Comparing Bible and Qur’an

May 20th, 2010 / 12 Comments

Michael Lodahl’s new book, Claiming Abraham: Reading the Bible and the Qur’an Side by Side, is simply an exciting read! His theological interpretation of these sacred texts should help Christians and Muslims identify their theological similarities and differences.

While a significant amount of historical and cultural research informs the book, Michael’s greatest insights – and the thrust of the book itself – are theological. At its basis, Lodahl’s argument is that “the Bible and Qur’an often construe God, humans, and the world as a whole in noticeably different ways—and in ways that make for significant differences both in theology and in practice” (4).

Lodahl masterfully presents differing Jewish, Christian, and Muslim trajectories of interpretation in the chapters of the book. The differences are theologically important. 

I considered a chapter-by-chapter review of the helpful insights I discovered in Claiming Abraham. But such an approach would make for a lengthy review. So I’ve decide to pick out what I think are major highlights.

The following are highly oversimplified summaries of what I regard as some of the more exciting insights from the book…

Revelation

Muslims are people of a book — the Qur’an. Christians are people of a person – Jesus Christ.

Revelation in Islam is neat and clean; while “revelation in Christianity is inevitably and inescapably a messy and ambiguous phenomenon,” says Lodahl. Interestingly, the Muslim view of Qur’anic inspiration and infallibility corresponds rather well with Christian Fundamentalism, not the historic Christian (especially Wesleyan) view of sacred scripture.

Jesus and Qur’an

Muslim scholars debate whether the Qur’an, as a heavenly book, was created or uncreated. This debate parallels the historic Christian discussion of whether Jesus was created or uncreated. This parallel gives strong clues about what each religion believes is its central revelation.

God as Creator

Muslims view God’s creative activity as unilateral. God says, “Be,” and it is. 

The Bible views God’s creative activity as inviting creatures to join in the creation process. For instance, Genesis says God asks humans to name creatures, while the Qur’an reports that Allah has the names eternally predetermined.

Neither the Bible nor the Qur’an explicitly supports creation from absolutely nothing.

Submission vs. Cooperation

Allah’s will shall be done no matter what creatures do. The efficacy of God’s will, by contrast, rests at least in part in creaturely cooperation.

Allah demands submission; God seeks cooperation. To put it simply: Allah exerts power over, while God empowers others.

God and an Open Future

Allah acts from a stance in which all things are eternally settled. God, however, is open “to new possibilities, perhaps even to surprises,” says Lodahl, “in our world of human creativity and open futures” (90).

A small group of Muslims known as Mu’tazilites taught that Allah faced an open future. But this Islamic sub-tradition was silenced. Christian scriptures better support the view that the future is open even for God.

Prevenient Grace

The doctrine of prevenient grace provides a beginning point for a Christian theology of Muhammad’s significance. Christians can affirm God’s influence upon Muhammad without affirming that Muhammad’s ideas are infallible or even better than Christian ideas.

Eschatology and Divine Power

The Qur’an teaches that the world will end in God’s display of apocalyptic and supreme power.A omnipotent God will unilaterally end all things.

The Philippians passage in the Christian Bible, by contrast, suggests that “it is not God’s nature to insist upon ‘being God’,” says Lodahl, “but instead always to be self-giving, self-emptying Spirit-outpouring” (195).  Lodahl argues that because there is “no evidence that God is interested in coercing Christians into a life together,” we have no good reason to “expect that at some point God will resort to coercion, a kind of divine violence, in order to usher in a world of righteous love” (198).

Conclusion

To close this brief review, I want to quote the second to last paragraph in the book. It is preceded by Lodahl’s argument that a Christian interpretation of God and God’s activity in creation “should be unafraid and unashamed to acknowledge the role of human beings, or ‘the human element’.” The Christian view differs radically from Islam, because it affirms “God’s profound investment in divine-human collaboration” (206).

Here’s the second to last paragraph in the book:

“A full appreciation of the theological vision of colaboring moves us, I believe, to resist the recurring temptation to demand closure, to formulate easy answers, to seek deliverance from ambiguity of the happy burden of interpretation which is our lot. It appears that we – Jews, Christians, Muslims, and many other from virtually countless religious traditions – shall continue to open, which means to reopen, the texts of Holy Writ and of the world in which we find ourselves. May we become faithful readings in the spirit of humble prayer” (206).

Amen!

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Comments

G. David Niswander

Looking forward to reading this new book of Dr. Lodahl’s on Kindle. One will surely take your comments here into consideration while reading it. Great topic and so excited to dive in! I have many Muslim friends here in Tennessee and I am sure this new book will shed light on the conversations we have.


Denny Clark

I, too, strongly commend Michael Lodahl’s most recent book, particularly with respect to his own Christian theological reflections.  I have, as always, learned and benefitted from his insights.  I have considerable reservations, though, about the book’s characterization of the Qur’an, of the Qur’an’s portrayal of God and of Islam.

Many of what I consider problematic claims in this regard stem from Lodahl’s primary method of putting qur’anic and biblical passages side-by-side.  In many respects, the Bible and the Qur’an are not really “comparable” texts at all, and thus any attempt to compare them directly results in considerable violence to one or the other sacred text.  There is a considerable body of Muslim-produced comparisons of the Qur’an and Bible; in those comparisons, not surprisingly, the Bible always comes out on the losing side – just as, equally unsurprising, the Qur’an always suffers by comparison in Lodahl’s juxtaposition of it with the Bible.  Lodahl loves narrative and its amazing power to convey theological subtlety; the Qur’an, however, is largely non-narrative, and when it uses narrative, it does so in a considerably different way (and for different purposes) than biblical narrative.  The Qur’an has no less theological subtlety than the Bible, but it conveys that in a largely non-narrative way.  I have experienced the Qur’an as a significant resource in deepening my own Christian life and Christian theologizing – but that can only occur through a more indirect route.  Bottom line:  don’t expect to understand “the Other” by direct comparisons. 

A second problem is the book’s tendency to portray Islam in a static, monolithic way, in contrast to Lodahl’s own dynamic, agile reworkings of Christian (and Jewish) tradition and of Christian (and Jewish) readings of the Bible.  As a result, Lodahl is able to present his understandings as “Christian” ones, even when he disagrees with considerable portions of Christian tradition and the Bible; however, he does not acknowledge the same right (or even possibility) to Muslims to deal creatively, dynamically and respectfully with their own texts and traditions, even though they have done that for centuries, and continue to do so today.  Islam is not just “one thing” – nor has it ever been – which is largely responsible for why Islam is the second largest religious movement in the world, and growing.


ADKnapp

Interesting.  I am currently exploring comparative studies between Islam and Mormonism; It would be interesting to see Islam and mainstream Christianity alongside each other.


Justin Walker

What an amazing theme for a book. I’m by no means a theologian; however, I feel it is my duty to inform myself of the differences between the Bible and Qu’ran. This book will be my first attempt at this topic, and I’m sure it will raise many questions.


matthew

This makes me curious. I think I will now have to take a look at the Qu’ran myself.


Sharelle Seward

This book sounds interesting.  I have several Muslim friends and have always wanted to have a better understanding of Islam but was not quite sure where to begin.  I have attempted to read from the Qur’an but this book sounds like it would be very helpful.


Rachel Benedick

First of all, I was unaware that Muslims’ and Christians’ faith was centered so tightly around the creation of the world by some divine force or Being. When I think of the Qu’ran and the Bible, I don’t really assume that they have much of anything in common with each other.

But at the same time, you mentioned many things that the Qu’ran and the Bible taught differently. One example is when you stated, “Allah demands submission; God seeks cooperation.” This, to me, could be one of the most important differences between Muslim Christian faith. God is all-loving and has given us our own free-will, whereas Allah seems much less loving and requires complete and total control over his creation.

With this said, I think Lodahl did a pretty good job at capturing the essences of each religion and has managed to compare and contrast the two by bringing forth some pretty key facts.


Joice Huett

First off I am from Indonesia, when I was a child 99% of the population was Muslim. Indonesia has the highest in population of Muslims living there. Muslims how they worship is the pre-modern christian way. Because Muslims were born from Ishmael, Abraham’s son and Isaac represents Christians. How the Muslims prayed is the same as Daniel in the Bible. The Al-Quran and the Bible both believe that there is God. Muslims though still sacrifice animals every year. Muslims however believe that Jesus is a prophet and God the Father is our God but is Allah for them. We worship the same God but in different ways.


Jerad May

Over the past several weeks, I have become increasingly impassioned about the collaborative relational creativity that exists between the creature and the Creator. 

This article has sparked my interest about how our monotheistic brothers and sisters might perceive our creaturely role in the things to come, in light of the role of the creator.  In consideration of Joice Huett’s comments above, I am further curious as to how much not only culture influences this discussion, but likewise the pre-modern, modern, and post-modern perspectives.


lisa

As a religious studies student at University of Toronto, this topic really does interest me. After reading through the comments and the article it self, Denny Clark comment seems to make most sense. That you have to read these points from both perspectives not just one. When learning or trying to understand a religion. The article as had couple misinterpretation about Allah/God. In Islam Allah and God are the same thing, muslims and christians worship the same lord. God in Islam is loving just as the christian God. I have taken couple courses on Islam to know that a lot of stuff written about it is not accurate. You have to look at multiple sources before coming to conclusion. I say this to both Muslims and fellow Christians.


Edward Mohammad

Islam by literal definition mean ” Submission” and Muslim mean ” submitters” and Qur’an regards all prophets from Abraham to Moses to Jesus as Muslims I.e bowing to God’s will but wat is proof that this claim is True if u look at bible itself Mathew 26:39 it says j” Jesus fell on his face and worshipped God” who are the only people who worship God in that way today except Moslems? Bible Luke 10:3 or 3:10 says ” Jesus Taught his followers to Greet ” SholomAleikhom”( same as Muslim greeting Salaamalaykum) meaning ‘ peace be upon You’ everytime before entering a house all Moslems greet salamalaykum which mean ‘ peace be upon You’ so theologically it seem Jesus was. closer to islam. However in a purely Academical perspective as far as comparison btw books is concerned Koran and bible are 2 diff things to a common reader bible like any other book is a narrative filled with stories or histories written in ‘ once upon a time manner’ while Koran is like a communion a speech or lecture of God filled with Arguments less of a story telling More of Argumentation and conversation with humans thus capable of frustrating some readers or making them to think in a better way either for good reasons or — it is filled with challenges to readers unlike bible which won’t frustrate or Argue with common readers since it is written in a ‘ once upon a time’ manner thus providing a comfort zone for emotions of both believers and non believers in short bible is like a story or history of God while Koran is or atleast seems to a common reader as speech of God to a non believing reader as arguments or challenges of God to him to a believer as a guidance or command


Edward Mohammad

Bible begins with ‘ in the Beginning God created the heavens & earth’ thus a narrative is wat bible is by its characteristic in short a story of God to common readers and Nonbelievers and history of God to beleivers thus bible is bestselling religious book compared to koran while koran begins unlike any other book it begins with verse ” This is the Book in it is Guidance Certain Without Doubt.. ” thus for common reader especially for non believer its a puzzling or challenging statement Or too Arrogant statement to make except for God and that’s exactly what Moslem sees koran to be a ‘ speech of God’ and let it be noted that there is no other book on face of the Earth whether on science or math or history whose author claims this is the best book in science or any specific field except for Author of Koran this is a unique characteristic of this book so either it has to be a work of impostor or of God himself this verse defines character of koran that its a word of God who has given a free will to men and an option to ‘ surrender’ to him to acquire better relationship with him & his creation to a non believer koran offers challenges to prove the source of book to be otherwise the author says in koran addressing nonbeliever ” And if You Are in doubt concerning what We ( God speaking) have revealed to Our Servant ( prophet) then Produce a Surah Like it ..”for 1400 this challenge has stood unbroken many enemies trying to challenge koran have converted to Islam now challenge is still open also koran say ” do not they( unbelievers) consider this Quran with care if it had been from other than God they would have found much mistakes or contradictions in it” so to prove koran is not God’s word All you have to do is to find a single contradiction in koran and try to see wat Moslems have to rebute about that because if u truly find a contradiction in Koran then u have proven it Not to be God’s Word


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