Joy: How I can be sure that my life is pleasing to God? How can I be sure I will go to heaven? Does God favor men over women?
Hi there. My name is Joy and I was raised in a Muslim home. These were just some of the many spiritual questions I had growing up in Islam. It was pretty hard for me to find answers but with a lot of struggle I discovered that there were answers.
Maybe you have struggled with some of the same questions. Today I want to help you find answers to your spiritual questions. Let me start by introducing you to two friends of mine – Mike and Amani – both of whom are experts on the topic of Islam. Mike is from a Shia background and Amani is from a Sunni background.
So Mike, let’s start with that first question, “How can I be sure that I am pleasing to God?”
Mike: Thanks Joy. As you know, Islam is a religion of works and there are no guarantees of salvation. Islam teaches that our deeds in life are recorded—both the good and the bad—and on Qiyamah or Judgment Day, our good and bad deeds will be weighed against one another. If the good deeds outweigh the bad then maybe we will be permitted into heaven, if Allah wills.
Amani: Yes, that’s right Mike. When I was a Muslim, this anxiety about my spiritual future often left me with feeling that I was never good enough for God. Even with all of my attempts to accumulate good works, I still felt that I did not measure up His standards. [to the screen] Have you ever felt that nothing would be good enough for a perfect God? I know that many of my Muslim friends shared these feelings. Somehow we knew that even if we performed all of our religious duties: prayer, alms, fasting, the hajj that this was somehow not enough to endure His judgment.
Joy: I know what you mean Amani. I used to feel that I could never measure up and never have a relationship with God. Perhaps I could understand God through the Qur'an and know about Him but I could never reach him. He was just too far off.
Amani: Yes, Joy and these feelings were particularly challenging for me as a Muslim woman. After all, if the prophet said that there were far more women in hell than men, then my situation looked pretty bleak.
Mike: That’s why today Amani and I want to talk about our spiritual journey getting to know Jesus Christ and learning what the Bible really says about Him. We want to share with you the story of God’s good news.
Joy: But Mike, how can we get any kind of news from the Bible? I was always taught that the Bible was corrupted and that Christians have three gods.
Mike: Of course you were told that. All Muslims are told that. But, at the time, did you ever stop to ask yourself where it was corrupted and by whom?
Joy: You know what? That’s a good point. I didn't ask that question because I was taught not to question my teachers.
Joy: But it is a great question, so is there an answer?
Mike: Joy, we need to start by reviewing some background facts. Do you know how many manuscripts of the New Testament (“The Injil”) scholars have?
Joy: Not off the top of my head, no.
Mike: Well, there are over 5,600 handwritten manuscript copies of the New Testament written in the original language of Greek. In addition to these Greek copies, there are more than 19,000 hand written copies of the Greek New Testament in the languages of Aramaic, Syriac, Latin and Coptic. This means that we have 24,000 copies of the New Testament, which come from all over the Middle East and from different people groups. This means that there was no one person controlling all those thousands of manuscripts. Muslims teach that the Bible has been changed but it seems that they have not considered the problem with this idea: to deliberately introduce a change, you would have to control scribes over a vast geographical area and do it in multiple languages simultaneously. This is simply not possible.
Now, just having 25,000 copies does not mean that you know what the original copy said but it does allow you to compare all the manuscripts and make sure that the message is consistent and correctly conveyed in modern copies of the Bible.
Joy: But I don’t have access to these manuscripts and I don’t know any of these languages anyway. What assurance can you give me that what you are saying is correct?
Mike: What if you could look at a 1700 year old Bible manuscript and compare the message to the Bible on the shelf at the bookstore?
Joy: So, how can I do that?
Mike: There is a complete Bible from 300 years before Mohammad’s birth can be viewed online. This manuscript is called Codex Sinaiticus (codexsinaiticus.org) and every page is photographed, every letter transcribed and every sentence translated. Anyone can read the translation and confirm that the content of this 1700-year-old Bible is the same as the Bible you can buy off the shelf in any bookstore. Pick any passage you like. Read the translation yourself and then compare it to any Bible online. Take the Gospel of John verses 1 and 2. Go and look for yourself. You will see that the message is unaltered.
Joy: But are there any differences between the 25,000 copies of the New Testament?
Mike: Sure, of course there are differences, but as Biblical Scholar Norman Geisler writes, the internal consistency between the copies of the Bible is more than 99.5%. When hundreds of people hand copy an entire book 25,000 times, some transcription errors are expected but the changes don't alter the meaning of the book and message of the book. Anyone can go and verify this for themselves.
Joy: But I was always told that the Qur'an does not even have these little alterations. I was told that every single copy of the Qur’an in the world was 100% identical. I was taught that God’s book should be perfect.
Amani: Did you ever investigate that claim that all copies of the Qur’an are identical?
Amani: Well, neither did I. I just believed what I was told. The problem is, I believed a lie.
As a starting point, I want to direct you to watch a debate between two scholars—one Muslim and one Christian. The Muslim scholar is Shabir Ally from the University of Toronto in Canada and the second is Jay Smith who is a prominent Christian debator who lives in England. If you go take the time to watch the video, you will see that Jay makes specific reference to many changes known to have occurred in copies of the Qur’an known as Topkapi Manuscript (in Turkey), the Samarkand Kufic (in Uzbekistan), Codex Parisino-petropolitanus (in Paris) and the Ma’il Manuscipt (in Britain).
But let’s focus on one of the sets of manuscripts that Jay discusses: the Sana’a manuscripts. In 1972 a group of Qur’anic manuscripts found in at the Great Mosque of Sana’a in Yemen. These manuscripts are among the oldest manuscripts in existence, dating from before 671 AD and they are what are known as “palimpsests”. This is just a big word for a manuscript that has been recycled by washing off the old text and writing on a new one. Writing materials were expensive, you see.
In the case of the Sana’a manuscripts, it can be seen very clearly that the older text of the Qur'an, which was overwritten but still visible, was different from the traditional Uthmanic text. The very existence of the numerous word variations means the not all Qur'ans are totally identical—a fact widely acknowledged by academics and professors of Islamic Studies. But these information has been withheld from lay people, likely because it is so opposite to what Most Muslims have been taught.
Mike: But why would we think all copies of the Qur’an should be identical? The Hadith tells use that Uthman collected the scraps of the Qur'an written on small pieces of parchment, papyrus, stones and camel bones. There is even a tradition from Aisha that a goat ate one verse and it was lost.
Another problem is that the early copies of the Qur'an did not have diacritical markings meaning that single words can have multiple Arabic meanings as any Arabic speaker knows. I used to believe that there was no controversy about the content of the Qur'an. However, even a brief investigation shows us that the manuscripts of the Qur'an are not perfectly copied. Anyone who takes the time to investigate this matter further will find that what we have said here is true. If you want to see more videos that explain this, follow the links we have provided below.
So, you see, Joy, the original documents of the Qur’an are no different from the Bible. However, the difference is that we still have tens of thousands of ancient hand-written copies of Bible allowing the comparison of texts and tracking and correcting of minor copying errors. This actually allows us to be confident that we know what the original said. Obviously, this kind of scholarship is not possible with the Qur’an since its earliest copies were deliberately destroyed and we don’t have them anymore.
Joy: OK – so, suppose I accept these arguments. I would still have a big problem. You see, I was always taught that Christians had three gods – they called it a “Trinity” - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This seemed very strange to me. Christians say that they worship one God but then they talk about God as if He is three. Are Christians worshiping three gods?
Amani: It's a great question Joy and it's easy to have that misconception from reading the Qur'an. But when I would ask my imam hard questions like this he would say, “You shouldn't think so much. You're only a woman”. But the God of the Bible had female prophets so, I am sure that it is good for both women and men to ask all the questions they want. The Biblical teaching on the Trinity is not and has never been that there are three gods with equal power. The term “Trinity” is just a description of what we can read in the Bible about the One True God.
Joy: But anyone can see why this is confusing. How can three be one?
Amani: Joy, you are right. It does not appear to make sense, but it is definitely what the Bible teaches. The Bible says “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:4-5). Christians believe that God is One and His Oneness is repeatedly affirmed throughout the Bible (Rom 3:20, 1 Cor 8:6, Eph 4:6, 1 Tim 2:5, James 2:19).
From a Muslim’s perspective, one source of confusion is the term “Spirit of God” or “Holy Spirit”. In Arabic when we say الروح القدس , many Muslims think this refers to the angel Gabriel. But, Christians believe that the Spirit of God is literally the Spirit of God. Christians do not believe that the Spirit of God is any less God than God Himself. In fact Jesus says, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24). It is the Spirit of God that provided the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures to the prophets of God.
Joy: So you've mentioned God the Father, and the Holy Spirit – what about the Son?
Amani: OK – but I need to back up for a second and explain how the Bible is laid out.
The Old Testament makes up the first two thirds of the Bible is made up of Taurat, the Zabur and other writings of God's prophets and historians who lived before Jesus. It was written during a period of over three thousand years and weaves in a long and detailed prophetic picture of the Messiah, Jesus, who will deliver Israel and all of mankind from their sin. Right from the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, there is a promise that a descendant of Eve will one day stamp on the head of the Serpent, Satan. For example 700 years before Jesus was born, the prophet, Isaiah wrote: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isa 7:9). It’s easy to see this must be talking about Jesus who was born of the virgin Mary. But, Joy, do you know what the name Immanuel means?
Joy: No. What does it mean?
Amani: It means “God with us”… So, when the virgin bears a son, Isaiah is saying that this son will be “God with us”. You can see the problem. This scripture indicates that Jesus will be called both “a son” who is at the same time “God with us”. The prophecies indicate that Messiah, will be God Himself and Jesus says many things to identify Himself as God. For example he says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) and also “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30). Jesus even applies God’s name “I AM” to himself in John 8:58.
Mike: Amani, now I’m the one who wants to back us up for a sec. Our friends need to understand something: In order to have a complete understanding of what the Bible means, we must read it differently than we have been taught to read the Qur'an. Unlike the Qur’an, no one verse of the Bible stands by itself. It’s the whole Bible together that builds a complete picture of who God is. All the verses of the Bible have to be true all at the same time. There is no abrogation. So, you're stuck with a problem. The Bible says that the Father is God. And it says that the Holy Spirit is God and it says that Jesus is God but it also says that God is One. For the whole Bible to be true all at the same time, the One God must have three Persons.
Joy: But God having a son? This is very strange to the ears of a Muslim—especially since the Qur’an says over and over that God does not have a son. Does it mean that God has a wife too?
Amani: Well if you are thinking in human terms, you might assume something terrible like that. Some Muslims mistakenly claim that Christians believe this, but it is not true. Christians believe that God has always, for eternity past, had a relationship with Jesus Christ that is like a father-son relationship. But this does not imply that there is nothing distasteful about how Mary became pregnant. The Bible simply teaches that God placed the child Jesus Christ in Mary's womb miraculously without the intervention of any human being.
Joy: There’s something else I found confusing. I’ve heard Christians say “Jesus died for your sins”. Why should Jesus’ death be connected to God’s forgiveness? If God wanted to forgive, why wouldn’t he just forgive? After all, He says “Be” and it is. Why would Jesus’s death be required for my forgiveness?
Mike: Joy, this gets kind of gets back to one of our earlier questions: “How can I be sure that my sins will be forgiven on the Day of Judgment?” The Qur'an is very clear. It says repeatedly “No man can bear the burdens of another man”. Every man and woman is responsible for his or her own sin and must bear the punishment, or perhaps, balance it out with good deeds. But this is not what the Bible teaches about sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, the Bible teaches that they realized that they were naked, both in a physical sense and in a spiritual sense. The scripture explains that because of sin, they were doomed to physical death and to permanent separation from God in hell.
Adam and Eve felt ashamed of what they had done and they were sorry so God clothed them in the skin of an animal (Gen 3:21) to cover their shame. To accomplish this, God had to kill an animal. Later on God explains that in order for sin to be forgiven (Heb 9:22), a sacrifice must occur: something must die. This is why animal sacrifice for sin was required in the law that Moses brought down from God.
But it is important to understand that these animal sacrifices were just a foreshadowing of God's true plan for man's forgiveness and restoration to friendship with Him. You see, John the Baptist, Yehyah, called Jesus, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. What he was saying was the Jesus was going to bear the burdens of not just one other man, but all men. Because Jesus lived a life that was sinless, he could act as a sacrifice, a Lamb if you like, sufficient to cover the sins of all men who ever lived, if they were willing to accept this offer and to follow Him.
So, in fact, it is actually true that no ordinary man can bear the burdens of another man. It takes an extra-ordinary man, a perfect, a Divine Man to be able to bear the burdens of another man. This is why Jesus came to Earth, to die on our behalf so that God could forgive our sins.
Joy: What about the good deeds? Are they worthless then?
Amani: Well, they do not help us achieve salvation. God is completely holy says that even our best efforts are like “filthy rags” before him (Isaiah 64:6). However, good deeds are an offering of gratitude that we give to God because of the forgiveness he guarantees us through the death of Jesus on our behalf.
Joy: But the Quran teaches that Jesus did not die – but that it just looked that way.
Amani: But that’s not what he Bible teaches at all Joy. The Bible says God chose to come to Earth in human form, in the person of Jesus Christ. And it teaches that he came for a very specific mission: to die for sinners on the cross—to be crucified. Ancient historians who were not Christians and did not even like Christianity write about Jesus’ crucifixion as a matter of simple fact. Josephus, a Jewish historian writing in the first century wrote in 93 AD in his Antiquities of the Jews, “Pilate condemned [Jesus] to be crucified and to die.” Not only that but the many accounts from early Christians, the people who were Jesus’ friends and contemporaries, all indicate that Jesus died. The four separate historical accounts of the Gospel all clearly state this as a fact. Why is so much credence given to one man, Mohammad, who lived 600 years after Jesus when he claims that Jesus did not die? Does it make sense to believe the eyewitnesses of an event or believe someone who was born six centuries later? Maybe there something very important about the crucifixion that someone was trying to undo.
Mike: I think there is, Amani. You see, Satan knows that the power of Jesus’ message is in the understanding that we cannot save ourselves from our own sin—and that our sin must be put onto Jesus Christ. If men and women can be tricked into believing that the crucifixion did not occur, then they will remain hopelessly trying to work their way to heaven. They won’t know that they can receive their forgiveness because Jesus paid the price for them already.
Joy: But why would Jesus do this for us?
Mike: Jesus was not a powerless victim of Jewish scheming or Roman torture but that he willingly laid His life down. (John 10:11, 18). The Bible tells us Jesus “gave Himself for our sins” (Galatians 1:3) because “he loved” us (Galatians 2:20). Jesus himself said, “greater love has no one than this, than that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Out of love for us Jesus willingly laid down his own life so we could be saved from our sins.
Amani: And not only that, the Bible tells us that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead—which clearly demonstrates the power of God over both sin and death. This is why the Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9-10). This is a promise from God to us.
Mike: That’s right Amani. The English word “gospel” means “good news” and the good news is that we can know what will happen to us on the Day of Judgment because “we have been saved by grace, . . . it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is a major difference between Christianity and not just Islam, but all other religions. Think about this: if salvation is based on what we must do, we can never be assured that we have done enough to be saved. But because salvation is not based on our faithfulness or hard work, but on what Jesus lovingly did for us in choosing to die and rising again ,He promises us eternal life (John 5:24, 1John 2:25)!
Amani: And this is why I left Islam to follow Jesus – how could I reject such an offer from God if he died on my behalf. It was very difficult decision.