Unique in the Qur’an and the Bible

Common Features in the Two Books

We have come to the New Testament and, obviously, Jesus Christ himself immediately becomes the key figure. All the Old Testament prophetic narratives that we have considered point to him, now we will consider the Christian Saviour himself and how you can use common ground between the Qur’an and the Bible to witness to Muslims of his salvation and glory. We will begin with the unique features we find in both books, where they are in complete agreement, and see how you can use them to share the Gospel in all its fullness.

1. The Virgin-Birth of Jesus

The Bible records the unique conception of Jesus by a virgin woman, Mary, as a fulfilment of a prophecy, seven centuries earlier, that such an event would occur and that the son to be born would be known as Immanuel, namely "God with us" (Isaiah 7:14). The annunciation to Mary is recorded in these words:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, O favoured one, the Lord is with you." But she was greatly troubled at the saying and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus." Luke 1:26-31

When Mary replied, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" (v.34), the angel explained that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her, giving her the miracle of a virgin-birth. Matthew’s Gospel also covers this subject, though here it is Joseph’s role that is focused on after Mary had already become pregnant. When he thought she had been unfaithful to him and resolved to put her away quietly, the Angel Gabriel also appeared to him and confirmed that she had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-21).

The Qur’an also records the vision to Mary and the virgin-birth of Jesus in two passages. The first reads as follows:

When the angels said, "O Mary! Allah announces to you a Word from himself, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, and to be honoured in this world and the hereafter, and of those who draw near. He will speak to the people in his infancy and in maturity, and will be one of the righteous." She said, "How shall I bear a son when no one has touched me?" He replied, "Even so, Allah creates what he wills. When he decrees a matter, he only says to it Be! and it comes to be." Surah 3:45-47

In the second passage, the annunciation is dealt with in more detail and Mary is promised that her son will be a revelation for mankind and a mercy from Allah (Surah 19:16-22). If one had to ask why Jesus should be born in such a unique way, as no other human being has ever been so conceived, the Qur’an gives a clear answer. She was to conceive Jesus in a special way because there was to be something unique and special about her son. The virgin-birth is given constant emphasis in the Muslim scripture in the title it gives consistently to Jesus, namely ibn Maryam, the son of Mary. No other woman is named in the Qur’an.

2. The Sinlessness of Jesus

According to the Bible Jesus is the only person who ever lived who was entirely without sin. The book charges all men, from Adam onwards, as being under the power of sin (Romans 3:9) and as having sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Only Jesus is excepted. A typical passage declaring his absolute integrity reads:

He committed no sin, no guile was found on his lips. 1 Peter 2:22

Other passages confirm this. God made him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21). We know that Jesus appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin (1 John 3:5). The Qur’an, too, declares that Jesus was without sin. When the Angel Jibril (Gabriel) appeared to Mary to announce her conception of Jesus, he said:

I am only a messenger of your Lord, to announce to you a faultless son. Surah 19:19

The words used in Arabic to describe him are ghulaaman-zakiyyan, "a most-holy boy." The word zakiyya, meaning "blameless," appears only twice in the Qur’an. The other occasion is in a story about Moses in which he was on a journey with an unnamed companion who had been sent to guide him into deeper knowledge and understanding. At length they met a young man and his companion, known in Islam as al-Khidr, "the Green One," a mysterious figure who is said to appear to holy men from time to time, immediately slew him without giving any reason for doing so. Moses asked why he had slain an innocent person who had not slain anyone else? The companion ordered him to be patient, to which Moses responded that he should not have questioned him.

The word for "innocent," in this context again meaning blameless, is zakiyya. Moses was only referring to the young man’s innocence of any crime deserving death, but, in Jesus’ case, the angel was describing his whole personality and character before he was even born. "Faultless," or blameless, clearly means without sin. So the Qur’an confirms the Biblical teaching that Jesus was the only sinless person who would ever live as the Qur’an nowhere describes anyone else in this way. On the contrary, the Qur’an acknowledges the sins of the other prophets and specifically refers to the sins of Adam (Surah 7:23), Abraham (26:82), Moses (28:16), Jonah (37:142) and Muhammad (47:19, 48:2). In the case of Muhammad the Qur’an expressly commands him to ask forgiveness (wastaghfir) of his sins (dhanbika). The words used are employed throughout the Qur’an in the same context and there can be no doubt about their meaning, despite the subtle attempts of many Muslim commentators to reduce them to less imposing terms (such as to ask for "protection" from his "shortcomings").

3. The Ascension of Jesus to Heaven

The New Testament teaches, again and again, that after his resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended to heaven in bodily form. The narrative recording this event reads as follows:

And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." Acts 1:9-11

In other passages the New Testament teaches that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1), that God made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, authority, power and dominion (Ephesians 1:21) and that he taught that he was to return to heaven whence he had originally come (John 6:62, 16:28). The Qur’an only has one statement to confirm the ascension of Jesus but it has been enough to convince Muslims throughout the world that he is there to this day, alive in the very presence of Allah. The text reads:

But Allah took him up to himself. Surah 4:158

This statement is made in contrast to the claim of the Jews that they had killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, and Muslims believe he was rescued from crucifixion and taken to heaven without dying. Despite the different circumstances, both the Qur’an and the Bible teach the ascension of Jesus, alive and in bodily form, from earth to heaven. Significantly, the only Hadith records mentioning the destiny of Jesus agree without exception that Jesus was taken to heaven.

4. The Second Coming of Jesus

The last significant feature about Jesus, where the Qur’an and the Bible are in agreement, is his return to the earth from heaven at the end of time. It is one of the grandest and most extensive subjects of the prophetic texts of the New Testament as the following quotes show:

Then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. Matthew 24:30

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. 1 Thessalonians 4:16

Behold he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Revelation 1:7

According to the Bible Jesus will return from heaven at the end of time in his glory, with all his holy angels with him, and will bring in the Day of Judgment. All the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate them, to glory or destruction, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:32). The Qur’an, once again, only deals with this subject in one verse but it has led to a consensus throughout the Muslim world that Jesus will one day return from heaven to earth. The text reads:

And he shall be a sign for the hour. Surah 43:61

The verse can be literally translated, "And there is knowledge (ilm) of the hour (saah)" and it can be argued that the return of Jesus is rather arbitrarily read into the text, yet many of the companions of Muhammad in his lifetime confirmed that he taught that there is a specific allusion to the return of Jesus shortly before the hour of judgment in this verse, including Ibn Abbas, Hasan and Qatawa. Many Hadith records confirm the return of Jesus, one of which teaches that he will institute a reign of peace (Sahih Muslim, Vol.1, p.93). Another teaches that Jesus will return to receive the homage of all the peoples: Jews, Christians and Muslims, in fulfilment of Surah 4:159 (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.4, p.137).

Yet another teaches that he is alive in heaven, will return as a ruler of the whole earth, and will then die like all other living beings (Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol.1, p.47). Muslims, generally, believe that he will land on a minaret of the great mosque in Damascus, that he will lead the whole world to follow Islam, will die after forty years, and will be buried next to Muhammad in his grave in Medina. There are once again differences between Christianity and Islam in their interpretations of what will happen when Jesus returns, but both believe in the second coming and base that belief on the teachings of the Bible and the Qur’an respectively.

Implications of the Uniqueness of Jesus

We have outlined four features in the life of Jesus which are taught in both books. What can we learn from them, and can Christians find effective points of witness here to Muslims? I personally believe that as the chapters on Abraham and Isaac earlier in this book give the best grounds for witness from the Old Testament, so this one gives the best foundation from the New Testament. These four features show, firstly, that Jesus was quite unique in the history of mankind and, secondly, that this uniqueness implies singular greatness such as no other prophet or figurehead has ever possessed. Let us look firstly at the uniqueness of Jesus in each feature and, as we proceed, at the key sources of his greatness.

The virgin-birth of Jesus was unique. No one else was ever born without a father. What, we need to ask, was the reason for this exceptional birth? God, surely, does not do unusual things arbitrarily if they are unnecessary. Something must have required that Jesus be born in this way. To put it simply, there must have been something unique about Jesus himself. In both the Bible and the Qur’an Mary is described as the greatest among women:

Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Luke 1:42

And when the angels said, O Mary! Surely Allah has chosen you and purified you, and preferred you above the women of the world. Surah 3:42

Why is Mary exalted in these passages above all other women? It is because she was the mother of Jesus, because she mothered the greatest among men. There was something unique about her son that made it necessary for him to be born of a virgin woman. The reason was given by Jesus himself. He was not an ordinary man born in the normal course of procreation. He taught, he had existed in the heavens before the foundation of the universe and had witnessed the fall of Satan (Luke 10:18). He taught that he had come down from heaven (John 6:38), that he would ascend to where he was before (John 6:62), and that he came from the Father into the world and would leave the world and return to the Father (John 16:28).

This is why he was born of a virgin woman. He pre-existed his earthly life, had come into the world from heaven and had assumed human form. He had, therefore, a unique beginning to his life, just as it would end in a unique way. He came from heaven and would return there. Jesus himself drew a sharp contrast between himself and all other men when he said to the Jews, "You are from below, I am from above. You are of this world, I am not of this world" (John 8:23). Here you can show Muslims that Jesus is different from, and indeed superior to, all the prophets who went before him. In what way, however, was he greater than all other men? The Angel Gabriel gave the answer when he said to Mary:

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High ... therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. Luke 1:32,35

Adam was created from dust and all other men, prophets and patriarchs included, have been made from the same dust. Jesus, however, was conceived solely by the Spirit of God because he is the Son of God. Here you can show Muslims very emphatically why Jesus had to be born of a virgin woman. Muslims can give no other answer to his unique birth than to say it was by the power and the word of God (Surah 3:59). They cannot explain the reasons why Jesus, and particularly Jesus, alone should be born so uniquely. It could hardly have been no more than a manifestation of God’s power for it would have required a very limited exercise of that power and could not have been physically proved. It was a very unique event and must have had a unique cause.

That cause is the fact that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, who pre-existed all men, who became the Son of man, the man Christ Jesus.

He was also unique in his sinlessness. Not only does the Bible regard all other human beings who have ever existed as sinners, implicated in the sin of the first man Adam, but the Hadith records also state that Muhammad regarded all human beings as sinners other than Jesus. In the first chapter we met his statement "Every son of Adam is a sinner" (Sunan Ibn Majah, Vol.5, p.489) and here is another to the same effect:

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (saw) as saying: The satan touches every son of Adam on the day when his mother gives birth to him with the exception of Mary and her son. Sahih Muslim, Vol.4, p.1261

Why would Jesus alone be sinless among men? Again the Muslim world can give no reason for this. Muslims may respond by saying to you that all prophets had some unique features, but, in the case of Jesus, we find that his uniqueness is personal to himself, that is, that he himself is unique in his birth, sinlessness, ascension and second coming. There is no comparison here with any other prophet. All of these unique features, spanning the origin of his life, its conclusion and final destiny, are found in him alone. You need to impress Muslims with these unique distinctions. In this verse we find the cause of Jesus’ unique sinlessness:

Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise." John 5:19

It is because Jesus is the Son of God that he is sinless. He taught that he and the Father are one (John 10:30) and he will, therefore, always do the will of his Father. If he did anything independently of the Father, he would no longer be one with him. One who is always doing the absolute will of his Father cannot sin against him. This is why he is sinless because, as the Son of God, he too is absolutely holy and always does what is pleasing to the Father (John 8:29).

The third point of uniqueness is his ascension to heaven. The reason for this is implied in his virgin-birth and the texts we have already quoted. He ascended to heaven because he came from there in the first place. If he had returned to dust as all other men do, no Christian would believe that he was the unique Son of God. You can point out to Muslims that these unique features not only, with one accord, support his teaching that he is the Son of God, but that they are essential features if this teaching is to be proved true. If he is the Son of God he must be born uniquely of a virgin to become man. He must be sinless and he cannot return to the dust. He must return to his Father in heaven. Conversely, if he is not the Son of God as the Qur’an teaches, these unique features have no meaning or relevance. By conceding them the Qur’an is unwittingly confirming Christian belief.

The Qur’an often speaks of the throne of God (Surahs 10:4; 7:54; 13:2 etc.). This expresses the royal sovereignty which God enjoys over the whole universe. The Bible makes the same point but, to emphasise the unique ascension of Jesus to heaven and his ultimate place there, it declares that he sat down at his right hand as sons of kings in those days sat at their father’s side, being the heirs to the throne. Many passages make this clear, such as the following two:

God accomplished his great might in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places. Ephesians 1:20

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven. Hebrews 8:1

When Stephen saw the heavens opened just before his martyrdom, he declared that he saw the Son of man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56). Jesus also declared that he would grant to all who conquer the right to sit at his right hand, just as he had conquered and sat down with his Father on his throne (Revelation 3:21). The Qur’an speaks of the throne of God the rightful place of Jesus after his ascension to heaven is at the right hand of him who sits upon it.

Lastly, let us look at the uniqueness of the fourth feature, the return of Jesus to earth. Though he has been in heaven for almost two thousand years already, no Christian or Muslim expects him to return looking like an old man. He will return looking not a day older than when he left. Why will Jesus return to earth? As we have seen, Muslims expect him to establish a universal rule, become a follower of Muhammad, and be buried next to him after his death. You can well ask Muslims why Jesus should return to earth only to die and be buried. It makes no sense.

Jesus will return for a far greater reason. We need again to ask why there should be this unique feature in his life and why it is Jesus who will fulfil it. It is because he is the Son of God and, having died on the cross for sinners, he will bring both the salvation and judgment of God at the end of time. By becoming man the Son of God has also become the obvious medium of the judgment of God. Firstly, he revealed God to men. The Qur’an only professes to reveal the will and attributes of God. Jesus revealed God himself to men as this passage shows:

All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Matthew 11:27

Elsewhere Jesus taught that he who sees him sees the Father who sent him (John 12:45, 14:9) and that there was no way to the Father but by him (John 14:6). Being the Son of God in human form, he reveals the fulness of God to men. Once having lived on earth, no one can identify now with God other than through him. This is the second reason why he is the medium of the judgment of God. He has brought men face-to-face with God. This comes out very clearly in another statement he made:

For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself also, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. John 5:26-27

This alone explains why Jesus will return to earth. He comes to save those who have been redeemed through his blood, and he comes to judge the rest. Thus the second coming harmonises with the uniqueness of Jesus as the Son of God.

In the four unique features of Jesus’ life you have tremendous evidence to witness to Muslims of who he is and why he came into the world and will return. What is fascinating, and supports your witness, is that the Qur’an and Hadith support these features and acknowledge them all! Despite denying the deity of Jesus, by admitting these features it is tacitly and unreservedly implying that he is indeed the Son of God. Even though he lived as a man on earth, everything we know about him ultimately places him on the level of deity more than that of humanity.

Sharing the Gospel with Muslims [Table of Contents]
Materials by John Gilchrist
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