Biblical ‘Original Sin’ or Islamic ‘Original Forgiveness’?
As a Christian, I am commanded to contend for my faith [Epistle of Jude 3], confess Christ Jesus [Epistle to the Romans 14:11] and be always ready to give an answer for my faith, confident that in Christ Jesus I am reconciled to God by the blood of the One who died for us [2 Corinthians 5:17]. Contending for that faith requires an enormous measure of diligence and patience with my adversaries. After all, there are a great many sincere critics testing the data I profess to be true, while some are drifters settling on Gnosticism or indifference and just wanting me to know it. Confessing Jesus is to admit, as did St. Peter, that Jesus ‘knows all things’ [Gospel of John 21:17].
Giving an answer requires reasoning from the Scriptures, even to those doubters allergic to truth [1 Peter 3:15]. Not everyone wants to hear that truth [Gospel of John 4:16] and growing hostility to Christianity is both disturbingly global and thoroughly prophesied [Gospel of Matthew 10:22; 1 Peter 4:14]. We know that God will show us mercy from our enemies and from the hand of all those who hate us [Gospel of Luke 1:71] and that our Lord counseled us against fear of those who can only kill the body [Gospel of Matthew 10:26-30].
Occasionally these days I am greeted by hostile Muslims more interested in winning polemic contests in religion and rhetoric than in practicing virtue, reason and piety. More and more, Muslims tend to rely on trickery and deception to establish doubt in the hearts and minds of Christians long on faith, but short on catechism. I see it often on YouTube. For example, it is astonishing to hear and read that Muslims are citing atheist sources in debates with Christian theists.
In recent years, debate in conflicting religious traditions has raged oven the issue of redemption offered in the Christian Scriptures. One such common quarrel is over the theological truth of Original Sin, its consequences for the human condition and the limits it forces on our earthly endeavors. A Muslim I argued with recently described the Adam and Eve narrative in the Quran as evidence of the truth of Allah’s mercy for ‘Original Forgiveness’ in contrast the Bible's view of Original Sin. A comparison of the dramatic story of creation from each book will raise the relevant questions, and a candid study will lead us to genuine truth.
The way the polemic opens in its attack against the Bible is in a contrasting description of the Edenic experience within the Holy Scriptures and that of the Arab poetry passed down in parts from Muhammad to his successors and finally made into a book after his death. Both the Bible and the Quran preserve this proto-historical event, though only in the Bible are we given a full and complete treatment of the circumstances and consequences in one place, and in discernible order. For example, only in the Bible are we immediately told that the vexatious tree in the garden is the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ [Book of Genesis 2:16,17].
Unfortunately, while reading Surah two of the Quran, where the story begins, we are not told the attributes or character of the tree [Q. 2:35]. Only later we are told that it is the ‘tree of immortality’ [Q. 7:20, 20:120]. This particular piece of the narrative in Surah two ends with a warning to Adam of punishment in the fire [Q. 2:39]. Both the Bible and Quran record an expulsion from Eden though only in the Quran is a threat of damnation presented to Adam [Book of Genesis 3-6; cf. Q. 2:36; 20:115-123]. From these brief and widely separated mentions in the Quran we are to somehow conclude that in the final analysis Allah is more merciful for promising to provide guidance to Adam after the expulsion [Q. 2:35] and are expected to disregard the threat of hell in our consideration of who is more merciful, Yahweh or Allah. This all begs the question, what did Adam do and what was the aftermath, Original Forgiveness or Original Sin? I'll start by examining the verses of the Quran. The answer isn't easy to determine without a great deal of referencing and checking, but the pertinent elements of the story go like this:
Adam was fashioned from clay [Q. 15:26-33] to sit as ‘khalifah’ on earth [Q. 2:30]. The Hosts of angels were ordered to make ‘obeisance’ to Adam [Q. 15:30; 38:73], though he was a mortal [Q. 15:28, Arabic Root, شر ب ‘bashar’]. It seemed that all the angels questioned the wisdom of Allah making Man at all [Q. 2:30]. At least one angel, Iblis, was unwilling to accept an inferior position, one which was submissive and required bowing [Arabic Root, جد س ‘sajada’] to a mere creation. The first apostasy resulted [Q. 2:34]. After the rebellion, Iblis promised Allah that he would cause great distress among the descendents of Adam [Q. 17:62]. It was Iblis, then, who later lured Adam and Eve into eating of the forbidden tree, which resulted in their eviction from Eden. At this point, we need to explore the act and form of ‘obeisance’ in order to fully understand what was taking place soon after Adam‘s creation, and during the schism Allah intentionally caused. Prostration to rulers has always been common in monarchies and cults of any kind. In the Old Testament we see several acts of obeisance [Hebrew, שׁחה ‘shâchâh’], and a small number of relevant examples will be given here.
The word itself in every biblical use is one of a submissive surrender to another’s control and power. In the Genesis narrative, the blessing given to Jacob by Isaac included an order that all his tribe will bow down to Jacob [Book of Genesis 27:29]. Later, Judah was given the same authority [Book of Genesis 49:8]. The Quran also attributes the same significance to the act of obeisance and uses ‘sajada’ to describe the adoration of Allah [Q. 3:113]. I think then, that it is safe to conclude that the act of obeisance is one of total submission to established authority, and as we have seen, is used in the Quran both in the obedience to Adam as co-ruler, and in the worship of Allah.
The well structured Biblical narrative possesses nearly the same persons and features as the story we find in the disorganized surahs of the Quran, but differs in important details which need to be discussed, as they instruct us not only on proto-history, but theology as well. I’ll offer a treatment of them, and then compare the whole narrative in both books to see which is coherent, original and preserves the dignity, holiness and perfection of God.
Adam was created within the context of a chain of God’s creative acts, and in the image and likeness of God [Book of Genesis 1:26; 2:7]. While all of creation was ‘good’, mankind was declared ‘very good’ [Book of Genesis 1:31]. Thus Mankind was to have the greatest role in the created order. However, Adam's rule was to be synonymous with that of a gardener caring for his garden and not that of a military tyrant [Book of Genesis 2:15-17]. Adam was not long to be alone. God gave to Adam a helper who was suitable for him [Book of Genesis 2:18-20]. She was called woman. Adam saw her and immediately fell in love with the 'bone of his bone and the flesh of his flesh' [Book of Genesis 2:20-23]. Though life in the Garden was under God's tender care, Adam and Eve would both soon disobey, and be cursed. From this Original Sin comes to the human race all inequity, certain death and the need for redemption. So, what exactly does the Church teach?
The dark and sinister reality of sin infects mankind at the very opening moments of human history, and is swiftly unmasked as mankind’s rejection of God and our opposition to Him. Divine Revelation illuminates the source and origin of wickedness, which can be found in the course of the lives of our First Parents. It cannot be attributed to developmental flaws, inherent weakness or psychological illness, as Muslims suggest or would have us believe.
All of mankind is adopted into the sin of Adam by birth, just as mankind is adopted into the Church through faith in Christ Jesus, and baptism in His name. By virtue of Christ’s Passion, we are offered restoration to a moral life full of obedience to faith as our first obligation. By daily living in remembrance of God’s gift of self-sacrifice we abide in hope and reveal His majesty to others in acts of charity, and are made whole. The Original Sin of Adam shamed Man with the inheritance of a joyless and frightful legacy. Christ emancipated His creation from the despair of separation from God and the degenerate presumption that salvation is attained through our own capacities.
The two narratives we covered, while containing some of the same facts and circumstances, differ wildly in the scope of sin and its certain origins. Therefore, it is not surprising that Muslims have an incomplete perspective on both books and associated theologies. Muslims reject Original Sin, and instead propose that Allah created man weak, with a propensity to sin as part of our inherent nature. Of course, this must be rejected as it leaves one with the view of God being imperfect himself. After all, how could a perfect God at the height of His creative achievement cause us to be so prone to wickedness? Somehow Muslims imagine and maintain that Allah is perfect, and created us perfect as well [Q. 18:37], but with a penchant for sin and depravity fused into our perfection. Or, is Allah wicked and malevolent himself, to make us articles of such violent temperament and dubious character? Muslims must be called to explain their god’s creative and redemptive power. After all, Allah is either imperfect, stupid or just plain mean.
Christians are well acquainted with the doctrine of original sin, and are gracious partakers of Christ’s corrective work. Christians have understood since the first days of Christ’s ministry that sin was to be ‘washed away’ only when our hearts were finally ready for God’s pity and mercy [Book of Psalms 51:2]. Only by having our sins ‘ever before us’ could they be blotted out by God’s own atoning work at Calvary. That in Christ we are in fact a single community and a single nation.
In my reading of the Quran, the incoherency was the first thing to become obvious. After that, it later became plain truth that the only way to preserve the perfection and holiness of God [Yahweh] is to dismiss the Islamic doctrines of creation and ‘Original Forgiveness’ as a later innovation based upon and perverting the Biblical truth of Original Sin.
1. An immediate contradiction is in the Quran’s notion that Eden is not on earth, when in fact the Biblical Eden lay east of Canaan near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers [Genesis 2:8].
2. Here the writers of the Quran erred. It was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which brought shame, sin and death. Adam and Eve were never given the opportunity to eat of the Tree of Life [i.e. immortality], as it was unnecessary to do so until Adam and Eve had gained the Knowledge of Good and Evil [Genesis 3:22]. They already had immortality until the Fall.
3. This instantly raises the worrisome theological question. Why would an angel be made to prostrate himself to a mere mortal?
4. Oddly enough, we are to believe that Allah himself ordered all of the angels to bow, and Iblis not only refused to do so, but later was able to deceive the same man he had refused to bow to.
5. While Muslims will like to strongly object to identifying Adam as ‘co-ruler’ there is no other way to describe his place considering the importance of ‘sajada’ and the submission of the angelic host to his power. Also, nowhere in the Quran does Adam make ‘obeisance’ to Allah. The popular view is simply not consistent with the text.
6. By being in God's image, mankind is in the unique position of possessing the authority to subdue the earth and rule over animals, who were only made after their kind rather than in God's image. Since God is the prototype of the original man in our un-fallen state, we are to represent God in the created order [Citing: Elliot, Ralph H., Message of Genesis, Broadman Press 1961, p. 36.]
7. While modern Islamic polemics assert that like Jesus, Muhammad was without sin, the claim doesn’t square with Islamic history. The early traditions unequivocally state that Muhammad believed himself to be a sinner. Muhammad even prayed to Allah to ‘wash off my sins with water…’ [Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 12, Number 711]. To Christians this sounds all too familiar.