The Word of God in Islam and Christianity
When it comes to the Bible and Qur’an, it is easy for Muslims and Christians to talk past one another. Christians believe the Bible is the Word of God and Muslims believe the Qur’an is the Word of God. However, Muslims and Christians define Word of God differently. Many of the Muslims I have talked with believe the Word of God must come directly from Allah whereas Christians believe God’s word can be expressed in different ways.
Difference between the Quran and Bible
One of the major differences between the Bible and Quran is that the Quran is primarily, if not completely, Allah speaking. Whereas the Bible is the Word of God expressed in the words of men who were divinely guided by the Holy Spirit. Muslims conclude that if the Bible is not a direct quotation from God that it therefore cannot be the Word of God.
There is another hurdle that Christians face when talking about the Bible with Muslims: the alleged contradictions of the Bible. The point Muslims are making is that something cannot be the Word of God if it is contradictory.1
Many lists of alleged contradictions in the Bible can be found on Muslim websites. This post, as well as future posts, will look at answering these alleged contradictions.
Are there contradictions in the Bible?
The Bible is without error; therefore, it does not contain contradictions. Muslims disagree and have asked me to explain different passages that appear to be contradictory. Take for example 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1.
- And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, Go number Israel and Judah.
- And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David To number Israel.
The question inevitably follows, “Was it the Lord that moved David to number Israel or was it Satan that provoked him?”
This kind of question that implies the Bible must contradict itself is actually a philosophical fallacy known as an “either-or” fallacy or a “false dilemma.” It’s possible that God used Satan as an agent to accomplish His purposes which would mean that the passages do not contradict but complement one another. It’s not either-or but both-and.
I cannot judge the motives and intentions of Muslims who ask these kinds of questions. One of the most important teachings in Islam is from the hadith, ““Actions are but by intentions.” Hopefully Muslims are sincerely looking to dialogue about these kinds of questions. Honest and sincere dialogue is not helped when Muslims or Christians use philosophical fallacies or merely cut and paste answers from other websites.
Actions are by intentions
If there are Muslims who are sincerely looking to dialogue about the seeming contradictions in the Bible, then I recommend to them Gleason Archer’s New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Here is Dr. Archer’s explanation of 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21:1,
Who moved David to number his people, God or Satan?
In 2 Samuel 24:1 we read, “And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.” In the parallel account in 1 Chronicles 21:1–2 it is stated: “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beer-sheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it.” The wording of 1 Chronicles 21:2 is very similar to that of 2 Samuel 24:2; there is no significant difference. But so far as the first verse of each chapter is concerned, it appears in 2 Samuel 24 that God Himself incited David to conduct the census, whereas in 1 Chronicles 21 it was Satan, the adversary of God. This would seem to be a serious discrepancy—unless both statements are true.
In neither book are we given a definite context for this census taking, and we have no way of knowing whether it took place before or after Absalom’s revolt. But since it led indirectly to the acquisition of the hill (Mt. Moriah) that became the location of the temple and of the royal palaces, it must have occurred several years before the end of David’s career. Only thus could he have had opportunity to amass the large amount of costly ornamentation and material that Solomon was later to use in fashioning that temple (1 Chron. 29:3–5).
Without being fully aware of what was going on in his heart, David had apparently been building up an attitude of pride and self-admiration for what he had achieved in the way of military success and economic expansion of his people. He began to think more in terms of armaments and troops than in terms of the faithful mercies of God. In his youth he had put his entire trust in God alone, whether he was facing Goliath with a slingshot or an army of Amalekites with a band of four hundred men. But in later years he had come to rely more and more on material resources, like any hardheaded realist, and he learned to measure his strength by the yardstick of numbers and wealth.
The Lord therefore decided that it was time for David to be brought to his knees once more and to be cast on the grace of God through a time of soul-searching trial. He therefore encouraged David to carry out the plan he had long cherished, that of counting up his manpower resources in order to plan his future military strategy with a view to the most effective deployment of his armies. Quite possibly this would also afford him a better base for assessment of taxes. And so God in effect said to him: “All right, go ahead and do it. Then you will find out how much good it will do you.”
Though he was a hard-bitten and ambitious commander, General Joab felt a definite uneasiness about this whole project. He sensed that David and his advisors were becoming increasingly puffed up over their brilliant conquests, which had brought the Palestinian, Syrian, and Phoenician kingdoms into a state of vassalage and dependency on Israel. Joab was fearful that the Lord was displeased with this new attitude of self-confidence and self-esteem, and he tried to dissuade David from his purpose. 1 Chronicles 21:3 records Joab as saying, “The LORD make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? Why then doth my lord require this thing? Why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?” There is a definite sense in which Yahweh gave David a final warning through the lips of Joab, before David finally committed himself to the census.
It was not that census taking was inherently evil. The Lord was not displeased with the two censuses taken in the time of Moses; in fact, He gave Moses positive directions to number all his military effectives (Num. 1:2–3; 26:2), both at the beginning of the forty years’ wandering in the desert and at the end of that period, as they were on the threshold of the conquest. The second census was designed to show that the total of Israel’s armed forces was actually a bit less than it had been forty years earlier. And yet with that smaller force they would sweep all their enemies before them, rather than cowering in fear at the prospect of war as their fathers had done at Kadesh-Barnea. The second census would also serve a useful purpose as a basis for the distribution of the conquered territory among the Twelve Tribes. The more numerous tribes should be awarded the larger tracts in the apportionment of land. But this census on which David had set his heart could serve no other purpose than to inflate the national ego. As soon as the numbering was complete, God meant to chasten the nation by a disastrous plague that would cause a considerable loss of life and a decrease in the numbers of their citizens.
But as we turn back to the opening verse in 1 Chronicles 21, we are faced with the statement that it was Satan who moved David to conduct the census even over Joab’s warning and protest. The verb for “incited” is identical in both accounts (wayyāseṯ). Why would Satan get himself involved in this affair if God had already prompted David to commit the folly he had in mind? It was because Satan found it in his own interest to do so. The situation here somewhat resembles the first and second chapters of Job, in which it was really a challenge to Satan from God that led to Job’s calamities. God’s purpose was to purify Job’s faith and ennoble his character through the discipline of adversity. Satan’s purpose was purely malicious; he wished to do Job as much harm as he possibly could, and if possible drive him to curse God for his misfortunes. Thus it came about that both God and Satan were involved in Job’s downfall and disaster.
Similarly we find both God and Satan involved in the sufferings of persecuted Christians according to 1 Peter 4:19 and 5:8. God’s purpose is to strengthen their faith and to enable them to share in the sufferings of Christ in this life, that they may rejoice with Him in the glories of heaven to come (1 Peter 4:13–14). But Satan’s purpose is to “devour” them (1 Peter 5:8), that is, to draw them into bitterness or self-pity, and thus drag them down to his level and his baneful destiny. Even in the case of Christ Himself, it was Satan’s purpose to deflect the Savior from His messianic mission by the three temptations he offered Him; but it was the Father’s purpose for the Second Adam to triumph completely over the very tempter who had lured the first Adam to his fall.
Also, at the Crucifixion it was Satan’s purpose to have Jesus betrayed by Judas (whose heart he filled with treachery and hate [John 13:27]); but it was the Father’s purpose that the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world should give His life as a ransom for many—and this was symbolized by the cup that Christ was forced to accept at Gethsemane. And in the case of Peter, Jesus informed him before his triple denial in the court of the high priest: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31–32, NIV).
Here, then, we have five other examples of incidents or situations in which both Satan and God were involved in soul-searching testings and trials—God with a basically benevolent motive and a view to eventual victory and increasing usefulness for the person so tested, but Satan with an altogether malicious motive, hoping to so as much damage as he possibly can. Therefore we can say without hesitation that both accounts of David’s incitement were correct. God incited him in order to teach him and and his people a lesson they needed to learn and to humble them in a way that would promote their spiritual growth. Satan incited him in order to deal a severe blow to Israel and to mar David’s prestige before his subjects. As it turned out (and this is true of virtually all the other examples as well), Satan’s success was limited and transient; but in the end God’s purpose was well served and His cause was substantially furthered.
In the aftermath of the plague, which cost the lives of seventy thousand Israelites (2 Sam. 24:15), the angel of the Lord designated the exact spot on Mount Moriah where the plague was stopped as the chosen spot for the future temple of the Lord (v.18). This structure was destined to bring much blessing into the lives of God’s people for many generations to come. Once again Satan’s malice was surpassed by the overruling grace of God.
Dialogue between Christians and Muslims is a Two-Way Street
of understanding others. Dialogue is a two-way street. I’ve been learning about Islam for years and have dialogued with Muslims around the world. If you feel Islam is misunderstood, then I encourage you to ask whether you have been travelling down a one-way street. Take the time and effort to understand Christianity. Read the Bible, learn from Christians about their beliefs and rationale for not embracing Islam. A good place to start, Is the Qur’an the Word of God.
Let me know if you have any other resources you would recommend for Bible difficulties.
- Can Muslims use the Christian Bible for toilet paper?
- Do Muslims believe the same things Jesus believed?
- More than 1,200 years before Muhammad the Christian apologist Arnobius (d. A.D.330) wrote of those who alleged biblical contradictions,
All these charges, or to label them for what they actually are, these diatribes, have long ago been answered with all the detail and accuracy required, by men who are masters in this field and who are entitled to know the truth in the matter; and no single point of any question has been passed over without being subjected to rebuttal in a thousand ways and on the strongest grounds. Therefore, there is no need to linger longer on this part of the case. For neither is truth unable to stand without supporters, nor will the fact that the Christian religion has found many to agree with it and has gained weight from human approval prove it true. It is satisfied to rest its case upon its own strength and upon the basis of its own truth. It is not despoiled of its force though it have no defender, no, not even if every tongue oppose it and struggle against it and, united in hatred, conspire to destroy faith in it. (Ancient Christian Writers, Arnobius of Sicca, The Case Against the Pagans, Vol. 7, Book 3, Chapter 1 [Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1949], p. 192 as quoted by Tur8infan). [↩]