Is the Text of the New Testament Reliable?

Is the Text of the New Testament Reliable?

The average person in the pew probably does not spend much time thinking about the texts underlying the Bible in his hands. He may have no idea what historical events led to the publication of his translation. He only knows that his Bible is reliable and authoritative, and for most people, that is enough. Critics of the Bible claim that the Bible is defective and unreliable. They may charge that untrained, careless scribes inserted or deleted certain sections of the text to the extent that we no longer can be certain of what the original writings said. If that were true, it certainly would be a significant challenge to the Christian faith. However, careful examination of the facts will reveal that the text of the New Testament (NT) is reliable.

  1. Historical facts regarding the text of the NT

    1. Most people recognize that the Bible they use did not drop straight out of heaven in the same form that we have it today. A historical process is responsible for giving us the Bible in its current format. The Bible was not originally written in modern languages like English, German or Spanish. Bibles in such languages are translations from the original languages. Our modern Bibles are the result of a long tradition of preservation and propagation.

    2. The NT was originally penned in the Greek language.1 Alexander the Great and his heirs successfully Hellenized the holy lands so that by the time the NT was written, Greek was commonly spoken in that region. Biblical scholars used to think that the Greek dialect of the NT was some sort of special, “heavenly” language, but archaeological findings have proven that the Greek of the NT is common, marketplace language. Virtually any educated person living in the Roman Empire at that time could speak or at least understand both Greek and Latin, and likely other languages as well.

    3. Once the NT authors wrote their works, copies of these books slowly began filtering throughout the Roman Empire and eventually found their way around the world. How did that happen? Remember that the printing press was not invented until the 1400s, so all copying done before that was done by hand. A hand-written copy of the NT is called a “manuscript” (MS).

    4. As you might imagine, as churches began to proliferate, they all wanted copies of the NT for themselves. Eventually all the authorized NT books were assembled into one work. The process of canonization is responsible for giving us the Bible in the form we have it today. The word “canon” means an authorized list, and the process whereby the various books were added to the canon is called “canonization.” It took some time for the early church to recognize and affirm all the books of the NT.

    5. The four Gospels, the Acts, thirteen Epistles of Paul, the first Epistle of John, and the first Epistle of Peter, were universally recognized as canonical by 175 AD, while the Epistle to the Hebrews, the second and third Epistles of John, the second Epistle of Peter, the Epistle of James, and the Epistle of Jude were by many disputed as to their apostolic origin, and the book of Revelation was doubted by reason of its contents. But in 367 AD Athanasius wrote a widely circulated letter containing the exact list of twenty-seven NT books we have today. The churches in the eastern part of the Mediterranean world accepted this list of books by that time. Thirty years later, the Third Council of Carthage (397 AD), which represented the western part of the Mediterranean world, recognized the same list of books as inspired and authoritative.2

    6. Because all copying done before the invention of the printing press was done by hand, differences (or variants) came into the MSS quite early on. The only MSS free from errors were the originals, the “autographs.” Once the process of hand copying began, slight errors were introduced into the text. In fact, there are no two copies that are exactly the same in every detail. As you might imagine, it would be virtually impossible to hand-copy a book of the Bible, let alone the whole NT, without making a few errors. Most such errors were small and of little consequence. Examples of typical variations that scribal errors introduced into the text:

      1. Spelling and word order

      2. Substituting synonymous words

      3. Dropping out words

      4. Adding words

      5. Transposing or repeating words

    7. How would one go about correcting such errors? The easiest way is to compare several copies. The reading that is reflected in the majority of MSS, or the one that comes from the highest quality copy, is probably the right one. It’s unlikely that different scribes in different places and at different times would make the same error in the same place. So by comparing readings, we can usually find which one was original, or at least rule out those that are probably erroneous. The process of sorting through the various readings and selecting the one that is most likely original is called textual criticism.

    8. Today over 5,600 Greek MSS exist. Most of these are fragments of the NT, some no larger than a credit card. Other MSS include the entire NT. The oldest MSS are written on papyrus and vellum (animal skins). Papyrus is a rather fragile material, and few MSS written on it have survived until now. Vellum, on the other hand, is a relatively sturdy material, and most MSS available today were written on it.

    9. The oldest known Greek manuscript, a small portion of the Gospel of John, is dated to about AD 125, only a few decades after the original was written.3 In 1994 a scholar found a papyrus fragment of Matthew that may be dated as early as AD 70. Most MSS of the Bible date from the third century on.

    10. Scholars have examined most of the available MSS and have divided them up into various “families” or types of texts.4

      1. The traditional text, also known as the Majority or Byzantine text—a family of texts that was used commonly until the late 1800s. The majority of existing MSS, around 90%, fit into this family, but little evidence of this text type exists before the fourth century AD. The so-called “Textus Receptus” (TR) fits into this category. Most English versions of the Bible, including the King James Version, were based on this family of texts until the late 1800s. Many Bible students still argue that this family of texts most closely reflects the original readings of the Greek NT.

      2. The critical text, also known as the Alexandrian text—the oldest representations of the Greek NT (most papyrus evidence) come from this family. Readings from this family tend to be shorter and rougher, which suggests that it did not go through a process of smoothing and editing by scribes. Most Bible scholars believe that this family of texts retains the readings closest to the originals.

      3. The Western text—this family of texts contains slightly different readings than found in the other two types. Western readings tend to be longer and somewhat unusual when compared to the other families. There are no English translations that follow the Western tradition.

Note: The fact that a certain MSS is categorized within a certain family of texts does not imply that all the MSS of that family agree uniformly. Variants do exist within the texts of the same family, but the MSS within a family agree to a large degree. The differences within families are far less than those between the families. Remember that no two MSS agree in every detail.

Another Note: Biblical scholars continue to debate which family of Greek MSS is most authoritative, reliable, and closest to the originals. Some hold that older texts must be closer to the originals, while others argue that the majority of MSS probably reflect the original readings the best. As you might guess, this is a very technical and detailed field of inquiry. Those untrained in biblical languages and in the history of the texts and textual criticism would be wise to hold their opinions tentatively.

A Third Note: How did the above families develop? As Christianity expanded and developed, copies of the NT were carried throughout the Roman Empire. In places where the church was strong and well-organized, one particular type of text prevailed and became standardized. For example, in Egypt the Alexandrian family of texts dominated, and around Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey) the Byzantine family became the “received” text. Both of these cities contained scriptoria wherein the NT was copied and disseminated, so the “official” readings were most widely published. Eventually the Latin language replaced Greek in the western part of the Empire, while Greek remained the common language in the east. Western scribes began copying the Bible mostly into Latin (by about AD 250), while eastern scribes continued making copies in Greek, which explains why this type of text is now the “Majority” of Greek texts. Most scholars believe that editors and scribes “polished” or smoothed out the readings of the Byzantine text type over the centuries. This process did not occur in the west because they stopped using Greek there.

    1. Given all the above facts, some might question how reliable the text of the NT is. After all, we admit that hand copying inserted many variants into the text, and we admit that at least three families of text exist, and each of these families support different readings. This might suggest to some people that we are not sure what the NT really says. So is the NT reliable?

This is not a question of which English translation is most reliable, but of whether the original documents of the NT, written in Greek, were transmitted to us in an essentially reliable, uncorrupted form. That is, can we recover the original readings from the available MSS? While skeptics, critics and liberals no doubt would deny it, most conservative scholars believe that we can distill the original readings from the available MSS in an essentially uncorrupted form.

  1. Facts supporting the reliability of the NT

    1. Inspiration and preservation guarantee that the original contents of the NT is available within the manuscript evidence.

      1. Variants in the text do not preclude inspiration or preservation. Remember that inspiration applies only to the original process in which God “breathed out” His word. Inspiration occurred as the author’s pen hit the paper. If we had access to the originals, we would find them to be error free (inerrant). Unfortunately, the originals almost certainly no longer exist. All we have are copies, but within these copies the wording of the originals still exists.

      2. Inspiration does not technically apply to subsequent copying or translating of the Bible. God has promised to preserve His word (Psalm 119:152, 160; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 5:18, 24:35; John 10:35), but this preservation has been carried out providentially, not miraculously. Normal human means of copying has preserved the documents as we have them today. God no doubt could have miraculously preserved his word in some particular location in an error-free condition, but He chose not to. Based on God’s promise to preserve His word, we have confidence that it has not been essentially lost or corrupted.5

      3. We do not believe that any one particular text or even family of texts perfectly preserves the original readings of the NT. In fact, the Bible says nothing about the means of its own preservation or the location of its preservation. There is no biblical evidence that the Bible must be preserved without error in one particular MS or family of MSS. Those who believe such things have no biblical basis for such an opinion.

      4. The presence of variants and imperfections does not imply that a text is unreliable or less than Scripture. As the King James Version translators clearly stated in the preface of their work, a translation may rightly be called the Word of God even though it may contain some “imperfections and blemishes.” Just as the King’s speech which he utters in Parliament is still the King’s speech, though it may be imperfectly translated into French, Dutch, Italian, and Latin; so also in the case of the translation of the Word of God. Translations will never be infallible since they are not like the original manuscripts, which were produced by the apostles and their associates under the influence of inspiration. However, even an imperfect translation like the Septuagint can surely be called the Word of God since it was approved and used by the apostles themselves. “We affirm and avow that the very meanest [i.e., lowest quality] translation of the Bible in English set forth by men of our profession . . . containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God.”6

“The Old Testament in Hebrew, . . . and the New Testament in Greek . . . being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and Providence kept pure in all Ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of Religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them.” – London Baptist Confession (1677)

    1. Many manuscripts lend support for the text.

      1. As mentioned above, over 5,600 separate MSS exist supporting the NT text. And some of these MSS were copied only a few decades after the originals were written. This situation is unique to the NT; no other ancient document can claim the same level of support. Most existing works from that period in history have only a handful of documents supporting them, and many of these are no older than the middle ages. The NT has no lack of textual support.

      2. Where can we find the original, perfect wording of the NT? We can only affirm that it exists within the available MSS. Choosing the most probable reading is the domain of textual (or “lower”) criticism. Biblical scholars examine and evaluate the available readings and choose the one they think is most likely to be original. If they are not sure, they will often insert a marginal note suggesting that a variant reading might be right. The original King James Bible had hundreds of marginal notes and many optional readings. Because significant variants affect such a small percentage of the text, we can have great confidence that the readings in our versions accurately convey the original words. Where the reading is doubtful, a marginal note may retain the original.

    2. Most of the variant readings are minor and affect meaning only slightly or not at all.7

      1. As noted above, most of the differences among Greek texts are minor matters of spelling, word order, word choice, and small additions or deletions. Most of them do not alter the meaning of the passage whatsoever. If we look at the whole of the NT, the significant variations affect only about 2% of the text. The small NT book of Jude contains about 450 words. About 6% of the words in Jude are affected by variants, and most of these are minor. A couple of minor variants:

        1. In verse 3, one text reads “the common salvation” while another has “our common salvation.”

        2. In verse 12, one family of texts have “carried about” while a different text has “carried along.”

        3. In verse 23, one text moves “with fear” to the end of the verse.

        4. In verse 25, one text reads “glory and majesty” while another reads “glory, majesty.”

None of these variants change the meaning of the text in any significant way. Like most variants, they are very minor.

      1. Some of the variants are more substantial and could change the meaning of a passage somewhat. More examples from Jude:

        1. In verse 1, one reading has “sanctified” while another text has “beloved.”

        2. In verse 22, one reading is “making a difference” while another is “who are doubting.”

        3. In verse 23, one reading has “on some have mercy” while another does not contain those words at all.

        4. In verse 25, one reading has “the only wise God” while another has “the only God.”

You can see in cases like these there is a difference in meaning depending on what reading is chosen. But again, such variants do not make a substantial difference in understanding the passage, nor do they affect the general teaching of the Bible.

    1. In a few instances, variant readings make a significant difference in the meaning of a text.

      1. Examples of significant variants: In John 1:18, some texts have “only begotten son” while others have “only begotten God.” In Matthew 6:13, the entire phrase “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” is not found in some MSS. In 1 John 5:13, the repeated phrase “and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” is not found in some MSS. Acts 8:37 reads, “And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” These words are not found at all in some Greek MSS.

      2. Examples of the most significant variants: The most consequential variants in the NT are found in John 7:53-8:11, Mark 16:9-20, and 1 John 5:7-8. Each of these texts is disputed because they are found in some MSS and not in others. Various arguments can be made either supporting or denying their inclusion in the canon. Whether we retain them in the text or remove them from the text, it does not radically alter the message of the NT. Of themselves they do not affect our faith and practice in the least.

      3. It is beyond the scope of this lesson to examine the processes and strategies involved with choosing the most likely reading from among the options reflected in the various MSS. Such tasks should be left to experts in the field, not amateurs. Any concerned Bible student can check the range of readings found within the better English translations. Most of the newer versions will include even those passages that are disputed, often setting them off with some indicator or sign, linked to a marginal note explaining why the reading is debatable. Whether or not the debated reading is original, it is included in the text in some fashion, at least in the case of the most significant variants.

    2. Uncertainty does not equal unreliability.

      1. We must admit that we find different readings among the various MSS of the NT—that is beyond dispute. We must also avoid the error of picking one text and proclaiming that it and only it has miraculously preserved all the original readings in a pristine, error-free state. Such a claim will not withstand historical evaluation. The only way to determine the original readings is to compare and analyze the MS evidence.

      2. The original readings do exist within the MS evidence. As noted above, our uncertainty about the correct reading affects only about 2% of the entire NT, and in those cases we have options that do retain the original reading. We may not be sure which reading is original, but we can be confident that one of them is.

      3. Modern versions are reliable in that they are the result of careful research and analysis of the potential readings. Committees of experts examined the possible readings and selected those that they thought were most likely to be original. Even if they selected the wrong reading in some cases, that does not ruin the overall impression of the work. The truthfulness of the Bible does not rest on translators picking the right word in every case.

      4. Every translation is the result of the translators picking the readings that they thought most accurately reflected the originals. Unless you can read Greek fluently, you must rely on the scholarship and honesty of the people who translated the Bible you read. Unless you are reading a sectarian version (e.g., New Word Translation) or a free paraphrase (e.g., The Message), you have no reason to doubt what your Bible says. And consulting a couple of different versions will usually keep you on the right path.

    3. None of the variants change the overall teaching of the NT. Not a single variant altars what Christians believe and practice. Variants certainly do alter our understanding of individual passages, but not a single variant teaches heresy, and all of them combined do not reduce the NT to an unreliable condition.

Note the Quote: [F]or over 99 percent of the words of the Bible, we know what the original manuscript said. Even for many of the verses where there are textual variants, … the correct decision is often quite clear, and there are really very few places where the textual variant is both difficult to evaluate and significant in determining the meaning. In the small percentage of the cases where there is significant uncertainty about what the original text said, the general sense of the sentence is usually quite clear from the context…. [T]he study of textual variants has not left us in confusion about what the original manuscripts said. It has rather brought us extremely close to the content of those original manuscripts. For most practical purposes, then, the current published scholarly texts of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament are the same as the original manuscripts.8

Conclusion: The reliability of the text of the NT is a significant issue for anyone who claims to believe the Bible. You may find some of the above information surprising and challenging. As much as we might wish we had access to a perfectly preserved edition of the NT, we simply do not. The original contents of the NT are available to us, but it is presently reflected in the totality of the textual record. Finding the best readings and incorporating them into modern translations is the task of textual scholars. It is a difficult task but not an insurmountable one. As the translators of the King James Bible stated, any translation that faithfully reproduces the original language texts may be considered to be the Word of God.

1 Some suggest that the NT may have been originally composed in Aramaic and translated into Greek very early on, but this claim cannot be verified. The oldest manuscripts of the NT are in Greek, and most scholars believe that is the language it was originally written in.

2 Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 64.

3 p45, as it is called, measures only 2.5” x 3.5” and contains John 18:31-33, 37-38. It resides at the John Rylands Library at Manchester, England. The existence of this fragment proves that the NT was known and used far from its place of composition during the first half of the second century.

4 The text types reflect the region of the people who quote from or use the texts, not where the MSS were found.

5 By “essentially,” I am conceding that in some cases are we not entirely confident about what the original wording was. But even in such cases, we are confident that the original wording must be retained in one of the variant readings. Thus it is important to provide optional readings.

6 William W. Combs, “The Preface To The King James Version And The King James-Only Position,” Detroit Baptist Seminary. (1996; 2003). Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal (Vol. 1, Page 257-258). The Septuagint (LXX) is the Greek translation of the Old Testament. It is a rather free and periphrastic translation.

7 From Mark Minnick, “How Much Do the Differences Make?” in God’s Word in Our Hands (Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald, 2003).

8 Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 96.

Is the Text of the Old Testament Reliable?

Is the Text of the Old Testament Reliable?

No book in the literature of the world has been so often copied, printed, translated, read and studied as the Bible. It stands uniquely as the object of so much effort devoted to preserving it faithfully, to understanding it, and to making it understandable to others.1 The Bible is one of the few texts of antiquity that is still popular today. How many other books from three thousand years ago do people still read? Not many. Other books from that period are seldom held in such high esteem as the Old Testament of the Bible is. Of course, few other books claim to be the very words of God. It is because so many people consider the Old Testament to be inspired by God that people still read and study it. The Bible is not like other books. Here “flows the fountain of life, because God himself speaks in it.”2

Critics and skeptics would have us believe that the Old Testament (OT) is not trustworthy because so many years stand between us and the original writings. Dr. C. A. Briggs confidently asserted, “We will never be able to attain the sacred writings as they gladdened the eyes of those who first saw them, and rejoiced the hearts of those who first heard them. If the external words of the original were inspired, it does not profit us. We are cut off from them forever. Interposed between us and them is the tradition of centuries and even millenniums.”3 Are we truly “cut off” from the original words given by inspiration?

We must admit that none of the originals still exist; they have dissolved into the dust of the Middle East long ago. All we have are copies of copies, and many of the copies date back no earlier than the middle ages. No extant (existing) copies of the OT can be dated from before about 400 BC, and most of them are much later than that. So how can we be confident that the text of the OT is reliable? How true to the originals are the existing copies?

The study of the manuscripts (MSS) of any book in an attempt to find the original readings is called textual or lower criticism.4 This is not criticizing the text, but an effort to find the best MSS and the best readings in the MSS. No one MS perfectly preserves the entire text of the OT. Because there are multiple copies of the books of the OT, scholars seek to compare the copies to weed out scribal errors and to find the readings which are most likely original. While some people claim that the available copies no longer convey the content of the originals, there is little cause for concern that the OT is somehow no longer available in its original form. It has not been lost or so corrupted that we no longer know what the original wording was. We can be confident that we have access to the OT as it was given thousands of years ago.

Consider the following in defense of the reliability of the OT text:5

  1. Background

    1. The OT was written mostly in Hebrew and a little in Aramaic. Hebrew used to be written in all consonant without any vowels. That may seem like it would be hard to read, but those familiar with the language and the text can read Hebrew without the vowels inserted. Not until well after the time of Jesus did Jewish scribes develop a system of vowels inserted into the text that we still use today. Since the vowel “points” (many vowels look like little dots) were not original to the language, they are not of primary significance when considering the original wording.

    2. The very fact that the Hebrew Scriptures persistently survived the most deleterious conditions throughout its long history demonstrates that indefatigable scribes insisted on its preservation. The OT books were copied by hand for generations on highly perishable papyrus and animal skins in the relatively damp, hostile climate of Palestine in contrast to the dry climate of Egypt, so favorable to the preservation of these materials. Moreover, the prospects for their survival were uncertain in a land that served as a bridge for armies in unceasing contention between the continents of Africa and Asia—a land whose people were the object of plunderers in their early history and of captors in their later history. That no other writings, such as the Book of Yashar or the Diaries of the Kings, survive from this period shows the determination of the scribes to preserve the OT books. But the worst foes of Hebrew Scripture were the very heirs of its treasures, because they sought to kill many of its authors (cf. Matt 23:35) and destroy their works (cf. Jer 36). One must assume, however, that from the first the OT Scriptures captured the hearts, minds, and loyalties of some in Israel who at risk to themselves kept them safe. Such people must have insisted on the accurate transmission of the text even as those of similar persuasion insist on it today.6

    3. Until recently, very few copies of OT books from before the middle ages were available. There is a good reason for this. The Rabbis regarded their copies of the Scripture with almost superstitious veneration, and when the MSS were too old and worn for regular use, they replaced them with new copies. The old copies would often be reverently destroyed, buried or hidden. It was better, they thought, to give them an honorable burial than to run the risk that the materials might be improperly used. Synagogues would often have a special storage room, called a genizah (literally, “hiding place”), where old MSS would be stored. One such genizah was found in Cairo in 1896. The sealed, dark room in the dry Egyptian climate allowed for the preservation the documents. The rich store of linguistic works found there shed light on Hebrew grammar and lexicology.7

    4. Jewish scribes were very careful and meticulous in their copying duties. They had various means of making sure that their copies were accurate and not full of errors. They knew how many letters and words were supposed to be in each book. They even knew the word that should be in the middle of each copied page. Since the scribes were so careful in their duties, we can have great confidence that they did not essentially alter or corrupt the original readings. They conveyed the OT to succeeding generations as they found it. Because the scribes did such an excellent job, most of the available MSS agree very closely. Most MSS are virtually identical.8 Small differences, such as changes in the vowels or spelling changes, did occur, but most are of very little consequence. A particular group of scribes called the Masoretes did their work from about AD 500 to 1000, and the text that they produced is called the Masoretic text (MT). There were schools of Masoretes at work in both Babylonia and Palestine; the school whose method was ultimately adopted was that of Tiberias in Palestine. Most conservative scholars believe that the Masoretes and their forebears handled the MSS with such care that very few errors crept into the text. However, a great deal of copying occurred before the Masoretic scribes began their stewardship of the text, and scholars are not sure how well early scribes handled the text. Additionally, the Jews were driven out of the Holy Land in AD 70, various wars and dispersions occurred, and the Jewish religion declined considerably by AD 200. Such events could have had a negative impact on how well the text was preserved. Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that the pre-Masoretic scribes were very careful and diligent stewards of the MSS. That is not to claim perfection for their copying skills, because scribes could never totally eradicate slips of the pen. The following types of scribal errors produced variations in the MSS:

      1. Writing a letter once when it should have been written twice, or writing a letter once that should have been written twice

      2. Reversing the position of letters

      3. Combining separate words into one, or dividing one word into two

      4. Substitution of one homonym for another

      5. Misreading similar letters

      6. Omitting a section due to the copyist’s eye skipping from one ending to a similar ending

      7. Accidental omission of words

    5. How do scholars deal with such phenomena? Over the years, textual critics developed rules, or “canons,” that they apply to variant readings in an effort to find the right one. These rules help them determine which reading is most likely to be original. Sometimes discovery of the proper reading is easy; sometimes it is very difficult. In some instances we must admit that two or three options exist, and one of them is correct, but we are unable to tell which one it is. Do variations in the text render it unreliable? By no means. As noted above, most variants are minor and have little impact on the meaning or application of a passage. Even those variants that do affect meaning do not adversely affect the general meaning or teaching of the OT. We may not always be able to tell with absolute certainty which reading is correct, but the correct reading is available somewhere within the MS evidence.9 In most cases, the MT will retain the correct reading, and one should follow a variant only rarely and for good reasons.

  2. The Dead Sea Scrolls

    1. Archeologist W. F. Albright called the original discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) “the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times.”10 These scrolls were apparently used by a Jewish sect living near the Dead Sea between about 150 BC to AD 70. Around the time the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and exiled the Jews in AD 70, the Jews in that sect sealed their sacred scrolls in clay jars and hid them in nearby caves. In 1947, a shepherd boy looking for a lost goat threw a stone into one of these caves and heard pottery shatter. He went in to investigate and found the scrolls. Within a very short time these scrolls were in the hands of biblical scholars who found some of them to be hundreds of years older than any copies then available. Because of the DSS findings, copies of OT books from before the time of Jesus are now available, so textual critics can investigate how much the text has changed through the copying process over the years.

    2. The DSS contain copies or fragments of nearly every OT book. About 40,000 MS fragments were found in the caves. One very important find was a complete copy of Isaiah from around 100 BC. A comparison of the DSS copy of Isaiah and one from AD 900 reveals very few and insignificant differences between copies separated by about a thousand years. For example, in Isaiah chapter 53, only 17 letters differ from the early copy to the later one, and of these, 10 are simply matters of spelling. Out of the 166 words in the chapter, there is only one significant difference, and it does not change the sense of the passage. In the vast majority of cases, the MSS found in the DSS materials are word-for-word identical with copies dated many centuries later. In the Habakkuk Commentary, which is dated to around 50 BC, variants are fairly numerous though minor in character, and often the obvious result of scribal error. Some of the variants found in the DSS material are helpful in providing better vocalization for some Hebrew words that are perhaps not as well preserved in the MT.11

    3. The MSS dating from the first century BC are essentially the same as those dating from a thousand years later. Comparisons of other MSS found in the DSS lead to the conclusion that the scribes of that time were fully capable of caring for the texts in their hands. The text that scribes were copying a hundred years before Jesus’ time is essentially the same text that we have today. The scribes who copied the text did a wonderful job of preserving it over the years.

    4. Nothing in the DSS discoveries endangers the essential reliability and authority of the MT. They do not indicate that the Septuagint is necessarily to be exalted to a more respected position than it occupied before the finding of the DSS materials, except perhaps in a few locations where the MT seems to be defective (e.g., 1 and 2 Samuel).12 Scholars believe the DSS comprise “the most phenomenal confirmation of the Hebrew text.”13 Textual critics believe that “the presence of a text type among the DSS (c. 200 B.C. to A.D. 100) identical with the one preserved by the Masoretes, whose earliest extant MS dates to c. A.D. 900, gives testimony to the unbelievable achievement of some scribes in faithfully preserving the text.”14

  3. The Septuagint and other versions

    1. Around 200 BC, the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, which came to be known as the Septuagint, abbreviated LXX. This version probably owes its name to the story recounted in the pseudonymous Letter of Aristeas, according to which seventy-two scholars summoned from Jerusalem by Ptolemy Philadelphus (295-47 BC) rendered in seventy-two days a perfect Greek translation of the Pentateuch. Christian writers credited the translation of the entire Hebrew Bible to these seventy-two interpreters.15 Copies of the LXX do not go all the way back to pre-Christian times, but they do give us an idea of what the Hebrew text was like around 200 BC. The LXX differs from the MT in many places, and sometimes these differences are significant. Among the DSS fragments were found some OT MSS that seemed to coordinate better with the LXX than with the MT. Scholars believe that by about 200 BC, at least two (maybe three) families or strains of Hebrew text were in circulation. Textual scholars today can compare the various families of MSS to find the readings that have the best support. Many scholars believe that the MT generally provides the correct readings, but in a few places the LXX may retain the original. The process of finding and choosing readings is not an easy task. Unless one has a good working knowledge of both Hebrew and Greek, he would not be qualified to make such decisions. Sometimes it is impossible to be absolutely sure which reading is correct, but at least we can propose a couple of possible options, and one of them is no doubt correct.

    2. Many of the differences between the MT and the LXX are due to stylistic concerns like word choice. The LXX is rather free and paraphrastic in some places, quite literal in others. In some places the LXX is a fairly good representation of the underlying Hebrew and at other places the Greek translator evidences a lack of skill. And since the LXX itself has been copied over the years, it may not retain the original Greek readings in some places. Comparing the LXX to the MT, we find mostly small variations that make little difference, but occasionally the differences are dramatic. One place where a significant difference exists between the LXX ant the MT is in the book of Jeremiah, where the LXX lacks some sixty verses found in the MT. Nevertheless, the LXX is in good general agreement with the MT overall. For the first three centuries of the Christian church, the LXX was the only OT that most believers read. Most of the quotations in the New Testament come not from the Hebrew but from the LXX, which strongly suggests that believers around the time of Jesus held the LXX to be the authoritative Word of God, equivalent to the Hebrew. In fact, were the Hebrew Bible to mysteriously disappear from the planet, we could use the LXX without a substantial change in faith or practice. In any particular text, whether one follows the MT or the LXX, he will not go far wrong.

    3. The OT was also translated into other languages, like Aramaic, Latin and Syriac. Versions tend to be of value for interpretation rather than for textual criticism.

      1. Aramaic Targums: “Targum” means “interpretation.” During the Babylonian captivity, the Jews began losing their Hebrew language skills. Aramaic was the language of diplomacy and commerce throughout the empire, and the Jews transitioned into that language. A teacher reading the OT would have to repeat what he was teaching in Aramaic because the people no longer understood Hebrew so well. The Targum of Onkelos on the Torah (produced in the 3rd century AD) adheres very closely to the traditional MT in most cases. Some of the targums are quite paraphrastic and free in their renderings of the Hebrew.

      2. The OT was translated into Latin starting in about AD 200. Some of these came from the LXX, not the MT. Jerome’s Latin translation did come from the Hebrew and for many centuries was the official Latin translation in the Western Church.

      3. About the same time as the Aramaic Targums were being produced, Syrian Christians began to produce a translation of the Bible into their Eastern Aramaic dialect (called Syriac). The Peshitta (“simple”) Syriac OT must have been composed in the second or third century AD. It was likely originally translated from the MT but was revised over the years to reflect the LXX readings.

      4. If we somehow lost all Hebrew and Greek MSS of the OT, we could still reconstruct the essential form of the OT from the Aramaic, Latin and Syriac (and other) versions.

  4. Other factors supporting the faithful transmission of the OT

    1. Much archaeological evidence supports the general outlines of history as recorded in the OT as well as minute details that could easily have been corrupted over the years. The names of kings of Israel and of the surrounding regions, both great and small, are preserved with remarkable accuracy. The Bible accurately records the names associated with certain regions. The Bible accurately describes various officers serving in foreign courts. One scholar asserted that archaeological discoveries have, “shown that not only the main substance of what has been written but even the words, aside from minor variations, have been transmitted with remarkable fidelity, so that there need be no doubt whatever regarding the teaching conveyed by them.”16

    2. Sometimes the OT records the same information in more than one location. Some of the Psalms are duplicated in other books. Isaiah records the same information as is found in parts of 2 Kings. Samuel, Kings and Chronicles record some of the same information. Although a study of the parallel passages will find some differences, they are generally minor and may be traceable to other factors than scribal error. The accuracy of parallel passages implies that scribes faithfully copied the MSS over the centuries.

    3. A comparison of other works of antiquity shows that ancient scribes in general were quite skilled in their duties. Ages before the advent of mechanical and electrical devices, scribes were well able to maintain the accuracy of copied MSS across vast periods. Scribal practices throughout the ancient Near East reflect a conservative attitude that preserved the text. “The prolonged and intimate study of the many scores of thousands of pertinent documents from the ancient Near East proves that sacred and profane documents were copied with greater care than is true of scribal copying in Graeco-Roman times.”17

Conclusion: The evidence points to the fact that the text of the OT is reliable. There is no reason to think that the OT is essentially corrupted or lost. Variations do exist among the copies, but most differences are trivial in nature and not one of them substantially affects doctrine or practice. For all intents and purposes, and especially for the layman, the OT is a reliable document that accurately and essentially conveys the original readings to modern readers. As W. F. Albright noted, “We may rest assured that the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible, though not infallible, has been preserved with an accuracy perhaps unparalleled in any other Near Eastern literature.”18 As Skilton cogently observes, “[W]e must maintain that the God who gave the Scriptures, who works all things after the counsel of his will, has exercised a remarkable care over his Word, has preserved it in all ages in a state of essential purity, and has enabled it to accomplish the purpose for which he gave it. It is inconceivable that the sovereign God who was pleased to give his Word as a vital and necessary instrument in the salvation of his people would permit his Word to become completely marred in its transmission and unable to accomplish its ordained end. Rather, as surely as that he is God, we would expect to find him exercising a singular care in the preservation of his written revelation. That God has preserved the Scriptures in such a condition of essential purity as we would expect is manifestly the case. The Hebrew text of the Old Testament has survived the millenniums in a substantially and remarkably pure form.”19

1 Wurthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, p. 121.

2 Wurthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, p. 121.

3 C. A. Briggs, “Critical Theories of the Sacred Scriptures in Relation to their Inspiration,” The Presbyterian Review, II (1881), 573f., quoted in John H. Skilton, “The Transmission of the Hebrew Text” in The Infallible Word: A Symposium by the Members of the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, edited by N.B. Stonehouse and Paul Woolley, revised ed. (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1967).

4 Gordon Fee defines textual criticism as “the science that compares all known manuscripts of a given work in an effort to trace the history of variations within the text so as to discover its original form.” Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 1.

5 Some of this material is from R. Laird Harris, “How Reliable is the Old Testament Text?” Covenant Seminary Review 81.

6 Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 1.


8 Many scholars believe that the consistency reflected in the MT is evidence of an official editorial process (a recension) done between 100 BC and AD 100 that produced a standardized text. Jewish scribes likely consulted their best MSS, produced an official text, and discarded those MSS that did not fit with their work. The Masoretes inherited this standardized text and conveyed it with little variation throughout the centuries.

9 In a very small number of cases, the MS evidence for a reading is so problematic that some scholars think the original reading is no longer available. In such cases, scholars attempt to restore what they think was the probable original reading.

10 Biblical Archeologist, 11:3:55, September, 1948, quoted in Bibliotheca Sacra (Vol. 113, Page 117).

11 Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 33.

12 Archer, p. 36.

13 Normal Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, p. 465.

14 Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 1.

15 Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 1.

16 Millar Burrows, What Mean These Stones? American Schools of Oriental Research, New Haven, 1941, p. 42, quoted in Arnold C. Schultz, “The Old Testament,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Vol. 9, Page 65). Evangelical Theological Society. (1966; 2002).

17 W.F. Albright, quoted in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 1.

18 Quoted in Archer, Old Testament Introduction, p. 58.

19 John H. Skilton, “The Transmission of the Scriptures”

A Presuppositional Apologetic Applied to Islam’s Teaching Regarding God and Salvation


A Paper Presented to Central Baptist Theological Seminary

By Bradley G. Anderson, 15 April 2005


One and a third billion people subscribe to the following assertion: “There is no other God but Allah and Mohammed is His Messenger and servant.”1 This confession is often the first sentence Muslim parents whisper to a newborn, and the last words a Muslim hears on his deathbed. When said with full conviction and understanding at least once in one’s lifetime, this simple declaration is all that is required to make one a Muslim. Islam is growing quickly and is currently the world’s second largest religion, behind only Christianity.

Islam has much in common with Christianity and Judaism. All three consider Abraham their progenitor, recognize only one God, emphasize similar moral principles, and stem from the Middle East. Thus, some see Muslims, Jews, and Christians as different branches of the same tree. Some within Christendom even suggest that sincere Muslims do not need to hear the gospel because God accepts all people who sincerely seek him. Islam and Christianity, however, are irreconcilable on many points. Christians should develop a basic understanding of Islam so they will be able to defend Christianity from Muslim claims and effectively point Muslims to Christ. A presuppositional Christian apologetic will be employed to compare and contrast Muslim views on God and salvation with biblical teachings. Both offensive and defensive apologetic elements will be applied in the course of the argument, under the assumption that the reader has a basic knowledge of Islam.

An Apologetic Approach

Christians share some common views with Muslims—monotheism, adherence to standards of morality, belief in an afterlife, and commitment to an authoritative book. In approaching Muslims, therefore, Christians need not argue for the existence of God or undermine the conclusions of secularism as they might do when dealing with atheists. The basis on which the apologetic “game” must be played is the sacred writings of each group. Christians must assert the authority of the Bible and undermine the claims of the Qur’an. One could begin an apologetic encounter by presenting all the reasons the Bible is reliable and all the reasons the Qur’an is not. The aim of such a strategy would be to undercut the Muslim’s confidence in his book and to engender confidence in the Christian book. Such a two-step approach would constitute a monumental task, and few are genuinely qualified to tackle it. An apologist would seek not only to discredit the Qur’an, but also to show that the Bible is trustworthy and qualified to supplant it. A Christian would argue that biblical Christianity accords best with reality and that the Qur’an contains serious flaws rendering it unreliable. The ultimate judge of which set of sacred writings is most trustworthy in this scenario must be the human intellect. No one denies that God can use this approach to draw Muslims to himself, and many apologists find this method fruitful, but a different approach may be even more effective.

A presuppositional strategy requires several assumptions, the first being that Muslims have some knowledge of the true God. This does not suggest they are actually worshiping the true God, but that residing within the heart of every human is some knowledge of the true God. Another assumption of the presuppositional approach is that the Bible is true and authoritative.2 All men have some knowledge of God because the Bible teaches such,3 but like other non-Christians, Muslims suppress and corrupt the knowledge of God they have. A third assumption is that “the gospel . . . is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes;”4 therefore, conversion is the result of the Holy Spirit convincing a human soul of the truth of the gospel. It is not primarily the result of a good argument or effectively marshaled evidence, although such techniques may play a supporting role in the process. A fourth assumption is that God is sovereign in the salvation of a soul.5 All the elect will certainly be saved, because the sovereign, efficacious call of God is what ultimately unlocks the door to an unbeliever’s heart, and not weighty, logical arguments.6 The Lord must open the unbeliever’s heart.7 A fifth assumption is that the proclamation of the gospel is a necessary element in the conversion process, because the elect will certainly be saved, but not without access to the gospel message.8 Muslims, like everyone else, must hear the Word in order to respond to it because “faith comes by hearing.”9 God is pleased to use the “foolishness of preaching” to save those who believe.10 This presuppositional approach will be applied to Muslim teaching regarding God and salvation.

A Presuppositional Approach Applied to Islam

Regarding God

When Mohammed originally entered the Ka’aba in Mecca, he found over three hundred pagan idols. He somehow concluded that none of these idols adequately represented “the God,” Allah. Although Arabs at that time were pagan idolaters, Mohammed, to his credit, rejected such idolatry, perhaps because of his exposure to Christianity and Judaism. When he was about forty years old, Mohammed claimed to have begun receiving revelations about Allah via the angel Gabriel. Miller asserts that the “heart of the message which Mohammed received was that there is no God but Allah, the one true God, who created heaven and earth.”11 Islam is based on the Qur’an, a compilation of these revelations, and the Hadith, traditions based on the life and sayings of Mohammed. Because of the apparent similarities between Allah and Yahweh, many suggest that the two are different representations of the same deity. Muslims, some claim, although gravely mistaken in their worship, are nevertheless seeking after the true God, the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus.12 Muslims believe they are worshipping the same God as Christians and Jews because the Qur’an plainly as much: “We believe in what has been sent down to us and in that which was sent down to you; our God and your God is One; and we are submitted to him.”13 However, closer examination reveals that Allah is so unlike the true God of the Bible that it is impossible to conclude that Muslims are worshiping the true and only deity. Allah is different from the true God in a number of significant ways.

Absolute Singularity vs. Trinity

The essential natures of the God of the Bible and Allah of Islam are vastly different. According to Miller, “Possibly the greatest theological core value of Islam is tawheed, the unity of God. . . . The oneness of God is considered by many to be Islam’s central theological value. Therefore the concept of the Trinity is repulsive to Muslims.”14 In fact, the Qur’an denounces Christian trinitarianism as tri-theism, the worship of three Gods.15 Madany claims that “Muslim theologians ridiculed the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, claiming that it was irrational, and had no basis in God’s true revelation in the Qur’an.16 Muslims strongly assert that “Allah does not have a partner or associate, and He did not beget nor was He begotten. Unlike the word God, the word Allah does not have a plural or gender.”17 In fact, one of the greatest sins Islam can conceive of is shirk, assigning partners to Allah. The Qur’an states: “God forgiveth not the sin of joining other gods with Him. . . . [O]ne who joins other gods with God hath strayed far, far away.”18 Christians, who assert the Trinity, are committing an unforgivable sin, which in the Muslim tradition is punishable by death.

Muslims obviously misunderstand or simply reject what the Bible teaches about the triune nature of God. For them, any hint of plurality within the Godhead amounts to polytheism. The biblical God is a Trinitarian being Who is one God in three persons, not one God in three Gods. Several Old Testament texts use plural pronouns to refer to God,19 and God’s name is occasionally applied to more than one person.20 In Exodus 3:1-5, the Angel of the Lord is equated with God and worshiped as God. While the Old Testament does not furnish a sufficient basis for the doctrine of the Trinity, it does contain suggestions consistent with the doctrine. The Old Testament stressed the unity of God,21 and Old Testament saints were strict monotheists. It is highly doubtful that Old Testament saints held any true Trinitarian ideas.

The revelation concerning God the Son and God the Holy Spirit had to wait until the historical appearance of Christ and the works of the Holy Spirit. Several New Testament texts mention the three persons of the Trinity in close proximity. At the baptism of Christ, the Son was in the water, the Father’s voice was heard from heaven, and the Spirit appeared in the form of a dove.22 Luke 1:32-35 mentions the Lord God, the Son of the Most High, and the Holy Spirit. Even the baptism formula “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” clearly states that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all share the same singular “name.”23 Finally, the apostolic benediction, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”24 aligns the persons in close relationship. A multitude of texts assert the unity and equality of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.25

Because Muslims claim that Allah can have no partners, they reject the concept of God having a son, especially one who is “begotten.” Like many pseudo-Christian cultists, Muslims misunderstand the entire “only begotten Son” concept. The suggestion that God can be known as Father is blasphemous to Muslims. In their estimation, one must engage in sexual contact with a human female in order to be a father. Such an idea is repulsive to Muslims and is certainly not what Christians imply when they call God their Father. That Jesus is called a “begotten Son” does not suggest any kind of sexual relationship between God and a human female. The biblical terms “father” and “son” do not require a physical relationship or demand sexual activity. For example, Paul called Timothy his “son in the faith”26 without implying physical descent. The sonship of Jesus has nothing to do with physical relationships.

The term ????????? literally means “of sole descent,” an only child, without brothers or sisters.27 The word may refer to physical descent or to a special status or position, just like Isaac was Abraham’s “only begotten son,” even though Abraham had other sons.28 Jesus is the one and only, special, unique, unparalleled, incomparable, dearest, or most beloved Son of God. That alone is why he is called “the only begotten” Son. The term emphasizes the special relationship between the Father and the Son. God has many children, but only one only begotten Son. Muslims seem not to grasp the fact that, as Geisler notes, “[p]aternity can be understood in more than a biological sense.”29

Although Trinitarian doctrine may be denied by Muslims and is perhaps mysterious and confusing to average Christians, trinitarianism is orthodox biblical teaching. Monotheism and trinitarianism are not mutually exclusive ideas. Christians are monotheists who recognize plurality within divine unity. Muslims would be loathe to consider any faith which denies the unity of God, and rightly so. Christians must assure them that orthodox Christianity is monotheistic. The Father, Son, and Spirit are one.30 Christians do not deny the essential unity of God.

Wholly Other Transcendence vs. Knowable Immanence

Another significant distinction between the God of the Bible and Allah concerns a man’s capacity to know the deity. The Qur’an presents Allah as wholly other and ultimately unknowable. Cate asserts that Allah is “distant and impersonal, He does not have a covenant relationship with humans. He is omnipotent, and people cannot get close to Him.”31 Muslims hold that nothing resembles Allah in any respect.32 Allah is an aloof God, unlike Yahweh, who has promised to remain in close personal contact with his people. Geisler maintains that “Allah does not have an essence, at least not a knowable one. . . . There is no nature or essence in [Allah] according to which he must act.”33 Because Allah has no essential nature or character, he is capable of shifting positions. “[Allah] does not have to be merciful; he could be mean if he wanted to be. He does not have to be loving to all; he could hate, if he chose to do so. . . . In other words, love and mercy are not of the essence of [Allah].”34 The essential nature of Allah, if there is one, is ultimately unknowable, even for sincere Muslims.

While Christians often speak of knowing God or growing in the knowledge of God, Muslims rarely use such language. They are not interested in knowing Allah himself, only in submitting to his will. Thus, as Geisler notes, “the Islamic view of God involves a form of agnosticism. . . . God’s names do not tell us anything about what God is like but only how God has willed to act. God’s actions do not reflect God’s character.”35 Muslims freely admit as much. Muslim philosopher Abu-Hamid al-Ghazali taught that “the end result of the knowledge [for Muslims] is their inability to know Him, and their knowledge is, in truth, that they do not know Him and that it is absolutely impossible for them to know Him. . . . It is impossible for anyone to really know Allah except Allah (Himself).”36 Muslim intellectual Isma’il Al-Faruqui admits that “[Allah] does not reveal Himself to anyone in any way. God reveals only His will.”37 Muslims seem to ignore the contradiction between the claim that Allah is unknowable and the assertion that he has revealed his will. Any communication from Allah would reveal something about his person. If Allah is truly unknowable, Muslims should not propose any statements about him. Even the statement, “Allah is unknowable,” asserts something about Allah. On the other hand, if descriptions of Allah are true, Muslims should not claim that he is unknowable. Ironically, the claim that “the ultimate goal (for man) is to know God” is not foreign to Islam.38 One may seek to know Allah, but such a search will only yield frustration, because in the end, He is unknowable.

Christians believe that they know God because God is knowable and has revealed himself in ways the human mind can grasp.39 Because humans reflect the image of God, they have the capacity to know God. Christianity asserts that God has certain attributes, and these attributes truly describe God’s nature and essence. As Erickson states, “Attributes are permanent qualities of the entire Godhead, constituting God what He is.”40 Unlike Allah, the true God will never contradict his essential character. God has revealed not only his will, but also himself, to mankind in the form of Jesus, who is the ultimate expression of God to man.41 God has revealed himself via the Word of God and the Son of God. Christians maintain that God is ultimately incomprehensible, but not that he is unknowable.

Capricious Command vs. Stable Sovereignty

Muslims and Christians disagree about the nature of God’s sovereignty. The cry “Allahlau Akbar,” meaning “God is the greatest,” is loudly heralded from minarets throughout the Muslim world several times a day. As Cate notes, Islam teaches that “God has complete power and can do whatever He wants to do. He has predestined every day of each person’s life.”42 Allah’s predestination of all things includes the unbelief of the infidel and the wickedness of the sinner. The Dictionary of Islam says that “[Allah] willeth also the unbelief of the unbeliever and the irreligion of the wicked and, without that will, there would neither be unbelief nor irreligion.”43 Sovereignty for Muslims means that Allah may change his mind and even commit acts that would be sinful for humans. Cate states the following:

Three times the Qur’an teaches that God deceives. These same three verses say that God is the best deceiver (Surah 3:54; 8:30; 10:21). English translations of these verses use words like “plot,” “plan,” or “the best planner.” But these translations do not reflect the full meaning of the original makara. Hans Wehr’s standard Arabic dictionary says that makara means “deceive, delude, cheat, dupe, gull, or double-cross” and makir is defined as “sly, cunning, or wily.”44

Muslims worship a God who is not only unknowable, but also unpredictable. If he chose to be hateful and inhumane, that would not contradict his essential character because he has none. Interestingly, the Qur’an teaches that Allah is directly responsible for disasters, crimes, and all manner of evil. Nearly twenty passages in the Qur’an teach that Allah leads men astray.45 Yet Muslims never describe Allah as wicked or evil. But if Allah is described by his actions, it would seem consistent to describe him as evil and wicked, as well as good. That Allah is essentially unknowable means one can never be sure how Allah will act or what he will do.

Christians agree with their Muslim friends that God is omnipotent and sovereign over his creation. But the true God cannot sin or act in a way contrary to what he has revealed about himself. The true God is no deceiver46 and will never act inconsistently with his holy character.47 God is not the author of sin,48 although he is capable of using the sinful actions of evil men to achieve his own ends.49 As Berkhof remarks, the true God is “devoid of all change, not only in His Being, but also in His perfections, and in His purposes and promises. . . and is free from all accession or diminution and from all growth or decay in His Being or perfections.”50 As the psalmist says, “[T]hey shall be changed: but thou art the same.”51 Jesus Christ, the supreme revelation of God to man, is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”52

Animistic Superstition vs. Confident Faith

Another notable distinction between Christianity and Islam centers on the quality of the believer’s faith. Pagan superstition, rather than a confident trust in the goodness and power of Allah, prevails within Islam. For example, Muslims believe that the black stone meteorite in the Ka’aba was originally crystal clear but became pitch-black through taking the sins of the Muslims who kiss it. Any form of veneration of a dead stone—especially to the extent of bowing down and kissing it—can only be identified with pagan idolatry rather than pure monotheistic worship.53 Cate avers that “Muslims strongly believe in a personal Satan and demons, called jinn. From the jinn come the powers of the evil eye. The fear of the evil eye, the jinn, and curses given by those with special power can lay a heavy toll on Muslims.”54 A long list of common Muslim superstitions could be listed. Cate mentions a few:

In children’s first years they are frequently kept very dirty, even in clean houses by clean parents, because a clean child could attract the evil eye. No one is to compliment a baby or a young child, because this could open the child up to being zapped by the evil eye. If a compliment is given, then Masha Allah (“Praise God”) is said in order to block the power of the evil eye from harming the child. Verses of the Qur’an are pinned to children’s clothing to ward off the evil eye. And a kerosene light might be kept on all night in a village home in order to keep jinn away. . . . Muslims flock to the tombs of saints, believing in the powers at the tomb of the dead bones of that saint to intercede or to answer their prayers. Muslims may walk around the tomb, touch it with their hands, and then put their hands on their face to pass the blessing from the saint onto themselves. . . . Many amulets are worn to ward off the power of the evil eye and the jinn. Many Muslims believe that some form of magical power helps them maintain equilibrium or balance with the spirit world.55

In one particularly absurd example of Muslim superstition, the Hadith has Mohammed saying, “If anyone of you rouses from sleep and performs the ablution, he should wash his nose by putting water in it and then blowing it out thrice, because Satan has stayed in the upper part of his nose all the night.”56 Another tradition alleges that Satan plays pranks on those who sleep when they should be praying.57

The Bible teaches that Satan roams the earth seeking to destroy whomever he can, but it mentions nothing about him lodging overnight within someone’s nostril. Christians acknowledge the power of Satan and demons, but they also recognize that such powers are ultimately under God’s sovereign control. Christians overcome Satan and evil spirits because God is greater than “he that is in the world.”58 Christians can sleep sweetly and soundly, knowing that they have nothing to fear when God is the source of their confidence and security.59 The impersonal, distant, unknowable God of Islam does not engender confidence or security in his followers. Christians fear no spirits, devils, jinns, or evil eyes. A spirit of fear and timidity is replaced with “power and love and discipline.”60 As Cate suggests,

Christians should never forget that they worship a personal God, who hears and answers prayer, who has created the world, who has all power, who has defeated Satan on the cross, who will ultimately defeat Satan, and who can solve the problems with which any Muslim is wrestling.61

True Christianity banishes superstition, while Islam is replete with it.

Regarding Salvation

In addition to their differing views regarding the nature of God, Christians and Muslims disagree on the requirements for salvation. Like Christians, Muslims are interested in securing a place for themselves in heaven. Muslims believe that earthly life is preparation for eternity, either in heavenly bliss or in damnation of hell.62 The Qur’an contains many warnings regarding the coming Judgment Day in which all will be held accountable for their faith and actions. While Christians agree with Muslims regarding the reality of a future judgment and the existence of heaven and hell, the two faiths differ drastically in their teachings regarding the nature of salvation and the conditions for achieving it.

Weakness vs. Depravity

The sinfulness of man is a significant area of disagreement between Christians and Muslims. Islam teaches that man is weak, sinful, and ignorant, but not spiritually dead. Man needs a teacher and guide, not a savior. Man is fully capable by his own will and efforts of pleasing God. Kateregga asserts that “Islam does not identify with the Christian conviction that man needs to be redeemed. The Christian belief in the redemptive sacrificial death of Christ does not fit the Islamic view that man has always been fundamentally good, and that God loves and forgives those who obey his will.”63 Accordingly, man needs only a shove in the right direction, not a total renovation of his nature or regeneration of his soul. Man’s ultimate purpose in life is not to know God, glorify God or to enjoy him forever, but to understand Allah’s will and become more obedient to his commands.64

Although Muslims believe the basic outlines of the fall of man as revealed in Genesis, they also hold that Adam’s sin did not change his nature, and that the fall did not have any impact on succeeding generations. As Rhodes notes, Muslims believe that “Adam was the same after the fall as he was before. He was still perfectly able to obey God.”65 Mahmoud A. Ayoub states the following:

Islam insists, both in the Qur’an and prophetic, hadith tradition, that every human being is born with an innate knowledge of God. This knowledge is not so much awareness or information, rather it is a state of innocent faith, a state (fitra) of the original creation expressed anew in every child.66

Islam asserts that every child is born as innocent as Adam was before the fall. Muslims see Adam’s sin as a “minor slip-up,”67 not a foundational corruption of human nature passed down from Adam to the whole human race. Kateregga claims that “Muslims . . . do not accuse Adam and Eve of transmitting sin and evil to the whole of mankind. The two were absolved of their sin, and their descendants were made immune from its effect. Sin is not original, hereditary, or inevitable.”68 Adam made a mistake—he forgot about God’s prohibition against eating the fruit of the tree. But he repented, God forgave him, and all was restored to a pre-fall condition. Muslims believe that people sin, not because of a sin nature inherited from Adam, but because of human weakness and forgetfulness. Sinners needed the prophets to supply continual reminders of Allah’s laws. Oddly enough, the Qur’an claims that Satan reminded Adam about the results of sin during the temptation. This tradition contradicts the Muslim teaching that Adam simply forgot God’s command not to eat of the fruit.69 Islam recognizes that men will sin, but those who seek to obey Allah’s will find forgiveness. Man’s heart is not utterly depraved; it is merely distracted. Muslims do not describe salvation in terms of conversion or deliverance from sin, but as remembering or returning.70

If sin is such a minor matter and so easily overcome, why do sinners merit the drastic punishments Allah threatens against them? Allah’s extreme reaction against transgressors is inappropriate if sin is no more than forgetfulness and distraction. Further, the Muslim view of sin cannot account for the depths of human depravity. It is hard to believe that root of idolatry, greed, and hatred is simple memory lapse. Reminders and appeals to return have little power to curb the lust of the flesh and the pride of life.

Christians believe the problem of sin is far more extensive than Muslims. The Bible regards Adam’s iniquity as more than a trivial slip-up. By his disobedience, Adam plunged the whole race into sin and brought the world itself into the “bondage of corruption.”71 The sin of the one man passed down to all men.72 The Bible teaches that the one sin of the one man Adam somehow influences the whole race. Man sins because he is sinful, and sin has penetrated every part of every person. People are sinners by birth and by choice. Sin is rebellion against God, a violation of his law, and failure to meet God’s standard, not merely weakness and forgetfulness. Christianity does not identify with the Muslim idea that man is fundamentally good.

Christians believe that the solution to the sin problem is not reminders or redirection, but total renovation. Man needs a new “heart of flesh” to replace his heart of stone.73 Jesus came into the world as a Second Adam to reverse the effects of the fall for believers. Those “in Christ” are new creations74 who have the Spirit-given capacity to turn away from sin and live holy lives. Man’s slavery to sin has been broken; sin has no more dominion over the believer.75 The Christian has been justified, legally pardoned based on Christ’s substitutionary atonement. He is no longer found guilty; his sins are forgiven, and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to him.76 God, through Christ, solves one’s sin problem judicially and gives the believer the capacity to overcome sin practically.

Faith Plus Works vs. Repentant Faith Alone

Muslim ideas of faith and works are radically different from Christian views. Muslims are quick to point out that their system of faith is far easier to believe and practice than the complicated and abstract faith of Christianity. Islam has only three basic elements of faith: belief in the oneness of God, belief in the prophecy of Mohammed, and belief in life after death. These three are commonly expanded to include belief in Allah and his attributes, the teaching of the prophets, the sacred books, resurrection, the angels, and Allah’s sovereign control over everything.77 Whoever denies any of these elements is assumed to be kafir, an unbeliever. Islam, as popularly understood and practiced, boils down to the following simple ideas: “spread peace, feed people food, and do some devotional practice, and you’ll enter paradise without any trouble.”78

Islam affirms the biblical truth that “faith without works is dead,”79 but unlike Christianity, it holds that good works are a necessary, meritorious element of salvation. Islam emphasizes the following “pillars” or good works that the faithful are expected to carry out and without which salvation is impossible: confession, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one’s life. Some Muslims also include jihad, holy war or some other kind of exertion for the cause of Islam.80 No salvation exists in the Muslim world apart from practicing the pillars, described by the Arabic word ibadat, from the root “slave. Miller notes that these pillars or works “are the services a slave renders to his Owner.”81 One American convert to Islam found that faith attractive because it “puts the onus of salvation on the believer.”82 On the final Judgment Day, Allah will weigh one’s good works against his evil works. The Qur’an states, “Then when the Trumpet is blown, . . . those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy—they will be successful: But those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls, in Hell will they abide.”83

Muslims must believe the right things and do the right things if they are to maintain any hope of a blissful afterlife. Faith alone will not save anyone; works are also required. Many passages from the Qur’an assert the necessity of both faith and works for salvation:

It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness—to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and give Zakat (regular charity); to fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God fearing. . . . To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath God promised forgiveness and a great reward. . . . But those who believe and work righteousness—no burden do We place on any soul, but that which it can bear—they will be Companions of the Garden, therein to dwell (for ever). . . . As to those who believe and work righteousness, verily We shall not suffer to perish the reward of any who do a (single) righteous deed.84

Christianity teaches an entirely different understanding of faith. Christians believe the Word of God,85 in which they find revealed the person and work of Christ.86 This revelation leads to faith in Christ himself.87 Sincere, repentant faith that apprehends the proper object is salvific; nothing else is required. If a person “has” Christ, he has eternal life.88 The object of saving faith is the prophet—Jesus Christ. Not so in Islam. Muslims believe that Mohammed is Allah’s prophet, but not that Mohammed is divine or that his work is the basis of salvation. Mohammed revealed Allah’s will and set a good example, but he did not purchase salvation for anyone other than himself. In Islam, every individual must purchase his own salvation through faith and good works. Belief in Mohammed is not trust in him to forgive sin or provide salvation. In contrast, Christian faith requires the believer to trust the person and work of Christ to save him. Christ is the Savior; Mohammed never claimed to be a savior.

Further, Christianity takes a radically different view of good works than does Islam. Biblical authors repeatedly deny the idea that works are meritorious in salvation.89 Christians claim to be saved by grace alone, through faith alone, while Muslims seek to merit God’s favor through obedience. The Bible asserts that one can trust in God’s grace for salvation or seek to earn God’s approval through good works, but not both.90 The good works of the unregenerate, although they are good in a sense, are nevertheless non-meritorious. Works will naturally surface in the lives of genuine believers, but works do not aid or secure salvation for Christians. Faith without works is dead, but so is faith that depends on works to bring salvation.

Uncertainty vs. Certainty

In spite of all its bold assertions about the requirements for salvation, Islam conveys little certainty that the faithful will ever attain it. Because salvation in Islam is based on a comparison between one’s good and evil works, the typical Muslim is unsure of his eternal destiny. For Muslims, affirming their own righteousness is presumptuous because it is impossible for anyone to know whether his good deeds outweigh his bad deeds until Judgment Day. When a Muslim is asked if he is a believer or if he will attain heaven, he will commonly answer, “If it be the will of God.”91 No assurance of salvation is possible for Muslims, at least not one based on faith and good works. The only people who can be absolutely assured of heaven are those who lose their lives fighting in a jihad, which explains why so many Muslims are willing to give their lives in Allah’s service. Sura 3:195 states, “Those who have . . . fought or been slain—verily I will blot out from them their iniquities, and admit them into gardens with rivers flowing beneath.” Since the majority of Muslims do not die during jihad, they can have no confidence of eternal life. Muslims commonly attempt to do additional good works such as fasts, prayers, gifts to charity, and pilgrimages, in the hope of shifting the scales in their favor. But ultimately, a blissful eternity is dependent upon the arbitrary will of Allah, and no one can predict what Allah’s decision will be.92 One authoritative tradition suggests that Mohammed himself was unsure of his eternal destiny.93 Like all other Muslims, even the prophet could only hope for the best.

Unlike Muslims, Christians can be assured of their eternal destination. The Bible repeatedly asserts that one can know he is saved.94 One’s sense of assurance is based on biblical promises, the presence of certain evidences, and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. If a believer has sincerely repented of sin and turned to Christ for forgiveness, he has fulfilled the biblical requirements for salvation. Shortly after salvation, fruit should start appearing in the life of a believer. This fruit, or evidence of spiritual life, may take many forms, such as obedience to Christ’s commands, love for the brotherhood of believers, a desire to be baptized, and union with a church. Those without such evidence have good reason to question their salvation, but the presence of such evidence should give the believer increased confidence that he is genuinely saved. The Holy Spirit has promised to indwell the believer and witness to him internally that he is a child of God.95 This internal witness is admittedly a subjective, personal experience and not to be considered apart from biblical promises or the presence of evidence. If one has followed the biblical guidelines, is experiencing the common evidences of salvation, and is enjoying the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, he should be confident that he is saved.

Fanciful Speculation vs. Spiritual Worship

The Muslim view of existence after death differs drastically from the Christian view. Muslims believe that at the point of death the soul of a faithful Muslim is clothed in sweet- smelling garments, taken through the seven heavens, ushered into the presence of God, and then returned to the physical body to wait for the future Judgment Day. The soul of the unbeliever is wrapped with a foul-smelling garment, brought to heaven but turned away, and then is returned to the body to wait for judgment. While in the grave, Muslims are visited by angels who examine them regarding their faith. If a dead person claims Allah, Islam, and Mohammed, the angels make the person comfortable and “open a window through which they can gaze at the Garden and receive the winds and odor of Paradise.”96 Unbelievers, on the other hand, are subject to great discomfort and feel the hot winds of hell and other torments while in the grave. Although some Muslims reject the idea of punishments and rewards before the judgment, the popular viewpoint maintains both. Some believe that souls sleep, while others hold that souls are fully conscious and active. Some suggest that the dead do not interact with the living, but others claim that the dead speak and even visit their friends. Perhaps spirits temporarily hover near their homes and observe how their affairs are being discharged. Departed spirits possibly wander the earth or visit the Garden. Islam asserts no uniform teaching on the activities of the dead at this stage, and most educated Muslims do not speculate about the exact nature and details of the afterlife.97

As Geisler notes, “the fact of bodily resurrection is a cornerstone of Mohammed’s early preaching.”98 Muslims believe that at the final judgment, the angel of death, Israfil, will blow a trumpet, after which God will resurrect the dead. Allah will recreate each person’s body in its original shape and will rejoin every soul to its body. All people will be called to stand before Allah to await judgment, and this waiting period may last for a thousand years. Eventually, he will begin judging everyone based on his deeds, intentions, and desires, which have been recorded by two angels. Allah will employ a scale to weigh one’s good deeds against his bad. Everyone will be forced to cross seerat, the bridge over hell. The faithful will cross quickly and easily, while unbelievers will fail to cross and will fall into the abyss of hell. During this process, some will implore Mohammed to intercede for them; and he will agree, allowing many who were destined for hell to enter heaven. In fact, some who fell into hell will be released through the prophet’s intercession. Most Muslims believe that only the musrikun, those unbelievers who have committed the worst sins, such as impugning the unity of God, will suffer the eternal torments of hell. Geisler condenses the Qur’an’s description of hell:

[The inhabitants] will be given a mixture of boiling water. Then shall their return be to the (blazing) fire” (37:62-68). . . . Furthermore it has fierce “boiling hot water” (55:44), with “a fierce blast of fire and boiling water, and in the shades of black smoke” (56:42-43). “When they are cast therein, they will hear the (terrible) drawing in of its breath even as it blazes forth, almost bursting with fury” (67:7-8). The people of the fire are sighing, wailing and wretched (11:106). Their scorched skins are constantly exchanged for new ones so that they can taste the torment anew (4:45). They drink festering water and though death appears on all sides, they are not able to die (14:16-17). . . . Boiling water will be poured on their heads, melting their insides as well as their skins, and hooks of iron will drag them back should they try to escape (22:19-21).99

Muslims who successfully cross the bridge over hell will arrive safely in heaven, the “Gardens of Felicity.”100 The faithful will be given delicious drinks and are promised the companionship of young and beautiful women. In fact, each man may have seventy-two beautiful maidens at his disposal.101 Kripalani asserts that “Mohammed’s conception of Paradise is well known to be materialistic and voluptuous,” a place where all physical desires may be fully satisfied.102 Everyone will be content, peaceful and secure. The Qur’an says that the faithful “will enjoy gentle speech, pleasant shade, and every available fruit, as well as the cool drink and meat they desire. They will drink from a shining stream of delicious wine,” wear gold and pearls, robes of finest silk, and be waited on by servants.103 A tree in Paradise is so large that a rider can travel in its shade for a hundred years. Spectacular views of fountains, pavilions, and rivers delight on every side.104 One tradition asserts that each man in heaven will inhabit a hollowed-out pearl, sixty miles long, in which he will have a number of wives, none of whom will see the others.105 But the spiritual joys of heaven will exceed the physical pleasures of the place. “[T]he greatest bliss is the good pleasure of God: that is the supreme felicity.”106 Muslims differ on whether the descriptions of heaven and hell should be interpreted literally or symbolically.

A simple description of the Muslim view of the afterlife exposes it as a weak link within the system. Pleasant or foul-smelling garments, graveside views of heaven or hell, angelic visitors, disembodied spirits hovering nearby, the bridge over hell, sensual delights of heaven, barbaric descriptions of hell—many such elements were likely plagiarized from earlier religions such as Zoroastrianism. Christians agree that heaven and hell exist, but the biblical description of these places has little in common with the fanciful imaginations rife within Islam.

The Bible teaches that upon death the soul immediately leaves the body and eternally resides ever after in a state of bliss or punishment. The soul does not remain in the grave with the dead body, nor does it sleep or haunt its old neighborhood. Absent from the body, one’s soul is “present with the Lord”107 or experiencing the just desserts of sin.108 Christians will be judged for their works, but their entrance into heaven is not based on this judgment. Viewpoints regarding the eschaton differ within Christianity, but all agree that there will be a future resurrection and judgment for the just and the unjust. The just will enjoy eternal bliss while the wicked will suffer eternal torment. Then all things will be made new and the eternal state will commence.109 Noticeably absent from Christian belief are the more gruesome descriptions of hell or the sensual and fanciful descriptions of heavenly bliss, but Christians can agree with their Muslim friends that “the greatest bliss is the good pleasure of God.” Worship, not the fulfillment of physical desires, will be a primary activity for those in heaven.110 Intimate, unbroken, perfect fellowship of believers with their Creator and Redeemer will be the ultimate reward.


While Islam and Christianity share some common views, they are not compatible faiths. Muslims worship a different God and seek salvation through different means. Allah has little in common with the true God revealed in the Bible. God is a Trinity, not an absolute singularity. God has revealed himself to man and is knowable, not wholly other and essentially unknowable. God’s character and nature are stable, not arbitrary and contradictory. The Christian faith precludes superstition rather than encouraging it. Likewise, the Christian view of salvation differs radically from Islam. Christianity takes the problem of human sinfulness far more seriously than does Islam, asserting that the natural man is utterly depraved, not just distracted. Man is saved by repentant faith alone, not by faith plus works. The Christian may be confident and secure in his salvation, while even a sincere, faithful Muslim has no genuine assurance that he will ever attain heavenly bliss. Christians look forward to an orderly and worshipful afterlife, not a chaotic, sensual one.

The Qur’an claims that Allah told Mohammed, “When in doubt ask those who read the previous scriptures.”111 Some Muslims may follow this advice and be receptive to the Christian message. Since the gospel is the “power of God unto salvation,” and since “faith comes by hearing,” the best approach to employ when encountering Muslims is a simple proclamation of biblical claims. The Qur’an says, “You will find those who are nearest in love to [Muslims] to be those who say, ‘We are Christians’ because among them are men devoted to learning and self-denial, and they are not arrogant.”112 A humble, compassionate, educated explanation of “the previous scriptures” may be the most effective strategy in reaching Muslims.


Ayoub, Mahmoud A. “Revelation and Salvation: Towards an Islamic View of History.” No pages. Cited 17 December, 2004. Online:

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941.

Caner, Emir Fethi, and Ergun Mehmet Caner. More than a Prophet. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2003.

Cate, Patrick O. Islamic Values and the Gospel.” Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (1998): 355-370. Libronix Library System Version 2.1b 2000-2004. Print ed.: Bibliotheca Sacra 155. Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1998.

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985.

Geisler, Norman L., and Abdul Saleeb. Answering Islam. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002.

Gilchrist, John. “Our Approach to Islam: Charity or Militancy?” No pages. Cited 20 Dec 2004. Online:

Hanson, Hamza Yusuf. Mohammed: Legacy of a Prophet on DVD. Menlo Park, CA: Kikim Media and Unity Productions Foundation, 2002.

Khan, M. Muhsin, trans. Sahih Bukhari. Vol. 4, book 54, no. 516. No pages. Cited 24 Jan 2005. Online: 054.sbt.html.

Kateregga, Badru D., and David W. Shenk. A Muslim and a Christian Dialogue. Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1997.

Kittle, G., and G. Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Libronix Library System Version 2.1b. 2000-2004. Print ed.: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Translated by G. W. Bromiley. 10 vols. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964-1976.

Kripalani, Raj. “The Doctrine of Heaven (Paradise) Behind the Veil of Islam.” Conservative Theological Journal 6, no. 19 (2002): 351-375. Libronix Library System Version 2.1b. 2000-2004. Print ed.: Conservative Theological Journal 6. Tyndale Theological Seminary, 2002.

Madany, Bassam M. “The Trinity and Christian Missions to Muslims,” Reformation and Revival 10, no. 3 (2001): 119-135. Libronix Library System Version 2.1b 2000-2004. Print ed.: Reformation and Revival 10. Reformation and Revival Ministries, 2001.

Miller, William M. A Christian Response to Islam. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1976.

Rauf, Mohammed Abdul. Islam: Creed and Worship. Washington D.C.: The Islamic Center, 1974.

Rhodes, Ron. Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims. Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2002.

Shehadi, Fadlou. Ghazali’s Unique Unknowable God. Leiden: Brill, 1964.

Zahoor, A., and Z. Haq. “Biography of Prophet Mohammed.” No pages. Cited 26 Mar 2002. Online:

1The composition of this statement may take various forms such as, “There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his apostle.”

2John 17:17; 1 Tim 3:15-17; 2 Pet 1:19-21.

3Rom 1:18-25.

4Rom 1:16.

5Rom 9:15-16.

6John 6:37, 40, 10:28.

7Acts 16:14; 1 Cor 2:13-14.

8Rom 10:9-17.

9Rom 10:17, cf. John 5:24.

101 Cor 1:21.

11William M. Miller, A Christian Response to Islam (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1976), 21.

12Miller, Christian Response, 75. “When Muslims worship their Creator, they are surely worshiping the true God.” Miller concedes that much of what Muslims believe about God is incorrect.

13Sura 29:46.

14Patrick O. Cate, Islamic Values and the Gospel,” Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (1998): 357. Version 2.1b. 2000-2004.

15Miller, Christian Response, 73. Cf. Sura 5:116.

16Bassam M. Madany, “The Trinity and Christian Missions to Muslims,” Reformation and Revival 10 (2001): 120. Version 2.1b. 2000-2004.

17A. Zahoor and Z. Haq, “Biography of Prophet Mohammed,” n.p. [cited 26 Mar 2002]. Online:

18Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 20.

19Gen 1:1, 1:26; 3:22.

20Ps 110:1; Isa 48:16, 61:1.

21Deut 6:4-5.

22Matt 3:16-17.

23Matt 28:19.

242 Cor 13:14.

25John 6:27, 20:17; Heb 1:8; Titus 2:13; John 1:1, 5:23; Acts 5:3-4; Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14.

261 Tim 1:2.

27Büchsel, “?????????,” TDNT. Version 2.1b. 2000-2004.

28Heb 11:17.

29Geisler, Answering Islam, 139.

30John 10:30, 17:22; Acts 5:3-4.

31Cate, “Islamic Values,” 357.

32Mohammed Abdul Rauf, Islam: Creed and Worship (Washington D.C.: The Islamic Center, 1974), 2.

33Geisler, Answering Islam, 140.

34Geisler, Answering Islam, 141.

35Geisler, Answering Islam, 141.

36Fadlou Shehadi, Ghazali’s Unique Unknowable God (Leiden: Brill, 1964), 37.

37Isma’il Al-Faruqi, Christian Mission and Islamic Da’wah: Proceedings from the Chambesy Dialogue Consultation (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1982), 47-48, quoted in Geisler, Answering Islam, 142.

38Shehadi, Unknowable God, 37.

39Jer 9:24; Phil 3:10; 1 John 2:3.

40Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 265.

41Heb 1:1-3.

42Cate, “Islamic Values,” 357.

43Abdiyah Akbar Abdul-Haqq, Dictionary of Islam (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1980), 147, quoted in Emir Fethi Caner and Ergun Mehmet Caner, More than a Prophet (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2003), 41.

44Cate, “Islamic Values,” 358.

45Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2002), 99.

46Titus 1:2, literally “the non-lying God.”

47Isa 47:4, 57:15.

48Jas 1:13.

49Acts 4:27-28.

50Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), 58. Version 2.1b. 2000-2004.

51Ps 102:26-27.

52Heb 13:8.

53John Gilchrist, “Our Approach to Islam: Charity or Militancy?” n.p. [cited 20 Dec 2004]. Online:

54Cate, “Islamic Values,” 362.

55Cate, “Islamic Values,” 362-363.

56M. Muhsin Kahn, trans. Sahih Bukhari, n.p. [cited 24 Jan 2005]. Online: fundamentals/hadithsunnah/ bukhari/054.sbt.html.

57Kahn, Sahih Bukhari, n.p. Someone told the Prophet about a man who had kept on sleeping until morning and had not got up for prayer. The Prophet said, “Satan urinated in his ears.”

581 John 4:4.

59Prov 3:23-26.

602 Tim 1:7.

61Cate, “Islamic Values,” 364.

62Geisler, Answering Islam, 109.

63Badru D. Kateregga and David W. Shenk, A Muslim and a Christian Dialogue (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1997), 175.

64Rhodes, Reasoning, 233.

65Rhodes, Reasoning, 235.

66Mahmoud A. Ayoub, “Revelation and Salvation: Towards an Islamic View of History,” n.p. [cited 17 December, 2004]. Online at:

67Rhodes, Reasoning, 234.

68Kateregga, Dialogue, 141.

69Sura 7:20.

70Caner, More than a Prophet, 123.

71Rom 8:21.

72Rom 5:12-19.

73Ezek 11:19.

742 Cor 5:17.

75Rom 6:14-22.

76Rom 5:1; 2 Cor 5:21.

77Geisler, Answering Islam, 125.

78Hamza Yusuf Hanson, Mohammed: Legacy of a Prophet on DVD, n.p. Kikim Media and Unity Productions Foundation, 2002.

79Jas 2:17.

80Geisler, Answering Islam, 126.

81Miller, Christian Response, 57.

82Kevin James, Legacy, n.p.

83 Sura 23:101-103.

84Sura 2:177, 5:10, 7:42, 18:30.

85Rom 10:17; 1 Thess 2:13.

86John 20:30-31; 1 Thess 4:14.

87John 12:44; Acts 16:31.

881 John 5:12.

89Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5.

90Rom 11:6.

91Geisler, Answering Islam, 128.

92Rhodes, Reasoning, 236.

93Caner, More than a Prophet, 125.

941 John 3:14, 4:13, 5:10-13.

95Rom 8:16.

96Geisler, Answering Islam, 111.

97Geisler, Answering Islam, 114.

98Geisler, Answering Islam, 117.

99Geisler, Answering Islam, 122.

100Sura 37:43; 52:34; 56:17; 74:19.

101Rhodes, Reasoning, 268.

102Raj Kripalani, “The Doctrine of Heaven (Paradise) Behind the Veil of Islam,” Conservative Theological Journal 6, no. 19 (2002): 351. Version 2.1b. 2000-2004. “As for the righteous, they shall surely triumph. Theirs shall be gardens and vineyards, and high-bosomed virgins for companions: a truly overflowing cup.” Sura 78:31.

103Sura 37:45-47.

104Rhodes, Reasoning, 257.

105Kripalani, “Doctrine,” 358.

106Sura 9:72.

1072 Cor 5:8.

108Luke 16:19-31.

1092 Pet 3:9-13; Rev 21:5.

110Rev 4:10-11, 15:4, 22:9.

111Sura 10:95; 16:43.

112Sura 5:85.

A Primer on Presuppositional Apologetics

Additional Material: A Primer on Presuppositional Apologetics1

Christian apologetics is the discipline or practice of defending and commending Christianity. Christianity as a worldview competes with a host of other worldviews to accurately represent things as they are. Imagine with me a Christian engaging a non-Christian in apologetics. By what criteria will he judge the arguments? Ah, but here is the kicker: The debate is about the criteria themselves.

How so? When a Christian engages a non-Christian, each makes a claim about ultimate reality—the way things really are. Now the way things really are affects the way people can know things. (Philosophy says that your ontology [philosophy of what is] has implications for your epistemology [philosophy of how we know what is].) The Christian derives his ontology and epistemology from biblical and systematic theology; the non-Christian derives his from somewhere else—if an atheist, perhaps from his own experience filtered through his own reason. The Christian and the non-Christian, because they have different ontologies and epistemologies, hold very different ideas about what is scientifically possible, morally just, or rationally plausible. (For instance, the vicarious atonement is morally repugnant to unbelievers, cf. 1 Cor. 1:18–24.) Worldviews clash over ultimate issues, including what categories best sort data and what criteria best judge arguments. Christianity tells us that even more is at stake—namely, how we may be right with God.

Recognizing this conundrum, some apologists attempt to lead unbelievers to Christianity over so-called neutral ground, to appeal to assumptions and criteria “common” to both the Christian and the non-Christian. A school of apologetics called presuppositionalism, however, has disagreed with that methodology. Presuppositionalism asserts that by assuming that the believer and unbeliever have criteria in common—that there is neutral data out there they both may properly use—the apologist has already sold the farm (at least, implicitly).

I advocate presuppositional apologetics. I assume my audience shares my commitment to glorify God in all things and to recognize the Lordship of Christ in every endeavor (1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 10:4–5; 1 Pet. 3:15). I do not assume that anyone who opts for a different apologetic methodology from me is somehow deficient in his religious affections, nor do I deny the valuable contribution non-presuppositional apologists have made to Christian scholarship or to kingdom service. I hope to provoke to love and to good works, and to advocate a method of apologetics that I believe is consistent with what Scripture reveals. First, I will summarize pertinent areas of systematic theology. Second, I will draw implications from theology for philosophy and apologetics. Finally, I will outline a rough strategy of presuppositional apologetics.


The Bible tells us that God is triune, personal, purposeful, eternal, omniscient, sovereign, self-contained, self-sufficient, both transcendent and immanent. He is the unique Creator. When we say that God is self-contained and self-sufficient (in theology, His aseity, cf. John 5:26; Acts 17:25), we imply that there was a time when the Trinity was all that was (Ex. 3:13–15; Ps. 90:2), presumably enjoying one another’s infinite love (John 17:5, 26; 1 John 4:8). When we say God is self-contained and self-sufficient, we also imply that God looks to nothing outside Himself for self-definition. He does not exist within a larger metaphysical matrix (Isa. 43:10; 44:6–8; 45:21–22). Furthermore, He knows Himself perfectly. The Spirit searches “the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10). God is perfectly satisfied with Himself. He knows everything about Himself, and He knows how all of that “everything” relates to the rest of that “everything.” (I speak as a fool.) Since He knows Himself and all the interrelations exhaustively, His knowledge is of unique and infinite quality: no creature could ever attain to that unique and infinite quality of knowledge. It is not just a very big quantity of knowledge; it’s on a different level (Isa. 55:8–9). When God created the world, He created it according to His own perfect knowledge and plan. God’s knowledge and God’s plan are mutually inclusive: All that He has planned He knows about, and all that He knows about He knows by virtue of the fact that He planned it (Ps. 104:24; Dan. 4:35; Isa 46:10; Heb. 1:3). The Creator is distinct from His creation.

The Bible says that this God has revealed Himself. There are two basic categories of revelation: general (to all men generally) and special (to some men in particular). When God reveals Himself, He is successful in His purposes (Isa. 55:11). Now general revelation and special revelation have different purposes, but both kinds of revelation are necessary. They work together, the one helping to interpret the other. Reformation theology teaches that with respect to His purposes, God’s revelation is authoritative, sufficient, and clear—and ultimately necessary for our existence (Job 23:12; Ps. 19, 119; Prov. 29:18; Isa. 46:10; Amos 8:11; Matt. 5:17–18; 16:1–4; John 10:35; Rom. 1; 2 Tim. 3:15; Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:13).

As Francis Schaeffer put it, God is there, and He is not silent. But who is listening? What of man and his capacity to receive God’s self-revelation? The Bible tells us that God created man to bear God’s image and to act as a vice regent in creation. Man is rational, emotional, spiritual, moral, creative, relational, and so forth. Even in the garden, as a creature, man was finite. Unique among creatures, but still not the Creator. Genesis describes the Fall from this innocence into sin: Eve’s rejecting God’s word for Satan’s, and the subsequent tragic trajectory of a fallen civilization. Now man was not simply finite; now He was sinful, too. He never could have attained to God’s knowledge, but now His understanding was distorted, too. The Fall had noetic effects (effects on man’s knowledge). Fallen man instinctively rejects God’s truth to the point of blind self-deception because God’s truth condemns him (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 1:18; Rom. 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Pet. 3:5).

In short, because fallen man does not fear God, he has forfeited true wisdom and knowledge (Prov. 1:7; 9:10). Because He is separated from God (Isa. 59:1–2) and rejects Christ, He does not know where “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are tucked away (Col. 2:2–3). Only with salvation can fallen man’s mind be renewed (Rom. 12:1–2; Eph. 4:22–24; Col. 3:10).

Implications for Philosophy and Apologetics (a Grocery List)

First, because of who He is, God Himself is the standard of what makes right right and wrong wrong, of what is possible and what is impossible. Because of who He is, only such a Being is qualified to speak authoritatively and interpret the facts of existence for us. The laws of the universe obey Him, not vice versa. Because nothing is beyond His knowledge or control, nothing could trip Him up or cause Him to err; we can trust His Word (Heb. 6:13). Only such a sure word can serve as a proper foundation for knowledge. As I said above, our ontology determines our epistemology. Christian ontology is about an infinite-personal God who speaks; and Christian epistemology says that no one has access to sure knowledge unless he receives it from the God who speaks.

Second, Christianity’s most basic distinction is the Creator-creature distinction. God is God; everything else is not God. That’s easy to say but hard for sinners to accept. We keep trying to ascend to God or to bring Him down to chum around benignly among us.

Third, God’s revelation is, objectively speaking, plain enough for all to see what He’s saying. He says that even the lost people “know” Him, although they lie like crazy and tell us the data are too ambiguous to be sure (Rom. 1). IT technicians have a name for a similar problem: “Error Is Between Keyboard and Chair.” There are no bugs in God’s program. The error is not with Him. The unbeliever is in a pickle: He has rejected God and His Word and must fend for himself in a universe that cries out to him that he is justly condemned (Rom. 1). The data are anything but ambiguous; God regards them as objectively certain. The unbeliever persists in finding out by himself. He is a God wannabe.

Fourth, all human knowledge is either an obedient or a disobedient response to God’s revelation. Even in the garden, Adam and Eve did not generate their own knowledge: They received revelation from God, and their own minds constructed an interpretive model (in their own creaturely way) of what God had said. To this day, human knowledge is a construction based on what God has said. Some receive God’s Word obediently; some plunder it for their own purposes. Obviously, unbelievers recognize certain data about the universe; the problem is, they try to plug that data into a worldview that is ultimately false, and hence a worldview that cannot account for the data.

Fifth, there is an antithesis in the way a believer or an unbeliever receives God’s knowledge. Yes, they look at the same data in creation. Yes, they look at the same printed Bible. But they do not make the same ultimate assumptions. The unbeliever assumes that he does not need God; the believer knows that he does. One is a covenant breaker, the other a covenant keeper. Here’s the crux: The unbeliever asserts that he does not need God, but this is a self-destructive assertion (see below).

Finally, Christianity is one coherent unit. Christianity is not bare theism with a Messiah tacked on. Both in reality and on paper, God is a Trinity, the Second Person of which entered into space-time history and took on a human nature to redeem mankind who had sinned grievously against Him and had become hopelessly lost. Both in reality and on paper, all of those events and propositions are inextricably linked. God, Christ, the Spirit, Scriptures, sin, salvation—the sinner needs to know the basics of each to have a proper understanding of how to be saved. Furthermore, to defend bare theism (even provisionally) without Christ is to defend a god who isn’t there; it is to defend a human construction, an idol.

How to “Do” Presuppositional Apologetics

Which apologetic method is most consistent with Christian theology? How do we go about doing apologetics, defending Christianity, without (1) leaping into irrational fideism or (2) selling the farm and being inconsistent with everything Christianity tells us?

First, point out to the unbeliever his own creatureliness. He cannot know everything. The implications of our creatureliness are that there will always be something outside the realm of our experience and/or beyond our reasoning. How can we know for sure that anything we presently think is true, if there is the possibility that something “out there” could potentially overturn all our prior ideas? Well, we have to take it on faith. All knowledge involves a certain amount of faith.

Second, point out to the unbeliever that we all reason somewhat circularly. There are certain presuppositions (hence the name presuppositionalism that everyone holds on faith, consciously or unconsciously. We all have grids to interpret the data; these grids are fashioned according to our own presuppositions and, if truth be told, predilections.

Third, point out his sin or his anti-Christian assumptions. He has assumed there is no God who can speak as God has spoken.

Fourth, point out the self-destructive nature of these assumptions. He has built an epistemological house on the sand. When the rains of existence come down, his house won’t stand. He has claimed the right to judge the rationality, possibility, and morality of things; but apart from God, he cannot make any of his claims “stick” beyond his own subjective state. He cannot explain rationality itself. Why do the laws of logic seem to work? Who says so? Why do we all have moral ideas about right and wrong and the desire to impose them? Why do we expect nature to act uniformly? The unbeliever cannot provide a satisfactory explanation for the why of the most basic “laws,” the very criteria he wants to impose. He has to admit that either he made them up or that he accepts them on the authority of other finite creatures. The believer, however, asserts that God has spoken to us, that deep down we know this, and that God has explained these most basic laws and criteria. God has not told us everything there is to know, but He has told us enough with which to navigate existence.

Practically speaking, the believer seeks to deconstruct the unbeliever’s worldview, showing how the unbeliever has nothing to stand on. The believer has at his disposal every datum of the universe—even things as “unlikely” as evil and suffering—because Christianity provides the only satisfactory explanation for this data. He need not fear anything the unbeliever might throw at him; the very fact that the unbeliever can protest against God is a witness to the war between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. When the unbeliever uses logic against Christianity, he implicitly acknowledges a God who grants us logic. This is “Judo” apologetics: Unbelievers’ energy is used against them.

In short, the Christian must assert that Christianity is the only satisfactory worldview. All else is impossible. Any other claim is too small.

1 Mike Osborne, B.A. in Bible and an M.A. in Church History from Bob Jones University., accessed June 2006.

Lesson 14: Islam

Lesson 14: Islam

[Note to teacher: this lesson could easily take two class periods]

We will conclude our study in apologetics by examining one of the fastest growing and most influential non-Christian religions today, Islam. Followers of Islam are Muslims or Mohammedans. Islam has much in common with Christianity and Judaism. All three originated with Abraham, recognize one God (monotheistic), are centered in the Middle East, and emphasize similar moral principles. Thus, some see Muslims, Jews and Christians as different branches of the same tree. There are even some within Christendom who suggest that sincere Muslims do not need to hear the Gospel because God accepts all sincere people of faith. However, Islam and Christianity are contradictory on many points. Christians should develop a basic understanding of Islam so that they’ll be able to both defend Christianity from Muslim claims and effectively point Muslims to Christ.

Background:1 The word Islam means peace by submission and obedience to the will and commandments of God (Allah). It is also understood to mean total peace that comes from surrender to the will of God Almighty. The word “Islam” should be pronounced with a “ss” (Islam) sound rather than a “z” sound (Izlam).

Islam arose in the deserts of Arabia near the city of Mecca. Mecca was an important commercial city and also a shrine city. In it is the Ka’aba, “the cube,” a building traditionally thought of as a worship center built by Abraham and Ishmael. Although the Arabs recognized Allah as the supreme God, he was not the only god they worshipped. The Ka’aba was full of images of other gods and goddesses. The Arabs at the time of Muhammad were thoroughly pagan.

The shrine at Mecca was an important element in Arab culture when the father of the faith, Muhammad ibnu Abdillah, was born around 570 AD. He earned his living as a trader and was known by his people as al-amin (the trustworthy one). By the time he was twenty-five, Muhammad had become well known in the city for his integrity and kindness. When Muhammad reached the age of 40, the angel Jibril (Gabriel) supposedly came to him with revelations that established Muhammad as a prophet. He first instructed his immediate family in Islam, including his wife Khadija and their six children. But eventually it was revealed to him that he should begin delivering the message to all of mankind. For the next 20 years, he communicated the message of Allah to his people, and set an example for how each human being should lead his life. Muhammad died on June 8, 632 AD.

According to Muslim tradition, the angel Gabriel visited Muhammad as commanded by Allah revealing Ayat (meaning signs, loosely referred to as verses) in Arabic over a period of twenty-three years. The revelations that he received were sometimes a few verses, a part of a chapter or the whole chapter. The revealed verses were recorded on a variety of available materials (leather, palm leaves, bark, and shoulder bones of animals), memorized as soon as they were revealed, and were recited in daily prayers by Muslims. All the revealed verses were compiled in the book known as Qur’an (Koran). The Qur’an speaks in the first person as Allah’s commandments to His creation. Gabriel also visited the Prophet throughout his mission informing and teaching him of events and strategy as needed to help in the completion of the prophetic mission. The Prophet’s sayings, actions, and approvals are recorded separately in collections known as Hadith.

The mission of Muhammad was to restore the worship of the One True God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, as taught by Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and all Prophets of God, and to demonstrate and complete the laws of moral, ethical, legal, and social conduct and all other matters of significance for the humanity at large. Almost sounds like Mormonism—an angel appears to Joe Smith telling him to restore true worship.

The first few people who followed this message were Mohammed’s cousin Ali, his servant Zayd ibn Harithah, his friend Abu Bakr and his wife and daughters. At first, the Muslims were a small, persecuted group within their community. They endured insults and hostility from all sides, engaged in battles with opposing warlords, and even had to leave the area temporarily. Eventually, however, Muhammad and his followers became more influential. Several prominent Arab leaders converted to Islam, as did the people in many communities. Muslims carried the message of Islam wherever they went, and within ninety years the teachings of Islam reached Spain, North Africa, the Caucasus, northwest China and India.

Today, there may be 6 to 8 million Muslims in North America, over 30 million in Western Europe, and 50 to 60 million in different parts of the Republics that were once a part of Soviet Union. Significant Muslim minorities live in the Far East and in Eastern Europe. Islam prevails in countries like Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sudan, Lebanon, etc.


Islam is a complete way of life. It embraces the spiritual, social, moral, economic and cultural life of its followers, as well as their belief in God. It is concerned with the total person, and all acts receive their justification and direction from the teaching that is embodied in Qur’an. Unlike in the US where one’s religion is often separate from the rest of his life.

  • God: As noted above, Muslims are monotheists, believing in only one God, Allah. Allah is the proper name (not a title) in Arabic for the one and only God, the creator and sustainer of the universe. Muslims believe this is the same God the Christians and the Jews worship. Allah does not have any associate or partner, and he does not beget nor was He begotten. Islam proclaims that God is infinitely beyond anything that the human mind or senses can grasp or comprehend, imagine or explain. He is the originator and the fashioner of the whole universe and all of its perfect systems, which he sustains according to his infinitely wise plans and laws. Islam proclaims that God alone is divine and no one else shares his divinity.2
  • Muhammad (“the Prophet”): He was the last and greatest of God’s prophets. All sincere Muslims try to follow the Qur’an and the Prophet’s example to minute details.
  • Other religions: Muslims have respect for other “people of the book,” that is, Jews and Christians. The Qur’an mentions four previously revealed Scriptures: Suhoof (Pages) of Ibrahim (Abraham), Taurat (‘Torah’) as revealed to Prophet Moses, Zuboor (‘Psalms’) as revealed to Prophet David, and Injeel (‘Evangel’) as revealed to Prophet Jesus. Islam requires belief in all prophets and in all original, non-corrupted scriptures.
  • Scriptures: The Muslim teaching is that Islam as a religion has been practiced by the righteous since the creation of mankind and that all the prophets of God preached the same message. Many prophets were given scriptures to guide their nations and communities. Muslims believe that the last revealed scripture is the Holy Qur’an, and it is the only revealed scripture that has not been corrupted by human additions or deletions since its revelation 1400 years ago.

The Qur’an has 114 chapters that vary in length from four to 286 verses and it contains about 78,000 words. The Qur’an is believed to be the word of God, spoken through the angel Gabriel and recorded by Prophet Mohammad as God willed it to be. The Qur’an regulates every phase of the Islamic law, religious practice, culture and morals.

Another body of Islamic literature is called The Hadees (or Hadith). There are six such collections and each collection has multiple volumes. The Hadees, or The Traditions, is a recording of the actions, words, and deeds of Prophet Mohammad. For instance, the Qur’an commands that the Muslims should pray and worship, and pay charity; the Hadees explains the method of prayer, worship and the acts of charity. The Hadees and the Qur’an are complimentary, but the source of all the principles is the Qur’an.

  • The Prophets: The Qur’an states that God sent a guide to every community, nation or tribe of people, and it mentions the names of many of them, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. According to the Qur’an, Adam was the first prophet and from Abraham came a long line of prophets through his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was the forefather of the Arab people and thus of Prophet Mohammad, and, from Isaac descended a number of prophets, including his son Jacob, grandson Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, John the Baptist and Jesus. The Qur’an tells that Moses, David and Jesus were given written scriptures by God, and only scattered portions of the originals remain today.

Islam teaches that Jesus was one in the line of prophets sent to the children of Israel. He brought the message that reiterated the need of submission to God Almighty and obedience to God’s law as had been given to Moses. The Qur’an states that Jesus was a human being, who delivered the message of one-ness of God and taught that God should be worshipped.3 Jesus was the greatest prophet other than Mohammad. Muslims believe that Jesus did not die on the cross. God performed a miracle and delivered him from the hands of his enemies.

  • Morality: Islam emphasizes social justice, mercy, charity, and generosity. The duty of each person is to work out his or her own destiny, and each is responsible for his or her own actions.
  • Doctrine: Islam is not a doctrinally driven religion. The focus is on faithfulness to Allah and to Muhammad as the Prophet, but beyond that, individual belief varies significantly.
  • Salvation: there will be a day of judgment and accountability with resurrection, at which time, those subservient to the will of God will be rewarded and those who failed to observe their obligations will be punished. An average Muslim believes that God gives life and death and that death may come at any time; thus, every one should try to earn the pleasure of God through good deeds. With this perception, a Muslim has to live a virtuous life all the time. Thus salvation is by works.
  • Worship: Muslims believe in Five Acts of Worship:
  • Declaration of Faith – Declaration of faith is the first act of worship when it is done with full sense of sincerity and commitment. The declaration that “There is no other God but One God (Allah) and Mohammad is His Messenger and servant” is the simple statement that makes a person a Muslim and is required to be said once in one’s life time with full conviction and understanding. In practice Muslims may say it several times a day.
  • The Prayer (Salat) – The prescribed prayer is the most visible act of worship. Prayer is to be offered five times a day (at the break of dawn, at noon, mid-afternoon, at sunset and at dusk after dark).
  • Fasting (Saum) – Muslims fast in the month of Ramadan every year from the break of dawn till sun set. In addition to physical fasting, Ramadan is the month of spiritual activity at a heightened level.
  • Charity (Zakat) – In simple terms, the rich and the well-to-do are obligated to pay charity to help the needy. This obligatory tax is paid out of all assets that the individual possesses at the end of every year, above and beyond the individual’s personal and family needs. It is calculated at a fixed rate of two and one half percent per year.
  • Pilgrimage (Haj) – A trip to Mecca is an essential duty that all Muslims should attempt at least once in a lifetime. Only those people are required to go for Haj who are in good health and have the means to travel to Saudi Arabia. The person who travels to Mecca and carries out the prayers and procedures in and around the grand mosque of Ka’aba at the time of Haj is called Haji (the pilgrim). Every year more than 1.5 million Muslims from all parts of the world perform Haj at Ka’aba.

What about jihad? Although jihad is not considered one of the five pillars, it is still an essential concept in Islam. The word literally means “strive, struggle, fight.” In the Muslim sense, it has a wide range of meanings, anywhere from inner, personal struggle for greater piety or to overcome evil (“greater jihad”) to political or military struggle to defend or expand the Muslim world (“lesser jihad”). We often associate the term with “holy war,” armed conflict Muslims conduct against “infidels” (non-Muslims). A person who engages in any form of jihad can be called a mujahid (plural: mujahidin, Arabic for striver, struggler). Such a person might engage in fighting as a military struggle for religious reasons, or for example, struggle to memorize the Qur’an. Extremists/radicals/terrorists have used the concept of jihad as a pretext for armed conflict against infidels, or even against other Muslims, in the name of Allah. Some Muslim traditions teach that those killed in the pursuit of jihad will receive great rewards in heaven. “Shahada,” or Death for Allah, promises rewards including the enjoyment of 72 “dark-eyed virgins” in Paradise. The only certain way of getting to Paradise is to die in jihad.

What’s the Difference?

It should be obvious that Islam is a force to be reckoned with, a highly influential and growing religion with many millions of adherents. In the U.S., Islam is growing very quickly through immigration of Muslim believers and conversion of non-Muslims to Islam. How should Christians respond to these challenges?

Christians should recognize that Christianity and Islam are incompatible as sources of truth. Christianity and Islam contradict each other on many points.

Some suggest that Muslims are indeed worshipping the correct God, but are just mistaken in their concept of Him. But there are many distinctions between Allah and Yahweh Elohim (the LORD God): 4



Allah is an absolute unity, without partner or peer.

God is a Trinity (or tri-unity). God eternally exists within the three Persons of the Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Allah claims to be a schemer, the author of evil and deception.

God neither is tempted by sin nor does He tempt anyone to sin.

Allah frequently changes his mind and substitutes one revelation for another.

God’s character and purposes are eternal and unchangeable (immutable).

Allah presides over a paradise of sensual pleasure (72 virgins, etc).

Holy worship, contentment and joy characterize God’s heaven.

Allah has no children. A Muslim would never claim Allah as his father. Men are servants of Allah, but enjoy no close personal relationship.

God claims to be a Father to His people. God invites men to come to him and enjoy close personal fellowship.

Allah rarely expresses love for anyone. Allah does not love those who don’t love him.

God frequently expresses His love for all people, those who serve Him as well as those who don’t.

Allah is utterly unknowable. He does not reveal himself to anyone in any way. Allah reveals only his will.

God cannot be fully known, but He can be truly known. God reveals both Himself and His will. The most outstanding revelation of God is Jesus Christ.

Allah is the personal name for God.

The Bible says God’s name is Yahweh.

Allah is essentially one of the pagan gods of the Arabs whom Muhammad chose and exalted to a high position.

God chose Abraham and revealed Himself as the one and only God. The worship of Yahweh did not evolve from polytheism.

  • Muslims claim to respect the Christian Scriptures, but in reality they deny the Bible and Christian theology. Muslims claim that the Christian Bible has been corrupted over the years and is no longer reliable. Christians obviously disagree. There is no reason to believe any part of the Bible is corrupt or invalid. The Qur’an is guilty of verifiable historical errors, unlike the Bible.
  • Muslims claim to respect Jesus as a most important prophet. However, they are far more devoted to Muhammad than to Jesus. Islam teaches that Jesus was a great man, but not equal with God and certainly not worthy of worship. They don’t even believe that Jesus died on the cross, teaching that Allah would never let his prophet die such a dishonorable death. Thus Muslim teaching directly contradicts biblical teaching and historic Christian theology.
  • Islam teaches salvation by good works. Muslims must both believe in Muhammad and Allah, as well as perform good works in the hopes of earning a place in paradise. Muslims hope to accumulate enough good works to outweigh their bad works. They can never be sure if they are acceptable to Allah, whether they’ll go to heaven or hell. Christianity teaches that salvation is through faith based on God’s unconditional grace. Those who are saved may be confident that God accepts them on the basis of Christ’s death for them.
  • Islam teaches that man is weak, sinful and ignorant, but not spiritually dead. Man needs a teacher and guide, not a savior. Man is fully capable by his own will and efforts of pleasing God. In contrast, the Bible teaches that man is incapable of saving himself. Man is dead in sin, unable and unwilling to please God, in need of a new heart, not just a shove in the right direction.
  • Some Muslim practices and doctrines give evidence of Islam’s pagan roots. For example, Muslims believe that the black stone meteorite in the Ka’aba was originally crystal clear but became pitch-black through taking the sins of the Muslims who kiss it. Any form of veneration of a dead stone—especially to the extent of bowing down and kissing the stone—can only be identified with pagan idolatry rather than pure monotheistic worship.

A Note about radical Islam (“Islamo-radicals, Islamo-fascists”):

Some assert that militant, radical, “extreme” Muslims are not following the true faith but are corrupting a peaceful, tolerant religion. However, from its very inception, Islam expanded throughout the Middle-East and Africa due to the correct understanding of its followers, that the Dar al-Islam (“the house of Islam”5) must extend to all the corners of the earth, and that this expansion is to be achieved by fighting and conquering the forces of unbelief. Far from getting it wrong, groups like the Iranian Revolutionaries, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda understood the message of Muhammad far better than most of their modern brethren. Christians shouldn’t believe for a moment the ridiculous line the media is currently preaching regarding Islam being a noble religion of peace and tolerance. Islam is by nature a militant religion that cannot ultimately allow for the existence of opposition.6 There is every reason to believe that the radicals are seeking and will use WMD—chemical, biological and/or nuclear.

Note the Quote: “To those who doubt, to those who ask is it possible, or those who do not believe, I say accomplishment of a world without America and Israel is both possible and feasible.” Iranian dictator Ahmadinejad

Conclusion: If there is indeed only one God, there can only be one true religion, one faith that alone can give men access to the presence, knowledge and favor of God. That religion is Christianity, not Islam. While Islam has some things in common with Christianity, it is clearly not compatible with Christianity. Muslims worship a different god, seek salvation through different means, and believe different scriptures.

The best approach to Muslims is one of understanding, love and respect. Christians who “blast away” at Islam will likely be highly ineffective witnesses. But those who display great patience and kindness will find Muslims eager to discuss spiritual matters.

The Qur’an says:

You will find those who are nearest in love to [Muslims] to be those who say, “We are Christians” because among them are men devoted to learning and self-denial, and they are not arrogant.

Christians should always be “nearest in love” to Muslims and everyone else they come into contact with. An attitude of caring and concern for their well-being, both temporally and eternally, should be the overriding factor in our dealings with all men.7


  1. Who is the father of Islam? Muhammad ibnu Abdillah
  2. Where and when did Islam arise? Around 600 AD in what is now Saudi Arabia
  3. What is the name of the shrine at Mecca? Ka’aba
  4. What is the Muslim book of scripture called? The Qur’an (Koran)
  5. T or F Muslims believe Allah is the same God that Christians and Jews worship.
  6. What do Muslims think about Jesus? They revere Him as a great prophet and teacher, second only to Muhammad, but not as equal with God or worthy of worship. They don’t believe He died or rose again.
  7. What do Muslims teach about salvation? One is saved by good works. One must accumulate more good works than bad.
  8. What is the Declaration of Faith? “There is no other God but One God (Allah) and Mohammad is His Messenger and servant”
  9. What do Muslims think of the Bible? They claim to respect the Christian Scriptures, but in reality they deny the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Muslims claim that the Christian Bible has been corrupted over the years and is no longer reliable.
  10. Are Muslims saved? No; if one is a genuine Muslim, he denies the Bible, the deity of Christ, the sacrificial death of Christ, the resurrection, the character of God, and many other cardinal doctrines of Christianity. They claim to respect Christianity and see it as a true religion, but they essentially reject Christian doctrine.

1 Much of this history taken from Biography of Prophet Muhammad by Dr. A. Zahoor and Dr. Z. Haq © 1990, 1997, 1998 (

2 An Introduction to Islam Mohammad I. Hussain, M.D.

3 Hussain

4 Sam Shamoun, Is Allah The God Of Bible? and The Character of God in Bible and Qur’an: A Study In Contrasts character.html

5 Dar al-Islam (Arabic: literally “house of submission”) is a term used to refer to those lands under Muslim government(s) or where Muslims are free to practice their faith. In the conservative tradition of Islam, the world is divided into two components: dar al-Islam and dar al-Harb, the “house of war.”

6 Andrew Webb

7 John Gilchrist Our Approach to Islam: Charity or Militancy?

Lesson 13: Jehovah’s Witnesses

Lesson 13: Jehovah’s Witnesses

Historical Background: Charles Taze Russell1 began a Bible study group in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the early 1870’s. In 1879 he began publishing Zion’s Watchtower to promote his views. In 1881 Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society was formed, and in 1884 it was incorporated, with Russell as president. The Society’s name was later changed to Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. By 1909 the work had become international, and the Society’s headquarters was moved to its present location in Brooklyn, New York.

Founder: Most students of the movement agree that Russell was a charlatan and con man. He received no more than a 7th grade education and had no theological training. Russell was divorced in 1913, possibly for adultery. He said that if anyone desired to know the Bible, he must study his (Russell’s) explanatory notes called “Studies in Scripture.” He claimed that if a person studied the Bible without them, he would remain in darkness. The 7-volume work is still used. During one court trial he was involved in, Russell claimed that he knew Greek, but could not even identify the letters of the Greek alphabet. Russell made a number of embarrassing false prophecies. He said the time of the Gentiles would be over and Christ would return on Oct 1, 1914. Later he changed the date to 1915, then 1918. Other JW leaders dated the beginning of the kingdom at 1925, 1929, 1942, and 1975. JW’s currently believe that 1914 marked the end of the Gentile Times and the beginning of the transition period from human rule to the Thousand Year (Millennial) Reign of Christ.

Joseph F. Rutherford succeeded Russell as president of the group. Most of the beliefs of the JW’s are based on the writings of Russell and Rutherford. Nathan Knorr took over in 1942, and after that came Frederick W. Franz (1977). Today the organization is led by a Governing Body of 12 members. The Jehovah’s Witness organization currently claims about 6.5 million members worldwide in about 98,000 congregations (Kingdom Halls). Only about one million members live in the US.

The Name: JW’s base their name on Psalm 83:182: “That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.” They are insistent that God should be known by His real name, Jehovah (or Yahweh). Technically, the name “Jehovah” is a combination of the Hebrew consonants for Yahweh (hwhy – sometimes called the Tetragrammaton) and the Hebrew vowels for “Adonai” (ynda “Lord”). Devout Jews would typically refuse to say the name “Yahweh,” substituting “Adonai” instead. The word “Jehovah” came about as people used the consonants from one word and the vowels from the other. Hence, “Jehovah” is technically not a Hebrew word.

Publications: Primary JW publications are Watchtower and Awake! magazines. They also publish Studies in the Scriptures and The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. Today, their presses in Brooklyn, NY crank out about 100,000 books and 800,000 magazines each day.

Distinctives: JW’s emphasize the kingdom of Christ, a future time of paradise on earth. They believe that only 144,000 will actually go to heaven (a special, elect class of people who earn the right). JW’s are highly evangelistic, with many members spending time going door to door passing out their literature and attempting to make converts. They refuse to receive blood transfusions or eat anything containing blood. Any disobedient member is disfellowshipped and considered to be dead. JW’s tend to be quite serious about their faith and well-educated regarding what they believe. They often know their Bible better than genuine believers do and are well-rehearsed in arguments supporting their theology. They also tend to be quite antagonistic against “organized religion,” i.e., denominational Christianity.

Their “Bible”: JW’s use The New World Translation of the Holy Scripture. This “version” (really a perversion) is an exceedingly bad translation that is biased to support their theological opinions.

Doctrinal errors of Jehovah’s Witnesses:

  1. Concerning Jesus Christ: JW’s teach that Jesus is a created being, Michael the arch-angel, the first and greatest of Jehovah’s creation3; that He was a perfect man, “a god,” but not essentially equal to God; and that Christ was raised from the dead as “an immortal spirit person,” not physically. Jesus returned invisibly to earth in 1914 and is in the process of overthrowing Satan’s rule and will soon establish his kingdom.
  2. Concerning the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit is a force or power exerted by God, not a personal being. JW’s reject any notion of the Trinity. The concept of the Trinity produces a “freakish, three-headed god,” and is satanic in origin.
  3. Concerning man: The human soul is mortal and may cease to exist at death. Believers who persevere until death enter soul-sleep until the Second Coming of Christ. Human government is under satanic control, so JW’s refuse to pledge allegiance to the nation. Saluting any national emblem (like a flag) amounts to idolatry.
  4. Concerning Salvation: Full salvation is not possible outside JW membership; 144,000 elite JW’s will reign with Christ in heaven, while the rest inhabit a perfect earth for 1,000 years. If they prove faithful, they will survive Armageddon. The faithful will live on a perfect earth forever. One is saved through faith and obedience. Salvation is not an event or a decision, but the result of a faithful, obedient life. Immortality is a reward for faithfulness. If one fails to endure to the end, he will not be saved. JW “salvation” focuses on human works and effort. “Salvation is a free gift from God. It cannot be earned. Yet it does require effort on our part.”4
  5. Concerning Hell: There is no literal hell or lake of fire. Hell and the grave are synonymous. Unbelievers will be annihilated—this is the second death. Hell is a doctrine from the devil. The very idea contradicts God’s love and mercy.

Refutation of Errors:

  1. Jesus Christ is the second Person of the Trinity. He is equal with God, eternal and not created. John 1:1 and many other passages show us that Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity, equal with God in essence while submissive to God in function. Jesus is the Creator, and thus is not a created being (Col 1:16).
  2. The Holy Spirit is a Person, not a force or influence of God (Acts 5:3-4).
  3. Salvation is by grace, through faith, not by works (Eph 2.8-9). Salvation is God-centered. The saved person will persevere. Those who fail to persevere were never saved in the first place. Genuine believers are eternally secure. Unsaved man is totally depraved and unable to contribute anything to his salvation.
  4. Both believers and unbelievers will enjoy (or endure) conscious existence after death prior to the resurrection (Luke 16:20f). There is a coming millennial kingdom in which Christ will rule the earth (Isa 11:1-9; Rev 20:4-6). Unbelievers will not be annihilated, but will spend eternity in the lake of fire (Matt 10:28; Mark 9:43-45; Rev 20:10, 15). Believers will enjoy eternity with God.

A Few Other Notes:

  • Most cults can be measured by their concept of a few major Christian doctrines, such as the deity of Christ and the Trinity. Those groups which reject such essential tenets of Christianity are clearly not Christian.
  • Most cults use human reason as the criterion for rejecting classic Christian ideas. That is, the doctrines of the Trinity and the co-equality of God the Father and God the Son don’t make sense to the (unregenerate) mind, so they must not be true. However, human reason is not able to determine the legitimacy of God’s truth.
  • One of the JW’s most infamous and controversial translations is their rendering of John 1:1 — “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was a god.” However, the normal translation “… the word was God” is the best and most accurate way to render this passage.
  • JW’s claim that their “Bible,” the New World Translation, is the best available translation because it is free from “human traditionalism,” inconsistency and unreasonableness that has characterized most other English translations. However, the NWT is likely one of the worst, most biased, and least reliable versions available today. It’s a perversion rather than a version.
  • Jesus clearly did not return to the earth in 1914 as JW’s insist that he did. In Acts 1:11, the angel said to the disciples, “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” The Second Coming of Christ will be anything but silent and/or invisible. Also, the millennial reign of Christ will occur immediately after Christ returns to the earth. So the idea that Jesus is currently reigning on earth is entirely bogus.
  • JW’s commonly put average Christians to shame. They can quote Scriptures, trot out surprisingly reasonable arguments, and generally cause normally solid believers to question what they have been taught. They are bold and sure of themselves. Some Christians are afraid to even talk to a JW for fear of being confused. This is a disgraceful state of affairs. True believers with the genuine knowledge of God should not be afraid of any cultist. The better you know the Bible and orthodox Christian theology, the better you will be able to both defend legitimate Christianity and prove the cultist wrong.

Conclusion: The Jehovah’s Witness faith is pseudo-Christianity. It uses much of the same language, but contradicts many primary points of Christian theology. It is a dangerous cult in that it reaches many with its false gospel and deceives them into believing that they are genuine Christians.


  1. Who was the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Charles Russell. Sometimes JW’s are called “Russellites.”
  2. Where to JW’s worship? Kingdom Halls
  3. What is the primary emphasis in JW theology? The millennial kingdom reign of Christ.
  4. How is one saved under the JW system? Faith plus works plus enduring until the end.
  5. How do we know that Jesus is not a created being? Jesus is the creator (Jn 1:2) and he’s eternal (Mic 5:2; Jn 1:1).
  6. How do we know that Jesus did not return to earth in 1914? He will return visibly and bodily, as he departed. That has not happened yet.
  7. Why do some JW’s refuse to salute the American flag? They see such as idolatry. They see human government as under Satan’s control, and thus refuse allegiance to any particular country. Oddly enough, there are many JW’s in the US military.
  8. How can people who read the Bible so much be blind to its truth? 1.) They use a faulty/perverted translation, so they don’t know what the Bible really says; 2.) They are unregenerated and hence cannot understand spiritual truth (1 Cor 2:14).

1 Some people call JW’s “Russellites.” JW’s generally reject this label, however.

2 Or Isaiah 43:10 – “Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.”

3 JW’s are following the age-old error of Arius, a theologian who taught that Jesus was created rather than eternal. JW’s are Arians.

4 “What Must We Do to Be Saved?” The Watchtower February 1, 1996

Lesson 11: Rationalism and Pragmatism

Lesson 11: Rationalism and Pragmatism

Today we’ll be studying two more “isms” that have had profound impact on how our culture thinks and on Christianity itself.


Rationalism is a very old idea, being found in Plato, philosophers of the Middle Ages, and in the Age of Enlightenment. We’ll briefly examine the Enlightenment because it still has an immense influence on Western thinking.

The Age of Enlightenment

The Enlightenment extended from the mid 1600’s to the late 1700’s. It was a time during which leading writers and scientists in Europe and America foresaw a new age enlightened by reason, science, and respect for humanity. It was a time of new discoveries in science, exploration of the world, and great leaps forward in technology.

Leading figures of the Enlightenment: René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke

Of the basic assumptions and beliefs common to philosophers and intellectuals of this period, perhaps the most important was an abiding faith in the power of human reason. If humanity could unlock the laws of the universe, God’s own laws, why could it not also discover the laws underlying all of nature and society? People came to assume that through a prudent use of reason, an unending progress would be possible—progress in knowledge, in technical achievement, and even in moral values.

Enlightenment thinking placed a great premium on the discovery of truth through the observation of nature, rather than through the study of authoritative sources, such as Aristotle and the Bible. Most Enlightenment leaders saw the church—especially the Roman Catholic Church—as the principal force that had enslaved the human mind in the past, and they took great joy in criticizing and ridiculing Christianity. Nothing was attacked with more intensity and ferocity than the church, with all its wealth, political power, and oppression. However, most Enlightenment thinkers did not renounce religion altogether. They opted rather for a form of Deism, accepting the existence of God and of the afterlife, but rejecting Christian theology. Human aspirations, they believed, should not be centered on the next life, but rather on the means of improving this life. Worldly happiness was placed before religious salvation.

The Age of Enlightenment is usually said to have ended with the French Revolution of 1789. Yet the Enlightenment left a lasting heritage for the 19th and 20th centuries. It marked a key stage in the decline of the church and the growth of modern secularism. It served as the model for political and economic liberalism and for humanitarian reform throughout the 19th-century Western world.1 The modern attitude that exalts science, technology and human reason is rooted in the Enlightenment.

Rationalism Defined

Rationalism was a key component of Enlightenment thinking. It stresses the ability of the human mind to know things. Rationalists hold that whatever is knowable by the human mind is true. The human mind has an innate ability to understand things. Reasonable thought and logic become the tests of truth. Whatever is logically inescapable is necessarily true. If something is unreasonable, it must not be true. So the emphasis in rationalism is the mind, logic, and human reason.

Rationalism is not synonymous with rationality. To be rational is to be reasonable and logical, i.e., to be in one’s right mind. But if one adopts rationalism, he believes that all things must conform to human reason. One can be rational without being a rationalist or adopting rationalism.

Contributions of Rationalism

Without logic and reason, there is no way to make meaningful statements, no way to distinguish right from wrong. Also, rationalism’s emphasis on the knowability of reality is good. The universe is not just an illusion. Man’s mind has the capacity to know and experience reality. One need not be totally skeptical about man’s ability to know truth. What is real is rational. The universe makes sense. One can employ logic to solve complex problems. Also, all people benefit from rationalism’s emphasis on scientific investigation and technological progress.

Weaknesses of Rationalism

  1. The rational may not be real. That is, something may make sense without being true. For example, scientists continually change their explanations for various phenomena. Arguments often seem rational until they are proven to be wrong. Logic does not lead necessarily to reality. If one starts with wrong assumptions, he will inevitably come to wrong conclusions, even if he proceeds rationally.

  2. Rationalists tend to arrive at their basic presuppositions without the use of reason. Their presuppositions are not subject to tests of logic. Rationalists think they are being rational because they are rational. It’s impossible to provide a starting point for rationalism without presupposing the truth of rationalism. Rationalism is just as circular in its reasoning as any other system.

  3. Logic is best used as a negative test for truth. It can rule out what is illogical and unreasonable, but it has a hard time proving what is true. It can eliminate the false but it cannot (by itself) establish what must be true. Logic can demonstrate what may be real but not what is actually real. Again, something may seem logical and yet be untrue or unreal.

  4. While some rationalists have proposed logical arguments for proving the existence of God, such arguments are quite weak and unconvincing to most unbelievers. Further, we know that unbelievers do not ultimately come to Christ because of weighty logical arguments, but because of God’s work within their lives.

  5. For most modern rationalists, the Bible is a mythical storybook that has little or no value. Rationalism rejects Christianity as irrational.

A Biblical Response to Rationalism

  1. Logic and reasonable thought are basic aspects of Christianity. Christianity is a reasonable faith and benefits from the application of the laws of logic.

  2. The ways of God do not need to conform to man’s sense of reason. God’s ways are unsearchable and past finding out (Rom 11:34), and God’s thoughts are higher than the heavens (Isa 55:8-9). We should not be surprised if God’s ways exceed the human intellect’s ability to understand them (Deut 29:29).

  3. If God exists, it is reasonable for Him to interrupt the natural order of things if He so desires. Miracles are not irrational.

  4. There is no standard of truth, logic or reality higher than, or independent of, God, to which He must conform. God sets such standards. While God is logical, He need not conform to human ideas of reason. God and His ways are not irrational or illogical, although they may be beyond man’s ability to grasp them.

  5. God is incomprehensible. We can know God, and what we know about Him is true, but our knowledge of God is not complete.

Although some rationalists argue on behalf of Christianity, most modern rationalists deny God and the Bible. Rationalism, as a philosophy of life, because it depends so much on human the intellect, does not conform well to Christianity. God is under no obligation to explain His ways to man. Rationality, on the other hand, is the handmaid of good theology. All believers should strive to be rational and logical.


Works for me” is the mantra of pragmatism. To be pragmatic is to be practical, to insist on using whatever methods or tools that work best. A pragmatist is one who focuses on getting the job done in the most successful and simple way. He is not concerned about theories or hypothetical solutions. He doesn’t have time for the mysteries of philosophy or religion. He is a practical man, a realist, not a dreamer. He wants useful results as soon as possible. If the results are acceptable, the method that achieved them is acceptable. Whatever works best is best. The ends (i.e., the results) justify the means (i.e., the methods).

Pragmatism is the dominant attitude shaping American life. Americans want results. They want to do things better, faster, cheaper, cleaner, and easier. Pragmatism is the spirit of problem solving. Science and technology can provide rubber-meets-the-road solutions to virtually all of man’s problems.

Pragmatism may sound pretty harmless, but there are several dangerous implications associated with it.

  1. Pragmatism is basically atheistic or agnostic. It is highly skeptical of any theological or metaphysical claims. Metaphysics and theology deal with ultimate questions. Is there a God? What is he like? What is the nature of reality? Who am I? Why am I here? The pragmatist cares little about such issues. He’s too busy putting food on the table or money in the bank. He would say that searching for the answer to such questions is a foolish waste of time.

  2. Pragmatism is focused on the here-and-now, the temporal rather than the eternal. According to the pragmatist, whatever works best now is best. But Christianity asserts that there is a higher standard to consider: the judgment of God. In God’s judgment, whatever will bring the most glory to Himself is best, whether it seems to work here on earth or not. Pragmatism rejects any kind of eternal analysis.

  3. “What works” and “truth” are not necessarily synonymous. The fact that something seems to work does not guarantee that it is true or good. For example, the pragmatist would say that if belief in God helps someone cope with life, then let people believe in God. If it doesn’t help, then don’t believe in God. Success, or lack thereof, should never be the criteria for determining truth.

  4. Pragmatism is another form of relativism. If truth is determined by what works for the individual, then the test for truth ultimately becomes the individual himself. “Works for me” is the pragmatist’s slogan. Thus the self becomes the highest value.

  5. Pragmatism’s value system tends to be savage and inhumane. What works often causes great pain and suffering for masses of people. It “worked” for the Nazis to exterminate millions of Jews during WWII. It “worked” for Stalin and Mao to kill millions of their own countrymen to achieve their communist goals. It “works” for scientists to destroy human embryos in the hopes of producing treatments for diseases. It “works” for women to abort their unwanted babies. Pragmatism has no basis for basic human rights, kindness or compassion.

  6. Pragmatism leads to an unending pursuit of the latest and greatest method of achieving “success.” Newer methods and ideas always promise greater growth, deeper satisfaction and more exciting experiences. Those committed to a pragmatic approach to life will always be chasing the bigger and better methods.

Unfortunately, a spirit of pragmatism has crept into Christianity. This attitude suggests that any method that succeeds in spreading the gospel, packing the pews, and/or making converts is acceptable. Whatever is working to draw more people to church must be good. Churches and Christian leaders are eager to hop on the latest bandwagon and ride it until another promising trend comes along (e.g., Prayer of Jabez, Purpose Driven Church/Life). However, in Christian ministry, we know that the ends do not justify the means. That is, the goal of outreach does not validate all means of achieving that goal. Certain methods are simply inappropriate for use within Christianity because they violate the character of God. For example, transforming the worship service into an entertaining variety show may increase attendance, but it does not glorify God. Christians must do God’s work in God’s way, even if it doesn’t seem to be “successful.” A pragmatic, “whatever works” attitude has no place in Christian ministry.

Conclusion: Both rationalism and pragmatism are hostile to Christianity. Because rationalism subjects all truth to human reason, it has no room for an omnipotent God. What is rational is not necessarily real. God’s ways go beyond man’s ability to find them out. Because pragmatism tests all things by “what works,” it has no place for virtue or morality. Pragmatism can tell you what works now, but not whether your work has eternal value.


  1. Define rationalism. The human mind is the standard of truth.

  2. Why is rationalism ultimately circular in its reasoning? It presupposes what it’s trying to prove.

  3. Define God’s incomprehensibility. God can be truly known but not fully known.

  4. What is pragmatism? An attitude that focuses on the practical solution of problems—what works.

  5. Why can’t pragmatism distinguish good from evil? “Good” and “evil” are not categories that pragmatism deals with. “Good” for the pragmatist is what works; “evil” is what doesn’t work.

  6. How has pragmatism affected Christianity? By shifting the focus from pleasing God to pleasing man, and by asserting that the ends justify the means.

1“Enlightenment, Age of,” Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation.

Lesson 10: Pantheism and New-Age Mysticism

Lesson 10: Pantheism and New-Age Mysticism


Pantheism teaches that the universe and all it contains is God. That’s why it’s called pantheism — everything is part of God. The word Pantheism derives from the Greek words pan (all) and theos (God). Thus, pantheism means All is God.

In essence, pantheism holds that the universe as a whole should be regarded with religious reverence, and that there is nothing that truly merits the name God other than the universe and nature. The Cosmos is divine, and the earth sacred. Pantheists do not propose belief in a deity; rather, they hold nature itself as a creative presence. Pantheists believe in Divine Immanence, i.e., that God is present in all things. To the Pantheist, divinity does not transcend reality; it surrounds, and is within. All share divinity. This leads the pantheist to personal ethics of tolerance and understanding.1

Natural or Scientific Pantheism has much in common with religious humanism, religious naturalism and religious atheism, as well as with philosophical Taoism, Zen Buddhism, and symbolic paganism. Scientific Pantheists take the real universe and nature as their starting point, not some preconceived idea of God. Scientific Pantheists feel a profound reverence and awe for these, like the reverence and awe that believers in a more conventional God feel towards their deity. Natural/scientific pantheism reveres and cares for nature, accepts this life as our only life, and this earth as our only paradise, if we look after it.

Natural/scientific pantheism does not require faith in miracles, invisible entities or supernatural powers. It does not regard this life as a waiting room or a staging post on the way to a better existence after death. It has a healthy and positive attitude to sex and life in the body. It teaches reverence and love for nature.2

Pantheism is built on the philosophical idea called monism. Monism teaches that all reality is unified, i.e., everything is part of the same big system. All things are ultimately and absolutely united. Reality is indivisible. Differences are simply illusions. There is one solid, eternal indivisible ball of being. Since everything is part of everything else, everything that exists must be God.

Probably the most well known pantheistic religion is Hinduism.

Pantheism asserts the following:

  1. God is non-personal. God is not a person; God is the oneness of all things, the single reality that encompasses all things. God has no self-consciousness. God is an It, not a He.

  2. God is absolutely infinite and unknowable. We can say what God is not but not what God is. Logical reasoning is incapable of comprehending God.

  3. Because God is not a person, one cannot have a personal relationship with God. The disciple’s goal is to be unified with God, to converge with God’s oneness. One achieves this unity by turning away from the physical world and focusing on the soul. It is only through meditation and mystical intuition that one leaps beyond the physical and is united with the One.

  4. God is the source of all being. Everything is rooted in God and springs from God.

It’s obvious even to the casual observer that pantheism is in sharp disagreement with Christianity. Note some weaknesses of pantheism:

  1. If all being is unified, then no individual existence is possible. It’s self-defeating to assert that individual existence is not real. If one’s individual conscious existence is merely an illusion, then the idea that “all is one” is an illusion, too.

  2. Pantheism and monism assert an idea that cannot be proven, i.e., that all reality is part of the one. However, different kinds of beings may exist, namely, finite (man) and infinite (God).

  3. Pantheism cannot distinguish good from evil. Both good and evil must necessarily be part of God if everything is one.

  4. An impersonal God is no God at all. The idea of God as a personal, loving father is foreign to pantheistic thought. In fact, pantheism differs little from atheism. They both assert that the universe is all there is.

  5. The pantheistic God is incomplete without creation. If nothing material existed, the pantheistic God would not exist.

  6. It’s impossible to say for sure what the pantheistic God is. If all is God, then even two contradictory statements about it would both be true, which is logically absurd. One can say nothing meaningful about the pantheistic God.

  7. To claim that God is unknowable is illogical, for it is claiming to know something about God, i.e., that he is unknowable.

The Bible clearly asserts that God is a Person, not the unity of all things. It’s man’s depraved mind that worships and serves the creation rather than the creator (Rom 1:17f). God exists separate from His creation. Created beings do not share in the divinity of God. God is knowable and the information we have about God is true, logical and meaningful. The Bible contradicts pantheism on almost every point.

When dealing with pantheists, the best attack is to present the gospel in the most clear and positive terms. Further, believers must show pantheists how illogical their system is.

The New Age Movement

The New Age Movement is largely based on pantheistic notions. The New Age Movement is not a unified system of thought, but a loosely-knit association of ideas and philosophies, most of which are incompatible with Christianity.

The New Age Movement, unlike most formal religions, has no holy text, central organization, membership rolls, formal clergy, geographic center, dogma, or system of beliefs. The New Age is a free-flowing spiritual movement; a network of believers and practitioners who share somewhat similar beliefs and practices. Seminars, conventions, books and informal groups replace sermons and religious services.

Recent surveys of US adults indicate that many Americans hold at least some New Age beliefs:

  • 8% believe in astrology as a method of foretelling the future.

  • 7% believe that crystals are a source of healing or energizing power.

  • 9% believe that Tarot Cards are a reliable base for life decisions.

  • about 1 in 4 believe in a non-traditional concept of the nature of God which are often associated with New Age thinking:

  • 11% believe that God is “a state of higher consciousness that a person may reach.”

  • 8% define God as “the total realization of personal, human potential.”

  • 3% believe that each person is God.

New Age teachings became popular during the 1970’s as a reaction against what some perceived as the failure of traditional sources to provide spiritual and ethical guidance for the future. Its roots are traceable to many sources: Astrology, Channeling, Hinduism, Gnostic traditions, Spiritualism, Taoism, Theosophy, Wicca and other Neo-pagan traditions, etc. The movement started in England in the 1960’s where many of these elements were well established. The movement quickly became international. The movement has become established a stable, major force in North American religion during the past generation. New Agers expect their movement to expand, promoted by the social backlash against logic and science.3

Basic New Age ideas:

  1. God is an impersonal energy or force. The New Age idea of God is very pantheistic—everything is part of God. People must come to realize their connection to God. Everyone is divine.

  2. Death initiates another life. New Agers generally believe in reincarnation, the idea that after death they come back and experience another life. One accumulates wisdom from one life to the next, and eventually one may be released from the cycle of life and death.

  3. Release from the reincarnation cycle depends on one’s karma, i.e., works. Good works build up good karma; bad works build up bad karma. If at the end of life one has accumulated enough good karma, he may be reincarnated at a higher level of life. But if one has accumulated enough bad karma, he may come back at a lower level and suffer for his “sin.”

  4. Those who break out of the cycle by accumulating enough good karma experience Nirvana, the state of nothingness, the absorption into the One.

  5. The New Age Movement has a low regard for logic or rational thought. An important part of the system is a mystical, transcendental form of meditation in which one seeks unity with the One. Such an experience is not rational. The emphasis is on experience rather than logical thought. A mystical, trance-like state is required to experience unity with the One. This is achieved through various means, such as hypnotism, drugs, yoga, meditation, dreams, visualization, chants, dancing, and various other rituals. Achieving “cosmic consciousness” will supposedly unleash hidden powers and assist in the exploration of the “universe within.”

  6. Some aspects of the New Age Movement are returning to pagan religious rituals like sun and moon worship, ancestor worship, god/goddess worship, magic, the use of crystals, channeling, witchcraft, etc.

  7. Because there is no personal God, there can be no absolute standards of right and wrong. New Agers are relativists, except when it comes to environmental issues, where they want to be more objective. They refuse to make moral judgments because they have no basis to make such judgments. Note: this obviously contradicts the whole idea of karma. But that doesn’t matter to a New Ager—he can live with all sorts of contradiction. Generally, such people make up their own standards of karma.

  8. Personal Transformation: A profoundly intense mystical experience will lead to the acceptance and use of New Age beliefs and practices. Guided imagery, hypnosis, meditation, and (sometimes) the use of hallucinogenic drugs are useful to bring about and enhance this transformation. Believers hope to develop new potentials within themselves: the ability to heal oneself and others, psychic powers, a new understanding of the workings of the universe, etc. Later, when sufficient numbers of people have achieved these powers, a major spiritual, physical, psychological and cultural planet-wide transformation is expected.

  9. Ecological Responsibility: A belief in the importance of uniting to preserve the health of the earth, which is often looked upon as Gaia (Mother Earth), a living entity.

  10. Universal Religion: Since all is God, then only one reality exists, and all religions are simply different paths to that ultimate reality. The universal religion can be visualized as a mountain, with many sadhanas (spiritual paths) to the summit. Some are hard; others easy. There is no one correct path. All paths eventually reach the top. They anticipate that a new universal religion which contains elements of all current faiths will evolve and become generally accepted worldwide.

  11. New World Order: As the Age of Aquarius unfolds, a New Age will develop. This will be a utopia in which there is world government, and end to wars, disease, hunger, pollution, and poverty. Gender, racial, religious and other forms of discrimination will cease. People’s allegiance to their tribe or nation will be replaced by a concern for the entire world and its people.

Logical problems with the New Age Movement:

  1. If there’s no personal God, then it’s impossible to tell what is “good” karma and what is “bad.” If all is part of the same universal One, then there can be no distinction between good and evil.

  2. It’s impossible to tell when one has accumulated enough good karma to reach Nirvana. How much is enough?

  3. Most people don’t remember their (supposedly) previous lives, so how can they carry any wisdom from one life to the next?

  4. According to the New Age system, those enduring suffering are probably being punished for their accumulation of bad karma from a previous life or lives. Hence there is no reason to try to help them or to decrease their suffering.

  5. It’s illogical to think that all religions are equally valid, each one a separate but legitimate path. When two religions contradict each other, they cannot both be right.

A Biblical Response:

The New Age Movement clearly rejects biblical revelation. What does the Bible say about New Age ideas?

  1. God is a person, not a force or the unity of all things.

  2. There is only one physical death, and after that is the judgment. There is no such thing as reincarnation. See Heb 9:27. The second death, not another life, awaits those who reject Jesus Christ.

  3. Nirvana is not synonymous with heaven. Believers will enjoy eternal conscious existence in a place of happiness and fulfillment (John 14:2-3); they will not be absorbed into “the one.” Unbelievers will be punished with everlasting, conscious torment.

  4. Believers are complete in Christ (Col 1:28, 2:10). We need no special mystical experiences to enjoy a relationship with God. All saved people have access to the same benefits from God. It is not necessary to experience a mystical trance or altered state of consciousness to commune with God.

  5. The New Age Movement is really just another version of salvation by works. The Bible teaches salvation by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9).

  6. The created universe is not part of God. God exists independently from the universe. He is self-existent and needs nothing.

  7. Faith in Jesus Christ is the one and only means of salvation. All religions that deny this are false.

As with any pagan, the best method of reaching a New Ager is through a simple presentation of the gospel. New Agers tend not to value deep logical or rational arguments, so it may be difficult to engage them in a rational discussion. Just proclaim the gospel and call the person to repentance and faith.

Conclusion: Both pantheism and the New Age Movement are particularly hostile to Christianity. They directly contradict biblical claims and are seemingly impervious to logical argumentation. Their belief systems are so vague and broad that they can encompass all sorts of odd doctrines. Christians must show such people the error of their ways by proclaiming the gospel to them and calling them to faith and repentance.


  1. Define pantheism? The belief that All is God.

  2. How is pantheism similar to naturalism? Both claim that there is nothing beyond nature, nothing “outside the box.”

  3. What is monism? The idea that all things are part of the absolute One.

  4. Why is it self-defeating to say that God is unknowable? Because you’re saying something that you know about God.

  5. Why can’t a pantheist or New Ager distinguish good from evil? Because they accept no absolute standard or Law Giver. Also, since everything is part of the same One, good and evil are the same.

  6. Explain reincarnation, karma, and Nirvana.

1 Universal Pantheist Society,

2 World Pantheist Movement,


Lesson 9: Atheism and Agnosticism

Part III: The Weaknesses of Unbelief and Unorthodoxy

Lesson 9: Atheism and Agnosticism

Thus far in our study we’ve shown that it’s reasonable to believe the documents and ideas central to Christianity and that criticisms of the Bible and of Christianity are weak and unconvincing. Part of the apologetic task is defensive, but part is also offensive. We now take the offensive, and our task is to show how weak and unbiblical unorthodoxy is. We’ll start by examining atheism and agnosticism.


Atheism is the belief that there is no God. The word literally means “no-god-ism.” We live in an age when people are very skeptical of claims that cannot be proven to be true. Our culture also places a high value on science and technology, which have, to the modern mind, removed the need for God. Scientists can explain nearly every phenomenon that man encounters, so there is no more need for God. Clinging to a belief in God is a proof that one is unable to deal with the truth that we live in an impersonal universe ruled, not by a sovereign God, but by the laws of nature. Science yields no evidence that God exists; in fact, science clearly asserts that God does not exist. There is just not enough evidence to affirm the existence of God, or so the atheist claims.

A philosophy that is closely associated with atheism is naturalism. Atheists are usually naturalists. Naturalism teaches that nothing exists outside the material, natural order. The material universe is the sum of all reality. There is no supernatural realm—no gods, no angels, no devil or demons, nothing beyond that which occurs naturally. The material universe has always existed—no god created it or sustains it. Miracles are impossible because they are supernatural, i.e., outside the boundaries of the natural order. Everything that happens can be explained in terms of natural, material processes. Scientific laws are adequate to account for all phenomena. Man has no soul or spiritual existence, nor is there life after death. Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind. Humans are mere animals or machines who inhabit a universe ruled by chance, and whose behavior and thoughts are determined by the constant and impersonal forces of nature and environment. It’s never necessary to seek an explanation for events beyond the natural realm because there is nothing beyond or in addition to nature.

Atheists tend to focus on the here-and-now rather than on the eternal. They are often concerned about the quality of human existence. Because they believe that life is strictly limited to earthly existence, some atheists seek to make their life, and the lives of others, as rich and enjoyable as possible.

Obviously atheism and naturalism are in stark opposition to Christianity. How should we respond to those who hold these philosophies?

  1. Encourage them to examine their presuppositions.

What is a presupposition? An unproven starting point for all following arguments. Like in math there are various laws/axioms that everything else is based on. Everyone starts with certain presuppositions. These may be reasonable or irrational.

The Christian must not allow the atheist to think that the steps by which he came to atheism are in any way superior to the steps by which a Christian comes to a theistic point of view. There is no more proof to support atheism or naturalism than there is to support theism. Science does not somehow compel open-minded people to become atheists. It’s impossible for anyone to prove that nothing exists outside the boundaries of nature. People become atheists because the idea of God doesn’t suit them, not because of evidence, proof, science, or sound reasoning. It’s more of a religious sentiment than an intellectual conclusion drawn from the facts.

Weaknesses of naturalism:

  • It’s utterly impossible to prove that nothing exists outside the boundaries of the natural realm. Naturalism is a statement of faith, not of reason or science.
  • Science seems to show that matter is not eternal. If matter is not eternal, then naturalism is invalid. If there ever was a time when nothing existed, then nothing could ever exist. Something could never come from nothing.
  • Atheism has no answer for the question “Why is there something rather than nothing at all?”
  • If one event could be proven to have happened outside the boundaries of nature, then naturalism is finished. We’ve already seen that at least one supernatural event, the resurrection of Christ, is well supported by substantial proofs.
  • Naturalism cannot adequately explain how mind, knowledge, reasoning, and morality arises from random, mindless, natural processes. Atheists must assume that the personal somehow arose from the impersonal.
  • The natural world is exceedingly complex and sophisticated, especially when viewed by an electron microscope. Such complexity argues against a purely mechanical origin for all things. DNA, for example, is so extremely complex that it’s hard to believe that it developed without a designer.
  • Naturalism generates pessimism and despair. Life is meaningless if we live in a cold, impersonal, indifferent universe. Good and evil can have no meaning for a naturalist. As one atheist stated, “Man is an empty bubble on the sea of nothingness.”
  1. Encourage them to examine the arguments for the existence of God.

We acknowledge that the best approach to apologetics is one that recognizes that all people know God exists, and that they have suppressed that knowledge (Rom 1:17f). People need to hear the Gospel, because within the Gospel message is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16). One should not attempt to argue an unbeliever into submission. The best method is to present the good news about Jesus Christ as clearly and as often as possible, and to urge people to repent and believe. However, within a serious discussion with an atheist, a presentation of various arguments for the existence of God may be profitable. One may be able to show the unbeliever that belief in the existence of God is rational and reasonable.

These arguments are logical rather than biblical. Even though the atheist/agnostic does not acknowledge the validity of the Bible, believers may still build logical arguments that point to God.

The Teleological or Design Argument

Argue that the presence of order in the universe requires the existence of a Designer.

A typical formulation of the argument:

1. The universe manifests evidence of design.

2. All design demands a designer.

3. Therefore, the universe must have a designer.

4. This designer is the God of the Bible.

Intelligent design seems to be incorporated into nature. Many physicists and cosmologists recognize that the universe had a beginning and that many physical laws look suspiciously “fine tuned” for the existence of intelligent life. In addition, biochemists and biologists have discovered a microscopic world of mesmerizing complexity belying the simple blobs of protoplasm that Darwin imagined.1

A popular expression of the design argument is Paley’s Watch argument:2

While walking through a field, one finds a watch on the ground. He naturally and rightly concludes that someone must have made it. Likewise, if one studies the more complex design in the natural world, he must conclude that there is a world Designer behind it.

This argument may be of some value, but it’s unlikely that an educated evolutionist will find it very compelling.

  • Various observers can look at the same thing without agreeing that it shows design.
  • Modern science has shown that apparent design and chaos often exist side by side.
  • The presence of apparent design might be an isolated exception. Perhaps we are an island of design in a vast ocean of chaos. Our own world may have occurred by chance, no matter how unlikely that seems.
  • Design is not an inescapable deductive proof of biblical theism. Design points to the presence of a designer, but not to much more than that. Although the teleological argument makes the existence of a designer likely, the argument by itself does not lead necessarily to belief in biblical monotheism. It could, for instance, also support polytheism.
  • Critics feel the Darwinian theory of natural selection has destroyed the teleological argument by showing that changes come from purely natural causes rather than by special design. Evolutionists commonly use terms like “design” to describe purely natural processes without implying a Designer. Nature’s “designs” are simply the unintended side effects of nature’s productive self-sufficiency.
  • Modern scientists embrace a “something from nothing” viewpoint. They really believe everything evolved from nothing.

“There is no reason why the physical universe cannot be it’s own first cause. … [O]ur relatively complex universe could have arisen out of the entity that is simplest and most mindless of all—the void.”3

The Cosmological, or Cause-and-Effect, Argument

Science and reason assert that any effect or result must have a cause. Since the universe is an effect or result, then the universe as a whole must have a cause. Something has caused the universe to exist rather than not exist.

A summary of the Cosmological Argument

  • Some dependent beings exist. A dependent being is one whose existence is not necessary. E.g., people are dependent beings—we owe our existence to causes other than ourselves.
  • All dependent beings must have a cause or explanation for their existence.
  • An infinite regress of causes is impossible. I.e., you can’t trace causes back infinitely.
  • Therefore, there must be a first uncaused Cause of dependent beings.
  • This Uncaused Cause is the God of the Bible.

R. C. Sproul’s cosmological dilemma is another formulation of the same argument. Either the universe is:

  1. An illusion – but if so, then it’s an illusion to my mind, so I must exist, which shows that the universe cannot be an illusion.
  2. Self-created – but something cannot create itself. It’s impossible to both exist and not exist at the same time.
  3. Eternal – but all natural effects must have a cause. Matter is dependent, not eternal. Also, if an eternal God is unacceptable, eternal matter is as well.
  4. Created by something eternal, i.e., God.


  • If everything requires a cause, one may argue that God requires a cause. If God requires no cause, then some things do not require a cause. However, if it can be shown that the eternal existence of God is different than the (supposedly) eternal existence of the universe, this argument might hold up.
  • Making the jump between the cosmological cause and the God of the Bible may present a problem. Many religions believe in a creator/designer god, but not the Christian God (e.g., Islam).

Note: God is not self-caused; He is self-existent and eternal. He did not cause Himself to come into existence. He has always existed in, of, and by Himself.

The Moral Argument

Moral values, the idea that certain behaviors are right or wrong, are common to all cultures. While a few cultures support certain “wrong” behaviors (e.g., cannibalism, human sacrifice), most people agree on basic ethical standards. Most cultures acknowledge that murder and theft are wrong and that it’s good to be kind and generous. Ethical values for most people go beyond mere personal feelings. We believe that certain behaviors ought to be done and others ought not to be done. Where do such ideas come from? If the naturalist is correct, there should be no moral values, because the natural world doesn’t seem to be governed by morality. There are no ethical standards in the animal kingdom. Survival of the fittest is the only constant. If man is the result of natural evolution, where did he get the idea that any behavior is good or evil? On what basis can an impersonal, randomly-ordered universe develop morality? Even cultures that have no organized religious system recognize ethical standards. Why?

Obligations and loyalties arise from personal relationships, not mechanical ones. The legal system tells us that certain behaviors are acceptable and others are not acceptable. A hierarchy of moral authority suggests that there must be somebody at the top who dictates what is right and wrong. In a natural, mechanistic universe, there is no need for, nor process to explain, morality. But a higher moral law does seem to exist, and such a law seems to be independent of natural processes. If so, there must be a law-giver, and that must be God.


The word “agnostic” literally means “no knowledge.” Agnostics claim that they personally don’t know if God exists. Some claim that no one can know for certain if there is a God. A few agnostics dabble in religion just in case there is a God. They want to cover themselves in the off chance that God really does exist. But most agnostics behave just like atheists. Agnosticism is not a halfway position between theism and atheism; it’s atheism under another name.

Just as there are no true atheists, so there are no true agnostics, because all have some genuine knowledge of God. A true agnostic would be receptive to the Gospel, because he’d be convinced that the God of the Bible does exist. Unfortunately, most agnostics are very skeptical about biblical claims. They are self-deceived, claiming not to know if God exists, but in reality rejecting the knowledge that they have.

Conclusion: The Bible teaches that atheists are fools (Ps 14:1; Rom 1:28). Scripture denies that anyone can be a true atheist or agnostic. God has clearly revealed Himself to all, so that all know Him, although some suppress and deny that knowledge (Ps 19:1-3; Rom 1:16-23). Believers must confront atheists and agnostics, insist that they re-examine their presuppositions, and challenge them to respond appropriately to the Gospel. Such unbelievers will not be brought to faith by weighty arguments and logical discussions. They need to understand their sinfulness and their alienation from God, and they must be challenged to forsake their rebellion and to seek forgiveness from Christ. It may seem foolish to preach the gospel to those who reject the Bible, but the gospel message contains the power to convert the most earnest atheist.


  1. Define atheism. The belief that there is no god(s).
  2. Define agnosticism. The belief that one cannot know if there is a god or gods.
  3. Define naturalism. The belief that nothing exists outside of natural processes.
  4. What is one supernatural event that is very well attested? The resurrection of Christ.
  5. Why does the complexity of DNA argue for a designer? It’s hard to believe that such a complex system could arise without some outside direction.
  6. Why can’t the universe be self-created? It would have to exist and not exist at the same time, which is absurd/irrational.
  7. Briefly discuss the three arguments for God that we examined. Design, cause-effect, morality

1 Jay Richards, “Intelligent Design Theory: Why it Matters” /issue178/item1315.asp

2 William Paley, Natural Theology, cited in Geisler, Norman L., Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Company, 1976) pp.88,89

3 Vic Stenger, “Flew’s Flawed Science,” Accessed Aug 2006. Stenger is a professor of physics and astronomy.

Lesson 8: The Problem of Evil, Part 2

Lesson 8: The Problem of Evil, Part 2

Biblical Solutions to the Problem

The presence of evil is a problem for Christianity because it would seem that a good God could and would prevent evil in a universe under His control. But we find evil everywhere. So how can we harmonize the existence of evil and the existence of God? If God could prevent evil, why doesn’t He? Last time we examined several proposed solutions to the problem and found them all to be less than satisfactory. Today our goal is to answer the problem biblically.

From the outset we should admit that we do not have a completely satisfactory answer to the problem of evil. Evil at times simply does not seem to make sense to us. And it is difficult indeed to explain why God allows and uses evil, yet is not touched by evil Himself. This is why some scholars call the problem of evil “the most intense, pained and persistent challenge” to the Christian message.1 It’s a troublesome mystery that defies simple solutions. All we can do is see what the Bible says about it and accept what we find there.

  1. God is under no obligation to explain His ways to man.

In many biblical passages, the problem of evil arises, but the text never explains it. For example, in the creation narrative, God does not reveal where Satan came from, how he became evil, why he was allowed in the garden or why God didn’t prevent the whole scenario. In Job’s case, rather than explaining His actions to Job, God shows him that he has no right to question the Creator. Job never learned why he suffered, except that God had His own reasons. By not defending or explaining Himself, God is silently challenging people to believe and trust Him even when they don’t understand or appreciate their circumstances.

God is sovereign in granting or withholding mercy. Exodus 33:19 says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” God chooses according to His own will. He does not submit Himself to the judgments of fallible men. Sometimes God explains His actions, and sometimes He doesn’t. Modern believers must avoid the sin of Job—thinking they have the right or the capacity to understand God’s ways.

In the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16), some seem to receive more than their fair share, while others think it’s unfair that they receive only what they are paid. But the master claims the right to do whatever he wants with his own possessions. He admits that the payments were unequal, but he refuses to make things “fair.” His only explanation is that he has the right to handle his affairs as he sees fit.

Paul, the NT author who at times goes into great detail in his explanations of theology, does not explain the problem of evil. In Romans, Paul simply rebukes those who would charge God with unrighteousness (Rom 3:3-8, 9:18-24), concluding that those who bring such charges against God are justly condemned. God has the sovereign right to do as He wishes, and no further explanation is necessary. Thus, the fact that we may not understand why evil exists should not surprise us.

  1. Wondering why evil takes place is not sinful. But when doubt turns to accusation, then questions become sinful. When we express doubt regarding God’s goodness or when we demand that God explain Himself to us, then we are exalting ourselves over our Creator. We have no right to demand that God satisfy our desire to know why certain things happen. Doing so is like a clay pot demanding an explanation from the potter (cf. Rom 9:20-21). The potter has total power over the clay in both control and authority, and is under no obligation to explain his choices to the clay.

God, as sovereign Lord, is the standard of His own actions. He is not subject to human judgment; on the contrary, our judgment is subject to His Word. We can be assured, despite our circumstances, of God’s good character—God is holy, just and good. On that matter God’s Word is clear. God expects us to trust Him, not doubt His good intentions. The very nature of faith is to persevere despite unanswered questions. God’s Word encourages us to hold on tightly to God’s promises and not to be overcome with doubt.2

  1. God’s work in the past encourages us to wait patiently for a solution.

Scripture tells us and gives us examples of how God’s people have to wait, often for long periods of time, for the fulfillment of God’s promises. God eventually brings such waiting periods to an end, vindicating Himself and ending the sufferings of His people. For example, Israel had to wait in Egypt for over 400 years, until Moses was ready to lead the people out. Moses was eighty years old before God called him to this task. The people had to wait about forty more years before arriving in the Promised Land. The whole OT period may be described as a time of waiting and expectation. The promises given to Abraham are ultimately fulfilled in Christ, and we are still awaiting His return and the final fulfillment of God’s promises.

If we look back on God’s activities in the past, we can see that God always fulfills His promises and works things out according to His plan. God often solves problems in ways that are surprising and unexpected (e.g., Joseph, Ruth, Esther). God eventually shows us how the presence of evil is somehow part of His program. The lesson for us is that if God could do such things in the past, we can trust Him to do so again. Even in the midst of suffering, it makes sense to trust and obey God. Suffering is temporary; the glories of heaven are eternal.

  1. God may use evil to produce a greater good.

God is currently using evil for His own good purposes. This is sometimes called the greater good defense. We must reject the idea that God’s first priority is to make man more comfortable and happy. God’s ultimate aim is to glorify Himself. If something serves to advance God’s glory, it may be thought of as good, even if it seems to be evil or associated with evil. The greater good is from God’s perspective, not man’s. For example, the death of Christ was both good and evil—good in that it brought about the redemption of man, evil in that it required the death of God’s Son. Hence, something obviously evil (murder) may still bring about a greater good (salvation). The same is true today. Many individuals can testify to the fact that it was only through terrible circumstances that they repented and trusted Christ. This evil brought about a greater good—the salvation of a soul. If a soul is worth more than the value of the entire world (Matt 16:26), then it’s reasonable that God may bring about a great deal of suffering and pain as the means of drawing a person to Himself. Jesus said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the earth and die, it remains alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit” (John 12:24). Death is sometimes required for fruitfulness to occur.

Also keep in mind that God’s greater good is specifically for Himself and for those who love Him (Rom 8:28), not for every person in the world. At times the greater good may cause evil for certain individuals, especially for the wicked, who will glorify God through their eternal punishment.

What greater good comes from evil, suffering, and/or pain?

  • God’s grace and justice may be displayed through suffering (Rom 3:26; 5:8, 20-21; 9:17).

  • God uses evil to judge wickedness (Matt 13:35; John 5:14).

  • Evil may shock unbelievers into repentance (Zech 13:7-9; Luke 13:1-5).

  • God uses suffering as a means of chastening His people (Heb 12).

  • Those who have suffered are able to comfort others who suffer (2 Cor 1:4).

If we presuppose that God is perfectly and completely good—as Scripture requires that we do—then we are committed to evaluating everything in light of that truth. When the Christian observes evil events or things in the world, he can and should consistently trust in God’s inherent goodness by inferring that God has a morally good reason for the evil that exists. God is certainly not overwhelmed or stymied by evil in the universe. He could put an end to it at any time. God has planned evil events for reasons that are morally commendable and good. He does not usually reveal what those reasons are. But Christians should trust that God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists.3

We are not suggesting here that evil is necessary to achieve a greater good, but that the resulting good may be of greater significance than the evil that produced it. For example, the results of the crucifixion of Christ are of far greater significance than the temporary suffering that He endured.

  1. God has promised to totally abolish evil.

In the future, God will punish all who deserve it and reward all who deserve it. The culmination of history will revel that God has been righteous all along. When we see Christ, all our complaints will be silenced. In the end, the problem of evil will be solved—there will be no more evil. God will triumph over it. If we believe that such a time will come, it should strengthen us to face the evils of today. We can keep trusting and obeying God despite all the wickedness in the world.

Eventually this present world order will be judged and brought to an end, and God’s Kingdom will be fully manifested and established. He will wipe away every tear, and pain and sorrow will cease. Even though we should continue to pray that relief would come to those who suffer tragedy, let us never lose heart at apparently unanswered prayer. Instead let us pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.4

  1. Evil is not necessarily synonymous with wickedness.

God is holy, righteous, and good. It is impossible for Him to contradict His attributes. Thus, although God at times uses the sinful actions of sinful men, He is never guilty of sin. Further, sometimes what people think of as “evil” has no moral content, and thus is not actually wicked. If God were guilty of tormenting people for His own amusement, or if God’s actions were somehow unrighteous, we would be accurate in charging Him with sin. However, much of the suffering and pain that occurs in the world is not evil in the moral sense. In other words, suffering and pain are not necessarily associated with sin or wickedness. For example, in a natural disaster (tornado, earthquake, famine, etc.), people often experience great suffering, pain and death. Yet for God to allow the suffering associated with such natural disasters is not evil or wicked. The suffering is genuine, but God cannot be charged with sin for sending such disasters.

  1. God’s relationship to evil is a mystery.

In the final analysis, we have to conclude that God’s infinite wisdom is beyond our grasp. All that we need to know is that the Lord of all the earth will do right and that all things work together for our good and God’s glory (Rom 8:28).

Although the problem of evil is a troublesome one that does not easily yield to our attempts to solve it, the existence of evil in the universe should not cause anyone to reject Christianity. Part of the Christian life is walking by faith, trusting that God is good, holy, just, and omnipotent, even in the presence of suffering and pain. He can and often does restrain evil. Yet He also uses evil for His own purposes without contradicting His own attributes. Retaining our faith in God without wavering during times of suffering and hardship is a mark of Christian maturity.

Conclusion: We must admit that there are no easy solutions to the problem of evil. The Bible simply doesn’t explain this matter as well as we would like. The Bible is clear that God is both good and righteous, merciful and just. He will never violate His attributes. He uses evil but cannot be charged with sin. Believers must walk by faith, trusting that God knows what He is doing, and that all things do indeed work together for good for those who love God.


  1. Is it ever wrong to question why God brings about suffering and pain? It can become sinful if we charge God with unrighteousness or if we demand that God explain Himself.

  2. What was Job’s sin? Thinking that God owed him an explanation for his circumstances.

  3. Explain the greater good defense. God may use an “evil” to bring about a greater good. Tragedy often brings about good results.

  4. Why don’t atheists have the right to complain about evil? Because in their worldview, it’s impossible to make moral judgments. They have no basis for their ethical judgments. Even “the most happiness for the most people” cannot define “good.” What is “happiness”? Atheists have no way to determine what ought or ought not to be.

1 Bahnsen, Always Ready, p. 163.

2 Frame, pp. 178-79.

3Bahnsen, Always Ready, p. 172.

4Eric Frank, “Why Doesn’t God Do Something … Now?” WRS Journal, vol. 3, issue 1 (Winter 1996).