Saturday, December 02, 2006

Religious War II

Yesterday, I began an answer to a reader who has real problems with how I interpret Scripture and, in particular, how this might relate to Islam.

As I go a little further into the subject of Islam I need to remind everyone that I am NOT an expert on this religion. What I say comes out of simple logic, using statement from a translated Koran. I believe that most Muslims insist that a translated reading of the Koran is insufficient. Since I work from original languages in the Bible I have some understanding of the difficulties of translation. However, good translators of the Bible overcome such difficulties with few exceptions. I think that the same thing must be true of published translations of the Koran.

Let me state up front that I believe in respecting other people in their beliefs. This does not mean that I give up my own beliefs in any way. Nor does it mean that people of other faiths, or my own, should be free of reasonable observations, criticism, and questions.

“As to the matter of the Muslim Qur'an sounding like the Old Testament, it is true that both books portray divine commands to kill or control those outside their respective faiths. You speak of the New Testament as 'mitigating' these commands in the Old Testament, and the Qur'an as having no such mitigating revelation.”

The Old Testament with the New Testament is a very different Bible than the Old Testament alone. It is so different that "progressivists" have moved toward what they once mocked—the ‘red-letter’ editions of the Bible. These are the Bibles that have the words of Jesus in red type. The progressivists who now only believe the red letters do so because they reject anything that smacks of the Old Testament legal system. The one thing that they are right about in this is that Jesus’ words transform contrast greatly from the early covenants. Christians believe this is because Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s Covenant (promise). This means that Jesus is the direction toward which all else—even of Scripture—is pointing.

“The Muslims I have known look at the Qur'an in similar ways. They know God is not bloodthirsty. They know they are called to peace with all people. You do them a great injustice to paint them all with one stroke.”

Islamic faith has no corollary to the words of Jesus. While it contains much that is admirable, there are passages like the following ones that are not countered by authoritative words of peace.

[8.17] So you did not slay them, but it was Allah Who slew them, and you did not smite when you smote (the enemy), but it was Allah Who smote, and that He might confer upon the believers a good gift from Himself; surely Allah is Hearing, Knowing.

[60.1] O you who believe! do not take My enemy and your enemy for friends: would you offer them love while they deny what has come to you of the truth, driving out the Apostle and yourselves because you believe in Allah, your Lord? If you go forth struggling hard in My path and seeking My pleasure, would you manifest love to them? And I know what you conceal and what you manifest; and whoever of you does this, he indeed has gone astray from the straight path.

[2.191] And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers.

Note particularly how [60.1] contrasts with Jesus’ teaching that we are to love our enemy. There is a tremendous difference between our religions. While Christianity has been guilty of using Scripture to justify violence, it has been through a misuse of the Bible. You cannot, for instance, blindly act on an Old Testament command to the Israelites without first seeing if it is compatible with what Jesus teaches.

"How convenient that you sidestep Christ's comment that not one letter of the law (Torah, the Old Testament) would be changed until all had come to completion."

When Jesus spoke of the nothing passing from the law until his completing, he was referring to the completion of his mission on earth, which happened through the Passion and, ultimately, in the resurrection. In Luke 16, Jesus says
“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached…”

“I believe that we must turn to the Holy Spirit to help us understand clear conflicts within scripture. Some of the ways in which the Presbyterian and Reformed traditions have relied upon the inspiration of the Spirit are through historical and textual criticism, aided by archeology and anthropology. We also pray, confer with tradition, and dialogue/debate among ourselves as we study scripture. We use the brains God gave us and seek the Spirit's help to guide us so that we may discern God's truth within the complexities of the Bible.”

The Bible is not as complex as some would say. Most “complexities” can be solved by seeking the counsel of the whole of Scripture. So-called contradictions harmonize easily. If, though, one want to atomize Scripture and demand that each statement be evaluated alone, it seems to be highly contradictory. The same thing would be true of the writing of any person in history.

I believe that the Holy Spirit does guide our understanding in terms of affirming faith and convicting us. What I don’t believe is that the Holy Spirit might give us some novel interpretation. One of the problems with the PCUSA, I believe, is that it has used the weak wording of C67 to justify a demotion of Scripture from the Revelation of God into a book that has to be re-evaluated by every generation that arises.

It all comes down to how we read, interpret, and believe our Holy Books. The real test of this is in the witness of the believer. I feel at times as if the debate in mainline churches and here on this blog is between those who take the Bible at face value and those who don't. I believe that there's a world of difference in what such beliefs produce.

Keep praying--keep the faith,


rph said...

I suppose I could use the Old Testament as justification to kill if could find someone willing to identify him/her self as a Jebusite, Cushite, Hivvite, or whatever. My point is, the Bible is specific about who the "enemy," deserving of death, is. So is the Koran. It's us.

Anonymous said...


The biggest single difference between the Bible and the Koran is that in many places in the Koran we're told that "God hates XYZ", where XYZ is some kind of sinner (liers, adulterers, etc) (person who does not submit to God's will). The Koran teaches that God hates quite alot of different kind of people.

In the Bible you can still see the words "God hates ABC" (much more infrequently). But in the Bible ABC is always some kind of sin (lying, adultery, etc). God of the Bible LOVES sinners - in fact is doing everything He can to save us short of taking away our free will. The God described in the Koran is very different.

TomGray said...

Christians CANNOT uses an Old Testament injunction to kill. Jesus changed that. There's a huge difference from the injunctions of c. 1000 BC and Jesus' statement "love your enemy." That's the whole point I'm making about how the New Testament mitigates the Old, and that the Koran has no parallel to this.