted because it is believed that they were added by copyists.
Some translations try to follow the pattern of the source language (but are not as readable), others follow the pattern of the receptor language (but are not as close literally). For example:
- Most literal includes: NASB (11), KJV (12), NKJV (9) and ESV (9)
- Most readable includes: CEV (4), NLT (6)
- Intermediate: NIV (8), HCSB (8)
The number is the grade level required to read the text. Note: interlinear Bibles are most literal, but they are not readable at all, and The Message is a paraphrase not a translation. Different translations have different purposes, which are indicated in the front of the Bible. They usually have a particular readership in mind. Most of the translations are trustworthy. Rarely does a doctrinal matter hinge on the translation of the text.
Lessons for us
We can be thankful for the Bible’s preservation over thousands of years.
Our Bibles are very close to the original because early manuscripts have been preserved, scholars have reconstructed the original text and languages have been translated accurately. So we can trust our Bibles.
Paul told Timothy, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:15-17). Each of our Bibles contains all we need to know about salvation, spiritual growth and Christian living, by making us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” and thoroughly equipping us for every good work.
Which is the best Bible? The one you read! Read it regularly and memorise key verses.
Written, March 2012
Also see: Is the New Testament reliable?
Mind the gap
Do we have the right Bible?
Can Greek be translated into English?