Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog



At the end of the prologue, the necessary characteristics of any relationship between the Gospel of Barnabas and the Qur'an were mentioned briefly. Now we shall look at this question in detail, because for a Muslim this relationship is of prime importance.

We shall first examine the type of changes or differences which might be accepted or even approved of by the Qur'an. Then we shall look at some of the differences which are actually found when we compare the two documents.

Abrogation or Change Accepted in the Qur'an

It is clear from the Qur'an itself that we might expect some type of difference or change in the revealed law because there are two verses that provide for change or abrogation by the hand of God. In the late Meccan Sura Al-Nahl (The Bee) 16:101, it is written,

When we change one verse for another verse, and God knows best what He sends down.

and in the Sura Al-Baqara (The Heifer) 2:106, from 2 AH, it reads:

None of our verses do we abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but we substitute something better or similar.

In addition there are clear examples in the Qur'an itself where such changes, or progressive revelation, took place. Here are two examples where laws governing human activities and relationships are changed. In one case the law was made stricter and in the other more relaxed.

Changes Concerning Human Activities and Relationships

The first is the activity of drinking wine. In the Meccan Sura Al-Nahl (The Bee) 16:67 revealed a few years before the Hejira there is a list of beverage blessings starting with water and milk, and ending with honey. Included in this list is the following:

And among fruits, ye have the palm and the vine, from which ye get wine (sakar سَكَر) and healthful nutriment: in this, verily, are signs for those who reflect.

Wine, here, is regarded as a sign or proof of God's interest and provision for us.

In the Sura Al-Baqara (The Heifer) 2:219, from 2 AH, we read:

They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: ‘In them is great sin and some profit for men; But the sin is greater than the profit.’

This verse discourages the use of wine, but does not give an absolute command to abstain from it, which is also true of the following passage from the Sura Al-Nisâ' (The Women) 4:43, 56 AH, where we read:

Oh ye true believers, come not to prayer when ye are drunken (sukârâ سُكٰرى), but wait until you can understand what you say.

But in the Sura Al-Mâ'ida (The Table) 5:93, 94, from 10 AH, we find:

Oh, ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling ... are an abomination, of Satan's handiwork: Eschew such that ye may prosper, Satan's plan is to excite enmity and hatred between you with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of God and from prayer. Will ye not then abstain?

These two verses are a strong prohibition using two commands, "eschew" (put them aside) and "abstain" from them. Therefore, this last revelation from 10 AH has removed any ambiguities or doubt that rested in the earlier verses.

Dr. Muhammed Abdul Rauf, makes this same point in his book Al-Qur'an – Introduction and Sample Texts.1

When we as Muslims, seek to learn this (chronological order of the revelations), our aim is more than academic. The dating of a passage may be significant in making inferences related to the Quranic guidance. When we learn, e.g., that 4,43 which implies the prohibition of drinking wine when the time of prayer approaches, preceded 5,90 (the same as Yusef Ali's 5:93,94 above) which stipulates absolute prohibition of wine, we realize that the prohibition of drinking wine is extended to all times. Therefore, the study of this subject was an important pursuit since early times; and an adequate knowledge of it is one of the necessities for the students of Islamic Law.

Our second example is from the teaching on marriage. In the Sura, Al-Baqara (The Heifer) 2:221, from 2 AH, we read:

Do not marry unbelieving woman (idolaters) until they believe: a slave woman who believes is better than an idolater (or polytheist) even though she allure you. Nor marry (your girls) to unbelievers until they believe. A man slave who believes is better than an unbeliever even though he allure you. Unbelievers only beckon you to the fire.

This same idea is repeated in the Sura Al-Nisâ' (The Women) 4:25, AH 5 or 6, where it says:

If any of you does not have the money to marry a believing free woman he may wed believing girls from among those whom your right hands possess (girls taken captive in a jihad or holy war).

The teaching here is very clear that both men and women should marry only believers because the unbeliever may lead one to unbelief and the fire of hell. But in the Sura Al-Mâ'ida (The Table) 5:6, given four years later in 10 AH, the rule is changed and we read:

Chaste women who are believers (Muslims) and chaste women from those to whom the Book came before your time (Jews and Christians), may be taken in marriage.

The rule has now been broadened to include Jewish and Christian women as lawful wives.

Changes in the Form of Worship

Another area where we might expect to find changes is in the ceremonies of worship – how to pray, for example. In fact, we find an example of that in the Sura Al-Baqara (The Heifer) 2:142-144 from the year AH 2. The Qibla, or direction toward which one should pray, was changed from Jerusalem to the sacred mosque of Mecca. We read:

The fools among the people will say: ‘What has turned them from their Qibla toward which they used to face?’ Say: to God belongs both the East and West ... and we appointed the Qibla toward which you used to face so that we might know those who follow the Apostle from those who turn on their heels. The change is a difficulty, but not to those who God guides ... but we will have thee turn to a Qibla that will please thee. Turn then thy face toward the sacred Mosque.

From these examples we see that changes were ordered, both in the form of worship and in the commands for personal behavior, during the 23 years of Qur'anic revelation. We are not surprised, therefore, to find differences of this nature between the Gospel of Barnabas and the Qur'an. One example will suffice. In Chapter 115 of Barnabas, Jesus is represented as saying,

Let a man content himself, therefore, with the wife whom His Creator has given him, and let him forget every other woman.

But in the Sura Al-Nisâ' (The Women) 4:3, 5-6 AH, we read:

Marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if you fear that you cannot do justice, then marry one.

So we see that in the Gospel of Barnabas, as in the Canonical Gospels, Jesus orders a man to content himself with one wife, while the Qur'an goes back to the polygamy allowed in the Torah of Moses, but limits the number to four wives.

Unacceptable Differences

There is, however, a type of difference which is much more difficult to reconcile with the belief that both the Qur'an and the Gospel of Barnabas were written by God. That is a disagreement about a historical fact. For example, if the Gospel of Barnabas were to say that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (which it does say in Chapter 3), and the Qur'an were to say that he was born in Jerusalem (which the Qur'an does not say) they could not both be right. One would have to be wrong. It would be difficult to maintain that they were both from God.

With this in mind we must now examine and compare) the two books. When we turn to the Gospel of Barnabas we find that there are a number of passages which contradict the Qur'an in matters of fact.

a) Jesus' Birth

In Barnabas Chapter 3 we read:

Joseph having arrived at Bethlehem ... he found no place, wherefore he took lodging outside the city in a lodging made for a shepherds' shelter. While Joseph abode there the days were fulfilled for Mary to bring forth. The virgin was surrounded by a light exceeding bright, and brought forth her son without pain, whom she took in her arms, and wrapping him in swaddling clothes, laid him in the manger, because there was no room in the inn.

However in the Sura Maryam (Mary) 19:22-27 given 7 years before the Hejira we find:

And she (Mary) conceived him and she retired with him to a remote place, and the birth pains drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, ‘Oh would that I had died before this and had been gone and forgotten’.

But (a voice) called to her from beneath her, ‘Grieve not! for thy Lord has provided a streamlet at thy feet ... So eat and drink and cool your eye. And if you see any man, say, ‘I have vowed a fast to the Most Gracious One and today I will talk with no one.’ At length she brought the babe to her people.

In comparing these two accounts we see that they differ in at least two matters. First of all Barnabas indicates that Mary had the baby in the shepherds' shelter while the Qur'an says that she was outside under a palm tree. This is not very serious in itself and could be reconciled by saying she rushed outside during a pain, but had the baby in the shelter.

The second point is more serious however. The Qur'an says that Mary had such pain that it made her cry out. But, the Gospel of Barnabas specifically claims that she brought forth her son "without pain", implying that this was part of the miracle. The Raggs pointed this contradiction out in their original analysis in 1907 and explained that "(This idea) was an accepted part of Latin Mediaeval Christianity."2

Therefore, in addition to contradicting the Qur'an, this statement is the first of many examples which we will look at, showing that the author of Barnabas was much more familiar with the customs and thought of medieval Christianity than he was with those of Palestine at the time of Christ.

b) Human Beings and Angels at the Time of Judgement

In Chapter 53 of the Gospel of Barnabas a list is given of what will happen during each of the last fifteen days of earthly history. The end of the list includes the following information.

The thirteenth day the heaven shall be rolled up like a book and it shall rain fire so that every living thing shall die ... The fifteenth day the holy angels shall die and God alone shall remain alive; to whom be honor and glory.

But in the Sura 'Abasa (He Frowned) 80:33-37 revealed in the early Meccan period, the last day, the day of judgement, is described with these words:

And when there comes the deafening noise (or stunning trumpet blast), that day shall a man flee from his own brother and his mother and his father and from his wife and his children. For every man of them on that day his own concerns shall be enough.

And in the Sura Al-Hâqqa (The Sure Reality), 69:13-18 from the middle Meccan period we read:

And when one blast shall be blown on the trumpet, and the earth and the mountains are moved and are crushed to powder in one stroke – on that day shall happen the great happening, and the sky will be split, for it will that day be flimsy, and the angels will be on its sides, and eight will uphold the throne of their Lord that day, above them. Ye shall be brought before Him on that day; none of your hidden deeds shall remain hidden.

In summary, Barnabas says that all human beings will die on the 13th day and the angels will die on the 15th day. The Qur'an says that human beings will be running around in fear and dismay on the day of judgement (which would correspond to the 15th day of the Gospel of Barnabas) and the angels are present with eight of them holding up God's throne. Again we find straight forward contradictions and problems.

c) Heaven

In the Sura Al-Baqara (The Heifer) 2:29, we read:

He it is Who created for you all that is in the earth. Then He turned to the heaven, and fashioned it as seven heavens. And He is the knower of all things.

The same information stating that there are seven heavens is found in six other Qur'anic verses, given on dates ranging from the early Meccan period to 6 AH.

Nûh (Noah) 71:15, early Meccan,

"Do you not see how God created seven heavens one above the other?"

Al-Mulk (Dominion) 67:3, Middle Meccan,

"He who created the seven heavens one above the other."

Al-Mû'minûn (The Believers) 23:86, late Meccan,

"Say, who is the Lord of the seven heavens ... ?"

Hâ-Mim Al-Sajda 41:12, late Meccan,

"So He completed them as seven heavens in two days ..."

Banî Isrâ'îl (The Children of Israel) 17:44, Mecca one year before the Hejira,

"The seven heavens and the earth declare His glory."

Al-Talâq (The Divorce) 65:12, 6 AH,

"God is He who created seven heavens ..."

When we look at Barnabas, though, we find different information. In Chapter 105 we read:

I tell you, then, that the heavens are nine ... But all the size of the earth with that of all the heavens is in proportion to paradise as a point.

And in Chapter 178 we read:

Paradise is so great no man can measure it. Verily I say unto thee that the heavens are nine ... And verily I say unto thee that paradise is greater than all the earth and all the heavens (together) ...

In contradiction to the 7 heavens described in the Qur'an, the Gospel of Barnabas says that there are nine heavens; with paradise, the tenth, being above or surrounding the others. This was a widespread idea in the Middle Ages, as is seen in the Divine Comedy of Dante,3 and is a second indication of the medieval origin of the work.

d) The use of the word "Messiah" (Christ)

(i) The Origin of the Word "Messiah"

This word "Messiah" which is used in various forms by Jews, Christians and Muslims has its origin in the Jewish Torah. When a new priest or king was to be placed in office, God commanded Moses and said that his head should be anointed with a special oil. He thus became a mashiakh in Hebrew – an anointed one.

When God revealed the Psalms (Zabûr) to David by the Holy Spirit, He spoke of a special "anointed one" (see Psalms 2 and 45). As time passed Jewish believers began to understand that these Psalms and other passages were pointing to a special priest-king who would come with miraculous power, and they began to talk about and wait for this special mashiakh.

Later in about 200 BC when Jewish scholars made their own Greek translation of the Torah and the Zabûr, they used christos, the Greek word for "anointed", to translate the Hebrew mashiakh. And from this we get the English word "Christ". Thus when John the Baptist came (Yahyâ Ibn Zakarîyâ of the Qur'an), the Jewish people asked him, "Are you the mashiakh?" i.e. the promised special Messiah, and he answered, "No, I am not the Christ (mashiakh)... I am not (even) worthy to untie the straps of his sandals". (Luke 3:15-16). When he comes he "will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Luke 3:16).

During his earthly ministry, Jesus taught that hie, himself, was the promised mashiakh or Messiah, for whom the Jewish people were waiting. After he ascended his followers continued to teach this truth. When they explained the gospel, the good news about the forgiveness of sins, to Jews, they used the Hebrew mashiakh. When they spoke to people who knew Greek, they usually used the Greek word christos (and because of this they were called Christians). Sometimes, however, they used the Hebrew mashiakh even with the Greeks, but since Greek has no "sh", and since "kh", was often ignored in transliteration, the word became messias (see John 1:4 and 4:25). This spelling brought over through Latin became messia in Italian and can be seen twice in Figure 8 (photograph of page No. 213 of the Italian manuscript of the Gospel of Barnabas). Thus, for example, Al-Maurid, A modern English-Arabic Dictionary by Munir Ba'alkaki published in 1987 lists both words as follows:4

messiah     مسيح
Messias     يسوع المسيح

We can conclude therefore, that when Christians use mashiakh in Hebrew, or messiah in English, or messias in Greek, or messia in Italian, they are referring to Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary.

(ii) "The Messiah" in the Qur'an

The Qur'an also has a number of verses about Jesus, so we are not surprised to find that the name "messiah" (Al-Masîh المسيح) is present there too. When we look up the word, we find that it is used 11 times in the Qur'an in eight different sections as shown below.

1.  Ali 'Imrân (The Family of 'Imran) 3:45, AH 2-3. "Behold! the angels said: O Mary! God gives thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: His name will be the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary."

2.  Al-Nisâ (The Women) 4:157, AH 3-5. "And they said, ‘We killed the Messiah Jesus, the son of Mary, the Apostle of God’; but they didn't kill him."

3.  Al-Nisâ' (The Women) 4:171-172. "The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, was only an apostle of God and His Word which He put on Mary, and a Spirit from Him, ... The Messiah does not disdain to be a servant of God."

4.  Al-Mâ'ida (The Table) 5:19, AH 10. "In blasphemy are those who say that God is the Messiah, son of Mary. Say, ‘Who then has any power against God, if He wanted to destroy the Messiah, the son of Mary, his mother, and everyone on the earth.’"

5.  Al-Mâ'ida (The Table) 5:75. "They blaspheme who say, that God is the Messiah, the son of Mary ... and the Messiah said, ‘Oh Children of Israel, worship God, my Lord and your Lord.’"

6.  Al-Mâ'ida (The Table) 5:78. "The Messiah, the son of Mary, was no more than an apostle."

7.  Al-Tauba (Repentance) 9:30, AH 9. "And the Christians said that the Messiah is the Son of God. That is their saying from their mouths."

8.  Al-Tauba (Repentance) 9:31. "... As well as the Messiah, the son of Mary."

It is perfectly clear from these verses that the Qur'an gives the title "Messiah" to Jesus the son of Mary. Some of these passages were given as late as 9 and 10 AH, or the very end of the Qur'anic revelations, so there is no question of any change in the meaning of the word. Though they may disagree about other things, Christians and Muslims firmly agreed that Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary was the Messiah.

(iii) "The Messiah" According to the Author of the Gospel of Barnabas

As a first century Jew and claiming to be one of Jesus' disciples, we would expect such a Barnabas to be using the word "messiah" many times when speaking of Jesus. One is surprised to read, therefore, the following eight sections from the Gospel of Barnabas and find that the name "messiah" is used for another person.

1.  Chapter 42. "They sent the Levites saying, ‘Who art thou?’ Jesus confessed and said the truth, ‘I am not the Messiah.’"5

2.  Chapter 82. "Said the woman: ‘O Lord, perchance thou art the Messiah.’ Jesus answered: ‘I am indeed sent to the house of Israel as a prophet of salvation, but after me shall come the Messiah.’"

3.  Chapter 83. "And (Jesus) said to them: ‘This night shall be in the time of the Messiah, messenger of God, the Jubilee every year – that now cometh every hundred years ...’"

4.  Chapter 96. "The priest answered, ‘In the book of Moses it is written that our God must send us the Messiah ... Art thou the Messiah of God whom we expect?’ Jesus answered, ‘... I am not he.’"

5.  Chapter 96. "‘Tell us in what wise the Messiah will come.’ Jesus answered, ‘... I am not the Messiah.’"

6.  Chapter 97. "Then said the priest, ‘How shall the Messiah be called ...?’ Jesus answered, ‘... Muhammad is his blessed name.’"

7.  Chapter 198. "Jesus answered, ‘... but since I have confessed ... that I am not the Messiah, therefore God hath taken away the punishment from me.’"

8.  Chapter 206. "The High Priest said, ‘Tell me, O Jesus, hast thou forgotten all that thou didst confess, that thou art not ... the Messiah?’ Jesus said ‘Certainly not ... and I am God's servant and desire to serve God's messenger whom ye call Messiah.’"6

These eight passages say plainly and openly that Jesus is not the Messiah – that Muhammad is the Messiah. In addition, there are at least seven others which make the same claim. These are found in Chapters 42 (a second time), 43, 112, 142, 191, 208, and 210 for a total of fifteen passages.

This teaching is in blatant contradiction to the Qur'an which teaches, as we saw above, that the Messiah is Jesus the son of Mary. It is also in blatant contradiction with Christian scriptures. In I John 2:22, we read, "Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah)? This is the anti-Christ."7


We have examined 21 verses or passages where the Gospel of Barnabas is in factual disagreement with 26 Qur'anic passages. To add these contradictions to the Qur'an will only result in a loss of credibility.



1 Al-Qur'an – Introduction and Sample Texts (Washington DC: Islamic Center), p. 16.

2 L. and L. Ragg, op. cit., Introduction p. xxv.

3 Canto II, lines 102-132; canto XXII, lines 61-69); canto XXVII, lines 109-117; and canto XXVIII, lines 16-49. For good notes and a map of the heavens according to Dante, see L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds, The Divine Comedy – A New Translation, (London: Penguin Books, 1962). Also Edmund Gardner, Dante's Ten Heavens (Constable, 1900).

4 Dar El-Ilm, Lil-Malayen, Beirut 1987.

5 This verse is visible in the photograph of the Vienna MS., p. 44r, (see Figure 9).

6 See the photograph of the Vienna ms., p. 213r (Figure 8).

7 If a reader should see one of the rare Arabic copies of the Gospel of Barnabas, he will find that the Italian word messia has not been translated into Arabic and written masîh (مَسِيْح). Instead it was transliterated. That means that the Italian messia has been left as is, but written in Arabic letters as masîyâ (مَسِيَّا). Why the Arabic translator left the word as masîyâ (مَسِيَّا) rather than writing masîh (مَسِيْح), I do not know.

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