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Ida: The Missing Link?

   If you’ve been paying any attention to the news over the last week or so, I’m sure you are aware that a fossil discovery made a number of years ago has recently been revealed to the public. What makes this fossil discovery of interest (at least to those that are hyping it) is that it supposedly provides evidence of a link between primates and humans–that elusive so-called “missing link” that, until this discovery, popular science has dismissed as not being a real problem. (Strange that, isn’t it? Something that isn’t really a problem suddenly becomes a problem when they believe they have solved the problem, but when it was really a problem, it wasn’t really a problem. But I digress…) I’m no scientist, but from what I gather, the fossil is a lemur-like creature that exhibits certain traits that appear to be “human.” Now, I have not read the scientific papers on the fossil, and I know there are some elements of the scientific community that are being a little more circumspect in their pronouncements about this, but, of course, the media and pop science are all over this, claiming it to be “final proof of evolution.”

   As Christians, how do we approach such discoveries? Do we give up the faith? I’m sure there are some that will, or at least will feel tempted. There are others who may want to take a second look at alternative theories of human origins that try to compromise between pop science and Scripture by undermining the integrity of Genesis 1. Others may want to stand firm in their faith, but feel the pressure from jeering friends or snide commentators who will use this kind of thing to belittle the faithful. Whether it’s Ida the Fossil, or the Talpiot Tomb, or the Gospel of Judas–how can the average lay Christian maintain their trust in God’s Word in light of such assaults?

   In some cases, the believer may have to do a bit of research, dig into some history, and acquire facts. Thankfully, there are those skilled in specific areas of study that have provided resources to help (e.g., Dr. White’s book on the Talpiot Tomb is a great help to those dealing with finds of this nature). However, each one of us, by God’s grace, has been given a brain, and most of us are able to use whatever mental capacities we have to ask simple yet profound questions that help us get to the real heart of the matter. Take the case of the Ida fossil. There are good scientific reasons to be skeptical about the claims made for this fossil, and I will provide a link to the Answers in Genesis page below for more information about the find and the truth behind the science. But that aside, ask yourself: what is it they have found? A fossil. What does that fossil indicate? That a lemur-like creature once existed that had a couple of human-like features. How does this prove evolution? The evolutionists say because the theory requires a link between “apes” and humans, and this gives such a link. But what if the theory is wrong? Then no such link is necessary. In essence, this only “proves” evolution if you assume evolution happened. I think of this fossil like a photograph–a portrait. To say this fossil is related to humans is the same as saying that a photograph of one person is related to another simply on the basis of a few common traits–same eye color, same hair color. They *might* be related, but the mere existence of a photograph doesn’t *prove* the relationship.

   So, the bottom line is that Ida is only proof of evolution if you first assume evolution to be true. If you dismiss the theory of evolution, Ida becomes simply another form of primate with some special characteristics: another kind of lemur that God created amongst the many, many types of creatures he created within those first six days of earth’s existence. Remember Romans 1:18ff. Unbelievers are trying very hard to suppress the knowledge of God, and it really isn’t that hard to see through their efforts, as long as you apply the correct presuppositions.

   Here’s the Answers in Genesis page: Click Here.

A Brief Introduction to the Qur’an: The Qur’an and the New Testament

   “JWs and Bart Erhman’s all very well,” I hear you say, “but what happened to the Introduction to the Qur’an series??” Well, I apologize for the delay, but here it is, at long last, the third and final installment of the series. In this part we will examine what the Qur’an has to say about John the Baptist, Mary, and Jesus. Please bear in mind that this is a very brief overview; nevertheless, I hope it will be helpful to you.

   There are far fewer direct references to New Testament figures in the Qur’an than Old Testament. Most notable of these, though are Mary (Maryam), John the Baptist (Yahya), and Jesus (‘Isa). A comparison between the Qur’an and the New Testament reveals a similar methodology at work in dealing with these as with people from the Old Testament.

John the Baptist
   The birth of John the Baptist is preceded by the announcement of the angel to his father, Zacharias, who, according to Luke’s Gospel, was struck dumb as a penalty for his unbelief. In sura 19, Zakarya requests a sign to validate the prophecy concerning his aged wife giving birth, and the sign is that he will be unable to speak; there is no mention of his unbelief. When Yahya was born, the Qur’an says that he was given wisdom, and that he was devout and obedient to his parents. No mention is made of the ministry of John, his role as forerunner to the Messiah, his imprisonment, or his execution at the instigation of Herod’s wife (Yusuf Ali mentions these things in his commentary on 19:7 and 19:13, but he is clearly dependent upon the Christian Scriptures for this information).

Mary
   Sura 19 has the Arabic name “Maryam” since it contains the birth narrative of Jesus from the perspective of His mother. Most other references to Mary in the Qur’an speak of her only in relation to Jesus (i.e. ‘Isa ibn Maryam, Jesus son of Mary; see, for example, 2:87, 23:50, 33:7, 4:156-7, et al.). In this brief passage (19:16-34), however, the Qur’an tells of the visitation of the angel to Mary and the prediction that she would bear a son even though “no man has touched me and I am not unchaste” (28). It also adds details not found in the canonical Gospels, notably the reproach of the people to Mary after Jesus had been born, and the baby Jesus jumping to Mary’s defense with an articulate response to those who accused her of promiscuity.
   The idea that the infant Jesus was able to speak and behave in a very un-childlike way, is, of course, contrary to the concept of Him growing and becoming strong (Luke 2:40). It can, however, be found in Gnostic writings (e.g.,The Gospel of Barnabas 7, and The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, particularly the opening passage of the Latin text, where the two- and three-year-old Jesus is grinding wheat from a field, and commanding dried fish to move)

Jesus
   The Qur’an does not provide any record of Jesus’ life and ministry comparable to the New Testament Gospels. Aside from the account of His birth mentioned above, there are some notes regarding His character, and fervent denials of his divinity, but little else. The Qur’an does mention on a couple of occasions that Jesus was enabled by God to heal the blind, heal lepers, and raise the dead. In this list, however, it also says that Jesus “makest out of clay as it were the figure of a bird by My leave and thou breathest into it and it becometh a bird by My leave” (5:110; see also 3:49). The canonical Gospels say nothing of Jesus doing this; rather, it is the Gnostic Infancy Gospel of Thomas that records such a feat: “This child Jesus, when five years old, was playing in the ford of a mountain stream…And having made some soft clay, He fashioned out of it twelve sparrows… And Jesus clapped His hands, and cried out to the sparrows, and said to them: Off you go! And the sparrows flew, and went off crying” (Thomas 2, from the First Greek Form; translation located at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf08.vii.viii.html).
   In agreement with the Gospels, the Qur’an calls Jesus a prophet, and sets Him firmly in the line of other prophets such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses (e.g., 2:87, 2:136, 33:7). The Gospels, however, record explicit statements with regard to Jesus’ divine status, both in terms of commentary (e.g., Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:1; John 1:1; 20:28, 31) and direct affirmations from Jesus Himself (e.g., John 8:58; 14:6; 17:4). The Qur’an even goes so far as to put denials of His divinity onto His own lips:

And behold! Allah will say “O Jesus the son of Mary! didst thou say unto men ‘worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah'”? He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart though I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.” (5:116)

   In addition to this there are frequent assertions that Allah would not bear a son, and that Allah does not have “partners” (e.g., 5:72, 13:33, 40:12). Muslims call such belief shirk, which is often ascribed to polytheists. The Qur’an views the doctrine of the Trinity as a denial of monotheism (see 5:72-73, 116), so any Christian holding to Christ’s divinity would be seen as one ascribing partners to God, and hence guilty of shirk.
   The Qur’an also teaches, contrary to the Gospel accounts, that Jesus did not die on a cross, but only appeared to do so:

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 (4:157-158).

Once again, it appears that the Qur’an is seeking to protect the reputation of a prophet. If Jesus died on a cross, then he would be cursed (Deuteronomy 21:23), and this would not be appropriate for a prophet of Allah.
   It is interesting to note, in light of the differences between the Christian Scriptures and the Qur’an, that the Qur’an refers to both the Tawrat (i.e., the Law, or the Old Testament) and the Injil (i.e., the Gospels) as revelations from Allah (10:37; 2:4; 3:3). Furthermore, it is required that the faithful believe not only in the present revelation (i.e., the Qur’an), but in those revelations that have preceded it (2:4). For the Muslim, however, there is no dilemma over which version is true: the Qur’an is Allah’s Word. As for the Tawrat and the Injil, Muslim apologists will be quick to note that these words do not refer to the written documents of the Old and New Testaments, but rather the original words spoken to Moses, to David, and to Jesus. Further, they will side with modern liberal scholars in asserting that very few of the original words of these men appear in our Biblical texts (Ironically, many of these liberal scholars would just as quickly deny the claims Muslims make about the authorship and reliability of the Qur’an):

When we say that we believe in the Tauraat, the Zaboor [the Psalms], the Injeel and the Qur’an, what do we really mean?… The Tauraat we Muslims believe in is not the “Torah” of the Jews and the Christians? We believe that whatever the Holy Prophet Moses? preached to his people, was the revelation from God Almighty, but that Moses was not the author of those “books” attributed to him by the Jews and the Christians? Likewise, we believe that the Zaboor was the revelation of God granted to Hazrat Dawood (David)? but that the present Psalms associated with his name are not that revelation…We sincerely believe that everything Christ? preached was from God. That was the Injeel, the good news and the guidance of God for the Children of Israel. In his lifetime Jesus never wrote a single word, nor did he instruct anyone to do so. What passes off as the “GOSPELS” today are the works of anonymous hands! (Ahmed Deedat, The Choice: Islam and Christianity, Volume Two, (Woodside, Ny: Islamic Propagation Center International, Inc., 1994), pp.80-81).

Hence, for the Muslim, the only way to know what Allah originally said to Moses, David, or Jesus, is to consult the Qur’an.

   My purpose here has not been so much to present an apologetic, but to inform. If we are to present a meaningful defense of the truth, we need to be sure we understand what it is we are defending the truth against. If we assume that most Muslims derive their understanding of the Old and New Testaments from what the Qur’an teaches, then we are better able to understand where they are coming from and to address the issues if we know what the Qur’an is and what it teaches about our faith. For some excellent apologetic resources, I would encourage the interested reader to avail him or herself of the growing number of items available from Alpha & Omega, both in the bookstore, and also in the numerous blog entries and videos you can access for free on this site.

A Brief Introduction to the Qur’an: The Qur’an and the Old Testament

   One of the prominent ideas set forth within the Qur’an is that of continuity with previous revelation, namely Judaism and Christianity (e.g., sura 2:87-91). Sura 2 teaches that in the beginning all people were one community, presumably with a single religion. Allah provided mankind with a Book with which to judge disputes that arose among people, and sent prophets to show the way, and to warn the people when they disobeyed the revelation given to them (2:213; see also 35:24; 13:7).
   In light of this, the Qur’an draws particularly from stories concerning Old Testament prophets to illustrate Muhammad’s warnings, and teach regarding obedience and faithfulness to Allah and his commands. There are two things particularly noteworthy about the Qur’anic use of the Old Testament: first, the stories are always presented as teaching tools to make a present-day (at least for Muhammad) point; second, they are rarely, if ever, presented without embellishment–sometimes to the point where the original Old Testament story is barely discernable.
   The lessons taught by the Qur’an through the use of Old Testament stories tend to revolve around similar themes: Allah’s faithfulness to believers, and warnings against those who are unfaithful, or who reject the warnings of the prophets (or Prophet: Muhammad). Sura 38 laments the fact that people disparaged the Warner that Allah had raised up within their midst. They neither gave him respect, nor believed the message he brought to them. In contrast, the Qur’an sets forth a story wherein two men visited with David and asked him to arbitrate a dispute. One man had ninety-nine ewes, while the other had only one. The man with the ninety-nine demanded that the other give him his one. David rebuked the man for his selfishness then realized that God was using this dispute to point out his own sin. David fell down in repentance, and God forgave him his transgression. In other words, those who disparage Allah’s Messenger should rather be like David, who recognized the divine purpose behind his visitors and turned from his sin.
   The background for this story is David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, and Nathan’s subsequent visit to David where he recounted the story of the two men as a means of bringing conviction to David’s heart over his sin (2 Samuel 12:1-15). The differences between the Qur’an and the Bible are clear: in the Qur’an there is no mention of Nathan, and the people in Nathan’s story become literal men. Also, the focus of the Biblical story is how God brought repentance and restoration to David after committing gross sin. The Qur’anic version, however, places the emphasis on the faithfulness of the men who came to David.
   Sura 11:96-99 gives Moses as an example of a messenger sent by Allah with Clear Signs and authority to Pharaoh and his Chiefs. The purpose of this example is to show that true prophets are often ignored and their messages are more likely to fall upon deaf ears. This was certainly the case with Pharaoh and his Chiefs since his Chiefs preferred to listen to Pharaoh than Moses, but Pharaoh was not equipped of Allah to rightly lead.
   In sura 21, the Qur’an tells brief stories about Abraham, Lot, Moses, David, Solomon, and others to illustrate Allah’s provision of protection and a means of escape from the midst of difficulty. Some of these tales merely give an overview with little embellishment. For example, Allah delivered Noah and his family from the evil people of his age by means of the flood, and Allah rescued Lot from the town wherein the people practiced abominations. Other stories give extra-Biblical details, or, in some cases, complete re-writes of the Biblical account. The story in Genesis 12 where Abraham leaves his home country at the Lord’s bidding does not contain any reference to the idolatry of his people. However, sura 21:51-70 tells of Abraham breaking his fathers idols and challenging his idolatrous kinsmen to converse with their idols. The people respond by attempting to burn Abraham, but Allah thwarts their plan by making the fire a protection for him. This event is not recorded in the Genesis account, but is stated in the Qur’an as a historical event demonstrating Allah’s deliverance of his faithful messenger.
   Sura 12 is the most detailed retelling of an Old Testament story in the Qur’an. It recounts the story of Joseph in a way that appears at first to be simply a paraphrase of the Biblical account; however, the story soon deviates from the Biblical narrative. Instead of being accused of molesting Potipher’s wife, Joseph is vindicated by eyewitnesses but chooses prison over being under her control (28-35). This testifies to the Islamic attitude toward the prophet: Allah will not permit him to be shamed. For the Muslim, the idea of Joseph being accused and convicted of impropriety with Potipher’s wife would be as unthinkable as a prophet being executed as a criminal on a common cross.
   The fate of the baker is that he would hang from the cross (41). In Genesis 41, the cupbearer eventually remembers Joseph when Pharaoh asks for an interpretation to his dreams, and Pharaoh sends for him. In the Qur’an, the cupbearer learns the interpretation from Joseph and reports back. However, somewhere between 12:49 and 12:50, Pharaoh learns that the interpretation is Joseph’s such that he then sends for him. Joseph does not come immediately, recalling that he asked to be imprisoned rather than spend his time under the control of a woman who tried to blacken his name. He receives assurance that no woman would ruin his reputation, and he would come into Pharaoh’s presence directly, with honor and rank. This is all, of course, absent from the Genesis account. Further, in the Qur’an, Joseph demands to be set over the storehouses, whereas in Genesis Joseph merely recommends that someone be put in that position, and Pharaoh, finding no other worthy candidate, offers the job to Joseph.
   There are many other examples of Old Testament stories that appear in a somewhat different form in the Qur’an, but these few demonstrate the point more than adequately. In the next installment, we shall look at the Qur’anic treatment of John the Baptist, Mary, and Jesus.

A Brief Introduction to the Qur’an: The Structure of the Qur’an

   This is the first part of a very brief survey of the Qur’an. In this series, I intend to provide a framework within which the Christian can study the Islamic scriptures and begin formulating his or her apologetic. In this first part, I will quickly outline the basic structure of the book. Subsequent parts will deal with how the Qur’an handles material familiar to Christians from the Old and New Testaments.
   The Qur’an is not so much a systematic book of history, doctrine, and exhortation, but rather a collection of sayings, speeches, and law compiled over a period of time. It consists of one hundred and fourteen suras, which can be regarded like chapters, each of which is subdivided into ayat, comparable to verses in modern editions of the Bible. The suras vary in length from three or four ayat (e.g., suras 91, 108, and 110) to the longest sura, 2, which has two hundred and eighty-six ayat.
   The suras are not in chronological order, and their proper order is a matter of scholarly dispute, though there is little argument that some fall within the Meccan period of Muhammad’s life, and others fall within the Medinan period. The standard presentation of the suras is, generally, from the longest to the shortest; however this does not represent the chronological order, and no Muslim would deny this fact. Given that the Qur’an was revealed (as Muslims believe) in stages over a period of time, it is natural that the thematic content of each sura would depict the time in which it was written. On this principle, one can presume that the earlier suras would be more emphatic concerning the nature of Allah, asserting His unity and uniqueness over and above the pagan gods, and the later suras would have a greater emphasis on the Muslim community, with much more legal and disciplinary content.
   Each sura has a title, usually drawn from the text or the theme of the sura. The purpose behind these titles seems to have been largely mnemonic, since each pertains to a distinguishing aspect of the sura that would, perhaps, make it memorable. For example, sura 19 is called Maryam, or “Mary.” The mother of Jesus is not the only subject of this sura, which goes on to relate, among other things, stories pertaining to Abraham and Moses; it is the story of Mary, though, that makes this sura unique. Stories of Abraham and Moses abound in the Qur’an, but Mary’s story is seldom, if ever, repeated elsewhere. Sura 16, on the other hand, is called Nahl, or “The Bee,” and it has a general theme of Allah’s supreme authority over all nature, and his giving of signs to demonstrate his control over all things and provision for his creation. In the course of the discussion, the bee is set forth as an example of a creature that Allah has created that provides a source of nourishment and healing for men in the form of honey (ayat 68-69). The reference to the bee was probably considered unusual and memorable, and hence the sura took its name from these few ayat.
   Many editions of the Qur’an have a title bar at the top of each sura indicating its numerical order, its name, an indication of its chronology in terms of Meccan or Medinan, and a count of the ayat in that particular sura.
   All suras, except for sura 9, begin with what is known as the bismillah: bi-smi llahi r-rahmani r-rahim, which can be translated, “In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful.” This phrase may well date back to the time of Mohammad, and its omission from the ninth sura might simply be explained by the fact that the first aya of that sura indicates the words following are from Allah, thus making the declaration of the bismillah unnecessary.
   If you have been following the videos and discussions pertaining to Islam on this site, you will know that for Muslims, the Qur’an is the word of Allah, given directly to Mohammad through the agency of the angel Gabriel. For the Muslim, therefore, anything the Qur’an teaches is the final authority on that subject. This is important to bear in mind as we consider how the Qur’an presents stories familiar to us from the Old Testament, which is the subject of the next installment.

The Dead Sea Scrolls Online

   CNN (probably among others) has been reporting that a team are currently in the process of taking high-resolution photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls to eventually post on the Internet. This will not only allow scholars from all over the world examine these fascinating manuscripts, but it will also allow ordinary folks like us to see them. If you would like a preview of the Dead Sea Scrolls before they hit the ‘net, and you are wondering whether you should make the trip to Durham, NC in November for the conference Dr. White will be addressing (not forgetting the preceding debate–there should be a banner ad about this soon), you may be interested to know that a portion of the Scrolls are currently being exhibited in Raleigh, NC (just down the road from Durham) until December at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Click here for more information.